Last month, we ran an article entitled 5 Strongman Competitors You Don’t Follow on Instagram (But Should), and amongst those five was one Paul Smith. The young strength sensation who has already caused quite the stir in the strongman world, and now seems to be intent on doing the same in the fitness world, too. A few days after that article came out, Paul showed how right we were to include him by sharing a video of his 57 second Grace.
Editor’s Note: While not a traditional “Grace” in that it wasn’t performed with clean & jerks that came in contact with the shoulders, we found the below video to be a good showcase of Paul’s conditioning.
I caught up with Paul to learn a little more about his goals in the strength world.
Let’s start with your most recent feat. Talk doing a 57 second Grace to me. That’s got to be a new world record?
It is as far as I can tell, the best I’ve seen was Dan Bailey and Derek Poundstone who did it in 59 seconds. Grace definitely suits my strengths though
Is that your first time trying [a benchmark] CrossFit® workout?
This isn’t my first rodeo, son! I’ve actually done a lot of CrossFit workouts. Only done normal Grace twice but I’ve done heavy Grace twice as well and Fran a load of times. I’ve done lots of other WODs but not the benchmark ones, I’ve got my eyes on the record for a WOD with deadlifts and handstand press ups actually. (Known to CrossFitters as Diane).
You’re obviously known as a strongman, but from what I’ve seen of your training, you’re not scared to give other disciplines a go. Where does this open approach stem from?
Growing up I’ve always done a lot of different sports so I’ve experienced lots of different types of fitness challenges, I’ve done lots of aerobic training with boxing and athletics, I did parkour for a while so lots of gymnastics type stuff. And one philosophy I’ve always had as I’ve been putting weight is to never use bodyweight as an excuse to not be able to do a certain task , this has meant I’ve always kept pull ups and dips for example as a priority in training.
Recently I’ve been jumping in with a couple of CrossFitters in their sessions so I’ve been doing a lot of gymnastic exercises which I’m better at now than I ever was at a lighter bodyweight. I’m a big believer in being an all round athlete, my view on the approach to long term athletic development is that you should build a huge base of fitness of all components and only really specialise completely at something in small bursts before competitions when you are already at a high level.
Do you think that other strongmen could benefit from incorporating other styles into their training?
Yes definitely, the biggest problem I see, even at high levels although it is improving throughout the sport, is a lack of conditioning and inflexibility. I’ve found that doing longer conditioning workouts of over 10 minutes doesn’t just help in medleys or loading events but it’s a massive help in recovering between events at comps so you can still go at full strength in the final events of the day, I feel like this aspect is often overlooked in people’s training.
Mobility wise you do see some very pronounced problems and if you have a lot of tightness you are so much more likely to get injured in an already injury prone sport. As well as that it’s inefficient for example if you have to hold a squat with your hands near the plates you’re going to lose a lot of tightness in the upper back or even more inefficient is pressing with a bar that isn’t racked across the shoulders.
I think a lot of guys would benefit from daily mobility and yoga type exercises to really reduce their injury rate. I must say a lot of guys in the lower weight classes seem to do this better than the open guys and I think in a lot of aspects we can learn from the weight class competitors.
How old are you?
Damn son, how long have you been competing?
I did my first comp in 2011 just before I turned 17, it was a novice comp and I did terribly but I didn’t like the idea of doing novice comps, I think it probably bruised my ego at the time so I trained for another 16 months before I competed again in the Open class. Since then I’ve competed regularly so I’ve just finished my 4th full year on the circuit.
When did you first get into the sport.
I started lifting properly at 15 and at 16 I started training with a guy at my local gym who had done strongman before and he gave me the idea to try it, I’d never considered it before then. We started doing a bit of event training and then I entered a local competition.
Do you find your youth an advantage or a hinderance? Strongmen seem to be hitting their prime later and later, I mean Mark Felix is over twice your age and getting better.
Youth itself is always an advantage as you simply have more time to improve and naturally you will improve more with training at a younger age. The counter argument to this is being less experienced but those two aren’t mutually exclusive, I’m usually one of the more experienced guys at competitions just because I started so young. It definitely helps getting into the sport early!
There’s a lot of talk of guys like yourself being the next generation of strongman, smaller, faster, fitter but stronger than hell. What do you think of that.
I don’t think that it’s necessarily that smaller guys are the next generation, there will always be huge freaks coming up and doing well at the highest levels just look at Tom Stoltman for example but there will be more smaller guys as I think people are beginning to realise that you don’t have to be 6″7 and 180kg to be good at strongman.
If you are conditioned and well drilled then you can get away with being 140kg which at a lower height is still plenty of mass to move huge weights. I know watching Lalas at 5’10” made me realise that I don’t have to worry about being too short for the sport. I think this shows an evolution in training styles as well where guys are becoming more technically proficient at the events which was always going to happen in the still relatively young sport of strongman.
You’ve just qualified for Britain’s strongest man. Your giants live debut how are you feeling?
I’m feeling amazing and incredibly excited, I can’t wait for it and every session is focussed on hitting that podium and getting to WSM, it’s what I’ve been working towards for 6 years!
How many years before paul Smith is the world’s strongest man?
2019 is the plan so we’ll call it 2 and a half.