Don't Weaken

A blog by Director Terry Todd

Broad Shoulders

By Terry Todd

Posted December 11, 2009

In earlier blogs, several photos of Mark Henry have appeared and Joe Roark, the creator of a fascinating and authoritative forum-IronHistory- suggested that some sort of measurement of Mark’s shoulders should be made as it appeared that he might have the broadest shoulders on record in the iron game. Mark, not Joe! No laughing. Anyway, since Mark was in town yesterday for a brief visit I prevailed on him to drop by the Stark Center so we could make an attempt to measure his shoulder-width.

As a thoughtful person might imagine, getting an accurate shoulder-width measurement isn’t easy because—for one thing–it’s important to place any measuring device neither too high nor too low on the deltoids. An inch too high or an inch too low can make a significant difference. It’s also important for the arms to be held against the sides and not flared out by a flexing of the lats and the related shoulder-girdle muscles. Since we have a device here at the Stark Center that David P. Willoughby used to measure shoulder-width I hoped to use it, but it was too narrow. Undaunted, foraged through our work-rooms and found two straight pieces of wood, placed them at what I thought was the appropriate place on Mark’s shoulders. For my part, I attempted to keep the pieces of wood parallel to each other as Mark stood against a wall, held his arms straight, and placed his palms against his thighs. I actually believe that the pieces of wood which touched the wall were a bit closer together than they were when they were touching Mark’s shoulders. I tried not to fudge the measurement so that his shoulders would seem broader than they actually are, and in that effort I was pushing the sticks against his shoulders tightly—perhaps even depressing the flesh to a small extent.

Our method of shoulder measurement

Our method of shoulder measurement

People can look at the photos and see how we did it, but bear in mind that we didn’t have unlimited time to do the measurement, and I’m going to try to use another, more precise technique the next time Mark drops by. In any case, the measurement we got was 30.5”, which may not seem particularly unusual to anyone raised on figures of speech like, “His shoulders were a yard wide!” or “He’s as wide as a barn-door!” or on laughable tales like Angus MacAskill, the 7’9”, 450 pound “Cape Breton Giant” having a shoulder-width of 44”! (Having seen a wood carving of MacAskill at the Armoury in Halifax, Nova Scotia based on the measurements given in a book about the famous giant, it’s clear that his 44”-wide shoulders look far, far too wide even for a man almost 8’ tall. The figure looks cartoonish because of the impossible proportions. What’s more, when I visited the MacAskill Museum in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia I examined a life-sized poster photograph of him; he didn’t appear to be particularly broad-shouldered for his purported height.)

As for modern iron game legends, one of the most enduring is that of Chuck Ahrens, a man who grew up and came to fame in the Los Angeles area in the late 1950s because of his great upper body strength and shoulders which looked even broader than they were since his legs were relatively small for a man whose weight varied from a bit less to a bit more than 300 pounds. As for the exact width of Ahrens’ shoulders, a 1957 issue of Iron Man reported that Ralph Bass had convinced Ahrens—a notoriously camera-shy man who never appeared in public without wearing a thick, long-sleeved shirt—to allow his shoulder-width to be measured by calipers. Bass stated that Ahrens’ shoulders were 26 5/8” wide and that most of the other bodybuilders and lifters he measured in the beach area had shoulders between 20”-21” wide. (Bear in mind that this was 1957 and the dramatic impact on muscle-mass produced by anabolic-androgenic steroids would produce had not as yet occurred.)

Seen in this light, Mark’s width of shoulder—particularly since his was also created without the “benefit” of the use of tissue-building drugs—is a good deal more exceptional. As to whether any other non-obese iron gamer has had wider shoulders I’d be hard-pressed to say, but there are a number of people who come immediately to mind. They deserve consideration. One such man is the 6’7”, 440 pound French-Canadian strongman Dominic Filiou, who seen up close is breathtakingly large while still retaining an proportionate physique. Unfortunately, he’s not breathtakingly strong. Another would be the 6’11” Dwight Howard, the outstanding young center for the Orlando Magic whose amazing shoulders and leaping ability have given rise to the nickname “Superman.” Yet another is Paul Wight, a WWE wrestler and friend of Mark’s who performs as “The Big Show.” Wight is approximately 7’ tall, mildly acromegalic, and has weighed between 400 and 550 pounds during his long, successful, and still-continuing career. At this point “Show” has dropped a lot of weight and no longer trains with either regularity or seriousness, but there was a period about 8-10 years ago when he trained his upper body and produced a body that was much more well-shaped and broader-shouldered than that of the larger-boned Andre the Giant.

