Scottish Heavy Athletics

Wouldn’t it be cool if you could get some of your friends and just go throw heavy stuff? Wouldn’t it be even better if there were drums, bugles, and bagpipes playing in the background and women dancing on a stage nearby? And wouldn’t it be complete if you tossed a telephone pole on your way to enjoy a cold Guinness?

There is such a place, my friends. It’s called Scottish Heavy Athletics, better known as Highland Games. I recently completed my second Highland Games at the Texas Scottish Festival, and I’m looking to make this my summer/fall sport.

The Highland Games contest up to nine different events
* 56# weight over bar
* 22-26# Braemar Stone throw (like a stationary shot put but with a big rock)
* 16-22# Open Stone (like a shot put, including an approach to the toe board)
* 20# sheaf toss (a bag of rope or straw thrown over a bar via pitchfork)
* 56# weight for distance (thrown with a discus-type approach)
* 28# weight for distance (same but with a lighter implement)
* 22# Scottish Hammer throw (similar to Olympic hammer but wound around over the head and around the body with feet remaining stationary)
* 17# hammer (same but with a lighter implement)
* caber toss (16-20′, 100-200+ pounds)

Dan John throwing a heavy weight for distance

Some of the events make some sense from a combat perspective (I guess you could throw a rock or launch a hammer at someone who wasn’t too far away). And I guess the sheaf reminds one of throwing hay to the top of the barn (if one has done such things). But most of the events feel like the creation of a couple blacksmiths who fell into a barrel of mead.

Throwing the #22 Braemar Stone

Games are held throughout the country, usually beginning in the spring and running through fall. The pros are behemoths (and so are most of the amateurs), but don’t let that keep you away. Everyone in HG is cool, and they’re happy to welcome new people to their sport.

If you haven’t done it before, there’s not much you need to change. Just find a group to throw with and go from there. If the bug bites, then you can start worrying about specific training, buying/making implements, etc. I trained for this just like I do for judo. Instead of conditioning, I just substituted more throwing and event practice.

The great Shannon Hartnett, 10 time World Highland Games Champion

If you’re not signed up for something this summer, get your kilt together and do one of these. You’ll meet a good group of athletes and participate in something that’s somewhat off the wall. has listings, athlete data, and a discussion forum that addresses preparation and training. Get on it. You’ll thank me later.

Edit: I had to include this video because the timing of the throw and the music is pretty cool.

If you haven’t realized it already, Highland Games is a very 70sBig-friendly sport. I am 5’10 215 in the picture (I’m the guy holding the beer and the trophy), and I was the lightest guy by 25 pounds. My friend, Aaron (red beard, front row), is 280 and was maybe the fourth biggest guy there.

A fine group of lads. (L-R) Joseph, Gant, Harold, James, Aaron, Luke, Rob, Kyle

41 thoughts on “Scottish Heavy Athletics

  1. I competed in my first highland games in April (the annual Houston Highland Games). I had an absolute blast. It is a sanctioned sport with a friendly bunch of competitors that ends with a scotch egg and a Guinness. Can’t be beat!

    Apparently the guy who runs the Houston games does one in August in Huntsville, TX, called the Heat Stroke Highland Games. I haven’t seen anything about it yet, though, so he may not be doing it this year.

  2. Looking forward to going to watch the Maine Highland Games in August, I’ve never been to one before and hope to compete next year. Hoping to find some athletes there that might practice near me to get a little experience beforehand, otherwise I’ll improvise and wing it.

  3. Ever since I moved here (PA) I’ve heard more and more about the highland games and get asked often if I ever took part back in Scotland, short answer no, long answer I lived in the city and they simply were not around where I was.

    It’s definitely a great display of strength as well as skill and something I’d like to take part in just for the hell of it at some point.

    On another note started Muay Thai as a sport last month, biggest guy in my classes at 235lbs.

  4. DAVEN-
    hey man I shot you an e-mail the other day… took a long time to dig up your address again… anyway if you hear more about the August games in Huntsville keep us posted I would be down to try it out.

    Question for anyone-
    I have decided to try the whole GOMAD thing but wanted some advice on getting the milk to work… I dont really have alot of room in the fridge here at work so stocking it with milk is out of the question… any suggestions would be appriciated.

  5. @StoneWallWells: just find one of the establishments from and go eat there at lunch. xD

    do whole milk in the morning and after work. as far as milk goes, i’ve found you have to see what your body can handle. if you’re a gaseous beast after downing a pint or drinking 2 glasses within an hour of each other, then it’s best to mellow out and be more gradual with your intake.

