Iron History

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08/13/2003 Entry: "Aug 15, 2003: Hermann Goerner & The Deadlift by Joe Roark"

On August 18, 1933, Hermann Goerner at age 41 years 4 months is credited with a two hands deadlift of 830 pounds. From Goerner the Mighty, page 69:

"830 lb. Two-hands Dead Lift
This amazing feat was performed in Leipzig on 18th August, 1933, the weight consisting of a 441 lb. barbell and two men. Both men stood on the bar, one each end, and balanced themselves by placing their hands on Goerner's shoulders. The combined weight was then lifted by Hermann who stood erect with it and held it in the correct finishing position for several seconds." Each man must have weighed about 194.5 lbs. or Hermann may have offset his grip toward one side to allow for the uneven poundage."

And from page 116-117:
"In 1921 Hermann sustained a knee injury which permanently affected his maximum poundages with such lifts as the Two-hands Dead Lift. Although he was unfamiliar with the British cambered bars, he did do some training in London in W.A. Pullum's Gymnasium, but his best feats in England, although classed as world records, were much behind his records performed earlier in Germany. Surely his stupendous feat performed at the age of 42 [incorrect, 41 years, 4 months] on 18th August, 1933, in Leipzig, when he executed a Dead Lift with barbell and human weights totaling 830 lb, gives some indication of his true powers!."

The text then asserts that with specific training Hermann perhaps could have mastered a deadlift in the 850 lb range. What happened to the knee injury?

How good was Hermann Goerner at deadlifting? Good enough for his lifts, even after all the decades have passed since he performed them, to be considered competitive in the two hands, and unsurpassed in the one hand.

In June 1953, Richard Ganslen in an article entitled 'Modern Athletes Are Sissies" recalled:
"In 1920, Hermann Goerner raised 793-3/4 pounds in the regular two hands dead lift, a record which has not been approached to this day. The lift was performed with an overhand hook grip on a standard Berg barbell, not a reverse grip as illustrated [in the drawing shown with the article]." From Strength & Health magazine.

Ten years later, strength historian David P. Willoughby also writing for S&H recounted Hermann's one hand deadlift prowess:
"Perhaps the most astounding of all Goerner's feats of grip strength (as well as prodigious power of the back muscles) was his one-hand deadlift (using a thumb-lock, or hooked grip) of 727-1/2 pounds. This lift was made on a standard Berg barbell, the largest plates being 17-3/4 inches in diameter and the bar 1-1/10 inches thick. The date of the lift was October 8, 1920, the place Leipzig, and Goerner weighed 220 pounds at a height of 6 feet � inch. He was then still an amateur, not turning professional until the following year (1921)." We will note that his age was 29-1/2.

A couple of years later, Herman began touring with circuses which travels included five tours of South Africa: 1922 - 1924, 1924 - 1926, 1929 - 1931, 1935 - 1936, and 1937 - 1938. This was not conducive to training.

W.J. Lowry took exception to THE STRONGMAN's version of some other lifts ascribed to Goerner. In Jan 1932 that magazine has claimed that Goerner had used the reverse grip rather than the French grip, and that for the one hand deadlift which the magazine reported as 652.25 lbs, Lowry, who had been an official at that lift, assured readers the French grip (knuckles forward, palm toward knee) had been employed. Lowry, writing in the Sep 24, 1932 issue of H&S also noted that THE STRONGMAN had mislabeled the poundage of the Aug 22, 1927 one hand deadlift at 548.50 and not the correct 602.50.

It has been my experience that whenever Gord Venables wrote about history, the reader must double check each major statement. To wit: In Jul 1941 p 7 of S&H Venables asserts that both the 793 and 727 one hand deadlifts were done in 1924. In fact the 727.25 is ascribed to Oct 8, 1920, and the 793.75 exactly three weeks later, Oct 29.

