Monday, January 22, 2018

Joe Nordquest and His World's Record Lift - Alan Calvert (1915)


 Taken From This Issue (March 1915) 

Note: It's worth knowing that Joe Nordquest lost his left leg below the knee at age six. He performed all his lifting and set records while wearing an early 1900s style prosthetic. Enjoy your lifting! 

And now, to the article . . .

Away back in 1890, Eugen Sandow made his debut in London. A young man, unknown in England, but with a European reputation as a wrestler and lifter, Sandow amazed London with his superb symmetry and his sensational strength feats.

The first thing that gained Sandow lasting fame was a lift of a 250-pound Bar-bell from shoulder to above head, with his right arm. This broke all existing records, and was hailed as a thing almost incredible. Athletic authorities solemnly discussed whether it was possible for human strength to achieve such a feat, many athletes contending that it must be a fake, that no man alive had strength enough in his right arm to push 250 pounds aloft.

A few months later Sandow lifted in the same manner as before a bar-bell weighing 271 pounds. England fell under his spell. Lifting became a favorite sport, and English amateurs are still striving to eclipse that old record. A few professionals - mostly men much heavier than Sandow - succeeded in lifting more than 271 pounds, but no amateur in England, Europe, or anywhere else ever officially reached the 250 mark until on Saturday, March 20th, 1915, the feat was accomplished by Joseph Nordquest, 21 years old, and of Ashtabula, Ohio.

In the January issue of "STRENGTH" I stated that many of my pupils had cast envious eyes on Matysek's record of 222 pounds. Just as the January number was issued Matysek raised his mark to 238 pounds, but I felt that even at that mark his crown did not rest securely, and advised him to train for further improvement.

In February I received dozens of letters from advanced pupils, telling me of their lifts.

Among them was a startling communication from a Joseph Nordquest, who modestly stated that he could press aloft over 250 pounds with his LEFT arm, and in support of his claims he sent me two photographs, which showed that he was a young man of tremendous muscular development.

Being deeply interested in such a phenomenon, I wrote Nordquest and asked him how he had gained his strength. He replied that he had developed himself with an old MILO Bar-bell, which was the property of an older brother. I searched my records and found, sure enough, that ten years ago I had sold a bar-bell to this brother, and that the said brother was famous several years ago as one of the finest living examples of manly strength and beauty of form. More of him later on; we are now concerned with Joe Nordquest, the present amateur title holder.

I wrote Joe, telling him frankly that I had never seen anyone - amateur or professional - lift 255 pounds aloft with his LEFT arm, and asking him how long he would have to train to be able to duplicate the feat in my presence. I half anticipated a reply saying that six weeks or so were necessary that at present he had a sore shoulder, etc., etc. But no indeed! Joe avowed that he could lift 255 pounds any and every day in the week, and if I was in the neighborhood of Ashtabula to stop off and see him and he would prove what he said.

Business calling me west in March, I notified Joe to expect me on the 20th. I arrived at Ashtabula at noon on that day, but as I had not named the road on which I was traveling, Joe was not on hand to meet me. Inquiry soon convinced me that I would have no trouble in finding him. Ashtabula is a fair-sized town, but apparently everyone there knows Joe Nordquest, and I soon located him.

The news of Joe's attempt for an official record had spread, and a couple of hundred of his neighbors  and friends were present to see the event. Everyone wore an interested expression of pleased anticipation; there seemed to be no doubt in anyone's mind that the visitor (yours truly) was to be convinced that Ashtabula harbored a champion lifter. The afternoon was pleasant; a chill wind was blowing off Lake Erie, but the sun was strong and the ground spongy.

There were a few preliminaries; the scales were brought forth, together with the certificate of inspection. I further tested them and found them to be exact.

Joe elected to "warm up" by making a preliminary press with 230 pounds - a feat which he accomplished without very much effort. He threw a coat over his shoulders and for a few minutes discussed with me his style of lifting, then he tossed off his coat, and refusing all assistance, he increased the weight of the bell to 255 pounds. Swinging it to his left shoulder with both hands, he let go with his right hand and started this marvelous press.

