Arthur Saxon on Conditioning

Written by Jason Ferruggia Topics: Training

Arthur SaxonArthur Saxon was a big influence on me, as obvious by the Renegade logo at the top of this site. I’m obsessed with old time strongmen and old school methods of training. One of the things I like about the early days of Physical Culture is that everyone did everything.

Meaning that bodybuilders lifted heavy weights and competed in contests where they had to do more than pose. Lifters possessed impressive physiques and usually didn’t gain unnecessary fat to simply improve their leverages on an exercise and lift more weight.

Olympic lifts were not practiced only by Olympic lifters but were a part of everyone’s repertoire. And bodyweight training was a staple in the golden era of Physical Culture. Handstands , front levers and various gymnastics exercises that I incorporate into nearly all of my training programs were routinely used by everyone training for strength in those days.

One component of fitness that a lot of strength obsessed individuals forget about is conditioning. In order to be truly fit or to be a dominant athlete you need both strength AND conditioning. Strength without conditioning does very little for you unless you are a competitive lifter. And even then you need a certain level of conditioning, which is why you always hear Louie Simmons stressing the importance of it.

At first glance you might assume that strongman competitors have no conditioning to speak of but after you see some of the events they compete in it you realize that this is far from the truth.

This is why I am always stressing the importance of cutting down your rest periods where appropriate during your workouts and adding in a few weekly sessions of sprints, tempo runs, prowler pushes, or other high intensity conditioning methods. It’s healthy, it keeps you lean and makes you an overall better athlete….which is still important even if you don’t compete in anything. Because honestly, just being a big, fat strong guy who gets winded going up stairs isn’t really in anymore.

Here’s what Arthur Saxon had to say about the issue one hundred plus years ago:

“The usual idea about strength–I mean the idea of the averager eader of health magazines–is generally a wrong one. Although a weightlifter (and weightlifters are supposed to be very narrow-minded in their views on this subject), I hope that I, personally, am broad-minded enough to recognize that a man does not prove himself an all-round strong man just because he is able to lift a heavy weight, especially when the weight is lifted once only. The following is my diagnosis of real strength:

Genuine strength should include not only momentary strength, as proved by the ability to lift a heavy weight once, but also the far more valuable kind of strength known as strength for endurance.

This means the ability, if you are a cyclist, to jump on your machine and ride 100 miles at any time without undue fatigue; if a wrestler, to wrestle a hard bout for half an hour with a good man without a rest, yet without becoming exhausted and reaching the limit of your strength.

Apart from sports, enduring strength means that the business man shall stand, without a break-down, business cares and worries, that he shall be capable, when necessary, of working morning, afternoon and night with unflagging energy, holding tightly in his grasp the reins of business, retaining all the while a clear mind and untiring energy, both of body and brain.

The man who can miss a night’s rest or miss a meal or two without showing any ill effect or without losing any physical power, is better entitled to be considered a strong man than the man who is only apparently strong, being possessed of momentary strength, which is, after all, a muscle test pure and simple.”

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36 Responses to Arthur Saxon on Conditioning

  1. Brandon Cook July 5, 2011 at 10:28 am #

    Words of wisdom from a legend! Being well rounded includes strength of body, strength of mind and strength of character… not to mention being able to go the distance! Great stuff.

  2. Sean Hyson July 5, 2011 at 10:39 am #

    Is there anything we can’t learn from those old guys? Arthur Saxon taught me how to f*@k!!

    • Byron Carrell July 6, 2011 at 9:35 am #

      @Sean Hyson: lmao, was he good in bed. I mean did his strength methods translate.

    • Jason Ferruggia July 21, 2011 at 5:39 pm #

      @Sean Hyson: Haha. I’m sure.

      @Michael- Good call.

      @John- Me too.

      @Gudmundur- Every day, baby.

      @Mike- Well said.

      @Chris- I highly doubt that most people would agree with that. It’s not his goal to be an MMA fighter. He’s still training and lifting insane weights in his 60’s.

