“The first time I tried wearing rollerblades while deadlifting I pulled 500 pounds for a triple,” Jon Call, better known online as Jujimufu, is explaining to me. “For some reason I’m good at deadlifting on roller blades. I have no idea why!”
This, too, really just scratches the surface of Call’s amazing feats of strength. The 5-foot-10, 230-pound massively muscled stunt lifter has also arm wrestled the man with the largest hands in the world, overhead pressed flaming barbells, and most famously, lifted 100 pounds while doing chairsplits.
Those splits, the splits that launched his career, were a movement he began training fifteen years ago, way back in the web 1.0 era when “Jujimufu” emerged out of an otherwise-meaningless AOL screen name. In those dial-up days of yore, when fitness influence wasn’t even a thing, and Gracyanne Barbosa and Brad Castleberry had yet to buy their first fake barbell plates, the teenage version of Call was doing splits so he could stand out from the crowd at his teenage Taekwondo competitions. It took him two months to get down to a full split, but that work paid big-league dividends many years later.
To summarize: he was a kid, he did the work, and as a result he went viral and developed a following of millions on social media. Isn’t this the extremely online version of the American Dream?
“The chairsplits with a loaded barbell overhead launched my social media career,” Call tells me. “It was too obvious! Why hadn’t anyone done this before? So when I had the idea to do it, I rushed to get a video of it before other people would beat me to it. I rested my body a couple days and then emptied my living room of furniture, set it up and filmed myself doing it. It went viral. Of course not anyone could just ‘rush’ to do something like this, I had 15 years of experience with splits training and weight training leading up to this.”
Too obvious in retrospect, one supposes, but if Call hadn’t brought those refined “anabolic acrobat” skills to his nascent YouTube channel or a prominent primetime forum like America’s Got Talent, he would’ve been just another beefy, long-haired madman enduring intense pain for minimal gain. His Acrobolix programming, a kind of bodybuilding-cum-gymnastics regimen, might have remained an undeveloped pipe dream. But he started posting, figuring out what YouTube viewers and Instagram users, wanted, and his brand grew from there.
“On Instagram, anything with a lot of yelling, fire, heaviness, awkward outfits and with a high level of difficulty and musculature drives views,” Call says. “Absurd things like that are what people watch and share, but it’s not sustainable to do these activities all the time. I can muster up a few a month for posting, then I fill in the gaps leveraging a creative element that doesn’t necessarily require a high level of physical output.”
Maybe that’s why I most appreciate Jujimufu on YouTube. After all, it’s there where he began doing his own long-form documentation of the fitness world in which he was embedded, producing a kind of meta-commentary on that universe that saw him arm wrestling giant-handed men or training to carry 440-pound stones alongside Hafþór Björnsson. “I started collaborating with others in the strength and fitness community when the YouTube channel became a priority,” Call explains. “The YouTube format is different than Instagram because it’s dialogue driven. People watch because they want to feel like they’re ‘hanging out with you’ behind the scenes with the best athletes in strength/fitness. I started working with Tom Boyden and he took the channel in this direction, since it was his ideas and leadership that got us the collaborations we’ve had.”
But it’s not as if Call is merely hanging out with these people, turning a camera on them like noted fitness-oriented directors such as Chris Bell (Bigger Stronger Faster*) and Vlad Yudin (Generation Iron). No, he’s there as a participant, a serious athlete with elite-level skills in powerlifting, grip strength and certain gymnastics movements (like backflips). “I’ve participated in activities like strong man, arm wrestling, rock climbing and so on,” Call says. “I use my unique training background to give me a ‘leg up’ when entering new activities.”
That said, he’s sure to add, “I may struggle with anything that requires me to be very light in body weight. With the exception of the flips I do, which I’ve been doing my whole life, there are a lot of things I have no background in during the execution of which my weight becomes very disadvantageous or dangerous. I’m currently 220 pounds, and it’s the lightest I’ve been in many years. I generally sit at 225 to 235 pounds, and the increased muscle mass has been important for my social media growth.”
In other words, Call knows that being jacked is often its own reward. So while, his fans care about what he deadlifts and shoulder presses, they also really care about how impressive he looks while doing so — even if they’re not fitness fanatics themselves (or have any intention of following his training program). “Think about fans of traditional sports like football or baseball: most don’t play the sports themselves, they just enjoy following them,” he explains. “You can be a fan of extreme feats of strength and sport without participating in the exact same way! Except now, with social media, you can interact with these sports too, even influence them yourself. Most of us in these fringe strength sports make our living through social media, so we’re more accessible than athletes of traditional sports.”
In the end, though, he’s doing all of this as much for himself as he is for any social media audience — or influence. “I’ve just got to keep it up,” he says. “Avoid burnout, take care of my health and think back to the original reasons I started all this: because I like making crazy videos and doing hard physical things. I was doing this long before social media existed. I started uploading crazy training videos on the internet when I was 16 back in 2002, because I wanted to! When the work gets overwhelming or I’m tired, I just reconnect with the original experience and intention of it. If I can continue to do that, I’ll never stop and it’ll all just keep growing and getting better!”