Should CrossFitters Switch to Strongman? (with Hanna Coldiron)

Today we’re wrapping up our mini-series with elite strongwoman athletes. Hanna Coldiron is the 2021 world’s 7th strongest woman under 64kg, and she’s looking to better that result later in 2022. Hanna wears a lot of hats: athlete and contest promoter, in addition to working a full time job outside of strength athletics. She also got her start in CrossFit (a bit like multi-time World’s Strongest Man competitor Rob Kearney), and hearing her take on transitioning sports was eye-opening. If you’ve ever wanted to hear from a top strongman competitor in the lighter bodyweight categories — or are considering getting involved in the sport yourself — this is a great episode to listen to all the way through!

Strongwoman athlete Hanna Coldiron

In this episode of The BarBend Podcast, David Thomas Tao and Hanna Coldiron discuss: 

  • Hanna’s background in strength (2:00)
  • Getting her start in CrossFit (5:00)
  • Hanna’s training schedule (8:45)
  • Busting through deadlift plateaus (13:15)
  • Why strongman needs “more people willing to suck” (16:20)
  • Bringing back real circus strength (20:00)
  • Expanding top sport qualifiers (22:00)

Relevant links and further reading:

Transcription

I think the biggest thing right now is just more people willing to suck. There’s so many times you’ll see people not sign up for a contest or an event because they don’t think they can do that in 8 weeks, 10 weeks, 12 weeks.

 

We don’t get in this to make money, by any means. We take a loss on every single event that we do, but it’s to grow the sport at the end of the day. We need people in order to do that, so it’s OK to suck. It’s OK to zero an event. It’s one out of the five or one out of the four.

 

If more people were more open to, “Let’s just see how it goes,” versus, “I have to be able to nail every single thing before I sign up,” I think it would make the sport even better.

 

David TaoDavid Tao

Welcome to the “BarBend” podcast, where we talk to the smartest athletes, coaches, and minds from around the world of strength. I’m your host, David Thomas Tao, and this podcast is presented by barbend.com.

 

We’re going back-to-back this week and talking to yet another elite strongwoman athlete. Hanna Coldiron is the world’s seventh strongest woman under 64 kg. A result she’s looking to better heading into this year’s world championships. Hanna juggles multiple jobs, including a full-time job completely separate from the sport.

 

She also got her start in CrossFit, which is a bit unusual for a top Strongman or Strongwoman competitor. Hanna walks us through training, learning the sport, and what it’s like to be a top competitor in one of Strongwomen’s lighter-weight classes.

 

If you’re not an absolute behemoth and you’re still interested in competing in the sport of Strongman or Strongwoman, it’s always good to hear from some of the lighter body weight competitors. Hanna brings that great perspective, and I really hope you enjoy this episode. Let’s get to it.

 

Hanna, thanks so much for joining us today. We were waxing poetic a little bit before we started recording about the history of strength content and all that stuff, but here we are. We’re recording. People can hear. For those who don’t know, who are you? What do you do? Why the heck are you on this podcast?

My name’s Hanna Coldiron. I compete in Strongman. I’m also a contest promoter for Strongman Corp.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

Easy enough. You eat, sleep and breathe this stuff, basically?

Yeah, basically. Unless I’m cutting, it’s a lot less eating, I guess.

David TaoDavid Tao

Sleeping, breathing, fasted cardio, this stuff, basically.

Exactly.

David TaoDavid Tao

This sport is your profession and that you compete, but you also are on the event organization side of it, contest promotion side. How did you first get into the sport of Strongman, Strongwoman? Actually, did you do anything else in strength before that?

Yeah, I actually did CrossFit beforehand, and I did that for six, seven years. Same gym for the longest time.

 

I met my now boyfriend a little over three years ago. He was like, “Hey, you should try Strongman. Muscle-ups aren’t in there. It’s probably going to be more your speed.” I was like, “OK, I’ll give it a shot.” I thought I was going to the games. I was the next Brooke Wells. Started Strongman, fell in love with it. Now, I don’t miss anything about CrossFit except for the hour-long workout.

 

I do miss that. Other than that. [laughs]

David TaoDavid Tao

 

Hour-long meaning you’re in and out in an hour.

