Michael H. Brown, ‘Developing an Iron Claw’ (1974)

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Many years ago, before most of today’s weight trainees were even a gleam in their daddy’s eye, a fellow named John Y. Smith used to specialize in the one-handed deadlift. The late Harry Paschall, who used to write quite regularly for Iron Man Magazine in the 1950’s, had met Smith several years earlier and, in Paschall’s opinion, Smith’s hands looked like iron claws. Years of one-handed deadlifting with thick handled barbells had so thickened Smith’s finger tendons in the palm of the hand that those same tendons stood out like the webbing on a duck’s feet. Smith at the time was doing one-handed deadlifts in his exercise routine with about 400 pounds. Paschall, who could do almost 300 pounds in the same exercise, decided he could equal Smith’s performance without a whole lot of effort. Paschall made his living as an artist. After a few weeks of specializing on the lift he gave it up as he was afraid he would lose his artistic ability, the tendons in his hands were developing far more rapidly than he had expected. His hands too were beginning to look like “iron claws.”

The foregoing is simply an illustration of how important one-handed deadlifts are to those interested in developing great gripping powers and forearm girth. Harold Ansorge, a professional strongman of the 1930’s, was capable of over 500 pounds in this same lift. Ansorge had such prodigious strength in his hands that he was featured in Ripley’s Believe It or Not as being able to tear the corner off a deck of 52 playing cards using only his thumb and index finger. Ansorge was also good at spike bending and tearing through SEVERAL telephone directories at a time.

In recent times the squat has been called the “king of exercises” but I believe the one­ handed deadlift to be a superior exercise for all around strength and power. 111 admit I personally soured on the squat as “the exercise” after seeing a photograph of one of the world’s best squatters wearing wrist braces to “push press” a 500 pound weight. It seemed to me that his leg and lower back strength would be advantageous for pulling a plow but, considering this same individual weighed over 300 pounds, his great strength wasn’t much good for anything else.

A close investigation will show that the one-handed deadlift affects many of the same muscles the squat does and a couple more besides. In the one-handed deadlift the legs, lower back, and upper back are all affected to a degree. So are the lungs if the exercise is performed vigorously enough. Of course, you will only be able to lift what you can hold onto with your hands which for most modern-day weight trainees is very little compared to what the other muscle groups have been developed to.

In my own personal and highly prejudiced opinion I believe full two-handed deadlifts should be avoided unless you’re determined to enter powerlift competition. The position for performing the lift is highly unnatural and the chance for injury is enormous. Someone lifting a weight with one hand while the other hand provides a “brace” for the lower back via the knees in very small danger of injury. The worst that can happen is the weight will simply slide ( of your grip (unless you’re dumb enough to use a dumbbell for this lift and drop it on y( foot).

Straps are another matter. If something goes “snap crackle or pop” in my 0′ framework I would be immediately disposed to turn loose of the weight in all haste. How c you turn loose of something you’re strapped into? Sort of reminds me of seat belts fo] motorcycle. Whoever invented straps for weight-training furnishes us with a classic exam] of backwards thinking. Why not just strengthen the wrists? It’s not that hard.

What sort of a routine would I suggest built around the one-handed deadlift? Here’: couple of examples. Be sure to get a pipe to slip over your barbell in succeeding stages fo] snug fit. Build the diameter of the bar up to 21/2 inches or larger. That way when you lift it t entire hand will have a “purchase” instead ofjust the crooks of the fingers.

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