Think of some of the best nicknames in bodybuilding today.
You likely think of names like “The Gift”, “The Blade”, or “The Predator”.
Those nicknames are cool and the men that own them have every right to be proud of them. The best nickname in the iron game may not even be from this century though.
Imagine being known as the “Monarch of Muscledom”. Having that nickname bestowed on you is worthy of legend status on its own.
That was the nickname of John Grimek, one of the pioneers of bodybuilding and weight training. And he has been regarded as an icon and legend for generations. He dominated the sport of bodybuilding with one of the most developed physiques of the era.
Before we dive in to how he developed his body, let’s learn more about the man behind the muscles.
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John Grimek: A Pioneer of Modern Day Bodybuilding
John Carroll Grimek was born on June 17, 1910 in New Jersey and was the son of Slovak immigrants. At the age of 12, he got into weight lifting as a way to become stronger and more agile. He would sneak into a room and use his father’s weights when no one was around.
His father and older brother, George, were early influences on his strength aspirations. The sports of Olympic weightlifting and bodybuilding weren’t as popular in those days as they are today. So, building strength wasn’t a goal for many who trained.
Grimek, however, enjoyed getting stronger and being able to perform different feats of strength such as the bent press and single arm dumbbell swings. He was able to successfully complete the latter movement with over 200lbs. Another famous lift is his standing reverse grip shoulder press of 280lbs.
He did eventually start training in the Olympic weightlifting style and showed promise almost immediately. Considering this was taking place during the Great Depression in the 1930s when nearly all resources were limited, his improvement and success in the sport was remarkable.
Eventually, he became one of the first known fitness models earning a living while being featured in magazines promoting companies and early photographers.
He ultimately qualified for the US Olympic weightlifting team, won the AAU heavyweight championship in that sport, and competed at the 1936 Olympics for his country in Berlin, Germany. Back then there were three lifts. His best lifts were 115 kg (253.5 pounds) in the Military Press, 105 kg (231.5 pounds) in the Snatch, and 137.5 kg (303.18 pounds) in the Clean and Jerk. He finished the competition in 9th place in the heavyweight division.
After the Olympics, he started to focus on bodybuilding and by the 1940’s was dominating the stage. His first title was the York Perfect Man in 1939. He won the 1940 and 1941 Mr. America contests.
Grimek’s physique was considered so far ahead of his time that promoters of the contest put in a rule that previous winners could no longer enter future competitions. He also became known as “The Glow” because of how much he stood out when he was on the stage.
He would take the NABBA Mr. Universe title in 1948 and was victorious in the 1949 Mr. USA competition. The latter two contests he defeated an up and comer that would become a superstar in his own right, Steve Reeves. After the 1949 win, he retired from the sport with an undefeated record.
John Grimek’s Bodybuilding Measurements
- Height: 5’8 ½”
- Weight: 215-225 pounds
- Upper Arms: 19.5 inches
- Chest: 50 inches
- Waist: 30 inches
- Thighs: 29 inches
- Calves: 20 inches
John Grimek: Life Post Bodybuilding Retirement
While he no longer competed as an athlete, Grimek trained for many years after retirement.
A big believer in squats, which was one of the first exercises he learned in his youth, he was able to squat over 400 pounds for reps into his late 60’s.
He also worked as a writer and contributor to magazines later in life.
John Grimek died on November 20, 1998 in York, Pennsylvania at the age of 88. He would be posthumously inducted into the IFBB Hall of Fame less than one year later.
John Grimek Nutrition & Supplementation
Grimek actually didn’t follow a strict nutrition plan or diet. He consistently ate healthy by his standards and was inclusive of almost all food.
He believed in a balance of protein, carbs, and fat sources when it came time to prepare for a contest or to drop weight.
When he wasn’t getting ready for an event, he ate whatever he wanted and had no restrictions.
He is also considered a pioneer of nutritional supplements. He advocated for protein powders as well as a supplement called “Get Big Drink”.
John Grimek’s Workout Routines
Many of us likely began our training by learning to do exercises for three sets of 10 reps (3 x 10). Grimek is the man that made that scheme famous but it wasn’t the way we’re all familiar with. Instead of doing one exercise for three consecutive sets of 10 reps, he would take a group of movements, perform each for one set of 10 reps, rest, and repeat.
He wouldn’t do these movements in a circuit type fashion. He would perform one exercise, rest for one minute, perform the next, and so on. By the end of the rotation, he would rest for 2-3 minutes before starting his next round. He would only add weight if he felt it was necessary to.
Unless you train at home with your own equipment or your gym is empty, it’s highly unlikely that you would be able to complete a workout like this in the same fashion that Grimek did. If you want to try this training style, you can possibly substitute similar movements or machines that target the same muscles.
Grimek trained the entire body over the course of a session and worked out on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. While he changed exercises and rep schemes often, his most famous routine is below.
If he wanted to change anything, he would slightly alter the way he performed these exercises to achieve a different feel and result.
Monday: John Grimek Full Body Workout
|Standing Calf Raise||3||10|
*Rest for one minute between exercises and 2-3 minutes after completing all exercises. Repeat the above exercises for a total of three times.
Wednesday: John Grimek Full Body Workout
|Incline Bench Press||3||10|
|Single Arm Preacher Curl||3||10|
*Rest for one minute between exercises and 2-3 minutes after completing all exercises. Repeat all the above exercises except situps for a total of three times.
Friday: John Grimek Full Body Workout
|Incline Dumbbell Curl||3||10|
|Stiff Legged Deadlift||3||10|
*Rest for one minute between exercises and 2-3 minutes after completing all exercises. Repeat this circuit for a total of three times.
Grimek’s two main rules regarding training was to maintain full control of the weight you’re using so that you can finish the set smoothly and to show proper posture. If you have to adjust your body to finish a rep, you should go lighter.