Prove Your Strength
Excuse the belated nature of this article. Come to think of it, it’s now nearly 6 months since it occurred, but as this ‘zine is here, in part, to document experiences that are perhaps not completely of the mainstream nature, this here experience shall be documented. Since this happened a while back, I am in the position to include a bit of follow-up directly into this piece. I’ll keep verb tense as consistent as I can.
And so, nearly six months ago, May 15th of 2011 to be precise, Beelzy and I have been lucky enough to attend a pretty amazing event. Proven Performance Gym held their first Strongman Competition, which, despite the sport’s name, also had a Women’s division. I was on a health kick at the time, working out pretty consistently at CrossFit Riverdale, where, without initially realizing it, I actually began Strongman training. My workouts were having my parents whimpering about how I’m going to bust an ovary, but, unperturbed, I kept heaving large balls of cement, and wandering around with hundreds of pounds of metal balanced on my shoulders. Observing a Strongman Competition was a natural progression and on June 26th, I actually went through with it, and entered Lightning Fitness’ first Strongman Competition. It was called “Battle of the Thundergods” and the trophy was a frigging mallet. I mean, of COURSE I did it! But we’ll stick to May for now.
The day began early as balls. Since Beelzy and I were at the time stationed in the Bronx, it took us about three and a half hours to get on over to Massachusetts where after an adorable breakfast at a mom and pop diner/bakery, we met our tense looking gym mates at about 10am. The crew collected in the parking lot next to the Proven Performance gym where they nervously eyed some seriously loaded barbels.
Due to impending downpour, the event order was somewhat unorthodox: Farmers Carry/Keg Medley, Tire Flip, Log Press, Deadlift, and finally Stone over bar. In the event that what I just listed made no damned sense, oh uninitiated, let me explain, and illustrate, what the events involve:
- The Farmer’s Carry (click for a video) involves a person picking up two barbells, with handles, and huge amounts of weight, and carrying them as fast as possible, usually about 50 feet while their backs collapse and hand feel like they are being lacerated by the bars.
- The Keg Carry is a bit simpler, it’s just a huge keg, like the one frat boys bring over to parties, and you hoist it up to your stomach and then, again, move as fast as you can to get it across 50 feet or so. (Though at this comp I believe the distance was 80 feet).
- The Tire Flip is where a human positions him or herself in front of a monster truck or tractor tire, sometimes full of other tires, and then attacks that thing like it wronged him on a level too deep to comprehend and, you know, flips it over.
- The Log Press is more of a clean and push press really, where instead of a nice slim barbell you are moving a large metal log around in space while it tries to crush your chest and then your larynx (as you can tell, I am not really a fan).
- The Deadlift is a classic exercise that most are familiar with. You load up a bar, squat down, roll it to your shins, and then just pull it up along your legs until you’re erect, then let the bastard down.
- Finally, the Stone over bar involves being a completely kick-ass person who can squeeze the hell out of a round cement stone, lift it off the ground, smash it into their belly and then get up with it while rolling it up their body to finally hoist it over a 48inch bar.
The competition included folks who were intimately acquainted with the equipment, having have had the pleasure of at least 90lbs of metal to the face during training (totally happened to me). Others have never seen an Atlas Stone and had no idea what tacky was (it’s sticky tree sap that you smear on your arms, hands, and possibly chest to help you hold on to the stone). Despite a lack of technique the contest was truly about strength, and everyone managed to give quite a performance.
Maybe it was the caffeine, the sugar, or perhaps the main ingredient in my morning omelet was crack, but I thought I was going to explode with anticipation. Every time a total stranger tripped over the keg he just dropped, I cringed and screamed as if someone just stabbed me. When my own people performed Beelzy had to move away from my shrieking writhing form to prevent premature deafness and maybe broken limbs. To say that this was amongst the most exciting events I have ever been present at, would not be an overstatement.
One of the most exciting things for me was that 15 women competed in this event, which actually made it the largest women’s division in the history of North American Strongman. Oh yeah, the ladies are edging in on yet another one of those fun things that only dudes were allowed to do for a while. And let me tell you, that there were a LOT of very good looking fit ladies there. Don’t think that the place was populated by overdeveloped monsters. Just pretty, healthy monstrettes. Who could throw you.
