26 Oldtime Strongman Exercises Every Man Should Try

Strength training has been a staple in the fitness industry for decades. While many people believe strength training consists of lifting weights, these exercises will improve your performance and overall health. The gym-based approach can be boring so try some oldtime strongman styles that are fun to do and challenging every time you go out on the field or into battle!.

The “old time strong man workout” is a list of 26 exercises that every man should try. The exercises are old-time strongman exercises, which were very popular in the 1800s and early 1900s.

Oldtime bodybuilders illustration.

At the start of the twentieth century, a new kind of public figure emerged: the professional strongman.

Strongmen sprang from the growing physical culture movement in the 1800s, which was in turn a reaction to the Industrial Revolution. With the rise of office job, there was rising worry about how this new sedentary lifestyle was hurting the country’s men’s health — and masculinity.

Strongmen were emblems of virility preserved, evidence that residents still had the grit, might, and strength of their pioneer forefathers, as well as the ability to do male acts. Men might master themselves and battle their toughness against the weights of a gymnasium if they could no longer control the frontier and fight nature’s foes.

Strongman bodybuilder flexing his arms.

Strongmen come from all around the globe and from all walks of life. Some came from the worlds of professional and amateur sports, having competed in the Olympics and Highland Games as boxers and wrestlers. Some had previously served in the military as physical training officers. Others were merely blacksmiths or factory workers who saw an opportunity to earn a career doing something less arduous and/or boring with their strength.

Strongman bodybuilder is bending steel on knee.

Strongmen made their profession by performing vaudeville shows in music halls and dime shop museums, exhibiting their strength and power. Lifting large weights for the sake of lifting them was a unique enough notion that a rapt audience was eager to pay to witness strong men heave dumbbells, barbells, and bizarrely shaped things. Stunts included breaking chains, ripping apart decks of cards, bending iron bars and horseshoes, hauling burdens by their teeth, and participating in simulated gladiatorial competitions, to name a few.

Strongman bodybuilder flexing his back and arms.

There was a lot of deception in these presentations, with performers using gimmicks and subterfuge to achieve their ostensible feats of strength. On the other hand, there were real strength athletes on the circuit who insisted on executing all of their lifts and acrobatics with only their bodies.

Strongman bodybuilder posing his flexing.

These strongmen were not merely producers of amusing sideshows, but also contributed to raise public awareness of physical culture and fitness. Strongmen’s actions piqued the interest of men who wanted to learn how to achieve a comparable body at home. Many strongmen responded by writing books and sending out mail-order courses outlining their suggested strength-building plans; these courses were very popular throughout the first part of the twentieth century, helping to establish the fitness culture that we have today.

Book cover, molding a mighty back by George f jowett.

Strongmen recommended fundamental lifts and workouts like the jerk, clean, and squat, which we still know today (though what constitutes excellent technique has evolved through time). Other workouts were one-of-a-kind and have mostly been forgotten in the century since strongmen’s prime.

Book cover, mighty strength by Apollon.

We scoured a few dozen antique strongman books for the greatest and most intriguing of these long-forgotten workouts. They seem to be exactly as effective as they were when steak and eggs were the only exercise supplements available and a man’s preferred gym attire was the singlet. When your training regimen becomes monotonous, try some of these, and remember to twist your mustache after each session.


Exercises for Strongmen

Strongman bodybuilder lifting his dumbbell.


Lifting Fingers

Strongman bodybuilder doing exercise to lifting the book illustration.

Directions from George F. Jowett’s Molding a Mighty Grip (1932):

“Every exercise aficionado should find the exercises in this book to be quite intriguing. They like accomplishments so much that there is never a dull moment for them. Take a look at Exercise 1 in this article (a). You’ll be astonished at how weak your fingers get, provided, of course, that you use a book of reasonable weight. You’ll note that the book is merely resting on the fingers and does not even come close to touching the hand. It’s also worth noting that the hand isn’t on the table. These are two crucial aspects. Naturally, you’ll realize that you’ll need a book of appropriate weight, but not so heavy that the workout becomes difficult. A strained movement is of little use. It is the combination of multiple well-executed moves that counts. Allowing the back or palm of the hand to rest on the table will negate the exercise’s main benefit.

