Forgotten Secrets of the Old Time Strongmen

Title: Forgotten Secrets of the Old Time Strongmen

Author: Dave Yarnell

Year: 2008

Publisher: Createspace

Synopsis: The training strategies and nutrition choices of early twentieth century strongmen are shared with us.

Review: Dave Yarnell takes us back in time to an era before bench pressing was popular,  where bodypart splits were uncommon and steroids were unheard of. These strongmen built their phenomenal physiques and superior strength with straightforward training routines.

Some of the exercises featured in this book will be unfamiliar to some readers and some may even seem bizarre. It is unlikely that you will have ever seen anyone in your gym doing Steinborn squats, straddle lifts or Hise shrugs. Conversely, lots of the exercises featured are easily recognisable, even for gym neophytes. Kettlebell enthusiasts may be interested to see that dumbbell and barbell versions of swings and Turkish get ups were used by some of the old time strongmen and bodybuilders. Big black and white pictures of Yarnell demonstrating some of these lifts are a helpful addition to the book.

Yarnell has selected a handful of routines to educate us about the old time strongmen’s training. It’s clear to see that whole body routines were favoured for building superhuman strength. The routines are easy to follow and the simplicity of them should appeal to lots of readers. Peary Rader’s 20-rep squat programme is a fine example of this. Four exercises: squats, pullovers, dips and chins; very simple and very productive. Rader’s programme to add ¾ inches onto your arms in ONE DAY is also very intriguing if not tempting to try!

Each strongman presented in this book had his own views about nutrition. Most agreed that tea, coffee, alcohol and caffeine were undesirable. Some, Lionel Strongfort for instance, recommended eating as least meat as possible. Indian lifter K.V. Iyer would have agreed and built his body entirely on a vegetarian diet. Famous bodybuilder and strongman Eugene Sandow ate six meals a day, a concept that is now popular in modern-day training.

The book looks into other qualities that are essential for maximising strength development. Suggestions are given for building mental capacity, improving digestion and getting the right amount of sleep. Improving breathing techniques and developing the lungs were considered important aspects of health for these strongmen.

One of my favourite parts of the book is the detailed section about the strongman and actor Joe Bonomo. He used weights and calisthenics effectively to build immense strength and Yarnell satisfactorily demonstrates a few of Bonomo’s exercises. I was pleased to see that Bonomo valued grip training too.


“Forgotten Secrets of the Old Time Strongmen” is a good piece of work by Dave Yarnell and it shows us that there is so much to learn from the old time legends.  It’s not quite in the same league as his fantastic book “King Squat” but it’s nicely written in the same easy-read style. There is plenty of good advice here and the book is easy to scan through when you’re simply seeking some inspiration for training. Natural athletes, strength enthusiasts and those who want to learn more about physical culture history will find loads of relevant information within these pages.

Book rating: 8/10

Favourite quote:

  • “ We must feel that nothing is impossible for us to accomplish in the sporting world.”

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Alan Riseborough

Alan is a strength and physique enthusiast and has 28 years' of training experience behind him. He has competed in powerlifting, arm wrestling, bodybuilding and grip strength competitions. He also includes rigorous bodyweight, sprinting and kettlebell training regularly in his routines. He believes in the transformative power of the squat which is (believe it or not) his favourite exercise!

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