A fond farewell

Hello, readers.

As you’ve probably noticed, this blog has been inactive for quite some time. Although I had fun writing about strongman here, I’ve moved on to other, hopefully better and brighter, projects. My new website is http://www.emiliecharette.ca if you’re interested in seeing my current projects.

Thank you all very much for reading this blog.

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The future of strongman

Although the sport has remained somewhat in the shadows, at least for most mainstream audiences, the future of strongman looks bright.

While people tend to think of circuses when the word “strongman” is mentioned, the sport has been growing in popularity over the last decade. Every time I go to the gym, I see new people, eager to get fit and become stronger.

Events such as the Arnold Sports Festival, named for Arnold Schwarzenegger, are focused on strength sports such as strongman and powerlifting and are held annually. With the pro strongman and strongman competitions at 2017’s Calgary Stampede that are to become an annual event, the audience for strongman in Calgary is likely only to grow.

Knowledge about the sport has even increased because of HBO’s Game of Thrones, because the Icelandic strongman Hafþór Björnsson plays Sir Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane in the show.

Furthermore, more women are competing in strongman than ever before, and with role models such as Allison Lockhart, I hope that women continue to flock to the sport. The growing sisterhood within the community is amazing to see, as is the breaking down of stereotypes about what women can and can’t do.

I am so excited to see where the future takes us.

Famous strongman – Louis Cyr

I’ve spoken in previous blog posts about the celebrated French-Canadian strongman Louis Cyr, so I thought I would provide some more information* about him. His life was fascinating.

Born Cyrien-Noe Cyr on October 10, 1864, in Saint-Cyprien-de-Napierville, Quebec, Cyr began showing his great strength at an early age. When he was 12, he began working in lumber camps during the winter and on his family’s farm throughout the rest of the year, impressing people with his feats of strength.

His strongman career began in earnest when he was 17, when he is reported to have lifted a farmer’s heavy wagon when it became stuck in a mire. Cyr weighed 230 lbs and stood 5 feet, 8.5 inches.
He also competed against Canada’s strongest man at the time, Michaud of Quebec, in lifting heavy stones, and won by lifting a stone that weighed 480 lbs.

In 1878, the Cyr family immigrated to Massachusetts. That was also the year when Cyr changed his name to Louis, because it was easier for Anglophones to pronounce.
When he was 18, he entered his first strongman contest in Boston, lifting a horse off the ground.

Cyr worked as a police officer in Montreal from 1883 to 1885, and married a woman named Melina Courtois in 1884. He joined the police force after breaking up a dangerous knife fight and carrying the men, one under each arm, to the police station.

He continued to perform many feats of strength, including lifting a 534-lb weight with one finger, pushing a freight car up an incline, and lifting a platform with 18 men on it on his back – a total weight of 4,327 lbs.
He performed far too many impressive feats to list here, but those are some notable ones.

At his heaviest, Cyr weighed 400 lbs, although he usually competed at around 320 lbs. Interestingly, his wife Melina never weighed more than 100 lbs.

Cyr died November 10, 1912, at the age of 50. He gave his name to the oversized dumbbells he favoured and is considered by many to be The Strongest Man Who Ever Lived.

*The information in this post was found on Wikipedia.

 

Unconventional strength

Strongmen sometimes perform feats of strength that are a little unusual. While lifting heavy objects and pressing things overhead are impressive, my favourite feats to watch are the unconventional ones: bending metal, ripping phonebooks in half, and pulling trucks and firetrucks are just a few examples.

The Highland games also feature surprising feats of strength, such as caber tossing, where contestants throw a log, and hammer throws. Contestants wear shoes with knives to help them stay in place while they throw the hammer.

Louis Cyr, the famous French-Canadian strongman, once held in place two horses that were being directed in opposite directions, a feat known as the Hercules hold, which is now performed with cars.

It’s common for strongmen to bend nails and horseshoes, which takes practice and technique.
In competitions, the sharp ends of the nails are snipped off to prevent the competitors from impaling their hands, but very long nails and bolts don’t need that.

My boyfriend has been practicing nail-bending recently, but he uses padding to protect his hands. He’s made a lot of progress, and can bend the nails into acute angles. Eventually, he wants to be able to bend horseshoes.

Below are some nails that my boyfriend bent.

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Success from hardship

Sometimes going to the gym is frustrating. You try for a personal best, only to fail. You’re unable to complete your sets because you’re tired. You struggle to try a new movement.

If you’re a perfectionist like me, that can be incredibly discouraging. My boyfriend always teases me that I want to be good at everything the first time I try it.

However, sometimes you do succeed, and it’s one of the best feelings in the world, especially if you struggled before.

