Podcast: The Evolution of Strongman with Kalle Beck

Strongman is one of the most physically demanding — and visually impressive — strength sports on the planet. And perhaps no one has done more to grow the sport’s presence online than Kalle Beck.

Kalle is the founder of StartingStrongman.com, a fantastic resource covering training in the sport, as well as event results and coverage. (Check out our Resources section below for more on that site.) And what started as a personal blog — born out of a frustration over the lack of strongman resources online — has evolved into one of strength’s more dedicated communities.

No one — and I mean no one — has followed the sport more closely over the past decade.

“Anyone can pick up a keg or a farmer’s walk, a log. It’s fun. You don’t have to compete. Strongman’s for everyone.”

But Kalle’s goal isn’t just to provide online resources for aspiring strongman athletes. He wants to prove that everyone has the potential to participate, not just the 400 pound behemoths we see once a year on television.

Find out what drives one of strongman’s most visible personalities, along with his motivations and hopes for the sport’s continued expansion into the mainstream.

In this episode of The BarBend Podcast, guest Kalle Beck and host David Thomas Tao discuss:

  • Recapping the 2019 World’s Strongest Man Contest (2:00)
  • How Kalle first found the sport of strongman (4:15)
  • Kalle’s reasons for creating Starting Strongman and providing event coverage (10:46)
  • Why strongman has been going mainstream — and which personalities drive that growth (16:40)
  • What Eddie Hall’s 500kg deadlift meant for the sport — and why it was such a great publicity move to promote it that way (22:30)
  • Strongman as one of the most physically demanding and brutal sports practiced today (31:00)
  • Strongman’s future (32:00)
  • Challenges facing strongman’s community, including public criticism (40:50)

Relevant links and further reading:

Transcription

David Thomas TaoDavid Thomas Tao

Welcome to the BarBend podcast, where we talk to top athletes, coaches, influencers, and minds from around the world of strength sports, presented by barbend.com.

Today, on the BarBend podcast, I’m talking to Strongman athlete, coach, and content creator, Kalle Back. Kalle has been involved in Strongman for over a decade, and he became passionate about the sport at a time when there really wasn’t a lot of coverage for it beyond the occasional World Strongest Man broadcast. There were no practically no training resources available online.

Through his website, startingstrongman.com, Kalle has built a community for Strongman athletes and fans. He’s also done a fantastic amount of work in increasing coverage and visibility for the sport, from the year’s biggest events down to smaller qualifiers and competitions where aspiring competitors can get their feet wet.

I’m excited to chat with Kalle about Strongman’s growth and how mainstream exposure has changed the game. We’ll also touch on the future on the sport and where Kalle’s expending his energy these day. Just a quick reminder. If you’re enjoying the BarBend podcast make sure to leave a rating and review in your podcast app of choice. This helps us stay on track and bringing you the best possible week after week after week.

If there’s someone you’d absolutely love to hear on a future BarBend podcast episode, let us know in your podcast review. I personally read each and every review so your suggestions most definitely will be seen. Today, I’m really excited to chat with Kalle Beck. Kalle’s someone I’ve been lucky enough to chat with and work on some content with before.

He’s a Strongman athlete and journalist who’s really been on the forefront of bringing really good coverage to that sport over the past decade. Kalle, thanks so much for joining us today. Recording this, we’re just a few weeks out from World’s Strongest Man. How are you feeling after the trip down to Florida?

Kalle BeckKalle Beck

I didn’t go. I didn’t go there. It’s the craziest thing.

Strongman journalism is…I went and I’ve traveled to the Arnold. I’ve done all this stuff. It’s easier to cover from home, honestly. You go to those venues, you trying to post updates, no one’s cell phone service works.

I’m at the point now where people send me videos and let me know everything that’s going on because they’re cool. I’ve built a good community with certain Strongmen and everything. They know that you’re going to put it out. I have the voice, and the platform that people are going to watch.

I would’ve went just to support my friend Robert Oberst, but with a 14-month old baby, and traveling across the country, it ended up being 90-something degrees and storming half the time and 100-percent humidity. There are long days. It just didn’t seem like how I wanted to spend the family vacation.

David Thomas TaoDavid Thomas Tao

I understand. It’s certainly easier to, having covered the CrossFit Games, the World Weightlifting Championships a few times, both in person and remotely, it’s a heck of a lot easier to do it remotely. You can get things up faster. It’s always nice to have boots on the ground to send you that info.

Kalle BeckKalle Beck

Sure.

