Every now and then, in any field of endeavour, an individual comes along who is unwilling to do things the way they have previously been done but prefers, instead, to do things their own way. Canada’s Mitchell Hooper is just such a man. Not content with following the conventional paths and methods of his peers, “The Moose” is blazing his own trail in Strongman and has already made a very big impression.
Anyone taking even a passing interest in the sport will be aware that Hooper qualified for the World’s Strongest Man final in Sacramento, California, last month, in what was his first professional and fully international contest. Even more amazingly, in a sport that has become increasingly competitive and professional in terms of athletes’ preparation, is that this wasn’t a massive surprise to those in the know. After all, we are talking about a man who after just three years of lifting produced the third heaviest deadlift in strongman history – 475kg/1,047lb.
And now Mitchell has the deadlift world record squarely in his sights. He has stated categorically his intention to surpass both Eddie Hall’s 500kg/1,102lb and Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson’s 501kg/1,105lb, when 505kg/1,113lb is loaded onto the bar in Cardiff’s Motorpoint Arena on August 6th, at the Giants Live World Open and World Deadlift Championships.
Indeed, Mitchell is so confident of achieving this feat that in a recent Giants Live Strongman Podcast he seemed mainly concerned with how much he might lift beyond 505kg, should any of his competitors also manage to defeat the current record. 510kg? 520kg? His only objective is to leave Cardiff with the record belonging to him. Hooper seems unconcerned with appearing over-confident. He’s equally at home de-bunking current wisdom regarding the benefits of full-time training or cold therapy for recovery. Counter-productive, is his rough assessment of the latter, and of the former he asks: “What am I supposed to do with my day?”
Unconventional is a word that applies to many facets of Hooper’s involvement in strongman, and his sporting background is no exception. Growing up in Ontario, Canada, the young Mitchell played ice hockey, as may be expected, but also excelled in golf. He was a scratch golfer at just 14 and he has even competed in long-driving contests and has reputedly reached distances in excess of 400-yards.
The Barrie resident eventually went to college playing football for the University of Guelph but felt that this was not the sport for him and only lasted three-quarters of a season. Having allowed his bodyweight to climb, Mitchell decided that some radical weight loss was required and decided to compete in a physique contest. Nearly 40kg/88lb of weight loss paved the way for him to start running marathons, three in total, achieving a best time of 3 hours, 24 minutes. Not too shabby for a 105kg/231lb man, although he admits that his ceiling in this sport was always going to be low.
Such a route is hardly conducive to gaining world class strength and power, but Mitchell attributes much of his current success to the wide array of sports he practised as a youngster and the soft-tissue adaptations he would have gained, acting as a foundation for the huge strength he would later develop.
On moving to Sydney to study for his master’s degree in exercise physiology, Hooper began competing in powerlifting, setting new national records, before beginning strongman competition. He had won every contest he had entered, including his heat at World’s Strongest Man, prior to his 8th place finish in the final, to date his only defeat in a strength contest.
In just three years Hooper has seemingly effortlessly surpassed the accomplishments of some of the strongest men in history, in deadlift. At World’s Strongest Man last month, he completed the deadlift ladder event in the fastest time across all heats and won the opening event of the final – The KNAACK Giant’s Medley, showing the kind of dynamic strength that has led to comparisons with 5-time World’s Strongest Man, Mariusz Pudzianowski.
So what exactly has enabled “The Moose” to reach such staggering levels of strength in such a relatively short period of time? He is no 400lb, 7-foot giant like many of the sport’s recent champions. Good mechanics and huge natural talent are the most obvious answers. Hooper claims that the first time he ever tried super yoke he was able to move quickly with 1,000lb (455kg), a weight that should have been well beyond a complete novice’s scope.
His mind-bogglingly rapid progress in deadlift has created huge excitement about what he might achieve in Cardiff. How could anyone reasonably suggest that 505kg is beyond him, given his current trajectory? In just 4 months he took his personal best from 435kg/959lb to 475kg/1,047lb.
