If you’re in your twenties and relatively new to weightlifting, you probably haven’t heard of Paul Anderson yet.
This self-taught strongman had the peak of his career in the 50’s, when he was dubbed as one of the strongest men in recorded history for his many unequaled feats of ultimate strength.
Born in 1932 in Georgia, he began his weight training as a teenager in his family’s backyard. It took him a few years to fully realize his talent, but at age 20 he felt ready to present his power to the world.
He won the USA National Amateur Athletic Union Weightlifting Championship and then traveled to the Soviet Union to participate in an international weightlifting competition – where he pulled off a spectacular 402.5 pound lift, breaking the world record and winning the hearts of the crowd. The following October, Anderson established two other world records: for the press with 407.7 pounds and for total weight cleared with 1129.5 pounds, and became a world champion in his weight class.
By now, his inhumane strength and warm charisma had made him a star in the U.S. The next year, he won the gold medal in weightlifting in the super-heavyweight class at the Olympic Games in Australia. He weighed 304 lbs (137.9 kg) at that time. And this is the era when steroids were not yet invented, remember?
Among other things, Anderson also held the Guinness World Record for “the greatest weight ever raised by a human being“ when he put up 6.270 pounds in a back lift. Over the years, the legitimacy of some of his achievements has been questioned by the modern skeptics (such as his 1.200 pound squat that inspires fierce debates to this very day), but the numbers below come from official competitions:
- Bench press: 628 lbs (285 kg), raw
- Squat: 1,200 lb (540 kg) raw
- Deadlift: 820 lbs (370 kg), raw
- Clean and press: 408.5 lbs (185.5 kg)
- Snatch: 335 lbs (150.25 kg)
- Clean and jerk: 440 lbs (190.95 kg)
Always ahead of his time, Anderson had his own ideas about the right way to train. For example, he was convinced that the squat is the most important of all the lifts, although at that time squats were rarely performed by lifters.
He knew that the legs and back were the key to one’s strength, so he would have a few short but intense workouts throughout the day, increasing the weight each time and sipping milk during the rest periods. His training routine, quite untypical for that period, was something like a prototype of the revolutionary weightlifting programs invented a few decades later.
But the legacy of this great man extends far beyond lifting heavy weights like no one else before him. After his Olympic win, almost all of the money he earned from professional competitions and public appearances (as many as five hundred annually!) were invested into a home for juvenile deliquents that Anderson himself run for more than 30 years with the help of his wife Glenda.
He died in 1994 from a chronic kidney illness at age 61, but his amazing athletic spirit, independent mind and compassionate nature continues to inspire lifters all around the world.