Wednesday, September 21, 2011


Originally posted on on 10 June 2002 Reprinted on NaturalStrength with permission of THE IRON MASTER

Some 45 years ago, I was introduced to the world of the old time strength athletes, and although I can marvel at the modern supermen, the strength athletes of yesteryear still hold the most interest for me, and none more so that Max Sick, better known to the world as Maxick. From a sickly beginning, he became a great weightlifter, muscle control artist, gymnast, Herculean hand-balancer, music hall artist, artists' model, famous author, and co-founder, with Monte Saldo, of one of the world's most successful postal physical culture courses, as well as acquiring a reputation as an explorer.

I am indebted to Monte Saldo's son Courtland for the information which I gained all those years ago through our many conversations about Maxick, and to Mr. W. J. Lowry's "History of the Iron Game" for details of the exact poundages lifted in the Aston Maxick matches, also to the memoirs of Mr. Tromp Van Diggelen for details of his association with Maxick.

Maxick, often referred to as The Phenomenal Bavarian, was in fact born of Swiss parents in the town of Bregenz, Austria on 28 June 1882. Max's father died at the early age of 24, and his mother later marred a Bavarian Herr Sick, and the infant Max became a naturalized German.

Max was born a sickly child with lung problems, dropsy, and rickets, but with the aid of a form of isometrics, muscle control, Herculean hand-balancing and later weightlifting, he transformed his sickly body into one that rates, weight for weight, as one of the strongest the world has ever seen. In the year 1896, we find 14-year-old Max's health and strength greatly improved and, due to his growing reputation, he was invited to join the local athletic club. He also became an apprentice to the local engineering works. During the next nine years, Max perfected his skills at muscle control, hand-balancing (often acting as a bearer to a much heavier partner), gymnastics, and weightlifting, winning many local and regional contests, often against heavyweights. (He also managed to fit in a stint in the Bavarian Army.)

At the age of 23, Max became disillusioned with his career in engineering and looked for a way of earning a living that would enable him to pursue his physical culture studies and his growing interest in philosophy and metaphysics. Munich was a popular and flourishing art center, where a good living could be earned modeling for artists and sculptors, and Max decided to move there. After visiting a local gymnasium, his physique and strength were quickly brought to the notice of the artistic community, and he was able to earn a comfortable living modeling for them. About this time, he added an additional control to his muscle control repertoire. While posing with a long vaulting pole for the famous artist Sacha Schneider, he found that, by pulling down with one hand while holding an abdominal recession, he could gain a single-sided perpendicular abdominal contraction, a control that he quickly gained the ability to perform without mechanical pressure, along with all his other now long-established abdominal controls, such as the central isolation and the transverse roll.

Combining his muscle control skills with his gymnastic ability, Max was able to create a second income as a music hall artist, both as a bearer in a hand-balancing act with partners who were always heavier than himself, and also as a solo act. The great skill of the Roman Ring gymnast has long been admired and very popular, and was included in the modern revival of the Olympic Games in 1896. Max began his solo act by performing all the recognized Roman Ring movements, plus a few originals of his own, but with one major difference; instead of rings, he carried out the whole thing on two silver chains with no rings. He just hung on by the power of his grip and with the stage lighting on him showing his physique to the best advantage, he always drew a favorable response from his audience. Max would then move center stage and perform his muscle control act; muscle control to a degree of excellence that had never been seen before and equaled by a few performers since, maybe Otto Arco, Alan P. Mead, and later by Ed Jubinville.

Isolating and abduction of his scapulae, contracting and expanding his latismus, followed contracting and expanding his pectorals and ribcage, he appeared to be first all back and then all chest. Max followed this with trapezius and deltoid controls, now giving the appearance of all shoulders and neck, following this with impressive controls of biceps and triceps and a very difficult control of the muscles in the lower back. He then went into his repertoire of abdominal controls, and concluded with a range of leg muscle controls. His audience was always greatly impressed and there was much applause. Max would then lift a very heavy man, sometimes weighting as much as 240 lb., by placing his open right hand on the man's lower back, the man would grip his wrist with both hands and Max, with some help from his left hand, would lift the man to his shoulder and then press him to arm's length using only his right arm, and finally, still holding the man overhead with one hand, march off the stage to thunderous applause.

