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Viking Death Grip Challenge 2016

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  • Viking Death Grip Challenge 2016

    Strength has always been amongst the most revered of physical attributes. In fact, strength is the base for many other physical skills the layperson may not realize. A huge part of an Olympic sprinter’s speed is directly related to how much force they produce; a stronger cyclist can conquer hills better because each rotation of the pedals is less of a maximal effort and therefore can be repeated at a higher rate of force for a longer period; and shooting a 3 point shot in basketball is certainly easier if you don’t have to strain to make the ball cover that distance (accuracy and coordination are inversely related to the level of intensity required to make the ball reach the rim). To we of the iron-loving variety none of this is shocking news, as we know how valuable strength is and what it can do to enhance other areas of physical prowess.

    Strength is so admired that we categorize different types of strength and contest it in a plethora of ways. To the powerlifter, hip strength is vital for the squat; to the strongman a powerful set of shoulders is paramount to success with the log press; and to the weightlifter quads of steel are needed to standup from the catch on a squat clean. One type of strength that is not only beneficial to all of the aforementioned athletes, but also respected amongst non-athletes, is grip strength. Decades ago the strength of man’s hands was not vital to his ability to earn a living, but was considered a marker of his manhood. If you want to find out first hand (pun intended) how important strong hands were considered amongst the old timers, go show your grandfather how you can bench press 400 pounds, and then show him how you can lever a sledge hammer to your nose and back and see which one he wants to talk about afterwards. Guys, the same thing works for your wives and girlfriends – curl 225 on a barbell and she may not even look up from her I-Phone, but twist a stubborn jar lid open and become a hero for a day!

    Today a handful of grip strength enthusiasts put their mitts to the test in the first ever grip sport competition in WV, the Viking Death Grip Challenge. Grip sport is a very specific and still somewhat obscure strength sport, so there aren’t exactly millions of folks that do this sort of thing, and we who organized the event were well aware that. The meager turnout was not unexpected, but then again neither were the amazing performances these athletes produced. Val Walker, Shane Fleming, Mike Saffell, John Mouser, and Ryan Putzulu set forth upon Viking Performance Training this morning and formed what I am calling our original Order of the Iron Fist.

    Our first challenge for these gripsters was a double overhand Apollon’s Axle Deadlift for max weight. Val Walker, with the local news cameras rolling, took attempts from 153 to 233 to get warmed up before calling for a world record attempt at 293. Amy Wattles, the current record holder, can sleep soundly however, as Val had little luck with the nearly 300lb load. Maryland’s Shane Fleming did his Muscle Mine brothers proud by pulling 313 convincingly, while being the lightest man in the contest by 70 full pounds. Mike Saffell, John Mouser, and Ryan Putzulu all nailed 333, but with Mouser making the least number of attempts, he secured the win here.
    The Rolling Thunder beckoned our fellowship of firm handshakes next. This test of might required the athletes to grasp an enormous handle that rotates freely with only one hand, and pick up ever increasing weight with it. Val Walker made short work of 126.5 pounds here, but found 146.5 to be a bit much. Shane Fleming clocked in with 156.5, while John Mouser squeaked by 161.5. Ryan Putzulu could only look on in disbelief as he missed his opener at 176.5, a weight he expected to toy with. This would cost “Pooch” big in the standings as this meant he scored no points for the event. Mike Saffell of Ohio locked up the win with a 171.5 and got himself in the running for a top placing.

    The third challenge was the infamous Blockbuster Pinch Grip lift. I call this infamous because pinch grip style lifting is an Achilles heel for many folks, even those with very strong paws. To imagine a pinch lift, think about grabbing a NY phone book with one hand vertically with the fingers pointing downward, and then hanging weights off of it. 42.5 pounds marked the final success for Val Walker, while Mike Saffell managed a little more with 47.5. This was not Mike’s event, but he can certainly be proud of that lift. Shane Fleming and John Mouser both stood tall with 52.5, but the big man from Elkins, WV Ryan “Pooch” Putzulu claimed the gold by hoisting 62.5 pounds.

    By this point the competitors’ hands were getting tired, and arguably the most painful event was on deck – the Silver Bullet Hold. Here, the competitors had to close a Captains of Crush gripper shut onto a small piece of metal. Once the metal Silver Bullet was properly secured, the athletes would then raise their arms so that the gripper was in plain sight of the referee. Here’s the catch though: the Silver Bullet has attached to it a giant metal disc that is suspended by a length of fabric. The weight of the disc ensures that as soon as the competitor’s grip fails, the Silver Bullet is pulled free from the hand and the clock is stopped. The longest hold wins!

    Val Walker opted to make her run with a #1 CoC gripper, which requires 140lbs of pressure to close! Val, fatigued from the first 3 challenges, could only produce about 4 and half seconds here. As per the contest rules for matters of scoring, anything less than 5 seconds was considered a “0” on the score board. This was done because the athletes were given the option individually of which gripper they wanted to use for their attempt. Anyone registering a time over 5 seconds on a harder gripper than an opponent would automatically place higher than that opponent. So in theory, a 6 second hold on a #3 gripper would beat a 30 second hold on a #2… but failure to reach 5 seconds resulted in a zero! This was not per official Ironmind rules, but I felt like it gave everyone a chance to register a score, while still giving anyone who thought they could excel at a higher level the chance to do so and be rewarded accordingly.

