Old-Time Strength: The Mighty Young Apollon

(This is part of a series looking at old time strongmen and bodybuilders and the training methods and programs they followed. Note: The set, reps and weight used will be left out so you can tailor the program to fit your needs and strength levels.)

Famous Yorkshire strongman, born in 1903, J.C. Tolson took his stage name from his own hero, the fabulous early strength athlete, Louis Uni, the original Apollon.

From 1925 onwards he toured the Music & Variety Halls with a strongman act issuing challenges for all kinds of feats.

He retired in the 1930s and devoted himself to improving others with his highly successful postal course which ran well into the 1950s.

Tolson, an all-around lifter of great merit, discovered after a chance involvement at a strength show in 1925 at the local Empire Music Hall put on by Alexander Zass (who called himself Samson) that he had special powers when it came to bending iron bars, coming 3rd in his first competition organized by Zass.

His act was described by Will Diamond, a strength athlete and historian, as such:

“He started off by breaking a steel chain with his fingers, then he lifted to arms length overhead, with his little finger, a ring weight, weighing 91 1/2 lbs. and not satisfied with this he took a bar of mild steel 9 3/4″ by 7/16″ and bent it into the shape of a horseshoe. He tore a pack of cards into quarters without taking off the covers. Then to climax it all drove a six inch nail into a plank of wood with his bare hands and in one straight pull, drew the nail out with his teeth. Seeing this the spectators expressed their appreciation in rapturous applause. Thus, encouraged Apollon went on with his demonstration.

He supported twenty men on his chest with a abridge, bent bar of iron twelve inches long and half an inch thick around his neck, and while laying on the backs of two chairs, broke a six inch nail. This latter feat required exceptional strength of the entire body, particularly in the neck and abdominals. He ended his performance with a tug of war against twenty men.”

On other occasions, when that stage was large enough, he has withstood as many as fifty men, or by way of a change, two heavy cart horses. In March 1927 at the same venue, Tolson created a new professional weightlifting record 168 lbs. bodyweight with a pullover and press on back with 249 lbs.

In 1933, Tolson pinch lifted a lead block (65 Lbs.) by grasping with his thumb and finger alone an old penny which had been soldered onto the block. Many strongman tried and failed to duplicate the feat.

Here is a typical workout from one of his courses:

Overhead Press
Curls
Squats
Deadlift
Pushups
Bent Press
Ab work
Grip work

Notes: Train consistently 2-3 days per week and add weight to the bar whenever possible and get lots of rest, eat good food and drink plenty of water.

Understand that to be successful in any weight training program – hard work is a must! Half-hearted effort does nothing for you. If you’re new to weight training or grossly out of shape, consult a physician first. End of disclaimer.

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