This is Part 3 of our “Training Strongman Anywhere” series. We’ll cover equipment basics: the “must haves,” the “nice to haves,” and the “fun but not necessary.” Plus some tips on maximizing space and money, and making the best equipment choices for you. In case you missed the rest of the series… You can click here to read Part 1 (Foundational Lifts and Movement Patterns for Strongman), and click here to read Part 2 (Implement-Specific Training).
We’re going to break down strongman equipment into 3 categories:
- Must Have: If you have limited space or budget, start here. These are the absolute essentials for training strongman.
- Nice to Have: This equipment is really useful, versatile, expands what you’ll be able to do and train, and you’ll get a good bang for your buck; but, you don’t 100% need to have it.
- Fun But Not Necessary: These are the toys that are fun to have, but you don’t necessarily need them to succeed.
This is absolutely essential. You can’t train for strongman without a barbell. If you can only get one bar, get a good multi-purpose bar (like a Rogue Bar 2.0). Make sure it’s a bar you can drop. It would be easy to default to a power bar (like a Rogue Westside bar) because it’s ideal for squat and deadlift. However, cleans and presses show up in every strongman competition, so you’ll need to get a bar you can drop without breaking it. We also recommend getting a 45lb barbell (even if you’re a lady). Strongman will never use a barbell smaller than the diameter of a 45lb bar (except for a legit deadlift bar from time to time), so it’s best to start training that way.
This seems like a no-brainer, but yes, you also need plates. If possible, a mix of metal plates and bumper plates is ideal. If you’ll be lifting less than 405lbs, stick to bumpers because they are more versatile (you can drop them!). If you’re lifting over 405lbs you’ll need at least some metal plates because the max weight that fits on a bar in bumpers is 405. Note that change plates (5’s and 2.5’s or smaller) only come in metal, and 15-lbs plates only come in bumpers.
For a basic starter set of plates, we recommend: 3 pairs of 45lbs; and 1 pair each of 25lbs, 15lbs (trust me), 10lbs, 5lbs, and 2.5lbs. Obviously you can scale this up or down based on your current strength level (and short-term goal weights), but this is a good starting point. Remember that you can always use lift variations (like deficits, tempo, pauses, bands/chains, etc) to make light weights feel really heavy.
Technically – if you can clean as much as you can squat – you don’t *need* a rack. But if we’re being honest, you do need a rack. You’ll need this for squats and presses, which are both essential for strongman training (per the first installment in this series).
There are lots of options for racks. If you have the space and funds, a power rack is the way to go. It looks kinda like a cage, and it’s the most versatile option for both barbell lifting and accessories like pull-ups and lift variations. If you’re shorter on funds, opt for a squat rack (where the pieces are connected together) or squat stands (which are independent pieces that roll around). There are also cool space-efficient options out there now too, like folding wall-mounted racks.
No matter what you get, make sure it fits in your space (check the height in particular) and is rated for significantly heavier than the amount of weight you plan to lift. If you get a power rack, it’s also a good idea to bolt it to the floor for safety. This is pretty easy to do with a hammer drill and a few anchors (which most companies sell with the racks).
Dumbbells or Kettlebells
I’ll be the first to admit that acquiring dumbbells and kettlebells is a pain. You have to figure out what weight(s) to get, and they’re not cheap. However, single-arm and off-set movements are a big part of strongman training for both strength and stability.
If you can get 2-3 pairs of dumbbells and/or 2-3 kettlebells, you’ll be in a much better position for training strongman. In each case, get a light-ish weight (that you can use for presses or higher-skill movements), a moderate weight (for lower-rep or lower-skill movements), and a heavy-ish weight (for squats and deadlifts). Remember that you can always make a lighter weight harder by changing the tempo, volume, or angle of the lift. BUT you can’t make a heavy weight lighter. So when in doubt, opt for lighter.
Expect to pay about $1/pound for most metal weights. It’s often cheaper to check Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist for these items. You can also sometimes catch deals on shipping (like from Christian’s Fitness Factory). Or it might be worth a drive to a factory store to avoid shipping charges.
NICE TO HAVE
I allllmost put these on the “essential” list because they’re so useful. Bands are awesome for warmups, assistance lifts, and adding variations to your primary lifts. They allow for more dynamic training and are super versatile. They’re also very cheap and you can toss them in your gym bag to go anywhere (including traveling!).
