Strong Man Hall of Fame
There are many great people who have inspired me both living and long gone. They are not all from the same areas of strength but all of them use either the old time methods or are legendary strong men. The order they are placed does not mean I rate one above the other but obviously it is slightly bias as to who has influenced me the most. I will include more and more as time allows not only from the world of strong man but also martial artists mystics and so on who possessed incredible strength of mind and body.
Alexander Zass was born 1888 in Vilno and died 26 September 1962 his nick
name and professional wrestling name was The Amazing Samson or Iron
Samson. He was as so many legendary strong man not particularly big at ony
167 cm (5 ft 6 in) tall and weighing in at just 80kg.
The Zass training philosophy was mainly based around the art or isometrics and the bending of tree branches or steel objects. Indeed while still a young man, Zass' strength training included "bending green branches". Which goes to show that if Zass didn't need a gym but simply relied on tree branches then that in itself speaks volumes. During World War I, Zass served in the Russian army, fighting against the Austrians. However, Zass was taken as a prisoner of war four times, but managed to escape each time.
His training took on a more isometric focused approach ironically when he was imprisoned as a prisoner of war in WW2. As a prisoner, he pushed and pulled his cell bars as part of strength training, which was, is and should be cited as an example of the effectiveness of isometrics. At least one of his escapes involved him 'breaking chains and bending bars'. After the war he went on to promote the use of isometric exercises.
I also use his methods in my own strength training regime simply buying a metal chain and calipers from a hard ware store and puling or pushing on it. As can be seen on my isometrics training page.
Following the war, Zass joined a circus to perform feats of strength, touring internationally. His first wife, Blanche, died in 1928 while still a teenager.
Zass has been credited with various feats of strength:
Carrying his injured horse in wartime
Joseph L. Greenstein (January 2, 1893 – October 8, 1977), better known as "The Mighty Atom", was a 20th-century strongman.
Greenstein was born in Suvalk, Poland in 1893 (yes another Strong man of "East Europe" or East European heritage. ) However, before the reader jumps to any conclusion that there must be some genetic factor in having a swathe of East European strong men let it not escape you that Greenstein was actually Jewish). Greenstein was very remarkable not only due to his athletic feats but also due to the fact that he was a very sickly child and never a large man in adulthood; indeed quite the opposite. As a child he suffered from respiratory ailments, and at age 14, a team of doctors predicted he would die from tuberculosis. Around that time, he became acquainted with a Russian circus strongman called "Champion Volanko," ( yet another great Russian Strongman) who took Greenstein under his wing. Greenstein traveled with Volanko and the Issakoff Brothers Circus for eighteen months, learning the strongman's training regimen. After this, he returned to Poland and married his wife, Leah, and began a career as a wrestler. Due in part to rising anti-Semitism in Eastern Europe, he then left for the United States.
Greenstein first went to Galveston, Texas, working as a dockworker and oil field worker (yet another old time strongman with a manual laborers' background) Greenstein wrestled professionally at this time under the alias of "Kid Greenstein." In 1914, a local Texas man who was obsessed with Greenstein's wife shot him between the eyebrows from a distance of 30 feet. Amazingly, Greenstein left the hospital on the same day - the bullet did not enter his skull, but was flattened by the impact. This experience sparked Greenstein's interest in the mental powers associated with strength, and he gradually developed an array of strongman feats. The mental aspect of Strongman training is also what inspired me to write this website and put myself through a grueling strength training regime well into my forties and soon into my fifties. Indeed as Greenstein demonstrates you don't have to be big to be strong and can even overcome child hood deficits in nutrition, access to sports facilities et and Still be strong. The way I look at strength is on a pound for pound basis. Sure against the Strong men of today weighing in excess of 220 pounds Greenstein stood only 5'4" and weighed 140 pounds, Greenstein became one of the 20th century's leading strongmen. Some of his alleged and proven feats of strength included:
