He has been blessed with size
July 16, 2012 12:42 PM   Subscribe

The Strongest Man in the World: A new era of strength competitions tests the limits of the human body
posted by vidur (32 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
Is this post related to the post above it?
posted by Flood at 12:51 PM on July 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh man, I thought this was going to be about Artie.
posted by jessssse at 1:03 PM on July 16, 2012 [6 favorites]


That was fascinating. My friend qualified as a professional strongman a couple years ago (for his dayjob he's a programmer). He's been to the Arnold and trained with a few guys in Iceland, and last year a dozen of us went to the Olympia competition in Vegas to watch him. He's a big guy - if we go to a concert, we often meet 'at Andrew' because you can see him in any crowd. Seeing him in a group of people his size was pretty weird.

The event itself was pretty lowkey, especially compared to the crowd at the bodybuilding championships at the other end of the convention centre - we were probably the biggest and definitely the loudest set of fans. There were maybe 7 events, and people clearly had favourites and weaker events - many of them didn't finish some portions, or skipped them altogether. And the injuries, like those mentioned in the article, were amazing. At least half of them started out carrying the kind of injury that I've never had, and there were several more during the competition. I think one guy dislocated his shoulder doing a lift, it was awful to watch. (At another competition Andrew tore his bicep, and his whole arm went black like the worst bruise I've ever seen.) But they were all friends with each other, apparently they'll often share hotel rooms at events. Overall the article matched pretty exactly to the impressions I've gotten through Andrew.
posted by jacalata at 1:26 PM on July 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


Wait, this is about the whole World's Strongest Man deal that used to be on early morning TV? Huh. Go, Magnús Ver Magnússon!

And because if I don't, someone else will:

Shaw had to cast his own Manhood Stones from a plastic mold
posted by zamboni at 1:27 PM on July 16, 2012


Strongman is a guilty pleasure of mine. I can't help but stop and watch when it's on TV. My wife is the same way: we stayed up well past our (early) bedtime a few months ago watching World's Strongest Man.

There's just something thrilling about giant-sized people performing outrageous feats of skill. I think my favorite is the keg toss: it's such a silly event, but the display of explosive power is astounding.
posted by uncleozzy at 1:28 PM on July 16, 2012


And let the prolapsed rectums and hernias start in 3...2...1
posted by stormpooper at 1:29 PM on July 16, 2012


I should have known better than to Google "prolapsed rectum."
posted by Dasein at 1:31 PM on July 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


Needed more Jon Pall Sigmarsson. I AM A VIKING!
posted by Strange Interlude at 1:36 PM on July 16, 2012


two guys at my gym bought the plastic molds for the atlas balls/stones and the bags of quickrete to fill them.. Yeah, they are an interesting bunch..
posted by k5.user at 1:49 PM on July 16, 2012


That's right, no amateur-lapsed rectums for these guys! Only the prolapsed will do!

I'm sorry, I'll see myself out.

Also, is it "rectums" or "recta?" "Rectae?" "Recti?"

posted by Harvey Jerkwater at 2:07 PM on July 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also, is it "rectums" or "recta?" "Rectae?" "Recti?"

I believe you're looking for "damn near killed 'ems".

posted by inigo2 at 2:17 PM on July 16, 2012 [6 favorites]


How long to these guys live, on average? It seems like an incredibly unhealthy lifestyle, in spite of their great strength.
posted by klanawa at 2:55 PM on July 16, 2012


inigo2: "I believe you're looking for "damn near killed 'ems"."

Good name for a band.
posted by klanawa at 2:56 PM on July 16, 2012


There are a couple of factual quibbles with the article--I have never heard them called "Manhood Stones", only "Atlas stones", and Kono's opinion about programming for Olympic lifting is in much debate. But my God, otherwise it is great. Touches on nearly all lifting sports and it's clear about differences between them. And a very good insight into the upper extremes of the sport. Strongman is tremendous fun but they aren't kidding about the injuries. It's totally possible to be an amateur doing it for fun and not get hurt outside of bruises, yoke burns, scratches from implements, very minor things, provided you're aware of your body and careful. But if you want to win you have to accept training on a razor's edge between progress and massive injury potential.
posted by schroedinger at 2:56 PM on July 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


A few years back, there was an enormously fat man from Northern Ireland competing, and the judges did everything but hit him in the knee with a pipe to run him out of the competition to favor the ultra-ripped slabs o'beef just coming into vogue. It was a shame, as the dude was Fin MacCool strong, no lie. Stopped watching it right after that.
posted by Slap*Happy at 3:33 PM on July 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


How long to these guys live, on average? It seems like an incredibly unhealthy lifestyle, in spite of their great strength.

I dunno if there is any data on that because the level of training and size the current crop of strongpeople is not something that anyone's ever done in the past.