No doubt readers will remember other men who deserve to be on this short list of history’s broadest-shouldered men, and I’d enjoy hearing from anyone who has an addition. As for Mark, he may not be the broadest, but he’s a real shadow-caster.

Terry Todd reaching up to a poster of Angus MacAskill, reported to be history’s tallest natural giant at a height of seven‑feet, nine‑inches. Photograph taken by Jan Todd in the MacAskill Museum in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.

Terry Todd reaching up to a poster of Angus MacAskill, reported to be history’s tallest natural giant at a height of seven‑feet, nine‑inches. Photograph taken by Jan Todd in the MacAskill Museum in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.

ronnie and mark

Ronnie Coleman and Mark Henry

ronnie and mark

21 Comments

  1. The Rude, November 13, 2013:

    http://oi42.tinypic.com/2r5yt6q.jpg

    http://i.imgur.com/YWHzJ7X.jpg

    http://oi44.tinypic.com/2qwiule.jpg

    At this moment in time I believe the absolute widest muscular man on earth is Thor Bjornsson of Iceland.

    He has a relatively Long torso, and a wide waist/hips, and his shoulders still look very wide due to simply having very wide clavicles.

    Now, at the moment Thor is right around 400 pounds, which is not as heavy as Brian Shaw. The difference? Thor has visible Abs at 400 pounds. Thor is a VERY lean 400 pounds.

    What makes a man wide is his bone structure, and the amount of muscle on his deltoids. Considering only Solid body mass, what actually counts for width, on a guy who is almost 7ft, with wide clavicles, there is a good chance this is the widest man on earth at the moment.

  2. Jonathan Greenwood, December 14, 2012:

    I completely agree. This was more of a curio project than anything else and I’ll be the first to admit that I wouldn’t bet any of my left-sided body parts on the accuracy of my calculations compared to measuring someone in vivo. I did find a picture of Dwight and my calculations put him at a little over 22″ across. Vytautas Lalas, by percentage is the widest at 39.9% but short of Henry at 27.94″. Once again, for the record, I acknowledge the flaws of this process. If you ever get a chance you should see if you can get a straight on full body shot of Mark or anyone else you measure in the future. Then we can compare the results from a controlled photo to a real subject.

  3. cslater, December 14, 2012:

    Mr. Blanks,

    Thank you for your thoughtful and interesting response to the conversation on the Stark Center blog surrounding the issue of how to properly measure and assess shoulder breadth. This is a subject of ongoing interest, it seems.

    While I think your technique is theoretically sound in most ways the one place where it is, by the nature of things, subject to major inaccuracies has to do with your second sentence: “I find the closest thing to a full straight on body shot I can.” Obviously, it’s impossible to get such photos from all or even most of the candidates under discussion–photos in which they are all standing in essentially the same way or “pose.” Also obviously, any differences between the ways in which “candidates” were photographed will result in calculations which fail the “Parallel Test” in that the calculations will vary either slightly or significantly from calculations based on photos in which all candidates were photographed in as similar a stance as possible. I don’t mean to say that what you’ve done is of no value–only that we shouldn’t assume that measurements in the hundredths of an inch or even the tenths of an inch are accurate. Such measurements are interesting, but we just can’t know whether they’re accurate in all, or even in most, instances. I still think you should continue your efforts. In particular, I’d like to know what the calculations would be for a “well-positioned” Vytautas Lalas, who although relatively short (among this assembly of giants) is breathtakingly broad.

    As far as your comments about Jeep Swenson are concerned, what you may not know is that although he was very thick from front to back (deep ribcage, etc.) he was not proportionately wide. Those of us who have seen him often remark about that aspect of his appearance, and I’d add that his unusual depth no doubt made his width seem even a bit less than it was. I also believe–with no proof, of course–that his chest wouldn’t have been as large as Steve Neece believed it was since the largest chests tend to belong to people who are not just broad (like Dwight Howard) or not just deep (like the late Jeep) but to people who are both broad AND deep (like Mark Henry and Brian Shaw).

