By Clevio Massimo
left – Strongman Clevio Massimo
I can lift 1,000 pounds on a Wrestler’s Bridge. I am the world’s champion at that style of lifting. The nearest approach to my record was a Wrestler’s Bridge lift of 850 pounds made some time ago.
In my line I fear no rival. Why should I with an edge of 150 pounds on my nearest competitor. Besides, I am increasing my muscular development and adding to my strength constantly by persistent exercises and a strict adherence to diet at all times, and someday – probably in the near future – I shall better my own record.
But, while I have specialized in that particular style of lifting, I have been two wise to devote my efforts to it exclusively. My desire always has been to have an all-round first-class body. Therefore, I have worked diligently to master other forms of lifting so that all, rather than only a portion of my muscles should be developed to the full.
In addition, my success in my special field fired my ambition, and I longed to achieve other honors. And, with the splendid powers developed by my efforts as a Wrestler’s Bridge lifter as a foundation, I have been able to accomplish some decidedly satisfactory results, particularly with my teeth and arms.
Today I am the only person in the world who can effect a handstand and lift 500 pounds with my teeth. But in the teeth lifting line there remains many marks for me to shoot at – particularly the world’s records of 1,000 pounds made by Selig Whitman, the original “AJAX” who topped ‘em all in the matter of straight teeth lifts.
Also, I can lift 184 pounds on a one-arm bend press and 156 pounds on a right-hand snatch, overhead. With my back I can lift 3,500 pounds, but I am working hard to improve this latter and I anticipate before I am through, that I shall lift at least 5,000 pounds with a back lift. The record in that line is 6,370 pounds, held by P.J. McCarthy.
In the hope of encouraging others to follow my lead to gain the all-round health improvement which weight lifting invariably brings – and at the same time to point out that my success is not a “gift” but the result of hard and persistent work – I shall detail briefly my efforts at muscle building from the beginning.
Unlike many strongmen who have won wide public recognition, I did not acquire muscle and brawn through an effort to overcome an early physical weakness. I came into the world with a strong, healthy body, one which required only fair treatment and exercise to develop it to something beyond the ordinary.
My father and two uncles were the giants of my native town. Opi, on a mountain-top 300 miles from Rome, in Eagle county, La Bruzza, Italy, though the section was one which bred many rugged men. Consequently, my original fine physical make-up was a direct inheritance.
Everyone in our part of the country was afraid of those three big men, for they ruled with their fists and their word was law. With them it always was a case of might was right, weakness was a crime and all men and women should be strong.
However, there was a good side to their rough and tumble method of dealing with their neighbors. Being descendants of a long line of athletes – the brawny men of ancient times who held their own against the Greeks – they knew that strength meant health, health brought happiness and success. And so, they did their best to encourage physical effort among the town folks, touching all who cared to learn how to wrestle and use their fists, how to protect themselves without resort to weapons.
I have been told that they took me in hand almost as soon as I could walk, teaching me some simple calisthenics and seeing to it that I ate only such things as would add to my strength. At three they taught me to stand on my head and juggled me about as I went through my acrobatics. At four I could chin a bar and at five I began working with dumbells.
Then came a period of complete change in my life: one which, for a considerable time, threated to block my father’s plan to make me a genuine strong man.
Suddenly the three brothers determined to move to the United States, and with their families and possessions, began their long journey to the land of promise. I had reached the age of six on the day that I beheld the Statue of Liberty for the first time.
Arrived in the new country, my father found that the difficulties for the immigrant were greater than he had anticipated. There was a new language to learn, new customs to acquire and much hard work to be done if one were to succeed. For a year I struggled to master sufficient English to carry me along, then I was sent to school. And from the time I was seven until I had passed my majority, I was compelled to study and work so hard that I had practically no time for recreation and physical exercises, carried out in a methodical manner, were out of the question.
But I always was careful with my eating and that, plus much hard work in the open, kept me fit and brought to my muscles a certain amount of development. And, though the wait was bitterly long, I never relinquished my determination to one day win a high place among the really strong men of my adopted country.
My opportunity finally came when I was twenty-two. I had been sufficiently successful in a material way to be able to take some hours from my work daily, and at once resumed my athletics, purchasing an exerciser, dumbbells and barbells as the beginning of my gymnasium equipment.
