Paul Anderson — Lifting’s Legend — came on the scene in the very early fifties. He completely stunned the world with his colossal lifting ability.
Paul Anderson was born on October 17, 1932, in Toccoa, Georgia. As a boy, Paul was always much stronger than the other boys in his age group. He loved rough and tumble sports. In high school he put the shot and threw the discus, in addition to playing football one season for Furman University in South Carolina. Despite the excellent showing he made on the gridiron, he quit school because the school did not feed him enough. Actually, Paul got his first taste of weight training in high school but had been admonished by his football coach to leave them alone.
January 1952 marked a turning point in the career of Paul Anderson. He was fortunate enough to be presented with a barbell set that had been used by his brother-in-law, Julius Johnson, a former lifter.
Paul’s first training session saw him making three reps in the squat with 315 pounds. By the end of January, Paul was using 400 pounds in the squat. Training all day, every other day, he worked in sets of two repetitions. Other days he worked on the bench press and a few other arm exercises. His best bench press during this time period was 325 pounds. His bedroom served as his training quarters.
Paul met Bob Peoples for the first time during the summer of 1952. Bob was the finest deadlifter of his time, with an official effort of 725 pounds at 189 bodyweight. The first workout Anderson took in Bob’s cellar gym, he squatted 550 pounds for two reps. Bob and Paul then discussed training ideas and devised a routine of heavy supporting work. After about a month of this program, Paul accomplished a perfect squat with over 600 pounds. This was the beginning of a firm friendship between the 42-year-old Peoples and 19-year-old Anderson. By the end of the summer, Paul was able to squat with 635 pounds.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Quote from a letter written by Paul Anderson, April 16, 1992:
“John, one thing I would like to make clear, and I do not mean to hurt anyone’s feelings in saying this, is that I NEVER had a coach in weightlifting. On occasions I have talked to Bob Peoples when I lived in his area. Our conversations usually had to do with innovations, which we worked out together. This is the nearest thing to coaching or fellowship I ever had in lifting, which was really a blessing. If I had someone instructing me, I would have never decided that the top priority for a weightlifter was to be strong. This is why I first took up the power lifts and then drifted into the three Olympic lifts.”
Learning of the State Olympic Lifting Championships to be held in December of 1952 at Fry Institute in Chattanooga, Paul decided to do a little overhead work. With less than a month of practice on the Olympic lifts, Paul easily broke all the state lifting records in the heavyweight class. And also for good measure he broke Doug Hepburn’s squat record by 30-1/2 pounds with an excellent effort of 660-1/2 pounds.
Bob Peoples stated that Anderson’s style in the squat was very good and that he went clear down to the bottom — quite unlike some of the other big men, who went down only part of the way.
After the contest, Paul again changed his routine. He now worked out three times a week, but the workouts lasted all day. He concentrated on basic power lifts such as deadlifts, squats, push presses from the rack, and bench presses. By March of 1953, Paul’s deadlift was closely approaching 600 pounds.
He had push pressed from the shoulders and held for the count 360 pounds. With no specialization on the bench press he made 370 pounds in good style.
Point of Interest
During the Korean war, Paul received his call to the Armed Forces but was rejected. On what grounds? They couldn’t find a shirt large enough to fit his 22-1/2 inch neck.
By April 1953, his routine was again revised to include more emphasis on the Olympic lifts. By October 1953, it looked like this:
Monday, Wednesday, Friday:
- Press – 320 pounds – many sets of two repetitions.
- Dumbbell press – Pair of 135s up to seven sets of three reps.
- Press behind neck – To pump up the shoulder area.
- Snatch – Singles, working up from 225 to 300 pounds.
- Squat clean – Singles up to 400 pounds.
- Deadlift – 690 pounds, 2×3.
- High pulls (to waist) – 500 pounds, 4×3.
Paul used straps or hooks on his heavy poundages. He rested 10 to 15 minutes between sets, and as much as an hour between exercises.
Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday:
Full squats up to 780 pounds for 3×2.
Other exercises Anderson sometimes used for variety were quarter squats (on leg days) and bench presses (on regular training days). For quarter squats he used up to 1800 pounds.
