Old School Strength – Hermann Goerner

One of the points that I try to emphasize throughout this blog is that what many consider to be original ideas are everything but new. Man has displayed incredible feats of strength for hundreds of years. Such feats were accomplished long before the development of modern equipment, supplements, and the countless certification programs that have emerged within our industry.

Just last weekend, I received a message through my forum from a man who has been working to improve his grip strength. Since focusing more attention to his grip, he’s noticed that he can snatch a much heavier dumbbell. The timing of his email couldn’t have been better. It essentially verified a quote from Earle Liederman’s book, Secrets of Strength (recently discussed here).

As quoted within (from 1925)

Strong wrists are indispensable to strength. In most ordinary feats of strength the object to be moved or lifted, swung or broken, is gripped by the hands; and those hands must be strongly coupled to the arms, so that there will be no break in the delivery of power. A famous veteran, advising a new-comer in the professional ranks said, “Young man, you will never be any stronger than your hands and wrists.”

Liederman’s words are still as valid as ever. The development of strong hands certainly has carryover towards many other lifts. Perhaps the greatest display of grip strength ever can be found by looking back to Hermann Goerner.

Goerner was born in 1891.  His training was everything but outdated however. Many from our era would be completely blown away by his physical accomplishments.  I know that I am.  The image below shows him deadlifting 595.5 pounds using just 2 fingers in each hand. He is also said to have deadlifted 734.5 pounds with ONE hand.  Talk about incredible strength!

Next, you can see him pressing a 330 pound barbell overhead. While certainly an impressive load, it is even more impressive considering that the barbell is 2 and 3/8” thick.  Thick handle lifting certainly isn’t new…

As for Goerner’s past, I highly suggest reading through Edgar Mueller’s, Goerner The Mighty (published in 1951). It’s a great read which tells the story of one of the strongest men to ever walk the planet.

Goerner The Mighty

Aside from an interesting story, the book also offers a peak into his training. A few notable lines are quoted below.

He trained always as the mood took him – varying his program to suit his energy and condition of the moment and never did he force himself to perform any workout when not feeling just in the mood…  He did not have or follow what might be really termed a “set” training program – he always varied his workouts and mixed his work so much that one could truthfully say that he never worked through exactly the same program twice.

I enjoyed reading about this aspect of his training.  I too have followed a similar system without restricting myself to a set program. More along these lines can be found within the past Think For Yourself series (Part I and Part II)

What about training with a variety of tools?

Who said odd objects were new?

His inventive mind was always scheming out new and different ways of lifting all kinds of weights – kettlebells, dumbbells, barbells, block weights, barrels, loaded sacks, etc.

Mueller also goes on to discuss activities such as throwing weights, putting the shot, jumping, and swimming. On certain days, Goerner would swim for over an hour, and then continue through a free weight workout. Goerner was clearly fit as well as incredibly strong.

For more info regarding Hermann Goerner, please take a look at the two links below:

Goerner main page via Sandowplus

Herman Goerner – A Man of Super Power (excellent site)

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14 comments:

  1. Love it!
    The Groener inspired chain of lifts is a long standing favorite of mine.

    I’m impressed with the lack of structured program, have to say my life gets extremely hectic from time to time so I revert to winging it in training, just doing what time, body and equipment allow. I always get back to regular training without any loss in strength and often improvements in condition.

    Great blog sir, keep it up.

    Dave

  2. I Like the ‘Think for yourself part II’
    I also like the idea of not following a strict program but after the mood.
    Some odd tools I use for outdoor training are old roadconstruction tools.

  3. I want some of those old school round barbells and leopard skin pants! I think they would go down a storm in my local gym.

    His one arm deadlift was unbelievable!

    That has just inspired me to go the gym right now. Back in a bit.

  4. Being a kettlebell lifter for three years and having developed an appreciation for old school training, I certainly gain more and more respect for these mighty men from old school training that you keep sharing with us. Thanks Ross!

  5. Some great stuff here. A good old history lesson for all as a lot of the best info gets lost in time. Without a doubt grip strength is the most important thing to work on.

    The thing with grip strength is that if your strength does ever decrease, you will definitely feel it in your hands for sure.

    Match grip strength along with compound exercises and you then have a winning formula.

  6. The USAWA has an annual met in Goerner’s honor. I’ve not made it this meet but have friends in the organization who still want me to go. All-Round lifting is great fun. You can read more about it at USAWA.com
    Goerner Deadlift Dozen Plus One
    Start December 05, 2009 08:00 AM
    Location Clark’s Gym, Columbia, Missouri
    Meet Director: Bill Clark

    Lifts: Deadlift – Heels together
    Deadlift – 2 Bars
    Hack Lift
    Jefferson Lift
    Deadlift – one arm, left and right
    Deadlift – one arm, thumbless, left and right
    Reeves Deadlift
    Deadlift – Index, Middle, Ring, and Little Fingers

    Entry Form: None available. For entry, contact Bill at
    573-474-4510 in advance.

  7. I’m not a great skeptic by nature, but I wonder how many of these great stories of the early strongmen are apocryphal. The picture above, of Goerner lifting a 330 pound barbell, just looks fake. As do others. There is no strain, no effort. In fact, it looks like he’s relaxing. Admittedly, it took quite a bit of time to just take a photograph back then, so it is quite possible that the faked pictures were fake for a very good reason!

  8. Regarding the appearance of a lack of effort with the 330lb barbell, in the second link the story behind the barbell is explained:

    “Goerner was also possibly the only man who could, any time of the day or night, over a period of 20 years, without warming up and clad either athletic attire or street clothes, do a two hands power clean & push jerk with a solid globe barbell weighing 330¾ lbs. What most remarkable about this, besides the long period when he could do it, is that the shaft of the non-revolving barbell happened to be 2⅜ inches in diameter. He is generally considered to have the strongest hands of any man who ever lived.”

    So this weight was in fact ‘light’ for Goerner, to be able to lift it without any warmup, at any time, so it’s nowhere near a test of his true abilities. With a weight he could lift anytime, it wouldn’t take a lot of effort to hold it overhead for a picture.

    Unfortunately Goerner performed many of his lifts when cameras were still brand new and resembled boxes. He set his one arm deadlift record 91 years ago, nearly 70 years before digital cameras even existed. With the internet and facebook showing us every single workout, of everyone with a cellphone, camera, webcam, etc it can be easy to adopt a skeptical view of old time feats because there is so little documentation, but one has to appreciate the huge amount of time and advancement that has happened from then until now. There aren’t pictures because cameras were just not common when these lifts were performed.

  9. what could he shoulder press (Military press) I would like to know what him Sandow, Aston, etc could military press with but there’s not much about this.

    1. He military pressed at least 150kg/330lbs, officially. In his biography, however, is listed an overhead lift described more or less as a proper military press with a weight of 157.5kg/347lbs

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