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The Untold Story of Louis Cyr, the Original “Strongest Man on Earth”

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Who’s the world’s strongest man? These days the answer is obvious to most strongmen: both the winner of the Arnold Strongman Basic or the World’s Strongest Man competitors.

But these competitions, fashionable though they are, are comparatively current phenomenon. The World’s Strongest Man started in 1977 and the Arnold Strongman Basic kicked off in 2002. How did we determine the strongest man before such events? Complicating things additional, we’d ask how can we determine power when lifting as we all know it was solely beginning to return to the fore?

Such questions plagued the lifters of the early 1900s. At a time when fitness center going, as outlined by the time period “physical culture,” was nonetheless a novel concept, each power athlete value his salt claimed the title of World’s Strongest Man. Was Arthur Saxon’s document in the bent press — a document which stood for over a century — proof that he was the strongest? What about Eugen Sandow and his feat of Hercules stunts which saw complete hoards of males stroll throughout a beam supported by the Prussian strongman? And not using a standardised set of lifts, comparisons have been troublesome.

Despite this confusion many lifters knew that actual power resided primarily in one man. Louis Cyr.

From 1886 to his demise in 1912, Cyr hoisted wagons, pulled globe barbells and pushed numerous objects overhead. He exhibited again lifts totalling a number of thousand kilos, simultaneously held again four horses, defeated different strongmen in competitors and toured the world because the undisputed face of power. In a time earlier than strongman competitions, few doubted Cyr’s claim to the world’s strongest dwelling man. Famous amongst power aficionados, Cyr is oftentimes missed in common discussions of power. At present’s submit tells his story and highlights the raw power which defined the first lifter worthy of the title ‘World’s Strongest Man.’

From Proud Beginnings

James Woycke credited Cyr’s exceptional power as an grownup to his genetic heritage. Born in St. Cyprien, south of Montreal, in 1863, Cyr’s ancestry included farm staff and lumbermen.(1) His mother, Philomène Berger Cyr, was stated to have been a robust lady in her own right. Christened Noé-Cyprien Cyr (he later modified his identify to Louis) the young French-Canadian came at an opportune time in his region’s history. At a time when the Quebec financial system was nonetheless defined by farmwork and wood chopping, Cyr’s childhood was spent in the informal acts of power coaching found in pushing, pulling, chopping and lifting hay, wood or whatever else was handy. Gymnasiums had but to develop into popularised and power acts, although in existence, were not commonplace.(2) Farmwork and lumberjacking have been still one of the best technique of acquiring power and muscle, something Cyr did with an excellent enthusiasm.

[Learn more: Why Woodchopping Is the Best Workout You’re Not Doing]

Based on subsequent fantasy, it was only when he hit his late teens that Cyr, and people round him, began to take discover of his power. Returning residence from work someday, Cyr came across a farmer’s wagon that had grow to be stuck in a ditch on a muddy path. The horse, despite his owner’s greatest efforts, could not dislodge the wagon from the mud. Sensing a chance to help, Cyr lifted the wagon from the ditch and, with the assistance of a presumably shamed horse, pulled it back onto the street. Then returning residence, Cyr left an astonished farmer to return to his enterprise.(3)

(It’s exhausting to understand how a lot of that is apocryphal, however we’re describing the stories as they have been reported.)

This was not the top of the matter. Individuals have been speaking concerning the teenager’s power and encouraged him to exhibit it. When his family moved to Boston in 1878, Cyr continued on this vein. In 1881, aged 18, Cyr competed in, and gained, his first strongman show. Demonstrating the still ad-hoc nature of power competitions within the early 1880s, the competitors revolved round one feat: who might carry a horse overhead.(4) Cyr lifted the horse with ease, thereby profitable the competitors and initiating a power career which lasted 20 years.

