Louis Cyr – The French Canadian Giant

by George Jowett

Louis Cyr

The strongman who obtained his strength from barbell training, and who took to tossing iron for his particular sport, is still the monarch of strength athletes.  No other method can give the same thews, or convey the same inspiring message to those who seek the domain of health and strength.  Years ago, after the French Canadian giant, Louis Cyr, had forsaken the stage to take charge of his saloon in Montreal, thousands of his admirers continued to pay homage to him.  They constantly patronized his saloon so they could claim friendship with this iron king.  They listened to him tell his stories, but always with a hope and a watchful eye to see him perform some feat which to him was common-place, but to others impossible.  It was no uncommon sight to see Louis carry a huge cask of beer off the drayman’s wagon on his one shoulder.  What was a three hundred and twenty pound cask to him, even if it was terribly awkward to handle.  He could grasp it by the chines and lift it from the wagon to the pavement, and then toss it on one shoulder, or throw it back on the truck, according to the need, without registering any sign of exertion.  It was all in a day’s work to him, but one feat he often performed to draw patronage as a part of his business routine.  Yet, he always performed it in an off hand way, that made him appear to be indifferent to any effect the feat had upon the spectators.  They still talk about it in the old haunts, and it is a story worth telling.

Cyr would be reclining on the serving side of the bar and while he was in the midst of his conversation with his patrons, he would be approached by his wife dressed to go shopping.  With the interrogative “Louis,” she would announce her presence.  Knowing what she wanted, the ponderous giant would neither withdraw his gaze or stop in his speech, but would lower his right hand in a nonchalant fashion, upon which his wife would sit.  As gently as a child he would lift her over the counter, and as gently deposit her on the other side without a break in his speech.  Madam would be examining her purse during the unusual journey and would then pass on as calmly as though she had made the trip in a modern elevator.  Showmanship par-excellence was exhibited by both in this extraordinary feat, but can you imagine the amount of strength that was involved?  Although she did not weigh much over a hundred pounds, yet it meant that he curled her weight on the flat of his hand, and passed her over the counter in the manner of a hold-out and with no visible effort.  It was a terrific feat of strength, which when performed, was a source of delight to all who witnessed it.

Credit:  The Key to Might and Muscle by George Jowett

The Theft of the Championship Belt

by George Jowett

The Championship Belt of Warren Lincoln Travis, which now resides at the York Barbell Museum.

Talking about getting sore, can you imagine the even-tempered Warren Lincoln Travis getting sore? He did once.  He was giving an exhibition down in New England, and at the entrance of the show he had his diamond belt and some other trophies on display.  He had hired a man to watch them but Warren forgot to hire somebody else to watch the watcher.  The result was, the caretaker of the trophies beat it with the whole outfit, which is worth a snug fortune.  Did Warren camp on that guy’s trail? OH! boy, he didn’t wait for a train. The spirit of Achilles was in his heels, and he was traveling faster than any train. But, the best Travis could do was to locate the pawn shop where the smart boy had hocked the goods.  Warren wept for joy when he grabbed his cherished possessions, but the thief got away.  Luckily for him, for if Travis had ever got his hands on him, it would have been the parting of the ways, as Warren would have distributed him to the four winds. However, Warren still remembers it and is willing to laugh with you over the escapade.

Credit:  The Key to Might and Muscle by George Jowett

Carl Moerke

by George Jowett

Carl Moerke, the West Haven, Connecticut German in a feat that is as unusual as it is extraordinary.

Carl Moerke, reminds me of Cyr, in build, except that Cyr was a much bigger man.  Carl is only five feet two inches and weighs two hundred and twenty pounds, but his bulk for his height can be compared with Cyr’s. Moerke is also tremendously strong. If you want to give yourself an idea of what his capabilities are, ask yourself what you could do with one of the steel rails that lie on a railway track.  Perhaps you do not know much about them, but the next time you see the men laying railroad rails, see how many men it takes to carry one.  A long rail weighs about one thousand pounds. On one occasion, Moerke carried one of these rails in his hands, with the rail balanced across his abdomen, to its resting place on the track. No wonder he can do a deep knee bend with nearly six hundred pounds. When he was visiting me, I saw him snatch a bar bell of one hundred and sixty pounds overhead with one finger.  Not off the floor as you might imagine.  First he stood erect with the weight hanging at arms’ length on his finger, then with a quick knee bend he took the weight to arms’ length overhead. He is not lacking in the real stuff, and I have often had the pleasure of seeing this for myself.

