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

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

But these competitions, in style although they’re, are comparatively current phenomenon. The World’s Strongest Man started in 1977 and the Arnold Strongman Basic kicked off in 2002. How did we decide the strongest man before such occasions? Complicating issues further, 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 health club going, as defined by the time period “physical culture,” was still a novel concept, every 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 whole hoards of males walk throughout a beam supported by the Prussian strongman? With no standardised set of lifts, comparisons have been troublesome.

Despite this confusion many lifters knew that real power resided primarily in a single 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 pounds, simultaneously held again 4 horses, defeated different strongmen in competitors and toured the world as the undisputed face of power. In a time before strongman competitions, few doubted Cyr’s claim to the world’s strongest dwelling man. Famous amongst power aficionados, Cyr is oftentimes missed in widespread discussions of power. In the present day’s publish 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 personal right. Christened Noé-Cyprien Cyr (he later changed his identify to Louis) the younger French-Canadian got here at an opportune time in his area’s history. At a time when the Quebec financial system was still outlined by farmwork and wood slicing, Cyr’s childhood was spent in the casual acts of power training present in pushing, pulling, chopping and lifting hay, wooden or no matter else was handy. Gymnasiums had yet to turn out to be popularised and power acts, although in existence, were not commonplace.(2) Farmwork and lumberjacking have been still the greatest means of buying power and muscle, something Cyr did with an ideal enthusiasm.

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

In line with subsequent fable, it was solely when he hit his late teenagers that Cyr, and people round him, began to take discover of his power. Returning house from work someday, Cyr came across a farmer’s wagon that had develop into caught 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 assist of a presumably shamed horse, pulled it again 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, but we’re describing the stories as they have been reported.)

This was not the end of the matter. Individuals have been talking about the teenager’s power and inspired 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 nonetheless ad-hoc nature of power competitions in the early 1880s, the competition revolved around one feat: who might raise a horse overhead.(4) Cyr lifted the horse with ease, thereby profitable the competition and initiating a power profession which lasted 20 years.

Building 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 claim to the world’s scariest police officer, Cyr was part of the Montreal police drive from 1883 to 1885. To place the oddity of Cyr’s employment with the police into context, the average male weight in the United States during this time ranged from 142 to 165 pounds.(5) Cyr was on his solution 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 got here throughout two men engaged in a knife struggle. Not stopping to discover the trigger of their discontent, Cyr shook each man by the collar, took their knives and carried one beneath every arm to the local 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 occasions. Following his Boston victory in 1881, Cyr returned to Quebec the place he faced David Michaud in a weightlifting contest. Then Canada’s strongest man, Michaud challenged Cyr to greatest him in a boulder lifting competitors. Writing on the occasion a few years later, Ben Weider, of Weider bodybuilding fame, claimed that Cyr’s victory over Michaud was secured after the young strongman lifted a boulder totalling over 5 hundred pounds from the ground.(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 personal tavern in St Cunegonde, Montreal with an adjoining gymnasium. In line with David Mild, Cyr’s tavern and gymnasium shortly turned a vacation spot from strongmen from throughout the country to coach and problem one another.(Eight) Cyr was starting to style financial stability and a popularity as his country’s strongest man. Not content together with his lot, Cyr continued to tour, albeit sporadically, and compete in contests with other lifters.

A Strongman is Born

The period 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 the United States or Great Britain knew Cyr’s identify presently. Cyr’s fortunes changed dramatically in 1886 when Cyr teamed up with Richard Okay. Fox of the National Police Gazette.(9) Impressed with Cyr’s victory over Richard Pennell in Philadelphia in 1886, Fox, whose journal spanned a variety of sports and interest items, was a terrific promoter of athletic excellence, often providing prize monies and belts to his champions.(10)

Sponsored by Fox, who provided $5,000 to anyone who might greatest Cyr in a weightlifting match, Cyr’s fame grew. Encouraged by Fox’s approval, he undertook a collection of excursions spanning Canada, the United States and England. In each town Cyr would challenge the native strongman, inevitably defeat them and in addition find time for public exhibitions of power. During 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 previously coated on Barbend. Despite 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 declare to world’s strongest man but public feats of power are also needed. Cyr didn’t disappoint in this regard. In 1888, Cyr lifted 3,536 lb/1, 604 kg in a again 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 pounds).

