You’re one of the judges at the upcoming Winter Strongman Challenge. How come you’re not competing at the event?
I tore my lat last year at Europe’s Strongest Man attempting a world record 446kg deadlift. My recovery’s gone really well, but this comp has unfortunately come around a bit too soon for me. We’ve got Eddy Hall competing though, who came sixth at World’s Strongest Man this year and is the reigning British champion, plus Krysztof Radzikowski, who finished fourth at the World’s in 2013. As a bonus, we’ve got Zydrunas Savickas – 2014 World’s Strongest Man and probably the greatest strongman of all time – as the other judge. Having him there is a really big deal.
You finished eighth at World’s Strongest Man in 2014. How would you assess your performance?
I was really pleased with my performance in the qualifying heats. I had probably the toughest group, and I really messed up the first event – I had to pick up a series of anvils and load them onto a platform, but they were really awkward and I kept fumbling my grip – which left me with a mountain to climb. But after that I managed to calm down, refocus and perform really well. Out of the remaining five events I won two and finished second in another two, which was enough to secure the second qualifying spot behind [eventual winner] Savickas. I actually set a world record on the super yoke, carrying a pair of massive tractor tyres [weighing 455kg] down a 25m course in 13 seconds, which was four seconds faster than anyone else. I’ve got a strong lower body and I’m quite athletic, which makes me faster than a lot of the other guys. The super yoke is definitely my favourite event.
You’re also famous for your squatting ability. What advice would you give to regular gym-goers trying to improve their squat?
Don’t max out too often. Trying to hit a PB all the time will be detrimental to your progress. A lot of people want to lift as much as they can every time they go to the gym, but doing a maximum lift just tests where you’re at, rather than making you stronger. Max lifts put so much strain on your body too – if you do them too much, you’ll just end up burning out and going backwards. Guys fall into this trap with bench pressing too.
How do you manage the strain that strongman training and competitions put on your body?
It’s important to know when to push yourself and when to ease off. If I’ve not got a competition coming up, I avoid doing big compound lifts and focus on bodybuilding-style body part split routines to give my body a break from really heavy lifting. I also taper my training significantly in the run-up to a competition. I usually do my last really heavy lifting session about two-and-a-half weeks out, then gradually scale everything back. The last five or six days before a comp I don’t do any training at all, which gives my body a chance to recover from all the training!
You were visibly leaner at World’s Strongest Man in 2014. What changes have you made to your nutrition?
I completely overhauled my diet last year. Before that I never really cared much about my nutrition – I’d managed to finish fourth at World’s Strongest Man in 2011 without a proper nutrition plan, so I figured I was doing alright. But last year I realised that I wouldn’t want to look back at the end of my career and regret not having given my all. And although you need to be big for strongman, having that extra body fat doesn’t really help much, apart from maybe in the truck pull, where you just need to be as heavy as possible. The key is to have functional muscle. A lot of people think strongmen are just big brutes, but you need to be seriously athletic too. I’m a lot fitter now, and I’ve noticed that I recover a lot quicker between events, especially towards the end of competitions when a lot of the other guys start to struggle. I’ve been doing a lot of training on a Concept2 rower, which has really helped. I can row 500m in 1min 15sec, which isn’t bad for a 143kg strongman!
What do you eat in a typical day?
I consume around 5,000 calories a day, which is actually a lot less than people assume. But to hit that target with clean calories still involves a lot of eating. On a typical day I wake up and have two scoops of whey protein with 100g of porridge oats and a banana for breakfast, then go to the gym, after which I have a recovery shake. I eat chicken, rice and veg four times during the day, then have whatever dinner my missus cooks for dinner in the evening, which varies from day to day but is usually pretty healthy. I eat 500g of low-fat yogurt before bed, and if I wake up in the night to go for a wee I have another scoop of whey. It’s a pretty boring diet, but it works for me. Keeping things simple makes it easier and more practical, especially if I batch-cook everything. If I make it more complicated I lose interest. I tend to have a cheat weekend every other weekend, so I’ll have 12 days of being good followed by two days of eating whatever I like.
What are your goals going forward?
I’d like to reclaim my Britain’s Strongest Man title from Eddy Hall this year. He’s phenomenally strong, and he’s doing really well at the moment, but I know 100% that I can challenge him and win it back. Finishing on the podium at World’s Strongest Man has to be a realistic goal too. Every year the events are slightly different, but I know if the individual events suit me – which wasn’t always the case last year – I can do really well.
The Winter Strongman Challenge is taking place on January 17th at Glow Bluewater in Dartford, Kent. Buy tickets here.
The event is being organized by The Strongman Sanctuary
Photograph copyright James Nethercoat
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