About 18 months ago I did a very, very silly thing. I participated in a local Strongman contest on a whim. I just signed up a week before the contest and then I participated. “How hard could it be?”, I thought naively. I should preface this by providing some context at this point: I know the organizer and for some mistaken reason I was under the impression that the contestants would be mostly my fellow Powerlifting (PL) team members and maybe a few other people. So I thought it would be fun afternoon with a bunch people I basically know. At the time I was doing a fair amount of overhead press, Atlas ball and some weighted carries in addition to squat, bench and deadlift so I thought I had an advantage. Well, an advantage in the sense that I did more of this than some people in my PL gym so, since I thought they would be my main competitors. Did I bother to learn about Strongman rules, strategy or do at least minimal contest prep? Of course I didn’t.
I should also explain that at this point in time I was a strength-building “bulking” phase which is just a cool way of saying I was eating a lot (clean, yes, but a lot) and getting, well, sort of thick around the middle. So, yes, I was relatively strong but my cardio capacity was even worse than usual thanks to the additional weight. Additionally, I had badly sprained my ankle 2 weeks before the event.
Sunday morning comes around and I nonchalantly roll up to the parking lot where the contest is being held. First thing I noticed is that event looked a bit more “serious” than I was expecting – nicely set up, TV cameras, the works. Second thing I noticed is that there weren’t many people from my PL team in attendance. Those that were there were helping the organizers, not competing. OK, I thought, no big deal. Then as the other competitors arrived I realized that they were all Crossfitters and I easily had a good 18 years on the next oldest male competitor. The horrible realization dawned on my that I had made a very foolish and potentially embarrassing decision to compete in a sport I know next to nothing about against a bunch of young guys with the strength and cardio fitness of race horses. However, the only thing more mortifying than actually competing would have been to chicken out, especially in front of people I know. My goals were clear – finish the competition and, for my self-esteem, not come in dead last.
Things got real even before the competition started. The organizers took the competitors through some warm up stretches and light cardio. In my “fuscular” bulking state, I was winded from the light cardio, and hobbling around to boot due to my sprained ankle. It occurred to me as the events and rules were explained that Strongman is a lot more cardio intensive than I had anticipated and that, dear reader, did not bode well for yours truly.
The first event was the yoke carry over a 100 meters which I, of course, had never practiced. Guess what, it’s harder than it looks, much harder. Carrying a very heavy yoke over 100 meters takes a great deal of cardio. (Strongman in general demands more cardio conditioning than people (or maybe just me) suspect) After my carry I discretely went over to the side of the parking lot so fewer people would see me retching into the bushes. I was the last to do the yoke carry so of course I was first up for the next event – farmer’s carry. I was already winded to the point of seeing stars and now I was expected to pick up two weighted frames and move them 100 meters. Ugh, my grip strength is my greatest weakness in the best of times, but in my tired state and with a sprained ankle, it wasn’t pretty. I was dead last, by a country mile, in that event.
Two of the crossfitters were just absolute beasts, strong as hell and in all around excellent shape. They were literally running away with the competition. As the competition progressed I saw that the rest of my competitors were young (20 somethings), in much better cardio shape than I was but for the most part not as strong as your average powerlifter. I did fairly well in those events that required upper body strength and/or resemble squatting or deadlifting. So I placed well in one event that required us to pick up a 70kg ball off the ground and throw it over our shoulders for as many reps as possible (AMRAP) during one minute. I came in second in the log press (pressing a weighted metal cylinder overhead for AMRAP during one minute) and probably would have done better if I knew how to do a push/press (i.e. utilizing your legs to help push the bar overhead). People were screaming at me to stop doing a strict Overhead Press (which does not use the legs) but it was the only technique I knew. Yep, a little contest prep would have gone a long way.
So I stumbled from event to event in an exhausted, hypoglycemic, trying not to retch daze. Then, almost magically, the competition was over! I had managed to get points in all of the events (not a given – some people, for example, couldn’t do even 1 rep of the log press and therefore got no points for that event). Lo and behold, I managed to not place dead last. OK, I was 6th from the bottom but on the other hand, I was old enough to be everyone’s father. Aside the public humiliation that was my farmers carry attempt, I didn’t completely disgrace myself.
As I hobbled back to my car, every muscle and sinew in body was crying out in pain. Uh-oh, I thought, this going to be even more sore tomorrow. And indeed tomorrow was not kind. I staggered into work and grimaced in pain every time I did radical things like get out of a chair or walk down a few stairs. I am a manager in a conservative bank, where the sport of choice for people like me would be golf, tennis or running. I am always the weirdo nursing some sort of injury like torn-up hands (due to deadlifting) but for the most part these injuries fly under the radar. Impossible to remain un-noticed with the DOMS I was feeling from that competition. I have never felt that physically trashed after a sporting event. So big, big respect to all you strongman and strongwoman competitors out there. You’re crazed masochists, the lot of you.
As I reviewed the video from the event I also came to the realization that there is a fine line between bulking for strength and looking like you’re wearing one of the tires you’re supposed to be flipping. I also realized, in rather dramatic fashion, that I had an appalling lack of cardio conditioning. I learned some honest to goodness respect for crossfitters. It’s fashionable in some circles to talk trash about crossfitters because they are the jacks of all trades but masters of none. You know what, if taught well and practiced with strict form, crossfit turns people into beasts. If I was 20 years younger, I might be tempted to search out a really top-notch crossfit box. Any sport that gets masses of people excited about compound barbell movements is all right by me..And, finally, it was fun to push the envelope a bit. Wish I had done some contest prep and actual training for the events, but hey, hindsight is always 20/20.