Take note of how far the book is put on the fingers and the fact that the thumb is not involved in the exercise. The first thing you’ll do is boost the volume as high as you can with your index finger, as illustrated in Exercise 1. (b). When you’ve elevated the book to your maximum, return it to its original position and use the next finger, and so on, until you’ve used every finger on both hands except the thumb. We won’t miss the thumb since it’ll arrive later.

Before giving the book to its companion, try elevating it with each finger several times in succession. This is a much superior policy.

It may get more difficult to juggle the book when you go to the little finger. It’s possible that the far side of the book will touch the table, but don’t be concerned. It’s OK as long as you’re aware of the resistance.

When you’ve completed the separate exercises to your satisfaction, try elevating the book with your fingers one by one, swiftly, as if you were playing a piano. This will increase the speed and strength of your fingers.

Even though your fingers are nimble in normal conditions, they will become clumsy when forced to act swiftly and forcefully as necessary in the piano movement.

Operating all of the fingers of the hand at once is also an excellent workout if you have a suitably hefty volume.

Finger exercises of all types have a highly exciting and rewarding effect on the development of the problematic forearm muscles, which will naturally tend to enhance the thickness of the wrist at the same time.”

Finger Lifts in the Reverse

Strongman bodybuilder doing exercise for finger lift illustration.

Directions from George F. Jowett’s Molding a Mighty Grip (1932):

“To do this exercise, just invert the hand’s position in relation to the table, as shown in the figure. Some people will find this more difficult than others, but don’t be discouraged; the exercise is not tough. The thumb and little finger forcep muscles will be activated throughout this workout. You will sense a change in control and power when these two forcep variables function. Control will be improved, and power will be more visible.


You repeat the method as described for the first exercise, working on each finger independently and swiftly in a piano-like manner. Only when the little finger is engaged in this exercise does it need greater caution than in Exercise 1 [Finger Lifts, above]. A natural propensity to operate the thumb will be sensed when your fingers journey individually to the little finger, beginning with the third finger and growing more obvious with the little finger. This final part has some forceps action, which, together with the thumb, is responsible for closing the hand and holding an item.”

Extension of the forearm with a broom

Strongman bodybuilder doing exercise for lifting broom illustration.

Directions from George F. Jowett’s Molding a Mighty Grip (1932):

“This is an ancient wrist strength workout and test. It was formerly a highly frequent exam. It’s unfortunate that we aren’t seeing more of it these days. One thing is certain: it will pinpoint the weak points in your hand, wrist, and arm strength. At start, just practice with a broom. If gripping the end of the broom is too tough, just shift your hand down the handle and lessen the leverage. As your strength improves, move the hand grip closer to the end. When that’s done, gradually increase the weight by putting a tiny item on the broom’s straw end, as indicated. A image of an athlete lifting a broom with a brick on the straw end is shown. You may be pleased of your arm strength when you can accomplish this with a broom that has a conventional length handle.

The forearm must be parallel to the ground, and neither the elbow nor the arm shall rest on or on the knee. The arm must be able to act without the assistance or help of anybody else.

The only difference was that they gripped sledgehammers in a straight line with their shoulders, grabbing the sledge’s handle at the far end. Many a man with a strong wrist and forearm has failed this maneuver due to a lack of deltoids or shoulder strength. Unfortunately, there was no method of judging the relative qualities of these brawny arms smiths. In the ancient smithies, sledgehammers weighed anything from 6 to 12 pounds, with handle lengths and thicknesses that were seldom the same. In this scenario, the length and thickness of the handle are more important than the weight. The feat is more likely to be accomplished if the handle is shorter. The more difficult it is, the longer or thicker the handle.”

Hanging Keg Fingers

Strongman bodybuilder doing exercise for lifting keg with fingers illustration.

Directions from George F. Jowett’s Molding a Mighty Grip (1932):

“Barrel lifting was quite popular with the old-time strong athletes, as I mentioned in my book. Nothing beats it for strengthening the fingers, hands, wrists, and arms. Barrell lifting is also beneficial for overall bodybuilding. Of course, having a barrel around the home isn’t the most convenient thing in the world, but if a person is really committed to improving his strength and muscular growth, he will always find a way to train.


Exercise 5 is something I’d want to call your attention to. This is strictly a grip-lifting workout. Take note of how the athlete holds the chines (the name applied to the edges of kegs and barrels). The only grasp that can be secured is the one provided by the first joint of the fingers. The goal is to maintain your legs and back straight while lifting the barrel as high as possible off the floor. After then, set the barrel on the floor and straighten your fingers before repeating the grip numerous times. When you’ve finished with this, go on to Exercise 6 [Carry a keg with your fingers, below].”

