Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Fall, get up, finish, learn something and don't forget to have some fun: Recapping my First Strongman Competition

If I had to join a gym, I was at least going to join one that kind of matched my sprained personality along with my disgust of cardio equipment even if an exercise bike was what I was joining the gym for in the first place.  As part of my ACL physical therapy, I needed to ride an exercise bike, forwards and backwards, for 15-30 minutes a day.  While that's about as fun to me as drinking gasoline, it's PT.  I didn't have to like it.  I just had to do it.

The Dungeon Gym had three cardio machines and the rest is weights and strength training equipment.  That equipment line-up runs parallel to my training belief system.  You go there to lift.  Most of the crew there were getting into strongman training and that training, as I sadly peddled my knee back into use, rubbed off on me.  As I progressed in PT, the notion of joining my new crew of friends in strongman became a thought and goal that propelled me along with my training. 

After a year, I finally got the opportunity to achieve that goal.   Last Saturday, I did my first strongman competition in Tampa, Florida, taking 6th in the Novice Division. 
Over the past year, I've acquired a reputation for my unfiltered jokes and my wildly unconventional approach to strength training.  My cohorts in chalk and sweat shouldn't have been surprised that I'd rolled up in Clearwater sporting these sunglasses. That guy in the middle is my dear friend Richard. He's as conventional in the gym as I am crazy.  I was so overjoyed to be here with him.  I was overjoyed just to be here.  It's been a long, long struggle to get to a point where I felt like I could take my body to such a proving grounds.  While I wanted to do well, I was also here to have some fun.  In my typical, inappropriate fashion, that's what I was setting out to do.
Who need steroids when you eat these kind of sandwiches?

Training for this show had it's ups and downs.  One of the major downsides, naturally, was my lower body training.  My knee PT was generally successful save for one issue:  My left knee doesn't hyperextend like it supposed to.  So, my lifting with my lower body was slighty uneven, my right legs moving faster and working more than the left.  This eventually led to a carousel of lumbar disc irritation and issues an IT band tightness.  Plus, any movement that forced a lot of hamstring activation would leave my bad knee sore for the next day or so.  Long story made short:  my heavy squat work was minimal for much of the summer and I zeroed out on the Hummer Tire squat.

My friend, who was also competing, said it best:  shake it off, it didn't happen.  Move on!

Which I ended up doing with some success in the next event:  a car deadlift hold for time, head-to-head with another competitor.  That competitor turned out to be a guy named Bryan.  I ended up beating him by a grand total of .06 seconds.  The humor wasn't lost on either of us as we did the dude embrace after finishing.  While most of my leg training was suboptimal for months at a time, the one thing that worked really well was barbell hack squatting.  This movement that I regularly did was a pretty close approximation to a car deadlift.  In reality, a car deadlift is more of a squat anyway. 

I sprinted over to my lane.  Bryan looked at me like I was nuts. 
I wasn't too far behind him...
That .06 second difference basically turned Bryan and I into short term rivals.  We went head-to-head on the medley run (225 lbs farmers handles, 180 lbs yoke, 250 lbs power stair, 125 lbs dumbbell press, chain press).  Had I not been so amped up on nerve juice and anticipation for my favorite event to train, I might have taken note that one of the farmers handle kept rolling away from me.  At least I would have realized that the pavement on that side that I was about to step into had a slight depression right off the starting pads.  As soon as I took a step into it, I fell with the handles.  Other than a scrapped elbow and jamming the tip of my thumb, I got back to my feet and managed to catch up with Bryan a little bit. 

 That's when inexperience and nerve juice got the better of me. I exploded off the ground with the yoke, locking it out and steadying it with surprising ease.  Unfortunately, I missed the down command and kept moving.  I had to go back and do it. 

...Now I am


Nobody knew what to make of this.  Apparently, someone wanted to have me disqualified
I missed one.  Just not this one.  The crowd went nuts!

