Did John Grimek Use Steroids?

| by Truth Seeker |

John Grimek’s double biceps pose (via:www.muscleandstrength.com/)


Natural lifters love digging into the past for two reasons:

1. We know that the vast majority of modern bodybuilders and models are not natural and have built their bodies with the help of PEDs.

To determine what can be achieved naturally, we often go back to an era when anabolic drugs were either absent from the planet or in their fetus stage.

2. The “analog” past comes with a sentiment that the modern world cannot quite replicate. The discrepancy is similar to the one between a paper letter and an e-mail.

In this post, I will perform the time-traveling exercise one more time and try to find a connection between John Grimek and anabolic steroids.

Who was John Grimek?

John Grimek (June 17, 1910 – November 20, 1998) was a bodybuilder and a weightlifter known for his barbarian strength and ultra-muscular physique that found itself on the cover of many elite bodybuilding publications.

Since the 1930s Grimek’s appearance has been inspiring an army of muscle constructors across the globe to join the fight against atrophy and build thicker muscular fibers.

Grimek’s immense influence earned him the title “the mid-century’s greatest bodybuilder” as well as two transcendental nicknames – “The Monarch of Muscledom” and “The Glow”.

In 1999, Grimek was inducted into the IFBB Hall of Fame.

Grimek’s Body Stats

Imperial Metric system
Height 5’ 8.5” 173.99cm
Weight 195lbs 88.63kg
Arms 17.5 inches 44.45cm
Forearms 14 inches 35.56cm
Chest 47 inches 119.38cm
Upper leg 25 inches 63.50cm
Calf 17 inches 43.18cm
Wrist 8 inches 20.32cm


John Grimek retired undefeated. During his last contest, Pro Mr. USA, he managed to win over his successor – Steve Reeves.

Competition Date Age Place
York Perfect Man Contest November 18, 1939 29 Winner
AAU Mr. America May 25, 1940 29 Winner
AAU Mr. America May 24, 1941 30 Winner
Most Muscular Man Contest May 4, 1946 35 Winner
Mr. Universe August 13, 1948 38 Winner
Pro Mr. USA March 26, 1949 38 Winner

John Grimek and Josh Bosley Ziegler

There are documents describing a connection between John Grimek and Josh Bosley Ziegler, better known as Dr. Ziegler, the Godfather of Dianabol (DBOL). John D. Fair’s research material “Isometrics or Steroids? Exploring New Frontiers of Strength in the Early 1960s”, contains the following quote:

“By the summer of 1954, Grimek was experimenting with a variety of chemical substances provided by Ziegler.”

[The sentence references another material, namely Ziegler Papers, 1954.]

The date here is crucial – 1954. At the time, Grimek was already 43-44 years old and past his prime. Consequently, this is not definitive proof that Grimek took PEDs during the active part of his career.

Nonetheless, primordial forms of the testosterone were available before the 50s.

Testosterone’s Actual Date of Birth

Many believe that steroids didn’t hit the battlefield until the late 1950s, but that assumption is  incorrect as stated in nattyornot.com’s book Potential: How Big Can You Get Naturally.

Testosterone’s birth became public knowledge in the classic paper On Crystalline Male Hormone from Testes (Testosterone): More Active than Androsterone Preparations from Urine or Cholesterol published in 1935.

The main downside of the method used up to May 1935 was that the synthesis of testosterone required an enormous amount of animal testicles.  This mechanism made the substance impractical for commercial use. Luckily, a more efficient process was just around the corner.

The same year (1935) two groups of scientists found another way to synthesize testosterone. The biochemist Adolf Butenandt and G. Hanisch of Schering (Germany) were the first to do it.

On August 24, 1935, they published an analysis entitled “On Testosterone Conversion of Dehydroandrosterone in Androstenediol and Testosterone: A Method for Preparing Testosterone from Cholesterol”.

Clinical trials on humans, involving either oral doses or injections of testosterone propionate, began around 1937.

Additional “red pills”

According to the research material “The History Of Synthetic Testosterone” by Hoberman JM, Yesalis CE, the earliest reference to anabolic steroids in a U.S. strength magazine goes back to 1938 when testosterone propionate was mentioned in a letter to the editor of Strength and Health.

In 1940, scientists conducted studies analyzing the effect of testosterone supplementation on human urine as revealed by a document entitled ”Concerning the Metabolism of Testosterone to Androsterone”. The authors are Ralph I. Dorfman and James B. Hamilton. The Yale School of Medicine supported the research. The paper arrived for publication on February 23, 1940.

Conclusion: Thanks to breakthroughs in the 1930s, testosterone “supplementation” made a debut in the 1940s.

Grimek in 1935 when “juice” derived from animal testis was the only form of steroids. (via: ebay.com)

Grimek’s First Strength and Health Cover

Grimek appeared on many covers of Strength and Health. The first one was in May 1935 when he was almost 25 years old.

In 1935, synthetic testosterone was not commercially available. Therefore, it is fairly safe to conclude that Grimek was natural when he did the cover.

source: https://www.neckberg.com

Did Grimek Have Incredible Genetics For Growth?

