Friday, December 23, 2011

The last 365: Reflections on Life and Lifting

I feel like I've done a lot of growing up since this time last year, but feelings can lie. Even still, life is becoming more focused for me, and I just wanted to share a few things that I have learned in the last 365 days. Hope you find something useful. Enjoy.

  • Have a lifting contest with your friends in your backyard. Grill some meat, it'll be one of the highlights of your year.
  • Take the box out of your squat. It's a crutch. Put a heavy barbell on your back, and squat up and down (to at least parallel) like a man. Box squats are a tool for the toolbox not the main thing, use sparingly.
  • Buy a good camera. Life is too short not to have your memories captured in fine detail. And quit using your cell phones as your primary photography tool, it's fine when there is no other option, but endeavor to have another option. (my Canon Rebel T3i is my weapon of choice).
  • You are what you tweet. Use social media wisely.
  • Be humble, ask questions of your peers in the sport. Seek and receive advice from people stronger and smarter than you. (I sent two friends in the Strongman game an email just last week that said “what do you eat?” they responded with two polar opposite answers, both were useful, both are impressive lifters.)
  • Don't freak out if you hurt yourself, just back off, work around it, and give it a little time assuming it's nothing serious.
  • Deadlift more. I deadlifted twice a week most of this year once for speed and once for strength. Keep the volume low and manageable. No more than 10 reps per workout.
  • Go outside, go on walks, take the family, take the dog, take a ball, run, race someone.
  • It's ok to listen to something besides raging bloody death metal when you train. Listen to what inspires you. (I've been digging Shane and Shane / Mumford and Sons all year)
  • Drink a lot of milk, it makes cows big and strong and it will do the same to you.
  • Don't hate people for being fans of your rival, even if they aren't especially nice to you. I am a lifelong fan of the Auburn Tigers and two time Auburn Alum. I used to think how nice it would be to have Tuscaloosa (home of our most bitter rival, the Alabama Crimson Tide) wiped off the map. Well, on April 27th, 2011 I just about got my wish. A huge tornado ripped right through, the heart of Tuscaloosa, and several other parts of the state, killing hundreds of people. Families ripped apart, loved ones blown away, lives crushed... I would gladly watch Auburn lose the next 100 Ironbowls by double digits in exchange for having those people back... Even if I did have to listen to them yell “Rammer Jammer” at the end of the game. Football is foolish compared to family and friendships. Life is desperately precious and extraordinarily short. Show respect for people, keep rivalries in proper perspective and have fun with them. Your rivals are image bearers of God, just like you.
  • You can train for a year doing the squat, deadlift, log press, and clean/jerk almost exclusively and make excellent strength gains.
  • Read Dan John. Just trust me, he'll be like your wise strength coach internet uncle.
  • If you aren't training at a gym with bumper plates, you aren't training at a gym. I cannot imagine not being able to do variations of the olympic lifts and send barbells crashing to the floor with no hesitation. They've made me better and more powerful lifter.
  • If going to the gym interferes with obligations to your immediate family, don't go, rearrange your schedule. Some people may say that makes you a poor strongman. I would say to those people, you need to rewrite your definition of strongman.
  • Use old fashioned mouse traps, they still work the best. (glue traps are sometimes ok)
  • If you have children, invest in them starting at the earliest possible age. I've spent plenty of time playing in the floor and with a doll house this year with my little one, not enough, honestly. Trust me, the reward is immeasurable.
  • If you pull a max effort deadlift with perfect form, it wasn't a max effort deadlift.
  • Don't “technique” beginners to death. If a person is just starting, let them figure a little out on their own, if you do give instruction keep it simple. Don't make it rocket science just to look smarter. The body has a way of figuring it out if they practice the movements enough.
  • Coffee is the only energy drink any self respecting lifter should need. Seriously, I see people walking around with $3 Monsters and Red Bulls, and neon stuff that looks like antifreeze and I can go make 12 cups of chest-hair-growing coffee for about 25cents. If you read enough about the legends of the iron game you will find one common denominator among many of them, if they wanted a little perk before training, they poured up a cup of Joe. Old time strongmen drank coffee, your dad drank coffee, and you need to too. And not that $5 hot milkshake crap they serve at Starbucks – Real, Man, motor oil thick, burns the end of the spoon off, give you the shakes, Coffee.
  • Having more choices or variety in your lifting equipment doesn't mean more progress. “Oh I would be so much stronger if I could just purchase (insert latest gimmick here)”. Stick to the basics, use what you have. Heavy barbells work every time.
  • Compete. Train for and compete in something at least once a year.
  • Take Personal Records 5lbs. At a time. Gains get slower the stronger you get.
  • Swim.
  • Go to the beach, eat lots of seafood, take pictures with that new camera I told you to buy.
  • Give some things away, and get rid of some stuff.
  • Go watch an major international strength sport event. (ie. World's Strongest Man, or some other world championship. I did, and it was awesome.)
  • Sit in a hot tub. It's super therapeutic.
  • Establish traditions with your family and friends. Do special things every year that you look forward to. We spend time with close friends every New Year's Eve, I spend about 364 days looking forward to it, we are growing up together.
  • If you meet someone that acts like they know everything, run the other way. The people that know the most are the humble ones that have learned so much that they realize they can't know it all.
  • Speak up for those who have no voice. Defend the helpless, the orphan, the widow, because that's what strongmen do.
  • When it's time to flip the switch, flip it... and pour every single last fiber of your being into making that one big lift, 
  • no retreat, no reserves, no regrets. 

