"The Saxon Trio: What They Ate and How They Trained"
THE SAXON TRIO: What they ate & how they trained. By Leo Gaudreau
From Muscle Power Magazine, courtesy of Joe Weider.
Reprinted on NaturalStrength with permission of The Iron Master
Much is written about old time strong men, but there is a scarcity of detail concerning their training methods, and their eating habits. In many cases, their dietary habits, were, probably, not very good, clinging as they did to the customs of their native land. I don't think we can learn a thing from their eating and training habits (if any) except to satisfy our curiosity. Such intimate details about well known people usually prove to be interesting.
As most of the regular readers know, The Arthur Saxon Trio was composed of three brothers, Arthur, Hermann, and Kurt. They were Germans and of the three, Kurt and Hermann are still alive in Germany. Most of the information in this article I gleaned from a correspondence of several years with Kurt Saxon. In addition to being a partner in the act, Kurt had another job: he was chief cook and bottle washer for the Saxon brothers. ".....all three of us were strong eaters," he informed me; a remark which seems to be an understatement of the truth as the reader will probably agree after learning of their gastronomic feats.
For breakfast they ate 24 eggs and 3 pounds of smoked bacon; porridge with cream, honey, marmalade and tea with plenty of sugar. At three o'clock they had dinner: ten pounds of meat was consumed with vegetables (but not much potatoes); sweet fruits, raw or cooked, sweet cakes, salads, sweet puddings, cocoa and whipped cream and very sweet tea. Supper, after the show, they had cold meat, smoked fish, much butter, cheese and beer. Following this they had a chat and at one o'clock went to bed.
At nine o'clock in the morning they arose and always had a cold rub-down over the whole body; if possible they would have a shower bath and a massage. It was this way that Kurt learned massaging which helped him very much, in later years, when he became an instructor and masseur.
I once wrote a rather long article, about the Saxons, in YOUR PHYSIQUE magazine, April, May and June (1947) issues. Kurt put his stamp of approval on the information contained therein. Concerning Arthur's much talked about capacity for drinking, he said: "About Arthur's drinking, this was mostly for advertisement; most of the time he drank beer, very seldom spirits and then only when Hermann and I were not with him. We never missed a show, he always could lift his big barbell and do all of his other feats in the act." The Saxons did have a "health drink" which I presume they concocted themselves. The ingredients were dark lager beer (or Dublin stout) mixed with Holland gin, the yolk of an egg and plenty of sugar. "It is a very good but strong drink" was the Saxon opinion, "but, if you are not used to it you will get dizzy very quickly." It seems to me that one would have to be a very strong man in the first place, in order to drink it.
Since diet, exercise and manner of living of outstanding strength stars and physical culturists are always of more than passing interest, I am devoting much of this article to the eating habits of the Saxons. This is not offered as a model diet; it is merely recorded here for the interest it may hold. Some of their dietary habits were not in keeping with modern knowledge on the subject. It has been my experience though, that healthy, robust weight-lifters get away with more dietary and gastronomic acrobatics than most people-and live to tell of it.
In their childhood, breakfast, for the Saxons, consisted of a thick soup made from white flour, rolls or white bread with butter or marmalade. On week-days dinner was at one o'clock; there was no soup, but instead, vegetables of all kinds, cooked or steamed, with fat on them, and some potatoes; after this, raw or cooked fruits. Other days they had green beans, white beans, peas and all kinds of food like this and rice cooked with milk and plenty of sugar. This was varied at other times by having salted herring that had been watered for 24 hours and eaten raw with boiled potatoes; there was also pickled cucumbers and raw onions with a little vinegar and plenty of oil; they had milk or sweet cream made by their mother. Salads and celery were also part of their meals, particularly in the summer when they had salads with plenty of oil on them. Dinner was usually followed with fruits or sweet cakes made from white flour and sometimes, berries on top of the cakes. They were very fond of these. There was also plenty of mushrooms eaten raw or fried with fat; their mother used to go out in the morning and pick about 10 to 12 pounds of these in the fields. She also used to make big cakes, 24" by 36", and spread with butter, or beaten egg whites, sugar and chocolate. The was often eaten with apples. At dinner time, there was usually nothing to drink but plain water. Other meals included soup, black German bread, butter or lard, cheese, smoked fish, raw cucumbers and radishes and onions. There was never any kind of meat on weekdays except for their father's meal; their mother did not care for it and it was only when they went to England, as professional performers, that the Saxon brothers learned to eat meat every day; the meat in England was very good.
