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May 11, 2022
In an industry that is oversaturated with functional training (a mix of effective and not so effective), it somehow skipped over the most functional form of strength training, strongman training. Strongman training is likely the most effective form of training that you have never tried, and it’s time you start.
With the rise of some strongman athletes making their way onto Youtube, TV, and even films, their sheer size, along with huge personalities, has brought this sport a little farther into the mainstream. Unfortunately, there are still a lot of misconceptions about what Strongman training is and how to do it.
So, in this article, we’re going to break down this excellent strength sport and show you how to train Strongman. We have an entire Strongman workout plan for you to follow! As long as you have a solid foundation of strength training under your belt, you can start this Strongman program.
In this article, we’re going to cover:
Time to become a Strongman!
When people think of Strongman, they think of massive guys lifting baskets full of women and bending bars. And that would be a pretty accurate description. However, these dramatic displays aren’t just for show (but that’s definitely part of it too).
Strongman could be considered the oldest of strength sports as the one-arm overhead lift was part of the early Olympics. However, its roots are generally traced back to the late 1800s and early 1900s, when circuses and sideshows were all the rage. Strongman athletes would travel with these shows or perform at different venues. In any case, they were performing feats of strength.
In this aspect, Strongman was indeed a show to entertain people. Think about it, it’s a lot more exciting to watch a guy bench press a few ladies than it is to watch them do a barbell bench press. The athletes would actually compete against each other in an attempt to perform bigger and better Strongman shows.
Still, these odd lifts also gave them an advantage as they allowed them to lift near maximal weights night after night without building up fatigue. Odd object lifting is a staple of Strongman, but it’s also very complicated. If you have ever tried to lift a rock, you would know. Strongman weights are different...
As barbells were literally made to lift, they are even and shaped to lift maximal weight. Odd-shaped objects are awkward and uneven, making them significantly harder to lift. However, if you trained with them regularly, you would be able to lift these objects relatively easily while still displaying an impressive feat, yet not destroying the central nervous system.
Fun Fact: The father of bodybuilding, Eugene Sandow (the guy on top of the Mr. Olympia trophy), started his career as a Strongman performer.
So what exactly is the sport of Strongman? It’s probably much different than you think. Most assume it’s just lifting heavy things, which it does have, but Strongman actually looks a lot more like Crossfit than it does powerlifting. By that, we mean that it has a vast array of events that requires athleticism just as much as it does absolute strength. If we could use just one word to describe what you need to be successful in Strongman, it would be “moving strength.”
Competitions will generally include 5 different events or Strongman lifts. Athletes will cycle through these in an attempt to do well and earn points. Every organization could have a different scoring system, but generally, it goes something like this:
That being said, there is also strategy involved as well as strength. For example, you could push yourself hard and move up a spot in one event. However, this may cause too much fatigue and hurt you for the rest of the day.
Let’s look at the different types of lifts common in Strongman workouts, as well as the type of events.
The sport of Strongman has 5 major types of lifts. However, within each of these types of lifts, there are numerous different Strongman exercises.
Deadlifting is a massive part of Strongman. However, it’s a lot more than a deadlift with an Olympic bar from the floor. Deadlift events could include:
While all of these consist of lifting a stationary object off the ground, they all have unique variables that separate them. For example, an axle bar is a deadlift with a thick bar that is harder to grip.
2. Overhead Pressing:
If you ever meet a Strongman, their overhead press is probably stronger than yours. There is no overhead pressing in Strongman as they like pressing overhead instead. Like the deadlift, overhead pressing consists of a lot more than pressing a barbell. Different styles of overhead pressing include:
Fact. if you want to train Strongman you must improve your overhead pressing.
There’s actually a good chance you’ve trained Strongman before. If you have ever trained the farmer carry, you’ve trained Strongman. The farmer carry is one of the few Strongman lifts that has become somewhat common in your average gym. That’s awesome as it’s such an effective exercise. While it’s the most popular carry, it’s not the only one. Other carries include:
Check out 2019 World's Strongest Man Martin Licis carry 880lbs uphill!
