Pulling trucks, loading giant stones, throwing kegs… strongman can get pretty wild, and it’s not stuff you see in a typical gym. However, that doesn’t mean you need a specialized gym or equipment to train effectively for strongman. You can definitely do solid sport-specific training in a “normal” gym or at home.
We have a lot to go over, so this is the first post in a 3-part series. In this post (Part 1), we’ll cover things to consider for strongman training in general. In Part 2, we’ll cover considerations for specific strongman events (like stones) in a non-strongman space. And in Part 3 we’ll go over equipment essentials (spoiler: it’s way less than you think!) and programming basics.
All of the movements below can be done at a “normal” gym with minimal equipment. Basically, if you have access to a barbell and some dumbbells or kettlebells, you can train for strongman!
So without further ado, here are the most important things to consider for generalized strongman training…
Deadlifts are an absolute staple of all strongman training. 99.9% of competitions will have a specific deadlift event, and most other “non-deadlift” events involve some kind of deadlift anyway (like picking up a stone to load it, picking and carrying a sandbag, or picking and carrying farmers handles).
A standard barbell will work just fine. If you can vary the height, grip, or bar style of the deadlift to match your competition, bonus points! Make sure to train a good periodized mix of high volume, moderate volume, and heavy singles/doubles to maximize strength and muscle development.
While it’s pretty rare to see squats directly contested in strongman, it’s undeniable that leg strength is a key element to successful strongman training and performance. Squats train your legs (obvi); and they’re also an important and effective way to train your core, back, endurance, stability, and overall strength.
Back squats are great for moving more weight and translate well to carrying events (like yoke). Front squats are super helpful in training loading events (like stones) and working core and back strength. If available, you can also incorporate leg machines (especially leg press) which allow you to overload your legs without taxing your upper body.
Like deadlifts, a specific press event is featured in most competitions. The kind of object(s), reps, style, etc will vary; but it’s almost a guarantee that you will need to build overhead strength and technique in strongman.
Technically it would be easier to do this if you have access to a rack. But as long as you have a barbell you can make this happen. Mix in strict presses, push presses, and power/split jerks to create a well-rounded program and make sure you’re ready for competition events. Vary the volume and time domains with your presses; and work in EMOMs, AMRAPs, and heavy singles/doubles/triples.
There is SO MUCH upper back strength and endurance required in strongman. Nearly every event incorporates pulling something heavy toward your chest, and/or stabilizing something heavy on your back or shoulders.
You do *not* need anything fancy to train upper back! A barbell and/or some dumbbells, kettlebells, or resistance bands will get the job done. Focus on rows and lats, and make sure to get a big squeeze at the top of each rep (because so much of strongman requires sustained tension in the upper back). For maximum effectiveness, vary your grip, body angle, weight, and reps.
It’s literally (probably) impossible to include too much core training. When we talk about “core” we mean your whole trunk. Because strongman involves moving around with heavy odd objects, core strength and stability is going to be key in staying safe and in making successful lifts.
When training core, focus on stability (like planks or dead bugs) rather than flexion/extension (like sit-ups and crunches). It’s almost never a good idea to do anything resembling a sit-up while moving a weight (though there are some notable exceptions we won’t address here). So leave those for the bodybuilders and focus on stability, stability, stability. You also need literally zero equipment for this!
Single-Leg stability and strength is important for both safety and efficiency in strongman. Because we’re often handed unbalanced or awkwardly shaped objects, we’re also often putting weight unevenly into each side of the body. Keeping your hips, knees, and ankles stable is super important when moving heavy loads. Additionally, in moving events, each step you take is effectively leaving you – at least momentarily – on a single leg, so you want to make sure both legs are equally strong and stable.
You also don’t need anything fancy to train this! Any lunge or step-up variation is great. You can add weight with a bar, dumbbells, kettlebells, or literally any object… or you can just slowwww down. Vary the heights of each foot and the directions you move (laterally and linearly).
SINGLE-ARM MOVEMENTS AND STABILITY
Some strongman events (like circus dumbbell) require you to move weight with only one arm, and many (like keg press, axle press, and sandbag press) require you to move a potentially unbalanced or unstable weight overhead. It’s vital to include single-arm movements in strongman training for both the safety and strength of your shoulders. Remember that overhead stability also requires core stability, so make sure to incorporate core training wherever you can.
Again, you don’t need much equipment for this, and it can all be found at a “normal” gym. Dumbbells and kettlebells are ideal for these movements. We’re particular fans of Z-presses and standing single-arm push presses or military presses.
INTERVALS AND DYNAMIC MOVEMENT
Though it includes some static events (like deadlifts), strongman is *not* a static sport. It’s explosive and very dynamic. It’s rare to see a single event last longer than 60 seconds, but it’s important to be able to move at maximum intensity for that entire duration. Because of this, it’s ideal to incorporate high-intensity interval training and dynamic movement to your strongman routine.
The intervals should roughly reflect strongman intervals, i.e. max intensity for 30-60 seconds with longer rest periods. Dynamic movements should be explosive in nature (think: cleans, box jumps, broad jumps, kettlebell swings). As with everything else we mentioned, you need little to no equipment for this. Sprints (especially hill sprints) or any kind of jumping is great. And intervals on a cardio machine will also get the job done.
Nothing listed above is wild, and almost all of it can be found at any “normal” gym. Strongman training doesn’t have to be fancy to be effective. Hit the main lifts and focus on overall strength and stability, and you’ll be just fine!
In our next posts, we’ll go over considerations for specific strongman events (like how to train for stones and yoke in a “normal” gym), the bare bones essential equipment for training strongman, and how to get started (almost) anywhere with a strongman program. Stay tuned!
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