Why it Pays to Respect Your Elders

How many of you know of Arthur Saxon?

My guess is not many and I don’t think that’s weird.  I think I am weird for knowing who he is and I think that my friend Robby Sparango is even weirder for reading Saxon’s manifesto on our gym couch the other day while simultaneously eating a raw sweet potato like Bugs Bunny.

Most people know of Jack LaLanne as the father of fitness.  Think of Arthur Saxon as the grandfather of it.

Once Robby was done with Saxon’s book he passed me the 1906 published, 102 page manifesto called The Development of Physical Power which I read in one sitting Monday night.  I was blown away at how much this man was speaking my language, of course not literally since he talks like the Family Guy weight lifters.

Not only is that the most amazing name for a book ever but it even includes some of the best old timey shots in ridiculous looking poses and lifting positions.  As an add bonus it also introduced me to the word ‘teetotal’.

Yes, this is real. Arthur Saxon on the right.

Now, here is where I urge you to not let your eyes betray you as the following are true of Arthur Saxon.

  • In the early 1900’s he was the strongest man on Earth without any serious competition.
  • He could press 371 pounds.
  • Overheard.
  • With one arm.
  • On an unbalanced barbell.

Please read the above again.

And one more time….

He famously used an exercise, I shit you not, called The Two Hands Anyhow.  Doesn’t get more old timey than that.  In this exercise, you simply lift as much weight as possible in whatever manner you deem efficient.

  • Here is his world record of 448 pounds.

(Yes, kettlebells have been around for that long.)

Hang on.  We’re nowhere near done with his absurdity.

  • 1-arm Barbell Clean and Jerk of 247 pounds.
  • 2-arm Barbell Clean and Jerk of 342 pounds.
  • 1-arm Barbell Snatch of 200 pounds.

All of this was accomplished at a 200 pound body weight.

Arthur Saxon….was…the…fucking…MAN.

Now, this is not a strength post regardless of the comedic impressiveness of his lifts, but all about taking the recognition that we had it right in just about every regard of training and nutrition back when the world was a simpler, more localized place.

There were not over 116 fitness publications.  Fast food did not exist.  Neither did the mircowave, dumbass supplements or cayenne pepper cleanses.  We didn’t ship blueberries from Peru.

In reading Saxon’s manifesto it was absolutely amazing to me the things he was doing and thoughts on overall fitness that were completely dead on with what’s going on in fitness today, specifically at P360 (minus the tights, absurd lifts and vocabulary, although I want to start talking like this).

I always knew of Arthur Saxon and his contributions to fitness, but not until actually reading The Development of Physical Power did I learn his thoughts were so prophetic and rang so true with how we view things today.

And ladies, this is before women started lifting weights so the reason he always says ‘man’ does not mean he is only speaking to men.  He just had no clue that women would turn into complete bad asses a century later so feel free to swap the ‘he’ for ‘she’ whenever you want.

Let’s break the code of old-timey speak and look at just how far Saxon was ahead of his time in some of my favorite excerpts from his writings.

But first, let’s get in the mood a little.

On Expectation

“Perhaps only one man in one hundred possesses the physical make up and build to become a champion weight lifter.  One must be born with the constitution of a horse, with a sound physical make-up, both externally and internally, good bones and a strong will. “

Modern day translation: Understand you’re probably not going to be a record holder, but can still develop exceptional physical skills.

Also, Saxon was one of the first to study bone make up, specifically wrist size as a predictor of strength capacity.  Something I have always known since I have the wrists of an eleven year old girl.

On Strength

“Genuine strength should include not only momentary strength, as proved by the ability to lift a heavy weight once, but also far more valuable kind of strength known as strength for endurance.  This means the ability, if you are a cyclist, to jump on your machine and ride 100 miles at any time without undue fatigue.”

Modern day translation: “Be well rounded.”

On Following the Masses

“The usual idea about strength – I mean the idea of the average reader of health magazines – is generally a wrong one”.

Modern day translation: Don’t listen to magazines or infomercials geared towards the median.

On Mental Benefits

“Apart from sports, enduring strength means that the business man shall stand, without break-down, business cares and worries, that he shall be capable, when necessary, of working morning, afternoon and night with unflagging energy, holding tightly in his grasp the reins of business, retaining all the while a clear mind and untiring enegry, both of body and brain.”

“Whilst on the subject, I would point out that the man of sedentary occupation can never hope to stand the same amount of physical work as his fellow…whilst brain work is a constant and steady drain on the whole system, it will no doubt surprise many to learn that the brain-worker is more likely to suffer from over-work than the man who performs arduous feats which are purely muscular.”

Modern day translation: Prevailing over physical challenge makes you stronger in life.  Y’see?  We’re not crazy over here.

On Plateaus

Saxon is often credited as being one of the first to recognize training fatigue, plateauing and fighting it with rest and dialing it back.  He refers to it as ‘The Bugbear of Training’.

“In the first place, when you feel a little stale, yet, perhaps, not stale enough to make a total rest advisable, then when you lift, if you lift it should be with ease and comfort.”

Modern day translation:  You don’t have to completely murder yourself every session of the gym.

On Diet

“The man who boxes requires good wind and staying power, he therefore has to exercise great care in selection of food, avoiding pastry (ha), all starchy and sugary foods which would be dangerous to his wind.

Modern day translation: Eat like shit and you’ll train like shit.

Pretty amazing that in 1906 we knew that sugar and starch was bad for us, yet somehow we lost track, let our government tell us what to do and fucked it all up.

On Grandpa’s Old Cough Syrup

“With regard to alcoholic liquors, I am not teetotal (haha), yet I am aware of the dangers of drinking to excess, and would strongly urge everyone the importance of moderation in drinking.  Spirits I have proved to be disadvantageous to the would be athlete, and my favorite drink is lager beer.  Beer and stout should be amongst the alcoholic liquors for weight lifters.”

Modern day translation: Bear Republic Racer #5 is weight lifting approved!  And now I feel completely justified always drinking dark beer over most anything else when I’m out having fun carousing.  Hmmyesss, carousing seeeee.

Tying It All Together

“I have met quite a number of physical culturists who have come to show me their development, and whilst it must be admitted it has been splendid to look upon, yet it has also been made evident to me that a number of such men have injured their health in an endeavor to squeeze the last fraction of an inch out of their muscular development. 

My idea will be, and always has been, to let muscles to look after themselves, but I place a premium upon the possession of untiring energy, great stamina, vital power and a sound constitution”.

What Saxon was getting at with all of this prophecy and hilariousness?

Modern day translation: Horsepower, my friends.  Ability over appearance.  Become capable and your physical goals will follow suite.  The exact same thing we preach in P360 that look eerily similar to the philosophy on the board.

I have no real point with this entry.  I just thought it was way cool that 106 years ago fitness was where it should be and a lot of bullshit that has clouded the industry can easily be cut through by this 100 page paper.

Saxon’s overall take hit me like a ton of bricks and I found myself buying into virtually every word on the pages, especially the last paragraph above.

Sometimes old people do know what’s best after all.

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2 Comments

  1. Dave, This kicks ass! I love the chalkboard at the gym, Going to borrow it for my whiteboard at work if that is ok? Man, I wish I lived in Cali to have access to a coach as motivating, caring and as knowledgeable as you 🙂 Thanks for sharing this awesome info.

    1. I am not deserving of this compliment, but thank you very much, Kendra. I am very excited to start reading your work!

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