When we consider the many strongmen who have pioneered and popularized bodybuilding and weightlifting, the list is long. One man who deserves the highest place among this pantheon of greats is early 1950s bodybuilding and weightlifting champion, mighty Marvin Eder, whose prodigious lifting prowess garnered him the unofficial title of world's strongest pound-for-pound man.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, Marvin the teenager became interested in both bodybuilding and weightlifting in the late 1940s, and quickly developed his physique to such a degree that in his first year of bodybuilding competition he placed second in the AAU Mr. America Junior division, and won the North American and New York Junior titles.
Like many of his era, Marvin combined bodybuilding and Olympic lifting to great effect. He not only looked immensely strong. He was. He credits the all-out heavy lifting he did to the thickly developed physique he possessed at his peak where, at five-foot-eight-inches, he weighed 200-pounds with arms over 19-inches, a 50-inch chest, 26-and-a-half inch thighs and 17-and-a-half inch calves.
Marvin's incredible strength feats are still spoken of in revered tones today, such was the impact he had on the lifting world. Those who do not know their iron history might be asking, "Why all the talk about Marvin?" For them, here are the facts:
At a bodyweight of 190 to 200 pounds Marvin performed the following.
- Olympic press - 330 pounds.
- Deep squats - 50 reps with 300 pounds.
- Side laterals - reps with 120-pound dumbbells.
- One-arm-chins - eight consecutively with each arm.
- Press behind neck - 305 pounds.
- Side press, left hand - 220 pounds (with a man sitting on his hand).
- Parallel bar dip with 434 pounds (two men hanging from his feet!).
- Bench press - 515 pounds.
- Still arm pullovers - 250 pounds.
- Wide grip chins - 80 with his bodyweight and 8 reps with 200 pounds attached.
- Consecutive handstand push-ups on a horizontal ladder - 25.
Such amazing poundages require and extraordinary approach to training and Marvin was unique as a lifter. There were no "light" days for him. His, sometimes several training sessions per day, were intense and always as heavy as could be, a philosophy that is not recommended for your average lifter.
Marvin achieved this because he had such amazingly strong joints and recuperative abilities that he could literally work his muscles into the ground with up to seven hours of gut busting work, then return the next day to do it all again. Do not try this at home folks.
Marvin's last bodybuilding contest was the 1951 AAU Junior Mr. America where he placed second. That same year he was third at the AAU Mr. America. In this final year of competition, Marvin was thought to be nearing his ultimate potential as a bodybuilder and certainly his weightlifting feats were getting progressively better.
Unfortunately it was around this time that he was stripped of his amateur status. A sad series of events conspired to render him ineligible to enter either the AAU Mr. America or any of the official weightlifting events he excelled in.
Experts today feel that had Marvin not been disqualified to compete as an amateur he would have made official lifts that would have completely awed the lifting world. No 198-pound lifter even came close to Marvin. And who knows how far he could have gone as a bodybuilder.
On October 7, 1989, Marvin was inducted into Annual Association of Oldtime Barbell and Strongmen where he was honored with a highest achievement award for his pioneering work as both a bodybuilder and weightlifter, disciplines he will forever be remembered as being among the very best in.
Since his retirement from competitive bodybuilding and weightlifting at age 22, Marvin has run his own successful plumbing business and has continued to lift the heavy iron to keep in great shape and remain strong.
Today he lives a quiet life. Now, at age 75, he only does 500 crunches every morning, and up until recently has been doing dips with 70 pounds attached and curls with a 35 pound dumbbell. Then again he is Marvin Eder. And such weights are nothing by "Marvin Eder" standards.
Over the years Marvin has shunned the limelight, perhaps more so than any of his contemporaries of a similar standing. Now the truth about this great champion can finally be heard - from the man himself.
[ Q ] What are you doing these days Marvin?
I'm fully retired. Unfortunately my wife just recently passed away about a year ago. I have my lady friend with me and she is a pretty sweet woman who spends good deal of time with me. And that's about it right now. I am not working or anything like that.
