And now we come to the feats of strength
Hey, it's Sunday, I'm going to post a bunch of amazing Strongman videos.
The CrossFit Games enter their final day in Madison, Wisconsin. I love CrossFit as an exercise program, but I am still baffled that “CrossFit the Sport” gets onto ESPN. Don’t get me wrong, the athletes are unfathomably talented. After two days of grueling competition, Jeffery Adler managed to run a 16:47 5K and put up a 291kg olympic weightlifting total yesterday. But who wants to watch a bunch of people race on stationary row ergs? Or do situps as fast as possible? CrossFit the Sport tries to make a competition out of workouts you do to train for other sports. Turning that into a spectacle requires innovation.
I have become passionate about a related sport that embraces spectacle. During the pandemic, our benevolent Governor Gavin Newsom finally allowed gyms to open in late June 2020. However, he forced them to operate outside (because The Science). Our gym moved into the back lot, which they had formerly reserved for their weird stuff. That’s where the deadlift platform was. That’s where the lifting blocks were. And that’s where the Strongman equipment was. It was only a matter of weeks until I got obsessed with the sport of Strongman.
What is Strongman? Patrick Barnes, our gym’s coach, introduces Strongman as “the sport of moving odd objects.” Most of the events involve picking up something that not only is heavy, but looks heavy. And then you have to move the heavy thing to somewhere else. One way to think of strongman is as an extreme of CrossFit: you perform the basic movements of running, hinging, squatting, pressing, etc., but the trials are shorter (less than 90 seconds) and much heavier.
What makes the sport particularly compelling is its commitment to showmanship. The roots of Strongman lie in the circus, where Strongmen would show off their talents of lifting caricatured dumbbells or vehicles or people. The modern sport of strongman started in 1977 as a television show called “The World’s Strongest Man.” That television show remains the biggest competition in the sport today.
A strongman competition will consist of a varied selection of feats of strength. The circus dumbbell is one staple, and Mateusz Kieliszkowski’s world record here is 150 kg, close to the maximum clean and jerk performed in yesterday’s CrossFit Games.
Strongman draws also draws from far beyond the circus, including traditions of the Scottish Highlands, Iceland, or Basque country. The most iconic event, the Atlas Stones, comes from Greek legend. Atlas Stones are cast concrete monsters that are lifted to platforms, to shoulders, or over bars. Here’s two-time World’s Strongest Man Tom Stoltman lifting a 273kg (602lbs) Atlas Stone over a four-foot bar:
There are also “natural stones” which can be lifted to shoulder:
or carried around a course:
This stone, called the Husafel stone, weighs 186kg (410 pounds) and was designed to be a gate for a sheep pen in Iceland.
Strongman also loves the deadlift, though they keep it interesting by having athletes deadlift weird stuff like cars.
They also might use hummer tires for weights.
And instead of cleaning and pressing barbells, Strongman features weird objects like logs. Literally, logs with handles carved into them. Here’s Dani Speegle at last year’s Rogue Invitational Crossfit competition lifting a 98kg (215lbs) log.
My personal favorite Strongman events are the moving events. Here you either carry heavy weights in your hands like groceries (called the farmer’s carry). Or you can carry heavy implements and load them onto a platform. Or you can just put an absurd amount of weight on your back and try to run with it. Here’s the current World’s Strongest Man, Mitchell Hooper, running with 507 kg (1117lb) on his back as if it was nothing.
CrossFit has incorporated more Strongman into its major competitions over the past few years. This year’s Games had a tire flip. The Rogue Invitational had a log press. The 2022 Games had a sandbag-to-shoulder (that Dani Speegle also crushed). Yokes, farmers carries, and Husafell carries are becoming more common. These are great tests of fitness that bring extra spectacle to the Games. And spectacle is crucial to growing the popularity of the sport. Anyone who goes to the gym gets jazzed by breaking their personal records. But Strongman makes these records look impressive to everyone else.