Rocky used one-arm pushups to build upper-body mass.

Old-School Training Is Becoming New Again

Have you seen the old Rocky movies?

If so, you know Rocky spends a lot of on-screen time getting in shape as inspirational music plays in the background. Watching it makes you want to get up and start working out.

During training, Stallone carries logs, chases farm animals, runs uphill through waist-deep snow, and punches slabs of meat. Meanwhile, his opponent works out in a state of the art gym, complete with all the latest chrome-plated exercise machines.

On first glance, this seems like Hollywood sensationalism.

The almost absurd contrast between the two boxers and their training methods seems designed to have us rooting for the throwback Rocky – the perpetual underdog – and against the seemingly unstoppable tide of change, as represented by Rocky’s opponent and his ultra-modern training methods.

But it’s really not Hollywood hype.

Actually, lots of people use old-school training methods. And they’re not just back-woods crackpots, either.

More and more, fitness enthusiasts are going back to older, time-tested methods of getting in shape; methods that were mostly ignored in the last few decades.

Recent fitness trends are falling by the wayside

Let’s take a look at some of the recent trends in sports and fitness, and how they’re being replaced by older, more effective methods:

Old-school cardio methods

The late 1970s ushered in the “jogging craze”.

Shoe companies had us believing that the ultimate test of physical fitness was the ability to run long distances at a relatively slow pace. As marathoners like Bill Rogers and Jim Fixx became household names, people started to pound the pavement in record numbers.

Running stairs

Intervals on the stairs

Later, in fitness-conscious California, “aerobics” gained traction.

This craze was started by large fitness-club franchises after they learned people would pay a recurring fee for fun, high-energy group classes full of good-looking people in skimpy clothes. And as fitness clubs spread across the nation, so did aerobics classes.

Later, with the advent of the VCR, anyone could take an aerobics class simply by buying a (celebrity-endorsed) tape.

But these days, jogging and aerobics are falling out of favor with amateur athletes and other cutting-edge fitness enthusiasts. Gone are the days of “long and slow” cardio; today, the old-school methods that were used all along by the pros are enjoying a renaissance.

Everywhere you look, you see athletes using interval training, hill sprints, circuit training, hybrid strength/cardio workouts with kettlebells, and sports-specific endurance workouts.

Old-school strength training

Kelly Pavlik uses old-school training methods.

Modern athletes like boxer Kelly Pavlik use old-school methods. Here, Pavlik works on his rotational abs by hitting a tire with a sledge hammer.

But the marketing and hype of the recent past wasn’t limited to exercise trends like aerobics and jogging.

The big guys in the weight room had money to spend just like anyone else, and marketers were more than happy to target them with the “new is better” message.

Yesterday’s athletes used weight training to get better at sports. But weight training became a “self improvement” activity with the advent of bodybuilding. Strength training became a lifestyle without any measurable goal except to be like that big guy with the muscles.

Lots of guys looked at Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 22-inch arms, then at their own 14-inchers, and began “pumping iron”.

And when they didn’t end up looking like a huge bodybuilder or pro wrestler, guess what they did? That’s right: they bought up every muscle magazine and bodybuilding “supplement” they could get their calloused hands on.

Now, fitness buffs are rapidly adopting older, better methods of packing on the pounds.

Bodybuilding-style isolation exercises are falling by the wayside, replaced by full-body compound movements that pack power, conditioning, and “functional” strength into one highly effective workout. And folks who value injury prevention and joint health are gravitating towards gymnastics workouts and bodyweight routines. Even kettlebell zealots use some old-school training methods.

Looking for a change? You might enjoy old-school training

One arm snatch

Want power? Try the one-arm snatch

So take a look at your own workout routine. Are you really getting the results you want?

If you’re not, it may be because you’re working out the way some marketer wants you to, instead of the way successful athletes have trained for centuries.

After all, there’s little point in training like a pro wrestling superstar if your real goal is to be able to function better in your everyday life. Old-school workouts stood the test of time for a reason: they work.

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Kevin Hellman November 1, 2010 at 11:40 am

Couldn’t agree more :)


Tristan November 4, 2010 at 2:36 am

You know, there’s just something that’s beautiful in the simplicity of the old school workouts. Hitting a tire with a hammer? Running slowly but forever? Hells yeah!


Daniel Scott July 3, 2011 at 10:36 pm

I love the idea of functional strength that’s actually functional. That’s why I love Strongman training with tires, stones etc. Sadly it’s not always available, that’s why I’m a powerlifter. And btw, bodybuilding training isn’t comprised of all isolation exercises, pretend bodybuilding is. You see more guys deadlifting than doing hamstring curls and back extensions. Bodybuilding movies just showcase that, and these kids latch on like a leach to an open scrape.


John Galt September 20, 2011 at 10:52 am

Well put. I like your website / blog. I think you just earned a frequent visitor. The marketing hype doesn’t just stop with the training method. It extends all the way through to the nutrition, supplements, vitamins, clothing, and virtually ever aspect of exercise. By adopting old school techniques (exercise and diet), I’ve accomplished more in 6 months than most of my buddies have accomplished in 6 years. Now they are all asking me how they can do what I’m doing.


anon November 21, 2011 at 11:20 pm

Running long distances is as “old school” as anything else.
It’s true that new isn’t necessarily better, but this fad of knocking aerobic exercise done at moderate intensity for long periods of time is actually an example of “new school” marketing hype.


Thomas June 25, 2012 at 7:09 pm

There’s a lot of truth in what you say.


Tyciol January 29, 2012 at 1:14 pm

Seeing pics of 1-arm snatches much like overhead squats makes me sad due to my low basement ceiling. Good for handstands though, handstands with feet on ceiling rocks. Guess I’ll go outside to do some snatches. Could probably use the sun.


Thomas June 25, 2012 at 7:11 pm

Increase the weight and receive the snatch in a lower position? Nah, outdoors is probably best.


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