I’m not going to launch into a story from my younger days as an athlete or anything like that…I’m going back MUCH further than that.

I recently attended a workshop on meditation held at Yang’s Fitness Center.  The presenter was a very interesting guy from the Middle East who had a ton of stories.  Because of the subject matter, the discussion of muscles and relaxation came up quite a bit.

He made one comment that gave me the idea for this blog.

He mentioned that individuals from just a few short generations ago were much stronger than people of today.  This would seem to be contradictory to what we see on the sports fields where advances in strength and conditioning produce bigger, faster and stronger athletes than ever before.

However, he was completely correct.  The average person from say the 1900’s was much stronger than the average person today.  Some of this is for obvious reasons.  Life was VERY challenging back then.  We did not have machines doing virtually everything for us so manual labor was the norm.

Today we call it “farm strength”.  You occasionally see it in the big ‘ole farm boys from Nebraska who grew up throwing hay bales around and now get paid millions to throw opponents around the football field.  They have a natural strength that is developed young and stays with them through life.

The differences in strength extended beyond the average person.  Even in the world of strength training, the old-time ‘strongmen’ you saw at demonstrations and fairs routinely executed feats of strength far beyond the abilities of their peers today.  The name Arthur Saxon pops into my head, along with Louis Cyr from Canada.  If you have time this weekend, do a quick google search on these names; incredibly powerful with some colorful stories. 

Part of the explanation for the strength differences is in the equipment being lifted.  Today we have sophisticated machines and perfectly balanced barbells loaded with perfectly designed plates…all intended to make is stronger.  Not so ‘back in the day’.  Lifting awkward loads produces superior strength.

I personally believe it is unfortunate most of us live a lifestyle which largely brings about significant muscle mass loss.  Something we pay dearly for in our older years.  Not doing physical labor has become the norm.  Much to our detriment.

So, is there a way to avoid this?  I think so.  I am making it a point to “go back in time” on at least a couple of projects each year.  Here are some ideas:

  • Build a stone wall. Rocks are something we have PLENTY of in New England.  If your yard allows, redefine your property line with a wall of small boulders.
  • Put in a new walkway or patio with brick or pavers. Sure it’s easier to hire someone to do this, but not nearly as gratifying
  • Chop wood. This is my personal favorite.  I believe I mentioned this in a blog a while back.  I truly enjoy gathering with the family around a fire.  It makes for a great social event.  We recently had 6 large trees removed and I literally could not wait to gather the wood in a wheelbarrow, bring it all to one location and start chopping up the wood.  My forearms were sore, but I had a blast!
  • Clearing trees and brush. You may bring in a pro to actually cut the tree down for safety reasons, but cutting it up and stacking the wood involves all the physical actions we simply don’t do any more…even in the gym.
  • Here’s a weird one…As you may know, I used to compete in and oversee professional level strongman shows. Since those days are behind me, I thought I would clean up our yard and sell the old equipment.  Most of it was metal and a lot of it was lead.  Well it took quite some time, but I managed to load it all up into my truck and trailer and brought it to a recycling facility in Everett.  A hard day’s work that happened to pay well! (You would not believe what they were paying for a pound of lead).

I could go on but you get the idea.  We must never forget we were designed to lift, drag, carry, throw and generally MOVE…preferably outside.  I encourage everyone to design an outdoor project of any sort which requires these types of movements.

There is something about activities like this which allows us to get back to nature – or at least a natural way of moving – in some small way.

As I write this, a significant snow storm is moving in.  The shovels are ready.  As you can imagine, my son is somewhat less enthusiastic about my philosophy on outdoor physical activity.  Shocking…

Have a great weekend everyone!