Max never lifted barbells in his stage act but lifted regularly in Munich lifting clubs, still out-lifting many heavyweights, his body weight being 147 lb. approximately. The way Max lifted was as impressive as the poundage's which he lifted. No deep squatting or splitting to lift the weight to his chest, he used the continental method of lifting to the waist and then to the chest in two movements, using pure power with little or no technique. His method of jerking was just a little knee bend and no movement of the feet, his clean and presses were a power clean followed by a very military press, feet together and no back bend. At pressing power, no one could beat him at his bodyweight; he regularly pressed 230 lb. and with a back bend, Max could press 20 to 40 lb. more. 220 to 240 lb. was a regular lift in the one arm jerk. He could swing and snatch over bodyweight with one arm and perform a one arm military press with 110 lb. Max also proved to be unbeatable at Arm Wrestling and Bavarian sport of Finger Pulling.

Two things worked against Max. One was that he did not like or practice the one arm Bent Press (then a very popular competition lift), and the other was that he was never happy with the "English Method" of lifting a barbell to the chest and, although he remained unbeatable at his bodyweight at lifts of pure power, his lack of all round lifting technique was in later years to bring forth criticism from some weightlifting aficionados.

Soon Max's reputation began to travel outside Germany and stories of his marvelous lifting and muscle control skills began to circulate among the strongmen community in Britain. These stories of a man weighting 147 lb. who could outpress heavyweights and had greater control over his muscles that even the great Eugen Sandow were promptly dismissed as nonsense. One man who did believe in Max's ability was Tromp Van Diggelen, a wealthy South African of Dutch descent, who soon (1911) was to become one of the founding fathers of the BAWLA (British Amateur Weightlifter's Association), and who had his own stage act where he was known as the South African Apollo, and in 1948 was one of the judges when John Grimek was crowned Mr. Universe. Van Diggelen's autobiography entitled "Worthwhile Journey" gives a colorful account of his life.

On 20 April 1907, Thomas Inch had defeated W. P. Caswell in a popular and well attended lifting match and had claimed the World Professional Middleweight Weightlifting title, and had promptly invited any middleweight in the world to take it away from him. Van Diggelen, who in 1909 was living in London, arranged for Max to travel to England and challenge Inch for the World Middleweight Weightlifting title. Van Diggelen met Inch at the offices of Health and Strength magazine on 23 October 1909 to draw up details for the match, but they failed to reach an agreement because Inch was rapidly putting on weight and insisted that, if on the day of the match he failed to make the middleweight limit, he could nominate a pupil to take his place. A few days later on 26 October 1909, Van Diggelen recalled with some amusement, a somewhat curious sight when he met Max off the Boat Train at London's Victoria Station. Max, who stood 5'4'', was wearing a long raincoat reaching down to his feet, on his head was a green Bavarian hat with a large eagle feather sticking out of the hatband and in his hand he carried a large umbrella. The overall effect Tromp found very amusing, and it crossed his mind as they walked together along the platform that on one would guess that Max was a famous strongman who Tromp was confident would shortly amaze the British strength community. Another meeting took place at the Health and Strength offices, this time with Max in attendance, again details could not be agreed and this state of affairs dragged on into the next year, with Max willing to meet Inch at any bodyweight but only on his own favorite lifts, but Inch wanting to use his own favorite lifts, the ones with which he had beaten Caswell back in 1907, and again insisting on substituting a pupil were he to fail to make the correct bodyweight.

This unsatisfactory situation dragged on for months, and in the meantime, Van Diggelen took Max to visit the Apollo Saldo School at Great Newport Street in London. On Monte Saldo, Max found the perfect friend and business partner; to Max's skill and knowledge he added his own vast range of experience, and the physical culture system known to the world as Maxalding was born. Monte and Tromp decided to bring the situation with Tommy Inch to a head by staging an exhibition featuring Maxick, as he was henceforth to be known. Monte Saldo reasoned, quite correctly, that a man promoting health and physical culture would not be a success with the name of Sick, and he therefore merged Max and Sick to become Maxick.