I do exercise and still work out. I use weights, but lighter now. Unfortunately about a year ago I tore my rotator cuff on my right shoulder by stretching a certain way on the chinning bar. And I ripped the shoulder. But I haven't gone for any surgery and am building it up with weights again, strengthening the surrounding muscles. And I have improved it quite a bit.
And I have some problems now with nerve impingement in my elbows causing some numbness in my fingers on both hands - neuropathy in my fingers. I really don't know what caused it but the doctor seems to believe it was due to all the heavy lifting I used to do many years ago. But who knows. It is a kind of numbness in my little finger and ring finger on both hands.
[ Q ] How old are you?
[ Q ] Could you go into more detail on the kind of training you have been doing in recent years?
Recently I haven't been doing the heavy stuff. This stopped a few days ago. My son is a chiropractor and he advised me to stop the heavy weights.
I was doing dips with about a 70 pound dumbbell on my feet and was curling with a 35 pound dumbbell, and doing a one-arm-rowing motion with about a 70 pound dumbbell but I've cut back because that might be injuring the joints and irritating them, and then you get calcium build-up. So I have cut down to much lighter weights.
[ Q ] Are you still in good shape at 75?
I'm still very muscular. At this point I just want to maintain my muscularity and my primary reason for training is to stay well and prevent myself from getting fat and developing any diabetes or anything like that. I go for blood tests every three months and I am doing very, very well.
I have low blood pressure, low cholesterol. So my blood tests came out beautiful. It went quite well. I'm quite healthy outside of these little injuries. They're not illnesses, they are injuries. That is how I look at it.
Essentially I am a healthy man outside of what I call these "little things". So I'm doing okay, thankfully. I eat low fat foods and I don't overeat. I do not have a protruding belly like a lot of people my age.
I also do a lot of aerobics training like power walking at twenty minutes at a clip and I alternate that with my upper-body work. For my mid-section work I do 500 crunches every morning, so I maintain a reasonably good shape. And that's what I am interested in doing right now.
[ Q ] 500 crunches every morning seems pretty impressive.
That isn't much. It is very easy doing crunches. Then I will do other movements for my abdomen. At one time I used to do a lot of heavy stuff.
[ Q ] I think it would be fair to say 500 crunches is a good start to the morning.
Well, it is doing well for me. That form of training is enough for me and I'm quite happy doing it.
[ Q ] Clearly you are not the average person though.
No. Not at all.
[ Q ] When you were in your prime, lifting those massive poundages in the 60s, you were a genetic phenomenon and there were very few people who came close at far as pure power is concerned. Would that be fair to say?
Yes it would be. I had exceptionally powerful joints in my shoulders and elbows and of course I never took any steroids of any kind. And at that time I never even took any vitamins or supplements of any kind. I would eat regular foods. All kinds of food: milk and steak and chicken and dairy foods, cereals. All kinds of good food and it did well for me.
[ Q ] How often would you eat?
Oh just normally. I would eat about three times a day. I could never eat as much as others. Oddly enough, I saw some of the old-time muscle men put away food that astounded me. I tried to do that one time when I was out in California when I entered one of the Mr. America shows.
Ed Yarick who had a gym at the time invited us to his home - there were several of us - and he made a huge amount of hamburgers and all this food and I could not match the other guys and how they ate. I forced myself to eat more. I turned green and went to the bathroom and vomited it all up. I could never eat as much as others could. Apparently my body didn't need it.
[ Q ] That kind of defied the thinking of the day, where it was thought that you needed to eat massive amounts of food to grow if you were training hard.
Yes, I would say so. But your really don't have to. I don't believe that. The horror of today is the use of all these chemical substances that's going on. It is so perverse. You know, when I lifted weights I believed the stronger and more muscular I got, the healthier I became.
Health was never divorced from my training. I would never, under any circumstance, consider the use of any kind of artificial drug to stimulate my muscle growth. What's going on now is a nightmare, an obscenity. And in a way I hope the whole thing just disappears, that it should be wiped off the face of the earth but it is just getting worse and worse all the time.
