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Dragon Door Interviews Author and Strongman Jon Bruney

June 7, 2013 11:00 AM

Dragon Door: How did you first get interested in Strongman and powerlifting?

Jon Bruney:  I've been lifting since high school, but didn't get serious about it until about 15 years ago.  That’s when I started to come up with my own training programs and began to take things to extremes.  Instead of regular lifting, I started to try different programs and adapt them.  The first book that really changed my life as far as lifting goes was Super Squats by Randall Strossen.  I took that information and added on some crazy dynamics.

Dragon Door:  Was there a catalyst that caused you to change your training?

Jon Bruney: I wanted more adventure and wanted to see how far I could push my body.  I think everyone gets to a point in life where they really want to see really what they’re capable of.  I've always been interested in working with and helping other people, but wanted to see how far I could push my own body first. That was the major catalyst.

Dragon Door: When did you start training others?

Jon Bruney: Originally, I just had a training partner and we lifted a lot together, which later developed into the performing Strongman side of things.  Then I met John Brookfield, who became my mentor.  That’s when I really got into breaking bricks, blowing up hot water bottles, battling ropes, and kettlebells.  Soon after, I started training others.

John Brookfield and I went down to the NFL Tampa Bay Buccaneers facility and trained them with Battling Ropes.  We also trained the Greco-Roman wrestling team, which spurred on more training with individuals and coaching in that capacity.

Dragon Door:  I've seen some of your impressive Strongman performance photos—are you currently traveling and performing?

Jon Bruney: Yes, I'm still traveling and performing.  In fact, I recently had three big performances.  Sometimes audiences are a few hundred people, but can be as big as over 1,000 people in attendance.  I really enjoy performing and have a crew that travels with me to coordinate all the stunts, the lighting, the special effects, and all the things they do to me on stage—like breaking bricks off of my stomach or dropping a bowling ball off of a ladder.

Dragon Door:  What's your favorite Strongman feat?

Jon Bruney: My favorite to perform and I’ve only done it once because it’s so expensive, was when they hooked up two Harley Davidson motorcycles to my arms, then took off!   I absolutely love the rush of that and would love to perform it on a regular basis.  I’d seen other people do different holds before and knew that my strong shoulder girdle and bicep area would be able to take it following some intense isometric training.  I wanted to see how far we could push it, so we found a couple of local guys with motorcycles.  The first time we tried it they attached one of my arms to a pick-up truck and put it in park.  A motorcycle was attached to my other arm and took off in the other direction.  It was extremely scary because of the two different types of forces, but it was one of those things where you try it and hopefully it works out.  It was still extremely dangerous when performed with two motorcycles.  It took a lot of coordination with the drivers as well as crowd control.

Dragon Door:   That sounds incredibly intense.  How did you meet up with John Brookfield?

Jon Bruney: At one point I saw someone breaking bricks and thought it looked like something I could do.  I bought a ton of bricks, set them up and broke them, but ended up getting injured.  I started looking into techniques and got in touch with John Brookfield who really helped me out with the performance side of it.

I’ve always been a good speaker because I’m also a pastor.  I speak on a regular basis and had always done motivational speaking on the side with groups and corporations.  So while I was good with speaking in front of an audience, I needed to learn how to incorporate Strongman techniques instead of only relying on brute strength. John Brookfield really taught me technique for feats of strength.  I got fired up, and performing these feats really became a passion.

Dragon Door:   Did this passion inspire the strategies for Neuro-Mass?

Jon Bruney:  Many of the strategies in the book came from whole idea of training for Strongman performances.  The shows incorporate everything from breaking bricks, blowing up hot water bottles, having things broken on my body, to lifting Strongman logs overhead for repetitions.   The shows constantly move through a variety of disciplines—isometric tension, speed, and of course brute strength.  I had to develop a system so I could train to seamlessly flow from stunt to stunt to stunt during an hour in front of an audience.  Neuro-Mass was birthed from that style of training.  For a long time I just had the ideas in my head, and had shared some of them verbally with others, but this past fall I decided to start writing it all down.  Many of the techniques incorporate velocity with strength, and a lot of the exercises came from my passion for velocity.  I wanted to combine the ideas and techniques I have been using and make them applicable and accessible. 

Dragon Door:    Who could benefit most from Neuro-Mass?

