Verifiably True Ancient Greek and Roman Exercises

Discussion in 'Other' started by Kozushi, Apr 2, 2017.

  1. Kozushi

    Kozushi Strong, Powerful, Explosively Athletic Member of the Forum

    I hope I haven't posted this stuff here before, but anyhow, we do have documented evidence for actual strength and conditioning exercises from the Ancient Greco-Roman period. Here they are, from the ancient medical writer Galen. No pushups or squats, interestingly enough!:

    Galen divides his exercises into three categories, which we may term "strong", "rapid and "violent", which is a combination of the preceding two. Galen's listing of the exercises gives us a fascinating glimpse into the everyday activities of the Paleastrae, Gymnasia and other more leisurely-areas of the ancient world.

    The affinities they have with the various sporting events can be made out: kicking of the legs for Pankration, rope-climbing for wrestling, holding the arms up for boxing.

    STRONG:
    1) Digging
    2) Picking up something heavy
    3) Picking up something heavy and walking with it
    4) Walking uphill
    5) Climbing a rope using the hands and feet: commonly done to train boys in the wrestling schools
    6) Hanging onto a rope or beam for as long as possible
    7) Holding the arms straight out in front with fists closed
    8) Holding the arms straight out to sides with fists closed
    9) Holding out the arms while a partner pulls them down
    10) The preceding three exercises but while holding something heavy such as jumping-weights
    11) Breaking loose from a wrestling waist-lock
    12) Holding onto a person trying to escape from a waist-lock
    13) Picking up a man who is bending over at the hips and lifting him up and swinging him around
    14) Doing the same but bending oneself at the hips also when picking him up
    15) Pushing chest to chest trying to force the opponent backwards
    16) Hanging from another's neck, attempting to drag him down

    Exercises requiring a wrestling pit:
    a) Entwine your partner with both your legs around one of his and try to apply a choke or force his head backwards
    b) The same but using only one leg to entwine the opponents leg closest to yours
    c) The same but using both legs to entwine both of the opponents legs.

    Rapid:
    1) Running
    2) Shadow-boxing
    3) Boxing
    4) Hitting punching bags
    5) Throwing and catching a small ball while running
    6) Running back and forth, reducing the length each time until finished
    7) Stand on the balls of the feet, put the arms up in the air and rapidly and alternatly bringing them forward and back; stand near a wall if afraid of losing ones's balance
    8) Rolling on the wrestling-ground rapidly by oneself or with others9) Rapidly changing places with people next to one in a tightly packed group
    10) Jumping up and kicking both legs together backwards
    11) Kicking the legs forward alternatly
    12) Move the arms up and down rapidly with open or closed fist, increasing in speed

    VIOLENT:
    1) Digging rapidly
    2) Casting the discus
    3) Jumping repeatedly with no rest
    4) Throwing heavy spears and moving fast while wearing heavy armour
    5) Any of the 'strong' exercises executed rapidly: presumably running uphill, swinging jumping weights forward and back, and lifting them up and down, chin-ups and so on.

    Other Exercises:
    1) Walking
    2) bending up and down repeatedly at the hips
    3) Lifting a weight up from the ground
    4) Holding up an object for a long time
    5) Full and loud breathing
    6) Placing two weights on the ground approximately six feet from each other, picking up the one on the left with the right hand and then the one on the right with the left hand, then in turn placing them back where they came from on the ground and doing this many times with the feet stationary
     
    Last edited: Apr 5, 2017
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  2. Pavel Macek

    Pavel Macek Strong, Powerful, Explosively Athletic Member of the Forum Master Instructor

    What is the source of the info, please?
     
  3. pet'

    pet' Strong, Powerful, Explosively Athletic Member of the Forum

    Hello,

    @Kozushi
    This is very interesting !

    Do you have any information in terms of programming ?

    Such a variety of moves, tools and types of muscular contraction makes me think about Scott Sonnon's training program (using clubell, bodyweight, kettlebell, etc...) on an almost every day basis.

    Kind regards,

    Pet'
     
  4. dc

    dc Helping Make Others Stronger

    +1 to source of info.
     
  5. Antti

    Antti Strong, Powerful, Explosively Athletic Member of the Forum

    I don't believe it if there aren't any calves involved.
     
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  6. Bergman

    Bergman My Third Post

  7. Kozushi

    Kozushi Strong, Powerful, Explosively Athletic Member of the Forum

    The problem in interpreting Galen's little chapter of physical exercise is in the fine meaning of the words. Remember that the vocabulary of exercise was drastically different back then, as was the way of looking at exercise. Keep in mind that they had absolutely no "science" behind anything they did - it was all based on practical experience and assumptions. Also, even though Galen was a compendious writer, he is just one guy! We all know the Ancients ran, jumped, threw stuff, boxed, wrestled and did MMA. Actually, I did a Master's Thesis in order to find out the exact rules of ancient Greek wrestling, which had become misinterpreted over the years. I'm starting to wonder what kind of strength building exercises the ancients did and if there might be anything we can learn from them - maybe we're missing some short cuts to strength or something like that.

    There seems to be a big emphasis on the deadlift or similar in the list of exercises. As for other weight lifting moves, it seems that they liked static strength-endurance exercises where you lifted the weight up into a position above your head or out in front of you and just held it there as long as possible. It sounds like boring torture, but they apparently thought highly of it. They seem to think highly of anything where you have to bend at the waist to lift the weight - again, coming back to the apparent deadlift theme.

