By Eric Velazquez, NSCA-CPT | Editor-at-Large
Nov. 3, 1982
2,500 pounds (World Record)
7.42 seconds (WR)
8 reps (WR)
Austrian Oak Lift:
207-kg standing log press, two reps (WR)
2012: FitX Melbourne, 1st; Arnold Strongman Classic, 1st; 2011: Arnold Strongman Classic, 2nd; Giants Live, 2nd; 2010: Arnold Amateur Strongman, 1st.
Wife, Keri (married in 2012)
On the Web: www.catalyststrong.com
Summers in Maryland are marked by extreme heat and burdensome humidity. On most days, those who would brave the outdoors are forced to contend with the sun from both above and below, as the UV-baked pavement reflects heat from beneath. Strongmen, however, are less concerned with climate than they are with gravity. Picking things up and putting them down – or, in some cases, carrying or pulling them unseemly distances — is what they live for.
In 2007, a curious but confident Mike Jenkins — all 6´6˝ and 370-or-so pounds — found himself striding into the parking lot of a local gym for the Maryland’s Strongest Man contest. The scene was both surreal and intoxicating for the rookie competitor: athletes of all sizes roasting as they battled heavy, awkward implements with torn, chalky hands and 110-degree heat, all for little more than the opportunity to do it again a few months later. Events were pure and absolute — either you could complete an event or you couldn’t. It all boiled down to strength and sheer will. Still, first-time jitters remained.
“I was kind of nervous and anxious,” he said. “But from all the other sports I’d played, I wasn’t really intimidated or anything. I had done all I knew how to do and thought was right.”
A former collegiate and professional football player, Mike was familiar with the demands of high-level competition. As he worked his way through the day’s events with the help of the staff, he settled easily back into his competitive comfort zone. While other athletes would train, strategize and psych themselves up for the next punishing tete-a-tete with ungodly weights, Mike was focused on keeping himself calm, cool, fed and hydrated.
“You kind of learn as time goes on that you can’t be jacked up all day long or all contest long — that’s just physically and mentally draining,” he said. “You have to calm down and relax between events.”
And with the swagger of a man who had done it before, Mike easily won the contest, earning himself a spot at a national amateur competition.
But with his already Hulk-like dimensions — he sometimes hits 395 on the scale these days — athleticism and unbelievable natural strength, it seemed almost predestined that he should find a home on the strongman circuit. In 2010, Mike turned heads by winning the Arnold Amateur Strongman, a performance he followed with a second-place showing at the Arnold Strongman Classic (ASC). And last year, Mike, now 30, bested all competitors — including two-time winner Derek Poundstone (2008, 2009) — to become the ASC champ, a feat he hopes to repeat this year in Columbus.
It appears the prospects look bright for the newest member of the MuscleMag team. But this mountain of a man doesn’t sweat the expectations. If anyone is fit to carry the weight of the world on his shoulders, it’s Mike Jenkins. Here’s a closer look at the fastest rising star in the world of beasty, brute strength:
So where does all this strength come from? Is your dad a living, breathing Hercules?
(laughs) People think my brother and I are adopted because our parents are normal. My brother and I were 225 plus before age 12. We were just always big. I always played sports — college football, then arena league. I was always really involved, so I started lifting just for football.
What role did sports play in your development as an athlete?
I played lacrosse, football and basketball in high school. Growing up, I was too big for football though. They had weight limits where I grew up so I had to play soccer instead. In the long run that helped me for football because all the conditioning and agility work kept me in shape. My parents had to persuade me to try football once I got to high school and it definitely paid off. I ended up getting a free college education, I met cool people, went cool places. But it was tough for me to give up soccer because I played since I was in kindergarten. But going into my freshman year I was 6´2˝ or 6´3˝ and already over 300 pounds. My dad thought it’d be a natural fit for me, at least more so than running around with a bunch of 98 pounders on the soccer field.
So football gave you an introduction to weight training. Did you train any different than the rest of the crowd?
I don’t think my training was any different, I just took it a lot more seriously. It was important to me. I was one of the five or six guys who were really into it. I made it a priority for myself. I got really strong, really quick. On the field, it was a lot easier to push kids around.
Where did your interest in strongman competition come from? How were you convinced to try it out?
