The history of the strongman


Jim Lewis, owner of, dissects how bodybuilding has progressed through the ages

In the beginning, it was the biblical Samson followed by the Greek legend Hercules. Move forward to 1900 to the father of modern bodybuilding, Eugene Sandow, and his great rivals Arthur Saxon, Louis Cyr and the man with the iron grip, Charles Vansittart. Following on in the 1960’s another great appears, the mighty Paul Anderson and in the 1990’s another master of grip arrives on the scene by the name of John Brookfield.

Eugene Sandow was the beginning of bodybuilding and the father of physical culture. The winner of the Mr Olympia title is presented with a statue known as ‘The Sandow’. Sandow was buried in an unmarked grave in Putney Vale Cemetery, London, until 2002 when Thomas Manly erected a grave stone which is inscribed ‘Eugene Sandow 1867 – 1925, The Father of Bodybuilding’.

Arthur Saxon in my opinion is probably the greatest lifter of all time. His lift ‘the two hands anyhow’ has never been equalled. Saxon pressed over head a 336lbs barbell in his right hand, bent down and picked up a 112lbs kettlebell in his left and pressed that over head. Total weight lifted 448lbs. This world record is over 100 years old.

Louis Cyr is considered by Ben Weider as the strongest man in history. Louis’ famous lifts included a 553lbs weight lifted with his middle finger, and lifting a stone now known as the ‘Louis Cyr Stone’ which weighed 517lbs lifted from the ground to the shoulder. Only one other strongman has moved this stone: in 2008 Derek Poundstone lifted it up to his thigh and has achieved the honour of having his name added to the stone.

Charles Vansittart, the legend of grip strength, could tear tennis balls in half, crush clay pipes in the palm of his hand, bend horse shoes, break hand cuffs, burst champagne bottles between his forearm and bicep, pick up a hundred pound steel block by spanning the block with his thumb and fingers, tear three packs of cards stacked together. Some of these feats have been matched by the modern day Vansittart, John Brookfield. You will see him tear 60 packs of cards in 60 seconds which is one of his numerous world records.

Paul Anderson performed a single arm dumbbell press of 380lbs in the 1960’s. Commentators in the World Strongest Man competition state the giant dumbbell weighing between 210lbs and 253lbs is the heaviest dumbbell lifted – they seem to have forgotten Paul Anderson. Paul also carried out a back lift of 6270lbs, a Guinness World Record.

Jim Lewis is owner of and designer of the JB Hollow Fillable Kettlebell and the JB Gripper. Both products are endorsed by John Brookfield.

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