Tag Archives: John Grimek

Round Up Training

By John McKean

John Grimek performing a one arm overhead lift at the old York Barbell Club.

John Grimek performing an one arm overhead lift at the old York Barbell Club.

Surprisingly, the fabled super human did not squash me like a bug, spit in my direction, or merely ignore an insignificant little nobody like me! At the time I was a wide eyed college student witnessing the parade of Iron Game icons who were milling about at one of the famous York Barbell Club picnics at Hoffman’s wooded Brookside Park. Brushing my right shoulder, John Grimek and his wife casually strolled by, causing an instant,massive lump to clog my throat! Best I could think to do was croak out a meek “Hi, John!” The mighty Grimek, huge arms in full display in a cut sleeve t-shirt, merely extended his hand in warm greeting and genuinely replied ” Hey, great to see you! How’s your training coming along?” Then he started gabbing  as if we’d been long time buddies and avid training partners! Naturally a crowd quickly built around our discussion, amid other queries from the group, when it occurred to me to ask about a point made in a recent issue of John’s MD magazine.

Questioning him about a very interesting, unique arm building article (written by Mr Universe, Tom Sansone), where the major premise was always to keep training time short by constantly CHANGING bi/tri exercises every workout, I was wondering if John himself shared that author’s conviction.” Oh,yes, ABSOLUTELY” emphasized John, “especially if you desire to greatly increase STRENGTH as well!” That statement shocked and puzzled me, as I’d assumed that one had to labor through a movement for quite a while in order to reach decent poundage. Only much later in life did I come to realize that this all-knowing lifting guru had provided the quintessential KEY to much of his  own fabled super strength, and gave a glimpse  to the brilliance he acquired from instinctual power work during his youth.

Of course, VARIETY is also the essence of ALL-ROUND competition ,which I’ve been involved with exclusively for the past 3 decades.( In fact, John Grimek was our first inductee to the USAWA Hall of Fame!) However, for most of that time it’s been a struggle to include a fairly good range of official lifts (we have nearly 200 events!)into workouts without spending entire days in the gym. So, to chase Grimek’s lead , I read “between the lines” in accounts of his earliest training ; seems he followed a basic,constant pattern in standard ,heavy exercises, but usually ended with a single massive effort on some odd strength feat. Never much in favor of “sets/reps”, he’d just extend one big all-out push,pull,partial, or hold. And,of course, ALWAYS experimenting with something new, unusual, or differant.

Now, it occurred to me, some 50 years since I first marveled over Grimek’s sage advice , that I can save time in the gym, yet train a bigger variety of lifts more effectively if I only tweek John’s essential power building KEY a bit. Simply, I needed  to start with a  moderately loaded barbell, build up weight in increments (such as 20 pounds each set), and perform a semi-challenging LIFT that will “FIT” each differant poundage. For example, the other day I began with a fairly heavy curl, added 2 ten pound plates, did a single bent arm pullover off the floor, then an increment up for a row. Twenty more pounds for an easy one arm deadlift. And on up (lots of ten pound plates laying there!) through subsequent singles for a hack lift, Ciavattone pull, heels together deadlift, Jefferson (or straddle), 12″ base deadlift, 2 bars deadlift, and finish with our heavy Kennedy lift .Yep, an eleven “event” total, great variety,decent strength output (mostly along similar “off the floor” lines),and ,most importantly, no multiple set drudgery or boredom at all! Heck, I thought I was competing in one of the USAWA’s exciting “record day” events (in itself, a form of this training system)! At the rather fast  termination to the workout, in fact, my mind& mood were as “pumped” as my legs and back were!

Next workout, if I don’t decide to change the list completely, I’ll merely add 5 pounds to the initial lift in that sequence,which,of course, puts an additional nickel on EVERY lift. Advancement will continue until some weak link in the chain becomes a “partial”; there’s never such a thing as a “miss” -max effort is always a BUILDER ! Besides, no lift stays stuck for long, as each in the series tends to boost and strengthen all others!

My training partner, 88 year old (!!) USAWA patriarch Art Montini, has been following his own version (Art’s  well thought out plans feature 28 lifts, not done all at once, but 7  lifts per session, alternating each workout) of this “Round-Up”  for years with considerable success. Art recently won (again!) the IAWA World Championships in Scotland, and is second all time on our national record list with over 400 current marks in various age and weight divisions. His brief, variety enhanced workouts begin at 4 AM, EVERY morning, finish quickly before 5, then has him bounding through the day with unbelievable vigor !

Want the strength of Grimek and the longevity of Montini? Forget all useless, time robbing set/rep systems and “Round-Up” for an instant power surge, vastly increased energy, and all-round versatility!



