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Feat of Strength: Chain Breaking


This is a guest post by professional strongman Chris “Hairculese” Rider. Chris is a master strongman, and protege of Dennis Rogers, who performs internationally and is regarded as one of the top oldetime strongmen in the world. He is also a personal strength coach and co-star in the feature film “Bending Steel”. Standing at 6′ 04″ and weighing in at just over 300 #’s Chris has performed a wide range of world class strength feats such as bending 6″, 8″, & 10″ adjustable wrenches into “S” shapes, bending 3/8″ x 12″ steel spikes with just his hands while using an overhand grip, and even pulling airplanes & braking chains with his HAIR! Speaking of chain breaking, that brings us to Chris’ guest post.

How to Break a Chain, the Classic Feat of Strength

A lot of the strongman performers throughout history have incorporated the feat of breaking chains into their shows at one time or another. Not only is this a great visual feat but it also captivates the audience and furthers the strengthening and toughening of the performer.

Many styles of this feat have been deployed and adapted over the years. Strongmen like The Mighty Atom and his protege Slim the Hammerman Farman would use a belt and break the chain with expansion of the chest cavity.

Others like Dennis Rogers and Tommy Heslep would fasten the chain to the floor in some manner and break it with a one hand dead lift style motion. Steve “the Crusher” Weiner would attach the chain to the floor and break it with a head harness.

I generally perform the feat similar to this but I don’t use my hand or a head harness – I use my HAIR. Still others like Stanless Steel and Irish strongman John McGrath would simply grab the chain and pull it apart with just their hands. This is the style I am going to discus here.

The Type of Chain to Use for Chain Breaking

First off let’s talk about the chain to use. It is a non-welded link chain referred to as “jack chain” or “single jack chain”. I have seen jack chain made from aluminum, brass, steel, or stainless steel. Steel variations can be raw uncoated steel, galvanized, nickel plated, etc. The coatings generally do not affect the strength of the chain only the appearance and the ability to inhibit rust formation. The strength comes from the make up of the underlying steel. Steel is the most commonly available and more often than not has a coating on it.

Chain Size and Breaking Strength

Now let’s discus sizing. Jack chain is described by what is known as trade sizes. The larger the trade size number the smaller the chain. A good size to start with for breaking with the hands for someone who regularly trains their hands is #12. From there is #10 (a respectable feat), #8 (which can take around 300 pounds of pressure to fully separate), and finally the largest of the jack chains #6 (which fully separates at around 400 pounds of pressure).

Now these poundage numbers are not the same as chain working load limit numbers. In an industrial setting chain failure occurs when the link opens just enough for the interlocking link to pass through. This is a much different thing than fully parting the chain in a direct pull. These numbers will also differ from one manufacturer to another depending on the grade of steel wire used to form the link and the overall link design. If you decide that this is something you would like to pursue, get chains from different manufacturers of the same trade size and find what you like best – everyone will have different preferences.

Safety Precautions in Chain Breaking

Next let’s discus safety precautions. As with any feat of strength there are inherent risks associated. Since the hands are the contact point to the chain, they will need to be protected.

A heavy leather/canvas set of work gloves should satisfy this. There are sharp edges on the ends of every link, without gloves those edges will dig directly into the hands. When the chain parts it could easily cut or tear away the flesh of the hands. Quality heavy industrial style gloves are a must for this reason.

Both gloves and jack chain up to size #10 are widely available at most hardware and home improvement type stores.

How to Break a Chain with Your Hands

Now that the chain and gloves are covered let’s move into the feat itself. Start with a length of chain somewhere around 3 to 4 feet in length. Trial and error will soon let you know what length chain works best for you. Everyone will have a different preference with their hand width and thickness and how many times they are comfortable wrapping the chain around their hands.

With gloves on, grasp one end of the chain in each hand. The end should be near the pinky side of the palm. With the chain held in place with the finger tips, wrap the chain around the back of the hand and up the palm again over-lapping the end so it does not slip under tension. Repeat this as many times as desired.

When finished there should be one to three links visible between the thumbs of the clenched fists.

Now take the non-dominant hand and post it to the outside of the non-dominant leg about mid thigh. Squeeze the chain securely in your grip and pull with the dominant hand and break the chain. This motion is very similar to the one used for bending horseshoes.

Speaking of horseshoes, pulling on chain in this manner with a size you are unable to part or with a welded link chain has an isometric training effect that can help improve your horseshoe pulling power.

I am a firm believer in working directly with what it is you want to get better or stronger at, but this is one of the occasions where one feat has carryover into another. There are dynamics to both of these feats that can compliment each other and there are also elements that are unique to each feat.

Other Safety Precautions for Chain Breaking

Another aspect to be aware of with chain breaking with the hands in the manner described above is the possibility to hyper extend the non-dominant arm. If effort is being exerted in a downward motion with the posting hand and the chain gives way, there is no longer resistance to that force and the extension range is not substantial enough for proper deceleration to occur. Point being, post with the posting hand and limit the downward thrust – focus on pulling with the dominant hand instead. This will somewhat lessen the size of chain you will be breaking but in the long run I feel it will develop greater power and a more conditioned body for this feat while lowering the risk factor for injury.

With this introduction to chain breaking with the hands you will be able to build power to compliment your horseshoe bending, train isometrically for increased strength, join those who have gone before us in the realm of strongmanism, and add an impressive feat to your resume.

There you have it, what you need to get started with chain breaking. That is one of the many feats that are featured in the upcoming film “Bending Steel”. To learn more about that film, it’s story, release date, and cast go to http://www.bendingsteelmovie.com and watch the special teaser videos with clips from the film. There are even clips of the “Coney Island Strongman Spectacular” that Rider coordinated with Coney Islands Adam “The First Real Man” Rinn. The show that received “Time Out New York’s Critics Pick” and was given press by the New York Times & the New Yorker! At http://www.bendingsteelmovie.com there is also a way where YOU can be a part of this movie too!

In strength,
Chris “Hairculese” Rider


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5 Responses to “Feat of Strength: Chain Breaking”

  1. Jason Steeves Says:

    Great article!

  2. Chase Says:

    Well the #12 was easy. And it doesn’t look like anyone likes to carry the #10 in my area. Great.

  3. Chris Rider Says:

    Jason- thanks!

    Chase- most Home Depot and Lowes stores carry the #10. If you can’t find it there it can be ordered from http://www.mcmaster.com .

  4. Scott Barrow Says:

    Great article. I don’t expect to be able to break a chain anytime soon, but it will be an excellent strength exercise to add.

  5. Chase Says:

    Chris – thanks for the tip on the website because I went to Home Depot and Lowes and Tractor Supply and none of them in this are carry #10. Thanks again for the great article.

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