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Chaos and Pain

  /  tips   /  Baddest Mofos Ever: John Grimek

Baddest Mofos Ever: John Grimek

You ever think to yourself, “Maybe I should plan out my workouts?” or “Maybe I should pay some coach for a cookie-cutter routine that has nothing to do with my own individual strengths and weaknesses in the gym? That shit might work better… after all, that’s what everyone else does.”
This picture pretty much sums up John Grimek. And I retouched it in Paint to ditch the watermarks because PS can eat my ass.
Well, here’s a newsflash- everyone else sucks, and most of the programs you read about rigidly adhered to by the greats are likely fabrications or a basic summary of their training methods. I know, you might think you know someone who doesn’t suck and rigidly adheres to a set routine. Consider this for a second, though: are they alive right now? If so, they likely suck. This includes me, because I’m aware that I’m alive and have not yet:
  • attained the strength or muscularity of people of bygone eras, like the Viking at Stamford Bridge, who single-handedly fought off an entire army of Saxons for an hour until being stabbed in the cock by a treacherous Englishman.
  • banged my way through multi-thousands-broad harems, like Khosrau II had a harem of 3000 wives, in addition to 12,000 assorted broads.
  • slain any dragons like Daniel, who killed off the last dinosaur by poisoning it in a temple of Marduk. According to other sources, it might have been Alexander the Greak who killed it. Either way, it’s brutal they went near a dinosaur and seriously messed up that they killed it.
  • carried an 1,100 lb cannon off a field of battle single-handedly like Peter Francisco.
  • or done any of the badass shit John C. Grimek did just because he was awake.

In short, a plan to become a badass is likely a plan designed to fail, because brass balls and steadfast will make winners, not spreadsheets.

Grimek using a traditional Bavarian stone lifting machine, which is pretty goddamned cool.

John Grimek’s Vital Statistics

  • Height: 5’8½”
  • Weight: 221 lbs. (giving him the biggest height to weight ratio of the entirety of the Mr. America contest, even well into the steroid era)
  • Arms: 19+”
  • Olympic Press (competition): 285lbs, straight backed, at 183
  • Olympic Press (exhibition): 364lbs, with a layback, at 221
  • Bench Press (training): 480lbs
  • Squat (training, but these were asshole scraping the floor style): 700+lbs in his prime; 695 at 70 years of age
  • Deadlift (training): 600lbs
A goddamned who’s who of old school badassery- Milo Steinborn (the Steinborn Squat guy), John Terpak, Mr America Steve Stanko. 6’6″, 265 lb Primo Carnera (the Bob Sapp of that era), Olympic weightlifting phenom Stan Stanczyk and John Grimek.
In other words, he was jacked as hell and stronger than King Kong on steroids, pre-gear. Testosterone wasn’t even synthesized until 1937, and steroids weren’t even introduced in the Eastern bloc until the 40’s, so it’s fairly certain Grimek was drug free for most, if not all, of his career. His career included the following highlights:
  • 1939 York Perfect Man
  • 1940 Mr. America
  • 1941 Mr. America
  • 1946 Most Muscular Man In America
  • 1948 Mr. Universe Short & Overall
  • 1949 Mr. USA
Grimek, badass that he was, rocked a  sleeveless shirt with slacks, because his arms were too pretty to cover.
In addition to that, Grimek regularly outlifted all of the members of the Olympic weightlifting team and represented the US at the 1936 Olympics. His utter resistance to training the quick lifts hamstrung him, though, and his brute strength failed to give him enough poundage to put him higher in the total. Despite that, Grimek managed to rep American muscle hard for the Krauts on the world stage, and let them know that if we lost the coming war, we’d at least look damn good doing it. And Bob Hoffman, while pissed Grimek didn’t place better, had to give it to Grimek:
“[His total] is a lot of weight for any man, especially one who drives a yellow roadster around and rarely trains [the Olympic lifts]. . . . the man’s just too strong for words. He handles poundages over 300 easier than most lifters handle a hundred pounds less.”  
  Basically, this man was the unadulterated shit. How’d he get there? Training way too  much, by any modern natty bro’s standard. Unlike the retarded three day a week bullshit you will forever seen bandied about as his program (which is frankly an affront to the man’s memory), Grimek’s training was never the same from day to day, week to week, or year to year.
Grimek rocking a heavy ass harness lift.

