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Fitness & Health

11th Oct 2019

Lifting anvils and bending steel: gaining strength the unconventional way

Lifting anvils and bending steel might not be traditional gym exercises, but for gaining strength they won't be beaten. We put them to the test

Alex Roberts

‘You are naturally going to have every bit of tension working for you – if you don’t, you will turn into some human-like jam’

Lifting anvils and bending steel might not be traditional gym exercises, but for gaining strength they won’t be beaten.

I recently trained at Commando Temple, one of London’s best strongman gyms based in Deptford. Putting me through my paces was owner and head trainer, Rob Blair.

Rob is a former Royal Marines Commando who holds world records in grip strength. His gym, based in a renovated railway tunnel, is a treasure trove of weird and wonderful equipment. You simply won’t find most of the apparatus in any traditional gym chain.

For our workout, the order of the day was simple: picking out the top five unconventional exercises you won’t see in a commercial gym.

The Blacksmith’s Anvil

First up was the blacksmith’s anvil. Rob explained that many traditional gyms don’t have these for good reasons. They are brutal, and when dropped can either smash through the floor – or your body. No pressure, then.

I had a go at the bull – 150 years old and despite looking small, weighing 113 kilograms, 32 kilograms more than my bodyweight.

Excuse my language on this one. Exertion does that to you.

The Handshake

Next up was the handshake deadlift. This grip attachment resembles four fingers and a thumb, hence why picking it up is named this way.

First impressions are everything, of course, so if you want to increase the firmness of your handshake you’d be foolish not to give this exercise a drill. The handshake isn’t commercially available, however. Rob’s was custom-made by a friend.

We maxed out on this at 50 kilograms. It’s not every day you get to test your handshake’s one rep max, so I’ll take that as a good starting point.

Steel Bending

There’s no better test of raw strength, I thought, than a capacity to bend steel in half. And then maybe snapping it. I couldn’t manage to completely snap mine, but I did manage to make the steel budge a fair bit.

Rob pointed out it was more about technique than actual strength, so that was some consolation here.

Mace Lifting

The mace is an incredibly deceiving piece of gym equipment, and will build insane wrist strength. They only look like tiny barbells, but each is weighted strongly towards one end. Managing to control it will seriously test your wrist and forearm strength.

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