Strength Icons - Svend Karlsen By Jay "Ursus" Pateman
Looking back at my past i can vividly remember one Christmas time, staring at the old 28" box Hitachi Television, surrounded by snoring half pissed relatives and being drawn magnetically to the vision of a bleached blond ,thick set, tattooed giant of a man stripped to the waist bellowing a war cry to the Viking spirits. This to me held so much more sincerity than the American wrestlers stomping there feet and back handing each others ballooned up physiques,this guy really meant it, his bloodshot discus like eyes were bulging out of his head ,his zig zagging road map like veins pulsating around his temple and neck and thick wads of spittle projecting at the screen coming from his purple lips ............this man was the real deal, no sheep in wolfs clothing but more a grizzly bear trapped in a snare trap !
Anyone who knows anything about 'strongman' knows Svend Karlsen, big, strong, aggressive and humorous, his passion is unparalleled in strength sports and some of the things he did with the weights were ahead of there time.
When I think of a symbol of strength i struggle not to include Svend, one thing I believe we are sorely missing in our great sport is great ambassadors and salesmen of the sport, but he was certainly one of them, brash but not arrogant, loud but worth listening to, and he had strength married brilliantly with a high modicum of intellect and technique. For those reasons I chose Svend Karlsen to accompany the other greats included in my "Strength Icons" series, as he has done so much in promoting our great sport and for making it admirable, feared and respected.
SVEND "VIKING" KARLSEN
Svend Odegard Karlsen was born in Drammen ,Norway , about 30mins from Oslo on the 6th October 1967. From the very early age of three years he can remember vividly posing for his family doing the usual muscular ritual that he had witnessed bodybuilders doing and from then on he had an obsession with the big and heavily muscled physiques on the movie screens and in magazines.The figure that really inspired him to begin on a path to greatness was one of the Austrian oak,the most influential bodybuilder of all time Arnold Schwarzenegger. After seeing Arnolds puffin like chest, the giant softball like peaks of his biceps and his flared 'wing like' lats Svend couldn't wait to get to the gym. He began training at the young age of thirteen . From this point onwards the teenage Viking spent so much time in the gymnasium that he began to call it home ,often dedicating up to eight hours a day relentlessly punishing his muscle fascia in an attempt to mimic his idol .
Amazingly enough Svend claims that the first time that he ever attempted the big three powerlifting moves of the squat the bench press and the deadlift his numbers were 150kg,100kg,150kg incredible numbers for his first real attempts!! People noticed the handsome muscular man and his gym lifts became that impressive he was told to try his hand at Powerlifting.By the age of sixteen Karlsen started winning medals,world medals soon followed and this snowballed into thirty Norwegian powerlifting records,three European and one world record. His best lifts being a staggering 400 260 410 !!!
Svend came to thinking it was time to change course in his life and get away from his prolific powerlifting career and his solution was to try out the sport of bodybuilding .His background in the gym had given him a very thick and grainy look and a density to his body which resulted in a terrific human form once he had dieted down to a low bodyfat.. He was already a great showman and his routines were second to none ,really showing of his attributes to the crowds who adored him and he was soon rewarded with the coveted Mr Norway title in 1993 and a 2nd in the World games followed by an IFBB professional card.Unfortunately for Karlsen he suffered a severe muscle tear that finally put an end to the bodybuilding.
A chance phone call with friend and former strongman Illka kinnuen to assist him in a local strongman competition excited him enough to accept the request ,it was 1996 and Svend was out of shape, drinking and smoking a pack of cigarettes a day .Karlsen had always fantasised about competing in strongman and looked up to and admired the likes of Bill Kazmaier and Jon Pall Sigmarsson.and although not doing any specific strongman training ,competed in his first competition 'Strongest man of the North' and then qualified for Worlds Strongest Man the same year. After just missing out on the final in a heat with Riku kiri and Flemming Rasmussen,The following year he nearly made it again but got injured in his banker event ,the squat .Svend decided to get serious and began acquiring strongman equipment and adjusting his diet and training accordingly.
Svends Strongman Training
Log curl 2-3 sets 6-12reps
Tyre flip 3 sets ascending reps 6/8/10
Stones 3 sets of 5 runs
Close grip bench 1 set of 4-6reps 1 set of 10-14
French press 2 sets 8-12reps
Pushdowns 2 sets 8-12 reps
Crunches 3 sets of 12 reps
Front squats 2 sets 5-6 reps
Karlsen squats 3 x 8-12 reps
Leg extensions 3 x 12-20 reps
Calf raises 3 x 20 reps
Rower 3 sets of 500m sprints
Walking or swimming
Apollons axle 1 x 1-3reps
(drop set) axle reps 1 set of 6-10 reps
Log lift 1 set of 4-8 reps 1 set 8-12 reps
Karlsen crucifix flyes 2 x 3-8 reps
Upright row 2 x 8-12 reps
Incline log press 1x3-reps 1x12 reps
Crossovers 3 x 8-12 reps
Deadlift 2 sets 3-6 reps
Seated rows 3 sets 8-12 reps
Pull downs 3sets 8-12 reps
Shrugs 3 x12 reps
Bent side laterals 3 x 8-12 reps
Swimming x 1hour
Super yoke 3 x 25m Farmers 2 x35m
Conans 2 x 3 laps Truck pull 3 x 10m
Keg tossing 3 x 5 throws
His diet was dialled right in now and it mainly consisted of anything he could acquire that was natural,and refused any processed foods favouring dishes such as Oatmeal,milk,eggs,vitamins ,minerals,amino acids,and then five more meals in the day,normally cod and rice,steak and rice and then chicken and rice.
