Mister Muscles: Finland’s strongest man goes for global gold

Espoo athlete Paavo Paaso is competing in two strongman world championships - and he's no stranger to pulling a truck with his bare hands!

Finnish strongman Paavo Paaso lifts a boulder at his gym in Vantaa / Credit: News Now Finland

He’s been Finnish Champion and European Champion, now Espoo strongman Paavo Paaso is going for gold at World Championship events on two different continents in the coming weeks.

Strongman competitions were wildly popular throughout the 1980s and 90s in Europe, with televised spectacles and arena events attracting audiences to watch musclemen pulling tractors or trucks, hoisting rocks and lifting logs in feats of strength and endurance.

“That’s when you had Hartwall Arena for example just stacked with people wanting to perform. I think nowadays it’s gaining momentum just with the introduction of lower weight classes, so it becomes more accessible. You don’t have to be a two metre, 150 kilo giant to compete” explains 34-year old Paaso.

File picture of strongman competitor Paavo Paaso / Credit: News Now Finland

The sport is having a worldwide renaissance now, with different federations organising their own competitions. In 2017 one of the world championships was held in Kokkola. Before the end of the year Paavo Paaso will compete in Florida and India.

“I qualified for this by winning the European championships at my weight class, which is under 90 kilos, in England” explains Paaso who was already Finnish Champion at his previous weight 105kg before he dropped down a class in the last year.

“In every weight-driven sport that has weight categories, the whole idea is to be walking around at a heavier weight than you have to be at the weigh-in, so you can use that extra body weight as an advantage when you introduce food and fluids to your body again” explains Paaso.

“Typically if I weigh in at 90 kilos, on the day of the competition I can get my weight back up to 97 kilos which gives me a small competitive advantage” he adds.

Heavy rock used for strongman training at Power Fit Vantaa / Credit: News Now Finland

Weights on the menu 

Paaso, 34, fits in training for the competitions around his day job as a sports masseur in Espoo, and travels to a gym in Vantaa where they’ve got the specialist equipment he needs.

In Florida he’ll have to compete in six different events spread over three days including a 120kg overhead Viking press where most reps in 60 seconds wins; a farmers walk where he’ll carry 130kg in each hand and walk round a 30 metre course; speed deadlifts with four different weights; and carrying kegs and sandbags along a course to a sled, then dragging the sled back along the track again.

There’s no tractor pull in Florida but it’s still a popular feature on the Finnish competition circuit.

“I think that’s what many promotors try to do, is to think of events that are a spectacle and for a lot of promotors it’s a problem of logistics. But the pulling events are common still, especially at smaller shows, probably last year almost every competition at least in Finland they would have some sort of truck pull, it’s still there” Paaso says.

Strongman Paavo Paaso (L) talks to another strongman at the gym / Credit: News Now Finland

Taking on the world 

Although he heads to Florida as the reigning European Champion at 90kg, Paavo Paaso will be facing some tough competition not just from other Europeans, but from countries traditionally dominant in strongman events.

“America and then in England they have big up-and-coming stars. In the lower weight classes you’ll have a bigger pool, more people interested in them. I would say England and the United states are powerhouses in this sport” he explains.

If you want to get started at strongman events it’s not something that is easy for younger people to try.

“It takes time to mature your body and get used to the loads we’re using in competition” says Paaso, who started training for strongman events around a decade ago.

“Maybe the youngest guys I’ve competed against are in their 20s, but not teenagers.”

File picture showing exterior of Power Fit gym in Vantaa / Credit: News Now Finland