Flipping tires


Allan Thrall flips a tire that weighs 440 pounds. Thrall is the owner of Untamed Strength, a gym that specializes in strongman training. (Photo by Bailey Carpenter)

Timothy Lipuma

The popular conception of athletes who compete in strongman events is that they are always men who have bulging muscles that invoke images of Arnold Schwarzenegger; the reality is that the type of person who trains is more diverse.

Karley Broadbent trains at Untamed Strength, a strongman gym a short distance away from American River College, who is also a ballet dancer.

The term strongman first came into use to describe circus performers demonstrating feats of strength, like bending iron bars. The modern usage of the term refers to the sport of strongman, popularized by the World’s Strongest Man competition.

Broadbent enjoys participating in an exercise that has her lift an Atlas stone, which is a smooth sphere of concrete that weights from the range of 20 to 500 plus lbs, and putting it over a bar. With every succession, the person progresses to a heavier stone.

“Honestly it’s a lot of fun being strong and lifting heavy things.” Broadbent said. “The Atlas stones are my favorite, because I never thought I’d be able to lift a 110 lb rock.”

Brandy French overhead presses at the strongman-styled gym.
Brandy French overhead presses at the strongman-styled gym. (Photo by Bailey Carpenter)

Untamed Strength does not offer cable machines or treadmills, but there are plenty of tires, iron and chains.  Much of the equipment around the gym were made or obtained by Thrall at minimal cost.

“The business secret is that it’s very easy to acquire strongman equipment. I made those Atlas stones, those tires were from a junkyard for free, the kegs are from Craigslist and I filled them with sand,” Thrall said.

“If you’re looking at opening an Olympic weightlifting gym, and you have to buy $600 barbells, the bumpers, the kilogram plates—or a powerlifting gym and you have to buy certain types of racks to squat in—it’s very expensive.”

Untamed Strength wasn’t always filled with its eclectic group. When Thrall opened his first location in September 2013, he didn’t have many members, so he created YouTube videos to pass the time.

“When I opened the gym I had no intentions of starting a YouTube channel or promoting the gym. When I first opened I had no clients or no members, so it was just long hours and empty gym,” Thrall said.

The video that lifted him to internet stardom was his tutorial on squatting, posted in June 2014.

Thrall recalled that he had a few hundred subscribers before that video went viral.

His fun side project then turned into a huge platform – his YouTube channel currently has over 160,000 subscribers.

His YouTube videos have helped Untamed Strength grow since its opening, with many people, like Tom Jones, seeking personal training sessions with Thrall.

Jones is a 67 year old grandfather who has been powerlifting since he was 22. He deadlifted 385 lbs for three reps in his house slippers on Strongman Saturday.

Thomas Phan is a high school student who train at Untamed Strength. (Photo by Bailey Carpenter)
Thomas Phan is a high school student who train at Untamed Strength. (Photo by Bailey Carpenter)

“It’s always good to test your limits, and it’s always good to try and improve yourself, whether it’s by bodybuilding or strongman competition. This is one of the areas of life where you can improve yourself, and especially in strongman, it transfers over to other areas in life.”

With no shortage of choices when it comes to exercise, it might be easy to overlook a strongman gym as a place to train, but Thrall says there’s a starting level for everyone.

“Anyone can do strongman…we have a 55 lb log you can press overhead, an empty 35 lb keg, so it can be adjusted. Anyone can do it as long as the gym has the equipment for it. It’s completely accessible. I hate hearing people say ‘I’m not ready to come here, I’m not strong enough,’ that’s the whole point of coming here—to get stronger,” Thrall said.