Hanging From the Edge of the World

I always keep my eye peeled for strange or out of the ordinary news stories. Back in 2017 one news item caught my eye:

“Famed Chinese ‘rooftopper’ falls to his death from 62-storey building in stunt gone wrong”

The grim moment was caught on camera (the slip from the top, not the actual splat on the asphalt below, as far as I can tell).You can watch it here. It’s not particularly morbid as far as internet snuff films go. The guy slips on a desperate attempt to gain some higher ground and falls off screen below.

Like every Internet tough guy, my first question was, of course, “Does he even lift?”

Probably not

And if he did lift, how much would it help?

Most people don’t think much about their relationship with gravity. You fall from high enough, you will break something. Too high, you die.

But gravity impacts every motion you make. When you get out of bed, or out of a chair. When you stand. When you walk or run.

f = ma

By default, there is a force keeping you down and you must beat it just to be allowed to walk. “The man” isn’t an organization or individual, it’s a basic law that governs the reality we live in.

When I was a kid me and my sister would climb on high objects (usually either my grandfather’s dispay cases or my country grandmother’s shed) and drop off them. They were often twice our height. Never broke a leg or suffered any injuries. She always seemed to be able to jump from slightly higher than I was willing to drop. I was annoyed and a little jealous at the time but my instincts weren’t off. The heavier you are, the harder you hit the ground. And I was a lot heavier than she was.

As I grew up (and got fat) my ability to move freely was proportionately restricted. At my peak weight walking 5 minutes to a nearby stone was enough to make me break into a sweat, heavy breathing, legs almost paralyzed.

I was so fat and generally unfit I could barely go out to buy the take-out that kept me fat.

I’ve lost most of that fat, and can now walk for hours (tested successfully), and the shift from feather light childhood to planetary body then back to (still big, Chad sized) body gave me a deeper look on the reality of gravity than I would have gotten otherwise.

Lifting would have certainly helped Yongning with his predicament (not as much as not getting into the predicament in the first place), but what is the sweet spot?

As you put on more muscle you become stronger, but gravity also pulls harder on you. It’s why some insects like ants can lift several hundred times their body weight and why lifting a car is considered a near superhuman feat for a man.

While I have no desire to intentionally hang over the side of a building, I’ve often imagined what I would do if I did find myself in a similar situation. Unlikely, but building collapses or other accidents that leave you hanging at uncomfortable heights happen sometimes.

Yonging had one advantage for him: he was light. I’d imagine a fit ectomorph, with enough muscle to carry his frame without being weighed down by it is best fit for acrobatic feats like this one.

Being short helps as well. Less distance needed to raise yourself, and shorter arms minimize the centrifugal force minimizing the leverage gravity has on you as you try to pull yourself over the ledge.

More importantly (and universally applicable), which exercises can you do so that you can save yourself if you are hanging above a bottomless abyss by your fingertips?

The pull-up, which holds near mythical status among the Internet Swole Patrol sounds like a good start. The problem with the pull-up, of course, is that pull-ups usually give you a solid grip on a bar. If you’re hanging over a wall, the surface area you are holding onto is considerably smaller (just half your fingers) and you cannot grip with all your strength since you risk slipping and flying off to your impending doom like the unfortunate rooftopper mentioned earlier.

There is also the issue of functional strength vs gym strength. When you workout in a gym, your strength is optimized for whatever exercise you are doing. So pulling yourself up from a bar (or a pair of bars) with plenty of knee and elbow room in front of you will not allow you to use the full strength you developed during a regular pull-up.

You could argue, then (and be right) that the best exercise you can do is to find an actual wall and practice a similar scenario from a safe height.

And if you can’t? Pull-ups aren’t a perfect replica of the scenario, but they are a solid base. Like with every other skill, it doesn’t hurt to master the basics.

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