Deep furrows of concentration crease Dan Cenidoza's forehead.
The Perry Hall native assumes his stance. His left leg forward, he braces an inch-and-a-half-thick White Pages against his muscular thigh. Staring intently at the book, he forcefully grips and then completely tears through all 1,300 pages.
And this, with what he once considered his weakest feature — his hands.
In short order, the phone book becomes a pile of scrap paper on the desk in his new studio called Art and Strength at 4115 Wholesale Club Drive — the chunky remnants a testament to his powerful grip strength.
The crowd-pleasing feat is just one skill in Cenidoza's bag of tricks as a professional strongman. Named Maryland's Strongest Man in 2007, he also bends steel by hand to create unique sculptures he calls Iron Bonsai due to their similarity to the dwarf Japanese trees that people artfully prune as a hobby.
There's a sideshow-like quality to his performances and the 33-year-old fitness instructor mines that element of curiosity for all its worth.
"It's like seeing a purple cow," he said of the local buzz about his unique exhibitions of super-strength. "If you saw a purple cow on your way home from work, you'd tell everyone. This is the same kind of thing — it's remarkable and it's worth talking about."
Word-of-mouth tales often leads to the referrals that have long been Cenidoza's bread-and-butter as a strength-and-conditioning specialist. He's been a personal trainer for seven years, and also works with senior citizens.
Now that he's operating Art and Strength from a storefront off Belair Road, he hopes to assume a higher profile than he's had at his home studio.The grand opening of his new space, which boasts a steel-bending workshop and displays of Iron Bonsai along with the weightlifting equipment was slated to take place Oct. 15.
The son of a lifelong martial-arts enthusiast — Jimmy Cenidoza, 63, who still lives in Perry Hall — trainer son, Dan, has a third trick up his sleeve that he says sets him apart. He's one of only a few instructors certified to teach people to use kettlebells, a system of spherical cast-iron weights that resemble "cannonballs with handles," he said.
"Kettlebells are a forgotten art used by old-time Russian strongmen," he said.
They fell out of popularity until the start of the 21st century, when they were reintroduced into mainstream workouts and people realized they were "fun and efficient," he said.
"They address strength and cardio training" for a full fitness workout, he explained.
Passion for strength training
Cenidoza wasn't always fit. Two years after he graduated from Essex Community College in 1999 with a two-year degree in computer-aided drafting and design, he took a drafting job and began attending Towson University part-time.
While he'd exercised sporadically before, he says it didn't take long before he "started going crazy" sitting for long periods in the office and began gaining weight from inactivity.
"Bar food and beer parties aren't good for your health, either," he said with a laugh.
So, he started bodybuilding with purely aesthetic goals in mind, working out in the basement of his family's home to add muscle and lose fat. But it was when he tried his hand at strength training that he discovered his true passion.
"I began training as a strongman, but with no hopes or dreams," he recalled. "I just did it for fun."
But after his success in regional competitions he got hooked. He began appearing at fundraising events in 2008 and decided to add "performing strongman" to his résumé. His 2007 title was awarded by North American Strongman Society, he said.