Keg Finger Carry

Strongman bodybuilder doing exercise for lifting barrel on legs illustration.

Directions from George F. Jowett’s Molding a Mighty Grip (1932):

“In this instance, you’ll need to elevate the barrel onto your thighs. This is the standard method for lifting and carrying a barrel. Some individuals have been spotted walking in this manner while carrying barrels weighing well over 300 pounds.

This requires a considerable deal of leg, finger, and arm strength. Exercises 5 and 6 may be practiced multiple times using a 100-lb. nail keg or barrel, and the results will astound you. Keep in mind the directions I gave you about transporting the barrel. This is quite significant.”

Roll your forearms

Strongman bodybuilder doing exercise for rolling weight with forearms illustration.

Directions from George Hackenschmidt’s 1935 book The Way to Live:

“Get a round stick; a sturdy broom handle would do, but it should be between 1 and 12 inches thick. Puncture a hole in it and hang a 5 lb. weight from it using a string. Now, while standing on two chairs, move the bar around with both hands, winding up the cable. Continue to coil the weight until it is tightly wrapped, then unwind to its maximum length. Both continuous and reverse rollings are used to wind and unwind. Continue until you’re exhausted. The rolling motion must be constant and progressive.”


Bicep Curls using Body Resistance

Strongman bodybuilder doing exercise for bicep illustration.

George F. Jowett’s Molding a Mighty Arm (1932) has the following instructions:

“Stand upright with feet together and clasp the left hand in the right in front of the body, palm facing directly front and arms straight down by the sides.” Turn the right hand on the wrist upward in a cupping motion from this position to reduce the gap between the hand and the forearm. Begin to lift the right hand toward the right shoulder by bending the arm at the elbow. Throughout this action, push down with all of your left arm’s strength to counteract the right arm’s upward tendency. To resist the left hand pressure, this will bring the right arm biceps into action extremely forcefully. Allow the arm to return to its previous position when the right hand is curled to the shoulder, but prevent the downward movement by pushing up with the left hand.

Reverse the hands and repeat the exercise to develop both arms equally.


A half-dozen repetitions will give you an indication of the biceps’ influence on this exercise.”

Tricep Extension Isometric

Strongman bodybuilder doing exercise for tricep illustration.

George F. Jowett’s Molding a Mighty Arm (1932) has the following instructions:

“Grasping the wrist of the right hand with the left hand and crossing the left arm over the small of the back is another triceps wakener. Stiffen the right arm and raise it rearward, attempting to break the left hand’s grasp. Although you won’t be able to lift heavy, the triceps kick should be felt forcefully.”

Tricep Extensions with Kettlebells

Strongman bodybuilder doing exercise for kettlebell illustration.

Directions from Arthur Saxon’s Textbook of Weightlifting (1905):

“An accompanying graphic shows a fantastic arm workout, especially for the forearm muscles. Stand with a kettle-weight, say 10 lbs., on the right shoulder, gripped with the left hand, and the left arm bent with forearm resting on the top of the head as depicted. Replace by straightening your arm and elevating the ball over your head. Repeat ten to twenty times with each arm, progressively increasing the number of repetitions to, say, thirty times, before raising the weight and starting again. By bringing the ball directly over the head and resting it on the opposite shoulder, passing it completely around the head, and so on, the exercise may be modified.”


The Bend of the Tiger

Strongman bodybuilder doing exercise for handstand pushup illustration.

Siegmund Klein’s Super Physique Body-Building Bar-Bell Course (approximately 1940s) includes the following instructions:

“All athletes who want to improve their ‘Two Arm Press’ lift should do this workout. Before you begin this exercise, you must be able to hold a handstand for a reasonable amount of time. Lower the body carefully until the elbows hit the floor, as shown in Figure 1. (Figure 2). Repeat by swaying the body slightly forward and pressing up to the starting posture.”

Turning the Barbell

Strongman bodybuilder doing exercise for dumbbell twist illustration.

Siegmund Klein’s Super Physique Body-Building Bar-Bell Course (approximately 1940s) has the following instructions.

