Saturday, January 20, 2018

Favorite Exercises of Old-Time Champions - John C. Grimek (1976)

Many Thanks to Liam Tweed! 

Taken From This Issue (June/July 1976) 

Photo Courtesy of Jarett Hulse

Joseph Newman, Original Patent Holder and Inventor of 
The Vinyl Coated Barbell Plate

by John C. Grimek (1976)

Have you ever given any thought as to what kind of lifts or exercises some of the old-timers favored? The truth of the matter is that very few of these old-timers could be classified as "bodybuilders" in the sense that so many of today's weight trained men are. Why? The simple answer is that the men  of yesteryear did not specialize in acquiring or developing their muscles as the majority of weight trainers do. Instead, training was employed to increase their overall physical efficiency or to excel at some particular lift or event.

According to many of the old-times with whom I discussed their training, none would admit that they trained primarily to acquire big muscles only . . . except in the beginning when they first started to exercise. All readily admitted that the degree of muscular development they possessed resulted strictly from the stunts and lifting feats they practiced, and at which they generally excelled. On the other hand, anytime they showed or demonstrated a lift or strength feat it was usually something that they favored, so naturally they were good at it and would list it as their favorite.  

It must be remembered, however, that in those early days of weight training every man who lifted or trained with weights did so because he wanted to excel at some specific stunt or lift, and none, outside of a very limited few, showed any interest in the size or actual dimension of their muscles.

Sandow was one of those few who actually promoted bodybuilding instead of lifting and strength feats, and this probably was the reason why he developed such an impressive physique.

The majority, however, accepted whatever type of development they derived from the stunts or the kind of lifting feats they performed, and for this reason some of these men actually acquired some odd looking physiques resulting from their strength specialty. Take for example the men who specialized in gripping feats. By handling those thick, cumbersome bars and objects their hands often grew huge with powerful looking forearms, which was their outstanding physical feature. 

Others developed into huge, ponderous individuals, acquiring prodigious size, especially those on the continent. But whatever their specialty the muscles that were involved were always superbly developed, and most of the time this gave them an asymmetrical physique. Yet most of these men ranged in physical appearance from just ordinary to impressive.

Conversely, some of these men did realize the value of all-round training and often indulged in it for physical improvement. Men such as Sandow, Sgt. Moss, Gustav Fristensky, Clarence Weber, William Bankier and scores of others were rated tops in the Iron Game of that era. The truth of the matter is that any of these outstanding men could easily rival the contestants of today in any "best built man" contest, but perhaps, and more importantly, these men not only had well-developed muscles but possessed unusual muscle power to match. 

But another worthy citation should be cited; each man always tried to do something to prove that his muscles were not "just for show," but that he could do something with them . . . which is what weight training was all about in those days . . . to be able to do something with their muscles.

Perhaps since Lou Ferrigno was able to compete so well in the recent Superstars event, it is possible that this may begin a trend among bodybuilders and other weight training enthusiasts, just to prove that they can have well-developed muscles and still compete favorably in other athletics. 

In the past, however, we had a number of outstanding weightlifters that were athletically inclined. Unfortunately, competition such as the Superstars event wasn't known then.

In looking back at 50 and more years [written in 1976] of the Iron Game I readily recall some of the outstanding men who were tops in their field and who specialized in various forms of lifting or strength feats. But one man flashes to my mind promptly. That is Sigmund Klein. He was a top-notch lifter in his day and was really one of the first "big lifting stars" that I had the privilege to meet.

During the 20s Sig lifted nearly every week trying to break some kind of record . . . and often did. His picture appeared nearly every month in Strength magazine, which showed him giving some kind of demonstration or trying for records. I followed his career avidly. Although he was a very capable lifter, his forte was pressing - Military pressing. His style was faultless. His body remained rigidly upright, with heels together. In his press only the arms moved, pushing up the weight. He was only a welterweight then, around 145 pounds, but the poundage he pressed was surpassed only by a few of the heavies.

He also held the record in what then was called the "prone" press and what we call today the bench press. The prone press, however, was done while lying flat on the floor and the weight was pulled over the head and onto the chest and, after a brief pause, the weight was then shoved up to arms' length. No arching of the back or lifting of the buttocks was permitted, nor was any drive or collapsing of the chest allowed to get a fast start. In many ways this style was tougher than the present style of bench pressing.

Sig could press over double bodyweight in this style easily, a weight that only some of the heavier lifters could exceed but no one in his class could challenge him. Today Sig is still active but involved only in conditioning exercises, which he does regularly as clockwork . . . and all this as a senior citizen!

