Monday, March 20, 2023

John Grimek, As a Weightlifter -- As Told to Reg Park (1957)

The new members of our fraternity know John Grimek as the winner of the Mr. America, Mr. U.S.A. and Mr. Universe titles, but they do not know that he was also the heavyweight weightlifting champ of North America and that he lifted at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. Today, more than ever, body-builders and combining body-building and weightlifting and this article tells of the training principles and relates some of the incidents of John Grimek as a weightlifter in the hope that his success in both fields may inspire others. 
 - Reg Park
John Grimek: 
Although I've taken part and won a number of weightlifting championships, National, North American, and district championships, I can truthfully add that I never trained very seriously ON ANY LIFTS. 
Now, however, I do reflect and lament my lack of seriousness, and why I didn't make just a wee bit more effort to lift what I was capable of. 
But lifting was a pastime which gave me some pleasure, and I only trained and lifted weights BECAUSE I LIKED IT and not because I wanted to establish records and win championships. Oh, I didn't mind the winning part or making records, but I realized that such training had to be more severe than what I was willing to put out. I'm sure, had this been my objective I would not have trained so lackadaisically. 
On a number of occasions I entered championships or gave exhibitions WITHOUT ANY TRAINING OR PREPARATION, and it mattered little to me whether I won or lost. However, in 1940 I resolved to do more serious training to boost my records. 
I annexed the district championships without any trouble. A week or two of rest followed, which we often did after a championship, and again resumed training to get in shape for the coming Senior Nationals. 
I still believe that the eight or nine weeks that I trained for this championship was my most serious up to that time, and by the time the championships were scheduled, I was certain to exceed the record total as light-heavy . . . or at least I should if I did anywhere near the total I was capable of.
The day before the championships, Stanko and I drove to New York. On the way we stopped at his mother's home for a visit. She cooked us a terrific dinner and we ate "like pigs" I think . . . for those days we often ate anything in sight and looked around for more. I'm more conservative now and don't often overeat, although I can still eat! 
After our dinner and rest we took off for New York again, 25 miles away. We checked into the hotel where other York members stayed and reserved reservations for us. Once settled we showered and went out on a howl, bent on making a night of it. We visited a number of places and took in some spots but at one time we ended up in the old French Sporting Club, one of the most active lifting clubs in N.Y.C. then.  

It wasn't long before the conversation switched to my bodyweight, especially when they heard I had planned on lifting as a light-heavy. They rolled out the a scale . . . I stripped down to my waist and shoeless, tipped the beam at 198.5! No one present was convinced I was going to lift as  a light-heavy, except me. 

In the past I've been more pounds overweight than that and always managed to weigh in "on the nose" or less. The 17 pounds I was overweight didn't worry me. 

We left there to continue our meandering until well past midnight. Someone then suggested having a snack before turning in. We didn't only have asnack, but almost a full course dinner; roast beef, potatoes, vegetables, salad, two cups of coffee and two helpings of dessert! It was past 2 a.m. when we finally got back to the hotel and "hit the sack." 

Next morning Stanko and I were having our usual heavy breakfast at 9:30 a.m. and watched the lighter classes lift. The light-heavies weren't scheduled to lift until 2 p.m., but I skipped my lunch until after I weighed in. 

I sought out the weighing room, stripped down and stepped casually on it to prevent it from jumping up. I was found to weigh 183.25 pounds! I proceeded to do everything I know how to lose this 1.5 pounds, even pushing my fingers down my throat to cause my stomach to reject anything there . . . nothing! For 20 minutes or more I tried and succeeded only in developing nausea, and a couple of ounces. This proved to be the only time I failed to make weight, and the only explanation I could figure out was the late snack we had, otherwise I would have made the weight easily.

I was disgusted now as the lifters  started getting ready to go out and begin lifting. I went, instead, to the indoor restaurant they had in Madison Square Garden and ate a full course meal . . . the whole works. I was joined by other lifters, one of whom was Gregory George, the St. Louis Samson, who had been training with us  in York for some weeks. Greg was a likeable chap, but began "needling" me about how he'd beat the pants off me if he got me in the heavies. I still think he wanted me to lift, because he know I trained rather hard for this affair and felt it was a shame to just forget it. A bet was made . . . I had to lift as a heavy with only one thing in mind, to beat Gregory George! 

