The Strongest Man That Ever Lived was written about Louis Cyr by the well-known strength author, George F. Jowett. Here is my review of this book. First off it’s obvious from the title that Jowett believed Cyr was genuinely the strongest of the strong and in fact could claim the title of the strongest man ever. This book then backs up this claim with story after story and feat of strength after feat.
And at what Louis Cyr did there is ample evidence that he was the strongest then, and with some feats that are still unbroken today, could still be called by that title. Here’s just a couple of his feats listed in the book:
“No less that twenty-seven times was counted as he pressed a solid dumb bell of one hundred and nine pounds to arms’ length in a series of repetition lifts.”
“Grasping a barrel of cement by the chines, using only one hand, he rocked it on the thigh, and from there up on his shoulder and then walked away with it. The barrel weighed three hundred and fourteen pounds, a feat which always stuck his opponents.”
When I select a book for the book club I do so before ever opening it. So sometimes they’re done out of chronological order like when we read Secrets of Strength before Muscle Building. Here George Jowett starts off by saying this was written some time after The Key to Might and Muscle which will be next month’s selection.
The book is a biography covering the work and exploits of Louis Cyr. As many of the others it is light on specific training information, but you can still gain some ideas by reading between the lines. And as before I’ll be pointed out what I got out of this book below.
Competitions with Cyr
Much of the book details contest after contest that Cyr engaged in with people like Cyclops, Johnson, Pennell and others. Of course he won in all of these. And because of his reputation people like Sandow avoided ever testing their strength against his, simply because they knew they would loose. Speaking of these contests:
“No man ever has accomplished such wonderful lifting over so many consecutive lifts as Cyr did night after night. No wonder Johnson said, “I can out-lift any man in the world, but it is impossible for any man to out-lift that elephant.” (referring to Louis Cyr)
And some more details on contests I found intriguing:
“They came together that same year and measured their strength against each other in Quebec, but not with bar bells or dumb bells as became the vogue later on in the French province. Rocks were the vehicles of resistance on this occasion, as they had been with their Gaulish ancestors.”
Because we have such quality training equipment readily available to us, this may actually be a disservice. So many of the strongest men in the world of yesteryear developed their strength by using things like stones, or make-shift barbells. While there are certain advantages to barbells (like it being it’s made to lift) sometimes you should spend time training things that aren’t meant to be lifted. Of course, if you’re competing with barbells you’ll specifically want to work with that, but still some rock lifting could do so many people some good. This next quote speaks to the same thing on a different level comparing dumbbells to barbells.
“The most singular thing to me is why the French Canadian athletes retain the affection for separate dumb bell lifting, even up to the present time. They are more awkward to handle than a bar bell and require greater effort to raise overhead. Probably it is this practice which makes them so efficient when they come to handle barbells, which it later did for Cyr.”
“Matches in those dawning days of strongmanism were not conducted as the matches of today. Each man selected a set of his own pet lifts, and each had to follow the other through his routine.”
It’s a shame that we’ve lost this. I think there’s no better way to be sure to developed well roundedness then to specifically try to beat out other strongmen. Sure there are elements of this in today’s competition but I think we should bring this back where one athlete gets pitted against another, where they each choose a number of exercises of any sort and all have to do them. This by itself could be a fun way to train and compete in a friendly manner.
On Louis Cyr’s Legs
“The circumference of his powerful legs was beyond the belief of men who had never seen him.”
“The enormous legs of the Montrealer were the secret of his strength.”
“Try and imagine a thirty-three inch thigh and twenty-eight inch calf!”
Here is a collection of quotes I found interesting. The size of his legs was enormous, and at the same time this is what his great strength was attributed too. Seeing this it makes no wonder that so many people do barbell squats. There really is no better exercise to build not just leg strength and size, but all around strength as well. So if you want to become strong and big you know what to do!