He's mentioned to many people that his measurements and bodyweight haven't changed or varied much at all, and that, as you can well imagine, is some kind of a record in itself.

Sigmund Klein

 Click Pics to ENLARGE

Here is Gregory Taper's excellent index of articles on this blog:
It won't include posts beyond that date, but there's a wonderful 17-part series of Sig Klein articles you can easily find the links to from that index, describing some of the high points from his first quarter century in the iron game. 

Then we have that ole powerhouse leg champ, Milo Steinborn. Milo, some may recall, was the first man in this country to squat with over 500 pounds. But squatting with that weight wasn't the toughest part. What made this feat more spectacular is the fact that Milo racked this weight onto his shoulders without help of anyone, and then proceeded to do squats. It's doubtful if any man today squatting 700 to 800 pounds could do 500 pounds in the style that Milo managed. In order to get the weight onto the shoulders one has to sink into a very low squat position, and getting up out of this first low squat is tougher than doing the squat afterwards. Once Milo got up from this first squat he could do several reps without trouble. Only those who have tried this style of lifting know what it takes to do it, and how it feels. It's indescribable! 

Milo still practices the squat, and still has one of the strongest pair of legs around. He handles between 275 and 400 pounds in his workouts, which he does three to five times a week. He's the real "grandpappy" of the old-timers.  

 Milo Steinborn, both photos

And who could forget the ponderous "belly toss" lift of the middleweight lifter Bill Lilly, which is better known by the name of the shoulder bridge? Because of his unusual flexibility, Bill could arch his back (weight across his abdomen) so high as to get it to arms' length without much pushing. He did close to 400 pounds while weighing around 160 pounds himself. In those days, the early 1930s, a few men could handle this weight but only in the deadlift.

Naturally no one ever came close to Bill's performance in this lift at that time, and not very many tried the lift since. It was Lilly's specialty and he was the super champ at it. He did, however, practice other lifts, particularly muscling out weights. He was an exceptional handbalancer, too, but his shoulder bridge was his outstanding feat. 

Note: Bill Lilly is also notable for his muscle control mastery, and published several articles on the topic in the early 1930s.

Another lifter of renown was welterweight Robert Snyder. He could do a bent press with one hand of over 225 pounds, a most commendable performance. We have his interesting story and hope to feature it soon. 

His lifting buddy, Bob Knodle, weighed around 110 pounds but lifted over double bodyweight easily. 

Our own Dick Bachtell, now retired, was lifting at this time and is the only man to win about a dozen consecutive national championships. He was also proficient at one-hand snatching, having equaled and surpassed the world record at that time. A very powerful squatter too, he has legs to prove it, even today. 

Dick Bachtell, above in photo below with John Grimek


Ottley Coulter, another fine lifter from the past, and now in his 80s, took to harness and back lifting to emulate the feats of Louis Cyr and Warren Lincoln Travis, both great back and harness lifters a half-century ago. Coulter, who weighed under 150 pounds handled some real tonnage in these lifts, and for his weight and size, it was stupendous.  

Ottley Coulter, circa 1911, and below with a section of his strength publication archive
now part of the H.J. Lutcher Stark Center for Physical Culture and Sports. 

With Bob Hoffman

Another man with a flawless physique, at least judging from the picture of him doing a one-hand side press with a spheric dumbbell, was Harry Hall. This picture (see end of article) is one that was used in the Milo equipment advertising and represents one of the best of all time. The action of the lift and the symmetry of his body has gone unchallenged and almost everyone agrees "this was the best." The photo used here is from an old magazine reprint, consequently it is not as impressive as the original print would be, but it does show the magnificent man! 

And who could forget the muscular and shapely Anton Matysek? Matysek was a light-boned man who had the physique of a bodybuilder (see photo at end of article). But he possessed the power of a heavyweight in certain lifts. Of course Matysek came close to being a bodybuilder because he actually did include bodybuilding exercises in his training program . . . and he had the shapely muscles to prove it. He also favored a lot of odd lifts that were popular in his day, and in which he excelled. He was quite a bent-pressing champion and his reverse curl was something else. 

Alan Calvert, in his book, Super Strength

here, sans photos:

shows Matysek reverse curling with a bar that was three inches in diameter. In this lift his arms were strapped to his sides to prevent any arm movement or fast starts. Most men, even today, would have trouble doing anything with a bar of that thickness, let alone a reverse curl!