David Thomas TaoDavid Thomas Tao

As far as writing the recaps and putting up the content, there’s nothing quicker than just being at your office, or your home office, with a reliable Internet connection.

Kalle BeckKalle Beck

Yeah, it’s so weird. I’m glad that I did it well enough that you and other people thought I was there, even though I said over and over I wasn’t going to be. Yeah, I get that a lot. I guess I did OK, then. Regardless of going, I’m still recovering from it. It’s a busy week.

David Thomas TaoDavid Thomas Tao

 Let’s take a step back. I know you primarily as a content creator for the sport of Strongman online, which is, I think how a lot of people know you. Whether they’ve come across StartingStrongman.com, or you on social media. How did you get involved with the sport initially and how did you add journalist to your role of responsibilities, in addition to being an athlete years ago?

Kalle BeckKalle Beck

It’s interesting. I was always into lifting weights and stuff. You start looking around online. I think I started getting on different forums around 2005, six.

You get into power lifting, the good old T-nation forums back then were pretty much all there was pre-social media really. Just liked Strongman.

I watched it. I just saw someone post that they just competed at World’s Strongest Man as a lightweight, which was at the time under 231 pounds. I didn’t know that was a thing. Being 5’7″ and about 200 pounds, that seemed like something, like, “Oh, well, you know. I’m a 20 year old little kid and I think I can take on the world.

“I’m like, “OK, I guess that’s attainable.” I know I’m not going to be 6’8″ and whatever, but it seems like I could work towards that and just started searching. There really was not much back then. As far as Strongman, there’s still amateur Strongmen with some weight classes.

I found a show that had just happened in Santa Cruz, California, which is close to where I lived and grew up. I found some little rinky-dink website that the promoter asked. I asked if he was going to have it again.

He said it was his last year. They had the list of athletes that competed. I tried to find someone who was close to me. There’s another guy in Santa Cruz. Everyone else was all over the country.

I asked the promoter. I’m like, “Do you know anyone? I saw this guy who lived in Santa Cruz. Do you have his email or phone number or something?” I gave him a call, somebody I know, a good friend, Evan Hansmann.

I sent him an email, and he’s like, “Yeah, you can come over I guess. Are you strong?”

You really had to go out of your way to try to find this stuff back then. We trained, and it was fun. I’ve shown up, and it’s in all these redwood trees.

Then we were outside in the mountains of Santa Cruz. This guy with a shaved head and this big beard who’s 6’6″ and 300-something pounds looked at me funny. He’s like, “You?”

David Thomas TaoDavid Thomas Tao

You didn’t know if he was going to train you or eat you.

Kalle BeckKalle Beck

Yeah. I still don’t when I hang out with him. We just trained. We trained some axle clean and press. I think some tire flips and some stones. My entire body was black and blue the next day.

David Thomas TaoDavid Thomas Tao

Had you trained with those implements before?

Kalle BeckKalle Beck

No, I’ve never even…Back then, you couldn’t just go on Rogue or Titan or wherever or Amazon and get this stuff shipped to you. Everything was handmade. I think IronMind was and EliteFTS might have sold a couple of things. I think we did Farmer’s Walk, stones. I just saw this stuff.

He had me do continental cleans, because I couldn’t press the axle with a plate on the side just because it was a hundred and some pounds empty. It weighed about as much as I did when you put a plate. They didn’t have any smaller plates, seriously. [laughs]

He had me do continental cleans for 20 minutes, where you pull it up to your stomach. I remember my entire was black and blue the next day. I showed up and trained with him the next week. I drive an hour and a half each way. I compete over years, and you get more involved.

I want to emphasize how strange of an experience it was, because I remember I’d talk to other people. They’d look at me, being a under 200-pound guy and being less-than-average height.

They’d be like, “You do Strongman?” I’m like, “Yeah. There’s weight classes. There’s this. There’s amateur shows. It’s not just on ESPN like we just saw.”

That was the question I always got. When I actually flash-forward five, six years later when I started to get somewhat good at this sport for my weight class — because they made a new weight class — lightweight was then 175 pounds. That suited more of my natural body structure.

I got a couple of sponsors. I started to get a little bit of presence online. I got the question over and over again. They’re like, “How do you start? Where do you go? Where do you go?”

I’m like, “And I hated my job. It’s not something I wanted to do, and I just knew that there was some way I could transition and provide value in strongman.”

