May 14, 2005

Hugo Girard

(info about Hugo Girard)

Beyond excellence, surpassing oneself

Thomas Kieller

Hugo Girard: Strongman.

With his impressive athletic shape and with his craze for victory, Hugo realizes extraordinary sporting achievements which arouse the enthusiasm of crowds. He lifts up at arm's length metal beams over 400 pounds. He moves around dynamically the famous Atlas' stones which he drops onto high platforms. He flips cars upside down, pulls and holds back cars of all kinds where only a few would attempt to try. When we see him run with unusual shaped objects weighing 385 pounds in each hand, we can only smile in front of such achievements of strength and display of willpower.

The interview took place on April 13, 2005 at 16:30 in a small restaurant in the locality of Val-Bélair, Canada.

Prelude – Hugo enters, in the company of his father, into the restaurant in a relaxed manner; even if an injury to his Achilles' heel happened in a recent competition forces him to wear a splint on the left foot.

World's Strongest Man

Thomas Kieller: Since 1998, you have competed in many international contests. These competitions are tough; push the athletes to surpass themselves and tax them physically. Can you explain the unfolding of the most renowned contest, the World's Strongest Man? Can you tell us the number of days dedicated to the qualifications and to the finals, and also the number of events one must do?

Hugo Girard: The qualifications consist of six events that we do over three days. Therefore, there are two events per day. After that, there are three to four days off. In the finals, there are seven events over four days. If I compare this to training, it's a relatively small volume. I train six days per week, from two to three sessions per day for about 30 hours per week. The necessary volume of training for a world level contest is enormous for an event which sometimes will last only one to two minutes.

Thomas: To perform in these high caliber contests, do you push yourself in every event or do you manage yourself to retain some force?

Hugo: The training sessions are built to prepare me to perform at my best during competition. A few weeks before a contest, I train in such a way to hold back a little bit. I work mainly on the technical aspect. However, the intensity will rise as the contest approaches. During the last training sessions, the intensity will be very close to the one occurring in the competition. I try to do the distances exactly with the weights to give me some reference time.

Thomas: Then, in every event, you push yourself to the maximum?

Hugo (confirms energetically): Yes, in every event, I push myself according to the daily objectives of the training.

Thomas: What are the toughest events in the contests?

Hugo: The most difficult thing is to give one hundred percent of oneself. Every event has its degree of difficulty. An event which is more difficult for me will not necessarily be for another. What has to be considered is our physical capacities and the way that we are built. There are some events which will be easier for the taller athletes. Nevertheless, I would say that, in general, the difficulty is to give one's one hundred percent because there are many things which can influence the results. For example, sleep, sickness or even what's happening at home. It's because of these kinds of elements that when the competition arrives and one must perform, we may not have necessarily the results that we would like to have.

Thomas: In Malta, in 1999, you pulled an 83 ton Boeing 737. Is this a kind of event more spectacular than tough physically?

Hugo (says heartily and laughing a little bit): All the events are really tough. I remember my reaction when I saw the plane for the first time. I had disembarked at the airport and after I passed through the necessary inspection, they brought us by bus to see the plane. I found myself face to face with the airplane. Like anyone can assume, it's not everyday that we have the chance to pull a Boeing. The first reaction is to start to doubt because one doesn't know. They give us a weight. But 80 tons, what's 80 tons! To overcome this fear, one should concentrate on the elements that can be controlled. Taking into account that I don't control the weight, that I don't control the plane because I have never touched it and that I don't have a trial run, I must concentrate on the things I do control, such as the technique. I could say that a plane, a boat, a truck or a car is pulled in the same manner. There is a technique and a certain way to position your body. There is a technique to pull and to push at the same time. These are our reference points. I remember that, at the start, when I began pulling the plane it did not move. I started panicking a little bit. Everything was going so fast. I told myself: don't panic, continue to pull and take small steps. Suddenly, it began to move. From the moment when it started to move, it seemed that everything was back in order and I knew exactly what to do. Finally, it was not anymore a plane that I was pulling. I was attached to a mass and I was doing what I was trained to do. I had a very good result. This was the state of mind in which I was in.

