The Keys to Elite Overhead Strength (w/ Nicolas Cambi)

Today we’re talking to Nicolas Cambi, one of the world’s top strongman athletes in the 105kg weight category. We talk about his strongman origins — including training at a famous gym I used to frequent — and how the sport has grown over the past decade. What’s the future of strongman look like? And what are those weird looking, floppy bars Nicolas is famous for training with? All that and more in this episode of The BarBend Podcast.

Nicolas Cambi BarBend Podcast

On this episode of The BarBend Podcast, host David Thomas Tao talks to Nicolas Cambi about:

  • Is Nicolas Cambi a 105kg “lifer”? (02:00)
  • How Olympic lifting backgrounds can benefit strongman athletes (06:40)
  • The “Tsunami Bar” (07:07)
  • Training in three-week blocks, and how Nicolas manages deload training (12:20)
  • The challenges of moving up to the Open category in strongman (one example: Rob Kearney) (18:20)
  • Who Nicolas admires in the sport of strongman (23:00)

Relevant links and further reading:


Nicolas CambiNicolas Cambi

Generally in my training, I will build the power using off the rack or off the blocks. Then maybe the last two weeks the last one week, before I want to hit a large lift, I’ll use a tsunami bar, and that brings out the speed after I build the power and, again, it reinforces that form. I’ll be ready to go the competition.

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


Today, I’m talking to Nicolas Cambi, one of the world’s top Strongman athletes in the men’s 105-kilogram weight category. We talked about his Strongman origins, including training at a famous gym I used to frequent and how the sport has grown over the past decade. What’s the future of Strongman look like? What are those weird-looking floppy bars Nicolas is famous for training with?


All that and more in this episode of the BarBend Podcast. Before we get into that, I want to give a quick shout out to today’s episode sponsor, Athletic Greens.


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All right, Nicolas. Thanks so much for joining us today. For those who might not be super familiar with your accomplishments in the sport of Strongman, how long have you been competing? What class do you compete in? What’s maybe your proudest accomplishment so far?

Nicolas CambiNicolas Cambi

Cool. Thank you for having me on, David. Of course, it’s a pleasure. I’m competing and this will be nine years, this past spring or the spring right now. We’re almost in the summer. I almost consider this like my 10th season. I’m in progress of my 10th season right now.


I have stuck to competing to the 105-kilo or 231 category. It’s a course of weight that I have always been at. I haven’t jumped into the amateur heavy contest, but I would think that most likely I might potentially be a lifer at 105 kilo.


Again, I enjoy just the bodyweight. Maybe one day to the heavy weights, but right now my focus is 105 kilos. Then in terms of accomplishments, I would say that I turned to pro in 2015 and that was great.


Won my 105-kilo pro card, but since then I haven’t won a contest. I went on a six-year drought which was, again, tough, but I think you learn a lot in that drought. Every contest is…You can do well, but you’re still unsatisfied, so you keep pushing for more.


Going into this past contest that was a Clash on the Coast. Given that it was 11 events…not only 11 events, almost like 18, 19 implements that you had to train for, which is generally a lot of times, you maybe have five or six implements that you need to train for contests.


This was the most challenging. Then come in day three when everybody’s beat up and tired like, “Can you really perform on the final stage?” I had probably one of my best performances.


I was a Clash on the Coast by the biggest accomplishment I have had up to date, but I’ve had other top accomplishments in terms of second at World’s Strongest Man in my weight class back in 2017. I’ve podium at America’s Strongest Man 105-kilo a couple of times, taking second and third. Then, I have various other contests where I’ve podium. I was always the bridesmaid, but not quite the bride.


I’m glad that I was able to get that monkey off my back.

David TaoDavid Tao

One awesome thing about Clash on the Coast, not only did you come away with the victory, but you set a fantastic record in the axle clean and press. It was the talk of the town in the Strongman community, which is always the biggest community.


It’s one we really wanted to highlight. We posted about it on social, we wrote about it. Tell us a little about that axle clean and press world record. What did you end up with, and is that something that going into this contest you thought you had a legitimate shot to take?

Nicolas CambiNicolas Cambi

Yeah, absolutely. I was pretty excited when I was in the contest. Originally my goal was 418 but they came really close with 417, just given the weights and the small change plates that they had.


We went with 417 and I was pretty confident I was able to hit it. A couple months prior I hit 415, and that wasn’t even using an axle. That was working on muscle cleans and power cleans and doing my regular push press and split jerk work.


