Basque Rural Sports – Strength Sports Focus

Basque CountyStrength Sports are common throughout the world and have existed for thousands of years in various forms. Nowadays, powerlifting, olympic lifting, strongman, gymnastics, Crossfit, an other strength sports have captured the global public attention, but many cultures throughout the world have celebrated the pursuit of human strength through unique strength based competitions completely unlike anything commonly seen in a gym. In this Strength Sports Focus article, Strength Cooperative examines the Basque rural sports, from Basque County, Spain.

The Basque Rural Sports

The Basque rural sports (Herri Kirolak) are a genre of sports competitions based in part off of the traditional lifestyles of the Basque people. The Basque rural sports replicate common daily tasks from the two main historical occupations, that of the farmer (baserritarra) and fisher (arrantzalea). A larger percentage of the Basque populace hails from the rural background, and the strongman type events of the Basque rural sports, which are of our interests, hail from the rural lifestyle.

The Basques boast that they are the strongest people in the world, and at stone lifting and dragging, they probably are. Outside of training, the Basque rural sports are performed at the Arenal in downtown Bilbao, Spain as part of Bilbao’s biggest festival, Big Week (Aste Nagusia). Basques have been practicing and competing in these sports for centuries, since the origins of Basque rural sports date back to the middle ages and possibly even prehistoric times.

The Events

The main games which are strength based are:

  • Giza probak
    • Dragging game where people attempt to drag a heavy weight such as a large rock, for a certain distance.
  • Harri jasotzea
    • Stone lifting game, the goal of which is to lift a stone the greatest number of times or for the greatest weight. A lift is considered complete once it is balanced on the shoulders
  • Ingude altxatzea
    • Anvil lifting game which requires competitors to lift a 18 kg anvil 30 cm above their height, touching a steel plate, for as many times as possible in a set time period.
  • Txinga eramatea
    • Weight carrying game where weights between 50 – 100 kg are carried in both hands as far as possible. There is no time limit but the weights must not be put down or supported by any other part of the body.
  • Zaku ermatea
    • Sack carrying game, usually in the form of a relay race, where athletes carry weighted sacks on their shoulders ranging from 60 – 80 kg a set distance as fast as possible. Teams of 3 are standard.
  • Sokatira
    • Tug-of-war game where teams of eight compete to drag the other team over a line by pulling on the rope against each other.
  • Orga jokoa
    • Cart lifting game the aim of which is to lift the back of an ox cart weighing ~360 kg 40 cm above ground. The handles of the cart remain resting on the ground, and the athlete must then attempt to rotate the cart as many times as possible.
  • Lasto botatzea
    • Bale tossing game where hay bales must be thrown over a bar (set at a certain height) using a pitchfork. The bale must clear the bar and hit a bell for the toss to be valid.
  • Lasto altxatzea
    • Bale lifting game which requires raising a hay bale into the air using pulleys as many times as possible in a set time limit. This game just looks fun, as you’ll see in the below video.
  • Pulsolariak
    • Arm wrestling game…you know the rules.

This video shows a few of the different Basque rural sports in action, such as the tug-of-war game (Sokatira), cob gathering game (Lokotx biltzea), the weight carrying game (Txinga eramatea), the bale lifting game (Lasto altxatzea), and others.

Stone Lifting

Often considered the most impressive events of the Basque rural sports, and by far the most well-known, are the stone lifting (Harri jasotze) events. There are four main categories of stones in use today, all of which come in different weights.

  • The cylinder (zilindroa), usually weighing 100, 112.5 or 125 kg.
  • The rectangular (laukizuzena), usually weighing between 125 – 212.5 kg.
  • The cube (kuboa), usually weighing between 125 – 212.5 kg.
  • The round (biribila), usually weighing 112.5 or 125 kg.

types of stones

Pictured are the four types of stones: Top left – cube, top middle – cylinder, top right – round, bottom middle – rectangular. Photo Credit: Rogue

Inaxio lifts a record 238 kg cylindrical stone with one hand. Notice the unique shape and hand grips of the stone, and the heavy use of leverages by the athlete. This type of lifting is not typically seen by modern strongman competitors, who typically lift barbells and stones in a more straightforward manner.

While new records are still being set, and many young basques are beginning to train in the events, the future of the Basque rural sports is unknown. As Spain becomes more urbanized, increasingly people leave the rural farms of Basque county for the big cities, and the practice of Basque rural sports has dwindled as a result.

Fantastic documentary produced by Rogue Fitness which goes into the history of the Basque rural sports, highlights some of the different events, follows a few modern competitors, and talks to some of the champions of stone lifting.

Stay tuned for future Strength Sports Focus articles, and if you know of any unique strength sports from anywhere around the world, please comment with them below! In the meantime, watch five awesome strongman competitions for free.


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Stefan Burns

Stefan Burns

Fitness, nutrition, and powerlifting buff. Created Strength Cooperative as a way for hardworking, natural lifters to share advice on how THEY got results in the gym.
Stefan Burns

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