Stoltman header crop 1

STRONGMAN

TAKING OVER THE WORLD'S

Kieran and Harry Longworth sit down with the Stoltman brothers – two (mostly) gentle giants in the Highlands ahead of their quest for a third World’s Strongest Man title.

Tom – The World's Strongest Man – LOVES Beyoncé, so much so that he's been to see her twice. He's a massive Swiftie too. Have a listen while you read. 

Cross Kessock Bridge after leaving Inverness and the world changes. The scenery is different in Scotland’s distant north-east. The land looks difficult.  Tundra-like. And as places go, Invergordon, by reputation, can be brutally cold. 

Despite it being early spring when we visit, the snow remains on the tops of the tallest hills. Life has to be hard up here. It’s Loch Ness country. Clearly the right conditions for breeding a different kind of human being. Monsters, even.

Weighing in at a combined 350 kg (55 stone), and sharing two World’s, three Britain’s, seven Scotland’s, and soon-to-be two Europe’s Strongest Man titles, Tom and Luke Stoltman sit before us in shorts and oversized ‘Spicy’ t-shirts. Atop two upright PRIMAL weightlifting benches. 

Luke is the six-foot-four slab of granite-infused muscle sitting here in the Stoltman Strength Centre. His six-foot-eight ‘little’ brother nods at the question about the wearing of this less-than-weatherproof attire. “These aren’t easy to source,” says Tom with a grin. “It amounts to a lot of fabric…”

Tom ‘the Albatross’ – the moniker given to him in light of his seven-foot wingspan – is also wearing what we’re told are his signature made-to-order size 14 Crocs, emblazoned with the words, ‘Rogue International’. It’s a nod to his podium finish at the Arnold Classic in March. To further illustrate the fact that we’re in the presence of athletes, the shoes are in ‘sport mode’ with the adjustable heel flicked to the rear. 

Described as being pretty much the perfect build to be a successful strongman, Stoltman junior is also keen to credit his autism, diagnosed aged five, as his real superpower. A secret weapon, he says, that separates the 190kg behemoth from the rest of an already gigantic field of competitors. Tom, as is the way with many sibling pairings, is also more than happy to let his older brother Luke do most of the talking.  

“F*cking annoying isn’t it?” Luke is addressing me directly. “I don’t know where these little brothers get their genes from.” I’m standing beside my also-taller younger brother, Harry, who is in control of the camera.

 

The World's Strongest Brothers, before they were strong. Luke teaches Tom how to ride his bike. 

 

Tom reckons his grandfather, Opa, is the size and talent genesis. “He was a prisoner-of-war, who moved here from Poland, and passed away when I was ten,” he says. “But even as small as I was, I do remember thinking ‘Jesus, how is he my grandad?’ 

“He just seemed to loom large over everything and everyone. And was strong too.” 

Now back at HQ, and keen to offer up some proof, the lads show me a photo of their grandad. He’s carrying what must be nothing smaller than a medium-sized tree across his shoulders. He’s a balding older-looking guy, and must be approaching 60, but he’s not just carrying said log. He’s running with it. And smiling for the camera as he does. 

“Luke and I do stuff like that, but we’re professional strongmen,” the 29-year-old states. “When people hear the word ‘strongman’, they think we must be a couple of fatties. Whilst it might have been like that back in the day – and back in the ’90s that is what I grew up watching – it’s not the same now. You have to be fit. And strong. We’re picking up 350 kilograms for 10 to 12 reps (an average person in the gym might lift 60kgs that number of times). You can’t do what we do if you’re soft around the edges. When I started strongman, I was adamant I’d never have a power belly.” 

Tom continues whilst patting his rock-solid midriff. “I wanted to be like Mariusz Pudzianowski or Derek Poundstone – strong as a monster but with a superhero’s body. Growing up I had posters of Arnold Schwarzenegger on my wall, not Geoff Capes. But if a bodybuilder tried to pick up an atlas stone, they’d snap their biceps in two. It isn’t the same game. There’s looking strong, and there’s being strong.”