I’m like, “Even if it was I got sponsors or whatever, this is pretty much the only chance I have to do anything, other than my work.” I have a college degree. That’s a long story on everything, but I just knew. I’m like, “I can make a career out of this. I don’t know if it’s as an athlete or something.”

I started in half-built, six, seven different websites with all kinds of different names, the little angles that I thought would work. One day, everyone asked me how you start.

That seems to be the question. Why don’t I start providing these resources? It’s the stuff I was saying all the time anyways, the same questions over and over.

David Thomas TaoDavid Thomas Tao

What year did startingstrongman.com officially launch?

Kalle BeckKalle Beck

I registered the domain 2013. I think that’s when I made the Facebook group. I think I rebuilt the website April of 2014. It’s crazy. It’s five years now.

David Thomas TaoDavid Thomas Tao

When did that start to transition or incorporate? Starting Strongman, great resources, by the way. We’re definitely going to, in the show notes, encourage our readers to check it out.

A lot of really good information about how to get started in this sport, whether it’s building your own equipment, starting training with a lot of these common strong men, implements that you might not find in a regular gym.

Something that Starting Strongman is perhaps even better known for, at this point, is its Strongman coverage. When did you start incorporating event coverage and results into the website?

Kalle BeckKalle Beck

Pretty much from the start. There used to be a great forum called Marunde-Muscle.com. I was a member there for years. Unfortunately, Jesse Marunde died. It was very tragic, and just awful.

Then forums died, basically, too, unfortunately. I still think they’re a better venue than social media for a lot of ways.

People used to always post, like what would [inaudible 11:06] strongest man on there. That was the best place to get it. There wasn’t really any other good place to get it, so people started putting it in the Facebook group. We have thread-results pages.

Pretty much from the start. If there’s a big show going on, people would talk about it. There was a discussion. I just start putting the results online because they weren’t anywhere at that time, 2013, ’14, ’15.

Now, of course, “The New York Times” publishes it because Hafthor’s in it. It’s crazy. Basically, everything I did was because no one was doing it or very few. It wasn’t in a concentrated way. A couple of sites, a couple of powerlifting or stuff might throw something if it happened.

I would put up every pro-show, even amateur nationals results and stuff. Sometimes that wouldn’t even be easy. [inaudible 12:17] . I’d just put it. Then you realize you have your biggest month as far as views, and everything. I might as well keep doing it.

I really started to do it kind of last year. I transferred doing a lot of that. I did various podcasts, even starting from 2014, where I’d cover the sport. When my son was born last year, I couldn’t do long-form interviews very easily, scheduling with guests.

I just started talking with the camera, giving my own thoughts on it real quick. I could wake up, and I have 10 minutes to say what happened. I started doing that last year. It was the first that people actually seemed to care about on my YouTube, and it’s doubled since. I’ll keep doing that now.

David Thomas TaoDavid Thomas Tao

The first few years, you were reporting on Strongman results, especially for something like the World’s Strongest Man. Did you ever get any pushback from the organizing bodies?

Because it gets a little bit tough to explain to people who might be new to following along with Strongman. Why is there no livestream for World’s Strongest Man? Questions like that come up. I know that’s something. You’ve literally made memes about it because you get asked so often.

Did the organizations ever reach out to you and say, “Hey, we like what you’re doing,” or, “We don’t like what you’re doing”? Anything like that?

Kalle BeckKalle Beck

I don’t think that they knew back then. They weren’t barely on social media. They’re doing a great job. Strongman’s really changed in the past three years. Before that, I don’t think they knew. I’ve had, unofficially, producers, big people, all the different promoters. Everyone’s nice to me.

They’ll tell me what they want to say publicly but can’t. I think no one really cares. It’s all promotion for them. I’m a free publicist, basically.

David Thomas TaoDavid Thomas Tao

When you say Strongman’s changed a lot over the last three years, we launched our site in 2016, about three years ago.

Since then, Hafthor’s rise through the sport, his win in 2018 brought a lot of mainstream coverage. Because here was this guy who was on “Game on Thrones,” he’s suddenly winning World’s Strongest Man. It increases mainstream interest and coverage a lot.

Besides that, how do you think the sport has grown? Or, do you think that’s been the main catalyst of the sport’s growth mainstream?

Kalle BeckKalle Beck

It’s definitely a big one. Strongman finally became clickbait-worthy. That’s the way I see it. You know how it is, we all do it.

If I put The Mountain or something, it’s going to get way more views, instead of just using his real name. It’s a proud thing, I still put Hafthor Bjornsson, and I don’t put The Mountain in my titles. No fault to anyone that does.

