Wednesday, March 22, 2023

John Grimek, as a Weightlifter, Part Two (1957)


I was looking for JCG photos and couldn't stop!  

Steve Stanzyk performing repetition presses with 205. Grimek is performing dumbbell pullovers, Jules Bacon leg curls, Stanko flying exercise on bench, Lauriano is reading. 

Ever since the York Barbell Club was organized back in the late twenties, a champion or two was always among its membership, although in those days the club was known as the York Oil Burner A.C.  

However, by 1937 its members dominated all championships and the majority of national records were held by this club. I didn't become an active member until 1937, although I lived  and trained in York with the other members a year before. 

Olympic Benefit, June 19th, 1936, York PA. Standing: Bill Good, Weldon Bullock, Wally Zagurski, Gord Venables, Dave Mayor, Bob Dudley, John Grimek. Kneeling: Bob Mitchell, Dick Bachtell, John Terpak, Tony Terlazzo, Walter Good. 

I found the environment pleasant and inducing. However, it wasn't the method alone that was so unique which made each and every champion a champion, but chiefly the companionship that existed among these fellows which helped to mold them into the fine men they were. They talked, ate, slept and lived weightlifting. Every man tried to help another and pointed out his faults. To be sure, competition on a friendly basis was always keen, and some rivalry existed, but this only stimulated rather than hindered their interest or ambition. 

Even today, while we do not have the large number of lifters training in York as we had twenty years ago, those of us who are still here try to offer a helping hand to those who show any ambition and possess potential ability for lifting. Examples of this are Chuck Vinci and Isaac Berger, both of whom were fair lifters before coming to York but improved sufficiently to win the Olympic title in Melbourne recently. Vinci's average total was a little over 600 pounds before coming to York, while Berger used to frequent our local meets and compete against Yaz Kuzahara, totaling 635 to 670 when in top form. However, in winning the 1955 Nationals he did total a little over 700, which was excellent, but compare that total with the record total he made in Melbourne and you get some idea of his improvement. But these men worked for their goal and received encouragement from everyone here, in particular Bob Hoffman, who seemed to have more confidence in these two men than they had in themselves! Wishing will not make anyone a champion. You've got to buckle down and work hard towards that goal! 

At the time I took part in championships, we trained, as now, on the average of three times a week. Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays, which was our HEAVY DAY. On this day we have friendly contests, tryouts and attempts to surpass existing records, but on the other training days we would work out according to our physical condition or desires, thus, if we had a "rugged weekend" and were not up to par, we'd be satisfied with a medium or light Monday workout. On the other hand, if we felt like going "all out" we would work rather hard. The same was true of Wednesday's workout. Occasionally we would emply a few heavy assistance movements on Thursday, but mostly we would rest two consecutive days and lift our limits on Saturday.

Our usual workout was something like this: 

Warm up for the Press. Take light weight and do 8-10 repetitions. Then load bar about 60% or 70% or one's limit and repeat 5 times, keep increasing weight in 10-pound jumps  until only 3 reps can be done, then 2, and finally doing 5-6 single attempts. To finish most of us would cut back to about 70-75% of the weight we just pressed and make 5 rapid presses to give the muscle fast pressing-out power.

If any supplementary work for the Press was required, it would be done at the finish of the workout, such as press behind neck, push press, supine press, one arm press, etc., to keep shoulders and arms strong.

The Snatch was practiced in much the same manner. Progressive increasing of weight with sets of 5's, 3's, 2's, and finishing off with several single attempts. All repetition snatching was done in the dead hang style, except the single attempt, which were rdone in either the dive or get set style. Assistance exercises were often included, such as rapid deadlifts, hi-pullups, stiff legged snatch, etc. 

The Clean & Jerk was sometimes omitted in order to concentrate more on the two lifts just mentioned, but when included the repetitions were about the same. However, because some fellows were poor in the jerking part of the lift, they would specialize on this portion, and those whose ability wasn't ass good in cleaning, such as my own, more cleaning was done. 

I recall one lifter with terrific pulling ability, but who faltered on his jerks. This was John Terry, the negro featherweight, who could clean around 300 but only once, to my knowledge, made 280 jerk. 

I have jerked 400 overhead but was limited by my cleaning ability to 345, which I pressed, perhaps not holding a strick military position one is supposed todo, but more or less the same style used and passed in competition today. 