A lot of these shows now honor men who built up their muscles with the use of chemicals. And just to be facetious I said to a friend of mine, "Why don't they have a show called Mr. Chemical." It is an absolute horror now. And I will not lend my presence ever to any show, even if they were to honor me, or anything like that. That is all in the past.
I just want to stay away from it. Actually, when I begin to think of it, it is almost as if I am becoming ill at the thought of even being near something like that. Eventually these people will suffer. You cannot do that without destroying your body.
Eventually they come down with other forms of disease. You can't pour artificial testosterone into yourself and growth hormone and God knows what else without upsetting the natural homeostasis of your body. You will suffer from it.
I really don't care what their goals are. You want to get muscular and stronger, workout hard and look after yourself like I did. You can't beat your genetics. Can everyone be an Einstein? No they can't.
[ Q ] Genetics and hard work?
Yes of course. No question about that.
[ Q ] In the 1949 Junior Mr. New York City, which you won, there was another chap by the name of Art Zeller who placed out of the top three. Art went on to become a great physique photographer. What are your recollections of Art, the bodybuilder?
Yes, we were friends. We were very close friends for many years. Well he wasn't very strong but he was photogenic and took very nice photos. He did look very good. He didn't go into the heavy lifting like I did. I also did Olympic lifting and a lot of stuff that very few other guys did.
[ Q ] That same year you placed second in the Junior division of the IFBB Mr. America and won the IFBB North American Junior title. How did it feel to have achieved so much in your first year of competition?
I tell you, those are all dim memories. I was impelled by some kind of inner force and it's now lost all it's meaning for me because of what the sport that I loved has become. I don't know if it's any kind of achievement really.
What I am most proud of is when I began training I sometimes didn't even have a gym to workout in. Sometimes I used to workout in a local playground in the freezing cold outside on the dipping and chinning bars. There was no gym, and then again I didn't ever really have the money to join a gym. That was something I am proud of. Being able to continue my training under circumstances like that.
Marvin's Competition History:
- Mr. America - IFBB, Junior, 2nd
- Mr. New York City - IFBB, Junior Most Muscular, 1st
- Mr. New York City - IFBB, Junior Overall Winner
- North American Championships - IFBB, Junior, 1st
- Mr. America - AAU, 6th
- Mr. Eastern America - IFBB, Winner
- Mr. America - AAU, 3rd
- Junior Mr. America - AAU, 2nd
[ Q ] Were you more of a weightlifter or more of a bodybuilder?
I always combined them. I always did Olympic lifting and bodybuilding at the same time.
[ Q ] And this combining of disciplines was done in every workout?
Yes. I never took weight off the stand in the conventional way. I would clean the weight to my shoulders and then do the heavy presses. I worked up to repetition presses with 340 pounds. I bench pressed over 500 pounds, deep-knee bends for repetitions with 550 pounds and side laterals with 120-pound dumbbells. The laterals were not done with perfect form mind you.
[ Q ] What was your favorite exercise and why?
I would say the heavy dip, which I did in Santa Monica. I did a dip with 434 pound on my feet. There were two men sitting on my feet. There was Malcolm Brenner and my good friend, Dominique Juliano, who both somehow held onto my legs and the total weight was 434 pounds.
[ Q ] What were some of your other strength feats?
I did virtually everything you could think of. I sometimes felt like doing high repetitions in the deep-knee bends so I did sets of 50 with 300 pounds and I would do side presses with 120 pound dumbbells, sets of 50 - on each arm. The side press was a bend to the side.
One thing I can tell you: every workout I trained to the absolute limit. I never worked out light and that is how I trained. And I had enormous recuperative powers and was always ready for the next workout.
[ Q ] And therein lies one of the secrets to your amazing gains, although this style of training might not work for one with average genetics.
I would say so. It helped a lot, yes. I was also capable of doing one-arm-chins. I did at a bodyweight of around 200 pounds - eight repetitions on either arm.