Monday, November 21, 2011


Rebekah Grace on our first trip to Astrakhan, Russia - December 2009

It was right about this time two years ago when we got the call. "Well, they don't have any little boys, but they do have a little girl" the lady from our adoption agency said... We didn't care, boy or girl. We just wanted to be parents, and give a child a home. Two years removed from that phone conversation, we tucked that little girl in a warm bed at her grandparents house last night.

Today, The turkey is in the oven, the dressing and sweet potatoe casserole too. A feast is being prepared, a celebration. And two years from standing on the fearful edge of the unknown, the little malnourished girl we found in the dark of south Russia is about to sit at the table, again, with her family, on a warm Thanksgiving day in Alabama.

 My daughter, to whom everyday is a gift, will never know hunger again, and her family is to numerous for my aging mind to count. She's a Boman, and a Felton, and a Cleland, and a Burt and she holds all the rights and priveledges associated with belonging to a large, loving family.

But I'll never look at my beloved daughter sitting at the table, with a plate full, and not think of the feast to come. For those belonging to Christ, one day we'll all gather around at the feast of the Marriage Supper of The Lamb of God, and not a stranger will be found on that day, and for all of enternity we will rejoice in what Jesus Christ has done to bring us into His family. And every day between now and then we will continue to point Rebekah to the God that saved Mommy and Daddy and sent them to get her. So, remember the fatherless today, and, if you are not a part of God's family, allow me to invite you in, there are plenty of seats at table.

Today I am most thankful that we were not left as orphans.


1"Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also... 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you." John 14:1-3,

Thursday, November 10, 2011

World's Strongest Man Finals in Photos

I'm a loser for not wrapping up this whole WSM '11 sooner. But here we go. 

 The Man, The Myth, The Legend - Randall J. Strossen... He's probably reading one of my tweets..

 The truck pull lane

 This is the view from competitors angle.

 This is what a world record looks like.

I can't believe I was there to witness all of this, and got to play photo journalist at World's Strongest Man for a few days... best use of vacation time ever...  Brian Shaw deserved the win, but like Paul Ohl said once "if you give Zydrunas enough events, eventually, he'll win."  If there had been one more event Zydrunas would have claimed his 3rd title, he was just warming up at 6 events. Nevertheless I'm proud for Brian, he worked hard for it.

To view all of my photos from the finals Click Here for Day 1 and Here for Day 2.  

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Breaking Stuff

Had the chance to experience some of the more stunt oriented strongman feats.  Gym member Nick brought some bricks and a bat for us to try and break. It was a great night. Enjoy.

for more information about where I train visit

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

World's Strongest Man 2011 - Qualifiers - Day 4

Day 4 of World's Strongest Man qualifiers was a joy to watch. Some groups had Block Press, some had DB press, everyone had stones.

