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Emmanuel Legeard

® Entraînement de force et nutrition


Jean Pierre Brulois, the Son of Apollon by Emmanuel Legeard, Ph.D.

In 1973, at the age of 16, Jean-Pierre could already snatch 120 kg and clean and jerk 150 kg. And although the Olympic press had just been dropped, the year before during the 1972 Olympic Games of Munich, he fell in love with the strict way of performing it. That passion finally made him able, after years of hard training, to press 400 lb. off the rack any time he felt like doing it I was but 15 years old myself when I first read about this man in an English magazine I had been offered by a school friend for my birthday. I can't remember the name of the magazine any more. but it offered interesting coverage of the 1986 World’s Strongest Man (WSM) contest which had just taken place in Nice, France.

In the article, Grizzly Brown, Jon Pal Sigmarsson and Geoff Capes were being talked about as amazing strength athletes, but out from the crowd of his iron peers emerged at man by the name of Jean-Pierre Brulois, who was mentioned as being able to squat 350 kg for 5 sets of 5 rock-bottom reps in every leg workout. doing them in no-no-no" style, therefore totally raw. That powerhouse could turn over a Renault 4L ten times in less than three minutes and press a tree trunk of 142 kg overhead. We knew not where he came from, but he was obviously the very offspring of Louis Uni and Charles Rigoulot, that is, of the rois de la force (kings of strength) of the past. In the 1986 WSM, he had just beaten the old world record in the crucifix of 1 min. 11 sec., a time he later sure passed by doing 1 min .35 sec. with the same weights (12,5 kg) during a tree trunk challenge in Paris, France.

At that time. Jean-Pierre was already rumored to be one of the strongest shouldered men in the world. When, four years later, jean-Pierre became the IPF world champion in the super heavy-weights with a total of 972.5 kg and beat Mike Hall, “The Strongest Man on Earth," by no less than 20 kg, he had developed into a man of undoubted power. In the mid-nineties he squatted 820 lb, for 3 consecutive triples and bench pressed over 550 lb. totally raw- Jean-Pierre never wore any kind of shirt or wraps around the wrists or the elbows, nor shod his feet with any kind of high-heeled shoes. And, in the same raw way, he could pull over 770 lb. on a regular bar.

These weights may not seem so impressive by today’s records which have been set by Garry Frank or Andy Bolton. In the first place, please bear in mind that all these lifts were not only performed in an impeccable IPF way and, as such, could have passed under the strictest scrutiny of any federation in the world, but were also performed raw, that is, without the help of any equipment. In fact, at that level of excellence, the only kind of assistance devices I ever saw Jean-Pierre use were a belt and knee wraps, but only when he had to squat over 770 lb. Last but not least, although he sometimes trained the legs with Edward Kawak, he usually worked out without the assistance of a spotter.

The fear of trucks

Some bad habits are hard to break. Every journalist who has done the same sort of interviews for years is, in a way, programmed like a stimulus-response machine, always asking the same insipid questions about training or motivation and never listening to anything but exactly what he’s already used to hearing for eons. So, you won‘t be surprised that the first question I asked Jean-Pierre was the one we're all accustomed to:

"For what reason did you decide to become a strongman?" He looked at me very seriously, and then, "I feared the trucks," he said. When you ask common people ordinary questions, they usually answer in a quite foreseeable way. This time, it was not. Some sort of a short circuit occurred in my neuronal apparatus. I said probably, "Ye-es?" or "Wha-at?", trying in a rather desperate way to make logical assumptions as to the connection the fear of trucks and the choice of a strongman career could have with each other. Jean-Pierre had jammed my once so well-programmed journalistic mind. "Well, yes, you know, my conviction is that there is no reason to do anything in the world. But, fortunately, Nature blessed us with inferiority complexes. Now there are only two ways to cope with this inborn situation: either you're a man of action and you try to go past that situation by overcompensating for the original lack; or you remain passive in the face of this situation and become a neurotic who finds it more convenient to complain about things. When I was a young boy, I had a recurring night-mare: I was overrun and crushed by a huge truck in some way. So, pulling huge trucks up inclines and turning over cars or giant wheels helped me eradicate my fear of trucks.

"The Legs"

It was all very interesting, but was the fear of trucks in any way responsible for Jean-Pierre's incredible leg strength? People had nicknamed Jean-Pierre "The Legs," because of his terrific squatting qualifications, and some of the stories I heard about it sounded like tales told by the fireside. Having been an exceptionally gifted junior weightlifter, who could perform 140 kg in the snatch and 180 kg in the clean and jerk, Jean-Pierre kept on taking pleasure in doing power cleans and front squats long after he had put an end to his weightlifting career. Attempting once a max lift in the front squat in presence of many witnesses, he registered an amazing 724 lb. It was supposedly a better performance than the one of Leonid Taranenko, who could do 661.3 lb. for three repetitions, which leads us to suppose that he could squat something like 661.3 lb. x 1.08 = 714.3 lb. as a max lift. But maybe 328.5 kg (724 lb.) is not so incredible a record for Jean-Pierre, who could do 402.5 kg in the traditional (powerlifting) back squat. The first time I met Jean-Pierre I could not help but make the comparison between his score and Taranenko's. "That only proves one thing," Jean-Pierre said, "a good clean and jerk does not depend on a high-pound squat, which Alexeev already stated more than thirty years ago now. For I don't think I would have been able to do what Taranenko did in a lifetime. And Alexeev never squatted more than 20 kg above the weight he could clean and jerk. That's the way it should always be. Otherwise your training becomes unbalanced and the squat impedes you from recovering from the clean.