      @Matt- It’s a direct quote from his book published in 1906. The mans a legend in the iron game. Why would I make this up?

  3. Nick July 5, 2011 at 10:54 am #

    I always know i’m doing things right when last night I was reading “The Development of Physical Power” for the 10th time, and today you’re talking about it.

  4. Michael Hartman July 5, 2011 at 11:44 am #

    When in doubt, just ask WWASD…”What would Arthur Saxon do?

  5. Raymond- ZenMyFitness July 5, 2011 at 1:42 pm #

    Yeah having a good balance of strength, conditioning (and having flexibility otherwise you walk like a robot) is so important ti be healthy.
    I have tried cutting my rest periods down but I seem so lose too much in amount of weights, I feel I do better with longer rests but on the off days I do my hill sprints and road runs to keep my conditioning up.
    So I think what works for me is to keep strength and conditioning separate.

  6. Troy - Cube.Dweller.Fitness July 5, 2011 at 2:06 pm #

    Words of wisdom – thanks for digging back and posting.

    I particularly liked the ending paragraph on the conditioning of a business man – so fitting for us Cube.Dwellers! Getting fit isn’t just about appearance; but performance in all aspects of life.

  7. John Phung July 6, 2011 at 12:56 am #

    I hope the all-in-one strong man of yesteryears makes a comeback. There seems to be a splintering of strength/muscle athletes over the past decades, separating absolute strength (powerlifting), power (Olympic weight lifting), physique (bodybuilding)..and I’m sure there’s others. The only sport that test feats of strength & endurance (from what I can recall at 4am in the morning) are strongman competitions.

    IMO Mariusz Pudzianowsk (5x World Strongest Man winner) was one of the few modern day strongmen with strength, power, speed, strength endurance and a physical that rivals a bodybuilder. Apparently he can even do the splits too!

  8. Guðmundur July 6, 2011 at 3:51 am #

    Just a small Q
    Are you no longer answering questions in the inner cyrcle forum ?

  9. BJN July 6, 2011 at 11:41 am #

    Aside from sprinting, hill sprints, and sled pulls for conditioning I like how super setting ups my conditioning.

  10. GymyGym July 6, 2011 at 8:31 pm #

    Awesome article!

    This truly speaks to what the goal of “getting in shape” or “getting stronger” should be about. for most of us who are not going to be professional power lifters, we want to 1. look strong, and 2. be strong. Sometimes we forget that getting in shape is about living a lifestlye of being in shape, and that life style includes using the new found physique and strenght to go out and do the activities we love, ie. sports, outdooring it, a little reckless physical danger once in a while.

    Should always try and remember the lifestyle goal we want to make and what we are getting in shape for, and not just the getting in shape.

  11. Michael July 7, 2011 at 12:37 am #

    Really enjoyed the post; bring back the old school!


  12. Mike T Nelson July 7, 2011 at 10:36 am #

    LOVE IT! I get WAAAY more out of reading the old time strongman/physical culturist than just about anything else. Soooooo often they were right on the money.

    Some want to be so uber hardcore now that it is a badge of honor to not ever miss a meal, eat 400 grams of protein a day and take 4-10 weird colored supplement pills.

    It is the RESULT that matter most, done with the LEAST amount of effort. Of course you need to do the work, but as Saxon pointed out, if you collapse into a pile of poo on the ground since you missed your green supplement pill or your last meal, how adaptable are you really?

    You want to be able to perform under ALL conditions, not only when they are perfect.

    Waiting for perfect conditions is never a good idea. Start now, work to expand your abilities by testing them under slightly different conditions.

    Can you lift even if you missed a meal?

    Did not sleep well?

    Had to much fun at a concert the night before (er, that is me today).

    It is not ideal to simulate these conditions ALL the time—just enough so that when you do encounter them, you are prepare to handle them and perform.

