Episode 26: Mustachioed, Big-Bellied Man Meat: A History of Strongman
I’ve been interested in strength since I was a little kid. I think it’s common for many American boys to be interested in the big strong guys. We grew up on a steady diet of Hulk Hogan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rocky movies, Jean Claude-Van Dam, and larger-than-life football and basketball stars. I learned early on that the strong guy was superior. He could win fights, save people’s lives, and be beloved by babes and dudes simply by existing. In the American version of strength, the good guy is also the strong guy. Strength, I learned, was a universal good. Sure, there was always a rival who was equally strong, perhaps stronger, but the good guy summoned some other form of strength to win. Strength of will and belief led to some burst of physical strength at the right moment. Hogan bodyslammed Andre the Giant. JCVD beat Chong Li at the end of Bloodsport. Rocky knocked out Drago.
Of course, you HAD to look the part too. Strength also meant being shredded as hell. The freaky bodybuilder aesthetic of the 80’s and 90’s meant strength to us. We are talkin veins, peaked biceps, muscle separation so you could see every movement beneath the thin skin. We had an understanding that in order to be as strong as possible, you had to look like a science experiment. Very rarely did we consider the pharmaceutical necessities of looking like that. Steroids weren’t a big topic among the common folk, and due to their illegality, people like Arnold and Stallone didn’t discuss their heavy usage. They also only displayed their strength through films. Same with pro wrestlers. What we saw of their strength was staged. It was an illusion.
As I got older, and developed into a chubby kid who hated his body because it wasn’t the ideal, those shredded dudes became painful objects of what I’d never be. It set an unimaginable standard. HOWEVER, like many kids in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, I discovered the World’s Strongest Man competition one random weekend afternoon. ESPN and ESPN 2 played reruns of WSM when they didn’t have any boring NCAA baseball games, and I fucking loved it. One image from those early WSM competitions stands out to me most: a massive bodybuilder–the classic ripped guy with big biceps, struggled to complete an event that involved moving a wheelbarrow with a bunch of people on it. The dude failed. Next up, a big fat guy from some northern or eastern European country completed the event easily. I realized then that strength isn’t synonymous with appearance. You could look like my uncle Mike and be stronger than Arnold. In fact, nearly all of the best WSM contestants (with the exception of Mariusz Pudinowski) possess the power belly look.
My love affair with lifting began in earnest in high school, when I had to lift weights for sports, though my eating disorders for wrestling tamped down any true strength gains. Still, I loved the exertion and calm that came with picking heavy shit up. I didn’t really know what I was doing, but I learned what I could from magazines and sketchy internet resources. I was never as strong as the big football guys, but I considered myself more knowledgeable. People asked me for advice on lifting and I doled it out like a professional.
I lifted throughout college and in my lives overseas. I became obsessed with self-challenges. On my birthday, I’d always perform lifts that corresponded to my age. 25 reps with 225 on my 25th birthday. Shit like that. In Laos, I set out to complete 50,000 pushups in a year. Which I did, including 1,000 push ups on my 26th birthday.
I didn’t compete in strongman until I was 27. After returning from Laos and settling into an admin job, I craved something. I wanted to test my strength, so I entered in a competition in upstate New York after training without implements for a few months prior with my friend and brother, Schindy.
The show was awesome! We had to perform a stone walk, overhead press medley, yoke and sandbag run, kegload, and silver dollar deadlift. Some classic events. I did well for being one of the smallest guys, and I was hooked on it.
Since then, I’ve competed about eleven times, I think. I’ve placed 2nd in Florida’s Strongest Man in the lightweight division, 2nd in Miami’s Baddest, I WON World’s Strongest Manatee, and I’ve qualified for Nationals twice. For me, it isn’t so much about winning and being competitive as it is having fun lifting weird stuff. That’s what strongman is about. Strongman is a freakshow at its heart, and I think it always should be. Though it has become more professional over the years, and the top strongman athletes receive a degree of fame and fortune, it will always be a fringe undertaking.