  6. Women do it too, with lighter weights. I started competing last year. There is a lot of technique involved but everyone is always happy to give tips and instruction. I did my 6th competetion last weekend, PR’d in 3 events and took 3rd in the women’s class.

  7. King of Sparta-
    Thanks for the link, I think there are some genius ideas over there, unfortunately I think the site pokes fun at people who are not interested in build strength, but rather a larger girth.

    As for the milk situation, I drink several glasses a day but have never tried to drink a whole gallon. I am trying like a mad man to gain some weight bc I have been stuck here at 185 forever. So, in order to finish a whole gallon I imagine I am going to have to cut some of my water intake and drink milk throughout the day, thus the need for milk at work… that’s all I got.

  8. @StonewallWells: Most Walgreens/CVS/RiteAid type places sell milk. If your workplace is within walking distance of one, go there every two days on your lunch break and buy a gallon. That way you only need to store a gallon at a time in your work fridge. Drink four pints at work throughout the day at work and four at home and there’s your GOMAD. I’d recommend you work up to the full gallon over a few days, too. Just add one pint per day from where you are now until you hit eight pints. It works and will do wonders for your strength.

  9. Very cool. Just found out where I’ll be spending Labor Day weekend!

    Weekend after that is my first USAPL meet, so there’s no chance I’ll compete at the Scottish Games – especially since I am actually trying to cut down to the 165# class for the PL event… I’d probably be half the size of most of the Scottish Games competitors.

    Next year I’d like to compete at 181#, so that should give me an opportunity to lift heavy and EAT (almost) as much as I want.

  10. Awsome! I will atest that the Highland Games are a blast, and Yes very 70’s BIG. I have been competing for the last 4 years in my area (IN, MI, IL, OH) and the guys/gals who throw are great to compete against and willing to coach new/novice throwers.
    It is one of the best sports out there, allowing a person to compete with heavy/odd objects, enjoy the outdoors, and end your day of competition with a pint of GUINNESS n Whisky.
    If you are eager to learn to throw, I strongly recomend posting as such on the NASGA forum as there is a bit of skill and technique involved. Someone in your area will be able to help you out. Have fun!

  11. Are big, hairy half-breeds welcome? Seems like a Scottish only affair. The neighboring village here holds one every year, looks like alot of fun to compete in, and mixing single malts with physical activities is one of my favorite things to do. I need a kilt, although I look more like a Samoan, so perhaps I should rock one of those man-skirts they wear instead.

    (p.s. argyle and plaid kick ass)

  12. I used to buy several half gallons of milk and then bring one to work a day.

    Also, nice job Gant! I’ve been interested in trying HG and will have to look into it further. Can’t wait to tell the wife about having to wear a kilt! She thought the singlet for powerlifting was odd but this is going to knock her for a loop…

  13. Half-breeds are welcome and encouraged. The only thing you need is a kilt and kilt hose. You can pick those up on the cheap at

  14. el diablo, where are you and are you currently training the throws? there is a great group of guys I have been working with in Vienna — they are extremely knowledgeable and helpful, especially for a total newb like me — great bunch of guys if you’re interested.

  15. Stonewall, I’ll check my email when I get home (blocked at work).

    For milk, try a couple of Nissan stainless steel thermoses. They come in up to 64-ounce sizes. Two of those will keep your milk cool (or at least not hot) throughout the day.

  16. Very cool stuff. When I lived in Scotland I used to play drums in a pipe band. We played at quite a few highland games and fairs and things.

    And well done to Gant!

  17. Nice skirt.


    To drink the gallon of milk I suggest you stop being a vag and drink it one sip at a time until the gallon is empty. Try putting the milk in a thermos or maybe a small portable cooler that can fit under your desk. I do suggest getting big though so that way you don’t have to worry about fridge etiquette.

    When I was doing GOMAD I would bring a half gallon with me to school and sip the thing while in class and try to finish it before it got warm. I eventually was able to down a half gallon in the time it took me to leave my house and park at university(10min).

  18. Stonewall,
    I second LaHabra’s suggestion. Dont be a vag. It really isnt that hard to do. If you dont wanna keep it at work, drink a half gallon before work and a half gallon after. Get a thermos. Seriously, just get it done. I’ve got 14 year olds weighing 120 pounds who can put a gallon away.

  19. Dick Trolls-

    How does asking for advice on getting milk to work make them someone a vag?

    I never said that I couldn’t drink a gallon nor did I ask for advice on getting it done, I simply asked for some ways to get some milk in while working. Go read my original post before you start runnin your mouths, Tards.

    Haha, you guys are such a pain in the ass, but you make me laugh every now and then.


