Strong contender for world title

Swindon Advertiser: Laurence Shahlaei at Pro Strength and Fitness gym Laurence Shahlaei at Pro Strength and Fitness gym

AT 21, Laurence Shahlaei saw the World’s Strongest Man competition on TV in its now familiar Christmas slot.

At 30 he’s a veteran of the competition, a world record holder and the strongest in the country for the second year running.

The journey has taught him some interesting lessons, such as the way Atlas Stones – spheres of solid concrete about the size of a Spacehopper – will take the skin off your hands and inner arms as you heave them on to a plinth.

Then there’s the sensation of tearing a bicep while flipping a giant tyre weighing hundreds of pounds.

“It’s weird. It doesn’t even feel painful at the time but it sounds like... I guess the only way I can describe it is like bubble wrap popping.

“It’s not until the swelling comes out that it starts to hurt.”

Monday sees the World’s Strongest Man competition, now in its 36th year, return to Five for a run that’ll last until Christmas Eve.

Among the contestants will be Cheltenham-born Laurence, who is obliged not to reveal the results.

He lives in Walcot with girlfriend Liz Mason and is a personal trainer at Pro Strength and Fitness on the Isis Trading Estate, where he himself trains.

Asked what it takes to be a world class strength athlete, he cheerily admitted: “At the top level most of us are genetic freaks. I’m never going to be a ballet dancer!

“There’s also a lot of hard training and determination involved.”

Always strong, athletic and good at sport, Laurence was a junior British Kung Fu champion at 11, later played rugby for the South West and has been a table tennis coach.

He was studying for his degree in Sports Education at Gloucester when he happened to watch a World’s Strongest Man show on his parents’ TV and decided to try his hand.

That was in 2004. Laurence had never set foot in a gym. By 2007 he’d won the Midlands Strongest Man competition and qualified for Britain’s Strongest Man, only to tear a bicep.

He was fourth in Britain’s Strongest Man the following year, England’s strongest in 2009 and Britain’s strongest last year and this year.

He has competed in the World’s Strongest Man competition five times and his best showing so far was a fourth place in 2011. That year also saw him earn a place in the Guinness World Record book for the Farmer’s Walk, covering 20 metres in 6.73 seconds while carrying a 150-kilo – 23 stone – weight with each hand.

He also excels at the Yoke, a torturer’s version of the traditional milkmaid’s implement for carrying buckets. Laurence managed to carry 430 kilos – nearly 950lbs – for 40 metres in 19 seconds.

Another favourite event is the Squat, which involves repeatedly crouching and standing while bearing a weight on the shoulders. Laurence has never been beaten at this in a World’s Strongest Man competition, and once rose from a squat while lifting 400 kilos. That’s 881 pounds. He is also the British deadlift record holder, having raised 433 kilos – 954lbs – from the ground and risen to a standing position.

“Squat is one of those events where gravity works against you,” said Laurence. “It feels like it wants to crush you.

“You have to be mentally strong and believe in your leg strength.

“Deadlift isn’t so bad because you can drop it.”

There’s also that favourite of TV audiences, the Truck Pull, which Laurence calls a total body event.

“It requires an awful lot of leg power, and also endurance in the legs and lungs. Your legs fill with lactic acid. It feels like your legs are on fire, like there’s a red hot poker...” He mimed jabbing one into his legs.

Not everybody has the genetics or the determination needed to become a strength athlete, but Laurence insists that anybody can improve their general health and fitness with some form of sport or training.

“The most important thing is to find something you enjoy doing,” he said. “There are so many different sports and ways to train.

“People associate coming to a gym to get fit with just running on a treadmill, but there are so many things you can do to keep things fun and enjoyable.”

Laurence’s website is laurenceshahlaei. co.uk, and Pro Strength and Fitness is at prostrengthandfitness.co.uk World’s Strongest Man starts at 7pm on Monday on Five .

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