By: Josh Bryant
Only known sleeveless picture of Aherns.
In the 1950s, the Mecca of “odd lift” training, which eventually evolved into powerlifting, was at Muscle Beach in Santa Monica, California.
This was an era where 300-pound bodybuilders did not cower to 225-pound smith machine squats for safety and “feel.” Bodybuilders and strength athletes trained heavy with the objective of getting stronger.
The notion of anything that is totally safe is totally useless was alive and well.
The largest mammoth of this early Muscle Beach era was the immortal Chuck Ahrens. Ahrens has been called everything from the reclusive power house to the mystery man. Chuck was quiet, reserved and never would take off his shirt to pose for cameras. Ahrens preferred to do his 400+ pound triceps extensions in a flannel shirt.
In Chuck’s prime he weighed 330 pounds at 6 feet in height, with a non-expanded measurement of nearly 60 inches and 28 inch wide shoulders.
Chuck Ahrens was not just a mirage of meat either, he possessed super human strength! Below are some of Ahrens most notable feats of strength along with the sources.
More than likely some of these claims were exaggerated BUT there is no doubt that cat was strong and jacked and, in the time frame many of the feats were recorded, it is more than likely Ahrens was drug-free.
MUSCLE POWER (Oct 1956, p 63)
Now at 245 lbs bodyweight, age 22, claims he has never been defeated at arm wrestling, and now that Mac Batchelor has retired, he is claiming to be world champ.
Peary Rader in LIFTING NEWS (May 1957, p 8)
Another real sensation we met out at Muscle Beach the other day was Chuck Ahrens, a 6′, 280 lb. giant who has specialized on upper body work until he must have about the strongest arms in the world. With a 57 inch chest and 21 inch arms he has performed a dumbbell press with two 170-lb. dumbbells simultaneously and hopes soon to do this with two 200-lb. dumbbells. He does reps in the triceps extension on bench with 355 and swing curls with two 165 lb. dumbbells. He promises to go into Olympic lifting when he can press the two 200-lb. dumbbells. He has done very little leg work and will need a lot of this to be a great Olympic lifter. When and if he does start leg work his bodyweight will probably go up to well over 300 lbs. but what a big fellow he will be then. He has the broadest and heaviest shoulders we have ever seen on any man.”
Peary Rader in IRON MAN (Jul 1957, p 22)
When he was standing next to Anderson someone remarked that he was the only man to ever make Anderson look small. Chuck weighs 280 at 6 ft. tall, and has a 57 chest and 21 arms. He does a two dumbbells press together with 162 in each hand for 4 reps.
IRON MAN (Sep 1957, p 28)
Photo of Ahrens performing a triceps press: Chuck Ahrens of growing fame is shown as he drives in 345 in this method. He started this from the bench behind his head and as I recall he did this two reps rather easily and has done considerably more in training.
Peary Rader in LIFTING NEWS (Sep 1957, p 5)
About Ralph Bass: Ralph recently made a set of calipers to measure certain bodily proportions with and found that the shoulders of Chuck Ahrens had an unbelievable span of 26-5/8. Most of the other musclemen at the beach range from 20 to 21 inches. He [Ahrens] is doing some unbelievable training such as one arm curls with 165, forward raises with 150 while holding an upright with the other hand. He is doing one arm dumbell presses for reps with 280.
LIFTING NEWS (Feb 1958, p 5)
Photo of Ahrens at 290 lbs and Paul Anderson at 355, with Chuck looking much more impressive than Paul
STRENGTH & HEALTH (Feb 1958, p 54)
Ray Van Cleef: Ralph [Bass] measured the immense shoulder width of Chuck Ahrens with a special pair of calipers. Found the bi-deltoid measurement to be 26-5/8 (?). This means that this Titan will be needing oversized doors to walk through. Chuck’s unequaled dumbell exercise lifts are well known in iron game circles. His present aim is to work up to where he can press a pair of 200 lb. dumbbells overhead standing.”
MUSCLE BUILDER (Jun 1959, p 36)
225 pounds triceps curls; 135 pound extended arm, then curled it, witnessed by Charles Coster.
MUSCLE BUILDER (Jul 1959, p 58)
At age 25 now and 290 pounds, three reps dumbell press with 315 pounds. Delt width is claimed as 28, chest 60, and he cleaned and pressed a pair of 205 pound dumbbells.
MUSCLE BUILDER (Oct 1959, p 17)
Photo of his back p 47: Seated dumbell curl with 180 pounds, slight cheat, bodyweight 300 pounds.
IRON MAN (May 1961, p 35)
Rader: Much has been written about Chuck Ahrens and I am sure that many of you Iron Man readers find what you see printed hard to believe. I have seen Ahrens and assure you that he is a very strong man. I think the greatest biceps feats ever performed by man are: right hand curl 185, left hand curl 175, and get this- a forward leaning semi concentration curl with a barbell loaded to 150 pounds. Needless to say, all these feats have been executed by MR. CHARLEY AHRENS and before bona fide witnesses.”
Peary Rader wrote in LIFTING NEWS (Oct 1964, p 25)
We continually receive requests for information about Chuck Ahrens, but unfortunately this is hard to come by for it seems he will not perform lifts on request but only as the whim strikes him and not at any authorized contest or event. An unbelievable report comes second hand from Dave Sheppard that he saw Ahrens clean and press two dumbbells of 550 lbs.(sic) He cleans these from a dead hang, we understand, and probably boosts them up with hip swing. This lift is too fabulous to believe. We wish several fellows could vouch for some of his lifts, weighing them and giving an accurate and factual account of what he does.” (This one seems extremely far-fetched but reporting what was in print)
Peary Rader wrote in LIFTING NEWS (Oct 1964, p 25)
It is also said that he never practices sissy lifts like the bench press, but recently bench pressed 400 lbs for 28 reps (he calls them sissy, not me!).
MUSCULAR DEVELOPMENT (Dec 1966, p 32)
Photo: The fabulous 350-pound Chuck Ahrens who is reputed to have 24-inch biceps. Then on page 55 CHUCK AHRENS was mentioned in our November issue as weighing 350 pounds and having a 66-inch chest and 24-inch biceps. We also said there had never been a physique photo of him published but at least we got one with his sleeve rolled up. Our old friend Terry Robinson sent it and it was taken by Chuck Connors at whose gym Ahrens trains.
Take Away Points
Ahrens, half man half legend, gets me extremely fired up just to hear stories about him but even if you think these stories are fabricated—you have a reward for reading this far, I am going to share with you an exercise that is virtually unknown but brutally effective—the Ahrens Press.
The Ahrens press is a variation of the overhead dumbbell press, but instead of pressing the dumbbells straight up you press them up and away laterally, sort of like making a V with both arms.
Necessity was the mother of invention in this case! Ahrens had no choice but to press the dumbbells in this style because he used special loadable dumbbells that were particularly long; in other words it was impossible to press them straight because they would hit with the unearthly poundages Ahrens would press overhead.
For the bodybuilder, because of the lateral pressing motion, this forces the medial delts or caps to work harder.
Holding up a lady friend
Bottom line, if you love hitting the pig iron, it is important to be aware and pay homage to one our forefathers, Chuck Ahrens.
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