  20. This is awesome Gant thank you! I’ve been wanting to compete since I saw my first Highland Games (in Utah, not when I was living in Scotland, go figure). I just couldn’t seem to find any central source for info or rules or how to enter. It gets a little trickier for girls since not every festival has a women’s catagory… I’m all excited! I wonder if I can find one before the season is over.
    keysburg- any info you can pass my way?!

  21. Stonewall,

    I must have mistaken the part where you said you have a hard time getting in the full gallon and have been stuck at 185 for a long time as meaning something else. My bad. Have fun asking the internet how to drink milk at work.

    I might be a dick and slightly retarded but I have never been a troll.


  22. Haha oh Stonewall,
    Dont be so sensitive. This is the internet. And both me and LaHabra answered your question. Thermoses, coolers etc. Or just drink it all before and after work. Hence, just get it done. Not being a Vag is always good advice, so I stand by it. I guess it might have been a dick statement, but a troll is someone who asks how to bring milk to work. Haha. Like LaHabra, I took your statement of being stuck at 185 forever and not having done GOMAD as meaning something else. Apologies good sir.

  23. WOA WOA WOA GUYS GUYS lets settle down heer fo a minute sheesh. becasue I for one REALLY like me some vag. so lets watch what we choose to call other men eh?
    HEY GANT! first of all bad ass picrures dude.
    secondly i was wondeing why you dont consider crossfit to be a sport? ive competed in karate, taekwondo and kickboxing and i dont see ALOT of difference. there are rules, competitors, losers and winners. so waasup?

    This is why we don’t get female readers.

    And Gant, e-mail this clown if you feel like explaining why it isn’t a sport. I’d rather not incite another boring CrossFit discussion.


    I’m ’bout to get all Mel Gibson up in here.

    Seriously, I don’t have enough life force to discuss this anymore. Rules+competitors+losers+winners…that also describes a spelling bee or the Texas Lottery. I don’t think CF is a sport for numerous reasons. But I think their competitions are excellent displays of fitness, and the competitors are amazing athletes. Look at the Games profiles this year. There are some strong, fast, fit people. Whether I think it’s a sport or not doesn’t diminish their ability.


  24. Nice post Gant.

    I threw in my first games a little over 3 weeks ago. Second in my division, lightest guy there (which we’re fixing) and I’ve def. got the Highland Games bug.

    Checked out your throws in the database, good stuff!

  25. kfree: Thanks. It was a good day. I’m just getting started on the path and have a lot of obvious form issues. Of 8 events, I had 5 golds and 1 silver. I also won the overall C. I didn’t put it in the post because it wasn’t important.

    The 2nd place finisher actually gave me a lot of advice in light hammer and caber, which helped me preserve my lead over him. That’s a really cool thing to do, and it’s one reason I like HG.

    Your judo competitors often do this, too. It’s often after they beat you.

  26. B-
    I am not training the throws, but I am very interested in going as a spectator this year.
    I’m not exactly 70s Big – but I am an aspiring Masters division (I turn 40 in a couple months) USAPL member.
    My first competition is scheduled to be the Virginia States (Septemeber 11 in Zion Crossroads, VA) in the 165# class. After that meet, I am thinking about learning new stuff, and maybe putting on some weight, going up to the 181# division.

  27. @ Rachel – database has listings for the entire year and can be filtered for games with a women’s division. I recommend you contact the person listed a minimum of 6-8 weeks prior. If you are still in UT I have info for local games. If any women are interested in attending a women’s only throwing clinic held in St Louis, MO every April, email me and I will send you the email of the woman who organizes it. keysburg at yahoo dot com

  28. @ Rachel – as far as entry goes, generally you just pay the fee, sign a waiver & show up. Most games don’t care if you are a novice & the contact person will let you know if they don’t allow them.

  29. also offers reasonably priced, highly customizable kilts in a wide variety of tartans. Their service is also pretty speedy – basic kilt takes only a week or two.

  30. Well justin my wife thought it was hilarious but ill stop trying to be funny from now on sorry.
    As for the crossfit thing jeez dude it was just a question! Obviously you’ve discussed it at length already but i was unaware. I was not trying to piss you off or start an arguement.

    Hard to tell the trolls from the silly guys.


  31. this looks very interesting. are they all people lifting big weights in the gym or some of them are just practicing the events over and over?

    this is just a different version of strongman events, nice.

  32. @ Gant- congrats on doing so well that is exteemly impressive since you stated you still have alot to learn. I would assume that means you were physically stonger on those events than many of the other much larger competitors. i was wondering if you talked to them at all about their methods of training or could shed some light onto what you do differently from them? i know its a long shot thanks if you have any response.

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