Untraditional Training And The Barbarian Aesthetic

Why some who embrace the Barbarian idea also don’t hang out at the gym

Something I’ve seen is that when someone embraced the idea of being a Barbarian in our modern world, their mindsets often change as well. Not always, but often.

They begin to not just embrace the attitude of the Barbarian, but their sense of aesthetics starts to change. They come to value things we often associate with barbarians like Conan.

And when it comes to unconventional training, it really seems that kind of training is perfect for those wanting to embrace the aesthetic.

To me, most commercial training facilities represent “civilization.” They’re sleek and shiny, offering what people think they need and less of what really matters.

Take the commercial gym I use when I don’t train at home.

Now, I’m not going to dog the gym because the guy who owns it is a fantastic person and has done very well for himself through the years. Part of that is because he tailored his gym to what his customers want. That’s smart business.

But it’s also part of the problem.

You see, over half the gym’s floorspace is taken up by machines or cardio equipment. They’re of various vintages, but some are chrome still from the ’80s when that’s what all machines looked like.

In the free weight area, you’ve got benches and squat racks, including things like hack squat machines, leg press machines, shrug machines and so on.

Training there can feel a little like your Ivan Drago rather than Rocky Balboa, if you catch my meaning.

For me, I see that as the shining city on the hill. They have all of the acceptable equipment, but none of the unacceptable. There’s no trap bar, no farmer’s walk handles, no kettlebells, etc. They’re “civilized.”

Nothing wrong with that.

But I’m a Barbarian. I don’t like civilized all that much. That’s where the iron comes into play.

Now, black iron gyms are hardly “civilized” in my book. They’re filled with chalk dust, the stench of sweat, and the grunts of people who refuse to be average.

They’re not places for the weak of heart or mind.

Unfortunately, not everyone has those.

In my community, we have a number of gyms, but they’re all more Planet Fitness than black-iron dungeon. That means that if you want that kind of training, you’re going to do it at home. (Let’s be honest, that’s not exactly conventional either.)

As noted yesterday, though, equipping a gym can be expensive. There’s a short discussion in the comments about used equipment, which I’d neglected to mention, and that can be much cheaper, but I’d looked for some time before buying my plates. There just wasn’t any, so I tend to not tell people to buy used simply because I’m used to that not being an option.

Even “cheap” used plates, barbells, and racks can be expensive depending on where you’re at.

But unconventional training is pure barbarian. You can’t get civilized when you’re slinging around hunks of iron or steel, bags of sand, or hauling large amounts of weight all over the damn place. You can’t be a dandy when you’re swinging around a mace or hammer, either.

Something about that kind of training makes you feel different, almost special. You’re a Barbarian and you know it. You slam a sledgehammer into a tire because it’s what you do. Maybe you tell your nosey neighbor that you do it because the cops frown on you doing it to people who don’t mind their own business. Maybe you don’t.

Either way, though, there’s something primal about how you do it, about how you move with it. It ignites that Barbarian side of you.

Look, I’m not going to tell you that you’re not a real Barbarian if you don’t use unconventional movements in your training. I will say that unless you use some basic, functional movements you’re not going to make the most out of your training as a Barbarian.

I also think that if you’re someone with the mindset of the Barbarian, you’re also going to look at these odd kinds of things and think. “That’s badass. How can I work that into my routine?”

At least, that’s what I’ve seen.

Author: Tom

Tom is a husband, father, novelist, opinion writer, and former Navy Corpsman currently living in Georgia. He's also someone who has lost almost 60 pounds in a safe, sustainable way, so he knows what he's talking about.

6 thoughts on “Untraditional Training And The Barbarian Aesthetic”

  1. I watched a documentary about Ronnie Coleman a few weeks ago. All the years that he was Mr. Universe he worked out in an old warehouse in Arlington that had rusty barbells, piles of old plates, rusty dumbells, and a few other essentials. I think it still looks like that today. And Arnold and Dave Draper worked out in a place called the Dungeon, which was a nasty basement with homemade equipment crammed in. That was before the Gold’s Gym days. Maybe there’s something to that.

    1. I really think there is. I think it triggers a part of our psyche that recognizes steel sharpens steel or something like that. A gym like that is definitely “steel.”

      1. I agree. In my garage, it gets down into the teens in the winter, and over 100 in the summer. I lift with the door open year round, and I just think of those extreme temperatures as “toughness training.”

        1. I hear ya. I train outside in all weather.

          I’ll admit it, I’m a wimp with the cold, but that’s something I need to fix. Luckily, it’s cold today so it’s a great time to work on it. 🙂

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