by Hugh Cassidy
The first time I tried teeth lifting I knew I was in for a real challenge. There was a tremendous pressure on the teeth and jaw, and the facial bones around the nose and eye-socket area really ached. When I released the weight I felt the bones ease back into place and the pain was even greater, and later in the day the back of my neck was somewhat sore.
I had sent away for a mouthpiece after first making a cardboard impression of my teeth. Teeth lifting sounds fascinating and very unusual, and as I was interested in neck strength I thought this might help and add variety to my training. After that first experience I was ready to chuck the whole business. Being part Scotch, however, I was determined to at least get my money’s worth out of the mouthpiece. One of the first problems I had to overcome was gagging. The mouth and throat seem unwilling to accept anything inedible at first. It was only after whittling the strap shorter allowing more space for the tongue that I overcame the gag reflex.
Getting the Proper Fit
It is important that all of the teeth, especially the rear ones, fit onto the mouthpiece, yet the strap be no wider or deeper than necessary so as to allow tongue and mouth freedom and to prevent gagging. The mouthpiece has as extra layer of leather on each side to prevent it from slipping out should your jaw pressure relax or give out. These two layers rest against the front teeth and it is a good idea to put the weight down when you feel great pressure here of you’ll never lisp again! The pressure should be felt in the neck and molar area. Too much pressure on the front teeth is your warning of trouble and indicates the molar pressure is lessening. A well-known English bodybuilder lost a few ivories a while back by evidently ignoring the pressure on the front teeth. I had 360 lbs. about six inches off the floor trying to pull it higher. The audience was shouting encouragement and I was pulling for all I was worth despite the great pressure on the front teeth. I didn’t want to set it down and look like a quitter and yet my teeth were really beginning to move instead of the weight. So I eventually wised up and put the weight down. Sometimes an audience will make you overexert yourself and get to, or actually, injured.
A good lifting mouthpiece sustained with a strong even jaw pressure will eliminate any strain on the front teeth. Without a good mouthpiece you’ll eventually have teeth so spread apart you’ll be able to gnaw an ear of corn through a picket fence. A well-fitting mouthpiece such as the one I recently had made and was a steal at $30. One can readily fashion his own cheaply with a little help from the local shoemaker, or send away for one. My teeth lifting partner Gary Beltoya put many hours in, whittling my mouthpiece to an exact fit. He worked from a plaster model of my teeth which my dentist (who thinks I’m nuts) made.
If your mouthpiece fits properly you will quickly find that teeth lifting is more a test of neck strength than that of teeth or jaw. I’d suggest a good warmup of the neck prior to a teeth lifting attempt, or else start very light. You’ll be surprised to find that you’re able to work up to over 100 lbs. quite soon. Even Bill Trueax, one of my training partners, was able to lift 145 lbs. on his first workout and he has no front teeth. Teeth development can serve two goals, that of neck development and that of strength. With practice and some heavy lifting, you can start lifting people with straps as well as weights. Lifting a human body never fails to elicit surprise and wonder in a gym or in front of an audience. Unfortunately, I stole the show from Santa Claus at a Christmas party last year. The kids completely flipped when I lifted Santa a few times. I was fatter than him but nobody seemed to notice. There are often comments of “Who’s your dentist?” and “He’s gonna break his teeth out!” Keep ‘em guessing if you will, but the secret of teeth lifting is in the neck. Long after your face and jaw and teeth become accustomed to the weight, the neck will still be the limiting factor as to how much you lift.
