Photography by Randall J. Strossen
If you like numbers, here are a few: Jesse Marunde is 26 years old and 6’5” and weighs about 315 pounds. What you can’t quantify is that he’s arguably the biggest American star to hit the strongman circuit in a long time. Beyond being an outstanding exemplar of the distinct mix of strength sport and entertainment that defines strongman competition, Marunde has the brains to understand and articulate what he does, combined with a charisma that makes people listen to what he says, so he’s going to help take what was once lumped into the category of “trash sports” and move it toward the mainstream.
With that much on his plate, it’s no wonder that Jesse hits the office early. Marunde trains twice a day, beginning with a morning workout that primes the pump for the heavy stuff in the afternoon. “I don’t drink coffee—this is my coffee,” he says of his morning workout, which is relatively light and designed to help chase away the residual soreness from the previous night’s training, as well as generally energize him for the frontal assault that’s coming again later that day.
Morning: Light-to-Moderate Workout
Maybe it starts at around 6 a.m., with Marunde hitting three sets of reverse hypers, followed by three sets of situps. Then he grabs an empty weightlifting bar and does 10 squats, followed immediately by 10 reps of deadlifts, military presses, snatches, jerks, good mornings, upright rows and bent-over rows, followed by some stretching movements; for example, stretching with the bar as he holds it overhead in the snatch position. After that prelude the actual morning workout begins.
•Sliding a five-kilogram plate on each end of the bar, Marunde does three sets of 20 reps of what he calls barbell jumping jacks, with the bar resting on his shoulders. Starting with a shoulder-width grip and a narrow stance, he jumps and kicks his feet out to the sides while he slides his hands to a wide grip position, in a movement that looks just like a conventional jumping jack Marunde did a very respectable stint as a weightlifter, so you’re going to see a lot of snatch- and clean-and-jerk-related movements in his training, and his morning workout includes a lot of submaximal Olympic-style weightlifting moves. He sees great carryover value.
“Olympic lifting requires coordination, flexibility, speed and explosive power—essential elements to being an elite strongman,” Marunde says. There’s a big rehabilitation component to the morning workouts, as he is working through the stiffness and soreness that followed the heavy training he did the night before.
•Next comes a clean sequence that includes a power clean and a military press, followed by a high hang clean and a push press, followed by a low hang clean and a jerk. Moving up in 10-kilogram jumps, he works up to about 120 kilograms in that sequence.
•Muscle snatches followed by two hang snatches are next, working up to about 100 kilograms.
•Front squats polish off the morning lifts; he works up to a single with 160 kilograms.
•Thirty minutes of kickboxing done hard enough “to keep my heart rate up” finishes things off.
The purpose of the morning workouts is to create more energy for the heavy evening workout, Marunde explains, and while his morning workout changes all the time, its role as a revitalizer remains constant.
Evening Heavy Workout
When evening comes around, the heavy workout begins.
•Drop snatches to start
•Power cleans, up to 160 or 170 kilograms
•Light front squats, up to 180 kilograms
•Sandbag carries: three sets down a 300-foot course, carried like a Husafell stone
Jesse says that he isn’t sure exactly how much it weighs, but he uses an IronMind sandbag, and he says it’s completely filled and packed tight with sand, so we’d guess it’s somewhere north of 300 pounds.
“I’m not afraid to train heavy the week of a competition, and sometimes I’ll do a maximum single a couple of days before a show,” he says, so don’t think all those heavy singles disappear when a competition is drawing near.
•Heavy power snatches, never going above doubles in his work sets and working up to 140 kilograms for a double or sometimes a single with 160 kilograms
•Heavy back squats, 5×5, not counting warmups—this is five work sets of five reps each, going up to about 500 pounds totally raw
“I wish I could do more, but that’s all I’ve got,” Marunde says apologetically. “I wish I were squatting 650×5, but I’m not.” Marunde will go to 700 for a double if he’s suited up. “If it were up to me, all strongman would be raw,” he said, “but it’s not, and I need all the help I can get”—which explains why you might see him stuffed into a squat suit at a strongman contest. Generally, though, expect to see Marunde hitting it raw; he might do a whole week’s training without a belt.
ALL•Front squats: two sets of 140 kilograms for 15 reps each
•Very heavy ab work with an ab wheel to strengthen the Marunde midsection
•Sled work: two 200-foot sled drags, using handles, pulling while going backward; one 200-foot sled drag going forward, hooked in a hip belt rather than a shoulder harness, to work the legs more
•Light snatches, up to 100 kilograms for three sets of three reps
•Lat work with a variety of different grips, including pipes, softballs and a two-inch revolving bar
•Eight sets of chins, doing two sets each using different grips
•Some bent-over rows may be thrown in Jesse says that this is a pretty easy day and that he includes all the grip work because to be a strongman, “you have to have a great grip. You are only as strong as what you can hold on to, so having strong hands is the most important thing. It’s true in all sports.”
This is not idle chatter: Jesse Marunde was the first teenager ever certified on the No. 3 Captains of Crush Gripper, the standard of world-class hand strength, and even though he’s quite casual about it, Marunde is one of the very few people who can simultaneously close a No. 3 Captains of Crush Gripper in each hand. [For more on these grippers, visit www.IronMind.com.]