 

In and out in an hour. [laughs]

David TaoDavid Tao

Not the hour-long neck-on, yeah. If you could complete a full-event day in under an hour, I don’t think anyone in the sport of Strongman’s ever completed that under four hours.

No. Yeah. My boyfriend makes fun of me all the time. It takes me five hours to do three events. That’s pretty regular.

No. Yeah. My boyfriend makes fun of me all the time. It takes me five hours to do three events. That’s pretty regular.

David TaoDavid Tao

That’s about at pace. That seems like a fairly quick day. The transition from CrossFit to Strongman. You are actually the second person I’ve talked to about this. Rob Kearney actually transitioned from CrossFit to Strongman. Worked out pretty well for him.

 

What was that transition like for you? Were you immediately hooked? Or was it more of a gradual, start doing a little less CrossFit, a little more Strongman? It took a few months until you were completely converted.

 It was pretty gradual. I didn’t want to let go of CrossFit. I thought I would lose my shape, and I would gain a lot of weight because I wasn’t doing ridiculous amounts of cardio in a session of sort in a day.

 

The more and more I started hanging out with Strongman or people who did Strongman, the more and more it was easy to let go of the past and still find that group fitness camaraderie in a Strongman Saturday. I got to work out on my own and then still do a group-style training as well.

David TaoDavid Tao

Are you saying you prefer the social group in Strongman to the CrossFit social group?

[laughs] Yes, for sure. I work remote. I work from home or a gym. I don’t get a ton of social interaction outside of that. When I get to the gym, it’s pretty much social four, five hours. [laughs]

David TaoDavid Tao

What didn’t you like about the CrossFit community? This is going to be a question that’s going to get me in trouble but go for it.

No, the only things that, at least for me, is CrossFit brings people together in a really nice way. What I foresaw is the clique-ness aspect of the top-elite lifters would always hang out with one another. If you were new, you couldn’t really hang with them or run with them because they were Rx people.

 

Strongman, I feel, everyone is just going to help everyone no matter what. I really, really like that aspect of it.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

It definitely takes a village, because you can’t fully train in the sport of Strongman by yourself. It’s almost impossible unless you have assistants or helpers, or you hire someone to help you set everything up.

 

Right or you have to have a pit crew. [laughs]

David TaoDavid Tao

 

NASCAR has nothing on Strongman.

 

No. [laughs]

David TaoDavid Tao

 

 Let’s talk about your competition history. Did you compete in CrossFit?

Yeah, I did. I wasn’t very good. The highest level of competition I did was the fitness experience that you had to qualify for in Texas. After that, that sealed the deal for me. That I wasn’t going to go to regionals or the games because this was the highest level I could possibly get.

 

I still ended up pretty bottom of the barrel. Things come it. Full disclosure, I was not very good then. Now, competing in Strongman in my first two years made it to Worlds, ended seventh in the World. Last year get to go to compete in a little over a month now at Worlds for the second time. Started promoting contest as well along with it, just to give back to the sport, too.

 

It gives us so much that it’s nice to be able to give back and give other athletes a space to compete. That’s really fun.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

What was your job before you moved to contest promotion?

I still run a full-time job. I still [inaudible 6:38] . It’s my nine to five. I actually worked for the Lash Lounge. It’s a franchise lash extension company. I opened all the salons around the United States. I cover all of their opening process, all training and all marketing, all that kind of stuff, getting them open and on their feet.

 

Then, my five to nine outside of training is promoting these contests and getting more athletes involved in the sport. Without my boyfriend, I wouldn’t be able to do it. He helps a ton. I can’t do it by myself, [laughs] that’s for sure.

David TaoDavid Tao

Do you drink a lot of coffee? It sounds like you’re a very busy person.

 

 I literally have a death before decaf tattoo, which is ironic, because we’re…The clothing brand too that we have. Yeah, tons of coffee, overly caffeinated. No sleep is pretty much the norm.

David TaoDavid Tao

 I always wonder, like there are a breed of high-level athlete. I can’t perform on no sleep. One could argue that I can’t perform at an elite level under optimal conditions. If I don’t get eight or nine hours asleep, then I’m just barely hanging on by a thread.

 

How old are you if you don’t mind me asking?

 

 I’ll be 32 in November, early November.