His poorest lift at this point, and one in which he seemed unable to find the same groove twice, was the bench press. In this exercise, he did three sets of two reps with 410 pounds. With just two years of weight training, Paul had zoomed from obscurity to the very topmost rung of fame in the strength world.
November 7, 1953: Paul officially makes a three-lift Olympic total of 1065, exceeding the 1063 total John Davis made at the 1951 Pan American Games in 1951. Up to this point, Anderson’s best lifts were press 355, snatch 319-1/2, and clean & jerk 411. He also made a 700-pound deadlift using a reverse grip.
Anderson totally destroyed the squat record on January 2, 1954, with 820 pounds. It seems like Paul was on top of the world when tragedy struck. In January 1954, he broke his left wrist at a contest. For the next three months, Paul spent a lot of time doing squats and built a special hook for his left hand in order to keep his pulls up. By May 1954, his wrist had healed well enough for him to win the Junior Nationals.
Just before the 1954 World Championships, he was in an automobile accident in which his hip was badly bruised and several ribs were cracked, preventing him from trying out for the International Team. By December 1954, Paul was back on a roll. He won the All Dixie Championships with a 1070 total and pressed a new American record with 364 pounds.
As we coast into 1955, Paul was still using his converted bedroom gym at 912 East Tugalo Street in Toccoa, Georgia. In addition, once a week he made a trip to Karo Whitfield’s gym in Atlanta. By then, his workout routines had changed somewhat. Paul believes and always did believe in heavy exercises with few repetitions. He didn’t believe in trying his limit in the Olympic lifts too often but spent his training time and energy in heavy exercise such as squats, deadlifts, bench presses, rack presses, and heavy supporting lifts. He is convinced that the constant use of extremely heavy resistance in training is the key to success in competition in the Olympic lifts, in which relatively light weights are used.
In 1955 Paul was training six days a weak, using the light and heavy system.
A typical Anderson workout usually required three to four hours to complete.
Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday
- 600 – 2×10
- 825 – 2 reps
- 845 – 2 reps
- 900 – 2 reps
- Half squats – 1200 – 2 reps
- Quarter squats – 1800 – 2 reps
- Deadlift – 650 – 4×6-8 reps
Monday, Wednesday, Friday
Press off rack
- 300 – 6 reps
- 400 – 2 reps
- 390 – 2 reps
- 370 – 2 reps
- Press outs, 500 pounds, several sets of 4 reps from about the sticking point in the press to overhead.
- Press from shoulders to top of head – 500, 4 reps.
- Push press off rack – 450, 3 reps.
- Bench press – 400 to 450, sets of 6-8 reps.
- Handstand presses against wall.
About a week before any important contest, Paul usually tested himself on the three Olympic lifts. This was done mainly to see what weights should be called for in the meet. A fact that will surprise many lifters is that Paul always used less weight in a meet than he knew he could do in order to perform each lift in good style. Some of Paul’s best training lifts in 1955 were clean and press, 440; snatch, 340; clean, 470; push press off rack, 480.
Paul was unusually fortunate to have a family that was cooperative and sympathetic with his superhuman aspirations. The unbelievable rapid progress that Paul has made since 1952 would have been impossible apart from his relative freedom from the work and worry that beset most mortals.
Paul turned professional in 1957 and went on to a career as a professional strong man. It is important to note that Paul Anderson left the amateur ranks well before he achieved his maximum potential in lifting weights in any way, shape, or form. It is impossible to predict the lifts he would have made, given this day and age of specialization, had he continued to excel in the three Olympic lifts.
At this point I would like to clean up many inaccurate stories that have been published about my lifting greater or smaller weights than I have. I try to constantly tell others that I claim no powerlifting records. Everyone knows that I have lifted tremendous weights in all of the lifts, but they are not recorded in the Amateur Athletic Union record book, so I do not consider them official. I do not want any of my past lifting to overshadow the ambitions of young athletes, but if they can be used as an inspiration, that would be wonderful.