Thomas: There is an event which is particularly difficult for the athletes. It's the farmer's walk. One must walk over a distance of 80 meters with a load which can go up to 330 pounds in each hand. A trying event where we can see the competitors grimacing. In your case, it seems easy. It is one of yours specialties. What do you do to perform well in this event?

Hugo: Just as you have said, it's an event which is easier for me than for the other competitors, but I am not saying that it's easy to do. My objective is to concentrate myself on the finish line. I don't think at how I feel at the moment, because I do not believe that I feel better than my competitors. It's just that in some way I forget the pain. I concentrate myself on the finish line and on what I must do. I make sure that I have a good rhythm. I avoid any rocking motion (to move a lot from side to side when walking). We lose energy this way and it puts a lot of stress on our hands. When I have a fluid rhythm, I have better speed and I waste less energy. I can almost predict what will occur, such as when I will start to slow down and in which position I must be to turn. It's really that, I fix on the finish line as the objective and nothing less, but I do it in two parts. There are the first 40 meters to cover, after that I must turn. At the turning point, there are sometimes small difficulties that we must not neglect and again it's all of the training that prepare me for it. After, I do the same thing that I have done at the beginning. I retake a good rhythm and I continue until I reach the finish line.

Training of a strongman

Thomas: I can see that there is a lot of training. What do you do during training?

Hugo: Training consists of a cardiovasculary session that I generally do in the morning. After that, there are exercises with weights and dumb-bells as well as training in the events. First, I exercise different parts of the body with weights and dumb-bells. Then, I perform events which are related to these parts of the body. The cardiovasculary training gives me the necessary resistance to perform well during the events. They are not only based on strength. There is a lot of endurance and resistance involved. The best way to prepare for this stress is precisely to train the heart. The heart is truly the motor.

Thomas: Indeed, we can see that during the competitions, there are a lot of events which make the cardiorespiratory system work at a high intensity. What do you do to train your heart?

Hugo: During training, I usually do a 20 to 40 minute session where I work by intervals on a stationary bike or on a stair step master. Moreover, I run up and down stairs. Afterwards, there are jumps which are very intense movements. It permits me to work on the transfer of the nerve impulses in order that I can be more explosive during competitions. Also, I practice events such as the loaded sled which is attached to my waist. I walk a few hundred meters. At the beginning, it's really easy, but with time it becomes a lot more difficult. The heart is really working. Therefore, all the exercises which increase the cardiac rhythm are tools to improve my cardiovasculary system.

Thomas: You also do a lot of strength exercises. What objects do you move and what kind of equipment do you use?

Hugo: Concerning the events, it's relatively simple. I use the same equipment that we find in competition such as the Atlas' stones. Unfortunately, I don't have a Boeing 737 (Ha ha ha!). I will use my truck instead. I use the emergency brake to increase resistance. I work also with metal sleds where I add weights. Moreover, I have metal beams for the log lift. Besides, I use cars frequently. I lift a car many times to practice the dead lift. I practice also the Hercules' hold, mainly where I hold cars on ramps to work on my grip. I also flip cars upside down. Furthermore, I work with tires. Tires weighing 1,000 pounds. I have three kinds of tires in order to work on speed, resistance and strength. I have other unusual objects that we find in competition. The athletes must have these objects to be able to develop the techniques. With the weights and dumb-bells, I work on the squat, the bench press and the dead lift. It's a very complete training. I do 50 to 60 different movements.

Thomas: Do you have pleasure in training?

