Story by Dianna Troyer
How many men does it take to lift a car? Only one if it is Brett Thompson, a professional strongman.
Since graduating from Minico High School in 2013, the Heyburn native has trained himself to lift a car—not once but several times. The feat is an event at strongman contests.
“The most I’ve done is 15 reps in one minute, deadlifting a Toyota Corolla with 400 pounds of added weight in the trunk,” Brett says. “I knew how many times I had to do it to win yet still have enough strength left for the other events.”
Brett lifted the car by handles attached to it and had to stand completely straight with knees locked for each lift to count, according to rules of United States Strongman, the organization that oversees competitions.
During strongman contests, competitors’ strength and endurance are tested in five to six events. They lift heavy, awkward-shaped objects. Depending on the event, they are scored based on how often they lift an object in a specific time, or the amount of weight lifted once, or how quickly they can complete a task.
Besides cars, other objects to be moved or lifted include a 450-pound concrete ball, a 1,000-pound tractor tire, sandbags, kegs, a shoulder-frame fitted with weights, or two long bars that must be carried while walking quickly to a finish line.
“We know in general what the events will be,” Brett says, “but there’s always a surprise, too. My favorite event is anything where I get to be explosive and move weight. I enjoy pressing axles and circus dumbbells overhead.”
Strongman contests are popular to watch because people are impressed with how much weight a person can lift, Brett says. To protect themselves from injury, competitors use weightlifting belts, knee wraps and lifting gloves.
Brett can press a 245-pound dumbbell overhead with one arm.
“The most I’ve ever lifted was 865 pounds on 16-inch deadlift,” he says. “It’s amazing with training what your body can do.”
Brett, 27, estimates he has gained about 60 pounds since he began training and competing in strongman contests when he was 19. Weighing 380 pounds and standing 6 feet, 5 inches tall, Brett competes in the heavyweight class.
“I’ve always liked lifting weights and missed playing football after high school,” he says. “To fill that void, I entered Scottish Games and did well, so thought I’d try strongman contests, too. I really like how supportive strongman competitors are of each other from novice to pro classes. Everyone is positive. We’re cheering each other on even if it means someone else might beat you.”
In February, Brett achieved a longtime goal when he earned his professional card by placing first overall at a professional contest put on by Berserker Strength and Conditioning in Boise.
“I won every event,” he says. “It was fun. I’m excited it qualified me for a larger pro show, the USS International Pro Show in Texas in August.”
To prepare for the three contests he enters annually, Brett trains in his spare time after getting off work at the College of Southern Idaho, where he teaches economics.
“Each contest usually involves two to three months of preparation and practice on the specific events,” says Brett, who trains four times weekly at Factory Fitness in Burley. “I store my strongman implements there, and it has a great environment for heavy lifting.”
He credits his coaches at Minico High School for teaching him to have mental fortitude during training and competition.
“Doing sports, primarily football, instilled in me a work ethic that allows me to stay focused and spend hours in the gym every week training,” Brett says.
He is training for his next competition, the Rainier Classic in Washington in June.
“Last year, I beat five professionals to win the show and get the prize money,” he says. “Now I am returning as a professional to try to win it again. I don’t really get nervous at contests because I’ve trained so well and feel prepared.”
As for diet, Brett says he tries “to eat as much meat and rice as possible and avoid bread and sugar, but usually fail to do so.” His strength is legendary among friends.
“A friend needed an X-ray machine moved and called Brett,” says his girlfriend, Janae Young. “She knew he could get it done.”
Wherever he competes, Brett counts on his family to cheer him on. He has entered contests in Idaho, Iowa, Nevada, Oregon, Texas and Washington.
“They’re the best,” he says. “My entire family comes to every competition—both in and out of state and will continue to attend.”
His mom, Amber, says, “It’s inspiring to see his years of training come to fruition. What he does is amazing.”
Her favorite event is watching him lift the Husafell stone, a coffin-shaped object weighing 420 pounds.
“He’s never been beat in that event,” she says.
Brett says strongman contests can be a lifelong sport.
“You can get better and better,” he says. “You need strength as well as endurance, and as the years go by, you learn how to plan your strategy.”