On the First Lady of Fitness, Betty Weider

By Digital Archivist
June 6, 2016

Although Joe and Ben Weider are both widely recognized for their many contributions to fitness, most Americans know less about Betty Weider’s long involvement with fitness and the important role she played in launching the women’s fitness movement of the 1980s. This recent article does a nice job of highlighting some of her contributions. We are very proud that the Joe and Betty Weider Museum is part of the Stark Center and are very grateful to all the Weider family and the Joe Weider Foundation for their support. We are also delighted to see Betty get some of the credit that she so richly deserves.


Stark Center Pages:

The Basque Strongmen

By Digital Archivist
December 1, 2015

Stark Center Co-Directors, Drs. Jan and Terry Todd, traveled to Spain with Rogue fitness and explored Basque country. Here is the result:

LEVANTADORES – The Basque Strongmen – A documentary film.

Dr. Thomas Hunt Speaks to Vince Hunt on history and politics of doping during the Cold War.

By Digital Archivist
November 11, 2015

Thomas M. Hunt, author of Drug Games and the director of the Institute for Olympic Studies at the Stark Center, explains the history and politics of doping during the Cold War.

Via the Wilson Center Digital Archive

KVUE Feature: The Nazi Olympics: Berlin 1936 Exhibition

By Digital Archivist
July 20, 2015


Dr. Thomas Hunt, the director of the Institute for Olympic Studies at the Stark Center, spoke with KVUE about our newest Exhibit.

Click the above image to watch on KVUE.

The Wheels of God

By Terry Todd
November 6, 2014

Several weeks ago, when the 2015 version of the Guinness World Records book (GWR) was published it contained a short but significant new blurb stating that,

“The greatest weight ever raised by a human being,” according to our 1955 book, “is 4333 lb (1.84 tons) [1965 kg] by the 25-stone [158.7-kg] French-Canadian Louis Cyr (1863-1912) in Chicago in 1896 in a back-lift (weight raised off trestles). Cyr had a 60 ½-in [153.6-cm] chest and 22-in [55.8-cm] biceps.” Today, the fully notarized record stands at 2,422 kg for two cars (plus drivers) on a platform backlifted by Gregg Ernst in Jul 1993

The significance of the inclusion of this blurb is that the current editorial staff at Guinness World Records (GWR) has by including it righted an old wrong and given credit to the man who has deserved the credit for 21 years. Before the recent publication of the new GWR only a few serious students of human strength were aware of Ernst’s historic feat, but now—through the world-wide distribution and influence of the GWR, which has sold more copies than any book except the bible—he will have what every man and woman deserves…justice. Just justice.

Justice requires fairness and impartiality, of course, and for a variety of reasons Ernst’s lift has been denied this basic right for more than two decades. Until now. Until the editorial staff at GWR decided to update its record list.  At some point down the road I hope and intend to elaborate on this strange and, in part, unfortunate story, but for now I simply want to say to Gregg—on behalf of iron gamers everywhere, and especially on behalf of those who knew the truth, understood the issues, and kept the faith—congratulations for having made the greatest backlift in history and for having the forbearance, equanimity, and strength of character to sustain yourself all those years with the knowledge that back in 1993 you lifted more weight at one time than any man ever has. You’ve known it for 21 years, and now the wide world will know it through the vast reach of the GWR.

What follows is a short editorial I wrote for Iron Game History in September of 1993, just a few months after Jan and I had stood an arm’s length away as Ernst raised that massive load. I thought when I saw his lift, and wrote the editorial, that when the next edition of GWR was published he would be celebrated. That it took so long for Ernst to get his just due is regrettable, but that he finally got it is worthy of celebration. Already he has been the subject of newspaper stories and done national TV and radio interviews in both Canada and the US and already his accomplishment is being acknowledged via the internet. The Wheels have ground.



Gregg Ernst: Bringing Back the Backlift

Late one afternoon this past summer, Jan and I left our cozy island home off the coast of Nova Scotia for the three mile trip to the mainland. There was rain falling and more rain forecast, and it was “thickafog,” too, as the islanders say—just the sort of night to stay indoors with a good book. But we had to make the trip. History beckoned, in the form of a long-haired, short-coupled dairy farmer from just across the bay in Lunenburg—Gregg Ernst by name—who planned to lift more weight at one time than any man had ever lifted in a fully documented manner. More specifically, Gregg intended to crawl under a massive wooden platform with two small cars on top and lift the whole thing off the ground across his back. Thus the name—backlift.