David TaoDavid Tao

For Strongman that’s kind of entering the prime of your career, right?

 

I hope. [laughs] I’m seeing more and more girls enter the sport that are in their early 20s. I’m like, “Man, I wish I would have gotten this when I was that age.” I could have been — I don’t know — really, really good by now. I kind of do it, I guess. [laughs]

David TaoDavid Tao

You still have time. I noticed for CrossFit, the age of elite competitors seems to keep getting younger and younger and younger. Now, you have 17-year-olds who are making the podium at the CrossFit games, which is mind-blowing.

 

For Strongman and maybe powerlifting as well, it takes a little bit longer to build that base of strength. You see people tending to peak in their 30s, at least. That’s my passive observation. I’m not basing that on a proprietary data set or anything like that.

Oh, that’s all my research. You’re right. I’m going into my prime. I’m going to take that in. [laughs]

David TaoDavid Tao

 

You’ll be like, “Yeah, the guy from BarBend said, actually, ‘Based on…'”

 

I’m in my prime, so he’s not wrong. [laughs]

David TaoDavid Tao

 

There you go. Let’s talk about what training looks like for you. You’re about a month out. We’re recording this in late September 2022. You’re about a month out from Worlds. What is training look like, four or five weeks out for a big competition for you?

It’s heavy. It’s a big focus on events, but also a big focus on recovery. My coach is Sam Belliveauu out of Canada. I’ve been with her a year and a half, if not longer than that. She’s put up with me for quite some time. She’s really been a huge, huge…I owe it all, basically, to her.

 

She’s taken me from a semi-OK lifter to World Elite by hammering away at all the weaknesses. Going into four to five weeks out, it’s very event focused. There’s not a lot of extra outside of the events that we’re working on. I’m not doing any other implements that’s not going to be in the contest. Everything I’m doing is in strict guidelines with that.

 

There’s ranges. There’s a lot of reps. There’s a lot of time under tension. This is the time to get all the motor skills right and get ready for contest along with [inaudible 9:54] down.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

Oh, yeah. Talk about that. You’re a weight-class athlete. What weight class do you compete at?

I compete as a 140 or 64 kg. I usually walk around anywhere from like 152 to 155. Normally, my off-season. It’s a slow and steady race to get down to water load weight so I can make a pretty easy way in. That’s the goal.

David TaoDavid Tao

How close do you get to weight and then the rest of it is water weight that you’re cutting?

 

I usually get down to about anywhere from 148 to 150. It’s not much. It’s not much to actually cut off of me, but it’s enough where I can usually get that down in a water load pretty easy.

 

My last one started around 150 and my water cut at 143, I just had to really sweat off a couple pounds, not too bad. In comparison to my first one, it went much, much better.

David TaoDavid Tao

It’s something that you get better at with experience because you learn how your body adapts a little bit better.

 

 

My body’s sensitive to salt, so I have to be careful with that because my legs like to look like hot dogs afterward. I’ve just got to be a little careful with some of that stuff, but my coach guides me right through it. If she tells me to do it, I just do it. Whatever’s on the sheet, I’m going to do it.

David TaoDavid Tao

My coach, when I was weightlifting used to tell me that if he could just cut off my head, it would make me a better athlete. I’d drop a weight class and I’d be much more agreeable.

 

Still working on that, but it took me a while to realize how insulting that was. It was years later where I was like, “Wait a minute. He really didn’t like me,” but I wasn’t at the world level like you. That makes sense. Which events are you most looking forward to, event or events are you most looking forward to at the competition coming up?

It’s a little twofold. Now, the contest is three days long, but you only can make it to the third day if you’re in the top 10 of your weight class. There’s about 35 possibly 40 girls I’m going against in mine. I haven’t counted them all out, but I’ve just creeped most of them on Instagram. About 35, 37 or so girls I’m going against.

 

I’ve got to make it in the top 10 to get to day three. The first two days events that I’m really excited about is the Viking Press. I’ve never done that in competition before. This is the first time I’ve prepped for something like that on an implement, so that’s going to be really cool for me.

 

Then Sandbag to Shoulder is one of our other events that got really popular by the CrossFit games as well. It’s going to be cool to see that on a big scale for us to go in a row and not just do one.