That’s part of it. Hafthor’s, he’s kind of an enigma for a while. He didn’t put up too much press, too much stuff. He’s good on social media, but even then he’s in the shadows just being strong.

What really started it was Eddie Hall. Eddie Hall was not going to shut up about anything. That’s why he’s great.

Strongman is so big in…It was like a perfect storm. Colin Brice, Darren Sadler, the promoters of Giants Live, the qualifying tour for World’s Strongest Man, they’ve been building these arena shows in Europe and the UK for the past few years.

They got someone that the public latched on to. Strongman is shown a lot on normal television, which people actually still watch in the UK. It’s shown primetime, free TV, everyone in the country watches it.

Then they got a new English star who’s got a great personality. He understands that it’s a promotion, and you have to build a certain…

I always told people, even my self as an athlete, Strongman has a weird thing where people are like, “OK, I’m gonna win this then people are gonna care.” You have to build up the narrative to say that this is going to happen, and have them follow along with you for them to then care.

They have to be invested before it happens. They’re not going to get invested after it happens. You can’t come out, and build up the press.

Eddie Hall started it. The “Born Strong” documentary was big. It went on Netflix, who knows how many million people saw that. They’re selling out stadiums, it’s shown on free TV. A British athlete wins again when it’s the most popular over there.

Then people are like, “Oh.” Eddie painted him so well as a villain. When Thor is not a villain…Everything I can tell, he’s a nice guy, and he’s pretty humble. You have to have a villain. He’s like, “Look, he’s The Mountain. He’s 6’8″. He’s 440 pounds.” Eddie keeps saying he’s shorter and smaller, even though he’s 6’3″, and 440 pounds.

David Thomas TaoDavid Thomas Tao

It’s funny because I’ve seen Eddie Hall variously listed at everywhere between 5’1″ and 6’4″.

Kalle BeckKalle Beck

He’s about 6’2″, 6’3″.

David Thomas TaoDavid Thomas Tao

He’s a big guy. They’re all big guys.

Kalle BeckKalle Beck

He’s not a small guy. Let’s be honest.

David Thomas TaoDavid Thomas Tao

There was this whole narrative around how he’s literally taking down the true giants.

Kalle BeckKalle Beck

Yeah. He says over and over he’s basically almost killing himself to do it. You wonder however that’s true or not, that’s going to catch the casual person.

“Eddie — Strongman” was the first documentary. Sorry, I misspoke. “Born Strong” also came out, which was because Eddie, he steals the show and says the right things. It’s kind of Eddie Two even though it ended up being [inaudible 18:31] winning.

Those two documentaries were the big things because they’re both on Netflix and then, of course, Game of Thrones wrapping up, getting how many million people watching it every year, with Thor. In the past year, Strongman’s kind of taken of YouTube. They finally figured out that that can put up their own content. Brian Shaw has what? 800,000 subscribers or something?

David Thomas TaoDavid Thomas Tao

Oh, yeah, he’s killing the game on there.

Kalle BeckKalle Beck

He’s eating everything, getting kicked out of gyms.

He’s making the content. Then, it brings in the casual fan. It’s just all kind of all built on itself. It’s definitely different. I thought about this a lot.

When I was putting stuff out just a couple years ago, every one comments on stuff…they’re all people that kind of compete at some level or have. They’ve done an amateur show or novice show.

David Thomas TaoDavid Thomas Tao

They have some personally vested interest in it.

Kalle BeckKalle Beck

Yeah. They’ve lifted an Atlas Stone or whatever. Now, in the past year, two years, I get comments and I’m like, “Oh. Casual fans are great but this person has never lifted an Atlas Stone.”

You just know. When they say the stone series at World’s is too light, and the last one was like 480 pounds. I’m like, “Have you seen a 480 pound stone next to you?”

It’s up my waist. I can’t even physically get in a position to lift it. The guys are just so strong, they make it look light.

It’s sports talk anywhere. We’ve just been niche enough but I think there’s always been casual fans but now they’re kind of connected. It makes all this more than just watching it on Christmas when it’s on TV.

David Thomas TaoDavid Thomas Tao

When I was growing up, the World’s Strongest Man was always on TV during the daytime. If you were ever home sick from school, or during the summer, you’d always see the MET-Rx World’s Strongest Man.

That was around the time when Mariusz was competing. Derek Poundstone was the American with a shot. I’m missing a few other names that were heavily promoted as American competitors in that.