    Rock on
    Mike T Nelson PhD(c)

  13. Sean Hyson July 7, 2011 at 11:20 am #


    I wasn’t there, but I heard good things :-)

  14. Chris Norton July 8, 2011 at 8:02 pm #

    Watched Bigger, Faster, Stronger last week. Louie Simmons is a friggin joke. He’s a big, fat pot bellied steroid munching (for the past 25 years he says) fool. If strength is ALL you care about then bow down to him, Bell, Tate and all the other WSB psychos. I bet they got some peanut sized nuts by now.

    • killer August 2, 2011 at 10:05 pm #

      Who the fuck are you to talk about Louie like that? What the fuck have you ever done in powerlifting? Fucking limp-dick drug-free faggot.

  15. Clement July 9, 2011 at 8:26 am #

    Wow. This is amazing and inspirational. I’m going to print this quote out and paste it in my room. Thanks for the kick in the ass, Mr Ferruggia!

  16. Luke H July 10, 2011 at 12:13 am #

    Thanks Jason, another excellent post. In earlier years I was more interested in lifting the heaviest weights in the room. Now I know that is only one indicator of strength. Your post has reiterated this. The diagnosis is awesome – many would do well to go by it.

  17. Great article. You can never go wrong with the basics. Olympic lifts, strong man training training for conditioning, and the powerlifts for strength make for a no fail program.

  18. The Truth July 11, 2011 at 11:50 am #

    C. Norton sounds like a jealous x fitter who cant seem to figure out why he has no strength gains after his regimine of 500 kip-ups ss w/ 500 kb swings for time. man up and shut up dude.

  19. Matt July 11, 2011 at 6:24 pm #

    I agree with the contents or basis of your article but I’m a little skeptical on the quote by Arthur Saxon from over 100 years ago – how many “health magazines” were in print in 1900? And I’m not sure many people rode a pushbike in 1900 over 100 miles! Those contraptions just weren’t made for that mate! And to be honest, we all know you’re not really ‘strong’ if you can ride 100 miles without undue fatigue, you’re just a good cyclist (having been a sport I’ve dabbled in myself). And if anyone can wrestle for 30mins without getting tired then they aren’t really ‘wrestling’ are they?
    I really do rate your publications mate, but that ‘quote’ doesn’t seem to have been written over 100 years ago.

    • David Black Mastro August 26, 2011 at 1:39 pm #


      Matt, you asked, “I agree with the contents or basis of your article but I’m a little skeptical on the quote by Arthur Saxon from over 100 years ago – how many “health magazines” were in print in 1900?”

      Saxon wrote two books during his lifetime–the first was “The Development of Physical Power”, which was published in 1906, and the second was “The Textbook of Weightlifting”, which came out in 1910. Books on Physical Culture were quite common at that time; Sandow wrote one, Hackenschmidt wrote one, et al.

      • Housdarkhenge September 30, 2012 at 7:02 pm #

        Actually Sandow wote more then one,. .

    • David Black Mastro August 26, 2011 at 1:46 pm #


      Matt, you wrote: “And if anyone can wrestle for 30mins without getting tired then they aren’t really ‘wrestling’ are they?”

      On the contrary, grapplers in general have always placed a great emphasis on physical conditioning and efficiency of technique. Indo-Pakistani wrestlers from a century ago were especially noted for their great endurance, and modern Western wrestlers are noted for their top-notch conditioning, which is one reason why wrestling is considered such a great base for MMA training. The famous latter day catch-as-catch-can “shooter” (legit submission wrestler), Karl Gotch, summed it up best when he said, “Conditioning is your best submission hold”.

      • David Black Mastro August 28, 2011 at 7:44 am #

        @David Black Mastro:

        More on the length of grappling matches… the longest shiai on record is the 1886 match between the legendary Sakujiro Yokoyama, and Hansuke Nakamura. This match lasted some 55 minutes, and martial arts author & researcher Robert W. Smith pointed out that the “contest was so fierce that in the end the officials had to literally pry the combatants’ fingers off the others’ jacket.” Much later in Japan, shootfighting competitions like Fujiwara Gumi and PANCRASE (the precursors of today’s MMA) typically featured bouts that lasted 30 minutes.