The day began with the circus dumbbell press. Four dumbells of ascending weight were used (220 - 250lbs. - I think). The good dumbbell pressers made it through 3 dumbbells, the bad dumbell pressers were lucky to get one. The surprise of the day was seeing Nick Best out early and warming up with a light barbell and then the lightest dumbbell in warmups. Everyone thought he was through when he was helped off the platform after the car deadlift a day earlier. Despite a great effort he was unable to press any of the dumbbells.

Thor made it quickly through three dumbbells and cleaned the last, but was unable to get the press.

The Block press is one of the purest tests of pressing power. Of course, Z and Derek get all 4 blocks (240ish - 330lbs) in showman-like fashion. And I've been a lifelong fan of Derek Boyer, so, for me the highlight of the day came when Derek grabbed the mircrophone and said: "I'm the old guy here, and I'm gonna be honest, this is a real crap event for me. So, if I get that first block up, I want you guys to cheer like I just won this thing!" Derek then proceeds to flip the switch and wrestle with the first block for what seemed like a minute, then pressed, rested it on his head and then finished the press. When he got it up the crowd went nuts and he jumped around and yelled. It was great to see.

Somehow I imagined the stones arriving in a golden chariot pulled by Clydesdale unicorns and then unloaded by Zeus himself... Not so much.

So let me just summarize by saying that the stones were awesome to watch. To watch these giants do their stone runs live and in person was surreal. I will say this, the stage was constructed over grass and the fifth stone kept getting dropped, so by the time the event was over it was creating a little sink hole in front of the platform. Nothing was really ever done about it, not sure if, at that point, there could have been, but still. It was one of the things that reminded me that the point was to finish shooting for that day, not let the best strongman in the world have a safe stable place to load a 400lb. stone. That was a little discouraging. Fortunately, I don't think it really hindered anyone, but I guess it's the point of the matter.

Day 4 observations:

  • I followed all the athletes to the cafeteria, I watched them stand in a lunch line and act normal and just hang around regular folks. I watched Zydrunas make a salad.
  • All you hardcore diets folks, let me tell you this, the greatest strongmen in the world don't eat brown rice, sweet potatoes and boiled chicken all the time. The eat anything that looks like meat, cereal, cookies (lots of cookies), they raid the ice-cream freezer, and pretty much stuff their bellies with whatever they want. So take that amateur nutrition experts.
  • Terry Hollands isn't scared to get in his underwear in front of folks.
  • I felt like I stood next to guys that looked like this most of the day... I can just hear him saying "I can totally do this, bro"

... guys, if you own any article of clothing that resembles even a similar style to the one pictured above, please burn it. You're only embarrassing yourself...

Here is a link to my pictures from Day 3 and 4 of qualifiers

Monday, September 19, 2011

World's Strongest Man 2011 - Qualifiers - Day 3

Where do I start?... World's Strongest Man being held just outside of Charlotte, NC this year could not have worked out more perfectly for me. My sister and her family live in Charlotte so I'm free-loading for a week during the contest. Due to work obligations I missed the first two days of qualifiers, but I arrived late Friday night in Charlotte and got up early Saturday Morning to make the trip to Rockingham Motor Speedway.

Day 3 qualifying events were the firetruck pull, car deadlift hold and car deadlift for reps. Rockingham Speedway is, for the record, out in the middle of nowhere, and as a rural Alabama native, I felt right at home taking the endless two lane road through the country that added up to about an hour and a half trip.

I crested over a country hill and there the monstrous speedway structure was, sure enough, in the middle of nowhere. I was directed through the tunnel and into the infield parking lot. I walk to pit row and suddenly I was in Strongman Heaven. The drive had taken longer than usual, and fortunately for me, things were running about an hour behind (in other words, right on time).

Walking around the other side of the barrier wall I tried to position myself for the best possible photo opportunity. I quickly started seeing familiar faces from the amateur strongman scene, the gang was all there to watch what may be a once in a lifetime event.