We like the bands from eliteFTS the best. You’ll mostly want the longer length (41”) ones. They also have variety packs, which is a nice option starting out. Remember that if you intend to use them for squats you’ll need a pair. Bands are almost always sold as singles, so get 2 matching ones.
An axle is a great investment for any strongman competitor. They come up a LOT in competition for both press and deadlift, and they’re super inexpensive (as far as equipment goes). We also like incorporating them for assistance lifts (like curls and timed holds) for bonus grip training. Highly recommended for any home gym, and also a great piece of personal equipment to leave at a gym you belong to (if the owner is okay with it).
Many strongman events have a neutral grip (like log press, most loading events, and many carry events). For this reason, a Swiss bar (also called a “multi-grip” bar or “football” bar) is also a great addition to your equipment list. Again, it’s super versatile (presses, RDLs, rows, curls, and more!) and not too expensive. We recommend one like this that has mostly straight handles.
FUN BUT NOT NECESSARY
You might have some room in your space or budget for actual strongman implements, which is great! But there are so many, it can be hard to decide which ones to focus on. Here’s what we recommend:
- Farmer Handles: These are very versatile because they cover moving events, conditioning, and grip; and you can also use them for frame deadlifts (variations of which come up a good bit in strongman competition).
- Loading/Carrying Sandbag: This is a great way to train for carrying events and loading events. You can also set yourself up so that you can have one sandbag that is usable at multiple weights! Set it at a “base weight” that’s good for everything. Then make smaller bags (about 10# each) that you can add and subtract to adjust the weight. It’s not super time efficient, but it is space- and money-efficient.
- Sled: This is an excellent tool for both strength and conditioning. It helps with overall lower body strength, single-leg strength, and conditioning… all of which are super important for strongman. Because you can set it up multiple ways, you can target different muscle groups and energy systems.
- Log: This is *not* a versatile piece of equipment, but there is nothing else like it, so it’s hard to train for. If it’s in a competition you have coming up, think about acquiring one. In general, women will use a 10” log and men will use a 12” log. (Don’t bother with an 8” log.) Titan also makes a rackable log.
This is just a fun and useful thing to have access to, particularly for training lats and triceps. It’s by no means mandatory, but a basic cable machine adds a ton of variety to workouts and allows you to target super specific muscles in different ways.
OTHER THINGS TO CONSIDER
Commercial vs Recreational vs “Discount” brands
For our gym, we tend to buy more expensive and super durable equipment because it’s going to get a lot of use. If you’re buying equipment for your own personal use, you don’t need to get wild and spend a bunch of money. There are plenty of mid-range options, even from some of the major manufacturers like Rogue. For example, Rogue has an “echo” line for many items that’s a more economical (but still excellent quality) option, and Christian’s Fitness Factory makes good quality home-use equipment that usually ships free.
That said, be wary of “discount” brands and “deals.” In general, if something looks cheap or a price seems “too good to be true,” it probably is cheap and too good to be true. An exception to this is often dumbbells and kettlebells. A basic sporting goods store (like Dick’s) will have decent dumbbells and smaller plates for somewhat reasonable prices (and you won’t need to pay shipping if you go pick it up).
The takeaway here: you don’t need the most expensive or fanciest thing out there, but don’t skimp either. Buying one nice $350 bar that lasts costs less in the long run than replacing a cheap $200 bar when it falls apart.
What if you can only get one of something?
If you can only get one sandbag, or one set of dumbbells, or whatever it can be hard to figure out which one thing or weight to get. Go for something in the lighter or middle range, or choose something you can build onto. For example, you might only want a sandbag that goes 100-200lbs… but you can buy one that has the capacity to get to 300lbs and then “grow into it” over time. If you can only buy one kettlebell, get a mid-range weight: something light enough to squat or swing, but heavy enough that if you slowed it down and did a bunch of reps it would make an effective deadlift or carry workout too.
Think long-term and think versatility. Pick things that will last for a long time and have the most possible uses. If an item only has one use or you’ll use it for one competition only, it’s probably not a good choice.
We love talking about equipment! Seriously. Give us a ring (610-426-1411), shoot us an email ([email protected]), or hit the “free intro” button on this page. We’ll help you make sure that you’re getting the best equipment for you and your goals!