Feats of Strength: How to Tear a Deck of Cards in Two

Ripping a deck of cards in two may seem like an impossible feat – but with practice, the skill will become yours.

In my previous article I covered how to rip a phonebook in half. Now we move on to a related feat of strength: tearing a deck of cards in two. Anyone who has handled playing cards before knows this is a seemingly impossible feat that will “wow” most people.

Card Tearing: A Beginner’s Guide

This feat requires a significant amount of hand strength. Similar to the phonebook trick, there is a posting hand and a ripping hand that work opposite each other. Here’s how it’s done:

  1. The non-dominant hand grips the deck, covering about half of it. Grip too high or too low and one hand will work harder than the other, as it is grabbing less surface space.
  2. The hand grips over the top of the deck with the fingers and thumb wrapping around the deck. Pressure is exerted to stabilize the deck, mostly through the middle joint of the thumb across from the middle joints of the index and middle fingers. The cards are kept stiff and together, but don’t grip so hard that it curls the deck.
  3. The other hand takes a different grip. Pressure is exerted between the thumb pad and the side surface of the index finger, with the other fingers underneath for added support. Squeeze these fingers together as much as possible. It’s a weird grip that is not trained in most hand strength programs.
  4. The posting hand will then be exerting a downward pressure while the ripping hand exerts an upward pressure. As in the phonebook, a slight “S” curve in the deck can narrow down the line of tension to one point, making the tear begin.
  5. With the cards it is customary to hold them away from your body, not supporting against your leg or anywhere else. This is the standard way to do it, though for training purposes you can use that extra bracing when needed.
  6. Once you tear through the cards partly you’ll reposition your tearing hand for better leverage. Once you’ve gotten through half of the deck you can then position your hand inside of the tear to help finish it off.

There is an alternative technique that involves the same fingertip-to-pad-of-hand grip as the phonebook trick. The hands grip the deck while opposing each other, then are twisted apart. This can be a legitimate way of tearing cards, as long as they are not fanned apart.

Finding Cards for Practice

The gold standard for card tearing is the Bicycle brand. It’s a fairly tough deck and is widely available. That said, I’ve come across others that are even tougher. The problem with Bicycle decks is they tend to be the most expensive.

My favorite place to get cards is on Amazon. You can find tons of inexpensive used decks from casinos, and usually they’re pretty tough. Another good option is a dollar store. These decks tend to be lower quality and easier to tear, making them a great starter pack.

The strength of cards varies greatly, partially due to the amount of plastic in the card compared to paper. Purely paper cards are pretty easy to do. Others are like working through Kevlar.

Scale Your Progression

The principles of progressive training apply here, too. It’s actually quite simple. Start with around fifteen cards. Anything less than this and you don’t have enough mass to support the technique. They tend to fold over if you use too few cards. If you can’t handle fifteen cards, you may want to do some more basic hand training exercises first. When fifteen is easy, move onto sixteen or seventeen. Build a card or a two at a time and eventually you’ll handle a full deck.

“You can tear a deck vertically, tear a mini deck of cards, or tear them behind your back – the options are endless.”

As for how to train it, a simple but effective program is to do about four “decks” in a workout, where a “deck” is however many you’re working with. To conserve my money and get more out of each deck, I typically quarter each half.

To quarter a deck, you tear it in half. Then you take each half and tear that in half, thus turning the deck into four quarters. Watch out that your first tear is fairly even, or one of these new halves will be much smaller than the other, and thus much tougher.

Variations of Tearing

That brings me to some of the variations. You can tear a deck vertically, tear a mini deck of cards, or tear them behind your back – the options are endless.

Another fun option is to do a “deck of cards” workout, and once you are done with that, you tear the deck in half. Or, if you ever get beat badly at poker or blackjack, you can show the cards who’s boss!

You’ll also enjoy:

Photo couresy of Shutterstock.

Be the smartest person in your gym

Everything you need to know about strength in in your inbox.