Updated: May 13, 2021
If history shows is nothing else, then it is that there is really nothing new under the sun. More than 2000 years ago, the ancient Greeks were exercising regularly and they were aware of the benefits that this brought with it. They believed that physical fitness and mental clarity were interlinked. A good citizen had a healthy mind and body - training was a civic duty. For those of you who fancy yourselves more intellectual than sporty, take note that the fathers of modern political science, philosophy and medicine all believed in regular exercise and practiced it religiously. Galen suggested that doctors train like athletes to achieve excellence in their practice and I, as well as many others can confirm the truth of this through personal experience.
"Endorphins give you a natural high after exercise - it's like an incentive from evolution/your maker. Training doesn't just get you healthy and fit, it also makes you feel good, which makes all your other life challenges that much easier to solve", says Richard, the boxing coach at MyGym in Roeland Street - A true cross training paradise, where boxers train alongside dancers and yogis.
But surely these old Greeks couldn't have trained in the modern fashion we do today?
Records show that they believed in a structured and graduated training regime, which included three stages: warm-up, training and cool-down – a carbon copy of the current advice from the American Heart Association.
The soldiers had their game of strip-poker rudely interrupted by an enemy attack.
Galen rated activities that work a variety of muscle groups, including riding and swimming. He distinguished between high-impact and low-impact exercise. He also explained the principle of circuits or interval training. He differentiated between general exercise and specialized training for professional athletes. Ring any bells?
Boxing, wrestling and the pankration – an ancient mix of martial arts that combined boxing and wrestling (read MMA) were popular ways of training. Punching bags were used, as well as shadow-boxing techniques. Bends were used to strengthen the upper body. Richard again - "Very similar to my training sessions of today - note they do not advocate sparring contact training, probably because this is really only necessary if you decide to compete - fitness can be achieved without it."
Various running exercises, including high-resistance running in sand, were improved lower body strength and aerobic stamina. Jumping and squatting exercises were also popular. Upper body strength came from rope climbing and closed chain resistance training (pullups, squats, push-ups etc) .
Forensic review of the GoPro footage after the fatal inaugural Athenian bungee jump revealed a regrettable oversight.
But wait, I've heard about these guys, they probably went straight from the gym to drink a barrel of wine, smoke a bong and then stopped by the various neighbourhood orgies?
Again, not true - a healthy lifestyle was recognised to improve physical and mental condition as much as regular exercise. Gardening, horse riding, hiking and fishing were common practice. Eight hours of sleep, as well as regular sunbathing were recommended.
In this blog, we will explore this wheel, rather than try to reinvent it. We live in a country with endless possibilities, infrastructure, climate and natural features, which lend itself to easy access to any type of exercise under the sun (or under a roof in case of rain). Healthy living is easy and cheap here and healthy living culture is blossoming. As we have seen, staying healthy pays for itself, not only by keeping you healthy, it makes you feel good as well - maybe even good enough to stop those happy pills.
* Source: “Sports training of the Ancient Greeks” (in Greek) by Dimitris Komitoudis and Thomas Giannakis, Department of Physical Education and Athletics, University of Athens.