I started training with Pankow Performance on August 1st, 2015. When I started, I was at 257 lbs and about 29% body fat. For my last contest, I weighed in at 220.4 lbs, and my last caliper measurements put me at just over 20% body fat. More important than the weight or fat loss was the increase in confidence and self-esteem, while also being shown I am not the strongest person in the room…by a long shot.
During these months and contests, I have had to push myself to or beyond what I thought my body could handle. Sometimes, I have been successful, like with the 275 lbs/hand farmer’s carry at Motor City’s Strongest Man, and sometimes, I did as well/poorly as expected.
At this latest competition, I learned a few valuable lessons:
Prepare for everything. I was sure that the contest weights were light enough, especially on stones, so I didn’t practice stones, instead I focused on circus dumbbell and farmer’s carry. My failure to prepare was preparing to fail, as I didn’t record a single rep. At the competition, I couldn’t launch the stone from my chest over the bar. Had I practiced, I would have likely recorded one.
Be aware of surroundings. In the circus dumbbell, I stood on rubber mats that I thought had been placed as a staging area; however, they were intended to protect the bell and the parking lot from each other between reps. Had I been aware of their purpose and impact they had on my lift, I would have stepped off the mat and performed the event. I might have recorded one more rep.
Get over annoyances quickly. I let a minor irritation in one event mess with my mind and also my performance. There was nothing I could do to fix it by thinking about it; rather, the lack of focus on the task at hand was more of a hindrance than a help.
Strongman has been a great sport, and I look forward to competing for years to come. Besides the fun, the gains in strength, and the many friendships I have developed, the requirements of meeting weight classes have given me a continuous goal for weight management or weight loss. As I transition from open divisions to masters divisions, the weight classes become a little less restrictive, but I intend to maintain weight for the 220 class, as it will serve me better in life and for the occasional contest that doesn’t offer a master’s division.
May you find a hobby or sport that brings you as much joy as strongman has done for me.
Here are few pictures from the latest contest on April 23rd:
14,000 lb truck 60 feet
Here are a few pictures from the 2nd contest, Motor City’s Strongest Man (March 12th) in 220 lb class:
Here are a few pictures from my first competition in September at the 242 lb weight class:
650 lb yoke
210 lb axle press
Chrysler 200 + 50 lbs Car Deadlift
Thanks, Dave, for all of your help with diet, training, and encouragement.
Today, my daughter put a question with which I have been struggling into very simple terms that made it easier to evaluate my options. I will have to remember her question when facing similar questions of what to choose when faced with two options, but before I reveal her advice, let me give you the backstory.
Last November, I decided to sign-up for the Rock ‘N Roll Las Vegas Half-Marathon, which is run on the Las Vegas Strip in the evening, so the participants get to enjoy the lights of the strip. It looked like a great race, and a friend in the area commented about how fun it was. I had just completed the Detroit Free Press International Half-Marathon, and my training seemed to be pointing in the direction of general fitness, so another half-marathon made sense.
In May, a friend announced that she would like to put a relay team together for the Detroit Free Press International Marathon, and since I like to help people achieve goals, and it appears I would be running no more than a 10k, I helped put a team together figuring it would be a good warm-up for the Las Vegas half.
In July, I got my first taste of strongman training, and I was hooked. On August 3rd, I started a 7 week program of strength training with Dave of Pankow-Performance, and one thing that Dave identified with my training that needed to change was I was doing too much. In addition to boot camp classes, crewing for hot air balloons, volunteering on an urban farm, and other physical activities, I was doing 4 miles per day during my lunch break. He advised me that the best gains are achieved while resting, as the body needs an opportunity to recover. It was difficult, at first, to relax and be mindful instead of always being busy, but I became accustomed to it, and I even found pleasure in relaxing lunches. Through Dave’s training and diet recommendations, I met the goal of competing at 242 lbs, and I exceeded my expectations in the competition; however, I could tell my running endurance had decreased during those weeks.
After competition, I went back to 2 days of boot camp training and 1 day of strength training (focus on squats and deadlifts), and it became more obvious that my running had taken a toll, but I also realized that my fitness goals had changed. Before strength training with Dave, my goals were to lose weight and stay active in runs. After strength training and having competed, I have more definitive goals:
Learn form and technique for strongman events
Become stronger throughout my entire body
Lose weight to compete at the 220 lb weight class (a definitive goal with a time requirement based on an April competition)
When I learned that one of our relay team members needed to drop out of the race due to a work commitment he had just been assigned, I started to question my running plans. To make up for his absence, I would likely be running/walking 8-10 miles instead of 6-7 miles. With less than a month between the Detroit marathon and the Las Vegas half-marathon, the increased mileage and need to train additional miles for the half made me realize I would likely miss valuable training sessions with boot camp and strength training as I recovered from the runs. Though the next strongman competition is not until April, I am not sure I can afford to miss multiple sessions to focus on running (in addition to days I will need to miss for work commitments).