“Hold a light barbell at your chest as shown in Figure 1, with your feet placed firmly on the floor. Smartly move the bell forward and back to the chest. Then, as shown in Figure 2, tilt the bell to a little angle and push forward smartly to bring it back to the chest. Turn the bar to a steeper angle each time the bell travels forward until it is perpendicular in five revolutions, as indicated in Figure 3. Inhale as you push forward, then exhale as you return to your chest.”

Push-ups in Hinduism

Strongman bodybuilder doing exercise for hindi pushup illustration.

Directions from Thomas Inch’s Boxing and Physical Culture (approximately 1940s):

“This is an exercise that engages almost every muscle in the body and, when done in the way I’ll explain, is fantastic for toning up the arms and body while also providing power for close-in work.”

Assume a sitting posture on the floor, with your body weight supported by your hands and feet. Raise the buttocks as high as possible in the air before bending the arms and lowering the body till the chin reaches the floor. Lower the buttocks, hollow the back, and thrust the body forward, nearly scraping the floor with the chest and waist, and proceed forward until you have pushed up by arm force and found the arms straight again. Then elevate your buttocks and repeat for a total of twelve repetitions.


Starting in the front posture and lowering and moving back towards the feet, then pushing up to straight arms with hollow back as before, the whole exercise may be reversed for variation.”

Shoulder Shrugs Shoulder Shrugs

Strongman bodybuilder doing exercise for shoulder shrugs illustration.

George F. Jowett’s Molding a Mighty Back (1932) has the following instructions:

“This is an activity that I have done for as long as I can remember. It was, in fact, one of the very first exercises I ever did. You may not enjoy it as much as others, but I loved it since it provided me with a lot of resistance.

I started with my hands clasped behind my back, then brought my shoulders forward and lowered my chin to rest on my chest. I’d then stiffen up and forcefully draw my shoulder blades together as much as possible, thrusting my head back as I did so. Refer to Figure 15. I’d do this anywhere from twelve to eighteen times, giving these strong shoulder muscles a full contraction and extension.”

Clean and press the keg

Strongman bodybuilder doing exercise for barrel lift illustration.Directions from George F. Jowett’s Molding a Mighty Grip (1932):

“Exercise 7 (a) depicts an athlete holding the barrel at his shoulders. This isn’t as simple as it seems at first. Great arm and grasping muscle activity is required, and with a little work, they may be developed to an astonishing amount. Because bringing the barrel to the shoulder is challenging, it is critical to practice the exercise first with a little nail keg or an empty regular-sized barrel. If you’re using a regular-sized barrel, you’ll find it simpler to control it if you bring the barrel in close to your body, then back, enabling the barrel to roll up your body to your shoulders, Exercise 7. (a). As seen in Exercise 7, lift the barrel to arm’s length above from this position (b). This will teach you balance in lifting items above like nothing else, in addition to gaining excellent strength.

A barrel may be raised from the ground to arm’s length above in a variety of methods. The’slow hang’ posture, as it is known among Swedish athletes, is one method. To put it another way, you gently elevate the barrel off the ground to the position depicted in Exercise 5 [Keg Finger Hangs, above]. After a brief break, go to the posture in Exercise 6 [Keg Finger Carry, above], then to the shoulder as in Exercise 7 (a), and finally to arm’s length above as in Exercise 7 (b) (b).

Another way is to halt in the posture of Exercise 5 and then sweep to the shoulders in one motion. Sweeping the barrel from the ground to arm’s length above or just to the shoulders may be done. Another effective force-stimulating action is to halt at the position depicted in Exercise 5 and then sweep the barrel to arm’s length above in one motion.”


Shoulder Heft for Single-Handed Keg

Strongman bodybuilder doing exercise for barrel shoulder lift illustration.

Directions from George F. Jowett’s Molding a Mighty Grip (1932):

“Shouldering a barrel with one hand is an extremely challenging workout. If you asked the ordinary person to pull off this act, he’d be perplexed as to how to go about it. It’s a difficult workout that needs speed, strength, and flawless composure. The many muscle changes that the body undergoes throughout this phase are astounding. Some people are very skilled at moving the barrel to one shoulder. To begin, rock the barrel forward until it is evenly balanced on the front edge. The knee should next be put beneath the barrel’s closest edge. Grasp the barrel and draw it toward the body with a hard back and arm pull while tossing up with the knee as illustrated in Exercise 8. (a). Then, as the barrel approaches the body, let go of the grasping hand and catch it inside the fold of the elbow. By bending strongly laterally from this position, the barrel will roll onto the shoulder, as demonstrated in Exercise 8. (b). This may seem like a lot to memorize at first, but if you practice with an empty barrel, you’ll get the feel of it quickly. The key is to learn the modifications well before performing them, and then to work quickly, particularly after the barrel has been lifted to the knee and flung. Louis Cyr, the renowned French-Canadian athlete, was known for carrying a barrel of beer weighing over 400 pounds in one hand.

