Have you ever felt like just digging a hole in your backyard, then building a squat stand over it and loading a thousand pounds on it, then standing in the hole and doing partials with it? Me neither. Paul Anderson, however, thought about a lot of crazy crap like that. Paul Anderson, if you don’t know already, was an American Olympic weightlifter, proto-powerlifter, and strongman who was well known for his weird-ass training style and his penchant for shattering world records.
Paul lost his first amateur fight from basically being Butterbean- he knocked his opponent down three times but was wheezing by the third round and asked the ref to stop the fight, so he didn’t die. His pro loss came from a disqualification when he just picked up his opponent and body slammed him (Silver).
- Standard clean and press: 402.5 lbs. (confirmed)
- Snatch: 347 lbs. (confirmed)
- Clean and Press: 445 lbs. (confirmed); 415×3 (confirmed); 424×2 (confirmed).
- One arm overhead push press (with Olympic barbell): 250 lbs. (confirmed); 300 lbs. x 8-10 with right and 5-7 with left hand (alleged)
- Squat: 920 lbs. (confirmed); 1,202 lbs. (alleged); 800 – 900 x 10 reps (depending on the source)
- Silver Dollar Squat: 1,160 lbs. (alleged- the owner said it weighed 1000 lbs. and was $15k in coins, and the weights here hanging off the bar to improve the leverage)
- Bench Press (Raw): 450 x 3 (confirmed); 627 lb. (alleged)
- Deadlift: 750 lbs. (confirmed); 820 lbs. (alleged)
- Backlift: 6270 lbs. (alleged and apparently entirely unwitnessed)
- Hip Lift: 4100 lbs.
- Continental and Jerk: 460 lbs. (alleged)
- Two Hand Overhead Press: 400 lbs. x 7 (alleged)
- Push Press: 500 lbs. (confirmed); 545 lbs. (alleged)
As loudmouth internet warriors are wont to be incredulous about the poundages with which Anderson is credited, I posted both the lifts that have been confirmed in documentation or competition and the ones he’s alleged to have lifted. Though many of his lifts have been verified by some of the greatest lifters in history, including Bruce Wilhelm, Bob Peoples, and Pat Casey, and all of them would slap you out of your shoes if they witnessed you trash talking Anderson’s epic lifts, Anderson’s biography was apparently well full of crap and people are prone to making outrageous claims about Anderson’s strength (Neece). Tommy Kono, however, one of the greatest American Olympic weightlifters, said of people’s doubts about Anderson’s lifts (before the claims started to get outrageous):
“ANYONE WHO NEVER SAW PAUL LIFT SHOULD RESERVE JUDGEMENT BECAUSE HIS STRENGTH LEVELS HAD TO BE SEEN TO BE BELIEVED- IT WASN’T JUST THE SIZE OF THE WEIGHTS PAUL HANDLED, BUT THE EASE WITH WHICH HE HANDLED THEM WAS SO STAGGERING. PEOPLE HAVE TO RECOGNIZE THAT MANY OF PAUL’S LIFTS WERE DONE UNDER IMPROMPTU CONDITIONS– SUCH AS PAUL ACCOMMODATING PEOPLE BY LIFTING WHATEVER WAS AT HAND AT THE MOMENT. THIS CONTRIBUTES TO THE DISCREPANCIES IN REPORTED WEIGHTS, ETC., BUT SHOULD NOT DIMINISH THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE LIFTS” (WILHELM 12).
Additionally, Paul was reported by Tommy Kono to have done a set of ten full squats, with no warmup, with 700 lbs., “so rapidly that it was as if free squats were performed” (PP 16) and shattered the world record in the strict press lifting IN THE RAIN, pressing 402 lbs. in strict competition fashion over his head- 72 lbs. more than the previous record. Ten years later, he broke the record again with 420. You can see why people felt comfortable making outrageous claims about Anderson’s lifts, then, because the real weights were so phenomenal, they were easy to embellish.
Before we get into his training methods, it would only seem appropriate to outline the man himself, as although he’s certainly every bit the strength sports badass who generally receives treatment on Chaos and Pain, he is hardly the psychotic, misanthropic, purveyor of destruction of the other Baddest Mofos are. Paul Anderson was none of those things- instead, he was a deeply religious Southern Baptist big softie who some might say squandered all his talent performing exhibitions rather than competing to raise a youth home for disadvantaged kids. Nowhere will you find stories of Paul Anderson, hard drinking, coke snorting, bulldozer of a man who once threw a boulder through the window of a McDonalds or smashed his face open by headbutting a pay phone off a wall or holding people hostage for a ham sandwich. Instead, Paul Anderson was what can only be described as a nice guy.
