The legendary feats of historic strongmen have been celebrated throughout time, but how much truth is really behind these fabled acts? In the new HISTORY series, “The Strongest Man in History,” four of the world’s strongest men set out to investigate these legends, and to prove who among them is the true modern-day Hercules.
We spoke to cast members Eddie Hall, Brian Shaw, Nick Best and Robert Oberst to find out more about their lives as strongmen and their experiences on the show.
HISTORY: What inspired you to become a strongman?
Nick Best (50 years old, from Las Vegas, Nevada): I went to a contest with my son Dylan in 2003 and he looked up at me and said, “Dad you are strong, you should do this!” So I did.
Eddie Hall (31 years old, from the United Kingdom): At the age of 13, I fell on hard times. Quite a number of things happened to me in my life, but I ended up in a deep depression, and seeing a psychiatrist for a couple of years. I ended up with a poster of Arnold Schwarzenegger on my wall in my bedroom. I remember sitting there one day, and I just decided I want to be Arnold Schwarzenegger, so I got up off my ass and went to the gym. I started lifting weights and I felt better. I got a sense of euphoria, and I just carried it on. I kept getting better and better and better. At age 19, I ended up entering a strongman contest because I became quite obsessed with lifting weights. On that date, I said publicly on my Facebook and told everybody I was going to win the World's Strongest Man.
Robert Oberst (34 years old, from Santa Cruz, California): I played football for a long time and then football used me up, spit me out and I was done. I was [working as a bouncer] at a pretty rough bar, and a buddy of mine that worked there was just obsessed with Strongman. He kept talking about it and talking about it, and then finally he talked me into coming one day. I had to google Strongman. I didn't know what it was. The first time I ever did it, I broke the amateur world record for log press. I threw it down and I looked up at him, and I was like, "Was that any good?" He was so mad. Within six months, I was competing in England and soon, I was competing at my first World’s Strongest Man. I was the only rookie to make the finals, too. All within eight months.
Brian Shaw (37 years old, from Colorado, USA): I finished playing college basketball and I needed a competitive outlet, so I wanted to be a strength coach. I always loved lifting and training and competing. I watched World's Strongest Man growing up on TV and I just loved all of that, so I decided to enter a Strongman contest—just for fun. Really. For no other reason than that I just wanted to compete in something and push myself. I ended up loving it from the get-go and also found that I was very gifted. It was just kind of a natural fit for me, and just took off from there.
What motivates you to keep pushing yourself to get stronger?
Eddie: I think the motivation for me was to always be the best. I set the task to become the world's strongest man at 19 and I suppose it's that inner me not letting me let myself down, not letting my family down and not letting my kids down. I think my main motivator was knowing that, when my kids grow up, they would be able to say that the house, the cars, everything is from my dad and it was from his hard work and becoming the world's strongest man.
Robert: It's got to come from within. I have a three-year-old son who, at this point, is 99% of my motivation for everything. Every time I'm doing anything, I'm thinking, "He's going to see this when he gets older. I want him to know that daddy could put it down if he needed to."
Brian: My motivation is being the best. Pretty simple and straightforward.
What are you most proud of about your career as a strongman?
Robert: When I first broke the log press record. I was competing in Australia, and Arnold Schwarzenegger showed up. The log press record was held by a friend of mine who had passed away. So, Arnold's standing like four feet away watching me. Brian goes up, Brian can't claim the log. Eddie goes up, Eddie can't claim the log. Three other guys go up, nobody can handle this log. I walked out there... I knew this was my shot, I had to take this for my buddy, Mike. I remember that I threw it up, and it felt so easy. I just held it up over my head and I looked around. I made eye contact with Arnold, threw the thing down and just lost it. Just roared as loud as I could. It was one of the best moments of my life.
What role do you think the strongman plays in human history?