On the evening of 10 January 1910, at the Apollo Saldo School, in front of a gathering of the most distinguished strength athletes, wrestlers, track athletes and physical culture enthusiasts, Maxick gave an exhibition of muscle control and weight lifting, the like of which had not been seen in Britain before. Monte Saldo, always the great showman and teacher, acted as Master of Ceremonies and with his carefully arranged lighting, showed Maxick's physique and muscle control to dramatic effect. Unlike the largely unenlightened audiences of the Munich music halls, many in this audience had witnessed or practiced muscle control in a crude form, indeed it could be argued that, as long as there have been strongmen demonstrating their prowess, there has been muscle control in some form, but Maxick's demonstration left his audience speechless with amazement. That great showman and superb allaround athlete Edward Aston was a witness to the occasion, and in later years when describing the events of that day, he recalled that the audience was "flabbergasted."

Having displayed his physique muscle control, it was now time for Maxick to demonstrate his great strength. The weights were checked and verified by Charlie Russell, W. P. Caswell, W. L. Carquest, Tromp Van Diggelen and Professor Szalay, all men who carved out their place in iron game history. Maxick first lifted two hands to the shoulder 202 lb., then transferring it to one hand, proceeded to jerk the barbell aloft with apparent ease five times. The barbell was then loaded to 222 lb., and Maxick cleaned and pressed it, feet together in fine military style. Next, he cleaned 240 lb. and pressed it in the continental style. More outstanding pressing power followed, with the bar now loaded to 254 lb., he lifted it to his chest and pressed it aloft in the lean back continental style. These lifts so impressed everyone present; none more so that Professor Szlay ,who declared that he had never seen such lifting. Next Maxick attempted a lift, the weight of which was not announced and was only to be made public if he was successful. He made a number of gallant efforts which all failed and it was announced that he would try again in the future. The barbell was then loaded to 302 lb.; he pulled this first to his waist, then to his shoulders in the style then popular in German and then jerked it overhead without moving his feet. All Maxick's successful lifts were claimed as world records, but at that time no governing body had yet been formed to which these lifts could be submitted for official recognition, although it was recognized by iron game historians that these lifts had never been bettered by anyone of his bodyweight in Britain before.

Maxick's great lifting and likable personality endeared him to the assembled gathering, who were much amused by the fact that, at the completion of each lift, Maxick smiled happily and Monte Saldo's three-year-old daughter walked up to him and demanded a kiss. The public acclaim of Maxick's performance made things a little awkward for the Tommy Inch camp, but Tommy, having an astute sense of the public mood and being a master tactician, he decided that he could not reduce his body weight below the middleweight limit. He relinquished his World Middleweight title to his pupil Edward Aston, who now became the defending champion. Maxick was very disappointed not to have a chance of defeating Tommy Inch, who still held claim to the title Britain's Strongest Man, but he was quite happy to have a match with Edward Aston. On 24 March 1910, both men met at the Health & Strength offices and signed documents of agreement for the match for the title of World's Professional Middleweight Weightlifting Champion. The venue for the first of what proved to be two unsatisfactory matches was the Granville Music Hall, Wadham Green, London with a side and a magnificent silver trophy generously presented by the proprietors of the hall. Although enthusiasts traveled from all parts of the country to witness the match, it proved to be a great disappointment. Maxick badly hurt his shoulder while attempting a one-handed clean and jerk with 212 -1/2 lb. He tore loose one of his shoulder attachments and Tromp Van Diggelen recalled that he could actually see the torn deltoid attachment moving under the skin as Maxick moved his arm. Monte Saldo strongly advised him to retire from the match and concede victory to his opponent, but Maxick would have none of it and commenced lifting 223 lb. 3 oz. in the clean and jerk, followed by 244-1/4 lb. successfully. He then tried 263 lb. 14 oz.; he cleaned the weight, jerked it but failed to hold the weight overhead - the pain from his injury had beaten him. Monte Saldo announced Maxick's retirement from the match and Edward Aston, who had lifted magnificently, re-stamped his claim on the title of Professional Middleweight Weightlifting Champion of the World. Maxick congratulated the victor and challenged him to a rematch, which he happily accepted.