Older brother Luke nods in agreement, “Strongman is very much what it says on the tin. Mass moves mass. It’s as simple as that. But you have to be adaptable. The sport is more dynamic now, which is where Tom’s length of arm comes in.” He beams with pride as he speaks. Having cheered his brother on to back-to-back World’s Strongest Man titles in 2021 and 2022.

 

TOP Tom Stoltman pulls an 18-tonne Sacramento transit bus. In 40 degree heat. BELOW Luke loads his final atlas stone at World's Strongest Man 2021.

 

“It’s not conventional, or normal, to see a 28-stone man sprinting whilst carrying a 140-kilogram bag. Running in sand,” he says. “Strongman is still a bit of a novelty, despite being around forever.  It’s built for a different sporting audience. It hasn’t got that pure professionalism, that you get with major sports like football or rugby – or powerlifting even.  But we’re very much professional athletes in our own right.” This is Europe’s Strongest Man speaking.

And it’s now Tom’s turn to pick up on his elder brother’s train of thought. “The textbook way of lifting things usually gets thrown out the window in strongman events,” he says before elaborating. “You watch us picking up atlas stones and our backs are bent double. Twisted. And hunched over. You see athletes passing out after attempting heavy lifts. Sometimes the exertion is so great it means competitors soiling themselves. That just exists as a marker. For our efforts. Nothing special. It’s what it takes. Because picking up a 210-kilo boulder made of reinforced concrete isn’t exactly natural.”

There’s a bit of a pause before Tom continues, “I’m lifting things people should never lift,” he says. Justifying his alternative nickname as ‘King of the Stones’. “I’ve never lost a stone-off,” he says. “And touch wood we’ve not had any massive injuries beyond a crushed finger or two. That’s because our bodies can fold into shapes they shouldn’t ordinarily be put in. We’re conditioned to do that. Designed for it. And tailored to fit.”

Tom is on a bit of a roll now, he continues to speak knowledgeably and passionately on his sport, “Look at Mark ‘the Miracle’ Felix. He’s setting World Records at 58 years old in a sport dominated by blokes in their early 30s. Watching him you’re like: ‘How has he not broken himself?’ But there are no rules when it comes to being a strongman.”

Aged 39 and keen to talk about the wider world of their sport, Luke shows us the new (extra-large) £10,000 Hyperbaric chamber that arrived at the brothers’ gym earlier that morning. It looks like a miniature spaceship and is an essential item of technology in this spit-and-sawdust world. 

 

In the chamber: the lads show us their new favourite toy. 

 

“Hyperbaric therapy allows you to breathe concentrated oxygen while the body is under increased atmospheric pressure in the chamber. It lets our lungs absorb more oxygen into the bloodstream, resulting in a greater supply to all parts of the body.” In essence, it supports faster recovery, meaning, practically, that the body can undertake more work, more often, with a reduced chance of injury.  

 “One of the things that separated Novak Djokovic from the rest of the world during his early successes was travelling with world-class equipment like this,” adds Tom. “He’s still the fittest tennis player on the planet. More flexible than anyone else. And a serial winner. We’re trying to take strongman to that level.”

“We’re like lab rats,” adds Luke. “Getting the right nutrition, minerals, vitamins, and supplements is critical to getting the most out of the human body. It’s the basis for everything. Fuel for our engines in the most literal sense. Gone are the days when you’d have fish and chips and a few pints before a competition.”

“And it’s difficult to cope with. Impossible for most normal folk. Dangerous, in fact. 

“We have a full-time nutritionist now too, Nathan Payton, who has masterminded the training of seven of the last 14 World’s Strongest Man titles, including two for us. 

“Tom eats in excess of 10,000 calories a day in prep for the bigger competitions. I’ll be eating a little less, sitting at around 8,000. Four times that of your average man.” 