[ Q ] That is amazing. One repetition would be a phenomenal achievement for most. Did you have a particular technique for doing this movement?
I just jumped up and placed one arm on the bar and pulled myself up. No particular technique.
[ Q ] And I understand you would also do wide grip chin-ups with 200-pounds attached to your waist.
Easily. Sure. I was able to do repetitions with 200 pounds and I was able to do sometimes up to 250 pounds. And with wide-arm chins I was able to go up to 80 repetitions like that. Yeah, I loved to do all that heavy stuff and enjoyed it.
[ Q ] Would it be fair to say your strength achievements set the platform for your physical development? That the massive weights you lifted were solely responsible for giving you that massive look?
It was a synthesis of both the strength feats and the regular training I did. It was the heavy training and the bodybuilding together.
[ Q ] Did bodybuilding come along after an involvement in strength training or were you interested in bodybuilding right from the start?
No it was all done at the same time.
[ Q ] So from the very beginning you wanted to be both a bodybuilder and a weightlifter?
Yes absolutely sir. Another memory I have is of doing a one-arm side press with a live man of 220 pounds sitting on my hand. That's not a world record, but having a live weight of someone sitting on your hand is difficult because there is no real balance.
There was a record set of one rep with a 240-pound dumbbell. But I never did that. This (Marvin's feat) was with a live weight, done at the beach in Coney Island in the sand.
[ Q ] Not the most evenly distributed of weights.
No it was tough, but I managed.
[ Q ] Were any of your records ever verified?
No, just witnessed. That's about it. One of the records I was permitted to list after I lost my AAU standing. This was at the YMCA championships, where at a bodyweight of 189 pounds I pressed in front of the judges, 330 pounds. That was the time lifter Jim Bradford, who weighted 270 pounds, did 370.
[ Q ] Pound for pound you would have been one of, if not the, strongest of your era, and one of the very best even by today's standards.
Quite possibly. I also did some dead lifting and was quite strong on this also, but not much - just to work out. Ludwig Shusterich, a very nice man, one time came up to workout with me and we both dead-lifted without any particular training, 665 pounds. It was just like an afterthought, after we had done working out.
[ Q ] What is your training philosophy?
My philosophy was train to your limit, never use any artificial means, eat well and above all, have the goal of good health.
[ Q ] A pretty simple philosophy.
Yes. It was a joy to do and I will never forget the pleasure and the pleasant times I had in the gym working out.
[ Q ] Today, training and nutrition are quite sophisticated and serious business for the top-level competitor. You guys simply went to the gym and trained.
Yes, without all these newfangled devices. It was all free weights. The only thing we had was a homemade lat machine with a simple pulley and cable and a bar attached. That's about it. Everything else was free weight. Of course we also had an Olympic revolving bar for the heavy presses, clean and jerks and snatches and all that. But otherwise everything was all free weight.
[ Q ] Did you do any aerobic training in the 40s and 50s?
No I didn't. I was just interested in the weights at the time. Very often weight training was done at a rapid pace with very little rest between sets. And this depended on the type of training I was doing. So we might have considered it aerobic when I did it that way. It depended on what particular phase I was in at the time.
[ Q ] And how many times per week did you weight train?
At the beginning I trained every other day. Then as I advanced I would do split training: upper body one day, legs and mid section the next day. Then as I advanced beyond that I started to do Olympic lifting along with the training and at that time it went to four times a week where I would work out Monday and Tuesday, rest Wednesday, workout Thursday and Friday and rest the weekends because the training was exceptionally heavy. That was the last type of training that I did.
[ Q ] How long would you train for on a typical day?
Well at one time I would train six for seven hours a day and the number of sets sometimes went up to 15 per body part.
[ Q ] Where did you do most of your training?
For most of my training a group of us fellows got together and went to a place called the Eastside Barbell Club. And that's where I worked out for many years. And afterwards I worked out in Abe Goldberg's Health Studio and worked for him for a while as a trainer and then that petered out. Then I continued to train there until I quit the whole thing.
[ Q ] And that is when you chose plumbing as a career?
