Anvil lifting has been around as long as blacksmiths, who happened to be some of the strongest men in the past. They would be challenged, or challenge others, to lift them.
Anvils are an oddly shaped object. There are many ways you can pick it up. The typical test is by grabbing it by the horn, the sloping cone shape on it’s front, as a test of hand strength. Here is a report by old time strongman George Jowett, found in The Key to Might and Muscle.
“It happened at one of the times that I picked up an anvil by the horn in a smithy shop, and after that stunt I pressed the anvil to arm’s length by lying it on its broadside upon the flat of my hand, which is not as easy as it sounds. After I had done this I put the anvil on the floor on its base. We began to talk about various anvil feats being so difficult because of its awkward unbalanced construction. One man remarked that it would be some stunt to balance the anvil on the hand upside down. That meant the face would rest on the hand and the heavy wide base on top. Somehow I conceived the notion I could do it, and accordingly I took hold of the face with my right hand, and with the help of the left arm got the weight to the shoulder. Despite the wide base and the bad balance caused by same and the horn, I not only succeeded in balancing the anvil by its face, but pressed it to arm’s length, to the amazement of all. I have done it many times since, and for this volume I performed the same feat, thinking it might interest my readers. The anvil weighed one hundred sixty-eight pounds.”
Here’s footage from the 2010 Arnold Classic Mighty Mitts competition. There were many events and this video shows the 173 lb anvil carry for distance by the horn.
If you have an anvil to train with, use it. In addition to the horn you can also grip it in many ways an you can build up that pinch and support grip. This video from Eric Roussin showcases some other forms of pinch grip in anvil lifting that can be used.
For information on how to train with anvils, check out Jedd Johnson’s The Grip Authority. Jedd was one of the competitors in the competition above. His site has tons of videos on anvil lifting as well as all other feats of strength and grip.