I have also thought about just putting out a booklet (it would probably turn into a book) on my personal training and what I lifted from one time to another. I often hesitate about answering questions concerning my lifting or writing them down in a way that I am describing here. The reason for this hesitation is that I do not ever want anyone to think that I was a “gym lifter.” It is true that I did my greatest lifting before small crowds and in my training sessions. This was not my planning but came about due to several circumstances.
One was that Bob Hoffman (pic above) asked me not to do any lifts that would raise the records so high that I could not break them. At that time he was planning on doing more worldwide trips, and he convinced me that if I broke the record by only two to three pounds each time, our publicity would grow with the traveling and record- breaking performances. I am not saying this in a derogatory manner, because he was exactly right. Unfortunately, a situation arose where I had to make a quick decision, and in making it I lost my amateur standing. By doing this, I eliminated the future traveling and world record- breaking that Bob had in mind.
Another reason why I did not demonstrate my strength more publicly was my commitment to the state of Georgia. You would not believe the restrictions that were placed on amateur athletes in my day and time. It was quite difficult to justify one’s expenses to a meet, and the amateur athlete union very carefully watched over these arrangements. There was no way that I could go from one place to another with the compensation set by the system at that point in time. I also had a difficult time supporting myself and having time to train. To overcome this difficulty, I took a job as education director at the Georgia Game and Fish Department. This called for a great deal of traveling and speaking throughout the state. Many times I would have to drive all night to get home to train the next day. Because of this obligation I did not attend many weight lifting meets in the United States during my amateur career.
I have personally cleaned and jerked over 500 pounds after I had been declared a professional. One must realize at this time that I lost my amateur standing at the age of twenty-three, and I believe I reached my peak at about thirty-two. Once again, I cannot claim this as an official record. To set the record straight, I have Olympic pressed around 565 from the rack.
The only witness to this was Doug Hepburn (pic above), who had come down to California to visit me. I was training there while I was making a movie. As I have said earlier, some of my lifts could be exaggerated, and on the other hand I have read about some of my deadlifting and bench pressing that were under the poundages that I hoisted in my prime.
The 627-pound bench press is a little slight of what I’ve actually done. I could only pinpoint this particular lift when asked about it. If I am not mistaken, I did this either on Muscle Beach or with a group from the beach that gathered at my residence in Los Angeles. One time I had a bench press fixed so that the racks were about like we use today, but the basic weight was made up of two large wheels. Probably you have seen the same type larger wheels that I used on my squat bar.
These did not represent a tremendous amount of poundage, but they were for safety’s sake. As in the squat, when I would let the bench press all the way down, it would be only an inch or so from the floor. If I could not raise the poundage back up, I just allowed it to roll up my chest a very short distance until it was resting on the floor and I could safely move from under it. When I had this safety device rigged, I did some tremendous poundages in the bench press and would be a little afraid to quote any exact poundages now, because this was in about 1958.
My best squat was a little over 1200 pounds. The 1160 pounds that I lifted were silver dollars, and the cases they were in were accurately weighed. This seemed to be a little easier than a regular barbell, since the weights were suspended down and there was nothing on top of the bar. Possibly this gave me a little more leverage, and I had no trouble doing the act three times a day.
The best push press that I have done is in the neighborhood of 600 pounds. I cannot remember exactly what it was because we had some automobile flywheels on the bar along with regulation weights. I am sorry that I cannot remember exactly what these weighed.
Please do not misinterpret my lack of boldness in giving you figures that I cannot swear to. I am not being evasive but just attempting to be as honest as possible.
One last thought is twofold. First, I somehow feel that I become a little melancholy when I do not see the split style in lifting any more.
Second, I recognize Louis Cyr as a tremendously strong man in the history of our sport; but, without being boastful, I believe that I was more athletic. People were always amazed that I could run a hundred yards in just a little over eleven seconds and leap flatfooted from the floor onto a three-foot high table. I’m not saying that Cyr was incapable of doing these things, but I never heard about him demonstrating them in his act.
A superb article on Strongman Paul Anderson. I hope all strength fans have enjoyed reading this, check out the footage below on Paul, deadlifting 825 lbs.
Keep training hard,