It’s tough to lift a barrel filled with water unless it’s totally full. Half-filling it with a combination of sand and water was a fantastic test. The way it slid about made controlling it twice as difficult.”

Lateral Raise with a Kettlebell on a String

Strongman bodybuilder doing exercise for kettlebell lift illustration.

Directions from Arthur Saxon’s Textbook of Weightlifting (1905):

“This is a skill that, although unlikely to be used in a competition, is well worth mastering. Take as much of a square ring or kettle weight as you believe you can handle. Tie a rope around the handle and twist it around your hand such that the rope is tight when the arm is stretched level with the shoulder and the palm is turned to the front.

In that posture, attempt to raise the weight off the ground. I may remark that in this manner, I was able to elevate 56 lbs., or half an inch, although the effort was severe. Before beginning, make sure the rope is tight, the arm is parallel to the shoulder, and the palm is facing front. Doesn’t it seem to be simple? Try it out for yourself to see whether it’s true. The postures will be shown in the accompanying images, and the achievement will be deemed a superb strength-building workout.”

The Horizontal Equipoise of Weights

Strongman bodybuilder doing exercise for lifting two kettlebells illustration.

Directions from George Hackenschmidt’s 1935 book The Way to Live:


‘ (Balancing weights with arms outstretched sideways.) This accomplishment is considered one of the traditional feats of strength for athletes in France, and there are certain guidelines for its execution:

  1. The arm that is bearing the weight should create an absolute perfect angle with the torso, rather than being higher than lower.
  2. The wrist and arm must be completely extended.
  3. The body must be absolutely straight with no slanting.

There are two methods to accomplish this feat: 1. balancing the weight on the hand, which is the easier option. The weight in this instance is an oblong form that is used for weighing and is somewhat hollowed down at the bottom so that there is an edge. It’s held with the palm of the hand against the edge, one portion of the weight resting on the wrist, and the finger tips touching the opposite end. One may lift the weight with both hands to the shoulder, push it up, and then lower it into the balance, or one can raise it immediately sideways into the balance, which is regarded a superior approach. Before being released, it must be fixed in the right balance for a few seconds. The weights range in breadth from 8 to 12 inches at the bottom, depending on their size and weight. The weights are positioned with a side on the hand for the two-arm balance, allowing the bottom and top of the weights to be viewed. When balancing, the body should not be twisted backwards (which would make it simpler but would result in a lower score).”


Dumbbell Movement Across the Back

Strongman bodybuilder doing exercise for dumbbell illustration.

George F. Jowett’s Molding a Mighty Back (1932) has the following instructions:

“This is a great for working out your whole back in contraction and extension. You will sense a feeling similar to spreading apart on the breast bone and in the shoulders the first time you do it. The cartilaginous structure of the costal area will wake up a bit more as a result.

Assume the stance depicted in Fig. 10 (a), with the bells between your toes. Make sure your feet are apart by a comfortable distance. Using a powerful heave, rip them off the floor. Fig. 10 (b); take a deep breath in and throw your arms to arm’s length above, letting your arms to fall down and out in a crucifix posture, Fig. 10 (c) (c).

Raising the weights off the floor and flinging the arms back to give the chest and shoulders the widest possible spread is how you define a full circle in this exercise.

While doing this exercise, do not bend your arms and try to do it as quickly as possible. Examine the figures closely, noting how the head is thrust back as the downward movement begins, assisting the chest spreading effort the most. The feet should not be moved. Breathe out as the bells fall to the floor between your feet before the next movement; breathe in as you continue the circular movement.”




Kneeling in a Deep Bend (Steinborn Method)

Strongman bodybuilder doing exercise for knee bend barbell illustration.

Strongman bodybuilder doing exercise for barbell knee bend illustration.

Siegmund Klein’s Super Physique Body-Building Bar-Bell Course (approximately 1940s) has the following instructions.

