Feats of Strength: How to Tear a Phonebook in Half

Just like with any other exercise, start small, focus on technique, and build over time from there.

In my previous article, I gave an overview of what feats of strength are and why you should do them. Now, in this article, we dive into the specifics of one of the more popular challenges – tearing a phonebook in half. We’ll discuss how to actually do it and how to train for it, too. Unfortunately, with smart phones and near universal access to the Internet, the phonebook is dying out. So be sure to practice this feat of strength before it is too late.

Don’t Bake It, Pop It or Fan It

Tearing a phonebook in half has been a challenge of strength as long as phonebooks have been around. Many people think of it as a party trick, but done in the right way it takes lots of strength. Don’t get me wrong – there is technique to it, but not anyone can tear a phonebook in the legit style.

Phonebook tearing is one of the easier feats of strength to learn, but it will take some dedicated practice

– and a lot of phonebooks.

Speaking of legit style, there are ways to fake it, which include:

  • Baking a phonebook in the oven makes it brittle and easy to tear.
  • Fanning the pages so you only need to rip a little at a time.
  • A method of “popping” the phonebook, so once again you end up only tearing a few pages at a time.

This is in contrast to the style of simply gripping it and ripping it, as I was taught by my mentor and Grandmaster Oldtime Strongman Dennis Rogers.

Dedicate Yourself to the Book

Phonebook tearing is one of the easier feats of strength to learn, but it will take some dedicated practice – and a lot of phonebooks. Since phonebooks are free, it also doesn’t cost you any money like some of the other destructive feats of strength. There are a number of ways you can get hold of some phonebooks to rip up:

  • When people are given phonebooks they often just throw them out, so you can ask your friends and family to save them for you instead.
  • Libraries tend to keep copies of all the different counties in stock. When they get new ones they recycle the old. You can ask them to save them for you instead. I did this for a number of years.
  • Places like information centers in tourist places of towns and cities often still have phonebook towers. You can take a few phonebooks from these.
  • You can even call the phonebook company and ask them to send you a bunch.

So now that you know how to round up some phonebooks to work with, let’s get to the technical aspect of the feat.

The Basics of Tearing – A Step by Step Guide

Phonebook tearing is based first and foremost on hand strength. Although most of your body is in use, the hands tend to be the weak link.

  • You’re going to grip the phonebook with a version of the pinch grip. In the standard pinch grip (think of holding two weight plates together with your hand), your thumb works opposite of the four fingers. Here, your fingers will be working opposite of the palm of your hand.
  • One hand is the posting hand. This will typically be your non-dominant hand. You grip the phonebook near the spine and press it down against your thigh. The opposite end of the phonebook should be near your hip crease. The goal of the posting hand is to keep the phonebook secured in this spot, while the ripping hand does the ripping part. Just know that without a strong post, nothing will happen.
  • The ripping hand then grasps the phonebook right next to the post hand, except on the side where the pages are loose. It’s important that the hands are close to each other, so when you exert force, it is narrowed in on one spot rather than spread throughout the book.
  • Grip the phonebook tightly with both hands, posting down hard. Then pull with the ripping hand, kind of like you are doing a one arm dumbbell row. You shouldn’t just pull with the arm, but instead use your whole body behind it, twisting at the torso.
  • The thumb largely is not in use, though it can be brought into play in the ripping hand. This is one place where you’ll want to experiment and find what works best for you.

When you first try it, nothing is likely to happen, but keep at it. One of the finer technical details is in applying force in such a way to develop what is called the “S” curve in the phonebook. What this accomplishes is to focus the line of force directly on one spot in the phonebook rather than it being spread out. With this line of force, tearing becomes easier.

The Key Is Starting Small

When you’re first beginning, you’re going to start small. The principles of progression apply to phonebook tearing just like any other strength goal. If you have big phonebooks, tear them down the spine so that you create smaller phonebooks out of them. I started with about a half inch in thickness and worked up from there. If you can do half an inch easily, bump it up to 3/4 of an inch, then an inch, and so on. At this point my biggest tear was an over three-inch phonebook. Be forewarned, the quality of paper in phonebooks varies greatly, so some can be tougher than others, even if they are smaller.

Once you’ve mastered the basic tear on a fair-sized phonebook, you can begin to play with variations. These include everything from multiple vertical tears of one phonebook, to tearing chunks out of it, to wrapping duct tape around it then tearing it, to “posting” the phonebook with your teeth, and even more. Just like with any other exercise, start small, focus on technique, and build over time from there.

More on feats of strength:

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