Not necessarily all together, but I built a good foundation. I was able to hit something good in training, so I knew that, if I’ve got to continue on that path, I was going to be there.


I got to the point where it was like, “Do I go for the record if I get pushed?” Again, it’s the third day of competition. Of course, you don’t want to risk injury but there’s not many opportunities where such in a big spot life for the 105 kilos, so this might have been my only shot.


My axle clean and press has always been a good event of mine. For the most part, I think back in 2014, I hit 395. In 2015, I had two axle contests. A max axle contest where I hit 380 and 385 in competition. That’s why I just needed to win at the time, but then I haven’t had a max axle since.


This is my first max axle within the six years I’ve been competing as a pro, within my pro career. I was very excited once it came about. A lot of the background, in terms of having a good axle, came from my Olympic lifting. That’s when I started Strongman. Probably like a year after I started Strongman, I took up Olympic lifting at the same time.

David TaoDavid Tao

Yeah, it’s always interesting to see. You can always tell which Strongman competitors have an Olympic lifting background. It’s just the nature of the movement is a little bit different. Some would say a little bit cleaner, a little bit faster.


One thing I want to talk about when it comes to your training. Something that you’re famous for online. I think people have the misconception it’s the only way you train. It’s not, I’m sure, but the Tsunami Bar or the earthquake bar. I don’t know exactly…

Nicolas CambiNicolas Cambi

Yes. Tsunami Bar.

David TaoDavid Tao

Tsunami Bar.

Nicolas CambiNicolas Cambi

Anything that flops is always like a natural disaster bar.

David TaoDavid Tao

[laughs] That’s a good way to put it. I hadn’t thought about that. Yeah, if it’s flopping around and making the movement more challenging in some way, it’s a natural disaster bar. Great. Got it.


Tell us about how you first came across that implement and how you’ve gradually incorporated it into your training. It’s something that I’ll admit we’ve posted some of your lifts with it before online. People are like, “What the heck is going on? This isn’t legit. This is kind of stupid.”


We’re like, “Well, Nicolas Cambi is a really accomplished athlete. He’s onto something here.” It’s clearly something that is working in your training. Tell us about how you first came across it.


Nicolas CambiNicolas Cambi

Sure. I think one of the reps reached out to my gym owner, C.J. Murphy, back in 2015, 2016. We had their middle bar, which is their Force bar now, which back then was level three. You can’t put the most weight on it, but you can still put about up to 300 pounds pretty comfortably and be able to press that.


I saw that in the gym. I started messing around. I liked it. Then, gradually, over time…It took me…I was using the bar for about three years before they brought me on as an ambassador. What I realized was that, of course, it makes the…Especially in the application of pressing and so far, pressing has been my favorite application for it.


It reinforces form, because if you have too much of a knee bend or you’re not doing a proper…If you’re not pushing your head through in the lift. Or if you’re not in a good solid stance when you catch the bar, for instance, it’s going to humble you. If your form is not precise, you’re going to fail a lift.


That’s one thing that I realized right off the bat. The second piece was I was able to get to a certain speed that I never was able to do with a regular bar. Of course, a certain part of the movement are harder. I would say it makes the sticking points much more difficult. Also at the bottom, you have to brace and really force that bar up.


Especially in Olympic lifting, not only do you have a great bend, but you also are trying to get the bar off your chest or body pop it up. It forces the mechanics. The stability comes in there, in terms of pounding that when it comes to…It doesn’t really flop up and down, but when it gets to a certain weight also moves you back and forth. There’s a degree of difficulty in that sense.


Within the first few years, I realized that. As I kept progressing, it turned into my finer tool. Let’s just say, for instance, you have a certain technique and you’re sandpapering it down. You use the hard sandpaper first and then you use the finer piece.


Generally, in my training, I would build the power using off the rack or off the blocks. Then maybe the last two weeks or the last one week, before I want to hit a large lift, I’ll use a tsunami bar. That brings out the speed after I build the power and reinforces that form. I’ll be ready to go to the competition.


Coming into this last Clash on the Coast training, I used the last two weeks to refine my form, refine my speed, and I was ready to go.

David TaoDavid Tao

I love that analogy using sandpaper, because if you ever had to…I was recently had to sand down the handles of some kettlebells to clean some rust off. You have to start with the coarse sandpaper and working down to the fine. It’s such a good analogy for approaching a competition and heading into a competition.

Nicolas CambiNicolas Cambi

Absolutely. You want to peak. I feel it’s a great tool for me to peak, but there’s many different applications for it.

