MF meets Luke and Tom Stoltman to find out how these mammoth men maintain their heavy-weight lifestyles.
Luke ‘The Highland Oak’ and Tom ‘The Albatross’ Stoltman are officially the world’s strongest brothers, after both men placed in the top ten at 2019’s World’s Strongest Man.
Loved by fellow competitors and fans alike for their big grins and humble attitudes, the highlanders epitomise the contemporary approach to Strongman, with an emphasis on athleticism and a scientific dedication to their sport.
After younger brother Tom set a new world record for ‘Atlas Stone Over Bar’ – successfully hoisting an enormous 286kg weight – Men’s Fitness caught up with the giant Scotsmen to learn about their routes into the sport and the unique tricks of an unforgiving trade.
Men’s Fitness: How did you both get into Strongman?
Luke Stoltman: “My respect for strength goes back to being a child. Our grandad moved over here from Poland after World War II. He was a really strong guy, and there’s an old photo of him running with a big log on his shoulder – that image has been in my head since a very young age.
“I started training when I was 16, and when I was in my early 20s I entered a deadlift competition – and won it. After that, a friend convinced me to enter Scotland’s Strongest Man.
“I had never seen myself as one of the Strongman types, but it turned out I was good at it: I became Scotland’s strongest man in 2013 and held the title for five years, until Tom won it in 2018.
Tom Stoltman: “Through school, I was always really into playing anything with a ball, particularly football.
“I was never interested in Strongman, until I went to see Luke in a competition, and I saw them lifting logs and cars and stuff – that’s what made me want to start going to the gym.”
LS: “He just saw me and decided he was going to be better than me, that’s all!”
MF: Both of you are genetically gifted, but Tom, you make Luke look a relatively normal size…
LS: “I make Tom stand behind me in photos. It kills me, he’s so big. In the grand scheme of things I’m not that tall in Strongman terms: I’m only 6’3”.
Hapfor [Bjornsson] is 6’9” – about the same size as Tom. I don’t look all that big in comparison.
“The genetics are helpful, but it’s not just the physical stuff, it’s the mental side of things too. When I think about the hardships that other people go through, the hardships my grandparents went through, I think, well, all we’re doing is lifting a few weights.
“It’s having the mindset that helps: you could be the biggest guy in the world, but you need the mindset to push on above the pain threshold.
Our mum passed away last year, and Tom had a competition two weeks later, I think that part of the way we dealt with her passing was to think that we just didn’t want to do her an injustice.
We use what mum went through, what other people have gone through, to push on more than we ever thought we could.”
TS: “I was diagnosed with Aspergers when I was young, and growing up it was difficult at times. Starting Strongman was tough. All the cameras and stuff. I could never talk to people face to face.
“I had thought that Strongman was just going in to lift weights and go home, then when cameras started appearing I thought, I can’t do this.
“But I think the big difference was when I started competing in the same competitions as Luke: when I was in the juniors I didn’t do what I wanted to do, but when I started to get in to the open competitions with Luke, it was much better.”
MF: Is there something special about being siblings that helps you achieve more than you would do otherwise?
TS: “We thrive off each other, when we’re together we get energy off each other, we’re there shouting for each other, supporting each other, we’re never against one another, we know our weaknesses and our strengths.
“But it makes you want to train harder, too. When I started competing in Scotland’s Strongest Man, I couldn’t take it off Luke for three years, so it made me work harder, it made me push myself and work harder and harder.
“We never let each other back off either, and it just gives you an extra boost. In World’s Strongest Man last year, we both made it to the finals – and I won two events in the finals which was amazing.
“I think it gave me the extra boost I needed having Luke there.”
MF: You seem able to manage the balance between muscle size and body fat well – what’s the secret?
TS: “I have a nutritionist to help me manage that – it’s too complicated for me!
“I’ve always had a fast metabolism, I could never put weight on [Tom is now 27 stone]. Even when I started at the gym, I could never put weight on, it’s really only the last few years that I’ve been able to.
“I never wanted to be fat, I never wanted to look like some of the guys who have the big gut. It’s much more of a conditioning game these days.”
LS: “I think the days are gone when people could look the way Strongman competitors used to look – and I don’t mean that with any disrespect.
“Strongman is televised in countries all around the world now, and I think people want to see guys who are in good condition – who look fit as well as strong.”
MF: Do you think the popularity of CrossFit made an impact on Strongman?
LS: “CrossFit has had a huge impact. It is basically like Strongman but with a bit more cardio, and it’s a multi-million-pound industry.
“I think the organisers of Strongman can see that, and the sport is going to continue to move in that direction, too.
“We can’t just come in and do five sets of heavy deadlifts and leave. We do conditioning work every week, and we do the hypertrophy bodybuilding training as well – all of it helps build the more muscular kind of physique.
“But then again you have to adapt. If you had a competition for just max deadlift, max squat, max overhead press, you’d be inclined to put on a bit more bodyweight to protect your ligaments and your muscles.
