The Fascinating History of Strength Training: Lessons from Strong Cultures Worldwide

Today, we're taking a trip back in time. Let's explore the fascinating history of strength training and uncover methods from strong populations across the world. Trust me; you’ll be itching to incorporate some of these age-old techniques into your next gym session.

1. The Mighty Ancient Civilizations

  • Ancient Greece:

    • Populations: Olympic athletes, soldiers, and the general populace.
    • Livelihood & Sport: From the iconic Olympic Games to rigorous military training, Greeks valued strength and physique.
    • Training Methods: Weightlifting with stone weights (halteres) and practicing the discus throw.
    • Lessons Learned: Incorporate basic lifting and throwing exercises into our routines.
  • Ancient India:

    • Populations: Warriors and traditional wrestlers (Pehlwani).
    • Livelihood & Sport: Wrestling matches, military endeavors.
    • Training Methods: Gymnastics, bodyweight exercises, and wrestling in the sand.
    • Lessons Learned: Ground-based exercises, such as push-ups and lunges, are timeless.

2. Strong Cultures and Their Practices

  • Scottish Highlanders:

    • Livelihood: Farmers, herders.
    • Sport: The Highland Games—think caber toss and hammer throw!
    • Training Methods: Lifting heavy stones, logs, and farm implements.
    • Lessons Learned: Functional training, using everyday objects, is immensely effective.
  • The Maori of New Zealand:

    • Livelihood: Hunters, fishermen.
    • Sport: Traditional war dance, Haka.
    • Training Methods: Paddling canoes, building, and combat training.
    • Lessons Learned: Compound movements and total body exercises yield comprehensive strength.

3. Modern Takes from Age-Old Techniques

Many contemporary strength training exercises have roots in past practices. For instance:

  • Kettlebell swings have origins in old Russian fitness routines.
  • Plyometrics can trace lineage to various indigenous tribes who would practice jumping rituals.
  • Olympic weightlifting takes inspiration directly from our friends in ancient Greece.

4. What We Can Implement Today

From our historical journey, here's what you can weave into your workout:

  • Functional Training: Use tools like sandbags, logs, and kettlebells.
  • Bodyweight Mastery: Embrace push-ups, squats, and lunges.
  • Ground-Based Exercises: Think burpees, bear crawls, and more.
  • Compound Movements: Deadlifts, squats, and bench presses remain evergreen.

5. Concluding Thoughts & Lessons Learned

Strength isn't merely about physical prowess. It's about cultural pride, survival, and sometimes, celebration. By understanding our ancestors' methods and the reasons behind them, we can tailor our modern-day routines to be more holistic, functional, and deeply rooted in human history.

So, the next time you lift that weight, remember—you're not just building muscle, but also connecting with a legacy that's centuries old.


[1] "Ancient Greek Olympics - the first Olympic Games in Greece." Ancient Greece. Link:

[2] Alter, J. (1992). The wrestler's body: Identity and ideology in north India. University of California Press. Link:

[3] "Highland Games Traditions." Link:

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