Feats of Strength: The Old, the New, and You
Besides a Seinfeld joke about Festivus, the phrase “feats of strength” more commonly refers to exhibitions of strength that are particularly done with an eye to performing for others. The average person cares little about how much weight you can lift. Sure, we can debate about how this shouldn’t be so, but it remains true. Without much experience in the art, whether you lift a little or a lot, some people don’t really get the point of lifting weights. But bend a horseshoe in front of them and they will be amazed!
The History of Strength Demonstration
Demonstrating strength in this way is much of a lost art. About 100 years ago, strongmen were some of the top entertainers of the day. People would crowd the circus, music hall, or other Vaudevillian stage to watch the greats like Eugen Sandow, Arthur Saxon, The Mighty Atom, Hermann Goerner, and many more do amazing feats of strength.
"Many of the feats require more tendon, ligament, joint, and bone strength than your average muscle-focused exercise."
The specific feat of strength depended on the strongman in question. They might include lifting heavy barbells in odd ways, doing muscle control, bending steel, juggling weights, supporting a car or an elephant, or any other number of possibilities. Here is a fairly comprehensive list of feats of strength I came up with, though it is not complete.
- Anvil Lifting
- Short Bending
- Braced Bending
- Long Bending
- Rolling Frying Pans
- Can Bursting
- Card Tearing
- Chain Breaking
- Finger Lifting
- Finger Supports
- Feats of Hair Strength
- Hand Balancing
- Human Link
- Juggling Weights
- Muscle Control
- Muscling Out Weights
- Nail Driving with the Hands
- Feats of Neck Strength
- Odd-Object Lifting
- Partial Lifts
- Phonebook Tearing
- Pinch Grip
- Rope Climbing
- Feats of Teeth and Jaw Strength
- Thick Bars
- Two Hands Anyhow
- Weight Supports
Some of these have been around from ancient times, while a few are more modern incarnations.
Strength for Benefit
There are several benefits to doing feats of strength, and these differ from what you get from your more conventional workouts. And by “conventional,” I’m not just talking about bodybuilding or Jane Fonda workouts. I’m speaking to many of the less conventional styles like CrossFit, bodyweight exercises, and kettlebells.
Many of the feats require more tendon, ligament, joint, and bone strength than your average muscle-focused exercise. These tissues are capable of growth too, it’s just not as noticeable. And when it comes to strength, they’re hugely important. A focus on tissue growth and strength is often missing from most training programs.
Many of the feats of strength focus on hand strength, which is also a lacking component in many people’s programs. As an example, although CrossFit tends to think it’s hitting all the areas of fitness, these are two that it is not focused on. CrossFit misses training methods like supports and partials, as well as just about any form of direct hand strength.
Feats of strength are just plain fun to do, too. I often tell people if I had to spend an hour on a treadmill at a commercial gym in order to be “fit,” I wouldn’t want to train, either. But I get to do fun things like juggle weights, lift a thousand pounds, practice hand balancing and more. Practicing these feats can be much more exciting than standard training programs.
Strength for Purpose
Furthermore, if you become a “strongman” in this sense, you can use your strength for various useful purposes. If you can rip phonebooks, I can guarantee you will be asked to do it in front of people for entertainment. This can be leveraged in your fitness career in many ways. A few people today are making their livings strictly as professional strongmen, just like the old-time guys.
"Some people don’t really get the point of lifting weights. But bend a horseshoe in front of them and they will be amazed!"
Some other business benefits of strongman training include getting press attention. When I had a personal training studio I was able to get four local newspapers to come out for my grand opening, based on a press release that talked about death-defying feats of strength. That press resulted in new clients.
And I’ve definitely leveraged what I’ve done for my online strength training business, too. Here’s a couple of my more famous feats of strength. There are many more where these came from.
In my coming articles I’ll be going into detail on the technique and training you need for some of the more basic and popular feats of strength, including phonebook ripping, card tearing, and bending nails.
You'll also enjoy:
- Lessons from Pavel: Strength as a Skill and the Value of Practice
- The History, Science, and How-To of Visualization
- 5 Tips for Longevity in Lifting
- New on Breaking Muscle Today
Photos courtesy of Strength Education.