A Strength Athletics Primer
In college we only had about sixty channels and no program guide, so when you found something interesting, you usually settled there. My memories of freshman and sophomore years of college consisted of Iron Chef (on Food Network), Cristina (on Univision), and World’s Strongest Man.
I realize that not all of America is terribly familiar with strength athletics. I wanted to provide a quick primer on the events so that next time you’re channel surfing and see World’s Strongest Man on ESPN, you’ll know what the guys are doing, and hopefully stop and gawk at their superhuman strength.
History of Strongman Displays
Have you ever seen those old-time circus posters that displayed a well-muscled man with a well-oiled mustache? That’s essentially the history of strong man. The training methods were unorthodox as you can see, but no one can deny their amazing strength!
A slightly more recent reference is Joe Rollino, the famed Coney Island strongman who passed away last week at the age of 104.
There’s a great blog called Old Time Strongman with pictures, “events” and training tips. It will blow your mind, so go check it out when we’re done here.
While there are many events that could be used in any given strongman competition, here are some of those most frequently seen today starting with my favorites (read: most bone-crunching).
Fingal’s Fingers are these metal hinged poles, and the task is to flip them from one side to the other. This is accomplished by lifting it from underneath, then walking your hands up until you can heave it over the 90 degree point.
The taller athletes have a slight advantage in this event. They start with the shortest and lightest pole at 3.5 m (11.5 ft) and 200 kg (441 lb), and should anyone get to it, the fifth pole is 5.5 m (18 ft) and 300 kg (661 lb)!
Pillars of Hercules
This event is aptly named, because it really showcases herculean strength. The athletes begin by gripping the handles on the insides of the pillars and the stops are released.
The goal is to stand there for as long as possible as 160 kg (353 lb) pillars attempt to rip your arms out of their sockets. This event is largely a mental game.
How long can you stand the burning pain? How long can you ignore the feeling that your shoulder is about to pop? How long will your grip hold out? The athlete who holds the pillars for the longest time before dropping them wins the event.
Plane Pull/Truck Pull
Technically these are two separate events, but they’re accomplished the same way. First, you start with a large method of transportation, you hitch a rope to it and affix another to a strong solid surface, and you tell a guy to start pulling. No really, that’s what you do.
The athletes wear a belt around their waists to help them pull, chalk up their hands, and start moving. It’s impressive when you see a single man pulling a tractor trailer, but to see a dude pulling a PLANE?
Let me drop the figures on you so your jaw will drop in turn. The athletes have 75 seconds to pull an airplane down a 30 m (98 ft) course. It weighs 70 metric tons. That’s 154,324 pounds. This event is mind-boggling, to say the least.
The winner is the athlete who completes the course in the fastest time, or who covers the most distance in the fastest time. Now on with the “It’s a bird, it’s a plane, no it’s Super Man” comparisons!
I talked about the Africa Stone event in the Axio Labs Strongman piece, but here’s a little recap:
The “stone” is shaped like the continent of Africa, and is actually made of metal nowadays. The athletes saunter up to the stand, wrap their mammoth arms around the stone, hoist it up and start walking. The athlete who makes it the furthest distance wins.
The goal is to get to the finish line, but often times it’s so heavy that guys drop it somewhere down the course. In that instance, or if they step off the designated course, the turn is over and the distance is calculated from the start to where they finished their attempt.
The stone generally weighs about 175 kg (375 lb), which is about 100 lbs heavier than a heavyweight sumo wrestler. Come to think of it, I’d love to see a strongman and a sumo go head to head. It would be fascinating!
I love to talk about this event. It just blows my mind that men can lift five round stones in order of ascending weight and place them on platforms of ascending height. The athletes compete two at a time, though the winner is determined by time, not in heats.
That first ball weighs 100 kg (221 lb) and the platform is about a foot off the ground. The highest platform is 1.5 m (5 ft) and the corresponding stone weighs 160 kg (353 lb).
I’ve seen some hellish interpretations of this event. One year, they made the guys run out into a shallow part of the sea first, and they had to lift the stones when they were soaking wet. How fair is that? Generally, though, two guys, five stones, five platforms, fastest time wins.