And then you started seeing them, the athletes. A moment I can only describe as surreal. Maybe I'm too much of a fanboy, but honestly, I don't care. I've been watching WSM since Jouko won in '97, and here I was at the big dance. They were all there walking around like it was another day at the office...Terry Hollands, Poundstone, Felix, Zydrunas, Boyer, Petrusson, Louis-Phillipe Jean, Brian Shaw. I haven't seen Shaw and Poundstone since the 2007 America's Strongest Man. It's amazing how 4 years of training has changed both of them, they are monstrous. And I don't guess I'll ever forget seeing Zydrunas Savickas in person for the first time, I guess I can only liken it to being a passionate golfer and then watching Tiger Woods walk ten feet in front of you and take his turn at the tee. World's Strongest Man is the Masters of strongman.

Firetruck Pull

Pit row, where the events would be held, is on an ever so slight uphill grade. So there would be no momentum in the pull. In fact, Dave Ostland who was serving as an alternate and event tester did a test pull early on and only pulled it about 15 feet. As a result they shortened the course a bit and backed it to a slightly more level surface. The Rockingham firetruck was shined up like a new penny and ready for it's appearance.

The most memorable performances of the day include, of course, watching Zydrunas Savickas do the truck pull, his focus and preparation before the event were unmatched.

Then I watched Brian Shaw pull it like he was tethered to a Mini Cooper, and even faster with Thor. Several of the athletes failed to finish the already shortened course, but Thor and Shaw had the best times. Mike Jenkins seemed to have a very good pull as well, a handful of us were standing next to his mom and right before the event she yells "Don't Die!" - classic, that's what moms are for.

Car Deadlift Hold

Next the groups were split up, and the first group did the car deadlift hold for time. I noticed the side handles of the deadlift were set pretty wide. Derek Poundstone even kind of laughed and commented on how wide they were when he picked it up in warmups. No doubt it had to create a greater degree of difficulty in the initial deadlift as well as the hold, I would think it would have to create a greater strain across the shoulders and back.

Car Deadlift for Reps

I got to watch most of the athletes do this event. Mark Felix was definitely the highlight. Felix is a natural and strong deadlifter and could make up some ground on getting to the finals with this event.

Mark Felix and Nick Best were paired together, and after the 4th rep or so Nick could get no more, and gingerly started making his way off the platform. It looked like he done for the competition and, frankly, everyone expected him to withdraw from the competition, but he miraculously bounces back for Day 4. Mark went on to win his group with 11 reps.

Shaw did just enough to stay ahead of Thor and keep his #1 spot safe for the group. He watched Thor the whole time and made sure he stayed just a rep or two ahead.

Observations from day 3

  • World's Strongest Man is very much a TV show. The television production takes precedence over everything, even the athletes. The crowd is only involved as far as making it look good for TV. Whether or not the audience sees anything, or two bit hacks like me get good pictures is of little concern. In a way I understand this, the production crew has a job to produce a television show that is aesthetically appealing for the likes of the great and powerful ESPN, and I get that. Part of the reason I haven't bothered (sneaking) taking any video is because it is so well produced for television, why bother. You'll be able to see it in HD in December and photos last forever.
  • Things move slow in WSM world. Events take a long time to set up and athletes have lots of downtime between events. I imagine it would make it difficult to time warmups and then on top of that you may spend 15 minutes on deck while the touch up painters make everything look shiny for TV. Has to be frustating, but I suppose they've come to expect it.
  • Most of the athletes seem approachable and friendly. Brian Shaw and Hafþór Björnsson are larger than life. Both over 6'8" and both over 400lbs. They make everyone look like Hobbits. At one point the two of them had their picture made with a little old lady that had to be in her 80's, she was probably about 4'10", it was quite a sight.
  • There is an unofficial spreadsheet online that the guys from Spider Tack are doing, they've got a couple of folks there watching and recording events.
  • To view my Photo Album from Day 3 and 4 of the qualifiers Click Here.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Favorite Strongman #4 - Magnus Samuelsson

Oh yeah. He can dance. #4 on the list, Magnus Samuelsson, is the living embodiment of "if I'm going to do something, I'm in it to win it". Not only has he climbed his way to the top of Sweden's version of dancing with the stars, but he has found is way to the World's Strongest Man podium five times, winning 1st place in 1998.

