Phonebook Tearing

Phonebook tearing is the art of tearing a phonebook in half with your bare hands. (Unfortunately, phonebook tearing is going the way of the dinosaurs because of the prevalence of smart phones. But they can still be found occasionally.)

Nothing quite matches watching someone take a huge phonebook and pulling it into two with their hands. Similar to card tearing, but bigger and different, I’ve personally found this feat the easier one to get started with. This short video shows this in action.

There are several ways this feat can be done. Here are the basic steps on the most popular legit way of doing it.

  1. You’re going to grip the phonebook with a version of the pinch grip. In the standard pinch grip (think of holding two weight plates together with your hand), your thumb works opposite of the four fingers. Here, your fingers will be working opposite of the palm of your hand.
  2. One hand is the posting hand. This will typically be your non-dominant hand. You grip the phonebook near the spine and press it down against your thigh. The opposite end of the phonebook should be near your hip crease. The goal of the posting hand is to keep the phonebook secured in this spot, while the ripping hand does the ripping part. Just know that without a strong post, nothing will happen.
  3. The ripping hand then grasps the phonebook right next to the post hand, except on the side where the pages are loose. It’s important that the hands are close to each other, so when you exert force, it is narrowed in on one spot rather than spread throughout the book.
  4. Grip the phonebook tightly with both hands, posting down hard. Then pull with the ripping hand, kind of like you are doing a one arm dumbbell row. You shouldn’t just pull with the arm, but instead use your whole body behind it, twisting at the torso.
  5. The thumb largely is not in use, though it can be brought into play in the ripping hand. This is one place where you’ll want to experiment and find what works best for you.

Even more details can be found in my article, How to Tear a Phonebook in Half, here. 

In the olden days phonebooks were often torn through the binding. This is a matter of breaking the binding over the leg then pulling it apart. This is the other legit way of doing it.

The larger a phonebook is, the more difficult it will be to tear. Even so, depending on the quality of the material (how much the paper is recycled, inserts and other factors) can make a book easier or harder.

My personal best phonebook tear

Advanced Phonebook Tearing Methods

Other, more advanced feats to perform with a phonebook include several tears, that is tearing the phonebook into 3, 4, 5 or more sections. Also notching, where a section is torn out, and cornering. You can also make the feat more difficult by doing it away from the body or by wearing over mitts.

Double Phonebook Tear

A double phonebook rip

Phonebooks and Nails

In the lower right, you can see a ‘notched’ phonebook.

How to ‘Fake” Phonebook Tearing

There is the legit strongman way of doing it, then there are fake “tricks” to doing this.

This feat has often been faked by baking the phonebook in an oven to make it brittle and easy to tear. If you rip through the side, you can also fan the pages, so you’re only gripping a small amount at a time.

Most popular, there is what’s known as the ‘popping technique’. That is by applying the pressure in a certain way, you can make a book pop and the rest of the tear becomes easy. But you’ll find no cheating here. This video shows the improper way of tearing phonebooks and not even a good attempt at it. As you can see this can be done without strength.

To go deeper…

Want to become a strongman and do phonebook tearing? Check out the 4 DVD set I did with Bud Jeffries titled Feats of Strength: How to Train and Perform Like an Oldtime Strongman.

<–Back to Feats of Strength