Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Greatest All-Time Performers In The One-Arm Swing - David Willoughby

Tromp van Diggelen & Hermann Goerner


Maurice Deriaz



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The Greatest All-Time Performers In The One-Arm Swing by David Willoughby (1952)


In making up the table for the lift to be discussed in this article, I was surprised at the number of excellent performances that have been made in the one-hand swing. I had assumed that the top-ranking performer in this lift would be the great German heavyweight, Hermann Goerner (and this turned out to be the case), but otherwise I had little idea who the next-best performers would be or how high their lifts would rate under the percentage systems I have workout out.

Until the official international adoption of the three two-hand Olympic lifts, some twenty years ago, the one-hand swing enjoyed a popularity almost a long-lived as that of the one- hand snatch and the two-hands continental jerk. The earliest records on my list date from the year 1880, when Henri Pechon of Belgium and Dominique Rest (country not stated) each did a one-hand swing of 75 kilos or 165.34 pounds in the heavyweight class. Later on, in 1898, the famous French professional, Charles Poire, swung a dumbbell of 77.5 kilos or 170.85 pounds at a bodyweight of 198 pounds. Poire made this lift with his left hand, but as he was naturally left-handed the lift rated no extra merit on this account. In the same year (1898), Bruno Jost set a German heavyweight amateur record by swinging a kettlebell of 80 kilos or 176.37 lbs. However, since about 9% more weight can be swung with a kettlebell than with a levelly-loaded dumbbell, Jost’s lift was actually equivalent to swinging a dumbbell of about 162 pounds. The pioneer professional strongman, Eugen Sandow, incidentally, is credited with having swung a kettlebell of 80 kilos and a dumbbell of just under 160 pounds. Presumably he made these lifts sometime in the early 90’s, when he was at his best as a lifter.

The first one-handed dumbbell swings of outstanding merit were not made until the years 1904-1907, when a number of French professional lifters, headed by Jean Francois le Breton and Gabriel Lassartesse, gave the lift some serious attention. It was during that year, too, that a French amateur, Eugene Goleau, made one of the most meritorious swings on record, which will be described shortly.

Before commenting, in order, on the various records listed in the adjoining table, it should be emphasized that two styles of dumbbell swinging. Classic French style, was used by all continental exponents of the swing from the 1890’s until the lift virtually ceased being practiced in the early 1930’s. In this style, a “level-ended”, or balanced dumbbell was used. Usually the bell was either solid iron or of the shot-loading, hollow type. The bell was generally started from a position in advance of the lifter’s feet, from where it was swung backwards between the legs, then overhead, the lifting arm being kept essentially straight throughout.

The second style of one-arm swinging, which may be termed the British style, was devised and adopted by the English school of lifters about 1914 or 1915. After World War I, when athletics were returning to normal, this style of lifting became very popular during s 1919-1925 among British amateur lifters. In this style, a plate-loading dumbbell was used, and was given a “back-hand” by loading the rear end of the bell 10, 15, 20, or in some cases as much as 40 pounds heavier than the front end. This made the back, or lower end of the dumbbell hang downwards, thereby lessening the effort needed to keep it in fore-and-aft balance, and making it possible to pull the bell upward in somewhat of a straight line rather than a semi-circular arc. In grasping the handle of the bell, the hand was placed close to the innermost of the front discs. Then, when the bell was lifted off the ground, the back-hang caused the innermost front disc to rest heavily against the wrist or the forearm, which could be quite painful; a leather “gauntlet” was worn as the dumbbell was lifted. Finally, even the swinging itself was different from that used in the French or continental style, as the bell was started from a position slightly behind the mid-line of the feet, then given a preliminary half-swing before it was lowered nearly to the ground and on the second swing taken to the finishing position overhead. With all these innovations, one would suppose that considerably more weight could be raised in the British style of one-arm swinging than in the continental style, yet the actual poundage difference was only about 6%. This difference has been taken into account in rating the lifters (some of whom used the continental style, and others the British style) listed in the accompanying table. I have taken it that the average or typical ratio of the poundage possible in the continental style one-hand swing to that in the two-hands clean and jerk with barbell is as .5672 to 1.000, and that the “poundage-possibility” in the British style swing is similarly .6000 to 1.000. These ratios, for the swing, apply to the right, or stronger, arm. In the accompanying table, every one of the lifts recorded was made with the right arm, although one lifter, W. A. Pullum, was able to swing the same poundage also with his left arm.

