…It was the perfect opportunity.. to get Strongman better known ..
Chances are, if you’d asked me to name a city down south that might have a strongman gym, Portsmouth would have been near the top of my list.
I reckon it goes back to when I was a young kid. Back then, Portsmouth meant one thing; Navy Day. Days spent clambering over hulking, grey warships like the Ark Royal and the Bulwark - helped up and down the twisted trail of ladders and hatches by big, burly matelots.
Or maybe it was the “Field Gun Run” with it’s tales of flesh and bone colliding with brass and steel that moulded my impression of “Pompey”. Yep, they were tough old boys down there in Portsmouth.
So, some 40 years on I’m crawling west along the M27 on the trail of Strength-Tec; home to the Portsmouth Strongman Association, a.k.a. the “PSMA”.
I’d half expected Strength-Tec to be tucked away in some large, sprawling dockyard, but - surprisingly - found it nestled behind some fine Georgian buildings in the old market town of Fareham, on the north west tip of Portsmouth Harbour. Strength-Tec opened it’s doors in November 2007; the brainchild of Rob “Stoneman” Frampton and his “partner-in-crime” Sarah Haskell (his terminology, not mine!). I asked Sarah how the gym came about;
Before we came here, the boys just had a big industrial unit. Basically, it was just somewhere to keep the kit and get changed and stuff. Everyone just used to turn up on a Saturday afternoon to train and that was it.
It was the perfect opportunity; somewhere to make a business, somewhere to get Strongman a bit better known and somewhere to get more people into the sport.
While Rob was working full time he had more injuries and found it was really holding him back. Luckily we had the opportunity to open the gym and we just went for it. Rob’s training has really stepped up a gear.
This place seemed quite unique, in that it seemed to be a Strongman Gym first and foremost. Sarah explained;
To a point, yes the gym is specialised. We have all the equipment relevant to Strongman that a lot of other gyms don’t have. BUT that is not to say only strongmen can train here. We are open to anyone and everyone. Our main aim for Strength-Tec, as a whole, is to keep it as an “Old School” type gym and to get more guys training not only for Strongman, but to see the benefits that a small hands on gym can give them.
People know that you come down here on Saturdays if you want to do events. During the week, it’s a lot more new people; Those that want to get into it, but need to build up a bit before they can start doing things like events. We have members coming down to train from Brighton, Dorset and London so far.
Strength-Tec certainly ‘feels’ different. Not packed out with state of the art gear, but with functional, selected kit and room to move. The place has the feel of a clubhouse rather than a hard core gym - complete with dartboard and comfy chairs. It’s a good feel - this is a place where mates meet.
Stretching, warming up and cooling down is vital for Rob. In Jan 2006, he was shot in the leg after finishing work one night. He had part of his quadricep and hamstring removed, amounting to the size of a grapefruit.
Because of this a lot of his training had to be adapted. Conan’s Wheel is a BIG NO NO!! and his squat and deadlift technique has been tweaked due to the lack of muscle in his thigh & buttock area.
That’s the first mention of the Conan’s Wheel. That thing lurking in the back yard that makes Strength-Tec a pretty unique place to train. I can’t imagine many gyms would have one of those to train with?
“It’s just horrible” Sarah laughed. PSMA regular and custodian of the Strength-Tec website - Stu “Chalky” Bevis - went on to explain his love-hate relationship with that tortuous piece of apparatus;
…It’s like the yolk, you can feel it crushing your spine..
But that’s the whole idea isn’t it?! It’s like the yolk, you can feel it crushing your spine. It’s horrible, but that’s my favourite one, because it’s hard. It’s that mental aspect, that’s what I want, the stuff that’s difficult.
I don’t want it easy. That’s the daft thing. We’re in the Strongman game and you get so many people turning up at competitions and they want to know every little weight or they’re asking “..what about that weight, that’s a bit of an odd shape”!
Whereas for me, I see that as a sign of weakness and it’s like, right - I ‘ope that is in there because I ‘aint going to have any qualms about trying to lift it! I just don’t understand it, don’t worry about how much is on there, just try and lift it! If you can’t, you can’t!
I think that’s the trouble with stuff like the Conan’s. Partly because people don’t have the equipment but mostly because it’s just bl**dy hard!
After the log, the boys attention turned to dumbells. Starting off with a modest 50kg specimen but soon moving to a 73kg beast. “The Baby” - a monster dumbell the wrong side of 90kg with a 21/2 inch handle - was left brooding in the corner for today. “No-ones had that off the floor yet with a single hand” - Rob commented.
…Like forked lightning seeking terra firma ..
Watching the guys trying to hoist these things skyward, it dawned on me that that simple act encapsulated so much about Strongman;
The combination of power, technique, determination and sheer courage required to launch that thing overhead.
If you faultered, it was going on a one way journey south (and I don’t mean to Porstmouth Harbour ;). Like forked lightning seeking terra-firma, it had complete disregard for anything in it’s way - skull, collar bone, knee, foot - nothing stood a chance.
It made for great photo’s but boy, did I have to be quick on my feet to avoid getting flattened (That’s the thing about a fish-eye lens - you can find yourself a lot closer to the action than you really want to be!).
Next up; Conan’s. A few warm up circuits with the basket empty and then they stacked the weights. 50kg ..100kg .. It seemed bruising and bleeding were the order of the day. “Fast Car” and “The Tobinator” hopped in for a ride, but for most this was a load to far, despite some couragous efforts.
Then, to add insult to injury, the rain arrived. Rob - who ‘had a note’ for the Conan’s - urged the boys on from what is probably best described as the ‘Outhouse”! As the rain got worse I caught up with him to ask about Strength-Tec, his career and his aspirations.
Yep, we have a lot of talent in the PSMA, and they all excel in different areas. Kelv is one to watch though. He has only been training for about 5 months yet we are hoping he will do well at the UK Strongest Man Qualifiers in June.
How about yourself?
I’ve been competing since 2005. I won Portsmouth’s Strongest Man in 2007. That was my biggest achievement as it was on home turf! I also came 3rd in the England’s Strongest Man and joint 6th in the UK Strongest Man 2007. My main aim for this year is to win the UK.
Apart from these guys, who do you admire in the sport?
I admire anyone who puts in all the hard work and determination needed to get to a national level!
And what is it that get’s you to the gym on a bad day? - apart from the obvious fact that you work there!
The thing that gets me into the gym is the thought of the other guys I’ll be competing against who will be training and getting better & stronger. During the week I train with Gareth (”Ram Man”). We work well together, as Gareth is a strong, well driven person with a good knowledge of the gym. He pushes himself as much as me and we motivate each other well.
…Pain is weakness exiting the body ..
By now the guys were starting to wind down with a few Atlas Stones and for me, it was time to leave. Pain Is Weakness Exiting The Body the sign on the door proclaimed. What a powerful metaphor for life THAT is. Well there’ll be a lot of weakness leaving Portsmouth today - I only hope I don’t get stuck behind it on the M27!
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