“Grasp the barbell’s end with your hands facing each other, as indicated in Figure 1. Upend it to the perpendicular on a block of wood. Hands must now be in a different position. As indicated in Figure 2, the left hand grasps the top end of the bar with thumb down and back of hand as near to the sphere or plates as possible; the right hand grasps the lower end of the bar with thumb up. Figure 3 shows how to stand flat-footed with feet approximately twelve inches apart and lower legs in line with the bar. Figure 4 shows how to squat as low as possible while swaying the bell on the shoulders. Raise yourself to a standing posture, maintaining your feet parallel. Repeat by squatting as low as possible, rising to a standing posture, then squatting as low as possible. Squat and carefully rock bell on to block as illustrated in Figure 3 to remove bell from shoulders. Raise the bell till it is perpendicular to the floor, then lower it. This is the proper way to complete the ‘Deep-Knee-Bend’ with a very big weight unsupported.”

Hip Abductor Isometric

Strongman bodybuilder doing exercise for bodyweight hip illustration.

George F. Jowett’s Molding Mighty Legs (1932) includes the following instructions:

“Assume the precise sitting posture on the floor as shown in the figure in this exercise. Cross your arms and place your right hand on the inner of your left knee. Draw the heels up towards the seat while keeping the knees somewhat close together. Now that it’s out of the way, it’s time to get ready for the workout.

Push each hand on the inside of the thigh with all your might, resisting the hands’ pressure by pressing in with the knees.

The goal is to spread your knees as wide as possible with your hands while resisting with thigh power. Slip the hands over the knees so the fingers are pushing in on the knees when the knees have been spread as far as they will go. Attempt to bring the knees together with your hands while resisting with your thigh, but do not use enough leg strength to override the arm pull. Knees should be brought together. After that, go through the initial half of the exercise again. In other words, you push the knees apart in the first portion of the workout and draw them together in the second, but you fight each movement with your legs.

This is a fantastic workout for strengthening the muscles on the inside and outside of the thigh. It also aids in the development of the shoulder and breast muscles.”


Neck Extension Isometric

Strongman bodybuilder doing exercise for neck illustration.

Directions from George Hackenschmidt’s 1935 book The Way to Live:

“Stand tall and clasp your hands behind your neck. To resist the pressure, forcefully thrust the head down until the chin meets the chest, using all of your neck muscles. When your chin is down, use your neck muscles to pull your head back against the hand pressure. Rep this alternative exercise for five reps at start, then progressively increase the number of reps.”

Bridge of the Wrestlers


Strongman bodybuilder doing exercise for body bridge illustration.

Earle Liederman’s Muscle Building (1924) gives the following instructions:

“The wrestler’s bridge is really beneficial for neck strength in general. This exercise entails resting your complete weight on your head and feet while arching your back. The neck will undergo quite a variety of motions by rising and lowering the hips while in this posture, as well as walking a few inches towards the head and back again. “Working on this bridging exercise for a few minutes each day can considerably aid neck growth.”


Windmill with Dumbbells

Strongman bodybuilder doing exercise for dumbbell windmill illustration.

Siegmund Klein’s Super Physique Body-Building Bar-Bell Course (approximately 1940s) includes the following instructions:

“Hold the dumbbell above in the position illustrated in Figure 1.” Throughout the exercise, spread your feet approximately 15 inches apart, maintaining both legs straight at the knees and your attention on the bell above. Figure 2 shows lowering the body such that the left hand contacts the right foot. Return to a standing posture and repeat. Lower the body such that the right hand contacts the left foot while holding the dumbbell in the left hand. Inhale while elevating the body, exhale when lowering.”

Bridge on the side

Strongman bodybuilder doing exercise for side bridge illustration.

Earle Liederman’s Muscle Building (1924) gives the following instructions:

“Pushing up and down from the floor with one arm at a time is tough, and the triceps and deltoid muscles are put under a lot of tension.” Nonetheless, it activates the pectoral muscle and is a great way to widen and deepen the chest.”

Dumbbell Snatch with One Arm

Strongman bodybuilder doing exercise for one arm dumbbell illustration.

Directions from George Hackenschmidt’s 1935 book The Way to Live:

“The one-arm swing is often performed with ring weights swung between the knees. Apollon, a Frenchman, made a career out of it, and could lift four weights totaling 180 pounds over his head. Belling, the German, was equally impressive, swiping 180 pounds three times. Because swinging ring weights need a strong forearm and wrist, a two to three inch wide leather strap should be fastened around the wrist.”

