8 Secret Workout Tips from Ancient Greek Athletes

Ancient Greek Athletes
The Panathenaic Stadium in Athens. Public Domain

Whether you were hoping to drop a few pounds or build that summer six-pack, ancient Greek athletes can give helpful pointers about getting in shape.

Try these handy workout tips to wash away your guilt and lower the lbs. Handed down through the centuries by ancient Athenian athletes, trust me these guys and gals were pretty hot and trained like warriors.

Lessons from Ancient Greek athletes

Step 1: Work out while drunk. Or hung over.

The coaches of these athletes were most training pupils for the Olympic games. Although, they would more often than not ask their students to refrain from wild drunken nights, if they did happen to have one to many the night before, as described in Mental Floss Magazine it never absolved them from their morning workout routine.

Coaches would urge athletes to complete “drunken workouts.” Although, they would complete workouts at less effort than if they were not intoxicated. Working out in this manner not only helps in losing a few lbs but releases toxins (and yes, alcohol is really a toxin) from pores when you sweat.

Step 2: Lather the body in oil before your workout

This might seem like a pretty interesting concept, but lathering or massaging the body in natural oils relaxed athletes. In addition, ancient Greek sportsmen were known to lather themselves in natural oils before exercising because it gave their bodies a distinctive glisten. At the time, scholars claimed that doing so kept athletes from getting cold while toughening their skin.

Step 3: Run Forest Run

The idea of breaking a sweat, hurting those old non-used knees, and that IT band you may have hurt from two years of junior varsity basketball. But running gives you the highest cardiovascular payoff with the littlest (or most cost-effective) effort.

Running benefits include increased lung capacity, a strengthened immune system, and a great mechanism for weight control. For the ancient Athenian athletes running was a must in Olympic competition preparation and later races that were up to 3 miles in distance.

Step 4: Run through the sand for extra stamina

Anacharsis, a Mediterranean philosopher who spent much of his time traveling through Athens during the 6th century BCE, once wrote a detailed description of how the Greeks trained their sprinters.

“The [practice] running is not done on hard, resistant ground,” he noted, “but in deep sand where it is not easy to plant a foot solidly or get a grip with it since it slips away from underneath the foot.” As an added bonus, these young men were also instructed “to jump over a ditch, if necessary, or some other obstacle carrying lead weights that are as large as they can hold.”

Step 5: Play those tunes

Ancient Greeks believed that training and music should be experienced together because they both pleased a man’s or woman’s spirit. Music was used both in training and in competition. Each gymnasium had at least one aulos player.

The aulos player’s job was to produce rhythmical music in order to help the athletes, particularly when warming up. The athletes were supposed to focus primarily on accurately performing the exercises according to their trainer’s advice. Music is essential to add rhythm and harmony to an athlete’s movements.

Step 6: Go Fishing

We can’t cover the tips of ancient athletes without talking about diet. In the Mediterranean from ancient times until present day, the area is prized for its lower rates of heart disease. Generally speaking, the focus was on eating grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, and wait for it… fish; due to the proximity of Greek patrons to the sea. Meat chicken, lamb, and beef for example was a luxury reserved for the rich or specifically for Greek religious holidays. So go fishing.

Step 7: Try a Fig or Two

ancient greek athletes figs
Credit: Eric Hunt, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5/Wikipedia

Change your breakfast of champions to a breakfast of true champions by introducing figs to your diet. Greece was and still is a region with figs abound. Figs are considered among the world’s healthiest foods.

The health benefits of figs come from the presence of minerals, vitamins and fiber contained in the fruit. Figs contain a wealth of beneficial nutrients, including vitamin A, vitamin B1, vitamin B2, calcium and iron. Dried figs, moist cheese, and wheat for breakfast were the standard for many athletes. It also seems that beans and cheese were quite popular among them.

Step 8: Train the mind 

A palaestra, or ancient Greek wrestling school, was the site of training not only the body but the mind for ancient Greek youth. Rooms featuring equipment like heavy bags, also featured education where the youth were taught the Greek ideals as part of an all-around education. According to livestrong.com, the concept of mind, body, and spirit was not just a slogan to the ancient athletes, it was a way of life.

“A sound mind only lives in a sound body” after all, or as the Ancient Greeks used to say it: “νους υγιής εν σώματι υγιεί.”

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