Richard Sandrak, better known as Little Hercules, by the age of 8 was considered to be the strongest human on the planet – pound for pound, that is. Weighing just 80 pounds or a little over 36 kilograms, Little Hercules could bench press more than twice his body weight.
Long before the days of Instagram influencers, Tik Tok trends, and even YouTube, this pint-sized iron-pumper briefly gained international attention around the turn of the millennium after being unveiled at a bodybuilding competition in Southern California. In 2004, his career was given another boost when he was the subject of a documentary entitled ‘The World’s Strongest Boy”.
While Sandrak’s sudden fame led him to pull in thousands of dollars a month by endorsing lines of workout supplements, participating in competitions, and doing photo shoots for magazines, rumors began to swirl claiming that his parents were exploiting and abusing him. Not only that, but doctors began to speak out about his rigorous diet and exercise routines, claiming that they could lead to serious health issues later down the line.
In time, Little Hercules’s fame began to wane as he “aged out”. There is, after all, only so much time that one can be considered the strongest kid in the world. Especially after reaching puberty, Sandrak all but vanished from the spotlight.
Nearly two decades since he first gained worldwide recognition, we’ve decided to check in with Sandrak to see what his life has been like since fading into obscurity. What we found out is nothing short of astonishing.
Facts Verse Presents: Little Hercules is No Longer a Bodybuilder, You Won’t Recognize Him
All Work And No Play
Richard Sandrak was born on the 15th of April, 1992, in a small rural village in Ukraine. His father was a martial arts champion named Pavel Sandrak, while his mother, Lena Sandrak, was an aerobics competitor.
At the age of two, the Sandraks moved to Pennsylvania, where they hoped to build a better life. Not long after arriving in the United States, Richard began his training. Since his father was trained in taekwondo, he began training him in martial arts while introducing him to various stretches and light weight training.
At the age of 5, Richard was already working out with his father at least seven hours a day doing as many as 600 push-ups and 300 squats. Pavel and Lena kept Richard on a very strict diet, forbidding him from indulging in sweets or junk food. Instead, they made sure that his diet was primarily comprised of protein shakes and vegetables. Their aim was to maintain Richard’s body fat percentage at just 1%, something that many doctors insist is extremely dangerous.
According to physicians, a BMI this low can lead to serious muscle and nerve damage as well as a litany of other health issues, including heart failure.
Eventually, the Sandraks moved to California with the goal of breaking into show business. At this point, it’s clear that Pavel viewed little Richard as more of a business opportunity rather than the young, impressionable child that he was.
Once in California, the Sandraks met a trainer named Frank Giardina at one of his gyms. They promptly hired him to help gain publicity for Richard.
During an interview from this time period, Richard’s trainer admitted that he wasn’t allowed to have any toys at home. Not only that, but the Sandraks never took Richard to the playground and rarely allowed him to go outside. To maintain strict control of his diet and exercise routines, the elder Sandraks made sure that Richard was homeschooled.
In fact, the only people he ever saw growing up were essentially just his parents and trainer.
As Richard continued his training, his parents incorporated more intense bodybuilding elements into his daily routine. At 6, he could already benchpress 180 lbs. This feat earned him the title of the world’s strongest boy and the nickname of “Little Hercules”. Just a couple of years later, at age 8, he was bench-pressing a mind-boggling 210 lbs.
Since all of his free time was taken up by training, Richard never had time to play with other kids or develop friendships. In fact, he pretty much missed out on all of the usual experiences that define a typical childhood. There was no going out for pizza or munching on popcorn at the movie theaters. No, those sorts of things were presented to him as being nothing short of sinful!
Sandrak would later recall that there would be days when his dad would eat pizza in front of him while he was forced to eat a head of lettuce. According to his trainer, Giardina, Sandrak was expected to repeat intense exercises as a means of punishment whenever he did something ‘wrong’.
Although many see Richard’s upbringing and the intense training that went along with it as being something that he was coerced into going along with, he claims that his father and mother never forced him into bodybuilding. Rather, he says that joining in on his parents training was something that he wanted to do and that he always had the choice not to. But then again, since Pavel, in particular, maintained such a tight grip on the flow of information that he was exposed to, it could be argued that Richard only ever experienced the illusion of choice.