John McKean

Melvin Wells (left) easily took "best arms" awards at Mr America contests by training just two, strictly performed All-Round lifts. On the right is that years winner,for comparison sake, the famous Jack Delinger.

Our very first USAWA Hall-of-Famer, John Grimek, originally developed his amazingly thick arms from heavy, STRICT presses and equally good form barbell curls. Heck, he had to do strict presses, because in the old days of lifting (John won the U.S. Nationals and made our team for the Olympics , flirting with the world press record several times !) the lifters had to press at the speed of the head ref slowly raising his finger! (our own Art Montini is still mad at the late Bob Hoffman, who turned Art down on a 235 pound press for going just a bit faster than Bob’s finger raise!!).

Yet it will surprise many that during Grimek’s heyday there was another competitor that not only pressed and curled better, but according to serious, expert officials of the time, actually displayed more impressive arm musculature!! His name was Melvin Wells, a physique man who placed second in a few early 1950s Mr. America contests, while always winning “best arms” , “best back”, and “most muscular” awards. It is said that no photo did this man justice, but he achieved the first REAL 19″ arm ,so full, thick, and defined, as to defy description during those pre steroid times. And he got size and strength with a very basic All-Round training scheme.

Mel’s entire arm program consisted only of 3 sets of ten in the strict curl and the press! Yet when I say STRICT, Wells took this to a whole ‘nuther level- our USAWA rules tell us for curling to put a sheet of paper behind our head & butt, backed up to a wall, then curl(without paper slipping) ; for training, Wells didn’t use the paper thing, but very reliable witnesses observed him ALWAYS performing very SLOW, picture perfect barbell curls ,full range, with 150 pounds for his 3 sets of 10 (one writer counted him doing 12 perfect reps with 145 in front of a large crowd at the famous York picnic!). His presses were perhaps even more noteworthy – 3 sets of 10 ,super strict with 120 pounds ! Oh, wait, I forgot to mention, these were one arm presses!! Absolutely no side leaning or back bend either. Hmm, this guy coulda done some major damage to the USAWA record book for curling & pressing!!

Now I write this not only to publish great lifting history and get guys thinking of training more on strict curls and our one arm dumbbell press, but due to recently my wife joining a local health spa, and dragging me along to keep her company. Fortunately, this gym has plenty of olympic weights, and good heavy dumbbells, and they tend to leave ya alone (nobody has yelled at me for using chalk -YET!)! But, man, talk about STRICT lifting – i see NONE of it!! Seems in the old days at public gyms I expected to see high squats by the uninitiated, but nowadays it seems that overhead presses ,incline work, bench presses, pulls, etc, whether with barbells are dumbbells, are ALL performed as QUARTER lifts -many only through mere inches of movement at the top ends! And most trainees are not even using big weights (but I guess they THINK they are!)! Seems there’d certainly be better functional strength and lasting development if modern gym people would adopt our “old fashioned” concept of complete lifts!

Just a thought -maybe those of us in the USAWA ought to visit local commercial gyms and arrange to put on free exhibitions of some of our lifts. I know from talking to a few guys, that many of those training would love to get into meets -it’s just that no one is available to show them proper procedures! It sure would be nice to increase our membership, as well as possibly opening up new venues for contests!

As for me, ole Mel Wells has inspired me onto more strict curling and one arm DB presses (tho “early middle age” allows me only to press right handed!) ; must be working -at 5’3″ tall I recently measured my right arm at 18 inches (hey, you do measure from your shoulder down to the base of yer hand, don’t ya??!!)! Train hard ,but strictly and safely, during 2015 ,guys!

The Weaver Stick

(WEBMASTERS NOTE: The following was written years ago by the famous strength historian David Willoughby.   This is an exert from an article he wrote, titled, Feats of Strength with Levers.  Willoughby’s writings about the Weaver Stick provided the inspiration to adopt the Weaver Stick as an official USAWA lift. The purpose of reprinting this story is to provide the lead-in for my story tomorrow on the Weaver Stick, which for sure will create a Weaver Stick controversy.)

by David Willoughby

Drawing of John Grimek performing the Weaver Stick. This photo is from David Willoughby's book, The Super Athletes.

A direct and practical means of developing and strengthening the abductor muscles of the forearm is simply to swing a sledgehammer, preferably one that is sufficiently small and light to be gripped and swung with one hand. Such a movement is “practical,” because the use of the hammer, in one way or another, is something that has been going on for thousands of years and is still an essential element in many manual occupations. And so long as one is endeavoring to develop muscular strength, why use odd, artificial movements that rarely if ever occur in everyday life, when there are other movements, or exercises, that employ the muscles in a natural, practical manner? Away back in June, 1908, at the Crystal Palace in London, Arthur Lancaster swung a blacksmith’s 8-pound hammer for TWELVE HOURS without stopping. He was said to have “. . . the strongest wrist and forearm of any man alive.”

