Captain America Teaches Us Why Old School is the Best School

“New workout designed to target your stomach and obliques!”

“Revolutionary new supplement that speeds up fat loss!”

“The recent discovery about optimal performance scientists don’t want you to know!”

It seems every day, there’s a new workout plan, piece of equipment, or plan to get you more in shape than ever before. It usually involves BREAKTHROUGH technology, a scientific discovery, or patent pending workout strategy that is gripping the nation. These things make me laugh (and weep) for humanity.

It’s no wonder we act like cats chasing shiny objects, with our brains being subjected to this all day every day. These products and systems aren’t designed to actually get you healthy – they’re designed to target your insecurities and make the companies MORE money – until they create the next break-through to get you to spend more money.

Today I’m gonna share some harsh truths about the trend of mainstream modern fitness, and encourage you to see through the bullshit… and start thinking old school.

Here’s your soundtrack for the day (old school hip hop for the win).

It’s time to think more like Captain America, and less about what the latest and greatest is. (Yes, I see the humor in the fact that he was turned into Captain America with a super serum, but hear me out!)

It’s time to learn why Old School is the best school.

Reinventing the Wheel


Way back in the day, the first caveman, Fred Flintstone (I assume that was his given name) invented the wheel. He used that wheel to help him transport things great distances.

When it comes to getting stronger and more fit, we pretty much had things figured out as cavemen too:

  • Pick up heavy things occasionally.
  • Move your body weight in ways you move every day (think squats, push ups, and pull ups).
  • Move around at different speeds (walking, running, sprinting).
  • Rest

Those principles are the same principles that will help you get in the absolute best shape of your life today. The problem with these principles and methods of training? They’re boring! They are tough to market, repackage every month, and get you to commit to paying money to learn about.

Which is why every marketer is tasked with trying to reinvent the wheel – not to help you get in better shape, but to sell gym memberships, magazine subscriptions, supplements, and workout DVDs.

Think about it:

  • Every gym you walk into has all the fancy new machines, ellipticals, and equipment front and center. Buried in the back corner is the free weights. The machines and ellipticals break, require maintenance, and are replaced with more “technologically advanced” version every few years with the latest features. The free weights never change and rarely need to be replaced.
  • Every workout DVD has a “special proprietary workout solution” designed to stimulate/annihilate/shred blah blah blah. This is done to get you to buy this workout plan after you bought the last plan. The principles are the same, it just has a fresh coat of paint on it…to sell you the latest craze.
  • Every fitness magazine has “Get shredded with this new secret workout!” on the cover. If they told you to eat better and lift heavy things every week, people would stop reading and buying issue after issue. So they make a few small changes, throw in some nonsense terms, and BAM! “The Secret Workout You’ve Been Missing Out On.”

If you want to see success, start thinking, training, and living like Captain America. The Cap was frozen in time when old school strength, honor, courage, camaraderie, and values were important. In this story arc he’s thrown into a crazy modern world, with questionable morals, crazy new tech, and advancements that make him wonder if we have gone to far.

Steve Rogers continues to serve as a concrete pillar of morality and values – When the world goes to hell, Cap knows what he needs to do, and has his rules and beliefs to fall back on for how to proceed. He trains in an old school way and he attacks problems with old solutions that have worked.

When everybody else is racing to a new secret or advanced whatever, he simply puts on his helmet, reaches way back to how he was brought up, and gets to work.

It’s this faith in the old school process that allows him to succeed where others fail.

Be Old School Like Captain America


Captain America is the poster child for “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Go way back, and you’ll find cavemen climbing trees, moving rocks, picking up logs, dragging animal carcasses back to caves, sprinting from predators, and so on.

Next, we have the ancient Greeks, who trained in “Gymnasiums” to improve their strength and muscle through training. Believe it or not, there wasn’t a single elliptical machine, ab cruncher, OR smith machine present – it was real world movements and competitions among the Greeks to improve their physiques in tribute to their gods.

Have you heard the tale of Milo of Croton? He was said to have achieved the feat of lifting of a full-sized bull by starting in childhood, lifting and carrying a newborn calf, and repeating the feat daily as it grew to maturity. Today we call this progressive overload!

Fast WAY forward to the 1940s and 50s (what’s up Captain America!), the predominant method of well accepted “exercise” for people was strength training!

I’m not surprised that my workouts of today, and those of the most fit people I know (just look at any gymnast or power lifter) are no different from those same workouts of the past. I’m now in the best shape of my life, and my workouts consist of mostly the same movements I’ve been using for the past decade:

  • Squats, front squats
  • Deadlifts, romanian deadlifts
  • Gymnastic ring work
  • Pistol squats
  • Pull ups and push ups.

