Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Grip Of Man - Charles A. Smith

Harold Zinken, hand balancer, weightlifter and strength athlete
par excellence.
Zinken is renowned for his strength of forearms and upper arm.
His seated press of 255 at a weight of 183 is a terrific feat.


Click Pics to ENLARGE




The Grip of Man
by Charles A. Smith


I divide a handshake into three distinct categories. First we have the wet flounder type; secondly, the manly type and third, the bone crusher handshake. The first kind of handshake belongs to a guy who gives you the impression he has placed a wet fish in your mitt, and then is about to drop from absolute fatigue. The second kind is that of a fellow who has nothing to hide. No wise guy here, you say, a good Joe if there ever was one. The third belongs to the frustrated strong man. He puts everything he has into the effort of trying to make blood spurt from under your fingernails. You withdraw what’s left of your hand out of his grasp, and make with a sickly grin as if you were actually glad it happened while at the same time trying to create the impression that it didn’t hurt a bit. Inwardly, you are questioning the legality of his parents’ marriage.

The act of shaking hands is perhaps the most common piece of social intercourse left. People judge you by your grasp of hand. A firm, friendly handshake ALWAYS creates a good feeling towards you. A flabby or too hard a grip makes the receiver think he has something spineless or phony at the end of his arm. Centuries ago, the grasp of the hand was a matter of life or death. The armored knight in his tin hat and pants would slap up the visor of his helmet when he saw another “iron man” approaching, and taking off the mailed glove from his sword arm, he would extend it towards the visitor as indication that he had nothing deadly in his hand OR up his sleeve. History doesn’t record what took place if the guy was a south paw – but let that go. In those far off bow and arrow days, a roving male would no sooner think of shaking hands with his gloves on than he would of drinking a pint of poison. His LIFE depended on his being as friendly and as frank as his speedy reflexes would allow. Few died. These days, not many of us realize the significance of the grasping of hands in friendly greeting. For weightlifters, it has a greater significance. It means – to you and I – strength or the lack of it.

The common cry among the Brother of the Barbell is “Cheez – I just can’t seem to develop my forearms.” This you hear as many times as that plaintive bleat about the calves – human variety. Actually there is a relation between forearm size and calf size in-as-much as both have to undergo a terrific amount of work before either shows signs of increasing measurement. While there is no actual method of measuring the LOCAL strength of the calves, there IS such a method of measuring the force expended by the forearms, for the weakness of this position of your anatomy will be more than evident.

Strangely, the size of the wrist has very little to do with the eventual strength and development of the forearm. You may have a six-inch wrist, but that does not mean you will never have a large and strong arm in its entirety. As a matter of fact AND record, one of the strongest men this world has ever seen – I believe he is the strongest, has hands and wrists so small that he can get his wife’s gloves on. Yet I have seen him pinch two 35-pound plates together – smooth sides out – and lift them merely by the thumb and finger – a terrific feat of forearm and hand power. Try it some time. He has also deadlifted over 700 pounds. His forearms are titanic in their strength and you will, I know, readily appreciate the formidable force in his fingers evidenced by the feats quoted above. The all-round bodily power of this man is beyond belief, yet what good would that power be, and how could it be displayed if his forearms were so poorly developed that his grip was always giving out. Figure it out for yourself. What use would big deltoids and biceps and triceps be if your lower arms were weak. Your forearms would be tired out long before your other arm muscles had had a good workout. So you see, fellows, altho you might despair of building your calves up, and thus be neglected to neglect them, there IS one section of the body you must never neglect. Your hands, wrists and forearms.

Both the bodybuilder and the lifter should concentrate on exercises which are designed to strengthening the grip. I have already instanced the example of the weightlifter with small hands who developed tremendous gripping power. Among the bodybuilders, it is Abe Goldberg who has very small hands and fingers. A few months ago, Abe was finding it hard to hold 400 in his hands while performing repetition deadlifts. Now he can hold 500 all night if he is so inclined. Coming a little closer to home, the author had to strap his hands to the bar while performing deadlifts with the wispy poundage of 350. Recently I held 565 pounds in my hands for a little over a minute after having deadlifted it – and I might add that Hy Schaffer of the Adonis AC lost a bet of a bottle of beer over that. In Abe’s case, his small hands and short fingers prevented him using higher poundages and in my case it was plumb plain weakness. We both made terrific improvement in strength by a course of specialized exercises. Can you imagine how much more powerful Abe and the weightlifting champion mentioned would be if they had larger hands and thicker wrists?

Let’s talk some more about powerful grips. The old-timer, Charles Vansart – known as Vansittart, the Man with the Iron Grip – performed feats of gripping and forearm strength which are not likely to be duplicated – EVER. He would place the bowl of a clay pipe between each of his fingers and by using finger strength only, smash the pipes to pieces by crushing his fingers together. He could tear a tennis ball in half – using fingers only. Another charming little stunt he liked to perform was to wrap a champagne bottle – empty – in a towel, and placing the bottle in the bend of his forearm and upper arm, would close both and smash the bottle. Easy? Are you kidding? Perhaps the greatest feat of all was his billiard cue feat. He would place the tip of a cue between his fingers – he used three cues – and would hold out the cues at full length by crushing his fingers together. A certain Englishman named Caswell could break an English penny in half by placing it on the first and third fingers and resting the second finger on it. Be smashing his fist down on the finger resting ON the penny, he cracked the bronze coin in halves. A British penny is around the size of our fifty-cent piece and as thick. Mac Batchelor – that Son of Scotia – is world renowned for finger and grip power. Mac can bend beer caps between thumb and forefinger as fast as you care to toss them at him, while at wrist wrestling he is unbeaten.

