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Feats of strength: Jacob Dagel trains for Strongman competition

ALLENDORF, Iowa — If you are reading this as you consume your morning bowl of Wheaties, ponder this: When Jacob Dagel sits down for his breakfast, the 23-year-old will consume eight eggs and four or five strips of bacon, washing it down with coffee laced with coconut oil or butter.

That protein-packed meal is how Jacob starts every day as he prepares for the upcoming North American Strongman National Championships. Jacob, the son of Mark and Brenda Dagel of rural Ocheyedan, Iowa, and a senior at South Dakota State University, has spent his summer working for his family’s construction and farming enterprises and obsessively training for Strongman events.

“I always liked lifting,” said Jacob, who was a multi-sport athlete at Sibley-Ocheyedan High school, graduating in 2010, and went on to play football at Minnesota West Community and Technical College and during his first year at SDSU. “I just like lifting, but I wanted to find a way to compete in lifting. This is what I’m best suited to, I guess.”

There are other competitions that involve weight training, but Jacob was intrigued by the diversity of events in Strongman. The competition evolved from the “World’s Strongest Man” competitions that first played out on network TV in the later 1970s.

A modern Strongman competition includes a variety of feats of strength.

“There are usually one or two pressing events,” during which the competitors may lift a log, axle, keg or other heavy object, Jacob explained. “You pick them up however you can and press them however you can for as many reps you can do in a minute. Then there’s some sort of carry event, which might be with a yoke, the Farmer’s Walk or carrying awkward objects such as kegs. In my last competition, there was a carry medley.”

The yoke can exceed 800 pounds, Jacob noted, and is carried across the shoulders with added weight on each side. During the Farmer’s Walk, competitors carry heavy objects in each hand for a set distance, competing for fastest time.

“It’s not my strongest (event), but it’s growing on me,” said Jacob.”The yoke is growing on me, too.”

Inspired by a legendary rock in Iceland, the Husafell stone is one of Jacob’s least favorite Strongman implements.

“It’s an actual stone, and you carry it in front of you, so it cuts off your air,” he described.”You’ve got to have pain tolerance, really.”

During the pull events, the athletes are usually asked to drag a heavy vehicle, such as a fire truck or ambulance, either using a harness or sitting on the ground and pulling a rope.

“There’s always a deadlift of some sort, often multiple ones,” added Jacob, “either with a maximum weight or reps in a minute.”

There are a lot of typical events, Jacob said, but also ever-evolving variations for which he must be prepared.

One of his favorite events is the stone lift to platform, which pretty well describes the task. He must hoist a heavy stone or concrete ball onto a platform of varying heights. A variation is lifting the stone over a bar for the most repetitions in a minute.

That previously described big breakfast is just the starting point for Jacob’s daily training routine in preparation for such Strongman feats. Three or four days a week, he goes through a lifting regimen.

“I do lifting at least three days, and then probably two more are dedicated to power lifts,” he detailed. “The other days are dedicated to the Strongman events, and pretty much every day I do mobility and cardio stuff.”

While he has a large selection of regular weights to use for training, Jacob — with help from his dad — has fashioned a number of specialized implements for Strongman. A shed on the farm is filled with round concrete balls of varying weights, which he uses to practice hoisting and lifting onto a platform. Outside the shed is a metal frame on wheels, which can be stacked with tractor tires and pushed or pulled like a wheelbarrow.

The family’s garage, which doubles as a weight room, houses a yoke device, kegs, a metal log, sandbags and whatever else he can think of to emulate the Strongman tasks.

He doesn’t count calories, but Jacob does watch what he eats and has done so even more closely after qualifying for Nationals.

“I was probably about 330 (pounds) a month ago, but I decided to compete at 300 at Nationals, so I dropped about 15 pounds since late June,” he said.

When information on the National competition was initially released, the weights for the Super Heavyweight class, in which Jacob has competed, were higher than expected, so he thought he could be more competitive in the Heavyweight category. Since then, the weights have been revised.

“But since I’d already come this far, I decided to stick with the 300,” he said. “I’ll lose that last 10 of it — water weight — that week, probably.”

Jacob’s most recent competition — and likely the last before Nationals in October — was Iowa’s Strongest Man last weekend in the Quad Cities. He came home with a second-place finish and had the opportunity to meet Brian Shaw, the world record holder in stones and lift (550 pounds).

Other competitions have taken him to St. Louis, Mo.; Fort Worth, Texas; Lawrenceburg, Ky.; and Sauk Rapids, Jordan and Mounds View in Minnesota.

His own personal records are: 805-pound yoke carry for 60 feet; 505-pound dead lift; 300-pound log clean and press; 305-pound axle clean and press; 380-pound stone; and 600-pound Farmer’s Walk.

Since this is Jacob’s first turn at the Nationals, he’s tried to get a handle on what to expect by talking with other competitors. He’s also found a lot of information through Internet research and uses a video camera to record his own training for self-evaluation.

“I’ve gotten second at just about every one (competition), so I’m not quite at the top level, but I have a fair chance to do pretty decent,” said Jacob. “Especially at the lower weight class, I’ll be competitive.”

Injuries are always a concern in such an intense sport, and Jacob said Strongman competitors are prone to muscle tears and back injuries.

“As long as I’m able to remain injury-free, I should be able to pull out some firsts in the next year,” he said.

After a summer of work and training, Jacob is preparing to head back to Brookings, where he majors in exercise science. He admits, a bit sheepishly, that his current focus is much more on his physical training than his studies.

“I always keep it a priority,” he said. “Some people would say school is bigger, but lifting is a priority for me.”

Down the road, Jacob hopes to combine both his educational pursuits and physical endeavors into one career.

“I’d eventually like to open up a gym,” he said with a grin. “Guess I have a lot of equipment already.”

Daily Globe Features Editor Beth Rickers

may be reached at 376-7327.

Beth Rickers

Beth Rickers is the veteran in the newspaper staff with 25 years as the Daily Globe's Features Editor. Interests include cooking, traveling and beer tasting and making with her home-brewing husband, Bryan. She writes an Area Voices blog called Lagniappe, which is a Creole term that means "a little something extra." It can be found at  

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