Right now, I am hands down the strongest I've ever been in my life. I'm doing things I thought only existed in the realm of imagination and comic art, such as bending steel with my hands, breaking chains with my chest, doing pushups with my thumbs and more.
And all that strength has made me weaker as a strongman.
I attended the Coney Island Strongman Seminar for the second time in my life this past April, and I loved every second of it, as I knew I would. You see, being an oldtime strongman is a matter of apprenticeship, not of certificates or degrees.
I was purely an apprentice, going into the workshop and learning all I could from the strength giants there.
Giants like Chris Rider, who could bend horseshoes essentially as thick as my wrists.
Jonathan Fernandez, who makes turns pennies into tacos for those on an all copper diet.
Kathy Dooley, who could hear three words about your body movement and diagnose the problem to a T, while bending a steel bolt.
Christina DeVos, who could rip a deck of cards to shreds with fairy wings on like no one I know. And many others who either accomplished their very first feats, or tore through new ones like pantyhose.
And there I was, as a returnee to the workshop, ready to show every way I'd grown in the year since the previous workshop. All the isometric training and strength building I'd done was leading up to this moment.
Instead, at every turn, I seemed to be making mistakes with my feats that weren't mistakes before. That weren't problems just last year when I attended the workshop.
I drove a nail through wood with my hand...but the drive wasn't nearly as clean.
I bent a horseshoe, but not with the same amount of ease.
I ripped an entire card deck at last year's workshop, but maxxed out at two suits there.
My breaking point was a 60D galvanized timber tie screw.
Roughly 6 inches and, again, nothing that I had any real trouble with at the workshop in the previous year.
But for the life of me...that timber tie wouldn't budge a single millimeter. Jonathan Fernandez was giving me some fantastic coaching on my overhand technique for the bend, but with each push, I only got more frustrated as the timber tie stayed as true as steel can be.
So I sat down, started breathing, and just thought...why? Why was I failing on bends that should be even easier now than they were before? Why was the strength I was becoming so proud of failing me?
And it hit me like a steel horseshoe. Pride. I had entered this second Coney Island Strongman Workshop as a returnee, and thus felt I had something to prove, if even subconsciously. I had built up my strength, so I was trying to overpower some of my feats rather than fine-tune my technique, so the feats were all over the place.
My mind was filled with thoughts of the previous year, thoughts of my strength, thoughts of everything except for the metal before me.
As I was in deep thought, I recalled the impressive horseshoe bend Chris had done not long before, and the words he said to us: "None of you were there just then."
This meant that when Chris got in the zone to bend such a difficult horseshoe (3/8" x 1" #5 Draft Horseshoe, to be exact), his focus was to the point that nothing around him mattered...there was simply him and the metal.
Chris walked over to me as I prepared to try bending the timber tie again. I remember the room going quiet...or at least I thought it did. My focus sharpened. I repeated to myself the immortal words of The Mighty Atom as I continued to temper my focus:
"I am man, I am possessed of the Power. You are metal, without will. My will is superior to you. My Power will overcome you. You will bend...you will break."
As I stood up and put the timber tie in position, I remember feeling like my nerves were dancing and my hands were shaking. But nothing mattered to me except bending that steel.
Like a piece of taffy, that steel warped around my fingers until the once straight nail was shaped like a "U" (like the carriage bolt in the video above.
There are three parts to every strength feat: strength, mentality, and technique. You can have tremendous strength, but if your focus isn't there, your strength will disper and your technique will be lacking. It is okay to be proud. It is okay to develop your strength, and look forward to your next opportunity to do so.
But metal...metal is very selfish. When the time comes to bend it, metal wants and deserves all of your focus. Commit yourself to the feat, dip into the true wealth of strength within, and prepare to amaze your hardest critics, especially if they come from within.
As an oldtime strongman, I've learned to unlearn the meaning of limits. What seems impossible to you is normal to us.