(Note: a lot of what I talk about next has to do with Western/US attitudes towards strength and strength culture. It also doesn't really cover Olympic lifting, which aside from the very beginning has always had its own kind of separatist culture from other strength sports).

The very oldest strength competitors generally fall into two categories: Olympic lifters and more all-around guys like Jack LaLanne who did a bit of everything without ever going nuts. The longevity of the former largely depends on where your country is and how successful you were. Lifters from the US were less successful but seem to be doing better in their old age than lifters from Eastern Europe, who were kind of used up. The longevity of guys like LaLanne is very good, LaLanne himself being a great example of that.

The guys hitting middle age, their 40s-60s, started to enter the world of strength competition when the attitude around lifting moved from "Gonna do a little of this and that and see strength increases and have fun" to "I want to be huge and big/strong". Stuff got more competitive. People started to specialize. You couldn't dibble and dabble to win any more--you needed to get BIG. Now you got debates about programming. People started to specialize. Bodybuilding started requiring more and more extreme physiques. Powerlifting started to require more and more extreme strength. This was an era of eating a lot and lifting a lot and trying a lot of different crap with programming. Stuff wasn't that refined, aside from groups here and there programming wasn't so much a science, so prevailing programming methods usually involved training until you keeled over and then training some more. Plus steroids. Are you injured? Keep training! What is "mobility work"? What is "flexibility work"? What is "physical therapy"? If you did any of that stuff it was intuitive and MacGuyvered. Keep training!

A lot of these guys are pretty beat up, no joke. Like, constant pain, hard to move around. It doesn't help that a lot of them find aging hard to accept and want to keep training through it. They were not really thinking of the repercussions of their training while they were doing it. Some of them care and do work to try to alleviate the damage they did. Some of them don't and it kills them they can't perform the way they used to, and enter this awful cycle of overtraining, injuring something, overtraining everything else that's not the injured part, injuring something by the time the first bit healed, overtraining around that injury, etc etc etc.

The current crop of guys are in this weird gray zone. They understand the importance of mobility work and moderation to ensure longevity. On the other hand, the weights you need to push to be world-class have never been heavier. They demand you ride this razor's edge between overtraining and catastrophic injury. Better understanding of programming and conscious synthesis of mobility and aggressive recovery work helps with that. But all you end up doing is riding a finer edge. At some point in your career you make the choice: Do I have what it takes to be the top? And if I do, am I willing to sacrifice what it takes to get there? Lightweight competitors are less likely to be put in that situation--the necessity of staying within a weight class means you're not going to subject your body to quite as high stresses. One lightweight pro I know is in his 40s and transitioning to Olympic lifting. It offers a chance to keep competing in the Master's divisions without being quite as taxing on his body. The guys who have it rough are the biggest ones like Shaw. A lot of them talk about dropping weight at some point, chilling out their training. Saying there will be some point when they get old enough that they'll dial things back before they become one of those seriously crippled old guys (and will just be sort of crippled, ha).

It's the razor's edge, man. Nobody really wants to be Alexander, not really, because they're seeing the guys who were and it turns out sometimes those world records don't give enough satisfaction if you can barely move without hurting yourself, much less train regularly. But it takes a lot of mental strength to consciously make the choice to change your training and your body in a way that means your maxes in the gym are your old warm-up weights.

I think the most important lesson any layperson looking to lift (or hell, get fit in general) can take from guys like these is that concept of the razor's edge. The razor's edge is something all athletes deal with, not just strongmen, though strongmen have some of the most brutal side-effects to show for it.

You see, the difference between the genetic freaks and the layman is the layman gets to the razor's edge a hell of a lot faster--he needs to walk it to reach that 500lbs bench press, where the elite guy is walking it to reach 700lbs, 800lbs. So the layman needs to make that choice about whether that razor's edge and the slightly higher, nowhere near world-record placing is worth it. How do you balance your desire to be more competitive versus be active into your 80s? It frustrates me that the only viewpoint we get of fitness is through the extremes of complete obesity and body-killing, extreme willpower training. One of the dangerous trends I see arising in fitness culture these days is this idea you should be killing yourself every training session, you should be pushing through injury, that a SLAP tear or Achilles tear or herniated disc is just the price of fitness. That's not fitness man, that's not health. That's a trade-off. And you gotta decide whether what you're getting out of it is worth it in the long run, or whether maybe you should listen to your body and dial it back to 70-80% so you can run after your grandkids.


holy crap sorry for the length
posted by schroedinger at 3:59 PM on July 16, 2012 [19 favorites]


Since records have been broken current breed of hypertrophied body-builder looking guys are quantifiably stronger than the "big guys" from strength competitions of yore - like Slap*Happy mentioned - but what if that body type weren't ostracized competition?