Concerned about what I had gotten myself into, I decided to look at alternatives, and thanks to StartingStrongman.com, I learned of a gym in Las Vegas with open strongman training on Sundays from 12-4. After contacting Justin Purcell (who runs the training), I began to weigh my options. Because I respect his opinion and training knowledge, I asked Dave what he thought, and he said that if my goal was to run the race, he understood seeing it through to the end, but if I was concerned about being prepared, then I could opt for a relaxing vacation or I could train at Purcell’s facility. I thanked him for his input as it respected my desire to retire my running shoes with a final race, but he also gave me an option I hadn’t considered: rest.
This is where the wisdom of my daughter comes:
I had just finished checking her grades and saw that she currently had an A+ in every class, so I thought I would ask her a problem solving question: Based on the fact that I have not run for distance in more than 8 weeks, should I run the half-marathon (even if I am not ready) or should I go to the open gym strongman training? Grace’s answer was simple and would make my friends / trainers proud:
What will best serve your fitness goals?
At 11 years old and with no experience in fitness (aside from soccer and dance), my daughter summarized my internal struggle with a simple question that helped me see the answer more clearly. My fitness goal is to be competitive in a strongman competition, so if running the half-marathon jeopardizes that goal by trying to run it if I am unprepared, then I need to choose to let the race go in favor of pursuing my goal for April and, hopefully, years to come.
So, what is my decision? In 11 days, I will complete my relay leg in the Detroit marathon. At the completion of the race, I will evaluate how I feel and how long I think I will need to recover. If I struggle to complete my leg or if I feel my body will require significant recovery, I will bow out of the Las Vegas race. If I feel spectacular at the end of my leg and I am able to return to a full workout by Tuesday or Wednesday, I will do the race. Right now, I am leaning very heavily towards not running, as my legs were toast walking 3 miles after squats, lunges, deadlifts, and Nordics this morning.
It has been 4 weeks since I started training with Dave, and I have gained much more than muscle. Each workout, I learn more about myself physically and psychologically. Both of these will help me become a better person and strongman competitor.
1st Lesson: Rest,Relax, & Recover.
Before I started, Dave told me that I needed to stop doing my 4 mile walks/runs every day at lunch time, as I wasn’t allowing my body to recover. At first, it was difficult for me to accept that I was harming myself by doing more exercise, but after a week of resting when not in the gym, I found my workouts were more consistent and stronger in the gym. Because my workouts were stronger and more consistent, my body has been responding with gained strength and definition. Also, I am more confident in my ability to produce because I have respected my body’s needs. Last Sunday, I tested my limits by doing a gym workout Friday, Strongman workout Saturday, and an obstacle/mud run with a 25 lb backpack of bricks on Sunday. My performance on my Monday morning workout was week, and my body was sore and poorly recovered all week,
In work and other parts of life, it will serve me well to remember that working many hours and submitting the same quality and quantity of work as I would if I take time to rest does not benefit anybody. I may think I am perceived as a hard worker for putting in extra hours, but time without productivity (or worse hindering productivity) is not admirable.
2nd Lesson: Slow down, Focus on Form, & Listen to My Body
Coming into training, I knew my form would be one of the areas with which I would need assistance, as I had seldom practiced lifts like the deadlift or squat. I figured I would be fine with the bench press, but I learned there is much more than picking things up and putting them down.
Given that I am naturally strong, most of my life I have been able to lift things, though the form would not be approved by most. Letting my ego and natural strength drive me, I have a difficult time really evaluating what work capacity is appropriate for me. While I can physically lift most of the weights I put on the bar, I am learning to back away from the weight and the ego to find a challenging weight that is light enough for me to focus on proper form with each repetition. This Saturday, I finally backed off on pressing events to allow myself some successful lifts, and on the car deadlift, I asked to take off 50 lbs so I could end the day with a good lift. I must continue to practice this as it will allow me to enjoy the sport much longer than if I push myself and injure myself.
In life, I must know when to say when. Whether for work or personal relationships, it is okay to say “no” or “I am at my limit.” It will allow me to be a better employee and friend if I know my limitations and clearly express them to others. I will be better at the things I agree to do, and others will h
ave better understanding of when I might need help.
3rd Lesson: Set a Goal and Don’t Do Things Detrimental to the Goal
My goal for the competition is simple: complete 1 successful lift on each event. If I perform better, great, but goals of placing higher will be for future competitions.
While I have been observing the rest, relax, and recover instructions, I learned that completing the obstacle/mud run was counterproductive to my goal because it prevented me from training as hard and as well as I could have on Monday. I ran the event since I had paid for it months before, but now I know that for the next 4 weeks, my extra activities need to either be neutral or beneficial to my goal. I cannot afford to be working against myself.
