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The Strongest Man from the Pre-Steroid Era?


Who do you think is the strongest ever man from the pre-steroid era?

Nowadays, it's in some cases hard to tell who is natural and who is not and I am not here to judge, but I'd like to know how much is PROVEN to be achievable without juice.

Thank you.


Who are the contestants even? I've seen pictures of old time "strongmen" and none of them look very impressive. I think innovations in nutrition like protein powders have had as big or bigger of an impact than steroids. I believe there are many, many natural lifters today who could put a lot of the "strongest men" from 100 years ago to shame.


arthur saxon, john gimek, list is pretty long. the chaos and pain blog has a few articles on them


Who cares? Its not like they magically make people strong. Look at Paul Anderson, at least in his early days.


Louis Cyr.


They pretty much DO make people magically stronger. There is a story how some Soviet weightlifting team broke all their gym records in a flash with a 50 mg of orals a day. This was in the 50's or 60's.


I vote for Sandow. Holy crap the dude was strong! He could do 1 finger pull ups with any digit including either pinky or either thumb! There is a chance Cyr had him on RAW POWER but Sandow was the full package hands down!


I remember reading a book called "Strong, Stronger, Strongest" by Dale Harder that lists at least 100 strength athletes from various times and gives their stats and some brief biographical background. There are quite a few listed from the early 1900s and even earlier. He is a very sober judge of strength feats and reminds the reader that stories tend to become exaggerated over time.

I borrowed the book about a year ago but do remember a few old school guys.

John Davis (an American Olympic lifter born in the 1940s) was able to clean and Press Apollon's wheels (366-lbs in weight and a very fat bar handle). I think he as not a particularly huge guy either, maybe low 200s BWT
Hermann Gorner (German Strongman)- performed a one-handed deadlift of 727-lbs in 1920
Louis Cyr is another good choice, as is Paul Anderson.

One entry that intrigued me was the story of Mills Darden from North Carolina who lived 1798-1857. He was believed to suffer from Acromegaly (a pituitary disorder) and grew to a height of 7'6" He worked as a farmer until his mid-fifties. He was notable for being very heavy in addition to his height and would not permit himself to be weighed but after his death was weighed on an industrial scale as 1004-lbs. The author notes the strength of someone's legs just to walk around at that size and lead an active life farming.

No way to know for sure of course, but it made me wonder if he'd been born 100 years later he might have performed some impressive feats of strength.


You might have looked at old time strong-men and thought that they looked unimpressive but the fact is that modern day lifters look stronger than they are. There was a time when a man was as strong as he looked. endless hypertrophy doesn't necessarily mean huge gains in strength, but strengthening the tendons and ligaments usually does.

oldtime strong-men engaged in physical feats that modern day muscle men can usually only dream of:

"Herman Goerner deadlifted 727 with ONE HAND"
"Louis Cyr could shoulder a 400 pound wooden barrel with ONE ARM"
"Thomas Inch had an "unliftable" dumbbell - one that had a very narrow but 2 1/2 inch think handle and weighed 172pounds"
"Arthur Saxon could bent press 370pounds" (also lift a 300pound bag of flour over-head)
Hackenschmidt could 1 arm snatch 197pounds.
"Milo Steinborn could place a 550 pound barbell on his shoulders, unassisted, squat 5 times, and return the bar unassisted"

John Y Smith was said to have hands/fore-arms that resembled IRONCLAWS from years of thick bar deadlifting and he has many impressive feats of strength. (winning strongman competitions into his 60s)

most examples from Dinosaur Training by Brooks Kubik

Milo picked up an 800pound elephant at 57 and was doing 400pound squats when he was 70.

The idea that these strong-man would have lifted more on "better nutrition" "modern programs" or even steroids is questionable. These men lifted in the exact way that creates massive, world r re-knowned strength. lifting heavy awkard objects like barrels, sandbags, anvils using thick-bars in their upper-body work.

These people just trained harder, in better ways, and their strength speaks for itself.

Or my personal favorite, SLIM THE HAMMER MAN. You could work your muscles until you were the largest man on earth, take as many steroids as you want. When you try to lever 2 28pound hammers your wrists will shatter and break like they are made of glass. Certain movements you want to have super strong tendons, bones and ligaments and all the muscle in the world might isn't going to help that much. The guy is still levering hammers well into old age, that would crush lesser men. (which is pretty much all men)

Not many modern muscle athletes would think that Slim in his prime looked anything but "slim" but the strength in his hands and wrists would be enough to roll those people into a mangled ball.

