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Jesse Marunde Interview
BY Shawn Baier

From his incredible finish at WSM and fresh off his amazing battles with Travis Ortmayer at the FitExpo and the St. Patrick’s Day Strongman Challenge, the moderators decided to interview Jesse Marunde this month for our pro in the spotlight (Jesse didn’t really have a choice… we threatened to quit if he didn’t do the interview!). Since many of the members and visitors of the Physical Advancement message board have such an interest in Jesse, we thought this would be a very popular choice.

Thanks Jesse for taking a break between one of your training sessions to answer some questions. I know you won’t be able to put your fork down from eating a couple pounds of grass-fed beef, but at least you should have one hand free to type some responses.

Q. For those that don’t know your athletic history, could you give us a little background (youth, high school and college)?

I enjoyed exercise even as a pre-teen. My dad was a runner and I would run or ride my bike with him almost daily for years. Mom always made us play outside so physical activity was a daily routine for my brothers and I. We didn’t have a TV to watch cartoons or play video games on so our play time was always active. At age 13 I started lifting weights. I took karate as a kid and really believe it helped me achieve a higher degree of athleticism later in life. By age 15 I was getting serious about my training. By 17 I was totally focused on gaining strength. I competed for 2 year in powerlifting my Junior and Senior years of highschool, with best competition lifts of 500lb in the squat, 295 in the bench press, and 540 in the deadlift in the 220lb class. In addition to being very focused on strength training, I also played football, wrestled and ran track.

Q. Those are pretty good lifts for a 6’5” highschool kid. How did your training evolve over the years? I know you have an Olympic lifting background, when did you start training that style of lifting?

The late J.V. Askem started teaching me the classical lifts in highschool and my technique and leg strength was brought up by my college strength coach Brett Tudsbury and the famous Olympic weightlifting coach, Steve Gough. At age 19 I started competing in Olympic weightlifting and posted best lifts of 150kg (330lb) snatch and a 185kg (407lb) clean and jerk at a bodyweight of 266lbs. I was fortunate to have excellent coaches to get me started with correct training methods.

Q. What was so special about J.V., Brett and Steve’s coaching?

One thing all three had in common was an intense passion to see me succeed. Their excitement at seeing me set a personal best in any lift was genuine and like a praised puppy dog it made me want to try harder. J.V.’s number one philosophy was “quality over quantity.” He was adamant that I learn to perform every movement flawlessly. We would work with manageable weights for hours perfectly the finer details of my technique. The style of coaching that J.V. used on me set me up perfectly for the high intensity training that Brett and Steve advised. Brett was competing in the 85kg class and was a solid and very fast lifter who was also coached by Steve. We frequently trained together along with Justin Braun, another heavy weight who was stronger than me. Both coaches pushed me very hard. I learned to pull and squat heavy every day while also learning to eat enough to gain weight at the same time. While working with Brett and Steve I took my snatch from 100kg (220lbs) to 150kg (330) and my clean and jerk from 120kg (264lbs) to 185kg (407lbs) while gaining 50lbs of bodyweight. I was playing football at Montana State at the time, so training as intensely as I was and eating as much I had to, was challenging. This was a very difficult time in my life. Playing college football isn’t easy. I would lift every morning, do homework, go to class, watch hours of film, have team meetings, practice from 3pm-630pm, then I would slam dinner and work from 7pm-10pm every night at a local gym. At the time I was just married and had a 1 year old son. I had a firm belief that I could and would succeed. Not fearing pain, hard work or failure allowed me to exchange blows with adversity and win. This sounds harsh, but I have no pity for anyone who makes excuses for why they can’t succeed in any given area. I really believe that if you have a dream and your mind can conceive it, you can achieve it. No obstacle is too large.

Q. Certainly there are limitations. Wouldn’t you agree that if a person is 5 feet tall, they probably won’t ever win the WSM contest?

Haha I wouldn’t say that, but I would suggest to a 5 foot tall super athlete that they consider a weight classed sport such as wrestling, fighting, weightlifting, powerlifting etc. I think it is important to pursue worthwhile and realistic goals. But each individual has to decide what that is for themselves.

Q. This is such a common question, but I think people are always curious about this one for anyone involved in the sport. How did you get involved in strongman?

I saw strongman on TV as a teen and was really impressed. Strength and the pursuit of it has always been a great pleasure to me. I started lifting to improve my athletic ability on the football field, wrestling mat and on the track. I began to enjoy the strength training as much as my other sports. When I started weightlifting I really wanted to try to make it to the Olympics. I developed intense knee pain that began to seriously hinder my training. On top of this my height was frustrating my progress because I believed that I would have to weigh well over 300 lbs to be competitive. Health, fitness, and having an impressive physique have always been important to me. I knew that if I took my body weight up to 360-400 lbs I would have to forfeit those things. So I finally decided that when I had taken weightlifting as far as I could I would then try my strength on the strongman circuit. But then when I was 20 yrs old I saw Whit Baskin competing at the age of 21. He didn’t win, but he was doing good! That’s when I decided that if he could do it, so could I. Shortly after my 21st birthday I entered my first show.

