A biceps workout and conversation with Jouko 'Jokke' Ahola, 11.11.1997


(a translation from finnish, 1 lbs = 0,4536 kg) 

After making the WSM '97 page from Chris's reports, I soon contacted Jouko Ahola by e-mail to congratulate him for his victory. I also asked some details about the competition and workout weights in my favourite exercises, namely chin-ups and seated cable row. Jouko's brother Jouni forwarded his answers surprisingly quick. Aholas told that they liked my WSM-page and we also agreed, that I could come train with Jouko to Kuntokeidas gym, Hämeenlinna. Most of my relatives live there and I visit even them often, so it was easy to go.

Kuntokeidas is a small, but otherwise quite nice and well equipped gym. Because Jokke naturally does his craziest workouts with free weights, not too many changes are needed to the equipment. Just a couple of hooks for extra 50kg plates. He told me he likes the gym so much, that he doesn't even long for bigger towns and gyms. From a door in the gym's aerobics side he can get straight to an empty parking hall, where he has gathered equipment used in strong man training: boulders, heavy cases, cars etc.

Gym owners usually get frightened after the first thrill, when a strongman competitor of this level stops by for a visit. The equipment in gym Kuntokeidas however, so I heard, has stood surprisingly well even under the stress from extra plates. One pec deck seemed to be broken though.

I had time to warm up thoroughly (usually I just think of summer or loved ones and that's it), before Jokke could finish his phone call. It's obviously keeping him busy, appointments have been made for every day for a long time ahead.

From the first moment I got the impression that he's truly a nice and talkative strongman. I think I got even surprised a bit. He answered my questions without any difficulty, still when he started a set, his mind was immediately and totally in it! Long pauses between sets suited fine for a little chat, especially in a biceps workout.

I usually train biceps and back on the same day, so a hard isolative workout was quite a different experience for me. From a bodybuilder's backround Jouko's workout might have felt more familiar.

When I asked about training splits, he said, that if a chest workout lasts for more than two hours, one can't do much else on the same day. In the end we did some abs and when I phoned him, he still considered doing also triceps, so I guess it was an emphasized arms workout.

First we did seated biceps curl in a cross pulley, leaning backwards to the seat. He told he changes exercises in nearly every workout, never does the same exercises for a muscle group two times in a row. This is also my way of keeping training from getting too one-sided. I had never done this variation before, at least not seriously, as I have become quite attached to my own methods, and it felt strange for a while. Best strength was lost somewhere trying to learn the movement.

Jokke did about 8 reps with 40, 60, 75 and 90+ kilos (with hook). I had to pass the last and amost even the preceding addition, but that's no wonder actually: With a barbell he curls with 130kg!

His way of working out came clear to me fast. He nearly played with huge weights, first finding a stable stance and form though - quite a show with his strength! I just have to admire his mental guts and ability to get everything out of himself!

For a while Jokke also adviced someone preparing for a powerlifting competition, stating at first however, that he's not an expert in that field. Just has competed in junior classes. In the ordinary way, rest the last day before, carbs at the competition date, but also something more interesting came up: When preparing for a competition he himself does 3x3x60% of maximum weights two days before as a last excitant. He said he did this also before the squat and deadlift in the WSM and it worked well: "felt like I already wanted to go lifting". Deciding from that it took him several weeks to recover from the competition, he got everything out of himself. Everything.

I also asked about aerobic and endurance training. He said it comes in strong man training without too much extra concentration, for example with carrying heavy sacks. He also does long workouts, every movement hard, so endurance doesn't get to be a problem easily. In the top of this event there are some however, who start to breath heavily after the first seconds. This is one of Jokke's advantages compared to them.

I had to ask his opinion about Kiri and MVM not qualifying - that many rumours have been heard. Like these: "BBC bought Kiri and Magnus out to get more publicity for this years competition","heat events were so chosen that the best three of last year would not easily qualify". To these he said that Kiri at least can't be bought (Kiri actually told later in an interview, that the others rather bought themselves ahead him), and Magnus not likely, because he was after the fifth historic win in a row. Kiri hasn't yet won once. For events favoring someone (like Magnus pressed with Torfi and Onosai and lost as was expected), Jokke thought qualifying events should have been pretty good for Kiri - "what other events there could have been?" (Kiri called later his heat speed, not a strength competition)

"Bad luck - you can't always win even if you are in a very good shape"

Also many others have commented like this. Bill Kazmaier however schocked by saying that somehow the big three (Kiri, MVM and Badenhorst) were sidelined. He said that he himself was left without invitation for five years for being too superior. Well, who'd know of these talks, some even claim that Kaz will return to competitions.

