John Grimek

The undefeated champion that turned his attention from Olympic Weightlifting to bodybuilding became a household name for his size, strength, and performances on stage. John Grimek was a true champion in the hearts of millions around the world.

He’s still known today as one of the greatest natural bodybuilders with a strength he could actually use. Rising up quickly, John Grimek learned the ropes of Olympic Lifting and was approached by Team USA to represent his country in the 1936 Olympics.

With a career in modeling through the Great Depression, and eventually smashing all of the competition in the sport of bodybuilding, Grimek quickly became known as “the greatest bodybuilder that ever lived.”

This is his story:


 

John Grimek Posing in front of crowd

Athlete Statistics

Full Name: John Grimek
WeightHeightArmsChest
215 - 225lbs (93.0 - 102.1kg)5'8" (172.5cm)19.5"50"
WaistThighsCalves
30"29"20"
NationalityProfessionEra
AmericanOlympic Weightlifter, Bodybuilder, Writer1920, 1930, 1940, 1950
Weight215 - 225lbs (93.0 - 102.1kg)
Height5'8" (172.5cm)
Arms19.5"
Chest50"
Waist30"
Thighs29"
Calves20"
NationalityAmerican
ProfessionOlympic Weightlifter, Bodybuilder, Writer
Era1920, 1930, 1940, 1950


 

John Grimek

Accomplishments

Olympian

  • 1936 Olympic Games Weightlifting 9th place

Bodybuilding

  • 1939 York Perfect Man
  • 1940 Mr. America
  • 1941 Mr. America
  • 1946 Most Muscular Man In America
  • 1948 Mr. Universe (Categories “Short” and “Overall”)
  • 1949 Mr. USA

Best Lifts

  • Deadlift: 600 pounds
  • Squat: 700 pounds
  • Bent Press: 300 pounds
  • Overhead Press: 364 pounds
  • Bench Press: 480 pounds

 

John Grimek biceps posing

Biography

Early Life

John Grimek was born in Perth Amboy in New Jersey on the 17th of June 1910 and raised by his Slovakian parents. Grimek grew with a desire to be strong and muscular as his idols of the time. Someone closer to home and a strong influence was his older brother George, who kept a set of weights and would train with friends.

Grimek would sneak off and train with the weights when no one was around in fear of embarrassment at the youthful age of 12, hoping to become a stronger and bigger version on himself. As history revealed itself, it’s clear to see he succeeded, and by a huge margin.

He quickly became known as one of the greatest natural bodybuilders of his time as he progressively dominated the world of bodybuilding in the 1930 and “40s. Grimek never lost a contest in his professional career, nor was his physique matched to anyone else at the time.

Realizing his strength in the gym, Grimek quickly developed an interest in Olympic weightlifting as he took to the sport naturally. He soon familiarized himself with the sport and begun to focus his efforts on becoming as strong as possible.

The Olympics

Grimek wasn’t only known for his bodybuilding exploits, he was firstly and formerly an Olympic Weightlifting Champion. He learned how to perform a whole variety of movements such as the backflip and the splits.

He was quickly spotted by Olympic professionals and picked to represent Team UAS in the 1936 Olympic Weightlifting Team.

He placed 9th overall but expert advice at the time suggested that if he’d dropped his weight to the Light Heavyweight category, he would have smashed the competition.

Grimek also progressed to take the American World Record for the Military Press, something Grimek was known to be most famous for.

Modeling In The Great Depression

Grimek’s physique progressed so quickly he was soon noticed on the streets of New York in a matter of no time at all. With many professional photographers who wanted to take his picture, he wasn’t short of attention or a job.

He was approached by Universities and magazine companies to model and pose for long number of hours each week. At the time, he was earning $80 per week, which was enough to feed a family, a large sum of money, especially during the Great Depression.

Olympics To Bodybuilding

With a strong physique built by years of weightlifting and his stint as a Team UAS athlete, Grimek turned his attention onto bodybuilding. In the 1040 and the 1941 AAU Mr. America competition, he beat his competition by a huge margin.

The gap was large in his domination over the competition that the organizers of the event created a ‘one victory only’ condition, which meant that Grimek couldn’t continue to compete and win the competition again and again, which he surely would have.

In 1948 Grimek impressed the world once again when at the age of 38 he won the NABBA Mr. Universe in London, this is where he won the formidable Steve Reeves. When Reeves was approached by the media, he announced to the world that: “John Grimek is the greatest bodybuilder that ever lived.”

It wasn’t only his awesome physique that the audiences adored, it was his personality, his nature, and the way he could perform routines such as backflips, handstands and a whole variety of gymnastic movements that the bodybuilders of today would have a hard time replicating. John Grimek was an all-round sportsman, entertainer, and champion.

