It’s all mind over matter for young strong man

Reuben Jansen van Rensburg after winning bronze at last month’s Arnold Classic Africa, named in honour of the bodybuilding and Hollywood icon, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Reuben Jansen van Rensburg, 20, from Kommetjie walked away with a bronze medal around his neck at last month’s Arnold Classic Africa held at the Ruimsig Athletics Stadium, in Roodepoort, Johannesburg.

A multi-sports event popular among bodybuilders and weightlifters, the Arnold Classic features an array of codes, including powerlifting, fitness challenges and combat sports across the board.

It’s against this backdrop that the rookie from Kommetjie went up against a formidable line up, that included a world champion, in only his first attempt at a Strongman competition – or show, as those in the know would call it – to make his third-place finish all the more impressive.

Preparation is key for Reuben Jansen van Rensburg. Picture: Fuad Esack

The sport combines all the elements of traditional weight and powerlifting seen at the Olympics with those of muscle men in days gone by. Instead of gym junkies, think old school lumberjacks and woodsmen and you might have an idea of the kind of strength challenges Jansen van Rensburg faces when in competition.

Reuben Jansen van Rensburg during a training session. Here he is using a yoke. The strongman yoke walk/run requires a strongman athlete to carry a heavily loaded frame balanced across the back of his shoulders over a set distance in the fastest time possible. Picture: Fuad Esack

“There are different tests of strength, from deadlifting, to pressing logs overhead, pulling cars and lifting big stones or sandbags,” he said.

“Compared to other weightlifting sports, it’s the best at testing who’s the strongest because some events test just pure strength and others will test your endurance or explosiveness,” he said.

It’s unlikely you’ll find logs used in strongman shows at your nearest sports store, so he built his own, says Reuben Jansen van Rensburg, pictured here gearing up for the log lift. Picture: Fuad Esack
Reuben Jansen van Rensburg demonstrating a log lift. Picture: Fuad Esack
With some of the equipment used in strongman competitions not available locally Reuben Jansen van Rensburg simply builds his own, such as the log he’s carrying. Picture: Fuad Esack

Strongman is the sport of determining who’s the strongest, by lifting, carrying, pulling, loading and so on, barbells, stones, sandbags, trucks etcetera” he said.

“Unlike powerlifting, the events are much more varied, although being stronger at the barbell lifts (squat, bench and overhead press) are still essential,” said Jansen van Rensburg.

Reuben Jansen van Rensburg about to assemble his yoke using 25kg weights in each corner of his self-built training device pictured in the background. Picture: Fuad Esack

An avid sailor, sporty by nature, with a double SA Karate title and some MMA and boxing training under his belt, Jansen Van Rensburg was introduced to the sport when his mother, Sinta Ebersohn took him to his first Strongman Show. The then four-year-old knew exactly what he’d like to be when he grew up.

“I like the show of it and entertaining people.It’s like a circus show with high barriers to entry, but it doesn’t get as much exposure as other weightlifting sports like powerlifting,” he said.

Reuben Jansen van Rensburg with his number one supporter, his mother, Sinta Ebersohn. Picture: Fuad Esack

Happy with his performance, Jansen van Rensburg is already gearing up for his next show, the Southern Cape Strongman, coming up in Mossel Bay later this month and if things go according to plan, South Africa’s Strongest Man in August.

Of course, preparing for big events is hard work, but finding the right equipment needed can be a challenge, he said. Fortunately, he’s not just strong, but also good with his hands.

“I am a strength and conditioning coach, so I write my own programmes which are geared towards a specific competition and will have different phases to first get stronger overall and then apply that to the particular events of that competition. I also build my own equipment because a lot of the stuff we use is not readily available,” he said.

A strength and conditioning coach, Reuben Jansen van Rensburg, designs his own training programmes. Picture: Fuad Esack

“My workouts are based around specific events or movements. For example, I’ll have a dedicated day for deadlifts, then do an accessory exercise to work on weaknesses and then some type of conditioning like sandbag runs.

“Strongman is always geared towards events that test strength. Say a truck pull or a sandbag medley. They might also test your endurance, but its endurance in the context of a hell of a lot of weight,” he said.