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Steve Messenger: My First Nationals Competition and How I Got There

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By Steve Messenger

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When I started training for and competing in Strongman 3 years ago I was 38 and a few weeks from turning 39.  So my main goal at that time was to qualify for and compete in Nationals in the Lightweight Masters class.  At that time USS was just getting started and it didn’t matter much to me if I went to NAS or USS nationals, so long as I went to a nationals competition.  I started out competing as a novice and did 3 comps in that class, finally placing (2nd) in my 3rd one.  So for my 4th one I went Masters Open class.  I came in 4th out of 4 in that one but I didn’t zero anything and didn’t lose by a lot so I thought ok, 2016 will be my year to make it to nationals.  Now during this time I was also in the process of cutting a significant amount of weight.  A year and a half ago I weighed 265 lbs, and lot of it was fat.  But at the same time I had to somehow also keep building or at least maintain strength, which is not an easy thing to do when dropping that much weight.  But I managed to get down to around 200 and didn’t lose strength, I even gained strength in some areas with the help of Renaissance Periodization and later, Complete Human Performance.  

In February of this year, I competed in my 5th comp, again in the Masters Open class.  I did pretty terrible in that one, zeroed my 1st 3 events, won the 4th, and only got 1 sandbag loaded in the final event.  There were only 2 of us in that one so technically I qualified for USS nationals but after that performance, nationals was that last thing I was thinking about.  So I went back to training and prepared for my next comp which was Massachusetts Strongest at the end of April.  I did much better in that one, placing 2nd out of 4 in Masters Open class.  At that point I thought, ok, maybe I should give USS Nationals a try.  Over the next few days I went back and forth on whether I should go or not and after talking it over with Kalle and others, I decided to sign up and go compete, if anything it would give me good experience for my second one.

I Flew down to Louisville the day before the comp, weighed in at 206, went to the rules meeting and then went to bed.  Next morning, got up early, got prepared, and headed over to the venue.  Around 8:30, I started my general warm up and then hit some warmups on the log.  The competition started at 9 but due to the amount of competitors, LW Masters didn’t get to the first event until around 11.  They lined us up in our order and we walked out onto the competition floor.  I remember my first thought was, man, everyone is so jacked here, I feel small and, wow, there are a lot of people watching, that’s pretty cool.  So finally it was my turn.  

First Event 200ish lb log clean and press for reps, clean every rep.  

I had done that weight before for a triple so I was aiming for 4 or 5 reps.  When we got the go command, I picked up the log and thought, ok, this is heavy.  Cleaned it fairly easy though, but when I went to dip for my press, I could feel the log pull me forward a bit and wasn’t able to get a good press.  Brought the log back down and was gonna just press it again, but when it hit my chest, it just rolled back down my body so I had to clean it again.  So I picked it again, lapped it, gave it everything I had and got it into a perfect rack position. Dipped down just right and popped it up. It started stalling a little so I engaged my triceps and lats really hard and got it locked out.  Got the down command and took it to the floor and right into another clean.  But again I couldn’t press it out and went through that a couple more times before time ran out.  So I only got one rep but apparently that was good for 7th out of 21 in the first event.

450ish lb wagon wheel deadlift (about a 13 inch pull).  

This was my dreaded event, I’m not a strong conventional deadlifter (at least from the floor and 13 inch) and hadn’t been able to do a single rep with comp weight in training.  The most I got was 435 for a single.  Also, the street was cobblestone and slightly angled but it turned out to be angled in my favor as it helped keep the bar against me.  I strapped in and got the go command.  I thought ok, I’m going to do whatever I can to not zero this damn thing.  I engaged my hamstrings, locked my lats, and pulled with everything I had.  I felt the bar flex and flex and suddenly the weights flew up and I pushed my hips forward and locked it out.  Got the down command and thought yes! Do another one!  So I went again, same thing.  2 reps! Got a 3rd rep and went for a 4th.  The 4th was a bit of a grinder, had to hitch a bit but I got it.  At this point I could tell my muscles were almost past fatigued but I just had to get another rep.  Pulled and pulled and finally it started moving up.  Got to just below my knees and stalled.  I thought no way, you are going up and locking out.  I dipped down, leaned back, and got it up over my knees and onto my thighs.  Started inching it up and could feel things starting to get fuzzy so I forced a quick little breath, popped my hips forward and got it to lockout.  5th rep successful.  Still had a few seconds left so I tried for a 6th but at that point that thing wasn’t budging at all.  So I took my 5 rep PR and was pretty happy with that.  Unfortunately I finished last in that event but a PR is a PR.

Third event, 350 ish lb Fingal’s Finger, 5 flips for time.

 This was my first time even touching a finger so I had no idea how it would go.  I saw a lot of people struggle with it so I was a bit apprehensive about it.  I was one of the last ones to go on it and everyone else in my class had just blistered through all 5 flips with no problem.  I took my grip, they said go, and I tried to pull it up fast so I could dip under and catch it but it ended up turning into more like a continental clean for me.  Stopped on top on my belly, slid it up to my chest, got under it and push pressed it up.  Walking it up wasn’t too bad, but it was slow as I was trying to find my rhythm to sync my hand and feet movement.  Got it flipped, ran over and picked it again.  Bit tougher this time and took a lot of time to get it to lockout.  Flipped it and went for my 3rd.  Finally got it flipped but as it was falling over, time ran out so only 2 reps counted.  Was a little disappointed with that event but since it was my first time doing it and I didn’t zero, it’s not all bad. But it was another last place finish as everyone else got all 5 flips.

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Fourth event, 500ish lb Conan’s Wheel.  

This was another first for me.  I had done Zercher Yoke walks in training which helped a bit but still not quite like the actual implement.  I picked it up and it didn’t feel too heavy but the sway of the weights got me a little bit and my first step went backwards.  Finally got it under control and started moving in the right direction.  I had went with a low pick on it which was the right call since the slope and cobblestones would have probably snagged the weight tree or at least dragged it a bit.  Got my 1st revolution and kept going.  Everything felt ok except for my hips.  It seemed like it was hitting those more than anything and a little over halfway into the 2nd rotation, they fatigued and I managed a few more steps before I couldn’t go any further.  Came in next to last on that one.

Final event, 4 Atlas Stone loads to 50” (260, 280, 300, 320).

 I’ve never been to good at stones.  Any other loading (kegs, sandbags, natural stones) I’m fine on, but Atlas Stones are my nemesis. I should have accounted for a few factors on this one when I was putting my tacky on too, looking back I would have put a lot less on or at least just put on my palms.  When I went to pick the first one, I just kept sliding off of it, I didn’t end up even getting it off the ground.  Definitely something I need to work on a lot as well as flyes so I can get a better squeeze on the stones.  

I ended up finishing last place in LW Masters (21st out of 21), only getting 10 total points.  As a competitive person that did sting a little bit but it was still a great experience for me and will benefit me greatly as I train over the next year and get ready to go again next year.  There were definitely quite a few positives for me to take from it and I also know the things I need to work on as well as what my strengths are.  I’d like to thank Kalle Beck, who has done an excellent job with my programming for over a year now and has gotten me this far in a relatively short amount of time, Taylor Weglicki  who has also helped coach me and improved my cardio capacity through running, and Anthony D’Orazio who has developed a sound nutrition plan for me to fuel my performance and to keep me from getting fat again.  

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