John C. Grimek was probably the greatest combination Iron Game athlete (physique star, bodybuilder, and strength performer) of all time -- and certainly the most popular.
This living legend was the Babe Ruth, Jack Dempsey, Red Grange of his time. When I reminisce, unlocking the storehouse of memory backward to the Super Athletes in that golden area, it remains that these great performers had one thing in common -- the ability not only to excel in, but also through the power of their extraordinary personalities, to dramatize their sports in a way that has never been equaled before or since. And right up to the present time, this living legend, John C. Grimek, is still receiving honors and awards for his incredible career -- a lifetime of achievement, so amazing with versatility that he is the symbol and link between the modern era and the old-time strongman, exemplifying the very best of both periods.
The charisma of John Grimek reached its zenith on Saturday evening, April 13, 1991, when this happy, dedicated family man and his lovely wife Angela shared their golden (50th) wedding anniversary with their six children and eight grandchildren. Family members and approximately 300 guests from all over the country came to pay homage to John and Angela at the Windows on the Green in York, Pennsylvania.
It was a glorious evening, a night to be remembered always, with festivities and spiritual blessings, fun, dancing, nostalgia and excellent food. And to top it all, a Proclamation from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, signed by the Governor, was read with dignity and reverence to John and Angela.
For over 50 years, John C. Grimek has been heralded as the Monarch of Muscledom throughout the world. Grimek did it all in an amazing, unbelievable career that has spanned several decades. He has been featured in probably every muscle and physical culture magazine worldwide. He has traveled the world giving unbelievable, dynamic posing exhibitions that included muscle control, hand-balancing, contortion, weightlifting and feats of strength.
Powerful, agile and extremely flexible, he dispelled forever the musclebound illusion that bodybuilders were not athletes. In his prime, Grimek was a pioneer in making physical educators see the light in their attitude toward constructive weightlifting for body development and athletic training.
John Grimek's basic talents as a great strongman and weightlifting champion were sometimes overshadowed by his perfectly proportioned physique. In 1936 he was the American Senior National weightlifting champion in the heavyweight class, representing the U.S.A. at the Olympic Games in Berlin. He was one of the first to apply the squat style of lifting to the snatch and clean & jerk.
Grimek unofficially broke the world lightheavy press record more than once, and was able to clean and elevate 365 pounds to arms' length over his head for three consecutive reps. Further demonstrations of lifting power were his ability ot jerk 400 pounds from his shoulders; deadlift, without warmup, 600 pounds; and curl in excess of 200 pounds.
Grimek's expertise in every category of lifting was absolutely amazing. He once loaded the bar to 415 pounds and performed the old Saxon bent press lift, rocking the weight to his shoulder, positioning and then pushing it to arm's length. He made no attempt to straighten up, but allowed the weight, in that position, to come down on the platform. It was an incredible demonstration of raw power.
John was a natural. Without training for perfection of performance in many of the strength feats -- just impromptu -- he was unbelievable. Donne Hale, my old friend, strength and health authority writing in Muscle Training Illustrated, Nov. 1966, relates:
"When the clumsy, thick-handled Cyr dumbbell was loaded to 250 pounds, he bent pressed it to one arm's length nine times in one afternoon but lacked the technique to complete the lift. He awkwardly bent pressed 300 with one arm in the same way, without practice, and lost it while coming erect!
"Sheer tests of power were his favorites. Moving huge weights in short movements, squats, deadlifts, supports in any position -- all were easy for him. He deadlifted 600 pounds, 'stone cold', supported 1,000 pounds overhead and could do high, bouncing squats with weights that would flatten the average muscle man. Old time strength feats, breaking chains, bending iron, grip test, these too seemed made to order for John and he was just at adept at climbing ropes or wrist wrestling. He demonstrated unusual endurance by handling weights for extremely high reps, was a fine hand balancer and so flexible that he often entertained audiences with his contortion act."
In 1940, when he was 31 years old, John Grimek's fame skyrocketed with his AAU Mr. America victory at Madison Square Garden in New York. Bernarr MacFadden, the Father of Physical Culture, presented him with the winning trophy. In 1941 in Philadelphia, Grimek repeated his Mr. America victory.
It then became so evident that Grimek might never be defeated that to prevent future monopoly, the AAU passed a ruling that prohibited a Mr. A. winner from competing again in this prestigious event. In 1948 he overwhelmed a London audience with his prestigious Mr. Universe victory over the young phenomenon Steve Reeves, who placed second. The French champion Andre Drapp was third. Reeves, in a fine spirit of sportsmanship, went to the microphone and declared, "Grimek is the greatest bodybuilder that ever lived."
