How the Strongest Men Trained Part 1

How and Why Some of the Strongest, Toughest Men in Recorded Modern History Use Twisted Conditioning-Style Training

I’ve been intending to write this article for sometime. In the modern world of training almost everybody pushes his or her particular brand as the ultimate form of training for physical development. It’s a sales tactic.

But I’m tired of listening to people swear that if you just use their one-sided, unbalanced, happens-to-be-their-favorite-style-of-training, you’ll suddenly become a modern Hercules as well as fashion Guru, monetary superior to Donald Trump, and magically become irresistible to women. I’m also very tired of hearing them say that “this is what the old time trainers did,” or saying that their way is the only “natural” way, or flat out about-facing on their own ideas just to make money and not presenting you with the whole view. I think most of you are smarter than that.

Now to some extent some of you are going to say, “Well aren’t you doing the same thing by writing this article?” And in a way I guess you could say that’s true. But that’s not the intention here. The intention here is to give you a truthful historical (and present-day) look at the training of the real, toughest, strongest people around. What you will find is that they do exactly what I do. They use a well-rounded mix of heavy and light training, low and high reps, barbells, strongman and conditioning exercises. These are the people who we look to as the strength heroes. Some are almost mythical powerhouses from the past and some modern day supermen.

I’m not attempting to say I invented the wheel here. I’m just trying to convey that most of the strongest people whom ever lived trained in much the same way because it is what the human body requires to be super strong.

What I intend to prove with this article is that the all around strongest and toughest dudes walking today and in the past all gravitated to the same type of training, emphasizing the same types of strength, because that is the way to super strength. They all expressed their training individually and geared it to their individual needs or surroundings. For the record I am not saying that they all trained using my style. I’m saying that when you get done reading this you’ll have figured out that it’s no coincidence that the things I advocate are the same things these men use. This is the road to physical excellence.

In Twisted Conditioning 1 and 2 I told you how to train with maximum, intermediate and endurance strength. Low and high reps, bodyweight exercises, conditioning implements and strongman implements for heavy, odd objects. Here I’m going to give you specific examples of these powerful men and what they use to train. You decide for yourself. You’ll see that we all fall under the same roof even though we express it differently.

Bud Jeffries with Dennis Rogers

Bud Jeffries with Dennis Rogers

1. Dennis Rogers. Dennis is by far the most successful, professional strongman alive today. And for good reason. He’s freakishly strong and been on every conceivable TV show and network proving it. I’ve gotten to know Dennis and specifics about his training as well as the specifics about much of the old time strongmen whom he was able to know before their passing. Here are a few of the ways that Dennis trains. Maximum weight and high repetition one arm curls. Maximum strength bending, high repetition bodyweight exercises, stone lifting. Various old time lifts like one arm snatches and swings and maximal and repetition training on specific strength feats as well as hammers, clubs and kettlebells. Does he fulfill the requirements? Absolutely. This is just a little bit, but what do we have listed there? High and low reps. Bodyweight and conditioning exercises. Odd objects.

2. Slim “The Hammerman” Farman. Dennis Rogers just produced a DVD about Slim Farman because he is one of the last living old-time performers and undisputedly the KING of leverage lifting. In fact at 71 years old he can still lever hammers heavier than anyone else on the planet. He also comes from the old school of performing strongman, which was very secretive and tight lipped about their training and performances. Dennis is the only one whom Slim would have allowed to film something like this DVD, because up until this time there was no information about how Slim trained. Only about his unbelievable performances. But I’ve been blessed to get an inside scope on how that training actually came about and to see how it fits in with ours.

Slim worked in a rock quarry. A real old style-bust it by hand with a sledgehammer- place. So a lot of his actual physical development took place at work. Guess what that was? Hours of high rep hammer swinging and rock lifting. He’s also spoken about doing hundreds of reps of moderate barbell lifting in a workout and speaks on his DVD about closing a spring-loaded “crusher” for 1,000 reps in a workout. So here we have the high rep conditioning work and odd object lifting. He would then also go home at night and practice maximal strength strongman feats such as levering maximum effort hammers, bending long and short steel and breaking chains.

