EDINBURG — McAllen native Carl Love attaches a thick rope to his torso, and begins to breathe strategically.
On the opposite end is the front portion of a semitruck, which he’s tasked with transporting several yards within a one-minute time constraint.
As he inches his way toward the finish line, he’s cheered on by several other participants of the fourth annual South Texas Strongest Man & Woman competition at Alpha Fit in Edinburg.
Even though Saturday was Love’s first strongman competition, he won first place in the middleweight class for the “Big Rig Pull,” which he’s trained for during the past three months.
“The training is pretty brutal; today is like a day off,” he said, moments after tugging a 20,000-pound vehicle. “We train hard enough that when the day comes, it comes easy.”
Many might not see pulling a large vehicle with sheer force as a practical skill. Gabriel Peña, owner of Alpha Fit and a “strongman” himself, said these types of workouts render “real-world strength,” as opposed to the traditional treadmill and bench press.
“Everything that we do here at Alpha Fit is not just getting fit or strong at machines,” Peña said. “It’s things that carry over to real-world fitness and real-world strength that make you able to run faster, jump higher or keep up with your kids. This is functional fitness. You’re training your body to handle any physical test that is thrown at you.”
But the competitive edge is what fuels many of the participants, he said. Despite this, you’ll never see a strongman miss an opportunity to cheer on a fellow competitor.
“Everyone here is here to find out who’s the strongest,” Peña said. “You want the strongest person to show up, you want to have your skill and strength tested, so that you can truly earn that right to say you were the strongest on that given day. For that reason, all the competitors welcome each other with open arms.”
The roughly 30 participants were categorized by weight class. There’s lightweight, middleweight, heavyweight, super-heavyweight (for men only) and masters, which includes anybody over age 40.
Throughout the day, participants competed in the Viking press for reps, yoke walk/farmer’s carry medley, Mike Bartos competition axle max, deadlift, stone series carry and load and the most anticipated: The big rig pull — the iconic strongman competition event.
This year, there’s a lot at stake. For the first time, the South Texas Strongest competition is nationally sanctioned, meaning anybody who places first in their division at Saturday’s competition qualifies for nationals. The opportunity brought people from around the state to Edinburg.
Amanda Vogt owns a gym in San Antonio. Saturday was her first time traveling to the Valley, but she’s been going to strongman competitions across the state for two years.
“They used to be only in Dallas, but now they’ve been popping up in Corpus and now down here,” Vogt said.
There’s gender disparity in the sport, she said, but that trend is shifting as well.
“There’s always been kind of a stigma about being a strong female, but now it’s changing,” Vogt said. “Now, you see a lot more women comfortable with competing with men and getting down and dirty with it. You used to walk into a gym and you were the only female, and now you’re in there with five or six other girls.”
As the sport gains popularity, Peña hopes more people will muster the confidence to test their strength.
“It is unfortunate when someone who’s got the ambition to move along the lines of these sports is turned down because they might not seem like they’re able to do it just at first glance or they don’t have someone with experience to guide them,” Peña said. “I think it’s very important that we kindle the flames of strength whenever we can.”