Since the heyday of professional strongmen and strongwomen at the turn of the century, the backlit has been a popular stunt because it allows a performer to lift thousands of pounds at one time. A hundred years ago, William Kennedy backlifted three large horses, and in later years Josephine Blatt lifted twenty men, Jack Walsh elevated an elephant, and a Texan known as Stout Jackson shouldered several bales of cotton. Obviously, the lifting of such things is much more visually impressive to an average audience than the lifting of iron weights would be.

By specializing in the backlift, Gregg Ernst is continuing a tradition. Physically, Gregg fits the oldtime strongman image. At five eleven and three hundred fifteen pounds, he’s round and burly— like a small bear. With his proportions and flowing hair, he is an almost exact replica of another potent Canadian–the phenomenal Louis Cyr of Quebec. Even Gregg’s training harkens back to earlier times. In these days of stairmasters, spandex, and selectorized weight machines, Gregg works out on his hilltop farm by hoisting boulders, driving fence-posts with an applewood maul, pushing his wagon up hills, lifting thick-handled dumbbells and practicing the backlift.

Thirty-one years old, Gregg is a quiet, modest man much admired in the community, all of which helps to account for the size and staying power of the crowd that came and sat through a wet, blowy night to watch him attempt his historic lift. The occasion was a big local fair—the Bridgewater Exhibition. The exhibition features a midway, of course, along with hundreds of agricultural exhibits, and such things as ox pulls and the tug of war, but the talk of the show this year was whether Gregg could lift the cars. It took a good deal of time to get the platform ready and to drive the cars onto the top and position them but finally the moment came and he bent his broad back under the platform and lifted it clear off the ground to the delight of the several thousand people who stayed through the rain to see a new world record.

Afterward, the entire load was reweighed under the supervision of several officials and the grand total was five thousand, three hundred forty pounds. In the big picture, of course, such an accomplishment has little consequence—just as all athletic accomplishments have little consequence. Even Gregg understands this. In fact, when a reporter asked him what his next goal was, he smiled and said, “Puttin’ away the rest of my hay.” Even so, seen in the context of the history of human performance, what Gregg has done is to walk with the giants of the past and then–when he came to the place where the footsteps of others ended–to continue, alone, walking where no footsteps were.

We want to lend our support to Gregg and to other young people who attempt in one way or another to honor the past by attempting to recreate some of the old strength feats which used to be a large part of the repertoire of any genuine strongman or strongwoman. What we like most to see is a modern lifter who honors the past—as Gregg apparently does—by abstaining from the use of anabolic steroids, so that he approaches the old records with only his natural talent and training to sustain him. Gregg has been fascinated by the backlift since his mid-teens, and has spent years refining the platform he uses and training to increase his strength in this demanding lift. It is, of course, impossible for any advanced strength performer to do a backlift (or any other lift, for that matter) with a weight that represents his true physiological potential in a feat with which he is totally unfamiliar. The truth of this can be seen in the experience of Anthony Clark of Houston. Anthony holds the current record in the bench press with 725 pounds and he has squatted in the neighborhood of 1000 pounds. But when this remarkable young man tried the backlift for the first time in a strongman contest recently, he was only able to hoist seventeen hundred pounds. Obviously, if Anthony spent even half as much time training the backlift as Gregg has done, he would do a great deal more than seventeen hundred pounds. Whether he would reach beyond Gregg’s record is, of course, impossible to say. The point here is that one does not reach truly great weights in any lift unless that lift is practiced regularly, for years, so that the strength and technique it requires can be brought to their maximum level.

