by Brooks Kubik
Hermann Goerner may have had the strongest hands in history. David Willoughby considered that to be the case, and ranked Goerner as the number one gripmaster of all time in his classic text, “The Super Athletes”. Of course, Willoughby’s treatise preceded the feats of such modern day marvels as Brookfield and Sorin. But there remains no doubt that the German strongman would have to be rated at or near the top of any list of the very best of all-time gripmasters.
Goerner did a one arm deadlift with 727½ pounds. He performed a rectangular fix with 154¼ pounds. He cleaned a 297½ pound barbell with one hand. He wrote his name on a blackboard while dangling a 110¼ pound kettlebell from his thumb. He lifted a beer barrel weighing 595¾ pounds from the floor to the top of a table. He snatched 229¼ pounds with his right hand. He did a pinch grip of 111 pounds, using two smooth-sided 15-kilo plates or the gripping surface; the plates measured 2-3/8” in combined width.
A strength enthusiast once asked Goerner how he could do at tearing a pack of cards. “I don’t know,” Goerner replied. The fan handed Goerner three full decks of unused German playing cards plus some additional cards – a total of 110 cards. Goerner grasped the cards in his mighty hands, paused for a brief moment, and then EXPLODED. In one second his mighty hands tore apart the entire set of 110 cards.
Goerner once took a 220-pound solid iron globe and while seated, casually lifted it from the floor to a table simply by squeezing his hands against the sides of the globe. To get a sense of the feat, imagine lifting nine 25-pound iron plates stacked one on top of the other – that’s roughly the amount of iron Goerner had to contend with when he lifted the 220-pound globe.
Or try the feat with a 15½ gallon beer keg, filled with water; the keg will weigh about 165 pounds, or roughly 2/3 of the weight of Goerner’s globe. Press your hands against the sides of the keg and try to lift it off the ground. You’ll get an immediate understanding of exactly how powerful the German giant really was. And remember – the shape of your beer keg makes it MUCH easier to lift than the shape of an iron globe.
How did Goerner build such tremendous hand and grip strength?
One answer lies in his regular practice of specialized deadlift movements. Goerner trained for one hand deadlifting by doing three of the following six movements for three single reps apiece in one workout, followed by the same number of lifts on the remaining three movements. Thus, he employed a total of six specialized movements to build power for the one arm deadlift:
1.) One hand deadlift with a thumbless grip, using all four fingers, and holding the bar in the first joint of the fingers. The hand was not closed or rolled into a fist. In this fashion, Goerner handled 330¾ pounds.
2.) One hand deadlift with thumbless overhand grip – in other words, the normal style of one handed grip, except the thumb was not used. Goerner lifted 463 pounds in this fashion.
3.) One hand deadlift with normal overhand grip, using the thumb. Goerner handled 558.48 pounds in this fashion on a non-revolving straight bar.
4.) One hand deadlift with overhand hook grip, with the lifting arm bent 90 degrees at the elbow. The arm remained in the halfway bent position for the duration of the lift. Goerner handled 330¾ pounds in the lift.
5.) One hand deadlift with hook grip, pulling the bar as rapidly as possible, working for maximum speed and explosiveness. Goerner handled 499.36 pounds in this exercise.
6.) One hand deadlift with hook grip, using heavy poundages and a slower rate of speed than in number 5; Goerner’s all-time best was 727½, and he regularly used 661¼ in his training.
When training for the two hands deadlift, Goerner would include four specialized deadlifts in each training session and would alternate three different workouts, so he did a total of 12 different deadlifts over the course of three training sessions. These twelve movements worked the fingers and grip in a tremendously effective fashion:
1.) Two finger deadlift with the index fingers only, using an overhand (not a reverse) grip. Goerner lifted 187½ pounds in this fashion, although it did not appear to be his maximum.
2.) Two finger deadlift with index fingers only, using a reverse grip. Goerner handled
286½ pounds in this exercise, but probably could have done more.
3.) Two finger deadlift, using only the middle fingers, with an overhand (not a reverse) grip. Goerner handled 220½ pounds, but probably could have gone higher.
4.) Two finger deadlift, using the middle fingers only, with a reverse grip. Goerner could lift 308¾ in this movement.
5.) Four finger deadlift, employing only the index and middle fingers of each hand, using an overhand grip (not a reverse) grip. Goerner once lifted 385¾ in this lift, which his biographer Edgar Mueller felt was far below his true maximum.
6.) Four finger deadlift; same as number 5, but with a reverse grip. Goerner once lifted 595¾ pounds in this fashion on November 30, 1933, at Leipzig. A photograph of the feat shows an expression of sheer nonchalance: Goerner appears almost to be sleeping as he stands erect with just under 600 pounds hanging from his index and middle fingers.
7.) Two hands deadlift, normal overhand grip, no hooking. Goerner could pull 727½ in this fashion.
8.) Same as number 7, performed in stiff-legged fashion. He lifted 661¼ in this movement.
9.) Two hands deadlift to waist height (apparently, more of a high pull than a deadlift), using an overhand hook grip. Goerner managed 554.48 in this manner.
10.) Two hands deadlift, with both arms bent halfway, using an overhand hook grip. Goerner kept his arms bent halfway throughout the entire lift. He handled 441 pounds in this fashion.
11.) Two hands deadlift with heavy weights, using either a reverse grip or an overhand hook grip. Goerner handled 793¾ with an overhand hook grip and 830 pounds with a reverse grip.
12.) Two barbells deadlift: Goerner would stand between two barbells and lift one in each hand. He handled a combined weight of 617¼ in official competition, and in the gym once managed 663½ pounds (332¾ in the left hand and 330¾ in the right). When he lifted the 663¼ pounds, he not only deadlifted the barbells but WALKED with them for a total of 23 feet.
Goerner trained his deadlifts with a regulation Olympic bar. For even greater variety, one could practice Goerner’s deadlift variations on bars of different thickness. In my own training, for example, I often use a 2” bar for various types of one and two arm deadlifts. I often use a 2½” bar for four finger deadlifts with the reverse grip – an exercise which I commend to readers as one of the most effective (and painful) grip exercises in existence.
You also can add variety to the program by using a power rack or blocks to train Goerner’s deadlift variations at different heights. Deadlift lockouts with two and four finger grips are brutal movements – but they build tremendous finger strength.
Goerner’s deadlift variations offer a unique and highly effective training program for grip development and all-around body strength. It would be interesting to see how strong a man could become after several years of practice on the Goerner deadlift variations . . .
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