Posted by & filed under Dominic Morais.

Kaitlyn Burgess’s previous quote prompts another subject that I think is crucially important when trying to compete at a high level: resiliency; or, the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties. When it comes to programming and training, there are an incredible number of factors that can play a role. Even if someone had a perfect program, there are so many life factors that can disrupt that plan. Work, kids, school, relationships, etc. can all be stressful. The point is clear: sometimes things just aren’t going to line up so that training is perfect.

With this idea in mind, I tell all my lifters, and my students, to focus on what you can control. In this last section of this way too long article, I will discuss a few of the strategies I used with Courtney to practice this approach. The hope was that this method would lessen her stress levels, which would make a difference in her performance on game day(s).

Before getting into the specifics, I’d like to discuss a concept that heavily influences the way I try to mold my athlete’s thinking. I believe that our minds can craft our own realities, and I try to get the athletes to do that by introducing the idea of process vs. outcome. I’ll explain this process vs. outcome idea using an example. Let’s say that someone wants to bench 315 pounds. If someone takes an outcome-oriented approach to this, then that individual’s focus is likely going to be on the weight that is lifted rather than the way it’s lifted. Maybe someone has awful form, but they continue loading up the weight. Their left shoulder starts to hurt on one side, so they throw Icy Hot on it, and change nothing else. This pain never goes away, and, lo and behold, they start experiencing pain in their right lat. More icy hot, more weight – the goal is 315.

What I’m trying to demonstrate here is what often happens to individuals when they take an outcome oriented approach. Sure, the weight moved, but the chance that that weight will continue moving is slimmer by the day because that individual is not focusing on the process, and only the outcome. Focusing on the process in this case would mean acknowledging the pain in the shoulder as a sign that poor movement is occurring. A process-oriented approach would entail assessing the movement pattern, making the appropriate changes, and adjusting the weight in order to practice this new movement pattern.

An outcome-oriented approach often leads to ignoring these types of signs in an effort to achieve that outcome. Sure, focusing on the process may take a little longer, but if someone gets injured by staying outcome-oriented, then time has been lost, as well as money for therapy, surgery, etc. It may also mean not being able to get attention through social media because a process-oriented approach is not sexy. This process vs. outcome-oriented approach is also discussed in sport psychology literature as task vs. ego orientation. Task orientation means being motivated by the desire to master a task for its own pleasure. Ego orientation means being motivated by the external rewards that mastering a task could bring such as recognition, monetary rewards, social status. etc.

As mentioned, a lot of my coaching strategies branch from the mantra, “focus on what you can control.” One of these strategies is that I tell my athletes to treat training, especially event training, like practice. Our goal is to get the athlete at least 90% competent in the lift at a certain weight. Once the athlete has practiced enough with that weight (or weight range), and has demonstrated proficiency, then the idea is to add a new challenge, or stimulus, in the form of more weight. Once the athlete has demonstrated proficiency with that weight, then it’s time to add more weight and continue practicing the movement. With proper programming and periodization, I think this combination really helps the athlete focus on what they can control, and reduces the amount of self-induced, unnecessary stress from training. Considering my belief that we can only handle a certain amount of stress before progress stalls, it’s important to eliminate any stress that does not help someone achieve their goals.

I think the self-induced, unnecessary stress from training that I mentioned should be explained a bit. Often someone will perform a set or a rep, and I will exclaim genuinely, “That’s the best rep I’ve ever seen you do!” To me, this is HUGE. But, often, to the athlete, this isn’t a big deal. I then think to myself, “WHAT THE FUCK?! WHY IS ACCOMPLISHING SOMETHING THAT YOU’VE NEVER DONE BEFORE NOT A BIG DEAL?! WHAT ARE YOU THINKING?!” If I inquire a bit, I often find that the athlete is focused on the weight they need to lift at a competition, or that the athlete totally disregards the reality of the situation – that they did something they’ve never done before, gained a new experience, LIVED, etc. – because they are focused on what someone else has done. To this I respond with a nice maxim my wonderful girlfriend told me: “Comparison is the thief of joy.” I think this holds true for a number of reasons.

First, if we are trying to be stronger to get attention from others or for social media points, then we are in for a rude awakening. Eventually injury will occur, or age will simply take its toll. Granted, there are ways to delay the onset of aging, but these goals, in my opinion, are futile. Although extremely sobering, it is a reality that eventually every single person that we know will not be alive on this Earth. Eventually, all current records will be broken. Eventually, people, even the legends, will be forgotten. I’m talking hundreds of years here (and this is coming from a historian). With these assumptions in mind, I believe it is extremely important that the passion for strength come from an internal motivation. This is the only life I know, and I’ll be damned if I live it for anyone else but my loved ones and me. I would never want anyone I coach to put forth so much effort and time – that they will never get back – in order to simply get attention from others. This, to me, is the opposite of self-actualization or self-fulfillment.

With these guiding psychological principles and philosophies in mind, I’d like to share ways that I put them into practice to help Courtney (and the other folks I train) during her prep and during the Nationals competition.

One way in which I tried to condition Courtney into a process-oriented mindset was with the mantra, “one rep at a time.” Often, especially with longer sets, I found myself and others just trying to get through the set by any means possible. When stepping back, I realize this approach has some flaws. First, it can be extremely intimidating to the think, “Fuck, I have to get through 8 reps at [insert challenging weight here]!” So, by taking a goal oriented, and process-oriented approach, I think the best way to handle this is to break the main goal down into smaller goals. A set is made up of reps, so let’s just take it one rep at a time. You can’t win a marathon as soon as the gun fires. You have to take it step by step. By taking this same approach to weight training, I believe the athlete sheds the heightened arousal of thinking about how difficult a set will be, and focuses on the task at hand – the present. The athlete can do nothing about the past (which could have been an awful rep), nor can they do anything about the future (which could be the impending five reps they have to perform). But, in that moment, the athlete can focus on the cues that help them perform the movement with the most efficient technique possible. In that moment, the brain is not focused on the external pressures of finishing a set, or not disappointing their coach, or not hitting their goals, or not being as strong as every other person on social media. In that moment, the athlete is liberated from those external pressures and free to perform the movement for themselves. Through this type of process, I believe the potential chances that the athlete achieves self-actualization, or realizes why they have undertaken weight training, is much higher. Those external pressures WILL NOT help someone lift the weight in that moment. I believe it’s more efficient to focus on what will help someone lift the weight in that moment, and that means focusing on what they can control.

Another phrase that I use with my athletes over and over again is “patience.” This falls aligns with taking things one rep at a time. For instance, when an athlete is patient, and not trying to impress anyone with the outcome, that athlete can focus on exactly what they need to do in order to complete the lift efficiently. Take the log, for instance. In my opinion, the log is one of the most technically demanding strongman events there are. As many of us have probably experienced, a log clean and press at first feels like a marathon. First we have to pick it, then lap it, then clean it, and then, finally, we get to put it over our heads.

So, as a coach, I do my best to break down this one large goal into smaller goals. The first step is the pick. Once we get that down, then we can introduce the clean. Once we get the clean down, then we can introduce the press. Sometimes I even program different steps on different days so that learning can occur in smaller steps. Then, when the athlete finally performs all those steps in the proper sequence, the lift is a much less demanding endeavor. It’s very difficult for our brains to process all the information at once that it takes to perform a lift like the log clean and press. So, after I have conditioned my athletes to remain patient, I continue to cue them on it so they know to take things one step at a time. If an athlete is just worried about pressing the log overhead, that athlete is in for a rude awakening if the clean isn’t at least 90%. In my eyes, for my athletes to be successful over the long term, they MUST perform every step of the process with at least 90% competency in order for me to view the outcome as successful.

I think this really paid off with Courtney at Nationals. We knew that the log was going to be tough for her, and I thought that 3 reps would be an extremely successful outcome. I thought maybe she could get two. I really wanted her to get one, and I thought she could. I did not want a zero, and neither did Courtney. So, during training, we trained the log like we imagined it would happen at Nationals. She had 60 seconds, so we used every second as efficiently as possible. If she needed to get 2 reps on her heavy set, Courtney would take her time, step away from the log, breathe, remind herself of her cues, and perform each step of the process as best she could.

It was almost eerie how similar this was to the competition. At the whistle, Courtney took a breath, braced, and picked the log easily, just like she always does. She then cleaned it pretty nicely, and dipped for a big drive. I don’t know exactly what happened on the drive (nerves are always a factor during the first event from my experience though), but Courtney was just shy of catching it and locking it out. She dropped it, and stepped away, and I told her, “Good! Take a step back! Breathe! Breathe! Take a second!” This was exactly how we treated our practice/our training. Courtney was completely comfortable here. There was nothing else to focus on, and there were no distractions from her goal because she had been there before. On top of all that, her only focus was the process and her cues. She was right where she needed to be. You can see this in action here: https://www.instagram.com/p/BbX5gaqDgmR/?taken-by=icecream_and_condescension

After composing herself, Courtney walked up to the log. After seeing only a few women press the log in her weight class, I hollered at her, “You only need one! You need one rep, right here!” Courtney repeated her same process. Easy pick. Easier clean than last time. She drove and barely caught the log, but she caught it, and locked it out for one rep, and a ton of points. Patience produces PRs.

Taking things one step at a time helped Courtney with the yoke as well. As I mentioned in part one of this article, a number of individuals dropped the yoke and lost some very crucial points. With Courtney, cues have always started with “secure the pick.” So many individuals on moving events try to start moving forward before actually being in control of the implement. This is similar to a football player trying to run up the field before catching and securing a pass.

On yoke, once the pick is secured, our goal is to accelerate as quickly as possible to reach top speed. But the key in our training is to always stay within oneself. Technique and efficiency is key. If someone loses their technique, or if someone chooses to focus on the outcome rather than the process, then they usually lean forward, or misstep, which often results in dropping the yoke. This results in a poorer outcome than they would have achieved if they remained focused on the process. Again, just like I tell my athletes, it’s simple, but it ain’t easy.

We also used these types of cues on the husafell carry. Similar to a high-rep set, max distance events like the husafell stone or conan’s wheel can be extremely daunting. So, we make the event manageable by breaking it down. One technique we used was taking the event “one trip at a time.” In other words, as soon as Courtney, or any of my athletes, picks up the stone, the goal is to get to the other end as quickly as possible with proper technique. Nothing else matters. Then, once the athlete makes an efficient turn with no steps wasted, the new goal is upon them – just get to the other end as quickly as possible with proper technique. The athlete does this again, and again, and again, until they are spent, or until they have reached the distance to win. With the goals being simple and achievable, the athlete reduces the amount of stress or worry from trying to get to a certain distance. It’s the handler or coach’s job to tell the athlete how far they need to travel to win, anyway. Now, to be clear, it’s intentional that our strategy is to move as quickly as possible. I’ve seen folks take their time on these max distance events, but I believe that no matter the speed one is moving, the weights being moved are often so heavy that there is little to gain from trying to conserve energy.

To shift gears slightly, the strategy of focusing on what we can control is just as applicable outside of the actual events. For instance, keeping in mind the idea that the body can only handle so much stress before it begins to affect performance, after every event I let Courtney take it all in, talk to her people and slap hands, and then I told her to eat, sit down, and focus on breathing. It’s totally understandable that people at competitions are amped. They have all likely worked hard to get there, and they deserve to be as amped as they want. However, staying amped all day is extremely taxing. Thinking about the next event over an hour before it starts does nothing for the athlete. All it does is introduce stress, “what if’s,” and scenarios that just don’t help the athlete perform the actual event. What does help the athlete is providing the body with nutrients for fuel and recovery, reducing the athlete’s state of arousal, and providing their body with oxygen by breathing correctly. This same routine occurred after Courtney finished every event.

Do I think that this is was what pushed Courtney over the edge to win? Probably not. But I do know that, just as in training, the accumulation of factors can play a significant role in how the body responds. So, we did our best to reduce the amount of stress that Courtney experienced by only focusing on what she could control. I would argue that her resiliency, as demonstrated by her consistency in finishing no lower than third place, and then finishing better in day two than on day one, are bits of evidence that support the benefits of focusing on what she could control.

Now, as it often happens at strongman competitions, changes occurred at Nationals. The order of some events changed, and some events were altered. While walking around during the competition, it wasn’t difficult to hear folks say that they heard this was going to change or that was going to change. When I saw Courtney talking with folks about these types of “what if” scenarios, I did my best to diffuse the situation by saying something along the lines of, “Hey, we don’t know what it will be, and that’s ok. All we know is that they will tell us what the event is, and everyone will have to do the same event. Worrying about this stuff now does nothing to help us. All we can do is focus on what we can control.” Then I would do my best to pull Courtney back to the present and tether (as controlling as that sounds) her to it by telling her to lay down, do STIM if she needed it, breathe, eat, etc. Again, I think this paid off. It was likely not something that made her performance, but I was not willing to take that risk.

The last strategy that I think is important to discuss is the RPE scale. As many of you likely know, RPE stands for rate of perceived exertion. This numeric scale (1-10) is a way to help athletes autoregulate their training in order to manage fatigue in hopes of providing proper stimulus to maintain progress. When I prescribe RPEs, a 7 should feel like a solid warm up, an should 8 feel like the athlete can definitely perform two more reps at 90% or better technique, a 9 should feel like the athlete can definitely perform one more rep at 90% or better technique, and a 10 should feel like the athlete can perform no more reps at 90% or better technique.

To further explain, it’s helpful to compare this programming strategy to percentages. With percentages, there is often little flexibility or variability. Individuals can feel beholden to the weight or percentage prescribed, and if they don’t achieve that weight, they may be disappointed. Now, if we think back to one of my assumptions – that stress comes in all forms – it follows that sometimes we just don’t feel our best when we walk into the gym. Again, family, friends, children, work, politics, etc. can affect our stress levels and leave us feeling pretty worn out before we even start warming up. This sounds like trouble if we are “supposed” to hit a prescribed weight or percentage that day.