 

Day three are all my best events. It is the car yoke where we actually carry a car for 50 feet, Atlas Zone medley where you’re going to load higher weights down to lower platforms, and then circus dumbbell.

 

There’s a circus dumbbell ladder and that’s one of my best events is dumbbell.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

You have to eat your vegetables before you get to dessert, dessert being the third day here.

Exactly. The whole goal is to be in that top 10 so I can really have some fun on day three.

David TaoDavid Tao

Which events, and there are so many events in the sport of Strongman. There’s an infinite combination of events and implements. That’s one reason I think a lot of people gravitate toward it because it doesn’t really get boring. Which events or implements are you not as big a fan of?

 

 I’m not a big fan of any deadlift from the ground. [laughs]

David TaoDavid Tao

 

Why is that? Some people have shorter arms, some people have different leverages, some people just don’t like it. What’s your…?

It’s heavy. It’s just always heavy. When I came out of CrossFit, I had a very CrossFit-style deadlift, meaning I already yield everything. I really had to relearn and take some humble pie along with it.

 

I literally stuck at 275 for a year because I just couldn’t figure out my form, my back would break down or, I wasn’t doing it right. I had to really relearn it. It’s becoming a better event for me, but deadlift from the floor is just not as much fun.

 

I do like the elevated versions of the lift. I actually have a national record in an 18-inch deadlift, which I never thought I’d ever have a deadlift record of any sort, but that one’s way off the ground and way easier than from the ground.

 

Things I love though is like, I used to not be that great of a presser, but I love any pressing medley. I love Log, I love Axle. I’m really excited if those are ever in contests along with circus dumbbell, but my CrossFit background really helped out in the moving events. I love yoke. I love anything moving-related-carries. Those are probably a really good favorite for me.

 

You get a little sweaty, you get to tax a little bit of movement, and then also just critique your form too. If you miss pick a bag, it’s not going to go very well. [laughs]

David TaoDavid Tao

 

Fair enough. You watched the sandbag loading, the Sandbag to Shoulder event at the CrossFit games, or unless I would assume you went back and watched it?

 

Oh, yeah, I was watching it. [laughs]

David TaoDavid Tao

 

What did you think of that? A lot of these athletes had never done that before. It’s something Strongman athletes do with some frequency. What did you think as someone who trains that, looking at these very fit athletes may be doing it for the first time?

 I thought they all did fantastic. I really paid close attention to the girls that are my size and just saw their technique and how they did it, and Strongman, we wear so much like a supportive gear. We’re in elbow sleeves, wrist wraps, knee sleeves, sleeves on top of that, a sleeve for our head. Who knows? We just wear it all.

 

To see these athletes only use a Velcro belt to get some of this stuff done was just insane to me, just shows a pure athleticism that they have. Just the grit, having to sit there and fight it for a minute, that’s tough. I’ve been there. It’s tough. [laughs]

David TaoDavid Tao

It feels like a five-minute lift sometimes because you’re like, every part of that feels it’s agony and it’s like holding a plank. Time slows down, but even worse because you have to gradually move it up your body so it gets worse and worse and worse.

 

Exactly. [laughs] There’s a little tipping point where you’re either going to lose it or you might lose an erector in the same process.

David TaoDavid Tao

You might lose a ligament. You might lose something. You have to make that calculus in your head. I want to zoom out a little bit and obviously, you might be a little bit biased because you are a promoter of contests and you work with a promoter of contests. What do you think the sport of Strongman can do or needs in the coming years to grow even more?

 

We were talking before we started recording about how long BarBend has been around about six and a half years and the growth of the sport from 2016 to 2022 has been astronomical, and that’s not just on the men’s open, the guys at world’s strongest men’s side, that’s on the women’s side, that’s in the lighter bodyweight categories, it’s in all the divisions.

 

What do you think the sport needs in order to continue that growth moving forward?

The biggest thing right now is more people willing to suck. There’s so many times you’ll see people not sign up for a contest or an event because they don’t think they can do that in 8 weeks, 10 weeks, 12 weeks. Promoters put so much time, effort, money into this stuff and to get 30 people show up.