If Wednesday was pretty easy, “Thursday is the toughest workout of the week,” Marunde says.
•Heavy power cleans, working up to 160 kilograms for three sets of two reps
•Deadlifts, 462 pounds for 20 reps
•Seated military presses, 315 pounds for two reps
•A kettlebell routine that Jesse describes as “extremely demanding”: a 130-pound kettlebell cleaned and pressed for five reps in each hand, alternating hands, followed by 10 bent-over rows and then 10 high pulls, alternating hands. The second time through this routine, Jesse does only the clean and presses and the high pulls. Next, he grabs a 90-pound kettlebell and does 10 swings with each hand and 10 high pulls with each hand.
•Sandbag squats: three sets of 20 reps, which Jesses describes as “very challenging,” since he’s already very winded at this point
•Light snatches, working up to 100 kilograms
•A back squat followed by a push press behind the neck, working up to 190 kilograms, a movement that Jesse describes as “squat into the hole and then explode up into an overhead lift”
•Light power cleans from the hang, 130 kilograms for three reps
No morning workout; at midday Jesse does events:
•Progressive: five sets of farmer’s walk, 150 feet, starting with 200 pounds in each hand and working up to 313 pounds in each hand
“You can get fantastic in strongman by training only on events,” Marunde says, but it’s always true that “to get better, you need to do more.”
•Yoke: four 100-foot walks with 600 pounds, very easy
•Viking presses: three sets of 10 with about 330 pounds at the handles
•Stones: warmup set with “five light rocks,” five reps with 240 pounds, then five reps with, progressively, 305, 325, 335, 355 and 325 pounds, all to a 54-inch box. Training inside, Jesse says that he loads a 385-pound stone to a 60-inch box and then the same 385-pound stone to a 72-inch box. Next, he does a series of singles with stones weighing 305, 325, 335, 240 (rest weight) and 325 pounds (last heavy one).
Incidentally, all of Jesse’s training on the stones is done without using tacky, which he reserves for competition.
•Tire flip: 900 pounds, “20 flips, and then I collapse.”
•Kickboxing for 1 1/2 hours
Jesse says that he always trains to do his best in shows, so he favors crisp, perfect raw form as well as training under the worst conditions; for example, he once power-jerked 495 pounds at 9:30 p.m. standing in a gravel driveway using rickety squat stands and a bent bar.
“Getting sloppy is allowable in competition, but what you do in training should be as perfect as possible,” he says. Also, he’ll lighten up if necessary. “My alternative to not doing it is to just do it light.” “I’m not afraid to lift light—not afraid to walk into a commercial gym and train light. I’ll never not train—I will just back off.”
Jesse says he doesn’t hide from his weaknesses. “Presses and squats have always been the two lifts that I struggled with the most.” As a result he works on them the most. “More of the same will make you better.” Incidentally, just so you understand what he’s talking about as his relative strengths and weaknesses, Jesse says that he can military-press 325 for five reps and jerk 500 from the front.
In addition, Jesse is the guy who really helped popularize the push jerk in strongman, but he explains that he didn’t do it simply because he came from a weightlifting background: “Push-jerking the log—I did it because it was the only way I could lift enough weight [overhead] to be competitive.”
Talking about the strongman contests, Marunde says that the purists choose events “to test strength in the best fashion, but everyone has different ideas,” Marunde has his opinions about what works and what doesn’t.
”If you are doing 20 shows a year, you can’t do your maximum deadlift in each show, and max deadlifts don’t work for TV—a race format is more exciting for the crowd.” Thus, Marunde sees that instead of featuring just a series of maximum lifts, the key is to create a new sport, strongman, which recognizes those factors. “In my opinion, this is why the World’s Strongest Man contest is so successful,” he says. “On our field of play, we’re the best.”
“If I ever win World’s Strongest Man, I won’t claim to be the strongest man in the world but the best strongman in the world.”
Over the past three years Marunde has grown from a 270-pound stripling to a 315-pounder, and fueling that journey has been three pounds of Grassland beef a day, plus one pound of Vital Choice Seafood, along with a gallon of raw milk. “I am lucky to live in a farm community, so I can eat all organic vegetables,” he says. [GrassLandBeef.com and VitalChoice.com are featured in Muscle “In” Sites on page 358.]
Reflecting the demands of his sport, Marunde, although massive, combines strength and stamina. Never at a loss for words, he says, “Frankly, I’m the full package,” referring to his ability to mix power with the endurance to chug along rep after rep. Incidentally, Jesse Marunde is the kind of guy who makes that kind of statement without sounding like a hot air balloon—which helps to explain his star power in strongman.
Editor’s note: Randall Strossen is the author of five books and is the president of IronMind Enterprises, which provides “Tools of the Trade for Serious Strength Athletes™.” IronMind is known worldwide for Super Squats, Captains of Crush grippers and MILO: A Journal for Serious Strength Athletes, among its hundreds of products. For more information on IronMind, please visit www.IronMind.com. IM