Saturday, March 21, 2009

Henry Steinborn - Bob Schmidt

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Larry Scott

Henry Steinborn

by Bob Schmidt

from Strength & Health, Oct. 1944

Although it was my pleasure to see Steinborn nearly every day, to train with him and drive around with him showing him the points of interest, meanwhile absorbing all I could learn from him about training and his methods of lifting, I could hardly conceive of the strength of a man who could lift a bar so easily with one hand so easily that others could not lift with two. And to squat with it so easily. I’ve seen other men succeed with heavy squats. I saw John Davis at the York Barbell gym keep talking and arguing about the weight of the bar WHILE he performed repetitions with 450. I saw him squat with 500. He’s amazing, but it’s still hard to realize that a man could be strong enough to deep knee bend with 408 lbs. the way Steinborn did.

Of course he had held the world’s record early in his career, placing 522 lbs. upon his shoulders unassisted and squatting deep with it back in Germany right after the war. But a lot of water passed under thousands of bridges throughout the world since that time. Steinborn had lived the hard life of a traveling wrestler, twenty years of it, besides the terrible accident in which he had been involved. He had trained with weights when they were available, but traveling as he did from place to place, at times wrestling in six different towns in one week, hundreds of miles between these towns, and the long drives, it didn’t seem possible that he could be so strong. That the man is amazing is the very least we can say about it.

I tried to get to the bottom of this great strength with which the man was endowed. What training secrets did he possess that others were not familiar with? In a previous story I briefly mentioned the episode of Steinborn washing out his stomach. Shortly after that we had gone to dinner and I witnessed his method of eating. On this occasion he had eaten boiled onions and steak. He had bolted it down in a tiny fraction of the time I required to consume my own dinner. As I watched him swallow his food in great chunks I thought, what is this? I had always read that strong men were deliberate eaters. They chewed their food well, keeping it in their mouths as long as they could while reducing it to the smallest possible particles. But here was something new. I didn’t ask Steinborn about it because I had only met him and did not feel that I knew him well enough to interrogate him concerning his eating habits.

A few minutes later we were walking down the street and I noticed his jaws moving methodically. “What are you chewing, Mr. Steinborn?” I asked. “A piece of steak,” was his reply. I wondered where he got the steak, could he have a rubber pocket in his coat and have slipped part of his dinner in there? Then Steinborn said, “It’s a gift I have to be able to eat hurriedly and then bring the food up for more thorough chewing. Do you want to see me bring up the onion?” He showed me that his mouth was empty and then almost immediately a big, white onion popped into view. He chewed this carefully and swallowed again. “Now do you want to see a piece of steak?” and then he brought up another piece of steak.

I might be able to understand how food could be brought up again but how could it be segregated and just the part he wanted be brought to the surface? Now don’t think that I’m pulling your leg, as the English would say, trying to kid you as we would probably say it, for many others have known of this unusual power of Steinborn’s. Bob Hoffman mentioned it in his book “Better Nutrition.” He told of the time that Steinborn swallowed 24 hard-boiled eggs, bringing them back up one at a time for thorough mastication. Another time Steinborn was riding with Sig Klein when he demonstrated his ability to bring up a piece of lettuce or other part of a salad.

I was naturally curios to know if this ability had anything to do with Steinborn’s strength. He said that he doubted if it did, but the washing out of his stomach guaranteed that it was always clean. And the ability to bring up particles of food taught him what digested most easily. He told me of some foods which I thought were easy to digest which took 48 hours to digest and I am sorry that for the life of me I can’t remember what they were. But Steinborn had learned things about the foods he should eat from this rare ability that has served him well in his professional athletic career.

No doubt the unusual control he obtained over his body has been responsible to a great extent for his development of strength, his record-breaking lifting and his splendid wrestling. I asked if he had ever met another man who could bring up food from his stomach as he did. Only once, he told me. He had seen a man who could swallow a glass of gasoline and then a glass of water, have an assistant stand with a lighted torch, spray the gasoline at the torch making a great sheet of flame, and then spray the water he had imbibed so that it put out the fire. It seemed to me that it would be even more difficult to segregate liquids than various foods.

Had Steinborn lived many years ago the medical profession and nutritionists could have learned things about digestion which they only about through the half-breed Indian St. John who had his stomach shot pretty well away over a century ago. Prior to that time even the scientists of the world did not know what transpired in the stomach. Whether it was a grinding mill, or a fermenting vat, in its known function of reducing foods to usable or assimilative materials. After the Indian’s accident, he lived for sixty years with a hole in his stomach so that what took place there could be observed. Steinborn could do even better, for he could prove the results of digesting food in a normal stomach. He would repeatedly bring up pieces of meat and see them grow smaller and smaller as the process of digestion advanced. And that is the way he learned best what foods to eat. If he would only write a book on this subject, what information he could supply.

I wanted to ask one more question about this unusual power. “Doesn’t it taste unpleasant to bring this food up, Henry?” I asked. “No, it doesn’t. When the average person belches and the food attempts to regurgitate or come up, and there is a sour taste in the mouth, it is only because there is an overloaded, unnatural condition of the stomach. You have heard that digestion starts in the mouth with starches and sugars. Gastric juices in your mouth in a matter of a few seconds change the starches into sugars which with a bit more treatment first in the stomach and later in the intestines can be absorbed by the blood and carried to the cells and tissues which make up the working muscle. The gastric juices in your mouth are there constantly, almost tasteless, certainly not unpleasant. And those in the stomach are made of similar materials.”