This is where RPE’s come in. For instance, if you prescribe 7 sets of 3 reps on squats with the goal of the last rep of the last set to be an 9 RPE, then the weight does not matter. I will say this another way: I prescribe RPEs because the outcome does not matter. I prescribe RPEs because they are, in my opinion, a wonderful way to help the athletes take a process-oriented approach. If the athlete comes into the gym only running at 80%, then the RPEs allow that athlete to get 100% of that 80%. Then, the athlete can leave the gym happy that they did what they were supposed to do. They put in the work, they TRUST that following these RPEs will help them reach their goal, and, essentially, they have become process-oriented.

In a sport like strongman, in which events are incredibly taxing and it’s very difficult (in my experience) to be precise with proper sets and rep schemes, I believe that the RPE scale is an enormous help. It allows for flexibility, it allows for the athlete to focus on what they can control, it forces them to think about the process, their technique, and their fatigue, and, frankly, it’s extremely low pressure. The RPE scale, which I learned about by reading Mike Tuchsherer’s The Reactive Training Manual, is all about tailoring the strength training stimulus to that specific athlete’s fatigue situation.

The last bit I’d like to say about using the RPE scale is that it fits with how I try to get my athletes to think about training. For instance, someone could get under a yoke and try to beat a time they posted in the past. This sounds like a solid plan, assuming all things are equal. But – that’s the rub – all things are almost never equal. Trying to beat a time that someone may have posted on an awesome day is asking a lot. It’s also setting oneself up for failure if the only goal is an outcome. What if the athlete hits an 8.1 second yoke and they wanted a 7.9 time? Does that .2 seconds mean that everything the athlete did that day was a failure? I sure hope not! Because, again, the outcome tells a very small part of the story. If we want to change the outcome, we must focus on the way that we achieved that outcome. We MUST focus on the process.

So, as a way around focusing on the outcome, RPEs force the athlete to do what they can right then and right there. To me, this sounds a lot like a strongman competition. Things are almost never going to be perfect, so focus on what you can control during that event and give all you have with the proper process (aka form and technique). It doesn’t matter how tired the athlete is due to sleeping in a loud hotel the night before or driving for 4 hours that morning. It doesn’t matter that the athlete is in between jobs, it doesn’t matter that during the previous event the implement was damaged a bit and it didn’t feel like the implement the athlete trained with. That stuff just doesn’t matter. So, why don’t we practice how we want to play? Why don’t we take situations as they come, focus on what we can control in those situations, and give all that we have right then, and right there, and know that we left it all where we should have?

This entire article can be thought of as a way of structuring training by starting with goals. I think that training using RPEs is a really beneficial strategy for eliminating, or at least reducing, external stresses that do nothing to help the athlete in the present, especially if their long term goal is success and health in the sport.

I think this last section of the article is really key in wrapping up this entire piece. I started the article by explaining the importance of goal setting in guiding training and competition decisions. I then explained how those decisions influenced the programs I created for Courtney, and how I thought about justifying every rep that I prescribed. In this last section, you can see how virtually every single decision was guided by the question, “What can we do or control that can help us qualify for the Arnold?” We can always do something. We can always act in some way. We can all exercise agency.

Even when Courtney and Ashleigh Dinkins, another athlete I coach, were waiting in line to get yoke heights the night before Nationals started, I bought them some snacks because we thought we would eat dinner earlier. Sure, standing in line sucks, and it really increases anxiety because no one wants to be there and everyone is sizing each other up. But, it had to be done. That didn’t mean that we could do nothing to help our situation, though. Once we thought about it through that lens, the decision was easy. Now, did getting 50 grams of carbs into these folks change the entire competition for them? Heck no! But as a coach who is doing everything I can to help my athletes reach their goals, I won’t take that chance.

With all this being said, it would be an insult to not praise Courtney’s ability to maintain her composure throughout her entire prep. She had to put her trust in me to do the right things, and she had to trust the process. When I think about it more, I think this is a wonderful example of self-discipline, and it is no easy feat. But Courtney did it, and she went all-in, and she won. As in all things, I’m sure there was some luck involved, but I considered it my job to do everything I could so that Courtney made her own luck in Las Vegas.

IV. Conclusion

First, thank you for spending time – time that you will not get back – reading what I had to say. You may not know me from Adam, and even if you do, I know your time is valuable – so thank you.

Second, I know that I do not know everything. I know there is no perfect approach to training, and that any number of factors will play a role in each prep, macrocycle, etc. I also know that success can be achieved in ways other than what I described in this article. However, for the longest time I’ve done exactly what I tell my athletes NOT to do: compare. I’ve wanted to share what I think is valuable knowledge because I want to help others, but I’ve been afraid of what people will think about it. Will it be shot down? Have I just been really lucky? If I haven’t achieved the same types of athletic success others have, will anyone listen to me? If I don’t fit the identity of a typical strength athlete, will I be accepted?

Frankly, these questions don’t matter. From a coaching standpoint, and I believe from a life standpoint, it is important to actively seek opportunities to reflect on our experiences in order to improve something, even if it is simply our understanding. I hope this piece has accomplished that somehow. I hope it has made you think differently, even if it is about the tiniest bit of information. If I made you at least think your own thinking, then I have accomplished what I wanted with this piece, and I thank you for your willingness to let your thinking be affected. I would love to hear any feedback or thoughts that anyone has about what I’ve written, as I plan to continue reflecting on my process in order to continue achieving the outcome of successful, self-actualized athletes. Please reach out to me at dominic.g.morais@gmail.com with any questions, thoughts, or comments you have!

Posted by & filed under Dominic Morais.

Central Texas Strongest Man Prep (May-July)

I didn’t really like the idea of Courtney competing this late in her Nationals prep. However, she wanted to practice not knowing who would be there, and having to step up. I completely understood that reasoning, and in a situation like that I will defer to the athlete because they know themselves better than I do. We decided that she would compete in the lightweight men’s category in the CTX Strongest Man competition because the weights were more in line with what she would face at nationals.
The events were:

• Max Log
• Deadlift Medley
• Yoke
• Stone to Shoulder
• Keg Clean and Press Medley

We chose this competition because these events aligned with the goals we set for Courtney at the beginning of the year. She would have to train overhead for two events, and the deadlift and stone to shoulder events were posterior dominated movements.

As an added condition, after seeing how the keg event challenged Jackie Wood at Heavy Metal Fitness as she prepped for the Arnold Amateur World Championships, Courtney told me that she wanted to train the keg pretty frequently in order to feel competent.

With these short-term goals in mind, I had to remember that the ultimate goal was Nationals. I stuck to upper and lower body exercises most days during the first block of this cycle as a way to continue accumulating some fatigue. Essentially, when looking at this through the “Nationals goal lens,” I tried to slowly accumulate volume from the beginning of the year until the end of the first CTX block. This served as the peak of her “foundational volume” for her entire Nationals prep. After the first block, I treated CTX Strongest Man as a small peak before reaching the ultimate peak at Nationals.

In order for Courtney to get as much out of her peak for CTX Strongest Man, I structured the second and third blocks as upper and lower body splits. I think this structure is easier on the body because it allows for longer recovery, especially when events are involved. I also believe that focusing on only one part of the body per training session allows for better quality movements since the athlete can zone in on certain cues or movement patterns.

With all of these thoughts swirling around in my head, we got to work.

Block 1
Day 1

Deadlift/Farmers DL/Deadlift (Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, respectively) – We needed to train deadlift, but because it was a medley, I alternated the hinge movements each week. (G1. See list of goals in Programming & Justification Part 1)

Tire/Yoke/Tire – I tried to keep the really taxing exercises on one day to continue the fatigue train. The tire was a logical fit because it was also posterior chain. (G1, G4)

Reverse Hyper – This can work the low back and glutes, and I figured we needed something less taxing after the first two exercises, but an exercise that focused on the posterior chain. (G1, G3)

Bis and Tris – I prescribed biceps because I knew that Courtney was potentially really strong at stones, and bicep tears happen a lot while doing them. In addition, considering the general discrepancy in upper vs. lower body strength in women, I believed that Courtney needed to be able to pick the stone (the hard part for her) before loading it (the easy part for her). Triceps are there to help with pressing. (G2, G3)

Day 2

Log Clean and Press Away – Courtney cleans the log easily, so we focused on the pressing portion of the lift, especially because the event, max log, only meant she’d clean it three times max at the competition. (G2)

Axle Rack Pull – This is a pretty heavy amount of pulling close together, but Courtney had axle with no straps as part of the medley, and I wanted to train grip without pulling from the floor. Due to pulling on back-to-back lifting days, I intentionally made sure that Courtney went up to relatively low RPEs. (G1)

DB Incline
– Incline is a great assistance lift for the log, and I wanted to use dumbbells in order to target stabilization muscles as well. (G2)

Ab Wheel/Hanging Leg Raise/Landmine 180s – As I’ve mentioned, I feel that training core is an assistance lift for log. I have no evidence for this assertion, but I believe the passing out feeling that often happens during the log is a result of the torso being “bowed back” (lordosis + thoracic extension) thereby cutting off some sort of air and/or blood supply. A stable core keeps the spine from extending too much. I do understand, however, that some extension is virtually inevitable. (G2, G3)

Day 3

Keg Clean and Press – I know I programmed a lot for the posterior chain, but I tried to treat this exercise as mastering the movement rather than getting stronger at it. This meant erring on the side of lighter weights and taking it one rep at a time to master the technique. I felt that Courtney would be getting stronger with all the other upper and lower body exercises she was doing. (G1, G2)

Stone to Shoulder/Stone Extension/Stone to Shoulder – Same as above. (G1)

One Leg Glute Bridge – I needed to give Courtney a break due to so many posterior dominant events, so I figured a one leg glute bridge was an efficient way to get some good glute work without taxing her body much. (G1, G3)

Band Pull Aparts – Same as above, but with the upper back. (G2, G3)

Day 4

SSB Box Squat w/ Bands – This day was supposed to be “low impact” in the sense that we did speed movements for the main two lifts. Box squat helps ease the demand on the body compared to regular squats, and we kept the weight light so that it moved quickly. We could still get in some work targeted at her weakness, although I admit the more I look at it now, the more it seems like it was perhaps overkill. Maybe this is one of those times in which I was torn between satisfying the goals for Nationals or the CTX Strongest comp. (G1)

Dead Stop Neutral Grip Bar Overhead Press w/ Bands – I considered this lift “low impact” as well due to the bar stopping on pins, and the weight moving quickly. Bands can be taxing, but I thought they would help train Courtney’s triceps. I knew she could launch the log off her chest, but she needed that lockout strength to improve her max log. (G2)

Lat Pressdown – Stones, deadlifts, and kegs all involve some extension of the arm (driving the elbow back), so I figured we could train lats this way. I probably could have just had her row, but I wanted low stress, so I chose a single joint exercise. (G3)

Push Ups on Rack – I wanted to prescribe more volume for upper body, so I figured a bodyweight movement could be relatively low impact. The “on rack” part means that Courtney essentially pushes from a bar that is relatively low on a rack (her body was at an angle) so that the movement wasn’t as taxing in moving the entire weight of her body. (G2, G3)

Block 2
I altered the structure of this second block based on two things. First, when thinking about Courtney’s year-long plan, it was time to stop accumulating volume and increasing her work capacity. This block marked the start of a gradual reduction in volume and increase in intensity. So, I moved from full body days to upper and lower body days. Because the weights and events were so challenging for Courtney, I programmed some pretty low volume because the events were just wearing her out. Again, stress is variable and it is different for each person, so I needed to be flexible to keep Courtney on the progress train.

Courtney’s demonstrated competency in the events during the first block was the second factor that affected the structure of the block. She was having trouble with the tire, partly because at the time it was a max weight rather than a training weight. She was also having trouble with the keg, but she was strong in many of the deadlift implements.

Day 1

Deadlift – Courtney could easily lift comp weight in the other implements, but when she chose this comp, we knew the 475 pull on a DL bar at the end of the deadlift medley would be a big challenge. So, we just trained deadlift in this slot rather than the entire medley. (G1)

Stone to Shoulder
– I put this behind deadlifts because it’s also posterior dominant. And since it was stone to shoulder, the stones would be lighter, and training these together just might be doable. (G1)

GHR – We were still working on Courtney’s glute and hamstring weakness. (G1, G3)

Reverse Hyper – Same as above. (G1, G3)

Day 2

Log Clean and Press Away – Same justification as in block one. As I look at the rep scheme, however, I apparently lowered the volume on log so that she could get more out of her next lift, the log lockout. Now, when looking back on this, I think it was a dumb decision because it probably “peaked” her too quickly. I should have kept the volume a little higher, and not dropped it so drastically. (G2)

Log Lockouts – Courtney pressed a heavy log for the last third of her range of motion. I knew that she usually does a good job of getting the log off her chest after she dips and drives, but that last little bit usually gives her some trouble. So, we trained that last little bit. (G2)

Yoke – We used very low volume for yoke here because Courtney was already good at it, and I didn’t want to waste her energy and recovery. That’s also why yoke was third on this day. (G4)

Bartos I-Beam Attachment High Rows – I was a little worried about Courtney’s grip when pulling the axle during the deadlift medley, so I tried to get the biggest bang for our buck by training grip and upper back simultaneously. (G3)

Day 3

Tire Flips – Since the tire was giving Courtney trouble, we started day 3 with this lift. Because the tire was so heavy, I laced a strap through the tire to help pull the side that Courtney was lifting off the ground. In this way, she could train a “lighter” weight. (G1)

Keg Clean and Press and Carry – Courtney was also having trouble with the keg, so I programmed it second on this day. (G2)

Powerpohl Extensions – We used these as a way to finish off her posterior chain. This exercise somewhat mimicked the hinge she would have to use for tire and keg. These worked ok, but I liked the way I used this implement after the CTX Comp better, which I describe later. You can see what a Powerpohl looks like here: https://www.sportkraft.net/powerpohl_-_voimahaarniska_1. (G1)

Day 4

Neutral Grip Bar Incline – I wanted to get pretty specific with log assistance, so I programmed the same type of grip, but with an incline press. (G2)

Seated OH DB Press – Getting in the appropriate volume on Courtney’s upper body. Based on my experience, women can handle more volume in the upper body, and they, in many cases, need it in order to progress. (G2)

Bartos I-Beam Attachment Low Row – Again, this was another grip and back two-for-one. (G3)

Tris and Bis – Triceps to help her press and biceps because she was pressing so much, and she needed them to pick the stone on stone to shoulder. (G2, G3)

Block 3
Unlike other preps, Courtney was having a difficult time. I’m not sure if she was thinking ahead toward Nationals, or if she was feeling pressure from it. Or, maybe the events were just plain tough and taxing on her body. Nonetheless, she was experiencing more stress than I was used to her experiencing, so during the peak we reduced the number of exercises and made sure that they were very specific to each event. At this time, I knew that Courtney had made great progress on a lot of things, but I wasn’t sure her comp performance would reflect that. I needed to keep in mind that the main goal was Nationals, and she was doing this comp in order to get stronger and test her mental fortitude.

