Lessons in Autism from an Austrian Strongman Legend

Would you just LOOK at the SIZE of the biceps on that dude?

https://youtu.be/zW4y0WzSWiIUnless you also share the same kind of era-specific special interest of strongman, you probably don’t know of the behemoth on the left. That’s Manfred Hoeberl, an Austrian Strongman competitor in the mid-90s, known for his 26-inch biceps. Bandana-clad and big-armed, he cut a characteristic figure among his strongmen peers, making him an eminently watchable competitor.

Of course, being in Iceland, I rooted for Magnus Ver Magnusson, as one does. But Manfred had the strongman LOOK.

And then there’s me on the right. I can barely fit my hair into a bandana, and I’m not as well-known for my biceps.

Through absolute happenstance, I caught an episode of one of my personal favorite YouTubers: Big Loz Official – an English strongman whose commentary, insights, and content just ticks all of my special interest boxes. He finally landed an interview with Manfred, one whom I’d been wanting to hear from for a while.

What does this have to do with autism, HUNTER?

Among the many anecdotes he shares, Manfred recalled being a half-point ahead of Magnus Ver in the 1994 World’s Strongest Man competition heading into the final event. And not only was he leading prior to the event, he led during the event (Atlas Stones).

Until he made a fatal mistake.

Well, not literally fatal.

He looked over.

To see how Magnus Ver was faring. Breaking focus. Checking out the competition. Side eyeing for a split second.

Magnus took the event and the title, winning the event only just, and the competition by a single point. It was the closest Manfred came to a title.

I’m paraphrasing, but Manfred remarked that THAT was the decisive moment. Where his claim to glory was snatched away a glance askance.

I’m guilty of that too.

Where I compare my experience to peers. To other creators. Even to other autistic professionals. To those lifting their own Altas Stones, where I should be focused on my own.

That’s never a winning move.

My Atlas Stones are mine own. I’m my own competition, not others.

My autistic experiences, joys, successes, failures are not a competitive event.

It’s hard not to fall into this trap, for my autistic brain and soul to seek additional inputs, vectors, data to frame whether or not I’m “doing well” or “doing good.” For all my innate hyperfocus, I am equally strong in zeroing in, but also perilous when I zero out and break the turbolaser beam of me and my own word.

Manfred’s advice: “You do you.”

True words there.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to see if I can apply some similar wisdom to my biceps.

To learn more about autism from an autistic person’s perspective, follow & subscribe to The Life Autistic here and on YouTube — or follow the more whimsical, spontaneous, and amusing content on Instagram.

Speaking of YouTube strongmen and creatives, well, only one of those applies to me, but I hope you’ll check out my channel and subscribe nonetheless. Thanks so much.

A Weightlifter’s Guide to Autism

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As you all can tell, I’m training to be Arvada’s Strongest Man.*

This picture was taken right before I hoisted this 250kg boulder clear above my head in a clean overhead press.**

Ok, *not really, and **not hardly.

But with my typical workout routine altered during leave, I ended up rekindling a latent enthusiasm (early 90’s World’s Strongest Man competitions, back when I lived in the same country as Magnús Ver Magnússon) and took up deadlifting the rocks in my yard. I mean, if you’re out watching kiddos, what better way to risk splintering your back build strength and stay fit?

I had to adjust, practice, and study weightlifting a bit, since it wasn’t my typical kettlebell/HIIT slaughter. A couple things stood out.

  1. Rocks can be heavy, and they can hurt
  2. Weightlifting tips apply to the autistic experience

Here’s how.

Lifting heavy, not hard. Weightlifting and powerlifting focus on the heavy and the increasingly heavy — not just high-frequency, high-reps. Heavy builds strength. Going hard, not so much. It’s the same with autism, where some of the heavy items aren’t things we can’t do a lot.

I’ll never be able to manage certain large audiences, environments, tasks, even certain people — but over time, I build strength and I don’t wear out. And that’s so I don’t wear out and buckle and start detesting and withdrawing. We can’t just go hard and full bore on situations and with people who drive deep discomfort and anxieties in us, whichever they are. Enduring strength comes from a paced approach.

Low repetitions, greater gains. You build more strength from lifting heavy over fewer repetitions than lifting lighter over many reps. (Are there some cases where the obverse is true? Yep, and give me until the next post, k?) And similarly in my life autistic, I need to pack on the strength (mental, emotional, even physical) to get through the recurrence of some events.

For my neurotypical audience, this can be hard. We might not be able to manage “visit X” or “event Y” as frequently as you do. And that lack of frequency might make you think we don’t ever want to go through XYZ at all.

That’s not entirely it.

Just let us treat it like weightlifting. We can’t overtrain. We’re often trying to build strength. And it isn’t always about trying it light and often. Sometimes it can’t be light. And if it’s heavy, let us do the heavy lifting the right way.