There have been other questionable statements. Here's one by Ashton (sic) writing in Health & Strength April 10, 1947 "I saw Goerner, who had never performed a dumbell swing in his life, pick up, for the first time a dumbell of approximately 200 lbs and swing it aloft as easily as I could lift half the weight and my record stood at 170 lbs." In fact, of course, Goerner was proficient at the dumbell swing and at age 14, in 1905, was able to swing a kettlebell weighing 110.25 lbs.

There were those who doubted some of the lifts attributed to Hermann, one was the incredibly reliable strength historian Leo Gaudreau, who wrote in Your Physique July1950 p 35: "Some terrific deadlift claims have been made for Goerner and without wishing to discredit such claims, their lack of authenticity does not merit inclusion herein." Usually when something is not authentic, it is discredtited.

Kurt Saxon was another who discounted some of Goerner's claims. Writing in Strength & Health Mar 1953, Kurt wrote of Goerner, "�never once did I see him drop a loaded barbell to his neck [as had been claimed]. He merely lowered it quickly, maintaining control of the bar with the hands at all times. "He continued, "To my mind, comparing Goerner with my brother Arthur is sheer nonsense. Goerner would not have stood a chance."

Kurt had addressed this topic in the previous issue of S&H in response to Bob Hasse's inquiry. Kurt compares himself to Goerner: "But not in one lift of any kind, not in any stunt or feat of strength, could he beat me." He then mentions how in 1926, Goerner, though able to clean 319 pounds on a Berg barbell four separate times, was not able to jerk it at all and 'on that occasion HG failed to duplicate a single one of his claimed records�" But George Walsh, writing in Health & Strength Jan 9, 1932 p 36 claims that he saw HG, using W.A. Pullum's special bar jerk 390 lbs for two reps- behind the neck!

Pullum also offers this, which I think any thinking person would doubt: H&S Aug 2, 1956 starting page 32:

HG had a 2.75" diameter bar which weighed 330.75 lbs, which he would hook grip[?] to clean it "then put it overhead like a feather." Then "�he dropped it and caught it in the crook on his right arm as it fell, there to hold it perfectly level for a few seconds to show he had complete control of the weight. Through me, he offered one thousand pounds [money] to any man in the world who could duplicate this feat start to finish."

The crook of ONE arm? Try that with the empty bar! Part of the gimmick may have been that to duplicate the lift start to finish meant that a hook grip had to be employed- and few are the men who have big enough hands for such a grasp on the bar. Was Hermann himself able to hook grip a 2.75" diameter bar?

Now an interesting twist- one that puzzles me- Kurt offers 'We Saxons had immense hands. HG's were even larger." Other places report Hermann's hand length at 8.25 and Arthur Saxon's as 9". This I do not understand.

Kurt's position was countered in the August issue by Tromp Van Diggelin, though not in a satisfying or convincing manner.

The Chicago Bodybuilder reported in the December 1947 issue that Hermann had spent two years imprisoned by the Poles, but was still able to clean and jerk 336 pounds. This I find suspicious- one suspects no training, and certainly not five star dining in a prisoner of war camp. If he could not jerk 319 before 18 months in a POW camp, one wonders how such conditions would have yielded increased strength.

Health & Strength magazine had quoted Hermann a couple of months before in the October 9, 1947 issue: "The Poles put me in a camp for 1-1/2 years as a prisoner and later sent me out of the country, without money, clothes, or furniture. Now I am living in the British zone in Berlin in a single room. Despite my weakened condition at 56 years of age I can still do a two arm C&J of 320 and can put 850 lb on my shoulder [not shoulders?] and walk about with it." By the way, his wife Elsie died in 1949.

H&S had incorrectly reported in the April 1946 issue that Hermann had died. The first advertisement for the book Goerner the Mighty 'to be published shortly' was seen on page 38 of the Dec 14, 1950 issue of H&S. Sadly, ten years after prematurely announcing his death, H&S in the Jul 19, 1956 issue alerted readers that he now had died, and in the following issue, Aug 2, 1956 W.A. Pullum wrote "The Passing of a King of Strength."

Frankly, I have come to no conclusion regarding Herman Goerner's strength levels in the deadlifts, and the above is presented to show the conflicting accounts that lead to my bewilderment.