Picture it: Malta, 2009 (if you didn’t get the Golden Girls reference, go spent some QT with Sophia and the gals later).
The athletes stand under a bar that’s attached to a cage with a starting weight of 235 (507 lb) kg and perform a squat to below parallel. Each time they come up to fully erect, they toss in another barrel.
The weights increase from the 235kg (507 lb) starting weight to 320 kg (677 lb). The time limit is 75 seconds, so the fastest time lifting all weights wins. In the event that no one lifts all of the barrels, the most weight in the time allowed gets top points.
Carry and Drag
This event is called the carry and drag for a reason; it’s not rocket science here (just pure brute strength). The athletes compete side by side, five at a time.
In the first part of the event, they walk the course with an anvil in each hand that weighs 130 kg (287 lb). The goal is to go this as quickly as possible so they can start the return journey with the anchor and chain.
This thing is a behemoth. The anchor and chain together weigh 300 kg (661 lb), though sometimes they just use a chain. Whoever gets down the course the fastest and pulls the chain totally over the starting line wins this event.
I’ve seen guys literally fall over trying to get the last part of the chain over the starting line. They’re so desperate and high on adrenaline that they’ll attempt to wrap parts of the chain around their arms to get it over the line. It’s an amazing event, and one of the most traditional.
Giant Farmer’s Walk
Generally you wouldn’t see the Farmer’s Walk in the same competition as the Carry and Drag, since the Farmer’s Walk is essentially the same as the “carry” part.
The Farmer’s Walk cases weigh more than the anvils at 160 kg each (353 lb), and there’s no return trip. I’d say that carrying over 700 lbs down a 50 m (54 yd) course more than makes up for it!
Dead Lift With Barrels
This event looks the same at the squat lift, but (obviously) the exercise is to do dead lifts. The athletes are standing facing away from the cage with barrels and perform a standard dead lift. They have to come to the knees locked position for the rep to count.
Once the referee accepts the lift, another barrel is tossed in. The starting weight is 250 kg (551 lb) and goes up to 335 kg (739 lb), if the athletes dare. The winner is chosen by whoever lifts the most weight in the shortest time.
Now generally, the sight of this many kegs in one place would make anyone happy, but for these guys it’s torture. Hey, I wonder if they pop those puppies open after the event? Seems like a fitting reward for a hard day’s work!
Dead Lift for Reps
This event is similar to the Dead Lift with Barrels, except the weight is set and they’re going for the most reps in the time allowed. They use a small car for this event, which is mounted on a rack with a handle.
They start from dead lift position to knees locked standing position. The average car used for this event is 1800 kg (3968 lb). The athlete keeps going until his grip gives out, his legs give out, or his mind gives out. It’s pretty much that simple (and that difficult).
Giant Log Lift
The Giant Log Lift is an overhead lift for reps. Doesn’t sound bad, right? I mean the biggest guys at my gym could probably pull this off. After all, they load 250 lbs on each side of the shoulder press machine.
What we have here is a tree trunk mounted horizontally on a stand with handles on either side. The guys stand with their backs to the tree and lift if overhead as many times as possible within the time limit.
Oh yeah, and the log weighs 380 kg (838 lbs). Good luck with that, gym guys!
Now I know this will come as a surprise, but in the fridge carry, guys carry refrigerator/freezers on their backs. Technically, they strap one fridge to each side of a yoke and have to walk down the course.
The good news is that they compete in pairs in this event, so you can see the other guy and track his speed. That is unless the iceboxes on either side of you interfere with your peripheral vision!
They generally weigh 415 kg (904 lb) and the course is 30 m (98 ft) long. The athletes have one minute to travel the length, shortest time wins.
They used to do this event with a car you carried on your shoulders, and I thought that was much more sporting. Hopefully they’ll go back to it!
How Can I Get Involved in Strongman Events?
You think you can hang with the big dogs and pull some of this stuff off, eh? If you’re interested in getting as strong as the strongest men on the planet, shoot an email to email@example.com. I hope to see you at the 2011 qualifier events!