Credit:  The Key to Might and Muscle by George Jowett

Techniques for Pressing a Barrel

by George Jowett

There are several interesting ways of raising a barrel from the ground to arm’s length overhead. One way is by what Swedish athletes term the “slow hang” position. That is, you lift the barrel off the ground slowly to the position as shown in Exercise 5. There you pause a moment and with a snap move to the position in Exercise 6 and from thence to the shoulder as in Exercise 7(a), and to arm’s length overhead as in Exercise 7(b).

Another method is to pause as in Exercise 5 position and then in one movement sweep to the shoulders. This can be changed to sweeping the barrel from the ground to arm’s length overhead or to the shoulders only. Another movement which will stimulate powerful forces is to pause at the point shown in Exercise 5 and then in one movement sweep the barrel to arm’s length overhead.

Apart from the manner in which other muscles in the body will respond, the grip and the arms will obtain tremendous development through these exercises. You will not have to do much of this training before you will feel the results on the grip and in the arms. Man for man the old-time strength athlete was miles ahead of the present day athlete for grip. Rarely did one see a strength athlete of those days without a powerful and splendidly shaped pair of arms. The reason why we do not see so much grip and arm stunts today is because most of the crop of modern strength athletes are incapable. If they were equal to the tests they would perform them. A strong man is only bounded by the limitations of his own strength.

You should study carefully the illustrations accompanying these barrel exercises. I took great care when posing for them so that every detail would be caught by the artist. The finger grips and the hand positions are the most important, but overlook nothing. The stance of the legs, the position of the back and the distance when leaning back. The positions of the elbows are very important. Study them and you will find that progress will come faster to you in every way.

Credit: Molding a Mighty Grip by George Jowett, published in 1930

Barrel Pressing

by George Jowett

Matt Tyler, of the Dino Gym, pressing a 205 pound keg (the modern version of a barrel) overhead for reps in a recent workout.

As I have remarked in this book, barrel lifting was very popular with the old-time strength athletes. For developing the fingers, hands, wrists and arms, there is nothing any better. Apart from this, barrel lifting is great for general body building. Of course, a barrel is not the handiest thing in the world to have around the house, but if a person is sincere in his search for great strength and muscular development he will always find a way to practice .

The difficulty lies in getting the barrel to the shoulder, therefore it is very necessary that the exercise be first practiced with a small nail keg or an empty regular-sized barrel. If you employ a regular-sized barrel you will find it easier to manipulate it if you will pull the barrel in close to the body, then back, and thus aid in the upward movement by allowing the barrel to roll up the body to the shoulders. From this point push the barrel to arm’s length overhead. This, in addition to developing great strength, will teach you equilibrium in lifting objects overhead as nothing else will.

Credit: Molding a Mighty Grip by George Jowett

More about George Jowett

George Jowett lifting his legendary 168 anvil by the horn.

by Al Myers

I mentioned George Jowett yesterday in my training article about anvils. George Jowett was more that just an anvil lifter – it’s just that his most famous lifting feat involved using his legendary 168 pound anvil. It is reported that in the late 1920’s at a strength show in Philadelphia, he grabbed his 168 pound anvil by the horn, and in one motion did a swing with it and caught it at his shoulder and proceeded to press it over head with one arm!!! It is one thing to be able to pick up a heavy anvil one handed – but to clean it one handed is almost beyond belief!! George Jowett possessed huge forearms – measured at times over 16 inches.

George Jowett was born in England, and as a child was critically injured when he fell against a fireplace. This accident left him crippled. When he was 8 years old his parents were told by the doctors that it was unlikely that he would live to be 15, and if he did, would probably never walk again. He proved them wrong – not only did he walk again but went on to become one of the premier strength athletes of the early 1900’s.

Jowett started out in gymnastics and achieved many awards in his teens. He then became a boxer and won world titles as a lightweight boxer. At the age of 19, he moved to Canada and started weightlifting. Weighing just 176 pounds, George did a clean and jerk with 340 pounds!! He was also very good at the one arm swing – his best being 210 pounds. He then became a competitive bodybuilder and is considered by many to be the Father of American Bodybuilding.

By the early 1920’s, George moved to Philadelphia and founded the Jowett Institute for Physical Culture. He started a mail order business selling muscle courses that lifters would subscribe to. Each course was laid out for the entire month and each month George would send out the next month’s course! This was very profitable for him and it grew into a big business. He was very successful as a writer and has written many weightlifting courses and books. His book in 1925, “The World’s Weight Lifting Rules and Records”, was the foundation for the rules used for the all-round lifts in the USAWA today.