Day 1

Deadlift Medley – We trained the medley at relatively high intensity in order to still train the hinge pattern, but also to touch the implements in order to be ready for the comp. (G1)

Stone to Shoulder – Same justification as block 2. (G1)

Keg Clean and Press – Courtney was still having issues with the keg, so I programmed it in twice, but with light weight on this day. (G2)

Day 2

Log Clean and Press Away – Same justification as block two. Upon this reflection, I realize I definitely did not program this well because the third block has higher volume than the first. Sorry Courtney! Don’t hate me! (G2)

Log Lockouts – Same as block two. (G2)

Bartos I-Beam Attachment High Rows
– Same as block two. (G3)

Day 3

Keg Clean and Press and Carry – Just trying to get it right. (G2)

Yoke/Tire Medley – For the last three weeks, we put the two events together. During the last block, thanks to the help of Mikey Lane and Leon Woolsey, Courtney found a technique that worked for her on the tire. So this went a lot more smoothly than it had previously. To be honest, this was quite a challenge for me. Yielding coaching to others is not easy for me, but I’m glad I did. It was what was best for Courtney, and I would be dumb to not listen to knowledge from others who are giving their time to help. (G1, G4)

Banded KB Swings – Since this comp prep was a beast, I felt that KB swings were relatively low impact, but still helped train her posterior chain. (G1, G3)

Day 4

Strict Log – A gain, I was getting more specific as the comp inched closer, so we went back to strict log to get as much as we could out of the last few weeks of prep. (G2)

Bartos I-Beam Attachment Low Row – Bang for our buck. (G3)

Bis and Tris – For health. (G3)

 

Thoughts on Central Texas Strongest Man Competition

The competition was a mixed bag of results for Courtney. On paper, I don’t think she performed the way she wanted to. However, it was WONDERFUL practice for Nationals in many ways, and because she competed in the lightweight men’s category, it tested her unlike any other competition before.

The first event was log. Her warm ups went fairly well, but she only successfully performed her opener. She was light headed, her legs were shaking, and she just felt like her muscles had no fuel to do what they needed to. We concluded that she did not eat enough. It really hit her that she hadn’t eaten enough when I told her that, during training, she usually had eaten at least three meals before getting under the log; whereas on the day of the comp, she had much less food in her. The night before she didn’t eat much either. As a competitor, Courtney learned the importance of eating, and I *think* she realized that she needed to listen to me a little more. As a coach, I realized that I needed to be much firmer with Courtney because she has a big personality that can be overpowering if interpreted incorrectly. I think we actually became closer as a team after this. We both learned, and we were both happy from it.

The BEST part about the log press was that Courtney got over it. She couldn’t do anything about it after she was finished, and she realized that. The only thing she could do was focus on things she could control. In this case, she focused on staying calm, shaking off the log, and EATING.

The next event was the yoke/tire flip medley. This was a great way to come back after the log because Courtney is solid on the yoke, and she became pretty competent at tire flipping. She flew through the yoke, and then flipped the tire six times (if I remember correctly). This was BIG for her. It was big because she came back strong and performed as if she hit a PR on the log. She didn’t finish the course, but she fought the entire way and made huge strides compared to where she started during the prep.

Keg medley was the third event of the day. To reiterate, it involved cleaning and pressing a keg, walking with the keg thirty feet, cleaning and pressing it again, walking with it thirty more feet, and cleaning and pressing it one last time. Courtney zeroed this event. The keg was simply just too heavy on this day. From a coaching standpoint, I wasn’t too upset because I knew Courtney made some really great progress in this lift during prep.

Although I do my best to not compare Courtney’s performance with others’, it was also helpful that only two people did not zero, and only one person completed the entire medley.
In addition, Nationals events were released about three weeks before this competition, and kegs weren’t included; so, considering this had nothing to do with our ultimate goal, who cares if she zeroed? We didn’t really think twice about the event after her class completed it.

The next event was the deadlift medley. The goal for Courtney was to simply complete the medley. I was anxious about this event because I viewed it as the measuring stick of the prep. I felt that if Courtney completed this medley, it would validate the programming decisions made during this prep. If Courtney didn’t complete this event, I worried she would not give herself credit for all the progress she made up to the comp. Whether that was true or not, I did my best to keep it to myself through both speech and body language.

Despite my anxiety, Courtney did what she does, just kept pulling, and got it done. I think we had another athlete/coach breakthrough here as well because we had to strategize somewhat in this event. Since Courtney’s goal was to complete the medley, we were going to use all the time she had in order to do so. In training, the only weight that she wasn’t sure about was the 475 deadlift bar. So, she pulled the axle easily, picked the farmers handles easily as well, but the trap bar gave her a little trouble. I’m pretty sure she was a little in front of the center. After the trap bar, as planned, Courtney stepped back, took some deep breaths, centered herself, refocused, and waited for me to tell her when to pull. In the meantime I continued cuing her about her breaths and providing positive feedback. At about the 15 seconds remaining mark, it was time for her to COMMIT and that’s exactly what she did; she grinded out the lift and thankfully they let it count even though she dropped it (phew!).

This was HUGE! I was more excited than Courtney I think. From a coaching and programming standpoint, this was the only event that mattered to me. This was the only lift in the competition that I felt Courtney could relate to potential success at Nationals. Log was log, and it was her weakness and she knew that, and we can write that one off due to some dumb mistakes. But it’s not news that deadlift is the foundational lift for most strongman events, and for Courtney to pull that PR AFTER the three lifts, and AFTER three events, was nothing short of amazing. I know she felt good after that, and I think she saw that as redemption in many ways.

As awesome as the medley was, it was still only the fourth event of the day. The last event was stone to shoulder. Courtney likes stones, which was good. I do think, however, that her head wasn’t as in this event, which is reasonable considering the context of this competition. I understand not having a laser focus here, but that also increases the likelihood of injury. I think Courtney went “al in” instead of “all in,” but I can definitely handle that when all things are considered. I was satisfied with her performance in this event, and I addressed her focus when we reflected on the comp.

Overall, I learned a number of things from this competition.
1. Be firm with Courtney
2. Courtney can come back from a poor event and be a beast
3. I identified some ways that programming could be better
4. The extreme emphasis I place on the conservative, and mental approach to training was paying off
a) Have a little more faith in my abilities as a coach and programmer

 

Nationals Prep

With the Central Texas Strongest Man behind us, it was time to take a week off and then get back into gear. November would be here before we knew it, and although Courtney came away with some wonderful accomplishments and lessons learned, we knew she had her work cut out for her if she wanted to reach her goal of qualifying for the Arnold. I didn’t necessarily view the comp as a peak for her, but a really big test. She still had to peak later on, so I structured this training cycle with a pretty traditional accumulation, transmutation, and realization block training setup, but with a little less volume in each block as this was her peak for the entire year of training.

Going into this prep, we had 5 events to think about: log clean and press for reps, frame deadlift for reps, husafell stone for max distance, yoke and farmers medley, and stone over bar for reps. The only event I was worried about for Courtney was the log. The last thing I wanted was for her to zero because I knew that she was pretty darn strong in all the other events.

With this in mind, we dedicated half of her training to upper body. We started the week with log, and had another pretty high volume upper body day as well. I programmed frame deadlift and stones on the same day for the first two blocks because I knew she was good at both of these lifts and could handle them on the same day if we monitored it well. I also wanted her to do stones when she was tired because stones are always last, and our mantra was to finish strong because I had a feeling she might need to win stones to reach her goal for Nationals.

Her second lower body day of the week was geared toward mostly assistance movements and a moving event. Early on she only completed one moving event each week because I knew she competent at all of them. As we moved closer to Nationals, I programmed in more moving events on her moving day. Again, at least half of her training was dedicated to improving log.

Block 1

We had four weeks, rather than three weeks, to train here to accumulate the last bit of heavy volume before Nationals, and to work technique.

Day 1

Log Clean and Three Presses/Log Clean and Press/Log Press from Rack/Log Clean and Press – Courtney, like most women I’ve encountered, can easily clean weight that she can’t press, so I wasn’t worried about training her clean too hard. The biggest focus was her drive and drop. Courtney is a long individual, and the crisp, Olympic lifting type of movements on the overhead are a bit of a challenge for her. (G2)

DB Incline – A solid assistance lift for the log. (G2)

Bent Over Row – This is one of the two lat exercises that I programmed for her. I wanted her to continue working upper back some with these, but because the trap bar got in front of her at the CTX comp and she was a little more rounded than I would have liked, we worked lats a little more as they can help the spine stay neutral. (G1, G3)

KB Alternating OH Press – With log, I feel it’s sometimes difficult to get a really solid lockout, or at least that’s the case with Courtney. So we trained one arm at a time to really feel what it’s like for her entire body to get rigid with each press and lockout. This is also an easy way to get more volume for her upper body while deriving benefits of unilateral training. Her core would benefit, which is always a plus considering the log is so far in front of the body’s midline. (G2, G3)

Day 2

Frame DL – We needed to train the event. Thankfully, Heavy Metal Fitness purchased the Bartos implements that would be used at Nationals by this time. (G1)

Stone Over Bar – We needed to train this event. I paired these two really taxing events together because I wanted to hit the posterior chain hard all in one day so that Courtney could have more days to recover. I felt that, early in the prep, it was better to hit this all in one day so that other days could be more focused. (G1)

Cambered Bar Goodmornings – Seeing Mike Bartos do these inspired me to put include them. I knew that Courtney was having issues with rounding, and I wanted her to continue pounding her hamstrings. This was a great movement to accomplish those objectives; she had to keep her back erect here so that her glutes and hammies could fire properly. I just needed to make sure I didn’t tax her too much after frame AND stone. (G1)

Glute Bridge – I knew Courtney relied on her low back a lot (rather than her hips), so I needed a low impact movement to help develop weaknesses in her posterior chain. I felt that glute bridge is a great way to do that, and since they are potentially the strongest muscles in the body, they wouldn’t be too thrashed by some focused work to help develop a better mind-muscle connection. (G1, G3)

Day 3

Neutral Grip Z Press – I wanted to train Courtney’s core for the log since she felt lightheaded at the CTX Strongest Man comp. Z press is a great way to do this as well as get some volume without being too taxing on the entire body. We used neutral grip to emulate the log. (G2, G3)

Close Grip Bench Press – I wanted to get Courtney some tricep focused work as well, and doing it in a horizontal plane seemed like a nice way to reduce the likelihood of overuse in the vertical pressing motion. (G2)

Band Pull Aparts – Upper back work without taxing the body too much. (G3)

Lat Pressdowns – This movement emulates the way the lats work on the deadlift. The arms are straight and they extend down toward the sides, which is similar to the way they are used in the deadlift. With the deadlift event starting with such a high pick (comparatively), I felt it was important to strengthen muscles that help keep the weight close and the torso rigid and neutral. (G3)

Day 4

Hatfield Squats – I wanted Courtney to rely on her hips and her legs to move things rather than her low back. This was still a spot that I think Courtney needed to build. Often people use this Hatfield Squats an overload, but we kept them moderate and used the exercise to keep the emphasis on her glutes and hamstrings. (G1)

Farmers Walk/Husafell/Yoke – Courtney’s strengths involved moving events, so we only trained one moving event each week in order to make sure she touched them periodically. I wanted to focus more on weaknesses during this first block, which meant we could focus less on strengths as long as we still paid them respect. (G4)

RDL – Still focusing on glutes and hamstrings. High reps on these to really fatigue them. (G1)

KB Swings – Although this was the last exercise of the day, I still wanted Courtney to work posterior chain, and I wanted her to have to expend some effort. I felt that KB Swings were a great fit here because they have a low technical and mental demand, but they still trained her to finish strong while getting in some good volume. (G1, G3)

Block 2

After 4 weeks of accumulating a lot of quality work, it was time to start lowering volume and increasing intensity. The first one or two exercises each day were where Courtney did her heavy moving. Her assistance lifts were more about feeling/building muscles. The reps would be lower, but the focus needed to be laser sharp.