I recall I trained harder on the snatch and clean my last year of competition than ever before and found that my ability greatly improved. Had I realzed this earlier, I am confident my lifts would have gone beyond my expectations. But I reiterate, before that time I never took lifting seriously and played around with any odd lifts that caught my fance, and believe me we had a few dandies those days. 

Interest was always high until they finally succeeded or gave up in disgust, but one Saturday we had an unusual contest, doing all the lifts IN KNEELING POSITION. There was little different in the poundage lifted between the press and jerk, although I cleaned 280 in this manner which remains a record to thisday. Of course  no one practices this lift anymore, otherwise it might have been surpassed, These events provided us with fun and strength-building exercise. 

Note: 280 pound clean on knees. 

One Saturday after completing my training for a contest a week away, I saw one of our fellows, Wally Zagurski, a fine all-round lifter and national champion, playing around with the bent press. His best was a little over 270 but he was anxious to know hos 300 felts at his shoulder. I joined him and we worked up from 250 to 300 pounds, and it felt so light we tried pressing it. To our suprise the weight went up easily but as we started to get up, lost the weight more than a dozen times we tried. 

I admit I had poor form in recovering, because I never squatted under the weight but straightened up in a side bend fashion, which often caused me to lose the weight when I streightened up too fast. 

Wally Zagurski had a very fine style in bent pressing and we all thought that he was capable of 300 and more, had he practiced more seriously. Later he took to archery, golf and bowling and did remarkably well. Even today he's considered  fine golfer and excellent bowler, resulting from his lifting days. 

On another occasion, Sig Klein invited me to his bent press show. I accepted but stated I didn't want to participate. He did everything to make me compete, and then pulled a fast one. He gave out news that I was going to lift 300 pounds! I was on the spot and could have refused to appear as I have so often when false publicity was given out. However, those days I would accept any challenge and try anything to prove them wrong, but alas, it was less than a week away from the event. I decided to get in bent pressing shape fast, and four days before the contest I handled my first bent press in over a year. I pressed heavy weights up and supported heavier ones at my hip, pressing over 300 and holding as much as 390 at my shoulder, to get the feel. 

I trained every day until the contest and learned a very valuable lesson: I depleted my strength by all this training so that when the time came I had great difficulty with 275, which I missed coming up with, and 300 felt like a ton! I was disgusted. 

I was sure I would press 300 to 325 to arm's length and, with luck, thought I could recover, but the weights felt impossible. This, however, was a lesson I never forgot, and we always rested two, three, even four days before an important event and always did better. 

Another lift I favored was the one hand side press. Tom Inch, you may recall, held the record at 201 pounds and authorities then claimed it was physically impossible to do more than that, since the lift required to keep both  legs locked with bending only from the waist. I took delight in proving the claims false, if I could, and proceeded to practice this unusual lift. At first I was ready to concede the claim, but after a few attempts I passed the sticking point and felt more confident. Eventually I had successes with 245 and officially made 237 but was never given credit for it. But in practice I used what was called a "continental side press" which permitted one leg to bend, the one opposite the lifting arm. Actually, this was similar to my bent pressing position so experienced no difficulty and felt my flexibility was the prime reason for my ability in this lift, which lifters of that time never achieved and were much stiffer than lifters are today.

One year as an added attraction for Bob Hoffman's birthday show the fellows decided to have a one hand swing contest. After seeing me do a few practice lifts, it was decided to exclude me and as a result the heaviest poundage with 165. In training I succeeded with 200 on numerous occasions and in competition could always do more, but the opportunity never occurred. For a time I thought it would when I was invited to appear in London back in 1949 at the time your editor, Reg Park, won the Mr. Britain title. 

It was suggested I do a lift or two besides posing. Knowing the lift was very popular in England a few years past, I decided to perform a record lift, which still stands at 209. In training I seem to do very well and more than once 230 was elevated to arm's length, and shooting for at least 240 with a possible 250 if conditions proved favorable. However, only a couple of weeks before I flew to London I developed a very painful elbow which made it impossible to do the lift even with light poundages. I was thoroughly disgusted and nothing I tried seemed to help. 

I had no other alternative than abandon the lift and perform some iron bending and chain breaking stunts instead.          


Sorry to say I have never done the lift since! And I'm sorry, for I feel the lift is an excellent back developer and teaches muscles to coordinate better. 