We also talked about bad arrangements. They sent competitors for example very fast back to the airport after the award ceremony. Still Jouko said that he will go again...

As next biceps exercise we did curls to foreheads with the same cross pulley, from up end of cource, standing in an x-stance (whatchacallit in english?). I now even tried to put up serious competition in this exercise more familiar to me, put pump in my bis got me to the pain zone much too quickly, when I tried to follow his workout weights. I took the last set less tearing apart then. How was he able to do 10 reps with 65 and 75 so soon after the first exercise?

After these two curls we started to keep longer pauses between sets. I also imagined for a while, that "primary strength exercises" are now over, but soon found out, that he does "nothing else but strength exercises"! He told strong man competitions require the whole workout done with high intensity and stated a disbelief for such workouts, where one trains only the first exercise for strength. Actually in the end of workout he did longer and and pumping sets himself, but also those with relatively heavy weights.

Maybe Marko Savolainen, whom Jokke btw. described as a nice guy, could give some challenge in this kind of biceps workout, but somehow I think, when biceps and back strength combine in pulls, that even Marko wouldn't gladly move same weights: Without grip straps, as always, seated cable row 13x275kg, bent over row with normal grip "a light 8x205" and pulldown to chest with the same forward grip 8x190!

He even said, that he don't use knee wraps in squat, if not after maximum weights. However wrist wraps he put on twice during our workout. When i grinned and asked if he has weak wrists he told they are fine. His grip can also hold without squeecing tennis balls or by doing any special for it. Something small he has earlier done however. Hercules hold has Jokke seldom lost - latest defeat was to Jarmo Hirvi with tiny 130kg weights. This tough lumberjack Hirvi (never runs out of endurance) has won the last two finnish strong man championships in under 100kg weight class. To participate in these he has to lose usually about 5kg weight. This year he's also the favourite.

Jokke even recommended this years competition for me (held xx.11.97), when I weighed only a kilo over 100. I was flattered of cource but still in a soft shape for that. In the summer I could match Hirvi only in attitude and maybe in pulls. That was my first competition and I didn't take preparations too seriously. Muscles, spesific training and even jogging are all needed so bad, that a short moment isn't enough. Optimistically thinking I will not pass the weighing next year but even my positive thinking can't get to challenging Ahola :-) Well, I got motivation for a few years ahead.

Athmosphere then: Powerlifting or bodybuilding don't get as big audiences here as strong man competitions do. Who really wants to watch powerlifting from TV? Instead strong man c. try to look impressive and be easily understandable - lifting heavy stones, pulling trucks etc. In this sport also there are those however, who spoil strong men's reputation being drunk or in drugs. I immediately asked, did they try to clean up this sports reputaion by doping-testing competitors in this years WSM: 

He nodded and told tests covered the stronger substances and that the title and the prize money would go, if tests appear positive. Personally I think this is a good direction. Jokke also said that disbelief and envy are the biggest reasons making up the usual claims: "It is understood that someone can be a talented swimmer, but talent in strength is not understood" Dear readers, it may be hard to believe, but everything gave me the impression, that he trained clean. The strongest of '97 truly doesn't look sick or doped, but seems to be a nice and well balanced carpenter from Hämeenlinna.

As third exercise we did bicep curls with ez-bar, back and head against the wall. I tried to recover as fast as I could, Jokke told "he starts when he feels like it". Sometimes his workouts take so much time, that his training buddies start to lose motivation.

I wonder what did we use - 45, 65 (started to be enough for me), 90? He did quite a few also with that last one, without stops, cheating and biceps certainly tired.

Jokke didn't really shock me with his size, even though Kiri has got only one cm thicker arms and thigs. Difference in bw is about 30kg (122/148), difference in height 8cm (185-193). Kiri's bw can be expained with huge chest, Jokke has bodyfat below 10%. Both look still surprisingly human.

When one thinks that he has already deadlifted 402,5kg in the gym and aims for 420 next year, squats with 360 and gets closer to Kiri in that fast (who does about 390-400), and for example pulls those 13x275 in cable row without grip straps, one gets an uncomfortable feeling. I get to think if my own weight is just fat or water. However, he confessed that he can only bench (after I said "that weak lift, below 300?") 220kg comfortably (no shirt on, back relatively straight) but he's glad it's still getting better. His goals for year '98 sound crazy but he trains like it too.