Day 1

Log Clean and Press – We knew comp weight would be heavy for Courtney, and I thought on her best day she would get three reps. This meant there was no reason for her to rush through reps during training. Every ounce of effort was purposeful and aimed at a goal. We did one week from the rack during this block to make sure she was fresh during presses. We worked up to a heavy set of something with low reps, and then worked technique on the down sets. (G2)

BB Incline Pin Press – I felt that Courtney was having some issues getting her lats engaged on her presses. With pin presses, I feel like the lats and traps have to turn on to provide a foundation from which to press. My hope was that it would carry over to the log so that she could feel comfortable catching it after her drive. We also started the press at about the position she caught the log – specificity! (G2)

Neutral Grip Pullups – Again, I wanted her to work lats and upper back – the muscles that help move and stabilize the scapula – to have a great foundation for the log. Neutral grip was specific to the grip she was using on the log. (G2, G3)

Log Dips – Essentially, Courtney took the log off of the rack and then performed the same dip that she would use to then explosively press the log. However, she performed the dips here slowly, and in a controlled fashion in order to tax her core. Often, if the core is not strong enough, the log falls forward on the dip and drive. So, the idea was to keep the core integrity. I saw Tim Ingram at Heavy Metal Fitness program these for some of his folks, and I thought it was a great fit here. (G2, G3)

Day 2

Frame DL – Practice, practice, practice. Great start to the deadlift/posterior emphasis day. (G1)

Stone Over Bar – I wanted to keep these on the same day to practice stones in a somewhat fatigued state. I wanted Courtney to hit the posterior chain hard in one day in order to help with recovery. (G1)

PowerPohl Box Squats – I’ve never seen this implement anywhere except Heavy Metal Fitness. It provides a wonderful way of placing emphasis on the low back and glutes while necessitating a neutral spine. It emulates the log clean and stones very well, but without too much of the total body strain that comes with both of those movements. It was a great fit for an assistance exercise on this posterior heavy day. You can check out how we used it here: https://www.elitefts.com/coaching-logs/3-exercises-to-supercharge-your-squat/ (G1)

Ab Wheel – Core is key. If the core folds on you, then it’s really difficult for the body to move in the most efficient manner, which means placing emphasis on the strongest muscles of the body. A strong core will help maintain emphasis on the legs and hips during deadlifts and stones rather than letting the back take on most of the movement. (G3)

Day 3 – This was pretty much an upper body assistance day, which I think was important in allowing Courtney to recover just enough to keep her healthy until the deload.

Log Strict Press – Even if someone jerks the log, I still think it’s important to slow the lift down and make sure that the muscles are being stimulated throughout the entire range of motion. I think of it as building up the muscles that you use to catch a heavy load. (G2)

“Behind the Neck” Press – Courtney was having some trouble activating her low traps and keeping her elbows under her wrists when she pressed. With this movement, Courtney took a slow and controlled approach with light weight. I think this exercise really contributed to progress without taxing her too much. She never let the bar descend past the top of her ears on these reps. (G2, G3)

Bent Over KB Rows – The lats are large muscles that are used in many movements, so training them twice a week is fine in my opinion. Using KB’s allowed Courtney to get a full range of motion and continue refining her ability to use her traps and lats. (G3)

OH Tricep Extension Superset with Curls – Triceps extend the arm at the elbow, and putting them in an overhead position when training them is specific to pressing overhead. We used curls to battle the likelihood of tearing a bicep. (G2, G3)

Day 4 – During the previous block, Courtney only trained moving events once per week. Although Nationals was slated to have yoke, farmers, and husafell, Courtney trained only two of these per day during this block because it was her strength. We kept in mind that you can only get so many points for first place.

Yoke Squats/SSB Squats – Courtney was having a few issues with making sure her hips were the main emphasis during the frame deadlifts. She had a tendency to default to her low back as she became tired. So, with yoke squats, we placed her feet in the same position as they were when she deadlifted the frame. Her body did the same thing it did during frame deadlifts as well. However, the difference in this exercise was that the weight was up top, which meant that she couldn’t rely on her low back as the primary mover because the yoke would fall if she did. To me, this is the definition of an assistance lift. We kept this a little lighter, but we also did SSB squats once as well because yoke can be taxing. (G1)

Yoke/Farmers Walk/Husafell – We treated this first moving event of the day as the heavy event. Lower volume with extreme focus was the name of the game. Although I thought of this day as Courtney’s “moving day,” I reasoned that starting the day with an exercise that targeted her posterior chain fit with our goals. And, since moving events are often performed after other events during competitions, I was ok with this decision. (G4)

Farmers Walk/Husafell/Yoke – We treated the second moving event of the day as the lighter event. Speed and a little more volume were the focus here while trying to stay resilient regarding technique. (G4)

GHR – Courtney did what she could on this. It was often just saying hi to the posterior chain to make sure it was still there since this day was pretty taxing. (G1)

Block 3 – This block was the peak of Courtney’s 13 week Nationals prep. With that in mind, we cut off all the fat. Everything that Courtney did was extremely related to what she would do at Nationals. There were very few assistance exercises programmed, and everything she did was to make sure she was realizing ALL the work she had put in during this prep. It was time to really push the heights of the intensity until the deload, and then remain calm before the storm.

Day 1

Log Clean and Press – We continued treating this like the comp. Extremely low reps with time to step back and breathe between each rep. Quality was the name of the game here and having a high arousal on something that you’re not good at sounds like a bad mix to me. (G2)

Log Clean and Press Away – I dropped the weight to approximately 60-75% of Courtney’s estimated 1RM and had her complete a relatively low amount of sets and reps after she did her heavy work. The objective was to practice driving and dropping under the log, which she had not yet mastered. During the peak, I was ok with spending so much time on this event. (G2)

Sitting DB Alternate OH Press – I wanted Courtney to press while also taxing her core. She sat on the ground with her feet in front of her while pressing DBs. (G2, G3)

Bartos Handle Row – I wanted to address upper back, but I also wanted to address grip a little bit more. Sometimes farmers walk can surprise you, so training a little more grip wouldn’t hurt, especially if it was part of something Courtney was already doing. (G2, G3)

Day 2

Frame DL – We went heavy here. She pulled a heavy double during the first week, and then a little lighter and a little more volume every week after that. (G1)

Seated Jumps to a Low Box – I wanted Courtney to try and recruit all the muscle mass she had gained throughout the comp, but without the heavy load; essentially she was training her neuromuscular system. She held dumbbells and let them go as soon as she jumped. Usually I put a relatively heavy exercise specific to her goals in this slot. However, I didn’t want her to exert too much energy on anything but events at this time. (G1)

PowerPohl Box Squats – I think these work the glutes and hamstrings in a wonderful way, and I think Courtney needed to continue working this until the end. It wasn’t too taxing, so I was ok with it. (G1)

BB Row – The lats play a crucial role in keeping the arms close to the body during deadlifts, so I placed rows here on what was now essentially a deadlift day. Her lats were already a little tired, but I wanted to finish them off so they had awhile to recover. (G1, G3)

Day 3 – This day served as another upper body assistance day, similar to the last block. There was a fair amount of volume here, but I tried to balance it out by having Courtney perform everything at about 7 RPE, which is supposed to feel like a solid warmup. I wanted her to feel her muscles and move like she’s supposed to without getting too tired or worn down.

Banded Log Push Press – Similar to my thought process on her seated jumps, I wanted Courtney to recruit as many muscle fibers as possible in order to get the most she could out of the drive portion of her log. (G2)

One Arm DB Incline – This exercise provided light assistance for log while also working Courtney’s core due to using one arm. (G2, G3)

Sled Face Pulls – Courtney worked upper back here, but because it was a sled, I wanted her to put a little body into it as well. This movement was light, but it definitely helped with full body blood flow, and thus recovery. (G3)

Bis and Tris – Often I would use something multijoint to train triceps, such as close grip bench, but in the last two blocks that would have meant Courtney expending more energy than desired. (G2, G3)

Day 4 – Courtney didn’t train three moving events in one day until the last week. This day was just the bare necessities. We trained Husafell, Stone, and abs during the first week. We trained Yoke/Farmers, Stone, and abs during the second week, and we trained Yoke/Farmers, Husafell, and Stone during the last week. (G4)

 

Thoughts on Strongman Corporation Nationals Competition

As I stated at the beginning of this article, Courtney won. It would be so easy to just be happy about this outcome and not think about the preparation that it took to accomplish such a feat, especially with so much daunting competition. But that is not who I am. I try to remain extremely mindful about everything I do and observe, and I think so much can be learned from reflection.

Day one started with log clean and press. Just like we practiced, the log was heavy for Courtney. Overall, I think 5 of 23 women did not zero on log. Only one woman, Jessica Fithens, completed more than one rep (she completed 3). After a failed attempt, Courtney took a step back, composed herself, COMMITTED, and in a wonderful showing of guts and grit, locked out one rep, which tied her for second. This told me that all of that work – all 50% of the training time that we dedicated to log – paid off. Even if it was one rep, it gave her 22 more points than the rest of the pack. She took one successful step in achieving her goal of qualifying for the Arnold. AND she hit a 10 pound PR. BIG TIME!

The second event was frame deadlift. The pick height on this day was higher than we had trained, which was likely helpful to Courtney. But what was more helpful, in my biased opinion, was the time she dedicated to perfecting technique. As she continued to rep out the frame, her technique held STRONG. She was not wasting effort by defaulting to her low back as much as she had in the past, if at all. This made such a difference, in my eyes, in her tying for third place in this event.

The third event of the day was husafell stone. She ended up placing third in this event as well. I can’t really say too much about this event because it was already a strength for Courtney. We simply did our best to put in enough practice to continue progressing on the event. This was validation to me that the decision to focus more on log than her moving events was probably a good call.

On day 2, the first event was yoke. The original plan was that this event would be a yoke/farmers medley. However, they announced that it wasn’t, and that was that. Time to get it done. Again, Courtney is strong at moving events. However, we also focused a lot on Courtney “moving within herself.” In other words, Courtney remained focused on her technique, and did not get ahead of herself figuratively or literally. She focused on the process, which in this case, was putting one foot in front of the other. Courtney finished second in this event.

The fifth and final event was stones. Courtney was sitting in first place by a few points at this time, which was awesome since she felt so confident about the stones. Our posse tried to keep count of the closest competitors’ rep counts during the event, but this became too difficult to do accurately. After about 30 seconds, I just told Courtney to go. She finished strong, just like we practiced. She performed 12 reps and secured a decisive win at her first Nationals.

When looking back on Courtney’s entire prep, it’s very easy for me to say that everything fit right into place. This certainly was not the case. Since I train Courtney in person, sometimes we would reduce the weight if she was just having an off day, or we would add a few reps to get more technique work if she finished strong. I can say that this was a good program because she won, but that would take away from the drive that Courtney has that brought her to the gym day in and day out, that made her pay attention to the things I said even when she was frustrated, that made her plan her meals and eat more than she wanted even though her clothes were uncomfortable, and the grit that she demonstrated at Nationals to just get it done.

Kaitlyn Burgess, a fantastic strongwoman in her own right, responded on Instagram to so many individuals posting about Nationals. She wrote, “The strongest doesn’t always win. Consistency, no mistakes, grit, and one hell of a mind set will usually take the wheel.” Considering this statement, which I believe to be true in so many aspects of life, the idea is that with proper programming, someone will get 2-5% more out of their grit and hard work. I think that was the case for Courtney. Her programming was simply a supplement, and her work ethic, drive, composure, and, let’s face it, genetics, all combined to secure her first place finish.

Posted by & filed under Dominic Morais.

In the first part of this piece, I described the training philosophy used to guide my programming for Courtney Martin, who won the women’s heavyweight class in the 2017 Strongman Corporation National Championships. Through her case study, I also provided an example of how I assess an athlete in order to create training goals.

In this second part of the article, I will detail how I structured Courtney’s programming using the goals I laid out in the first article. To review, Courtney’s stated overall goal was to do well enough at Nationals to qualify for the Arnold. In other words, she needed to finish in approximately the top 20% of her weight class. I believed the following goals would get her there (I’ll refer to these as Nationals Goals):

Goal 1) Develop her lower body posterior chain and refine her movement patterns.

Goal 2) Balance her upper back while ultimately increasing her strength in the overhead events.

Goal 3) Maintain a balance in her body that would reduce the likelihood of injury.

Let’s review the rules of thumb I use in programming:

• Each movement programmed MUST be justified/supported by the goals of that athlete. I’m not going to program a lot of moving events for Courtney because I know she already excels in those.

• The principle of specificity. To get better at the deadlift, one should deadlift. Every movement I program passes through my mental filter of breaking down strongman events and finding movements that emulate whatever aspect of that event that I want improved.

The athlete can only undergo a limited amount of stress. This means I program a limited amount of exercises to achieve the desired outcome.

With these ideas in mind, I will dive into my programming decisions, starting with Courtney’s first training cycle after qualifying for Strongman Corporation Nationals. I will also tag each exercise with the corresponding goal I listed above (G1, G2, G3, G3).

First mesocycle (January-March 2017):
Knowing that we had approximately one year to prep for the competition, I decided it was time to address Courtney’s weaknesses, increase her strength, and focus on technique. I took a higher volume approach to this macrocycle because I knew that she would need to lay quite a foundation from which to peak at Nationals. She did not have a competition for awhile, so she did not touch an event during her first mesocycle.