“It’s very dependent on the competition. If you’re going to a heavy competition, like the Arnold Classic, you’ll see a lot of the guys going in looking a bit bigger, because of the weight of the apparatus they’re using.
“If you’re going to carry a 750kg yoke, you can’t be going in skinny. It’s horrendous when you’re lifting those kind of weights, and you need to have a bit of bulk just to protect you.”
MF: What does your cardio work consist of?
TS: “We can’t do running, it’s too much for our joints, and I can’t fit on a bike so that’s no good either. But we use the assault bike and we’ll do some skipping.
“Basically we do a circuit that we mix up all the time, doing one minute on, one minute off – that sort of thing.”
LS: “When we’re doing our events, we have to be able to move with speed, doing loading events or farmer’s walks. It’s not like we’re going to go out and run a marathon or a 10k, it’s about being able to go fast over 20 metres – explosive power over a short distance.
“As long as we’re able to run with a 150kg sandbag, carry a 400–500kg yoke on our backs, or a 180kg per hand farmer’s walk – if we can do that multiple times over a 20-metre course, we know our cardiovascular systems are able to cope with the demands of competition.”
MF: What does a Strongman diet look like?
LS: “It used to be a bit different when I worked offshore [Luke only quit offshore work to devote himself to Strongman full-time in 2019]. I could only get three meals a day and then maybe pop down at midnight to get a special meal.
“At the moment, we’re eating 8-10,000 calories a day, and it’s pretty basic to be honest. It’s nothing fancy for me: a protein source, a carb source, plus some veggies and fats with each meal.
“Our sponsor sends us 20kg packs of meat every couple of weeks. I’ll do maybe three or four red-meat days a week, then switch to chicken or turkey, potatoes, rice, pasta and then whatever green, leafy vegetables I can get my hands on.
“For my breakfast, I’ll have bacon, eggs, sausage – I go to town on that, and then have some porridge. I’ll have a maximum of eight meals, minimum of six meals a day.
“Because we train for three or four hours per session, we have carb recovery drinks, too, to keep the energy up. Diet is really important, but I don’t think it has to be complicated.”
TS: “You have to fuel your body the right way. I have a cheat meal before every session I do, and that fuels me through the workout. On the weekends, I do 10,000-calorie days of what I want and then it’s just basic food after that.
“Having a nutritionist has made a big difference to me though – I’ve broken three world records since I started working with him.”
MF: What sort of toll does this incredibly intense training take on your body?
TS: “Well, there are times I feel like a 60-year-old man – that’s the reality of it. People usually only see the Instagram videos, or see us having fun on YouTube, and they imagine that’s the reality, but of course it’s not.”
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No deload No peak 1st week deadlifting without squatting for a while . Big shock when 400kgx3 moves like this with no prep . 5 is the goal and i know its there with a proper training cycle . Buzzing with this . @sbdapparel @silverbackgymwear TS10 @insightsuppsltd TS10 @mirafitofficial @nordicbotanics STOLT10 @campbellsmeatonline STOLT15 @castlewaterofficial @highlandfuels @reignbodyfuel @hornsofodin @caledoniasportsclinic . @sineadstoltman @probodycoach @dan_hipkiss lets do this #stoltmanbrothers #stoltmanstrength #ssm #wsm
LS: “Imagine when’s it’s -5 outside, and you’re sat shivering in a horse trough full of cold water, over and over again, and doing that every day. It’s a constant battle to get your body recovered.”
TS: “You can’t stop. If you stop for a couple of days, you feel really bad, so it’s a 365-day thing. You can’t stop.”
LS: “And again, because there’s that many competitions, you have to be recovered before each competition or else you’re pretty much screwed.”
MF: What are your favourite events?
TS: “Atlas Stone for me, every time. If that event alone made you World’s Strongest Man, I would be it and that’s a fact – my long strides are a big help.”
LS: “Tom takes about five strides to everyone else’s ten! It’s a nightmare competing against him. But we both work hard on that, and we’re quite athletic anyway.
“In terms of favourites, though, for me it’s any kind of press – Log Press is probably my favourite.”
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So last heavy log session before my @worldsultimatestrongman World Record attempt….. . New PB of 228.4kg (503.5 lbs) on the money!!🌶🌶🌶 . Got some huge motivation witnessing @thorbjornsson hit his 501kg. I live for this. May 16th you better be watching! . Stay spicy 🌶🌶🌶 . #sbdapparel #stoltmanbrothers #silverbackgymwear #stoltmanstrength #giantslive #walkwiththestrong #insightsupps #bubbleandgoose #scotland #highlands #highlandbuilt #castlewater #WUS @australianstrengthcoach @silverbackgymwear LS10 @sbdapparel @campbellsmeatonline STOLT15 @espphysio @mirafitofficial @castlewaterofficial @insightsuppsltd LS10 @amg_sports_management @nordicbotanics THEOAK
Words: Simon Cross