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What is Strongman and how do you get started?

We’ve all stumbled across clips of World’s Strongest Man and watched in awe as these regular guys lift or push massive tires, giant rocks and even cars, right? Strongman training is incredible. It’s a unique type of training that builds up crazy strength.

Fancy competing for the next title of World’s Strongest Man? Read on to find out all about strongman training and how to get started.

What is Strongman?

Strongman is a sport where athletes demonstrate their strength by using non-standard equipment. Rather than Olympic grade barbells, you’re more likely to find everyday-ish items such as logs, stones, sandbags, chains, tires, and axle bars. Because of their awkward size and shape, they’re more challenging to manage. Instead of regular reps like you would with a barbell with plates, you move these irregular items for reps, distance, and speed.

The use of irregular items makes Strongman such a unique strength sport. You’re using maximal force whilst also testing strength, agility, and capacity. Another aspect that makes Strongman unique is the time of the events. There are some maximum effort lifts, but often, the athletes are moving heavy things as quickly as they can or for as many reps as they can in a set amount of time. They’re not purely strength events, but they’re not endurance either.

How do you train for Strongman?

Using a combination of movements such as pushing, pulling, and pressing, Strongman training offers real-world usefulness. Building up strength, cardio, endurance, and skill can only benefit your life because you’ll know how to bend correctly and lift things without injury. Plus, you’ll never need help moving the couch again!

So, what does a typical Strongman training workout look like? It will include exercises like:

  • Metal log overhead press
  • Giant tire flipping
  • Overloaded single-arm dumbbell press
  • Distance walking or running with stones or kegs
  • Farmers walk

If you’re looking to build your strength in general, Strongman training is considered the perfect foundation to move into other strength and muscle-focused activities. Thanks to the strength and power that you develop, your bench press, squat and deadlift will be at a great starting point, making it an ideal transition into powerlifting. Alternatively, bodybuilding is also easy to move into, given the core strength, muscle mass, and definition you’ll build.

Strongman training benefits:

  • Focuses on strength, power, and endurance
  • Ideal for functional movement patterns
  • Transference to the real world
  • A great foundation for moving into other strength and muscle-based sports
  • It can help to prevent injury due to overcompensation and weak muscle relationships

Strongman and powerlifting: the differences and similarities

As we mentioned, Strongman is an excellent foundation for moving into other strength or muscle-based sports like powerlifting or bodybuilding. And there’s a good chance that you’re more likely to come across powerlifters or bodybuilders in your local gym than those training for Strongman.

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Powerlifting is an immensely popular sport that focuses on three exercises: deadlift, bench press, and squats. And the goal of powerlifting is to lift as much weight as physically possible. Want to find out more about powerlifting and how to get started? Take a look at our beginner’s guide to powerlifting.

Powerlifting is all about progressive overload and constantly pushing yourself and your performance to lift more and increase your gains. Strongman training and powerlifting are great for building and learning the fundamentals of weightlifting, so you can quickly transfer the skills you’ve learnt from one into the other.

Out of the two, it’s probably easier to train as a powerlifter because most gyms will have the equipment you need to train. It’s less likely your local gym will have giant tires or massive rocks.

However, Strongman has a broader training style that focuses on lifting or pulling real-world objects, leaving you with amazing benefits in your day-to-day life.

Getting started with Strongman training

If you’ve seen Strongman on ESPN, where huge guys are throwing around planes, pulling tanks and pressing motorbikes whilst they wade through knee-deep water…. You’re probably amazed and intimidated all at the same time. However, this is Strongman at its most elite and superhuman.

If you want to compete, there are many different types of Strongman competitions; you don’t have to be 400lb and eight feet tall to get going. You’ll find that local Strongman competitions will have male/female divisions, weight classes and even novice, advanced and master level classes. Strongman is for everyone.

If you’ve been lifting for a little while, you may have found that you’ve reached the point where you’ve started getting the itch to compete—a place where you can focus on your training and apply your strength. If you’re craving some additional excitement, then Strongman could be for you.

How do you find your first Strongman competition?

Like any sport, begin with finding a local competition. There are two main Strongman Federations: United States Strongman (USS) and Strongman Corporation (also known as North American Strongman or NAS). Both federations have an events section of their website that list events for the next few months. Both USS and NAS tend to have regional hotspots, so with little difference between the two federations, just choose the one with events closest to you.

Remember, when you’re just starting, it’s essential to go for the experience and make as few changes to your training as possible. Before your first competition, don’t worry about having the right equipment or doing anything special leading up to the competition. Just go and have a go and make some friends. If you let the other guys know it’s your first competition, the more experienced guys will show you the ropes.

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Believe us when we know it’s so easy to be like, just start. But really, just start. Pick an event (or don’t) and start training. More than anything, you want to get strong.

