This week will be a quick recap of my recent strongman competition and a breakdown of accommodations and adaptations for the event that were helpful for competing in spite of visual-impairment.
For those of you that aren’t familiar with strongman, it is a strength sport comprising many different modalities and event possibilities. Deadlifts, log presses, yoke walks, tire flips, keg carries, sandbag throws, truck pulls and much more can pop up in any given competition. The number of modalities is paired with a bevy of ways any movement can be programmed. Let’s take the deadlift for example. Just a few deadlift events I have had in contests are 1) standard deadlift for max, 2) axle deadlift with wagon wheels for max reps in a minute, 3) deadlift a car sitting on a lever with side handles. All this variety in the sport makes it very entertaining to train for, compete in, and spectate. With a visual-impairment, that variety means fresh adaptations every contest.
On November 14, I competed in the Battle of the Rhinos strongman contest at Surge to New Levels Gym in Carol Stream, IL. After finding out about the contest in less than two weeks, I decided to wing it and try my hand at the events. I also got a chance to cut weight for the first time in years, going from just over 250 to 231.4 (I’ll spare you the details). After refueling the night before with plenty of liquids and food from amazing local restaurants in Chicago, it was contest day.
I want to start by saying that in many strongman contests, there is little opportunity to touch the equipment before each event and often little chance to warm-up traditionally. This was not one of those contests. There were plenty of chances to warm-up with the implements you would be using. This drastically helped me get a feel for the equipment.
Event 1: Log Press for max reps in a minute
The log is not a standardized piece of equipment so it can vary from contest to contest. This doesn’t matter when you are a great presser (which I am not) but it is always good to feel the log to account for its unique differences. Things I looked for in warmups were the width of the handles, diameter of the log, and how thick the center piece that sits on your chest is. I also tried to feel for the center of the handles and see how far my thumb and pinky were from the ends of the handles. These factors make for a much more controlled clean and press during the event. Based on the diameter of the log compared to mine at my home gym, I knew I would have to tilt my hands slightly differently when picking up the log.
This contest offered a choice of log weights, 235 and 270. I decided to roll the dice by hitting one at 235 then step up to the 270 and give it a go. That is a heavy weight for me and my technique had to be on point, which it wasn’t on this day. I missed it twice and that’s all she wrote.
Event 2: Car Deadlift for max reps in a minute
The car deadlift is a very interesting movement as it is an odd squat and deadlift mix while lifting in a slight arc. Luckily I was able to train this event once with my training partner Doug, and he helped me find good foot placement and hip position for me to pull my best. In warm-ups on contest day, I got a feel for the width of the handles, practiced putting my wrist straps on quickly and evenly and finding a good foot position while there was little weight on the apparatus. The difference of an inch forward or backward with your feet is tremendous.
I managed to hit 6 reps in a row before first resting. It was a fight from there on out to get 3 more reps before my time was up. If you are able to watch the video, I would advise it as I fall on my butt at one point while strapped in. It’s kinda funny.
Event 3: Keg Carry for max distance, 60 ft. turns
Here we go, a more complex moving event. First, I played with lifting the keg up onto my body in a position that allowed me to walk as unencumbered as you can with a 250 pound keg sitting on your stomach. Once I got that, it was really about the great help of my judge. We discussed our communication before the event and decided that he would be in my ear when I was close to the line I needed to touch then turn around and continue. He let me know when I was about ten feet, five feet and right at the line and even lightly patted me on the back as a tactile reminder it was time to turn. The announcer commentating the event was also detailing over the speakers when I was halfway and close to turns. The adaptations for this event were essentially just relying on the staff and judge to put me in a position to succeed and they did a fantastic job.
I picked up the keg with one hand high on a handle and one hand low and kept it up as high as I could. This carrying style taxes my quads like crazy and after about 160 feet, they gave out on me.
Event 4: Farmers Carry, 60 feet for time
Adaptations were limited on this event as it was just getting used to the handles in warm-ups and a quick conversation with the judge again. We established that he would just tell me when I was done. This worked really well so I didn’t have to think or comprehend what I was being told during the event. I just had to try and go fast.
Not my best run but went 60 feet with 500 in my hands in less than 10 seconds so can’t be too mad.
Event 5: Stone of Steel Series
230# to 60”, 250# to 54”, and 270# to 48”
I have never lifted stones of steel before but learned in warm-ups it was all about squeezing them tighter than the traditional atlas stone. In our ample warm-up time, I placed my hands on the top and outside of each platform I would have to lift to so I understood where I was lifting the stone. I also bent over and felt the stone’s center and edges compared to the platform so I could try to set up the stones not too close but not too far for my run. I then quickly practiced transitioning from each stone to the next so I was less likely to trip or wind up crooked during the event.
I moved fairly fast through the first 2 stones. When I addressed the third stone, I hadn’t centered it well before starting and it rolled backwards then forwards on me. I re-centered it then had no issue. This was by far my best and therefore favorite event of the day.
I know this has been a lot of minutia, but it is the little details that make a big difference in doing well according to your capabilities or underperforming. You can tell there is a lot of preparation that goes into handling these events with low-vision but on gameday, the most important thing is asking for help when you need it. From judges to your personal support system (big thanks to my mother!), others can help you avoid a lot of pitfalls on any contest day.
If you have any questions, don’t be afraid to reach out! And if you ever want to do a contest like this or any other kind, identify obstacles, find solutions and then have fun with it.