Deceptive strength is a term to describe someone who, upon first glance, you might not elect to your team of gladiators, but have a strength that far surpasses their physical frame. I first heard the term from Logan Christopher’s book of the same title, and it got me thinking quite a bit. People today aren’t very impressed with performance anymore, it seems. Vanity has assumed the threshold of quality, so people are just drawn to huge muscles. There is a certain allure and glamour that comes with the huge muscles, but anyone who doesn’t have the muscles but has great strength seems to be doing everything fake. Metal bending feats are doctored, phonebook rips are cheated, nothing that a small person with strength does seems to hold merit.
But this was not always the case; there were as many 160-170 lbs strongmen as there were 200+ lbs strongmen. Maxick, credited as one of the best muscle controllers to have ever lived, weighed a measly 143 lbs soaking wet, but he could hold Tromp Van Diggelen in his outstretched palm, a man who was 215 lbs at the time. Of course, some people have in fact cheated with what are meant to be incredible strength feats, which raises the antenna of skeptics the world over. But there is a certain allure that comes with someone who holds immense strength in a small body.
Muscles are a symbol of strength, and every magazine you see that advocates strength training or exercise shows men with humongous muscles on their bodies. But is such muscle functional, or strong? Sig Klein was credited with saying, “Train for shape, the strength will come”. This was intended for the people who trained arms and upper body with little regard for other body parts. Nevertheless, some people who train every muscle in the body for aesthetics never realize the true strength that they can achieve.
Bruce Lee is a great example of deceptive strength; the power to kick 300 lbs punching bags to the ceiling in a 145 lbs body is admirable. This is true deceptive strength that can’t be faked, and this is the strength that most old time strongmen held; they didn’t need to have extravagant muscle to have stellar strength, and in some cases they were hindered by having too much muscle. Gymnasts are incredibly strong and powerful people, but they don’t have the kind of physiques one might expect them to have with their strength. That’s because there are more components to strength than muscle size, and the old time strongmen knew this. They trained tendons, ligaments, muscle control, and things that people today didn’t know were trainable. Their methods aren’t secrets, but they are buried under the vanity of industry.
Deceptive strength is what strength trainers should aim for as a training ideal; train for strength and function, and your physique will develop on its own. Dedicate yourself to the methods that these old time strongmen had; their lack of science or technology is a not a lack of knowledge, and their strength feats are a testament to that. Even if you observe the sculpture Farnese Hercules, you see that the ancient cultures who revered strength didn’t imbue Hercules with muscles fit for a cloud, but he nevertheless exuded strength in each ounce of his being. Deceptive strength is the way of the ancients, and is the image of true strength.