Others would hurt themselves working out with that same kind of power and effort. That probably is one reason, which makes him one of the very strongest: I mean he hasn't got too many injuries in the run. His leg was broken in other sport activity years ago, but strength training has left only a hole in his bicep. It tells the "usual" story of lifting 150kg stone with a cold muscle. You can see it in Hercules hold if you look carefully. Well at least his back aches every morning... (ok, some surgical operations were made in the christmas time, forearm and knee)

Jokke is quite young for a strength athlete, only 26. He has still many years time to get stronger, but hopefully not time to get more injuries! Even now however his biggest strength lays in strongman events, surely not in the powerlifts.

Last for biceps we did seated db curls, palms facing front when hand down. Already with lighter weights and pumping (20 and 25kg). When I still cheated a bit, I could do nearly the same reps. That is 3 sets of more than 10 per hand, partial reps in the end.

He said bodybuilding-wise "An arm should look like an arm, not like a pipe".

Between sets I tried to urge him to do weighted chins next time. Well, if his formearm can take it, he'll try. I have to ask about it sometimes to know, if he liked it and how much better he is in that too (my favourite, rec 3x+75kg at 96kg bw). I should still try to get better in that. It could happen, that Jouko would wonder more than once, that I have strong biceps (he did indeed).

In the end we did abs, weighted. Magnusson had recommended this exercise for him. The goal is to get thick in the middle :-) Performed laying on back and using pulley as extra weight. Training buddy stands on feet with a backpack...

Actually he used his hips quite a lot in this. When I asked if he does any crunches, he said yes those work, but haven't done much lately.

His goal is to get 20x65kg (pulley). This time he also did about 20 reps couple of times, but with 55. He has goals in every exercise, but that results in results. Usually top athletes try to get better and better all the time, even taking it to extremes. Saku Koivu (finnish ice-hockey player) comes also to my mind.

Between these sets we went to his "basement", market Respa's parking lot, where he has collected light stones, cases for students and a toy car. Those he said he carries from time to time. But not before next year any more.

Competiton season workout plan:

mo: back, tu: chest, we: arms, th:shoulders, fr: legs, weekend off, whole next week strongman training and then it starts over again. Workouts hrs: 17-20.

At this parking lot there had been training 7 out of 8 finalists in this years Finnish championships and also Riku Kiri. Jokke told, that Kiri can be quite silent. It may naturally be a question of keeping training secrets but actually it sounded just funny because Jokke is very talkative himself and Kiri obviously not.

I took some photos of this hall too (but you can guess that those are still in my camera). He also remembered to turn his bottle right side front for the picture - his sponsor you see. About making money then, he said one gets more from doing this than from the other strength sports (in Finland). Things are getting better with more publicity and more watchers. Sponsorships and several shows make him quite a nice income this year I hope, that much has burnt during the 11 years of training. This sport has already some money men too: Magnusson for example doesn't leave his country for under 3k$ (17 kFIM).

Some more about his strong man training: he has been lifting a 180kg stone to a high platform, keeping Hercules hold with 170kg ("in WSM they announced also 170, but it must have been heavier") (note: when I asked if little movement helps, he told it was forbidden) and 150kg cases move up- and downhill. His strength is knowing events and he even practises whole competitions through if he knows what events there are going to be. Few year ago this kind of training was not common, strongmen just lifted weights.


"Conventional deadlift - men's style"

Shoulder front raises with a 45kg db in both hands

Squat and deadlift: several sets of 5 adding 40 kg for each set, starting from relatively light weights

Just now he does wide stance squat and leg press for strengthening inner side of thigs

At the time I visited him (soon after WSM) he did about 8 rep sets but of cource that varies with periods

What was interesting, he pumped hid biceps many times a workout, didn't try to keep it up nor strive to a short and hard pump. This has probably much to do with sport specific training.

Because Jouko, as I, has had a much stronger lower back than legs, I asked about squatting: "It comes ok, when there is strength left in the legs, and the rest comes with back then" ;-) He also told about Magnusson's squat trick the last year: He used high heel shoes when height was measured and stood far away from the bar. As a result he had to do only a partial squat. This year these kind of tricks were prevented (certain area and shoes).

When I compare my workouts with his, I must say that I have to find a better balance between isolative and basic movements. Both should be done, and personally I should do more isolative work already (meaning that beginners start with basic exercises). The same muscle group could be teased a bit harder and not that often. My workouts have gotten to be too easy along last the year and I lack intensity (everyone does) if compared with Jokke.

Competition was televised here in Finland 16.11.97

Next year Jokke gets "straight to the qualifying" and one other competitor from Finland can also participate.

Healthy workout days despite of your sick workout weights, Jokke. Next year there will be many tough competitions ahead.