Day 1
Deadlift – What better way to develop the posterior chain? (G1)

Mid Grip Bench Press – To increase her overall upper body strength with the idea that it would transfer to her overhead implements later in the year. (G2)

GHR + Back Raise – Volume for the posterior chain. (G1)

Biceps – For balance and health, especially with movements like stones, axle deadlifts and cleans, and farmers walks, which place a lot of stress on the biceps. (G3)

Day 2
Strict Axle OH Press – We worked technique with the strict press, and used this to develop overhead strength. (G2)

Safety Squat Bar Goodmornings – For posterior development and learning how to engage glutes and hamstrings. (G1)

Reverse Grip Pulldowns – To develop the lats to help support overhead movements, and balance the pulling and pushing muscles of the upper body. (G2)

Ab Wheel – I believe the weakest link of the body shouldn’t be in the center of it. (G3)

Day 3
Back Squat – Courtney needed to learn how to “sit into” a squat to use more glutes and hamstrings and less low back. The idea was that this would transfer into more efficient stone loads and log cleans, especially. (G1)

One Arm DB Press – To help her learn how to use her lats in overhead pressing. Unilateral movements are almost always a nice way to help balance the body, especially when most movements for strongman occur in either the frontal or sagittal plane. Much of the stabilization during unilateral movements will recruit muscles that often work in the transverse plane. A brief explanation of planes of movement can be found here. (G2)

Lateral Lunges – To be honest I stole this from Ben Pollack, who wrote these in one of his programs he gave me. They are great for moving in the sagittal plane as well as pumping up the glutes. (G1, G3)

Face Pulls + Band Pull Aparts – If I’ve heard anything from Kalle Beck, it’s that the upper back should be a priority if one wants to overhead press well. We focused on getting Courtney to engage her low traps more. (G2, G3)

Day 4
Strict Log Press – Courtney needed to learn better technique on the log. I felt that doing controlled, strict reps would ensure Courtney learned how to handle that implement through the entire range of motion. (G2)

Step Ups – Another unilateral movement, but for lower body. This exercise mimics a squat, but with one leg, thereby addressing imbalances. It is also a great way to engage the hamstrings and glutes as they are working hard to keep the athlete upright during the movement. (G1, G3)

Triceps – As one of the prime movers in upper body pressing events, I believe it’s important to focus on them. I let Courtney choose any triceps isolation movement here. (G2)

Plank – More core training. I believe everything in strongman heavily involves the core. There is a reason Big Z and Eddie Hall have enormous stomachs. To press a log overhead means the entire torso musculature is doing what it can to stay upright and not fall back too far. Walking/running with a yoke on one’s back means that the core must be able to create enough intra-abdominal pressure to stabilize so much weight while being on one foot for a fair amount of time (due to walking). (G1, G2, G3)

Thoughts on first macrocycle:
One big focus for this cycle, along with the goals I laid out, was quality of movement. Actually, that’s pretty much always a priority. But, again, efficiency is the name of the game. I programmed four exercises each day so that Courtney could just focus on quality rather than quantity. This also allowed her to take some time between sets to be properly recovered. Because technique was something she really needed to work on at this time, I programmed low reps for the main lifts so that she could focus on just three or so reps each set. In this way, the likelihood for fatigue was lower, which meant better technique each set.

I also used Courtney’s goals as a guide in structuring this program. I felt that the first priority was glutes and hammies, which is why deadlift was the first lift of the week. The second priority was her overhead, which is why axle was the first lift of day 2. Everything in the program followed this trend. The first exercise of day 3 is the third priority lift, which was back squat, which also helped her glutes and hammies. The first exercise of day 4 was log strict press, which was to address her overhead weakness. Then, back to day 1. The second exercise was bench press, which was one way to help her overhead. This same trend is demonstrated in every program I write. The table below helps illustrate the process I’ve described.

 

 

Finally, Courtney would perform upper and lower body exercises every training day. The reason for this was to help increase her work capacity by getting the entire body involved each day. By the end of the macrocycle, she was pretty fatigued, but that is what we wanted. I linearly progressed most of the exercises during this macrocycle because we were just getting back to the basics, and packing in a lot of movement into 12 weeks.

Transition Mesocycle (April 2017):
After the first mesocycle, I was in a kind of odd place regarding programming. I had one month between the first mesocycle and the mesocycle for the competition Courtney wanted to enter. Essentially, I needed to program the entire month of April before she started her Central Texas (CTX) Strongest Man prep in May. Thankfully, because we established goals for Courtney, I could use them to decide how to utilize the month of April. So, I programmed this small mesocycle that addressed multiple goals. The aim of the transition mesocycle was to mix high volume while also touching implements in order to 1) continue increasing her volume 2) get the feel for implements that would be in the CTX Strongest Man comp in order to see how much priority to place on them in the next mesocycle. She touched a number of implements during April because I didn’t want to focus solely on the events for the comp. I think that 16 weeks of the same movements is asking for staleness and increased risk of injury due to overuse and lack of balance. I also added one more goal to Courtney’s Nationals Goals since we were now training events:

Goal 1) Develop her lower body posterior chain and refine her movement patterns.

Goal 2) Balance her upper back while ultimately increasing her strength in the overhead events.

Goal 3) Maintain a balance in her body that would reduce the likelihood of injury.

Goal 4) Maintain her athleticism in moving and repetition events.

This is how the mesocycle looked:

Day 1
Trap Bar DL, Axle DL, Farmers Handle DL (Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, respectively) – The first priority for Courtney was still glutes and hammies, so I programmed a hinge movement as the first lift of the day while also having her touch the different implements that would be in her DL medley at the comp. (G1, G4)

Floor Press – This movement addressed her overhead weakness by focusing on a tricep dominant movement that also allowed her to move some heavier weight. (G2)

Glute Ham Raise (GHR) and Glute Ham (GH) Slides – These movements also addressed her glutes and hamstrings. The GH slides are a movement in which the athlete puts each foot on something that will easily slide on the ground or turf. It then looks a lot like a stability ball leg curl, except the feet are on the ground. (G1)

Axle Bar Curls – Courtney was going to have her grip tested in the next comp, so I went with a thick bar to get more bang for our buck. (G3)

Day 2
Circus DB Push Press, Log Push Press, Axle Push Press (Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, respectively) – I think a natural progression from strict press is push press, and that’s what we did in this mesocycle. We were able to work on Courtney’s dip and drive while also targeting her triceps, thereby addressing her overhead weakness. (G2, G4)

Dead Stop RDL – I wanted Courtney to learn what it felt like to start from a hinged position and be comfortable there. She had a tendency to let her back do the work instead of pushing her hips back and feeling the glutes and hamstrings do what they do best. (G1)

Overhand Chest Supported Row – The lats help a lot with remaining upright while holding on to something, so we trained them. I view training lats as balancing the body and an accessory that will almost always help improve events. (G2, G3)

Hanging Leg Raises – In Courtney’s hinge pattern, her low back was rounding more than I wanted. I believe that the body is a system, and it must pull “against” itself in order to remain stable or create force. With that in mind, I looked across the body to try and strengthen her “lower” abs in order to help her low back rounding. (G1, G2, G3)

Day 4
Paused Safety Bar Squat – Staying upright in the hole for a pause with an SSB is very taxing on the posterior chain. My goal was to make sure that her butt didn’t rise first. In all exercises, my goal as a coach is to make sure that if the body moves, then the bar or implement moves the way it’s supposed to; efficiency is the name of the game. (G1)

Neutral Grip Bar Overhead Press – Since we were already working push press on Day 2, I wanted to throw a strict press into the mix. We used the neutral grip bar in order to somewhat emulate the log. (G2)

Lateral Lunges – For the same reason I programmed them before: moving in a different plane and developing the glutes. (G1, G3)

Band Pull Aparts + Band External Rotations – Again, a strong upper back will likely yield a strong overhead. On log especially, you can see the best pressers almost “hugging” their elbows together in the rack position. I think the external rotations help with that. (G2, G3)

Thoughts on transition mesocycle:
I knew I was on the right track with this mesocycle because Courtney was giving me more pushback than usual. One rule of thumb I have is that if someone hates an exercise or movement, then I will seriously consider programming it because they likely aren’t good/strong at it. This happened a lot during this mesocycle. The sets were often over 10 reps, which really taxed Courtney. She was also pretty aggravated every time she did dead stop RDLs because she wasn’t mastering the movement like she wanted. She also hated push press because she became accustomed to dropping under a bar when she participated in CrossFit. So, in writing this, I am actually feeling a little for Courtney because this month must have suuuuuucked. Nevertheless, I think this cycle accomplished what I wanted it to. Courtney was getting used to working for longer than three reps, she was performing movements she was not good at, she was familiarizing herself with some implements that would be at the comp, she was addressing weaknesses, and she was still doing upper and lower body lifts every day of the week, which helped accumulate some nice fatigue/laid a solid foundation for this comp’s peak.

Pause for reflection: At this point in time, I felt good about Courtney’s training. She hit solid PRs after the first macrocycle, and she put in some great work during the microcycle. In some ways, January-April could be seen as her “offseason.” She increased her strength during the first mesocycle, and she was transitioning some of that strength into being “comp ready” during the transition mesocycle. Overall, she really laid a fantastic foundation that *I reasoned/hoped* would ultimately be realized in the mesocycle prior to Nationals.

Courtney’s next step on the way to Nationals was prepping for CTX Strongest Man. In part 2 of the Programming and Justification section of this article, I’ll get into her programming for that mesocycle as well as how she fared at the comp.

Posted by & filed under Dominic Morais.

At the 2017 Strongman Corporation National Championships, Courtney Martin earned first place in the heavyweight class, and won her pro card. She finished the competition with 116 total points, which was 15.5 more than the closest of many formidable, and downright impressive, competitors.

In summary:

Day 1:

• Performed one rep on the log clean and press, which tied her for second place with four other women

• Tied for third place with two other women in the frame deadlift with 11 reps

• Earned third place on husafell stone with 307 feet

• Finished day 1 in first place by three points

Day 2:

• Earned second place on yoke for 60 feet with a time of 7.75 seconds

• Won the stone over bar event with 12 reps

This article is essentially a case study of Courtney’s year-long prep for Nationals. It has multiple purposes:

• First, I will explain the training philosophy used to plan and execute Courtney’s year-long prep for Nationals.

• Second, I will detail the ways in which a goal setting approach “simplified” programming and strategy for this competition.

• Third, I will list and justify the reasons for every exercise programmed to help illustrate how this goal setting approach guided my decisions.

• Fourth, I will shed light on the day-in-day-out mental space that we used to develop the grit that resulted in virtually flawless execution for Courtney throughout the competition.

My hope is that this article helps others think differently about how they approach training, programming, and/or competing in order to better realize their own goals and self-actualization. I also hope to receive feedback on the piece and my decisions in order to continue honing my own craft.

Although I’d worked with Courtney for approximately two years by the time she won Nationals, this examination will focus only on the year preceding her win.

I. Training Philosophy and Setting Goals

Courtney qualified for Nationals in December 2016 at the Bill Kazmaier Strongman Classic. Granted, after tying for 1st place with Kaitlin Burgess, who is a phenomenal competitor and had just earned her pro card, we knew that there could be good things in store for Courtney. But we knew we had to work for them, and that started with assessing the situation and then making a plan.

In order to make a plan, one must first have an objective, or a goal. I believe that goal should remain up to the athlete, and all of the coach’s decisions should aim to make the strength experience of the athlete exactly what they want.

Courtney’s stated goal was to do well enough at Nationals to qualify for the Arnold. In other words, she needed to finish in approximately the top 20% of her weight class. Now that we had a long-term goal, it was time to shift our focus. Courtney could only actually achieve her goal on Nov 10 and 11 of 2017. Everything we focused on involved what she could control right here, right now. As Master Oogway said to Po in Kung Fu Panda, “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why it is called the present.”

Now that we had a goal, it was time to plan her actual program.

Before doing anything, I believe we must be keenly aware of the assumptions that we make regarding our endeavors. By remaining aware of our assumptions, we have a foundation from which we can base decisions.

The first assumption I made is that in programming, I only have a small number of exercises (4-5 per day, 4 days per week) to stimulate the response I want (strength, power, hypertrophy, etc.). I believe that we only have so much stress we can endure before progress is negatively affected. This stress can come from all aspects of life, not just training.

Practically speaking, this assumption told me that everything regarding programming must be as efficient as possible. How can we do as “little” as possible in order to get the greatest response? This guiding principle informed the movements I selected, the structure in which they were programmed, and the emphasis I placed on the quality of movements. Technique is always the top priority. With flawed technique comes force leaks, wasted energy, and increased risk of injury. All of these results can be viewed as hindrances to reaching one’s goal when it comes to strength training.

The second assumption in this plan came from assessing the sport of strongman itself. In strongman, points are awarded based on how one places in each event in the competition. This structure means that there is a point of zero returns on effort in strongman. For instance, when a competitor continues walking with a husafell stone after winning the event, it is wasted effort. The same can be said for completing more reps than necessary after securing the win in a “for-reps” event.

As a corollary, it makes sense from our assumption regarding limited amounts of stress/energy/effort that the way to be successful in strongman is to limit weaknesses rather than rely on or focus on strengths. There are certainly individuals who really love a certain event, or are simply really good at it, and it makes them happy to excel in that event. As long as it helps achieve one’s established goal(s), then there is absolutely nothing wrong with that in my book. If this focus is due to ego, or if doing “unnecessarily” well in one event is a way to preserve one’s self-esteem, then I would ask that individual to revisit their goal(s) in order to better align their actions.

So, to be clear, we have made two assumptions. 1) The body can only take so much stress, which can come from all aspects of life. 2) The way to win strongman competitions is to limit weaknesses rather than boost strengths. This was the starting point for creating Courtney’s year-long Nationals prep.

The next step in creating Courtney’s program was to assess her strengths and weaknesses. In order to structure the most efficient program possible, it’s important to start with the individual and make decisions from there, rather than starting with a certain program or approach and molding the athlete to fit. The program should be tailored to the athlete. So, I asked myself, “What do we know about Courtney?” We knew a few things:

• She scored a lot of points on repetition and moving events at the Kazmaier (which qualified her for Nationals), which told me that she was already athletic. Knowing that she is tall and holds her weight really well also told me she is athletic. Granted, we knew these things long before she qualified for Nationals, but they were affirmed at the Kazmaier.

• Considering she went head to head with Kaitlin Burgess at the Kazmaier, she could perform under pressure, and she had what it takes to compete with the best athletes.

• She needed/wanted a little more experience in order to limit “gameday” mistakes.

• Although she placed well in overhead events at the Kazmaier, with heavier weight she felt her performance would have decreased drastically.

• Based on watching her technique and seeing her body, I could tell she was pretty quad and back dominant, and hamstring and glute deficient.

• Based on her technique, I also noticed that she often used too much upper trap during overhead movements, and she did not turn on her lower traps like she should. She also experienced a fair amount of shoulder pain earlier in the year, so she was likely still experiencing some symptoms of strength imbalances.

• We had almost an entire year to prep for Nationals.

• She wanted to compete in one competition before Nationals to stay “fresh.”

• Perhaps most important, the goal was to compete at Nationals and qualify for the Arnold. From here on out, we would focus on smaller goals that led to this goal; everything else was a distraction.

So, we had quite a bit of information to work with. In synthesizing this information with the assumptions of the sport, I came up with a few objectives for her prep.

