AN INTERVIEW WITH RICHARD SORIN
This interview was featured in Iron Grip magazine Vol 2 # 2, Apr 2002
Conducted by David Horne
Although an introduction to Richard is hardly necessary, for those of you who haven’t heard of him Richard was the first ever certified Captain of Crush and is owner of the strength equipment company Sorinex. I placed Richard third on my all time best grip athletes list, just behind Hermann Goerner and Louis Uni.
*Just to start us off, what age are you now and how long have you been practicing specific grip training?
I am 51 now and started grip related training (always in an "intensive" varied manner) at age 11 or thereabouts.
*How did you become interested in this - when did you realise that you were well above average? Lifting interest with my school friends lead us to building home gyms and having an active young strength group. We always tried new challenges or tried to follow any new ideas in Strength and Health magazine. I never paid my grip as much attention, but everyone always said how freakishly strong my grip was. I remember an arm wrestling match in high school with a 300lb lifter friend that "ended" when a quick squeeze made blood shoot out from under his fingernails.
*You're most famous for your ability with thick pinch lifts and grippers. I know your gripper collection totalled 41 a short while ago - could you explain your favourite feats with these and how you achieved them?
With pinch lifts I always used York plates of the new and old era of design. I feel that putting a bar through to secure the two disks together makes it a different, much easier task by eliminating the "slip" effect of non-tethered plates. The old York 45lb plates form a 4" diameter gripping surface with the very thin rounded edges of the plates making the tasks super difficult. I only tried lifting them on two separate occasions ever. I have lifted wide slick faced anvils weighing 100lbs and snatched a 100lb anvil while holding it by the horn (very hard). With my old #3 gripper measured by PDA at 527 inch pounds my best effort was 6 reps and 2 reps using two fingers. On the new #3 gripper I did an easy, impromptu 7 reps when I was not at my top grip strength and at about 245lb body weight. The Phantom 4 gripper as I refer to it, measured 621 inch pounds by PDA was attempted with all out effort on two different occasions and shut on both of these trial days.
*When did you first close an Ironmind #3 gripper or the equivalent Iron Man Super?
I shut Warren Tetting’s Iron Man Super gripper in the mid to late 1980's and the Ironmind #3 around 1989 or 1990.
*41 of your grippers were calibrated last year by PDA. We keep hearing that the variance in different grippers is often attributed to differences in handle lengths or widths; the seasoning of the spring or where the sweep stops and the crush of the gripper begins. What's your opinion on this? Have you experienced this with your own grippers?
I always felt that calibration or simple measuring was a good thing for grippers, allowing people to gauge their relative progress. Face it, we live in a quantitative world and it is by our nature to want to know! Batches of steel vary, tempering processes vary within even the same steel mill, spring friction, impurities within the metal and even varying handle profiles all act to change the closing pressure required of any gripper. I always found the Ironmind and Iron Man products an outstanding quality item for the actual cost involved, but that a plus or minus accuracy which could be up to 30-60inch lbs would and does take its toll when considering the small amount of muscle available in the hand and forearm area. Think what the difference of 10% would be added to or taken away from your best bench press or a listed world record . . . A LOT!
*Can you tell me the history of the phantom #4 gripper that was calibrated at 621 inch pounds by PDA?
The Phantom "4" as referred to, arrived one day in '91 or '92 in a plain box with no explanation. I knew it was from Ironmind and due to the size of the spring I got pretty excited. I gave it a trial squeeze and it went down well so, I went out into our gym facility to find a witness for an all out try. I told the person what I was going to do and that one day it may be important to remember the event (they still do). I came very close on the first try and shut it solid on my second. Later that day Mr. Strossen called and asked if I got his "joke". I said yes, and that I had closed it. There was a bit of silence on the phone line . . . this was at the time the #4 gripper was still unnamed. As I recall, 3 more of these grippers were made and given to John Brookfield, Dr, Ken Leistner and one kept by Mr. Strossen. I had the phantom 4 tested by PDA 11 times as to be sure of the validity of the test measurement of 621 inch pounds. That gripper is one of my most prized possessions.
*Do you know of anyone else to have closed one?
After he saw my Phantom 4, John Brookfield contacted Ironmind and received one of the batch. John called me within several months and said he did manage to close it whilst steadying the spring with the other hand. I fully believe that he did this.
*Personally, I find your thick pinch lifting ability amazing. I know you could pinch two York 35lb discs at the age of 12. What can you manage now?
I've always liked the pinch grip and did them even at an early age. I ran across a photo several years ago of me doing a pair of 35's and 25's at the same time right and left hand at age 12 or 13. I always thought doing 3 x 35lb plates would be a great feat. With the new style 45lb plates I have managed 34 consecutive successes with them in the pinch during one workout. I was also able to pass them back and forth hand-to-hand 10 times. In addition I have carried the paired 45's in a pinch position a bit over 10 feet and the 35lb pair over 100 feet. In recent years I have not really gone for any heavy attempts but do like pinching stacks of 25, 10, and 5lb plates. Try 5 x 10lb plates; it will humble most men!
