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Meet Nathan “Bucket” Waterfield, a real-life Paul Bunyan who gets to live that dream.
Waterfield spends his days working as an arborist (aka a tree surgeon). In his spare time, he’s one of the top athletes on the Stihl Timbersports Series circuit. Even though he’s just 5’10” and 190lbs, Waterfield has proven to be one of the most skilled competitors on tour, traveling around the world to compete in events—including the upcoming U.S. Championship at German Fest Milwaukee, which runs July 28-30.
But while Waterfield spends plenty of time working around trees, his competition prep—the specific preparation and strategy that goes into mastering each event—happens in his spare time.
“It would be great if we could train five days a week, eight hours a day, but that’s not the reality,” Waterfield tells Men’s Fitness. “It’s a lot like a lot of other obscure sports—most of the athletes have other professions. I’m fortunate to be able to use my actual work to help me stay in shape. Most often my typical day’s work probably burns twice as many calories as the average workout would, and then I’m working out after that.”
But unlike, say, football or baseball, getting as big and strong as possible doesn’t necessarily translate to being the best lumberjack. Waterfield previously spent time training with the Syracuse University football team, and while he added around 20lbs of muscle, he found that the extra strength didn’t translate into enhanced ability.
“I thought it was great, but it actually ruined my chopping,” Waterfield said. “I was squatting more than I ever had, and my traps were huge. But then I went to a big competition, and after training for the bulk of the winter, I was just using strength to swing the ax. My form was terrible. I had replaced my technique with the newfound strength, and it made me a worse cutter.”
So instead of bulking up when he trains for competitions, Waterfield has zeroed in on a workout that helps his form, strength, and endurance. It involves one piece of equipment: the kettlebell.
Waterfield has a day job, so once he gets into the gym to train, he knows he has to be efficient with his time. And since he can’t exactly bring in a chainsaw when he’s working out by the dumbbell rack, Waterfield has found ways to mimic the movements he uses in sawing and wood chopping competitions using the kettlebell.
“The closest I’ve come to replicating those movements is kettlebell training,” Waterfield said. “It’s fun to do kettlebells because there’s a lot of technique, and the technique is very much like what we do on stage. Working on technique is just as important as the amount of weight and the number of repetitions you’re doing.”
Waterfield shared the kettlebell workout that he’s been using to train for the U.S. Pro Championships, where he’s competing in six disciplines: three chopping events (the Springboard, Underhand Chop, and Standing Block Chop), and three sawing events (the Stihl Stock Saw, Hot Saw, and Single Buck).
“Core is huge. With every event we do, your core strength and stability are paramount,” Waterfield said. “Having really strong legs helps so you can have a really good foundation, because everything we do is off of our legs—when you’re swinging an ax, lifting the saws, moving the saws—that strong foundation is really important. If you don’t have a strong core, then the foundation is overkill.”
Waterfield’s workout lasts around 30 minutes, and the main “go-to” move for him is the kettlebell snatch.
“I use the same 24kg kettlebell for the entire workout,” Waterfield said. “Everything is very much core-oriented, and it’s also a lot of forearm strength. I try and focus on my technique during the workout, because the technique is just as important as the amount of power you can put behind the ax.”
Want to become a real-life Paul Bunyan? Here’s how Waterfield does it.