Dan John’s Tenth Commandment of Lifting is, “Know and love the roots of your sport.”
There is more to lifting than just lifting, despite our tendency to sometimes simplify the process. “I lift things up. I put them down.” History plays an important role in what we do. Knowing your history makes for a more complete experience and makes you less vulnerable to the snake oils and marketing ploys of the fitness industry.
History gives you a sense of perspective, without which you really have no sense of bearing outside the rituals of your own particular gym. This can be as simple as having a sense of what is truly heavy.
I look for inspiration from those who lifted before the advent of performance enhancing drugs. Turn of the twentieth century strongmen like Eugene Sandow, Louis Cyr, and George Hackenschmidt, not only possessed really cool sounding names, but set records of human achievement, some of which still stand today.
Knowing the achievements of those who went before me stops me from resting on my laurels and falling short of my own potential.
Studying the lifters and enthusiasts who came before me offers a smorgasbord of methods to explore. Most of the great achievers of the past left a legacy, sometimes in the form of training journals, but in many cases books and manuals laying out their own philosophy of training, a trail for anyone who cares to follow.
There is much about the modern fitness industry that I do not cotton with. History gives me a sense of what went wrong and why. In the late 70’s and early 80’s, bodybuilding became a national craze. It went from being an obscure and often misunderstood sport to a widely known and still largely misunderstood one. This effect on the fitness industry still lingers today, shaping how the majority of us approach our workouts and view our goals in the gym.
At it’s core modern fitness is about looking better. Originally, this was just a side effect of good training. The purpose was ability. The goal being not to look fit, but to be fit.
As one who struggles in an industry overrun with a philosophy that prizes form over function, history helps keep my enthusiasm alive. Reading the words of giants who reflect my own thoughts buoys my spirit and adds fuel to the fire of my passion.
Even better, it lets me finds my place in a lineage. My tribe now extends beyond space and time to include those who died long before I was born, the kindred nature of our enthusiasms the only ties we need.
I don’t pretend to be a historian of strength or fitness. There are those who know their history much better than I, but I do understand the importance of that history and every once in a while, when I can set aside my frantic efforts to earn a living, I can relax into the knowledge and experience of my forebears, knowing that when I come back out I’ll be better for it.