I played arena football for the Georgia Force and got released. Unless you’re Peyton Manning, it’s a hard life to live. There aren’t a lot of jobs out there where they can bring someone in once a week or once a month to replace you. In pro sports, it’s more cutthroat, no job security. I was still young, had two college degrees and I wanted to move on with my life but I was bored training in the gym just to train. I started using the strongman training once a month or so but I never thought it would turn into what it is now. One thing led to another and I was lucky enough to get into the position I’m in.
So what did you learn from that first contest in Maryland in 2007?
I had just gone down for fun and ended up winning, so if nothing else, I realized I could be pretty good. I needed to get some of the equipment and to see what more I could learn about training, but I was into it.
In strongman contests you lift a lot of unusual objects, so it’s hard for our readers to get a complete grasp of how strong you are. What are some of your best lifts on traditional exercises?
I can deadlift 825 pounds and I’ve squatted 775 for 10 reps. And it may not be traditional but I can clean and press 455 pounds.
Aside from having superhuman strength, what does it take to be successful in strongman?
Going into most contests, in my mind, I’ve done all I can do. If somebody is stronger than me, they’re stronger than me, hands down. If I don’t do well, it’s my fault. But I think the biggest thing is having a short-term memory. If you do mess up an event, it’s over and done with. There are no redos, no timeouts. All you can do is move on to the next one. If you do poorly and that’s in the back of your mind, you’re in trouble. If there are only six events in a contest, you get six opportunities to go 100%. Even if you do well, you have to forget about it. You don’t want to be too confident and overzealous. You have to respect the event.
Obviously, strongman training is all about functional, athletic strength and power and skill-specific activities but how much of that’s built in the weight room?
For me, I think for the most part it’s something that’s natural. You can be the fastest guy on the field but if you can’t catch the football you’re not going to be a receiver. Some of this stuff you can’t teach or coach. I was always athletic, which helps me in all the moving events. I’ve always been able to move well with weight on through space. It’s about training the events and building muscle memory. I don’t really have to train myself with the movements; I just try to get better at ’em. Most of the time, you’re good at a movement or you’re not. If a person has horrible mechanics, they’re probably not going to do well.
Does bodypart-specific training have any place in your routine?
Not really. My training is all about big, heavy compound lifts. You kind of piece together those heavy lifts to make those smaller muscles stronger. Usually, I’ll do the big core lift first, then follow it with the training that involves the smaller groups. On deadlift day, I’ll do that first, then something else for back like sumo deadlifts, reverse hyperextensions, pull-ups — all kinds of variations on pulls and moves that’ll aid in pulling. I just keep it simple. It’s not as complex of a training schedule as a bodybuilder who has to train every little muscle. We train for movement.
What are some good variations on strongman moves that you could recommend for the average lifter?
Well, a lot of guys do some form of strongman activity for cardio. A lot of CrossFit athletes I coach do tire flips, farmer walks and pushing cars for cardio. When it comes to getting fit, people just think they should get on the treadmill, but you can get a better session in doing 15–20 minutes of loaded movements. So that’s the quickest way to mix them into your training — just add them in for some sort of cardio. On a Saturday when you have time, load up a sled, attach a rope and do arm-over-arm pulls, or hit a tire with a sledgehammer. Hit a tire 200 times and flip it 50 times and you’ll be smashed.
What’s critical in building raw strength?
It comes down to three things. For one, listen to your body. There are days when if I go in and I feel like crap, I won’t deadlift that day. I won’t put myself through a bad workout if I know I’m gonna miss my numbers. It doesn’t make sense. So instead, I might take the day off or just work the accessory moves. Two, constantly vary and change most of your exercises. If you do the same thing over and over each week, it’s only going to improve what you’re doing each week and even then it’ll hit a plateau. If you change your stance on your deadlift, or your grip on pull-ups, you’ll always be getting stronger. Three, track it. Try to go up in something each week. If your big lifts don’t go up one week but your accessory movements do, you’re getting stronger because it’s all a huge jigsaw puzzle of strength.
People think strongman is all about absolute strength but stamina plays a role, too. How do you build that?
