What is Strongman and Why Do You Do it?
What is Strongman and Why Do You Do it?
“Why do you do strongman?” is a question that I get asked all the time, as I’m sure that pretty much everyone who competes in the sport can relate. This is often preceded by, “What is strongman?” It is not running a triathlon (ironman), amateur boxing (toughman), or powerlifting or bodybuilding. Seriously people, you know exactly what it is, you just don’t think that I could possibly do it at a meager 6-foot-nothing and 230 pounds. Yes, I pull trucks and flip tires and pick up ‘those balls,’ (those balls are atlas stones for future reference). I grew up watching World’s Strongest Man on ESPN and thought how ridiculously awesome those guys were to be able to perform such amazing feats of strength. And just like most everyone else who sees gigantic men moving insanely heavy weights, I figured it was a world I would never and could never be a part of. That all changed as I was getting ready to graduate from Virginia Tech in 2005. A friend of mine at VT wanted to run an amateur strongman competition and I offered to help him make it happen since I worked with the Rec Sports Department at the time. Through my friend, Gabe, I learned that there was a whole national federation of amateur strongman competitions that included lightweights, women, teens and masters divisions in addition to the heavyweight behemoths I was accustomed to seeing on TV. This completely changed my thinking in terms of me being able to do what I had previously thought was limited to 7 foot tall giants who killed men by the hundreds, consumed the English with fireballs from their eyes and bolts of lightning from their arses. After graduating in May, I returned in October to compete in my first amateur competition at Virginia Tech. I owned no strongman equipment whatsoever, and trained for it with only regular gym equipment. I had signed up to compete as a heavyweight, but since I was the only HW entered, I was offered the choice to compete in the open novice division instead. I made the switch since I did not want to get a first place trophy just for entering. I ended up winning the contest and I found that competition was something that I sorely missed from high school sports. It also gave my training a much more focused direction rather than just the general goal of “getting stronger.” In 2006, I moved to Maryland and competed in my first NAS sanctioned strongman competition, Maryland’s Strongest Man 2006. On the second event, a farmer’s walk/duck walk medley, I tore a lot of skin off my hands, bled everywhere, considered quitting and going home, but ended up sticking it out and finished in fourth place. It was all downhill from there. Today I am a lightweight pro strongman sponsored by elitefts™, veteran of more than 20 competitions from the regional level all the way up to the international level, as well as the Maryland state chairman for North American Strongman, Inc. But back to the matter at hand, what is strongman?
Strongman is a weightlifting-based sport where the athletes compete in several events involving different aspects of mental and physical strength, speed and endurance. There is a wide variety of possible event combinations which opens the sport up to all kinds of different athletes. Some competitions are very, very heavy and favor the biggest and strongest athletes. Some competitions are more focused on moving moderately heavy weights for a set distance or a certain number of times within a given time limit. Then there are the well-balanced competitions that require strength, speed, and good physical conditioning to be successful. The thing that makes strongman so accessible is that anyone can train for it. This is also the biggest thing that people fail to realize when they see it on TV. Just like going into a commercial gym and picking up a barbell or dumbbell, almost all of the events in strongman can be made lighter or heavier depending on the strength and experience level of the individual who is training. As long as you have access to the equipment, anyone can train for strongman. And even if you do not have access to the more expensive implements, you can put together a pretty good beginner strongman kit for less than $200. This can dramatically alter the way people train and the results they achieve. Anyone can get a lot stronger in a relatively short time by doing strongman-style training and following an intelligently designed program. As an added bonus, most people will lose significant fat weight and improve aerobic conditioning by training this way because most of the exercises in strongman force the trainee to use most of the muscle groups in his or her body at once. On top of this, the trainee will often be doing an exercise for an extended period of time, such as 60-90 seconds, rather than just a few seconds. The biggest detriments to more people adding strongman training to their workout routine is lack of access to equipment, lack of qualified people to instruct newcomers in safe and proper exercise technique, and ignorance of the fact that anyone can train for strongman rather than just those who resemble sasquatches.
So now having a better idea of what strongman is, why do I do it? For that matter, why does anyone do it? I will only speak for myself here, but I do it because I love it. I love competition and competing in strongman gives me a focus for my training, goals to strive for, and periodic tests of how I am progressing. I love the challenge of training several weeks or months to get ready to compete in five or more events and see how I do compared to my past performances, both in training and competition, as well as against the other athletes. Just as much if not more than the competition itself though, I love the people that I have met thanks to strongman. It is safe to say that I know every single one of my closest friends because of strongman or strength training. This is not to say that all my friends are involved in strength sports, but I think there is a shared bond of craziness among people who push themselves to their physical and mental limits just to see how far they can go. When viewed from an uninformed, outside perspective, it may appear that strongmen are a scary bunch of guys in general. Sure there is the occasional pretty boy, but by and large strongmen often look somewhat intimidating. We are intense and often seriously fired up when we compete, to the point where one might look at a strongman carrying 250 pounds per hand at almost a run and think he is a harbinger of the apocalypse. But that is in a moment of competitive intensity where the athlete is trying to do something better than what has ever been done before. Outside of competition and even in the down time between events, most guys and girls are laid-back, talking, laughing, and cheering each other on or offering advice. It takes a lot of mental fortitude and courage just to send in the entry form to sign up for a contest and more to actually show up and compete. It is no wonder then that the mix of adrenaline, excitement, fear, and desire can blend together to make even the most mild-mannered individual utter shouts of primal rage before, during, and after an event. That in no way makes that person any different than he was before though. He has simply pushed his mind and body to a point he never knew he could reach to perform feats of strength he likely never dreamed possible. This puts him both closer to death and more in touch with life all at the same time and gives him a feeling that many people will go their entire lives without ever experiencing, which is a tragedy. So why do I do it? I do it for the challenge, for the friends both old and new, for the chance to push myself to my limits and beyond in pursuit of excellence and perfection. I do it because I love it.