The Strongest Man in Recorded History: A Documentary on the Life of Paul Anderson

After watching a biography on the father of strongman showmanship last week in Louis Cyr, I had a more modern meat mastodon in Paul Anderson up next. Powerlifting USA put this documentary on the Georgia native. It was most definitely low-budget and about as 90s as you can get, but some of the footage they have of Anderson was just amazing.

While Cyr’s story was all that, stories, Anderson came along in the sweet spot of still being old school in nature but during an era with film, rising to fame in the 1950s.

Anderson was an Olympic Gold medalist, competing more formally than Cyr ever did. But, he did it in a very rudimentary way compared to today’s lifter. The film has interviews with high school friends, who recalled him being an undersized but fast lineman. And then within just a few short years, he had joined the Beef Boys club (5-9, 360) and walked into a locals gym and squatted near world-records without even warming up. He then got into Olympic-style lifting.

And here was the most interesting part of the film for me, watching his form in the Olympic lifts. It looked nothing like it does now. It was just pure, brute strength. Slow and methodical. And still, he is strict pressing well over 400 pounds with ease, when the record had previously been 330. He won the 1956 Olympic gold, America’s last heavyweight to do so, despite having a 104 degree temperature. He squatted 1,200 pounds, benched 628 and deadlifted 820, (all according to Anderson or done in exhibition). And it was all done raw. They have footage of him squatting super heavy barefooot, or even in work clothes. And the cobbled nature of his training equipment was a fun reminder of the early days of power lifting. 55-gallon barrels and dug out pits, concrete round wheels, iron spoke wheels, etc.

The back third of the documentary dives his personal life and post competitive career, namely his turn to evangelism and starting a school for troubled youths as he morphed into the Gospel Giant. There are several interviews with graduates of the school talking about Anderson’s influence on them as is there people speaking on the power of his message from public speaking gigs.

The documentary is 1 hour, 35 minutes. Time well spent for anyone who has spent time as a competitive lifter, or just anyone who appreciates incredible feats of strength.

If you don’t want to watch the whole thing, at least take the three minutes to watch some of the training footage here:

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