Their next match took place on 14 December 1910 at the Holborn Empire, London, and although both of these great athletes were in top form, Maxick having recovered fully from his injury, this event proved as unsatisfactory as their first encounter. The contest was to be decided by who had the highest total of 8 lifts, but with each lifter selecting different lifts at different times during the contest, it would be very difficult to decide on a clear winner in the event of the contest coming to a premature end like their first match. The audience was enjoying this excellent contest when proceedings were brought to a halt and it was announced that the contest would have to be terminated as they had overrun their allotted time and the music hall had to be prepared for the evening show. At the termination of the contest, there was a 188 -1/2 lb. difference between them in Maxick's favor, but Aston had two lifts left to attempt (the one hand jerk and the two hands continental push) and Maxick only one lift to attempt (the one hand anyhow). Barring injury, Aston could not have failed to win and his right to retain the World Professional Middleweight Weightlifting title was firmly established.

Details of the completed lifts.

ASTON - Bodyweight 157-1/2 lb. (1) One hand snatch 160-3/4 lb. (2) One hand clean and bent press 220 lb. (3) One hand anyhow and bent press 225 lb. (4) Two hands clean and military press with barbell 200-1/2 lb. (5) Two hands clean and jerk with barbell 256-1/2 lb. (6) Two hands continental jerk with barbell 260 lb. TOTAL 1322-3/4 lb.

(Lifts (2) and (3) were claimed as World Records.)

MAXICK - Bodyweight 144-1/4 lb. (1) One hand snatch 135-3/4 lb. (2) One hand jerk, two hands to the shoulder 203-1/2 lb. (3) Two hands clean and military press with barbell 211-1/2 lb. (4) Two hands continental push with barbell 245-1/2 lb. (5) One hand clean (jerk) with barbell 172 lb. (6) Two hands clean and jerk with barbell 261-1/2 lb. (7) Two hands continental jerk with barbell 281-1/2 lb. (8) TOTAL 1511-1/4 lb.

Edward Aston's reputations was enhanced even more when on 03 June 1911, he relieved Thomas Inch of the title Britain's Strongest Man. Aston went on to establish more lifting records until the intervention of World War I resulted in the loss of two fingers on his right hand, causing him to forsake his magnificent lifting career in favor of a successful music hall and physical culture teaching career.

The regard which the strength world held for Maxick did not diminish; his diminutive stature, along with his ability to press and jerk weights even beyond Aston's ability, sustained his reputation, so much so that his physical culture business partnership with Monte Saldo became one of the most respected and successful in the world.

On 1913, Maxick visited his old friend Tromp Van Diggelen, who was now living back in South Africa. Tromp recalls him in fine form, performing a one-arm jerk of 240 lb., a two-arm jerk of 340 lb. and a continental two-arm press of 275 pounds. As well as amazing all onlookers with his skill at Herculean balancing, ascending and descending stairs in the handstand position, and one arm overhead lifting British Heavyweight Boxing Champion Fred Storbeck, who weighed 210 lb.

Returning to England with the Maxalding postal physical culture business becoming more and more successful under the guidance of the multi-talented Monte Saldo, life was good for Maxick and might well have carried on being so but for the intervention of World War I (1914-1918). Maxick became voluntarily interned and their business partnership ended, but his great friendship with the Saldo family continued until Monte's death in 1949, after which he continued to keep in touch with Monte's son Courtland Saldo, who continued to run the Maxalding postal course until his own death in 1982.

