JOHN GRIMEK WAS THE MAN|
Reprinted with permission from HARDGAINER magazine issue #59, March-April 1999
For all of my training life I've had the quiet comfort of knowing John Grimek was around to inspire and motivate me. He was my all-time Iron Game hero, a legend of unparalleled achievements, but who was universally described as a "good guy" by everyone who had the honor of meeting him. He was a guy you could really admire, look up to and respect not only for his titles or measurements, but as a man.
His pictures have always been on the walls of my gym, even if it happened to be my bedroom or garage. I have several of his pictures on the walls at Whelan Strength Training, from various decades of his life starting with the Mark Berry posters showing John in his early twenties, until several decades later showing his body even more muscular and better, with only his face showing signs of age. For my money, he was the best, a legend-the man! This greatest chapter in Iron Game history came to a close on November 20, 1998 when John C. Grimek passed on at age 88.
Vic Boff summed it up well when he stated, "For over five decades, John C. Grimek has been heralded as the Monarch of Muscledom throughout the world. He was the greatest combination Iron Game athlete-physique star, bodybuilder and strength performer-of all time and certainly the most popular, inspiring millions. He was a major influence in the lives of every top bodybuilder. He was the only bodybuilder in history who was never defeated in a contest. His charisma was so outstanding that everyone in the Iron Game wanted to meet him, shake his hand or get an autograph. His obliging patience was endless."
Grimek was also the only man to win the Mr. America title twice, and was also a member of the 1936 US Olympic weightlifting team. He won the Mr. Universe in 1948 and the Mr. USA in 1949. He was also an expert swimmer, diver, acrobat and muscle control expert. He was also very strong, and capable of a 400-pound jerk.
John probably did more to advance strength training in academia, teaching and coaching than anyone-especially as a legitimate method for training and preparing athletes. The all-prevalent musclebound myths of the day were largely dispelled and reversed by his awesome demonstrations of flexibility, grace and speed while working with Bob Hoffman and other members of the York Barbell Club. Modern strength and conditioning coaches may not have had a profession if not for John C. Grimek.
I began to train, involuntarily at first, at age 10. I was a good baseball player and was batting around 600 in little league. I just came home from a game and as soon as I got in the door, my father asked me, "How many hits ya get, ya bastard?" He had his usual beer in hand and was in his typical semi-intoxicated state.
"Three!" I proudly replied.
"How many home runs?"
"None," I replied.
My introduction to training was when my father responded, "You weak son of a bitch. Get on the floor and do pushups."
I did only three, and he really tore into me for that. I usually managed to make a positive out of most of the negative childhood situations with my father. He made me do pushups every night before bed, and soon I began to love the exercise because I felt stronger, which in turn raised my confidence and self-esteem; and I began hitting some home runs. Soon I was doing 90 pushups in a row.
I put up a chinning bar in the basement and was up to 18 in no time. I made a wrist roller. I walked around constantly squeezing rubber balls to strengthen my wrists because that was what Ted Williams did. I was hooked on training at an early age.
It was during this time that I bought my first copies of STRENGTH AND HEALTH and MUSCULAR DEVELOPMENT magazines. I was buying baseball cards near a magazine rack and a cover caught my eye. MUSCULAR DEVELOPMENT was a new magazine at that time (1964), and John Grimek was the editor. From my first glance of him, I was in awe, but greatly inspired. I always read every word in MD a liked it even more than S&H because of Grimek's influence. (I didn't even know about iron man till a few years later.)
I continued to lift cement blocks and copper tubing stored in the cellar, and did pushups, chins, dips between chairs, wrist roller work, situps and other calisthenics until I got my first York 110-pound barbell set for my birthday at age 13.
I was a fanatic and devoured everything related to training I could get my hands on. I was sad when I'd read all the articles in a new issue. I couldn't wait till the next month so I could ride my bike to the apothecary in Sherborn, Massachusetts, and buy the next issue.
I can remember the smell of the ink in the new issues. I had to hide the magazines because my father thought all the bodybuilders were "musclebound," but I knew better. My biggest heroes were Bob Hoffman and, especially, John Grimek. I still have a deep affection for and loyalty to the tradition of the York Barbell Company, and tremendous respect for its pivotal role, since the thirties, in the development of the Iron Game. To this day I will only buy York weights.
This background information is important because it should help you to understand the magnitude of the thrill I had in April 1976 when I drove to York, Pennsylvania, and met John Grimek. For an Iron Game/Physical Culture enthusiast, this was the equivalent of a baseball fan meeting Babe Ruth. I'd hoped to meet Bob Hoffman too.
I remember looking at all of Hoffman's medals and spending an hour or so in the museum section downstairs. I finally got the nerve up to ask if I could meet Bob Hoffman, but was told he was not in that day. I still regret not meeting him. But Grimek was upstairs in his office, and I was told that he would be happy to see me. My heart raced as I walked up a creaky staircase to his office. I sheepishly knocked on the office door and politely referred to him as Mr. Grimek.
Mr. Grimek invited me in and was extremely friendly. I was only 21 at the time and was completely in awe. At first I was surprised because he was well into his sixties at the time, but most of the photos I'd seen of him were not recent. He was in great shape, though, and I could tell that he still trained hard and regularly. He had his shirt sleeves rolled up, and I could see his huge biceps in full glory. He looked at least 20 years younger than most men of his age.
He asked me as many questions about my training, and my life in general, as I asked him. He seemed genuinely interested in me and I was impressed at how approachable and kind-hearted he was. He answered every question I had and was in no rush to have me leave. He signed an autograph for me that I guard with my life and proudly display on a wall of my gym. After asking every possible question I could think of, and spending about 30 minutes in his office, I felt I might start to be a pest. I thanked Mr. Grimek for his time, shook his hand, and let him get back to his work.
On April 4, 1940 Bob Hoffman brought several members of the York Barbell Club, including John Grimek, to Springfield College. Dr. Karpovich, of Springfield College, had been influential in pushing "musclebound" theories throughout academia, and was making most athletic coaches shy away from training with weights. Strength training was being seriously threatened, and John Grimek was instrumental in turning this around. After Grimek was introduced to the panel, the pompous academics sneered at him and seemed to mock him at first, believing he was nothing but a big clumsy oaf with limited movement and "bound" muscles.
Grimek went right up to each of them and said, "Can you do this?" He then proceeded to contort his body into every stretch and bend possible, and reportedly could come close to touching his elbows to the floor while keeping his knees straight! Each of the academics gave a pitiful performance of flexibility when responding to his challenge, to which Grimek replied, something to the effect of, "You're musclebound, not me!"
Hoffman then had Grimek and others perform all kinds of feats including one-arm chins, handstands, backbends, jumping splits and numerous stretches. After Karpovich had witnessed this, he was stunned. By the time Hoffman and Grimek got through with Karpovich, he changed his position to, "There's no such thing as musclebound."
Hoffman went further and challenged any athlete in any sport to compete against his York Barbell Club in any physical test outside of their own specific sport. The challenge was widely publicized. There were no takers, mostly because of the larger-than-life image of Grimek and the fear that he would humiliate any challenger.
The "good guys" in the Iron Game today have a sacred duty to carry on the tradition that John Grimek stood for and which Vic Boff and others still represent. Give no respect to steroid users-they are scum. Take down their pictures. Always keep your focus on good health as the primary motivation for your toil, and build muscle the old fashioned way-earn it by hard work and dedication, like John Grimek did.
"Maximum" Bob Whelan runs Whelan Strength Training in Washington, DC.