How to prepare for a Strongman competition

A typical Strongman competition will have 4 or 5 events which will be a combination of:

  • Overhead press variants like log press, Viking press, axle clean and press
  • Pulling events like a deadlift, truck pull, or sled drag
  • Carrying events like farmers walk, sandbag carry, odd objects
  • Loading events like adding objects like atlas stones, sandbags etc. to a platform
  • Throwing events like weight over bar, keg toss

How you prepare for each competition will be unique to the event. When you look at the event page, there will be a brief description of the events for that competition, for example, Last Man Standing Deadlift, Keg/Sandbag Medley.

This will help you to prepare for the event. The individual events typically don’t last longer than 60 seconds, unless it’s a carrying event, so as well as being strong, you’ll also need some conditioning and athleticism to do well at a local strongman competition.

As with any other sport, the first thing is to establish where you are in your training. If you’re a beginner, you just want to get going and training. Whereas, if you’re more advanced, you want to tailor your training more to be more specific.

It’s important to understand what events can be trained for and what events can only be practised.

Strongman training: training routines for beginners

If you’re a beginner excited about prepping for your first competition, then this routine will help you get going. About four weeks from the competition date, you can start substituting your light pull in the second slot of the week for something you would see on competition day.

This will help you gain strength and plan in recovery time whilst starting to practice specifically for competition day.

Try to match an event with an odd object or one of your upcoming competition’s carrying/loading movements. Do not go all out like its competition day in the gym, though; this is just a time to try out loading.

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Monday

Squat – 3×5

Press – 3×5

Deadlift – 1×5

Wednesday

Squat – 2×5 – 80% of Monday

Bench – 3×5

Light pulling like deadlift – then four weeks before the competition swap to something event-specific like an Atlas Stone load

Friday

Squat – 3×5

Press – 3×5

Deadlift – 2×5 – 90% of Monday

Strongman training: training routines for intermediates

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This is where your training will start to get fun. Depending on your stage of training, you’ll begin to get in some great prep without sacrificing your basic strength training.

If you’re an early intermediate, then you might not need any variations of lifts or a conditioning slot, but you’ll still have a light pull that you can substitute for event prep closer to the time.

Whereas, if you’re a bit more advanced, then you’ll maybe have a day or two of conditioning as well as main lifts in their routine. These slots are perfect for practising Strongman specific moves.

For intermediates, you’ll get the most value to keep your training focused on strength, using barbell movements until 4-6 weeks from competition day to be the most productive with your training. This way, you’ll still have a reasonable period of time to familiarize yourself with events you’ll see on the day.

Your main driver of progress will be your primary volume stimulus, probably something like 5×5 for squats, bench, or press – so leave these be. Whereas the light slot on a Thursday is an excellent place to start experimenting with log or axle presses.

Monday

Press – 5×5

Bench – 3×5

Tuesday

Squat – 5×5

Deadlift – 2×3

Thursday

Bench Press – 5×5

Axle Push Bench – 3×5 – once you get to 4-6 weeks from competition day

Friday

Squat – 3×5

18” Rack pull – 4×4 – once you get to 4-6 weeks from competition day

Atlas Stone Load – once you get to 4-6 weeks from competition day

Strongman training: training routines for advanced lifters

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If you’re an advanced lifter, then you’ll see lots of benefits from regular exposure to a range of events that you’re likely to see in competition. But don’t go ‘full strongman’ and only train for specific events.

Also Read: What’s the best workout split routine?

Just be aware that by this stage, you’re probably only competing five or so times throughout the year, so you won’t know exactly what events are coming your way, but you’ll have a broad range of experience. Plus, you’ll have better technique or be more familiar with certain events now.

The significant difference between beginner/intermediate training routines and an advanced lifter’s routine is that you’ll need to dedicate workout sessions to conditioning. HIIT works well for this.

Monday

Press – 5×5

Incline Log press – 3×5 – Swap out this slot for your event-specific practice

Rolling DB extension – 3×8

Tuesday

Squat – 5×5

Deadlift – 4×3

Atlas Stone Practice – Swap out this slot for your event-specific practice

Wednesday

HIIT prowler pushes

Thursday

2ct Pause Squat -4×3

Axle Clean and press – 2x 60s AMRAP – Swap out this slot for your event-specific practice

RDL – 3×8

Friday

Rest

Saturday – Swap out these slots for your event-specific practice

13” deadlift- 60s AMRAP, then 3×5

Log Clean and press – 5×3

Yoke walk – 8x 100ft

Using the principles in the three different routines as a guide, you can easily tweak your current programming to get more variety into your training, whether you want to spice it up or productively prep a bit more for your next competition.

Ready to smash your goals and start Strongman training?

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The Brutal Force Team

The Brutal Force Team

We research and write articles about health, fitness and dieting. Each of our articles includes sources from scientific studies where possible.

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The Brutal Force Team

The Brutal Force Team

We research and write articles about health, fitness and dieting. Each of our articles includes sources from scientific studies where possible.