It ain’t sexy, it ain’t new technology, and it ain’t very marketable. But it gets better results than any of this newfangled nonsense you see on TV. It requires dedication and consistency over a long period of time – which is why you should be putting fitness first.

A strong body is a healthy body, and the methods to build awesome, powerful, functional strength haven’t changed.

I would argue that our pal Rocky Balboa was successful in his fight against Ivan Drago because he chose to train in the old school fashion rather than chasing science and technology. Plus, what a great song!

I’m sure Captain America would be proud of Rocky’s training methods. So how can you train more like Captain America?

  • Stop chasing the latest and greatest. Look backwards to what methods haven’t changed for decades and decades. These anti-fragile training methods produce results.
  • Stop looking for improved technology and quick fixes when old school focused hard work gets the job done.
  • Focus on functional and strong over flashy and showy.Tough to fight Nazis and terrorists if your muscles aren’t built to help!

what would captain America do?


Now, as a man who lived in the 40s and 50s, Cap is probably very confused about the foods and things people do these days. He ate foods that came from animals that roamed free on a farm, fruits and vegetables that came out of the ground, and wasn’t afraid of consuming fat. Sugar – worse than Darth Vader as we know – wasn’t nearly as pervasive back then as it is now.

Fast forward to today, and Captain America wants to punch a hole in the wall for what he sees:

  • Foods loaded with sugar, touting “low-fat” as a healthy option.
  • Processed foods that don’t look anything like actual foods.
  • Diet pills that promise quick results with no effort.
  • Juice cleanses that help with rapid weight loss!
  • A severe lack of products that come out of the ground.

So how can you be more like Captain America? Ask yourself “What would Captain America do?”!

Hat tip to my friend Eric Barker, who pointed this study out:

“We found we could get kids to choose the healthier food much more often if we simply asked what their favorite superhero or their favorite princess would do.

Even if they responded “french fries”, half the time they took the apple slices. It simply causes an interruption in their thinking that causes them to pause, hit the reset button inside their head and think again.”

As you are making your decisions on how to eat, how to train or what to do, before you make your decision, ask yourself “What would Captain America do?”

No seriously, before you make your next food decision, ASK YOURSELF what the Captain would do, and then make your decision.

I bet he’d opt for the real food grown in the ground rather than processed through a ton of machines until it’s unrecognizable.

It’s tough to be a superhero when you can’t fit into your uniform!

old school is the best school


“Yeah, yeah, that’s great, but technology has drastically improved our lives, and thanks to some scientific breakthroughs human performance is at an all-time high.”

I hear you loud and clear.

We love technology here at Nerd Fitness, duh. We’re nerds! Whether it’s a Fitbit to track our steps for the day, Evernote to track our workouts, or Zombies Run! app to help us run more…technology can make our lives easier.

HOWEVER, we must first learn to live like Captain America and understand the importance of REAL life, non-technological breakthroughs and success before we start seeking tiny, technology-assisted performance boosts.

After all, do you think a new and improved Captain America uniform would help Steve Rogers fight the Nazis if he looked like this?

Fundamentals first.

Besides, Old School obviously beats out New School:

  • The Ewoks’ old school battle techniques against the Empire on the Moon of Endor (go Ewoks!).
  • Full-fat ice cream vs new “low-fat ice cream” (with way more sugar).
  • Grass fed beef vs grain fed beef.
  • The original Ninja Turtles movies vs. Michael Bay’s abomination.
  • Old school break dancing instead of whatever twerking is.
  • The movie Old School

So, it’s time to make a re-commitment to old school, and a pledge to ask yourself when trouble arises: “WWCAD?”

What sort of old school solutions do you love to implement in the battle against new-school nonsense? 

What solutions have withstood the test of time and helped you succeed?



photo source: JD Hancock: Superheroes, The Conmunity: Shield, Varin: Captain

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  • Great article! I am a HUGE Captain America fan, as you can see by the pic of my office, and this article resonated with me. I have been back and forth from old school to new school many times, but always come back to old school because that is always when I’ve felt my best, and my weight has stayed consistent. Going old school!!

  • Obitim

    Got to be old school strength training and eating proper food, not manufactured!

    I was training recently and thought about fitness heroes and who my big 3 are and came up with the following:
    Jason Bourne
    Cap America (not about the serum, it;s about the man behind that)

    I used to train on all the fitness machines and didn’t see a huge difference, it wasn’t till I went back to basics for eating and training that I’ve seen a sustainable difference!