 

We don’t get in this to make money by any means. We take a loss on every single event that we do, but it’s to grow the sport at the end of the day, and it needs people in order to do that. It’s OK to suck. It’s OK to zero an event. It’s one out of the five or one out of the four.

 

If more people were more open to let’s just see how it goes versus I have to be able to nail every single thing before I sign up, I think it would make the sport even better because then you’re going to have real athletes like that hit those personal best on the platform that everyone can cheer for that makes the sport even more fun, but you got to be OK to suck a little bit. [laughs]

David TaoDavid Tao

Also, there’s something to be said about a competition experience grabbing people and sucking them in a little bit more because it’s fun to compete. In a very niche sport like this, you’re going to meet like-minded people. You might have more fun off the field of play just hanging out with people, grabbing beers after, just hanging out after making some friends.

 

I have the feeling that if more people competed even if they were at the novice level, they’d get bitten by the bug a little bit more and want to go after it a little bit more.

 

Our next show it’s next weekend, it’s the biggest show we’re going to put on probably for some time. We’re hosting it in a circus tent. We are taking Strongman back to its roots and hosting it in a live circus tent with some circus performers and performing in between the events.

 

We’re trying to make it not only a fun contest but a spectacle as well, that not only the public would love to see but their friends and family that spectators would enjoy to watch. We’re excited about that one.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

Is the final event fighting a clown?

 It is not, but the biggest clown on site, [laughs] he will be there. That’s why the whiskey barrel squats going to be involved. We’ve got some other like the circus dumbbell is in that contest and we’re doing a car deadlift in a different variation of deadlift that no one’s ever done because it’s a pretty new implement to the sport.

 

We’re trying to make it as fun as possible, especially for some of these people’s first time. This is going to be one of those like, “Man, I hope the next one you do stick, makes up for it. We didn’t burst your bubble on the first one, that not all contests are done this way.” I think that’s going back to that original question of what could the sport use, it’s good promoters.

 

People that don’t do this for money, that don’t do it to pad their pocketbook, that try to give back to the sport in any way that they can, by at least creating a space for people to compete.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

Did you all partner with a circus or did you find these performers separately?

 

I coach on the side as well, that’s my midnight job. [laughs]

David TaoDavid Tao

I was going to say because two jobs, three jobs is not enough. That’s clearly.

[laughs] I do coach and one of my athletes, her name’s Simone, she owns a circus along with her husband. They are traveling circus. They travel the nation. They do all sorts of shows, all sorts of bits all around. They’re making a stop in our town next weekend to perform the night before.

 

Then we buy them out on Saturday to use their tent and their helpers to spot and load. [laughs]

David TaoDavid Tao

Do they have a strong man or a strong woman in the circus?

 

Not actually as an event, but she performs multiple roles in that circus. She’s a trapeze artist, she does aerial stuff. She unicycles, she MCs it. She wears very many hats or married many circus hats, I guess if you will.

David TaoDavid Tao

 It seems to me like that has fallen out of favor. I have been to the circus a few times because I’m a well-adjusted adult, in my life. No, circuses are a lot of fun, but I don’t think I’ve been and ever seen a circus strong man or strong woman like you might have stereotypically seen a hundred years ago in the circus.

 

Is that because they’re all competing in your events?

Probably

 

Or they’re like real strong men that like have to go lift at their gym and not into like a circus 10. I’m not sure, but some of those old school pictures that you see in, that if you just google strong man, that’s what you’re going to get. You see a guy on a leotard holding a like dumbbell over his head. I literally have one tattooed on the back of my arm. [laughs]

 

That’s what you see and that’s what people think about when they think about the circus for the first time, which is ironic that they’ve moved away from a couple of those things. Probably just for safety. That’s what I would assume it’s for. [laughs]

 

Let’s see this thousand-pound brick hurt someone, hopefully not, and replacing that stuff.

David TaoDavid Tao

The liability might be expensive there. See, I live in Brooklyn and Brooklyn has its own history of strongman culture, which is on the Coney Island boardwalk. It was a lot of feats of strength, but it was a lot of like bending coins and bending hammers and wrenches. A lot of grip strength stuff.

 

The Coney Island strongman is like its own sort of thing. A little bit less of like the giant dumbbells and lifting up elephants and shit like that.

