Bill Pearl is one of the greatest bodybuilders of all time, having won many different bodybuilding titles over his colorful career. Something you may not realize though is that Bill also began performing traditional feats of strength such as license plate ripping (pictured), chain breaking, spike bending, card tearing and even Nail Driving because he “felt that he should BE as strong as he looked.” I don’t think we’ll see his ilk again any time soon.
When you build a little strength, sometimes you want to show off a bit… and that is exactly what’s going on here. Up top you’ll see my good friend Pat “The Human Vise” Povilaitis, bending a spike in his hands while John Wood provides the platform in the form of a nose-to-mat bridge. You won’t find many people that can hold a full bridge, even without a 180 pound man standing on top of him. If you aren’t practicing your “nose-to-mat” bridge, or at least working up to it, in our experience, you aren’t getting as much out of the exercise as you could…
Edward “Spike” Howard, from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, (unsurprisingly) earned his nickname thanks to his ability to bend and break spikes. A former Vaudeville strongman for many years, Howard is shown above breaking a chain with chest expansion. Performing feats of strength was actually not his only specialty: Howard also donated blood well over 1000 times which is also thought to be some kind of record.
Dave “Bull” Bonvicin, from Oakland, California, was a performing strongman with many different talents. Among them was spike bending — he didn’t just bend these spikes in half but liked to make various designs and shapes out of them. “Bull” also had some pretty sweet equipment. (Is that a kettlebell I see in the background?)
There weren’t many performing “strongwomen” …but there were a few, one of the greatest of whom was Athleta Van Huffelen, of Belgium. In the late 1800’s, her solo act at the Eden Alhambra Theater in Brussels caused quite a stir in the strength world as she performed feats that, at the time, were thought all but impossible for a woman. Athleta lifted barrels, bent horseshoes and spikes, and, as shown above, danced a waltz while supporting three men and a loaded barbell on her shoulders. The French strength historian Professor Desbonnet had never seen anything like it, so much so that he listed Athleta among the great strength athletes in his classic book “The Kings of Strength.”
There are many examples of strongmen who were famous in some parts of the country but virtually unknown elsewhere. One great example is Harry F. Griffin, “The Strongman of Engine Company 13” who was a local legend in Los Angeles and throughout the west coast. When he wasn’t fighting fires, Griffin performed many traditional strongman feats, twisting horseshoes, nail driving, chain breaking, bending spikes etc. His specialty, however, was jaw strength, as you can see in this rare picture from 1913. Griffin was said to have the strongest jaw of any man alive
Pat Povilaitis, “The Human Vise”, is a modern strongman and one of the few human beings who can stand toe-to-toe with many of the oldtime greats. As you can likely tell by his moniker, “The Human Vise” excels at Steel Bending: spikes, nails, horse shoes, frying pans – no piece of steel is safe in his hands! Pat also likes to do combo feats, usually bending something with a 300+ pound stone in his lap!