  • Alex

    Love the article. If I ever feel like eating something unhealthy again, I’ll just imagine Steve Rogers staring at me and silently judging me. I feel like this method will work on everyone.

  • Deone

    This article resonated with me also. Having a lot of joint issues (wrist, knee, and shoulder; a trifecta of doom for almost every compound exercise movement) from blue collar working, and it has me in a funk right now. My families priorities are not lining up with mine either, and its difficult for me without a support group in my inner circle.

    Whoa, don’t know where all that came from.

    Just posted to ask if you could maybe make a brief post demonstrating the format of your logged evernote workouts format.

    I’m currently writing them on my wall in the garage, but I travel a lot and lose track of notebooks. I use evernote almost exclusively for taxes.

  • Jackie Pearce

    That is the coolest office ever.

  • KingMidas222

    After trying many forms of training methods, i too have found that basic compound movements yield the best results. I am a huge fan of push ups, body weight squats, and muscle ups. In fact I think they should be pre-requisite to any training with free weights. I strongly believe that anyone can master these basic moves and do them six days out of the week.

  • KingMidas222

    I am glad I found your blog.

    To anyone interested in changing their financial future,

    i implore tou to get these books and share them with your friends and family if you find the information in them useful.

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  • Emma

    What would Peggy Carter do?
    Let’s be honest, she has much better taste in lipstick.

  • Jackie Pearce

    Steve, I think you’d love the interview with Thor and Black Widow’s trainer where he basically says the same thing:

    He basically says it’s old school stuff and just to stick to the basics, but that’s not fun to sell to people, so no one talks about it. He was also a Navy SEAL, so he knows what’s up.

    P.S. I just recently discovered your site and my nerd heart is overjoyed. BRB while I go through all the archives 🙂

  • Heh. A couple years ago, when wife suggested we focus on health for Christmas (kid still got SW Legos!), she thought and exercise bike and the bow-cable pully thing at box store was way to go. Luckily I geeked out on researching exercise equipment and ended up at Starting Strength book. My path was set.

    I love the fact that olympic weights are so cheap at used equipment stores. I can generally find them for .50¢ – .69¢ a lb, on sale. Only thing I’ve bought new was my bar (1200 lb Champion bar via Amazon) and my squat rack (Rogue R-3). Yeah, it’s a bit narrow front-to-back but if I was going to get enough scratch together for the RM-490 I’d never have it.

    Now, if I can just find enough room on the back porch for a punching bag…

  • Kiran Prendergast

    Best office. I have some Cap stuff up in my cube but I wish I could do more like that.

  • Ben Stark

    Basic movements are still the best to build real strength and power. Also real food is still the best to fuel your body. Those things are without doubt, but I wouldn’t be so fast to discount some machine work for fitness. An hour walking on a treadmill is better than an hour on the couch. If that’s what it takes to increase a person’s activity level okay. Also some machines make exercise a bit more enjoyable. For example, I use a stationary bike for forty minutes the nights I don’t lift. No way on earth would I go out for a bike ride. Just wouldn’t do it. Way to socially phobic to do it. The weather in Ohio sucks to do that. Cold winters and brutally hot summers. I also suffer from summer depression and it gets worse the more I am out in the heat. But I can get my self to the gym almost everyday.

    Overall I love your blog. Sometimes I think you get so excited about a topic a balanced view gets lost.

  • Mike

    Great post. You had me until you mentioned Ewoks. Ewoks, seriously? Totally agree about free weights.

  • Chris

    Hi Steve, Great articles all around! I have a question specifically about the Paleo diet.

    I have slowly changed my diet and lifestyle over the last two years to one that is gluten free (I’m gluten intolerant), whole foods & organic w/ moderate exercise and activity along with quitting smoking. Cut out all wheat, refined sugars & processed foods. I do watch my calories to stay in check. My weight has dropped from 275lbs down to current 225lbs. My goal is 190lbs so I’m slowly keeping at it!

    The idea of Paleo is pretty new to me so I started looking in to it and came across your website and I’m hooked on NF! I’ve checked out the eat/don’t eat lists of paleo food groups. Really, the only non-paleo foods I’m eating are beans, brown rice, potatoes, a limited amount of cheese and some gluten free substitutes like GF bread, pasta and chips.

    I can easily understand why dairy and GF products are not Paleo and have started cutting down on them… but what about beans, brown rice and potatoes? Can you please explain why these three items are not considered Paleo? I know they are agricultural items but didn’t they exist before that time in the wild? Aren’t they natural/whole foods? Do you think cutting these remaining items out of my diet will help boost my weight lose progress and increase the overall health of my diet?

