As we close in on the 2020 Arnold Strongman Classic, Martins Licis is approaching the contest in the middle of a long journey that has had its fair share of peaks and valleys. He shocked many people in the world of strongman by winning the World’s Strongest Man title last summer but has also faced nerve issues due to a bone spur in his neck that stems back to when he played football. This setback has been impacting his performance in competition and in training.
Nonetheless, he pulled off an amazing comeback by winning the Arnold Strongman USA in January and is now focused on the tasks ahead of him in Columbus. In this interview, Licis talks about life after winning the WSM, how he’s overcoming the adversity he has faced, what is ahead for him, and more.
Disclaimer: This interview took place before the Arnold Sports Festival and the Governor of Ohio announced that the Expo would be cancelled and spectators would be restricted. Stay tuned to BarBend for further developments and results from the competitions in Columbus.
BarBend: No doubt fans can imagine how winning a title like World’s Strongest Man can change someone’s life in ways that are expected. Has being the champion led to any changes or differences that you didn’t expect?
Licis: I feel like everything so far has been pretty expected. There’s been a greater following, more opportunities, more sponsorships, recognition. I guess one thing that I didn’t expect is that I’m pretty burned out. I really have this deep desire to give my body a rest.
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BarBend: That actually leads me into my next question. Right after WSM, you were in a Giants Live event, you’ve made several appearances, been training and showing that on YouTube, and recently had that comeback victory in Santa Monica. Now the ASC is approaching and you’ve been recovering from your nerve damage and injuries along the way. Outside of the physical toll, how has that impacted you mentally?
Licis: That’s been tough. There are more eyes on me than ever before, more pressure for me to perform, and more pressure for me to maintain the title. Right now with how my body’s feeling to go along with that pressure, it’s been tough to face that.
BarBend: What have you been doing to overcome that and stay focused and moving forward? Much like Brian Shaw won’t be in Ohio and is now focused on World’s, I don’t think anyone would’ve blamed you missing the Arnold due to what you’ve faced.
Licis: I almost did actually. I almost pulled out of the show because I figured it would be best to rest my body and recover fully. But I am going to compete, to fight, and I’m also doing Arnold Australia, Bahrain, which is the World’s Ultimate Strongman, then World’s, and then I’m taking a long break.
BarBend: So what is it that’s keeping you going at this point?
Licis: My ultimate goal is to win the World’s, Arnold, and World Ultimate Strongman in Dubai. I think having all three of those titles would make me one of the greats. So that’s actually the ultimate goal. I want all three of those titles.
BarBend: Is the Australia event a backup plan in case you don’t win in Ohio this weekend?
Licis: Yeah. I was hoping to get my strength up more before Ohio but at this point the goal is to get points and to get an invite for next year’s Arnold. So if I can get points this weekend and win in Australia, I’ll be qualified and can try to win next year’s. Of course, I’m still going into this year’s with the intention of destroying this one but I know my body and I know where I’m at. I like going into contests feeling confident about every event.
BarBend: How are you working to recover from the injuries and setbacks that you’ve been dealing with at this point in your prep?
Licis: Rest, stretching, using a Theragun, ice in general, eating the right amount of food, and also pulling back on the volume and intensity in training lots, significantly. I haven’t been deadlifting nearly as much as I would have liked to.
BarBend: Some of the times you have been deadlifting were when you were in Iceland recently training with Hafthor Bjornsson. You’ve seen him training up close. Do you think he will get the 501 kg that he has his sights set on?
Licis: He can definitely get it. If anyone can get it, Thor can get it. I don’t know if he’s going to try at Arnold Ohio because I think he wants to get it to the point that no one questions that Thor is the world’s greatest deadlifter. If he did it on the elephant bar, the haters and naysayers would still say it was on the Elephant Bar, even though it would be without a suit. I think Thor wants to do it to a point where nobody will question it. That’s why he wants to do it in Bahrain under the same conditions as Eddie’s.
BarBend: Explain the dynamic of training with a rival that you also consider a friend like Thor.
Licis: Fun, don’t know what else to say. Normally I’m much stronger and I can see what I can beat him in. This year because of the injury, this last time was more humbling. I am a little behind on my strength and he’s stronger than I’ve ever seen him. It’s frightening.
BarBend: What was great, though, is that he was helping you with events like the bag toss and circus dumbbell. The camaraderie in your sport is different than others. Why do you think that is?
Licis: I feel like that’s something that has only occurred in recent years. Romark and I were talking about this the other night. I can’t explain it. Not to toot our own horn but maybe it’s us and something we’re good at doing but it’s definitely fun. We send each other jokes and memes all the time. Another guy who is pushing the friendliness and joy is Rob Kearney. He’s a great guy and super strong too.
BarBend: One of the things that fans say about you is that for a strongman, you’re a great overall athlete. I believe you were also a world champion in MAS Wrestling. How do you feel that experience and athleticism from that sport helps you in your current sport?
Licis: That’s right I was. One thing I think that it gives me is more focus. A lot of these guys that are pure power, they rely on that brute strength and they might miss a second here or there in transition. I might not be the strongest but I can transition, let’s say in the stone medley, from one stone to the next very quickly by shuffling my feet and repositioning myself and moving to the next one. That valuable time that I shave off can make a difference. I think MAS wrestling, wrestling in general, and football has helped me with footwork, hand/eye coordination and being able to reposition myself.
BarBend: Talk about what help Odd Haugen and Romark (his business partner and friend) have been for you throughout the process. Odd has had a legendary career in his own right and Romark is involved with almost everything you’re doing.
Licis: Odd is extremely good at focusing my mind and keeping me sane because of his experience and wisdom. He’s able to get through to me and to get me to stop worrying as much as I normally would. He believed the training is there and when I’m in competition the adrenaline and reckless abandon will take over and the weights will go up. I like to think that I can make that happen because I’ll be there for a bigger purpose. I’m there to inspire people, to help them get excited about strongman, and to get them stronger themselves.
Romark being here has been life changing. He makes up for a bunch of shortcomings. He can help me focus, he gives the middle finger occasionally, like he’s doing right now, he also helps me get organized because I get overwhelmed with messages, emails, and everything else. It’s been a game changer having him in my corner. He’s like Alfred to Batman.
BarBend: I appreciate you taking the time this close to the Arnold, Martins, anything you want to add?
Licis: Nothing comes to mind besides see you in Ohio.
Featured Images: Instagram/martinslicis