Born to standard, intact, Southern American family, Anderson was huge even as a youth. According to Earl Liederman, “when he was 12 years of age, he weighed 160; at 15 he tipped the scales at 200; at 16 he was around 210; at 17 his weight went to about 230; at 18 he weighed 250; and at 19, 270 pounds,” and by the time he was 20 he was 295 (Liederman). According to Clarence Bass, Anderson’s noob gains were beyond retarded, but as everything about Anderson seems larger than life, it should come as no surprise. “In less than a year of training, Paul transformed himself from “just another small-town Southern boy” into a 275-pounder with a 21 l/2″ neck, 20″ arm, 33″ thigh and 19″ calf. In later years, his arms and neck grew to 25″ and his thighs to 36″” (Bass).
No real record exists of the sizes of his parents, but with dimensions like those you’d expect to hear a story that Gojira was a female and King Kong knocked her up, only to produce Anderson. Well, save for his height, but what he lacked in height, he made up for in girth. Paul Anderson was a mere 5’9″ and weighed around 350 pounds at the peak of his strength career, though he at one point ballooned to 400 and snagged his Olympic gold weighing 303. Though he was famous for his fast sprint starts and concomitant explosive strength, he was apparently hideously out of shape and usually wheezing to catch his breath.
No matter his failings as an endurance athlete and the fact that Anderson was fatter than Chris Farley after a weekend locked inside an all you can eat buffet- his resultant strength has made him a legend in strength sports, a successful pro boxer, an Olympic gold medalist, an epic powerlifter, and the king of the odd lifts in the 20th Century. Anderson’s career was as all over the place as his bona fides would indicate. He had a show for some time in Las Vegas, in which he squatted a barbell weighing over 1,000 lbs. loaded with $10,000 in silver dollars. Later, he appeared on the Ed Sullivan show, and other late-night shows, to raise money for his youth home. Given what is continuing indifference to awesome feats of strength in the fat-ensconced brains of the American public, Anderson soon turned to professional wrestling and boxing to earn money. Additionally, he continued to tour the country performing exhibitions wherein he would back lift while playing wind instrument to raise money for his youth home. He did this so often, in fact, that “[Bob] Hoffman would later claim, with a straight face, at a USOC eligibility hearing that [Anderson] was a musician, not a professional weightlifter” (Archibald).
Anderson could have cited his unique training methods as the key to his success, but being an evangelical Christian, he gave all the credit to someone else. It’s all well and good if you’re religious, but if you’re squatting upwards of 900 lbs., chances are it was a combination of long, brutal workouts, a little genetic luck, and a lot of eating, since the Catholic Church doesn’t seem to be fielding most of the gold medalists in the Olympic Weightlifting and Jesus wasn’t well known for being a strongman. Weirdly, however, Anderson rarely chose to compete, even though he was nearly criminally strong and was occasionally even at competitions performing exhibitions. This is probably why so many people are apt to call bullcrap on his lifts. For instance:
“IN 1958, IN MADISON SQUARE GARDEN, HE GAVE AN EXHIBITION AFTER A USA-USSR COMPETITION IN WHICH THE U.S. TEAM WAS DEFEATED. HOPING TO SOOTHE THE CROWD, HE TOOK THE SOVIET HEAVYWEIGHT’S WINNING CLEAN AND JERK OF 424 LBS. AND CLEANED AND PRESSED IT FOR TWO REPS. A FEW YEARS LATER, IN 1962, WHEN YURI VLASOV BROKE HIS AMATEUR RECORD WITH A PRESS OF 415 LBS., ANDERSON ANSWERED BY PRESSING 415 LBS. FOR THREE REPS IN AN EXHIBITION IN DALTON, GEORGIA” (NEECE).
Although he preferred exhibitions to competitions and some of his lifts are somewhat disputed, his methods for getting crazy strong still bear investigation. I’ve already alluded to, and shown a picture of, one of his favorite training methods- squatting in a hole. As time progressed, he would add dirt to the hole, increasing his range of motion, and he eventually got to the point where he could allegedly squat 1,200 (though bear in mind he allegedly squatted 315 for ten reps the first time he got under a bar or 400 for a double, depending on the source [Wilhelm, Liederman]). As you can see above, he had a multitude of ways to do partial squats and gradually add weight, and it seems he included the use of proto-crazybells in his partials as well (this rig apparently weighed about 1800 lbs.). The key to these partials was to start at the bottom, rather than the top, so eliminate the bounce out of the hole and increase the loads your body is capable of handling.