Jon Bruney: Everyone needs real world strength that seamlessly flows from power to dynamic to isometric. But specifically, athletes will really transform their physique as well as their nervous system and energy levels.  They are going to see things happen peak-performance-wise in their mental state.  The book isn't just about athletic training—it’s about training the whole person, mind, body, and diet.  Everybody can benefit from that.

Dragon Door:    How were you originally introduced to kettlebells?

Jon Bruney: I'm a fan of Iron Mind and MILO Strength Journal, where I write a quarterly column called "Foundations."  Through MILO and an article in an old powerlifting magazine, I was introduced to Pavel Tsatsouline, and Beyond Stretching.  He was on my radar when I saw some of the first kettlebell books coming from Dragon Door.  So, the very first thing I did was order a 72 pound kettlebell, and then I tried to make my own plate-loaded kettlebell handle.  My home-made kettlebell was extremely heavy, and after I'd about broken my forearms doing snatches, I kept switching over to the Dragon Door kettlebell.   So, I've been interested in kettlebells since they were first introduced to the United States.  That very first kettlebell purchase I made really paid off strength-wise.

Dragon Door:    What are some of the biggest changes you saw?

Jon Bruney: Work capacity.  Back in the day, the snatch looked very different.  It was a swing snatch which was far less efficient, but was far more difficult to do for long periods of time.  The cardio aspect of that move is tremendous.  Whether I was doing squats that day, or heavy barbell presses overhead, I always finished off with snatches and it really took my work capacity through the roof.  I used it for a lot of my initial training for the semi-truck pulls for a mile distance.

Dragon Door:    What's your favorite exercise in Neuro-Mass?

Jon Bruney:  Sledgehammer push-ups are definitely a favorite.  They were a result of some conversations I had with John Brookfield about push-up leverages during breaks and downtime while filming my sledgehammer video, Hammermania.  Sledgehammer push-ups are brutal.  I also enjoy the kettlebell crushing exercises and  Neuro-Rack isometrics.  The primal shakers would also be on top of the list.

Dragon Door:    The primal shaker exercises are so unusual and effective, how did you discover them?

Jon Bruney:  I’ve been friends with Ori Hofmekler for a long time, and Ori would always talk about shaking as a primal exercise.  During one of our conversations, he told me how gorillas get their strength from shaking things in the jungle.  As a result of discussing my Controlled Fatigue Training and push-pull concepts with Ori, I began experimenting with shaking weight plates. I also have trained with Battling Ropes in that fashion, but there's something about the feel of a kettlebell.  Being able to grasp and crush a kettlebell while shaking it takes the idea of primal shaking to a whole new level. 

I believe that speed and dynamic movements are extremely important for all athletes.  It's something I’ve always incorporated in my own routines with different implements, but the kettlebell put it over the top.

Dragon Door:    Everyone at the photo shoot was really impressed by the fact that even though you're a really big strong guy, you've maintained an incredible level of overall athleticism in terms of speed and mobility.  Your plyometric exercise demonstrations were off the chart.

Jon Bruney: Many individuals only train one style of movement, or just train their strengths.  I even know people who only perform dynamic exercises without ever training for strength.   I have always performed dynamic explosive movements, and especially love to do many different variations of explosive push-ups, and all kinds of jumping exercises.  Those have always been a staple.  You can even do plyometric push-up style exercises while mixing them in with handstand push-ups.  That kind of flow back and forth just can't be beat.  I think athleticism comes from practicing different styles of movement at the same intensity during a workout.

Dragon Door:    What else do we need to know about Neuro-Mass?
Jon Bruney:  People need to understand Neuro-Mass is something totally unique and new, it’s not a reread of old stuff.  The Neuro-Mass System is something that has never been done before.  In the book I mention that in my lifetime, I’ve seen X reps, super slow reps, full speed reps—so many different methods—but nobody has ever combined them into one program that will neurologically affect the body to produce great strength. 

Dragon Door:    What's the next big thing for you?

Jon Bruney: We've been invited to bring our Pressing the Limits program on a world tour to Mongolia in September.  I’m looking forward to that!  Also, Mike Gillette and I are planning to perform together this summer to help raise money for the tour.  Mike is an incredible friend and he will be joining Pressing the Limits on the tour to Mongolia.


Contact Strongman Jon Bruney at