4 Timeless Fitness Lessons Brought To You By Teddy Roosevelt

On this day, October 14th, 104 years ago Teddy Roosevelt was campaigning in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Roosevelt was doing the unthinkable in running for a 3rd term as President, this time as a 3rd party candidate for the newly formed bull moose party. That’s not the remarkable part about this story, however.

I’ve never been to Milwaukee. But I imagine it resembles something like north of the wall in Game Of Thrones. An ice-filled tundra full of cold and misery. A place that people who only have a strange hatred of themselves decide to live. Due to being north of the wall, Roosevelt was dressed appropriately in a long coat, and inside his coat pocket was his glasses case and his 50-page speech.

In the car, which was similar to a modern-day convertible, Roosevelt stood up to wave to the crowd and was promptly shot by a man standing right next to the vehicle.

No doubt, getting shot in the chest from only 5 feet away is a traumatic experience. It rattles you to the very core and makes you question quite a few things about this life. I’m sure Roosevelt felt that way; only he waited awhile to address those questions.

Why? Because immediately after getting shot he coughed into his hand, and when he noticed no blood took that to mean his lung hadn’t been punctured. So he hopped in the car, went to the hotel, jumped on stage and proceeded to drop one of the greatest lines in history.

“I’ve just been shot, but it takes more than that to kill a bull moose.”

It’s fair to say that Teddy Roosevelt is one of history’s biggest badasses. Very few people have the proverbial stones big enough to make them capable of getting shot and in turn delivering a speech for an hour and a half.

He’s also one of my heroes, and by virtue of the books I have read and the documentaries I have watched about him, also one of my mentors.

And while I could go on and on about the life of Roosevelt for another 100,000 words, that is something I’ll have to save for another day. Instead of examining the life of Teddy Roosevelt, we’re going to look to him as our teacher. Specifically in regards to fitness, which was a passion of his.

Here are 4 lessons you can learn about fitness from Teddy Roosevelt.

  • Make your body.

When Teddy was a young boy he was a frail and sickly child. He suffered from debilitating asthma, which at the time could be a fatal condition.

It was obvious that Teddy was a smart kid, but his father, recognizing that a mind isn’t much without a body worthy of carrying it took him aside and told him as much:

“Theodore you have the mind but you have not the body, and without the help of the body the mind cannot go as far as it should. I am giving you the tools, but it is up to you to make your body.”

How did Roosevelt respond?

“I will make my body.”

And from that point forward the Bull Moose dedicated his life to the very definition of bodybuilding. Using a primitive weight set to build his body into something worthy of the mind that he possessed.

This continued up until Roosevelt had essentially worked asthma out of him. I’m not sure if that’s even possible, but in historical accounts you never hear of Roosevelt suffering from asthma anymore in his adult life.

And herein lies the lesson: You must build your body.

You must take care in building a body that is strong, hardy, resilient, and able to withstand all that you might put it through on this journey called life. Do this with weights. Put your body to the test, and watch it respond by becoming bigger and stronger.

This is something that Roosevelt took very seriously. He understood the value in creating a body that was hardened through physical training, and that training became a practice he would never give up in life.

  • Live a strenuous life.

In 1886 Roosevelt was living in the Dakota Badlands on the banks of the Little Missouri River and working as a rancher. He relished the opportunity to work the land, deal with the harsh winters, hunt, and be a man of the Earth.

But that winter a few thieves swiped his boat, which was virtually the only boat on the river for miles around, from right under his nose and took it down river. Normally a man might write this loss off, but by now we should know that Roosevelt was no normal man.

What did he do?

He and two of his ranch hands built their own boat and proceeded to chase the thieves down the river, who at this point had a 3-day head start. Roosevelt, knowing the thieves weren’t expecting him to chase them, finally caught up and promptly took them under his control thanks to the element of surprise and one of the thieves being drunk.

He then proceeded back up the freezing river, watching the thieves by himself, since he had sent his ranch hands back home with one of the boats.

Now, normally just watching some thieves that have wronged you would be challenge enough. But we’re talking about the middle of winter in the Dakota Badlands here. The weather is subzero, the river is full of ice, and you’re stuck in a tiny little boat with 3 men who have just stolen from you.

How does Roosevelt handle this? He stayed awake for 40 hours straight keeping an eye on the thieves and read them the classic Russian novel Anna Karenina. Once he made it into town he promptly arrested them instead of having them hanged, which was custom at this time.