Speaking of strength, how about Hermann Goerner with his 602 ¼ lb. one hand deadlift on a STRAIGHT BAR. And imagine if you can the power of hand needed to perform the following. Hermann, sitting on a low stool, would PRESS a solid steel ball weighing 220 lbs. BETWEEN his hands – the ball had no handles and was absolutely smooth – and lifting above his head he would place it on a shelf and then REPLACE it on the floor.

Going from the physical to the intellectual side of humanity, the famed pianist Paderewski developed such power in his hands and fingers from a constant swarming up and down the keyboard that he could crush a potato in his hand. That’s something else for the book, for I doubt there’s any man in these United States who could come close to that unless he boiled the spud first.


Commencing your exercises for the forearms, you will find a great and rapid increase in power long before you are able to record an increase in size. As with the calves, there is a great deal of dense tissue to break down before the muscles of the forearm are able to grow. Space prevents me from going too deeply into the “why and how” of muscular growth, in fact I am unable to touch upon this subject at all in this article, altho I am preparing something along these lines for a future edition. Suffice for me to say that it is possible for you to work the lower arms, not only once a day but even two or three times. it is also necessary to be prepared to work considerably harder and with a greater variety of exercises than you use for other parts of the body. Forcing the reps and using many sets produces more in the way of results than any other method.


Let’s start with the exercises. First on the programme is that good old stand-by, the Wrist Roller – and of course with the usual difference – as there is in all of these power exercises I am sharing with you. Don’t attach the usual length of cord – a yard or so! Use at least a five foot length and better still six feet! Stand on a box, bench or stool to perform the movement in order to obtain full benefit from the extra length of cord. Commence with a light weight at first – say a ten-pound disc and keeping the elbows tightly against the sides, raise the elbows so that they are parallel with the deck. With your palms uppermost, start to wind the weight up moving no other part of the arms but the hands and wrists. When the weight is up to the roller start to lower it again AGAINST the resistance of the weight. In other words, don’t just let the weight run down by itself but lower it down while resisting it. Perform 5 sets of this exercise and then change the position of the hands so that the palms face DOWN and repeat. 5 sets in this manner too. Increase the weight by five pounds as soon as you are able to make 5 sets comfortably in both directions and the muscles do not ache too much the day after the workout.

Another wonderful forearm developer and grip strengthener is to hold a heavy weight in the hands. What’s the best poundage you have ever deadlifted with two hands? Well, that will do as a start. Take the bar a few inches off boxes or the racks and time yourself with a watch. Try and increase the time you can hold the bar in your hands by a second or two each training day. As soon as you are able to hold it for a minute, then add weight. If I may inject another story into the serious side of this article, Johnny Davis carried two 100 lb. dumbbells along the length of a block and up three flights of stairs to Sig Klein’s gym. See how far you are able to carry two 50’s for a start and progress from there. Climbing stairs will make it harder to hold the bells.

Another great lower arm developer is a favorite exercise of Barton Horvath. Take two dumbbells loaded up to a weight which you can just curl 5 reps. Make these 5 reps, and then allowing the dumbbells to hang at the sides, palms facing to the rear, bend the wrists and lift the palms of the hands UP. Putting it a little more simply, you flex the wrist on the forearms. This is guaranteed to give your lower arms a real workout. Flex the wrists as many times as you can, forcing out every rep possible in both directions. Increase the curls by one every two weeks and force out the repetitions in the wrist flexing. As soon as you are able to perform 8 curls increase the weight by 5 pounds and commence again with 5 reps in the curls and as many forced wrist flexes as possible.

Here is another excellent forearm developer – a rather unusual exercise by our standards but nevertheless a grand strengthener of developer. Take a light barbell – from 30 to 40 pounds and clean it to the shoulders – you can start off with either the right of left hand. Seat yourself on a bench and place a back hang on the bar. That is, grasp the bar off center. Holding the elbow tightly against the side and moving the forearm at the WRIST ONLY, pull the barbell up from the back hang until it is level, then allow the bar to drop into the back hang again. As soon as the motion is stopped, bring the bar to level again and repeat. Force out the reps and as soon as you are able to make 5 sets of 15 reps, add weight or increase the “back hang” by shifting the hand nearer to the plates at the front end of the bar. The position of the bar can be reversed by allowing the bar to have a FRONT hang and pulling it level from that position.

Here is one more wrist strengthener. Take a dumbbell rod and tighten a collar up on one end. Grasp the rod in the hand at the free end – the collarless end – and, placing the elbow on a table so that the forearm stands straight up and down, rotate the rod by wrist movement only. Keep it rotating until the forearms and wrists ache. Rest a while and commence again.


A point to remember throughout any forearm exercising, and of importance in any schedule is that it is necessary to FORCE out every rep. You might feel that it is utterly impossible to make another rep, but this is just where you go right ahead and make it. Hard work is essential and plenty of it, Joe Buck. Don’t be afraid of placing extra stress upon the muscles of the lower arm, for the more work you do, the stronger your forearms will grow.

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