Sunday, May 29, 2022

Grip! (1992)


Gary Stitch  

The mark of a strongman is his grip, so it's no accident that some of the most memorable stories in strength history involve feats of hand strength. While discussions of grip strength naturally lead to tales of old-timers, there are some modern day strongmen who bear watching. Let's meet four of them. 

One of the most visible of the modern grip men is Gary "The Gripper" Stitch, who specializes on the standard grip machine and is the world's best performer in this event. At 5' 9.5" tall and about 200 pounds, Gary holds the current right and left handed world records on the grip machine, with 310 and 260 pounds respectively -- a far cry from the 50 or so pounds you're likely to see loaded on one of these machines in your local gym. Be forewarned, though, that the grip machine can be a relatively poor test of pure hand strength because a skilled practitioner can essentially perform a seated one-hand shrug that passes for a feat of strength. 

Even though Gary is best known for his grip machine world record, he performs another exhibition of grip strength that actually seems more impressive to his fellow grip men: Holding an IRONMAN Super Gripper in front of his chest, he can close it in its toughest position using only his two thumbs. Rumor has it that the Stitch household doesn't need a bottle opener.  

While not strictly a grip man, Steve Sadicario, a.k.a. the Mighty Stefan, is a professional strongman in the old time tradition who must also be counted among those who have unusual strength from the elbow to the fingertips. The compactly built, 5'6", 190 pound Mighty Stefan performs a variety of classic strongman feats in the tradition of the Mighty Atom and Slim the Hammerman. The Mighty Atom originally inspired Steve to become a professional strongman, and Slim the Hammerman personally instructed Steve when he was first starting out.

A good number of Sadicario's feats primarily involve the hands and wrists. For example, bending 60-penny nails and tearing a deck of cards in half are staples in his routine, and his most impressive feat is breaking a piece of No. 8 jack chain in his bare hands. Lest you dismiss these accomplishments, however, remember that on one in any of the Mighty Stefan's audiences has been able to perform them.

Another professional strongman who excels in a variety of feats of strength, with an emphasis on hand and wrist power, is 6'1" John Brookfield. The mild mannered Brookfield is a man to consider betting heavily on if there were ever a decathlon of hand and wrist strength movements -- especially if endurance, as well as pure strength, were factors. And beyond his impressively versatile skills John has performed a feat of hand strength that strength historian David P. Willoughby considered to be outright extraordinary: Brookfield can tear a chunk the size of a quarter out of the center of a full deck of cards! 

Not that this is all John can do with cards. He also tears an entire deck in the box easier than some people can open their mail, and he has torn two full decks in half at once.

Brookfield got started in the hand strength arena because, while his weight training had allowed him to develop good all around strength, he felt his grip was lagging. Not only did John set out to correct this situation, be he was determined to develop the world's strongest grip. That was several years ago. Since then he has moved relentlessly toward his goal.

John's feats include bending forty 60-penny nails in less than a minute and bending 378 of them in half in less than two hours -- both of which are world record performances. John has also bent two 60-penny nails at once, another bending feat that might well be the best in the world. If the sight of 60-penny nails -- six inches long and 1/4 inch in diameter -- doesn't impress you, take a look at the 10-by-3/8-inch 100-penny nails John can bend in half anytime. Since he can also bend and break horseshoes at will, you probably won't be surprised to learn that he can wrist curl more than 300 pounds for reps even though he doesn't specialize in them. If we had to pick the t op all around performed in feats of hand and wrist strength, John Brookfield would get our nod. 

Without a doubt, crushing strength is the most popular and dramatic method for testing grip men, and to recognize the ultimate performers in this category IronMind Enterprises 

has created The Captains of Crush, an honor roll for ultimate grip men. 

Let's meet the first man named to this elite group, the man who most likely has the strongest grip in the world today -- Richard Sorin. 


From going at it in a competitive handshake to comparing performances on a dynamometer, a man's crushing power is usually taken as the measure of his grip; and while Richard Sorin excels in many feats of hand strength, it's his crushing ability that truly puts the 6'5.5", 270 pounder in a class by himself. 

For more than 25 years the standard measure of crushing grip has been the mega-duty handgrippers made by Warren Tetting, first for Peary Rader and now for IronMind Enterprises. The No. 1 (heavy duty) stops nearly everyone who tries it, even men like Gary Stitch and Mighty Stefan can only do about 10 reps with it. Closing the No. 2 (extra heavy) is in an entirely different leagure and requires the grip of someone at the level of John Brookfield. And the No. 3 (super) -- to the best of our knowledge at the time of this writing -- can only be closed by Richard Sorin. Since the average strength athlete will barely budge the No. 3 gripper, it might be easier to appreciate Richard's crushing strength is you know that he can do 34 complete, consecutive repetitions with the No. 2 gripper, which he can also close using just two fingers. 

Those of you who are toiling to close the IRONMAN Super Gripper with its two springs in the toughest position might get a kick out of knowing that Richard can do that with two fingers. The other day he set up one with four springs in the toughest position and closed it like it was nothing. As John Brookfield said, "I believe you could search the world over and not find anybody to match Richard's crushing strength.

Even so, crushing is not all Richard can do with his hands. He can, in fact, perform a wide range of feats, but let's concentrate on a certain impossible pinch gripping feat he can do.

The classic mark of an authentic strongman's pinch grip is to pinch grip two York 35 pound plates together, smooth sides out. Almost nobody can co this, but Richard Sorin first performed the feat when he was a mere 12 years old. Two giant steps more difficult -- and a feat that in all likelihood you will never see anyone do -- is the same pinch grip but with two of the narrow York 45-pound plates that were introduced in 192. Yet another two giant steps more difficult is an impossible feat of pinch gripping: pinch gripping a pair of the old style, pre-1972 York 45's. Not only are these plates much wider, but they have very thin rims so that they must be squeezed together than much hared or they will come crashing down. Richard can do a full deadlift with these old 45's and swing his arm back and forth while pinching them. Now, that's incredible. 

Feats of hand strength tie the iron game to its colorful past, and they know little bounds in terms of size, shape, gender or age of their practitioners. So start squeezing, and maybe you'll be the next to join the Captains of Crush. 

Enjoy Your Lifting!  

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