When presented with the possibility of trying something new, it’s in my nature to read at least one book about it. This is certainly a nod to books—I recommend them as a mechanism for understanding the world!—but also a personal idiosyncrasy, a way for me to immerse myself in a new idea from a safe and relaxed state, which lays some foundation for engaging with the idea in the real world.
And so it was that I found myself picking up Robert “Eisenhans” Spindler’s My Oldtime Strongman Training: How to Build Old School Strength and Muscle, Master Classic Feats of Strength, and Perform Them.
To be clear: In the four years since I’ve updated this site, I have not become a professional or amateur strongwoman (though Amateur Strong Woman is a memoir title with potential). But I did recently seek out a new personal trainer, who floated the idea of peppering strongman-like exercises into our routines for fun. That sent me down a Wikipedia rabbit hole, which in turn sent me to the bookstore. And while there are many books about strength training and weightlifting, Spindler (whose YouTube page you can find here) makes a living as a performing “original strongman” (think: historical festivals, one-man shows, circuses…) Who could pass up that perspective?
Something for every strongperson
On its face, My Oldtime Strongman Training is exactly what it promises to be: a concise guide to building strength broadly, and to training for feats of strength used among performing “original strongmen.” There is a lot of material I’d consider useful to anyone embarking on a fitness journey—I most liked Spindler’s breakdown of all exercise into walking, running, and jumping; throwing; climbing; lifting and carrying; and hitting. But for a non-aspiring-strongperson, there is also great deal of information that might be considered boring. Spindler is writing for a specific audience, and while its esoteric nature is what drew me to this book, I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who isn’t relatively curious about the world of strongmanning. (Of course, if you are at all curious about this world, Spindler includes many interesting historical asides.)
That said, the sum of My Oldtime Strongman Training is greater than its parts. This is a book about strength training, but also a nice little handbook to leading a simple and rewarding life, interspersed with contextually specific comments like “Practically no modern human maxes out the great working potential of our jaw muscles” and “When a man lifts more than ten children at once, this is a very concrete achievement that children can relate to, memorize, and be inspired by.” The overall effect is rather delightful.
Spindler’s holistic guidance is no accident; he posits that a strongman is also “someone with strong character,” and often digresses into asides that reveal his belief in, for example, traditionalism and minimalism. As practical guidance, you can take what you find useful and leave what you do not. But as narrative tidbits, there are many lines in this book I will keep thinking back on, some for their almost accidental profundity, and some for their comic specificity. Here are a few of my favorites:
“It takes great will and endurance to do anything that goes beyond the ordinary by definition.”
“You should constantly remind yourself what your body was designed for.”
“Using one’s hands in a great variety of ways is indisputably human.”
“Any great feat of strength started out as a very little feat of strength.”
“An oldtime strongman is happy with a coarse farmer’s meal, and can, if necessary, sleep overnight on an old dog’s blanket in the corner of a shed.”
“Confident people are a bit lenient with, or ignorant of, their own body weight. One should always take this into consideration when incorporating people from the audience.”
“A bookshelf in your gym can create a nice and cozy ambiance.”
“To get hold of used horseshoes, you will have to go out into the real world and talk to people. You will have to go to a riding stable, a farrier, or the like, and ask the people there if they can spare a couple of used horseshoes. Usually they will give them away gladly because used horseshoes accrue regularly, and are of no use to these people any more. Of course, they will ask you what you need them for, and if you are embarrassed about your horseshoe bending plans and oldtime strongman training, you could say that you need them for decoration, or that you are an artist and need them for a piece of art.”
“Towing a modern car with your teeth, on a road without a slope, is the easiest thing in the world. I have on one occasion towed three cars in a row and on another occasion a horse cart with a musical band on it, and both were no real challenge.” (I cannot stop imagining someone saying this at a dinner party.)
16 tasks to always make time for
Spindler is a big fan of lists, and My Oldtime Strongman Training is full of them, from movement types to specific exercises to detailed examples of workout routines, all of which I can see being highly useful for the aspiring-strongperson reader. But for me, one list towards the end stuck out: every activity Spindler tries to cover in his weekly plan (he is also a big fan of weekly plans):
- Time for my oldtime strongman training (of course)
- Time for cardiovascular activity
- Three main meals per day (and their preparation)
- Three snacks per day
- Time outdoors
- Time to shop for groceries
- Time for housework
- Time with close family
- Time with extended family
- Time with friends
- Time for work
- Time to read serious books
- Time to read books for entertainment
- Time for relaxation
- Time to sleep and awaken naturally (if possible)
- Time for a morning and evening routine
After sharing this list, Spindler comments on how many tasks it can feel like in any given week; he advises combining them where possible, and reducing the weekly share of each as necessary. But as a reader I almost found myself struck by the opposite: how few tasks it really takes to lead a physically and mentally strong life, relative to how many things we spend our time worrying about. Also that “watching TikTok videos” didn’t make the cut.
My Oldtime Strongman Training is a highly illogical book to choose when reviving one’s defunct book blog: It is not a book for everyone, and I’m not even sure it would have been a book for me had I not recently started entertaining the idea of hitting giant tires with sledgehammers. But it’s also not not a book for everyone? Or at least, there is much more here for everyone than you might otherwise expect.
TITLE: My Oldtime Strongman Training: How to Build Old School Strength and Muscle, Master Classic Feats of Strength, and Perform Them
AUTHOR: Robert Spindler
ALSO WROTE: Grip Strength
SORTA LIKE: Wikipedia page meets fitness blog
FIRST LINE: “Although I grew up in, and still live, in the mountainous Austrian Tyrol, and although I was born in German Bavaria—home of the old-time strongman Hans Steyrer (1849-1906; famous for routinely lifting a 500-lb. stone with only one finger)—my family roots lie in a true hub of classic strength athletics.”