Part Two: What is Modern Strongman
Strongman/strongwoman is a strength sport that emphasizes the lifting and moving of odd objects for weight, time, and distance. The most iconic strongman events include the Atlas Stones, overhead log press, circus dumbbell press, farmers carry, and yoke walk. However, strongman can be anything related to moving something heavy and awkward, which is what makes it so fun and interesting. If you want to see some weird shit, look back at the archives of World’s Strongest Man events. Since formalized strongman has only been a sport since the 1970’s, with the World’s Strongest Man competition premiering in 1977, there have been various reinventions and goofy intense tests of strength, power, and endurance. We don’t have too many sports that are this new, and therefore the rules are still in flux.
Every strongman contest, from professional to amateur, uses different events. No two strongman shows are the same, and this contrasts with the other prominent strength sports (Olympic weightlifting and powerlifting, most notably), which feature the same lifts every time. A successful strongman athlete must possess a variety of skills, including speed to move weights for distance, endurance to complete multiple reps for time, and static strength for One Rep Max events.
The modern strongman landscape is evolving. What started as a hodgepodge of strength athletes, football players, track athletes, and bodybuilders has become a sport of pure strongmen and strongwomen. Pro strongman is an elite group, and the best of the best are not weight classed, which means that these people are monstrous.
To give you an idea, here are the stats for the Top Five Finishers of 2022’s World’s Strongest Man:
Tom Stoltman of Scotland-6’8, 405 lbs
Martins Licis of the USA-6’3, 335 lbs
Oleksii Novikov of Ukraine-6’0, 300 lbs (small guy)
Brain Shaw of the USA-6’8, 405 lbs
Maxime Boudreaux of Canada-6’4, 340 lbs
These guys are the elite, but strongman and strongwoman is also a popular weightclassed sport, which is how I compete. In the US, organizations like Strongman Corp and United States Strongman offer amateur strongman athletes competitions on the local, regional, and national level. Since strongman has developed so quickly as a sport, people can devote their entire training schedules to mastering events and odd lifts, which means that athletes on the amateur level now could very well match the elite strongmen of the 80’s and 90’s, simply because of increased practice and knowledge.
Part Three: Where does strongman come from? Ancient Strength stuff.
Strongman is a weird sport. It is beloved, demeaned, and misunderstood for its strangeness. But as a species, we have always been interested in feats of strength and athleticism. There is something primal in our desire to see the biggest rock get picked up, or the highest mountain climbed. We like this shit.
There is a rich history of strength testing and training in ancient cultures.
Ding lifting (cauldron) Ancient China:
During ancient China's Warring States period (475–221 BC), one of the primary tests of strength among martial artists involved a one- or two-man lift of a massive, three legged cauldron called a ding, which could weigh up to several hundred pounds.
-it’s important to note that the ding was note intended to be lifted, much like the “odd object” lifting of strongman events. The shape of the cauldron made it much more precarious than its weight.
There’s an anecdote from Ancient China about this: “in 307 BC...this king, named Yíng Dàng 嬴蕩, ascended the throne at only nineteen years old, and was known for his strength. When he had only been reigning for three years, he and an officer named Mèng Shuō 孟說 decided to measure their strength by raising a cauldron. When King Wǔ was lifting the cauldron, it slipped and fell on him crushing his leg, which caused a great hemorrhage and his death shortly after.
Weightlifting in Ancient China-”historians have uncovered Chinese documents dating back to 3600 BC detailing an exercise routine for soldiers.”
-”weightlifting was not just confined to the Chinese army, as a cursory glance through Chinese history suggests that strength contests were also an important aspect of Ancient Chinese life in the village. In fact, during the period of the Warring States (770BC to 221 BC) ‘Qiao Guan’ and ‘Kang Ding’ grew in popularity amongst peasants and farmers.”
“Qiao Guan could be likened to a form of weightlifting except that instead of a barbell, lifters used a ‘guan’, which was essentially a heavy door bar. The weightlifter would grasp the guan at one end with one hand and lift the weight…or at least attempt to.”
-sounds a lot like a strongman event to me!
-by the time of the Han Dynasty (206 BC to 220 AD), there were professional weightlifting clubs, some of which included pulling up trees and lifting up deer.