Then it seemed to disappear in the late…2009, it wasn’t in my consciousness at all, when I was getting interested in strength training. It seems to have bounced back.

Kalle BeckKalle Beck

It went off ESPN. I think around 2010-ish it was no longer on ESPN, ESPN2. You’re a guy, I’m a guy, before the DVR and on-demand television, if you were looking around, you’d check ESPN, you’ll give it a shot.

Then it went on CBS Sports. I don’t think they replayed it as much. Show me where CBS Sports is on your television? I don’t know. The only place I’ve ever seen that has it is at grandparents’ houses. If you’re ever at your in-laws, they have it. They don’t know they have it, but it’s on because they got the biggest package, and they don’t even know they’re paying for it.

It’s the only place it exists. I don’t think you can get it unless you’re 65 or older.

You have to have the AARP card to qualify for the channel.

David Thomas TaoDavid Thomas Tao

Yeah, then you get CBS Sports for free and when your in-laws come over, they can finally watch World’s Strongest Man even though it’s their job to cover it.

Kalle BeckKalle Beck

There’s one other thing that I think around 2016 helped. You mentioned this perfect storm of Eddie Hall becoming a personality even before Hafþór became the face of Strongman. That was his 500-kilogram deadlift.

I remember we wrote an article on it. For BarBend it was very early on in our lifecycle, and we put up an article about it. I woke up the next morning, and our traffic was unlike anything I’d seen. We were a new website, and I realized that all these other outlets, all these mainstream outlets, were linking to us. It was some really, really big mainstream news channels that were driving traffic to us because no one else had written on it.

My personal opinion is, while that was such an impressive feat, and did a lot for the sport of strongman, anecdotally it seemed to really piss off a lot of powerlifters because you have a lot of powerlifters, you’d think you’d ask the question, “Well, if powerlifters specialize in the deadlift, why hasn’t any powerlifter lifted 500 kilograms?”

Obviously, the general public not being aware of the differences in the standards of the lift and what was allowed.

David Thomas TaoDavid Thomas Tao

Yeah. The 500-kilogram deadlift was huge but, again, Eddie Hall hyped that up for a year or two before he did it.

It’s all about the hype. If there’s going to be a big worldwide event and it happens, it has to be promoted beforehand. He’s one of the few strongmen that…I mean, he had a publicist.

He did this. He did a great job. He said, “Again, it might kill me, but I’m going to do it.” I wrote an article for a different outlet back then. I would write articles for about it.

World records don’t get broken by 30-something kilograms, 60, 70 pounds, especially ones that have been recently set. He set it that year. When he told that, he said, “Even though I just broke my own world record, in three months, I’m going to do another 70 pounds.”

You follow any sport. Nothing gets broken like that. Nothing gets obliterated. Now, people expect that as the weird thing. They’re like, “You know, he only broke it by a kilo.” OK.

That’s how it worked for 100 years prior to Eddie Hall pulling 500 kilograms.

I remember the first time I heard it, I was like, “This is crazy. It’s just more hoopla, more hype, more promotion.”

Kalle BeckKalle Beck

I know.

There’s so much hype. The first time I reported on it, I’m like, “This is impossible. He’s a loudmouth. It’s just not going to happen.”

You start…You watch every video. You see little training clips that are slipped in. I’m like, “Man.”

David Thomas TaoDavid Thomas Tao

He’s looking strong.

Kalle BeckKalle Beck

He’s going to do it. I wrote a preview for floelite.com back when they covered Strongman a lot. I’m like, “Yeah, I think it’s possible.

I broke down every person that’s going there.” I’m like, “I think Eddie Hall is going to do it.” I wrote articles talking about how insane it was. That’s still available.

It’s the biggest thing ever picked up by someone. That transcended all sports everywhere. That was probably bigger as far as building the sport than him winning world’s strongest man later.

David Thomas TaoDavid Thomas Tao

I think it was. The thing that I thought was so interesting is the competition. They actually were changing the rules of the competition leading up to that World Deadlift Championships based on what he was saying because, suddenly, a few weeks out from it, they announced the bar was going to go from 462 or 463, whatever the record was then…

Kalle BeckKalle Beck

Yes, straight to it.

David Thomas TaoDavid Thomas Tao

…straight to 500. This was in Brian Shaw’s earlier YouTube days. He had a lot going on. I believe his wife was pregnant. He was prepping for World’s Strongest Man that year, trying to go for another title. He said he wasn’t going to do the World Deadlift Championship.