In life, when I have a deadline or goal to achieve, I need to stop taking on extra work until my goals are met, unless it can be done in a way that doesn’t interfere with my work. Working with others on projects that achieve mutual goals is great, but offering to help do work to be a nice guy doesn’t meet my obligations.
While there are many more lessons that have been learned, these three have sounded the loudest over the weeks, and I am sure they will repeat for the rest of my life.
No, I’m not talking about the seafood mussels; rather, I am fortunate to work for a sauna and steam room manufacturer, and l believe in the benefits of heat bathing, so I have purchased and installed an infrared sauna and a steam shower in our home. Though both make me perspire almost as much Frank’s great bootcamp class at Fitness Revolution, they achieve the sweat in a different way, which lends themselves to being used differently.
Most days, I choose to use my Amerec steam shower, as it is integrated with my existing shower. About 15 minutes before my workout is scheduled to finish, the steam generator is programmed to preheat the shower. By the time I make it home, the shower is 110 degrees and ready to soothe my aching muscles and sometimes sore joints. During construction, I added a shower seat to let me relax while in the heat. As I enter the room, I add a few drops of Eucalyptus oil which both invigorates and helps to clear my sinuses (have been having allergy issues the last couple days).
The heat from the steam shower is warm and soothing, much like a hot tub but without the chemicals, need for extra maintenance, or constant drain on electricity. The heated, moist air feels great on the skin, and I feel both physical and mental stress start to melt away in the heat. Because the temperature is relatively low and most of the heat is transferred to the body through the water vapor, the heat doesn’t penetrate too deeply into the muscles, but when I use it almost daily, it helps to keep my body, skin, and mind fresh, clear, and ready to approach each day with vigor.
Today, I will be using the Helo B820 Far-Infrared sauna before I go with Dave to train on strongman events. I have had a very tight supraspinatus which can limit my lifts as it clicks and causes some pain in my left shoulder. I have regular massages, which work wonders on it, but while hot air ballooning the last two nights, I have felt a little extra tension in the muscle, and far-infrared heat, unlike steam, penetrates 1-1/2″ into the muscles and tissue of the body, thus it helps as a pre-workout warm-up to increase circulation to the area and to loosen the muscles without excessive stretching. Since far-infrared begins working as soon as it is turned on, I can use it for 20-30 minutes without preheating, which helps when on a tight schedule. When my muscles feel a little more fried after a workout, the infrared helps to release tension deeper within the muscle, so I will often fill a couple glasses of water, turn on a movie I can watch on the TV I can see from within the sauna, and spend as much time as I need taking several innings in the sauna until I am feeling like a million bucks.
I am excited for today’s workout, and I am happy that I get to use both the sauna and steam today to prepare for and recover after the workout. My evening and weekend will finish with another night of ballooning (crewing tonight), so I need to be physically ready for lifting, pulling, and towing everything for the setup, launch, landing, and packing of the balloon for Wicker Basket Balloon Center.
I have a love affair with food, though it is less steamy (vegetables) and more frigid and sweet (ice cream) and includes over-indulgences; however, Dave shared with me a simple plan he gives his clients that when practiced can change the “love affair” into a “healthy, nurturing marriage.”
In his guide, he divides common foods into groups, identifies their common properties, and describes what a healthy portion is for each, including how many portions are recommended in a day, depending on the needs of the client. Though there are some foods and drinks that should generally be avoided, there are times for exceptions to add a little spice to life. His goal isn’t to create a restrictive diet; rather, he wants to create a sustainable lifestyle where healthy choices are enjoyed daily and indulgences are enjoyed on occasion without guilt.
I think of this diet like marriage because it helps to identify a healthy relationship with food and to nurture that relationship to encourage a lifelong commitment to it. Like a good marriage, a healthy diet based on simple principles provides the body what it needs to thrive in all endeavors. Like the saying goes, “Behind every successful man is a successful woman;” “Behind every healthy body should be a healthy diet.”
As mentioned in the beginning, I do love food, especially desserts, and Dave’s plan allows for this with “cheat” meals, or as I would prefer to think of them in my marriage diet, “role playing with my food,” as there can be ways of adding variety without the guilt of “cheating.” Good, fresh, healthy meats, fruits, and vegetables can be extremely satisfying most of the time, but when you feel a little naughty, acknowledge the desire and allow it in limited amounts. When it is time to indulge in a dessert or other “forbidden pleasure,” be honest with yourself about how much you need, set limits, and enjoy it. When you’re done with your experience, put it back in the drawer and know it is available again in the future, but it isn’t a daily occurrence.
Looking at my food through the lens of a relationship will help me want to stay the course. Just as I wouldn’t stray from my strong, healthy, nurturing marriage, I hope to stay true to this “marriage diet,” though on occasion I might dress up peanut butter in beautiful chocolate ice cream with a little whipped cream on top.