Feats of Teeth Lifting
Warren Lincoln Travis holds the World’s record in the teeth lift with hands behind back at 460 lbs. Joe Vitole, a middleweight, holds the record of 550 lbs. in the teeth lift with hands on knees. Others have approached these records. Both Alexander Zass (Samson), a traveling Russian strongman, and Eric Soeder, a Scandinavian circus strongman, were quite proficient in this lift. Pullum, the famous English chronicler, credits Zass with an unofficial training lift of about 580 lbs. consisting of a girder “weighing about 300 lbs. with a 10-stone man seated on each end.” Soeder claims a 550 lb. teeth pull, also unofficial. Both Zass and Sigmund Breitbart were able to drive loaded wagons where the only connection between horses and wagon was a “bit” held in the teeth of the driver. More common some years ago were the circus “iron jaw” acts where the performer hung from a trapeze by his teeth or slid down an inclined tightwire. Somewhat less bizarre, and easier too, are the feats of pulling cars and trains etc. with the teeth. In his fantastic book The Super Athletes, David Willoughby mentions the feat of Joe Tonti, who in 1945 pulled a five ton truck with his teeth while walking backwards on his hands! Needles to say, the feat of pulling an ordinary car is considerable easier – provided you are on level ground. Te hard part is in starting the car rolling and overcoming inertia. Once it gets rolling the feat becomes one of endurance. One parking lot length ought to give you a good workout. As for freight cars, I haven’t tried one, but I’m told that the tracks and wheel bearings do 80% of the work.
If one desires to really elevate some poundage in the teeth lift, it would be advisable to incorporate into your program a few assistance exercises. Teeth lifting requires a strong lower back and good hamstrings. You will quickly realize this when you attempt reps and pull them as high as you can. Stiff-legged deadlifts will take care of both of these areas, and high reps are preferable. Also of value is some trapezius work. Both the spinal erectors muscles terminate at the base of the skull and are therefore much involved in teeth lifting. With the shirt off, it can be seen that the upper back and trap muscles flex quite a bit when teeth lifting. Shrugs, upright rows and high pulls will serve to condition this area. and if done just prior to your teeth lifting will help to get some needed blood and warmth to the affected area facilitating your first teeth lifting set. Direct neck work, of course, gets the area better and should be done next. Or, if you prefer, go right to your teeth lifting, starting with a low poundage for reps to avoid neck injury. I like Frankenstein’s sidekick Igor for five days once after failing to do a few warmup sets. In Igor’s case it was, unfortunately, somewhat worse as his neck was broken from a hanging and never healed properly.
For my teeth lifting, I use a stout chain about two feet long with an S hook on either end. I loop this through an 85 lb. block weight for my warmup of 20 reps. The hooks, of course, hook right on to the ring on the end of the teethstrap. You’ll have less jiggling and be able to set the weight down more firmly if you get a block weight or facsimile, or use a stopper of some sort on one end of your chain and load from the other. Some fellows wrap a chain several times around an Olympic bar and lift using the hands lightly on the weights for balance. In any case, don’t get a kink in your chain, as if invariably comes out during your lift and can give you quite a head snap. Sets of 10 and 20 are great for developing the back of the neck as well as serving as warmups for the maximum triples, doubles or whatever. My present routine for teeth lifting consists of the following:
Deadlifts – 335x8, 435x8, 505x8.
Upright Row (press grip) – 115x15, 135x10x3sets, 115x15.
Neckwork – 40x25x2, 55x25x2, 70x15, 70x20, 50x30x4.
Teeth Lifting – 85x20, 150x15, 200x10, 250x5.
The neckwork is done by means of a helmet with weights loaded on a pipe on top. Second and third numbers above in each group represent supersets working the front and back of the neck laying on a bench with head hung over. All of the above is done twice a week except for the rows which are done three times a week. I’ve only had one trial with my new mouthpiece, but it looks like I’ll be able to improve on the 360 which really isn’t very good as teeth lifts go.
Your light teeth lifting sets can be raised much higher than the heavier sets and you should try to lift it is high as possible. If not too heavy, you’ll be able to stand fully erect. Heavier poundages only come about 6” off the floor as the back, leg and neck strain is so terrific. The legs are used a lot in this lift and the neck tends to stay in a rigid isometric condition as the weight gets heavier. For more neck involvement, throw the head up at the highest point of the lift. This again can only be done with the lighter sets. When lifting a maximum weight you may have to pull a few seconds longer, but once you get it started you’re sometimes good for a triple. At times it will feel as though your teeth, gums, eyeballs and even the whole face is going to tear right out, but keep pulling a mite longer and the weight will slowly rise. Often with maximum attempts, as in other lifts, a psych condition is the only thing that’ll get it going.