Q. It was the Big Sky Strongest Man contest right? I believe you placed 3rd? How did you start training for that first show?

Yes and yes. I weighed 255 lbs and went balls out. That show was powerfully painful because I didn’t finish any events, thus I went to total failure on all of them. I didn’t have any money so I slept in the back of my grandpa’s truck in the parking lot the night before the show so my back was stiff too. Luckily I had my dog with me or I would have froze to death.

I actually started training the events back in highschool. J.V. had me doing some tire flipping, log and stone lifting to enhance my football and wrestling skills. In college I started doing farmers and yoke walks. To train for the Big Sky show I simply trained the Olympic lifts during the week and mimicked the exact contest events on Saturday.

Q. I know you like to keep your training private. However, can you give us a general rundown of how it is structured? Do you have a specific day for event training or is part of each workout?

I start every morning with reverse hypers and ab work. Then I do some light Olympic lifting and squatting. I finish with some type of endurance activity like a kettle bell circuit, sled dragging, kickboxing, field exercises etc. In the evening we do a heavy Olympic lift and assistance for that lift followed by squatting. Lately we’ve been doing heavy box step ups on Monday, front squats on Tuesday, deadlifts or box squats on Wednesday, back squats on Thursday and front squats on Friday. We finish with one event trained relatively light and for speed and high volume. On Saturday we will do 3-6 events. We will often do as many as 10 sets per event depending on the focus that day.

Q. What is your opinion on training volume? You have mentioned several times that you train two times daily and always train some variation of the squat and snatch or power clean heavy daily. How do you keep from overtraining?

Overtraining? What is that? Haha I am familiar with injury, illness, aches and pains… Some people call these ailments symptoms of overtraining. I maintain that injuries can be avoided for the most part by training smart, illnesses can be avoided by eating clean and keeping your body clean, aches and pains can me minimized by being in a constant state of rehab and by executing proper technique on every lift. Virtually every top athlete in every sport in the world trains twice daily at least. Why would a top strongman be any different? I’ve been training twice a day most of my life so I’m quite used to it. Most guys can’t do it because they approach the concept incorrectly. I could write volumes on that, so I’ll save it for a book someday…

Q. Can you give us an idea of what your event training looks like for you? How many events do you do in a day? How often do you change these up?

Like I said earlier we train one event per day and 3-6 events on Saturday. Again, our training is too complicated to write out in a single paragraph. Basically we don’t worry too much about events in upcoming contests unless there is something really odd about a certain event that requires a degree of specialization. We always train the basic events; farmers walk, yoke, stones, log, axle, Conan’s wheel, sandbag carry etc. Mainly we simply train to improve our weaknesses. For example, my trainee Jacob is focused on improving his over head lifts so he would train the log like normal even if it weren’t in an upcoming show.

Q. I’ve heard you talk before about the single best exercise. I know some say the squat, some argue the deadlift, and I’ve heard your opinion change on this from the clean to stones. What is your view on this now, or do you think too many people try to find that perfect exercise that just doesn’t exist?

I’ve come to believe that it depends on the individual. For me, it is the squat. Because it is my weakest lift, I get the most value from its improvement. When I squat more, all my lifts, including stone loading, go up. I’ve always been fast and explosive so while power cleans will dramatically improve most beginners’ performance, in all reality, I could probably get by without doing them now. If I had to do one single lift I would choose the lifting of stones. Lifting rocks is primeval and certainly the most functional and fundamental of all strongman events.

Q. I heard you recently proclaim “Jesse learned to pull!” after beating one of the best pullers in the world, Mark Phillipi. Now assuming you are talking about deadlifting, what has helped you the most on improving in this area?

Getting a few injuries healed up mostly. I tore my hamstring tendon 3 different times, and ruptured my L5 disc in 2003. Deadlifting used to be one of my best events, but after those injuries my pull has really struggled. I’ve been working very hard on improving my pull, and have been slaughtering my hamstrings every Wednesday on my glute/ham machine. Time + dedication + smart training has slowly brought my pull up about 80 pounds since WSM05. Still not where I want it to be, but I’m about 80 pounds closer…

Q. I was amazed with your performance on the Fingal’s Fingers at the WSM05. You have been doing some amazing overhead lifts lately too. What do you feel is your best strongman event?

