Strongman At the LA FitExpo - Larry Wheels' first meet
I had the honor of competing against Larry Wheels and Jose Baez at the LA FitExpo this last weekend, along with a few other animals. This contest stands out as one of my favorites because of how close some of the events were, both in reps and time splits.
There was a special spotlight put on this event due to the fact that it was Larry Wheels' first Strongman competition. He had been training with Hapfthor Bjornsson overseas for weeks in preparation for this meet in hopes of winning and getting an invite to the Arnold Amateur World Championships. I was critical of this strategy, believing that he would have trouble with lighter amateur weights that favor high-rep endurance as well as precision and speed. I fully believe someone with such an elite level of strength is worthy of a walk-on into bigger international competitions, just as guys like Siders, Gillingham, Bolton, and Koklyaev have done in the past.
Farmers: 315 50' down and back. We started the day with 16 guys in the Heavies. I had the pleasure of going heads up with Wheels, and damn he was quick. He was a half step behind me and slipped in 5' from finish. No drops were allowed, so instead of taking 2nd, he dropped to bottom pack. Chucks on expo floors, newbie mistake. I was first, I believe Bebee 2nd, Baez 3rd all right around 17 seconds.
Overhead Press Medley: Block 200 and axle 275 wasn't a factor for anyone. Log was said repeatedly to be 280. It was 315. Disoriented a lot of people, including myself. I got 2 on the log, behind Canada's Derrek Cox (2nd at 105kg World's Strongest Man) and Wheels at 4, and Jose Baez who smashed 5.
Squat: 510 (but probably not). Bloodbath and my favorite Strongman event to date. Nothing tests strength along with pain tolerance and a desire to win like high rep squatting. Martins Licis was judging and expected every rep to be ass-to-grass. The result was a 3-way tie for 2nd at 17 with myself, Wheels, and Victor Beebe. Baez came out and died a little to get 18. This was a gut check. I think if any one of us went last, we all would have forced that 18th rep, but we all felt pain set in towards the end and left something in the tank, giving Jose the opening he needed.
Tire: 1100 (but probably not) 10 seconds time limit to flip to your opponent. The women did some ungodly amount of flips, like 37, so Odd dropped it to 5 seconds. Jacob Finerty was reminiscing about getting 27 flips on this tire last year going against Martins Licis. The 5 second allotment wasn't even enough time to get set under the tire, and a lot of guys got screwed out of a good rep. Shit show. The winner was Morgan Hill with 5. Baez and Empire Barbell member Fernando Rodriguez got 1. Larry Wheels got an effortless rep, but it flipped right as the 5 seconds mark hit and didn't count. Given the tense history between my left bicep and heavy tires, I opted to sit it out.
MAS: The finals got pushed to Sunday because of time (shocking). After the prelims, Cox, Baez, Wheels, Morgan, and possibly some others were still in. Given my lack of flexibility, lack of knowledge, and history of lower back, shoulder, and bicep injuries, I sat this one out as well. Even if I wasn't in danger of ripping tendon from bone by being within 5 feet of a MAS board, I probably would have sat it out anyways. The sport is brutal, equating to something like a max effort deficit deadlift isometric, but the weight is jerking around violently as you scramble to keep your balance and still pull as hard as you can. 1 round can last 20-30 seconds (or more) and a tournament might result in a dozen rounds. For 1 event in an 8 event show where 2 events can be dropped, it just wasn't worth the energy/risk of injury. I promise everyone was feeling this the next day.
Real quick; I've been coming to Odd Haugen All American Strength Classic since before my first meet in 2006, back when it was a pro show. I don't ever remember seeing a crowd like this. America's Strongest Man had literally 5% of the crowd we had today. Personally, I don't care about growing the sport: growth hasn't changed my enjoyment, but entry fees have tripled and competition has watered down. But for those of you that do care, this was a big step forward.
