This is a guest article by Tony Reid of Ritual Conditioning, Edmonton, Canada 


I am not going to write this like I’m an authority or veteran in the world of olde time strongman. I’ve only been practicing the feats for 7 months. What’s important about this article is what strongman has done for the rest of my life.


Competitive strongman (Worlds Strongest Man, Highland Games, etc.) has always been an interest of mine, but only as a fan. I’m a fairly big guy at 6’3 and 230lbs, but I never thought to myself “I should start strongman training!” I think I just really enjoy seeing people do amazing things, and move incredibly big things with just their own muscle.


About a year ago, I saw some Olde Time Strongman stuff floating around on Facebook for the first time, and I was instantly intrigued! If you would have asked me a year ago, “Hey Tone, wanna learn how to twist a horseshoe?” I probably would have said yes, but wouldn’t have paid to learn. I had never seen anyone tear decks of cards with ease, twist horseshoes open, and drive nails through boards with just a fist. I was in awe, and once again I found myself a fan, but thinking “I could never do that!”


How I found Olde Time Strongman

Early this year, following a car accident and a subsequent major herniation of the L5/S1 disc in my back, I was stripped of my ability to kettlebell train, to walk, to sit, stand, or lay down without excruciating pain. Most of my right leg shut down, and very slowly returned as I went through rehab 3-4x per week. I had been injured many times in the past, but I could always just change the training to cope with it. This time, I was seemingly without any ability, operating a kettlebell training business, and not even being able to demonstrate for my students. I then thought, “I need to train what is trainable. I can’t walk, but I can grip. I want a strong ‘old man’ grip to go with this strong ‘old man’ limp!”


So I decided to start researching grip training. Grippers, hub lifting, hammer levers, and all things competitive, I was shocked by how much grip stuff there actually was! Then I came across a post about bending steel nails. Suddenly I decided it was a good time to start doing weird things like bending nails, because I couldn’t do anything else anyway! I asked around on Facebook, and eventually found a guy named Chris “Hairculese” Rider. The very first thing I saw on Chris was him destroying a giant hardcover phonebook in mere seconds. This is the guy I need to talk to!


Turns out Chris is not only a coach, but teaches seminars in person to show people how to perform Olde Time Strength Feats like bending nails, ripping phonebooks, twisting horseshoes, and tearing decks of cards. He told me he had never taught in Canada before, so without hesitation, I booked him to teach in Edmonton, not knowing a single thing about what I was getting into.


Preconceptions: What I thought strongman was

Right after I told Chris we’re good to go for the workshop, he instantly reached out and started with lessons. Screenshot (6) I could feel how excited he was that someone had taken such a keen interest and wanted him to help. I thought surely this was going to be like typical strength training. “Tons of volume and gradual increases, toughing the hands, blah blah blah.” I figured I’d have to teach new muscles a bunch of new patterns, and hope I’d stick with it.


IMG_8413Well I was sorted out quick. The first piece of steel I ever tried to bend actually did bend on the first try, but I could not believe how tiring it was, and how much pressure I felt in my palms and fingers. I was gassed!  Chris was on Skype with me when it happened, and he shouted “NICE!” and bellowed laughter as I caught my breath. I got a rush looking down at the bent steel, feeling the heat off of it, after fighting with it for what seemed like minutes. So I did another one! I think I bent 4 or 5 of them before the pain in my hands and wrists was just too much. I didn’t care about that, I won! This was my first big lesson.


My success depended entirely on how bad I wanted the result.IMG_2393



The Strongman Workshop: Flipping the Switch

We had 6 people at our first strongman workshop in April. IMG_2409I somehow convinced 5 other people to come up with several hundred dollars each to learn olde time feats of strength (“party tricks” in the eyes of many) from a guy I hadn’t even met before. We knew that we were going to learn phonebooks, cards, horseshoes, nails, nail driving, and scrolling. So we were prepared to work hard. What we didn’t know was how quickly we would start learning a ton about ourselves.