Constructing One’s Power

From 1881 to 1886, Cyr largely lived the life of a vagabond strongman, competing in power exhibits and choosing up seasonal work the place potential. Predating Ronnie Coleman’s declare to the world’s scariest police officer, Cyr was part of the Montreal police drive from 1883 to 1885. To put the oddity of Cyr’s employment with the police into context, the typical male weight in america throughout this time ranged from 142 to 165 kilos.(5) Cyr was on his strategy to weighing in at over 300 pounds. He won’t have caught perps in a footrace, but his sight alone was in all probability a criminal offense deterrent.

Legend has it that this is how Cyr was provided the job: One evening, he came across two males engaged in a knife battle. Not stopping to find the reason for their discontent, Cyr shook each man by the collar, took their knives and carried one underneath each arm to the native station. He was shortly met with a job supply.(7)

Police work, nevertheless rewarding, was not sufficient for Cyr mixed his numerous jobs with a collection of weightlifting and strongman events. Following his Boston victory in 1881, Cyr returned to Quebec the place he confronted David Michaud in a weightlifting contest. Then Canada’s strongest man, Michaud challenged Cyr to greatest him in a boulder lifting competition. Writing on the occasion many years later, Ben Weider, of Weider bodybuilding fame, claimed that Cyr’s victory over Michaud was secured after the younger strongman lifted a boulder totalling over 5 hundred kilos from the bottom.(6)

[Become Louis Cyr: Here’s how to deadlift 500 pounds.]

For the subsequent yr and a half Cyr continued to wow Canadian audiences with a collection of weightlifting exhibitions.

In 1885, Cyr left the police drive to open his own tavern in St Cunegonde, Montreal with an adjoining gymnasium. Based on David Mild, Cyr’s tavern and gymnasium shortly turned a vacation spot from strongmen from throughout the country to train and challenge each other.(Eight) Cyr was beginning to taste financial stability and a popularity as his nation’s strongest man. Not content together with his lot, Cyr continued to tour, albeit sporadically, and compete in contests with different lifters.

A Strongman is Born

The interval 1881 to 1886 was very much a testing floor for Cyr. He built his power and gained the admiration of many however it was unlikely that many in america or Nice Britain knew Cyr’s identify presently. Cyr’s fortunes changed dramatically in 1886 when Cyr teamed up with Richard Okay. Fox of the Nationwide Police Gazette.(9) Impressed with Cyr’s victory over Richard Pennell in Philadelphia in 1886, Fox, whose journal spanned a variety of sports activities and interest pieces, was an excellent promoter of athletic excellence, recurrently providing prize monies and belts to his champions.(10)

Sponsored by Fox, who provided $5,000 to anybody who might greatest Cyr in a weightlifting match, Cyr’s fame grew. Encouraged by Fox’s approval, he undertook a collection of tours spanning Canada, the USA and England. In every town Cyr would challenge the native strongman, inevitably defeat them and in addition make time for public exhibitions of power. Throughout this time, Cyr counted Sebastian Miller, Cyclops, Samson, August Johnson and Sandowe among his rivals.(11) That was Sandowe with an E and never Eugen Sandow, the strongman beforehand coated on Barbend. Regardless of Cyr’s greatest efforts and the supply of a diamond studded belt, Sandow never faced Cyr in a weightlifting match.

Defeating different strongmen is undoubtedly necessary in establishing one’s claim to world’s strongest man but public feats of power are additionally crucial. Cyr didn’t disappoint in this regard. In 1888, Cyr lifted 3,536 lb/1, 604 kg in a back raise. Three years later in 1891, Cyr efficiently held back 4 draught horses with ease.(12) When on tour in England in 1891 and 1892, W. A. Pullum, an English lifter of some renown, credited Cyr with the following lifts:

The Feats of Louis Cyr

(1) Two arms to shoulder and one arm push overhead: 124 kilos (roughly 273 English kilos).

(2) Two palms clear to shoulders and sluggish press: 136 kilos (roughly 299 pounds).

