A Modern Hercules – Bert Assirati
by Charles A. Smith
It is almost fifteen years to the day when “Pop” Assirati showed me a picture of a 14-year old boy. The boy was lifting the back of Pop’s taxi clear from the ground. “Bertie was powerful then,” said Pop. And I could only gaze in wonder and agree. That March day in 1933 marked the beginning of an association with a most remarkable family and an even more remarkable strong man.
I first met Bert in the gymnasium of “The Ring,” that famous
Both Bert’s father and mother are stronger than average. “Pop,” at 64 years of age, has a mind refreshingly youthful, and a body more vigorous than his years would indicate. Bert’s brother Joe is one of
Bert commenced weight training at the age of twelve. The apparatus that he used was his mother’s flat iron. Pop could see that his son had something out of the ordinary with regard to strength and development, so he took him to a local gym and had him taught gymnastics, hand balancing and wrestling. The only weights the gymnasium had were two 56-lb. block weights, crude blocks of iron. By the time he was fourteen Bert was using these for alternate curls and presses, and getting more and more eager as the weeks went by to come to grips with a “real” barbell.
On his sixteenth birthday, Pops, as a special treat, took him to a physical culture exhibition. Two of the main acts were Alan P. Mead, famed muscle control artist, and another athlete, scheduled to make an attempt on a strand-pulling world’s record. This athlete, whose name I have forgotten, eventually broke the world’s record on the “front chest pull.” Throwing the expander down on the stage, he challenged any member of the audience to duplicate the feat of strength. Bert, with a little prompting from Pop, jumped up on the stage, and performed 15 repetitions with the “world’s record.” The audience called loudly for Bert to strip off; just as our audiences do with the physique champions. Bert did and Alan P. Mead, standing to one side, was so amazed at the development of this youthful Samson that he took him to one side and asked him searching questions regarding his weight training. Five days later, a 225-lb. barbell and dumbell set arrived at Bert’s house, with a note attached from Mead containing a training schedule and his assurance that if he, Bert, trained along the right lines, he would become one of the strongest men in the world.
At 17 years of age, Bert commenced his stage career. The act was known as Mello and Nello. Bert’s partner, an ex-circus performer, had taught him all the advanced hand balancing and tumbling feats. Single-arm handstands, front and back somersaults, planches, etc. came easy to Bert, who was the understander in the act. At this time Bert’s weight was 168 lbs. His partner, who weighed 150, and was the topmounter, would kick up into a handstand on Bert’s wrists as Bert lay on the floor. Then Bert would pull him over as in the straight armed pullover. The act traveled all over the world, and in every “port of call” Bert would visit the local body building studio and get busy with the weights.
On his return to
Bert did not forsake wrestling as Hack advised, for he shortly became the British heavyweight champion, and subsequently
Right hand military press – 160 lbs.
Left hand military press – 145.
Lateral raise lying – 160 (two 80-lb. dumbells).
Tow arm pullover STRAIGHT arms – 200.
Two arm pullover STRAIGHT arms – 140 x 17 reps.
Two arm curl – 180.
Two arm curl, arms tied to sides – 160.
Two hands continental jerk – 380.
Two hands clean and jerk – 360.
Two hands press – 285.
FULL deep knee bend – 550 x 10 reps.
All of these extraordinary lifts were performed in strict style. The two hands curl of 160 lbs. with the arms tied to the sides was inspired by Bert seeing a picture of Matysek back hand curling a thick barbell with the upper arms strapped to the sides. The highest one hand military press, of which I have knowledge, was by a circus strongman named Michael Mayer who performed a right arm military press of 150 lbs. while lashed to a post. Bert was reluctant to have the poundage in the left hand military press published. “Heck, it’s fifteen pounds under right arm record,” he wrote, “so don’t mention it.” With regard to the deep knee bend, which I am quite prepared to have disbelieved, the previous best to my knowledge is the feat of Stanley Sinkiewicz squatting with 500 lbs. for 10 reps at a bodyweight of 190 lbs. To give an idea of the squatting power of Bert, I once saw him squat without cessation for a solid half hour with a barbell originally belonging to Sandow. It weighed 235 lbs. and was used by Sandow in many of his photo poses.
To see Bert perform a single arm hand stand, a back somersault or a roman ring crucifix is to be as amazed as if one saw a bull perform the most intricate ballet routine. One simply can not understand how a person of such muscular bulk can be so light on the feet and so supple. Bert Assirati is perhaps he heaviest man to perform a crucifix on the roman rings. He has done this feat even at his heaviest bodyweight of 266 lbs. The only other record I have of this feat being performed by a heavyweight is by a Swiss wrestler named Estelle who weighed 253 ¼ lbs.
In dumbell lifting Bert is supreme. Early this year, he was wrestling in the English town of
Commencing weight training as a boy, Bert Assirati started a way of life that he has maintained to this day. He believes it to be the best single form of exercise for developing a first class physique and that it is unsurpassed in the development of speed, strength, endurance and suppleness. Bert greatly admires Johnny Davis and hopes to meet him at the Olympic Games in