I think the key to being a good strongman is to be balanced in all your abilities. I trained the fingers only twice before WSM05 and only one time before WSM 02. Because I am good at that event I don’t train it much. My focus is on improving my lesser strengths. I am confident in all areas of my strength. I need to improve my squat and deadlift the most.

Q. You and I have talked about your diet before, and you expressed that you feel the subtle changes you made in your diet have had rather large rewards on performance. Would you mind sharing some of this information? What diet changes have had the biggest impact? What does a typical day look like?

I started eating higher quality foods than what your local super market sells. Every day I eat 2-3 lbs of grassfed beef, 1 lb of wild salmon or halibut, close to a gallon of raw milk, up to 20 egg whites, all organic veggies and fruits, and 3-4 Met-RX shakes. For carbs I eat brown rice, potatoes, yams, and cornbread. The fact that these foods work is obvious to me by the change in the way I feel and perform.

Q. What's it like being sponsored by one of the biggest names in the sports nutrition industry? Tell us about your relationship with MET-Rx.

After WSM 05, MET-Rx approached me to discuss possible sponsorship ideas. I've actually been pursuing MET-Rx for several years now so I’m really excited to finally get a foot in the door. I worked out a great deal with them and I really hope to develop a long term relationship with the company. They’re awesome to work with and they’ve been setting me up with a lot of appearances all over the country. I enjoy traveling and meeting fans and MET-Rx is giving me the opportunity to do this pretty frequently which is great. In addition to being a company run by great people, MET-Rx sponsors numerous top athletes and they sell honest products. It’s important to me to represent products I really believe in. MET-Rx always has a booth at all the big shows, so be sure to stop by and see me.

Q. I’m going to shift gears a little now… Can you tell us a little about your training group up in Sequim? I know we have some board members from your group, but why don’t you give us their names and then tell us a little about each one or the first thing that comes to mind about each of your crew.

Breck Gault aka Breckanize is a 231 lber with a super grip and massive arms built up by years of construction work. I believe he has the capability to be a pro some day. Breck has put about 300 pounds on his squat and 200 on his deadlift in the last 8 months. He’s hard core, plain and simple.

Marshal White aka M-dub weighs 295 and is developing into a fantastic Olympic lifter. He is quick, has static strength, and with a little more training under his belt and a cleaner diet will likely go pro. Training with me has forced M-dub to attack head on his lesser strengths because we train so differently than he has in the past. His rate of progression is amazing. M-dub pushes himself hard and hates failure. He’s been known to get really pissed off during training…

Jacob Miskimins aka Snake is the baby of the group. He’s only 21 years old but stands 6’5” and weighs 300 lbs and is built like Phil Phister. Snake has gained almost 40 pounds of muscle in the last 12 months. He has huge hands and a massive back. His biggest obstacles are lack of contest experience and a construction job that tires him out 40 hours a week. Jacob is in a race with M-dub to see who will go pro first… It’ll be a tight finish I think… I can’t wait to watch Snake develop even further.

Sarge probably doesn’t need any intro. He’s been training with me for 4 years now and is recovering from shoulder surgery at the moment. He’s just coming back around and beginning to hit some big lifts again. Sarge is gunning for the top spot at the Sr. nationals in the 231 class. One time he squatted 218 lbs at a bodyweight of 218 lbs for 98 legit reps. It took him 11 minutes to complete. He proclaimed afterwards that it was definitely one of the top 5 hardest things he’s ever done, but at least it was over quick… Sarge is my main homey mostly cause I wouldn’t want to be on his bad side…

All of us here in the Sequim Crew have full time jobs. Snake works for Sarge and they build custom homes at a very fast pace. They start work at 7am sharp and have more work done by lunch than most crews get done all day. Breck owns a framing business and can single handedly frame a house faster than 3 experienced workers... M-dub is a mortician and is on call pretty much 24/7. He'll show up to train at 6am after being out on body pickups all night, then work all day, then train again at 6pm. I cannot properly express in words the pride I have in our crew. We are a close knit, got each others backs through thick or thin bunch of bad ass freaks. In our group there is no whining. Pain is our homey, we gravitate towards it. Most dudes wouldn't last a day in our set, let alone be capable of holding a permanent position amongst our ranks. I'm not talking trash, I'm being real. I've trained with alot of people, and my brothers in iron here in Sequim are on a totally different planet when it comes to their abiltity to focus their mental energy.

Q. Keeping with the name association game, I'm going to say the name of a few pro's and I would like to hear your comments about them (say as much or as little as you want).