-Qiao guan was eventually replaced with more formalized weights which were created with exact specifications, much like our modern dumbbells and barbells.
Ancient Egypt is considered to be the birthplace of weightlifting for sport.
A quote from physicalculturestudy.com: “In fact so widespread was weightlifting in Ancient Egypt that some scholars believe weightlifting spread from Egypt to far flung places like Rome, Greece, Carthage and Phoenicia. Egypt could hold a claim to being one of the birthplaces of modern weightlifting. One of the most popular weightlifting techniques in Ancient Egypt could be compared with the modern day clean and jerk Olympic lift. Weightlifters would lift a sack of sand with one hand and keep it overhead for a period of time.”
-this exercise was called sack-swinging. And I’m not goofing you.
-once again, this odd object lifting is much more akin to modern strongman than the other modern strength sports, which rely solely on the barbell.
Ancient Greece and Rome
Much has been said about the obsession that Greeks and Romans had with sport and physical culture. It was important to their sense of military and cultural superiority, and city states like Sparta are renowned for being douchebags who forced their kids to work out all the time.
-the ancient Greeks trained as part of military readiness, sports performance, and sometimes apparently to just be in good shape. They relied on a combination of gymnastics and bodyweight exercises like push ups and pullups, as well as a type of dumbbell called a haltere.
-halteres are like weighted half moon shapes that you fit hand inside, and their use dates back to at least 700 BC. By the 2nd Century, Greek physician Galen made them globally famous when he came up with a bunch of exercises that required halteres. It was kind of like holding a shield and kind of like a sword. Halteres were real tactical-ass shit.
-Greeks also loved stone lifting, which OF COURSE relates to modern strongman. This isn’t the first stone lifting reference you’ll see, but it is the earliest.
-Ancient Greek weightlifters usually lifted small stones between 5 and 20 pounds, but there’s this stone at the Museum of Olmpic Games Antiquity in Greece that weighs 316 pounds. It’s called the Stone of Bybon because there’s an inscription on the stone that reads “Bybon son of Phola, has lifted me over head with one hand.” Apparently this dude Bybon lived in the early 6th Century BC, and he was the strongest human ever. JK. It’s probably not true that he lifted that stone overhead with one hand.
-I don’t want to ruin anyone’s day, but it’s unlikely that anyone could lift a 300 pound natural stone over their head with one hand. Two hands is possible for the most elite, pharmaceutically-enhanced modern athletes. HOWEVER, the stone of Bybon gives us an insight to the Greek love for feats of strength.
-despite the Ancient Greek love of strength and strength training, weightlifting was not a sport in the Ancient olympics. It was merely a tool to prepare for battle or sports.
The Ancient Greek Milo of Croton is a real legend among strength sport enthusiasts. He lived in the 6th Century BC, and the legend of Milo asserts that when he was young he had a calf which he carried every day. As the calf grew, so did he, yet he continued to carry it until it was fully grown. SO he got jacked by carrying the animal, and the incremental weight change led to incremental progress. It’s the principle of progressive overload, and now 1/10 strongman gyms are called like, Milo’s Iron Temple or some shit.
Traditional European lifting stones:
Lifting stones are found throughout northern Europe, and have been used as a test of strength for centuries. Most notably in Iceland, Scotland, and the Basque country of Spain, where the culture of stone lifting remains.
Lifting stones were often used as a test to determine manhood and status. In Iceland, vikings used stone lifting as a way to see who could join a fishing voyage, and the largest stone lifter was welcome to more of the catch. In Scotland, a boy became a man when he could lift his clan’s stone to waist height. In Basque country, stone lifters usually lift a bunch of stones as fast as possible as a sport.
-In Iceland and Scotland there are FAMOUS ASS STONES. I was going to Scotland to lift a few of these until stupid COVID.
The most famous of Iceland’s legendary lifting stones is the Húsafell Stone, named after the west country farming estate on which it resides, about 132 km north east from Reykjavík. The triangular shaped stone which weighs 186 kg (410 lb) is said to have been crafted from a large rock over a couple of centuries ago.
