The inventor of the bench press, as well as the hack squat, was George Karl Julius Hackenschmidt. Known as ‘The Russian Lion’, Hackenschmidt was a Baltic German Strongman and a professional wrestler.
Hackenschmidt was pivotal in the history of the bench press, which is now referred to as the ‘king of the upper body lifts’.
But who was George Karl Julius Hackenschmidt? And what else is there to know about the history of the bench press? The following article will answer both of these questions and more.
If you wanted to learn all about how the bench press first came to be, you’ve come to the right place.
About George Hackenschmidt, Inventor Of The Bench Press
The first recorded floor press was performed by George Hackenschmidt in 1899, and thus the history of the bench press began. The barbell he lifted while on his back weighed more than 350 pounds.
George Hackenschmidt was born on the 1st of August, 1877, and he grew up in the Governorate of Livonia. At the time this region was ruled by the Russian empire. Hackenschmidt began training at a young age, and was fond of a number of sports, including swimming, cycling, jumping, gymnastics, and, of course, weight lifting.
In school, he gained recognition for various feats of remarkable strength, like pressing 200 pounds overhead, and lifting a small horse from the ground with his bare hands.
It was in 1896 at a Club Festival that Hackenschmidt’s strength began to gain renown. At this festival, he performed 12 reps of 145 pounds, 10 reps of 155 pounds, three reps of 198 pounds, and one rep of 214 pounds. Later that same year, Hackenschmidt met a professional wrestler named Lurich while the latter was touring with his small company.
Hackenschmidt accepted Lurich’s open invite to wrestle him, and because Hackenschmidt had very little experience actually wrestling, he lost the match.
Realizing he had finally met someone equal to his strength, Hackenschmidt was frustrated, and began to pursue a career in wrestling as well as in weight lifting. Losing was something Hackenschmidt would rarely have to worry about from this point onwards; out of a total of 3,000 matches, he lost just two times.
One year later in 1897, Hackenschmidt broke the press world record with 243 pounds. By January of 1898, he was lifting as much as 275 pounds overhead. Hackenschmidt’s floor press was the main cause of the spur in the growth of the bench press, which gained mainstream popularity later, in the 1930s. The first bench press is most often attributed to Hackenschmidt.
On January 27th of 1901, Hackenschmidt would invent what would soon become known as the ‘hack’ squat (and is still known as such even now), by lifting 187 pounds behind his back with his knees bent. From this year to 1911 he achieved over 3,000 wrestling wins, hosted many lectures on weight lifting and wrestling, and wrote multiple books on both physical culture and philosophy.
He was beloved by many for his physique, great feats of strength, his good looks, his intelligence, and his philosophical mindset. The then President Theodore Roosevelt once stated: ‘If I wasn’t president of the United States, I would like to be George Hackenschmidt!’
Following a career that influenced generations of weight lifters, George Hackenschmidt passed away at the age of 90 in Dulwich, England. There’s lots more to know about Hackenschmidt, much of which can be found in his book ‘The Way to Live in Health and Physical Fitness’, which is still in publication.
His other books included ‘The Three Memories and Forgetfulness: What They Are and What Their True Significance Is in Human Life’, ‘Consciousness and Character: True Definitions of Entity’, ‘Fitness and Yourself’, and ‘Science of Wrestling’.
Some of George Hackenschmidt’s many wrestling victories included the following: his first big victory as the 1898 French Heavyweight Wrestling champion, the 1905 World Heavyweight Wrestling champion in New York, his inauguration into the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame in 1996, his inauguration into the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum in 2002, and his inauguration into the WWE Legacy Hall of Fame in 2016.
One of Hackenschmidt’s most well-known quotes is the following: ‘The frequent employment of one’s will power masters all organs of movement and trains them to perform feats which otherwise would have been difficult, painful and even impossible.’
The Bench Press: Controversy
The bench press was actually considered a controversial lift by traditionalists until after the 1950s. Many felt that the bench press was a ‘lazy man’s exercise’, and some even went so far as to call it cheating. Others judged that it led to disproportionate pecs, as well as poor posture.
Many wrote articles defending the bench press, including Norberts Schmansky, Tommy Kono, Doug Hepburn, and Paul Anderson. Following years of debate on the matter, the bench press would go on to become the status quo in powerlifting.
The Bench Press In Recent History
In 1972 an official powerlifting federation was formed, known as the International Powerlifting Federation. This led to powerlifters racing to be the first to lift 1,000 pounds, which may have been achieved in 2004 by Gene Rychlak Jr., a powerlifter who at the very least (for lack of a better phrase) benched pressed 965 pounds.
More recently, Eddie Hall broke the world record for heaviest deadlift in 2016 at Europe’s Strongest Man event, by lifting a staggering 1,100 pounds.
Conclusion: Who Invented The Bench Press?
The feats of strength achieved by George Hackenschmidt, the inventor of the bench press, are deemed remarkable to this day, and most likely always will be. In 3,000 matches he suffered just two defeats, and he invented multiple exercises that are now staples of weightlifting.
Considering how important the bench press is to the sport of weightlifting today, it’s hard to believe that it was once looked down upon by many traditionalists. But in the past century or so it has risen to become, undoubtedly, the king of upper body lifts.