The Thickest Barbell Ever? C.G. Pillay and the Suicide Milo Barbell

I am a big fan of novelty barbells. From Bob Peoples’ homemade wooden barbell to the modern elephant bar made by Rogue Fitness, the ingenuity of trainees when it comes to lifting astounds me. If you’ve been training long enough you’ll appreciate variety.

Don’t get me wrong, your standard dumbbell and barbell is the bread and butter of any training regime. But life is about living and training is about variety. Who would we be without EZ bars, trap bars, earthquake bars etc.? Animals. That’s who.

Maybe a smidge strong but hey ho I enjoy odd bars and odd lifts. With that in mind, allow me to introduce you to the ‘Suicide Milo’ Bar.

The What?

Popularised by the South African physical culturist and weightlifter C.G. Pillay, the ‘Suicide Milo’ bar is reckoned to be the thickest barbell ever used by a strongman. Created in 1938, the barbell had a special 3-inch diameter, although annoyingly I have yet to find any information on how much it weighed, although judging by its size in the below image, it wasn’t particularly heavy.

Suicide Milo Bar

To put into context how difficult the Milo barbell is to lift, the infamous Inch dumbbell has a 2.5-inch diameter. Likewise, the Apollon Wheels have a diameter just shy of 2 inches. To my mind this makes the Milo bar the thickest barbell used by a strongman although I am happy to be corrected.

Why it Matters?

For one thing, bars like the Inch dumbbell, Apollon wheels or the Suicide Milo bar originated from a much more chaotic fitness world. We did not yet have the same three or four companies making standardised equipment that is used around the world. Individuals often forged their own workout equipment.

This was especially the case with individual strongmen and women. Often it was the strange implements that people lifted which attracted a crowd. There was also, a competitive edge involved as well. Pillay had exclusive access to this barbell. Others did not. Thus when he challenged people with the barbell they were completely unfamiliar with it and, as was often the case, could not lift it.

This also explains why Apollon and others had their own specialised equipment. It was a spectacle but it also protected them in competition with the public.

How Much Was Lifted?

As its creator, Pillay also distinguished himself as a weightlifter with the barbell. Although I am a firm believer that we should bring this thing back. At an Eastern Province Weight-lifting championship in Port Elizabeth on March 21, 1938, Pillay executed the following lifts ‘without exerting himself to any degree’

One Hand Clean and Press 85.5 lbs.
One Hand Jerk from Shoulder 142 lbs.
Two Hand Snatch 120 lbs.
Two Hand Military Press 152 lbs.
Two Hand Clean and Jerk 168 lbs.

It was reported that the Eastern Province Weightlifting Union offered £50 to anyone who could match Pillay. There were no takers as the audience was completely unfamiliar with this implement. While it is likely Pillay lifted more with this barbell, I would have to defer to Dr. Francois Cleophas who is the expert on South African physical culture.

In terms of Pillay’s bio, he was 5 feet, 7 inches, weighed 147 lbs., and a vegetarian. In 1938, the British physical culture magazine, The Superman reported that Pillay rarely practised overhead presses despite being one of the strongest pressers in South Africa. C.G. Pillay


This was a short and sweet post based on something which caught my eye during research. I know a very strong grip strength community exists online and I’d love to get some of their folks’ thoughts on this barbell.

I am very intrigued as to how this barbell would feel. Without linking to any particular product (because I don’t do product links, and few products are actually offered to me!), I often attach fatter gripes onto my barbells to provide a different feel when pushing and pressing. A milo sized diameter would certainly be challenging.

In terms of spectacle, I think this would be an amazing addition to an Arnold Strength Classic or World Strongest Man/Woman. We’ve seen Apollon wheels and Inch dumbells. Now let’s see a real test! As always… Happy Lifting!

Source: The Superman Magazine, December 1938.


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