Yes that is right. I built up a very nice business. At one time I had 12 men working for me and I worked in some of the most exclusive areas in the city of New York. I did quite well at the time, but now I am seeing some tough times.
A lot of my money I spent setting my son up with a chiropractic clinic of his own, down in South Carolina. But I'm living well and I have my own home and social security and so I live a simple life.
[ Q ] You say you "quit" the weightlifting and bodybuilding game, but did you continue training at any level?
No, for many years I didn't do any training at all. The plumbing work I did was some real heavy stuff with very large pipes and giant valves I worked with, and that seemed to keep me quite strong and in pretty good shape. And gradually I filtered back into training.
[ Q ] For how many years did you stop training and at what age did your hiatus begin?
I don't believe I did anything for at least ten years. I would say between the ages of 22 and 32 I did no training at all. Then I stated back again doing handstand dips and gradually added some weights to it. I did one arm lifts and one-legged squats and things of that sort. After retirement when I sold my business, I started to use weights again.
[ Q ] So you had no desire at all during your layoff to come back to bodybuilding and weightlifting?
No, no desire at all. I lost it.
[ Q ] Did the fact that you were deprived of your amateur status early in your career have any bearing on your decision not to come back?
I suppose it might have. I was a pawn between Bob Hoffman and Joe Weider, and Hoffman arranged for me to be kicked out of the AAU, which was phoney anyway because he supported all of his people. They were all actually professionals themselves but that's the way it was.
[ Q ] So once you were deemed professional you lost interest in the whole thing?
Gradually I saw that there was no real future in it for me and I just wanted to get on with a different kind of life. I had to develop another skill and I started out in the plumbing industry without any knowledge of it.
I did some of the dirtiest work imaginable and gradually went to years of night school, learning all the different skills I needed - electric arc welding, air conditioning and high-pressure steam work. Then I studied for my Master Plumbers license and got it. Then I started out with just a helper and my reputation spread.
I have an aptitude for mechanical work and before you knew it I was doing work in some of the best buildings in town and I couldn't handle it all. So I started to hire men and buy trucks. At one point I had seven trucks out there all radioed and all the men were uniformed.
The business was going well for a number of years until finally it got to a point where my poor wife became very ill. She was afflicted with a severe blood disease so I sold the business and I took care of her.
[ Q ] And your wife was supportive of your throughout your career.
Oh yes. A marvellous, wonderful mate, which most people never enjoy. A lovely, wonderful woman. I sometimes find myself teary eyed and occasionally sobbing. We would have been together 50 years before she passed away.
[ Q ] Is there anything you would like to say in memory of your wife?
All I can say is she provided me with the light to be alive and I knew deep, wonderful softness, compassion and love.
[ Q ] What advice would you give lifters today for improving their strength?
The only advice I can give the guys today in the field is to live clean and to get a way from this horror of chemicals. Enjoy the feel of the steel in your hands, but struggle to get it overhead. Make contact with that. Build yourself up in that manner and you enjoy it for the rest of your life.
[ Q ] You had some great records. For example, 330 pounds in the press at 189 pounds, as you mentioned earlier. Do you ever wonder what kind of records you might have set officially had you kept your amateur status?
I don't think of it really. I don't live in the past. So they denied me, but I had the sheer joy of doing it and that sustains me. I remember I went with my friend, Dave Sheppard, and we went out to York and we worked out at the York Barbell Club - the old gym that was there - with a few others. And I did repetition presses with 320 pounds.
I did the same thing up at the German-American Lifting Club: repetitions with very, very heavy weights. Some people have seen me do very heavy things. I tell you who was one of the strongest men I worked out with: Reg Park. Oh, he was great. He was one of the few guys who could keep up with me.
[ Q ] How often would you and Reg train together?
Well, he came on a visit to New York City and he came up to the gym. He was a beautifully built man and he weighed about 235 pounds. And he was using the weights that I was using and I would even say he was a stronger squatter than I was. He was keeping up with virtually everything I did except maybe in certain categories. But generally he was tremendous.
