“The Russian Lion”— as they called him—was a strongman and a wrestler during the traditional phase of the former sport. He was born in the year of 1877, in what was then part of the Russian Empire and of Estonia today. His nickname was ideal as his physique and sheer frame size would be intimidating even for the bodybuilders of today. While his parents were ordinary in terms of strength and size, Hackenschmidt claimed that his maternal grandfather was not. Supposedly, he was a massive, strong man. The United States President Theodore Roosevelt found him so impressive that he once said, “If I wasn’t president of the United States, I would like to be George Hackenschmidt.”.
Even at a young age, Hackenschmidt showed great interest in sports. Besides physical development, he was exceptionally good at wrestling, cycling, gymnastics, swimming, running and jumping. Although still in school, he performed feats of strength on a regular basis, and the teachers at his school found it very impressive, as would anyone witnessing a 16 year old lifting more than most adult men ever will. This dedication to the life of strength proved significant for the further development of this field, as he is the credited inventor of two outstanding exercises: the hack squat and the floor press (which later evolved into the bench press). He performed these exercises in much unusual method, differing from the ones most are familiar with.
Hackenschmidt performed the hack squat with the bar behind his back, hands touching, while standing on his toes and his heels almost touching the glutes. The world record for this lift was set by himself, and due to the extremely poor leverages in this lift, it equated to only about 187 lb. (85 kg). Today, this variation is not well known, nor is it performed that often. The preferred variation of today is the hack deadlift. One would perform it in the same way as a conventional deadlift, with the only difference being that the bar is behind the calves instead. The heaviest weight we could find— and most probably the world record— was lifted by Eric Bugenhagen.
The floor press started as a movement in which the individual performed a wrestler’s bridge while pressing the weight up. On the very first documented occasion he performed it, Hackenschmidt lifted 304 lb. This exercise progressed into the floor press we know of today and later turned into the bench press. The most weight lifted in the method of Hackenschmidt was 364 lb. (165.5 kg) by Joe Nordquest. Nordquest broke Hackenschmidt’s record of 18 years by only 2 lb. (1 kg). Today, Hackenschmidt floor press of a platform, so that the lower end of the bar and the floor are separated by less than 15”.
Hackenschmidt had also had a remarkable wrestling career, having it ending only due to a knee related injury. During his career, he came up with a grappling tactic called the “bear hug”, which is still used today. His ingenuity proved advantageous, as he was the world’s first heavyweight wrestling champion. His professional wrestling career started when he was only 23 years old, but his first tournament victory was two years prior. Out of 3000 matches that he participated in, he lost only two. He won more matches than the majority of martial artists ever get to engage in.
This man has put health as his primary priority, and has eaten a predominantly vegetarian diet as a result. While contrary to today’s views of “healthy”, Hackenschmidt drank over 5 liters of milk daily. He avoided every type of stimulant, which quite possibly resulted in his longevity. Through his 80s, he could bench press 150 lb. (68 kg) and run 7 miles (11 km) in 45 minutes. How many people live to be eighty, let alone lift any weight or run any distance?
In the year of 1905, Hackenschmidt’s measurements were the following:
- Height: 5’ 9.5” (176.5 cm)
- Weight: 204 lb. (92.5 kg)
- Neck: 22” (56 cm)
- Chest: 52” (132 cm)
- Arms: 19” (48 cm)
- Forearms: 15.5” (39.5 cm)
- Reach: 75” (190.5 cm)
- Waist: 34” (86.5 cm)
- Thighs: 26.75” (68 cm)
- Calves: 18” (45.5 cm)
His most notable lifts include:
- Overhead Press: 275 lb. (125 kg)
- Floor Press: 362 lb. (164.5 kg)
- Jerk: 251 lb. (114 kg)
- One Arm Snatch: 256 lb. (116.5 kg)
- One Arm Jerk: 231 lb. (105 kg)
- One Arm Press: 269 lb. (122 kg)
- Hack Squat: 187 lb. (85 kg)
- Iron Cross / Crucifix Hold: 179 lb. (81 kg) of total weight
— Milos Askovic