Hugo (says vigorously and without hesitating): Training, it's the fun part. It's never a chore to train. The competition is a lot more stressful. We still have fun, but sometimes we enjoy ourselves more than at other times. On the other hand, the competition is the test which tells me if I did my homework well during training. I like competition, but if you ask me which one I prefer, I will certainly respond training because it is at that time that I work on myself. In any sport, we learn a lot about ourselves. We learn about our capacities and to push back our limits. I think that by doing all this, it makes me a better person. Moreover, it will permit me to reach my goals in other aspects of my life. It's certain that the competitive aspect is a window on life which lasts for a limited time. After this, I will move along to other things. I think the tools that I will have acquired during my athletic life will be useful for other objectives that I will set my heart on in the future.

Thomas: Training is pleasant, but we can clearly see that it's tough. Does all this work permit you to be absolutely ready for competition or are there always imponderables and surprises during the events?

Hugo: There are always imponderables even if we think that we control everything. We never control everything. It's good this way because if we were controlling everything we would know in advance the results.


Thomas: On the international level, the competition is fierce. Who are your most ardent adversaries? And why are they?

Hugo: The toughest adversary is myself. The competition is first of all with myself. Sure, it's a little bit ridiculous to talk like this because on the result list there are many other names. However, the result is the reflection of what we are able to do. I think that we are always able to do better even though when we had a good result. Nevertheless, to answer your question more clearly, I can make a long list of high caliber athletes with whom I have battled frequently. Svend Karlsen is a name which comes back often, also Magnus Samuelsson and Mariusz Pudzianowski. More recently, we have Zydrunas Savickas and Vasil Virastuck who have made their grades and who are now first class athletes on the international scene. We must keep an eye on them in the coming years, because they are still young. Moreover, I expect to see another delegation from the East European countries. Strongmen contests are really starting to get popular in these countries. With large populations they have many athletes. They come from many disciplines. We have competitors which come from track and field and from weightlifting. These are sports of strength. They arrive with a particular background and with the support that their country gives them, so that with in just a short time they are becoming a strength that must considered.

Thomas: How many competitions do you do per year? Do you find this exhausting?

Hugo: In the past, I did about twelve competitions per year. I think that in the future this number will be reduced. In this year it will be reduced due to an injury. The next few years, I will concentrate myself on the competition where the outcome is more important. This will permit me to prepare myself better and to avoid injuries. We must not forget that the competitions are done in many countries with different time zones. It's very demanding for the body concerning its capacity to recover. We are not always at our best, but even so we must perform. I think with less competitions, I will control better the different aspects during competitions and surely I will obtain better results.

Sources of motivation

Thomas: What are your sources of motivation to do better?

Hugo: During the last few years, I have been a spokesperson for events which help sick children. I have participated in many fund raising such as the one for Leucan. The motivation, I would say, is that now I find it by being in contact with these children. I realize that my challenges are bluntly incomparable to the ones of these children. I have seen the moral and the reaction of these children when they see me. I have understood that in no way I have the right to abandon or not to give the best of myself because there is always another day to do what I do. I can always try again next year. I have talked with these youngsters. Sometimes, there is not a next day, but the hope is there. There is always something which gives them courage and to see this made me realize how much I am lucky to be healthy. How lucky I am able to do what I like, to appreciate it and to do it at my fullest capacities. I think that these children have given me more than what I have given them. It's really something which motivates me to go always further and to push even harder.

Thomas: Is a victory in a competition where your adversaries followed you on your heels greatly appreciated to the point that you forget the sensation of fatigue?

Hugo (expresses his enthusiasm): Effectively, when we win a competition, we feel so good because we realize that somehow the efforts that we have made have brought success. We have worked hard and we have succeeded. The real reward and the satisfaction do not come from the victory. It comes from the way that we achieve this victory. If I win where a competitor has injured himself or if he has slipped, it's certain that I will accept it, but it does not have the same taste as when I beat my adversary at his best. I have a feeling of great satisfaction when I have the impression that everything I have done, I did it to the maximum and I couldn't have done any better. When we beat the best at their best, we have the satisfaction to be the best.