We also want to applaud Gregg for doing everything he could to see that the lift was carefully documented. He contacted the Guinness World Records people and he arranged for several high-ranking local elected officials to be present when the reweighing was done. He also saw to it that photographs and videotapes were made of his performance and he asked us to be there to make our own judgment as to the genuineness of his lift. As students of the iron game know, several claims have been made which are in excess of Gregg’s recent record. It has been reported in Ripley’s “Believe It Or Not” column that Thomas “Stout” Jackson lifted 6,472 pounds and in Guinness World Records that Paul Anderson raised 6,270 pounds. Possibly, one or both of these men performed a backlift with the claimed weights, but since adequate documentation is lacking in either case the “official” record must rest in the thick, calloused hands of the young farmer who trained so hard for so long to add his name to the list of history’s giants.



Though the wheels of God grind slowly,
They grind exceeding small,
Though with patience He stands waiting,
With exactness grinds He all.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Iron Game Historians

By Terry Todd
May 16, 2012

Until a week ago, here at the Stark Center things had been humming at a higher rate than ever during the spring semester, at least as far as the “doing” of History is concerned. I say that in part because David Webster, Scotland’s venerable chronicler of the strength sports, had been here with us since early January–engaged in research on several projects and especially on a book about the history of wrestling, which he’s coauthoring with his friend and fellow Scot Willie Baxter. (This will be just one of the more-than-30 books written by the indefatigable Webster.) But besides David — who has spent three months or so at the Stark Center during each of the last three years — Professor of History John Fair has been in residence here since early February.

From the Iron Game to the Auld Game

By Terry Todd
January 19, 2011

Those who know a bit—or a lot—about the collecting my wife Jan and I have done over the past decades realize that our focus has been on Physical Culture, broadly defined. (Those who remain unclear about what the term “Physical Culture” means might want to take a look at one of the earlier posts in this blog—“Physical Culture,” which appeared on September 23, 2009.) This “field” was the focus of our collecting because of our personal backgrounds as well as our understanding, as historians, that although there were many excellent libraries inside and outside the United States which dealt with various competitive sports, there were no significant public libraries with a focus on the sort of purposeful exercise which is the basis of most of what we know as Physical Culture.

The Peoples Champion

By Terry Todd
January 15, 2010

The most recent of these periodic submissions provided some detail about how pleased we were to have picked up on our recent road trip what we believe is the very first power rack ever built/invented—a rack built in the 1940s in the cellar of Bob’s farmhouse along a creek in the beautiful rolling hills of East Tennessee, outside of Johnson City. This posting will be very brief, but when a member of the staff here at the Stark Center came across last week an envelope containing a number of photos of Bob Peoples and some of his training gear nothing would do but to share some of them with the few, but stalwart, readers of this blog. The photos in question are part of the Peary and Mabel Rader/Iron Man Photo Collection, and it was a real case of serendipity to come upon it less than a week after we brought to the Stark Center the very rack depicted in several of the photos.

The photos were obviously sent to Peary Rader by Bob Peoples in regard to a story in Iron Man, and perhaps someone who reads this will remember from the photos when that article appeared. Should this happen, I’d appreciate having the citation as I haven’t taken the time to search through my back issues of that wonderful old magazine. I’ve seen some of these photos in Iron Man in the past, but certainly not all, and although I’m not going to include all of them today it was impossible not to call attention to the coincidence of finding the photos just as the famous rack arrived in the center.

I’ve written extensively in the past about the many contributions Bob made through the years to training theory and equipment, and although I’m not going to rehash this information now, it seemed appropriate to share with readers/viewers some of these historic, eye-opening training devices.


The Double Gift of Doris Barrilleaux

By Terry Todd
December 4, 2009

One of the most important gifts the Stark Center for Physical Culture and Sports has received over the past several years came to us from Doris Barrilleaux, a Florida great-grandmother with the energy level of a hyperactive hummingbird. What she gave us was her very large and invaluable collection of correspondence, magazines, posters, videotapes, audiotapes, and many thousands of photographs. Without question, the Barrilleaux Collection contains enough raw material for ten doctoral dissertations, and we hope to see at least one fairly soon. One of the most wonderful aspects of the gift of the Barrilleaux collection is that Doris, who’s a whiz with computers, digitized virtually all of the rare primary documents she’s gifting to us. It took Doris approximately six months of long days to meticulously scan every newspaper article about herself, every magazine article she wrote, every photograph of hers that appeared in a magazine, and most of her correspondence. Visitors to the Stark Center will be able to quickly access her collection because of the organizational work she did; it was an enormous effort for her –and we at the Stark Center are deeply grateful to her for this tremendous gift to generations of future scholars.