    Overall the stuff to me strongly resembles the Power To The People book - it's mostly deadlift stuff supplemented with pushing a weight up over your head and holding it there! It does not however resemble Naked Warrior at all, which is kind of ironic given that it's the Naked Warrior book that makes the links (that I would LIKE to be true!!!) between pushups and squats to the ancient Romans and Greeks.

    Anyhow, there don't seem to be any squats or pushups, but there are isometric chinups on the list. The closest thing to squats is the "walking uphill" exercise.

    I do find it interesting and affirming that the ancients also thought of mere walking as a good exercise, as I do.

    Seneca complains about the guys in the gym below his apartment in Rome grunting as they "swing weights over their heads". This sounds like the snatch or something similar.
     
    Last edited: Apr 2, 2017
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  8. pet'

    pet' Strong, Powerful, Explosively Athletic Member of the Forum

    Hello,

    @Kozushi
    Did you already train the Ancient Greek and Roman way ? Or did some folks do ? If so, what were the results ?

    Kind regards,

    Pet'
     
  9. Kozushi

    Kozushi Strong, Powerful, Explosively Athletic Member of the Forum

    It's similar to the kettlebell moves we do with our swings, presses, endurance moves like TGUs etc.

    Iron was very expensive back then and would get stolen if left around for "Weights" somewhere. They tended to use rocks. Our modern stuff is WAY better than theirs! I follow S&S and NW.
     
  10. Smile-n-Nod

    Smile-n-Nod Strong Member of the Forum

    I watched a documentary recently about archaeology performed on a Roman gladiator training school near Vienna, Austria. In the re-creations (which involved actors and a certain amount of interpretation), some of the gladiators were swinging weights at arm's length, somewhat like a club-bell swing (or maybe a kettlebell swing, but outside of the thighs instead of between them).
     
    Last edited: Apr 3, 2017
  11. pet'

    pet' Strong, Powerful, Explosively Athletic Member of the Forum

    Hello,

    To a certain extent, working on flexibility and mobility while training big muscle groups may be th right spot. Right ?

    Kind regards,

    Pet'
     
  12. Kozushi

    Kozushi Strong, Powerful, Explosively Athletic Member of the Forum

    This does not contradict the source documents. They didn't have good weights though - usually only pretty light ones, unless we're talking about big heavy things for deadlifts and lift and carry exercises, like big stones and such.
     
  13. pet'

    pet' Strong, Powerful, Explosively Athletic Member of the Forum

    Hello,

    Aside from the mentioned exercises, is there some data about the wrestlers' diet ?

    Kind regards,

    Pet'
     
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  14. Pavel Macek

    Pavel Macek Strong, Powerful, Explosively Athletic Member of the Forum Master Instructor

    @Kozushi , can you post literal quote from Galen's work, or at least where to find it?
     
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  15. Steve Freides

    Steve Freides Forum Admin & Dir. of Community Engagement Staff Member Senior Instructor

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  16. pet'

    pet' Strong, Powerful, Explosively Athletic Member of the Forum

    Hello,

    To a certain extent, it seems a bit like "MovNat".

    Kind regards,

    Pet'
     
  17. Kozushi

    Kozushi Strong, Powerful, Explosively Athletic Member of the Forum

    I translated what is there during my M.A. work at the University of Western Ontario as part of my research on the true ancient rules for Greek Wrestling, which list of rules I put together is now considered authoritative. I was using I think a real book or it might have been a CD ROM. It was part of a lot of other work and I don't quite remember whether it was one or the other. I don't even remember if the source was Greek or Latin, but I think it was Greek. Interestingly, every internet source I've found uses my translation! Hahaha! I'm kind of proud of that, but I'd like to see a translation or even an original of the entire work, not just a part of it.

    Anyhow, it's from "De Sanitate Tuenda", a work by the Greco-Roman physician Galen who I think lived in the 2nd Century AD or thereabouts.

    Anyhow, it really strikes me as odd that there is no reference to pushups or squats in the ancient literature. We certainly see these movements in traditional Persian and Indian "gyms". Anyhow, I really don't think Galen would have left out "pushing your own body up from the ground" if people were in the habit of doing this. He was trying to be compendious in his research and in his writing, and frankly nothing is more convenient than your own body for exercise!

    Being a (former) Classical sports researcher, this lack of pushups and squats (let alone other things like leg raises and so forth) amongst the ancients is a serious ancient mystery! It doesn't mean that no one did them or that they were unknown, but it does mean that no one was drawing them or writing about them! weird, weird, WEIRD!
     
    Last edited: Apr 5, 2017
  18. Kozushi

    Kozushi Strong, Powerful, Explosively Athletic Member of the Forum

    Lots, but that wasn't my area of research so I don't know much about it. Apparently there were various opinions on this varying from vegetarianism to carnivorousness, and they disagreed as to what kind of food the eaten animals should be fed.
     
  19. pet'

    pet' Strong, Powerful, Explosively Athletic Member of the Forum

    Hello,

    I am not an expert at all about this topic, so I apologize in advance if I say something very stupid. I saw some documentaries on Indian wrestlers training. They are supposed not having changed their training method. They used a lot clubells.

    Kind regards,

    Pet'
     
  20. Mirek

    Mirek Strong, Powerful Member of the Forum

    For the readers of the Convict Conditioning it is going to be even more mysterious and weird because you would think that Greeks did not do
    much more than push-ups and squats to be "Big, beefy, scary-looking muthas with bulging arms, plate-armor pecs, thick, wide lats and dangerous delts." ;)
     
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