The greatest one-hand swing performer on record was, as was previously indicated, the German heavyweight, Hermann Goerner. While still an amateur lifter, Goerner, in 1920, at a bodyweight of 220 ½ pounds, swung a solid lead dumbbell equal in poundage to his own bodyweight (100 kilos). This, taking into account his weight/height (220.5 – 73.0, or 3.021) and the year (1920) he made his lift, gives him the exceedingly high rating of 87.9%. This lift of Goerner’s, incidentally, rests on the published statement of Tromp van Diggelen, as it is not listed in Edgar Mueller’s biography, “Goerner the Mighty”. The various other swing lifts by Goerner therein recounted, however, indicate conclusively that he was capable of a single dumbbell swing of a least 100 kilos, possibly more.

Closely following Goerner, in position No. 2 on my list, is the Irish amateur lifter, Michael Stokes, who, using the British of “back-hang” style of one-hand swinging, sometime about the year 1921, swung 168 ½ pounds when weighing only 140 pounds himself. While I do not know what Stokes’ height was, I believe he was described as somewhat tall and slender in build. If this were so, my estimate of 66 inches for his height would err, if any, on the side of understatement. If he was any taller than that, his rating might equal or even surpass that of Goerner’s. In any event, he is definitely ahead of his next-lower competitor and was beyond question a phenomenal performer in this one lift on which he specialized, the swing.

The number 3 performer on my list is an otherwise little-known amateur French lifter, Eugene Gouleau, who way back in 1907, at a bodyweight of 156 ½ pounds, swung a level-ended, shot-loading dumbbell of 75 kilos or 165.34 lbs. As in Stokes’ case, I have had to estimate Gouleau’s height, but in this instance, not knowing what his build was, I have taken for his height a fair average figure. As Gouleau was active at the same time as were some of the great French professional exponents of the one-hand swing, it is probable that he acquired his extraordinary ability at this lift under their supervision.

A “surprise” performer is No. 4, who turns out to be Thomas Inch, the famous old-time professional strongman an physical culture instructor. Back in 1907, Inch, who then weighed only 161 pounds, is a contest with the then equally famous lightweight, William P. Caswell, did a one-hand swing with 160 pounds – within one pound of his own bodyweight. Taking into account that Inch stood 5 feet 10 inches in height, and so weighed only 2.3 pounds per inch of height, his lift was a remarkably fine one. It materially surpassed in merit all his other lifts, including his well-known mark in the bent press from shoulder of 304 ½ pounds. The latter lift was made in 1913, and Inch then weighed 200 pounds.

Fifth-ranking place is held by one of France’s pioneer professional weight-lifters, the well-known Jean Francois LeBreton. On July 12, 1907, at a bodyweight of an even 200 pounds (and a height of 67.7 inches), LeBreton did a one-hand swing of 90.5 kilos or 119.51 pounds. In merit, the lifts by Gouleau, Inch and LeBreton are practically equal, rating 85.8, 85.6 and 85.4%, respectively.

Sixth place is held by the famous Hermann Saxon, who, back about 1905, at a bodyweight of 168 pounds, swung a levelly-loaded dumbbell weighing 170 pounds. This lift rates 84.4%, definitely below the lifts by Gouleau, Inch and LeBreton, but still of very high merit.

Seventh place goes to the old-time French light-heavyweight professional lifter and wrestler, Gabriel Lassartesse, who swung 80 kilos or 176.37 pounds at a bodyweight of 174 pounds, a height of abut 67 inches, and a weight-height of about 2.6 pounds. Lassartesse had an extraordinary development of the thigh extensor muscles, and was able to perform successive knee-bends (on toes) with 300 pounds. This leg strength doubtless enabled him to dip and arise easily under any weight that he was able to swing, snatch, or clean.

Eighth place is held by another celebrated old-time European professional, the Swiss lifter Maurice Deriaz. Actually, both Lassartesse and Deriaz have the same rating, 84.2%. Deriaz made his lift in Paris in 1912, swinging with one hand a dumbbell weighing 92 kilos or 202.82 pounds. This was for a number of years the world’s heavyweight professional record. Deriaz weighed 208 pounds at a height of only 66.1 inches, but probably carried about 10 pounds useless fat at that bodyweight. This I have allowed for in rating his lift. He dipped very low in getting under his swings, actually, doing a full, flat-footed squat. Despite being of Herculean build, Deriaz was very quick in his lifting. As readers may recall, he also held, contemporaneously with his swing record, the world’s heavyweight professional record in the one-hand clean and jerk.

