George Hackenschmidt: Old School Strongman Wisdom That’s Still Relevant Today

George Hackenschmidt was an old school strongman, weightlifter, world champion wrestler, philosopher and author. He was friends with Harry Houdini, broke the world record with a one arm press of 269 pounds, spoke 7 languages, essentially invented the bench press, and President Teddy Roosevelt once was quoted as saying, “If I wasn’t President of the United States, I would like to be George Hackenschmidt.”

In short, George Hackenschmidt fucked.

I’ve always been fascinated by the old school strongmen. In a day and age before all the fitness trackers, shiny machines, and sweat wicking joggers, these guys built some of the biggest, strongest, and most well rounded physiques the world has ever seen. I mean, there aren’t a lot of 205 pound guys out there who are drug free, can lift a horse, and do an iron cross on the gymnastics rings even now, let alone in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.

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George Hackenschmidt

Among the books Hackenschmidt wrote is “The Way to Live,” in 1935. I read it years ago, and recently re-read it. While there are certainly some outdated ideas, (neck bridging while bench pressing is probably not the best exercise, and training naked is generally frowned upon nowadays) it’s insane how far ahead of his time he was in his knowledge and understanding of strength, fitness, and overall wellness.

Hackenschmidt was insanely strong, but also felt that mobility, stretching, gymnastics, and moving your joints in all directions was paramount to a healthy body. Somewhere along the way this thought process was lost and sitting on our asses looking at phone and computer screens took over, but thankfully more people are finding their way back to the basics that make sense:

Eat good food. Train regularly. Move more. Sleep 7-9 hours a night. Get jacked AF.

Unfortunately, we still have a long way to go to unwind a lot of the problems we’ve incurred like childhood obesity, the diabetes epidemic, chronic joint pain, and dad bods by not listening to guys like him in the first place.

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Now, I’m not a big motivational quote guy, but I love finding direct quotes from the past that still ring true today. Here are the top passages I took from, “The Way to Live:”

“If you wish to become strong and well, you must attend to this, just as you must find time for eating. And, again, if you do not find time to become and remain healthy, you will be obliged to find time to be ill.”

“If physical exercise alone, without your will and mind, were all that was needful, every one could become a strong man, whether he be a brain or muscle worker. The laborer, however, who never particularly uses his mind while he strains all his muscles in hard toil, and every day lifts weights, does not necessarily augment his strength.”

“I have the firm conviction that in time everyone will recognize the necessity of daily bodily exercises in one form or another, as an ordinary counterpart to one’s daily mental exertions.”

“I should advise an amateur to vary the duration of his exercises; for instance, if he feels particularly fit he may exercise a little longer than on days when he feels more or less tired. And there is no doubt that simple food is best.”

“Those muscles which are left inactive to a greater or lesser extent lose their power of contraction and naturally deteriorate. This retrogression appears in the shape of muscular weakness and exhaustion.”

“I have come to the distinct conclusion, that the physical constitution of the human frame never was intended merely for study, but rather for manual and bodily exercise. I have found that those who have lived an active outdoor life have retained and enjoyed brightness born of health far longer than others. Such people always enjoyed their meals, seldom suffered from indigestion, headaches, or nervous exhaustion.”

“The old notion that physical prowess was inseparable from a dull intelligence is completely exploded, and happily so, seeing that it was  about the most harmful notion which has ever been entertained by man.”

“For it is only by exercising with heavy weights than any man can hope to develop really great strength. He should of course combine these exercises with skipping, running, jumping, and gymnastics of every description in order to similarly develop his exercises as well, he can never acquire really great physical powers. The man of forty or fifty, however, who has passed the age when the desire for great strength is still active and who only desires the acquistion and preservation of health may content himself with the exercises designed soley for that end. But I would strongly urge on all such, that it is their bounded duty to encourage, by every means in their power, the pursuit of strength among all the youths of their district. Persuade the boys and young men in every locality to band themselves together for the purpose of forming physical culture clubs and Gymnasia, where they can exercise and develop their bodies.”

“It may be suggested that there is no reason why a man should go to the trouble and exertion of struggling with heavy weights, since there is no crying necessity for that particular man to acquire any phenomenal degree of strength. To that I would reply by asking why a man should desire to be weak?”

“There is one point on which I would wish to lay stress, and that is, that no matter what age a man may have attained, he is by no means too old to commence exercise.”

“Never on any account continue the exercises until exhaustion sets in and always relax your muscles afterwards… Further, do not devote your whole attention solely to the easiest movements. These will probably be calculated to develop those parts in which you are already strong, whereas your chief aim should be to strengthen your less well developed muscles, that your body may be in perfect harmony and tune.”

“Middle aged and elderly people are far too apt to imagine that for them the age of physical exercise is past. Herein they are really seriously at fault, for they are often the very people who stand most in need of such.”

“Overwork, like laziness, is harmful.” 

“There are very strong people who are strict vegetarians, whilst others eat a good deal of meat…Everyone should and can find out which diet best suits his constitution, and he should avoid all food which disagrees with it.”

“Run as much as you can, and whenever you come across a hill, run up it.”

The entire book is filled to the brim with great lines that simplify the hell out of how to take care of your mind, body, and soul to live the best life possible, and even though I listed about 9 pages worth of quotes, I had to cut it down for the sake of a simple blog post. If you’re looking for a great, relatively quick read filled with old English verbiage from an old school ass kicker, I’d highly recommend picking up the Kindle version of “The Way to Live,” on Amazon.

 

 

 

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