Slowly he bent his body over, balancing the enormous weight securely in his left hand. His expression was one of grim and relentless determination. The huge muscles of his arms and back stood out like ridges of steel. He made a supreme effort, and straightened the left arm, and then slowly and cautiously stood erect with the bell.

I had cautioned him that he must hold the bell aloft while I counted two. As soon as he was perfectly erect, with the arm straight and stiff as a poker, I counted: "One -- Two!" and he then stepped backward and allowed the bell to fall and embed itself in the soft ground. The witnesses applauded Joe as he lugged the weight to the scales. It weighed exactly 255 pounds; and a subsequent weighing proved that Joe himself weighed 168 pounds stripped.

Congratulations were in order - and also questions as to the training program. Of the latter there was little to be said. An enthusiast on heavy dumbbell exercise, Joe had trained regularly during his nineteenth and twentieth years. In 1914 he had trained but little, but the account of Matysek's lift had fired his ambition anew, so he started to train again in February, 1915, and had actually lifted 255 pounds for three consecutive days previous to his public trial.

Apparently the necessity of saving his strength never enters his head - he has so much of it that he spends it prodigally. For example: After the bell had been weighed, he asked me if I had any objection to his trying for a record lift in the wrestler's-bridge-position. On finding that I was eager to see an attempt, he sent for a small, square cushion, which he placed by the center of the bar-bell handle. Grasping the bar with both hands, he leaned over, placed his head on the cushion, and threw a neat head-spring over the bar, bringing himself into the bridge position.

He pulled the bell to his chest, and slowly forced it to arms' length. I counted "One!", but before I reached "Two!" Joe, who had not understood, hurled the bell back to the ground. We were both disgruntled; I, because I had not fully explained, and he, because he had been so quick. But it made little odds.

Without a minute's pause, he again threw himself into position; again lifted the bell across to the chest, but as he pushed the bell upwards the cushion slipped to one side, and his head slid along the muddy ground. I was horrified - it was enough to sprain his neck severely, but the mighty arms supporting the bell held it securely aloft while their owner came to full stretch on his back. He then got to his feet and ruefully examined a groove an inch deep which his head had cut in the ground, while his kind friends "joshed" him. Evidently a "Strong Man" must expect no sympathy.

We fastened the cushion in place, and for the third time in five minutes the big bell was lifted across to the chest and forced up until the supporting arms were straight. I counted "One -- Two!", and Joe, determined that there should be no mistake this time, himself calmly went on "Three -- Four" -- and so on up to Ten; then he stood up and grinned.

The pictures showing the bar-bell in use will give you a good idea of Joe's "form" in lifting, but not a very good idea of his tremendous development. Between lifts, and while the photographer was changing plates, Joe gave quite an exhibition of Herculean balancing and acrobatics.

His younger brother (Charles) who weighs 175 pounds, was called into play as a human dumbbell and was lifted by Joe in a various number of positions.

Calling to mind the prevalent idea that "Strong Men" are slow and "muscle-bound," I carefully watched for any signs in this case -- and I can assure you that Joe Nordquest has greater flexibility of muscle and joint than 999 men out of 1,000. He can bend his wrists further than anyone I ever saw, and his shoulder muscles possess apparently the very maximum of flexibility.

One thing I can solemnly affirm: he can, by mind control, do things with his shoulder and back muscles that I have never seen equaled. His nicety of balance is remarkable. He will stand on his hands and "dip" till his chin touches ground, 20 or 30 times in succession, faster than the average physical culturist will dip when lying on the floor in the usual position. He can do a "one-hand stand" while holding a 100-pound dumbbell in the other hand.

the bell shown in the pictures is one with 16-inch hollow globes, of the kind I furnish for exhibition work. It was fitted with interchangeable bars. It arrived at the Nordquest residence assembled as a short-handled dumbbell. When the box was opened and the dumbbell rolled out, the expression of the bystanders was one of incredulous wonder. The bell was certainly a formidable looking affair. As a matter of fact, it weighed a trifle less than 200 pounds adjusted as a dumbbell and empty.