    Appreciate any & all insight you and NF community can offer!!! Thanks, Chris

  • Ryan Romaio

    I have never really thought of looking at things like Working out, or eating right in this manner before, makes sense… As I am aiming to become 100% antifragile in all aspects of my life this statement will help me decide if something is really moving towards my goals.
    Now I understand your TL:DR on getting in shape is always… Eating clean and lifting heavy 🙂 Time to clean out my fridge and pantry.

    Thanks again!

  • Jay

    This is awesome! I want a WWCAD bumper sticker!

  • Comedy Man

    Well, Captain America was still from the time where they throw eggs at Asians like me on the street.

    I kid.

    I thing it’s a good suggestion.

  • Taylor


  • EscherEnigma

    What would Captain America do? Steroids. Lots of steroids. Seriously, he is a *terrible* fitness role model. I’m pretty sure that all that training we see him do isn’t necessary, he’s just having fun going “look at the muscles I didn’t earn! Whee!”

  • This is the best office I have ever seen.

  • Tony Langdon

    Excellent article, agree totally. I’m a believer in the old school too, tweaked with the hindsight of science and some good old fashioned trial and error, to suit my particular needs. My workouts are nothing fancy, dominated by free weights (except during competition season, where my strength work comes from training and competition itself).

    I’ve been doing some variation on this for the last several years. Weight is stable, any variation is as likely to be a result of inaccurate scales as any actual change, and my functional strength and power are excellent, proven in both competition and ordinary everyday manual tasks.

    That said, I remain open to real science (as in peer reviewed stuff you read in journals, not the crap they sell you on TV), and trial and error, to best work with my own particular quirks.

  • Midgetphoenix

    I was thinking the same thing.

  • Megan

    😀 I just watched Captain America this morning! Wearing my shirt. It’s a great motivator.

  • Kayla

    I once read a micropost that said, if your grandma ever asks, ‘Why are you eating all this crazy health food?!’, respond with, ‘I’m trying to eat like you did growing up!’

    It’s interesting to think food-wise, that the most basic form of eating is considered abnormal these days. Cooking from scratch, grabbing organic where it makes sense, choosing to go without dairy, choosing to go without processed convenience meals, or anything that comes from a can.

  • Sarah

    Speaking of old school…I’ve been thinkin about takin it back & joining the academy. Question- I do best when I have a plan in place. I know the academy allows you to go at your own pace, but is there a daily exercise plan that I can follow if I want?

  • Matt J

    I liked the article, it made plenty of great point.

    My problem would be more related to the wrong character to ask what would he do.. Captain America was naturally scrawny.. until he used technology to beef himself up.. Just have to mention that. 😛

    Again great article! Go old school workouts!

  • Ryan Reynolds

    Thanks Steve, you’re awesome.

  • Steven Davis

    Running…lots and lots of running. And cycling. A TON of cycling.

  • Sebastian Tanner

    This resonates with me.

  • I really enjoyed this. Good post.

  • This is outstanding!

  • I have to second that one!

  • lin b

    “Old school break dancing instead of whatever twerking is.”

    I was enjoying this article until that point.

    “Whatever twerking is” is a dance with roots in various African (and Afro-diasporic) dances. Don’t dismiss it just because a bunch of white folks appropriated it and made a mockery of it, or because it’s “ghetto,” or whatever other bs reason makes you think black culture is less than worthy of your respect.

  • neochick

    making everything from scratch helps me. well as much as possible i dont make my own flour or oils…

  • Pingback: Why Exercise is the Least Important Part of the Equation (And a Camp Nerd Fitness Update!) | Nerd Fitness()

  • I almost laugh when I see so many articles or videos online entitled with things like “secret ways to grow muscle fast” or “secret ways to build a sexy booty”. It screams bs. OOOOH a secret… must read or watch. These articles or videos tend to use poster-boys and girls. These are the comic characters with shirt-tearing biceps or pant-busting glutes to share these secrets. When sometimes their secrets are really steroids or butt implants. 😛

  • turanjr

    Love your office

    Best paleo recipe

  • John

    Great! I’m fan of Captain America Captain America Black Leather Jacket

  • Hoppen

    Schools are the best place where the teachers are hired to spread their information and knowledge with the students and old schools are the best places where the quality education is provided to the students by their teachers with their experience of teachings and their abilities of teaching which helps their students to make their bright future.

  • The old schools are always the best place to visit .The people learn the good things in the schools which helps them to build their personalities. The students can learn in the schools how to move on in the society and also how to take the better decision for them . The students are well aware in the school life that what is good or bad for themselves.

  • ok

  • Really nice article, thanks for sharing.