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By David Horne

This article was featured in Iron Grip magazine Vol 1 # 2, Mar 2001, and is now updated. Photos will follow.

The One Hand Lift, or ‘the fundamental test of a man’s bodily strength’ as declared by the famous strongman W. A. Pullum, certainly was, and still is, a demonstration of massive power: particularly so in the early part of the twentieth century when most of the strongmen around would include in their performance some form of hand lifting.

The most popular of these feats were overhead lifts, such as the Bent Press, the One Hand Swing, Clean and Jerk and Snatch and the One Hand Deadlift. The latter of these is performed using an Olympic or cambered bar and hoisting it one-handed from floor to knees, either with the bar to the front or straddled. In Leipzig on the 8th of October 1920, Herman Goerner (who possessed incredible grip and back strength) performed an unofficial One Hand Deadlift of 727½lb (330kg). This record stands today, and to be bettered would require a great deal of back strength, and a grip to match.

The full-range lift of a barbell from the floor demands maximum back strength and proficient grip strength, and the early strongmen soon realised that the shorter the distance the weight had to be raised, the easier the lift was on the back, and also greater weights could be hoisted. Goerner’s one hand deadlifts were usually done with an olympic barbell. Although on July 20th 1920, he performed a 734lb one-handed lift of a sandstone block, which had a handle attached to the top. If Goerner had trained on short range One Hand Lifts I'm sure he would have lifted a lot more.

In October 1901, Hackenschmidt, in the company of fellow wrestlers, visited Hans Steyrer’s Inn, where he was shown an amazing assortment of weights and stones that Hans proceeded to lift, along with an amusing patter. Persuaded, Hackenschmidt decided to have a crack at the same weights, and succeeded in lifting with one hand, a stone and weights totalling 660lb.

Pictured in Mark Berry’s classic 1930s book, ‘Physical Improvement’, is the giant Canadian Eugene Caouette, with a huge weight in his hand. The design of the weight he is lifting is a square handle attached to a central loading pin and weights, seemingly chiefly made for the purpose of one hand lifting.

Even now we are fascinated by the ability to move large weights from the floor using only one hand. A few years ago, John Gallacher featured in a strongman competition a 500lb World War II bomb with a welded-on handle for everybody to try. The challenge was to lift it one-handed by the handle, although only one participant was successful.

The American gripmaster Richard Sorin has a 600lb ‘blob’ for one-hand lifting, made from a box of ½-inch plate steel filled with lead ingots and a bolt on top to accommodate two interchangeable handles. The first of these handles has a 1¼ inch diameter and is knurled: Richard’s best was 600lb to a standing locked-out position with no hook grip. The second handle is smooth and 2 inches in diameter; his best lift on this being 457lb.

In 1983, a one-hand lift contest was held in Britain, with twelve regional heats to decide the finalists. Featured on television, national newspaper and radio, the contest received much media coverage, much to the pleasure of their sponsors, Celcon. Their aim was to find a man from the building trade who could lift the greatest number of Celcon Solar Building Blocks with one hand. The final was held on the 12th August 1983 at the Grosvenor House Hotel, London, with   competitors Stephen and Clive Lloyd, Willie Whoriskey, John Richardson and Trevor Gilligan   partaking. Of these, Clive Lloyd took the day, with a lift of 669lb (303.5kg), going home with a £500 cheque and the Silver trophy. Three months later, Willie Whoriskey broke this Guinness Record with a lift of 670.0lb (304.3kg). This was achieved at Bloxwich on the 26th November the same year.

Since this article was published in 2001 the One Hand Lift has featued in a few Grip contests, including the 2004 and 2005 European Grip Championships. [The rules and apparatus are: The apparatus is a 1-inch thick handle attached to a bar by an adjustable chain.  No hook grip can be employed. If the handle or chain touches the leg this is not a cause for failure. The bar is then lifted at least 5 cm above the floor (measured from the lowest point of the underside of the set up which is often slightly inclined during a lift) and then lowered down again without loosing the grip. No wrist straps of any kind allowed.] The record is 320kg lifted by swedish strongman Benny Wennberg with his left hand at the European Grip Championships on 14 Aug 2004 in Loddekopinge, Sweden.

    • Goerner the Mighty by Edgar Mueller, 1951
    • The Iron Game by David Webster, 1976
    • Email from Richard Sorin
    • The Celcon Solar ‘One Hand Lift’ programme, 12th August 1983


Copyright David Horne 2006