The sport of strongman and strongwoman has evolved from a weekend TV show to a worldwide grassroots phenomenon. You may know the stars competing at the Arnold Strongman Classic or World’s Strongest Man today, but who are the athletes who will hold those podium positions in a few years? You’ll find them at events like the United States Strongman Nationals.
The 2020 version of this event was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The good news is that it’s back in 2021, and the action will be as intense as ever. Past champions of this event fans of the sport will recognize include Melissa Edwards, the 2018 and 2019 Women’s Super-Heavyweight Winner, and Kevin Faires, 2016 Men’s Heavyweight Winner, who has competed on the World’s Strongest Man stage.
Here’s what you need to know, and how to follow the event.
USS Nationals: When and Where
The 2021 USS Nationals is scheduled to take place Saturday, June 5, at the Minneapolis Convention Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Around 200 of the strongest men and women in the country, ranging from teenagers to over age 50 will compete in over 20 different categories to determine who leaves the North Star State as National Champions with the custom wrestling-style belt. Also, importantly, crowds will be allowed.
“After two years of uncertainty, things just fell together,” explains event director Tim Kovach. “First the state opened up to limited capacity, then full capacity. Finally, within a week of the event, the mask mandate was lifted. It turned into a perfect situation for Nationals.”
For people who can’t be in Minneapolis, there will be a stream available for purchase courtesy of ADL Live.
USS Nationals: The Events
Nationals includes many classic strongman events, but with an eye to max reps to test athletes’ strength endurance and conditioning. Most follow a pattern of all-out effort for a full minute.
“Events like these are just 60 seconds of your life, where you push as hard as you can, as fast as you can,” says competitor Tyler Calabrese. “Just push.”
Press Medley, Log and Axle: Athletes will alternately clean and press each object successfully as many times as possible within 60 seconds.
Deadlift for Reps: Athletes with the most reps at a specified weight in his or her division will be the winner. Lifting straps will be allowed, but no assistance suits, and the weight can’t be dropped.
Farmer’s Walk: Athletes will carry two handles for time down a 50-foot course and back. If the course can’t be completed within the time limit, the distance completed will be counted instead.
Carry Medley, Keg and Sandbag: Athletes will pick up a keg and carry it 50 feet, then set it up on the podium. Then, they’ll pick up a sandbag and bearhug-carry it the same distance across the finish line.
Stone Carry and Load: Athletes will carry Atlas stones of three weights and lift them over a bar with a 60-second time limit.
Athletes to Watch
There were 286 spots available for this contest, and they all went quickly. Many will be competing at this level for the first time, but there are others who have been here before.
“The middleweight division will be fun to watch,” says Kovach. “Ricky Deogracias, Devon Reece, Nick O’Hare, and Justin Weaver are all really good athletes for that title.”
Some other up-and-coming strongmen and women in the event include:
Calabrese finished in fourth place in the men’s 275-pound class in 2019. His Instagram reveals a recent squat of 665 pounds with only knee sleeves, as well as a triple on the strict log press with 305 pounds. So he has plenty of power, and the three men that finished ahead of him in 2019 are not in this contest.
This 165-pound competitor came in third place two years ago and is particularly strong in medley carry events, as well as with the yoke walk. She competed in two events in 2020 and says she has her sights set on the 2022 Arnold Classic, so her performance here could serve as a great momentum starter.
Birkby is the 2019 Teen Nationals champion, and he is looking to go back-to-back. His 2019 performance included three individual wins: log press, 13-inch deadlift, and the weighted bag throw. He could easily be a contender for top titles once he is able to compete in the pro ranks. In the meantime, he is a favorite to win this contest for the second time.
Getting serious about strongman-style training? Do it the right way with our expert guides.
Strongmen and strongwomen earn their protein shakes the hard way. View All