Many people know the Arnold Sports Festival for the Arnold Classic and trade show, which captures the attention of fans and businesses alike. One of the events that is fast becoming a crowd favorite is the World's Strongest Firefighter (WSFF) Contest.
The 2023 edition was held at the Arnold Expo at the Greater Columbus Convention Center in Columbus, OH and the champion would be Andrew Burton, an amateur strongman and professional firefighter from Rock Wall, TX. This was Burton's first time at the event, and he capped his debut by personally accepting the trophy from Arnold Schwarzenegger.
"It felt great, man," Burton said. His congregation and his wife are perhaps prouder of it than he is.
"She doesn't make me forget that I'm the strongest firefighter in the world. She said it more often than me.
Burton was one of 18 finalists who excelled in the preliminary rounds and they were scheduled to compete in four different events - all with firefighting themes. Burton had five weeks after registering to prepare for this competition. Contest organizer ah Justin played a huge role in the creation of this contest and its continued growth into a major attraction for Arnold Weekend.
"Arnold wanted to create events that showcase the incredible strength of these men and women in uniform," he explained. These events paid homage to the sport of strongman and strongwoman while being unique to this competition.
Burton had access to some equipment at his fire station and also exercised at home. Training timing would be his biggest challenge.
"I've always tried to make sure I'm doing something essential while I'm at work because I had so much time there, even when we were on the phone. With the sleep schedule we have some days I've just been wiped out and I've been doing those straight cardio days.
Ambulance Tire Deadlift
The Arnold Strongman Classic used to have a lobster hoop deadlift that was visually stunning for fans and challenging for contestants due to the weight distribution. The organizers of the WSFF decided to create their own version of it.
"For the deadlift, we used tires from an ambulance instead."
Counting the bar and hoops, the men's open competitors, which included Burton, had to lift 600 pounds for as many reps as possible in a minute. Burton is 6ft 3in, which meant he had to pull the bar wide to lock. netheless, he placed second with 16 reps. Burton said this was a challenge for him because of the setup.
"I trained with a deadlift bar because I knew their bar would be so long and give more," he shared. Luckily for him, he'd been training with an axel, which is firmer and has a thicker grip, so the work he's done previously carried over to this event. Working with the two poles was the combination he needed to be successful. He just needed to improve endurance and turn off reps and more reps.
"I had several weeks of pulling from this position, with some very straight bars, and the deadlift bar at the end helped me get a feel for the machine."
Next, the athletes had to carry three different sandbags 40 feet as fast as possible. Some fire departments use a similar exercise during training. The bags Burton had to work with were 220, 250 and 300 pounds respectively. He finished this event in fifth place with a time of 43.33 seconds. In his defense, the top-five finishers were less than three seconds apart, and Burton lost his balance carrying the last bag holding him. Since Burton competes in strongman and this is a common occurrence, he already had punchbags to work with. This was a matter of mastering the technique and he used a slightly smaller bag to help with the prep as well.
“I have a £300 bag at my house. That's right on the cusp of where it gets taxing on the body," Burton said. "I was able to train with a 271 pound bag and it was in this beautiful area where I could train but not get trashed."
The afternoon's third event was similar to a traditional crucifix hold except that the firefighters had to use axes with weights on the ground. Your back is against a wall or board, your arms had to be parallel to the ground and your job was to keep the axes in that position for as long as possible. Burton managed to keep two 25-pound axes in the air for just under a minute. He placed third at the event. Aside from fighting gravity, your shoulders, arms and core are working hard in this event.
"I knew this was going to be one of my worst events," he admitted. "I don't know anyone who does lateral raises and ends up holding."
Burton chose to start by holding 20-pound dumbbells and working out for a time of 75 seconds. After achieving that goal, he worked his way up to heavier dumbbells. He could last a minute plus with the 25s.
"Usually it was internal rotation in one of my shoulders that caused me to fall. I just had to do more static holds.”
The last event was the hydrant loading. The participants had to lift and set up four hydrants, which were progressively heavier than the last one, on pedestals. The fire hydrants Burton had to use weighed between 175 and 250 pounds. It's generally difficult to find fire hydrants, let alone ones that heavy. So Justin and his team made a compromise.
“So of course we had to dismantle the hydrants, gut them and load them with plates for loading. The plates were downstairs.”
Burton won that event by lifting all four hydrants onto their platforms in 17.17 seconds and it secured him the championship. Leave it to a professional firefighter to find the best solution to prepare for. thing beats training for an event with a strange object like having one of your own.
“I was lucky that we had a fire hydrant that we didn't use for our station. It just lay around collecting dust. So I cleaned it and this sucker weighed 225 pounds. I couldn't have been happier. Mine was a lot bigger than hers and it had all its steamer heads on.”
Though Burton has that title under his belt, he's not done competing in 2023. He's still preparing for the United States Strongman National Championships in June and the Strongman Corporation Nationals in Pennsylvania in October. To keep up with him and see more of the 2023 competition, you can follow him on Instagram @aburton428 and the World's Strongest Firefighter Organization @asfworldsstrongestfirefighter.