This year I took part in my first Arnold Classic Strongman. I had a month to prepare and due to personal issues I was far from performing at my peak. However, I made a deal with myself that I would enjoy the experience and give my all and, if invited again, be better for the experience.
After a long trip that took me from Birmingham to Columbus via Amsterdam and Detroit, I was in the town which has become known for the huge fitness expo organised by Jim Lorimer and the great man himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger. The great thing about this type of contest is the people you meet. I had the pleasure of meeting the legendary body building guru Charles Glass. We arrived at the same time and jumped in a cab together as we were both staying at the same hotel. Charles was there to help former Mr Olympia; Dexter Jackson.
After checking in I went up to my room and just got some room service and relaxed before a good night’s sleep.
The next morning I went down for breakfast and met Terry Todd - the organiser of the strongman event at the festival. We had no schedule until the evening so I just had a wander into town to get lunch and then relaxed for the rest of the day. In the evening we had an athlete’s meeting at the hotel where we drew numbers for our start positions. I got Number 1. You never want to go first but it is what it is and you just have to get on and do your best. We also went through the rules and a few other bits of admin. After this we headed to the Convention Centre and had a meeting with Arnold who welcomed us to the event and showed his knowledge of strength and the Iron world. I got the impression he is genuinely interested in seeing the huge freaks that we call strongmen! After this we had the chance to see the equipment and get measured up for the log - The Austrian Oak, perhaps a tongue in cheek reference to Arnie’s nickname in his bodybuilding days? This bit of kit looked beautiful, a laser-cut 208kg (440lb) wooden log made by Steve Slater.
Competition Time – Day 1 (2 events)
Shouldering Appollon’ Wheels
A 208kg axle clean for reps. (Or the 177kg if you can’t get a rep with the heavy Axle - 1 with the heavy beats any amount with the light.)
Of the 5 events at this years contest this was the one I thought didn't belong - and as my training for this event had gone badly due to a pinching on the left side of my lower back I was a little worried. Just the week before I bombed a 150kg clean due to pain and the most I had hit in training was 177kg for 1. But as I have cleaned more in a contest I decided to give the heavy axle a shot. Warm ups felt ok and I managed a good rep with the lighter axle back stage, so I got myself focused for doing the heavy weight on stage. Going first is a little daunting, especially as this was the first time since I started strongman that I was questioning if I could lift the weights…
So I step up and David Webster gives the whistle to begin. As I knew I was really after only one rep I didn't rush. I pulled the weight up to my belly, put all my effort into the continental clean and fought hard at the top to turn my wrists for a good rep. Amazingly this rep didn't feel too bad so I took a moment and decided to try again. This time however the weight felt so much heavier. I think the weight landing on my chest the first time knocked the wind out of me and back at the hotel I saw the marks to prove it! I tried a few more times but it just felt heavier each time and left the stage happy to get 1 rep. My 1 rep placed me in joint 7th with Terry Hollands. The winner of this event with 4 reps was the big man from Lithuania - Zydrunas Savickcas.
The Circus Dumbbell
116kg Circus Dumbbell for reps.
A few years back they used the 78kg Thomas Inch dumbbell which was hard, now they are using 116kg. This sport just gets more and more insane. I only had 2 workouts on the dumbbell before the Arnold's, the first went badly but the second was much more pleasing. I have done 118kg in the past so I felt I was good for one 1 rep at least. Warm ups with the 93kg dumbbell went well and the size of the handle didn't seem to bother me. When I was up to lift, I cleaned the weight but it was slightly off position on my shoulder and I had a bad attempt. I rested for a few seconds then went again, this time it felt good on my shoulder. I drove hard with the legs and the weight went up almost to lockout. I tried to fight with it and press it out, but Magnus ver Magnusson didn't give me the good lift. No complaints from me, some may have given it, but it wasn't fixed and Magnus was very fair with the judging this year. I just wasn't strong enough this time. The top 3 performances on this event were by the Americans, Poundstone with 4, Shaw with 5 and the awesome Mike Jenkins with 7 reps.
So after day 1 I was in 9th place. Not where I wanted to be, but with 3 events left there was lots to fight for.
Day 2 (3 events)
Event 3 of the contest was the Hummer Tyre Deadlift.