Pressed Bent

Strongman bodybuilder doing exercise for barbell bent press illustration.

Directions from Arthur Saxon’s Textbook of Weightlifting (1905):

“This lift, which is more closely connected with my name than any other, cannot be defined as either an English or a Continental lift.” Although the two-handed raise to the shoulder is similar to the Continental approach of putting the weight into that position ‘anyhow,’ the move itself is not often done in that region.

The body press with one hand alone, on the other hand, is a distinctively English technique of lifting that is seldom done on the Continent, and definitely not in competitions.

Regardless, it is one of the finest, if not the best, accomplishment that has ever been designed in my opinion (and this is independent of the achievements I have had at it). Strength, stamina, and science all play a part in it in equal measure, and the guy who wants to make a startling success of the lift must be a first-class all-around lifter.

Those of you who have examined the lists of world records published in the ‘Health and Strength Annual’ would have noticed that the vast majority of world record holders are recognized for their accomplishments in one or a set of lifts that use many of the same muscles. That is to say, a guy who has dominated all opponents in a two-handed jerk or push is unlikely to have done well in single-handed lifting or snatching. In other words, these world record holders aren’t usually all-around lifters.


As a result, I strongly advise everyone to study the ‘bent press,’ because it is an all-round lifter’s lift; and I am convinced that, in a match, an all-round lifter (who does not hold any records) would always defeat a world-renowned record-holder, who had gained his fame solely and solely by virtue of his success at his one pet feat.

I covered the final phases of the bent press in my discussion of the single-handed ‘clean all the way’ lift, so I’ll only focus on the part when the bell is hoisted to the shoulder with both hands from an upended posture.

The upright bell should be held with the right hand in the precise middle, with the feet far apart, to execute this effectively (if possible, exactly in the positions they will occupy throughout the lift). Fix the right elbow in front of you, firmly on the hip bone, and grab the bell with the left hand, just below the right.

Bend forward, bending your head over; bend your legs at the knees, and move the weight over to your shoulder.

You must raise the bar over with both hands, leaning far back and levering the bar over with the support of both your hip bones to secure and keep your hold, as well as your shoulder, which you naturally move as far as you can under the bar.

The weight of the bell makes the hoist to the shoulder simpler since the top sphere or discs are not supported in any manner, allowing the front sphere or discs to pull the front sphere or discs higher. Because less energy is used when the bell is shouldered in one movement, the bent press may raise a heavier weight; but, if it will not come over at once, an extra heave is required. Use as long a bar as possible to eliminate the need for two or three hoists (which is usually tiresome).

Once it is properly shoulderered, however, the left hand may release its grip and be flung out to alter the balance, while the right hand, after steadying the bell, gradually moves around, following the elbow as it glides around the hip bone to the back, into the ideal position for the body push.

Other ways must be used with shorter bars since the approach described above requires a very long bar for proper performance.

The following procedure, which may also be used with a long bar if preferred (although I do not recommend it), is to place the feet as before (although they will very likely shift themselves later in this case), and after gripping the bar in the exact center with the right hand, grip it with the left hand again, but this time close to the bottom sphere or disc.

Bend the knees properly and, with the right elbow away from the body, pull the bell up and away from the body with the left hand, pushing the bell on the body. Throw, jerk, or hurl it as soon as it clears the bar in such a way that your shoulder is well beneath the bar.


Leave go with your left on no account until you feel the weight is stable at your shoulder and your right elbow has found its suitable resting position on your hip bone.

Because the second method of shouldering it (necessary with the shorter implement) imposes a fairly severe strain on the lifting muscles due to the lack of the fulcrum secured by the right elbow resting on the hip bone, as in the first method, and the smaller assistance derived in overbalancing the weight, it is readily apparent that this lift is performed far more easily with a long bar than with a short one.

Strongman bodybuilder doing exercise for barbell bent press illustration.

The lifting muscles must be as fresh as possible in order to deal well with the press itself, and cannot afford to be stretched in any way by the raising and tossing the bell to the shoulder, which is essential with a short bar.”



The “strongman workout plan” is a resource that provides 26 oldtime strongman exercises for men. The exercises are divided into beginner, intermediate and advanced levels.

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