Let’s say it’s a keg carry and the event calls for five kegs, carried 30 feet to a platform. Well I’ll do six kegs for 50 feet. My training is always longer, harder and faster. Cardio has been something I’m pretty proficient at because of my background. I’m not somebody who has to force weight on. My body has adapted to being big and moving big loads. The quickest way to get in strongman shape is doing loaded movements for time and distance. You’d be surprised. Try running 40 feet holding a 200-pound keg and see what kind of cardio conditioning is required.
When you compete, are you always 100% certain of how you’ll perform?
You never really know. I’ve had contests where training is going great and you get there and the equipment is a little different. I flew to Australia, which is 24 hours of travel time but there’s no real way to train your body for flying halfway around the world, then having to lift 400 pounds over your head for reps. You do as much training as you can to prepare for the contest. You always go into it — if your training was good — comfortable and confident. It’s very rare that you’ll train on the exact equipment that you compete with. You never really know how your body is going to react. One mistake can cost you five seconds on an event, which can be the difference between first and eighth place. So you always push it.
Can the typical bodybuilder-type gain any size or aesthetic benefits from training the way you train?
I think so. I train like an athlete and bodybuilder-esque, just to look good and feel good. Everything we do is so varied. The amount of muscle you can put on just from doing different things is amazing. It can really change your body. A lot of Division I [college] strength coaches I know still incorporate this type of training for their athletes. You get bigger, faster and stronger and I think most guys strive for that.
Most bodybuilding injuries are due to overuse or heavier-than-normal weight loads. What about strongmen?
Anything between my toes and ears. Most prominent are joint issues with shoulders or knees. For the most part, your body’s not meant to have 800 pounds on your back while running across a parking lot. Your muscles can get so strong, so quick but it takes years to strengthen the connective tissues. I try to stretch as much as possible, I do the prehab stuff like massage and chiropractic, and I listen to my body.
So obviously, recovery is a big theme. What supplements help you stay in your zone?
For me, it’s MHP Iso-Fast mixed with almond milk. It’s as close to a chocolate shake as you’re gonna get. That’s my staple protein powder when I can’t get real food in. Post-workout I always get in some Dark Matter (MHP) to get my blood sugar replenished and to fuel up for my next training session.
You’ve already built an impressive resume. What else do you hope to achieve in this sport?
I’d love to win the Arnold again. I’d love to win it as many times as possible! In nine years, there’s been only five winners. And I want to win World’s Strongest Man as many times as possible. I’m hoping to have 5–6 more solid years in the sport. But mostly I want to be known for being able to put the sport back on the map. It’s huge overseas. When we go there, people know who we are and there are thousands of people watching the contests. I want to be an ambassador for the sport, give it a good name and represent other athletes who are trying to make a name for themselves.
Here’s how Mike Jenkins breaks up his week to maximize strength
“It’s not complicated but I have it down to a science that works for me,” says 2012 Arnold Classic Strongman champ Mike Jenkins. “It’s constantly changing because of events but, in general, this is how the week shakes out.”
1 - Overhead pressing
2 - Deadlifts + accessory movements
3 - Recovery
4 - Squat + accessory movements
5 - Recovery
6 - Events
7 - Rest
*Recovery days typically involve massage, chiropractic or acupuncture.
*Event training days involve training particular disciplines such as Atlas stones or the farmer’s walk.
Pull Like a Strongman
Here are Mike Jenkins’ top four tips for deadlifting more weight … today
1. Take the slack out.
Make sure you “load” the bar. By that I mean take the slack out of it before you begin your pull. You don’t want your first pull to be flexing the bar. Think of it as a pull before your pull that preps your body for separating the bar from the floor.
2. Keep it close.
Keep the bar close to your shins! If you look at the shins of powerlifters and strongmen, you’ll see scabs and scars. That’s because we drag the bar up our shins. A straight line is the quickest way from point A to point B. For every inch away from your body the bar is, the more your lower back is forced to compensate. That’s not good.
3. Hands in, not out.
Keep your hands as close as you can to your body and hips. The farther out you move your hands on the bar, the longer your pull distance will be. Your hands should be just outside of your thighs at the top. Don’t go so close that they rub your thighs — the extra friction adds unwanted resistance.
4. Go gradual.
Don’t max out every week, or even every month! This is a lift that takes a huge toll on your central nervous system. You need to follow a good program that’ll help you progress your loads and work your way up to a new max over time.