5 Ancient Methods For Ultimate Physical Development

November 24, 2023 by VAHVA Fitness

5 ancient methods, many from thousands of years ago, that produce the most functional physical development known to mankind.

We tend to believe that formal training is mainly a modern phenomenon with our state-of-the-art gymnasiums, fitness models and scientific workout programs.

However, people have achieved amazing levels of strength and performance for thousands if not tens of thousands of years.

Many are aware of the athletic games of the Greek Olympics or the martial skills of ancient kung fu but few know that physical exercise has encompassed multiple ancient cultures all over the world and not just in terms of sports and games.

Different forms of weight lifting, calisthenics, conditioning, rehabilitation and equipment have been used in a variety of ways.

Some of the methods are more archaic, some highly sophisticated but all remarkably effective.

There's one common factor in all of these approaches. In the history and prehistory of physical exercise, fitness was never separate from functionality.

As such, these methods emphasize the development of a body that is capable and well-rounded in many aspects of performance.

In the West, From the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, to the Far East of India and China, I've collected 5 methods of body strengthening with real historical background.

Implement some of these to your routines and experience the timeless strength of the ancient man.

1. Movement Training

Animal-based movements, exercises and forms have a long history in ancient Indian Martial art Kalaripayattu and Chinese kung fu. These movements take direct inspiration from how different creatures move in the wild.

Martial artists and wrestlers especially favored this type of conditioning because it recruited the entire body in a dynamic manner. You would not only become strong but coordinated, pliable and agile – the exact qualities you'd need for different forms of combat.

This type of training develops fluent movement quality & control allowing you to support and carry your body weight in all different positions and angles freely.

The body gets strengthened in joint ranges that you'd probably never encounter with traditional training methods. This is one of the best ways to develop and restore instinctive and natural movement abilities.

It's primal training with near-endless possibilities.

2. Weighted Lever Training

The usage of levers as tools and weapons is as old as mankind itself. These levers could be in the form of a mace or club with prominently uneven weight distribution or just a heavier-than-normal sword or a stick.

Some of the oldest references for Club and Mace training can be found in Indian text from nearly 2500 years ago. Ancient Persian warriors also used a very similar type of Meel in their training whereas The Roman legionaries and the Medieval knights favored a heavy sword.

It may not be too far from the truth to think that even cavemen may have done some sort of training with their bone, stone and wooden clubs to prepare for hunts and fights.

A weighted lever has been widely used by warriors in different regions because it was one of the most transferable ways of acquiring the strength needed to wield different hand-held weapons.

Swinging the maces and clubs builds enormous gripping strength and endurance. Your forearms will become as solid as a rock with greatly increased durability and stability of the wrists.

This type of training also develops a very solid core and hip structure but a highly mobile shoulder area. Together, these enable the most efficient and powerful handling of heavy levers.

The popularity of weighted lever training shows it was seen as absolutely essential for functional strength by the ancient warriors.

3. Bearing Burdens

Before the invention of modern training equipment, people lifted rocks and bags, buckets and pots filled with water or sand. Partner drills where the other person was your weight were not uncommon either.

Traditional bodybuilding exercises such as different shoulder raises with small stone weights existed as well but I will focus here on the bigger weights or burdens as Galen of Pergamon called them.

The effects were remarkably different compared to lifting barbells and dumbbells. The odd shapes and textures of the lifted objects greatly emphasized the development of a powerful grip and prepared the practitioner to handle and control living opponents such as in wrestling and the ancient MMA, Pankration.

The training methods included different ways of lifting, holding and carrying the burdens, even walking uphill. These types of heavy exercises would build up some of the biggest muscles of the back and legs and prepare them for utmost power.

The easiest modern-day equipment to emulate these results is the round sandbag which offers all the aforementioned benefits.

4. Rope Climb

Today, Rope climbing is a familiar exercise for many people thanks to its common practice all the way from elementary school to the military. Still, very few utilize the rope systematically in their routines.

Even fewer are aware that rope climb was a stable exercise for the gymnasts and wrestlers of ancient Greece going back over 2000 years. It was also a popular exercise during the early modern eras of the Renaissance and Enlightenment.

The early rope training was surprisingly versatile with many different ways of climbing up and hanging from the rope.

Similar to the mace it offers a thick vertical grip that is much tougher to hold on to compared to a horizontal pull-up bar.

As a loose, dynamic object the rope places additional demands on the stability of the core, arms and back muscles to resist uncontrolled swaying.

Climbing up the rope requires integrated and coordinated work from multiple muscles all over your upper body.

The muscular engagement is especially high in the pulling muscles of the back and arms. Your upper and lower arms will gain incredibly dense muscle tissue and strength while the abdominals become iron-hard due to the stabilization.

In fact, rope climbing has been touted to have some of the highest neuromuscular activity out of any exercise due to some of these factors.

Master this ancient drill and you can expect to see improvements across a wide variety of exercises and activities.

5. Ancient Qigong

Perhaps the most sophisticated and profound form of ancient training can be found in the Chinese Qigong. With history going back 4-5000 years it could be one of the oldest recorded holistic health practices in the world.

Another, albeit more well-known ancient health system is the Yoga from India which happens to share some similar knowledge and principles with qigong.

In its heart, qigong is about the accumulation and cultivation of universal life energy, Qi, within our bodies.

Although it may sound foreign and mysterious, the actual training consists of highly practical exercises and sequences to develop flexibility, strength and deep breathing just to name a few.

The ancient master had an astonishing understanding of the human body and its movements. Not only were the exercises nuanced and multifaceted but they contained the internal knowledge of breathing and different levels of contraction and relaxation.

Qigong could be divided into Health and Fighting oriented approaches. Health qigong was primarily concerned with the softness, relaxation and elongation of the body and the flow of energy.

The original purpose of Fighting qigong was to prepare the body for war and combat. It contained much more intense contractions, a fierce mentality and even hitting of the body.

Everything was to optimize the health, shape and internal chemistry of the body for lifelong vitality and performance.

A Lot of the original exercises and methods have been preserved thanks to lineages that have transmitted the knowledge from master to master over many centuries.

Authentic qigong is not easy to find but it exists in great detail if you know where to look.

The Modern Man Becomes the Ancient Man

As you can see, historical training is as broad as it is deep covering multiple domains of fitness.

We’ve been fans of this type of training for many years not because of its history however, but because it actually works.

It was only after we experienced all the benefits of these methods that we learned about the rich and fascinating history behind them.

They have proven to be enormously effective approaches each one bringing an entirely new dimension to our strength and functionality.

Sadly, most people have no idea what they're missing out. Breaking through your current progress could be a matter of adding just one of these training styles to your repertoire.

We continue to apply these timeless training principles in our methods and programs and have done great research to develop them even further.

If you haven’t already tried some of the training showcased here, I hope this video inspires you to do so.

History, coming alive through your body.

Primeval strength rushing through your entire being.

The ancient man becomes the modern man.
The modern man becomes the ancient man.


samuli jyrkinen

About the author 

Samuli Jyrkinen

Samuli is the ninja behind the scenes (photography, videography, websites, program platforms and more). He has been training religiously for over a decade and has a firm grasp of physical and mental fitness. You will find our story here.

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