Louie Cyr’s Dumbbell

by John Grimek

John Grimek prepares to lift the famous Cyr Dumbbell.

The Cyr dumbell we had was always a bone of contention.  Men from all parts of the country came to see if they might get it overhead.  It weighed “only” 202 pounds empty but it could be loaded with lead shot to over 270.  We never loaded it over 269 ½ pounds, and even then it defied most men who tried it.

One time, Milo Steinborn and four or five other wrestlers stopped by on their way to Baltimore.  Milo had Primo Carnera with him – truly an impressive individual.  When Carnera shook hands you could feel your whole hand being swallowed by something that felt like an octopus.  Because all the men were wrestling that evening none of them cared to train that afternoon, but most of the lifters kept on training.  In the center of the gym was the awkward Cyr dumbell that seemed to be in the way of everyone.  Without thinking I picked it up off the floor and tossed it aside so it wouldn’t be in the way.  I remembered the huge hands Carnera had when he shook my hand, and knew if anyone could handle this weight it was him.  I called out to him to try it. He smiled as if to say, “that’s easy,” and no one would doubt him.  He came over, very casually gripped the stubby handle and made a half-hearted attempt to lift it.   A look of surprise came over his face as the weight slipped from his grip.  I offered him some chalk to absorb the moisture of his hand.  With some disdain, instead, he grabbed the handle and though he lifted it a little you could see that the weight was a great surprise to him.

The Cyr Dumbbell now resides at the York Barbell Museum.

I tried to explain that there was a slight technique to handle this weight.  He just kept looking at me and the awkward hunk of iron mass that was defying him.  I chalked up, especially the heel of my hand, gripped the weight and tossed it a few feet to one side.  Carnera only growled.  However, I feel sure that with his banana-like fingers he could have done things with that Cyr dumbell that no one else could do.  Others felt much the same way about this big man.

I must point out that many men who tried to lift the small clumsy dumbell failed.  This awkward hunk of iron required lots of practice before one learned the little details needed to be successful at lifting it.  No one played around with this weight more than I did; and eventually I was the only one who lifted it off the floor to an overhead position using one and only when it weighed 254 pounds.  Stanko was the first man who picked it up off the floor in one sweeping movement.  Unfortunately, I do not remember how much it was loaded to at the time.  The weight of that dumbell was always being changed.  It always looked formidable and defying. Those who tried it remember that only too well.

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