Strongman Robert Oberst, originally from Santa Cruz California, is 6 foot 7 inches tall and weighs 400lb. He has been a mainstay at the World’s Strongest Man (WSM) competition since his debut in 2013, failing to qualify only once in 2017 due to a bicep injury. He has reached the podium of America’s Strongest Man three times — two runner-up finishes and one third place finish — and held the American log lift record of 211kg/465lb for 4 years.
The 35-year-old Oberst is arguably one of the most visible strongmen in the sport. He has appeared on Good Morning America to flip a taxi in Times Square, on the Joe Rogan Podcast to say most people shouldn’t deadlift, and he made waves challenging Nick Best to box him on the undercard of the Eddie Hall vs. Hafthor Bjornsson boxing match scheduled for September 2021.
We were fortunate to have the opportunity to interview Oberst about his strongman origins, his training (both in quarantine and future preparation for WSM), his diet, and his future goals outside of the sport.
Check out the entire interview below via BarBend’s YouTube channel:
Strongman wasn’t necessarily something Oberst aspired to do when he was younger. His athletic background was entirely about football — it was even what enabled him to attend college at Western Oregon University (he majored in History).
“For me, strongman was a Google search.”
When football was “done with him”, he worked as a bouncer at a small concert venue in his home town of Santa Cruz. A co-worker who was “obsessed with strongman” suggested he try his hand at competing in the sport, and his size and expertise in the gym made it a natural option to pursue.
“I just crushed right away.”
The best way to think of his first try at strongman might be to think of that scene where the superhero first learns of his powers. On his first day, while working his log press, he hit a 159kg/350lb lift — well above the 150kg/330lb amateur record at the time.
He credits his talent at strongman to all the explosive movements and lifting he performed during his football career.
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After his first show in 2013, he qualified for Nationals and then used that to string invitations to several major events. He went to England for Giants Live and then was told he would compete at WSM on the plane home. He ended up making the WSM finals his rookie year.
Due to the pandemic, the closure of gyms, and the postponement of WSM (it’s been moved to November), Oberst’s training isn’t what it would normally be. But he noted that it is important to keep training load within a reasonable limit in order to prevent injuries and other setbacks:
“In strongman, it’s really easy to go too much too often. If we get too heavy in our squats and our deadlifts for too long of a period, then all of our movement stiffens up. You’ll see a guy who’s deadlift when up 20lb but his yoke speed when down 3 seconds.”
He finds that the happy medium to maintain his strength and health is about 70% of his maximal loads for 3-5 sets of 4-8 reps. He’s also been using his quarantine time to focus on weight loss: a lot of cardio and a tighter diet has already produced 18 pounds of weight loss.
World Strongest Man
The prep for Oberst’s WSM will begin 16 weeks out from competition. The workload will gradually increase and it will shift from a normal gym routine to a focus on specific events up until two weeks out, when he rests. He seemed to have mixed emotions about how the last several years of WSM have taken place in warm climates where “it’s 95% humidity and deathly hot.”
A unique aspect in strongman competition, as opposed to other strength sports like powerlifting and Olympic weightlifting, is that strongman does not necessarily reward the athlete who can lift the heaviest weight. The weight for each event is predetermined and will influence training needs. Oberst breaks this down further:
“Almost everything we prep for, my maximal load is above what we run with in competition. Say squat for example: squat for the last two years has been 735lb for reps. So 735lb for reps is the biggest I plan on going for at least the near future. It’s very different from a powerlifter. Their competition is ‘how much can you max?’ In strongman, it’s not that. It’s how fast can you do this, how fast can you recover from running back and forth, and then go deadlift for reps? It’s almost counterintuitive to maximal strength.“
Strength and Weakness
Oberst has a clear sense of which events he feels ahead of the field and for which events he needs work.
The log lift has always been his forte. His American log lift record of 211kg/465lb, which he set at the 2015 Arnold Classic Australia, held for 4 years until Robert Kearney broke it with 214kg/471lb.
On the other hand, he’s not as good at deadlifts as he’d like.
“When I got into strongman, it was straight from football. We did hang cleans and power cleans. We never did front bar deadlifts. My deadlift was that same week I hit that big log press. I pulled 450lb and my back cracked like five times. That’s been my Achilles heel all the way up until last year when I went to Worlds and didn’t zero the deadlift.”
Oberst’s diet consists largely of lean meats, eggs, rice, vegetables (a lot of peppers), and a struggle with his sweet tooth.
“I’m horrible with sugar. I can cut bread. I get stuck on Oreos or I’ll eat half a bag of Chips Ahoy. I’m horrible. Have you ever had a f*cking stroopwafel? They’re the shit. They’re so good.”
Despite his affinity for sugar, Oberst has started a diet of intermittent fasting to help him hit 6,000 calories per day, which is lower than his normal 8,000-9,000 calories per day. This will scale steeply as competition approaches. He admitted that if he could consume 20,000 calories without feeling sick, he would.
He has worked with nutritionist Nathan Payton, who also designed the diets of 4-time WSM champion Brian Shaw and 2019 WSM champion Martins Licis, for the majority of his strongman career.
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Aside from aiming for a top finish at WSM, there has been a lot of talk about Oberst potentially being in a prelim bout on the undercard of the Eddie Hall vs. Hafthor Bjornsson in September 2021. Oberst doesn’t have any real experience in boxing but does believe that someone with his athletic ability and a year’s worth of dedicated training could reach an elite level.
Getting in the ring appeals to Oberst as an athlete looking to challenge what he is capable of:
“Being an athlete, for me, is about testing myself. No matter what it is. A lot of sport is a display of how you would do in combat. It’s always something I’ve been interested in. It’s pretty safe to say I’m going to get into the ring, for sure.”
A fun fact about a potential boxing match involving Oberst is that he was not approached, but rather he put the idea out into the world himself. Time will tell if his effort will pay off in the form of an official contract.
Would You Consider Mixed Martial Arts?
“Yeah. Most definitely. A year down the road, you get to see where I am physically in a fight. There’s a lot to big figured out. Most certainly, if I can weigh and measure myself here and like what I see, why not take the next step?”
Oberst’s future aspirations outside of athletics revolve around a non-profit he is starting called Little Monsters. It will offer kids in need the guidance and training needed to better prepare them for success in the future.
“It will be free to any kid, anywhere, anytime to get off the street…whatever their situation is. When I was a kid, I…luckily somehow got introduced to different people who took me and put me on the right path for life. And there are a lot of kids out there that just never get that. Having a facility where we can subvert [kids slipping through the cracks] is my ultimate goal.”
His next competitive appearance will be in November at the WSM. Depending on how he does, we may see the strongman veteran change things up and make his way into combat sports.
Feature image from Robert Oberst’s Instagram page: @robertoberst