Iceland also has the famous Dritvik Stones, which feature prominently in a documentary called Fullsterker about Icelandic stone lifting.
Here’s the wiki quote about them: “At the tip of the west coast, in Djúpalónssandur beach at the foot of Snæfellsjökull lies 4 stones which are called Dritvik Stones. Historically, the sailors and fishermen who rowed out from this port would lift the stones to prove their worth to a ship’s crew and earn themselves better pay remuneration. The 4 stones are classified as:
Amlóði ("useless") at 23 kg (51 pounds)
Hálfdrættingur ("weakling") at 54 kg (119 pounds)
Hálfsterkur ("half strength") at 100 kg (220 pounds)
Fullsterkur ("full strength") at 154 kg (340 pounds)”
Iceland has its own Strength legend, akin to Greece’s Milo of Croton, named Orm Storolfsson. Orm’s ancient strength career is documented in the Icelandic saga book. He is said to have walked three steps with the mast of Ormrinn Langi, weighing over 650 kilograms (1,433 lb) and 10 metres (33 ft) in length, on his shoulders before breaking his back. According to legend, it took some 50 men to place the ship's mast on his shoulders due to its extreme weight.
-what’s wild about this is that Hafthor Bjornsson (who is 6’9 and weighed over 400 lbs at the time), a real ass strongman who is famous for portraying The Mountain in GOT, recreated this feat of legendary strength and did it.
The famous Scottish stones include the McGlashen Stones, the Inver Stone (121.6 kg (268 pounds), the Dinnie Stones (two stones weighing 332.49 kg (733 pounds) combined. 188.02 kg (414.51 pounds) and 144.47 kg (318.5 pounds), the Menzies Stone (115 kg (253.5 pounds)
These Scottish stones resemble the famous Atlas stones of Strongman, because many of them are somewhat spherical rather than jagged and natural, and copies of the Icelandic Husafell stone are a staple in strongman competitions everywhere. Companies have made loadable iron copies of these stones to be used in competitions.
There’s also a set of lifting stones at Loon Mountain in New Hampshire called the Loon Stones which resemble a farmers walk (heavy weight held at the sides that you walk with for time or distance), and apparently these represent an ancient Euro-American stone lifting culture.
Due to these traditions, it should come as no surprise that the world’s greatest stone lifter is SCOTSMAN Tom Stoltman, the current World’s Strongest Man title holder, who loaded a 630.5 pound Atlas stone in 2020.
SO we have ALL of these ancient traditions of picking shit up for training for war, demonstrating readiness and worthiness, and sometimes, probably, just for the fun of it. We’ve been doing something akin to modern strongman training for all of recorded history. But the invention of modern strongman is also about THE CIRCUS!
Part 3.5: Where does strongman come from: Early Modern stuff
Before we had the modern strongman athlete, we had the circus strongman. I’ve read so much about these early dudes who made their livings by bending bars, breaking iron chains, leg-lifting platforms full of people, and pressing goofy dumbbells thought to be unliftable.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, when the circus was like, the only thing to do and it happened a few times per year, early strongmen combined tricks with actual impressive power. Entire podcasts have been devoted to these legends, and we have photographic and written records of many of their feats. Most famous among them were Eugen Sandow, Louis Cyr, Thomas Inch, Apollon the Mighty, and Arthur Saxon. If you can imagine what an old-timey strongman looked like, these dudes fit that mold, with the exception of Thomas Inch, who just kind of looked like a normal dude.
Strongmen of this era would tour the country and sometimes the world, completing feats of strength, challenging members of the audience, and sometimes beefing with other famous strongmen.
I’ll only briefly detail the most famous feats from these dudes, because this has been the subject of entire academic lifetimes.
Eugen Sandow is perhaps the quintessential old time strongman, but he was more of a bodybuilder, and is considered to be the father of modern bodybuilding. His physique is still a model for what many men try to achieve. He was super duper shredded, had a long mustache, and he posed nude a lot. Really though, he wasn’t THAT strong compared to his contemporaries. He was just the best businessman. He lived from 1867-1925, and was born in Prussia. Sandow’s posing routine is the subject of one of the first films, made in 1894. He was considered by many to be (and he marketed himself as) the perfect male form.