Retiring From Bodybuilding

A journalist once said that Grimek was; “a young man with a massive physique and an uncommon talent for showing it off.” When 1949 came around, it was Grimek’s time to retire from the sport that had given him so much, the AAU Mr. USA would be his last competition.

He went on to win the entire competition, beating the likes of Clarence Ross, George Eiferman and again Steve Reeves. He retired undefeated, a title that hasn’t been matched since.

“My first ambition was to be a lifter. At that time there was no such thing as bodybuilding or being a physique person. That was what they call a pretty boy situation someone who would be strutting around and showing off his muscular development. That had no appeal to me. I just wanted to get the results without being in any kind of parading situation, going around saying, ‘Here I am! Look at me! I’ve got this and that.”

John Beating Steve Reeves

Grimek was known for being able to perform gymnastic-like routines, this became even more apparent in the 1948 Mr. Universe where he beat Steve Reeves hands down. Here’s Grimek talking about how he beat his competition:

They had a posedown between me, Reeves and a guy from France. We pulled straws to see who was going to go first. This Frenchman got first, so he went on. He didn’t do much just a couple of poses and that’s it. I went on second and went through a whole routine of about 30 poses. Then I did muscle control on top of that, and as a conclusion, I jumped off the pedestal into a full split, did a handstand, a couple of handstand pushups and flipped back up to my feet. 

That tore the house down because they had never seen anything like that before. So that was the end of it. And Reeves, who was watching me at the time, I think he got kinda nervous. And when he went out, he kinda wobbled in his footing. And in one case he missed his step and came off the platform. And I think that just put him out of the picture. Later on, the guys from York bawled me out and saId, “Why didn’t you do something earlier?” I said, “Look, I was waiting for the final event,” which was the pose- down.” – John Grimek


 

John Grimek weight training decline bench press

John’s Death And Legacy 

Soon after his victorious retirement from bodybuilding, Grimek went on to become a writer for a wide variety of bodybuilding publications for health magazines. But Grimek never gave up his training during his downtime.He still managed to hit the gym as hard as ever and showed his fans and the world that he could still squat 400lbs.

The champion and well loved John Grimek died on November 20, 1998, at the age of 88. Very soon after his death, he was inducted to the IFBB Hall Of Fame.

John Grimek was known for his important contributions withing the world of bodybuilding in the early ears, he became a household name and a true icon for millions the word over. Much like the other greats of the time, such as Steve Reeves, he contributed to a whole generation of aspiring people wanting to achieve their own physique of greatness.

He was known as a humble and gentle man that always rose to the challenge.


 

A young John Grimek standing in a doorway

A young John Grimek.


 

John Grimek

Training

Full Body Workouts

Grimek’s approach was not like other bodybuilding routines which mainly focused on splits and set bodyparts each day of the week, he was an all out weightlifter who trained intensely using full body workouts, sometimes six days a week.

He sculpted his body using Olympic lifting routines and compound exercises, such as the push press deadlifts and squats.

“I trained everything in every workout. I didn’t do what they call split workouts and train legs and arms one day, back and other stuff the next day. The only way I ever isolated a group of muscles was when I was finished with my routine for the day and I still thought I needed more for my back or chest or legs or whatever.”

Grimek’s advice for anyone wanting to get into shape was very simple, and that was to stay consistent and get a lot of rest with good food and to drink lot’s of water.

“Train consistently 2-3 days per week and add weight to the bar whenever possible and get lots of rest, eat good food and drink plenty of water.”

John Grimek’s Full Body Workout

Grimek published his Full Body Workout once he retired from professional bodybuilding. Its main focus is on core movements such as compound lifts, and some isolation exercises.

Monday

  • Bench Press: 3 sets, 10 reps
  • Chin Ups or Pull Downs: 3 sets, 10 reps
  • Military Press: 3 sets, 10 reps
  • Barbell Curls: 3 sets, 10 reps
  • Squats: 3 sets, 10 reps
  • Standing Calf Raises: 3 sets, 10 reps

Wednesday

  • Incline Press or Dips: 3 sets, 10 reps
  • Barbell Row or Dumbbell Row: 3 sets, 10 reps
  • Shrugs: 3 sets, 10 reps
  • Single Arm Preacher Curl: 3 sets, 10 reps
  • Leg Curl: 3 sets, 10 reps
  • Abs: 1 set, 50 reps

Friday

  • Chin Ups or Pull Downs: 3 sets, 10 reps
  • Military Press: 3 sets, 10 reps
  • Incline Dumbbell Curls: 3 sets, 10 reps
  • Front Squats: 3 sets, 10 reps
  • Stiff-Legged Deadlift: 3 sets, 10 reps

 

John-Grimek-Traps

Nutrition

John had a huge appetite when in full swing, his training schedule was intense and sometimes lasted hours, Grimek needed to make sure he was feeding his body the correct nutrients and enough calories to support his mammoth workouts.