David TaoDavid Tao

We’ll get back to the conversation in just a moment, but first a quick shout out to our episode sponsor, Athletic Greens.


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When you’re approaching a competition, Clash on the Coast is a good example. You started using the tsunami bar a couple weeks out to refine your technique and work on some of the timing and tempo, which I think people underestimate for these lifts. Tempo can be everything. If your timing is off by a couple of milliseconds, game over.


What are some other strategies you’re using heading into a competition? Do you do a prescribed deload? Everyone approaches it a little differently. I’m curious how you do.

Nicolas CambiNicolas Cambi

Last seven weeks was a three-week block, a deal of week, a two-week block, deload, and then competition. That’s how I set it up. I generally like a three-week block into a deload. The deload, of course, you’re going 50 percent or taking the time off, but also that’s a good tip.


Sometimes I’ll bring in like the snobbery bar for light work then, or do light split jerks, or just do some of my speed movements, something that’s less taxing during that time.


Going into, I would say, for instance, for Clash, I tried it. The Clash was a three-day contest. I try to do three heavy days in a row at times or two heavy days in a row. I try mimic the competition in a sense in terms of my training, because I’m going to have to get used to competing with some fatigue. You have one day of fatigue, two days of fatigue and that you can still perform at day three.


Sometimes for a one-day contest, you can almost work out like every other week. If it’s a two-day contest, I try to do two days pretty hard. That’s sometimes me coming off the deload or work out Saturday and Sunday. For instance, I was coming off the deload after, so I did the three weeks deload going into the two weeks. I did Saturday, Sunday, Monday. That Monday was very difficult.


Pushing through that, and I’m able to recover greatly without getting hurt. That gave me edge, especially going to the last day.

David TaoDavid Tao

For a contest like Clash on the Coast, you’re working across three different days, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19 implements potentially. You have some medleys. You have your single lift events as well. Training for that is tough from a logistics standpoint, right?


Not everyone has all of those implements ready. Even just setting that up in a gym environment or training environment can be tough. Tell us about where you train and how that’s influenced how you train?

Nicolas CambiNicolas Cambi

Absolutely. My main gym, Total Performance Sports in Malden, Massachusetts, that’s where I do the bulk of my core work. That’s where I do most of my weekday work. On the weekends, I’ll travel to Stoneham, Massachusetts to Titan Barbell.


I have a lot of great friends, a mentor over there, Eric Dawson. I will say, “Eric, I don’t have this equipment, but how can I train?” He’ll give a lot of suggestions. He’s been in the sport, I would say probably four or five years prior to me starting this sport.


He has some great experience not only domestically but also internationally. Between Total Performance Sports, Titan Barbell, and one of my friends, Mike O’Connor, we actually had a lot of the implements covered. Again, since it was so many implements, first of all, you got to focus on…


A lot of times, a Strongman comes down to the points. You have to focus on your weaknesses and where you’re losing the most points. That’s, for me, static lifting, squat and deadlifting. Since there’s a squat in the qualifier, that deadlift in the finals, that was the first focus, was planning around those. The axle going into was one of my better events.


I slowed down training after I was able to hit a big one two months prior. Then the rest was if I was able to touch some of the implements maybe two or three times at least, then I would have a pretty good feeling for it. If there’s a certain implement or a certain event that I believe that needed more work for me, it was keg throws.


I spent a lot of time throwing. That was my worst event of that weekend. That’s the only event I actually underperformed, but I did spend a lot of time trying to get that going. I knew that was going to be a challenge. I did that maybe six or seven times compared to some friends. The single fingers, I might have trained two or three times.

David TaoDavid Tao

I know a lot of bars in the Boston area that could use help moving their kegs from the basement up to the main. You might be able to get some practice in there. Speaking of TPS, I got to ask. I actually used to train a TPS way back when. We’re talking way before its current location. This was like 2010.

Nicolas CambiNicolas Cambi

That will be in the Everett location.

David TaoDavid Tao

Yeah, that would be in the Everett location. How’s the gym these days? How’s Murph doing? C.J. Murphy. Got to bring him up.

Nicolas CambiNicolas Cambi

Of course, Murph is doing great. That location was pretty special because that was when I first joined in 2012. You had to shut out back. Then you have different groups come together a lot like Olympic lifting, powerlifting, and stuff like that.


