Notes on John Grimek, Brooks D. Kubik, Dino Files (2000)


Grimek’s Workout, 7 November, 2000

I reprinted a terrific article on Grimek’s training in an early issue of the Dinosaur Files. The author was Joe Berg, and the article was titled, I believe, “The Greatest Physique Story Ever Told.” It originally ran in S&H in the early 50’s. The premise of the article was as follows:

(1) Grimek had a unique look that other bodybuilders and lifters did not have: athletic, well balanced, well proportioned, and with excellent posture.

(2) Grimek not only looked strong, he was strong.

(3) Grimek looked the way he did in part because of the wide variety of basic, stand on your feet barbell exercises he did as a young man, including OL work, continental presses, one hand snatches, presses in the bridge position, squats, straddle lifts, side presses, one hand swings and bent presses…all exercises that hit the low back, hips and spine very, very hard. The old Mark Berry books and courses are illustrated by Grimek and you can see in them the incredible development that these exercises produced. (Bill Hinbern sells reprints, guys…hint, hint…)

(3a) Note that Joe Hise also commented on Grimek’s carriage and posture. This led Hise to suggest programs that contributed to erect carriage and posture as part of a basic foundation for aspiring lifters. In turn, this led him to the Hise shrug.

(3b) Harry Paschall always noted that Grimek never did flat bench presses, and that doing so would have marred his physique.

(4) During the 30’s, Grimek had long periods of time where he just did OL work…and never looked better.

(5) The isolation style bodybuilding methods that came into vogue in the 50’s (and that continue to be in vogue today) did not and cannot build a body like Grimek’s.

As a further note, Hoffman reported that Grimek’s favorite exercise was the continental press. He regularly handled 300 plus pounds in this exercise.

More on Grimek, 8 November, 2000

According to Hoffman and Paschall, Grimek did incline dumbbell presses and incline dumbbell flies. When he was editor of MD later in his life, Grimek said he did lots of decline presses and that he preferred them to incline presses. I have never heard or read about Grimek doing dips, although he did lots of gymnastics and hand balancing.

Really, what Grimek did for his chest is not important. What matters is how he built his foundation: heavy barbell exercises, including lots of squats, cleans, snatches, military presses, continental presses, side presses, bent presses, presses while in a high neck bridge, stiff legged deadlifts, straddle lifts, heavy db presses, one hand swings and one hand snatches. That sort of training was the key to the Grimek physique. Don’t ask “What did JCG do for arms?” or “what did JCG do for chest?” What matters is what he did to build his foundation.

As a further note, Grimek once wrote an article in S&H (late 50’s or early 60’s) in which he labeled the clean and press as the best single exercise a man can do.

Hinbern’s Lifting Tape w/ Grimek, 8 November, 2000

It’s a great tape. One of JCG’s interesting stunts is to press a heavy barbell—I’m going by memory, but I think it was 200 pounds plus—and then casually toss it up and let it fall—and catch it EASILY in the crook of the elbows, right below the biceps. He laughs and smiles as he does this.

Grimek was just incredible. He was fearless when it came to heavy lifting. He once put a 400 pound bar on his shoulder and tried to bent press it, just to see what it felt like. He said he actually pressed it, arm fully extended, as he dropped into a squatting position, but could not stand up to complete the lift. Think of that. “Gosh, I wonder what it feels like to bent press 400 pounds. Think I’ll give it a try.” Good Lord!

More on Grimek’s Arms, 14 November, 2000

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The conventional pre-steroid wisdom always linked upper arm size to wrist size. For example, in Muscle Molding, Harry B. Paschall (a personal friend of JCG), referenced JCG’s 18 ̋” upper arms, 14” forearms, 27” thighs, 10 ̋” ankles and 8” wrists. Harry wrote:

“Are you willing to accept the Grimek standard? Personally, I am more than satisfied, but I should like to call your attention to a couple of important Grimek girths before you sue me for not making you an exact duplicate of John. Cast your optics on those wrists and ankles. Big bones, hey, kid? If you are like me, with 7 inch wrists and 9 inch ankles, you’re gonna have a tough time getting those 18 inch biceps and 27 inch thighs. … “

Nowadays, steroids and muscle pumping have changed things around, and you see lots of huge upper arms tapering down to non-existent wrists, but if you look back to the guys who did it with heavy exercise and NO DRUGS—such as Grimek—Harry’s observation seems to hold up pretty well. And if you consider that most guys with thick wrists are going to be able to build thick forearms, you pretty much have to agree with Joe.

Also, for the record, Grimek had STRONG forearms and wrists and a STRONG grip. He was able to clean the famous, thick handled Cyr Dumbbell with one hand—and then bent press it—whereas most lifters cannot one hand deadlift the bell. (In fact, Grimek got so good at handling this dumbbell that he decided to make it heavier—so he took the lead plates that had been typeset with Jowett’s The Key to Might and Muscle, the rights to which York had acquired from the Milo Barbell Co., chopped them up and used them to load the bell to a heavier weight. That’s why the book remained out of print for so long!) And Grimek still holds the world record in the weaver stick lift, a classic test of wrist strength.