At this point in Maxick's life, I think it is a good opportunity to correct a story that pops up now and again in articles, which I have read about his life. The story goes that, when Maxick arrived in England in 1909, he was taken advantage of and swindled out of the royalties for his book on Muscle Control: I tactfully asked Monte's son Court Saldo about this and the gist of his reply was that the story had greatly upset his father, due to the fact that Maxick in 1909/10 had yet to master the English language, so he wrote the life story section of the book in German, and Monte, who could speak fluent German, translated it into English and wrote the instructional section himself. All the photographs were taken at the Saldo family home in Finchley, England. When the book was ready for publication, Maxick took it to the proprietors of the English magazine, Health & Strength and sold it outright to them for �. Monte Saldo did not receive or expect any financial reward for all his work and was happy to help his friend. From this statement it is clear that there were no royalties because Maxick had accepted a fixed sum of money. The book sold many copies and went through many re-prints, becoming a collector's item. I am pleased to note that Bill Hinbern is now publishing a modern re-print of the book.

After Maxick's release from internment, he traveled the world and for a while resided back in Germany. But with the rise to power of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party whose politics he hated as much as he had the Kaiser's back in 1914, on the advice of friends he left Germany. Maxick decided to turn his back on fame and live a quiet life. He liked Argentina and chose to base himself in Buenos Aires, where he ran a gymnasium and health studio. He also acquired a respected reputation as an explorer, exploring the Orinoco and Amazon Rivers as well as the Matto Grosso. Looking at some of the photographs taken in the last 20 years of Maxick's life, he seemed to retain his health, strength and gymnastic ability until the end of his life.

On a visit to see Court Saldo in 1961, he informed me that Maxick had died and related to me that he spent the morning of his last day arm wrestling his friend Mr. Droelick who weight 218 lb. Maxick won as usual, he then cycled back to his home where Mr. Droelich found him later that day, lying on his back dead. He left a note which made it clear that he knew that he was dying and had prepared himself for the end, the date being 11 May 1961.



Several sets of measurements have been published; here are his measurements personally take by Tromp Van Diggelen:

Height: 5'4''. Weight: 147 lb. Neck: 17''. Chest contracted: 36-3/4''. Chest expanded: 45-1/2''. Biceps: 16''. Forearm: 13''. Wrist: 7-1/2''. Thigh: 23-1/4''. Calf: 15''.

Lifts: All Performed before World War 1 (1914-1918).

Two hands continental and jerk with barbell: London: 322-1/2 lb. Johannesburg: 340 lb. (verified by Mr. Van Diggelen).

Two hands military press with barbell: 230 lb.

Two hands continental press with barbell: 275 lb. (verified by Mr. Van Diggelen).

Right hand military press: 112 lb.

Right hand snatch with barbell: 165 lb.

Right hand swing with dumbbell: 150 lb.

Right hand jerk two hands to the shoulder: 240 lb. (verified by Mr. Van Diggelen).

Two hands clean and jerk with barbell: 272 lb.


Extract from Muscle Power magazine June 1961, Vol. 3, No. 6. (An article by the Editors): "He was the greatest, had there been a Mr. Universe Contest when Max Sick of Bavaria was in his prime, he would have won the title hands down, the physique of Max Sick was absolutely incredible."

Alan Calvert, the American Father of Modern Weightlifting said of Maxick in 1925: "The man's body is a compact mass of bone and muscle and no other athlete can equal his development, when assessing his strength you do not have to confine your comparison to men of his own size for when it comes to actual strength there are only a few of the very big men who can excel him."

John Grimek modestly stated: "I could not hope to equal the muscle control of Maxick."

Mac Batchelor, undefeated World Wrist Wrestling champion for 25 years, wrote in 1951: "Maxick - at muscle control he was an artist - at the completion of a 'work out' his contention was complete relaxation to supercharge and restore the energy expended. His theory was certainly successful as judged from the amazing lifts he accomplished. I have seen some remarkable photographs of him and he is still a muscular phenomenon."

David P. Willoughby, in his scholarly work The Super Athletes published in 1970 stated: "Of him (Maxick) could almost have been said 'We shall not see his like again.' At least during the period of 60 years that has passed since Maxick was in his prime, no other man of his weight has equaled him in all round strength."

I leave the final comment to The Wizard of Weightlifting, Mr. W. A. Pullum, who in his career broke nearly 200 World and British weightlifting records: "Maxick, weightlifter without peer in his day, a man of scholarly attainments, with it all no more modest man ever lived."

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