There is no such thing as "leg training"

Jean-Pierre insists that we should not consider training the legs, 'which he thinks is a misconception. We should either focus on neural adaptations by doing the powerlifting back squat, which implies many sets of a few reps, like in the pyramidal routine 5-3-2-2-2-3-5, or focus on hypertrophy gains on various muscle chains (gastroc-hamstrings-glutes-lower back or quads) by following a classical protocol like this one: 2 X 10-4 X 8-3 x 6, adding a negative set of 4 reps for the hamstrings only, and finishing off with one set of 12 reps to failure. This was Jean-Pierre's main routine, but he used to change his assistance work every two weeks for the upper body and every cycle for the lower body.

I found it interesting and wrote it down, but it didn't look like something new: "Well, I am not itching to collect ground-breaking information at any price," I said, "but it doesn't sound very original." "It doesn't have to be," was the answer. "It's only your dedication which makes a difference."

"And not the steroids?"

"It may be hard to believe me, but Mike (Hall) and I were both all-time natural athletes. I hope you'll understand my point of view: I don't give a damn about passing for a saint. It’s not like me to preach what not to be; it just so happened that I never reached the point where one usually feels the need to take ‘strength-enhancing’ drugs. I was endowed with genetic qualities and certainly destined to become a strength athlete. And I was so obsessed with the thought of pushing myself as hard as possible with hard and heavy workouts and eating large amounts of food that I could hardly have done better even if on drugs.

Strength depends on the efficiency of your neural drive. There's no drug in the world able to help you enhance your neural drive. Training only, lots of good food, and recovery days are needed here. If you see things my way, you'll soon be convinced that even hypertrophy, but of an intramuscular nature, can be achieved without drugs since myofibrillar hypertrophy results from the force of repeated neuromuscular contractions. Strength training not only has the effect of tapping into motor units with higher activation thresholds, but also of turning slow-twitch fibers into fast-twitch fibers, that is, the fibers having the greatest potential for growth! "Just look at photos of Louis Uni or Stanislaus Zbyszko, both of them strongmen from the pre-steroid era. The girth of Zbyszko's biceps was 22.5 inches, and Uni had developed an incredible pair of 20-inchers through feats of strength only!"

Who's the strongest?

Having asserted that one can't pretend to push up the ante of strength levels in the upper body without varying work-outs, rest periods, and numbers of sets and reps a lot more than for the lower body, Jean-Pierre concluded with a definitive: "You just can't treat your glutes and your shoulders in the same way." I immediately seized this unique opportunity: "How should I train the shoulders in order to get stronger?" He took his time to consider the question and said, "The quickest way consists of pyramiding weights, not reps, along 4 sets of 6 reps at 65%-71%-77%-83%. The paradigm is that you've got to start at 65% and spread 6% intensity between sets. And don't ever rest any longer than one minute between sets."

Jean-Pierre was known for doing standing side lateral raises with a pair of 85s, pressing 400 lb. off the rack at any time, and pressing a tree trunk of 142 kg overhead. Did he think there had been a moment in his career when he had considered himself having the world's strongest shoulders? "No, no," he said. "I had strong shoulders, that's a fact I can't deny, but there are many I have come across who were stronger. Jamie Reeves or Alexeev had probably the strongest shoulders in their time. In 1972, during the Olympic Games, Alexeev set the last Olympic record in the press with 235 kg! And in 1989, Jamie succeeded in lifting a 170-kg log for max, which is a huge feat of strength. Today, Hugo Girard and Hossein Reza Zadeh could probably be said to have the strongest shoulders in the world."

I took a look at Jean-Pierre's incredibly massive (and lean) arms. Although he is now 47 years old, he is still in shape, and what a shape! The girth of his gargantuan thighs is 32 inches. He's got an arm size of 22 inches and a forearm size of 18 inches. Big guns, indeed. Seeing this, I went on with my questions: "I was told many times by very different people that you could barbell curl 300 lb. for 3 sets of 3 reps. Is that true?" Jean-Pierre nodded: "Yes, that is true, but I often did 5 sets of 2 reps, too. The point here is that you have to do sets of either doubles or triples with solid form, because biceps respond best to doubles and triples, and keep in mind that the best number of total reps is to in this exercise. So that you can do indifferently 5 sets of 2 reps or 3 sets of 3 reps, or pyramid the reps by doing 3-2-2-3, for instance." Thus spoke Jean-Pierre Brulois, the man with the 18-inch fore-arms.