 

That’s like super human tricks, almost. [laughs]

David TaoDavid Tao

 It’s like super human tricks where it’s…I don’t know. I met David Blaine once, and he was bending coins, and I was like, and everyone was really impressed. I was like, “Bro, that’s not a magic trick.” I read about strongman. I’ve seen that.

 

That is something that they still do on the boardwalk occasionally, and they have some people who have inherited that legacy. It’s interesting to me to see that that has been decoupled from circus culture now, but maybe this is where it all comes back together. Maybe that’s like…

That’s what I’m hoping for. Depending on how this one goes. We want to make it like an annual thing and hopefully, make it like an Arnold qualifier where they could go compete at the Arnold the next year if they make it in the top.

 

Just bring more of that old-school stuff back and give amateurs a really cool venue to compete in.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

I think you should require folks to compete in leotards just to…

 

Some already are.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

 Leopard print leotards, of course.

 

I have allowed, not the strictest dress code, I guess. I still want them to wear the contest t-shirt because it’s very cool. If they want to compete in a leotard, they can have at it.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

What do you think, over the past few years, in your involvement in Strongman over the past few years, do you think there are any trends that have not been super positive or things where you’re like, “Heh, I don’t necessarily see that as the best for the sport?”

There’s a gaming aspect to some of these contests [inaudible 23:17] which, as a good competitor, you learn how to do in the beginning but what I was told by one of my first coaches and I’ll never forget it, she goes “You need to be better about being mean.”

 

I was like, “Huh? What? I’m not a mean person.” I go to contest to meet other people and mingle and learn more about the sporting, gets more friends. She’s like, “Sometimes the girls are mean, that’s, Hanna, how it is. They like to game it a little bit more. You’ve got to learn how to warm up on your own and be a little more aggressive with how you compete those days.”

 

More in the bigger level stuff. On the local level, it’s a little bit different but I think something that is not the most positive is like dog eat dog. I’m not going to tell you my opening numbers or anything like that, or I’m not going to help you warm up, or I’m not for me, me, me versus…

 

The end of the day you’re competing with a bunch of people and that’s what it takes to get warmed up correctly. That’s what it takes to have a positive competition experience was helping other people out.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

If you were to play mind games with a competitor, who would you want to get into that scuffle with?

 

Oh. I don’t know.

David TaoDavid Tao

Who would be your arch-nemesis if you had one?

In Strongman? Oh, man. She’s one of my friends, but we have this rivalry back and forth where she’s beat me, I beat her and we’ve gone back and forth for a couple of years. One of my good friends Christine, she’s the one that [inaudible 24:50] at worlds last year.

 

I’m thinking in my head, these are my better events than her. I am a little bit taller so these benefit me a little bit more and she was, for sure, that I was going to beat her in those events. We were neck and neck where I was seventh place and she was sixth place going into the last day.

 

We was just a point or two between us and she ended up beating me in one of my token-favored events. This has been one of those like I’m getting her back next time. Next time we compete, I am beating her. She’s my arch nemesis, I guess, [laughs] because I beat her last contest. We’re going against each other again in a month or so. We’ll see who prevails.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

We record these ahead of time, but I’ll have to publish this in just the next couple of weeks just so she can listen. You can send it to her and be like, “Hey, coming for you, eyes on the prize.”

Hanna, where is the best place for people to follow along with you, your training, upcoming competitions, and your work in the sport?

I’m on Instagram. It’s just @hannacoldiron. I don’t have an “H” at the end of my first name. It’s just my first name last name on Instagram or Facebook. That’s where I post a lot of my stuff, a lot of my training. We also have a cloak like a retail brand and we post a lot of our upcoming contests and designs that we’ve done. That’s going to be death before dishonor slot company on Instagram.

 

We’ve got a website, all that good stuff that people can follow along and see what crazy contraptions we’re coming out with for the next couple of events and stuff like that. We pride ourselves in making a lot of our stuff for our contest or knowing a really good welder that makes it for us. We want to bring something new to every contest that they haven’t done before and make it really fun every time.

David TaoDavid Tao

Hanna, I super appreciate your time. It’s been great getting to know you. Wishing you the best of luck in training leading up to the competition and thanks so much for joining us today.

 

Thank you.