Here is where the oldest of the brothers, Mr. Arthur Nordquest, enters the tale. As I have said, Arthur was formerly a heavy dumbbell enthusiast, and had bought a MILO bell from me years ago, but had not done any active training for the last eight years. While the crowd was gazing at the big dumbbell, Arthur stepped forward, grasped it, swing it to the right shoulder, and executed as beautiful a right-hand press as I have ever seen. A moment afterward one of his friends, who had not seen the lift, caught sight of the dumbbell and rushed up and asked Arthur if he could lift it. To please him Arthur lifted it again. Shortly after, to oblige me, he donned an athletic shirt and lifted it twice more, while the photographer snap-shotted him.

He then begged me not to mention his lift, for he had not trained for years, and apparently considered four (4) distinct presses with a bell weighing in the neighborhood of 200 pounds as a mere trifle not worth mentioning.

I feel that I would have cheated my readers if I had left Mr. Arthur Nordquest out of the account. Thousands of physical culturists have been told that if a man develops huge muscles he will go to pieces when he stops training. Pure foolishness! I know plenty of retired "Strong Men" who are just as strong and just as well put together as in their youth. Mr. Arthur Nordquest is still a young man (about thirty), but if I was asked to pick out a man who would be as strong in 1936 as he is today I would select Mr. Arthur Nordquest.

After the lifting was all over, we adjourned to the photographer's studio to secure some "muscle poses" as a souvenir of the occasion. Here I was amazed. For twenty years I have been a close student of muscular development. I have been watching them all pose since Sandow introduced posing at the World's Fair in 1893 -- but this boy, Nordquest, did some things which were new to me. One of them is the pose, Figure No. 8. The others consisted in muscular movements which could not be shown in still poses.

After the posing I measured Joe, at his request. The results were:

Height - 5' 7"
Weight - 168 pounds
Chest (normal) - 44 and three-eighths inches
Upper Arm (down) - 15 and one-half inches
Upper Arm (flexed) - 16 and one-half inches
Forearm (straight) - 13 and three-quarters inches
Forearm (flexed) - 15 inches
Wrist - 7 and five-eighths inches
Waist - 32 and one-quarter inches
Thigh - 25 and one half inches.

By this lift of 255 pounds with left hand from the shoulder Joe Nordquest becomes the holder of the

American and World's Amateur Records for One-Arm Press (either right or left)
American Record for Left-Arm Press (amateur or professional)

and as far as I know to the contrary, the

World's Record for the Left-Arm Press .

Also the American Amateur Record for lifting a bar-bell in the "Wrestler's Bridge" position. (255 pounds)

The mere fact that Joe has been able to lift 255 pounds at will argues that he could do much better if he specially trained. As a matter of fact, 255 pounds was the heaviest weight he had to practice with, but he now has a bell which can be loaded to very heavy weights, and I hardly believe he is going to rest on his laurels.

His "style" of pressing is not quite conventional. In my opinion, he wastes too much strength at a certain stage of his lift. If he changed his style perhaps he could lift more, and perhaps not. There are general rules governing each lift, but every lifter has his own little individual variations which he has adopted, because they seem to favor his particular build.

Rome was not built in a day. Joe Nordquest did not reach the top with a rush. He said that for a long time his progress was very slow. It took him several months before he was able to lift 125 pounds aloft with one hand, but then the persistent exercise seemed to make him grow in strength, and in the space of six weeks he improved his lift from 125 to 175 pounds. Since then, he added little by little to his strength; as his development increased his records mounted -- and now, at the age of 21 years , he is absolutely in the first rank as a lifter, and as a specimen of muscular manhood.

(I have in my possession the certificate issued by the Government Inspector of Scales, at Ashtabula, and also a statement signed by a number of witnesses and sworn to before a Notary Public -- which places beyond all question the genuineness of Joe Nordquest's lifts -- Alan Calvert


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