Marius PudzianowskiWithout a doubt the best strongman ever. He is the total package. Plus, he has the marketable looks to be the first strongman millionaire. He is a good business man too. Marius is a good sportsman too, and not arrogant like many top athletes.
Jouko AholaA very smart trainer who has shared many secrets with me. One of the first strongmen to train full time to win the WSM contest. Also one of the first athletes to collect all of the equipment and to train events regularely. His training video taught me a lot when I was first starting out.
Vasyl VirastyukI have never competed against him, and am looking forward to the day that we meet on the battle field. His drive and power are incredible.
Zydrunas SavickasStatically the strongest man ever. He is huge and will dominate any super heavy show. Many would argue that he is the true strongest man and they might be right. The WSM contest has a certain format that doesn’t perfectly suit him, yet he has still cracked the top two more than once. He is too fat to be marketable though, and has the personality of a gold fish, so he probably won’t make much money outside of prize earnings… With that said, he could probably care less because prize earnings alone, which he has won honestly, have made him a rich man in his country.
Steve Kirit A very balanced athlete who knows how to squeeze every ounce of ability out of his body. I don’t believe Steve is a genetically gifted athlete. All of his strength comes from smart training and the desire to succeed.
Jon AndersonJon and I are in a race to see who is the highest paid strongman in America. Do to his devilish good looks, exceptional verbal skills and an unreal physique I believe he is in the lead. I really hope Jon competes in the Super Series this year, he would be great for TV. Jon is also an awesome single dad to his gorgeous little girl. I admire his parenting more than anything else about him.
Karl GillinghamKarl has been in the sport at an elite level for longer than anyone I think. He has proven that if you train smart you can continue to get stronger without ever hitting a plateau. Karl owns Jackals Gym which sells Rehband knee sleeves and Elite tacky, both items are a must in the strongman gym bag.
Travis OrtmayerIf I were capable of fear, Travis is the man I would be wary of. His potential is limitless, and though he is a top international competitor, he is no where near his peak. If I had to choose a partner in a team competition, I would choose Travis. I love competing against him because I know he gives his all, which forces me to do the same, which makes me better. I wonder what would happen if Travis and I were to train together for several years...
Geoff Dolan I wish he would go back to Canada. The last thing I need is another world class athlete living a few states over threatening to steal my prize money. In addition to being a fierce competitor Geoff is a world class dad and I really admire that.
Phil PfisterPersonally I like Phil. I know a few people that don't, but I've always admired him. Phil is still the man to beat in America. If you are an American athlete and want to know where you stand internationally, just compete against Phil. He is huge, fast, has an unbelievable grip and is virtually without any weaknesses. I believe Phil could win the WSM.
Dave Ostlund Good old Dave… I’m reminiscing about the time I got surgery on a staph infection in Poland. Dave changed my bandages… Gross! We trained hard in a local gym in Warshaw then we drank a variety of expensive whiskey and scotch and smoked Cubans for like 4 hours. Oh ya, and we each ate like 10 chicken quesadillas and had half a dozen milkshakes. All this for a total tab of under $400.00. Gotta love the value of the American dollar… I’ve tried to sleep, to no avail, next to Dave’s room in more than one hotel. I blame his beautiful new bride for making all the noise…
Odd Hougan Odd is my all time favorite strongman. He is a true warrior in every sense of the word. I’ve heard people say, “I hope I’m that strong when I’m his age.” I just think ya right dude… You’ll never be that strong EVER! Odd is amazing without even mentioning the fact that he's 56 years young. If I had to go back in time and fight real battles with axes and swords, I would take Odd with me because I know that when the armies faced off he would be the last man standing.

Q. What is your opinion of the current state of strongman? From the inside perspective, what do you see as the future of the sport?

The sport continues to grow but at a snails pace. In order for it to be bigger we need more personalities and more local contests. The organizers, promotors and people in charge are doing a fantastic job, so I beleive a large responsibility rests on the shoulders of us athletes. We really need to be creative in coming up with ways to market ourselves and to do our part in helping to elevate the sport. Some people think it’s stupid to make strongman like pro wrestling, but I think that we should model some of the things they do. After all, WWE is the most money making sport in the world. The difference between us and them is that our sport is REAL and they MARKET themselves better.

Q. You appear to have a very strong support system in your family and training partners. It goes without saying, but feel free to end this interview with any comments or thanks you would like to give.

I really believe that in order to be successful it is critical to surround yourself with positive people who truly believe in you and who are excited about your adventure. I’m blessed to have a wonderful relationship with my family members. My friends and personal training clients all encourage me and show me much love every day. My lovely wife Callie and my son Dawson are behind me 100%. I train every day with the most hard core dudes on the planet. We all share a single goal, to be our very best. And then of course there are the many fans of the sport who I meet every where I go who believe in me. I really feel that with as much support as I have I simply can’t fail. My most sincere thanks to you all, I'll do my best to make you proud.

Thanks again for sharing your time with us. Best of luck in this year! Now go squat or drink a MET-Rx shake!!

PS- Do you have any pictures of the MET-Rx girls?




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