Going into the Malden gym, right now, with a lot of restrictions in Boston coming off, I’ve been getting more optimistic after the pandemic. The gym is really busy right now. We’re finding a way.


Murph’s doing well. Biggest goal is for him to…He’s always focused on staying healthy, but he’s been coaching away and lifting away.

David TaoDavid Tao

That’s awesome. If you’re ever in the Boston area, folks, check out TPS, a lot of history in that gym. A lot of really accomplished lifters have gone through it over the years. I’m not putting myself in that group. A lot of accomplished lifters have gone through there. I have also been there. If you’re in the Boston area, definitely check it out.


Nicolas, I want to talk a little bit about something you mentioned earlier. You’re, at this point, pretty much lifelong 105. You’ve dipped into amateur heavy. I think a lot of people don’t realize — and one thing I want to talk to you about — is the difference between the 105 category in Strongman and the heavyweights.


It’s not like a lot of sports at lighter weight. Olympic weightlifting, it’s the same way, right? It’s 109 kilos, and then you have super heavies above that. If you’ve never competed in the heavier weight classes, it gets a little bit confusing, or you might underestimate what it takes to move up a weight class.


It’s not like, “Oh, I’m gaining 10 pounds. I’m going to put on a little bit of size. I’m going to compete at a heavier weight class.” If you really want to compete in the open category and you have experience at 105, folks have to put on 60, 70, 80, 100-plus pounds.


I was talking to Rob Kearney about this, because he moved from the 105 or around that bodyweight, and he’s still working on gaining weight here years later to compete in the open category.


Tell us a little bit about the times you have dipped your toes into going heavier and what you think it would take if you were to actually make that transition. Not saying you’re going to, but…

Nicolas CambiNicolas Cambi

I’ve done three Amateur Heavy Arnolds. They’re the main Amateur Heavy contests of the world. Winner gets to go compete on the Pro stage. That’s a great opportunity for anybody that’s able to get there.


In those ones, I actually have come in 26th, 11th, and 27th. I was able to beat a number of individuals, but again was unable to make it to the third day. Top 10 makes it to the third day, and one of those years I took 11th, so that was a big sting.


That’s me as a Pro 105 competing with amateurs. That gets exemplified going over. You have Rob, Kevin Faires, or the lighter heavyweights. Both were like 105 kilos, but they’re doing great right now. I think it takes, depending on your height, anywhere between 280 and 300, but there’s that extra level of commitment.


Right now, I have a great commitment when it comes to recovery. I do chiropractor, sauna, physical therapy, and also get body work done regularly. Going to the heavyweight, that’s going to have to probably increase, food intake’s going to increase. You’re taking a lot more time and a lot more effort to gain all that weight.


Of course, you’re taking on all that much risk when it comes to your health as well. That’s extra monitoring. All that adds up in terms of build but also time. It’s going to that commitment, especially for 105-kilo jump to heavyweight. It’s a lot time and effort commitment.

David TaoDavid Tao

You’re talking about budget. You have to be a little bit more focused on recovery, that’s not cheap. It’s not cheap to gain weight. If you’re trying to not eat fast food and actually get some quality nutrients in to gain that mass, your grocery bills go through the roof. I’m glad you brought that up. What weight were you at when you were competing as an amateur heavy?

Nicolas CambiNicolas Cambi

We’ll flash back more to college. My last year of college, I wrestled heavyweight. I was 245 when I wrestled that. It was almost like magic in the weight class. My last year was 2011. After that, I dropped down to 225. When I started Strongman, I was around 225. I think my first contest I was 228.


After my first contest, I gained a few pounds. I was starting to cut weight from the second contest on. I stayed around 240, general main in terms of contest, but then I realized that other individuals were water loading and water cutting right before the contest since the 24-hour weigh in.


I wanted to be a little more competitive so I started getting into the heavier 240, sometimes 250s and cutting down. Being a bigger size and cutting down, that’s another dimension, another advantage there for the most parts. To answer your question, anywhere between 227 and 250 for the cuts.

David TaoDavid Tao

I’ve heard some people when they dip their toes into the heavy waters, they’ll put on 40 pounds, and a lot of it water weight, obviously.

Nicolas CambiNicolas Cambi


David TaoDavid Tao

Seems like you were nothing too crazy. You probably looked fairly similar to what you compete is 225.

Nicolas CambiNicolas Cambi

It’s like anything, the heavier goal, the more risk of you not making weight or not feeling good but also, it’s a bigger task. Sometimes you’re going to need diuretics, you’re going to need to take a longer time at work. It really depends on what you are able to do and managing that risk of potentially not making weight or a performing weight because you wanted to be giant going into the contest. It really depends.

