I won my first stein-holding competition, surprising some onlookers with my smallish stature.
The bizarre sport is for "maniacs" who endure pain to hold a 5-pound beer far from their mouths.
I had unknowingly trained by swimming and weight-lifting, but I'll incorporate "holds" to improve.
When I passed a sign outside of my local biergarten advertising a women's stein-holding competition, I immediately declared I would participate.
I hadn't thought the term through literally, and figured it had something to with beer consumption, an activity I'm proficient in.
But I soon learned what the German pastime, also called masskrugstemmen, really entails: Gripping a 5-pound, 34-ounce stein of beer with an outstretched arm for as long as possible without leaning back, bending your arm, or spilling.
As the US Steinholding Association describes, it's a sport for "maniacs" who want to "experience the thrill of holding a beer stein further from [their] mouth and for a longer amount of time than nature ever intended."
I guess I'm a "maniac" because I went ahead and entered.
With a modest time of 1:55, I also broke the bar's record, beating out the women's best times from the two weeks prior.
The next weekend at a different bar with at least the same number of participants, I placed third with a time over 2 minutes, 30 seconds.
That's longer than three of the 10 women who made it to the national competition in 2019, the most recent year it was held.
I'm certainly no prodigy (the women's record is 5:34 and the men's is 21:17), but as a five-foot-five, 112-pound-first-timer, my relative success surprised some onlookers.
It shouldn't have: It turns out my stature and exercise routine had, unbeknownst to me, been working in my favor.
"A lot of people think that big, muscular, bodybuilding-looking type dudes are going to do really well," US Steinholding Association founder Jim Banko told me. "But honestly, that's not always the case."
From a physics perspective, shorter-limbed people have an advantage over the Michael Phelps' of the world since the further away the stein is from your body, the heavier it will feel.
And while a strong upper body is necessary to excel, there's a tipping point at which too much bulk on your biceps, triceps, and forearms will just weigh you down, Banko explained.
The muscles that are most engaged during stein-holding are your deltoids, or your main shoulder muscle, Daniel Richter, a personal trainer and powerlifting coach told Inside Hook.
Buff pecs, traps, and serratus anterior (aka "the boxer's muscle") are secondarily key to stabilize your arm and stave off spilling.
But any body type can win, Banko said. He's 6-foot-2 with a wide wingspan ("probably the worst" stature) and yet broke the men's national record in 2015 with a time of 17:11.
My decades-long freestyle swimming career gave me an edge.
Aside from the miserable pandemic period when pools were closed, I've been swimming two to five times per week since high school, where my specialty was the long-distance 500 free.
These days, I swim just 20 to 30 minutes freestyle at a moderate pace, but I've gone through stretches of more intense and longer swim workouts, like when training for a half-Ironman competition in 2019.
Swimming is a full-body workout, but freestyle specifically hits the delts, the muscles down the sides of your back, and the trapezius "in a big way," according to Australian swimming site KingSwim. In other words, I've been training for masskrugstemmen without even knowing it.
I've also been lifting weights three to four times a week for more than a decade, either following or modeling my routine after Les Mills Bodypump.
That typically involves over 130 squats weighted with, for me, a 60- to 70-pound barbell, followed by a similarly high number of moderately-weighted reps of chest presses, back exercises (like dead-lifts and clean-and-presses), biceps and triceps exercises, lunges, and — most notable for stein-holding — shoulder exercises like front and side raises, deltoid raises, overhead presses, and pushups.
If I want to beat my personal beat, I should incorporate what Banko calls "practice holds" and "training holds" multiple times a week in the months leading up to the competition.
Practice holds are simply holding a full stein as long as you can.
Training holds involve doing a practice hold, and then doing it again after about 60 seconds or less of rest. As you progress, aim for longer cumulative holding times and shorter recovery intervals.
"That forces your muscles to really adapt to the endurance component of it," Banko said.
Building your mental stamina is just as critical.
Your mind needs to continually override your body's glaring message to "put the damn stein down" by making you ache and shake.
But the more you practice, the more you get accustomed to the unique discomfort that is masskrugstemmen.
"It never becomes fun, it never becomes enjoyable," Banko said. "But you can extend the amount of time you can comfortably hold the stein."
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