In that video, he said, “Believe me, I would know. There’s no way anyone’s going to jump from 463 to 500.” I took his word for it. I was like, if anyone is going to know, it’s Brian Shaw. He’s not playing into the hype. Let’s see. They literally structured that competition. Eddie did it. I think Hafthor attempted it, and also Benni attempted it.

Kalle BeckKalle Beck

It was Jerry Pritchett and Benni.

David Thomas TaoDavid Thomas Tao

Oh, that’s right.

Kalle BeckKalle Beck

Hafthor’s deadlifts improved a lot. It wasn’t quite at that level back then. He’s made incredible static strength improvements in the last two, three years. That whole competition was set up for Eddie Hall to break the record. He did it. They acted like it was over.

The thing is it was the start of Europe’s strongest man, I think. There’s a whole other contest after. It was the first event. Some people just did the deadlift, but there was fireworks. The queen came out, basically.

David Thomas TaoDavid Thomas Tao

The queen wasn’t literally there, but it almost…

Kalle BeckKalle Beck

She might as well have.

David Thomas TaoDavid Thomas Tao

To American viewers, it felt like that.

Kalle BeckKalle Beck

Yeah. There was a 20-minute celebration. Then they’re like, “Oh yeah, Jerry Pritchett, you still want to attempt it?” He tore his hamstring. I interviewed him about that. I don’t think he’s too happy. He thinks if he was fresh, he would have still hit it that day. He got it almost to his knees after a 20-minute wait.

David Thomas TaoDavid Thomas Tao

Jerry Pritchett, to me, as far as great static strength athletes, his proficiency, especially in deadlifting, goes unsung compared to a lot of these top guys, seeing what he’s been able to do.

 

Kalle BeckKalle Beck

He’s working-class, old school, humble, just put-your-head-down-and-work kind of guy. That’s how every strongman was when I was getting into this sport. It’s why I didn’t quite gain with the social…None of them.

I remember talking to Instagram. I was one of the first Strongmans on Instagram, posting anything when it was still post your filtered photos pre-Facebook. I remember telling my friends I was at a contest with Robert Oberst.

Then I was like, “Hey, you got to get on Instagram if you want to promote yourself.” He’s like, “I’m not doing that crap.” Now, he has 250,000 followers or something.

David Thomas TaoDavid Thomas Tao

Robert Oberst is definitely someone who’s really leveraged social media into more of the mainstream. As I’m recording this, people are talking about the launch of a new history channel show that features Robert, Eddie, and Brian Shaw.

Kalle BeckKalle Beck

Nick Best.

David Thomas TaoDavid Thomas Tao

Yeah, and Nick Best. It’s interesting to see a lot of these athletes who may have been reluctant to leverage the power of social media, but it’s almost a requirement now at this point. It’s something sponsors expect.

Kalle BeckKalle Beck

It is. If you want to make a living doing any niche anything, you need to be on social media. If you don’t want to make some money other than going to a job and clocking in, anything personality would be or whatever based, it doesn’t matter if you’re an athlete or an entertainer. FitTea ambassador or whatever the hell it is, you better be on social media if you want to make some money doing it.

I remember in 2012 or ’11, it was pretty…I don’t think even Brian Shaw had an Instagram or anything back then. There’s a point where I had more followers than anyone at World’s other than Thor. [laughs]

David Thomas TaoDavid Thomas Tao

It was proportionate to your mental strength.

Kalle BeckKalle Beck

Yeah.

David Thomas TaoDavid Thomas Tao

If not your physical.

Kalle BeckKalle Beck

That’s definitely not the case now, but people weren’t utilizing it. I just want to point, Jerry Pritchett’s about that old school approach. There’s nothing wrong with that. He has a real job. He still has plenty of sponsors. He posts on social media.

Because of that, he maybe gets overlooked by some points but shouldn’t. He’s a threat to win deadlift and pretty much any contest he enters.

David Thomas TaoDavid Thomas Tao

Kalle, how do you think strongman will change over the next few years? One thing we haven’t touched too much on you’ve touched on a little earlier was the introduction of new weight classes.

Strongwoman competitors and Strongwoman competitions become much, much bigger in the United States over the last four years.

Kalle BeckKalle Beck

Much bigger.

David Thomas TaoDavid Thomas Tao

I see United States but also in Europe. What changes are you may be excited for or are a little trepidatious on for the next few years?