Heavies lifted that evening. Three hours after my big luncheon I weighed in again. Surprise of all surprises -- I weighed the same as the afternoon. 183.25 and with all that food I was the lightest heavy. 

I started with the highest press of 270, and then made 285. Stanko was the only one to go on beyond that and succeeded with 290. I took the highest press of the meet, 305, which would have been the first time that much weight was pressed officially. In cleaning it my foot slipped (as I wore regular street shoes for pressing), so missed my chance. 

Greg had tough luck and got only a 270 press I think. He started with 255 on the snatch to catch up to me, but my first attempt with 250 was pulled so hard that I nearly somersaulted with it . . . I WAS ONE OF THE VERY FEW SQUATTERS THOSE DAYS. 

Second attempt found me pulling it perfectly for a success. My next attempt with 265 was much the same as my first attempt, too much pull and the weight landed behind me. 

Greg wasn't doing too well either, missing his other attempts. Greg missed all his cleans while I started with 325 and made a push press with it, taking 340 and 345 for my second and third attempts. I cleaned them but the bar rolled out of my grip before I got erect, for I had one of the worst squat cleaning styles. So I had to be contented with only my first attempts in the snatch and jerk and with two presses. My 860 total was good enough to place third, but I cussed myself for taking off my bodyweight. Had I known I was going to lift as heavy, I would have done much better if I kept my normal weight. 

My practice bests totaled around 925, and I was always better on my quick lifts in competition, and could start with poundages that I often missed in training, except in the press. Somehow I always made my best presses training. Possibly because I was 15 to 20 pounds heavier, so that much stronger. 

After 1940 I gave up competition, although lifting in exhibitioins quite frequently and making continental presses (which are called military today!) of 330 to 340 . . . and jerking it several times consecutively. I became quite prolific at the jerk, and made five attempts with 350, three with 375 and once with 400, a poundage I didn't hold because it surprised me how easily it floated up . . . all this at approximately 187 pounds. 


In those days the York Barbell Club had all the champions. No other club had a chance, and anyone who wanted to be a champion would invariably come to York, and once training here, got to be a champion -- if he had the stuff.

It was nothing to see 30 or more lifters training here. Saturday was out biggest day. We would train Mondays and Wednesdays, sometimes light, heavy, or moderate, but Saturday was always a heavy day.  

We would have team contests; married men against the single men, or a handicap meet, but always it was competition and certainly the fellows lifted, had fun and ENJOYED this strength-building recreation. 

Note: Fun! Remember that aspect of lifting? Somewhere in the hazy, younger past, before you got "serious" and forgot about it? Lonely old Fun, waitin' for ya, not far, quite close, right now. And how! 

Visitors by the hundreds would be here . . . and every Saturday the place would be jammed full of enthusiasts from miles around to see some lifting. They knew that Saturday was always a "big day" and one could always see someone break a record or two . . . we did! 

But I didn't always train Saturdays, that is, when a fine opera was on radio. I would stay in my room and listen to it. One day Bob (Hoffman) asked me to train, and when I told him I was staying in to listen to the opera, he suggested bringing my small radio in and listening to it between lifts. I did. However, the idea didn't make much of a hit with some of  the other members, although Gord Venables, then in fine shape, was about the only one who appreciated the high C note, and those who didn't do as well all pointed an accusing finger at me . . . and that ended opera at the gym before it even started! 

Some of the champions were high strung. When they lifted they required utter silence . . . to concentrate, they said. Naturally, I always liked to see someone make a lift, but when I was forced to stand at attention, it griped me,and more than once I dropped a weight (which I was holding when told to stop) just at the crucial moment that unnerved the lifter and caused him, very often, to fail on the lift. Sure glaring glances that were strong enough to go through me would be cast my way, but I'd jokingly reply . . . it slipped! I don't think they always believed me, because one doesn't let that many weights slip that often. Could I help it if my grip was weak? They didn't believe it either, but they couldn't do a damn thing about it either . . . so! 

Note: You gotta love this guy! 

When Stanko, Bob Mitchell, myself and others trained, we didn't care who was dropping weights or climbing the ceiling . . . we went about our business and made the lift. 

I think those who require utter silence are egotistical and demand such silence to attract more attention, to be the center of attraction . . . then they can lift. But when they didn't get this attention, they lifted miserably, proving that lifting is as much mental as it is physical. 