Many a feat of so-called “wrist strength” – actually, strength of the abductor muscles of the forearm (those that draw the hand toward the thumb side) – has been performed using either a standard, commercial sledgehammer, or “sledge,” or a long wooden bar, like a broom handle, with a light weight attached to the far end of it. Unfortunately, in most of the feats of this kind that have been reported, it has been difficult or impossible for one reason or another, to evaluate the merit of the performance. In some of the reports even the weight of the sledgehammer is left unmentioned; and rarely if ever does the performer state the exact length of the handle and how far his hand was away from the weight when he lifted it. Of course, without these essential items of information, no reliable comparison of the feat can be made with others of its kind.

Some years ago, in order to obviate these difficulties, my friend and co-enthusiast, George Weaver, who was then living in Brooklyn, designed a leverage-lifting bar of specified dimensions, with which he tested the “wrist strength” of many strongmen and weight trainees who were living in that area. In due course this bar became known as a “Weaver Stick.” This was a round stick (such as a mop handle), about nine-tenths of an inch in diameter, cut to the exact length of 41 inches. Here is Weaver’s description of the details of his stick:

Half an inch from one end, cut a notch. EXACTLY 36 inches from the CENTER of this notch, circle the stick with a line. Get two metal right-angles at a hardware store, and screw them into the top and bottom sides of the stick so that the rear edges of the right-angles come exactly to the circled line. The top side of the stick is the side where the notch is cut. lf one angle has once screw hole, and the other angle has two screw holes, the screws will not conflict. You can shave the bottom of the stick a little with a knife at these places, to make a flatter base for the angle. This leaves you with a “handle” just 5½ inches long, which you can tape to a thickness that suits your hand and affords a good grip.

It is important that the following rules be observed. The stick must be lifted approximately parallel to the floor, and not with the weighted end tilted downward. Above all, the stick must be lifted straight up from the chair; there must be no rocking of the stick on the chair before lifting. The lifting hand and arm must remain free of the body. And the heel of the hand must remain on TOP of the stick. If the hand twists under the stick, the lift is no good and cannot be allowed. The stick, when lifted, need not be held for any length of time; but it must be clearly lifted free of the chair (an inch is enough) and held in control (one second is enough).

This lift may also be made by turning the back on the weight and grasping the stick with the little finger toward the weight, instead of with the thumb toward the weight. More weight can be lifted in this manner. When lifting with the back toward the weight, the body may be bent forward as the lift is made.

The accompanying drawing of John Grimek shows the position to be assumed in making a Forward Lift on the Weaver Stick.

Many years before George Weaver thought up his leverage lifting stick, Paul Von Boeckmann, a professional strongman and physical instructor in New York City, by practice became exceptionally capable at feats of “wrist strength,” and used to win bets by raising weights on the end (straw) of an ordinary broom. He, like Weaver, saw that it was essential to establish a fixed distance on the stick between the center of the weight and the front (thumb-side) of the lifting hand. By doing this he eventually made a record by lifting 11½ pounds at a distance of 36 inches in front of his grip. This was equivalent to raising the same amount in a Forward Lift on a regulation Weaver Stick. At the age of 62 (in 1933), von Boeckmann could still raise 9½ pounds in this manner.

Weaver’s tests with his stick revealed a remarkable range in ability among the various persons who lifted on it. In this lift (in the Forward style) the “average” man would seem capable of about 4 pounds. Yet Warren Travis, the one-time world champion in back and harness lifting, who in addition could pick up over 100 pounds in a one-hand pinch lift, could only raise 4¼ pounds on the Weaver Stick. The best lift performed in the Forward style was recorded by recorded by Weaver was one of 10 pounds with the left hand by John Grimek. Later, in York, Pa., Grimek raised 11¾ pounds with his right hand on a stick that was 2” shorter than a regulation Weaver Stick. This would have made his lift, if it had been made on a 42” stick, equivalent to about an even 11 pounds. In any event, Grimek’s lift would appear to be the best on record with the exception of that made long ago by Paul von Boeckmann. But it would be interesting to know how much weight could be raised in this style by such old-time champions of grip and forearm strength as Louis Cyr, Horace Barre, Apollon (Louis Uni), John Marx and Hermann Goerner.

