Minnesota Strongman

by | Jul 2017

Jonny Hansen

Photo: Rachel Nadeau

Jonny Hansen lifts crazy-heavy amounts of weight, for fun.

“Some tell me to take it easy—I say you might as well dig your grave then!” That’s the ethos that keeps Jonathan “Jonny” Hansen, 42, of Rogers motivated to keep up his grueling training schedule.

On a frigid Saturday in January, he and dozens of others—men and women of every age, stature and experience level—packed the Body Evolution Fitness Center in Maple Grove for a United States Strongman-sanctioned event. It’s one of several contests of its kind held locally, and there’s a cult following among competitors, their groupies, and the small army of local fitness-, nutrition- and health-related professionals who keep them at the top of their game.

That morning, competitors stretched or did fast-paced warm-ups between events and snacked on protein shakes, pre-workout supplements or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. “Heavyweights eat everything in sight,” jokes Hansen. Everyone else has to make weight, but Hansen competes at the masters’ level, which is a nice way of saying he’s over 40. There are sub-divisions for the 50+ and 60+ crowds, too.

Some athletes turn to specialized therapies like Michael Phelps-style cupping, chiropractic or electrical stimulation to facilitate soft tissue recovery to get their bodies to peak performance. Still others zone out between lifts, their blaring headphones just barely visible under sweatshirt hoods.

Strongmen and strongwomen compete in rigorous, almost unbelievable events designed to test the limits of different muscle groups and identify a points-based overall winner. It’s staunch competition, but friends and family cheer just as loudly for the competition as for their own athletes.

Between competitions, Hansen works out with training partner Adam Cohen. Due to the need for specialized, heavy equipment that can damage floors and take up a lot of space, most gyms don’t cater to the strongman crowd. So the pair works out at one of their homes, where they have a collection of specially-created equipment: yokes, farmers’ handles, circus dumbbells, etc.

Each competition involves a different line-up of events, some created just for the occasion. A recent one involved a “Viking press,” where competitors grabbed handlebars and lifted a huge weighted frame connected to a fulcrum.

Nearly all competitors have their gear of choice, too: back-supporting leather belts in an assortment of colors and patterns and compression gear to support elbows and knees. Just before they lift Atlas stones, athletes don old T-shirts and rub sticky brown tacky on their forearms to help them better grip the unwieldy stones. (It’s later removed with WD-40 or baby oil.)

“In the past four years, strongman has given me boundless goals. There’s always a goal—always another competition,” Hansen says.

Check out upcoming local strongman contests, event descriptions and competitor divisions at the website here.


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