His main weakness right now is his lack of experience across the full range of strongman events and the various competitive situations that a top-level competitor needs to learn to cope with. However, the Canadian has proven himself to be multi-talented and a quick learner, so his competitors won’t be expecting that to last too long.
Doing Things His Own Way
Hooper tells a story that the night before his 475kg deadlift, he stayed up most of the night drinking tequila shots with his wife. This seems typical of his attitude towards training and competing which is somewhat at odds with many of his competitors. Whilst most of the world’s top strongman are moving towards full-time training and building ice baths in their back gardens, Hooper’s idea of recovery is holding down a job as an exercise physiologist; active recovery is what he calls it. And as for cold therapy, it prevents inflammation and therefore inhibits healing, if you read the science, which Mitchell does.
This individual approach, such as training on rest days at World’s Strongest Man, walking with 1,000lb yokes without a warm-up or taking 10k runs for the fun of it, would be looked at as madness if it weren’t for the fact that, for now at least, it seems to be working. His uber-confident predictions might also be seen as arrogant, if it weren’t for the fact that he is actually delivering. Hooper is aware of his strengths, in a matter-of-fact way, as well as his weaknesses.
“Good Enough, Every Day” is Mitchell’s motto, and he is clearly motivated by more than just sporting success and wants to create a meaningful legacy. He has established his own exercise physiology clinic called Longevity Nexum, through which he hopes to be able to improve the health and quality of life of ordinary people, as well as athletes. In terms of his sporting endeavours, “Strongman is where I am right now,” is his view, but Mitchell is passionate about leaving a more positive legacy outside of sport.
In his appearance on the Giants Live podcast, he spoke at length about the comradeship among the competitors. He was impressed by how more than one athlete took him aside during event familiarisation at the “Bone Yard”, which is infamous for injuring at least one athlete each year, to advise him to tone down his practice and not tempt fate. He also talked about how rare it is in sport for competitors to genuinely want to see their opponents excel.
On his Facebook page, Hooper drew his followers’ attention to not just his own athletic achievements at World’s Strongest Man, but also to his presence, as a finalist, for the Jim Pollock Award for epitomising the Strongman Spirit. Along with winner Mark Felix who at 56 made his record 17th appearance at WSM, Rob Kearney, the first openly gay professional strongman and Chile’s Manuel Angulo, the first South American representative to compete at WSM, Hooper was also shortlisted for the award.
Of the award and the photo posted on his page he wrote: “This is more important than the podium. How you behave trumps how you perform and standing amongst this group of men means more to me than standing atop the podium.” One senses that Hooper is a man who appreciates that there are more important things than winning. Mitchell actually disqualified his own 200kg/441lb personal best log lift from the 2021 Static Masters event as he felt that his lockout wasn’t acceptable, and he didn’t want his integrity to be questioned.
Hooper’s performance at World’s Strongest Man, as well as his huge deadlift, have rightly earned him a place at the World Deadlift Championship and a wildcard invite to The Strongman Classic. He has noted that the events at The Royal Albert Hall are not ones that particularly suit him, but his tremendous ability in moving events such as frame, yoke, farmer’s walk, medley or loading races mean that he can count on some solid event placings wherever he competes. He will also score very highly in any variation of deadlift, which tends to feature in some capacity in every strongman contest.
It will be fascinating to see how Hooper progresses this year and beyond. Aside from World’s Strongest Man, he has not competed in any of the sport’s main contests before, so there is a question mark over his ability to perform at Giants Live’s fast-paced evening contests, as well as how well he can sustain his form in a run of closely packed contests.
The big questions are whether the Canadian can sustain his meteoric rate of improvement and whether any weaknesses that have so far remained unseen, will reveal themselves in upcoming contests. Even if this is the case, at just 26, he has many years of development ahead of him.
To date, there has never been a Canadian winner of World’s Strongest Man. Can Mitchell Hooper become the first?