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November 09, 2022 2 min read

Ancient styles of training: physical culture in Scotland

Can we train like the best ancient Scottish warriors and athletes?

When you think about Scotland’s wild and rugged landscapes, it’s no surprise to discover that Scotland’s sporting background is tough. But what were the first sports in Scotland, and how did those ancient athletes train?

 

What sports is Scotland famous for?

According to reports from the 1800s, three sports are considered native to Scotland – golf, curling, and an ancient game called shinty (or camanachd in Gaelic). The origins of shinty date back around 2000 years. It’s a team game played with sticks and a ball on a large pitch – similar to hurling or field hockey.

 

What are the oldest strength sports in Scotland? 

We’re all familiar with the spectacle of the Highland Games. But what’s the history of this iconic sporting event, and how did the individual events make it into the Games?

The Highland Games is held in Scotland and in other countries with close links to Scotland, as a way to celebrate the culture. Key events include the sheaf toss, stone put, tug o’war, hammer throw, and famous caber toss (cabers can weigh up to 79kg). 

The Highland Games events can be traced back to the clans of 11th century Scotland, where strength events, lifting challenges, and hill running was used to identify the fittest men in the clan. Caber tossing probably originated with Scottish loggers who would have flipped felled trees to move them.

 

Did stone lifting originate in Scotland?

Stone lifting challenges are woven into the earliest stories of strength development, and many of the stories come from Scotland. It’s hard to know whether stone lifting originated in Scotland, but we do know that a huge number of stone lifting challenges still exist across Scotland – and they all have a story attached to them. 

Barbells and gym weights weren’t invented until the 19th century – and even then they weren’t widely available – so naturally people lifted heavy things from their local environment. And you don’t get much heavier than massive rocks!

“Stones of strength” were used in ancient Scotland as a test of manhood, to find the strongest man in the clan, and to earn a place in the chieftain’s workforce.

 

How did ancient Scottish athletes train?

Training in Scotland can be traced as far back as the 11th century, with clansmen using heavy objects like stones, tree trunks, and sheafs of straw to train, compete, and dominate. Scottish athletes and warriors had to contend with challenging weather, rugged landscapes, and short daylight hours all of which meant training had to be hard and focused.