Robert: Well, the history of strength in itself is awesome to me. You look back at the Scots, who weren't allowed to have weapons, so they would train with stones and sticks. Clans would just gather around to see who was the strongest, and there was no way that the British could take that from them—even though they took their weapons, they took their women, they took their land. You can go further back, and there's a bunch of crazy stories about guys lifting rocks and stuff like that and it's just... Strength is something that has captivated people since the very beginning. Socrates said that no man should ever grow old not having known the full strength and power of his own body.
Brian: There are a lot of cultures where tests of strength determined manhood. If you couldn't lift a “manhood stone,” you weren't considered a man. I've always been fascinated by different feats of strength throughout history.
What would you be doing if you weren’t a strongman?
Nick: Selling beer!
Eddie: I used to be a national champion swimmer. I was 11 years old when I entered my first Nationals. I won every distance in front crawl, set British records in 50-meters and 400-meters freestyle and was entered into the World Class Potential squad, which is like the Junior Olympic team in Britain. Then, at 13 years of age I was chucked off the swimming squad because I fell out with the head coach. There's no doubt in my mind that I'd have been a swimmer.
Robert: Stripper. Easy. Stripper. Private eye during the day, stripper at night?
What’s one feat of strength you’d love to try before you retire?
Nick: Pulling a train engine.
Eddie: I attempted the world record log press at my last-ever competition, but I attempted it with a snapped ankle. I suppose I had set my heart on that being my last ever lift in the sport. I didn't achieve it, so I think my only regret since retirement is not going back and doing that world-record log press. I was capable, but the circumstances wouldn't let it happen.
Robert: I want to win World's Strongest Man.
Brian: Lifting a 600-pound Atlas Stone is something I really had my sights set on. I have been capable of doing it for a really long time, but that's one that I just haven't had the opportunity to do in a competition.
What are the worst injuries you have ever had?
Nick: Eight compression fractures on my spine, an inguinal hernia, two bicep tears, a folded artery in my wrist, a torn calf, a torn pectoral and two torn rotator cuffs.
Eddie: I think one of the best injuries I ever had was when I was 20 years old. I don't know if you’ll be able to use this or not, but I was putting weights on a weight press, and you always slam metal weights together to make a nice sound. So I slam these plates together and I trap my [penis] in between the plates and actually had a huge gash on it.
Robert: I almost lost my career. I ripped my bicep in half and the doctor told me I was all done—that I had to stop competing. I got hurt in Africa. I remember sitting out by this river in Africa, just like bawling my eyes out, thinking I missed my opportunity. I fell all the way back down and fought my way back. It took me like three years, but I finally—this last year–I got back in the finals, proved that I was back and earned my way back up to the top.
Brian: The worst one that I've ever had is when I detached my bicep in 2012. I was doing an Axle Clean—lifting a big train axle—and, just picking it up, I just tore [it] off.
Did the show change anything about how you viewed your profession? What was your favorite part of making the show?
Nick: My favorite part was getting to bring the strongman from the past back to life and do their events with my friends! Learning the history of some of these men and how they lived just made me love the sport that much more!
Eddie: We've traveled a lot of the states, and a little bit of Europe, and we learned about historic strongmen and their legacies. We learned about some characters, like Paul Anderson. I suppose that has made me realize the importance of legacy. He was able to give his family an amazing life off the back of lifting weights, and so were a lot of the other guys. And, so am I. It makes me realize that, in the future, people may well be doing a TV show on the likes of me. It's made me improve my self-decorum in that way. I want to make sure I'm looked back as a hero, a nice guy and as a family man that inspired millions.
Robert: I didn't know who Thomas Topham was, and he’s one of my heroes now. The guy owned a brewery and was like a prankster. He was like one of us back in the day, just messing around and strong as hell. He was trying to get people to his bar so he could make enough money to pay rent. I have so much more respect for this sport, the history of strength and, specifically, for these men just because of the show. It's also given me motivation because we carry the weight of these names now, and I don't take that lightly.
The Strongest Man in History