Is the Strength Wars League the Future of Strength Sports?

This week, YouTube channel Strength Wars launched a unique strength athletics league based on their popular head-to-head lifting videos.

With more than 850,000 subscribers and more than 125,000,000 views, Strength Wars, now part of the Generation Iron fitness network, is working to assert itself as a player in the rapidly growing world of strength sports. Unlike many of their competitors, the organization does not seem concerned with proving its legitimacy, but rather with marketing and producing a spectacle for fans of every kind.

Strength Wars borrows a lot of its fanfare from professional wrestling. Unlike pro wrestling, however, the athletes compete against each other for real, with no predetermined winner. The pageantry surrounding them, on the other hand, embraces the surreal. And foul language abounds.

Many Strength Wars competitors perform under pseudonyms, but despite the want for some men to compete under alias – like their pre-league champion, The Faceless – there seems to be a real strength athlete lifting behind any given shroud.

In the case of The Faceless, that athlete is very likely the formidable Polish powerlifter/bodybuilder, Sebastian Kot.

Sebastian Kot deadlifting 350kg with ease, in a Strength Wars T-Shirt:

“I call myself The Faceless because I don’t need an identity. I subordinate my ego to the sport and to my motherland, Poland.”

Regardless of any potentially excessive showmanship, league competitors are looking to assert their abilities on a popular stage, not sell the talents of their rivals or do “what’s best for business.”

To prove their talents, athletes must fare well in the loose confines of the competition’s extremely liberal rules.

For starters, the show’s typical one-on-one format completely disregards weight-classes. The new league’s first match-up features the 107kg Tetzel against the much larger 118kg Anabolic Horse. That nickname may or may not intend to be suggestive that there is no drug testing in Strength Wars, but there is no drug testing in Strength Wars.

Rather than find two opponents who are predictably well-matched, the producers pit athletes of completely different sizes, backgrounds, and disciplines against one another. Previous video titles include “Bodybuilder VS Strongman” and “Powerbuilder VS Gymnast.”

It also remains questionable as to how strict the show’s unsanctioned judges are, but they have been known to discount botched lifts in prior contests. And even if no official records are going to be set in the Strength Wars League, its potential to be the future of strength sports – in terms of mass appeal – seems high. After all, they can still set “Strength Wars records.”

A combination of strength and muscle endurance is key to victory in the Strength Wars format. Naturally, good form helps.

In their “2k17” league’s first “battle”, two men race to complete the following circuit in under nine minutes:

DEADLIFT – 200kg/440lbs – 10 reps
SANDBAG OVER BAR – 80kg/176lbs – 10 reps
FATBAR GROUND TO OVERHEAD PRESS – 80kg/176lbs – 10 reps
FARMERS HOLD – 240kg/530lbs – 30 seconds
SQUAT- 120kg/265lbs – 20 reps

The previous Strength Wars World Championship:

Before starting their league, Strength Wars crowned a “World Champion.” And rather than denigrate this choice of title, I respect it as a format-specific claim. Of course, though the organization is not regionally restrictive, Strength Wars athletes have been exclusively European until now, likely due to budgetary concerns for would-be traveling athletes and producers.

The good news is that Strength Wars USA is currently recruiting athletes here

The pre-league Strength Wars World Champion, The Faceless, won a race to complete this circuit against their inaugural champ, German powerlifter Romano Rengel:

SQUAT – 180kg/396lbs – 20 reps
WEIGHTED DIPS – 60kg/132lbs – 20 reps
GROUND TO OVERHEAD PRESS – 80kg/176lbs – 20reps

All in all, Strength Wars has particular appeal to casual fans, but it works to appeal to hardcore fans in the process. The lifts are heavy and the rep counts are taxing. Even if it seems like a reality show at times, it is more reminiscent of The Ultimate Fighter – where the mixed martial arts bouts at the end of each episode are real – than of any of the more phony, prewritten shows.

I expect their rising popularity, wider net for recruiting athletes, and expanding budget will attract more noteworthy athletes into their stable. Then, they will earn more respect for their proclamation of a Strength Wars World Champion.

Yet, without any added legitimacy, I already find myself thoroughly entertained. The Strength Wars format reminds me of a strength athletics analogy for the beginning of the UFC, when karate fighters fought wrestlers and jiu-jitsu practitioners fought boxers. I am eager to follow this first season of the Strength Wars League, for fun’s sake.

Editors note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein are the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.

Featured image: Strength Wars on YouTube