2021: The Physical Culture Review

Image of Strongman John MoriartyThis is now the eighth …. EIGHTH … year of this blog. While I don’t always get the time I need or want to write for this site, it holds such a fond place in my heart. I created this website in 2014 when I had just finished my undergraduate degree. I didn’t know what to do next, but knew that I loved writing and loved fitness. Now, in my third year as a University Lecturer who gets paid to research the history of fitness, I can say that it has been quite a journey.

On the topic of journeys, I wanted to do something different to kick off 2022. I wanted to review 2021 through the prism of physical culture and strength. With that in mind, here are some of my uninformed thoughts on the past 12 months of physical culture.

Best Strength Book of the Year

I will avoid a cheap plug about my own academic (i.e. unreadable) history of physical culture in Ireland. No, this is the best book I read during the year related to strength in some way, shape or form. If you are familiar with this website, you’ll know of my love for the World Strongest Man competition, founded in 1977.

This year I was gifted Douglas Edmund’s ‘The World’s Greatest Tosser.’ Edmunds was a critical figure in WSM and his story is the stuff of legend. We have so few biographies of modern strength athletes or even the organizers. Edmunds’ love of strength – be it the Highland Games or the World Strongest Man, shines through each page of the book. It is both a biography but also a history of strength’s move toward the mainstream.

Best Strength Movie of the Year

The Commissioner of Power by Rogue Fitness. Here it is below. Watch it.

Covering the life of Dr. Terry Todd, this documentary is a love letter to strength. Terry was a colossal figure in the world of strength and the history of physical culture. Rogue did such an amazing job  capturing a man whose biography reads elite athlete, esteemed historian, strongman organizer, mentor, friend and husband.

Since it’s release earlier this year, I have used this documentary to explain to others my fascination with strength. Terry (and his wife Jan) embody strength in every aspect of their lives. Rogue captured the biography of one of the most remarkable people I have ever known.

Best Strength Exercise of the Year

It seems strange to move from Terry Todd – the breaker of multiple powerlifting records – to my own training life. But hey … this is my blog right? I’m allowed to be a little egotistical. This year was a strange one for all of us. Covid-19 meant gym lockdowns and disruption to our training. I used to be anxious about not training, thankfully the pandemic made sure I learned how to be flexible on that front!

My exercise of the year is the humble sissy squat. When I had no weights to train with, and was forced to exercise in an apartment for months on end, the sissy squat helped keep my legs somewhat strong. High reps, low rest periods were combined with gallon water bottles to keep me sane. Was it as impressive as a deadlift? Nope. But it was the friend my lockdown leg day needed.

Best Strength Supplement of the Year

Over the past few years, I have largely phased out my supplements aside from creatine and an occasional protein shake. Don’t worry, this isn’t the part of the post when I try sell you something you don’t need. This isn’t because I have integrity … far from it. No, sadly the history of fitness website doesn’t attract paid sponsors in the way Instagram does.

So this recommendation comes from the heart and not the wallet. Earlier this year I was struggling with energy and lethargy around training. I was sleeping fine, eating well etc. but something didn’t feel right. Turns out I was low in iron due to several weeks on a vegetarian diet. So I switched to all carnivore and forgot those weak veggies! Kidding!

No I began taking desiccated liver tablets on a daily basis. This was undoubtedly an ‘old school’ approach but one which made a tangible difference to my training, energy and output. Let food be thy medicine and all that!

Best Strength Podcast of the Year

I’m a terrible podcast addict. Barbells, sport, meditation, wrestling, teaching and pop culture. I’ll take any of it. In the fitness community we are blessed with multiple outlets. Here I’m going to list some which helped keep me sane over the past year. Yes I appeared on some of them but I am a fan anyway … promise!

* Iron Culture Podcast: These guys crack me up and always have thought provoking guests

* No Lift Podcast: It’s my Irish outlet for strength and lifting.

* 3DMJ Podcast: I may be something of an Eric Helms’ fanboy but 3DMJ does a great job of pushing you to find balance in your fitness output.

* Big Loz Official: Okay technically a YouTube channel but it’s great to see so many Strongman interviews.

* The Bodybuilding Legends Show: I mean … this one should be obvious right?

Best Strength Purchase of the Year

Again, no affiliate links, just an Irishman who is slowly putting together his home gym. This year I made two big purchases for my home gym – which is literally my back garden. Seriously … there are no walls, a cheap gazebo and the rain is destroying my barbells.

Nevertheless I have a small shed and that small shed means toys and gadgets! This category is a tie between the folding reverse hyper extension produced by Rogue Fitness and the M1 Torque Tank.

The folding reverse hyper: The reverse hyper is my favorite machine in the gym. No one uses it, it has a great crossover to the deadlift and keeps my back bullet proof. When I began training at home I grew tired of relying on the deadlift/romanian deadlift/good morning trio to strengthen my back. The reverse hyper broke me from that boredom. Plus I can also use it for leg extensions, motorcycle rows, and leg curls. I bloody love it.

The M1 Torque Tank: This is the most expensive piece of equipment I have ever bought for myself and it is entirely worth it. During lockdown I began using a Prowler for conditioning. There was just one problem … I had no where to use it. For several months I used the car park of a local train station (and actually helped scratch the pavement in the car park). It wasn’t tenable.

We are lucky to have a relatively long driveway in our home (c. 30 yards) but my partner made it very clear that any scratches on it would not be tolerated. Enter the torque tank. It uses magnetic resistance so the harder I push, the harder the resistance. Yes the neighbors stare but it is awesome.

Best Strength Gift of the Year

Finally, I want to give a final shout out to Strongest Ever trading cards, which I previously wrote about. These are trading cards comparing the strongest men in history. Opening this pack brought me back to my childhood days of trading football stickers and comparing attributes. I’m not being paid to give this company a shout out. I’m just a nerd with a passion. Check them out here.

Best Strength Website of the Year

This one of course.

No seriously … this one.

Okay fine … the Strongman Project collaboration between the Stark Center and Rogue Fitness is one of the best websites in the strength world. Don’t believe me? It is literally an online archive with thousands of historical materials relating to the history of strength. Check it out here. I have lost dozens of hours going through old personal materials and magazines on this site.

Wishing you all Happy Lifting in 2022!

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