Of men and gods

While I couldn't close it yet, I always had my No. 3 Captains of Crush Gripper with me. It took me three months before I could close the No. 1 for reps and more than twice as long until I could close the No. 2. Thus it was bound to happen: I met Jean-Pierre and handed over my gripper, testing him. He tried a first time and didn't even move the handles. At once I couldn't help but feel very sorry: "Well, okay, it's something very specific, you have nothing to prove." But he didn't give an answer, silently putting the gripper down on the table. He said nothing for a moment, beholding the IronMind item curiously and thoughtfully. Then he took it up and—ii-clack!--shut it completely. "Are you satisfied?" he asked.

"Oh, yes! But what was that? Concentration?"

"Not at all," he answered, "I was just saying to myself that some progress had been made since Regnier invented his dynamometer in 1780." "His what?" "The dynamometer, the first gripper." "Oh, but of course!" I told you this man was quite someone. As Desbonnet's worthy successor in Lille, as well as an Olympic weightlifter, powerlifter, and strongman, Jean-Pierre Brulois is a real king of strength. In the days of his glory, the prodigious Geoff Capes told Jean-Pierre once: "You are way stronger than I am, but as long as you won't train specifically, you won't be able to win a World's Strongest Man contest. Although he never won, Jean-Pierre Brulois was four times (in 1985, 1986, 1988, and 1992) in the top eight of the strongest men in the world, and he surpassed in strength and endurance some of the best strongmen who ever walked the face of the earth, like Grizzly Brown, Lazio Fekete, Klaus Wallas, or Ilkka Nummisto. But he never won. Why didn't he win any WSM contests?

Jean-Pierre could put 100 more kilo-grams (402.5 kg vs. 305 kg) on the squat than his close friend, the late Jon Pal Sigmarsson (whom he use to call "Jean-Paul" with a calm persistence), and yet Jon Pal was the one who won in 1984, 1986, 1988, and 1990. In 1985, Geoff Capes, who won the 1985 World's Strongest Man Contest in Cascais, Portugal, could bench press 160 kg; Jean-Pierre, 220 kg. In 1991, he even succeed-ed in doing 250 kg without wearing any of our modern-day bench shirts, which was an outstanding achievement at the time, since Hans Zerhoch, the current world champion in the super heavy-weights could only press 205 kg, and Kirk Karwoski, 1991 heavyweight world champion, 227.5 kg! In 1990, Jean-Pierre had a bigger powerlifting total than Tom Magee (942.5 kg) or Ab Wolders (945 kg). Back to the very end of the 1980s, the only two men I knew who could do as well as he could, or had done even better, were Bill Kazmaier and Don Reinhoudt. So, why could Jean-Pierre not win at least one WSM contest?

"I should have lost much weight," he answered, "because an efficient strong-man should weigh 70% of what he stands in centimeters. I should have weighed 127.5 kg, for flexibility is required there and you have a hard time when you're at your heaviest. But I was far too heavy—I weighed 150. Tjalling told me I should perform cardio and conditioning work, like 55 minutes of plyometrics and interval training every day, which was a luxury I couldn't afford since I was a powerlifter in the first place." "But Kaz," I objected to his argument.

"But Kaz isn't like us."

"When Kaz took part in the World's Strongest Man contests in the mid-eighties, his powerlifting total was only two little kilograms higher than yours, and with a total of 972.5 kg (2144 lb.), you did better than Tom Magee by 30 kg."

Jean-Pierre's big blue eyes glanced up with a startled look into my face: "Jean-Paul (read: Jon Pal) and Kaz were extra-ordinary people," he said. And then, remembering his younger days: "Jean-Paul was my friend," he laughed heartily, "we had a really wild time together drinking beer, meeting pretty dancers at clubs and bars, in short, enjoying life as humans do. Jean-Paul had started as a bodybuilder, used to train like one, and thanks to this background, he had become a very versatile and enduring athlete with a great physique and had developed the ability to sustain a load over long periods. "But," said Jean-Pierre laughing again, "Kaz lived most of the time in the bowels of the earth, going back up to the surface once a year to prove that he really was the strongest man drawing breath on this planet. I saw Kaz biceps curl 180 kg, a weight most of us had only tried to clean. In Tihany [Hungary] in 1988, he made a slight lateral move in the crucifix and Webster stopped him immediately. Kaz couldn't accept that because it was a lateral move, not a vertical one, and went berserk, creating havoc and flying into such a rage, he almost scared the World's Strongest Man contestants to death. Can you see the difference?"

Could it be that there is some kind of a hierarchy among gods too? That's a question I can't answer. I am far too human.

Emmanuel Legeard

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