When most people think of an athlete, they imagine someone with lean muscle who is always active. This often means six-pack abs, even if they do a sport like marathon running. Regardless of the sport, there are usually certain physical characteristics associated. This is especially true when you imagine what an athlete at the gym might look like.
While it may look like strength athletes are getting larger, in reality, their mass is purely muscle. For example, some powerlifters and extreme weight lifters are so healthy and fit that they have less body fat than a marathon runner or soccer player.
Believe it or not, this actually makes sense. And here’s why…
Muscles require us to carry a certain amount of fat in order to function – it’s the fuel that helps make our muscles work. This is especially true for the open category where there are no weight limits. You might notice them appearing very large because they are carrying more fat and as such, this does help their muscles work better.
Unfortunately not every athlete is built like a bodybuilder. In fact, some athletes have quite a bit of fat compared to their muscle mass. Why is that and what can we do about it?
No 2 athletes are the same, they may be similar in that they carry a ton of muscle but there are different factors to consider. By taking a closer look at body shapes and sizes, you can see that each athlete has different amounts of muscle distributed in different areas.
One strongman athlete might have a huge chest and shoulders but not as much leg muscle, while another may have a lot of leg muscle but not as large of a chest or shoulders.
Strength is an important quality in any person, whether they’re a professional athlete or not. It’s especially true when you’re looking at how each of them lifts because it highlights how their height and the proportions of their body impact strength.
Check out Brian Shaw and his deadlifting style. With a conventional deadlift, like what most people do, he can’t get the same amount of weight up because his body proportions are different. This video demonstrates that he needs to use an alternating grip in order to maximize the weight lifted.
Genetics also influence how different circumstances affect athletes, who can excel or be hindered by specific conditions.
This is a common occurrence among lifters. People will have greater strength or proficiency at one specific exercise than another.
At first, strongman appeared easy to me. After all, some of the strongest and most driven athletes only struggle with a few events.
So what does this have to do with Strongman being fat?
Genetics play a close, important role in everyone’s physique and strengths and weaknesses.
Strongman is a sport where an athlete has to be good at everything. That way they’ll succeed in every event. It’s not enough just to be great at one thing and horrible at other events.
Each athlete must train with their own body and find the training that makes them the absolute best in their event.
For some people, this will mean they’ll slim down while for others they wont’ slim down. For some it’ll mean weight gain to get stronger by gaining fat.
A strongman athlete who gains a higher amount of weight might not be stronger than one who is less heavy because they have an unfair advantage. However, speed and endurance events might favour smaller and leaner athletes. It all depends on how the specific event goes.
We’re regularly told how dangerous it is to carry excess weight. Having a lot of body fat can lead to a variety of health problems, and make you more susceptible to early death.
When faced with the decision of becoming healthy, it’s tempting to say “It’s genetic.” But in reality, this is not always the case. Research suggests that obesity is often tied to an unhealthy lifestyle, one that can lead to health problems later on.
Not only this, but we have a stigma about being fat which is a huge source of depression and anxiety for thousands of people across Western society.
A lot of people think that weightlifters are just bodybuilders and athletes. However, gyms are also places where people who want to build muscle and lose weight go. These two things create a common perception: everyone thinks that a strength athlete should look like a bodybuilder or an athlete from the Olympics.
For more information about the difference between a bodybuilder and a strongman, check out an article I wrote on the subject here.
Is being fat as an athlete even that big of a deal?
Some people want to gain just muscle or lose just fat, but gaining muscle and losing fat is the best of both worlds.
Not everybody’s goals and ambitions are the same, and for many people (powerlifters and strongmen included) strength is one of the most important factors in life. There are some people for whom physique or aesthetics is not as important, so they might focus on getting stronger instead of changing their body composition.
For people who are ultra-competitive in strength sports, the relationship with food is much different. They’ll even put on weight to get an advantage over their rivals and frankly, they don’t care how big they’re getting.
One great example of an athlete who has had a long and successful career is Eddie Hall.
Competitions are an unavoidable reality of any sport or competitive endeavor. People will take risks and employ new strategies to give themselves an advantage, which is something that’s evident across the board.
In some cases, strength athletes and strongmen will add a lot of weight to their bodies to increase power at the cost of future health. This isn’t true for every athlete, but it was for Eddie Hall who added over 100 pounds in an attempt to win World’s Strongest Man. He even admitted that this size wasn’t sustainable for the long term and chose to lose a significant amount of weight following his victory in 2017.
Benefits of carrying extra fat in strongman
It’s hard enough gaining muscle without gaining fat too. Muscle, strength and fat are all intertwined. A lot of athletes, including bodybuilders will do periods of bulking and cutting to get the most out of their goals.
Of course, the rules can be bent for those who are natural athletes. This includes the use of various questionable external substances.
If you’re looking at nature, it’s important to note that strong creatures often carry fat on them like bears and hippos.
You could argue that carrying a little bit of additional fat is more natural and healthy than being completely cut as we see in the media all the time. Actually, while heavy obesity not recommendes, there’s some evidence that shows that people who are carrying weight and building muscle are actually healthier than those who maintain an unhealthy weight and don’t lift weights.
Not only this, but carrying a bit of extra body weight when doing heavy lifting is more likely to protect your joints and organs than being emaciated. This is, of course, a generalization that will vary from person to person depending on their genetics as discussed above.
Another important word on Categories
Strongman competitions allow any weight a person can lift. It’s no wonder that the athletes associated with this sport are typically among the biggest in their sport.
Each division has its own weight limit, which is similar to that of boxing or mixed martial arts.
In strongman, at the time of writing this, those divisions are U80KG, U90KG, U105KG and Opens.
You’re less likely to see athletes in these categories come contest day who have so much fat that their body composition is significantly different.
When they’re not competing, it’s not unheard of to see wrestlers walk around with a bit higher body weight. However, they’ll usually cut fat to maximize their strength-to-weight ratio when they weigh in for their competitions.