Kalle BeckKalle Beck

I’m excited that these people, especially some of my friends and people that I’ve known personally, people I’ve seen, somebody shows that they got upset because they missed out on 1,500 bucks of prize money five years ago.

Now, we’re getting huge opportunities and able to quit their jobs to do them just because it’s a viable thing. That’s awesome to show how far it’s come. These athletes worked so hard. This is a hard sport.

I watch a lot of baseball now with my son. Someone tweaks, their pinky gets hurt, and they’re out for 15 days. Thor is competing with half a foot at World’s. No other athletes do that. [laughs] To see them actually get rewarded and not have to still work a job and get some recognition for that is awesome.

I hope athletes, [inaudible 32:01] all they get is good. These opportunities don’t come along. I think it’s going to continue. The trepidation is that strongman is very old school still. The melding in between of old school strength sports and the new style, embracing social media.

There’s a little tough thing. When you talk about World’s Strongest Man not having a live stream. It’s been a record to play later sporting event, is very weird even though it’s been like that since ’77. It’s been successful and has had million and millions of viewers and been a viable commodity. What other TV show has been around since 1977?

David Thomas TaoDavid Thomas Tao

Maybe like the nightly news. [laughs] . It’s just about it.

Kalle BeckKalle Beck

Really, World’s Strongest Man is one of the longest running programs in the world, probably. I just pulled that out of my head. You have to give them credit for that.

Then the fans coming in, there’s a weird disconnect. It’s shaky. How do you transition that?

People don’t get how it’s done old school like that. There’s some growing pains there. Lots of worry, because strongman’s had some golden years before.

There’s a time where World’s Strongest Man, and IFSA split that athletes got guaranteed contracts to only compete for one promotion. They are getting big money. Not to show enough prize money.

Then that went away when the recession hit in 2007, 2008. Sponsorships for very fringe activities are the first thing to go for a big business. If something like that happens again, maybe we just go all the way back.

I think now the athletes have the social media themselves. They can leverage it.

The other thing I worry about is all these other great athletes that maybe aren’t World’s Strongest Man size. The weight classes, the women haven’t got those type of opportunities where they’re showing them stuff.

I don’t know. They’re just as good of the athletes as anyone. I don’t know if it’s going to happen though. I used to think that would be how the sport grew, because it makes it more accessible.

I think it has from a participation stand point, but I don’t really know if it’s viable to make it work that it transitions where the business model is, people signing up to compete at these shows versus a spectator mindset.

Some shows have to transition with the heavyweight guys in the UK and other places that can sell out arenas and people pay. I don’t know if that would happen, and that’s unfortunate for all these great athletes.

The ones that are smart and know how to play it like Anthony Fuhrman won, 105-kg World’s Strongest Man. He was on the Titan Games. Now, he’s got a bunch of sponsors from that, and he’s running with it.

I think the people that get it will always get ahead if they have the talent and the personality to back it up. It’s going to be a weird transition. I think the main thing that a lot of these people will have and I know I have is getting used to having casual sports fans. They can be very brutal people.

David Thomas TaoDavid Thomas Tao

Especially for a niche sport and especially for sport like Strongman. Like a game of baseball, it’s played basically the same way every time. Two competitions might have completely different event sets, it can be a little intimidating for a first-time viewer or a casual fan.

Kalle BeckKalle Beck

Yeah. They can’t really get it. I do my best to educate them on that. [laughs] At my last video, I got a little mad answering questions, [laughs] probably said some things I shouldn’t have.

Again, I understand it’s a struggle. I’m looking at this and there are people I’ve known. I’ve seen Martins Licis, who just won the World’s Strongest Man. Since literally his first competition, he did. He’s in California, Southern California so he’d go to shows.

I won California’s Strongest Man as a under-200-pound competitor and he got mid-pack as a heavyweight. He was like 237 pounds back then. Literally a hundred pounds ago.

He had long hair, he didn’t look like any of the other strongmen. I’ve seen this guy progress the whole time. When people start…we were such a tight knit community and family and everyone knows each other.

It doesn’t matter if it’s me, or that, you look and you’re like, “Man.” When people are talking, it’s like people are talking crap on your family and they’re just sports fans.

They’re just saying, “Aaron Rodgers is a bum.” It happens in all sports, but you personally know these people, and he won some prize money for World’s Strongest Man, but most of these people live pretty simple to get there.

They, a lot of time, lose money going to these shows up until probably this past year, he probably has. People are saying he doesn’t deserve it, reading some comments. I’m not going to repeat them and just like, “Really? You’re going to try and discredit someone like that?”

