There’s this word that enlightened fitness buffs love: functional. Strapping your hands to a 400-pound barbell and hoisting that bastard over your head? That’s not functional; that’s just training a set
of muscles to do a certain motion over and over again. “If you fall from a tree and you need to grab a branch with one hand,” Paul Duke says, “and you were using straps at a gym? Well, your grip isn’t going to be that great, and you will fall.”
Duke will not fall, though. Duke can grab that branch with one hand and dangle like the world’s beefiest monkey. He can do this because his grip is crushing. Because he and his workout partner, Jacob Peacock, exercise in an actual tree. Because that is functional.
Along Venice Beach, the world capital of jacked dudes, Duke and Peacock are men apart: They’re a daily spectacle known to all as the Viking Brothers. It’s impossible to miss them. They are actors who met at the local Gold’s Gym two years ago and discovered a shared passion for insane goals—stuff like mastering the one-armed handstand push-up, which is exactly as preposterous as it sounds. And to reach these goals, they began insane outdoor workouts. The Vikings venture out with nothing more than a rope and turn the earth into a challenge course: throwing stones, dragging logs through mud, doing pull-ups on one tree branch and then jumping to another. They welcome anyone who dares to join. Few can keep up.
The guys have a motto: “CrossFit is for pussies.” But what they really hate is gym equipment and shortcuts to flashy muscles. Real strength requires real work in the real world—it’s in the grip and
the glutes and the little muscles that never bulge. Even their signature look, the big beards, were grown for a practical purpose: There’s work out there for rugged actors who look like they could be on Game of Thrones.
“We don’t need to look pretty,” Duke says. “Sometimes we go to the gym and I didn’t comb the beard properly. It doesn’t matter. Sometimes there’s food in it. It doesn’t matter.”
“Even so, we’re still getting stares from the ladies,” Peacock says.
“Oh, yeah!” Duke says. “I gotta say, we’re getting much more attention from the ladies now, because they crave that masculinity. They can see, 'Wow, those guys are real men. Look what they can do'.”
Both are married. And both wives, truth be told, want the beards shaved. But that just wouldn’t be functional.
Photograph by David Harry Stewart