"Ideal Physical Culture"by Apollo (William Bankier)
"How To Develop A Powerful Grip"
by Edward Aston
"How To Develop A Powerful Grip"
by Edward Aston
Unique Ways to Build Arm Wrestling Power
by Mac Batchelor (1968)
Throughout history, whenever strong men got together, there would be strength contests to determine who was the strongest and manliest of the group. The number of ways that men have devised to pit their strength against one another is endless. But one of the most popular of the strength contests is that involving the power of a man's arms -- Arm Wrestling. Here is a sport that needs no special implements other than a sturdy table, two solid chairs and two willing men. It is a sport in which man's strength may be truly measured.
When the time comes to talk about ways of building strength in the arms, wrists and hands for wrist wrestling, we encounter an "embarrass de richesses" -- a term roughly meaning "more than we know what to do with". There are as many ways to build arm strength as there are men who want to build it. In this short article I'll describe some of the methods used by famous grip champions of old to build bone-crushing gripping power, as well as some training methods used nowadays.
Gripping Feats of the Past
History has produced many great wrist wrestlers; men of iron arms, brave hearts and indomitable wills. Such a man was William Bankier, the Scottish Apollo -- the toughest "little man" that Scotland ever produced. Born in Banffshire, Scotland in 1872, he was rugged as the Rock of Gibraltar. Although he stood only 5' 6" h weighed a brawny 176 pounds with a 49" expanded chest, 16.75" arms, 17" neck, 30" waist, 24" thighs and 17" calf. By today's standards these measurements are not spectacular, but in those days they were considered sensational -- especially for a man of Bankier's height. He very nearly matched the Greek ideal of physical perfection with neck, upper arm and calf measuring the same. He literally was a human dynamo or all-around power with a fierce, devastating grip. Bankier was to Scotland what Arthur Saxon was to Germany, Arthur Dandurand to Canada, and Louis "Apollon" Uni to France.
In his stage exhibitions, Bankier gave amazing demonstrations of his gripping strength and overall body power. One of his most amazing feats was to perform a one arm support of a bicycle held overhead with two men seated on it. He then walked off stage with this total load of 290 pounds! Another indication of his bodily power and wrist strength was his performance of the "Tomb of Hercules" with a piano, six men, and a lady dancer, supporting them with ease. Another stunt he did, requiring great gripping strength because of centrifugal force involved was his standing broad jump over a chair with a 56-pound dumbbell in each hand. His fame spread far and wide and he even challenged Eugen Sandow to meet him in open competition to determine who was the strongest man. The challenge was never met or accepted, which is unfortunate for it might have made one of the most memorable events in the history of strength.
A good deal of Bankier's versatile arm strength came from his rigorous training with rope climbing -- a much neglected form of training among modern strength athletes. It build both strength and endurance into his arms. As a matter of fact, rope climbers are almost invariably good wrist wrestlers because of the tremendous demands that rope climbing puts upon the muscles of the arms, shoulders, hands and wrists -- resulting in increased size and strength. If you are really interested in developing your gripping power, include some rope climbing in your training schedule.
The story of Bankier illustrates the point that gripping power can be developed in many ways -- not just through weight training. If you look around and use your imagination, you'll come up with various means and methods of developing a powerful grip.
Pick up odd, bulky objects with only your fingers and thumb.
Squeeze a hard rubber ball in each hand.
Hold a sheet of newspaper in one hand with your arm extended in front of you, then roll it up using only the one hand -- this is a tough one, but after a while you'll be able to roll up two or more sheets of newspaper in one hand, and your hands, fingers and forearms will gain endurance, strength and size that will please you.
These methods prove that you can always find something with which to train and test your grip, wherever you happen to be.
No discussion of wrist wrestling would be complete without mention of Arthur Dandurand , the "Terror of the Northwest". He ruled the arm wrestling world in Canada with a powerful upper arm and sinewy forearm that measured 16" flexed and 14.5" straight (see photo) -- even by today's standards that is remarkable size. In his long career he was never beaten at arm wrestling.
Dandurand's gripping power must surely rank among the greatest of all time, for he performed a feat of grip and body power that surpasses belief. In a strength competition with lumberjacks and other strong men, he lifted and wheeled for a short distance a wheelbarrow loaded with 4,300 pounds of lead . . . and this was done after he was tired and worn from other feats of strength that day. In competition with Al Manger, then the U.S. heavyweight weightlifting champion and many years his junior, Dandurand defeated by hoisting a 440-pound Model T Ford engine block to his shoulders -- a feat requiring enormous gripping strength. Also, he was able to lift and hold a 335-pound man at arm's length with one hand. Imagine the gripping strength required to perform that feat!
