Highland Games: Why It May Be the Sport for You

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 Article written by Rachelle Reinking
After moving beyond the fledgling lifter stage, you may find yourself wanting to compete in a sport. Luckily, there are plenty to choose from: powerlifting, Olympic lifting, strongman, CrossFit, physique, bodybuilding, and more. It can be a little daunting to figure out which one is right for you. Ideally, your chosen sport needs to fit not only your goals, but also your personal and lifestyle needs. Through trial and error, I found my sport in the Scottish Highland games.

The Basics

The American version of the sport features nine throwing events: Braemer stone, open stone, light hammer, heavy hammer, caber toss, sheaf toss, weight for height, lightweight for distance, and heavyweight for distance. Just like field events in track, you are allowed three throwing attempts in the distance events. In height events, you are allowed three attempts at each height from your entry throw until you miss. And yes, you are required to wear a kilt to compete.

If you’re interested in finding a performance-based sport, here are a few reasons why the Highland games may be for you.

  1. There are no weight cuts or gains.

Unlike other strength sports, the Highland games do not categorize competitors by weight. Instead, the classes are narrowed by age and experience. All women 41 and under compete in the Women’s Open class. Men’s novices begin in the C class, moderately experienced throwers compete in the B class, and advanced throwers compete in the A class. At age 42, you may compete in the Men’s or Women’s Masters Class (bonus: the implements in the Masters class are lighter). Are drastic cuts and gains for weight classes mentally and physically draining for you? Have you had disordered eating or body image issues in the past? If so, this different division of classes will work in your favor. You no longer have to live or die by the scale or dramatically drop water in preparation to pose on stage for aesthetic competitions. For me, this was an important influence on my decision to compete.

  1. Technique outweighs size.

Size doesn’t matter – as much. Yes, it’s true that someone with more mass can produce greater force behind the throwing implement than someone with significantly less mass. However, if you don’t practice technique meticulously, someone slightly smaller than you will out throw you in these events. The caber is a great example of this. Throwing a giant telephone pole isn’t just about how much power you can exert, but how precisely you can make the pick and how accurately you can time the turn. When athletes are close in size and strength, the determining factor of a farther throw will depend on whose technique is better.

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  1. It’s a seasonal sport.

The Highland games season typically runs from March to October in most areas. Unless you have access to an indoor track arena, you’ll likely only practice throwing during those months. If you like to compete or do other recreational activities, those other months are perfect to place your focus elsewhere. Some people focus on aesthetic goals; some focus on gaining mass and more strength. I direct my attention back to pole dancing. Both pole dance and the Highland games place tension in the upper back and shoulders, so I prefer to not burn myself out by training them in a balanced way year round. Unless you become seriously injured, you won’t derail your training for the games in this off-season.

  1. The camaraderie is bar none to other communities I’ve been in.

If you are brand new to the Highland games, you’ll be welcomed in by people and become friends by the end of the daylong competition. Seriously, this isn’t just a rose-colored glasses and utopian view. Even though it is a contest, everyone encourages each other to push for a PR, gives you tips on your technique after an attempt, and congratulates you when you do something bad ass. Experienced throwers acclimate new throwers to the community and teach them the ropes even if they’ve never touched an implement. I have yet to encounter competitors with superiority complexes that don’t have time for newbies. This is why I believe there has been a big resurgence in the sport – we are just a giant clan who looks out for our people.

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If any of the above resonated with you, the Highland games just may be the strength sport you’re looking for. Check for upcoming competitions in your area, which are usually in conjunction with Scottish festivals. Other listings can be found on the North American Scottish Games Athletics (NASGA) website at nasgaweb.com. Oh, and don’t forget to buy your kilt.

  • GunToting[Redacted]

    Just a couple of additional points… Masters can start competing in these categories at age 40, and may be grouped in large or small age ranges, depending on the event. There is also a lightweight division often offered for men and women, although the weight threshold varies by region (Either under 200 or 190 for men, under 150 or 140 for women).

    And yes, it is one of the most open, welcoming community you will ever find. Show up at an event and start talking with the competitors and you will be provided with tips, advice, funny stories, and very frequently, offers of a wee dram or two.