Does being ripped actually increase strength?
posted by porpoise at 7:08 PM on July 16, 2012


Does being ripped actually increase strength?

Being ripped means having a very low body fat percentage. Being ripped doesn't increase strength.* In can inherently inhibit it, if you're trying to maintain a body fat percentage that requires a good deal of restriction on your diet or is too low for your body's set point. For example, if a guy whose body feels best at 15% tries to maintain 10%, he's probably not going to gain strength as well. And the process of getting to ripped can really mess with your athletic performance because of the dietary restriction that's necessary to get there. It's difficult to drop fat without losing some muscle mass; moreso for the experienced athlete than a beginner. If you're advanced and you want to lose fat there's a lot of complicated stuff you can do with your macronutrient partitioning and training to try to minimize muscle mass loss and if you take PEDs and fat burners that'll help even more, but at a certain point you gotta be OK with losing strength. Not to mention it is a lot easier to gain muscle mass if you aren't too worried about fat gain.

At the level these guys are at, for most of them having nice abs is not worth risking the loss of strength it could take to get them. Not to mention the extra weight is good for leverages. It is worth noting that Poundstone was ripped as hell, but Poundstone undoubtably used a nice drug regimen to get there. There are benefits to having a gut, too. In the article it mentions Savickas rests the bar on his gut before bringing it to his shoulders. This is pretty common for overhead events when you're not allowed to rest the implement on your belt (and you're usually not). Here is his performance on the axle. His gut is out there even for strongman but you get the general idea. Now watch this chick try to do the same move.** No gut = no love. Poundstone has abs, but he still has a tremendously thick, muscular core that he can push out to get a little bit of a shelf going.


*A caveat: this is not to say that you benefit from being from being very overfat. If you are overfat you tend to have poor calorie partitioning--this means you'll tend to store your more of calories as fat instead of muscle than a lean person would. Not ideal for strength gain. Two things fix this: losing fat, and building muscle. It's just there's a point to fat loss where it's no longer going to improve your caloric partitioning and will just inhibit strength gain. Pro strongmen have a lot of extra fat, but the physiological adaptations their bodies have undergone in response to training means it's unlikely they have the same caloric partitioning issues a normal, relatively untrained overfat person does.

**That entire video is a great example of how to not teach strongman, it's awful and nobody use it for reference.
posted by schroedinger at 7:47 PM on July 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


At the level these guys are at, for most of them having nice abs is not worth risking the loss of strength it could take to get them and the gut/strut thing.

That's what I thought.

Are there still strongmen competitions hosted and competed by the traditional strongmen and strongwomen? I know the PNE used to have annual amateur lumberjack competitions, at least of a few years ago. How would caber toss competitors stack up against the new breed?

Would love to see a grudge match showdown, but money might come into play - evidence suggests that there's much less money for traditional compete events over the ripped culture competitions and the leisure/money to train would probably make a big difference.

schroedinger's ** - Good Grief. Big rubber plates? Ok, for circumferance conformity, but the first 30 seconds of watching that video was really weird. That and if those people were lifting at any reasonable weight they'd rip their arms off. Those are already way too heavy for someone to learn how to do it properly. Terrible. Fitness through self-esteem boosterism.
posted by porpoise at 8:20 PM on July 16, 2012


Are there still strongmen competitions hosted and competed by the traditional strongmen and strongwomen? I know the PNE used to have annual amateur lumberjack competitions, at least of a few years ago. How would caber toss competitors stack up against the new breed?

I am not sure what you mean by traditional--all of these guys compete in classic events, and the two people who head North American Strongman, the largest group holding strongmen events in the US, have been in the strength game for a while. Most of the contests have weights appropriate for novices all the way up for strong amateurs. Many gyms and independent groups like to hold their own competitions here and there, but there's no central source for those unfortunately. If you mean classic like lumberjack and Highland Games and Basque strength competitions, those are definitely still held. Well, the Basque stuff is held in Spain and basically nowhere else, but that's the way it's always been.

The only remotely strength-based stuff that seems to be popular (i.e. profitable) these days is Crossfit, likely because none of the competitions have weights unattainable to normal people where for strongman you have to be, well, strong.
posted by schroedinger at 8:47 PM on July 16, 2012


You are the real strongest men in the world. I thank you for your training and I thank you for being so powerful.

Can this even be read in anything other than Schwarzenegger's voice?
posted by bpm140 at 8:48 PM on July 16, 2012


Of the top Highlands guys I know, the ones I know would do well against strongmen if they focused. I mean, one of the best Highlands Games competitors ever was also in Worlds Strongest Man back in the 90s.
posted by schroedinger at 8:51 PM on July 16, 2012


Thanks for the awesome reply, schroedinger.