IMG_2360When we were practicing our very first feat of the day (phonebooks), everyone immediately started to sweat. Fighting to tear a book in half without any YouTube hacks or tricks. We were told to tear it like its one giant piece of paper. We were all red in the face, out of breath, and if I remember correctly, all told at least one book to “**** off!” (truth).  But the lesson came when one person stopped, and the person next to them said “C’mon! you can do that, pick that book up.” Chris was coaching people through the technique, but all the fuel came from within the group. Everyone struggled, but everyone eventually got to their respective goal. This happened for each of the 6 feats, each time becoming more and more profound. Right when you think that you’re done, totally tapped out, you find the grit in your guts to “go there” mentally, and ignore your fatigue, and you complete the task. All the failures are seemingly erased, because you found it in yourself to get it done. Every one of us was hitting quitting points throughout the day, and every one of us succeeded by the end. It was an enlightening experience. We were only limited by what we didn’t believe.


The Ripple Effect: Life after the Workshop

Screenshot (123)I continued to train with Chris following the workshop. I was fixated on getting better at every feat. After all, I learned everything while healing a herniated disc. My chiropractor was shocked when I told him what I had been up to, but he saw no reason for me not to continue. So I kept at it (in fact, one of my first twisted horseshoes hangs on the wall in his office).IMG_7142 Gradually my ability to “go there” became stronger and stronger. The feats progressed, and my back healed. Most importantly, I started carrying around this “I can and I will” attitude everywhere I went. First I took that posture with my tendency to believe “your back is wrecked, you’re done.” I consciously believed I was healing, and I did. No major aches, no throbbing, no restless nights. I trusted and believed in my body and myself. It’s incredible how much it has helped! It felt so amazing to take control of my state of mind! I’ve successfully applied it to other goals I had (business goals, personal development goals, etc.).


Things started to change. I decided that success was within my control, and I started getting a lot of things done, in short order. Many talks with my counselor revolved around strengthening my resistance to the word “Can’t” in my mind, both consciously and subconsciously. Suddenly, things that used to seem like way too much work, became a breeze. I slept better, and woke up rested. My energy peaked, and my mood was optimistic and youthful. It sounds like I’m full of it, coloring the story for the sake of this article, but I changed. I started having good day, after good day, after good day.Screenshot (106) I realized that I make good days, and simply waiting for them to just show up was a waste of my time. The same attitude that I took with bending a stubborn bolt, was the attitude I took toward any adversity, no matter the level of control I had on it. I decided that shortcomings and detours are like getting a dud horseshoe, and sometimes you just need to want to move it more than it wants to resist. Every situation is a lesson.


Bending bolts and other metal isn’t easy at all, and “failure” is much more frequent than some of us care for. If you practice the feats, you will “fail” repeatedly! But the beauty of these so-called “failures,” is that you can easily track your progress, and quite literally come back stronger every time from the isometric work you put in with an all-out effort. It’s a total win-win! Isometrics builds some of the most insane strength you can train for. IMG_2383The kind of “walk around strength” where very ordinary looking people do extraordinary things, and it shocks you! Olde time strongman training is about that walk-around strength, but its also about having an equally strong mind.


The change in character for those who attended the workshop is undeniable. Some have drifted away from the weekly training for the feats, and the others still train regularly. In spite of that, all of us had something change, something click, in the way we see the world. “I could never do that” suddenly becomes a ridiculous thing to say. The word “Can’t” suddenly leaves a sour taste in your mouth. Photo 2015-04-25, 10 41 46 AMOnce you prove to yourself that you are only limited by your self-limiting beliefs, you will hit a power bend in your self-confidence, self worth, and a boost in your vigor. That’s real mental strength. Like anything worth keeping, these things require practice to maintain, but the majorly positive changes that await you in your life depend on them.


“Whether you think you can, or think you can’t, you’re right.”            – Henry Ford


What started as “just something to train while I’m hurt,” very quickly became a catalyst in my personal development and quest to be the best self I can be. IMG_6073This workshop happened at a point in my life where I needed a boost of courage to help me break down my personal barriers, and create the new life I desired personally, athletically and professionally. The mental resiliency I’ve developed from having the feats in my life have paved the way for my successes in the last 7 months, and I look forward to what the future brings, as I continue to eliminate “can’t” from my dreams.


The Coney Island Strongman Workshop is coming to Edmonton, Alberta on October 24, 2015. Registration is limited, so book now to ensure you don’t miss out on this legitimate life changing experience.

Tony Reid, Ritual Conditioning

Strongman of Coney Island