John Grimek Meets Sig Klein: “A Good Strongman Never Makes Excuses”

Many years ago when I first walked into Sig’s gym (around 1930) he stumped me with a pair of dumbbells… his100s. He asked whether I could clean and press a pair of 100s. I had not used heavy dumbbells until then so was not sure and told him so. He asked me to try and brought forth and awkward pair of dumbbells, each differently shaped. As I eyed them I could feel my confidence leaving me. I was capable of pressing well over 200 pounds on a barbell, but these two hunks of iron-mass looked too defying. Klein urged me to try. I grabbed one in each hand and pulled. One stayed at my shoulders but the other twisted away. Again I tackled them and again the same thing happened. I then began making excuses about the awkwardness of the pair and that I had not handled such ponderous dumbbells. Sig came back with a classic reply: “A good strongman never makes excuses. He takes any thing that can be lifted, and if he can’t lift it at that time, he trains on it until he does succeed.”

His words contained sound logic. I pondered their meaning and, to be truthful, I never forgot them in later years.

Nevertheless, after a series of misses I finally got them to my shoulders and pushed them overhead. I admit that poor exhibition of power irked me. I then told Sig that I will come back in two weeks and do them easily. That didn’t impress Sig, after all, he had heard such vague promises before. He shook his head nonchalantly and said something like: “Fine. The dumbbells will be here anytime you want to try them.”

It was a little over two weeks early one morning, just shortly after Sig had opened the gym that I arrived, bursting through the door with such aggressiveness that it even surprised Sig. He was busy with some of his business clientele, so I threw off my jacket, took the dumbbells from the rack and placed them on the floor in front of me. I grabbed each dumbbell and simultaneously pulled them both up to my shoulders, and then proceeded to push them then alternately in a see-saw fashion. By now everyone in the gym was watching me. And when I reached about 15 reps Sig yelled out, “That’s enough. That’s enough!” With this I replaced the bells on the rack and looked triumphantly at Sig who congratulated me for the fine performance, adding, “Now you see what a little practice and persistence can do.” I nodded approvingly.

How was I able to lift these cumbersome weight when I failed rather miserably just two weeks before? Simple. On returning home I fashioned a pair handles to be used for dumbbells, and employed them in all my exercises, in particular the clean and press exercise. After a short time the ability to handle them came easily, and all I had to do was concentrate on heavier ones. In any case from that day on I became a great enthusiast over dumbbells, and even to this day my workouts are done primarily with dumbbells. The only time I ever handle a barbell is when I do squats or deadlifts, and this is because there are no dumbbells readily available to supplement this need.

I must also mention the fact that during the time I practiced with these dumbbells my press with a barbell also increased. Later I tried my best press with a barbell and found I could do 10 or 15 more pounds easier that what I did before starting to train with dumbbells… So dumbbell training is far superior for power than a barbell, in other words, it’s easier to handle a single unit, such as a barbell, than two separate items, such as dumbbells.

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