Another wacky training method Anderson used was to set up two golf holes on his farm about 300 yards apart. He’d whack the ball down to the one hole, where he’d set up an outdoor rack with a bar loaded to 400. He’d do 3-5 reps in the overhead press with it, then whack the ball back to the other hole, where he’d set up a squat rack loaded to 800. He’d bang out 3-5 reps with that weight, then repeat, all afternoon. Yeah, that sounds awesome to me as well, save for the golfing. I’d rather do a set and get a bleach enema, then repeat. I truly despise golf. Anderson’s typical workouts (according to Marty Gallagher in Purposeful Primitive) were 6 days a week and took 3-4 hours to complete.
Bob Whelan gave another account of an Anderson Program- one that was specialized for Olympic Weightlifting. Though many oly lifters would scoff at this routine, it was developed by a man who had no coaching in the sport, yet who easily took the gold at the Olympics and won the world championships in Olympic Weightlifting. As such, you may want to bust out your pens and take some notes on the following routine.
Press Behind Neck– High reps to pump up the shoulder area.
Snatch– Singles, working up from 225 to 300 pounds.
Squat Clean– Singles up to 400 pounds.
Deadlift– 690 pounds, 2×3.
High pulls (to waist)- 500 pounds, 4×3.
According to Whelan, Anderson was a big fan of using straps and metal hooks to aid his grip. For the Oly stuff, it seems, he used straps, whereas with deadlifts, he used hooks (and reportedly worked up to a grand with a double overhand grip). His rest periods explain part of the reason he trained all day, too- he rested 10 to 15 minutes between sets and would sometimes take an hour break between exercises.
Anderson was also a big fan of day-long workouts, wherein he would rest up to 30 mins in between sets, sipping milk constantly. He’d apparently drink a gallon or more of milk during his workout. Lest you think his workouts were limited to the above lifts, though, think again- Anderson was an all-round lifter who had a massive array of lifts he’d work into his daily lifts, and has been weak at nothing as a result. For instance, there are pics of Paul training neck and grip incredibly heavy all the internet, as well as walking on is hands in the pushup position using a rolling cart he designed for the purpose, and even doing upside down triceps extensions inside a squat cage. He left no stone unturned and literally left no weight uplifted when he trained- there was no exercise too silly, or too beneath him, or too “worthless” for him to do, and he’d have even incorporated Bosu balls into his training if they’d existed.
To fuel his workouts, Anderson claimed that the key was protein. Having been plagued by health problems as a kid stemming from Blight’s Disease, which affects kidney function, Anderson was restricted to a vegetarian/fruitarian diet until the poor, malnourished little dude plied his mom with enough tears to get her to feed him meat. From then on, the man ate meat like it was going out of fashion, using what little spending money he had as a kid not on candy, like his friends, but on canned fish. Later, he experimented with protein drinks made of sweet milk and raw eggs, and eventually adding ingredients until his ultimate formula contained “ice cream and milk shakes with… soybean meal, raw eggs, [and] milk” (Anderson). On top of that, Anderson consumed any type of meat put in front of him, cooked rare, and not surprising to any of us after the Stew-Roids series, a very thick soup:
“THIS SOUP WAS USUALLY MADE OF SOME CANNED VARIETY IN WHICH SHE ADDED A LIQUID THAT SHE SQUEEZED WITH A HAND PRESS FROM GROUND BEEF. SHE WOULD PUT THE BEEF ON THE STOVE IN A LARGE PAN AND ADD SOME WATER. AS THIS STARTED TO GET HOT SHE WOULD ALLOW IT TO SIMMER FOR ABOUT A MINUTE, ACTUALLY JUST LONG ENOUGH FOR IT TO GET HOT, AND THEN POUR IT THROUGH A LEMON-SQUEEZING PRESS, THAT WOULD EXTRACT ALL OF THE FLUID. SHE WOULD POUR THIS FLUID INTO THE SOUP AND SERVE IT TO ME IN THAT MANNER. THINKING OF THIS, I DECIDED I WOULD ADD THIS TYPE OF STRENGTH-BUILDER TO MY THEN FORTIFIED PROTEIN DIET, AND EVERY MORNING FOR BREAKFAST THIS IS WHAT I WOULD HAVE TO START MY STRENUOUS DAY” (ANDERSON).