Although they had other foods, the things mentioned were their favorite foods. On Sundays they had a little meat, and for breakfast, real coffee. Other mornings they had coffee made from burned corn. There was also a special kind of beer of which they were very fond -- this was made from wheat, was sweet and contained but very little alcohol.
As children, they went barefoot from early spring until the first snowfall. They never wore an overcoat or waistcoat and wore no hat or cap. They spent all day in the fresh air; their favorite sport was swimming in a nearby river. They spent much time in the woods, climbing trees. Their chief concern was finding trees big enough to satisfy their daring; they claimed that this laid the foundation for their powerful gripping strength in later years. They got plenty of sleep and in every way had a fine childhood and never a serious illness, even after walking in the snow barefoot sometimes, when they took a notion to do so, they never had a cold.
Later, in England, as performers, Hermann and Kurt were partial to sweet foods and sugar. They tried very hard to gain weight but in spite of sweets and a terrific appetite, sometimes consuming one pound of butter between them, they failed to gain weight; sometimes only a few pounds which they could not hold. Arthur, the oldest, did not care for sweets and butter; even as a child he did not care for butter. Instead of butter he would use the lard from pork. Hermann and Kurt, in addition to other things, could make two pounds of marmalade and two quarts of very sweet cocoa disappear at one meal. Kurt was the heaviest eater of the three and for breakfast alone he could consume 24 eggs cooked in one-half pound of butter.
Their three o'clock dinner consisted mostly of roasted or fried meat, beef, pork or veal, not much potatoes, plenty of salads with oil just as in their childhood. Sometimes they had vegetables, but always lean meat. Every day they had pudding-yorkshire, rice, sago, etc., but very sweet. Then there was always raw or cooked fruits and nothing to drink. Sometimes, on one day during the week, they roasted poultry, goose, chicken, or turkey. "Many times I ate an 11 pound goose alone," Kurt informed me. One day during the week they had fried or boiled fish, plenty of butter and toast but no potatoes. At six o'clock they had "tea"-this was mostly raw minced meat with raw onions, German bread and plenty of butter; sometimes sweet cakes and coffee were substituted. Their late supper included herrings (when they could get them) and eaten in the same manner they had become accustomed to in childhood. The herrings were sometimes used in salad form; they made their own mayonnaise with raw whipped eggs and oil. There never was any whisky or brandy at home. Even as children they did not care for milk and as men they developed no taste for it. At "tea" time they very often had whipped cream. They did not care for boiled eggs, instead, they went big for poached eggs with plenty of butter.
After their three o'clock dinner they rested for a couple of hours, except Kurt who could not rest so long because he had to go out and do the shopping for the next day. Cooking for himself and his brothers was a hobby with him-he was also out of bed earlier than the others to prepare breakfast.
Arthur was never one for light exercises and their whole program was directed towards building greater strength. Their favorite exercises were performed with ring-weights. Hermann and Kurt would perform many repetitions, on different lifts and exercises, with the heavy ring-weights - Arthur only did these once in a while.
For the grip, back and leg muscles, they used to carry a pair of 119 pound ring-weights, at the hang, around the stage ten times. (Farmer's walking -- Koto) They also used to walk around the stage carrying their heaviest barbell, a few times around, it weighed 192.5 kilos or 423 pounds.(Walking with weight, you basically get under the bar like you're squatting, pick it up, and take a walk with it.) The warm-up exercise was always the leg press with a heavy barbell; they used to do 20 repetitions(Leg presses back then involved them laying on their back and actually balancing a barbell on their feet and doing leg presses that way.) and then go up into a shoulder stand and while in this position the barbell was pressed a few times again and also balanced on one foot. From a standing position, the barbell was held at the back of the body, rolled up the back to the neck and jerked from there to arms' length.(Behind-the-neck presses, they also did these coming out of a squat like a clean and press but with it behind the neck.) Arthur's heavy one-handed bar was used for this exercise. A barbell that Arthur used for two arm pressing was cleaned and jerked to arms' length, passed over into one hand, and deep knee bends were performed while holding this weight at arm's length overhead.(One-handed barbell overhead squats, a bitch of an exercise) This is why they became so good at the one hand anyhow, although, while exercising, they did not practice picking up the kettle-bell.