(3) Proper and left hand clean sweep-up overhead (just like our snatch movement, but with no dip underneath): 78 kilos (approximately 172 pounds).

(4) One hand hold out at right angles to the physique, weight not lowered from above but pushed out sideways with solely a very slight sideways bend of the body: 47 kilos (roughly 104 kilos).

(5) Barrel of cement standing on finish, put on shoulder by means of one hand solely: 141 kilos (roughly 310½ kilos).

(6) Standing astride a weight of 247 kilos he lifted this a number of inches off the bottom together with his little finger (English poundage approximately 535 pounds).

(7) The hauling power of four very heavy dray horses (two all sides) failed to tug his arms aside.

(8) Platform raise on back of 1,645 kilos (approximately 3626 kilos). NOTE: Sixteen men mounted the platform which stood supported on two trestles.(13)

Pullum neglected to mention Cyr’s pressing of his now famed ‘Cyr Dumbbell’ weighing just shy of 280 lbs.(14) Fans of recent strongman exhibits are undoubtedly accustomed to the Cyr Dumbbell, a thick grip dumbbell used for one handing pressing occasions, often weighing within the space of 275 to 300 kilos. Just like the Thomas Inch dumbbell, additionally a strongman favorite, the Cyr dumbbell was, for many years, an unimaginable feat of power for lifters. Even at present robust men wrestle with it in competitors. Cyr’s biggest feat didn’t, nevertheless, come up during his time in England.

Cyr’s declare because the world’s strongest man stems from his 1895 backlift in Boston. Putting sixteen men on a platform lying throughout his again, Cyr completed a backlift totalling over four,000 lbs.(15) Earlier than trendy gyms, advanced vitamin and steroids, Cyr’s power was virtually inconceivable. What kind of physique can stand up to four,000 lbs. without crumbling? Luckily we now have an answer.

Putting sixteen men on a platform mendacity throughout his again, Cyr completed a backlift totalling over 4,000 lbs.

Assembly with Dudley Allen Sargent, an influential bodily educationist, Cyr had his measurements recorded for posterity. Aged 32, Cyr weighed 291 lbs. at a peak of 5 foot Eight inches. His biceps measured 20 inches, his forearms 16 inches. His waist was a hefty 47 inches and he was carried round on thighs measuring 28 inches.(16) Sandow’s measurements by Sargent through the 1890s noticed him proclaimed the world’s most perfectly developed specimen. Cyr’s gave credence to his claim because the world’s strongest man.

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In 1901, French Canadian strongman, Louis Cyr, proclaims his retirement from the weightlifting scene. Struck by sickness caused by Brilliant’s Illness, Cyr is described by the press as “a shadow of his former self.” With the title of ‘World’s Strongest Man’ to his identify, Cyr will, inevitably, be approached by a younger competitor, Hector Décarie. After 5 years of bickering by way of the media, the Cyr/Décarie bout happens. Ending in a tie, to the discontent of 4000 keen spectators, Cyr retains his honour by appearing to make an autonomous choice to supply his title to the younger Décarie. Six years later, Cyr passes away, with him he brings the legitimacy and excitement of strongmanship. #power #raise #lifting #historical past #Quebec #Canada #louiscyr #hectordcarie #cyr #decarie #décarie #competition #fallofgiants #historyofstrength #irongame #weightlifting #strongman #strongmen #worldsstrongestman

A publish shared by Engraved In Iron. (@engraved_in_iron) on Jan 9, 2019 at Eight:33am PST

A Brief However Robust Life

Cyr’s story didn’t, sadly, have a cheerful ending. Attaining a jaw dropping backlift in 1896, Cyr retired from the lifting recreation quickly after. Stricken by a collection of health considerations, which some have linked to overeating and inactivity, Cyr was recognized with Shiny’s Illness within the early 1900s.(17) In layman’s terms, Cyr had acute kidney inflammation which brought on appreciable misery. His weight ballooned up to over 400 lbs. It turned clear that the man as soon as likened to the biblical Samson was also a mere mortal.

