I have always been fascinated by the level of strength of old-school strong men. Some of the feats that they could perform were borderline superhuman. Bending metal bars, lifting several people on their shoulders, breaking chains… the list could, and DOES go on
How did they develop this level of strength?What training methods did they implement to get so strong?
In this article, I am going to share with you 3 methods that old school strongmen used to increase their power, muscle mass and strength. The methods may surprise you.
They are NOT conventional techniques that main stream fitness experts use for building strength. In fact, it’s really counter-intuitive. But maybe, that’s why these old school strongmen could perform such heroic feats and we struggle to do 50 push ups in a row.
What Did They Do That’s Different?
There’s a method for building strength that these old school strongmen used on a regular basis. It’s a system of exercising where you force the muscle to activate but you don’t actually move the joint. Its called Isometrics and Old School Strongmen regularly integrated them into their muscle building arsenal.
1. Max Sick Used Static Tension For Greater Control & Development
Max Sick was born in Württemberg, Germany, on the 28th of June, 1882. He was very sick from a young age and had severe lung problems, dropsy and rickets. At the age of 5, he wasn’t even able to stand on his own two feet.
Doctors told his family that every year he got older his chances of surviving became slimmer and slimmer.
At the age of 10, he made his own weights and created his own exercise routine. However, his parents were strongly opposed to weightlifting and threw them out. Yet, Max was determined to develop his body so he created a series of muscle control exercises. By the time he reached 14, he had made such strides in his development he was invited to join the local athletics club.
The method of isometrics that Max created was a type of Static Tension Isometrics. When doing this isometric, you flex the muscle without moving the joint. The key is to contract each muscle group as hard as possible.
Max Sick Physical Feats:
- Could make his various groups of muscles twitch in time to music.
- Could lift a man forty pounds heavier than him above his head 16 times.
2. Charles Atlas Put “Muscle Against Muscle” For Increased Strength
Charles Atlas turned himself from a “scrawny weakling” into one of the most popular muscleman of his day. He was born “Angelo Siciliano” but took on the name, Charles Atlas, after his friend said he resembled the “Atlas” statue at the top of the Coney Island hotel.He developed a system of exercise called, Dynamic Tension where you put “muscle against muscle” and used the force that your own muscles generate to cause fatigue. The Isometric that is considered a “sister exercise” with dynamic tension is called, Yielding Isometrics.
Essentially, you put your hands or feet in certain positions and press them against each other as hard as you can.
Charles Atlas Physical Feats:
- Could Tear a Thick Telephone Book & Deck of Cards in Half.
- Could Bend a 6 Inch Spike Double.
- Could Smash a 3 1/2 Inch Nail Through 2 Inches of Sturdy Pine Planks.
- Could Bend a Steel Bar 6 Feet Long and 1/2 Inch Thick.
- Could Pull an Automobile with His Neck.
- Could Lift One End of a Car Clear Off the Ground.
- Could Lift a Pony Into The Air.
3. Alexander Zass Developed Tremendous Power By Exerting Himself Against Immovable Objects
Alexander Zass was born in Vilnius. He was a circus actor, professional wrestler and strongman.He possessed tremendous strength and could break chains, bend thick iron bars, and carry a horse on his shoulders. He was best known for being able to catch a 90kg cannon ball shot out of a cannon. Zass created his own type of isometric exercises and practiced them even while in prison after he was captured by Austrian forces during WWI.
He escaped three times and left the country on his third attempt.While in prison, he practiced a type of isometrics called, Overcoming Isometrics. This is a method of pulling and pushing against immovable objects. The goal is exert as much force as possible. Since the object that you are pulling or pushing against is immovable, you can force your muscles to full capacity.
Alexander Zass Physical Feats:
- Could break shackles and bend iron bars (which is how he escaped from prison).
- Could carry a full piano on his back with people on top.
- Could snap smaller sized trees in half.
What Exactly Are Overcoming Isometrics?
Overcoming isometrics are exercises that involve pushing or pulling against an immovable force. That means exerting 100% of your strength with no movement, at a range of positions, or potentially trying to crush, rip, or bend static objects.The big benefit of this is that it helps to strengthen the neural connection with the muscles that you’re trying to engage. In other words, you learn to recruit more muscle fiber by constantly trying to recruit more muscle fiber: Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands.
This in turn allows you to tap into more of your existent strength, and also to enhance your overall mind-muscle connection. Did you notice Bruce Lee in the Featured picture? I’ll talk about Bruces use of isometrics in the next post. Until then give Isometrics ago and watch your strength soar.
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