To the barbells, in particular, I believe I owe most of my ability as a weightlifter. I purchased my first set from a firm in Philadelphia, and worked with them each night and morning, and from the onset realized they brought into play certain muscles which appeared to have been neglected.
There is somewhat general belief that weightlifting weakens the heart, and the more timid of my acquaintances voiced such a warning. But I laughed at them and persisted. My heart never was weak, but once I began lifting I found that it grew stronger and stronger. And it was the splendid condition of my heart which first caused me to decide that I would master the arduous task of lifting considerable weights on a Wrestler’s Bridge. My ever-increasing excess of energy required more and more outlet, and so I added the new stunt to shadow boxing and wrestling with myself with my muscles all tensed.
It came about in this manner. On day, while working alone on the mat, I effected a Wrestler’s Bridge, and while in the position wondered how much I could raise above my head. My barbells were nearby and I stretched for one of the lighter ones and raised it above my head easily. Encouraged, I raised a second and a third bell, and before I realized what I was doing I had lifted 200 pounds.
So, practising methodically and increasing the weight gradually, I worked from 350 pounds to 1,000. I am still striving to set a new record. My strength is so concentrated in my chest and shoulders that I believe I will eventually lift as much on a Wrestler’s Bridge as burly men lift in harness.
It was in 1916, when I was twenty-four, that I began wondering if, in sticking so closely to the Bridge lifts, I was favoring one set of muscles to the detriment of the others. Determined to be on the safe side, I began working to make a showing with the back lift, and before the close of the year, was able to raise 1,800 pounds in that manner. As the average man, in good health, can lift only about 900 pounds, I felt I was twice as strong as most of my fellows, and decided to try to master all styles of lifting – with a shadowy hope of becoming a super-strong man some day.
By that time, I had begun to attract general attention, and the following month went with the Barnum & Baily show, where I was featured as a strongman. And, as a circus performer, I achieved a considerable reputation for hand balancing, teeth lifting and barbell juggling. Incidentally, it was while working under canvas that I developed my “Roman Chair” stunt.
In this performance I bend back over a chair, supporting myself by catching my feet in a crevice at the base of the chair, and raise a two-hundred-pound man from the floor and carry him over me. I weigh but 190 pounds but I can handle men weighing ten pounds more than I with as much ease as though they were ragdolls.
My chair act drew the attention of the theatrical scouts and I took a contract with the Keith Circuit, and have remained with it since whenever performing on the stage.
In the last three years I have added to my athletic program the ancient and honorable sport of wrestling, and have taken part in more than one hundred heavyweight and middleweight bouts. I have been on the mat with Frank Gotch, George Hackenschmidt, Cyclone R., Charlie Kaine, and both of the Zbyszko’s, and still am awaiting all comers.
Based upon my experience and it surely has been as diversified as that of most strongmen – I will state that lifting on a Wrestler’s Bridge is one of the greatest of athletic achievements and just about the supreme test of muscular development.
I could give dozens of reasons for that assertion, but the most important, the one which takes precedence over all others, is that this type of lifting strengthens the spine as nothing else can. And the spine is the mainspring of all energy; the power house of the human system.
Rudolf Valentino, one of the outstanding muscular men of motion pictures, long ago learned the great truth if the spine is in first class condition, it is a practical certainty that the remainder of the body will be in splendid form. And night and morning he has featured the Wrestler’s Bridge among his exercise. Bernarr Macfadden, who always has put forward the best in calisthenics as part of his physical culture teachings, has a method of exercising known as “vitalizing” which is intended primarily to give play to the spine and energizes the entire human frame.
To effect the Wrestler’s Bridge, lie flat upon your body and arch your spine until the full weight of your body devolves upon your head and your feet.
At first you may find it difficult to build this human bridge, but persistent practice will enable you to master the feat. Then you will be ready for lifting. Begin at first with a small barbell, raising it with the hands while firmly maintaining the bridge. Add to the weight of the barbell day by day, and in less time then you may think you will be able to push up a surprising poundage. And, at the same time, the improvement in your spine will be so pronounced that you will be compelled to notice it.
I am advancing the foregoing for the benefit of all those who desire a sure method for improving their general health, while at the same time building muscle. Now permit me to advance a few words for the guidance who desire to qualify as genuine strongmen.
If you do not already possess barbells, obtain some without delay. Truly they are an inspiration to the man who had a yearning to lift things, and they provide for a system of progressive weightlifting which is truly unbeatable.