With his training and diet all going smoothly he went again to Worlds strongest man in 1999 and took a very respectable third place behind Yanne Virtanen and twice champion Jouka Ahola the following year in Sun sea South Africa he progressed again by coming second only behind champion strongman Vertanen . Then in 2001 on the banks of the Zambezi river Svend Karlsen finally fulfilled his fantasy by becoming the 2001 worlds strongest man.
For me though Svends crowning glory wasn't in the battle that he won in 2001 but rather the one in which he came off second to the awesome 380lb Lithuanian Zydrunas Savickas .The reason i picked this event particularly over his win in Worlds strongest man is that this year he was well past his peak performances, he was 37 years old and he was pitted against the two up and coming powerhouses and arguably the two strongest strength athletes of all time Big Z and the 'Dominator' Pudzianowski !!! Karlsen was recovering from injury and was pale and pasty throughout the competition and still managed 2nd place against a prolific field of monsters.In order to do this and compete against the super heavy Savickas ,Svend had upped his body weight to a lifetime high of over 150kg and gave every event his heart and soul.
2004 IFSA SUPER SERIES ARNOLDS WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS
The Apollons axle was introduced into the competitions in 2002 and Svend that year,had been unable to successfully clean and press the awkward 166kg thick handled train wheels overhead .This year he had other ideas and had been training the heavy axle relentlessly.The newly bleached blond Viking charged onto the platform and took hold of the 2" handle with both hands. Shocking the whole audience by ripping the massive weight to his deltoids in one giant pull using a mixed grip,changing quickly and in one motion into the pressing position Svend jerked the 26stone axle overhead with absolute conviction.The second attempt in the maximum reps competition began in disaster,as Svend attempted another power clean his huge hamstring muscle tore causing him to drop the weight onto his 33" thighs in pain.He soon shrugged off the agony screaming from his legs ,and by using the continental clean style managed to not only clean the weight but also to press it overhead with incredible will power grip and determination he managed another two repetitions to get his tally up to an incredible four repetitions .Angrily Karlsen claimed to reporters that if his hamstring hadn't torn he would have been good for six or seven repetitions,few people dared to argue with his claim !!!!
The 14 foot bar of the Hummer V deadlift stood ominously in the centre of the lifting platform as the technicians made there final adjustments and refinements to the set up.4 huge tyres sat 2 at each end of the bar with room for more plates to be added when needed.This was not the best event for a strongman with a torn hamstring but nevertheless the Viking managed his first two attempts the second one being 850lbs !! He came out for his third attempt of 915lb snorting and screaming at the bar whilst adjusting his belt and grip .He pulled with everything he had but unfortunately Thor and Odin were not with him today and he couldn't quite get the full weight of the bending bar off the platform and over his knees. No shame in that attempt and managing fourth place behind Philipi,big Z and Isivan Arvati was phenomenal in the circumstances.
The third event was derived as an offspring of the Highland games classic "weight for height ".The 50lb medicine ball for maximum distance overhead was a tough battle for the broken Viking, nevertheless he fought on bravely achieving a great 4th place with 15 1/2 ft whilst wincing with pain in the event which required such explosive hamstring and hip power.
The fourth event was an immensely tough one,and total body strength was required . The yellow giant replica hammer had to be pushed to full extension using your shoulders and legs to drive the implement upright. It had 700lbs worth of pressure when horizontal and the more you pushed it towards the vertical the heavier it rose to upwards of 1000lb !!! Svend said before he began that "i know i have to do everything right and i cant afford any mistakes" . He was true to his word as he bulldozed through the competition with a final time of only 13.63 seconds eclipsing others times. Punching the air ,shouting and wailing at the crowd and even rolling on the floor, the importance of what Svend had done against the odds was clear to everyone........he wanted this bad !! Grabbing the microphone of the MC he shouted to anyone who would liten that "Thor and Odin are here!!!!" he wasn't the only one who realised that gallant effort had pushed him to within half a point of Savickas with only one event remaining.
The last event was one of true savagery the aim was to walk up a 10%incline ramp carrying a timber frame with grip strength alone,not just any old frame but one weighing in exess of 850lb !!! The task was enormous with not one man able to finish the course at all and only the two favourites and title contenders Savickas and Karlsen left to battle it out now. The magnitude of the task was etched all over Svends face as he approached the timber frame and adjusted his grip for as best he could .Squeezing the handles tight he hept his head bowed as referee David Webster gave the signal to start and he slowly deadlifted the weight until his knees locked out and he began shuffling forward up the steep incline .Dropping the implement several times in the process Svend managed three quarters of the course but was unable to finish before the timekeeper blew his whistle. Svends face said it all ,and despondently he strolled down the ramp in preparation to watch Savickas who managed the task in sensational fashion without dropping it once. .
For the third consecutive year Karlsen came second place against all the odds and heavily injured in the heaviest competition in the world ,forever etching his name into strongman history.
During his vibrant career he also won,Europe's strongest man,Scandinavia's strongest man,Norway's strongest man and broke many world records including the Log lift.
The Arnolds competition was his last major one other than winning Norway's strongest man in 2006 after which he retired ,but he still trains hard recently trebling 400kg in the deadlift !!!
Svend now runs Viking power productions,the Norwegian strongman competition and the Svend Viking power challenge.He continues to train athletes but spends a lot of time in between appearances and commentating out hunting ,fishing and shooting with his big dog 'Elvis' for company.
In 2010 he became only the second strongman ever to enter the coveted strongman hall of fame voted for by strength fans.
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