Whilst possessing the metabolism to eat your weight in cheesecake and free steak – as they do – courtesy of their partnership with Scottish butcher Campbells Prime Meat. It might sound great, not worrying about your calorie intake, but Luke ‘The Highland Oak’ informs me that ‘putting away’ that amount of food is actually just hard. Much like the sport itself. And getting to this level. 

Luke tells us about spending a large chunk of his early strongman career, competing whilst working on oil rigs offshore. “Until I went full-time in 2019, I was already utterly consumed by it. The idea of it, particularly. But in reality, I was winging it. My body wasn’t the right shape – I was still quite slim around the waist, more a bodybuilder than a strongman, as Tom mentioned. I needed to eat more and get heavier, to enable me to be able to shift more mass. 

“When I was on the rigs, I’d ask the guy in the kitchen to pile my plates up high. But all it meant was that I’d end up doing a ridiculous number of repetitions of lifts, because the weights themselves weren’t heavy enough for me. None of it was optimal. At all. But I was lucky in having Tom to help me through that phase.”

Luke continues, “The nearest proper gym back then was in Aberdeen. That was a six-hour round trip. So I had no real choice but to bite the bullet and buy some expensive equipment. I bought a log press, a yoke, an axle bar, a couple of giant weights – 500kg of plates – and a set of atlas stones. Certainly not your standard shopping list of a couple of dumbbells and a skipping rope!

“It’s much different now. We get sent so much free stuff that I have an atlas stone sculpture in my back garden. But Strongmen equipment doesn’t come cheap. Luckily our late mum bought our first stones as a Christmas present, which was a bit more thoughtful than socks, and a testament to her as a person. As a shared inspiration of ours, I don’t know where we’d be without her.”

It's Tom’s turn to speak about his own strongman journey. His early experiences, he describes as like being in a foreign land. “Luke first dragged me to the gym when I was a skinny 16-year-old. I’d quit my first love of football having been told I wasn’t good enough in the Rangers Academy, I’d quit school, and I’d quit college. If it wasn’t for the gym, I’d probably still be playing Xbox in my childhood bedroom.

 

Tom Stoltman realises his dream of becoming the World's Strongest Goalkeeper in front of 80,000 at SoccerAid. The World's Strongest Anything, infact.

 

“That first time in the gym, I stuck to his side and wouldn’t leave him. As usual, I had my sweatshirt hood over my face and my head down. To be honest, I hated every minute of it, I hate anything new, pretty much. When you’re autistic the worst things are crowds, mirrors, and people. A busy gym was my worst nightmare. And everyone was stronger than me.”

But he grew to love what he describes as ‘the world of physical pain’, soon enough able to lift well over 300kg. “Since Mum passed, strongman has become a family for me,” he adds. “Walking past holiday-goers in hotels is always funny, you can see it on their faces when they clock a strongman.  They’re thinking ‘holy shit, what on earth is that?’ 

“It brings together big lumps of men from all over the world. Each with different personalities. Some of them look angry all the time – which can feel intimidating if you don’t know them, I’m sure. But they’re all just big kids, seeing who can do the biggest bomb in the pool. 

“As sports go it’s a tough arena, possibly one of the toughest,” states Luke. Continuing his thoughts, younger brother Tom takes the baton. “At the end of the day, it could be anyone’s last competition. It’s life or death; the pressure you put on your body. We sacrifice a lot and are prepared to sacrifice it all. And that’s because the stuff we’re lifting is abnormal. If we don’t respect that in each other, jeez, there must be something pretty cold in you. 

“The fans can see that we’re pushing our bodies to the absolute limit, and it’s possible that one of us could drop dead during any event. We’ve seen really bad injuries close-up, and it is brutal.”

The pair talk about spending more time (and money) at their strongman warehouse down the road in Inverness. It’s a place that has purpose-built yolks to train with and also a Conan’s Wheel – a torturous-looking piece of near-medieval equipment with weights attached that are carried around a single central focal point. The brothers also tell us that they even know a guy who lets them practice pulling his trucks. “Not everyone can say that, can they?” offers Tom.

