Pics contributed by Peter and Simon, text by Simon.
Red-raw hands, dark-purple bruises and a strange rash on my forearms. Walking away from the gym where we had just tried ‘Strongman’ it was tempting to dwell on the discomfort and the injuries, but it was great fun.
Three of us visited Hamiltons Gym in Colchester on Sunday for a session in their ‘Strongman’ training area – rather ominously called the ‘Wrecking Yard’. Peter and Belinda had been before, but this was my first time and I was a bit nervous. You may have seen the ‘World’s Strongest Man’ on TV. It is often broadcast during the Christmas holidays and features enormous men lifting a variety of ridiculously heavy stuff in a series of brutal challenges. I am no stranger to lifting weights, but ‘Strongman’ was something new. No shiny machines with comfortable padded seats, this was all about picking up awkward, heavy stuff.
‘Strongman’ obviously requires strength, but there is a lot of technique too. Fortunately the guys at Hamiltons were there to give us some invaluable advice. They also shared tales of broken bones and torn muscles. I particularly liked the way one of them described the time he broke his hand -“It wasn’t badly broken”. These guys are tough.
The first thing you see when you walk into the ‘yard’ is a selection of tyres. There were some small ones, some larger and a very, very big one from a tractor. Flipping giant tyres is a regular event in ‘Strongman’ competitions. I have seen people do it hundreds of times on TV. In real-life that tractor tyre just sat there and looked impossibly heavy. We started off trying to flip one of the medium-sized tyres. This was still very heavy and awkward, but after a few attempts we got the hang of it. I kept glancing at the giant tractor tyre and thinking “could I….?”
Against the back-wall of the yard there was a steel loading shelf with a selection of ‘Atlas Stones’ and some battered metal beer kegs. ‘Atlas Stones’ are round. They vary in size and weight, from ‘heavy’ to ‘heavier’ all the way up to ‘you must be ******* joking’. They are hard to grip. The best approach was to lift the stone onto your lap while you are squatting underneath it. Then grasp it to your chest while you stand up, taking most of the weight on your legs. When the stone is level with the loading shelf push it forwards with your chest. We all managed to lift the ‘heavy’ stone.
The steel kegs were there for loading practice. ‘Strongman’ competitors often have to pick up heavy stuff and run with it to a loading platform like the back of a truck. There are usually four or more items to load. In the real world we would move the truck closer to the heavy stuff, but that would make for a less challenging competition. We had a go lifting the kegs onto the platform. Some were filled with water and sand which made them a bit awkward to handle. Again the weight went up from ‘heavy’ to ‘heavier’ all the way up to ‘you must be ******* joking’. Can you see a pattern developing here?
There was a thick wooden plank in the corner of the yard. It had some handles set into it. I asked if that was for the overhead lift, in the world of ‘Strongman’ called the ‘Log Lift’. Well it turns out that normal wooden logs are not heavy enough. So we soon found ourselves trying to pick up some welded steel ‘logs’. Again we needed some helpful advice as the width of the ‘logs’ made this unlike anything else I had ever lifted. Peter and Belinda had warned me about a particularly unpleasant challenge – the ‘Farmer’s Walk’. This involves picking up an iron girder in each hand, walking about 20m, dropping the girders then turning around and picking them up again and walking back to the start. If that is too easy, the girders have poles welded to them so you can add even more weight. The faster you can do it the better. In actual ‘Strongman’ events competitors race against each other. I wanted to go fast because I wasn’t sure how long my grip would last.
This felt different to the other events we tried. They were more ‘explosive’ and required bursts of intense effort. The ‘Farmer’s Walk’ was a long drawn-out, painful slog. In reality it might have only lasted 90 seconds, but that feels like much longer when you can feel the weight pulling your arms from your shoulders and you are finding it hard to breathe. That said, this was my favourite of all the events we tried.
We all managed to push ourselves and do better than we expected and I finally managed to flip that giant tractor tyre. At time of writing nothing appears to be irreparably damaged, but one of my bruises seems to be turning green.