“They just sat me down and said, Ross, you have no physical attributes to be a swimmer,” recalls UK-based author and athletic adventurer Ross Edgley. “Basically, you have poor muscle mass, less body fat, and you have a big head and a dense skull. So, you are basically just torpedoing down to the ocean bed.”
This blunt analysis from a team of experts wouldn’t have been so bad if, say, Edgley were just considering doing a few laps in the community pool. But alas, he was about to embark upon a 25-mile open-ocean swim between the Caribbean islands of Martinique and St. Lucia—all while pulling a 100-pound log behind him.
So, yes, Edgley is one of those types. He’s the guy who will finish a triathlon carrying a tree on his back to raise money for ecological causes…and because he simply likes the pun “Treeathlon.” He’ll climb a rope for nearly 24 hours, until he’s climbed the height of Mount Everest.
And no, in the case of his swim, he didn’t listen to the experts. In fact, as Edgley told me recently on the Bodybuilding.com Podcast, he ended up swimming more than 62 miles due to changing ocean currents, and ultimately had to be pulled out of the water. I recommend watching the fantastic Red Bull documentary on the journey, called Strongman Swimming.
A year later, starting on June 1, 2018, Edgley will also attempt what no one else has done—swimming all the way around Great Britain, once again in the open ocean (no tree this time). When Edgley reached out to us to discuss his imminent journey on the podcast, we had to know why.
A New Challenge on a Novel Premise
Physically, Edgley looks more like a bodybuilder than a competitive swimmer. And, as anyone who watched Kris Gethin’s Man of Iron series on Bodybuilding.com may recall, people with a lot of muscle tend to feel that they sink like a stone in the pool. But Edgley theorizes that his muscle offers a distinct and as-of-yet un-researched benefit for swimmers in particular.
He explains: “So many of my training partners are incredible endurance athletes. And what I’ve found is when we all start getting to the 12.5-mile mark during a swim, they are all struggling. They can’t hold efficient biomechanics. A few of them said, ‘I can’t grip the water, my forearms are actually cramping.’ And we joke and they’re saying swimming’s a strength-based sport for some of them.
“And I’m like really? It’s not that bad. And then it gets to the point where they’re having to feed every 10 minutes, even less. Whereas holding more muscle mass, you’re inevitably going to hold more muscle glycogen as well.
“They’re incredible swimmers, but I like to say they’re like dolphins or sharks. They’re rapid. They are quick, but in many ways, I’m just like this tiny whale, and although I don’t necessarily go as quick, when we start getting to 12.5 miles and they’re just flagging and many of them dropping out, I honestly feel like I’m just getting warmed up.”
Edgley will put this theory to the ultimate test over the next 100 days, swimming for six-hour stretches, and then resting (and reading philosophy books, he says) for six-hour stretches. He shared the details in the first weekly episode of Strongman Swimming Season 2: The Great British Swim, a YouTube series with Red Bull.
Why Swim Around Great Britain?
Edgley told us that the concept was presented to him by a retired British Marine with an immense moustache, who crossed paths with Edgley while he was being treated for “trench foot,” a condition resulting from his excessive time in the water.
“He just said, ‘What are you doing?’ And I said, ‘I’ve just finished a 48-hour swim, just wanted to see how far I could swim.’ And he goes, ‘Why are doing that?’ So, I told him I wanted to train for the world’s longest current-neutral swim.
“And he just said, ‘That sounds a bit crap.’ And I was like, ‘What do you mean?’ And he goes, ‘It just sounds a bit long-winded.’
“I said, ‘Well, what do you propose I do then?’ And he sat there, and he considered his options, drank his tea, and he turned to me and he said, ‘Do you know what you need to do? You just need to man up and swim around Great Britain, that’s what you need to do.'”
It’s that simple. But as Edgley readily admits, there’s no telling where it goes from here, or how it ends.
Check out the full podcast, where we discuss a wide range of topics including the pros and cons of muscle mass for endurance athletes; Edgley’s new bestseller, “The World’s Fittest Book: How to Train for Anything and Everything, Anywhere and Everywhere;” and his fondness for reading philosophy books to prep for extreme athletics. You can also follow Edgley’s progress on the weekly episodes of the Strongman Swimming Season 2: The Great British Swim.