He can break a stack of bricks in one blow! Watch him bend a nail in half – with his bare hands! Be awed as he bends steel around his neck!
It sounds a little like a traveling carnival show playbill from the early 1900s.
But it’s not a carnival sideshow and it’s not from more than a century ago.
This is 2023 and we’re in Travelers Rest, South Carolina.
We’re talking about a regular guy – Russell Jones.
He’s a writer and a trainer and a speaker. He’s a father and a husband and a grandfather. He’s owned businesses and he’s passionate about physical health and mental health.
And yeah, he’s a strongman too.
Words matters – they always have, here’s hoping they always will. But in this sentence, they certainly do. One word we’re focusing on – strongman. Written as one word. Not a man who is strong, although for sure Jones is. But also one word that is a noun all by itself.
It’s a word dating back to that carnival era – a strongman is both an athlete AND a performer. A person performing feats of physical strength.
That’s Russell Jones too.
A professional strength athlete or Strongman is not a magician or performer of tricks. The feats are real and some are downright dangerous. But throughout history, strength has had a place of honor in cultures around the world. Even the most sophisticated of audiences seem to get drawn into the awesome struggle and then victory in attempting what would appear to be an impossible task.
The GrandMaster of Modern-Day Strongmen Dennis Rogers defines it this way- “One tough dude (or dudette) who crushes spikes, tears cards, lifts stones, snaps chains, shreds phonebooks, twists horseshoes, rolls frying pans, bends steel bars, and/or drives nails with one blow of his fist.”
In his twenties Russell discovered the power of exercise and strength training for his own personal well being. He started with a couple of barbells after the late shift at work while watching Johnny Carson.
“I didn’t even know what I was doing,” he says, “but I knew it was helping.”
This was around the same time he met his future wife Lin. “We were the biker and the hippie chick,” Russell laughs, promising me a photo to match the description.
Taking pretty much all the money they had, Lin and Russell opened a bar in New Jersey, near New York City. Riding the popularity of John Travolta’s hit Urban Cowboy as the 1980s rose to their glory, their bar and restaurant, A Touch of Country, was born. Lin ran the kitchen and Russell the bar. Live entertainment was featured multiple nights a week. “When the sun came in through the stained glass windows, we knew it was time to go home,” Russell laughs.
This schedule made staying fit and healthy a more challenging choice.
A series of events over the next decade slowly turned their collective lives and their family’s life in a different direction.
One. Russell was invited to attend a unique church service that drew him in and from a payphone he called Lin, saying – “We’ve tried everything else, why not try Jesus?” Which, the couple shares, was pretty much how they both felt at the exact same time.
Two. Personal fitness rises in popularity in the 80s and 90s culture. Russell and Lin sell the bar and Russell begins personal training classes while also moonlighting as a truck driver. This was the era of brands such as Body by Jake and Jane Fonda’s empire. Tapping into that, his business moniker was a handy rhyme – Muscle by Russell.
Three. A personal and painfully deep tragedy. A car crash caused the tragic death of their young son, and the near death of Lin. After attending a grieving parents meeting, Lin and Russell knew there had to be a different route for their family’s journey. They worked to embrace the family they now had and the lives they were living. Two more children were eventually added to the Jones family.
Four. Attending an event at a church introduced him to a strongman that lead Russell to an opportunity to join this speaker on stage, somewhat spontaneously and definitely unprepared. “He invited me to break bricks onstage and I was like – I’m 39 and I’m not particularly strong,” Russell recalls that bit of personal history. “But I’m standing there on stage and I kept hearing this voice in my mind reminding me of a saying I had heard – faith and fear cannot live in the same body at the same time. It’s all or nothing. You can’t go part way.” Russell recalls standing there before a crowd of strangers, all those thoughts churning in his mind. And then – suddenly, bricks went flying everywhere. He was both surprised and hooked. “I was trying to play it cool,” he grins, sitting at his kitchen table, years after the pivotal experience.
The effect of the strongman experience on the audience was a turning point for all that had been happening up to this point in their lives and Russell began changing the trajectory of his career.
The strongman feats became a tool to teach and to educate – at first students in schools, but eventually both young people and their parents. He found a strength mentor and routinely performed at camps and in schools. Russell combined his passions for healthy living and improved mental health with his feats of strength and showmanship in powerful and engaging way.
Now Russell has two best-selling books –Top Secrets of Success for Kids and Sick and Tired of Being Sick & Tired: Solutions for a Better, Healthier Life as well as his latest, I Did the Best I Could – and he continues to bring his message before new audiences. He offers an online course designed to be used by parents and kids together – a 60 Day Top Secrets of Success for Kids & Parents coursethat you access at your own house, designed to get you both moving and improving together. This includes a workbook guide for your child.
“For whatever reason, bending and breaking things impresses kids,” Russell shares. “But I’m really here to edify the parents and to help the kids. Sometimes our kids need to hear the words from another voice. That’s what I’m here for.“
- You can invite Russell to speak and perform at your event or school, your church or organization by reaching out to him here.
- You can purchase his books and begin his training course here.
- Russell also offers personal physical training at his home gym in Travelers Rest.
Meet a Couple Other TR Superstars