Everything You Wanted To Know About the Strongman Paul Anderson
Name: Paul Edward Anderson
Born: 17 October 1932
Died: 15 August 1994
Sports: Olympic weightlifting, powerlifting, strongman
Paul Edward Anderson was born in Toccoa, Georgia. He was the only child of his parents Robert Andrson and Ethel Bennett. He had dreams of playing on the Toccoa High School Football Team, and he started lifting weights in order to increase his chances of getting a place on the team. His efforts were successful, and he became a first-team blocking back.
His early foray into weight training was using weights that his father had made for him out of concrete. He went on to earn a football scholarship at Furman University and played there for one year before he moved to Tennessee with his parents. It was while in Elizabethton, Tennessee, that he met Bob Peeples, a weightlifter who took him under his wing and helped to shape his squat training.
While Paul Anderson's success in weight training came decades ago, his numbers are impressive even today. He had a 440lb clean and jerk and a 930lb squat according to official statistics. His unofficial numbers are even more incredible, with a 628lb bench press cropping up in many reports.
A Teen Full of Potential
According to a report written in Iron Man Magazine, he met Bob Peeples in 1952 after wandering into Peeples' weight room. At the age of just 19, he went up to the rack and squatted 550lbs, in regular shoes, with no wraps, and no warm-up. That's just 25lbs less than the world record at the time, and he did so as if it were no special feat at all. Peeples immediately recognized the potential of this young man and took him under his wing. By the age of 20, Paul had entered his first formal strength competition, squatting 605, 635 and then 650lbs, resoundingly defeating the 30-year-old world record for the squat.
It was only a matter of time before he went to the Olympic Games and then set his sights on other disciplines.
A Career Plagued By Injuries
As with so many high-level athletes, Paul's career was derailed by many injuries. In 1954 he suffered a hip injury from attempting to pull a safe that had frozen to the ground (the safe weighed 3500lb), and he broke his wrist while attempting to break a world record. He was also involved in a car accident and suffered multiple broken ribs.
Paul did not let any of this affect his training. He rebuilt the cast on his arm using steel supports and rods so that he could continue to train. He made do with 55-gallon drums that were filled with concrete, or large iron wheels so that he could train even when he did not have access to weights. He did not subscribe to the training methodologies of the day, and instead simply focused on volume training.
One of his key training methods was to do high volumes of squats every other day. The strategy worked and has become a popular training method today.
Anderson took part in the 1956 Olympics, which were held in Melbourne. He entered the 90kg+ category and won gold in weightlifting in spite of suffering from a high fever and an inner ear infection. The event was not an easy one for him. He was so far behind his main rival that on the final of the three required lifts he needed a 413.5lb clean and jerk, which was an Olympic Record, to earn the gold. He had three tries, and on the first two attempts, he failed. For the third, he called upon God for help, and managed to complete the lift, making what is considered to be one of the greatest Olympic Weightlifting comebacks in the history of the sport.
In 1957, he was entered into the Guinness Book of World Records for the 'Greatest lift'. The report claimed that he lifted 6,270lbs in a back lift (lifting weight off trestles). He weighed 364lb at the time. The entry was controversial, however, and Guinness removed it from the Book of World Records, citing that there were insufficient witnesses.
Whether the back lift claims are to be believed or not, Paul's other lifts are certainly impressive.
After doing all he could in amateur sport, he went to professional sports and used the funds he raised in order to support the founding of the Paul Anderson Youth Home. The decision to 'go professional' is an interesting one because it disqualified him from taking part in the 1960 Olympics.
Paul also claimed a 1,200lb back squat, a claim that is controversial because it was double what even the strongest men of the day were lifting. Anderson offered a cash prize to anyone who could equal his lift, which adds some legitimacy to his claims that the amount he was lifting was significantly more than even the next strongest man. However, it is highly unlikely that he was lifting, for reps, an amount that no man has since been able to get close to even doing for a single lift.
A Pioneer in Sport
Regardless of whether his controversial 'stage show' lifts were real or not. His athletic achievements at sanctioned competitions are unquestionable and are impressive even today, let alone for more than 60 years ago.
Paul Anderson's work lives on now in the popularity of powerlifting, as well as in the existence of the Paul Anderson Youth home that works with disadvantaged young people who are at risk of incarceration.
Paul's life was cut short because of Bright's disease, a kidney disorder that he suffered from as a child. He continued to have kidney problems later in life, and it was complications from a kidney disorder that eventually claimed his life in 1996.