But there are those who say that Hermann Goerner of Germany was the greatest on record with his one-handed deadlift of 727.5 pounds. Others insist that Louis "Apollon" Uni could have made them all look like children. Without exerting more than a fraction of his vast power, he exerted 276 pounds on the Regenier Dynamometer, a grip-testing device. At his public performances Apollon regularly performed a feat of gripping power that no one else has ever succeeded in duplicating. He would grasp in his enormous hand five block weights, each weighing 44 pounds, and snatch them to arm's length overhead -- a feat that would have torn off an ordinary man's fingers! He did this on a regular basis, again, never exerting the full measure of his vast power. Only once in his career did he have to use all of his tremendous strength, and it happened during one of his stage performances. Before putting on his act, Apollon would make a very dramatic entrance by bending the bars of a cage and 'escaping' from it. But one evening some joker substituted tempered steel bars for the softer metal ones that had been used. When the time came to bend the bars to make his entrance, the unsuspecting Apollon was flabbergasted. For a moment he had the terrifying thought that he had somehow mysteriously lost his strength! Quickly collecting his thoughts and energies, he pitted his mighty hands and arms against the thick steel bars. The perspiration began to trickle from his forehead and it appeared on his arms, causing them to glisten like two massive boulders of steel. At first the bars seemed to fight Apollon's efforts to bend them but then they gave way -- they had to, against the unrelenting power of his arms -- finally, dripping with perspiration, he made his stage entrance. The practical joke turned out to be one of the greatest feats of strength ever recorded in history. More than that, it proved that Apollon probably had the most powerful grip of any man then and even today.
From what you have just read about the giants of gripping power, you've already learned some of the ways you can use to develop your grip for wrist wrestling and general hand strength. There are some other ways you might want to try and we'll cover them here.
Did you know that you could develop your gripping power by climbing trees? Yes, you can. The famous Saxon brothers of Germany climbed trees as a regular training routine and they developed incredible strength in their hands, fingers and arms.
If you live in a big city and trees are not convenient to you, then the horizontal ladders found in playgrounds can serve as a good training tool -- they can give your grip and forearms a fantastic workout as you swing from rung to rung. The Saxons also used this form of training, and with great results -- they could easily Clean & Press 200-pound sacks of flour, with nothing more than the smooth sides of these sacks to grip on to.
Iron Bar Twirling -- Of all the wrists and forearms I've seen, one of the best pairs belonged to a young heavyweight who had developed a special exercise for his own training. Instead of twirling a light baton as done in parades, he used a short, heavy iron crowbar. This is how he did the exercise: he held his arms in the midway position of the two-arm curl exercise, standing with forearms at right angles to the body. The he twirled the bar, baton fashion first one way, then another -- catching it with each hand, alternately. Continual practice of this unusual exercise had given him a very powerful grip and huge forearms.
The same exercise can be done with a dumbbell while seated. Rest forearm on your thigh, hand extended with palm up, beyond your knee and gripping a dumbbell. Now twist the hand to a palm-down position and twist back to the 'hand up' position -- do not move your arm, do all the work with your hand and wrist. 15 to 20 reps with each hand will give your wrists and forearms plenty of attention. Do wrist curls in this same position for the same number of reps. When you can curl a 100-pound dumbbell in this position without moving your arm you'll know that your forearms are in good shape. Try this with an 'off-loaded' dumbbell as well. You'll find it very challenging with a heavy weight. Do the regular one-hand wrist curls, palms up as well as down with an off-loaded bar, and do both the palm-up/palm down twists as well as the wrist curls with a dumbbell loaded with plates only on the very end of the bar. Not easy!
Finger Gripping Barbell Plates -- Here's another good exercise to toughen and strengthen your grip and forearms: grip a 25-pound of heavier plate (depending on your present strength) by the rim, using only your thumb and fingers -- don't let it touch the palm. Lift it to shoulder height in slow motion for 10 to 15 reps. Increase the reps as you become stronger to build your endurance for wrist wrestling.
A favorite of the old-time wrist wrestlers was gripping a smooth, flat, heavy plate between thumb and forefinger, then transferring it, without losing their grip, to a position between their thumb and middle finger -- and so on down the line until they were holding the plate in the most difficult way possible -- between thumb and smallest finger. They would then reverse the process, never once putting down the plate or losing a grip on it.
Before doing exercise it's best to first warm up your hand muscles with some other exercise. Start with light plates then go on to heavier ones. Consider yourself a good man if you can do this exercise with a 25-pound smooth plate.
Crushing Beer Cans -- One of my favorite exercises, when working in my bar during occasional quiet afternoons, was to crush beer cans between my fingers. I trained my grip at every opportunity to fortify my wrist wrestling arm against the constant competition I had for my title of World's Champion Wrist Wrestler. Crushing beer cans was a good way to obtain that needed conditioning. With the innovation of beer cans, which vary from soft metal to those that seem to be made of iron, arm wrestlers everywhere had a new and convenient type of training medium.
For developing finger strength try this: pinch the middle of the lighter cans together with thumb and forefinger only. With those of heavier metal, grip each end with both hands and bend back and forth until a break starts in the center. Now, while maintaining the same grip, twist with both hands back and forth a few times until the can is torn in half. Be careful not to cut yourself -- those edges are like knives. Practice of this exercise will help give you the twisting power of grip that is vital to being a successful arm grappler. When practicing stunts or exercises, put resin on your hands to avoid slipping. You should do this particularly when you're handling barbells and dumbbells.
A Final Word
There can be no doubt that grip is a crucial factor in arm wrestling; matches have often been won by the man with the stronger grip, all else being equal. Take every opportunity to train your grip because the muscles involved are tough and need a lot of work. Grip training is convenient -- no matter where you are you can always devise some way to work your grip with just a few spare moments.
You may never equal the grip strength of John Y. Smith who at 160 pounds bodyweight and in his 40's deadlifted 450 pounds in his right hand and 425 in his left before completely destroying his back while lowering the bells to the floor and as a result suffered a massive stroke resulting in having to live out the rest of his years in a deadlift-eccentric induced coma. But, you will certainly attain a powerful grip and your wrist wrestling ability will surely improve.