Is it possible for an intellectual to be in good shape? Honestly, when you think of brainiac, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? A huge, fat dude sitting in front of a computer next to a bag of cheetos? A tall, rail-thin librarian with an oversize shirt tucked into his khakis? A frail old scientist leaning over his microscope?
Not for long! By the time you finish this article, you’ll have a completely different picture of what a smart man’s body can actually look like.
Benjamin Franklin – Founding Father of Fitness
More than two hundred years after his death, Ben Franklin remains one of the most important Americans. He was an author, politician, scientist, comedian, civic activist and statesman. He invented bifocals and the lightning rod, he was the first US Postmaster, he founded the University of Pennsylvania, he was the first US ambassador to France and he was the editor of the most important newspaper in the country.
Dude was legit.
Sadly, the photo most of us associate with ‘The First American’ shows him as an old man, white-haired and overweight. Although it’s true that in his seventies gout and other diseases made it difficult to exercise, Ben Franklin was actually in great shape for most of his life. According to biographer William Isaacson, Franklin was tall, muscular and barrel chested.
How did he stay fit? When he wasn’t inventing or overseeing America’s political interests, Ben Franklin loved to swim. As a swim instructor and advocate, he was so skilled and knowledgeable about the benefits of his favorite sport that Sir William Wyndham requested Franklin open the first American swim school in England.
The ambassador wasn’t just good at swimming, he was famous for it. During one trip to England his friends begged him to show off his skills. After they wore him down, Big Ben finally dove into the Thames, and, while the crowd followed on the riverbank, he swam 3.5 miles from Chelsea to Blackfriars.
In addition to swimming, Franklin was also a bodybuilder: “In his old age, Franklin continued to exercise, lifting and swinging weights when his health no longer allowed him to swim or walk.”
It really is all about the Benjamins!
Leonardo Da Vinci – The Original Renaissance Man
Leonardo Da Vinci was so skilled at so many things he seems like a mythological character. He was a painter (‘Mona Lisa,’ ‘The Last Supper’), sculptor (‘Horse and Rider’), architect (Romorantin), anatomist (‘Vitruvian Man’), inventor (parachute, flying machine, robot), musician and a lot more. It didn’t matter what he was working on, when Leonardo decided to do something he kicked some serious shell!
In keeping with renaissance ideals, Da Vinci didn’t just study art and science; he also spent a lot of time researching health and human physiology. And what better subject is there for a scientist than his own body?
Da Vinci wrote many articles on the importance of diet, strength and flexibility – all of which he apparently learned from his own training. According to his contemporary Giorgio Vasari, Leonardo was known for “being able to bend horseshoes and door knockers as if they were made of lead.”
In fact, Leonardo was so well-muscled and fit, experts believe the Vitruvian Man was actually a self-portrait!
Plato – The Platonic Ideal
This guy is kind of a big deal. In fact, when it comes to philosophy, he IS the deal. According to Stanford University, Plato is generally considered the inventor of philosophy.
You’ve heard of philosophy? The study of existence? He invented it.
In addition to being brilliant and well-educated, Plato also believed in sharing knowledge with others. He took the ideas of his mentor Socrates and other brilliant men of the time and in 387 BC organized the first institution of higher learning in Western World, The Academy at Athens.
That love of shared information is one of the reasons we here at WASM are huge fans of his. What good is knowledge if you can’t pass it on?
So when you picture this guy, do you imagine him standing around with a bunch of other wimpy Greek scholars in long robes, telling puns and hoping to get laid? If so, you’d be very wrong.
Plato isn’t actually his name – it’s Aristocles. Plato was the nickname his wrestling coach gave him after he destroyed every guy on their team. The greek word ‘Plato’ means ‘Broad’ or ‘Robust,’ both words used to describe the philosopher’s strong physique.
He was so good at wrestling and gymnastics that Plato entered several major contests and won honors at the Isthmian Games (one of the forerunners of the modern Olympics).
Who says philosophers can’t be badasses?
President Theodore Roosevelt, Jr – The Weakling Who Wouldn’t Quit
Theodore Roosevelt wrote 38 books, fought in the Spanish-American War, became President of the United States, won a Nobel Peace Prize and got his face on Mount Rushmore.
But he didn’t start out awesome. Little ‘Teedie’ was born weak, sickly and asthmatic. He was so crippled that one day his father took him aside and said, “Theodore you have the mind but you have not the body.” The young man accepted his father’s challenge and immediately responded, “I will make my body!”
True to his word, Theodore transformed his physique. With his father’s help, he built a boxing ring and invested thousands of hours in training. His love of fighting continued through Harvard (he won 2nd place in the Harvard Boxing Championship) and on into the white house where he would spar with professionals in his custom-made Presidential boxing arena.
Once he was strong, the young man found he loved adventure and spent the next several decades exploring the world. He hunted big game on several continents. He began construction on the Panama Canal. He spent two years mapping the Amazon river. And he became an expert mountain climber, eventually scaling the Matterhorn in Switzerland (14,692 feet – one of the tallest mountains in Europe).
As Little ‘Teedie’ demonstrated, it’s not about where you start, it’s about how hard you’re willing to push yourself!
Ernest Hemingway – The Great American Action Writer
Most fiction authors live their lives in a small room, crafting adventures and fighting battles in their imagination. Ernest Hemingway was the exact opposite. He lived an even more exciting life than the characters in his stories.
When he was only eighteen, he drove an ambulance on the front lines of World War I and was hit by a mortar shell. He was seriously wounded with shrapnel in both legs and yet still managed to help other men to safety. The Italians gave him the Silver Medal of Bravery.
During one African expedition, he survived two plane crashes in two days. In the second crash, the cockpit door was jammed shut and his legs were pinned so he used his head as a battering ram to open the door and escape.
In addition to his service in WWI, Hemingway also covered the Spanish Civil War and WWII as a journalist. He was attached to multiple regiments during both wars and was often under heavy fire, including being shot into a ditch by anti-tank fire. When he returned home, the US gave him a Bronze Star for valor.
An avid big game hunter and fisherman, Hemingway would often take a machine gun onto his small boat to keep sharks away from his prize Marlins and Tuna.
He was an expert world traveler. He lived in Paris, Toronto, Cuba and Milan (in addition to his US homes) and traveled extensively throughout Europe, the Americas and the Caribbean.
Hemingway lived through anthrax, malaria, dysentery, hepatitis, a car crash, anti-tank fire, mortar shrapnel, a ruptured kidney, spleen and liver, pneumonia, multiple crushed vertebra, a fractured skull, burns on his arms, face and head, and two plane crashes.
Oh, and one other interesting fact: He won both the Nobel and Pulitzer prizes for his writing.
‘Papa’ Hemingway could definitely kick your ass. Then he could write a story about kicking your ass and sell it for a huge paycheck.
Okay, so now when you think of a brilliant intellectual, what kind of a physique do you imagine?