On Coin Breaking
“Many people do not believe that this is possible, and many students of strength disbelieve that any human being can thus break a coin into halves. I suppose because men whom they have known to be accredited with such finger strength were not able to do the feat when put to the test. Yet there have been such men capable of taking a coin between the fingers and breaking it through the center. I have witnessed this feat done twice during my lifetime, and I can quite understand the reason for disbelief, as men of that caliber are rare. Bienkowski, or Cyclops I should better call him, was one of them.”
Among many strongmen today coin breaking is believed to a myth as no one seems to be able to do it under scrutiny. Still that doesn’t mean it wasn’t ever done. And also not just with less strong coins then we have today. If Jowett said he saw it, I believe its a genuine feat.
Why Louis Cyr was so Strong, and other French Canadians too
“Among them, strength is a natural acquisition, they do not look for it, they expect it, and taking great pride in the amount they exhibit, the element of combat evolved.”
“It was environment that created them, but it was Louis that created the environment. He inspired others, and they accustomed themselves to consider certain poundage as being ordinary, that really shocked the best products of other nations…The brilliancy of Leader Louis was that he daily reduced the extraordinary in feats of man power to the commonplace.”
This is important. Not that we will travel to Canada in order to get stronger as that wouldn’t work as it’s probably not true now like it was then anyway. But environment determines strength. Not just in how you train but who you’re around. When you’re around the strongest people in the world and you see things commonly done that are world records or of that class that instills in your mind that it’s possible. This factor is not to be overlooked.
This is why you need to get around strong people. Perhaps you don’t have much of an opportunity in your local area, but workshops can be a great opportunity. This is one of the reasons whenever we get around other strong people lots of PR’s fall. And if you want strength there really isn’t a better lineup anywhere then at the Super Human Workshop.
This is in contrast to others like Hermann Goerner who never tested his limits.
“Greater than ever he felt the power of his conquest, and on every trial of force he strove to outrival his previous best performance. Big as he was, Louis was never lazy. He was a rare fighter. Put him up against something that was more difficult than he had encountered, and it was as though he was smitten upon the should with the Titan rod. He would rise like a giant from his fastness and hurl himself against his material foe. There was no laying down for him. He eyes would snap with fire as his frame responded, and he has been known to lift until he bled from his exertions.”
There is a time and a place for both taking it easy and going “balls to the walls”. You’ll also have to judge your temperament and what works better for you, also realizing this could change over time. Both work. There is no denying that as those that keep things easy, and those that go all out, have both produced some ridiculously strong people.
Appetite of Destruction
Throughout the book Jowett talks about the failing of Cyr, the one that eventually took his life, and that was his enormous appetite.
“He could eat more that four ordinary men at one sitting, and took a keen delight in watching the amazement creep over the waiter’s face when he turned in his order at the hotel. Six pounds of meat at one meal was nothing for him. He could devour that for breakfast. Next to a lifting contest, he loved an eating contest best.”
At the same time, this amount of food certainly was a component to his great size and thus his strength. If you’re looking to be big and strong, as oppose to small or normal sized and strong, your eating will need to expand along with the weights you lift. Recognize this as a fact and realize on some level this comes with drawbacks in health.
On Hair Strength
Louis wore his hair long like I do for much of his life. Here was one feat he did with it that I’m thinking about trying to replicate. It sounds dangerous, but that doesn’t mean I won’t try it.
“Here is a little stunt worth the telling which he used to do when he wore long hair which almost slipped my mind. In the folds of his twisted tresses he tied three fifty pound weights, one on each side of the head and one in the center. With these dangling from his scalp, he would spin around until they whirled and whizzed like the propeller on an aeroplane. It always presented a thrilling sight and never failed to delight, and for years he used this stunt with which to wind up his act.”
In many ways their is no doubting that Louis Cyr was the strongest man that every lived like the title claims. Of course this depends on in which way you qualify strength. Still Cyr would be at the top of just about any list for his amazing feats and complete domination of anyone who competed against him. I highly recommend you read this book for yourself to read about all the fascinating matches.
Please write in your questions, comments and what you found most fascinating about this book below.