Muscles of Iron

Strength, Health, and Might

The Grimek Squat-Stands Apparatus

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A while back I wrote a blog post entitled, A Power Rack from the 1940’s. This post features a drawing of an early-style and hand-built power rack that was used regularly by many of the strongest men in Louisville, Kentucky at the Downtown YMCA during the Golden Age of Physical Culture. I’ve seen actual photographs from years past of this beast of a rack, and let me tell you it’s a sight to behold.

I can only imagine how terrific it must have been for the oldtimers in Louisville to load a heavy barbell on the rudimentary lifting contrivance at the Downtown YMCA and get to work with several sets of ball-busting squats. They were pioneers of muscle building who undoubtedly understood that nothing – and I mean nothing – beats the barbell squat for building total body strength and powerful legs. You can claim to the contrary all you want, but the fact remains that the barbell squat is the King of all exercises for those folks who want to get as big and as strong as fast as possible.

Photo 1

John Grimek displaying his physique.

The squat-stands apparatus described in this post is named after John Grimek, one of the most accomplished strength athletes of all time. Grimek represented the United States in weightlifting at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. Later he won numerous prestigious bodybuilding titles, including the York Perfect Man competition (1939), Mr. America (1940, 41), Most Muscular Man in America (1946), Mr. Universe (1948), and Mr. USA (1949).

I sometimes wonder about the origin of the historic power rack that was once so prominently used at the YMCA in downtown Louisville. Who designed it? Who nailed it together? Who was the first lifter to use it? Unfortunately, I don’t know the answers to these questions – and I probably never will. However, this old rack has greatly influenced how I build my own strength equipment. It’s all-wood design; it’s simplicity of construction; it’s manifestation of pure ruggedness; and it’s old–time look and feel – these are special qualities which are sorely lacking in most strength tools that are commercially available today.

Influenced by that old YMCA power rack, this afternoon I sketched up a different take of this historic contrivance. Named after “The Monarch of Muscledom”, I refer to it as The Grimek Squat-Stands Apparatus, and an illustration of one possible configuration of this device is shown below.

Unlike the original YMCA power rack, the The Grimek Squat–Stands Apparatus does not feature a “step–ladder” design. Rather, it’s meant to be used for full squats only. Additionally, each Grimek apparatus built should be tailored to best match the physical characteristics (height, leg length, etc.) of the person who is going to be using it. It’s deliberately not a “one–size-fits-all” contraption. This results in a loss of generality, but it gives a huge gain in specificity. Thus, with tailored construction, there is nothing to adjust on The Grimek Squat-Stands Apparatus; just load your barbell with weights and start squatting. You can’t get simpler and more specific than that.

Photo 2

The Grimek Barbell Stands apparatus features two upright barbell stands and barbell safety 'rails'  The entire apparatus is made from two-by-fours and two-by-sixes.

The Grimek Squat-Stands Apparatus stands bold in any gym. It can be built specifically for doing barbell squats, barbell presses, flat bench presses, or incline bench presses. Additionally, the width of the apparatus can be adjusted easily by a quick swap of a couple of bolted two-by-fours. Drawing and design by R. Drucker.

So what kind of strength equipment did John Grimek use? Well, for starters, I would be willing to bet that he avoided all chrome-plated “wonder” machines. Sound logic also tells me that the famous weightlifting champion favored functionality in his strength equipment, not layers of complexity. Most of all, I must conclude that Grimek required a training apparatus that was strong and would not fail him when the going got tough. Anything that was flimsy or wobbled under load was almost certainly avoided by the former two-time Mr. America. Given these considerations, perhaps John Grimek would have rather liked my barbell-stands apparatus named in his honor. Shoot me an email and let me know what you think.

Yours in strength and health,
Robert Drucker