Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Strongman Priest - By R.J. Hicks, BS Exercise Science, CSCS

RJ Hicks is an active duty officer in the US Air Force and a Graduate Student in Exercise Science.

Who was the first college strength coach? Many believe it was Boyd Epley, at Nebraska, but few have heard of the man who formed the position, without knowing it, decades before people commonly accepted weight training. Father Bernard Lange was a man of character who ruled his weight room without opposition from 1935 into the late 1960s. A man of tremendous strength and love for his university, Father Lange dedicated his life's work to the people of Notre Dame.

In 1923, as noted in the magazine Strength and Health , Father Lange, was recognized as one of the strongest men in the world. He measured at 5 feet and 8 inches, weighing 260 pounds, with a 50 inch chest backed by 19 inch arms, Father Lange was truly an old-time strongman. His feats of strength include 11 repetitions on the bench press with 403 pounds. He regularly did military presses with dumbbells weighing over 100 pounds and deadlifted over 500 for repetitions with ease witnessed by "his boys,” the students of Notre Dame who trained under him. At the age of 60 he recorded a 600 pound deadlift and was successful in tearing a deck of cards in each hand with just his thumb and index fingers. He was a beast!

On the front door to his personal makeshift gym the sign read “private keep out". Barbells, dumbbells, benches and lifting platforms filled the room, all of which were painted bright colors. Mirrors, anatomy charts and clippings from weight lifting magazines covered the room wall to wall. Father Lange was solely in charge of the upkeep of the gym and the personal designer for many of the weight lifting apparatuses. He had complete control over who he let in and all of the rules by which the gym was governed. The gym was a fraternity for hardcore lifters only. New lifters had to rely on the veterans to learn the ways of Father Lange's gym and had to do so quickly. It was a privilege to train under Father Lange and an education in life.

Father Lange believed in a self disciplined lifestyle. He was known for being a real tough guy with a serious temperament, but a heart of gold. He believed weight training was a vital component to an athlete’s success, at a time when many fought against weight training. Through physical fitness, Father Lange imposed the development of character to "his boys." He believed in heavy weight training and cared more about heart and effort than the lifting records won. His gym was a place to teach life lessons. Father Lange saw the importance of success outside of the weight room and wanted more than anything for "his boys" to become winners in life. His relationship with the boys of Notre Dame was one of loyalty and tough love. Those who survived his tough reign and adhered to his rules strived to earn his respect and admiration. He was a true hero in their eyes.

Throughout his time at Notre Dame, Father Lange was able to make many contributions to the university. Within the weight room, he was able to coach over 6,000 students. Some of which were sent through the athletic departments, while others courageously entered at their own will. In addition, Father Lange coached the intercollegiate weightlifting team for six years, winning the championship in 1953. Outside the gym Father Lange was a charitable man, he ran free swimming lessons to the children of Notre Dame employees and to the children of the less privileged local neighborhoods. He would visit the immigrant land keepers, remembering where he was from, leaving them with a handful of coins or a beer as recognition, and built altars for many of the churches around campus. Father Lange was a protector and mentor to many of the people at Notre Dame.

Unknown by many, Father Lange's legend is carried amongst many of the boys at Notre Dame. Father Lange was probably the first true college strength coach in history, long before the position was even created and recognized. Many lessons can be taken away from his teaching, none-more than the opportunity coaches have to positively impact the lives of their students through hard work and discipline. Legendary strongman priest, coach and non-conformist, Father Lange was a beloved icon to many at the university of Notre Dame.


Gill, Paul G. "The Strength of His Convictions." Notre Dame News Spring 1987: n pag. Print.

Mahoney, R.J. "Notre Dame: A Salute To Father Lange And The Weight Training Program At Notre Dame University." Strength and Health Oct. 1967: n. pag. Print

Editors Note: Great article RJ. Father Lange is one of my favorites. My book SUPER NATURAL STRENGTH is dedicated to him.
Does modern bodybuilding make you sick? You should write for Natural Strength! I always need good articles about drug-free weight training. It only has to be at least a page and nothing fancy. Just write it strong and truthful with passion! Send your articles directly to me: bobwhelan@naturalstrength.com

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