Why I like Him:

  • He broke Nathan Jones arm while arm wrestling (1995 World's Strongest Man)
  • He's a farmer
  • He's Swedish
  • Has a wicked awesome grip
  • He races cars too.
  • Did I mention he broke a man's arm?(see minute 2:05)
  • Claims to be drug free (which not many people are willing to stick their neck out an do, gotta respect that)
  • Strikes me as a nice guy

I'll leave you with one final video of the Giant Swede from his time on "Dancing With The Stars". Like any good contestant, he basically just stands there and pretends to kind of dance while a beautiful girl dances around him. I wish I knew what they were saying during the critique, but I'm pretty sure it has something to do with how awesome his sparkle shirt is. I couldn't be prouder to have the Strongman community represented in this manner, bravo, Mr. Samuelsson, bravo.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Favorite Strongman: #5 - Zydrunas Savickas

#5 on the list is none other than Big Z himself, Zydrunas Savickas. In the day and age where it seems strongmen must be tattooed from head to toe, have a Mohawk, or some other ridiculous hairstyle, or customized facial hair, or Heaven forbid - nipple rings - It is the clean cut All-Lithuanian powerhouse that is the strongest man since the Biblical Samson.

(Author's Note: There should be a rule for strongman contestants that in order to wear nipple rings you have to beat Travis Ortmeyer's time in a five stone run, Travis is the only person allowed to wear nipple rings, more than one person wearing them is too many for strongman.)

Zydrunas Savickas' record speaks for itself, six Arnold titles, two time (and counting) World Strongest Man winner, Two IFSA championships, and more 1st place finishes in minor competition than you can shake a stick at. Believe it or not he managed to do all this without or looking like he'd spent 100 hours in the chair at LA Ink. Hats off to him.

Why I like him:

  • Can Log press more than most powerlifters can bench press
  • Soft spoken and seems to do most of his talking on the platform
  • Has a huge gut, gives me hope
  • He is not "ripped", "cut", or any of those other ridiculous words used to describe people who are lean with a little muscle
  • did I mention the power belly?
  • Hands down the strongest man of the modern era (if you disagree I would love to hear your futile arguments)
He holds more world records than any strongman, and is a human highlight reel, but I've elected to leave you with a training video of him casually deadlifting 902lbs for a double and 946lbs. for a single. Shame on every emaciated, frail weakling in that gym for not stopping and staring at the greatest strength specimen on the planet lift this monstrous weight. They should count themselves privileged to share the same gym as him. This is art.

(photos 2 and 3 credit to Randall J. Strossen of

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Favorite Strongman: #6 - Svend Karlsen

The viking from Norway, Svend Karlsen, worked his way up the podium over the course of three years to finally take first place in World's Strongest Man 2001. He held off a very motivated Magnus Samuelsson for the win.

Svend has competed as a bodybuilder, powerlifter, and strongman and achieved great success in all three.

Why I like him:
  • He is versatile and mastered a number of disciplines across a wide range of strength sports
  • He has "Viking" tattooed on the right forearm and "Power" across the left so that when he brings his fists together it says his catch phrase "Viking Power"
  • He is facebook friends with me, most of what he says is in Norwegian, but still, it's cool.
  • He rocked some awesome purple tights during the WSM'01 competition
  • From Ironmind :"It was only about a week after 9/11, but Jim Davis wasn't going to let a few terrorists stop something as big as his United in Strength strongman contest, and one of the guys who hopped on a plane to compete was Svend Karlsen, who won the contest and then grabbed the mike and declared "It is important that the whole world stand together and show that terrorism has no right!" Svend Karlsen went on to win the 2001 World's Strongest Man contest . ---militant Muslims beware, Svend gonna find you.
  • Overcome much adversity including kidney disease, dialysis and finally a kidney transplant in April of 2009.

I mentioned that Svend has overcome much adversity, but I would be remiss if I didn't mention Svend's late wife, Lene Alexandra Karlsen.

On April 5, 2009 after having suffered with bipolar disorder for years, Lene took her own life after enduring a particularly severe episode of depression. It was a devastating blow to the strongman community and of course to Svend. I, frankly, cannot imagine the grief and devastation of losing the wife of your youth.

Lene was a constant presence in the international strongman scene while Svend was competing and serving as a host for various contests. Randall Strossen of Ironmind wrote a short piece in memory of Lene Karlsen that you can read here.

And if you know someone who needs help, play the strongman, and intervene before it's too late.