Loading events are those that require an athlete to lift an object from the floor and either place it on an elevated object or lift it over an object. This may or may not include carrying the object first. Some of the best example of this include:
Another huge aspect of Strongman is moving heavy objects by pulling them. However, this can be either done by remaining stationary (pulling with the arms) or pulling with the body (lower leg). As you’re starting to see, there are A LOT of possible events in Strongman. Within this category, there are events that include dragging or pushing. Regardless, the primary aspect is moving heavy objects that you can not pick up. Some everyday events include:
Above are the main categories of events you’re likely to see in Strongman that’s hardly an exhaustive list. For example, while not as common, squatting different objects is seen from time to time. There are also pure grip events, with the most common being the Hercules Hold. Basically, anything that requires you to move something heavy could be in Strongman.
Above are the Strongman lifts that you may see, but there are several ways they could be performed. This is where Strongman gets interesting, as it’s much more than just max weight.
Maximum weight is simply trying to lift the most amount of weight you can see in one repetition.
For example: Complete a max deadlift
Maximum reps events will give you a time limit, usually under 1:00 or less, to perform a lift as fast as you can.
For example: Complete a 405lbs deadlift as many times as you can in 30 seconds.
Fastest time events will give you a list of lifts you need to complete. You then must perform the events as fast as you can.
For example: Complete a 405lbs deadlift five times as fast as you can.
A medley is similar to fastest time events but will have you perform different Strongman lifts. Usually, these lifts are in the same category.
For example, look at what a deadlift medley might look like:
Races can include any type of event where you need to do a series of moving events as fast as you can.
For example: Carry 3 sandbags 10m and put them in a wheelbarrow. Next, push the wheelbarrow back.
Again, these can be done with any of the above lifts as well as combined to make one event. For example, you may be given a minute to complete a medley, then perform as many reps as you can on the last lift as many times as you can.
There are a lot of misconceptions that surround the sport of Strongman. This is primarily due to the way it has presented itself in the past as well as today. Further, the part of Strongman that people do know is that massive guys with beards and tattoos are the only ones who participate. Admittedly, there are a lot of beards and tattoos, but there’s a lot more to Strongman than that. Here are some common misconceptions
"Strongman Is Just Lifting Heavy Things"
As seen above, lifting heavy things is just one aspect of Strongman. There are a ton of events, and moving heavy objects is much more common than static lifting. Also, you run a lot more than you think. The point being is that there are a ton of events in Strongman. In fact, if you speak to different Strongman who has competed in 5+ comps, it’s not uncommon to hear them say they’ve never repeated the same event.
"Most Strongman Are Fat, Or You Have To Be Massive To Be Successful"
This is an understandable misconception as the guys you see on TV are usually fat and massive. However, while elite Strongmen are massive, they’re actually not as “fat” as you think. In fact, elite Strongman athletes sit at around 18%bf. While they’re not “cut-up,” 18% isn’t really “fat.”
What’s going on is they have a ton of muscle mass on their body. Studies estimate that, on average, Strongman athletes have 23% greater lean mass than NFL linemen. Therefore, they look fatter than they are as that muscle has to sit somewhere.
Still, they are massive human beings for sure.
However, that’s only the top athletes competing in the open division. Just like powerlifting, Strongman actually has weight categories, with 105kg being the heaviest before the open...although, there are even much lower weight categories than 105kg, with 90kg probably being the lowest “popular” category. While still not tiny, it’s a far cry from 150kg+.
"You Have To Be Strong To Compete"
So you don’t have to be strong to compete in Strongman? Well, you do need to be strong, but beginner Strongman comps have weights that are definitely attainable by anyone who wants to train properly.
Again, there are several different Strongman organizations as well as independent gyms which hold Strongman contests all the time. These events will almost always have a “novice” category that has weights lower than the upper categories. To be clear, these weights will still be respectable, or else it defeats the whole point of the sport. However, they are much more manageable. For example, instead of performing max reps on a 585lb deadlift, the novice may have you use 450lbs. The point is that instead of assuming a contest is too heavy, take a look at the weights first and then decide.
Strongman workouts are an excellent training method that everyone should implement. Here are just a couple of the reasons you should give it ago.
1) You’ll Get Strong:
Obviously, while other methods of training can obviously get you strong as well, Strongman training has a way to get you even stronger. This is due to a couple reasons. The first is because of Strongman's use of unconventional exercises which challenge the body to a different extent than regular training resulting in bigger gains. Secondly, the entire point is to get stronger! It’s like progressive overload on steroids. Strongman pushes you as the goal is to lift more and go faster.