Dumbbells have been a favorite of mine, but only because I was handed an unexpected but simple challenge and failed to meet it. This happened some years ago when I first met the old maestro, Sig Klein, who always had a few pet stunts up his sleeves those days to stump those who thought they were strong men. I was too young then, in my twenties, to feel important or strong, but an challenge in strength or stunts delighted me. The two dumbbells weighed only 100 pounds each, but they were two different shapes and clumsy to handle. It surprised me that I failed the first two times, succeeding on the third, although the press offered no difficulty. I vowed I would return in two weeks and play with them. 

Klein seemed dubious, but on the appointed hour I appeared at Klein's studio and, without removing any clothes, took the dumbbells off the rack, pulled them to my shoulders easily and began pressing them in rapid succession until Klein shouted STOP! 

Many others have failed with these dumbbells, including the pre-was champion Manger, who failed to clean them after a dozen attempts. A few years later I did swing curls with them, or cheating curls as they are know, and with less trouble than I previously cleaned them. But I learned another lesson from Klein at that time when I complained about the clumsiness of the two unmatched dumbbells, to which he replied, "A real strongman doesn't complain about any weight -- he just goes ahead and lifts it!" 

Somehow that bit of advice etched itself deep in my mind and I never forgot it, nor did I complain when I failed to lift something, unless it was in jest. But failures meant lack of practice, and to succeed you must practice. I learned this the hard way! 

To this day dumbbells remain a part of my training, in fact practically all my training is done with dumbbells. Of course, I am not trying to establish records or surpass my previous lifts. I leave that up to those who have such ambitions. 

My main objective is to stay fit, keep reasonably strong, and retain good health . . . and dumbbells can aid in that direction if properly employed. 

But . . . any exercise is better than none regardless of what type of apparatus you employ to develop strength and health. 

Just do some training. It will pay in the end. 

Enjoy Your Lifting. 


  1. One of the top photos, sepia tone with John doing what looks like calf raises on the beach. Man, I can understand the look on his face. He's really mashing his Cape Canaveral's and probably had to hold that pose a minute 😳 😂

    1. Hey! I was sure happy to be able to round up some sort of "new" photos of JCG that day, yesterday. That's the photo with the Jackson Barbell gear, ain't it? And the pained look! Riding them calves right into the sandy ground! I was surprised to see that and not York on the plates. But I don't know anywhere near enough about it to understand what the deal was with those two, Bob Hoffman and Andy Jackson.

    2. He may be doing some kind of a pull . . . up on toes, I don't know . . . it's a posed photo and who knows what it was used for.

  2. Grimek was doing a calf raise with the Jackson barbell. Before coming to York to stay and represent the York Barbell company, for a limited time, and as far as I know only one Jackson equipment brochure circa the early 1930s, John appeared as having an association with Andy. Presumably, either Sig Klein or Mark Berry engineered this short term relationship between John and Andy. In either 1934 or '35, Grimek made his initial visit to York and liked the city. However, he had to go back to his artist model job at the University of Illinois at Urbana to fulfill his contract. Afterwards he returned to York to stay.

    1. Thanks for your input here, Jan. It's appreciated!

  3. Did it occur to anyone else that in Grimek's relating of how the top lifters of his heyday approached the typical training week, they rested a couple of days before the heavy day workout, as well as a couple of days thereafter. And then it was a couple of tune-up sessions before repeating the cycle. There is probably a goodly portion of long-forgotten, practical (and very undervalued) training truth contained there.

  4. I've noticed that some guys seem to have trouble with some of what JCG recommended in his letters column and in his articles. I believe it's too simple and straightforward for a lot of people to see. Ain't that strange! Take the York lifting at the time. It's easy to understand what they were doing, nothing complicated in the least about it. Hard work on that Heavy Day, on the big lifts, pushing 'em Rest days appropriate. A Light tinkering day, and a Medium day with some lighter lifting at times. Still, for the life of me, can't understand what all the questions are about, and certainly can't see any difficulty in defining "heavy" or "light" or "medium" with lifting. Not total volume, not this, and not that either. One heavy day, you're lifting weights on the lifts that are heavy for YOU. The others are what was just mentioned. Even a simple 5x5 layout now has people sitting there scratching their overworking heads trying to "figure it out" or something. Heavy. Light. Medium. Exactly what the words say and nothing more.


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