Much has been written about many of the famous strength athletes of America and Europe. Countless world champions in powerlifting, Olympic lifting, bodybuilding as well as old time strongmen have been produced by them and have been well documented. But little has been written of some of the greatest British strength athletes of all time. I'll be writing about some of the mighty men who showed the world just how strong us British can be.
Many old time strongmen achieved some very impressive things and alot has been written about them. Many lifters have heard of the likes of Arthur Saxon, Louis Cyr and Hermann Goerner. One man from this time they might not have heard of is Edward Aston.
The man above and below is Edward Aston. In 1911 he was considered Britain's strongest man. A title he held for 23 years. He was also the middle weight champion of the world and held several world middle weight and British heavyweight records. This was a man who at his heaviest was around 175lbs but would regularly out lift much bigger and heavier men.
Edward Aston it would seem had a great childhood for someone who would one day be a weightlifting champion. Aside from being born in a time when children actually did things apart from Xbox and facebook, much of his childhood was spent in various strength tests competing with his older brothers. He started lifting weights when he was ten years old. A pratice now days which would be meet with outrage and possibly a call from social services and a child abuse accusation for the parents. At the age of 11 he jerked a 56lbs dumbbell overhead. That's pretty damn impressive for an 11 year old. His teenage years were spent going on runs through the woods with his brothers and then trying to lift and throw any rock or log that happens to cross their path. That sounds like a fun game to me and gave Edward a great foundation on which to build. If your childhood is spent sitting on your arse staring at screens don't be surprised how weak you are if you start lifting weights..
So Edward had an awesome active child hood and then joined a lifting club when he was 18. Now I would imagine a lifting club in them days would be a hell of a lot more hardcore than going down and joining your local LA fitness. Edward made rapid progress in a short time and began entering local competitions and exhibitions and generally tearing it up. He tried his hand at wrestling like many old school strongmen and received admiration from the mighty Hackershmit as well the Saxon brothers for lifting their challenge bag of flour.
From this point on Edward began competing professionally taking on various competitors in a lot of old school overhead lifts like the one arm clean and press, one arm snatch, and two and one arm anyhow lifts. He claimed many world middleweight records as well as British heavyweight records despite weighing only around 161lbs when he first starting taking records and beating the heavyweights.
Some of these records are:
One arm clean and press 243lbs
One arm snatch 184lbs
One arm clean to shoulder 250lbs
Two hands clean 282lbs
Two hands jerk 311lbs
All these lifts were done at a bodyweight of around 161lbs while being pretty fucking lean.
From what I can find about his training methods he supposedly used to train 2 hours a day doing lots of maximal lifts. This all changed when he met a man called Monte Saldo who trained him for his title of Britains Strongest Man against Thomas Inch, a man who I will write about in the future. Saldo radically changed Astons training to just 2 sessions a week of 4-5 heavy singles on each lift. He says at a later date he would sometimes train up to 3 times a week. He talks about the importance of plenty of rest and sleep. He explains how muscles are torn down and rebuild stronger and that self massage is important in helping the muscles recover. That all seems pretty simple and makes sense with what we currently know about training. He training frequency is certainly food for thought for those on 6 day splits and such as Aston got very strong and had a pretty impressive physique on just 2-3 lifting sessions a week. He was also a fan of regular fast paced walks of which I also think are great. He suggests walks with short runs thrown in are great to stay in shape for lifting. It clearly worked well for him since he got absolutely ripped to shit.
He diet advise makes sense also. He says that vegetarianism is a mistake and that plenty of beef is great. He also suggests things like eggs, fish, rice and milk and stresses the importance of good digestion. Obviously he wasn't taking any supplements or steoroids in them days so that should be a lesson to modern day lifters that great things can be achieved without either.
Like many strong men from his day Aston believed there was a vital link between strength and health and that strength cannot exist without a healthy body to express it. This is a common theme among old time lifters because weight lifting developed out of physical culture. Strong men were not just weightlifters but we're physical culturists as well. This is a concept completely lost today in a world of obese lifters and roided up bodybuilders.
Aston was a big fan of grip training. You can tell this quite easily from the size of his fucking forearms in his pictures. He could deadlift 500lbs on a 2 and 1/2 inch thick bar with a doulbe overhand grip. Thats close to triple bodyweight double overhand on a thick bar. He wrote a book called "How to Develop a Powerful Grip" which you can get hold of on kindle. While its aimed more at the average man than the weightlifter is is full of rather basic exercises like squeezing a rubberball and scrunching up paper, he does give away what I think is actually the secret to his grip strength. At the turn of the century most weights and barbells were made typically with a thick handle of around 2 inches in diameter. This was not because barbell manufacturers had all been reading dinosaur training but because they simple couldn't make a thinner bar strong enough to handle any decent amount of weight. So Aston along with all the other lifters from those days regularly trained with thick handled bars by default and had to build a mighty grip in order to handle any substantial amount of weight. Later on when barbell technology improves Aston remarks how much easier it is to perform lifts like the one arm clean using a 3/4inch thick springer bar that the usual thick ones. Thick bar training has become more popular in recent years with guys like Brooks Kubik pushing it as well as companies such as FAT GRIPZ making their own handles to fit over regular bars.
Aston was also a fan of the crazy ridiculousness that is bent pressing. This seems to require extreme contortionism and Aston was one of the first few men to bent press 300lbs and did so at a bodyweight of 170lbs. That's one pretty fucking epic lift. Its a strange combination of an overhead lockout, side bend and one arm overhead squat. The actual pressing portion seems like more of a partial press or lockout rather than a full range lift from the shoulder. While its difficult to put in perspective because its not a lift anyone trains anymore even so just holding 300lbs overhead seems damn impressive. Aston used to stretch and train his flexibility 5 days a week which would seem necessary to achieve an impressive weight on the bent press.
Sometime in the 1970's BAWLA used to hold a competition called the Aston Cup in Memory of Edward Aston, an old lifting friend of mine was once the winner of it. I can't remember exactly what lifts he said were involved but I know their was the front squat as well as an array of one arm lifts.
So Aston was a pretty damn strong British guy who won just about every competition he ever entered while being ripped to the bone and I believe he deserves a lot more recognition than he gets compared to the other old time lifters.
Stay tuned for later instalments where I will be paying homage to Prof Thomas Inch the first man considered to be Britain's Strongest Man!
Modern weightlifting by Edward Aston
How to Develop a Powerful grip by Edward Aston
Single Handed By David Gentle
Monte Saldo - The Greatest of Trainers by Ron Tyrell