Matysek Reverse Curling (strapped) - bottom right. 
Click to ENLARGE

Then there was the mighty George F. Jowett, who was editor of Strength for a while. Jowett was a husky looking individual with big arms and meaty hands. He enjoyed all kinds of strength feats and made claims for a lot of records. Nearly 50 years ago (circa 1926) Bob Hoffman asked him to come to York and help him launch Strength & Health magazine. While in New York they trained together and Bob often commented how easily Jowett handled a pair of 50s and 60s in the bentover lateral raise exercise. Bob often remarked that "Jowett was a powerful man." Bob wasn't easily impressed in those days but as he watched Jowett doing the exercise he said, "the mass of his upper back is amazing, and his arms and shoulders are tremendous!" Others who knew the great George F. Jowett readily agreed, which only confirms Bob's observation.

 Milo Bar-Bell Company Ad With George Jowett,

In the early Milo Barbell Company's advertising they featured a group of four outstanding men posing with the training equipment they made and sold. This group of men were all well-developed. None was overly muscles, nor thick and heavy, but each had a superbly developed physique. These four men were: Anton Matysek, Charles Durner, Henry Sincosky and Charles MacMahon. Each was a champion in his own right and these pictures were some of the finest exercise shots of men with any training equipment, before and after.

We had these pictures in our files but so far we have not been able to find them as this is being prepared. And that's the real pity. Only the old-timers will be able to remember these pictures, and perhaps a few others, and that should bring back some glowing memories.

 Charles McMahon, Henry Sincosky, Antone Matysek

Readers of old Strength magazine will remember the husky looking fellow called Arthur Allaire. Art was massively built but impressively shapely. He had powerful looking legs, fine deltoids and massive arms, so he naturally excelled at pressing, especially in the one-hand form. He also went in for some supporting and strength feats but alas, his strength career was short-lived. An accident ended his sparkling career - and his life!

Lurten Cunningham (see photo below), a physical director of the Atlanta Y, was also featured in Milo advertisements during this era. He also had a well proportioned physique with a striking V-shape which barbell men sought to achieve, just as they do today.  

Note: Strength magazine throughout the years of the middle twenties held an annual posing contest and the winner received considerable acclaim. Lurten Cunningham, later physical director at the Athens, Ga. Y.M.C.A., and a writer for this magazine, won the 1925 contest.

Another lifter, Frank Dennis, was fast but he turned his efforts to all kinds of strongman stunts and later, he and a partner put together a great strongman act that would have paid off handsomely on TV or in Las Vegas today.

Anyone who was interested in training with weights back in he 1920s and earlier could not possibly overlook the Nordquest brothers, Joe and Adolph.

 Click to ENLARGE
Courtesy of Joe Roark
For More on the History of the Iron Game visit
Joe Roark's IronHistory forum:

Joe, unfortunately, lost a leg as a young man yet this accident didn't deter him from developing into one of America's strongest men. For years he held the record in the "prone" press, which was only surpassed when powerlifting came upon the scene.  

Prone Press: Joe Nordquest

Photo Courtesy of Jarett Hulse

Nice article by Charles A. Smith on the rules and training of The Pullover and Press on Back:

But strongman Joe Nordquest went in for bent-pressing and actually came close to pressing nearly 300 pounds overhead with one arm in this lift. Imagine the power and balance this man had to expend in order to push this ponderous weight overhead with one hand and supported only by one leg! Sure, Joe had an artificial leg, but who ever heard of an artificial leg providing any power . . . so this lift was truly stupendous. 
His brother Adolph, slightly older, had a terrific physique and was a favorite with sculptors. His forte was the deadlift. In those days only one man could do more, and that was Hermann Goerner, who held most of the deadlifting records then. 

Adolph Nordquest

Here is a letter from Adolph Nordquest to Earle Liederman (1922):

It wasn't until the early 1930s that a young, blocky powerhouse named Walter Podolak (whose story was recently featured in the Jan/Feb issue of Muscular Development) began assaulting the record and brought it up to 600-plus.

Here's that article mentioned:

Walter Podolak Shaking Hands With the Author John Grimek.
Charles A. Smith, center.

This deadlift record stood until powerlifting took hold and, as most other records, this one fell. But when Adolph and Goerner practiced deadlifting a 600-pound-plus deadlift was something, and Adolph pulled up over 700 pounds to his knees but failed to complete the lift. 

Adolph's physique had the muscularity and symmetry of Grecian statuary and sculptors sought his services. In fact one of the most symmetrical back poses ever photographed was Adolph's. This too is missing but perhaps we can reproduce it from a reprint. There's never been another picture taken like it; nor will there ever be. It's truly a classic. 