A Legacy Lesser Known

By Terry Todd
November 27, 2009

Last week, the Stark Center was involved in two functions involving the Board of Regents of the University of Texas System. Those functions may prove to be very important to the future growth of the Center. This is so because the Board of Regents (BOR) governs more than 200,000 students and 84,000 employees spread across the sixteen campuses in the University of Texas System, including U. T.-Austin, the system’s flagship institution.

How these functions came about is that someone on the BOR apparently heard about the Stark Center and asked us to make a formal presentation to the BOR about Lutcher Stark, who served on the Board of Regents for 24 years, and was Chairman of the Board for 12 years. We agreed, of course, and so a member of the BOR’s staff came to the Stark Center to talk about the presentation. During that visit Jan gave the staff member a tour of the finished as well as the unfinished parts of the Center and the staff member liked what she saw. Several weeks later she brought another staff member for another look, and these two visits led the two staffers to propose to the Chairman of the BOR, James Huffines, that the Board have a reception and tour at the Stark Center the evening before our formal presentation. We were told that after looking at photos and learning more about the Center, Chairman Huffines decided that the Center would probably be of interest to the BOR and that such a tour and reception should be scheduled. Accordingly, we stepped up the pace of our preparations and tried to make the Center look as good as we could in the time we had. As last Wednesday night approached, the BOR sent teams of party planners, caterers, and florists to decide how best to accommodate the approximately 150 guests we expected to have. Finally, the night arrived, and we’ve chosen a few photos to illustrate how things looked.


Physical Culture – Part Two

By Terry Todd
November 8, 2009

Several blogs ago, I provided some information as to why we use the term “Physical Culture” in the name of our research facility—The Lutcher Stark Center for Physical Culture and Sports—and why we’ve used the term for 20 years in the title of our journal—Iron Game History—The Journal of Physical Culture. A number of emails arrived with comments about what I’d written, and I thought I’d use one of those emails as a springboard to expand the conversation and to share with readers how one thing can sometimes lead to another, better thing—“paying it forward,” as they say.  In any case, here’s the email with a bit of information on an unrelated subject edited out or, as it’s called in some circles, redacted.


The first time I heard the term “Physical Culture” was during our first conversation.  It was Saturday, July 19th, 2008. The term struck me so hard that I commented on how much I loved it and you then gave me (as you did and still do with many historical events) the origins regarding the term. Understandably, we had a lot to cover, and we didn’t get into the reasons why the term fell out of favor. It’s now almost 12:00 am Saturday and after reading your recent blog about Physical Culture, now I know the reasons. You and your team’s experience, knowledge, and instinct to maintain the term is inspiring and teaches a lesson: if you feel strongly about something even though it might contradict the normal standard, rules, policies, practices, protocols, or whatever–if you feel that passionate–never compromise.


Physical Culture

By Terry Todd
September 23, 2009

Twenty years ago, when we began publishing our journal, Iron Game History, we affixed a subtitle: “the Journal of Physical Culture.”  We did this because “Physical Culture” is an older and somewhat broader term than is “Physical Fitness,” although the latter is now much more widely used.  Sometimes people speak or write about “total fitness” or of becoming “totally fit,” which, when you think about it, is impossible.  In fact, it could be argued that the only time a person is totally fit is when that person is dead—at which point he/she is totally fit to be buried, cremated, or used for research.  Conversely, the term “Physical Culture” can’t be (mis)used in this way.  In other words, it would make no sense to refer to “total culture” or to talk about a person becoming “totally cultured.”

In any case, since “Physical Culture” was the term commonly used a hundred years ago we thought we’d try to do our part to revive it to its former glory. Hence, “Iron Game History: the Journal of Physical Culture.” I’m happy to report that even a casual reader of major newspapers and/or pop culture magazines would have noticed that the term “physical culture” is showing up more and more often.  In fact, not too long after Gina Kolata, a longtime writer at the New York Times, spent a number of days talking to us and doing research for her future book at the Todd-McLean Physical Culture Collection —the precursor of The Stark Center—Jan and I saw to our great pleasure that the “paper of record” had initiated a weekly column entitled, “Physical Culture.”