John Grimek’s Training Outlined

  • he typically trained five days a week, but occasionally trained six.
  • a normal day’s workout was typically not more than two hours, but occasionally he’d train for four to five hours.
  • he trained full body in each workout, because split systems didn’t exist yet.
  • he rarely did the same exercises two days in a row, which drove Bob Hoffman absolutely nuts.
  • he loved odd lifts, and would train everything from the Bavarian stone lift to the bent press (for which he used 400 the first time he attempted it).
  • his squat routines typically involved a hundred reps or more.

That’s the thing. If I felt I needed additional repetitions or additional exercises, I did it. But if I felt, “Oh, the hell with it! I’ve had enough of that,” I would quit! See, there was no sense of a routine that was stringent in any way, something that I felt I had to do. The hell with it! I did what I wanted. If I started an exercise, and I found that I didn’t like it or need it that day, I just bypassed it” (Gentle).

In his later years, Grimek developed a full blown obsession with the wrist roller.
When no one felt like lifting, they just made shit up like they were your average noob New Year’s Eve Resolution goof at your local big box gym.
  • They invented a weird dumbbell version of the leg extension purely out of boredom. “There were times when the lifters were not in a lifting mood, so we thought up odd ways of training so we could still get a good workout. One such way was to sit on a low bench, feet outstretched, and lift up a dumbbell overhead that had been sitting between the legs. Sounds easy but it wasn’t” (Grimek).
  • Brad Castleberry wasn’t the first sonofabitch to stack dumbbells. “My specialty was lifting two dumbbells with one hand. I gripped the handle of one dumbbell while holding the other dumbbell with the heel of my hand as it laid across the handle of the dumbbell I gripped. To do this you should have a fairly thick palm, otherwise you just cannot hold it securely. I must add that very few lifters were eager to try this stunt with the heavy dumbbells. Even light weights were tricky for them. Eventually, however, I managed a 90-pound dumbbell with an 85-pound dumbbell lying across and held by the thickness of my palm” (Ibid).
  • The did straight up stupid shit– the type of shit that’d get you kicked out of these bitch-ass “hardcore” gyms that have proliferated in spite of the fact that the people lifting there are yuppie pussies and weak as goddamned kittens.
    • Shit like “dropping weights from an overhead position into the crook of my arms, which many old-timers used in their stage exhibitions. But if you caught it too far out on the forearms, it just straightened your arms and crashed to the floor. That happened to me at an exhibition. I jerked 305 pounds overhead and without much thought made an effort to catch it into my arms. Instead it landed slightly forward on my forearms, came down close on my thighs and chaffed the skin down to the knees. I was bleeding. It was embarrassing” (Grimek).
    • “Another stunt was to drop a weight from overhead onto the trapezius muscles behind the neck. If one’s timing is good, there’s no problem, but otherwise it can be a big problem. I was practicing this stunt with 245 pounds, lifting it overhead then dropping it onto the back to balance it. Somehow while explaining it to one of the visitors I bent forward a bit too much and the weight of the barbell sent me crashing down to the platform with such speed I really didn’t know what happened” (Grimek).
“Ha ha ha. You want me out of your gym? Well, I guess you better call a lot of cops, because you cunts sure as hell aren’t moving me anywhere. Why don’t you go get a $150 percussion massage while you fondle that bar you lock up every night and let real lifters do their thing, huh champ?”
In other words, he was a bad mofo who knew nothing of overtraining- he just trained his goddamned ass off, and was a world champion as a result. Oh, well he must have programmed, right? WRONG:
“Instead of always taking an exercise and repeating it in sets four, five, six times, I often preferred, if I was working the arms, for example, to do five, six or seven exercises that were different. I felt that there were some deep-seated muscles that needed an extra jolt. And the only way to get that jolt was to either exercise it from another angle and see if you could make it function as fully as the other part of that muscle was working. And that’s what I always tried to do. I did a lot of exercises for the same part of the body. And it worked! At least it felt like it was working. That’s why, when people ask me how I trained, I can’t think back right now and say, “Oh, yeah, that was the one exercise I did which promoted everything.” No, I cannot say that, because I did a variety of movements even for the same part of the body. And I would also do what I felt like doing on that day” (Gentle).
Though we have no idea what Grimek’s regular routines might have looked like, we do know that the one set per exercise routine for arms he mentioned above was. After every workout, Grimek did one set of each of these to failure in the range listed.