*How does this translate on a normal 2" pinch lift? Are you able to lift much more?
The width of plates never really bothered me, but one should consider more skin contact is made on the plates when they are thinner thus adding to potential lifting ability. My best pinch was 123lb, but the plates were secured together by a short bar to add to the initial 90lb weight.
*Have you always preferred loose discs to collared discs with a bar through them? What advantages do you find this gives you?
For training I far prefer loose plates for pinching. The extra pressure required to keep them from slipping is the best part of the exercise in my opinion.
*I've read that you achieve your grip goals for personal satisfaction, and not to leave your mark on the grip world: I respect this very much. However it is undeniable that your feat of gripping the two wide York 45 pounders is astounding, and will undoubtedly 'leave its mark'. How do you feel about this?
I lift because I love it! Strength and its acquisition have been the passion and sustaining force throughout my life. I don’t train to set a record, I just enjoy seeing what I can do on a particular task and gauging my personal progress. If my best serves as an inspiration or goal for others in my beloved sport, I couldn't be happier. As far a leaving my mark for something as those wide 45's, I must reflect on the pride in that the only reason I ever tried to do them was because others who believed in me urged me to try them. I, myself, at the time thought it impossible.
*What is the actual width of these two discs together?
The width of the two old York 45's were 4" total.
*Recently there has been speculation about the possibility of someone lifting 3 x 20k (45lb) discs together with one hand, even with the rims facing outwards. Do you think this is possible? Who do you believe could be the man to do it?
I do not believe anything human could come close to gripping 3 loose 45lb. plates. I doubt if any could do 3 x 35lb. plates. Of course if the rims were placed out, the difficulty of the task would be totally changed. Heck, try 3 x 25lb. plates, see how that is!
*In a phone conversation with you a few years ago, you told me about the end of a York dumbbell, which you had eventually managed to lift to table height. Tell the readers what this is and how you have progressed with it since we spoke.
That broken end of a York solid Dumbbell was one of the hardest feats (for me) I have ever tried. The shape was so difficult to grasp being convex and very wide. I tried over 200 hard attempts over several months before ever making my first successful attempt. On my best day I grabbed it and placed it on a 41" high shelf. Also in time I was able to add, by using tape, an additional 12lb. making the total weight 62lb.
. At your peak, how much do you feel you would have been capable of lifting on your one handed lifting apparatus had the machine been adjustable and your shoulder uninjured?
All you are recalling is correct. I might have gone close to 500lb. on the 2" grip and in the low 600's with the 1 1/4" grip. It was not so much a factor of grip with the 1 1/4" handle, just the weight! Similar results were achieved on partial lockouts with a top weight of 1331 lb. This machine was called the 'blob' and was a box made of 1/2" plate steel, filled with lead ingots and had a bolt on top with two interchangeable handles, not to be mistaken with the 50lb blob (end of a York dumbell). The first handle was 1 1/4" diameter and knurled, Richard's best was a weighed 600lb to a standing locked out position (no hook grip). The second handle was 2" in diameter and smooth, Richard's best was a weighed 457lb. In a later attempt for some youths Richard lifted it at 402lb and while locked out turned it around so they could read the weight and tore a rotator cuff as a result.
*You have lifted a 201lb anvil by its horn. In Volume 1, Number 4 of Iron Grip, we talked about the famous Jowett anvil weighing 168lb. I believe you have also snatched a 100lb anvil. How do you think you would fare on the Jowett anvil? Have you ever thought about paying it a visit?
I carried a 149lb. anvil by the horn 57ft. I think the Jowett anvil would be one of my easier tasks to lift and walk with. I do agree with others that the photos seem altered with Jowett lifting it, and the thought of him cleaning it (in a pinch position) is a joke.
*What about the Thomas Inch replica dumbbell? What are your best attempts with this, and the Rolling Thunder from Ironmind?
The INCH replica is tough, but to a great extent depends on the size of the hand. My hands are good sized, but not super large (7 7/8" from the base of hand to finger tip). I have deadlifted the INCH a number of times and carried it a distance of 8 feet on one occasion. An INCH style handle while being the same diameter is quite different in feel and the amount of weight that can be lifted. Using that handle I cleaned 158lb. and deadlifted 191lb. on the first day attempts. The Rolling Thunder is a good test, but I never worked on it much. I remember 235lb. or so when I tried it.
*I've never heard of you performing any of the popular strongman strength stunts: bending bars or nails, or tearing cards and telephone directories. Have you ever tried any of these feats?