The Farmer’s/keg carry medley went fairly well for most people who could actually pick up the barbells, which ranged in weight from 160-270lbs (each). The keg, ranging from 100-250lbs was another story. The idea was that you do the farmers’ carry for about 80 feet, drop them off, then grab a keg and run back with it. A great deal of men (none of the ladies did it) refused to lose a moment to get a good grip on the keg after dropping off the farmer’s and therefore, there was a good few drops halfway through the course, with the man who dropped the keg instantly tripping over it and going into a head-over-heels flight the rest of the way. As frustrating as it was to the guys who did it, it was even more frustrating to watch as these were incredibly strong men who were obviously confident in their ability to hold on to sweat-covered metal crap lost points tragically when they learned that gravity is not, in fact, their bitch.
The tire was even more dramatic as halfway through the event the sky started looking very ominous, then let out a bit of a drizzle before finally opening up with a full on vertical ocean. It is hard enough to grip and lift a huge, heavy rubber object (ranging from 425-700lbs), but it’s even harder to do so quickly when the object is slick with water and is falling into puddles in which you then slide as you try to stay on the ground while lifting and heaving all over again. The guys stuck doing it in the rain surely lost some momentum, and so the competition wasn’t quite fair, but they did a bang up job anyway.
We then all went inside the gym,which appeared to be a converted warehouse. It consisted of three large bays with equipment neatly stacked in specified areas and a changing room/bathroom built in in the back. The next event was the log, which went pretty quickly as they were able to have three people go simultaneously, though that made it harder watching my favorites.
As mentioned previously, the log seems like it would be a pretty simple exercise, but it is not. The weight is one thing, but then there is the psychological factor of having a large, thick metal thing have to go just barely past your face and over your head. The way it goes is you get it off the ground and to your chest, squeezing the log into your neck, then you jump/sort of duck down almost simultaneously to end up under the log and finally push your whole body up straight. Watch the video above to get a better idea. The worst part is that if you pause at any point after getting the log to your neck, it sits there, crushing the air out of your chest and if you let it sit there too long, you simply can’t get air enough to keep moving through the exercise. Grunting, sweating, and spraying chalk everywhere, men and women around me spent a minute throwing the log (ranging in weight from 110-240lbs) into the air.
To be honest, I don’t remember what was first, the log or the deadlift, but in either case the bar ranged from about 275-400lbs (I might be wrong on this one, if you know better, please correct me.) This one is actually one of my favorite exercises to perform and to also scream at people during. Overall, I had a pretty good time during this particular 60 second increment, chalk, once again, EVERYWHERE. To make up for lack of information, here are a bunch of pics of people turning red and veiny with effort.
Stone over bar is absolutely the funest to do and the funest to watch. First off, everyone puts tape around their forearms, and then spreads tacky (which smells awesome) over their forearms and hands. It’s one thing to be able to get up while clutching a concrete ball ranging in weight from 150-300lbs, but it’s a whole other thing to be able to actually get it off the ground. The bastard is ROUND. There are no handholds, no real way to grasp it other than by crushing your fingers under it and then squeezing like hell with your forearms, but since it’s so frigging smooth, and at least for a moment being raised off the ground vertically, gravity tends to want to put it back where you found it before you get to do anything with it. Hence tacky. And hence taping. The skin on our hands is pretty hardy, but I have gotten tacky on my inner arms before, and man did it suck when I had to let go of the Atlas stone and it took lots of skin for a keepsake. So the competitors stood in front of the bar, with their arms held out in front of them, tacky smeared everywhere, specially shitty clothes on (to be ruined by tacky), waiting for the signal to go. When the whistle blew, everyone got down to wrestling with the concrete, and there is something to getting the ball up, just the once, just that first time, that makes you realize, hell yeah I can do this! And suddenly it’s not hard anymore. And then of course, after a few reps, when you feel like you will puke and shit yourself at the same time, realizing you still have like 45 seconds to go, and you try and it won’t budge, and you try and try and try and goddamnit, it frigging MOVES and you can’t believe it’s happening and then it just drops out of your mostly numb arms, despite the tacky. Drama folks, high drama.
If you would like to see the results to this one, check out the Results Page on North American Strongman Page. I will just say that my people did fairly well despite being regular people, working in offices, at schools, whom you wouldn’t necessarily look at suspiciously on the street, thinking to yourself… this person can break me in two. And turns out Strongman competitions of various levels pop up all the time. The one I was keeping my eye on and went to great lengths to attend is the amazingly named “Battle of the Thunder Gods” hosted by Lightning Fitness in Connecticut. TO BE CONTINUED…
Check out these links for more info:
- North American Strongman Homepage
- Upcoming Competitions around North America
- Crossfit Riverdale: A CrossFit gym that believes in strength and has the right equipment and an awesome coach