Bruno Sammartino – Italian Strongman

April 21, 2018 6:31 pm Published by Leave your thoughts

by: Adam benShea

The Legendary Bruno Sammartio

Like many of you, on Wednesday April 18, 2018, we learned about the death of the living legend, Bruno Sammartino.  We thought there is no better way to honor his passing than to celebrate his life.

Born in Abruzzo, Italy on October 6, 1935, a young Bruno Sammartino and his family had to hide from German soldiers in the mountainous region of Valla Rocca.  After World War II, the Sammartinos moved to Pittsburgh.  Due to his foreign accent and a body that was suffering from malnourishment because of his experiences during the war, Bruno was often picked on by bullies.  In response, Sammartino decided to develop his body through wrestling and weightlifting.

Stuffing himself with as much pasta and homemade Italian bread as his mom could cook, Sammartino quickly bulked up and narrowly missed making the 1956 US Olympic weightlifting team.  Curiously, he was edged out by the legendary Paul Anderson, who outweighed Sammartino by some 70 pounds.

Sammartino continued in his physical culture training.  He would work out with the University of Pittsburgh wrestling team, compete in bodybuilding shows, and, in 1959, he set a record with a 565 pound bench press.  Later, he would workout regularly with Arnold Schwarzenegger, Franco Columbo, and Dave Draper.  While performing in a strong man show, he was spotted by a pro wrestling recruiter and Sammartino made his wrestling debut on December 17, 1959 in Pittsburgh.


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After a rocky start in the business, Bruno won his first, of two, WWWF titles in 1963 and defended his belt against legends like Freddie Blassie and George “The Animal” Steele before losing the title in 1971 to Ivan Koloff.  Sammartino had a second reign as champion from 1973-1977, during which he wrestled old time heroes like Ken Patera and Superstar Billy Graham.  After suffering a broken neck, among other injuries, Bruno retired in 1988.  In his last outing, he wrestled as a tag partner with Hulk Hogan.

Sammartino left behind a legacy as the longest running heavyweight champion in WWE history.  He also had a reputation for some locker room fights.  On one occasion, a 51 year old Sammartino was taunted by a CFL football player.  When the player called Bruno a ‘washed up old man,’ Bruno said ‘not too washed up to take care of you.’  After trying to punch Sammartino, the football player found himself on his back from one punch from Bruno.  When five football teammates tried to jump Bruno, wrestling legend, the Iron Sheik, came out from the showers and the two old timers cleaned house.

In 2013, Bruno Sammartino was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame by his old lifting partner, Arnold Schwarzenegger.  An avid lifter throughout his career, Bruno would workout every morning.  During the 1960s, his suggested training was as follows:

On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, you would do three sets of six reps of the following lifts: Parallel squat, bench press, barbell curl, press behind the neck, and upright rowing.  You finish with sit ups.

On Tuesday and Thursday, you do bodyweight work.  Start with 100 reps of Hindu squats and 100 reps of Hindu pushups.  Then, do 2 sets of 15 reps for behind the neck pull ups, before finishing with calf and neck isometrics.

Bruno was known for some unorthodox methods. In private conversation, a well-established member of the Greek community in Pittsburgh told us that he trained alongside Bruno in a basement gym.  Inside of this gym, Bruno would place a bar upon his shoulders and load it with as many plates as possible.  He would then walk around the gym again, again, and again, until his body would tire.

As far as training philosophy was concerned, Bruno was an advocate of progressive overload in his workouts.  Over time, he felt that small increases in weight would mean big gains.

Bruno Sammartino – Italian Strongman

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Video tribute to Bruno Sammartino

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