Instant Improver

Old-school fitness tips


The muscle-building techniques our dads used could be key to us looking good now, says Sam Rowe

These days, modern fitness seems to be as much about science as pumping iron. The men in the know are no longer those with the biggest biceps, but those in white coats – cultivating the latest diet, workout or space-age equipment.

Perhaps it’s time to stop listening. Instead, why not heed the knowledge of the tractor-sized trainers of yesteryear – the boxer who sparred with Ali or bodybuilder that spotted Schwarzenegger? Though their wisdom is from the Seventies, look at the girth of their guns and argue it’s not just as sound today.


Full fat is your friend

“These days, people complicate things,” says Ric Drasin, ex-bodybuilder/pro wrestler ( “They have fad diets; Zone Diet, Paleo Diet, Beverly Hills Diet. But it just goes back to the early days of bodybuilding, as we set the bar for what developed your body. It’s basically high protein – fish, grilled chicken, beef – and low carbs. But what we’d do is eat more fat. For example, if we ate eggs, we’d eat the yolks. In eating that, the fat in the egg is used as energy and not stored as fat, but people don’t realise that. They’ll eat a yoghurt but a non-fat yoghurt, when it’s not harmful to have fat if you eliminate the carbs.”


Do drop sets until your arms fall off

“People do not train hard enough nowadays,” claims strength and conditioning expert Thomas Eastham (@EasthamsFitness). “You look at videos of Arnie, and he’d batter himself into the ground in every single session. He’s groaning, he’s moaning, he looks like he’s going to pass out, just trying to eke out every last bit of the body part he’s working on. To up your intensity with a drop set, start with a weight – dumbbell or bar – and do as many reps as you can. Take some weight off, do as many reps as you can, and repeat. You may go from 60kg to 40kg to just a bar, but you’re hammering reps to absolute failure.”


Turn respiration into a workout routine

“Something I used to do [as a boxer], which I’ve passed on to all my fighters, is deep breathing,” says Jimmy Tibbs, boxing trainer. “A lot of people think running is good for the lungs, and yes, it makes you puff and blow, but when you stand still and do three sets of 10 or 12 deep breathing right to your lungs, it’s a very good and simple exercise. A lot of people don’t do it as it takes time, but it doesn’t matter how many muscles you have, if you’ve got no wind in your body, you’re a dead man. And that applies to all sports. If you’ve got wind, you can go on and on. When your wind goes is when fatigue sets in.”


Swap amino acids for liver tablets

“Back then [in the Seventies], protein supplements were pretty limited, other than liver pills, which we took a lot of,” says Drasin. “They’re full of iron and B12 and a good form of protein – it’s just like eating liver. The only problem with the pills was that you had to take 20 to 30 at a time to mount up to anything substantial, and so you got tired of taking pills all day long. It’s the same today with amino acid pills, but now they’ve got branch chain amino acid [BCAA] powder. If you were to take liver powder, you’d gag – it’s disgusting. It’s not harmful, it just doesn’t taste good. But [amino acids] are a good supplement.”


Drink chocolate milk

“Creatine didn’t exist back in the day, so people drank chocolate milk,” says Eastham. “Believe it or not, a lot of universities with good sporting programmes refuel their athletes on chocolate milk, and I’d recommend it. Go for quality over quantity, as your body will only digest foods that have a lot of digestive enzymes in them. It’s why people rave about organic and free-range produce, because the amount of protein your body will take from a low-quality chicken breast, for example, is tiny. Get quality milk, from grass-fed cows or unpasteurised – it works and is so much better for you.”

(Images: Shutterstock; Corbis)


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