Luke picks up the narrative of training for competition. Especially ‘the big one’. “Everything intensifies for World's Strongest Man,” he says. “It's the most important title of the whole year, so the training needs to be as intense as it possibly can be.”

 

 

Luke Stoltman ramps up the intensity in competition. As always. 

 

To be named the World’s Strongest Man, the ultimate alpha, is according to the boys – the thing they ‘live for.’  Now entering its final 10-week prep phase, for an event to be held in 2024 at Myrtle Beach in South Carolina, things are, they tell us, about to ramp up.

And by the looks of the deadlift session taking place soon after the conclusion of our conversation, things already seem to be pretty intense. 

Luke uses music as added motivation. The song ‘I’m a Beast’ by artist T. Powell stimulates the prep for a four-plate deadlift. Smashing his hands together, spraying chalk everywhere, the process of pulling the enormous weight from the floor also serves to re-open and make bleed scars the length of his shins. 

The words ‘trust me you will survive’ are written on the breezeblock wall.  As nearly half a tonne of iron is wrenched upwards, “That wasn’t bad,” states the elder Stoltman. Not bad at all. 

Tom is chasing a British record third World’s Strongest Man title in the States. Geoff Capes – fondly remembered for tearing London telephone directories in half – and Eddie ‘The Beast’ Hall – frying pan destroyer, tank owner, and the first person to deadlift 500kg – both equal the Scotsman on two.

“Placing first at Britain’s Strongest Man and third at the Arnold Classic is a massive mental boost to myself,” says Tom. “As the difference between a one-day show (at regional competitions) and the five-day show at World’s means you have to train differently. Training for it means treating every lift like it’s do or die. Leaving the gym feeling like you might collapse. That’s the only way to get better.”

The lads joke about putting in all that work now, only for the event to be shown at Christmas in the UK. “It’s been like that since day one. Strongman is very much a tradition,” says Luke. “I remember us being wee young ones watching Magnús ver Magnússon win. And that’s just how it’s always been.

“There are ways and means of bringing the sport into the modern era, yes, but it’s nice in a way that this tradition remains. To think there might be young ’uns tuning in on Christmas morning watching us pick up something heavy and cause our own bit of chaos is special.”

An encyclopaedia of Strongman Knowledge, both past and present, Tom continues to look ahead to what is hoped will be a career-defining event for him. “There’s so much competition for the title out there. I’d be a fool to think I’ll win it. Mitchell Hooper is reigning champion. And Ukrainian Oleksii Novikov won it the year before me. It’s hard to say who is favourite. Everyone will be turning up to win, that’s why they’re there. All in mint condition. And that includes the man sat next to me.

“Every single one of the 30 monsters that get invited to World’s think they are the strongest. And that’s just the mindset that goes with the territory. No-one is that good they can cut any corners. Trey Mitchell has won some big competitions. He’s a phenomenal athlete. But we focus on ourselves. Because I know if we come in at 100 per cent, we’ll both be on the podium. No doubt in my mind.” 

Clearly a product of such heavy metal surroundings, I asked if the pair ever take time off. Luke said “A couple of years ago we had a break after World’s. And it was actually pretty tough. It was nice to have time for kids and all, and we probably owed it to our wives, but it was difficult. Those competitions and goals are what keep us accountable. Tom went to Disney Land; I don’t think he knew what to do with himself.”

They talk about the UK-based one-day Giants Live shows as being particularly enjoyable. Of performing in front of fantastic crowds. Of the buzz. The pace. Of it being an incredible test of their all-round conditioning. “As professional strongmen, every part of your regime is as important,” says Luke. “From adrenaline levels to the levels of nervousness you’re experiencing. Glucose levels, even. And just generally anything that might affect your performance. Speaking in front of camera is a skill we must also perfect. Being a pro means developing a fanbase. Not something to be neglected or underestimated.”