I think many of the bending and tearing feats are stunts involving a good bit of technique and collateral muscles of the chest and frontal deltoids. John Brookfield convinced me to try to bend a 60D spike and I did it in the way I thought it was to be done...hands out, in front and away from the body...it about killed my hands and wrists!
*As a master of grip, what is your opinion on the events that should be included in a grip competition? Why?
I think events should be varied and test all parameters of the hands and forearms. I think some good ones would be pinch grip, thick bar deadlift, thick bar reverse curl, weaver stick lift, thick handle dumbbell farmer walk, vertical thick and thin bar deadlift. And as a final variable, a test squeeze on a calibrated hand grip dynamometer might be a good tie breaker.
*Who do you believe are the up and coming grippers of the future, and who do you most admire from the past and present?
Goerner is MY HERO of grip. The best living I think are John Brookfield and you, Mr. Horne. Men that I feel have vast potential are Mark Henry, Magnus Samuelsson, Phil Pfister and the Gillingham clan. I also have Bruce White, from Australia, to thank for inspiration, and the tales of men like Apollon for keeping my interest keen over the years. I also thank Mr. Randy Strossen for giving me the fine products and opportunity to exhibit my talents. Little did I know when I first saw the article "Mighty Mitts" (written by Terry Todd) in Strength and Health Magazine (1965), my life would change...it did!
*What have been some of your most productive grip routines?
I don’t have a magical routine other than some principles that did work for me. Varied training on a battery of different hand exercises builds overall hand strength and prevents burnout. Quality and intensity rule over volume and "over kill". Low reps and limiting grip training to no more than twice per week should also help. I really like fat bar work and reverse curls (thumbs on top of the bar) to build a strong grip foundation. Even as favoured as my grip training is, I always train the entire body to be strong and let my grip work be icing on the cake.
*What does your current grip routine entail?
In general, my grip work is done twice per week on the day I do my arm work. I do my varied pinching and holding tasks first and end the workout with 7 single attempts on the #3 gripper whether I complete the close of not. If I do close the gripper I do a brief isometric hold if I can. I find my new design G-Rex 621 Gripper a valuable tool in developing all facets of my hand strength not just one part as found on most hand exercise devices.
*Which exercises do you use to train your wrists?
Strange you should ask...I do none other than the stress incurred while performing reverse curls.
*As a weightlifting businessman (founder and owner of Sorinex), do you believe that there are any unexplored avenues in the grip market?
I found out long ago, you cant live on just selling grip machines. So...the vast emphasis of my design work over the years has been in the more conventional free weight equipment area which serves my business niche of colleges and pro teams. I am very pleased to have developed equipment used by the best athletes in the world.
*You must be very proud of your son, Bert. Do you believe he will mature to the same standard in grip as yourself?
Proud, more than proud! To watch him compete and make his mark in the world has been the greatest satisfaction in my life. It was a wonderful day to watch him at the Olympic Trials and to see the sacrifice, discipline, and love of the sport all come together to become for him a life changing experience. I did witness him shut a #3 gripper, to prove the apple does not fall far from the tree. To see him nearly clean 275lb. with one hand was something I will not soon forget.
*Do you have any grip goals for the future?
Yes, I have arranged a "Grip Gauntlet" in my office of 10 grip tests that represent my recent best single attempts. My goal would be to lift in one big "set" all 10 items consecutively. I welcome all my grip brothers to drop by and give them a "go" as well.
*Not including your own lifts, which do you consider to be the greatest grip feats of all time?
I think Goerner was in a class of his own. His 727 lb. one arm deadlift is the greatest lift/feat I have EVER heard of. David, your one hand vertical bar lifts of 500lb. still mystify me as does the enormity of your hand strength. John Brookfield tearing thumb sized chunks out of decks of cards and bending adjustable wrenches into "L" shapes is way up there on my list as well.
*Any parting words of wisdom for Iron Grip fans?
I think lifting and training should always be fun and not a means to an end. All the friends and memories I have gained as a result of my God given gift far outweigh the weights I have lifted and the marks I have reached. If you can do it right, enjoy yourself, and help light the spark of interest in others, consider the job of life well done...
SORIN’S GRIP GAUNTLET
The grip gauntlet is an assortment of Richard’s own recent best attempts, which are available for any budding grip master to try. It consists of:
Built to scale Dinnie stones (413 and 321 lbs);
Wide (4 inch) 100lb anvil pinch grip;
196 lb anvil lift by horn;
Vertical practice bomb lift by nose (102lb);
2” dumbbell deadlift (234lbs);
181lb deadlift on PDA 3” handled dumbbell;
Lift 173lb replica Thomas Inch Dumbbell;
3” thick pinch grip block of steel 85lb
…to round off the day, lift the 50 lb end of a broken York solid 100 lb. dumbbell: the infamous and original "blob". If you have anything left after that you can also try the Phantom 4…
Copyright David Horne 2006