  • Two Hands Curl 8-10 reps
  • Two Hands Press 8-10
  • Two Hands DB Lateral Raise 10-12
  • Two Hands Alternate DB Curl 8-10
  • Two Hands Alternate DB Press 8-10
  • Two Hands Barbell Row 8-10
  • Alternate DB Forward Raise 10-12
  • Barbell Wrist Curl 10-12
  • One Arm Concentration Curl 6-8
  • Incline Bench Barbell Curl 6-8
  • One Arm Press 6-8
  • Wrist Roller – 3 times each way.
The point of lifting when Grimek was involved was to be jacked and compete with your friends. Gym lifts counted then, just as they do now- the difference then was that there were no Redditors and “lifting gurus” calling bullshit on gym lifts.
“We had a large iron block around the gym in those days and lifting it with a pinch grip was quite a feat. Very few men in the gym could handle it. It was about a foot high, six-inches wide with one end slightly over three-inches thick and with the other side slightly less; gripping it on the tapering end was rough. “Da Greep” eventually could lift it and he began challenging anyone who was interested. Steve Stanko and I got so we could clean it from the floor to the shoulder. That stopped “Da Greep.” Later we even succeeded in curling it. One might ask, what’s so great about curling a 55-pound weight? Yes, a 53-pound dumbell cannot be considered any sort of feat, but curling a tapering iron block of that weight is quite another thing. Only those who have tried it know there is no comparison; and to my knowledge no one else who tried it ever succeeded. We only succeeded because we persisted in training to accomplish this feat. And Stanko was then the best pinch-gripping lifter in the gym. He would grasp a large 55-pound Olympic plate by the hub and lift it with as much as 35 more pounds on top of it” (Grimek).  
Grimek at 68.
The goddamned kicker? What he was squatting at the age of 70:
“I’ve done many possible stupid and strange things. One of which was squatting very heavy when I was between 74 and 75 (years of age) but I NEVER strained or fought going down, deep and struggling to raise up, never. In later years, say after the 30s (his age) when I squatted, I always did HIGH reps, and the last time was in my late 70s, I did squats, just simply because I wanted to do some training, but not the usual workout. One professional football player (Philadelphia Eagles) was visiting the gym and no one else wanted to train. He came up to see the guys train, but that I was the only one, none of the others wanted to do anything, but I needed a light workout, so I squatted. I began with 225 lb. and did about 28 consecutive reps. Then I added 90 lb more and did another 18 to 20 reps and continued in that fashion, adding weight, while cutting the reps and always working up to where I would do only one to three reps with 645 lb usually, but occasionally working up to 695 lb [when he was over 70 years of age, remember] and by then I already completed 75 to 80 reps. But as mentioned, I never struggled, for some reason I felt that was straining, avoiding that because I felt it did nothing for except cause pain. The visitor looked at me when I was finished doing 20 reps with the second set of 315 lb and asked, ‘I thought you weren’t in the mood to train hard?’ I said I wasn’t, but what the heck, squats are easy. He looked at me and said, ‘I squat too, but on my best days I could never do that.'”  
John Grimek walked around at 195, not fat about it, at 80. In this pic he’s somewhere between 70 and 80, and clearly still had upper pecs big enough to warrant an unbuttoned shirt. At 80 he was still training an hour or two every other day, still squatting, and went out dancing late night with his wife Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights until 1AM.  And for those of you who eat like a goddamned bird- he was eating three big chicken breasts every day at lunch. Don’t skimp on the foot because you’re afraid of getting fat. Fear profits man nothing.
Perhaps at this point it is just best if we all keep our squat numbers to ourselves, eh?

We are all a pack of pussies. Get to squatting, motherfucker.

Sources: Gentle, David. John Grimek Talking About Squats. Reprinted from original. Web. 19 Jun 2019. Grimek, John C. Combination work for mighty arms.  Reprinted from Dec 1960 Strength and Health.  The Tight Tan Slacks of Dezso ban.  6 Aug 2017.  Web.  21 Jun 2019. Grimek, John C.  Unforgettable moments.  The Tight Tan Slacks of Dezso Ban.  7 Dec 2008.  Web.  21 Jun 2019. Murray, Jim.  John Carroll Grimek: the nonpareil.  Iron Game History.  Apr 1994, 3(3): 10-13.


  • Raymond Burton

    August 9, 2019

    That was wicked. Love your style of writing and always enjoy being reminded of how badass the oldschool guys were…. and that we are becoming a bunch of mush cookies today.

  • Dave

    June 30, 2019

    Fucking loved that article! Routine, smoutine – fuck that shit. I love squatting too – just hearing made me get up off my ass and go squat! Love your stuff, dude – very well done and entertaining.


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