The mouser block looks like a hotel room safe. At least, that’s how Kim Scott and the other strongman athletes she trains with describe it. On October 4–5 at RiverCenter in Davenport, Iowa, Scott and the other lightweight women competing at Strongman Corporation’s North America Nationals will each lift and carry one of the steel boxes loaded to 160 pounds as part of a medley race—a classic part of strongman competitions that features multiple implements that must be carried from place to place.
“It’s real heavy for me,” Scott says, “but I’m so excited to go and shut off [my brain] and just do it.”
Scott is one of three Colorado women competing at the annual contest, which serves as a qualifier for the Arnold Amateur Strongman World Championships, the World Series of the strongman sport. The two-day Nationals competition is made up of five different events that challenge athletes not only in strength, but also speed.
“In powerlifting, you’re going to pick up or bench press or squat … five, six hundred pounds,” says Dione Masters, president and CEO of the Strongman Corporation. “In strongman, not only are you going to pick the weight up, but you’re also going to be running with it.”
According to Masters, women’s competitions have always been part of Strongman Corporation’s lineup, but interest has grown in recent years. When she started competing about 20 years ago, it was rare for a women’s competition to have more than five athletes. Now, she says, the number of men and women at competitions is almost equal.
All three of Colorado’s women Nationals competitors train at V23 Athletics, a CrossFit affiliate in Englewood that incorporates strongman elements into its everyday CrossFit classes, while also providing specialized strongman training to a core group of about eight strongman athletes.
“Everybody thinks, strongman, you have to be strong or a man—and you have to be neither,” says Beau Dorning, V23’s founder and lead coach.
Here’s what you should know about the athletes competing at Nationals this month:
1. Tanna Rae Manthe
Tanna Rae Manthe jokes that she’s a fully sponsored athlete. “Yeah, my husband’s incredible,” she says.
The 40-year-old mother of four stumbled into strongman competing three years ago when a group of friends at her CrossFit gym decided to sign up for the American Tribute Lifting Classic, a strongman competition at Team Tom Gym in Greeley.
“We went up there and I won,” she says. That competition sent her to Nationals for the first time, and she’s competed there every year since. Last year, after quitting CrossFit to train exclusively for strongman, she qualified for the Arnold for the first time.
Manthe can deadlift 400 pounds, an amount significantly heavier than the 150-pound max she had when she first started working out—and 100 pounds heavier than what the lightweight women (women weighing up to 140 pounds) will be deadlifting in the Nationals. For that event, athletes will stand on a four-inch platform and lift an axle barbell, which has a wider grip diameter than a typical barbell. The goal is to deadlift as many reps as possible in 60 seconds.
2. Kim Scott
A first-time Nationals qualifier, Scott commutes from Castle Rock five days a week to train at V23 in Englewood. Also a former CrossFitter, the 31-year-old mother of two got her first taste of strongman training when Dorning coached a course at her CrossFit gym in Castle Rock. She remembers him rolling atlas stones—concrete balls that make frequent appearances in strongman contests—into the gym and thinking, What’s that about?
“We started working out with the stones and just learning the mechanics of getting them to your lap, getting them to your shoulder,” she says. “I didn’t know what strongman was at that point. I thought that was just strength.”
When Dorning opened V23 in early 2018, Scott started dropping in for Saturday morning strongman workouts. She caught sight of Manthe moving huge atlas stones and doing continental cleans (a variation of the clean lift that uses a mixed grip) and was intrigued. Manthe told Scott about upcoming strongman competitions and encouraged her to sign up. “I started training immediately … and basically never looked back and did CrossFit ever again,” Scott says. Since her first time lifting atlas stones, she’s moved up from a 95-pound stone to being able to lift a 172-pound stone for multiple reps.
3. Caitlin McCann
Before landing on strongman as her sport, McCann, a former swimmer who competed in the Junior Olympics in the early 2000s, tried bodybuilding, CrossFit, and powerlifting. “I did bikini-level bodybuilding competitions,” she says, “and I had to cut down under 125 pounds. I live at about 160 right now, so that was a huge, huge change.”
As a middleweight competitor (an athlete between 141 and 180 pounds), McCann, 31, excels at overhead lifts and loves what she calls the “weird stuff.” Her favorite gym toy is the circus dumbbell, a dumbbell with massive “bells” on either end that weighs 77 pounds at its lightest. The first time she tried picking one up, she couldn’t get the 77 pounds to her shoulder. Now, she can lift a 120-pound circus dumbbell overhead with one arm.
This year is her second trip to Nationals, and getting there has required dedication and focus: McCann works two jobs and has a six-year-old son, so her days are scheduled from beginning to end. “I definitely have to make it a priority to come [to the gym] or else it doesn’t happen,” she says.
All three athletes are looking forward to the medley event, featuring the aforementioned mouser blocks, as well as a farmers walk, in which participants carry more than 150 pounds in each hand. Once athletes can handle the weight, events are won and lost by technique, and the transitions within medleys become key to getting the best time.
“With strongman, it’s very concrete, cut and dry,” Scott says. “You either pick it up and move it, or you don’t.”
No need to flex. Just move it all as fast as possible.