Ninth place goes to a more recent performer, the French lifter Ernest Cadine, who, in 1925, as a professional swung 90 kilos or 198.41 pounds, which was 3.4 pounds more than his own bodyweight at the time. Cadine’s best muscular bodyweight, however, was probably not over 180 pounds, and this is the weight upon which I have computed his rating. Cadine was a fine, polished, all-around lifter, and would have shown to even greater advantage had not his famous rival, Charles Rigoulot, come along at the same time. Cadine’s one-hand swing of 198.4 pounds, at an estimated muscular bodyweight of 180 pounds, brings him a rating in this lift of 83.9%.

Tenth place, coincidentally, is held by Charles Rigoulot who in 1924, when weighing 190 pounds, swung 91.5 kilos or 201.72 pounds. This lift rates 83.6%. Later on, in 1932, when weighing very much more, Rigoulot swung 99.5 kilos or 219.36 pounds. This, next to Hermann Goerner’s 220.45 pounds, is the best swing in absolute poundage on record. Due to Rigoulot’s greater weight/height, however (even at the reduced estimated bodyweight of 215 pounds), his 219 pound swing rates only 78.5% and is not listed in the adjoining table.

No detailed comments need be made on the lifts ranking lower than tenth place in my table, with the following exceptions. Emile Deriaz (rank No. 17), who made an official swing with 194 pounds about the same date, made an unofficial lift of 91 kilos or 200.62 pounds. The latter lift, if acceptable, would rate 82.9% and would put Deriaz in eleventh or twelfth place, not far behind his younger brother, Maurice. Samuel Olmstead, in place No. 15, was, and still is, so far as I know, the only American lifter to have gained a rating of 80% or higher in the one-hand swing. Olmstead made his lift of 161 ½ pounds to surpass, even if unofficially, the 160-pound swing made by Thomas Inch some eight years earlier. As Olmstead weighed only a trifle more than Inch (although by reason of being an inch less in height his weight/height was somewhat greater), the comparison in lifting ability was fairly well warranted. Just below the last-ranking man (W. A. Pullum) of the 20 in my list was Otto Arco, who has a rating of 79.3%l. Arco, about 1910, at a height of 62 ¼ inches and a bodyweight of 138 pounds, made a swing of 65 kilos or 143.3 pounds.


Early in the discussion of the one-hand swing, it was mentioned that bout 9% more weight can be swung with a kettlebell than with a lever-ended dumbbell. Also, the swinging of the kettlebell requires a somewhat different technique, since this bottom-heavy apparatus, which is very easy to swing at the start of the lift, has to be turned over on the way upward so as to finish with the handle still above the center of gravity of the weight. This “turning over” of the kettlebell, about the time it reaches the mid-stage of the swing, is usually accomplished by a decided upward thrusting or straightening of the arm, which just prior to this finishing movement was slightly bent. Of course, during this action (which would be far easier to demonstrate than to describe), the ball of the kettlebell comes to rest against the back of the upraised forearm. In other words, during the swinging upward and turning-over of the kettlebell, the position of handle necessarily changes from a fore-and-aft direction (during the swing) to a crosswise direction (at the finish overhead).
Undoubtedly the greatest exponent of kettlebell swinging, as well as of dumbbell swinging, was Hermann Goerner. Holding two kettlebells in his right hand, Goerner, on March 21, 1900, swung (unofficially) 100 kilos or 220.46 pounds – exactly the poundage of his one-hand dumbbell swing which was performed the same year. Officially, Goerner holds the record with two kettlebells of 96 kilos or 211.64 pounds. With a single kettlebell (presumably he could find none heavy enough!), Goerner should have been capable of swinging 9% more than 100 kilos, or 109 kilos (about 240 pounds). Arthur Saxon, whom it would appear was next-best man to Goerner in kettlebell swinging, swung 94 kilos or 207.23 pounds with a single kettlebell and 85.5 kilos (188.5 pounds) using two kettlebells.

In the two-hand dumbbell swing, Goerner did 106 kilos or 233.69 pounds; and using two kettlebells, 115.5 kilos or 254.63 pounds. These lifts show that the poundage-possibility in the swing with both hands simultaneously is an even 6% greater than in the swing with one hand, regardless of whether a comparison is made between the one-dumbbell swing and the two-dumbbell swing, or between the one-kettlebell swing and the two-kettlebell swing. Arthur Saxon’s best swing with two kettlebells was 100 kilos (220.46 pounds), which made Goerner his superior in this lift by no less than 15.5%.

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