Double-Overhand Axle Deadlift: Rising bar, 4 attempts. I knew I had to take points here because I erred on the side of 'no urgent care trips' by sitting out MAS and the tire. Picked a whopping 330lbs for 12th or so. I asked Larry what his best was and he said, "the 365 I just did right now". He finished with a win at 440. Baez hit a 407 behind Bookers 418. For those who are unaware, a 440 double overhand deadlift is insanely elite and typically only seen by grip specialists. There are numerous people who frequent the Arnold Classic and World's Strongest Man who cannot reproduce that feat.
Viking Press: 310 (but probably not) This was a cluster fuck on par with the 5 second tire decision. Martins was an executioner this weekend; he was INCREDIBLY strict on the double dip rule, expecting knees to be completely locked when the heels hit the ground. While officials were discussing time limit or whether you could set it down in between reps, it would have been nice for someone to say, "oh, btw, soft knees is a no rep". I came out with 20 and, as someone who exclusively push presses, was shocked to have 2 reps pulled. Larry flew through 24 without issue, keeping his heels down the entire time before our very own Fernando 'Bear' Rodriguez grinded 21 hard fought reps for second place. My heart went out to Baez who flew through 20 as well but had FIVE reps pulled. Was a silly ruling IMO, considering he wasn't jerking and all of his reps looked the same.
Yoke 800 to Bag 300 50' each way: Cox started with a solid 32 seconds and change, I followed right after. Bag was too low during the carry and wouldn't go over the yoke on the first pass. Sat down, regrouped, and popped it over for a 35 and change. Everyone after figured out how to shoulder, something I didn't practice which made all the difference. Wheels (slow and steady on the yoke but full damn sprint with the bag), Beebe and Morgan all came in 33-34 seconds before Jose solidified his win with a smoking 28 second sprint. Mad as I was, since I drilled the shit out of this in training, I had the fastest split to the yoke crossbar next to Jose and that was without shouldering the bag. Doesn't change the outcome, just reinforces that I have gotten substantially faster and that technical issues still need to be worked out.
MAS finals: at this point the contest was 2 hours over and they were rolling up the carpet of the expo hall. TLDR; 400lbs of Morgan Hill > everyone else. He beat Baez fast then Wheels faster. Fun to watch, glad I spared myself the experience.
Side note: I knew Baez was the guy to beat going into this and he lived up to that. But Larry was closer to him than you might think. Aside from the Farmers slip, which would have given him the overall win, he was disadvantaged all weekend by being in a lighter class than Baez. In another example of nonsensical decision making, the order of each event was done by how you placed in your SUB DIVISION. That means Larry in the 300s never followed anyone in the SHWs, regardless of how he placed the event before. I found this frustrating as well, having won the first event overall and having to go 5th on the next.
(I have to defend Larry because he asked me how much I squat then I gave him a PB and J, so we're basically best friends.)
Critiques: You can tell Odd, Jon Eccles, Gillert, Martins and everyone else works hard to put on a good show, but with so many guys with experience, it seems each takes for granted which points they think are important and communication breaks down. Jon even expressed how hard he was working to keep everything running smoothly all while announcing and coordinating the live stream. Odd is kind of like your dad when you're doing maintenance work around the house. In a pinch he swoops in with a final decision and you go along with it even though you know it's the long way around.
With that said, the Armlifting HAS to be separated from the Strongman. Forcing them together (strongman event, armlifting, strongman, armlifting, mas, strongman, etc) takes a straightforward show and turns it into 2 9-hour days. It kills the crowd momentum, kills the competitors, and is a factor in low turnout and the show running long. I don't speak for everyone, so if you really enjoyed getting cold for an 800 yoke while the grip guys did the Saxon lift, please speak up.
Strongman 1 day, Armlifting the next. 6 events instead of 8, no 'dropped scores' putting voodoo on the points. Crowd is happy and more engaged, competitors perform better, more people sign up, and we don't go broke paying for 2 day events. You're all welcome.
My girlfriend Laura Espinoza swept the LW women, so I will be handling HER at nationals this year, Eric King from our crew took 1st in the MWs, and a few of our newer guys pushed it and came out out better for it. Proud of everyone from Empire Barbell!
Great work to everyone, hope to see most of these guys at California's Strongest Man in March!