The following year John was coaxed out of a short-lived retirement to enter the Mr. U.S.A. contest in order to abate the many challenges thrown at him. At the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles on March 26, before a huge audience of 7000 enthusiastic devotees, he won the coveted title, defeating such stars as Clancy Ross, Steve Reeves, George Eiferman, Floyd Page, and Armand Tanny. This was to be his final competition, and he was the only bodybuilder in history who was never defeated in a contest. In 1950 he was cited as "The Best Built Man of the Century."
In retirement John appeared at many shows and as a guest poser. His charisma was so outstanding that everyone in the Iron Game wanted to meet him, shake his hand, or get an autograph. His obliging patience was endless.
E.M. Orlick, physical fitness authority and editor of Mr. America magazine, admirably expressed his viewpoint of John Grimek's greatness in September 1959: "At best, photographs of Grimek -- like all photographs -- are static. In them you see flashes of greatness. But seeing him in person is to appreciate a perfect symphony of muscle mass, proportion, shape and definition, blended with perfect coordination and harmony of movement, so that each muscle flows and blends into the others with a marvelous rhythm." John Grimek, more than any other physique star, is responsible for the increasing sophistication of modern posing routines that have produced the contemporary bodybuilding greats.
What was John Grimek's training secret to becoming so proficient with such extraordinary versatility -- the exceptional range of skills in just about every category? NONE! -- other than the philosophical and psychological attitudes of focus, desire and consistency.
Grimek practiced a thousand and one exercises, which included the Olympic lifts for the acquisition of speed and explosive strength, the power lifts -- squats, deadlifts -- standard muscle pumping movements, varied apparatus routines, strongman stunts, etc., promoting the development of the all-around Iron Game athlete as opposed to the present specialized training for just bodybuilding, powerlifting or Olympic lifting.
John C. Grimek retired from the York Barbell Company in 1985, after 48 years of loyal service as the Associate Editor of Strength & Health magazine and as the Editor-in-Chief of Muscular Development.
The September editorial of S&H was titled "Shoes Impossible to Fill" . . . and so another great chapter in the history of the York Barbell Co. and the Iron Game came to an end. This mecca for weightlifting and bodybuilding over the years became so world famous that the city of York, Pennsylvania, became known as Muscletown, U.S.A.
On May 10th, 1986, the Association of Oldetime Barbell & Strongmen honored Grimek at the world-famous Downtown Athletic Club in New York (home of the Heisman Trophy). For the man who had been idolized the world over for more than 50 years, it was an unforgettable night of camaraderie and testimonial nostalgia.
Bob Hoffman, regarded as the father of American weightlifting, summed up the magnitude of this living legend when he responded to a young bodybuilder who had asked, "Was John Grimek as great as they say?" After a moment of thought, Bob replied, "Son, let me put it this way -- in your lifetime, I am sure you will never see another Grimek."
All of us old-timers will never forget the great years and times we shared with John Grimek, Bob Hoffman, Jules Bacon, Gord Venables, Tony & John Terlazzo, Dave Mayor, John Terpak and all the other Iron Game greats.
If John Grimek had lived in the glory and grandeur of ancient Greece or Rome, he would have been proclaimed a national hero. His name would have been immortalized on the marble of their historic temples.
We need a little Grimek training stuff here too. A great guy who passed some time ago sent me a pile of rough scans of John Grimek training articles and I printed them out. There's so many over the years! He said that to the best of his knowledge, all the S&H and MD articles were there. Of course I had the scans on a computer that croaked, but the printouts are there in my storage closet, all over the place and not in any order, so it's a wee bit of work to find "continued on page . . ." in that mess in there. But I'd like to dig around sometime in the next few months and see what comes up. Here's a JCG-style layout that combines bodybuilding and Olympic weightlifting . . .
Train on Monday/Wednesday/Saturday
Monday and Wednesday
Warm up with clean grip high pulls for a set of 10-12.
Full Squat -
1 x 15-18
Add weight each set:
1 x 12
1 x 10
1 x 10
Light breathing DB pullovers after each set.
Note: all the 8-rep sets can be performed in other rep ranges.
Military Press with barbell or two-dumbbells, 2-3 x 8
Incline BB Press or Bench Press, 2-3 x 8
DB Side Bends, 2-3 x 12-15 a side
Leg Raise or Leg Scissor, 2-3 x 12-15
DB Lateral Raise, 2-3 x 8
Shrug, 2-3 x 8
Deadlift, 2-3 x 8
One-arm DB Row, 2-3 x 8 reps
French Press, 2-3 x 8
Wrist Roller, a couple sets both ways
Calf Raises, 2-3 x 10-15.
Try for maxes on this day.
Clean & Press, a clean for every press:
1 x 6-8
add weight each set
1 x 6
2 x 5
2 x 3
2 x 2
Same as Clean & Press
Clean & Jerk
Enjoy Your Lifting!