By Brad Johnson
Author of Bodyweight Exercises for Extraordinary Strength
Anvil Horn Pull-Ups
In my collegiate gymnastics days, my grandfather showed me an anvil in his back yard. He said that he and his father could lift an anvil by the horn and carry it around. I thought that I had developed a good grip from gymnastics and confidently grabbed the anvil by the horn. My hand just slipped off the horn, and the anvil felt as if it were glued to the ground. I was embarrassed that I could not lift it but gained respect for the hand strength of people who work with their hands on a daily basis. A few years later, my grandfather said that "you knew you were grown up when you could lift an anvil by the horn and walk ten steps with it." As a result of my grandfather’s stories, I always held the feat of lifting an anvil by the horn in high regard.
A couple of years ago, I found a good deal on a fifty-pound anvil. I was able to lift it by the horn on the first attempt. I found that you could easily attach weight to it with a chain to make it more of a challenge. I got another, somewhat smaller, anvil a couple of months later. I have always found exercises more interesting and satisfying when I am required to move my own body through space. I decided to hang these anvils from a pull-up bar with a chain with the horns facing down. I grabbed the horn of one anvil with my right hand and the horn of the other anvil with my left hand and did pull-ups. With practice, I was able to add weight to my body, and I loved doing the exercise. However, it was a pain to hang the anvils. I had to press the anvil and hold it up with one arm while attaching it to the pull-up bar with a chain with the other hand. This had to be done every time I wanted to do the exercise.
I was extremely pleased to find that IronMind sold an anvil simulator (the Little Big Horn) that can be easily hung. I bought a pair of these and hung them from my rafters. Pull-ups from Little Big Horns (LBHs) feel great. Not only do they simulate grabbing an anvil by the horn but they are also easy on the elbows and shoulders. When you hang them from a chain, they swivel so that you, instead of the bar, determine your hand position. I generally start with my hands in a neutral position, palms facing each other, and gradually rotate them so that I finish the pull-up with palms facing me. This motion seems to place the least amount of strain on my shoulders and elbows.
You can decrease the percentage of your body weight that you are pulling by using longer chains and lowering the Little Big Horns closer to the floor and doing body rows. A body row is basically a reverse push-up. Initially hang the LBHs at a height where if you lie on your back with your chest directly underneath them and straighten your arms, you will barely be able to reach the horns. Pull your chest up to the horns and keep your body straight. It helps to imagine that your body is a board. If this is still too hard, you can raise the height of the horns. The higher the horns, provided that your feet are still on the ground, the lower percentage of body weight you are required to pull.
If anvil horn pull-ups become too easy for you, you can add weight to your body, do offset pull-ups (pulling your body toward one arm so that you are pulling a higher percentage of your body weight with that arm), and—for a real test—do one arm pull-ups.
For a copy of Brad Johnson's book Bodyweight Exercises for Extraordinary Strength, please visit our on-line store.
You'll find more bodyweight training articles by Brad Johnson in MILO: A Journal for Serious Strength Athletes.