Cyr’s final lifting contest got here towards Hector De Carrie, a fellow Canadian strongman, in 1906 at age 43. Upon hearing De Carrie’s claims that he, not Cyr, was the strongest man in Canada, Cyr slimmed down and greatest the younger upstart. Needing to take long breaks between lifts, Cyr was ultimately declared the winner, Shortly after, Cyr informed the audience that he was retiring for good from the strongman circuit. His last gesture was to bequeath his title of world’s strongest man — not affiliate with the fashionable competition, in fact — to Hector.(18) Six years later Cyr handed away in 1912. He was 49 years previous.

When Cyr died, the lifting group mourned the loss of a real great. In 1929 George Jowett, then a successful fitness entrepreneur and lifter, revealed The Strongest Man in the World, a biography of Louis Cyr.(19) Some years later W.A. Pullum revealed a collection of articles citing Cyr because the strongest man to ever stay.(20) Ben Weider later printed his own biography of Cyr arguing the exact same.(21)

louis cyr statuemeunierd/Shutterstock

In Montreal, a park is known as in his honor alongside his personal statue in the Place des Hommes-Forts (‘Strongman Sq.’).(22) His life has been memorialised in a number of TV biopics, novels and films. Cyr’s power and legacy reside on via these tales. At a time when lifting was nonetheless in its infancy, devoid largely of proper coaches, actual gymnasiums and a strongman was effectively a travelling performer, Cyr boasted a power corresponding to in the present day’s trendy athletes.

W.A. Pullum summed Cyr’s legacy thusly:

Once in a era, it has been stated, a super-athlete arises whose prowess astonishes the world. Several generations have come and gone, nevertheless, since Louis Cyr arose and showed what he might do. Since that point nothing approaching his extraordinary performances has ever been seen …(23)

Taking a look at Cyr’s life in 2019, it’s onerous to disagree.


  1. James Woycke, Esprit de Corps: A Historical past of North American Bodybuilding (London, 2016), 5-8.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Much of that is coated in Paul Ohl, Louis Cyr (Montreal, 2013).
  4. George F. Jowett, The Strongest Man Who Ever Lived (Philadelphia, 1927), 15-20.
  5. James Allen Young, ‘Peak, Weight, and Health: Anthropometric Research of Human Progress in Nineteenth-Century American Drugs’, Bulletin of the History of Drugs 53.2 (1979): 214-243.
  6. Ben Weider, The Strongest Man in Historical past: Louis Cyr, Superb Canadian (Montreal, 1976).
  7. Hereward Senior, Constabulary: The Rise of Police Establishments in Britain, the Commonwealth and america (Dundurn, 1997), 76.
  8. David Mild, Louis Cyr 1863-1912. Out there at https://www.davidgentle.com/ironindex/cyr.html.
  9. Guy Reel, National Police Gazette and the Making of the Trendy American Man, 1879-1906 (New York, 2006).
  10. Ibid., 132.
  11. Jowett, The Strongest Man Who Ever Lived, 58-79.
  12. Ibid., 108-115.
  13. W.A. Pullum, Recollections of Louis Cyr. Out there at https://physicalculturestudy.com/2017/12/25/recollections-of-louis-cyr-by-w-a-pullum-2/.
  14. David P. Willoughby, The Super Athletes (New York, 1970), 161-162.
  15. Ibid., 154.
  16. Ibid., 234.
  17. Don Morrow, Kevin B. Wamsley, Sport in Canada: A Historical past (Oxford, 2009), 130-131.
  18. Ibid.
  19. Jowett, The Strongest Man Who Ever Lived.
  20. Pullum, Recollections of Louis Cyr.
  21. Weider, The Strongest Man in History.
  22. ‘Louis Cyr Parc Des Hommes Forts’. Out there at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m76vMxUi0wo.
  23. Pullum, Recollections of Louis Cyr.