Of more recent weightmen, Mac Batchelor and Douglas Hepburn should have made good showings in this test. However, any guesswork in this direction could be highly unreliable. One would suppose that thick wrists and tight wrist ligaments would be of great assistance in this lift; yet actually some strongmen who possessed these attributes came out very poorly on the Weaver Stick, while others, who had more slender wrists and limber wrist joints, did unexpectedly well. I myself had, and still have, very limber wrist joints (which used to handicap me in heavy one-hand overhead lifts), yet I managed to raise correctly 7 pounds on a standard Weaver Stick, at a time when I was well past my prime.

In view of the fact that John Grimek was capable of raising approximately 11 pounds on a Weaver Stick in the Forward Lift Style, while weighing about 195 pounds and having a wrist of 7¾” and a forearm of 13¾”, it would certainly seem that one of the present-day superheavyweight powerlifters, with correspondingly larger wrists and forearms, should be able to similarly raise at least 12 pounds. However, unless and until such a lift is made, Grimek must be credited with being the contemporary record-holder in this test of forearm strength. Indeed, the nearest lifts to the 10 pounds recorded for Grimek’s LEFT- HAND record of 10 pounds were right-hand lifts of 8 pounds performed by John Davis and Steve Stanko, who were then at the peak of their Olympic lifting efficiency.

In the Backward Lift on a Weaver Stick, a considerably heavier poundage is possible than in the more commonly performed Forward Lift style. In the Backward style the highest possible poundage recorded by Weaver was 12½ pounds. This was accomplished by John Protasel, a heavyweight of New York City. However, in order to be equal in merit to a Forward Lift of 11 pounds, as performed by John Grimek, a Backward Lift (which employs the stronger adductor muscles of the forearm) should be somewhere between 14½ and 15½ pounds.

Quiz of the Week

by Al Myers

Who is this lifter and which USAWA lift is he performing?

It’s time for another Quiz of the Week!!  This one is going to be a little harder than previous ones, and it requires TWO ANSWERS.

Who is this lifter and which USAWA lift is he performing?

You must provide the answers to BOTH questions!  The rules are the same as before – only 1 answer per day, and the person with the first correct answer wins. Answer must be sent to my amyers@usawa.com email address.

Winner will receive a USAWA Patch

We have a WINNER!

Thom Van Vleck correctly identified this lifter as USAWA Hall of Famer, and the man of 1000 lifts –  John Grimek.  He is performing the Kelly Snatch (also known as the Reverse Swing)

Louie Cyr’s Dumbbell

by John Grimek

John Grimek prepares to lift the famous Cyr Dumbbell.

The Cyr dumbell we had was always a bone of contention.  Men from all parts of the country came to see if they might get it overhead.  It weighed “only” 202 pounds empty but it could be loaded with lead shot to over 270.  We never loaded it over 269 ½ pounds, and even then it defied most men who tried it.

One time, Milo Steinborn and four or five other wrestlers stopped by on their way to Baltimore.  Milo had Primo Carnera with him – truly an impressive individual.  When Carnera shook hands you could feel your whole hand being swallowed by something that felt like an octopus.  Because all the men were wrestling that evening none of them cared to train that afternoon, but most of the lifters kept on training.  In the center of the gym was the awkward Cyr dumbell that seemed to be in the way of everyone.  Without thinking I picked it up off the floor and tossed it aside so it wouldn’t be in the way.  I remembered the huge hands Carnera had when he shook my hand, and knew if anyone could handle this weight it was him.  I called out to him to try it. He smiled as if to say, “that’s easy,” and no one would doubt him.  He came over, very casually gripped the stubby handle and made a half-hearted attempt to lift it.   A look of surprise came over his face as the weight slipped from his grip.  I offered him some chalk to absorb the moisture of his hand.  With some disdain, instead, he grabbed the handle and though he lifted it a little you could see that the weight was a great surprise to him.

The Cyr Dumbbell now resides at the York Barbell Museum.

I tried to explain that there was a slight technique to handle this weight.  He just kept looking at me and the awkward hunk of iron mass that was defying him.  I chalked up, especially the heel of my hand, gripped the weight and tossed it a few feet to one side.  Carnera only growled.  However, I feel sure that with his banana-like fingers he could have done things with that Cyr dumbell that no one else could do.  Others felt much the same way about this big man.

I must point out that many men who tried to lift the small clumsy dumbell failed.  This awkward hunk of iron required lots of practice before one learned the little details needed to be successful at lifting it.  No one played around with this weight more than I did; and eventually I was the only one who lifted it off the floor to an overhead position using one and only when it weighed 254 pounds.  Stanko was the first man who picked it up off the floor in one sweeping movement.  Unfortunately, I do not remember how much it was loaded to at the time.  The weight of that dumbell was always being changed.  It always looked formidable and defying. Those who tried it remember that only too well.

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