        • Jason Ferruggia August 29, 2011 at 6:26 am #

          @David Black Mastro: Thanks for the comments, buddy. Good stuff.

          • David Black Mastro August 30, 2011 at 1:14 pm #

            @Jason Ferruggia:

            You’re welcome, bro. I was more than happy to add my 2 cents on this topic, lol. Thanks for having such a great site.

  20. joe July 16, 2011 at 10:06 pm #

    to say simmons is a joke is completely fucked. i dont agree with everything but the man has changed powerlifting and training in general. A joke? he is the only man over 50 to squat over 900 plus look at who he has trained. as far as steroids to each their own. he has taken them for over 25 years he is in good health so maybe they arent as bad as we think. whatever thats not even the important part. the fact is to disrespect louie like that is fucked up and anyone who is that disrespectful should really look at themselves come to terms with their own short comings and grow the fuck up

  21. Isaac July 21, 2011 at 3:14 am #

    Jason I agree with Saxson and you about the all around thing. I’m training for a triathalon next year localy where I live. I’m trying to build a body that is always with in 60 to 120 days of growing the right way for a pose down wether in a pair of shorts or a bikini bottom, as well as one that can compete at the top with iron lifting, strongman, odd object or WHATEVER!!! I would love to see an event where they bring together the right parts of each for a competition!!! AWESOME FREAKIN ARTICAL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  22. David Black Mastro August 26, 2011 at 1:35 pm #

    Saxon was amazing, and his books are full sound observations and advice. His records in the bent press & two-hand anyhow have never been broken (though Al Beinart came close to matching Saxon’s English record in the bent press, circa the 1950s), and his ability in the dumbbell & kettlebell one-arm swing overhead was impressive as well (187 lbs and 207 lbs, respectively, @ a BW of 200 lbs). It’s also worth noting that, while Saxon is remembered primarily as a strongman, he was also a combat athlete–Thomas Inch once mentioned that Saxon was particularly good at the Swiss style of wrestling (schwingen). Props for this blog, Jason.

  23. Alex February 16, 2012 at 10:58 am #

    The point for me is that strength is much more psychological than physical.. the mind leads, the body just follows !!

  24. isaac ola May 14, 2012 at 9:38 am #

    Love the post. Big fan a Saxon and sandow. I wish I would of known of these old time strongmen 10yrs ago.

  25. Mahad May 30, 2013 at 11:01 pm #

    Wow, this actually cleared my mind. Thanks Jay.

  26. Chase October 1, 2013 at 10:27 am #

    I absolutely agree with saxon. As my number one idol, Saxons knowledge on the subject is vastly ahead of his time. He said wrestle a good man which means a good strong combatant someone you have to try hard against. That does take a lot of conditioning and strength, I know I’ve grappled some too. But to the man who could lift nearly 400lbs overhead with no support no sleeves, wraps, etc. cap off. Do not forget that saxon challenged everyone, cyr, goerner, everyone to a challenge, but none answered. Sandow did before Arthur was close to his prime and we all know that end result. O and I know there are going to be some big z, kazmaier, cyr, and Anderson fans out there, I am too; but Arthur is in my opinion, the strongest man on record! 2000lb walk easily! double bodyweight weight near push press. clean and pressing 150s easily for reps. And he said he could have done better in many lifts, but he thought they were only good for training. Most of his lifts are still world class regardless of bodyweight and his crowning feats are the best ever with exception to the pullover. and the amount of times he did performances with shitty equipment that was unbalanced and not too safe!
    To the overall strongman!!!

  27. Jake Long December 9, 2013 at 7:31 pm #

    Both aspects are definitely important. Strength endurance creates a tougher person, it’s important to include in a well rounded program. Arthur Saxon hit it right on the head. What an amazing athlete, very inspiring.