Bed of Nails: A Classic Strongman Feat

By Thom Van Vleck

Thom Van Vleck laying on the Bed of Nails

The first time I ever remember the “Bed of Nails” feat was hearing my Uncle’s talk about it after a JWC trip to a lifting meet where Ed Zercher performed the feat. I remember being amazed at it and how only someone “special” could withstand the nails without being punctured. Now I realize it is a trick of physics and virtually anyone could do it, but not everyone WOULD do it! And if they did it once, they might not want to do it again! It is currently a regular feature in the JWC Christian Strongman Shows and I am always the guy on the bottom. Why? Because one time I wasn’t able to make it and Brian Kerby did it and swore he’d never do it again. No blood was drawn, he just found it so painful and mentally challenging that he refuses to do it again!

I was introduced to the “Bed of Nails” when I first performed with Randy Richey’s Omegaforce Christian Strongman team. We were setting up the script for the show and Randy said, “Who wants to lay on the bed of nails?” Interestingly, there were no takers! That should have been my first clue. I then volunteered and that night found myself on a bed of 500 sixty penny nails with another guy on top bench pressing a 440lb engine block for 10 reps! After that, I built my own “bed” and it became a regular feature in the JWC strongman shows as it is a real crowd pleaser….although I honestly don’t think of it as a real feat of strength.

At an “after contest” get together at my place, I got the Bed of Nails out and only Chad Ullom wanted to give it a try. Chad was able to handle everything we put on him. I think this is partly because Chad is a top notch strength athlete and his pain tolerance is amazingly high. But it also may be a comment on his (and my own) mental state!

If you have ever wondered, here is what it “feels” like. When you first lay on the nails, they hurt surprisingly bad. I have lots of people lay on the bed after shows, but none go beyond that because of the pain. The funny thing is, they never hurt worse than that! The compression is what gets you worse. Usually, I try to get my self as flat as possible. Then we usually will put my 150lb anvil on my stomach and pound it with hammers. Believe it or not, that hurts worse than what is to come. I think it’s because the hammer pounding drives straight thru the anvil and drives me into the nails. But as the weight gets put on, you “flatten” out on the nails and the weight gets distributed. Then, we usually break blocks, which the worst thing is pieces hitting you in the face so we usually use a shield to block my face. Finally, we will have someone lay on me, then someone will climb on top of them. Usually, Brian will lay on me and Brett Kerby or John O’Brien will stand on Brian’s stomach and bend a nail or rip a license plate in half. Sometimes we’ll put a large board on me and invite people to come and stand on me and I’ve had well over 1000lbs of people on top.

I do a couple of “tricks” to help. One, is I try to keep the weight more on my hips than my chest. Second, I then grab the board on top of me and “bench press” it to try and get some room for my chest to breath. Because with all that weight, you really CAN’T BREATH and that’s the thing that got Brian that time he tried it. You feel like you are drowning and you really have to keep your cool! The compression coupled with the pain make for a miserable, helpless combination. You are literally trapped on there until everyone gets off! If you start to panic and try to move, you will get yourself cut up fast! Another final “trick” is that you need to flatten yourself out, not like you are going for a bench press, but you are trying to “roll” your back onto the bench and make every inch of contact you possibly can. One final comment is that I usually feel better after the feat, I think it’s because of the endorphins released by my body caused by the pain and the immense relief at it being over!

That’s the “Bed of Nails” and if you come to the JWC sometime, ask me and I’ll pull it out for you to try! Just sign the waiver first……just kidding!!!!

Bed of Nails

by Al Myers

Thom first got "comfortable" on the bed of nails, and then I asked him, "Do you really want to go through with this?"

This past weekend at the McPherson Scottish Highland Games in McPherson, Kansas my friend Thom Van Vleck and I did a noontime performance that was reminiscent of a classic old-time strongman show act – laying on a Bed of Nails!! Thom laid on the bed of nails while I broke a block of cement with a sledgehammer that was placed on his body! Thom is blessed with a thick hide, which is the only explanation how someone could actually endure something like this. When he approached me with this idea – I quickly volunteered to be the hammer man. I know now that Thom must really trust me as a friend – after all he didn’t even know if I could swing the 8# sledgehammer straight!! We warmed up “for the big event” with me striking the sledgehammer on an anvil, which was on his chest, a few times just to make sure I wouldn’t miss! (Truth be known – we didn’t even practice this beforehand which further questions our sanity). I knew I would have to make a pretty hard swing if the block was going to break – and I sure didn’t want it not to break and then having to make more than one swing!

The show turned out to be a big success! Afterwards, several spectators came up to “check out” the bed of nails to see if it was real. It was – Thom didn’t even take the points of the nails!!

I took a steady aim, brought the sledgehammer up, and then WAM!! - the block busted into many pieces!!!