Alexander Zass is one of my favorite oldtime strongmen (of course I like them all, but a few stand out to me.) He was known as the Amazing Samson and performed all over Russia and Europe back in his day. One of the most amazing things about him was that he escaped from POW camps four different times during the war!
Fortunately there is some surviving video footage of him. This video shows him breaking chains across his chest, doing some long bar bending, being beaten by sledgehammers while in a bridge feat, and then being hit in the stomach.
Here is more about Alexander Zass in his own words describing his system of training.
System the most efficient of all systems.
I should like you to believe, though, that it is with no desire to boast that I make the foregoing statements, I do not claim that my systems is the “last word,” as you say here in England. No man can claim that with a clear mind. WHAT I DO CLAIM, HOWEVER, IS THAT IT IS ORIGINAL, ALSO THAT IT IS EASILY THE MOST SUCCESSFUL YET. And these claims I can justify. Of course, progress in teaching in every walk of life is always being made, for we live in a most go-ahead age – one in which most people seem very anxious to learn the best and easiest way of doing things. Efficiency – 100% efficiency – is what the present generation is aiming at. Therefore, WHAT MUST INTEREST YOU, as a student IS THAT MINE IS, AT THE PRESENT TIME, not only the newest, but THE MOST EFFECTIVE METHOD BEING PRACTISED OF OBTAINING GREAT PHYSICAL STRENGTH AND MUSCULAR DEVELOPMENT; and what is of equal importance: IT IS THE SUREST POSSIBLE METHOD OF RETAINING BOTH.
The Secret of My Strength Explained
Many physical culturists possess large-size muscles, yet they lack something – something fundamental. Some possess it in a degree more than others, but they have not specialized in its training. Have you seen my performance on the stage? If so, you have probably noticed that my movements, when performing a feat of strength, are short ones. Some of my feats requires no movement at all. There is a reason and in explaining it, I give you the secret of my strength. Years ago, when I determined to become “The Strongest Man on Earth,” I studied the methods of all the strong men I met. I studied their physiques and sought to learn why different feats produced different types of development. When I became satisfied that I had learnt sufficient to give me scope to something new, I decided on my plan of action and I trained on new lines. The new method was one of which all athletes touch the fringe only, but I determined to thoroughly exploit it. I have been rewarded by success. What is it? Listen! I will tell you.
I am tendon-strong.
I aimed first, to develop the underlying connective tissues rather than the superficial muscles. I developed tendon strength. The tendons are the cord-like media between the bones and the muscles. A large biceps is no more criterion of strength than a swollen abdomen is of digestion. It is the pulling tendon of the biceps that counts. And so on throughout the whole body this method was employed. Some men with thin legs are stronger than some with thick legs. Why Because strength lies in the tendons are the powerful fibrous attachments of the muscles to the bones. They are in short, the master key to the strength which over-comes great resistance. Without tendons one would possess no control over the body. There would be no rigidity, no steadiness of physical movement. They and their development are the secret of my strength. I am tendon-strong Muscles alone won’t hold horses back. Tendons will – and do. But they must be cultivated. Oh, yes. They must be developed. There is a way of increasing their strength, and that way, I claim in all modesty, I have perfected. Real, sound, and efficient is my method.
My knowledge can be yours as well.
And now you know why I am stronger than the others! You know why I am stronger than others! You know also why some big men are not really strong. Tendon strength accounts for those thin-armed boxers who, surprisingly, possess knock-out punches; and it also the explanation of other forms of physical power wherein the performer does not look capable. Some men are born with stronger tendons than others. They are fortunate. But all can develop tendon strength if only they know the method. Will you take my advice? If so, I can further help you. I have so much to tell you – so much I can find I can do for you in regard to this method of training – that it is an impossible task to do more than outline is it here. It is far too great an undertaking and can only be wisely imparted according to individual needs. I have my own ideas of diet, breathing, sleep, rest, and many things appertaining to one’s health and strength, some of which will be explained later in this literature.
Massive muscles useless without strong tendons.
My method, which only includes short physical movements, economizes in an energy. It develops energy, but does not waste it, as some systems do. It is easily possible to develop the body and keep it supple and fit, without energy-wasting, arm-raising movements. I do not believe in a big muscles unless they are backed up by great tendon strength. One sees many physical culture enthusiasts with quite large muscles, but of what use are they unless supported by that essentially powerful tendon foundation? These men cannot employ their big muscles usefully in real tests of strength; therefore, they are only an illusion.
But I do not neglect muscular development.
My method will develop muscle as well as tendons, and thereby furnish quite a respective physical appearance, as my photographs show, but these are real muscles – real strength muscles – obtained by my own unique way, not by ordinary exercises. They are full of power, and convey in appearance just what they can perform. I can make you stronger than you ever thought possible. By this method the possibilities are enormous. Just a few selected short movements with special appliances. I have trained with these appliances for years, And it is due to there wonderful tendon and muscle strengthening powers that I am what I am today.
These appliances are so unlike the usual physical culture appliances that, if you had seen them in a shop window without explanation, you would never have understood their purpose. I travel them with me always. They are not heavy. The use of them enables me, among other things, to break steel chains and to bend stout iron bars, unfaked in any way, around my chest and with my fingers. By their means I have also hardened my muscles to withstand enormous pressure without the slightest pain. My skin is like leather, as I show when I lie on those beds of nails, with the big stone on my chest. I was not born that way; I developed it.
I’ve located a rare book, found only in Russia that explains some of these methods, as I’ve been unable to do find after years of searching. It must be translated which will take some time. Before that happens I wanted to see if this is an area you’d be more interested in, specifically learning how Alexander Zass used isometrics and other exercises to become ridiculously strong.
If it’s something you would want to see let me know below. If it’s not let me know. This is just one of fifty different projects I could focus my time on, so if I’m going to do it, I want to be sure it’s something you’d be interested in.
Updated: The Mystery of The Iron Samson book is now available! Click here to check it out.