-Here’s a vague description of a Sandow feat of strength: “The heaviest weight scales 312lbs., and this Sandow lifts with apparent ease to his head and holds it there. He can even turn a back-somersault whilst holding in his hands two 56lb. weights. He terminates his exhibition by supporting upon his chest, propped by his arms and his legs from below the knees, no less than 2,600lbs., or over a ton of stone, iron, and human bodies.”
Louis Cyr is one of the old time strongmen who would probably contend with today’s athletes. Cyr was a French Canadian who lived from 1863-1912, and he learned early on that he was strong by working in a lumber camp. He was only 5’8, but at his heaviest he weighed 365 lbs. Super short and stocky and built to lift, Cyr was long considered the strongest man to ever live. It’s assumed that some of his legendary lifts were exaggerated, but it’s clear that he was strong as fuck.
lifting a platform on his back holding 18 men for a total of 4,336-pound (1,967 kg)
lifting a 534-pound (242 kg) weight with one finger
pushing a freight car up an incline
At 19 years old, he lifted a rock from ground up to his shoulder, officially weighted at 514 pounds
He beat Eugen Sandow's bent press record (and therefore the heaviest weight lifted with one hand) by 2 pounds (0.91 kg) to a total of 273 pounds (124 kg).
Thomas Inch lived from 1881-1963 and became very famous by capitalizing on his strongman fame through two books, Scientific Weightlifting and “Thomas Inch on Strength.” Great titles. Inch was world famous, and known for being Britain’s strongest man and lifting heavy into his seventies. He remains famous because of his Thomas Inch dumbbell, his personal 172 lb dumbbell with a wide/smooth grip that still challenges very strong people today.
Apollon of France (Louis Uni) was a French strongman and wrestler known for his grip strength. He lived from 1862-1928. Apollon’s stage name hearkens back to the Ancient Greek love of strength. Here’s a dope quote about Apollon from an 1889 exhibition:
“Finally, strength exercises will be performed by the celebrated Apollon, who has not yet met his equal, and has given himself the just title: the king of human strength. Apollon will lift his famous weight of 80 kilos to arm’s length... Apollon is truly the strongest man we have seen for a long time. In a pinch, between two fingers, he lifts a weight of 80 kilos. He is the most beautiful sample of an athlete that exists in the world. His perfect form and his face make one think of the gladiators of Roman antiquity.’”
Arthur Saxon was a German strongman whose athleticism separated him from a mere circus act. In fact, he showed up Eugen Sandow at an event. In 1898, Saxon performed a bent press and said that Eugen Sandow, the OG, couldn’t do it. Sandow was in the audience, pro wrestling style, and went up to do it. But he couldn’t. Because of that, Sandow sued Saxon and his brothers. Sandow was a baby. Anyway, Saxon was part of a trio with his brothers, and they did strong shit for crowds while eating a preposterous amount of food (reading about the diet of the Saxon brothers is quite fun). He wasn’t a very big dude, but he still had a clean and jerk of 342 lbs, and an absurd bent press of 371 lbs. He died at the age of 43 in 1921.
Back in those days, there was an intersection between strongman, wrestling, and real-ass olympic weightlifting. Since strongmen were, ultimately, performers, they did their best to broaden their athletic and strength skill sets, engage in weird business schemes, and try to survive in this world that isn’t kind to aging athletes. The Great Gama of India was a wrestler and strongman who reach international acclaim by winning international wrestling tournaments, challenging every other national champion and WINNING, and for his intense bodyweight training routine, which included 5,000 squats and 3,000 push ups per day. He was another stocky guy who stood 5’8, weighed 250 lbs, and had a dope fucking mustache.
Simultaneously at the turn of the century and later, as these circus strongmen were gaining fame for lifting weird things, eating a bunch, and fighting other dudes, olympic weightlifting, bodybuilding, and powerlifting were gaining appreciation among the populace.