Last night at the gym, I was finally able to press fifty-five pounds overhead, for six sets of six reps. It doesn’t sound like a lot of weight, but I’ve tried to complete that for the past two weeks, unable to finish all the sets. Overhead is one of my weakest movements, unlike the squat or the yoke.

It was frustrating, and irritating, and it made me feel weak, being unable to do it. However, last night, I pushed through. I ignored my shaking arms and the little voice in the back of my head that constantly tells me that I can’t do anything.

I won’t lie. It was difficult. It was tiring. However, the sense of accomplishment that I felt afterwards was incredible, made all the better by the work it took to achieve that goal.

 

Face challenges head-on

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Sometimes, going to the gym feels less like an enjoyable activity and more like a chore.

When I’m tired from a long day at school, in pain, or feeling down on myself, making the decision to go to the gym can be difficult. The temptation to just stay at home and curl up with a good book or a show on Netflix can be very strong.

This is especially true when I’m not feeling very strong mentally. However, I started lifting as a way to deal with my anxiety and quiet the thoughts in my head. It’s hard to yell at yourself or panic when you’re focusing on maintaining form and breathing in a certain way.
Still, even when I know, logically, that going to the gym is the way to deal with my thoughts and feelings, it can be hard to remember that, and remember why I enjoy going to the gym.

It’s a way to spend time with my boyfriend. It’s a way to ground and focus myself. It’s a challenge to myself, to see how strong I can become, physically and mentally.

It’s essential to remember that the days when I feel the least like going are the most important days to go.

Empowerment through strength

The strongman community is also amazing in terms of equality. While it is true that more men compete than women, the sport has definitely grown in recent years. More and more women are being drawn to it, interested in seeing how strong they can become.

Because the strongman and powerlifting communities are so welcoming, the guys don’t have any weird attitudes toward women in the gym. Every time I go to The Strength Edge, I have an amazing experience, free of judgment, which isn’t the case for every gym.

At one weight training gym I went to, which wasn’t strongman-specific, a bodybuilder made some snarky remark about not being able to get a good workout because there was “too much estrogen” in the gym: a lot of women were there that night.

I don’t think anybody would say something like that to Allison Lockhart, and not just because she presses overhead more than a lot of people can deadlift. Guys like that are the exception, not the rule, in strongman.

The strongman community actively encourages more women to give weight training a try. The Strength Edge hosts a monthly women-only evening at the gym to help introduce women to the sport.

Like everyone in the community, I would love to see the sport grow in popularity, and I would especially love to see more women give it a try! It’s an incredibly empowering, uplifting experience. I love to see women supporting other women.

A community like no other

The most wonderful thing about the strength community is the amazing sense of camaraderie that exists within it.

Every time I go to the gym, I see lifters of all different skill levels supporting, helping, and encouraging each other. One lifter may help out a beginner, only to be given advice a minute later by an even more seasoned athlete.

Even during competitions, not only is the crowd cheering and shouting encouragement, the competitors are as well, supporting the other lifters, despite the fact that they’re rivals.

For many people, this sense of community is their favourite thing about strongman.

Even at the professional level, this support is obvious. Last summer, I attended a pro strongman show at the Calgary Stampede.

Canada’s Strongest Man, Jean-Francois Caron, and Canada’s second strongest man, Jimmy Paquet, were both there, as well as James Loach, Western Canada’s Strongest Man.

During the competition, these professional strongmen embodied the respect and support that the community is known for, cheering for their competitors and shouting encouragement when their competitors were struggling to complete events.

They’re also very approachable. Allison Lockhart, Canada’s Strongest Woman, and James Loach both train at the same gym I do.

Both are happy to talk with and offer advice to newcomers to the sport (or to nosy journalism students!)

The strongman community is definitely unlike anything else.

The weight of living

Trying to balance my fitness goals can be very difficult.

On one hand, I definitely want to get stronger than I am and attain professional strongwoman status. I also want to correct the aches and pains that years of working in retail have given me. I like seeing how much stronger I’ve become since I first started training.

On the other hand, I’ve been trying to lose weight for a long time. It’s something I’ve been insecure about for my whole life.

For strongwoman training, keeping my energy up and consuming protein is important to developing muscle.

Many strongmen and women drink protein shakes to help them gain muscle more easily. However, this also results in weight gain.

Look at any pictures of professional strongmen and you’ll see that, while they are incredibly strong, they are by no means lean.

In fact, many of them have what’s called a “strongman belly,” which can actually help with events like the log, since they can rest the weight on their bellies before rolling it up and pressing it.

It’s especially difficult because my boyfriend is currently doing a “bulk”: intentionally putting on weight to increase his muscle mass and strength. He can eat whatever he wants, whenever he wants, but if I want to meet my goal weight, I can’t do the same.

However, I’ve never been one to back down from a challenge. I just have to stay focused on what I want to achieve and what I need to do to get there.

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