Our lifting Saturdays would last four or five hours

Note: You read that right.

AFTER which time some of the fellows would do light presses, although they concentrated on speed at such times. Or did repetition dead hang snatches or cleans, but always with a much lighter weight after this heavy workout. Others would practice more on strengthening their legs, do dumbbell presses, high dead lifts; from the floor overhead, shoulder exercises, and, a couple of them, even practiced the bench press to increase their pressing lift. 

Note: Now I am certain it woulda been much more fun to be a lifter back then. I mean, here's the top shelf Oly guys in the world coming in on a Saturday, doing some staged competition, maybe a little betting on it, going for a couple hours and aiming at new training maxes, then spending some more time doing what was listed. Five, six or more hours in the gym on Saturdays. The top Oly men in the world. Does that say anything to you? 

(Next month a description of an average workout week.) 

Note: I sure would like a look at that. For sure! And how anticlimactic is this. I'll try to get that second half, if it ever did get published.  

Enjoy Your Lifting!     





  1. Grimek seemed to sit down at his typewriter with a "bug up his butt" wanting to get something off of his chest." Ultimately, though, his comments were free-ranging and free-wheeling. Of course, his self-examination regarding his attitude toward Olympic weightlifting can be interpreted in a couple of different ways. For myself, I thought his admissions of a general "lackadaisical" outlook toward Oly lifting, along with his cavalier (but usually successful) approach to making weight at contests only reinforces how much he was cut from a higher quality of "cloth" than almost everyone else. Especially when one considers that he made the 1936 Olympic weightlifting team! The verbal descriptions of heavy workouts at the York Barbell gym were heart warming.

  2. I am continuing my comments as the !@#$% computer will not let me get down everything I have to say. As the owners of this blog knows, I shared an office with John Grimek, so I can tell you for a fact that he was not kidding when he said he had the worse clean form imaginable. It was basically a stiff legged "good morning" with the barbell at the shoulders. So, a heavy bar slipping out of his fingers when coming erect was an absolute possibility. I asked him what was the most he ever successfully cleaned that way. He replied 365! Grimek's portrayal of the lighter side of York Barbell, as well as his assertion that in the long run lifting was more enjoyable, and perhaps more productive when it is less life and death.

    1. Thanks for coming here and commenting, Jan! John Grimek was indeed The Man. A 365 pound clean, just like that! Amazing. Are you familiar with the type of York weekly "routine" that next article, if it exists, refers to? Send me your mailing address and I'll send Advil, Aspirin and a few stiff drinks to make this for-free software bearable.

    2. Or not! All good no matter. I am sure you get requests for what you know quite often. It must be annoying at times.

    3. For your web-site, follows is a piece out of the February 1954 copy of Strength and Health, Your Training Problems by John GRIMEK: Training for Lifting Question? "What would you recommend as a good general training program for a man interested in the three lifts?" Answer: The average lifter should warm up with five light cleans and presses and/or some calisthenics. In both presses and snatch he should start working up in sets of three repetitions about 60 to 70 pounds below his best personal records. Progressing in 10 - pound jumps, as the weights get heavy he should drop to sets of two repetitions, possibly doing four or five sets of two with a given weight. On the night when limits are to be tried, he should continue upward in single attempts. Limit attempts should not be made too often and only when the lifter feels up to it.

      For the clean and jerk, the same procedure should be followed , except that the weights are only cleaned in threes and twos, not jerked. After reaching a near - limit clean, jerks should be practiced in sets of two from the shoulders after single cleans.

      Other exercises which will prove of value to a lifter are squats, done in sets of five with heavy weights, rapid deadlifts to waist height in sets of three and heavy bench presses in sets of three using regular overhead pressing grip. If weak in the press, a lifter will often profit by doing dumbell presses in sets of three to five repetitions on one or two of his non-training days each week. A total of 20 presses is plenty of this additional training.

    4. Thank You! There was a discussion at the Drapers' site a few years ago that has some good stuff in it:

  3. I sent an email to the email address you previous listed on your site last night. It is has link to the Reg Park EU forum of what might be the article you are seeking? It has uploaded images of the complete article pages out of the Reg Park Journal May 1947 and outlines the York weekly schedule.

    1. Hello John! I got it . . . and THANKS! That's the one alright. I'm on it this afternoon and evening. Beautiful!


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