I was actually curious about, for example, the ten-egg, three-pounds-of-bacon diet and the apparent lack of cardiovascular work. I'm a cyclist (not having won the genetic lottery, I don't really push myself to the "razor's edge") but people at the top of my sport are healthy and eat extremely well-balanced, science-based diets.

With the strong men, it seems like a mass-at-all-costs proposition without consideration of actual long-term health. Could they eat healthy and still perform? Could they perform better? Does "eating healthy" mean something entirely different from what normal people are used to?
posted by klanawa at 9:06 PM on July 16, 2012


Well, first, there's a lot of debate about how awful eggs and bacon and stuff really are for you, but that's a whole other discussion. You would be surprised about how healthy some of these guys are in terms of blood pressure, cholesterol, etc compared to your average person. It's the injuries that will put them out. Well, and sleep apnea is an issue for some for obvious reasons.

Second, at a certain point they're taking the Michael Phelps route. You eat what you can that will get the calories in. It's not like they don't know the benefits of healthy eating. But if all they ate was brown rice, chicken, and vegetables it simply would not be possible for them to get all the calories in. To give you an idea of what it takes to get in enough food, when Poundstone lost all that weight one of the things he did was blend chicken breast into shakes and drink it throughout the day. I dunno if any of the top guys are as extreme as Phelps and living off of Baconators and fries though. Jenkins and Poundstone sure aren't and you don't deadlift 1000lbs by sticking your nose up at broccoli.

On the amateur level it really runs the gamut, some guys are eating trash but the better ones I know go for drinking a gallon of milk, making chicken-and-sweet-potato shakes, stuff like that, while not being crazy stringent about having a pizza once in a while.

Regarding cardiovascular work--it depends on which pathway you're talking about! Training traditionally does not incorporate a lot of aerobic work, but it is tremendously taxing on the anaerobic systems. Strongmen do a lot of sprint-type work like sled drags, yoke carries, picking things up for as many reps as you can within a short time period. And some strongmen are going to be better conditioned than others. Conditioning allows you to handle more training volume, you'll do better in rep events, and it helps you recover faster between events. So its benefits are pretty well accepted. It's just there's no good point to running marathons, that's not going to pay off in the sport and the short, heavy conditioning work takes care of the heart health thing.
posted by schroedinger at 9:39 PM on July 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


The human race grows stronger again!
posted by UKgroundcare at 12:43 AM on July 17, 2012


I found this article very interesting, and schroedinger's comments also; thanks, all!
posted by Greg Nog at 10:05 AM on July 17, 2012


Shaw had to cast his own Manhood Stones from a plastic mold

Is this like building your own lightsaber?
posted by speedo at 6:59 PM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


You eat what you can that will get the calories in. It's not like they don't know the benefits of healthy eating. But if all they ate was brown rice, chicken, and vegetables it simply would not be possible for them to get all the calories in.

Carol Flinders:

... I interviewed Dav Scott when he was reigning champion of the Ironman Triathlon. Six to eight hours of appallingly rigorous training put Dave's caloric intake into the five thousand range. He is a vegetarian who eats lots of brown rice and ungreased pasta - bananas, apples, veggies - and to get those calories on such a high-bulk diet, he had to be eating just about all the time he wasn't running, swimming, or cycling. Eating was in effect his fourth major event.
posted by Egg Shen at 7:14 PM on July 17, 2012


Imagine the amount of poop that must come out of 5000 calorie intake athletes, much less vegetarian ones..
posted by porpoise at 10:14 PM on July 17, 2012


How much did he weigh when he competed? Maybe 160lbs? 180lbs? Shaw has 250lbs on him. The poor guy could probably burn 5000 calories a day just lying in bed. Add in training and the caloric need is far over Scott's. I'm not a top strongman and I'm not in these guys' kitchens. I just know how hard it can be for amateur strongmen half their size to get the calories in, so when I extrapolate I'm boggled they're able to maintain their weight at all. Then add in the time it takes to prep food in that quantity if you're prepping clean food, plus training, plus eating the food, plus recovery, plus maintaining a regular job, that is a lot of work.

A vegetarian diet though . . . well, that would be a poor choice for anyone in a strength-based sport.
posted by schroedinger at 11:22 PM on July 17, 2012


Imagine the amount of poop that must come out of 5000 calorie intake athletes, much less vegetarian ones..

My gym has a sign in the men's room telling guys to poop at home. The owner got sick of the mess.
posted by schroedinger at 11:26 PM on July 17, 2012


Seriously?
posted by OmieWise at 3:26 PM on July 25, 2012


« Older The Uncannily Accurate Depiction of the Meth Trade...  |  The Advocate has compiled a li... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments