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The Story Of John Grimek, The Renaissance Man Of Fitness

The Story Of John Grimek, The Renaissance Man Of Fitness

John Grimek is one of the greatest athletes to ever touch a barbell. That’s a big claim, but one that the “Monarch of Muscledom” certainly deserves. Born in New Jersey in 1910, Grimek represented the United States at the 1936 Olympics in weightlifting before winning two-time Mr. America won in 1940 and 1941. The judges of Mr. America were so impressed with Grimek’s physique that they changed the competition rules to prevent winners from re-entering the competition.

Like Bill Kazmier, who was banned from participating in the World Strongest Man contest in the 1980s due to his dominance, Grimek was in fact banned from the Mr. America contest. Undeterred, in 1948 he won the Mr. Universe title and then the Mr. USA title in 1949. Grimek retired from bodybuilding shortly after never losing a competition.

Discussing Grimek is a challenge. Not because he was a difficult personality – at least he was known for his kindness – but because he accomplished so much in so many different areas. He helped pioneers lift barbells in the United States, inspired millions to exercise, and remained a key figure in American fitness until his death in 1998.

When the highly respected bodybuilding entrepreneur Earle Liederman saw Grimek on stage in 1940, he wrote: “I must confess that my eyes widened a little, as I have rarely seen such a highly developed body. Criticism cannot find a weak spot.” (1)

In a touching obituary for Grimek, famed bodybuilding promoter and founder of Muscle & Fitness magazine Joe Weider wrote, “From the 1930s to the 1960s, John Grimek was the most dominant force in the world of bodybuilding.” (2) Bill Starr called him “the most admired man in all of physical culture.” (3)

The early years

John Grimek was born in New Jersey in 1910 to George and Maria Grimek. Somewhat odd given his successes, Grimek’s interest in weightlifting was not innate, but rather something he developed thanks to the mentorship of his older brother George. (4)

As narrated by David Chapman, George was consumed by his growing interest in physical culture. At the time, he was a reader of leading health magazines such as Physical Culture and Strength. (5) More importantly, he bought almost every piece of fitness equipment advertised in the back of these publications. George used the equipment seriously and encouraged John to do the same. When the iron touched his hand, John discovered “an intense desire to build a beautiful body, and he had a beautiful foundation to build on.” (6)

At age 19, John started sending pictures of himself to muscle magazines, which, as David Chapman explained, caused a stir in the fitness industry. The young Grimek posed outdoors, often wearing headbands, loincloths and other costumes. He was praised for his ingenuity and posing skills. It was clear, even from this age, that he had the potential to build a truly remarkable physique.

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