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My US Strongman Nationals: Joe Brooks

My excursion to nationals was a pretty interesting one… Here’s a bit of background information about myself. I hadn’t done strength sports for a full calendar year at the time I attended nationals, and also at the time of the making of this write-up. Me getting into Strongman began when one of my best friends invited me out to his gym in Milton, FL to do some Strongman training—he’d mentioned something about deadlifting cars, throwing some kegs and picking up boulders. Without hesitation I said, “Sign me up!” That was either in June or July of 2014. From then on I went through two competitions before I moved to Tampa to attend graduate school: My first two competitions were NAS sanctioned events in the novice division in which I took 4th (competition #1) and 1st (competition #2). After moving to Tampa my focus was just on playing rugby and staying strong (and school, of course…). On April 18th, 2015, I decided to attend my first USS sanctioned event in Port St. Lucie, FL. This was a competition I decided to compete in on a whim. At the time I’d finished a pretty good training cycle, in which I had gotten easy PRs of 405 on the front squat (video is on my YouTube page, which can be reached through the videos in this write up…hint hint) and 315 on the push press (a repeat of this is also on my youtube page). At the time, the rugby team I play for in Tampa was still going through its competitive season, and I recently got back into playing rugby after taking a bit of time off to focus on school. In terms of energy system demands on the body, rugby and Strongman are worlds apart—training for one exclusively means that you’re guaranteed to sap your performance in the other, and training for both at once makes it hard to progress favorably in either.

For the Port St. Lucie show, I decided to sign up for it about 10-12 days out from the date of it, and what was funny about that was someone whom I hadn’t even met before convinced me to do the competition, twelve days from the end of my second semester in graduate school. I found places to work on events in Tampa, and with three days of event specific training under my belt, I was able to take first in the Port St. Lucie contest. Not only did I take first, I swept almost every event, and the only event that I didn’t win was the medley event that I lost by 0.4 seconds. About a month later on a random weekend in May, I was scrolling through my facebook news feed. The day before this, I had an intense semi-professional rugby league team tryout in Tampa and I was not only dead tired but injured. On my news feed, I saw an invitee list for the USS Strongman National Championships. Out of curiosity I looked at the list, and when I saw the name of someone else I’d competed with on the list, I got curious and scrolled down to see if I was on it. Sure enough, I was. I took a week out to think if I really wanted to do this or not. Being a graduate student, I don’t always have a ton of free time nor do I have a ton of money. I talked to friends about it, and they suggested starting a gofundme page for the trip. I eventually decided to do so a week later, while also embarking on one of the hardest training cycles of my life. Everything else I’d planned on doing went on hold for nationals prep—I more or less left the semi-professional rugby league team I’d gotten selected to be on, which would have led to a host of opportunities, to focus on it. The preparation went pretty well with PRs aplenty, but I took on more clients and more hours at work to help pay for the trip. This didn’t mesh well with one of the places I could train strongman events at due to time conflicts, and to make matters worse my main gym was still undergoing renovations to their outside/Strongman area. (They’re also well across town from where I live. Remember, I’m on a grad student budget here!) But I still soldiered on and vowed to do the contest, whether I took first or came in dead last.

The day before competition was insane; I still had to cut weight—eight pounds, to be exact—and time was short. I also had to fly up to Indianapolis this same day. I woke up at 3 AM EST, showered, and threw on three layers of clothing. A funny part of this story was that when I landed in Newark a few hours later, I had to go through security again. I was dipped from head to toe in sweat beneath my clothing, so I set off all of the alarms when I went through the scanner. This led to me getting strip searched… Eventually I reached Indianapolis, weighed in, and saw the competition. Aside from my state’s chairman, Dennis Walters, I didn’t know a single person there from a competition prior—this of course not counting the people I got to speak with through social media before touching down in Indianapolis. I could hardly even sleep the night before; I was so excited and ready to roll that I only got six hours in. Let’s get to the events! 1.) 700 yoke for 60 ft:

I had a PR of 750 for 50 feet in training. The weight itself didn’t feel hard or difficult, but I made the mistake of not paying attention to what I was doing for a split second. When that happened, the yoke dropped. I was out of my element, and when I went for the repick the weight was unsteady, so I swayed for a bit before I regained my composure. Then I took off with a start, gaining a few more feet before the instability of the weight (and the momentum of the weight itself) caused me to drop it a second time. I ended with 43.4” out of 60”. It was annoying because the yoke became a favorite event of mine as I began to improve my foot speed and core stabilization in training but if you’re not on your mental game as well as your physical, that’s it. I could have done better and have done better in training, but hey, what matters is what you bring forth on competition day. My mind slipped, and that’s that—just gotta work on making sure it doesn’t happen again. Place: 13th. 2.) Log Press for reps within a minute:

