More than likely, you would have seen the televised broadcast of the World’s Strongest Man at least once in your life. Pulling trucks and airplanes, lifting cars, flipping tyres, and pressing logs certainly looks impressive, but this type of training also has immense benefits for your overall health and fitness levels.
And don’t worry – you won’t become a huge, bulky beast unless you eat like one! Strongman competitors eat upwards of 6000-7000 calories per day but for us mere mortals it is one of the best forms of exercises to torch body fat and build muscle mass.
What is Strongman training?
Strongman training involves a wide variety of events. These include the keg toss, tyre flip, farmer’s walk, yoke walk, sled pull and drag, tug-of-war, and sandbag carry, just to name a few. Some of the equipment such as logs, atlas stones, and deadlift frames are very difficult to find in regular gyms, but certain exercises can be mimicked with regular barbells and dumbbells.
If your gym does not have handles for farmer’s walks, simply grab the heaviest dumbbells you can find. You should not be able to hold on to them for more than a minute. If your gym does not have thick axle bars, you can buy some Fat Gripz. Instead of a proper frame carry, load up a trap bar and walk as far as you can.
Although no two strongman competitions are the same, there are certain variations of lifts which will regularly feature. For example, most competitions have some form of deadlift – whether lifting for max weight or for max repetitions in a certain period of time, as well as variations on the height, thickness of the bar and apparatus being lifted. Make sure you spend time varying your stance and grip, as well as training from blocks and from a deficit.
Some form of overhead pressing will also feature in competition. This may involve a log press, axle press or single arm circus dumbbell press. Spend time practicing strict overhead pressing as well as clean and jerks to work on explosiveness.
Finally, there will usually always be some form of loading event. This may be in the form of a medley, where you take one heavy object, carry it a certain distance and load it either over a bar or into some form of vehicle, and then sprint back to pick up the remainder of the objects in turn. There are usually four or five objects which range from sandbags to kegs to metal blocks to concrete slabs.
Most competitions will also usually have a farmers walk or frame carry event, where you pick up very heavy weights in each hand (usually equivalent to more than twice your body weight) and walk a certain distance.
Competitions may also have a timed hold event. This may involve a crucifix (holding weights at shoulder height for as long as possible) or an overhead hold. This will test your mental strength more than anything, and give you a heightened pain tolerance as you struggle to maintain the position for as long as possible.
What are the benefits of Strongman training?
Strongman training not only increases physical strength and muscle mass, but it also improves your mental toughness, conditioning, muscular endurance and power. Because of the uniqueness of the events, you are building all-over “functional” strength that possesses a great deal of carryover into every-day life. You will develop a wide range of abilities that are best trained in event-specific exercises.
Unlike powerlifting, which simply tests a maximal load single repetition, strongman training requires not only brutal strength but also muscular endurance. The sport asks you to not only deadlift 1.5 to 2 times your body weight, but to do it as many times as possible in 60 seconds.
You may not be planning to enter any competitions, but that doesn’t mean you can’t train like a pro. Strongman competitors are some of the best athletes in the world as they have strength, stamina and high levels of conditioning.
How do I start?
Strongman training requires a great deal of technique, so it is important to learn from an experienced coach. Find a trainer that has competed in a strongman event themselves, especially if you plan on entering a competition as you will need to know about proper hydration and fuelling during the lengthy day (competitions often run upwards of five hours).
Strongman training is very difficult, not to mention dangerous, to do on your own. Many of the weights you are lifting may seem impossible, so it is important to have someone on the sidelines to encourage you to push beyond your mental barriers. It greatly benefits to find people who are stronger than you, and train with them.
There is no one correct method of performing the events, so it requires a coach as well as some supervised trial and error to ensure that injuries do not result.
What event would you be most interested to try?