Nearly every fitness enthusiast admits to a library filled with books on training and diet, and now most of us have added a visual aid section of DVD’s and even VHS tapes. I’m one of those people. I see training partly as hobby and entertainment, and reading about it fascinates me.
On the other hand, I already have the training methods in mind that I’ll actually use, because they’ve proven to be good for me personally over the years. I’ll read about new systems but I rarely adopt them. Occasionally I’ll adopt pieces of them but I no longer change the fundamentals.
Fundamental training hasn’t changed much over the centuries. Our understanding of the physiology of the human body is much more complete today, and some basic blunders have been fixed by that. We know, for instance, that it’s safe to bathe in the winter; and that sunglasses help avoid cataracts. That’s all good. But when it comes to the actual training, everybody’s reinventing the wheel.
What’s great about this is that many of the training systems which worked well in the 1800’s still work well today, and now they’re public domain. Many excellent training books are available online as ebook downloads or html pages. The Sandow website — The Golden Age of Iron Men — offers many popular old books for online study and for download. Their introductory volume — Mighty Men of Old — introduces modern fitness students to the masters of the 1800’s and early 1900’s, from Europe and India as well as the United States.
Free stuff comes and goes. One of my favorite sources no longer exists, having been converted to a retail outlet for reprints of these old classics. Another of my good books vanished from the website where I found it, and due to a computer crash the files could be out of my reach now. Maybe I’ll find it again and maybe not. Eugene Sandow’s books are available as reprints on Amazon, some for as little as 99 cents for the Kindle version.
My first brush with ancient training involved a book written in the 1930’s which outlined the physical practices of native Americans from the Plains Nations. Later I studied old forms of Tai Chi after becoming dissatisfied with the quality and attitude of the modern teachers I met, and still later I dabbled in strongman training as a result of taking up kettlebells. At my age I’m not expecting to become a circus strongman, but many of those techniques cross over into fitness training without a hitch. I like them.
I also like to read the expert opinions of successful athletes from other times, because their points of view are likely to be as valid as those expressed today and they had no prejudice against the taboos of today. One of the old masters even recommends adding generous portions of bacon to your diet. Today there’s considerable argument about what’s healthy and what’s not. A hundred years from now a new set of expert opinions will rule, but what really is important — the training — survives the centuries untouched.