Adolph formed a stage act with another husky named Otis Lambert. Not to be confused with Joe Lambert. Joe was more of a circus performer and with his wife did many unusual supports and lifts. But Otis was a heavier, stronger man who did a lot of modeling for art schools and artists, but when he an Adolph formed an alliance they had what could be called a "mighty fine act." 

Little need be said about Al Tauscher, the remarkable athlete who is still as active today as he was over 60 years ago. His story was recently featured in the Feb/Mar S&H magazine. 

 Tauscher's training buddy, Owen Carr, was another powerful strongman in his youth. During the time when these two trained together most of the men in that era did so many odd lifts and stunts that they were "hard as nails," and very few if any just exercised to develop muscles. The majority took up training to enjoy better health and to become more athletic and stronger, which they invariably became. Measurements just weren't "their bag" and whatever girths they acquired were the result of the effort they put into "doing their thing" and not merely pumping up to attain these girths.

Owen Carr, bottom left.

Many will remember a rugged barbell man who became one of the best wrestlers this country produced. He was Walter Stratton. He grew from a middleweight to a lightheavy and had the power and physique to match. Not too many years ago he accepted an invitation and came to one of Bob's birthday parties and he looks as rugged and impressive as he was 50 years ago. 

Another great old-timer was John Y. Smith, a sailor, who at the age of 60 won the Strongest Man in New England title back in 1926.  Though he barely weighed 170 pounds then, he out-lifted all came to vie for the title. His thing was his fabulous grip. In Oscar Matthes' gym, where John Y. trained, he picked up a pair of heavy, thick-handled dumbbells and walked around the gym with them. It was a feat that he and he alone could muster. His trainer, Matthes, was himself a small (58.7 inches, 107 pounds, circa 1895) but well developed man and because of his fine symmetry the title of Miniature Sandow was bestowed upon him . . . and he lived up to that title.   

An article on Mr. Smith by Tom Ryan:

John Y. Smith

An article on Oscar Matthes from Strength magazine:

It was during this time, the 1920s, that a flurry of "train you by mail" instructors came from every which way. However, somewhat earlier a fine wrestler by the name of Abe Boshes (photo below) hired two budding strongmen to demonstrate his chest expanders for him in a window along Third Avenue in New York. These two budding supermen were none other than Charles Atlas and Earle E. Liederman. They showed great promise which Boshes recognized, then as the passing spectators stopped and watched these men exercise with the cables and complimented them on their fine musculature. It was only a  matter of time before each branched out on his own. Liederman got together his own chest expander course and posed for the exercises, while Atlas joined forces with Dr. Frederick Tilney who then prepared his Dynamic Tension system. Both men promptly began making a big name for themselves . . . not to mention the money factor. 

Fatman's Guide to Cable Training:
Check it out, there's plenty of info on the history and training with cables there! 

Besides these two there were many others, and in spite of the vast army of train-you-by-mail instructors, all appeared to thrive. There was Lionel Strongfort [a.k.a, Max Unger], a strongman who claimed to have bent-pressed 312 pounds with one hand and showed a picture of himself doing it on stage. He sold 15-pound shot-loading dumbbells. 

Anthony Barker also sold shot-loading dumbbells and barbells, plus a lot of other courses, from keeping super fit to eradicating dandruff. Barker, however, outlasted all of his competitors. He died at the age of 106! And that's a tribute to his way of life.

Anthony Barker.
Eradicating Dandruff? 
BIG THANKS to John Wood for his Oldtime Strongman Site! 

Also Check Out Kim Wood's IRON LEAGUE website:

Among the advertisers who were then trying to "sell muscles through the mail" were: Harry Glick, who called himself the American Sandow, and Sigmund Brietbart, the only man outside of the Mighty Atom who could bite through spikes and chains. Brietbart was a big fellow and peddled a crusher exerciser but he had an unfortunate accident when he failed to take the usual precautionary measures, and consequently died from blood poisoning.

Then there were Charles MacMahon, Jack Sandow, Michael McFadden, Stanislaus Zbysko, Prof. Titus, Adrian P. Schmidt and several others who flourished. Most of these sold chest expanders, but Schmidt, with the help of Harry Schaffran, who recently passed away, got together a leverage machine that was different and very effective if used properly. [Plenty of names there to find out more about!]

In those days everybody wanted to get into the act - and did! But there was little variety among their training systems [sound familiar?], and it was about this time that the York Barbell Company offered its training courses and barbells, and it's the only one that continues to flourish for the betterment of the Iron Game.

