Will strongman ever grow to the level of popularity of CrossFit? I’ve been hesitant to write about this subject for a long time. However, it is a topic that keeps coming up in strongman circles everywhere, and I feel like I’d be remiss to not use the platform I have to throw my two cents into the ring. I’ve spent the last 10 years competing, traveling, and interviewing gym owners, promoters, and some of the best strength athletes ever, from Lynn Morehouse in North Carolina (who, in my eyes, set the gold standard for contests in the United States) to Zydrunas Savickas in Lithuania, and everyone in between. I may come across as accusatory or cynical in this article, but it’s because this sport means so much to me and I’ve spent thousands of dollars and hours trying to grow it for the good of everyone involved.
So, can strongman be as popular as CrossFit? I really don’t see a reason it can’t be. It has all the qualities of an exciting sport: winners, losers, failure, triumph, action, and larger than life characters doing things that most humans can’t even comprehend. If people can watch cars turn left for 500 miles or reality shows about finding garbage in old storage units, I don’t understand how there could ever be an argument for strongman not being “exciting” enough. Are there boring contests that put longtime strongman veterans like me to sleep? Yes, but there are also amazing promoters out there that create events that keep spectators on the edge of their seats for the entire contest. The sport itself isn’t inherently boring, but it can be made into a snooze fest if we as athletes and promoters don’t remember that we want to entertain the audience.
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However, the biggest issue I see with the growth of strongman (or any strength sport, really) isn’t from the outside interest, but rather from the athletes and promoters themselves. In order for growth, athletes and promoters need to support the companies that support them. We also need to think about standardizing implements for large-scale events like nationals and the like.
I realize that standardizing implements seems like a death sentence to most of the hardcore strongman athletes out there, but it’s really not. Small local events can, and should, make their contests more interesting with “non-traditional” equipment, but at the higher levels things need to be a little more orderly. Does every contest have to be the same five or six events? No, but we can change things up and still make things “standardized.” CrossFit has literally drawn out this blueprint for us, yet we don’t ever think about utilizing it, despite wanting to be at the level CrossFit is.
Standardized equipment and event rules also helps us open the door to things like legitimate state championships, regionals, and then nationals. I’ve always dreamt of a real path to nationals, not just showing up and “placing” top three in a backyard event. This leads to saturation at larger competitions, which is great for profit but not so much for competition. Having 50 people in a weight class sounds awesome, but it really waters down the talent and makes contests harder to manage.
Instead of competing in one contest and making it in, I’m suggesting a more streamlined route of at least three levels of qualification. First, you’d have to win a local contest. This would qualify the athlete for a legitimate state championship. There are a lot of [insert state here] strongest men and women who didn’t do much more than show up. Having to compete against other qualified athletes for a state championship would allow that title to carry much more weight. After states, we could take the top one to three people and send them to a regional championship. I admit, I am literally just ripping this straight off from CrossFit and almost every other sport out there. From there, we go to a regional championship. Having the top two from five to seven regions would put the top 10 to 14 strongman athletes in each weight class at nationals, truly battling it out for the strongest in the sport.
The other reason I believe this sort of system is desperately needed is because having state and regional athletes gives fans a reason to follow their favorite athletes. Everyone wants to see the journey and cheer on their regional athlete. It is ingrained in the sport culture to support and boost up people that represent their area, and the more successful a person is throughout their journey to nationals, the more support they’ll garner and the more fans will support the sport. Again, we as athletes have to remember that if we want a future for the sport, we have to be entertaining and give people a reason to watch.
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Unfortunately, a lot of strongman athletes also are hard-pressed to accept the idea that the sport is for everyone. Is competing at a high level for everyone? Absolutely not. Is training for strongman and competing at a local event suitable for a majority of the population? Definitely. Are the CrossFit games suitable for everyone? No, but every year hundreds of thousands of people enter the open to see where they stand against the best. And let’s be honest, if you’re shouting from the rooftops about how hardcore strongman is and how it’s not for everyone, but you got to nationals by placing top two (in a class of two) in your buddy’s contest in a Burger King parking lot, you’re not making a very strong case.
Strongmen and women also seem to have a chip on their shoulder about being different from everyone else, but at the same time wonder why there isn’t any money in the sport and why they can’t get sponsorships. Well, here’s the simple answer: nobody cares how strong you are if they don’t know who you are. Have a personality. What are you doing to help promote the sport? Are you going out and recruiting new people to come train at your gym? Are you writing companies with your accolades and giving them a reason as to why they should make a business deal that invests time and money into you? What is their return on investment? Why should fans be your fans? Are you reaching out to them and helping them with questions? Are you writing articles, making YouTube videos, putting on clinics, training the new up-and-coming strongmen and women?
If you can’t answer yes to any of those questions, I don’t really understand what you’re complaining about. Be a positive representative of the sport. Start writing, start reaching out to people in your local gyms, and starting inviting them to come train with you. Hold clinics. Buy equipment from people that have invested their hard earned time and money into building it. Support companies that support you. Don’t assume that someone else is going to do it for you. I love this sport, and while I may not be at the level I once was, I want to see the next generation be able to reap the benefits of their hard work, blood, sweat, and tears.
My circus dumbbell might have a different diameter than one used on WSM and my atlas stone might have a different density but I've still got a rough idea of where I stand and as I see it a strongman should be able to adapt to any equipment and ruleset. Standardisation is unnecessary.
Having standardised equipment MIGHT help bring equipment costs down but it runs a real danger of creating a monopoly or cartel.
As for making the sport appeal to the general public I'm all for promoting female competitors, people in lower weight classes and disabled strongman but let's be real it's infinitely easier to market a sport which claims to promote all round athleticism and making you look sexier than it is a sport where you exert near maximal strength for <90 second bursts.
List of events happening around the world, at the same time, same implements, same rules:
Keep it easy for promotes to run events, keep it easy for athletes to get involved. Give them a bonus of getting a worldwide ranking while they do it.