I’ve seen this guy for five, six years, but again, it’s like you say as a journalist in the sport, it’s your job to try to educate people on that, not argue with people that are unaware.

David Thomas TaoDavid Thomas Tao

There are trolls in every sport. In a niche sport when something’s just beginning to get a lot more coverage…I’m used to reading every comment we get on Strongman related articles. Right?

Kalle BeckKalle Beck

Yeah. I used to.

David Thomas TaoDavid Thomas Tao

If you’re Stephen A. Smith on ESPN, you’re not going to read every comment on an article you write or a video you’re in. It’s a little tough for me personally and I’m sure for you to get out of that mindset and accept that you’re not going to recognize every name who’s commenting on your videos or commenting on your articles.

Kalle BeckKalle Beck

No. That’s impossible for it to grow to the point where it’s actually viable for me to make videos and articles like that. I honestly don’t make any money doing content creation for Strongman. Not directly.

Maybe it helped me build up a business, your name recognition, advertising. Then people then buy books I’ve written or wrote. Or sign up for online coaching. I pay my bills by training athletes, by doing one-on-one online coaching. All the other stuff pretty much.

Running a website is expensive. People don’t really understand that there are server fees. There’s domain registrations. There’s a lot. You know, but people don’t know. They think, “Oh, he just has a website.”

Every cent that every time someone buys an e-book off it that even if it wasn’t by another author, they’re like, “Ah, Kalle must just made 27 bucks again.” I’m like, “Mm-mm.”

Basically, all that stuff, for the most part, covers the operating cost to create the content. I still work for the money I actually get to spend to live and write articles.

David Thomas TaoDavid Thomas Tao

 It is interesting. Even as Hafthor gets bigger as BarBend has grown, I feel like I have to explain, too. I have the temptation to explain, too.

You just oftentimes don’t engage with this comment at that level like, “No, we’re a business. We have costs. It’s difficult to run. We have our writers, our editors. We have good days. We have bad days, but we’re here producing the content.”

You hope it gets monetized to a certain point, but it’s like anything else. You have to be cognizant of your margins, how much you’re spending. I’d love to send a team of editors, videographers, and photographers to every event, to every athlete’s gym. You just can’t at certain point. You have to pick your battles.

Kalle BeckKalle Beck

It’s not really sustainable. This world turned off. I used to get emails every time. I had someone who comment on my YouTube video.

David Thomas TaoDavid Thomas Tao

You have to shut that off.

Kalle BeckKalle Beck

All those notifications off. [laughs] I’m going crazy. It’s distracting me from my real job. That’s growth. That’s one of the struggles. Then the athletes are going to have to deal with that, too, because Strongman is such a great community and a happy family that I think it’s even more ill-prepared as other niche sports for fan criticism.

David Thomas TaoDavid Thomas Tao

That makes a lot of sense. You would know as both an athlete and someone really shepherding this community in many ways and coverage of it. I appreciate you sharing that. Before we wrap up, I do want to ask, how can people follow along with you, keep up to date with what you’re doing.

If they’re looking for online coaching, if they’re looking to read more. You’ve written several really fantastic in-depth guides and books. Where can they find out more about you and engage with you if they are more interested in doing that?

Kalle BeckKalle Beck

Yeah. If anyone’s interested in getting into the sport of Strongman, or just following along, @startingstrongman across social media. Kalle Beck.

We’re StartingStrongman on YouTube, startingstrongman.com. We have a online store, eBooks, and my programs coaching. I wrote a book called “How To Train Strongmen In A Regular Gym.” It’s all at story about [inaudible 42:01] startingstrongmen.com.

David Thomas TaoDavid Thomas Tao

Fantastic. Kalle, really appreciate you taking the time. It’s always a pleasure to chat with you and really looking forward to how Strongman continues to evolve over the next few years because I feel like we’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg here.

Kalle BeckKalle Beck

Yeah, I feel like I’ll actually maybe be able to actually to fly out to some of these shows. It might be more viable thing. It’s great to see it’s growing being in this work for 10 years. Five years, as far as covering it. Just, and basically my friends. Now, more people are interested in it.

I hope to continue to provide a little bit of value to those people who want to get into it. It’s a great sport.

I just want to axe the misconception that it’s only for giants. Anyone can pick up a keg or a farmer’s walk, a log. It’s fun. You don’t have to compete. Strongman’s for everyone.

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