Grip Events Horseshoe Bending and Card Tearing
ORIGIN: Being strong is more fun when you have party trick or two in your back pocket for when your pals ask you to demo your skills. Historically, many such tricks involve hand strength and toughness: “I used to drive a nail through a board,” says Todd. “People liked that one.” Ripping cards and straightening horseshoes are two other classic examples, both of which go back to the turn of the 20th century. Among other dedicated grip-strength masters were Sandow, who reportedly tore two decks of cards in half at the conclusion of an exhibition for English cadets in 1892; Orville “Boy Hercules” Stamm, who would tear the deck in quarters; and Nicholas Zeff—a wrestler, strength performer and contemporary of Stamm’s—who would not only bend horseshoes but he’d tear them in half.
THE FEAT: Grab a standard deck of cards (Bicycle and Hoyle are the gold standard) and, well, rip that sucker in half. With horseshoes, you can straighten them out, bend them from a “U” to an “S” shape, or break them in half entirely. In both cases, the faster you can pull off the feat, the more impressive it is.
At first glance, these grip-heavy stunts look like expressions of brute strength. In fact, says Whitley, skill and know-how are equally important. “You want to put the maximum force you can express into the weakest point in the object you’re bending,” says Whitley. “If you don’t have your technique dialed in perfectly, you will mess yourself up.”
WORLD RECORD: On December 7, 2019, Todd Jones of Bucks County, PA, bent three horseshoes into heart shapes in 60 seconds (at present, this is an unofficial record). In December 2000, Scott Fraze ripped 13 decks of cards (52 plus two jokers) in 30 seconds on the set of Guinness World Records: Primetime.
TRAIN FOR IT: Step one in grip feats, explains Whitley, is tissue conditioning—toughening your hands, arms, and legs so you can handle the pressure they’ll have to endure to bend or deform steel. “In horseshoe bending, you basically bend the shoe over your leg,” he says. “That can cause some pretty major bruises.”
Whitley recommends hitting a sandbag repeatedly for a hundred or more reps, gradually building up to harder and harder surfaces, to condition your hands to grip steel or pinch decks of cards. “That can take three months,” he says. “Don’t rush it.”
Next step: learning, and applying, the appropriate techniques. “One hand is the vice, while the other performs the action,” says Whitley. In card ripping, you pinch and hold the deck straight with your dominant hand (don’t let it roll up) while you twist and rip with your non-dominant hand. “The action resembles taking a lid off a jar,” he says. Start with half- or quarter-decks, and build up slowly.
To bend a horseshoe, wrap the arms of the shoe in cotton or leather cloths. Hold it in front of you with its arms parallel to the floor and the top of the “U” pointing left. With both palms facing downwards, grip the shoe’s bottom arm with your left hand and its top arm in your right. Lock out both arms, brace the shoe on your right hip, and push the top arm away from you while pulling the bottom one toward you. “With this technique, your obliques and core are doing most of the work,” says Whitley.