    Finally, I commend you again for your obvious concern for accuracy. A fact which saddens me is that the level of inaccuracy in the iron game remains high and shows little evidence of dropping. A recent case in point appeared in a comment made by a famous bodybuilder from the 60s, 70s and 80s about Sergio Oliva. The comment was one of many lamenting the death of Sergio and (I’m going on memory here) claiming that at one time the circumference of Sergio’s waist was two inches smaller than was the circumference of Sergio’s thighs (27″ to 29″, respectively). This might not be as bad as the supposed measurement of Louis Cyr’s calf (28″) and Angus MacAskill’s shoulder breadth (44″), but it’s bad enough.

    Terry Todd

  4. Jonathan Greenwood, December 12, 2012:

    Dr. Todd. I stole an idea from zoologists to measure shoulder width from pictures. I find the closest thing to a full straight on body shot I can. I take it into Photoshop and crop it to height (top of head, bottom of feet) and width (widest parts of deltoids) and then measure it with the the Photoshop ruler. I divide width by height to get a percentage and then multiply that by the person’s height. These are some of the results I have gotten. Obviously there is a lot lacking with this technique but I think I had some interesting results as my measurement for Mark is similar to yours. For me Mark came out on top for both percentage and actual width.

    Mark Henry
    29.81”
    6’3” (75”tall)
    (39.75%)

    Dominic Filiou
    6’7” (79”) tall
    29.47” wide
    (37.30%)

    Paul Wright
    7’0” (84”) tall
    27.785” wide
    (33.08%)

    Paul Dillet
    6’2” (74”) tall
    27.632” wide
    (37.34%)

    Orville Burke
    5’10” (70”) tall
    27.58” wide
    (39.40%)

    Brian Shaw
    6’8” (80”) tall
    28.672”
    (35.84%)

    Noah Steere
    6’6” (78”) tall
    28.67” wide
    (36.75%)

    I have also discovered or noticed that a person’s shoulder girth is about 2.5 their width. Looking at pictures of Jeep I’m surprised you don’t put him on top of the heap. Steve Neece estimated his chest between 63-65. Give him a modest 5″ (I’d give him more) for shoulders and that put’s him 68-70 around. If I am right about 2.5 then that would put him between 27-30″ I can’t find a full body shot of him, Dwight, Phil Makdisi, Don Rheinhout or Grant Pitts. I think they are all good candidates. Too bad Jeep isn’t here anymore.

  5. Digital Archivist, November 9, 2012:

    Tom,

    Thanks for the comment. The men you mention are, indeed, almost all very broad and very massive. But, as you know, some men are very broad without being very deep or thick from front to back, and some are just the opposite. And some, like Mark Henry, is both. One man who is very thick but not very wide is the late Jeep Swenson, who would look very narrow standing between Mark Henry and Rich Williams. And other men you mention—although very broad in general appearance, such as Paul Dillett or Doug Young—are simply too small to be have the breadth of someone like “Big Show” or Mark. I did see for myself, about a month ago, a man from Lithuania—Vytautas Lalas—who was amazingly broad for his height. He took part in a Strongman contest in Madrid that I helped to direct, and he had just finished second to his countryman Zydrunas Savickas in ESPN’s “World’s Strongest Man” contest. Only about 5’11”, Lalas looked huge from any angle and I wished for a caliper when I saw him. Even so, I’m sure that—if we were to measure his shoulder width accurately and then measure the width of the much taller and heavier Savickas—Savickas would be significantly broader.

    I’m including a photo of Mark taken last summer here at the Stark Center on the occasion of the opening of the Joe and Betty Weider Museum. I’m including the shot because it will give you some idea of Mark’s unusual breadth. In the photo (see photo added to original posting above) he’s standing next to Ronnie Coleman, who weighed at the time a bit over 300 pounds at a height of just under six feet. Mark, in contrast, is 6’3” and was weighing about 425–over a hundred pounds more than Coleman. We have a number of other photos of Coleman taken that night and in all of them he appears to be much wider than the men standing beside him, but the roles were reversed when he stood beside Mark.

