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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.