"you're a fast little shit!"  Bryan
Bryan later told me that he was stunned when he saw me just behind him on the dumbbell press.  He figured that my redo on the yoke press combined with the power stair would give him an advantage.  Unfortunately, that wasn't the case.  While we both missed our first attempts with the circus Dumbbell (Bryan has some elbow issues; my jammed thumb weakened my grip on the dumbbell), I pulled ahead, throwing the Crossfit-like chain press easily and again edging him out. 

The last event I figured to be my strongest event:  keg tossing over a 13' bar (Four Quarter-kegs.  20, 25, 30 and 35 lbs).  What I didn't figure was how good everyone else would be.  I threw just before Bryan, who I didn't realize was a Highland Games thrower.  He one-handed his way through those fuckers in just over 21 seconds. 

 I drilled the hell out of the throws.  I regularly did heavy T-handle swings, double Kettlebell swings, and throws with my Alpha Strong Sandbag (40 lbs).  I got off to a very hot start, throwing the first three kegs 3-4' over the bar in around 18 seconds.  However, inexperience got the better of me.  As I was throwing,  I stopped taking the two steps backwards to get into a good position to throw the keg.  By the time I got to the 35 lbs, I was throwing too far away and my last keg bounced off the pole, forcing me to redo the throw and coming away with a 26 second finish time.  

Initially, I heard that I had came in 4th place.  After a few days, when the scores were finally posted, I had to readjust to just missing the top three.  While I told myself that I just wanted to have some fun and simply being able to do this was reward unto itself, I'm still a competitive person.  I couldn't simply just go to participate.  There's a part of me that wanted to win, even if I was cognizant of the fact that it may be unlikely on my first competition since I was going in knowing that my squatting practice had been marginal and thoroughly sub-par (I also had tweaked my lower back the week of the competition.  I spent the entire week trying to get rid of the back pain, which I did succeed at). 
What was particularly galling about the tire squats was that I previously trained for these back in April for another show that I wasn't able to do in Florida, hitting 350 lbs for two, 385 lbs for one, and narrowly missing 405 lbs.  So, failing at 365 lbs proved that I lost leg strength in the course of six months.  Still, I've gotten in front of the IT band syndrome and hitting the hyperextensions served the dual purpose of helping get my left knee closer to natural hyperextension and strengthening my lower back muscles.  I trust that if I get my knee to do that, most of my back and IT problems will dissipate.
The rest of my errors I felt were a combination of inexperience and nerves.  I will never do a moving event without checking the surface I'm walking on first.  Ever.  That fall cost me both on the farmers handles and the circus dumbbell.  I also should have paid closer attention to my down calls.  Finally, I need to make sure that I take the needed two steps back on my keg tosses.  The winner of the novice division, Alex, also pointed out something I hadn't thought of:  after asking me if I knew I could clear the bar with my throws (which I knew I could) why watch and see if they were going to clear?  That could have shaved some time off too. 
Still, there were bright points to take note of:
  • I correctly surmised that a barbell hack squat was likely to be very similar to a car deadlift.  As a result, the car went up pretty easily. 
  • Getting the farmers handles were initially a problem for me in training since I did so little heavy deadlifting due to my back.  So, what I did do instead was practice lighter deficit deadlifts and deficit-deadlifts with chains.  As a result, I was able to get the handles off the ground and do it reasonably quick. 
  • Despite some problems with the yoke in training, I mastered squatting underneath it and pressing as I drove upwards.  This made my two yoke presses fast.  I also correctly surmised that regular squat-pressing would aid in this.
  • While my thumb screwed with my grip on the circus dumbbell press, I still nailed it.  I'd been practicing this for over a year and this one implement in the medley finished the medley for 4 of the 10 competitors. 
  • Inexplicably, I didn't meet anyone who used swings to training for throwing kegs. Someone must have! Lots of the competitors needed start the keg at eye level in order to get the extra momentum to get the keg over the bar.  After months of swinging 100-150 lbs of weights, I started most of my throws at my knees.  Even that may have been unnecessary. 

I suppose I can only be so hard on myself.  This picture is about 13 months old. 
So, after popping my strongman cherry after a year of conceiving of doing such a competition, I'm tentatively setting my sites on Florida's Strongest man in Davenport, FL.  Overall, this day will go down as one of the best in my life and I couldn't be happier to take part.  

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