2) It’s Fun:
Lifting weights can get boring. We love it, but there are moments where it can seem repetitive. While the same thing can definitely happen with Strongman, the types of Strongman lifts offers a lot more variety to keep you entertained.
3) You’ll Improve Your Athleticism:
Strongman athletes are surprisingly athletic. Moving is a large part of the sport, and you will gain athleticism. Plus, you need to figure that these guys who weigh 350+ are moving pretty fast. Now picture if you maintain a more modest physique yet implement their training.
Training for Strongman is quite similar to strength training with a few specific variables. Below are the variables you need to include in your training to prep for a contest.
a) Grip Strength:
You’re going to need grip strength to be successful in Strongman. Besides the fact some events are grip specific, you’re going to be holding and pulling things all day. Even if you can use straps, your gripping muscles are going to still get a workout and fatigue.
b) Massive Back Strength:
Pull, pull, pull! Strongman is known for their massive backs and incredible pulling strength. There are a ton of ways to improve your back strength, and we recommend doing all of them. Any type of rowing, pull-ups, ropework, all of it. T-Bar rows are a favorite, and pull-ups. A lot of pull-ups.
c) Overhead Pressing Strength:
The same as the back. Start pressing anything and everything over your head. You should definitely make….no, you need to make overhead pressing the priority while letting horizontal pressing (bench press) work as accessory work. While there’s nothing wrong with the bench press, a lot of Strongman opt for floor presses and the close-grip bench press to improve their lock-out strength.
Still, definitely work on your overhead pressing with both barbells and single dumbbells as single overhead pressing is common, such as circus dumbbells. Also, if you can improve your push press or push jerk, you’ll already have a huge advantage as both are allowed in comps (unless specifically said). Also, don’t forget partial presses such as pin presses for your Strongman workout.
d) Zercher Squats:
Zercher squats are great exercises to include in your Strongman workout as they do a good job mimicking loading events. They place massive stress on your core as well as the back in order to hold the weight. Plus, they’re uncomfortable, which is something you need to get used to.
e) Anaerobic Conditioning:
You must include anaerobic conditioning in your Strongman workout program as conditioning for Strongman is vital. One of the best ways to do this and mimic events are with EMOMs, as they force you to work before you’re fully recovered. Other forms of training, which can effectively train events as well, is to complete repeated efforts or maxima runs. Examples could include:
f) Steady-State Cardio:
Perform at least one 30min steady state session of cardio a week at a minimum. Improving your aerobic system can greatly increase your ability to recover in between events. One of the biggest issues new athletes face is the build-up of fatigue on comp days. Some aerobic conditioning can fix this.
Below is an awesome 4-day Strongman workout plan for people who want to truly become a strong man. Ideally, this would include an “event” day where you can actually get your hands on some actual Strongman implements. However, we want everyone to be able to use this Strongman workout program, so we’ll only include exercises that use implements that most gyms have.
Run this program for 3 months.
Note: You’ll see a * next to some exercises. This means they have some specific instructions, which are listed below our Strongman workout program.
Notes on *'s:
And remember to include at least one steady-state cardio session of at least 30min every week.
As for rest days, ideally you'd have a rest day between session 2 and 3 and two rest days after session 4. That said, you can organize your weekly training according to your schedule, just make sure that you are recovering properly.
Progressive overload is going to work exactly the same as any other style of training. As you progress, you’ll attempt to load the implements a little bit heavier. You can also try to perform more reps as well. If you do this, stay within the same range. For example, if you’ve prescribed 5 reps, don’t work up to 8. Stay in the 4-6 rep range.
You’re Gonna Love It!
Strongman training is awesome, and you’re gonna love this Strongman workout plan. If you are really interested, we would highly recommend you look in your area for a real strength gym that may have some implements for proper Strongman exercises.
As mentioned, Strongman training is becoming more popular, so basic equipment is common in strength gyms, such as tires, yokes, and logs. This is ideal because nothing beats training with the actual implements. Nevertheless, the Strongman workout routine above has everything you need to get started with your Strongman training, and you don't need any actual Strongman equipment. The workout plan can be done as long as you have access to regular gym equipment for the most part. And, if you do have access to some Strongman equipment, you can swap out some of the equipment. For example, instead of strict pressing a barbell, strict press a log bar. Just run the routine in the same fashion.
Now, you just need to sign up for your first novice Strongman comp! This is how you truly become a strong man or strong woman.
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