So where are these "natural lifters" of today who can bent press 370pounds? shoulder a 400pound barrel with 1 arm? Where is any lifter natural or NOT of TODAY that can do that? Where is the athlete that can put those lifts to "SHAME" aha. I'd love to see putting a 400pound 1 arm barrel lift "to shame". What are they, 1 arm lifting an elephant? aha.

Assuming that modern strongmen/lifters are stronger because they are "bigger" is a large assumption to make. Looking at some of the old time strongman records, it's a false one to make as well.

(The mighty atom looked weaker than the avg man of today for example but he'd have crushed the avg man. looks don't mean that much.)




Paul Anderson and Doug Hepburn are two pretty good candidates.


[quote]bro1989 wrote:
Who do you think is the strongest ever man from the pre-steroid era?

When do you consider the steroid era began?


I generally would just laugh at this thread but....

You do realize people did steroids before the Steroid Era right?... Back in a time when a person did whatever he could to get stronger and it wasn't frowned upon.

Oh how many people have a 500lb squat until you see the video?

There were and will always be some strong guys, but trying to verify who was strong back in the day is nearly useless


Those decades were also rife with fraud too. Many of the feats lacked external confirmation and some of the implements were rumored to be specifically designed to be lighter than they appeared.

This was during the time period of roving exhibitions, where one upmanship was the name of the game - and competitors would stop at nothing to have the greatest attraction. The folly of the Cardiff Giant should be enough for one to be cautious of many of the claims made during this era.


agreed many of the old-time strongmen may have done this. However Saxon's (and many others) feats of strength were well documented.

It's just not hard to believe that people who trained the way they did would build the strength they did. modern people who include aspects of those training regimes become freakishly strong. a whole generation of strongmen lifting awkward barrels, thick-grip bars, anvils. Yeah some of them will come out beyond freakishly strong. (not saying they all trained the same, or they weren't genetically gifted).

Though some modern athletes would put them to shame anyway. I doubt any of them were holding farmers walks as heavy as some TNation members.


goerner had an amazing grip . louis cyr was great too 4330 pounds backlift in boston . the 6200 pounds backlift of paul anderson is controversial .. . i would add thomas thopham the british strongman from th 18 th century . who was said to be amazingly strong . for a 200 pound man . . could break pewter plates with hands and harness lift 1896 pounds ...


Well samson of the bible


Always good to be a skeptic but some feats were well documented. The Dinnie stones for example are still there. Just lift 'em and walk over the bridge if you think you can do better than Donald.
Hermann Goerner's one handed deadlift record from 1920 still stands today as far as I know. He lifted (relative) similar amounts on different occasions and in different places. Seems highly unlikely he could have cheated everywhere.
Max Sick ("Maxick") would regularly perform one handed presses with a person, even running up and down the stairs with them while holding them above his head. Can't cheat on the weight there.

Most old time strongmen were more concerned with strength feats than looks and trained as such. And training for some good old fashioned functional chimp strength hasn't changed that much in my opinion. And you will end up with a different physique (especially if you look at some of the weird shit they did) than with split, isolation and pump routines.


There's only anecdotal evidence with regard to a lot of these old time strength feats. I believe a vast majority of them were embellished upon because quite frankly...

"Herman Goerner deadlifted 727 with ONE HAND"
"Louis Cyr could shoulder a 400 pound wooden barrel with ONE ARM"

Those claims are a bit asinine. The 727 one hand deadlift isn't too hard to get your mind around IF it involved lifting straps and a belt (nobody had those back then so...) but shouldering a 400 pound wooden barrel with one arm? How do you even start a lift like that? Cover the barrel with epoxy, strap the damn thing to your neck with a pulley and neck lift it to your gut and continental it up through only cervical spine lever and glue friction until you can roll it to your shoulder through some kind of miracle of geometry and physics until it reachs your shoulder and hope to god you have the stability to hold it on your shoulder for enough time to justify the lift?

Seems legit.


"Good eventide, muh' lord! Bartholomew Jackson the Fifth Saxon Bolton just front back curled an upside down cement gallosh weighing a fort-ton in the summer winter!"