Early Olympic weightlifting before 1928 consisted of five lifts, including two one handed lifts, which mimicked what the old time strongmen might perform in their acts. After 1928, the sport consisted of three lifts–snatch, clean and jerk, and clean and press. After 1972, the clean and press was removed, so modern olympic weightlifting is just the snatch and clean and jerk.
Powerlifting is a sport that consists of three lifts (back squat, bench press, and deadlift), which used to be called “odd lifts.” These lifts were outside the paradigm of Olympic lifts, and therefore not official lifts until 1958 when the American National weightlifting committee began to recognize odd lift records. At this time, Americans stopped giving a shit about the Olympic lifts in any great capacity, and American lifters grew obsessed with the “odd lifts” which are now considered the gold standard of gym lifts.
BOTH olympic weightlifting and powerlifting require a plate-loaded barbell, and each federation has specifications for the equipment. These sports are standardized, so you know what kind of barbell, plates, and individual equipment is allowed. This standardization was important to establishing legitimacy for the barbell sports.
Strongman isn’t either of those things, but there are similarities with the barbell sports, and most strongman competitions will have at least ONE barbell event.
Strongman shares commonalities with Scottish highland gatherings as well, which began as far back as about 1,000 years ago, but were formalized in the 1800’s as a way to celebrate and preserve Scottish sports, dress (kilts are required), and culture. Highland games are often performed outside in conjunction with Gaelic festivals, and the events ask kilted competitors to throw weights and rocks for height and distance, as well as throw a long log called the caber and sometimes lift heavy stones. I did a highland games in March, and it was quite fun.
PART ? Modern strongman:
Modern strongman is MORE than just the World’s Strongest Man competition, but it starts with the world’s strongest man comp, so we’ll start there.
The sport of modern strongman came to be in 1977 for TV. “The World’s Strongest Men” competition (its original name) aired on CBS in 1977. The point of the competition was to pit strength athletes from various disciplines against each other in tests of odd strength. You had American football players, bodybuilders, powerlifters, olympic weightlifters, and the odd olympic thrower in the mix. The first competition consisted of only Americans except for Italian bodybuilder Franco Columbu, who placed 5th out of 8 and dislocated his knee in the “fridge race.” The first ever “World’s Strongest Man” was won by superheavyweight weightlifter Bruce Wilhelm. Lou Ferrigno was in it, too!
The first World’s Strongest Man event was indeed a freakshow. There was no precedent for this kind of competition, so most of the events were first time experiments, and there was NO prior training for it. This was just strong guys doing weird strong shit.
The events were: The barrel lift–clean and press a heavy barrel overhead.
Bar bend–who can bend a steel rod in half first?
Wrist roll–hoist 100 lbs up a 10 foot pole
Tire toss–throw a tire far.
Tram pull–pull an 8000 lb tram 40 yards
Car deadlift–not your modern car deadlift though, where we have an apparatus with handles underneath the car. This was dudes grabbing the bumper and lifting a car.
Girl Squat–a bunch of women were loaded into a cage and the dudes stood beneath it and squatted it.
Fridge race–they strapped a 410 lb fridge to the dudes’ backs and they sprinted with it. This was real dumb shit.
Tug of war–a classic! Just two dudes pulling on a rope.
Though the first competition was crude and OVERLY AMERICAN, the sport was “refined” (big quotes!) in later years to reflect the international strength community. It left CBS and went to BBC. Then it eventually ended up on ESPN. There was no WSM in 1987, but other than that, it has occurred every year since 1977.
The early 80’s strongman scene was dominated by American Bill Kazmeier, an Alabama lunatic who won three times before apparently being asked to leave the sport in 1982. He had a (1055 lb) silver dollar coin deadlift, a 439.5 kg (969 lb) squat (smith machine), and a then-record 165.6 kg (365 lb) log lift with a rough, unbalanced log. This was before the balanced steel logs that we use now, and before any technique was developed. After Kaz left, Brit Geoff Capes and Icelander Jon Pall Sigmarsson traded wins for most of the 80’s. Sigmarsson won 4 times and was a real freak. He said a lot of stuff like “Viking Power” and the world famous “Life is not worth living if you can’t deadlift.”