1) Considering that strongman is about limiting weaknesses, we needed to engage and develop Courtney’s glutes and hamstrings in order to be competitive at Nationals.
2) While she was strong with multiple reps and moving events, her static strength needed work.

All in all, her goals were to:

1) Balance her upper back while ultimately increasing her strength in the overhead events.

2) Develop her lower body posterior chain and refine her movement patterns (With increases in mass and strength, it’s important to make adjustments to movements in the name of efficiency).

3) Remain athletic enough to be competent in the moving events and repetition events.

With all this information in mind, I laid out a year-long blueprint to help plan the programming. In order to reach Courtney’s long-term goal, I needed to break it down into steps. Insert any cliché here: You have to walk before you can run; one step at a time; you can only eat an elephant one bite at a time. The list goes on because every one of these clichés are valid.

Ultimately, I started with Courtney’s goal: to qualify for the Arnold. Then, I made smaller goals that related to the main goal by breaking down the year into multiple 12 week macrocycles. Again, each of these macrocycles had its own goal that related to the main goal. Similar to writing a paper, each paragraph MUST relate to the thesis. Otherwise it is a waste; it is inefficient. To continue the idea of breaking things down into smaller objectives, ultimately, each 12-week macro cycle had a volume, strength, and peak phase. I think this structure aligns with my philosophy of efficiency because it focuses on one overarching physical goal during each block. I also think 12 weeks is manageable from a planning and training standpoint; in my experience, burnout becomes an issue the longer that the macrocycles go on.

Ultimately, I believe that each week of each phase should have an objective that relates to the main goal. Then, each day should have an objective that relates to the main goal. Then, each exercise should be justified by how it helps accomplish the main goal. Then, each rep of each set should be justified by how it helps accomplish the main goal. When writing it out, this seems extremely tedious. But when I was at a CSCCa convention, I remember Bryan Mann (I think) saying that a strength coach should be able to defend every rep of their program. I’ve tried to follow that advice.

When I created Courtney’s year-long plan, I kept in mind my philosophy of focusing on what I could control. I wrote the objective for each week first, working backwards from the competition date. Then, I only planned the specifics of the upcoming month, using the step-by-step, rep-by-rep approach I described earlier. I do this because I know that things will not always go to plan, and this provides flexibility when I need it. I will go into more detail in the second part of the article regarding specific programming decisions.

*Before moving on, I’d like to review a few of the takeaways of this part of the case study.*

First, every coaching decision must be made through the lens of the athlete’s explicit goals.

Second, I believe every coach and athlete should write down, or at the least, explicitly state their training philosophy.

The goal of satisfying these two components is to make a simple program. By that I mean that every aspect of the program has a purpose, and nothing is unnecessary. I believe that simple programs are easier for an athlete to buy into, and once that happens, the hard part of coaching is over.

That concludes the first part of this case study. In the next section, I will discuss the process of exercise selection by providing more detail regarding the macrocycles leading up to Nationals, and the decisions made during their explicit programming. I will also describe certain events along the way that helped to guide programming decisions as we reflected and gathered information.

Posted by & filed under Dominic Morais.

Although only an exhibition, Paul Anderson and all the lifters competing at the weightlifting exhibition in Moscow on June 15, 1955 surely understood the magnitude of this first “cultural exchange” between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. And, as detailed in the previous entry, with only a few years of experience under his belt, Anderson had made the U.S. team and sought to do his best both for himself, and for America.

So, like a proper heavyweight at the most important event of his life to date, Anderson laid on a couch that evening while awaiting his first press attempt of the night. Since Anderson and his teammates – Tommy Kono, Chuck Vinci, Stan Stanczyk, Joe Pitman, and Dave Sheppard – stepped on stage during opening ceremonies, Anderson did his best to save his energy. He saved it for quite awhile, actually, as the “rising bar” method was used for all weight classes, meaning the weight rose by 5 kilograms for each attempt, and each athlete would jump in whenever he wanted.

 

Anderson flexes at the World Championships in Munich a few months after his performance in Moscow.

 

All the other weightlifters attempted all of their lifts before Anderson even stirred. The last athlete on stage was Alexey Medvedev, the reigning Soviet heavyweight champion who was pitted against Anderson. Medvedev finished his presses at 325 pounds, which tied his personal best, and tied the Olympic record for heavyweights. It was no surprise, then, that the Soviet crowd buzzed after hearing that Bob Hoffman, the United States “coach,” called for a 25-kilogram weight jump. What stirred the crowd more was the man attempting the jump in weight had no international weightlifting experience. In other words, most in the crowd simply had not heard of Anderson.

According to Arkady Vorobyov, one of the Soviet weightlifters competing that evening, Anderson didn’t even warm up before his first attempt. “When [Anderson’s] turn came,” he said, “he got up from the couch with all the elegance of an elephant and went straight out onto the platform,” where he was met by reportedly 15,000 spectators at the outdoor Zelyony Theater in Gorky Park. At 5’9” and 340 pounds, Anderson was so stocky that he almost waddled to the bar as he swung his body with each step. He looked out of place compared to the slimmer weightlifters, but as Vorobyov explained, “[Anderson] performed his solo with complete calm. The bar, heavily loaded with weights, was raised and then lowered without a murmur of dissension.” Anderson easily cleaned his first attempt to his chest while in a relatively shallow squat position, and then pressed it overhead seemingly with little effort.

After his first successful press at 172.5 kilograms (380.29 pounds), Anderson called for 182.5 kilograms, or 402.41 pounds. Loading the bar took longer than usual, as organizers did not expect such a weight to be lifted so early in the evening, and the loaders were meticulous in reaching the correct weight. On his second attempt, Anderson easily cleaned the bar, waited for the judge’s clap, and began pressing the weight. Halfway into his press, however, the weight seemed to move forward out of the groove, and Anderson let the weight fall back to his chest, and then to the ground.

Anderson recounted in his autobiography, The Strongest Man in the World, that the bar was wet due to a drizzle, which caused his hand to slip. A number of other sources, such as weather data and film of the event, suggest that there was not actually any significant precipitation at the time. For instance, no one in the crowd was seen using umbrellas. Perhaps this discrepancy resulted from the many years between the event and his autobiography, or maybe Anderson simply couldn’t remember it happening any other way. He is surely not the only strongman to have missed a few details from an event. Whatever the reason, the fact remained that Anderson had only made his first lift.

On his third attempt, Anderson redeemed himself. He easily cleaned the 402.41 that bested him just a few minutes before, and this time, once he began pressing the weight, he didn’t stop until lockout. Although the film did not show the crowd throwing their hats or standing on their chairs like Anderson described in his memoir, Harry Paschall, managing editor of Strength & Health at the time, wrote, “The spectators were absolutely numb. You could see the stark amazement, admiration and awe in their stricken faces – you could just imagine them wondering where this American youth came from – why no Russian could cope with such power.”

 

Anderson presses 402.41 pounds to stun the crowd in Moscow.

 

​Anderson punctuated his press with a 336-pound snatch, as well as a 425.25 pound-clean and press. He totaled 1164 pounds at the exhibition in Moscow, which was another all-time best for Anderson. Although many at the time referred to his lifts as world-records, they were actually all unofficial as the International Weightlifting Federation rules required at least three countries to compete at a meet for world-records to be set.

​The previous piece on Anderson hinted at the geopolitical implications of the event, and, to be sure, Anderson’s press was more than simply one lift. At the time, the press was considered to be different than the other two “quick lifts” in weightlifting, as it was the standard in measuring the true raw strength of an athlete. Moreover, the heavyweight class was regarded as the absolute strongest class. Thus, with the Cold War already 10 years old by that time, the Anderson versus Medvedev matchup took on significant meaning: Anderson’s success demonstrated that American manhood, and by extension, the American way of life, was superior to Communism.

​A number of periodicals in the United States echoed this message. Time magazine reported that Anderson was a “giant of a capitalist fairy tale…Anderson toyed with the big bar bells and set two world-records in the process.” Stewart Alsop, whose article appeared in The Washington Post and Times Herald, wrote, “The most conspicuous American weight lifter was a prophet without honor in his own country…The Russians had won, but Mr. Anderson had saved the national face by breaking all known records.” Also acknowledged that the lifting in Moscow was about “the world balance of power and the frightening difference between social systems.”

​Back home in Georgia, people were ready to celebrate Anderson’s achievements. The governor had declared July 5th “Paul Anderson Day” in Georgia, and dignitaries and a motorcade awaited his arrival in Atlanta. Due to Anderson’s overseas flight arriving six hours late, however, he missed this grand ceremony. Nevertheless, Anderson also garnered mentions in Congress, which suggests that the U.S. Government looked favorably upon his accomplishments in furthering American propaganda efforts in the fight against communism.

​Perhaps the most interesting results of Anderson’s performance was the effect he had on the Soviet people. Based on newspaper reports, Soviet women were nominating Anderson as their “Pinup Boy of 1955,” and Soviet Sport devoted an entire page of its 8-page Saturday edition to the United States weightlifting team. Dorothy Johnson, Anderson’s sister, recalled that during the World Championships in Munich, Germany, held a few months after the Moscow exhibition, the Soviet and American teams slipped away and socialized. She said, “At that time Paul was eating honey and when the Russians came they were all eating honey and that shows that they thought a lot of him.”

Finally, as a testament to the legacy that Anderson left on the Soviets, Bob Hise, who founded the American Weightlifting Association, said in the documentary The Strongest Man in Recorded History: A Documentary on the Life of Paul Anderson, that during the 1975 World Weightlifting Championships in Moscow, the rink in which it was held was surrounded by a corridor filled with outstanding weightlifters. If numbers meant anything, according to Hise, Anderson was clearly their idol, as there were 144 pictures of him in that corridor.

Overall, the Moscow exhibition was not as popular or significant as other “cultural exchanges” such as the track and field meets between the United States and the Soviet Union from the 1950s until the 1980s. However, Paul Anderson lifting the Iron Curtain was important for a number of reasons. First, the Moscow Weightlifting Exhibition was a very significant event in sports history, as it was the first time Americans were invited to the Soviet Union for a cultural exchange since the Cold War began. Moreover, at a time when a symbolic battle was being waged between two of the world’s most powerful countries, Anderson’s strength helped land a powerful blow for the American way of life. From being regarded a hero, to helping popularize the sport of weightlifting through all his press coverage, for at least a brief moment in time, it seems one Soviet official was correct when he called Paul Anderson “Mr. America.”

 

 

Bibliography:

Russ Crawford. 2008. The Use of Sports to Promote the American Way of Life During the Cold War: Cultural Propaganda, 1945-1963. (Lewiston, New York: Edwin Mellen Press).

Dominic G. Morais and Jan Todd. 2013. “Lifting the Iron Curtain: Paul Anderson and the Cold War’s First International Sport Exchange.” Iron Game History: The Journal of Physical Culture 12(2): 3–16.

Harry B. Paschall. January 1956. “Strongest Man Who Ever Lived.” Iron Man,
20.

“Peaceful Penetration-US Weightlifters Find Velvet Carpet in Russia.” June 19, 1955. The Spencer Sunday Times (Spencer, Iowa): 10.

The Strongest Man in Recorded History: A Documentary on the Life of Paul Anderson. 1992. VHS. Coleman Video Productions.

Arkady Vorobyov. October 1995. “Paul Anderson’s Moscow Triumph.” Iron Game History, The Journal of Physical Culture 4(2).

Posted by & filed under Dominic Morais.

With the recent 2017 Arnold Sports Festival providing a platform for athletes to accomplish tremendous strength feats, I thought it would be appropriate to change gears a bit to celebrate one of the most legendary Iron Game standouts: Paul Anderson. Many consider Anderson to be one of the strongest people to have ever lived, and rightfully so. The famous image of Anderson with an axle and enormous wheels on his back and stories of him backlifting over 6,000 pounds are just some evidence of his larger than life strength.

Although individuals have justifiably challenged the veracity of some of Anderson’s feats, that they could even be believed in the first place is a testament to Anderson’s abilities. There are a number of stories about Anderson that I could relay, but in this piece I’d like to examine a lesser-discussed accomplishment on Anderson’s resume: his splash onto the world stage in Moscow at the 1955 weightlifting exhibition between the United States and the Soviet Union.

This particular weightlifting exhibition was a result of tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union that began brewing after World War II. Due to fears of a growing global communist presence linked to the increasingly powerful USSR, the United States initiated foreign policy that attempted to stifle the dissemination of communism globally. These geopolitical tensions, which lasted until approximately 1991, are referred to as the Cold War. Although no direct skirmishes occurred between the United States and the Soviet Union, each side attempted to influence the spread of democracy or communism in many ways, including proxy wars such as the Korean and Vietnam Wars.

Sport also played a role in the battle between Communism and the “American Way.” Throughout the Cold War, competitions on the world stage between the United States and the Soviet Union were imbued with domestic sociocultural implications, and, as such, the two countries often found ways to pit their athletes against one another. One of the earliest of these competitions was the weightlifting exhibition in Moscow in 1955. It was also the first “good will” sporting exchange between the two countries during the Cold War, and its success led to more of these events between the two countries. But just as we don’t hit PRs without laying a foundation, I think it’s important to feature Anderson’s path to that momentous occasion.

Anderson was born in Toccoa, Georgia in 1932. Anderson’s family moved around the South during his childhood due to his father’s job with the Tennessee Valley Authority. As a child, Anderson showed few signs of becoming one of the strongest men to ever live, and actually barley survived a bout of Bright’s disease, which affects the kidneys. This once-ailing child soon grew, however.

Anderson became an exceptional athlete in high school, and eventually earned a football scholarship to Furman University in South Carolina. Although his uncle introduced him to weights when Anderson was 14 years old, he first began training seriously with weights while at Furman. Due to popular beliefs their coaches held about “muscle binding” and the deleterious effects weight training had on athletic performance, Anderson and his friends trained in secret. Approximately two years into his college career, however, Anderson realized that college was not the right path for him, and he returned home.