    As it turns out, all the male members of our Order of the Iron Fist decided to tackle the #2.5 gripper, which requires a massive nearly 240 pounds of pressure to close. Shane Fleming had his fingers pried open near the 9 second mark, with Ryan Putzulu just barely exceeding that. Mike Saffell held tight for over 14 seconds, but John Mouser felt confident that he could eclipse this mark. John, the current overall leader at the time, was a last minute entry and missed the rules meeting, which proved to be his downfall on this event, as there are very specific rules about placement of the gripper handles on the tiny Silver Bullet apparatus. John fouled his first attempt via an illegal position, at which time he was given another chance to reset and try again. Per Ironmind rules each competitor is allowed only one reset however, and John’s second attempt was still set in an illegal position. This resulted in him gaining zero points for the event, and taking him from a comfortable lead in the overall points to now needing a big performance on the final event to win. I would be remiss if I failed to mention that my instructions after John’s first attempt on how to fix his positioning may have been subpar, but rather than have a fit John took the incident in stride and was ready to move on to the revolving handle farmers walk event.

    The revolving handle farmers walk is deceptively difficult. In a world where amateur strongman competitors routinely carry 300+ pounds per hand on standard style farmers handles, loads less than 200 per hand rarely elicit a raise of the eyebrow among those in the strength world. Thus when, massive men like Ryan Putzulu, who has won strongman meets in 3 or 4 different states, tops out at 192 per hand for 30ft before failing to finish at 212 per hand, it seems outlandish that such a slender load would fell such a giant. Saffell followed suit with success 192, while 212 stymied his efforts. Mouser met a second round of disaster here as he dropped his opening weight of 192 just short of the line, effectively eliminating himself from title contention. Shane Fleming gave a valiant effort at the same weight, but carrying over bodyweight in each hand on these devilish free spinning handles was just too much at this point. Val Walker finished her day with victory at 148 per hand before bowing out with an attempt at 178.

    Final standings were as such:

    Women –
    Val Walker, 1st

    Men –
    Shane Fleming, 4th
    John Mouser, 3rd
    Ryan Putzulu, 2nd
    Mike Saffell, 1st

    In addition to awards for the overall standings, we also gave out some outstanding prizes provided by our main sponsor Ironmind Enterprises. Prizes included Strong-Enough Straps, copies of the newest edition of MILO, Ironmind gift cards, and Captains of Crush Grippers! These prizes were awarded for the winner of each event as based on the age, gender, and bodyweight adjusted Wilks formula score (the same formula they use in powerlifting for “Best Lifter” awards), with the exception of the Silver Bullet. Mike Saffell was awarded the prize package for the Silver Bullet by virtue of having the longest hold. Shane Fleming brought home a prize package for his impressive axle performance, and Val Walker collected gifts for her outstanding work in the Rolling Thunder, pinch lift, and farmers walk.

    With “armlifting”, another term for grip sport, growing in popularity, it is very possible that we will hold this type of meet again in the future. Additionally, with inaugural WV state records being set here today in all five of these feats, interest in challenging such records may swell enough to warrant more grip specific competitions around here; time will tell. In the meantime, the Mouser Strength Dynamics train is headed back to the strongman tracks, where tomorrow we will attempt to set some more state records in a feat that is unique to West Virginia, the Stumpy Lift! A “Stumpy” is short, fat, one handed log that is pressed like a circus dumbbell. With beautiful water falls in the background and in conjunction with a cookout at the park where it’s being contested, the Stumpy Record Breakers meet promises to be a great day of light hearted fun and huge lifts in an absolutely stunning setting.

    After we get our fill of Mouser Stumpys, we head back to Viking Performance Training for a training seminar with the one and only American strength legend Phil Pfister. The 2006 World’s Strongest Man is providing a rare opportunity for strongmen and women to learn from one of the greatest American strength athletes to ever live as they prepare for Strongman Corporation Nationals in October. Big Phil will be giving instruction on how to excel at the most complex of the events featured at Nationals, including the globe style circus DB press. VPT is one of the only gyms in the country that has both size Stones of Steel, the Bartos Power Keg, and the Bartos Circus Dumbbell, which will all be contested at Nationals. As a bonus, Phil will also go over the Fingal Finger event, since it is becoming so popular in amateur competitions, including one we will discuss shortly! Register now to train with Phil and learn how to dominate at Nationals by going to!

    There is no rest for the weary this time of year because two weeks after we train with the champ, we will see the big man again in Elkins, WV on October 1st for the Strongest Man/Woman in the Forest competition! This is the tenth edition of this contest, and the response has been unbelievable for this year’s version for the meet that started them all in WV! We have competitors signed up from as far away as California, and are set to break our attendance record once again. Events here include the Max Log with state records on the line, the Pole Push for you Celts out there, and a Timber Wagon Deadlift where more logs are added to the cart with each repetition. Get your entry in before the late fee kicks in on Sept. 16 by going to!

    To close out the year we will have our annual Halloween bash on 11/5, where costumes are required and fun is guaranteed! Featuring themed events like our “Jack the Repper” Viking Press and our “Jack O’ Lantern Over Bar” challenges, this third edition of A Viking Halloween may be the best one yet, and that’s saying something because the last two were incredibly fun. From Halloween we head to our annual powerlifting fundraiser event for Stepping Stones, Power for a Purpose. This year we have aligned with the largest and most prestigious federation in the country, USA Powerlifting. Don’t miss your chance to show your strength and use your power for a purpose on December 10th.

    Thanks to our sponsors Ironmind Enterprises, Viking Performance Training, Mouser Strength Dynamics, and Rider Pharmacy. Thanks to Strongman Corporation and friends like Jedd Johnson, Amy Wattles, and more for advertising this event! Thanks to all those that come out to compete, the folks that came out to help make the meet run by offering their time and hands, and thanks to the folks that came to watch and support these athletes. Special thanks to Dr. Randall Strossen for dealing with my never ending questions leading up to this event.

    It’s time for me to get ready for some Stumpy action tomorrow, so God bless and good night yall.

    Happy training,

    -Paul Mouser