While asking all these questions we were on our way to Tacoma, Washington, where Henry was to wrestle the main bout. He suggested that we would do something there before the bouts to make the spectators strength and weight-lifting conscious. He suggested that I jump upon his stomach from the highest point I could reach. When we arrived at the auditorium we were unable to locate a ladder from which to jump. Henry asked for tables but the only tables available were card tables, rather flimsy in construction.

He placed two pieces of adhesive tape, one below his ribs and the other on his abdomen to show me where I was to jump. I climbed to the one table and jumped, landing upon his stomach with a resounding thud. I weighed 170 at that time, and it was quite a shock. The crowd clapped half-heartedly. And then we placed another table on top of the first, and I repeated the jumping performance. The crowd buzzed with interest. And still another table on top of the first two. I jumped from there easily enough, but on trying to place four of these flimsy tables on top of each other I had my troubles. Several times the tables collapsed. I was only saved from some pretty bad bumps by my balancing partner, Wilhide. There’s a man that has the faculty of getting under no matter what’s in the way. I might be falling away from him, but somehow he would get around the table and catch me enough to break my fall before I hit the floor. Several times I stood on top of the four tables, but they move around swaying so badly that I refused to jump. “Jump!” Steinborn exhorted. But I was higher than the ring lights, standing up there in what seemed to be utter darkness after being in the bright lights below. If I missed, broken ribs or other serious injury might result to Steinborn. But I still refused to jump. I thought it was better for me to take the blame for being afraid to jump than have the affair possibly result disastrously for my friend Henry.

Another night, back in Seattle, we had some substantial tables and the feat was performed easily enough. I jumped from one table, two tables, three tables and then from the real height of the fourth table. Steinborn took each shock smilingly, standing up and bowing to the assembled populace at the completion of each jump. Then he asked me to place a chair on top of the fourth table. This brought me to a height of more than twelve feet. That’s a great height. Men have jumped from a higher point. Dick Zimmerman jumps from a height of eighteen feet upon his brother Joe’s stomach. Dick weighs 16 pounds less than I do, but Joe is smaller than Henry. The Zimmerman Brothers are stars at this feat, but Henry is so powerful that he can withstand the impact of a body jumping from any height a man will dare to jump.

Another time Henry decided to try a different feat before a wrestling bout. He asked me to go with him to a junk yard and see what we could pick up. He asked for an I-beam of six or seven inches height and 20 feet or so in length. “What do you want that for?” I asked. “Thought I would invite a group of men from the audience and ask them to bang on the beam until it bends,” he replied. “You’ll never be able to bend it,” I said. “Why, those beams are used to support buildings or bridges, thousands of pounds, no human can support enough to bend such a bar.” “Many years ago I did it,” insisted Henry. “I am even stronger now, I am sure.”

He insisted, and far be it from me to argue to much with a man who has made world’s lifting records, is one of the strongest men the world has ever seen, and a mighty tough “bozo” besides, as he has proven in thousands of wrestling bouts. I did, however, finally persuade him to take a six-inch beam instead of the seven he first looked at.

When the days had passed and it was time for another big wrestling match we carried the I-beam into the center of the ring. Then the announcer told the crowd that he wanted eighteen or twenty men to come forward and support themselves upon this beam while there was an endeavor to bend it. We finally managed to get eighteen husky men upon the stage. Now read carefully, for this is almost unbelievable.

He placed the bar upon ONE SHOULDER and supported the eighteen men but the bar would not bend. They lowered their feet to the floor, relinquished their grasps, and we held a council of war. Some of them thought the bar would not bend. Steinborn thought it would if he would place the bar across his two shoulders as the bar is held in deep knee bending, then my friend “Will” and I were to hang on the extreme ends of the bar. Then Steinborn thought he could bend his legs, suddenly straightening them, and the bar would bend. The beam must have weighed all of 600 pounds, twenty men with an average weight of at least 175 pounds. Over 4,000 pounds in all. I assure you it was possible for it was done before the eyes of many thousands of persons. Supporting weights is one thing. Thousands of pounds have been supported. Henry was injured at one time while supporting 5,000 pounds, but this position was different. The center of gravity was higher, while a column of bone of his straight legs held the weight, well and good, but when the legs were bent, I thought he would go on down and through the floor a la Bosco when he made his great Two Hands Press in York, according to Harry Paschall’s story.

Henry said he could do it, so with some misgivings, preparing to drop upon the floor and get out from under should he collapse, we climbed upon the I-beam. Henry slowly bent his legs at the knee and then with a great and powerful upward thrust the bar bent so badly that we on the ends landed upon the floor. Can you conceive of the strength of a man who could withstand such a tremendous weight, perform such a great feat? See how you feel with only five- or six-hundred pounds upon your shoulders in a similar manner. That about all you want to bend your knees with, isn’t it? And your knees will feel like heavily loaded, well-oiled bearing. Then multiply this amount by ten and wonder if there is a man in the world stronger than Henry Steinborn.

And when the I-beam bent some man in the front row shouted fake. It’s a wonder that he wasn’t mobbed.

My close association with Henry Steinborn will always remain one of the epics in my life. His strength was a constant revelation to me. He’s also a man of fine personality and considerable education. He’s read and studied much, remembers what he sees and reads, is a witty conversationalist and very good company.

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