When he was 8, Richard began traveling around the nation, participating in competitions. He also was handed opportunities to promote nutritional products and do photo shoots for major bodybuilding magazines. Not only that, but he was invited to be a guest on several television and radio shows, including The Howard Stern Show.
As he grew older, however, his career began to take a nosedive. It became increasingly clear that his fame and notoriety was all based upon a gimmick that was inextricably linked to his age and size. Still, he managed to make his Hollywood debut as the title character in the film Little Hercules in 3D in 2009.
Giardina Wanted Out
Shortly after making his film debut, Richard’s long-time trainer Frank Giardina decided to cease functioning in his role as trainer and promoter. He made this hard decision after developing the opinion that Pavel’s parenting was criminal. Not only that, but at one point, Pavel even threatened to kill Giardina.
It became evident that Pavel’s behavior was becoming increasingly erratic. Not long after Giardina called it quits, Pavel went to prison for physically assaulting his wife Lena in an incident that left her with a broken nose and wrist. Reportedly when Pavel attacked Lena, it was Richard who called the police to report it.
By September 2007, Pavel had been released from prison, although he was held under psychiatric evaluation and faced the distinct possibility of being deported back to Ukraine. No longer feeling safe in his company, Lena and Richard left Pavel.
The following year, Richard was the subject of the documentary The World’s Strongest Boy. That film detailed his ability to do bench-presses three times his body weight. Once again, in that film, it was stated that Richard’s body fat percentage was potentially lethally low at less than 1%.
Medical experts have argued that Richard’s muscular development could only be achieved with the use of steroids since children that young don’t have enough naturally occurring testosterone to builk up to that extent, but Lena Sandrak has consistently denied that her son has ever used such substances.
By 15, Richard continued to train five days a week doing 90-minute sessions while eating food more typical of ther teenagers his age. Without Pavel around to tell him not to, he was finally able to enjoy simple pleasures like pizza.
Marco Garcia, Richard’s live-in manager, did his best to normalize his life. He was also the one that produced the film Little Hercules in 3D. He went on make several more movies, including The Legends of Nethiah and Assassin Priest, both of which came out in 2012. He also appeared in an episode of the 2006 reality TV series Hogan Knows Best. Wanting to give back to the world, Sandrak has also devoted his time to help raise awareness for issues like childhood obesity.
He Quit Bodybuilding
In a 2015 interview with Inside Edition, Richard admitted that he no longer lifts weights and that at a certain point – particularly after he and his mother left his abusive father Pavel behind – he found bodybuilding to be boring. That being said, he said that he was still very proud of his past and what he was able to accomplish at such a young age.
These days, he does cardio exercises such as chin-ups, stair climbing, and even skateboarding. In 2015, he was working as a stuntman at Universal Studios Waterworld. When asked what he wanted to do career-wise, he expressed his desire to be a quantum scientist, perhaps specifically at NASA.
The 30-year-old former child star now stands six feet tall. He might not be as absurdly ripped as he once was when he was younger, but he’s still very much so in great shape. No word on whether or not he’s gotten closer to his dream of becoming an engineer with the US space program, but regardless of where life takes him, it seems like Richard has a fairly good chance of achieving whatever he sets out to accomplish. Unlike other former child stars who sadly often end up washed up and hooked on drugs, Richard seems to be well-adjusted, healthy, and, best of all, happy.
We’re looking forward to checking in with Richard Sandrak in a few years to see where his life has continued to take him, but for now, it’s just nice to see that he hasn’t fallen into some sort of deep, dark pit of despair. It’s undeniable that his father Pavel was an abusive tyrant, but fortunately he had both his mother and trainer Frank Giardina there looking out for him when he needed it the most.
On that note, we’ll go ahead and wrap this video up, but before you go, take a moment to show us a little support by hopping into the comments and sharing your thoughts on Little Hercules.
Do you think that Richard Sandrak’s parents were abusing and exploiting him by pushing him into unhealthy diet and exercise routines at such an early age, or do you accept Richard’s testimony that he did all his training voluntarily? Let us know, and as always, thanks for watching!