-This isn’t a great segway, but JPS died very young, three years after his 4th title win, at the age of 32, while deadlifting. It’s such a beautiful and poetic end to his life, I think.
The 90’s was a time for Scandinavian domination of the World’s Strongest Man competition, with Magnus ver Magnussen of Iceland, the small but athletic Jouka Ahola of Finland, and Magnus Samuelsson of Sweden all winning titles.
In the early 2000’s, the shredded Polish strongman Mariusz Pudinowski became the winningest strongman in WSM history, taking five titles between 2002 and 2008. He looked like a bodybuilder, and at 6’0 and 315 lbs, he was relatively small. He dominated until the rise of much larger, taller, and stronger men. American Phil Pfister won a shocker in 2006, beating Pudj and becoming the first non-European to win in decades.
In the 2010’s to now, the sport has been taken over by actual giants. Men like Colorodan Brian Shaw and Lithuanian Zydrunas Savickas battled for the top spot for years, with Big Z winning 3 titles and Shaw eventually taking 4. Both men are over 400 lbs. In this time you also have 6’9 Hafthor Bjornsson and 450 lb Brit Eddie Hall winning titles, looking like freaks of nature.
Over the years, The World’s strongest Man competition has had some kooky events to test the strength of competitors. They’ve done things that are sports in and of themselves, like sumo wrestling, and they’ve created random things, like the sausage hold and the cheese deadlift, which are pretty much what they sound like. These events are fun and add some interesting optics for TV. Also, they hearken back to the roots of strongman as a sideshow, which I appreciate.
In addition to WSM, there are other strongman events that purists consider to be “stronger” shows, like the Arnold classic. The Arnold Classic is more of a pure strength competition, with Max lifts in the log, hummer tire deadlift, and standard deadlift, and circus dumbbell superseding more endurance/strength events. The Arnold also has the highest purse in all of strongman with the winner receiving $80,000. Which…isn’t that much in the grand scheme of athletics, but strongman isn’t a sport for people to get rich in, I guess.
The best pro strongmen could fairly regularly throughout the year. There are pro shows in Europe and North America, including the Giants Live tour, the Shaw Classic, The Rogue Invitational, and various BLANK’s STRONGEST MAN.
Pro strongmen can’t really live from their winnings. The sport is an avenue to sell products, open gyms, or now, become social media sensations. The tippy top strongmen can get enough sponsorship money to support themselves, but it isn’t a guarantee. Unlike other pro athletes, strongmen don’t make their money from their sport, they make it from outside funding. Even though these guys are the best in the world at what they do, it isn’t enough to support themselves. Especially considering that the average pro strongman eats anywhere from 8,000-10,000 calories per day, requires plenty of pharmaceutical enhancement, and needs to go to the doctor all the time and train constantly.
Amateur strongmen, like me and 99% of people who compete, do this because we love it. There is NO MONEY and very little fame in it for us. In fact, there are likely injuries and lifestyle-inhibiting stuff like long training days and competitions in annoyingly distant locations. However, those long comps and long training days are seriously fun for me. I love hanging out, picking up weight stuff, and screaming when people are trying to pick up something weird. It’s therapeutic
A big question that people always ask me about strongman is: do strongmen use steroids? The answer is yes, absolutely. AT the highest levels of the sport, it isn’t really possible to succeed without steroids. The training, maintenance of bodyweight, absurd diets, and of course, the necessity of completing increasingly heavy lifts requires superhuman capabilities. Steroids are an accepted part of the sport, and some athletes have openly admitted to using. I prefer that, honestly, because many sports have rampant PED use, but at least strongmen admit it.
It doesn’t bother me that some of my competitors might use some stuff. In my opinion, it’s a personal choice. We aren’t fighting each other, we’re fighting the weights.
Strongman is now a recognized sport enjoyed by people around the world. The amateur strongman scene grows all the time. For whatever reason, people love this stuff. Maybe it’s because of how closely it resembles the work and war-training of our past, before the standardized barbell replaced most means of testing strength. Maybe it’s because strongman is different and we are special little people who want to be different.
Strongman comes from