Saturday, September the 8th, the Brazilian Qualifiers for the Arnold’s Amateur Strongman Championship took place in Sao Paulo, Brazil. There were six competitors. The small number of athletes was expected, since this was the first time events were organized precisely following prescribed equipment measures, procedures and rules from the American Strongman.

September the 8th was, surprisingly, the second hottest day of the year (it is still officially winter in Brazil). The temperature reached over 89F.

There were five events, two of them being medleys. The first medley began with a 400kg yoke. None of the athletes finished the line. Since at least two of them were known to be proficient in this event and able to finish the line in a reasonably short time, this was a first indicator that there was an overall factor decreasing athlete’s performance as a whole.

Strongman events are known to be extreme physiological demands, frequently marked by dramatic injuries and manifestations of physical stress (vomiting, fainting, etc). This specific competition seemed to be an example of exertional heat illness symptoms.

Performance was clearly decreased in more than 50% of each athlete’s capacity. While it is impossible to have an exact measure, since that was not an experiment and we didn’t have the chance to repeat any situation, the recorded times for the yoke, the farmer’s walk and the atlas stones events, for example, were between 30-45% of measured times for those athletes both under training and competition conditions.

Two athletes suffered muscle strains, two passed out and all displayed symptoms of dehydration, in spite of being offered water abundantly.

They did not use any electrolyte reposition drink during the competition – only carbohydrate drinks and an energetic supplement.

The energetic supplement contained caffeine, which is known to cause further dehydration under certain conditions.

Furthermore, there was a one hour delay in the beginning of the competition and the athletes did not have a secluded, isolated location to wait until their call. They were actually exposed to the extreme weather conditions since about 10-11AM.

As pointed out by Dione Wessels, American Strongman president, every competition is a learning experience. There were many lessons to be learned. The first one, I believe, is to take more seriously into account the reality of exertional heat illness.

As pointed out in the National Athletic Trainers’ Association Position Statement, “even with a heat-illness prevention plan that includes medical screening, acclimatization, conditioning, environmental monitoring, and suitable practice adjustments, heat illness can and does occur”.

This competition had none of that, especially acclimatization, since the heat wave caught everyone by surprise in the middle of Brazilian winter.

National Athletic Trainers’ Association Position Statement: Exertional Heat Illnesses

Effects of heat stress on physiological responses and exercise performance in elite cyclists