Driving 20 penny nails through a 2˝ inch board with his bare hands. Lying on a bed of nails while supporting a 14-man Dixieland band on his chest. Changing a tire on a car without any tools. Breaking as many as three chains by chest expansion. Bending an iron bar or horseshoe by holding one end with his teeth while one end of the bar was held fixed in a vise. Bending half-inch steel bars with his hair. Biting nails in half with his teeth (he could also perform this feat with a 25-cent coin). Resisting the pull of an airplane with his hair. This feat was performed at the Buffalo Airport and was documented in the Buffalo Evening Times on September 29, 1928. In 1939,
Greenstein's life was not without controversy and once faced a long sentence in jail for a fight with 18 members of the German American Bund (a group of Americans trying to set up a Nazi party in Germany). Greenstein armed with a baseball bat and beat up the whole group black and blue while suffering no personal injuries.. When the judge asked him about the fight, he replied "It wasn't a fight, your honor. It was a pleasure". Out of sheer disbelief, anti-Nazi sentiment, and lack of evidence (many witnesses against him were too injured to testify) the case against him was dismissed. Later in life he sold coconut oil soaps and health elixirs at fairs and farmers' markets. He traveled in an old Model A truck with panels that opened to show his extensive collection of news clippings and citations from civic leaders and organizations. NYC Mayor LaGuardia issued a proclamation thanking Greenstein for showing his skills to the NYC police department. Greenstein had volunteered to teach jujutsu techniques to members of the New York City auxiliary police during World War II. It was many years before the technique was known to most Americans. He was also featured several times in Ripley's Believe It Or Not and in the 1976 Guinness Book of World Records.
Greenstein continued performing his strongman feats well into his eighties, giving his last performance at his great-grandchild's first birthday on May 11, 1977 at Madison Square Garden at the age of 84. He dazzled the audience by bending horseshoes and driving spikes through metal with the palm of his hand. He succumbed to cancer five months later on October 8, 1977. The story of his life has been told by Ed Spielman in the book The Mighty Atom. The life story of Greenstein seems to be the inspiration for the fictional character of Al Pratt, a costumed crime-fighter who went by the alias of "The Atom".
Joe's son Mike Greenstein appeared as a 93-year-old on America's Got Talent in 2014 and successfully pulled a 3500 pound car with his teeth. He wore a T-shirt promoting Mighty Atom & Sons (1940).
Dennis Rogers is one on my list who is from the present day but I would term as having old time strength or as an old time strongman. He is also a living inspiration to pretty much anyone who wants to be freaky strong but not necessarily freaky big. Dennis Rogers has been featured in many TV programs and has many you tube videos that I suggest anyone interested in old time strongman feats such as bending steel, pulling vehicles, hammer work, ripping phone books, bending horse shoes etc should watch Dennis Rogers.
Dennis Rogers was born in 1958 and noticed his strength at a young age when he and his brother were trying to replicate strongmen that they had seen on TV. He was able to repeat the feats with ease. Dennis had a tough time at school in the 70’s and was less than 80 pounds at the beginning of high school and not only weak, but clumsy as well. He struggled with believing in himself in the early days, thinking that he was too small and not gifted enough to do anything related to sports. However 40 years and he is not only a Grand master Strongman but a former World Arm-Wrestling champion. It is said that Dennis Rogers (I do not have that from him directly) believes that the strength in your hands and grip strength is the to is core to the strength of your entire body. Although I may not 100 percent agree with that I do personally believe that grip is certainly one of the most neglected and important aspects of strength. If you take a trip to your local gym and see the shapes of serious body builders you many notice that many have thin or weak looking forearms. It is generally the forearms that can give you some indication of a man's grip strength either by large forearm muscles or obvious thick tendons. This is not always the case but generally it is true that a strong man will possess a good pair of forearms. Indeed anyone who has arm wrestled with any seriousness will know. Dennis Rogers is not a big man but even a man of his relatively small stature his forearm strength is clearly visible without him even having to show an feats of his almost unbelievable strength. However, Denis Rogers should in my opinion not just be thought of as a man with freaky strong hands and wrists, but as a man with a freaky strong mind body connection, And It is easy to dismiss modern day strong men as being weaker on a pound for fund basis than their modern counterparts but there are some present day living strong men who definitely could give the old timers a run for their money and Denis Rogers is among them.