(2) Two arms clean to shoulders and sluggish press: 136 kilos (roughly 299 kilos).

(three) Proper and left hand clean sweep-up overhead (just like our snatch motion, however with no dip underneath): 78 kilos (approximately 172 kilos).

(four) One hand hold out at proper angles to the body, weight not lowered from above but pushed out sideways with only a really slight sideways bend of the physique: 47 kilos (roughly 104 pounds).

(5) Barrel of cement standing on end, put on shoulder by the use of one hand solely: 141 kilos (roughly 310½ pounds).

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

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

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

Pullum uncared for to say Cyr’s urgent of his now famed ‘Cyr Dumbbell’ weighing simply shy of 280 lbs.(14) Followers of trendy strongman exhibits are undoubtedly acquainted with the Cyr Dumbbell, a thick grip dumbbell used for one handing pressing occasions, often weighing in the area of 275 to 300 pounds. Just like the Thomas Inch dumbbell, additionally a strongman favourite, the Cyr dumbbell was, for a few years, an unimaginable feat of power for lifters. Even in the present day robust males wrestle with it in competition. Cyr’s biggest feat did not, nevertheless, arise throughout his time in England.

Cyr’s declare as 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 variety of physique can stand up to four,000 lbs. without crumbling? Fortunately we have now a solution.

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

Assembly with Dudley Allen Sargent, an influential physical educationist, Cyr had his measurements recorded for posterity. Aged 32, Cyr weighed 291 lbs. at a peak of 5 foot 8 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 throughout the 1890s saw him proclaimed the world’s most completely developed specimen. Cyr’s gave credence to his claim as the world’s strongest man.

A Brief But 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 well being considerations, which some have linked to overeating and inactivity, Cyr was recognized with Brilliant’s Disease in the early 1900s.(17) In layman’s phrases, Cyr had acute kidney inflammation which brought about considerable distress. His weight ballooned up to over 400 lbs. It turned clear that the man once likened to the biblical Samson was additionally a mere mortal.

Cyr’s final lifting contest came 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 young upstart. Needing to take lengthy breaks between lifts, Cyr was ultimately declared the winner, Shortly after, Cyr advised the audience that he was retiring for good from the strongman circuit. His final gesture was to bequeath his title of world’s strongest man — not affiliate with the trendy competition, of course — 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 nice. In 1929 George Jowett, then a profitable health 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 as the strongest man to ever stay.(20) Ben Weider later printed his personal biography of Cyr arguing the very same.(21)


In Montreal, a park is known as in his honor alongside his personal statue in the Place des Hommes-Forts (‘Strongman Square’).(22) His life has been memorialised in several TV biopics, novels and films. Cyr’s power and legacy stay on by way of these tales. At a time when lifting was still in its infancy, devoid largely of proper coaches, actual gymnasiums and a strongman was effectively a travelling performer, Cyr boasted a power similar to right now’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 exhausting to disagree.


  1. James Woycke, Esprit de Corps: A Historical past of North American Bodybuilding (London, 2016), 5-Eight.
  2. Ibid.
  3. A lot of this 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 Younger, ‘Height, Weight, and Health: Anthropometric Study of Human Growth in Nineteenth-Century American Medicine’, 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 Institutions in Britain, the Commonwealth and the United States (Dundurn, 1997), 76.
  8. David Mild, Louis Cyr 1863-1912. Out there at
  9. Man 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
  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 History (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 Historical past.
  22. ‘Louis Cyr Parc Des Hommes Forts’. Out there at
  23. Pullum, Recollections of Louis Cyr.