Is New Really Better?

Once in a while, I drive by a gym with a sign in the window: “The most unproven programming in town!”

Okay, it really says, “the most innovative programming,” but I fail to see the difference.

StrongFirst Programming
The Russian kettlebell—a 300-year-old fad.

The Problem of Neomania

In Antifragile, a book full of powerful training lessons, Nassim Nicholas Taleb rips apart neomania, the love of the modern for its own sake.

[It is a mistake] to believe that one would be acting “young” by adopting a “young” technology, revealing both a logical error and a mental bias. It leads to the inversion of the power of generational contributions, producing the illusion of the contribution of the new generations over the old—statistically, the “young” do almost nothing. This mistake has been made by many people, but most recently I saw an angry “futuristic” consultant who accuses people who do not jump into technology of “thinking old” (he… looks sickly and pear-shaped and has an undefined transition between his jaw and his neck).

The author argues that the longer a technology or an idea has been around, the more it has proven itself and the better are its odds of sticking around longer:

…If a book has been in print for forty years, I can expect it to be in print for another forty years… This, simply, as a rule, tells you why things that have been around for a long time are not “aging” like persons, but “aging” in reverse. Every year that passes without extinction doubles the additional life expectancy. This is an indicator of robustness.

Examples abound:

[Physicist Richard Gott] made a list of Broadway shows on a given day… and predicted that the longest running would run the longest, and vice versa. He was proven right with 95 percent accuracy. He has, as a child, visited both the Great Pyramid (5,700 years old), and the Berlin Wall (12 years old), and correctly guessed that the former would outlive the latter.

How This Applies to Strength Programming

There is a reason StrongFirst teaches only three training modalities: kettlebell, bodyweight, and barbell. They have earned their stripes over centuries. Why would anyone in his right mind select a new, unproven training modality? The probability that someone creates a piece of exercise equipment that could rival the kettlebell or the barbell is as good as winning millions in lottery.

Ditto for training methodologies. At StrongFirst, we do not reinvent the wheel; we refine what our predecessors have done. The skills we teach (gripping, pressurizing, etc.) are not invented, but reverse-engineered from what the strongest have always done naturally. As for the StrongFirst programming, it is a 2.0 version of the methodology Soviet weightlifters used for training the overhead press in the late 1960s, when the press was still contested. (The same can be said of the Powerlifting Team Russia methodology by Boris Sheyko.)

StrongFirst Programming
The StrongFirst methodology stands on the shoulders of Soviet giants—Medvedev, Roman, Vorobyev, Rodionov, and others.

Be Fashionable—or Be Strong

I found it very comical when I saw a supplement ad with a photo of old time strongman Sig Klein, gladiator sandals and all. The ad took a shot at his physique, something along the lines of, “You don’t want to be this old-fashioned; take our hot new supplements!”

Sig Klein Oldtime Strongman
Sig Klein, unfashionably strong

Klein could lie on his stomach with a 75-pound dumbbell strapped to his back—and press to a handstand. He military pressed 229.5 pounds in the strictest possible fashion—weighing a hair over a buck fifty. If this is old-fashioned, it beats new every day of the week.

Chasing “hot” and “new” amounts to chasing your tail. Be fashionable—or be strong.

Pavel Tsatsouline
Pavel Tsatsouline is the CEO of StrongFirst, Inc.

24 thoughts on “Is New Really Better?

  • Wow, coming from Pavel Tsatsouline, that’s rich. Wasn’t Pavel the one constantly putting down conventional strength training in his books, waving his “soviet secrets”, “secret protocols”. Simply hilarious 🙂

    • Not agreed. Sandow, Saxon, Klein, Hoffman, Inch, Goerner… Masters of strength BEFORE the era of biceps pumping and “all show, no go” modenr bodybuilding and “fitness”? Pavel ALWAYS gave them credit, and actually has been the one who caused the modern strenght revolution (both in conventional and orignal sense of the word, ie. “return”).

  • The promise of the new is the promise of results without work.

    That is the source of its eternal attractiveness.

  • They insulted Sig Klein?! Off with their heads…

    “Do you want to be out of cash, bloated, and weak? Then don’t be like this guy…get our latest batch of powder, some oil, and some bronze paint, and a razor, and this thong, and you can be a real man!”

  • Pavel the saying at my martial arts school since 1981 has been “Shurite Kempo, An old approach to Self-defense” 🙂

  • In my post I meant modalities not domains. Guy was talking to me about the crossfits time and domains speech and that word stuck in my head… (clears throat) so uh.. ya. Strongman training as a modalitie

  • Great article Pavel!

    One thing i’d like to maybe bring to the table so to speak, is another possible “Domain”. Strongman training. In addition to the ones you already have listed or maybe in replace of the barbell (seeing that and axle bar could be used for deadling, pressing and other various compound movements that the barbell offers). Strongman training also has been around for years and years and implents great strength movements and carry overs, and not to mention the “what the heck” effect!

    Just a thought..
    what does everyone think?

  • I worked out in fancy gyms for many many years, now I work or I should say practice in my basement where there are only kettlebells, barbells and me. Pavel, once again you hit it right out of the park with this post!!

  • Pavel, I LOVE this. You are spot on! Funny how as we get more advanced, we realize that the fancy stuff we got caught up in was all wrong, and here we are back to press, squat, deadlift, row, swing… the basics always work, you can count on them.

    Thank you for your constant educating!!!


  • Chief:

    What you share here is, in my opinion, not only a mark of intelligence, but of wisdom. There are a lot of “smart” people out there, and the crowd flocks to praise them. In a few years, no one will remember their names.

    You, however, are among the “wise” ones, and your followers, while fewer in number, are the ones who are fortunate.

    Thank you.

  • I know Pavel is already a hero in so many people’s eyes, but quoting Taleb?! You, sir, are definitely a Black Swan who is doing wonders for the fitness world. Thank you!

  • Excellent article and love the authentic philosophy of the “Big 3” training modalities. With all the “stuff” out there, it really comes down to fundamentals. Always has been and always will be. Instead of all the distractions, we need to continue focus on Mastery of these fundamentals, and constantly “refine” our skills, as you point out. So true.
    Great, honest insight Chief!
    In Strength….Scott

  • Love it. Everyone is trying to find some edge, when they need to get back to basics and get after it. I will say this I would love to be old fashoned if I looked like Sandow or Saxon!

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