Every day, the one hand bent press was practiced. I would much rather pass on to the reader the personal Saxon instructions on this lift, rather than my own interpretation:
"It is necessary to practice this lift all the time; the main thing to start right is to get the barbell right in the center so that the barbell balances itself in the open hand. Now comes the worst part of the bent press: lay the body half-sideways and forward and keep your left forearm (if you are lifting with the right hand) on your left thigh. Most lifters make the mistake of bending too far down and that is why they lose their balance and the weight drops forward. The lifting arm always has to be a little backwards. Now comes the easiest part of the lift: keep pushing with the lifting arm and dropping lower with the body until the arm is straight. The difficult part at this point is to properly lock the shoulder-this requires patience and care. When we had the shoulder locked we held the weight in this position a very long time in order to make sure of our balance. We used to make about 30 attempts at each training session."
After this, they practiced deep knee bends with the barbell held at the chest; they came up from the squat and, without pausing, jerked the weight to arms' length.(Clean and jerk)
Probably one of the few concessions the Saxons made to exercise without heavy weights was jumping. They did a lot of jumping, high and broad, from the standing position. Hermann was the best of the trio; he could clear five feet or jump over a restaurant table forwards or backwards. He used to win many rounds of drinks taking wagers against his jumping ability. A great number of chairs would be lined up and they followed one another jumping over the chairs.
Included in their training was belt wrestling. This type of wrestling is done with a harness that is buckled on around the waist and hips; there are grips on each side and the main thing is to heave your opponent off of his feet. This was an excellent form of exercise for the grip, back, legs, and arms. Arthur was an absolute master at this style of wrestling. In addition to this they were always practicing new feats of strength or new lifts. The end of their whole training was increased strength.
Arthur did not train as much as Hermann and Kurt. From 1910 he only exercised with Hermann and Kurt when they were playing medicine-ball. They had dropped the belt-wrestling from their training in favor of a strenuous medicine-ball routine. They had three balls, each weighing nine pounds; they stood, sat or laid in different positions, about seven or eight yards apart. One of their routines was to lay on the abdomen and throw and catch the ball while in this position. It was thrown by bringing it away back to the neck and chest and heaving it from there. The head and chest had to be held at all times for a period of about 50 throws. This was also done while lying on the back. Another routine consisted of having two men throw two balls at one man as fast as he could handle them. The balls were always thrown full force and a variety of routines were practiced.
The Saxons liked walking and when they had a little free time they would go for long walks. When they were with the circus in the United States they always walked to the show lot and walked back to the train after the show. Until they came to the United States, Arthur's hobby was cycling; later, with the advent of the motorcycle he gave up pedal-pushing for one of these. The three brothers were fond of swimming-summer or winter. Whenever possible they never missed a chance to go in swimming, whether is was in a river, in the ocean, or public baths. Their greatest joy was sunbathing.
When training for a new feat of strength they gave up all smoking and drinking of alcoholic beverages. Arthur smoked cigars or a pipe; Kurt smoked cigarettes and Hermann was an all-around smoker. When exercising they always wore a very thick woolen sweater and thick, long trousers. They insisted on plenty of light while exercising and trained 6 days a week, and at least four hours at every training session. During some training periods they would lose as much as seven pounds.
Their favorite beverage was beer; wine they only drank once in a while and then their preference was champagne or sweet wine. Their beer drinking was probably a real necessity; whenever possible they tried to get at least two Turkish baths a week, followed by massage. Between this and their strenuous training routine, Kurt explained it to me, thus: "...we were dried out like a lemon and this is why we drank so much beer, I think."
In analyzing this routine it must be remembered that the Saxons were professional performers and could expend more energy on training than the ordinary fellow who has to work for a living. At the same time, their training routine alone is a definite indication that these men were physical supermen. It is the opinion of the writer that the Saxons could have developed much better physiques than they had-particularly Hermann, who had the best physique of the trio-if they had applied their extraordinary strength and unusual vigor and energy to the type of bodybuilding training in our publications.
Probably it was a matter of opinion in that era that if one trained for strength, muscle (or shape, development, etc.) would follow. Today we know that each is the result of specialized training.