So there we have it again … high reps, low reps, odd objects, strongman work, barbells and conditioning implements.

3. John Brookfield. Unless you’re a complete new comer to hardcore strength you probably know who John Brookfield is. He along with Dennis and Slim and a few other people are on my short list of the five or ten strongest men on the planet. Especially for the specific feats they perform. Listed in the Guinness book, Ripley’s, author of the a couple of books, professional strongman, wonderful Christian minister, author for MILO and top couple of guys in the world for all around performance style strongman and hand strength. Completing feats like bending spikes while balancing a sledgehammer on his chin, bending a 20 foot long half inch bar into a scroll so tight you can fit into a mailing envelope and completing a one mile truck pull with his partner Jon Bruney.

If you follow any of John’s writing you’ll notice a couple of things that I think are absolutely imperative of great strongmen. Creativity, experimentation, focus, emphasis on conditioning, etc. You’ll also notice hat he trains much like an endurance athlete except with alternative conditioning implements. How about swinging a 50lb sledgehammer for an hour solid. Or snatching a 50lb kettlebell for an hour. Or doing a half mile walking swing, with kettlebells or hundreds or thousands of bodyweight exercises (squats, pushups, etc.).

His latest article in MILO is about mace swinging, something I also like to do. However he has also extensively written about stone lifting, kettlebells and clubs. In fact I know he has a set of heavy clubs that are for maximum strength work as well as doing specifically maximum effort strongman stunts.

I think you can see the similarly flowing along here. One thing I do want you to notice is that even though I generally train maximum strength with barbells, they above mentioned three do a lot of their max training on strongman stunts. (Even though I have begun doing much of the same work). Even though this is not the same expression it is the same style of training.

4. Paul Anderson. Note here that I’ll be liberally switching back and forth between modern living in their prime athletes and those from previous eras. If you’ve ever been on this site before I’m sure you know who Paul Anderson is. Many consider him the strongest man to have ever lived. Much of my training is taken from his and people remember mostly his maximum strength feats. But did you know that he also training with high reps? Often doing squat and sets of 20 to 30 reps. Did you know that he also used bodyweight exercises? A couple of his favorites being the handstand push up and the one legged squat. That he also liked to jump rope, do repetition jumping drills and occasionally sprints and as a professional had short stints in boxing and wrestling?

Combine that with some of the heaviest partial and poundage lifting ever done. Massive overhead presses, an Olympic championship performing hundreds of exhibitions per year, raising money for his youth home and routinely squatting 700-900lbs for reps in public without warming up. Unbelievable! And no coincidence that his training held the same tenants as all the others. Low and high reps, regular and odd lifting, conditioning exercises.

5. Arthur Saxon. A professional turn of the century strongman who still holds the unofficial world record for the heaviest overhead one hand lift. A bent press of 384lbs at a bodyweight of only 210. He’s another of the men who always comes up in a discussion of the greatest strongman who ever lived. In his books, he speaks a tremendous amount about heavy single repetition lifting. Doing lots of sets of single rep, maximum strength work especially on the bent press but also on multiple other barbell and dumbbell exercises.

But it is not the barbell alone that made him strong. He talks often about wrestling as part of his training and in fact wrestled much of the time professionally along with being a strongman in his career. He also did lots of heavy odd object lifting including challenge sandbags as part of their strongman act. Other materials state them doing a lot of barbell and farmers walk training, high repetition barbell leg presses, bicycling, jumping exercises and medicine ball training. As well as various odd strongman movements such as support movements and lifting of odd paraphernalia such as one hand snatching a 90lb wooden plank with a pinch grip.

More evidence in our trend? I absolutely think so. Heavy lifts, strongman lifts, odd objects, high reps and conditioning exercises.

We will continue this series in discussing the most effective modern, and historically relevant training of the great strongmen.

Click her for part 2.

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