    Finally, there are two people now active in the Strongman world that I hope to measure in the future—the 6’8”, 440 pound Brian Shaw and the 6’9” (or 6’10”), 425 pound “Thor” Bjornsson. Both men are immense and Bjornsson, only 23, is just beginning to blossom in the sport, having finished third in the recent WSM contest. In time, I believe both Shaw and Bjornsson could reach a solid bodyweight of 220 kilos or so (485 pounds), but at this point Mark—because he weighs approximately as much as the two taller men although he’s much shorter—would be expected to have more body mass per inch of height, and thus more breadth.

    Terry Todd

  6. Jonathan Greenwood, November 9, 2012:

    What about Don Reinhoudt, Doug Young or Anthony Clark? Paul Dillet, Markus Rhul, Orville Burke? Jeep Swenson and Phil Makdisi?

  7. Tom Ryan, August 24, 2010:

    Terry,

    I know that Andre wrestled in Athens, GA in 1972 or 1973, when I was a graduate student at UGA, but unfortunately I missed him. He was comparatively slender then and I believe his billed weight was 425. I did finally see him wrestle one night in Madison, WI in 1980 when I was a visiting faculty member at the Univ. of Wisconsin. By then his weight was considerably higher and much of the added weight went to his waistline! Consequently, he didn’t look very athletic on that occasion.

    Regards,

    Tom

  8. Clay, August 9, 2010:

    Have any plans to track down Dwight Howard and measure him? He is a specimen and it would be interesting to see all his measurements.

  9. Raimo Halvorsen, August 3, 2010:

    My best recrards to you Terry and Jan!
    raimo from Finland

  10. terry todd, July 12, 2010:

    JT,

    I just became aware of your post and thought I’d respond. I agree that the Big Show of ten years ago would be very close to Mark in shoulder breadth. I saw him many times during that period and he was truly broad–and also very strong in his shoulders even though he didn’t push it in the gym even then. Regarding his hand size relative to Andre’s, having been around both quite often I have to disagree as I believe Andre’s hands were significantly wider than Big Show’s–just as
    Andre’s feet were much larger in both length and width than Show’s.

    I agree with your general points about Howard, although he’s so much wider than almost all of the other NBA big men that his measurement would be interesting to see–although not up in the Henry, Williams, and Show category. As for Andre’s height, he was a good 7′ early in his career, and maybe a bit more, but age, a terrible back, and gravity brought him “down” a peg or two. I saw him on several occasions when he weighed over 500 pounds, but I also saw him in Georgia shortly after he cam down from Canada and I suspect he was within 15 pounds of 400, one way or the other. This was about 40 years ago; I went backstage to meet him, interview him, and take a few photos with him. I still recall how “inhuman” he looked and how amazingly agile he was. For example, at one point in the match he ran across the ring, jumped over the top rope, caught the top rope in one hand for contril as he went over, and landed on the floor just outside the ring.

  11. JT, May 29, 2010:

    Dr. Todd,

    If you have the opportunity, your getting some shoulder, wrist and hand measurements of Paul Wight (wrestler Big Show) could be revealing. He’s probably close to Mark Henry’s width.
    Wight back in 1999-2000 was arguably wider than he is now. His hands are also about as wide as Andre the Giant’s were but not as long. Like Wight and Andre, Dalip Singh (wrestler Great Khali) has a huge frame and hands as well due to acromegaly/gigantism and is the tallest of the three.

    A shoulder measurement of Dwight Howard sounds interesting but would probably be disappointing. With television screens now in the 16:9 format, everyone looks wider than they really are. If you switch the screen to the old 4:3 format, Howard still looks wide but not quite as impressive. His square (rather than sloped) shoulders and narrow waist also add to the illusion of width. At a legit 6’10”, he’s still a remarkable athlete.

    I really enjoyed your SI article about Andre the Giant. As Andre has since passed away, can you share some insight on his real height and overall size? After factoring in the afro and cowboy boots that he almost always wore outside the ring, my best guess is that he was actually closer to 6’10” and probably around 425-450 lbs. when you interviewed him. Wight is roughly 7’0” (he was listed as 7’1” as a center for Wichita State) and generally looks at least 2 inches taller when standing next to the same people that Andre did (or when standing next to persons of the same height that Andre did). Thanks!

