Student competes as ‘strongman'

| 10/10/10 10:00pm

Strongman Mike Piccioli '08 shudders when asked how much he can bench press or bicep curl.

"Those are things you see a lot of people doing," said Piccioli, who spends most days splitting time between training at the River Valley Club in Lebanon and taking classes at Dartmouth Medical School, where he is in his first year. "But in terms of natural movements, neither of those are especially important in my mind."

Piccioli's distaste for these exercises stems from training for and participating in strongman competitions for the last two years, he said. From an athletic perspective, Piccioli said he finds strongman-oriented exercises more valuable than standard gym workouts, like the bench press.

"I like to do a lot of explosive, complex body movements," he said. "Those are more in tune with full body strength and, in my mind, athleticism."

Strongman events pit the strongest and most daring athletes against each other in a series of unusual athletic endeavors. In Piccioli's most recent competition September's New Hampshire Strongest Man and Woman event athletes attempted feats that included pulling a fire truck, lifting a Jeep Wrangler and flipping a 510-pound tire.

Piccioli took first place in the 175 pound-and-under division at the competition, earning a spot to compete at the North American Strongman National Championships. The event takes place later this year in Reno, Nev., although practical concerns prevent him from attending.

"It's pay your way, and I'm a medical student with zero money," Piccioli said. "It's also in mid-November, and our finals are going to be before Thanksgiving."

Piccoli said he first became interested in strongman competitions two years ago, when he began exercising at the River Valley Club. Several members of the gym participated in the competitions, and the gym owns strongman workout equipment, Piccioli said.

"I started working out at the River Valley Club for convenience," he said. "I was working two jobs at the time, and it was located right in the middle."

Bored with his typical workouts, Piccioli said the novelty surrounding strongman competitions motivated him to begin training.

"I needed something to keep it exciting," he said. "It's pretty wild."

Although training for the competitions requires considerable discipline, Piccioli's four years of experience rowing for the lightweight crew at Dartmouth has likely contributed to his success, said Emerson Curry '08, Piccioli's former teammate and the current lightweight crew coach.

"Eighty percent of those who start [crew] quit," Curry said. "He throws himself at weightlifting in the same way he threw himself at rowing."

Strongman competitions particularly the smaller ones in which Piccioli competes attract relatively little attention, proving that Piccioli has a large amount of internal motivation, Curry said.

"It's not like he is running around as the king of med school because of these competitions," Curry said. "I went to one of his competitions, and it was held at a parking lot in some public school in nowhere New Hampshire. There weren't many spectators."

Although many strongman participants are "brawniacs" individuals with advanced degrees who are also fearsome athletes their intelligence is not relevant while competing, Piccioli said.

"At the competitions, we're all just getting in a work out, competing in what we do," he said. "Rarely is someone going to bring up their career and start talking about their advanced research."

Many competitors participate as a change of pace from their daily lifestyle, Piccioli said.

"When I'm really stressed out at school or work, it's nice to be able to get away from that, listen to some loud music and lift some heavy things," he said.

Piccioli did acknowledge a conflict between competing in strongman events and his interest in medicine. Injuries, he said, are relatively common among strongman athletes.

"A lot of the events aren't set up to be controlled like Olympic lifting," he said. "They're more like, Here's a heavy object and move it the best you can.' They're really bad for your joints."

Piccioli has dealt with a significant amount of joint pain and tendonitis and knows two athletes who are currently dealing with torn biceps. Yet the risks of competing are not a deterrent, he said.

"What it comes down to for me is that I want to be healthy, and a big part of that is fitness," Piccioli said. "There are risks in everything you do. In my time working in the emergency department at [Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center] in the winter, every other person coming in for trauma was a skier or a snowboarder. That doesn't mean I'm going to give up skiing."

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