John Grimek had a thick and compact frame. His wrists were around 8 inches in circumference.

In 1932, Grimek’s massive forearms shocked the American strongman Siegmund Klein when the two met. As some of you may guess, a lot of that forearm mass was the result of long muscle bellies and large bones rather than a mythical routine or a secret exercise.

via: https://www.greatestphysiques.com

A photo from Grimek’s youth shows his potential. Note the long biceps and the already present development.

Why does this matter?

Bone thickness and muscle insertions are two decisive factors, especially in the absence of anabolic chemical substances that can trigger unnatural growth and mask weaknesses.

A man who is 6’ tall and has 7.5-inch wrists combined with long muscles enjoys a better base than another guy who is also 6’ tall but has 6-inch wrists and incredibly long tendons.

Amazing Strength

Steroids or not, Grimek was mighty strong as he was very “dense” for his frame and had robust joints allowing him to play the role of a “rhino” rather than a “gazelle”.

Grimek’s Best Lifts

Imperial Metric System
Deadlift 600lbs 272.16 kg
Squat 700lbs 317.51 kg
Bent Press 300lbs 136.08 kg
Olympic press (overhead press with a layback) 364lbs 165.11 kg
Bench Press 480lbs 217.72 kg

In conclusion

  • John Grimek had favorable genetics for muscular growth and strength cultivation.
  • During Grimek’s prime, the only available steroids were “organic” testosterone derived from the testis of animals and early forms of synthetic testosterone.
  • Scientists first synthesized testosterone in 1935.
  • Grimek has to be natural on Strength and Health’s 1935 cover.
  • Documents suggest that Grimek took anabolic drugs in the 1950s after making Dr. Ziegler’s acquaintance.
  • It wouldn’t be unreasonable to think that Grimek and other muscle athletes from his era experimented with early forms of anabolic gear during the 1940s thanks to the significant advances made by the steroid chemistry in the 1930s.

P.S. If similar topics interest you, and you would like to learn more about the natural potential, check out the book Potential: How Big Can You Get Naturally.

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  1. John

    Hi, Truth Seeker!
    I am reading your latest book,desert in a sky. I want to ask you some questions about book I am really interested in. Can I email you please? What is your email?

  2. Mass Bixo

    Steroid use in the 40s is a controversial topic. Look the following article : http://www.alanaragonblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/Aug-2014-AARR-Eric-Helms-Article.pdf
    There is a solid argument that testosterone wouldn’t be affordable until 1945, but if you look at FFM of Mr America winners, Grimek won in 1940 with a FFM of 24, then came back a year later with a FFM 26,9… Assuming he was 1,75m tall that would require a 10kg lean mass gain in a single year (on top of an already Mr Armerica winning physique)… So either these measurements are complete BS or he started juicing at this point.

    1. Truth Seeker Post author

      Gaining 10kg when you are already at a high level is close to impossible naturally.

      1. Mass Bixo

        I would say it is actually impossible. The questions is did he actually gain this much muscle in that period? If he did he was surely juiced at this point.
        The problem is that we cannot fully thrust this data. I’ve seen articles estimating a FFM of 28 for Sandow, which if you see he on video is pretty obvious that it isn’t nowhere close to that.

  3. Matt Hawkins

    When Grimek trained Steve Reeves
    Interview with Steve Reeves PT5- How Steve Reeves gained 35 lbs of muscle and won Mr. Universe in only 7 weeks.

    For the 1950 Mr. Universe 35 lbs of muscle in 7 weeks. Grimek admitted sometime in the 1950s he was juicing. So Reeves, a very experienced bodybuilder, goes to York barbell and Grimek trains him. 35 lbs in 7 weeks – definitely getting his butt injections. York Barbell, where Grimek worked, was the center of steroid use in bodybuilding.

    In 1948, Reeves was much smaller after winning Mr. World

    Note: Sean Connery placed third at the 1950 Mr. Universe

  4. GOAT

    Very interesting. I think 1940 onwards is a reasonable assumption of steroid use – they may not have been affordable, but the researchers would have needed some Guinea pigs.
    Grimek does not lot unnatural – he is just short and stocky – a tall person will never look that stocky without ‘roids. I am more impressed with his lifts, although having a squat significantly heavier than his deadlift is suspicious. We all know every one can bench press “100kg”, too (they can’t, but they all say they can), so any records, or measurements, are probably also unreliable.
    I actually gained over 1 stone of muscle, without PEDs – just casein (from milk) milkshakes – in my 40s, in 8 weeks. However, at 180cm, 10 stone, with stick legs, it was mostly derived from 2×20 rep squats giving me normal sized legs (legs are ⅓ of bodyweight). Anyone with a trained physique, without weakness, will struggle to gain anything without ‘roids.

    When was this post published? I hope you’re still alive, LOL. Great research – thanks.

    1. GOAT

      Edit: Grimek does not look* unnatural

  5. GOAT

    One thing’s for certain, Mr. Olympia winners have always been on PEDs, from Larry Scott, the 1965 inaugural winner, onwards.
    Most people should be able to spot unnatural physiques instinctively – the human brain is geared to judge bodies as part of being an animal born to survive and breed, primarily.

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