There wasn’t one rule for Grimek, he would eat almost anything is sight, but when he wanted to dial in his nutrition, it would consist of health proteins, fats, and carbs with plenty of vegetables.

Here’s John’s wife Angela talking about his insatiable appetite;

“John has an enormous appetite. . . John has yet to find a restaurant that can do justice to his appetite. . .  Sometimes he goes on a restricted diet–and it is surprising how little he can get by on then. But when he goes all out, he can never be filled. . .  but the ‘hog’ (our pet name for John) just eats and eats and still remains trim and muscular.”


 

John-Grimek-and-Steve-Reeves
John Grimek and Steve Reeves

Idols and Influences

John Grimek’s idols and influences in the very beginning were his brother, and his group of friends who would use weights often in their spare time, Grimek secretly admired them and the way they would train with weights and build their strength.

His attention later turned towards the greats of the time such as Eugine Sandow and Charles Atlas for inspiration in becoming a powerhouse of fitness as he was later know.


 

John Grimek training with weights

What we can learn from John Grimek

John Grimek always had a passion and love for strength and size, his hunger to be fit and healthy lasted a lifetime. He started using his brother’s weights and quickly progressed into a professional Olympic Athlete.

Being noticed by photographers and Universities, Grimek was able to support himself through an economic crises by the sculpting his body to absolute perfection.

With a variety of training styles and a true showman’s attitude, Grimek made a name for himself that quickly spread across the country, and the entire world in being the most perfected bodybuilder of all time.

Even an economic downfall couldn’t stop Grimek from striving for perfection as his thirst for strength and size outweighed any negatives happening around him, this inner determination is what sets champions apart, this, is why John Grimek will always be known as the strongest and most perfected physique of his era.

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12 comments

  1. william O Austin

    March 26, 2017 at 1:15 pm

    HE WAS AWESOME AND HE DID IT OLD SCHOOL

  2. Jiri

    August 4, 2017 at 12:11 pm

    The pictures above “Nutrition” and “Idos and Influences” are not Grimek.
    Latter is Chuck Sipes, the former George Eiferman.

    1. Editor

      August 8, 2017 at 10:58 am

      Thanks for the help and sorry for the confusion. We’ve changed over.

  3. December 25, 2017 at 9:33 pm

    Who invented the curling bar?

  4. Pete Sieghart

    January 3, 2018 at 9:59 am

    Great job guys, your website is fantastic. Just one thing – John’s parents weren’t Hungarians, they were Slovaks. Although Slovakia was a part or Austrian-Hungarian Empire, there were many different nations living there. Cheers

    1. Editor

      January 3, 2018 at 2:04 pm

      Thanks for pointing that out Pete! We’ve updated the page. We’re glad you like the site. You should check out our forum! https://www.greatestphysiques.com/forum

  5. Reggie

    January 26, 2018 at 10:17 pm

    The reference to the Olympics should be 1936 not 1939. I have never seen the picture which is marked as the young John Grimek and would love to know its origin. Thanks in advance for any help.

    1. Greatest Physiques

      January 30, 2018 at 3:27 pm

      Thanks for the heads up Reggie!

  6. Me>

    March 22, 2018 at 12:25 am

    Grimek’s hero was E. Sandow, amongst others.
    No steroids, not even close. Steve Reeves, same-same.
    Bill Pearl fantastic but, steroids, in the end.
    York, Weider, Hoffman, Phillips, etc., ALL pieces of human shit.
    Vince Gironda, Ron Kosloff………righteous masters of natural body-building.
    Don’t like it? “Suck my balls!!!”- Joseph Hebert Jr.

  7. Shane

    January 17, 2019 at 1:11 am

    This was absolutely the most impressive and well done article on John Grimek! It has his bio, workout, diet and legacy all in one. John Grimek #1 in my book !

  8. Michael

    February 25, 2019 at 1:15 am

    As a young teenager I was badly injured in a gun accident. As I recovered I drew inspiration from Grimes, Stanko and Tommy Kono and others in Hoffman’s magazines to gain weight and strength through nutrition and weight training. I owe them all for my return to health, but I Grimes remains my favorite.

  9. Gregg Ficarra

    July 10, 2019 at 11:41 am

    Do we know where Mr. Grimek grew up?
    What high school he went to?
    Says he was born in Perth AMBOY, NJ
    I want to make sure he was properly honored in his home town/city

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