Otto Arco was another powerhouse who became one of the first in the world to lift over double bodyweight overhead. He was a fine athlete, who competed in lifting and wrestling. Later he and his brother developed an outstanding balancing act and toured around the world to much applause. Although he only outweighed his brother by a few pounds, he handled his brother with apparent ease in some of the most difficult stunts you ever thought possible.

 Otto Arco Video here:

After retiring from the stage he continued to train and did handbalancing to keep himself fit and flexible. His favorite was something he called the "neck roll," a unique exercise that kept his arms, shoulders, back and especially his neck in marvelous condition. When he was in his mid-60s he often came to Bob Hoffman's birthday shows and when asked if he would give a demonstration he never hesitated. Even at this age he looked super fit and was a hard man to equal in ability or development. 

 Bobby Pandour immigrated to this country with his brother about the same time that Arco did, and promptly fashioned an interesting stage act. Pandour had a terrific physique, and his legs were especially outstanding. He was constantly asked what he did to develop and keep his legs so muscular. The information he gave, although Otto Arco supplied me with the information, was that Pandour rarely ever used the elevator to reach his hotel floor. Instead he would sit his brother on top of his shoulders and then run up the stairs, taking two and three steps at a time. This provided him with all the leg work he needed, while keeping his hips form and muscular, not to mention the cardiovascular system, which also got ample exercise. 

There are many more fine old-timers who served as inspiration to many of our present day barbell men, but it would take volumes to cover than all. But we cannot forget Clevio Massimo, a powerful looking wrestler and strongman with a physique that you would always remember once you had the privilege of viewing it. 

Clevio Massimo, above, center, and below

 From Bookfinder:

 The Mighty Atom, Joe Greenstein, cannot be forgotten either. This mighty mite was a combination of power that made him a giant among his contemporaries. 

The time I first met him was at a marketplace in my hometown where he and another strongman, Sailor Jim White, were giving their spiel. I kept my eyes on both, but of the two, the Atom impressed me more even though Jim White was twice the size of the Atom. How well I remember watching the Atom bend bars, twist horseshoes, and then bite through spikes and chains. I shuddered at this chain biting as I watched in disbelief. It wasn't until after I came to York that I again got the opportunity to talk and discuss many of the strength feats that he and others did. This was during one of his appearances at the famous York Interstate Fair. He knew then that we didn't believe that he could bite those nails and chains. So one year he came to the old barbell club building on Broad Street and offered to bite through any spike we could produce . . . and he truly did! The first spike took longer because, as he said, it takes to first spike to numb his teeth and gums, but after that he can apply even stronger pressure and bite through any steel easier. There was no question about his ability to chew through steel. We saw this at close hand, and it was our own spike, no one doctored or tampered with it. In fact when he was 85 years of age he made a point to come down to the York gym one Saturday to bite through what he said would be the last nail he was going to bite. He did. The bitten nail is still on display in the York Weightlifter's Hall of Fame.

Check out this Mighty Atom Video:
And here, find out about The Mighty Atom documentary now available to view:
This compelling passion project turned documentary from writer-director Steven Greenstein tells the extraordinary life story of his grandfather, famed Strongman Joseph Greenstein, also known as “The Mighty Atom.” Born with tuberculosis and expected not to live past his teens, he went on to become one of greatest and most unlikely Strongmen in history, overcoming insurmountable odds and harnessing the power of his body and mind to achieve the impossible. Available on iTunes, Amazon and Google Play on November 14th.(SDG Films)
Early Photo of Greenstein 
Get This Book!

But this man did a lot of other unusual strength feats. At one time he held back a plane with his teeth, a mouthpiece that fitted into his mouth to which was attached a chain . . . then this chain was attached to the rear of the plane, preventing it from taking off. At another time he pulled several trucks and cars on the streets of New York, attached to his hair! A metal type of comb was entwined in his hair from which a rope emerged and was tied onto the vehicles. He then strained enough to get the vehicles moving, and once they moved they rolled along under his pulling power. For a man his weight and size he had what it takes in abundance, and no one was ever disappointed in any of the strength feats he did or demonstrated. They were genuine. 
Everyone wonders, at this point, what the next 50 or 100 years will bring in the way of records . . . or for that matter, what the next quarter of a century might turn up. But the way records are being broken even the next decade should be astonishing. I only hope that many of us will still be around to see it. In any case, More Power to all the Men of Might and we hope records continue to build up over the next century! 

Clockwise From Top Left:
Anton Matysek, Lurten Cunningham, Abe Boshes, Harry Hall.
Click to ENLARGE  



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