  12. Richard Sorin, May 17, 2010:

    Terry,
    The framing calipers really helped because even if the men are standing straight, against a wall keeping two hand held rods at dead right angles AND parallel considering the distance the ends would have to be from the shoulder tip touching point (due to Marks and Rich’s thick body depth )might be a more difficult and less accurate a method than a ridgid caliper that is set dead parallel and only touches the shoulder tips. I think this simple device I have might be interesting to include at the next Arnold,s show!RS

  13. terry todd, May 14, 2010:

    Richard, your post is interesting on several levels. First, although it’s possible that Mark’s shoulders are slightly wider than Rich’s are, I’m fairly certain there wouldn’t be a 3.5″ difference. Both men weigh close to the same–Rich at 406 and Mark in the 420 range–and both are about 6’3″ in height. My guess is that the 3.5″ difference is due more to your more accurate measuring technique. To be really accurate you need either a set of calipers or a device like the one you used. In any case, if anyone at or below 300 pounds claims a shoulder-width of 27″ or above just dismiss it as it almost certainly won’t even be close to true. I agree, by the way, that Filiou was genuinely monstrous–but he’s about four inches taller than Mark and Rich. I think that they’re the gold standard so far. I would, however, like to put the calipers on Dwight Howard.

  14. Richard Sorin, May 14, 2010:

    Well, Mark is the king of deltoids! Big Rich Williams came in today fit as a bear and weighed 406. His carefully measured (relaxed, hands at his side, pre workout) width with a steel tape was 30″ on the nose. With my rigid right angle framing squares shoulder caliper he was exactly at 27″ (the true mark as I figure)…. . a long way from Marks 30.5! Rich does have the largest looking shoulders of all I have ever seen except Mark and Dominik Fillalyu a Arnolds 450lb. competitor of a few years back.R. Sorin

  15. gilbert, April 22, 2010:

    amazing . makes don howorth looks h had small shoulders almost

  16. terry todd, March 31, 2010:

    I’ll be very interested in seeing the measurements you get on Rich Williams’ shoulders, but I’ll be really surprised if they’re in the 32-34″ range since only an inch or so is a significant difference–with a measurement of 33″ (in contrast to Mark Henry’s 30.5″)being a bit like the difference between a man standing 6′ and one standing 6′ and a man standing 6’6″. But Rich is very broad–and thick, too, like Mark which is why they can both weigh at or over 400 pounds without appearing as portly, for example, as Alexeyev or, more recently, the more recent Zydrunas Savickas. Both of these men kept packing on the weight and it finally had nowhere to go but to expand the mid-section. Please send to the blog what measurements you get from Rich, Donnie Thompson, Big Tex, the Cyborg, or any other of the inhumanoids who lurk in the shadows of Sorin. I like the description of your device very much, and am not surprised at your surprise as to how wide a man’s shoulders would have to be to span 30″. What you say lends support to what Ellington Darden reported about how broad a pair of 24″ shoulders could be. But shoulders a yard wide? Not unless we’re talking about Miles Darden.

  17. Richard Sorin, March 29, 2010:

    I have put together a shoulder width measuring device that I think will work well when Mr Williams visits again. It is a pair of parallel framing squares running on a railed measuring track. After pulling the device open to 30″ I am astounded how large of shoulders it would take to fill that void.The device being of metal and with precise right angle adjustment and parallel caliper like ends will render some interesting data.R Sorin

  18. Richard Sorin, March 25, 2010:

    I find this very interesting. From the way Zudrunas Zavicas was eyeing Rich Williams standing next to him in an elevator at the Arnold’s I think Mr. Williams was a few inches wider than the monster “Z”after being able to look at them both side to side and close up. We have measured him (Rich ) before and If my mind serves me his shoulder breath was 32-34″…I will double check.. it was about a year ago. Mark is truly one of the most massive beings on earth.. natural, and with trim joints that make him all that much more impressive.R Sorin