While there, Anderson gravitated toward a group of individuals who also enjoyed weight training, and they eventually introduced him to another Iron Game standout named Bob Peoples. People’s, who lived in Johnson City, Tennessee, was known for his deadlifting ability; a few years before meeting Anderson, in 1949, Peoples officially pulled 725.5 at a bodyweight of no more than 181 pounds. Peoples was also known for his interesting deadlifting technique, as he would exhale to lessen his intra-abdominal pressure and pull with a rounded back.

Although Peoples admitted he was skeptical about the rumors he heard about Anderson’s behemoth strength, after meeting and training for the first time, Peoples was a believer. For their first training session, Peoples invited Anderson down to his basement – what Anderson eventually called “the dungeon.” Peoples recollected that Anderson weighed about 260 pounds when they first met. In “the dungeon,” on what is regarded as the first “power-rack” ever built, Anderson asked for 500 pounds with no warm-up. He squatted it easily. Anderson then asked for 50 more pounds, squatted it twice, and then performed another rep so that Peoples wife could bear witness! What’s more, after supplementing his regular training with “heavy supporting work” for one month, as Peoples advised, Anderson accomplished a perfect squat with over 600 pounds.

For the next two years Anderson’s strength followed a similar trajectory. At the Junior National Weightlifting Championships in 1953, he totaled 900 – 300 press, 270 snatch, and 370 clean and jerk. He weighed in at 292.75 pounds. Only two weeks later he squatted 714.75 at a Boys Club exhibition. With these types of performances, Anderson soon earned the moniker “Dixie Derrick” among weight training circles.

Although Anderson was making big waves in the weight lifting world, he struggled with injuries during most of 1954. He broke his wrist attempting to clean 400 pounds at the Middle Atlantic Open in Philadelphia, and although he competed once after recovering, according to his autobiography, Anderson broke several ribs and injured his hip in a car accident later in the year. As a testament to the impact he already made, however, Charles Coster wrote in the Reg Park Journal, “PAUL IS ONE OF THE MOST SENSATIONAL THINGS THAT EVER HAPPENED IN THE WEIGHT-LIFTING WORLD.” There weren’t many folks who disagreed.

Eventually Anderson made his way back to the platform, totaling 1070 with a 370-pound press, a 300-pound snatch, and a 400-pound clean and jerk at the All-Dixie AAU Open in Atlanta in December 1954. All of these numbers are impressive, but what illustrates the raw strength that Anderson encompassed was his press. At the time, cleaning the weight preceded every competition press, and this context only amplifies his abilities.

By this this time, Anderson began reaching weightlifting heights that some never thought they would see in their lifetime. Two months after the All-Dixie AAU Open, in February 1955, Anderson became the first man to total 1100 pounds in the three Olympic lifts, which broke Olympic champion Norbert Schemansky’s record of approximately 1075 pounds (the lifts were recorded kilos). Then, in April, as part of an exhibition at a variety show, Anderson broke the 400-pound press barrier by pushing 402 pounds overhead, and he went on to total 1142.5 pounds. Unfortunately for Anderson, however, because it was not under proper conditions, his feat could not be recognized as an official record.

Whereas Anderson felt little to no pressure during his performances due to being the strongest man around, his next competition was different. The 1955 Senior Nationals would determine which lifters would make the United States Olympic team and travel behind the Iron Curtain to compete in the 1955 exhibition in Moscow.

Before the competition, Anderson felt that the cards were stacked against him. Sometime before the meet, Bob Hoffman, who owned York Barbell and was organizing the trip abroad, invited Anderson to live in York and work for Hoffman; he essentially offered to sponsor Anderson. Anderson declined, however, and believed this action might ultimately be held against him.

The pressure was on, but when the time came to perform, as always Anderson impressed. He lifted 390, 320, and 435 pounds, and his clean and jerk set an unofficial world record at its official weight of 436.5 pounds. This performance alone was likely enough to land Anderson a spot on the team, but with Norbert Schemansky not able to compete due to a back injury, Anderson’s fate was certain. He would travel to Moscow and attempt to lift the Iron Curtain.

In the next entry, I’ll detail Anderson’s triumph in Moscow, and the reaction his performance elicited back home.

Bibliography:

Russ Crawford. 2008. The Use of Sports to Promote the American Way of Life During the Cold War: Cultural Propaganda, 1945-1963. (Lewiston, New York: Edwin Mellen Press).

Chas Coster. July 1954. “Paul Anderson: ‘The Unknown Quantity.’” The Reg Park Journal: 30.

Douglas Field. 2005. American Cold War Culture. (Edinburgh, Scotland: Edinburgh University Press).

Thomas M. Hunt. Fall 2006. “American Sport Policy and the Cultural Cold War: The Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Years.” Journal of Sport History 33(3): 273–97.

Dominic G. Morais and Jan Todd. 2013. “Lifting the Iron Curtain: Paul Anderson and the Cold War’s First International Sport Exchange.” Iron Game History: The Journal of Physical Culture 12(2): 3–16.

Joe Roark. June 2001. “Ironclad – Paul Anderson’s June 12, 1957 Backlift.” Iron Game History, The Journal of Physical Culture 7(1): 30–35.

Joe Roark. May 2000. “Ironclad – Paul Anderson’s Famous Safe.” Iron Game History, The Journal of Physical Culture 6(3): 30–33.

The Strongest Man in Recorded History: A Documentary on the Life of Paul Anderson. 1992. VHS. Coleman Video Productions.

Al Thomas. November 1992. “Bob Peoples: Deadlift Champion, Strength Theorist, Civic Leader.” Iron Game History, The Journal of Physical Culture 2(4): 3–5.

Posted by & filed under Dominic Morais.

Recently, Cara Brennan wrote an article for BarBend.com titled “Atlas Stones Versus Stone of Steel: Why the Difference Matters for Strongman Athletes.” In the piece she identified a number of differences between the Stone of Steel (SoS) and concrete atlas stones. Notable among them were the technique used for each implement, the greater accessibility of concrete stones due to the Stone of Steel price, and the relative ease of cleanup after using the SoS. First, I think she provided a fair commentary on the stone debate, and she conveyed great points. However, one major consideration regarding the SoS was not mentioned: legitimacy. Thus, I’d like to discuss what I think to be the most potentially positive aspect of the SoS in this blog post. As a disclaimer, I own a SoS that I purchased before writing for MBPowerCenter.com, and I do not receive any compensation for my writing on this website.

I think that implements such as the SoS can potentially increase the legitimacy of strongman as a sport to those who are not already “physically cultured.” Legitimacy is described as “congruence between social values associated with or implied by [organizational] activities and the norms of acceptable behavior in the larger social system” (Dowling & Pfeffer, 1975, p. 122). In other words, the concept of legitimacy is socially constructed; people in the surrounding social system deem the entity in question legitimate (accepted by society), or not.

It should be no surprise that relatively few people compete in strongman. Out of the estimated 21% of Americans who participate in strength training activities, approximately 15,000 individuals are members of Strongman Corporation in the United States. The amount of people who view strongman as a “legitimate” sport rather than just a bunch of meatheads or strength freaks is probably closer to the lower end of the range between these two numbers. No matter where that mark lands, it is not relatively large.

Now, I believe that using uniform implements, like the SoS, can potentially increase the legitimacy of strongman in the eyes of people who do not view it as an “acceptable” sport. Presently, when someone is introduced to a sport, they usually expect rules and regulations explaining how the game is played, but also regulating the equipment to be used. In Major League Baseball, bats must be made of one single piece of wood not more than 2.61 inches in diameter, and not more than 42 inches long. In the National Basketball Association, only balls officially approved by the league that are between 7.5 and 8.5 pounds of pressure may be used. In the National Hockey League, sticks may not exceed 63 inches in length, and the blade of the stick can be no wider than 3 inches. This equipment must all meet certain specifications, and most in the U.S. are accustomed to this trend.

In strongman, however, there are few to no rules regarding equipment. There is no equipment or event description page on Strongmancorporation.com or USstrongman.com. Rather, there are informal guidelines for events. For instance, competitors know they will likely have one, or sometimes two of the following types of events in a competition: a press overhead, a pull from a certain height, something heavy to be moved or carried a distance, a loading event, and a showcase event such as keg toss. These criteria are very broad, and as such, there is usually little uniformity to each competition.

Moreover, the equipment that is used in each event also differs. The Austrian Oak that is used at the Arnold Strongman Classic in Columbus is made of wood. The logs used at the Log Lift World Championships are metal. The size and weight of frames differ. Sometimes promoters don’t know the weight of the stones because they haven’t made them yet. There are different types and sizes of circus dumbbells. The examples of the irregularity in equipment in strongman abound.

Personally, I do not think these are bad things. I believe, like many I’m sure, that part of the charm in strongman is only having “guidelines” to follow in terms of the sport. The weaving in of the unknown into the sport is exciting to me. The feeling of lifting implements “not made to be lifted,” is extremely empowering. However, I came to this sport after training with weights for a number of years, and my experience is likely not shared by most in the U.S.

I am not part of the majority of the public that can deem strongman “legitimate” by increasing attendance to competitions and shows, and increasing viewership online. The people who will deem strongman legitimate are those who don’t bat an eye after hearing Kirk Herbstreet mention that a Penn State running back power cleaned 590 pounds. These are the people who do not know much about the Iron Game right now, and who are likely accustomed to rules and regulations so minute that players are fined for not wearing appropriate shoes. Considering the general public is used to so many regulations and their uniform execution, public perception, and thus commercial viability, can be tarnished without uniformity. Horse racing and NASCAR, among other sports, provide evidence for this claim (Hassan, 2014; Shackledford, 2011; Abrams, 2010).

This mindset is in part a result of the beginnings of organized sport in the United States. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, sport took on characteristics of a capitalistic enterprise. Leisure time increased for many people as America became more industrialized, and sporting goods companies began standardizing sport products. Sport practices continued to become “more organized, rationalized, and quantified,” which are all characteristics of modern sport as we know it (Gems, Borish, and Pfister, 2008, p. 140; Guttmann, 1978).

To summarize thus far, the sport of strongman has much variation regarding events, but I assert that the general sport public is accustomed to uniformity in sports. I believe that uniformity, as a consequence of implements like the Stone of Steel, can potentially lead to greater public acceptance/popularization/legitimation of strongman.

I believe this for a few reasons. First, using standardized pieces of equipment promote parity among competitors. In other words, all competitors are competing on the same level when each piece of equipment is virtually the same as the others. This can spur a quest for records among competitors. For instance, in the past month or two, we’ve seen Martin Licis, Dave Daly, and Jeff Lee, among others, chase after numbers put up by one another on the Stone of Steel. What is interesting about this phenomenon is that these individuals did not need to be at the same competition using the same stones in order to compete with one another, as there were no doubts as to the circumstances of the others’ feats (weights of the stones, texture of the stone surface, discrepancy in circumference).

Second, I believe that standardized equipment lowers the entry barrier to the sport. In an age of consumption, buying equipment for most mainstream sports is very easy. The same cannot be said for strongman. Making stones, scouring Craigslist for kegs (though PowerCenter also has kegs), or building frames and farmer’s walk handles with lumber takes much more time and energy than acquiring equipment for most other sports. Moreover, I’d argue that it is comforting to newcomers to see equipment recognizable as standardized, which makes an introduction to strongman somewhat similar to other sports, which can be less intimidating. To be fair, however, if the cost of purchasing the equipment is too high, the barrier for entry will likely not lower.

Finally, along the same lines, standardized, uniform equipment could help strongman be acknowledged as more mainstream. As this characteristic is already present among most, if not all, popular, contemporary sports, I think it would provide the potential for strongman to be recognized similarly. Additionally, even the simplest sports, such as soccer, invite innovations in new cleats, advancements in ball design, and new shin guard materials. A move from the more primitive equipment of concrete stones and wooden logs might also lead to associations of strongman being a more recognizable sport.

Overall, I think the introduction of equipment such as the Stone of Steel and the Power Keg are already changing the sport, and I don’t think this is a bad thing. Where the sport will ultimately end up, however, will be determined by those who wield the most power and influence. Only time will tell whether that contingent will be the governing bodies, the equipment manufacturers, the social media influencers, the spectators, or the competitors, as each of these bodies play a significant role in the sport right now. Either way, I believe the increased activity we’ve seen within the sport means that more people are participating, and I’m excited to see what the future holds.

Thank you to Ben Pollack for his help in writing this piece.

Bibliography:

Roger I. Abrams. Sports Justice: The Law and the Business of Sports. Boston, Massachusetts: Northeastern University Press, 2010.

Luke P. Breslin, “Reclaiming the Glory in the ‘Sport of Kings’ – Uniformity is the Answer.” Seton Hall Journal of Sports and Entertainment Law 20 (2010): 297-332.

Gerald Gems, Linda Borish, and Gertrud Pfister. Sports in American History: From Colonization to Globalization. 1 edition. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2008.

Allen, Guttmann. From Ritual to Record: The Nature of Modern Sports. New York City, New York: Columbia University Press, 1979.

David Hassan. The History of Motor Sport: A Case Study Analysis. Routledge, 2014.

Ben Shackleford. “NASCAR Stock Car Racing: Establishment and Southern Retrenchment.” The International Journal of the History of Sport 28, no. 2 (February 1, 2011): 300–318.

Brian W. Ward, Tainya C. Clarke, Colleen N. Nugent, and Jeannine S. Schiller. “Early Release of Selected Estimates Based on Data From the 2015 National Health Interview Survey.” Center for Disease Control and Prevention, May 2016. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nhis/earlyrelease/earlyrelease201605.pdf.

Posted by & filed under Dominic Morais.

I’m admittedly a big Eugen Sandow fan as the previous few entries here suggest. I’d be remiss, however, to not focus on the many other physical culture standouts that helped pave the way for those of us so passionate about the Iron Game. And in the midst of America’s relatively divisive national climate, I think it’s important to think a bit more inclusively about the people who have embraced strength and helped spread its benefits.