Roosevelt made living a strenuous life his credo. He relished the idea of embracing that, which was difficult. Physical strain and training was something he looked forward to and embraced every challenge as a test.

Roosevelt aimed to live every single day with vigor and confidence, and much of this was brought about by his physical training. And this is exactly how you should be living your life as well.


Training is a stressor that you place on the body. It is difficult. It burns, hurts, and leaves you feeling sore. But all of these are things that make you better in the long run, and therein lies the value of the strenuous life when it comes to training.

By spending your time toiling away in the weight room you’re preparing your body, but even more so you’re preparing your mind to deal with the challenges that you might face sooner or later.

There is immense value to be had in the knowledge that you can carry your body through difficult periods of pain and anguish. A certain confidence that you carry inside of you whenever a difficult time comes, because you know thanks to your training that you’re prepared to face this. You’ve steeled your reserve, and as such will be able to handle any challenge you face head on.

  • Setting goals to challenge oneself.

Before he was President, Roosevelt served as a volunteer in the Spanish-American War, leading a group of other volunteers known as The Rough Riders.

In what would become a decisive victory for the Americans, Roosevelt and his group of volunteers led a charge up a Spanish controlled hill that held massive strategic importance.

Now, it bears repeating here that Roosevelt was leading a group of volunteers, most of who were cowboys and men fresh out of college, up an enemy-held hill. This is what military strategists might refer to as tactical suicide.

Oh, and Roosevelt was also the only person on horseback, making him an easy target for enemy fire. But that didn’t matter. The goal was to take the hill, and Roosevelt and his men would stop at nothing to follow through. The fact that they succeeded is often credited in helping end The Spanish-American War.

If you’ve got a training partner you’re probably familiar with those days that you both walk into the gym and do some decidedly dumb shit, like taking the hill.

What usually happens? You wind up having your best workout in months. This typically comes from thinking up some masochistic challenge workout, and then competing against one another.

And therein lies the wisdom of setting goals to challenge yourself.

By setting goals that might appear to be bold, audacious, or just plain crazy goals you give your body and mind something to strive for. And as humans this is something we crave.

Roosevelt understood this. Whether it was going on extended hikes on one of his two ranches in the Dakota Badlands, hiking through the Amazon, or even leading a group of men headlong up a hill held by enemy troops.

He understood that you had to set goals you would strive for, and that those goals would bring you a level of pain and suffering you probably weren’t used to. And because of that pain and suffering, you would ultimately be better.

  • Be a varied athlete.

Roosevelt loved to box. He boxed from the time he was a young boy. Boxed at Harvard, in the Dakota Badlands, and while he served as Governor of New York.

It was by far and away one his favorite ways to stay active, and he shied away from no one in the ring, even boxing with champions of various weight classes. But one day in 1905 a military aide who was half his age landed a shot that would permanently leave Roosevelt blinded in his left eye.

Being blind presents its own challenges, but when you’re the leader of the free world and you’ve just been blinded by a military aide half your age, it becomes apparent you should probably stop boxing.

So what did he do instead? Picked up jiu-jitsu, even becoming so advanced that he was America’s first brown belt in the martial arts practice.

In a world of increasing emphasis on specialists, there is value in being capable of a number of things, especially in a physical sense.

Roosevelt practiced weightlifting, boxing, wrestling, tennis, hiking, dancing, read literature, wrote 35 books, worked as politician, rancher, soldier, and held the office of President. It’s fairly obvious that the jack-of-all-trades, master of none euphemism didn’t apply to him, and it doesn’t apply to you either.

Spend time learning new physical skills. Are you a runner? Great. Learn to lift weights properly and experience the joy that comes with getting really strong. Are you a lifter? When’s the last time you ran a mile?

Or how about going way outside the box and learning something like boxing or a martial art?

The point is that there is something to be said at cultivating capability in a number of disciplines, and not just physical. Learning new things teaches you plenty about yourself and the process of learning. It also ingrains humility but breeds confidence as well when you start to learn the tricks of the trade.

Few men have made an impact on the world quite like Teddy Roosevelt. From literature to politics to the physical culture, Teddy was everywhere and seemingly great at everything. Now in the image of Teddy Roosevelt go out and apply these lessons to life and leave the world a better place than you found it.