  19. Ken O'Neill, December 31, 2009:

    I’ll agree with Ell that Scott Wilson appeared utterly massive: I used to see him around San Jose in the 80s. All things considered, while Wilson was immense he simply didn’t “appear” as big as Steve Marjanian. At 215, Scott was a pale shadow of Big Steve’s 260-280 pound bodyweight in either 1964 or 65, Scott with the relatively narrow waist of a bodybuilder, Steve simply an embodiment of friendly power. We saw Marganian at the 1955 California State Powerlifting Championships in Fresno, my last contest due to the unprecedented oral steroid tsunami flooding coastal California in a manner drowning any vestige of common sense while eroding foundations of moral turpitude. Within a few months, there he was in Iron Man doing a 45 degree incline press at Venice Beach with a scant 450-475. Steve impressed our contingent from Bob Kemper’s garage gym in Sunnyvale, CA – he had to sqeeze through normal size doors with those massive shoulders forged then from a reported six sets of six seated db presses (classic ones done sitting on the edge of a wooden bench, no back support) with a pair of 160s at the Muscle Beach Weightlifting Club Inc dungeon in Santa Monica. We soon saw him in the Muscle Beach party film along with Larry Scott, Chet Yorton (presumably before he became drug free), and a host of other early sixties ‘stars’ from the Weider stable.
    Mark’s another story. I honestly cannot come to a conclusion between him, Wilson and Marjanian – and never saw Ahrens. Terry invited me to the UT football gym in early July 2004 when a newbie to Central Texas for a Mark workout as well as meeting Maddog Madden. Mark’s first workout in four months due to shoulder surgery. And busting the boundaries of raw power. And such a delight to see Dr Terry’s repetroire of reproductions heavier than originals of antiquarian championship standard equipment. Mark worked up to admirable poundages, 225 for sets of 5 doing one up upright rows with Terry’s special dumbbell – a three inch piece of round stock milled down to accept Olympic plates, leaving mark a 3″ diameter handle. Predictably, the shoulder that had had surgery went into spasms. So I got involved doing trigger point accupressure – holy cow, never met such a mass of down and basic pure mass. Reminded me of the mid to late 70s when my buddy, an oncologist/internist from Turkiye bought some whole beef for the two of us to butcher – he’d mentored me in endrocrinology, and now was about to introduce me to a surgeon’s view of structural anatomy vis-a-vis butchering the right way for gastronomique cuisine francais (adding to this we both spoke/read french with emphasis on chemisty and cooking). Attempting to work on Mark’s shoulder was simply an amazing experience – I’m of the opinion his body weight, not one of low BMI, offsets visual recognition of how immense his delts are. He’s not seemingly overwhelming with high traps akin to Ronnie Coleman, nor the huge biceps of a Kaz. The point is one has to either develop an eye for specifics or use measuring tools to develop highly refined visual acuity in such matters – tactile skills, embobied in pressure therapies, qua an an example, are yet another pathway.

  20. Ellington Darden, December 14, 2009:

    Hi Terry,

    Henry’s 30.5-inch-wide shoulders are indeed the widest I’ve ever heard of. On March 2, 1984, I measured Scott Wilson’s shoulder width, using metal calipers, at exactly 24 inches. I talked about this on page 131 of my book, “High-Intensity Bodybuilding.” Scott’s shoulders were freakishly broad, as Chris Lund took photos of him. At that time Scott weighed about 215 pounds at a height of 5 feet, 9 inches.

    Earlier, Arthur Jones had noted that the widest shoulders he had seen belonged to Bill Trumbo. Trumbo had trained with Jones at Vic Tanny Gym in San Monica in the late 1940s.

    Best,

    Ellington Darden

  21. Joe Roark, December 11, 2009:

    Thank you, Terry. Yes, hyperbolic phrases like ‘wide as a barn door’ do fog the issue (as well as making one wonder what size barn one must be describing). Are cats usually corralled into a barn?

    Anyway 30″ or 30.5″ for a bi-delt width is on par with a 25″ muscular arm- seen less often than a fully clothed Pamela Anderson.

    I remember in Peoria, Illinois at a lifting competition, walking up some stairs behind Mark and thinking at the time he was the broadest individual I had ever seen in person.

    Now we have a figure against which other widths can be compared.

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