It has been a classic of this contest and we have seen more and more lifted by the guys almost every year. This is a 14 foot long bar that uses hummer tyres instead of traditional plates, as well as standard weights for smaller increases in weight. I had been talking to Mark Felix about this event and he told me to open heavy. I was a little worried as I pull very explosively and a few people had warned against that as the bar can flex and whip so I opened with a very easy 380kg, Mark was right. So for the 2nd lift I went for 430kg which went up well. I decided for my last attempt to try 450kg to improve on a few guys 2nd attempts and hope they went too heavy on their third lift. It worked out well as the lift was comfortable. I felt I had more in the tank but you only get 3 lifts in this contest. I took it as learning point for next year though. As for most years now Zydrunas broke the world record with a crazy lift of 506kg and only on his 2nd lift.
The Austrian Oak
This event involved lifting ether the 208kg log or the 175kg log from a rack for as many reps as possible. 1 rep with the big log beats any number with the small.
Training for this event, like the axle, had not been going well. I had been getting the pinching in the back and knew I had no chance of the bigger log so I decided to skip it and just focus on the 175kg log. First up on the big log was the monster from Iceland - Hafthor. At 23 and 200+kg he is a monster of a man and has made some crazy improvements over the last 2 years, but the big log was too much this time, Next Brian Shaw and Poundstone gave it a good shot, but it was starting to seem like the weight would be too much for anyone, especially after the Olympic lifter Koklyaev couldn’t do it, although he did get close. Next came the man everyone though would be the one to lift this beast of a log. Zydrunas has almost every World Record in overhead lifting and he has the current max log from the floor of 215kg, so when he failed his first attempt the organisers looked worried. But Z wasn't finished. He came back and on his 2nd attempt made a good lift, was it going to be another record for the Lithuanian beast or could the ever improving Mike Jenkins shock Z into 2nd place? Mike walked up to the log looking confidant that he could do it, he stepped under and lifted it from the rack to his shoulders, then with a very snappy leg drive and solid press he pressed the log like it was a warm up weight, no stalling or fighting. Could he get 2 reps and beat the Big Z on the log? Damn right he could! The 2nd rep was a little tougher but I think if he needed it there was a 3rd. I look forward to Mike and Z going head to head on a log for max in future competitions.
After these beasts had their turns I managed 2 reps with the lighter log. It wasn’t the weight I wanted to be pressing but I was happy and I know there is more to come.
The Timber Carry
The final event was the frame carry up the ramp - 400kg, no straps.
I knew if there was one event I could do well at it would be this one. Although I wasn't fighting for the win I felt I needed to prove I was a worthy addition to the line up and could still move up and fight for the prize money. I was just a little worried about the ramp as I had never done a farmers walk or frame carry uphill. It didn't seem to bother me though and I went up the ramp in 7.91 seconds. A world record for the moment! But we still had the top boys to come. First up was Mike Jenkins who, as at World’s Strongest Man 2011, beat me on the frame again with a time of 7.5 seconds. Next was Poundstone and although he hadn't won an event so far he was still fighting for first place, a win in this event and he would take the title. Derek flew up the ramp in a time just a fraction slower than Mike - 7.6 seconds. I could see this hurt Derek but for a man that a year ago had his second serious back injury I would be holding my head high and very proud of myself. Also still in contention were Brian Shaw and Zydrunas. Brian was up first and looked to be on for a fast time but just before the line he further damaged the bicep he tore at the Appollon’s Wheels and that put an end to this years challenge for the current WSM. I'm sure Brian will recover fast and be stronger than ever by WSM 2012. So the only man left to stop Mike Jenkins winning was the 6 times winner of the Arnold Classic and in most peoples eyes the greatest strongman ever - Zydrunas Saviscas. The frame has been hit and miss for the Big Z and this time it was a miss, he was unable to finish, giving Mike Jenkins the title of 2012 Arnold Classic Champion.
I have to say Mike deserved this, not only is he a great guy, he is also a smart and hard trainer. I have picked up tips from him that I feel will improve my pressing. Well done Mike!!!
I think this line up could be the strongest line up the Arnold's had ever seen, every one of these men deserves respect and right now the competition in strongman is getting tougher and tougher.
So after the last event I had moved up to 7th place. It's not a position I like to be in but I was satisfied and feel that if I had the honour of being invited again the experience will help me next time. I enjoyed the Contest but now its time to move on and focus on Europe's Strongest Man and the WSM.
Keep coming back to see how my training for those events is going.