Abbye “Pudgy” Stockton is one of these standouts. For those alive during her heyday, they may remember Stockton as being a “buxom barbelle” who caught the attention of many lifters during the 1940s and 1950s. For those not as familiar with Pudgy Stockton, she is recognized as one of the most influential figures in the popularization of resistance training among women in the modern era.

Known as “Pudgy” – the nickname her father gave her as a child due to her solid build – Abbye Eville was introduced to the physical culture field in approximately 1938, when she was nineteen. While working as a telephone operator, she began gaining weight due the relatively sedentary nature of the job. After voicing her concern about this change to her boyfriend and later husband, Les Sockton, he bought her a pair of dumbbells and eventually brought her to the original “Muscle Beach” in Santa Monica. There, she began practicing the acrobatics for which the beach became known in the 1940s and 1950s.

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These images demonstrate some of the balancing and acrobatic feats commonly on display at Muscle Beach.

Stockton picked up on both the acrobatics and lifting relatively quickly, and her body soon reflected her aptitude. Her once average physique began leaning out and developing strong curves, and she looked much different from average women of the day. She looked so different, in fact, that about one year after she began her training, a photographer “discovered” her on the beach, and his photos were featured in a magazine titled Pic in 1939.

Everything changed for Stockton after that initial magazine feature. In 1940 she and a few other prominent women from Muscle Beach were featured in the September issue of Strength & Health. Her appearance actually marked a change in the magazine, as Stockton ventured from the domestic female ideal traditionally forwarded in the United States and in Strength & Health, and treaded on territory usually reserved for males. She was shown in that particular issue performing a back double bicep pose, as well as in a bridge position while supporting the weight of two men. These images are shown below. She was not just strong for a woman. She was strong, plain and simple.

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This temporary shift in the way women were portrayed in Strength & Health paralleled American attitudes toward women during the war years. Prior to the World War II era, societal roles for most women – especially white, middle-class women – were limited to domestic duties. As America prepared for the impending conflict, these traditional roles of women in society changed drastically. As men were being shipped from the mainland, the United States labor force weakened. In response, government and mass media began a campaign to entice women to seek employment and do their part in helping fight the war on the home front. This ethos became epitomized through the iconic “We Can Do It!” image, which became known as “Rosie the Riveter,” which is below this paragraph. These messages and images helped widen the range of acceptable female behavior and provided positive examples of unconventional women, which blurred traditional gender roles.

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A few years after her first images graced the pages of Strength & Health, Stockton became a permanent fixture in the magazine with her “Barbelles” column that ran from 1944 to 1954. In it, Stockton encouraged women to take up weight training by providing exercise and health advice and featuring women who had changed their lives through physical culture. Through the column, Stockton helped spread the use of weight training among women by dispelling the myth that they would become too “masculine” if they took it up.

By the end of the 1940s, Pudgy was featured on the cover of forty-two magazines internationally, and in others including Strength and Health, Laff, Hit!, and Physical Culture. She even opened her own gym for women clientele. During her time, she garnered many titles including “The First Lady of Iron,” “America’s Barbelle,” and “the Queen of Muscle Beach.” Moreover, although Pudgy is known more for her aesthetics, she competed in weightlifting contests, and played an integral role in organizing the first weightlifting contest for women in 1947 in Los Angeles. According to strength historian Jan Todd, another pioneer for women in physical culture, Stockton helped shift attitudes regarding women and exercise during her prime, and is now considered a nonpareil among Iron Gamers.

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One of the most popular images of Stockton is from the cover of the March 1948 Strength & Health in which she holds a dumbbell that looks similar to the Bartos Circus Dumbbell.

As much as Stockton did for women, and as much as she broke free of many traditional gender attitudes, they still affected her to a degree. For instance, she eventually stopped posing with a flexed bicep as she deemed it too masculine, and, according to her column, she saw the woman’s role as the caretaker. To be clear, these are not necessarily bad things. If these patriarchal types of attitudes – which are still present today, but manifest differently – hindered women from pursuing certain goals or dreams, however, then I would deem them “bad.”

When listing legends of the Iron Game, Pudgy Stockton, without a doubt, should always be included. Known for her unique combination of strength, athletic ability, and shapeliness, she helped pave the way for all women who have ever sought strength through weight training. What’s more, she did not reach her heights by stepping on others. She was selfless in encouraging women, and did what she could to open doors for others. She was an example we could all learn from.

 

Bibliography:

Susan M. Hartmann. 1982. The Home Front and Beyond: American Women in the 1940s. American Women in the Twentieth Century. Boston: Twayne Publishers.

Maureen Honey. 1984. Creating Rosie the Riveter: Class, Gender, and Propaganda During World War II. (Amherst, Massachusetts: University of Massachusetts Press).

Morais, Dominic Gray. “Strength in Numbers : ‘Strength & Health’ Brand Community from 1932-1964,” 2015. https://repositories.lib.utexas.edu/handle/2152/31480.

Marla Matzer Rose. 2001. Muscle Beach: Where the Best Bodies in the World Started a Fitness Revolution. St. Martin’s Griffin.

Jan Todd. 1992. “The Legacy of Pudgy Stockton.” Iron Game History, The Journal of Physical Culture 2, no. 1: 5–7.

Posted by & filed under Dominic Morais.

In our last installment, the father of modern bodybuilding, Eugen Sandow, and Professor Attila sought to take up Sampson’s challenge and win 500 pounds. Sampson, however, was able to talk his way out of the contest, and force Sandow to face his apprentice, Cyclops, instead. Ultimately, Sandow bested Franz “Cyclops” Bienkowski with relative ease, and subsequently pocketed 100 pounds. More importantly, however, he earned the right to challenge Sampson.

By the night of November 2, 1889, three days after Sandow beat Cyclops, news of the showdown had spread among London’s sporting circles. The face-off between the relatively unknown Sandow and the self-proclaimed “Strongest Man on Earth” resulted in large crowds packing the Royal Aquarium. Demand was apparently high as prices for tickets were cited at one pound all the way up to 50 guineas!

Finally, after palpable anticipation, the curtain rose and Sampson issued his challenge of awarding 500 pounds to any man who could replicate his feats. No one came forward, however. Twice more Sampson spoke to the crowd and reiterated his challenge with no response. Finally, perhaps as a mind game, or perhaps because there was too much of a crowd, Sandow burst in, surrounded by elites who were members of the National Sporting Club. The group was met with cheers from the crowd, and the challenge was on.

The judges agreed that Sampson was required to perform feats that were part of his regular exhibition. As such, he started with iron pipe bending. Using his leg, chest, and arms to slowly and steadily bend the pipe – and then straighten it – Sampson’s first feat was smooth and successful. Sandow, on the other hand, was apparently less versed in pipe bending. Although he completed the feat, he received no “style points,” as he was slower and looked labored and clumsy.

For his second act, Sampson fastened a wire rope around his chest. Knowing that the “trick” of the feat was to twist the ends of the rope together allowed Sampson to easily “break” it upon expanding his chest and ribcage. Again Sandow performed the feat, but only after a few attempts and taking instructions from helpful audience members. Though he had matched Sampson in each discipline, this was surely not the smooth start Sandow wanted.

Sampson must have felt confident, for he moved on to a trick in which he specialized: wrapping a small chain around his forearm and breaking it. So, he revealed a chain from his pocket, and offered another to Sandow. To the surprise of Sampson, however, Sandow rebuffed the offer and pulled out a chain of his own!

This was actually an interesting turn of events in the competition. Similar to many of the performing strongman feats, brains played as much of a role as brawn did in breaking the chain. In order to break the chain by contracting the muscles in the forearm, it was necessary for it to be a length that perfectly matched one’s forearm. In other words, the trick could not be performed without a tailored chain.

Cleverly, Sandow and Attila anticipated this trick, and a few days before the competition found the same man who made Sampson’s chains. Not only did they have one made that fit Sandow’s forearm, but they made sure the man was in attendance to verify that both chains were similar in all aspects other than their length.

After the chain maker and the audience inspected it, Sandow easily broke the chain. Sampson was outraged. He tried arguing his case to the audience, and then the judges, but no one sympathized. To make matters worse for Sampson, the judges declared that if Sandow could perform further proofs of his strength on his own, he would be named the winner.

While Sampson continued disputing the audience, the judges, and his competitor, Sandow performed what was becoming a trademark feat by lifting a man from the ground who stood up straight and stiff. Then he performed a number of feats with an exceedingly large, 150-pound dumbbell. Finally, Sampson took his cape and left the stage, thus indicating his defeat.

Sandow emerged victorious, but the story did not end there. Unfortunately for Sampson, a clause in his contracted stated that he would no longer be employed by the theater if he was defeated in one of his challenges. What’s more, he never paid Sandow the 500 pound purse for his victory. Sampson ultimately traveled and performed again, but his claim of being the “Strongest Man on Earth,” no longer followed.

Sandow’s reactions to his victory shed light on his motives. For a man who often entered into litigation when it involved his name and/or reputation, it’s interesting that he never brought Sampson to court to claim his prize. Instead, he accepted 350 pounds from the Royal Aquarium’s management. After entering a cab that was lifted by the excited audience and carried to his hotel, Sandow told reporters that he had no interest in a music hall career.

Before the night was over, however, he had signed a contract with Alhambra Music Hall in which he was to be paid 150 pounds per week. His actions suggest that although he wanted to make ends meet in the present, he had an intuitive understanding of the power of one’s reputation, or brand. Some might argue that contemporary strong men such as Arnold or Halfthor have used similar strategies.

Bibliography:

David L. Chapman. 2002. Sandow the Magnificent: Eugen Sandow and the Beginnings of Bodybuilding. (Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press).

Caroline Daley. October 2002. “The Strongman of Eugenics, Eugen Sandow.” Australian Historical Studies 33: 233–48.

Dominic G. Morais. Summer 2013. “Branding Iron: Eugen Sandow’s Modern Marketing Strategies, 1887-1925.” The Journal of Sport History 40(2): 193-214.

David Webster. 1976. The Iron Game: An Illustrated History of Weight-Lifting (Irvine, Scotland: Webster).

Posted by & filed under Dominic Morais.

As discussed last time, Sandow was on his way to meet Professor Attila, his teacher, in London in order to challenge Sampson. Although challenging the performer seems relatively uncomplicated, Sandow would have to overcome a few obstacles before sharing the stage with Sampson. Fortunately, Sandow’s skills and savvy as a showman would be honed along the way.

Before Sandow and Attila could challenge Sampson, they felt they needed to establish somewhat of a reputation since Sandow was a relative no-name at the time. Thus, they visited the National Sporting Club (NSC), whose members took it upon themselves to lift the sport of boxing to a respectable level. There, Sandow performed an impromptu feat of strength for the members, many of whom held high-class positions in society, and lifted the biggest person he saw and placed him gently on a table. If this wasn’t enough to gain the favor of those who would support the challenge to Sampson, Sandow removed his clothing in order to display what was soon to become known as a perfect physique.

On the night of October 29, 1889, the entire Sandow camp, consisting of himself, Attila, and a group from the NSC, took their seats and waited for Sampson to issue his challenge. As soon as Sampson finished, Attila declared that he had a challenger ready at that moment. Sampson, unwilling to risk parting with so much money, pulled a fast one and stated that Sandow would have to first beat Cyclops before being eligible to challenge Sampson. He then gave 100 pounds to the theater manager to hold as a sign of goodwill. Sandow and Attila agreed to this change, although they were not happy, and Sandow’s posse took the stage.

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Franz “Cyclops” Bienkowski

Dressed as a debonair gentleman, complete with a monocle, Sandow looked rather unremarkable as a challenger. After he ripped off his outfit, however, which was prepared to be forcefully removed, the audience resounded and Sampson and Cyclops squirmed.

The contest between Sandow and Cyclops began quickly. Cyclops started the first round by picking up a 150-pound dumbbell, then a 100-pound dumbbell, and pressing them both overhead. Although no small feet, Sandow replicated the feat, but pressed the 100-pound dumbbell twice, with seemingly little effort. Sandow won round 1.

Cyclops started the second round by jerking overhead a barbell weighing 220 pounds. Unfortunately for Cyclops, Sandow’s ability to put weights overhead was superb, as he was masterful at the bent press; Sandow bested the incumbent by pressing the barbell overhead with only one hand.

“Press on back” was the third test for the two athletes. Both men, starting with Cyclops, lifted a 250-pound barbell while their backs were on the ground. With three rounds over, the men from the NSC declared the contest over and Sandow the winner, as the effort he put forth was much less compared to Cyclops. This did not sit well with Sampson, who said that a true test of strength included some test of endurance, meaning that each test was to be performed over and over until one man failed. The audience erupted, as they had taken a liking to the underdog, and the representatives from each party argued back and forth.

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Sandow performing the bent press in four images

Finally, the manager of the theater who held the 100 pounds of currency stepped in. He offered that Sampson suggest one last test to determine the winner. Sampson reluctantly agreed. Cyclops picked up a 150-pound dumbbell, then picked up a 100-pound kettlebell. He slowly bent pressed the dumbbell twice and then dropped it from overhead, causing a dramatic crash.

The audience hollered at Sandow not to attempt it as he had already won. He smiled in response, and picked up the 150-pound dumbbell. He then picked up the kettlebell. He performed one rep with the dumbbell, then two. Then he completed five more reps as the audience roared.

Sandow’s joyous crew left the theater 100 pounds richer. Although Sandow did not best Sampson that night, his performance would boost his reputation, making the upcoming contest a livelier affair than it would have been. Sandow was on the staircase to strength stardom.

Bibliography:

David L. Chapman. 2002. Sandow the  Magnificent: Eugen Sandow and the Beginnings of Bodybuilding. (Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press).

Caroline Daley. October 2002. “The Strongman of Eugenics, Eugen Sandow.” Australian Historical Studies 33: 233–48.

David Webster. 1976. The Iron Game: An Illustrated History of Weight-Lifting (Irvine, Scotland: Webster).