National Geographic TV program aired 2007
Written by Christopher Loft
Andrew Charniga, Jr.
At the end of this program the following question is asked of one of the experts David Sandler who participated in production of the show, “Who is the strongest man in the world?”
Essentially the response was, “if you want a clean and jerk, it is a weightlifter, an Atlas stone lifted (a strongman event), a strongman, a nail driven through 2 x 4, it is a nail driving ‘strongman’.”
In point of fact the strongest man in the world is the winner of the gold medal in the super heavyweight class at the summer Olympics. In the intervening years between Olympics, the world’s strongest man is the winner of the super heavyweight class at the world weightlifting championships.
To even mention someone driving nails by the hand into wood or frying pans in the same breath as the Olympics in weightlifting which establishes the actual strongest man in the world demeans this long established Olympic tradition. Furthermore, it is demeaning to such an accomplishment with respect to the many years of training required to achieve this distinction.
Considerable high tech instrumentation was employed during the program to measure a variety of biomechanical indicators such as force against support, movement speed and so forth.
Virtually all of the high tech instrumentation was employed to measure make believe strongman activities such as concrete smashing with the head, pounding a nail into a frying pan, and towing a semi truck, to name a few. Unfortunately, none was employed to measure the power output of the weightlifter on the show.
High tech instrumentation was employed to measure the force produced in the truck pull. It was described as the “most demanding activity in all of sport.” Apparently the maximum force recorded (which occurs repeatedly) was 500 lbs (which then falls briefly to 100 lbs) over a period of 28 seconds in this activity.
It is common knowledge that a high class long jumper generates a force of 400 kg at the instant of take off. This force is generated over an average support time of 110 milliseconds with one foot. A world class triple jumper generates a ground support reaction of 450 kg on the second take off (with one foot and about the same amount of time in contact with the ground).
Therefore, 400 kg = 881 pounds and 450 kg = 990 pounds is a lot of force to generate in a fraction of a second. Yet neither of these athletes is considered a “strongman.”
Data from a biomechanical analysis of Olympic weightlifter Alexander Varbanov’s world record clean and jerk of 210 kg was used to calculate the role of elastic deformation of muscles, tendons, and the elasticity of the bar for the jerk portion of this lift. Valery Myakusho determined an “improbable” force of 1,839 kg would be necessary to achieve the acceleration of 6.5 m/sec generated by Varbanov during the extension of the legs from a quarter squat.
The stored energy from the weightlifter’s muscle/tendon complex released in the form of elastic recoil and effective utilization of the elastic deformation of the bar contributed to the force from the lifter’s muscles necessary create such an acceleration in a fraction of a second with such a big weight (280% of the weightlifter’s bodyweight).
The 500 lbs maximum forces generated in the truck pull, of course, pale by comparison of the aforementioned examples of those produced by speed strength athletes; which are forces generated in a fraction of a second over a small amplitude of movement and in movements of complex coordination structure.
The Fry Pan Man
A considerable (ridiculous) amount of air time was devoted to a “strong man” who among other stunts endeavors to pound nails into frying pans with his hand. The nail pounding stunt is as old as the hills and, apparently, his “achievement” has long since been over shadowed by more “gifted” nailers.
According to David Willoughby (The Super Athletes 191:1970, A.S. Barnes and Company, publishers) “The Polish strongman Siegmund Breitbart drove a 20 penny nail with his fist through three one inch boards plus five sheets of galvanized iron in New York in 1923.
Why was so much air time devoted to this silliness and good technology went to waste on senseless biomechanical “analysis?”
Why call it silliness? Because these activities are “make up” pseudo sport events designed to entertain; the rational participation in them is highly questionable. Furthermore the conditions can be and are often “jiggered.”
This “strong man” (the fry pan man) was introduced with this insult to common sense: “With the strength of a powerlifter and the speed of an Olympic lifter”. If there were any shred of truth to this ridiculous statement, the least the fry pan man could have done in support of this nonsensical assertion would have been to do a deadlift or a snatch.
This of course did not happen; you can’t “jigger” a barbell i.e., fool gravity. Instead the viewer was victimized into viewing the fry pan man in action on stage.
Apparently on this occasion, the pan did not cooperate. After attempting to pound a nail into a frying pan, the man, now with nail firmly lodged in his hand, turned to audience and said: “I think I got a problem… Hmmm I think that I have got to go to the hospital.”
The nail in the man’s hand was supposed to puncture the pan. Alas, the nail lodged not in the pan, but in the man’s hand. So, the man with the nail in the hand, and not the fry – pan, had to go to the hospital. Let’s hope the doctor fixed the other hole (in his head) along with his skewered hand.
Aramnau (BLR) Jerking 225 kg. Charniga photo.
The forces generated by strongmen in strongmen events pale by comparison to those in dynamic sports.
The Cranial Concrete Cracker
Anther oddity on this show which purportedly was devoted to exploring the realm of “super strength” was a couple of guys who used their vast powers to break slabs of ice with their shoulders, one also broke concrete blocks with his head.
Like the fry pan man, high tech instrumentation was employed to find the “secret” as to why the concrete cracked and not the cranium of the “cracker.” Another mystery to be solved concerned why the contents of the cranium were not damaged when the cranial concrete cracker’s head impacted the concrete blocks.
After some investigation it was determined that those perplexing questions had already been answered. It seems a 19th century physician Julius Wolf determined that bone can respond to stress loading placed on it by becoming more dense in making it more resistant to fracture.
However, Wolf’s law aside, answers to both questions were obvious all along; the cranium did not crack because it was solid bone which is why there was no damage to the cranial contents; there simply was no soft matter in the cracker’s head.
You really can’t say that you are using your head when you go about banging it against slabs of concrete. This madness in no way constitutes sport, “super strength,” or anything resembling either. Just ask the person who coined the term “bone head.”
In regards to the statement that “the powerlifter is the one athlete in all of sport who exemplifies strength,” this has some truth to it, especially when you take into consideration the ever growing dominance of international powerlifting by ex Olympic weightlifters.
At the end of the program Mr Sandler said, “He’s the guy (the fry pan man) I would be most afraid of in a dark alley.” Apparently, this would be more frightening than facing the Olympic lifter, the powerlifter, or the cranial concrete cracker in a dark alley.
This is, of course, is understandable. If one were to find oneself in a dark alley facing a bald, geeky looking guy wearing earrings and clutching a nail menacingly in the palm of his hand, who would not be taken aback?
On the other hand, we can suggest a solution. If you are predisposed to frequent dark alleys and are wary of running into the fry pan man, just carry a cast iron skillet to protect yourself.