In 2019, Martins Licis of the United States won his first World’s Strongest Man title after back-to-back fourth places finishes in 2017 and 2018.
Iceland’s Hafthor Bjornsson won World’s Strongest Man in 2018 and finished third in 2019 despite tearing his plantar fascia. In less than one month’s time, from March 5th-8th, the 2020 Arnold Strongman Classic will take place in Columbus, Ohio and both athletes are expected to compete.
Bjornsson won the last two Arnolds and Licis is last year’s runner-up. So what do two of the top strongmen in the world do to prepare for an event where their biggest competition is likely to be each other? They train together.
Check out their training session at Bjornsson’s gym in this video below from Bjornsson’s YouTube channel:
Relevant Time Stamps
- 0:32 | Bag Throws
- 1:34 | Licis’s Bag Throws
- 5:56 | Squats
- 6:55 | Bjornsson squats 188.2kg/415lb for a double
- 8:49 | Bjornsson squats 229kg/505lb for a triple.
- 9:30 | Bjornsson squats 229kg/505lb for another triple.
- 10:00 | Yoke Pushes
- 19:43 | Quick Set of Hamstring Curls
- 20:08 | Wrap Up
[Related: Watch Martins Licis’ documentary about his World’s Strongest Man win.]
At Bjornsson’s gym, practicing the bag toss has an added element of danger. If you watched the video, you’ll see that the bar they attempt to throw the bag over is the guard railing of the second level of the gym. So if they don’t clear the railing, the bag will fall back on top of them. Licis was nearly hit in this exact way at 2:25.
Bjornsson makes some quick throws with 30kg/66lb and 35kg/77lb bags. He fails to clear some, but that seemed more a product of warming-up than having trouble with the weight. The film crew chats with Bjornsson between sets to get a sense of what is on the agenda for the day’s training session. As he lays out the schedule, Bjornsson says he will finish the bag toss with a 43kg/95lb bag. This surprises Licis, the 2020 Arnold Strongman USA champion. Licis confirms how heavy the bag is because he did not believe it at first. You can see him shake his head in disbelief at 3:52.
I guess there was good reason for the incredulity. Bjornsson successfully tossing that 43kg/95lb bag over the railing is a new gym personal record.
They make it a point in the video to show off Bjornsson’s brand new custom squat rack that is fully detailed with his name across the top. When you’re one of the strongest men in the world, it makes sense that your squat rack would be tricked out.
When Bjornsson laid out the plan for the training session earlier in the day, he continued to reiterate that he would go light on the squats. “Nothing heavy, we want to stay fresh.” Of course, “heavy” means something entirely different to the +400lb man they call “The Mountain”. He begins his squat session with a 188.2kg/415lb double.
He then bumps it up to 229kg/505lb, which he knocks out for a triple. Then knocks out 229kg/505lb for a triple again.
Licis is not on camera performing any squats. During that time, he was working on his deadlift elsewhere in the gym.
Bjornson explains that the yoke pushes are intended to simulate the Wheel of Pain; a strongman event where an athlete pushes a giant mill in a circle. You can see toward the end of the video above from the 2019 Arnold Strongman Classic that Licis beat out Bjornsson in the event by 6 inches.
At around the 10 minute mark of their training video, Licis pushes the yoke with surprisingly fast feet. The camera operator says “that was a world record.” Licis responds, “It will be.”
Bjornsson and Licis start their yoke pushes (at 10:27 and 10:49 respectively) with 163kg/360lb plus the weight of the yoke itself. Yokes usually hover around 90kg/200lb, which means they are pushing somewhere in the range of 254kg/560lb. After that, Bjornsson adds an additional plate to each of the four posts on the yoke; an 81.6kg/180lb increase.
A challenge is issued by Bjornsson where the two strongmen race to see who can push the yoke the farthest in one minute. Licis is jokingly reluctant, but accepts the challenge. At 12:53 they play three rounds of rock, paper, scissors to determine who will go first. Licis wins two out of three and touts that he won the most important part of the challenge.
At 14:26, Bjornsson manages to push the yoke nearly a full two and a half laps. At the end of each lap, Bjornsson needs to change to the other side of the yoke to push it back the other way which, for a man his size, costs him some time. It is clear this challenge is not easy, as Bjornsson is heaving air at the end of it.
At 15:45, Licis sets himself up on the yoke and is fast out of the gate when giving the go from the timekeeper. Licis’ height (6 foot 3 inches) seemed to give him an edge over the taller Bjornsson (6 foot 9 inches). Licis leveraged that advantage by adopting the strategy of going under the crossbar of the yoke to change sides rather than go around.
Ultimately, Licis knew how far he needed to push the yoke to win and is able to do so within the allotted time.
Victory: Martins Licis
Afterwards, Licis is super winded as Bjornsson congratulates him on the win. Licis says that the most important way to win is to be good at rock, paper, scissors before falling to the ground to catch his breath.
Bjornsson and Licis recap what they accomplished in the day’s training session and discuss the benefits of training together; that a better sense of where each other is in training helps push them both to get stronger. Sometimes to beat the best, you have to train with the best. At the very least, it’s more fun to train with your friends.
In addition to the 2020 Arnold Strongman Classic, the 2020 World’s Strongest Man competition date has been announced. It is scheduled to take place from Wednesday, May 20th to Sunday, May 24th in Bradenton, Florida. Judging from the work Bjornsson and Licis are already putting in, it will be exciting to see who can best whom and stand atop the podium.
Feature image from Marins Licis’ Instagram page: @martinslicis