Bartos Employs Steel to Build his Better Stone
BOARDMAN, Ohio – At first glance, Mike Bartos’ Stone of Steel is a simple training tool. Two hollow steel hemispheres linked together, joined by a diametrical column that holds steel plates. A steel key, a rectangle with a threaded bar that sticks out, locks the halves together.
But for its creator, building the Stone of Steel was both lengthy and arduous. Over three years, he drew and made 17 prototypes before introducing it last Halloween. The first schematic, he says, was minimalist, quickly sketched on a Starbucks napkin. Now, Bartos ships his equipment around the world and is developing new products for strongman contests.
A long-time weightlifter, Bartos has participated in strongman competitions – think of the late-night broadcasts on ESPN2 – where he’s deadlifted 750 pounds and lifted concrete Atlas Stones that weigh more than 400 pounds. As a gym operator, he wanted to create something that lifters could adjust to their own strengths, to add weights as they got stronger.
When they use them, weightlifters can detect no difference between concrete stones and Bartos’ steel creation. What separates them is what’s inside. Where a concrete stone has one weight and only one weight, the Stone of Steel can be filled with standard barbell plates, modifying its weight as needed.
And that, he says, benefits those who lift weights on their own – they can adjust the stone to fit their strength levels – and gym owners. He points to the gym he operates for one-on-one and group workout sessions, Mike Bartos’ Power Center, in Boardman, a setting with a “tight 4,000 square feet” without room for several 400-pound concrete balls to sit around.
“I have to make every possible inch count. With the Stone of Steel, you can have just one and accommodate every level [of weightlifter], regardless of their strength,” he says. “You can have a Day One beginner use the exact same stone as someone who’s been lifting a 400-pound stone for 10 years.”
Two versions of the Stone of Steel are available: a 17-inch stone that weighs 105 pounds empty but weigh ing up to 330 when filled with plates, and a 20-inch stone that ranges from 140 to 460 pounds. The stones, manufactured in Youngstown and Steubenville, cost $770 and $885, respectively.
As Bartos sees it, his Stone of Steel is a simple improvement on what’s been around for centuries. Before 24-hour gyms and barbells – their modern form was created in the second half of the 19th century – and even before the ancient Greeks used dumbbells in their Olympic games, people lifted whatever was available, stones and boulders among them.
“Thousands of years ago, this was the only tool available to do strength training,” he says. “And if you look at today’s market, some of the most popular things to build and test strength are stones. Nobody’s decided to go away from it because it works.”
Dione Wessels, founder and president of American Strongman Corp., points out that spherical stones are gaining popularity, the result in part of the range of muscles used in doing stone lifts. Standard lifting forms work only a narrow group of muscles: bicep curls work the biceps, deadlifts use the body’s core muscles and bench presses engage the shoulders and torso.
But stones do a bit of everything.
“When you use a stone, you’re moving an entire load with your whole body,” Wessels says. “Your biceps are firing, your triceps are firing, your abdominals, your lower back, your [trapezius], your forearms and your hamstrings are all firing at once.”
American Strongman began using the Stone of Steel at its Arnold Strongman Classic championships in Columbus earlier this year, as well as Bartos’ Power Keg. The keg employs the same principle in a different form.The appeal of the Stone for American Strongman, Wessels says, lies in “the shipping nightmare” of concrete stones.
At the Arnold Classic, 40 athletes of both sexes participated in three weight classes. Between four and six athletes competed simultaneously, meaning that no fewer than 24 concrete stones were used throughout. For non-championship events, there can be as many as 250 athletes in a contest.
“By using stones whose weights are changeable, we can use the same four stones over and over,” Wessels says. “The men can use the same stones as the women and heavyweights can use the same stones as lightweights. I just have to add to the stone.”
The Stone of Steel is also cleaner to use than concrete stones. Many lifters apply a resin known as tacking on their forearms to help them grip and lift the traditional stones. That tacking can “create an absolute mess [to remove] after a show,” the founder of American Strongman says. Meanwhile, Bartos’ stone has its own layer of tacking on the surface, eliminating the need for competitors to use resin.
Since introducing the Stone of Steel, his first product, Bartos has shipped nearly 365 orders to customers in almost every setting around the world, including the United Kingdom and Germany, he says.
“I’ve had people interested in Strongman buy this. I’ve had people interested in general fitness buy it,” he says. “I’ve had people buy it for their homes. I’ve had CrossFit facilities buy it. People see this as a piece that can be used to make progress for a long time.”
Underlying its success, Wessels believes, is the effort that Bartos made in developing it.
“He goes late and he starts early. He is an athlete and wants to make sure other athletes do well,” she says. “He understands the value of building a business one sale at a time. He understands that if people like his product, they’ll refer others to him and they will come back.”
While users seem happy with the stone so far, Bartos continues to tinker with the design. He plans to release the Stone of Steel 2.0 later this year after making adjustments based on customer feedback. Along with help from Wessels and American Strongman, other products are also in development to use at the contests, including yokes, circus dumbbells and axles.
“I’ve been blown away with the appeal and interest we’ve had so far. What excites me is that we’ll be changing things for the better,” he says. “We’re prototyping a ton of things. These things are my pride and joy, maybe to a fault.”
After years of competitions and running his own gym, Bartos doesn’t seem to be losing any interest in the weightlifting world, looking only to get more involved. As he puts it, he’s caught “the iron bug” and his goal is to get more people involved, with or without the Stone of Steel.
“My biggest reward is when they use the Stone for the first time, put it down, smile and want to give it another go. In this field, we call that the iron bug,” he says. “And when you get it, it stays with you.”
Pictured: Mike Bartos developed 17 prototypes for the Stone of Steel before settling on the final production model, which he started selling at the end of October.
Copyright 2023 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.