David TaoDavid Tao

Who are some folks that you admire in the Strongman’s pace?

Nicolas CambiNicolas Cambi

Right now, starting out or?

David TaoDavid Tao

Yeah, right now.

Nicolas CambiNicolas Cambi

Of course, I would say a lot of times a 105 kilos of course over the years. You’re mentioning like Rob. Rob was a referee in my first contest. Right out the bat, at that point, he’s a few years younger. He might have been 19 years old.


He and I competed over 50 times. Later that year, he took second in Nationals and then in 2013, he took his Pro Cards. Right away, I knew someone personally that again, was one of the top 105s. Of course, Rob was led by example and then, I get to meet some of the guys and I’m actually heading to Russia soon.


Every time I’ve competed internationally, I’ve competed with Johnny Wasiczko out of New Jersey. He’s been competing for almost 14 years and he’s a great role model and given me a lot of great advice, a lot of times sometimes mindset.


When we went over to Hungary, I learned was being able to compete overseas but also cut weight in a certain fashion that works that way. Again, cutting weight for domestically is easy but add another step if you go internationally. I have that coming up in about a week and a half or so.


Another individual binge Sean Demarinis, he was a fourth-time America’s strongest man on 105-kilo. He was great to watch especially in person. It doesn’t matter the event he gamed, whatever contest and he always show out especially when he’s at his peak. Again, great influence.


I would like to call one of my best friends would be Anthony Fuhrman. Big personality, but I think what people don’t realize is that he’s one of the biggest work ethics I’ve ever seen especially when he won his first world title. We’re pretty close that time.


We originally met in 2017 when we competed in Vegas, but I got to see what it took from him in terms like every step of the way. I would say that pretty easily that he outworked his competition leading up to the event.


It’s no surprise that he won five out of six events of that contest because he really worked his butt off. I was able to see how much he worked in. I was competing in that competition, I realized I wasn’t working as hard as Anthony. Again, I took that all in but Anthony’s been a great friend and also bigger influence on me.

David TaoDavid Tao

I was going to say something snarky about Anthony, but it’s really hard to because he’s such a genuine, nice guy. We’ve been lucky enough to work with him at BarBend. He’s been a contributor. Obviously, what he’s done not only as a competitor but as event organizer, to bring the 105s more contest opportunities, prized sponsorships or prized opportunities, very, very cool.


Definitely someone I’m glad you mentioned and if you check out some old BarBend content in Strongman, you’ll see his face pop-up. He’s also really funny guy, I should say. If you ever watch him or see him at a contest, he’s wearing a Hawaiian shirt and some crazy sunglasses…

Nicolas CambiNicolas Cambi

He had a different Hawaiian shirt for the contest just now and I think he’s just getting started. He keeps promoting, keeps…Will he come back and compete? He’s been lifting a lot and I’ve been helping on his press. We could potentially see him in a contest. I want him to come back so we can do a doubles competition one day. I think that will be fun.


There’s a few overseas that they do, like a world 105 double’s contest so I think that’ll be a fun thing that we could do potentially maybe later in the year, or next year. Anything that Anthony puts his mind to, he does a great job.

David TaoDavid Tao

Excellent. It’s been such a pleasure chatting with you. Folks who want to follow along with you, upcoming competition to travel into Russia to compete soon, things like that, where’s the best place for people to do that?

Nicolas CambiNicolas Cambi

On my Instagram, @cambidude. I also have a TikTok that I put on different content, but sometimes similar. That’s can be do can’t be. Of course, you can also follow. I also have a program and a lot of instructional videos on Strength LITE.


I think coming this summer, I’ll have some downtime after my next competition. The next competition being the Russia World Cup, or the 105-kilo World Cup, which is again, be a lot of competitors from I would say Russia, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Poland, Czech Republic, think one individual from Finland, but it’s a 12 in total. That’s going to be a great challenge.


I hope to put on more instructional videos come in the future. Again, I would say just for myself, that I’m a big stickler for technique. It comes all the way back from my wrestling days, but I really hope to bring some new techniques to the light and especially that’s outside of the main realm of technique within Strongman.


I hope to show it in the best light.

David TaoDavid Tao

Excellent. Thanks so much for joining us. It’s been a pleasure getting to know you.

Nicolas CambiNicolas Cambi

Absolutely. Thank you, David.