Reg is a very fine gentleman also. It was one of the high points of my training. We worked out for a couple of weeks together. He was just great to work out with.
[ Q ] What kind of man was Reg Park in your experience?
A gentleman. He was soft-spoken and he wasn't in any way stuck-up. He just was a regular fellow - a regular, okay guy. That's all I can say.
[ Q ] Weightlifting great, John Davis, is another of your fellow lifters from the 50s.
I never in any way was a close friend of John Davis but I knew of him. And he was one of the figures that inspired me a lot. Two men inspired me: John Davis and John Grimek. They were the guys I idolized.
John (Davis) never believed the lifts that I could do. He would say, "He can't do that, I don't believe that" until he saw me at a show doing something like that. Because there weren't too many guys who could even get close to him at the time.
[ Q ] In what way did John Grimek inspire you?
Well he had the most incredible physique and he combined Olympic lifting too. He also had excellent flexibility. I wasn't flexible at all. My joints were kind of like stiff, but John was amazing. Grimek's development was incredible.
[ Q ] Ahead of his time even?
Oh yeah. He took some of the most amazing physique photos that I've ever seen. And from what I understand, Grimek never used any substances like that. He was a man who also trained let's call it, in a natural sense. He wasn't using anything other than good food and some Hi-protein that Hoffman made, but outside of that from what I know he lived clean.
[ Q ] What would you say to those who feel that Grimek did take steroids?
I don't believe it. It is a dishonor to his memory to say that even. Because I spoke to Grimek once about that when I saw him at a show and told me he never took anything like that.
[ Q ] Who else among your fellow strength athletes did you admire?
Well some of the old-timers I might have been interested in for their development. But these are all dim memories for me now. It is hard for me to recall some of these guys after 50 years away from it.
I have some nice stories. Like Malcolm Brenner was a real sweet guy, but he was nuts. His mum used to hang out with him on the beach. She used to bring a big shopping bag and used to stuff these bananas down his mouth. She would say, "Come on Malcolm, come on Malcolm."
I will tell you who was also a great lifter, one of the real phenomenons: Dave Sheppard. He was tremendous. Unfortunately he started to drink a lot and he destroyed himself - too much booze.
He was another fellow with enormous recuperative powers: he would get drunk one night and the next day he would be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and go to the gym and work out. But was he great. At a bodyweight of 198 pounds he clean-and-jerked 427 pounds. He was something. A real nice, sweet guy. I think he ended getting himself into trouble or difficulty in California.
[ Q ] Famed physique photographer, Earle Liederman, once recalled seeing you perform an unusual biceps contraction where you would fully flex them and remain in that state for a moment, and then with a faint forearm movement, the same biceps would take on another contraction so that the belly of the muscle seemed to roll up towards your shoulder. How did you do this? Was it intentional?
I was able to flex my biceps in a way to where they would split so the lower part would move one way and the other part would move the other way. Nobody else ever did that.
[ Q ] Did you have any other little posing tricks?
No: nothing spectacular that way. I had built up an enormous amount of muscle. My pectorals were actually four inches thick and my arms were a little over 19 inches. My chest relaxed was a drop under 50 inches with a waist of 34-and-a-half and 26-and-a-half inch thighs. Calves were 17-and-a-half. At that time I was up to about 200 pounds.
[ Q ] Did you tighten up on your diet as a contest approached?
[ Q ] So you would eat the same thing year round?
Absolutely. Whatever I did, I did with the joy of life. I was drunk with life. I couldn't do that (strict dieting). It was simply anathema to me. Anything I did had to be pleasurable. I couldn't see the point in doing that. I know some of these guys go on chicken and water diets. I never did that.
[ Q ] How much rest did you get between workouts? Did you sleep much?
I never lived a life without work. I used to work at night in a bakery at one time. Then after working several hours at night I would get home by four o'clock in the morning, then go to sleep. I would sleep for eight or ten hours, eat, and then go to the gym and workout again. So I always worked, I never had it easy. I just worked.