by David F. Gentle, PC Historian & Author
Did you see the film ‘A Man Called Horse’ starring Richard Harris, based on factual rituals carried out by certain tribes of American Indians, (the Mandan tribe, the ritual was designed to test the courage and endurance of the young braves and was called ‘0 KEE PA’) whereby a test of manhood consisted of the young brave being suspended by hooks forced into his pectoral tendons. Well, a similar gruesome episode happened in real life to a German explorer called Captain Ringman Mach.
In the 1890 s Mach was captured by natives in Patagonia and forced to submit to a similar torture by being hung from hooks forced through his chest muscles.
Captain Mach, made a stern material, surprised his captors by withstanding the punishment and to reward his courage, he was released although he remained a prisoner for many years until he was able to escape from the territory. He turned up in America and to earn a living, devised a Vaudeville act around his experiences, including some astounding, although somewhat gruesome strength feats! From the healed slits in his chest, he would lift by chains on hooks, a 250lb/113kg barbell. He also had iron bars inserted through the wounds, and then with the aid of two volunteers, he would bend the bars across his chest. (Hang on, I need a brandy’).
There are certainly plenty of crazy ways to lift or support weights. A great professional strongman for many years, Jack Walsh, famed for his ability to do record back lifts, also used to practise lifting up weights from racks or supports. with the top of his head. He is reputed to have ‘lifted as much as 5001b/226kg in this method which would certainly be a good way to obtain a wavy head, if not wavy hair!
There was an amusing news item in my daily paper. ‘A new type of phone box vandal is being hunted by police ….. He tears directories in half. Hope that’s not one of our magazine subscribers. as its a bit naughty. Far better to contact your local G.P.O. and buy up out of date directories to pit your strength against! When you have secured some legitimately. try tearing them in half edge ways, as does the former Mr. America Mike Dayton. Mike’s most famous stunt in his breaking apart regulation handcuffs. Mike also bends coins in a style preciously employed by the late Joe Greenstein, (the Mighty Atom). For example, by holding them with his teeth and pushing upwards with his thumbs. He sure lives dangerously that lad! Please do not try to emulate, unless you wish to develop a lisp or get an early visit from the tooth fairy.
Stunts involving teeth/jaw strength are always interesting and good showmanship for strength athletes. Many early strongmen demonstrated the strength of their molars by pulling along cars and other vehicles, Charles Atlas is one example. One old timer could actually plough a field by pulling the plough along with his teeth! Many muscle stars were, and are capable of lifting respectable poundages with their teeth. Steve Reeves easily lifted his buddy, the 200lb plus former Mr America, George Eiferman. George himself, was capable of reversing the situation, and I am happy to note, both are still active in the muscle game.
The reigning champion in this specialized field, is without doubt John Massis, a 42 year old Belgium strongman who has pulled along a double-decker bus, lifted the front of a car with his teeth, prevented an aeroplane (Beachcraft) and a helicopter taking off, by holding it back with his teeth, and lifted an amazing 230kg deadweight via a teeth lift!
Massis remains consistently in the Guinness Book of Records, and has been featured several times in David Frost’s television spectaculars. I see the 1,000 pound squat barrier was broken some way back by Dave Waddington of Ohio, with a, 1,013 pounds. I also noted that the very first 1,000 pound bench press was made at about the same time. Now before you look to see if I have made a mistake, I will speedily tell you that it was achieved by two men, namely Joe Wing and partner Steve Ponzio The lift was made on a special bar, which was ten foot long. The weights were loaded both at the ends, and in the middle.
The lifters needed practise as well as strength to maintain the carefully loaded bar, and the timing required to complete such a great feat of strength. By the way, this snippet of information comes from Mike Lambert of Powerlifting USA magazine, a fantastic mag for powerlifting fans. The idea of two man lifts or team lifting is not a new one, with many previous attempts to get something going in this line. The biggest drawback is the unhappy fact that few men are of exactly the same strength or physical makeup, and this can lead to injuries!
Still keeping way out front, in more ways than one is Australia’s supreme powerlifting champion, the mighty female, Bev Francis who with a deep breath made a fantastic bench press of 3301bs/ 150kg ….. Breath is life, the human body is capable of some extreme feats of power! Frenchman, Jacques Mayol dived to a depth of 282 feet off the island of Elba in November 1973. During the course of the free dive. (note, not scuba) Mayol sustained enormous pressure on his lungs and his pulse rate fell to just 36. Some while ago, strength athletes demonstrated their lung power by inflating and bursting hot water bottles. Mel Robinson was noticeably first in bringing this feat to our attention. Bill Pearl used to feature the stunt, as did John Citrone, a former Mr. Universe winner.
Finally a couple of ideas to increase your strength First the ‘washer system’ and the ‘assisted finger reps’. Never heard of the washer system of strength training? Simply it means a system of progression by adding small weights to your so called limit lifts.
Imagine for instance, that your best bench press is 150kg, try as you may you can not add any more discs to the lift. What you now do is to add just a couple of small washers, (tied on with string) to the ends of the bar. Now being so small an increase, you are not going to let two small washers beat you, so you find you can still press the weights. Continue in this way until the number of washers add up to your smallest discs, by which time you can then replace them with actual discs. Thereby, you have then increased your poundage in a crafty way without too much effort. Next time you get stuck, try this idea out!
A similar idea is to get someone to help you out on maximum lifts by giving you the aid of just one finger. That is, using the bench press again as an example, when on your maximum lift, add a couple of kilos (or pounds) and then with the help of a partner, get him to place his finger under the bar when you are lifting, and give” you just a fraction of help with one finger. Gradually, he can just place his finger under the bar and pretend to lift, thereby helping you to make another increase on your best lifts.
Fascinating Feats of Strength © Copyright by David Gentle All Rights Reserved