“OCCASIONALLY I WOULD DRINK SOFT DRINKS DURING MY TRAINING AND NOTICED WHEN I DID THIS I COULD PERFORM MUCH BETTER, AND MY DIGESTIVE CYCLE WOULD WORK MUCH FASTER. THIS PROVED TO ME THAT I NEEDED A GREAT DEAL MORE SUGAR. IT SEEMED THAT THE MORE PROTEIN I TOOK, THE MORE SUGAR I NEEDED TO HELP DIGEST THE PROTEIN, AND ALSO GIVE ME QUICK ENERGY. I TURNED TO THE GREATEST SUGAR SUPPLY I COULD FIND, WHICH WAS HONEY. I SOON FOUND THAT MUCH OF THE HONEY THAT COULD BE BOUGHT IN GROCERY STORES DID NOT DO ME AS MUCH GOOD AS HONEY DIRECT FROM THE BEEHIVE, BOUGHT FROM A FARMER. IT WAS MY PERSONAL BELIEF THAT MUCH OF THE HONEY THAT WAS ON THE MARKET HAD BEEN HEATED IN A PASTEURIZING PROCESS AND HAD LOST SOME OF ITS QUICK DIGESTING QUALITIES.SOME DAYS I WOULD CONSUME EVEN A HALF PINT OF HONEY, WHEN I WAS WORKING OUT STRENUOUSLY AND CARRYING ON MY TREMENDOUS TRAVELING SCHEDULE” (ANDERSON).
That might, and SHOULD, seem retarded to you, but I have witnessed with my own two eyeballs some old head at a meet drink three bottles of honey in a single day. I waited for the man to go into diabetic coma and had “9-1-1” dialed into my phone with my finger on the send button, but wheeze as he might, the dude failed to die in front of me. As he’d squatted in a suit and bench shirt, I was somewhat disappointed, but at least now I know why he did what he did.
So, there you have it. Another unconventional lifter in a world of bland, copycat bullcrap. Guess who succeeds. It’s not the douche doing body part workouts at your local Gold’s- it’s the guys who do weird stuff, and A LOT OF IT, who make a name for themselves. Now, go do some reverse grip cleans and when some headband-rocking, heroin-chic, weak-as-you-little-sister-if-she-had-AIDS, personal trainer tells you you’re doing cleans wrong, punch him in the mouth, roast him over an open fire, and invite anyone you know with a descended testicle to a barbecue… at least if you think you can get any meat off his sorry ass.
Interesting short bit from a documentary on Paul Anderson about his training methods. You’ll want to stab your eardrums with a screwdriver after listening to the mustachioed hillbilly jabber at you about how Paul Anderson trained barefoot, but it’s interesting, nonetheless.
By the way, if you want an interesting read that disputes the validity of Paul Anderson’s back lift numbers, go here; for his hip lift, go here; and in regards to the safe he used for the back lift, go here.
Archibald, Dresdin. Doug Hepburn and Paul Anderson: comparison and contrast. Lift Up. 2005. Web. 6 Jul 2014. http://www.chidlovski.net/liftup/a_anderson_n_hepburn.asp
Bass, Clarence. Paul Anderson, king Of the squat. Ripped. Web. 6 Jul 2014. http://www.cbass.com/ANDERSON.HTM
Gallagher, Marty. The Purposeful Primitive. St. Paul: Dragon Door Publications, 2008. pp. 9-17.
Kiiha, Osmo. Paul Anderson. Bob Whelan. Web. 4 Jul 2014. http://www.bobwhelan.com/history/panderson.html
Liederman, Earle. 20-Year old Paul Anderson. The Tight Tan Slacks of Dezso Ban. 30 Jul 2011. Web. 4 Jul 2014. http://ditillo2.blogspot.com/2011/07/20-year-old-paul-anderson-earle.html
Neece, Steve. Paul Anderson’s Claims. The Tight Tan Slacks of Dezso Ban. 3 Sep 2009. Web. 4 Jul 2014. http://ditillo2.blogspot.com/2009/09/paul-andersons-claims-steeve-neece.html
A Paul Anderson Power Training Routine. The Tight Tan Slacks of Dezso Ban. 3 Sep 2009. Web. 4 Jul 2014. http://ditillo2.blogspot.com/2008/02/paul-anderson-power-training-routine.html
Paul Anderson (weightlifter). Wikipedia. Web. 4 Jul 2014. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Anderson_(weightlifter)
Silver, Mike. Boxers 2, Strongmen 0. Boxing. 18 Apr 2013. Web. 4 Jul 2014. http://www.boxing.com/boxers_2_strongmen_0.html
Wilhelm, Bruce. Paul Anderson: Force of Nature. Milo. 1193 Apr;1(1):10-14.
Willoughby, David. The Super-Athletes. NY: AS Barnes and Company, 1970. pp 112-114.