Strength Training as “Practice” Instead of “Exercise”

The following article is a guest post from Andrew Xenophontos. Read the author's bio below.

While we all enjoy a good pump on the bench and pulling a side-triceps pose, we forget to appreciate how novel the experience is when we make true progress in our lifting. Sure, life is rough sometimes and we need to expel our frustrations, but nothing is more pleasurable than watching yourself improve on a lift. Those old-time strongmen, with their incredible and masculine physiques, always viewed their training as practice instead of “working out”.

Working Out vs. Practicing Strength

Working out is mindlessly lifting with no goal in mind, while practicing is focusing on skill and technique so that a goal may be reached, whether it is hypertrophy or a new personal record.

Think about it, when “working out”, you’re working on something in order to eliminate it. When you practice something you must be truly conscious of the effort put in for a consistent amount of time to get a result; and that’s what the old-time strongmen did. It was their job to not only lift ridiculous amount of weights in front of audiences, but to make it look like it was a walk in the park. While they did such amazing feats of strength such as Arthur Saxon’s 300 pound bent press and Hermann Goerner’s one hand dead lift of what was close to 700lbs, they understood it was a process to get there and didn’t chase numbers right away. They treated their workout like practice. Each and every session was an experience to look forward to. Working hard to leverage their bodies and teach them how to coordinate the lifts was a pleasure all itself. To quote Pavel Tsatsouline: Strength is a skill. You need to be skilled in coordinating your body to be strong.

After Eugen Sandow’s physique and physical accomplishments astonished the world, other men began to follow suit such as the Saxon brothers.

Developing the Practice Mindset

Saxon and other old-time strongmen were mindful in their body and had the excellent control at all times during the movement while avoiding fatigue. They knew if they always trained with the “balls to the wall” or “to failure” mindset they wouldn’t have had the right recovery and energy to repeat their practice. They focused on those simple movements such as hinging, pressing, and squatting and paid careful attention to what every movement felt like when executing. They looked good in doing what they did, not because looking good was their main concern, but because they practiced their movements so many times that they knew the feel of every position and it became unconscious. They knew the starting position, the torque of their joints, the cues to initiate the lift the movement, and the lockout position. They experienced all these feelings in every portion of the lift that it became automatic as with any anything with enough practice.

Their training was not something that they felt they had to cross off on some list in order to feel good that they did something; getting in “the zone” was almost a spiritual experience. It was something they always looked forward too. George Jowett in his book The Key to Might and Muscle said:

“The truth of exercise lies in the value it accumulates, and like a steadily growing bank account, it develops and earning power.” – George F. Jowett

Just like putting more money in the bank in order to get richer, they would put more quality sessions in order to get stronger. They knew it was truly a gradual process and it would accumulate over time. Work hard play hard was not in their vocabulary. Consistency that was the overall factor in their feats and success. How much consistency are we talking about? Three times each week, every month, over multiple years. That, my friends, was the consistent work ethic of those powerful and wise old-time greats! I leave you with this quote

“A river cuts through a rock not because of its power but because of its perseverance.”

Andrew Xenophontos is a lifelong student of athletics and martial arts. He currently works as a Physical Therapist and has a passion for the old-time strongmen, biology, physical culture, and teaching others. —

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