They talk through the culture shock of this switch in gears. Of Invergordon being a place for around 4,000 living things – including pets and wildlife – compared to competing in front of 10,000 plus in a stadium. “You tap into your own ways of channelling that energy,” states Luke again. “Eddie Hall would speak about tapping into a dark, dark space. Picturing horrible things happening to his family. As motivation. I used to do that too. But competing now I take energy from thinking about my new-born son. Thinking about my family more positively. Chanting his name in my head ‘KOA, KOA, KOA!’ I feel I can do anything in that heightened state of mind.”

The pair also talk about cold water swimming, stating its availability in abundance in the Highlands. As well as its life-affirming powers. The same goes for the people they hold most dear. Definitely a case of home being where the heart is. 

 

 

In with the Monsters of Loch Ness. The lads (unreluctantly) partake in a spot of cold-water therapy ahead of their preparations for World's Strongest Man in 2024. 

 

“I’ll never forget my first Scotland’s Strongest Man appearance,” Stoltman senior says. This time we’ve moved to a less work-focused setting whilst the pair shovel in some pre-prepared mince, tatties, and a shit tone of mayo. It offers up a moment for Luke to reminisce. “To everyone’s surprise, including my own, I had stumbled into my first competitive event from the Highlands. Having dulled my nerves with alcohol the night before. And I just kept winning events. 

After winning the stones, and by turn the competition, I then ripped my shirt off and screamed, ‘THIS IS EASY!’ It hadn’t been, but even then I had this intuition that I needed to put on a bit of a show. I even went as far as having some ‘Highland Oak’ t-shirts made for the folk that came down from Invergordon.”

The conversation turns to the business of being a strongman. Of the pair’s time growing the ‘Stoltman’ brand. As hinted at via the food intake necessary, being a strongman isn’t cheap. “Tom and I spent $3,000 on food at World’s Strongest Man when it was held in Sacramento,” states elder brother Luke. I’m spending more and more time on the business as I get older. It’s something I love doing.”

Equals in the Stoltman enterprise – and the food bill – Tom resumes. “We started working out of the cupboard behind us. We sold one or two ‘spicy’ t-shirts and that was cool. But fast-forward 10 years and we’re here, building our own Stoltman strongman legacy. We may still be in little old Invergordon, but what we’ve created here is pretty mind-boggling.”

He's alluding to the Strength Centre on the high street. And also the one million plus social media followers the pair have accumulated during their time competing. They now have a shop 200 yards up the road, replacing the aforementioned cupboard. It’s where operations are based now. But despite these outward trappings of success, they still choose to travel in a car neither of them really fit in (a sliver Mercedes GLA, which would normally have ample room for a family of four). Especially when sat shoulder to shoulder. With seats reclined nearly all the way back.

Their presence is impossible to miss. The sign welcoming visitors at the town’s boundary reads: ‘Hometown of the Stoltman Brothers. World. European & UK Strongest Men’. With their own bright orange Stoltman signage even easier to spot. We’re passed by an older gentleman, walking his dog whilst wearing a red and black Stoltman lumberjack shirt and a green Stoltman beanie hat. A ‘game’ the pair described when we first sat down as ‘moving an object from A to B’ now feels like so much more. It’s a business. A lifestyle. And to some degree a whole regional specialism and industry.

Luke won his second Europe’s Strongest Man title some two weeks after speaking to Pitch, beating 2020’s World’s Strongest Man, Oleksii Novikov, in the process. The pair now look more likely than ever to add to their list of titles. Don’t be surprised to see a Stoltman in possession of what is acknowledged as the world’s heaviest trophy (a giant golden globe sat atop a steel podium) when you tune in to World’s Strongest Man this coming December. Even if the pair have competed for that title, ‘come what May’.*

 

*Tom Stoltman would go on to realise his third World's Strongest Man title in May 2024. becoming the first Brit to win three in the process. Stay spicy x

 

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