BTW…re JCG’s arms…his favorite triceps exercise was a close grip military press (close meaning perhaps shoulder width or just a bt closer), beginning the lift with a SLOW start. After a certain point in his career he developed elbow problems and stopped doing curls; thereafter, he trained his biceps exclusively with close grip supinated pulldowns to the chest. Before that, though, he was a heck of a curler—Oscar Heidenstam reports seeing him knock out reps with 190 pounds in the warmup room at the Mr. Universe contest. His favorite forearm exercise was the good old fashioned wrist roller exercise. He would do these with 25 pounds, holding the wrist roller at arm’s length in front of him (the hard way to do them). Paschall ran a photo of JCG in his little booklet, Muscular Arms and Shoulders, where Grimek is doing this exercise and laughing as he does it.

For anyone not familiar with the Grimek physique, his best photo ever is reproduced on the cover of Muscletown USA…there are lots of photos of him in Paschall’s books (available thru Bill Hinbern)…and there are some great photos of a young and incredibly muscular Grimek demonstrating lots of different exercises in the old Mark Berry courses that Bill Hinbern reprinted last year.

20 thoughts on “Notes on John Grimek, Brooks D. Kubik, Dino Files (2000)

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  1. You have three pictures on this particular article the first is Clarence Ross the second is John Grimek and the third is Steve stanko. I’m a 71 year old bodybuilder and I did grow up in that age and it was great!!!

    1. Hi Mark, thanks so much for stopping by. Admittedly I’m wearing rose tinted spectacles but I truly believe yours was a magical time to enter the Iron Game! Who was your favourite bodybuilder growing up? From the first time I saw Grimek I was utterly in awe. The man’s strength and athleticism was legendary!

  2. Steve Reeves was unbelievable, as was Reg Park, Bill Pearl, Jack Delinger and others ubt no one in my opinion was anywhere as great as John C. Grimek. And, there never will be!

    1. It’s hard to disagree. Grimek was a legit weightlifter with an awesome physique. His workouts, often discussed in Bob Hoffman’s magazines, were legendary. The man loved hard work

  3. The first photo of John Grimek in this otherwise excellent article is actually Clarence Ross, the winner of the 1945 Mr America. The photo of John Grimek illustrating the “arms” portion of the article is actually Steve Stanko, the 1944 Mr America.

  4. I have many of the old Strength and Health magazines, and even wrote an article for the last issue. Grimek, an editor who contributed many articles and photos, often said he rarely performed direct arm work. His arms stayed large from doing compound lifts. Before a competition, he said, he would add a few bicep/tricep exercises to the end of his workouts. He also said his arms didn’t deflate when we took a layoff — for instance his month of rest after winning the 1948 Mr. Universe title in London. Though he ended up with double hip replacements from all the heavy squatting, he retained a good build late into life. Grimek wasn’t just a poser, but an outstanding all-around athlete. In the early Mr. America contests (which he won each time he entered), the men had to lift weights in addition to posing. They had to be as strong as they looked. Your middle photo is of Steve Stanko, who had debilitating varicose veins in his legs. I read that at least once he had to be helped onto the stage, as he could barely walk. Yet he was one of the strongest men in the world.

    1. Hey Sterling, thanks for stopping by with some absolutely fascinating insights. Not sure how or why I made those mistakes. Thank you! I’ll edit and amend that now. What article did you write for them??

      1. Hey Howard, is this the same Howard who wrote on Elite FTS last year? If so I loved the bulking article. He did but like many in his generation he didn’t take them long term and was quite ignorant on their usage – he said they made him weaker! John Fair’s Muscletown USA is a good source

  5. Hello, Conor. Under the heading, More on Grimek’s Arms, I think that’s Steve Stanko flexing his biceps. Stanko, like Grimek, was a member of the York team. He was Mr. America in 1944. The article I wrote for Strength and Health might have been about the annual contest my wife used to run for her Women’s Gyms here in New Jersey. Or it could have been about step aerobics, a form of exercise she invented around 1983.

  6. Just realized I mentioned Stanko twice. I’d like to add that Internet sites list a three-day full-body workout that Grimek supposedly published later in life. I have at least a hundred S&H magazines, in which Grimek only once offered a full workout routine. And it’s not what these sites provide. So I’m skeptical. One thing he said repeatedly was that he rarely did direct arm work. As for sets and repetitions, I think I remember him recommending three sets of eight, five and three. If the three reps were easy, you could then do a single. He talked about the “congestive principle,” meaning that you built muscles by working for a pump. But he didn’t recommend a large number of sets, as did Joe Weider. As you’re probably aware, Bob Hoffman, editor of S&H and coach of the US olympic weightlifting team, had a long feud with Weider regarding training techniques and Weider’s propensity for claiming athletes used his extensive methods when they said they trained in the minimalist York style. Eventually, of course, Weider came to dominate bodybuilding, via Arnold, Zane, Et al.

    1. @Conor and @Sterling

      I’ve been looking for the source of the supposed John Gimek 3-day workout I’ve seen posted. Any luck on what his actual 3-day looked like or if the one circulating is authentic?

      @Conor, terrific site by the way.

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