Last year when I began my training my gym had an exposition of sorts for Strongman events, and I couldn’t log press 250 on a 10” log one time. New year, wider log, same weight, six reps. In the Port St. Lucie show we had to do the same event, except in 45 seconds only, with a 10” log loaded with 240lbs. This is a huge PR for the log—I hadn’t even trained with a log in general, much less a 12” one, since BEFORE my competition on April 18th. This performance was good and had me in the top 12 or so I believe. Kicked me up a bit from that abysmal yoke performance I turned in. Place: 11th. 3.) 650 car deadlift:

It felt like a ton. They allowed suits for this event (don’t have and don’t use—remember, grad student money) and straps (don’t use straps in training). This was the heaviest car deadlift I’ve ever done, and I’ve even picked up a Silverado in past training sessions at home with higher deadlift frame handles. Still, people were impressed that I did that not only without a suit but without straps. I never felt my grip give way at any point in the event. This event was just extremely hard off the floor—whenever I got it up, it went up pretty effortlessly and both reps were done with a neutral spine. Rep #2 was a real grinder. Many people zeroed here, even people who were crushing me in the rankings. I maintained my position in the middle of the pack. 4.) 610 frame carry:

This was fast. I couldn’t train with a log. Couldn’t train with a car deadlift frame. I didn’t even get the chance to SNIFF stones in prep. Barely worked with the yoke. But I had consistent access to a hex bar at least, and did lots of low picks with 650+ pounds in training. I also was able to train carries with the hex bar as well. This allowed for a seamless transition to the frame carry. I got 3rd in this event, and this was enough to jettison me into the top ten for the middleweights. The frame carry caused a bit of a divisional shuffle, especially when I beat out a lot of guys who were crushing me in the car deadlift. My performance here was a saving grace, and this showed me my true potential at moving events. Place: 10th. 5.) Stone load for time (no video) My camerawoman, who was also another competitor got asked to take some photos for someone else and my hands were covered in tack so I couldn’t get my cell to record the loading event. However this was probably the worst I’d ever done at a stone event ever. Like I said, I hadn’t even sniffed a stone throughout prep due to work schedules, but that’s not any justification for my bad performance at this event. I also had a bad experience training for a show in 2014 when I got too hasty and tried to load a 280 or 300 pound stone improperly, and I strained my bicep (still won the show, though!). That slight pull has always remained in the back of my mind whenever I’ve done stones in any competition. I really just need to work on stones more, and learn the one-motion technique if I can (unless it’s “just pick it up”…in which case…). It isn’t even that the first two stones were too heavy to do it; I was only familiar with the loading technique that I learned from when I first got started training. Again, no excuses: Just get better with stones, and do work next time. I dropped to 13th with my performance in this event. Final place: 13th (overall MW), 9th (220s)

Overall, it was a good day. I have to say that this competition was perfectly run despite the fact that there were so many competitors. Very welcoming atmosphere from the promoters and the competitors that shows the Strongman community is the overall best in the iron and strength sport game. I had to miss the banquet and the awards ceremony due to my flight being later that evening. I got 13th in the overall middleweight class and among the 220s I took 9th place. I don’t think that that was altogether too bad for a guy who hadn’t even done Strongman competitions for a full year with a good (and also bad, for some events) prep leading up to it. No excuses the next time I get here, though: The next year is going to see me focusing on continuing to get stronger, learning technique, improving mental strategies, and above else just enjoying what I do.

For anyone reading this that may be on the fence about competing, just go at it. Commit to a competition, work your tail off, and watch what happens on competition day. Love the process. It’ll only make you better. Whether you win or get dead last, you’ll learn a lot whenever you compete. I caught a flight on a whim for no other reason than the sheer fact I wanted to compete for the chance to advance to the upper echelon in this sport and get a really sick looking championship belt, because I feel this is one of many things I was meant to do in my life. A year ago I’d have laughed in your face if you told me one day I’d be going to nationals for any kind of strength sport, but hey, things change a lot in a year. But next year is the year that I want to really make moves in competition. I plan to compete in the Tampa Bay Strongman Classic in October, and again in Elliott Hulse’s Strength Camp Challenge 2015. I hope to see some of the men and women who competed in Indianapolis down here in Florida in the next few months. Until then, I’ll keep training to win at the very next chance. Stay in touch with me on Facebook and follow my training videos on my YouTube channel if you’re interested. The THANK YOU list, for all the people and gyms who helped me out on this trip in some form of fashion…too many to list but these people were absolutely instrumental to my success: Joe Davenport Lola Davenport Lorraine Brooks Alex Brooks Dan Belanger Chris Slater Andrew Schneide

Chris & Amanda McMullen Dennis Walters

Kristi Vesh Jessica Reffner Ryan Tanner David Perdue Deecembra Diamond Ann Smart Philip Erdman Martha Cameron Charles Phillips Alyson Allen Nick McNeal Lisa Marie Blackwell Gyms/Companies/Organizations Elite Strength & Conditioning – Tampa, FL USF Kettlebell Club – Tampa, FL The Bar Milton Strength & Conditioning – Milton, FL Cutting Edge Nutrition – Tampa, FL Spartan Supplements – Adelaide, Australia And YOU, the readers. You’re gonna hear more from me!


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