Helping beginning Strongman competitors is exactly what this article is geared toward. Let’s dive right in and see what it takes to compete!
Is Strongman Competing Right For Me?
Before jumping into some strongman inspired routine, you need to answer that question. There are several routes that you can take in your desire for meathead greatness. Some of the popular routes include weightlifting (Olympic), powerlifting, bodybuilding, crossfit, and strongman. There are many common elements to these routes.
The three most evident are as follows:
There’s one thing you should decide before you take the step from gym member to Strongman competitor. You should know that it will require a lot of dedication on your part. Are you ready to give up your “me” time? Read books? Read articles? Train right? Eat right? Recover right? If you’re not dedicated, you’re not going to be very good. Sorry, but the truth sucks sometimes. Your hobby will need to become part of your life if you’re going to excel.
You better learn to respect the history and the veterans of your sport. Take the time to learn about the different federations (if applicable). Learn about the history. Know who the veterans are in your area/state. Don’t be afraid to reach out to those veterans for information. This will help you gain respect of and from your new peers. It will also help you understand the culture that surrounds the sport.
When I say the “iron” I’m referring to the weight, not discriminating against machines, bumper plates, coated plates, or any other kind of weight. The iron is what links all of these routes together. We all work our asses off to be able to call ourselves competitors and strive to be called a champion.
Bodybuilders tend to knock the diet of powerlifters. And, powerlifters will knock the exercise form of strongmen or strongwomen. Of course, strongmen or women will knock the scalable weights in crossfit. Crossfit will knock the functionality of bodybuilders. The cycle will continue. One thing you won’t hear is many competitors knocking the DEDICATION of others. Why? beneath all the knocking and jabbing, there is a mutual RESPECT among competitors. What I’m saying is this: you have to be willing to dedicate your time and respect the iron. Don’t waste your time or time of the guys and gals busting their ass to compete. That simply isn’t fair to anyone.
At the conclusion of this article, you may decide that strongman isn’t for you. Yet, you might feel competing is right for you. Figure out where you’re going to fit in and start training.
Training Compared To Working Out
That is, training for a goal vs. merely working out. To my peers and myself, there is a huge difference between people that workout and people that train. You can workout with a thigh master. But you can’t train with one. (Author’s Note: That’s not to say Suzanne Somers doesn’t look amazing in her 60’s).
If you decide to drive around your community for a quick drive, you won’t need gas or direction. However, if you are going to drive cross country or, in some cases, state-to-state, you need a road map. Also, you will need to stop for gas. You’ll want to track your progress. Finally, you’ll want to make checks along the way.
Working out is like a quick drive.
You can go to the gym with the general goal of getting healthier.
Training is like the long trip.
You have a plan that you’re following to reach a goal. Plus you should have a plan to measure your progress along the way. If you’ve never trained, you’re going to have to learn how to do it. Many competitors, strongman or otherwise, are former collegiate/high school athletes. Also, they are veterans of their sport, so they have the up on you. If you show up unprepared, you’re going to look unprepared.
“Whattaya bench?” is a very common question that ALL athletes/competitors get asked. So you’d better get ready for it. How important is your answer to you? If it’s very important, you’re not cut out for strongman. I bench press in my training regimen. However, I hate this question regardless.
I started hating this question in my teenage years. This was after reading an interview with Henry Rollins (musician, artist, author) in some rock music magazine. The interviewer asked him if he was still working out. He then followed up with “Whattaya bench?” Henry flipped a switch. He went off about the bench press measurement of strength and how he never gets asked “Whattaya deadlift?” Back then, I hated it because I thought Henry Rollins was cool. Now I understand what he was getting at.
As a strongman, the average person won’t ask you “how many times can you deadlift a Cadillac?” The average person is going to ask about your bench. As a beginner, you should be ready for it. Your bench press may not impress the average person or it may. But then you should explain to them that you really don’t train for a maximum bench press. It will blow their mind.
Strongman events aren’t always exactly what you see on Met-Rx World’s Strongest Man broadcasted on ESPN. That’s because those are huge events with even bigger budgets. Local contests won’t have the same budgets or backing as professional events. Strongman events are unique and can be hard to train for. That’s because most competitions have a unique set. Events are listed on the entry form. That’s so you can start preparing for them. Here are some events/areas that you can train for. You’re training as a beginner, to ensure that you are ready for strongman.
*A more extensive list can be found here https://illpumpyouup.com/articles/common-strong-man-events.htm
Most events are going to have an overhead event. This includes, but is not limited to, log press, axle press, circus dumbbell press, keg press, or Viking press. It can be any variety of the above. Depending on the specific event, the competitor has to clean the weight. They then have to press it overhead.
Overhead events can vary as a timed medley, or one rep max. They can be the last man standing, max press reps, max clean and press reps. Or they can use another method that the promoter can scheme up. The overhead event can make you or break your training or competition. The strength of your grip, triceps, shoulders, legs, and overall form are important factors in dominating the overhead events.
Grip is a very important, if not the most important, factor. This is true for all competitions, as well as strongman training and competition. Crucifix holds, farmers carry, deadlift holds, clean and press, pulling events, and others revolve around a good grip. Grip strength is often overlooked. Mostly this is because it’s easier to blame something else. Improving grip strength can be accomplished by purchasing grip trainers. Also by doing plate pinches (insert technical term), and training forearms.
Being a competent deadlifter is important in order to be a competent strongman. Are you weak at deadlifting? You will probably find yourself being weak at most strongman events. Deadlift specific events can include many different deadlift implements. These include axle deadlifts or car deadlifts. Are you starting the transition from working out to training? Start making deadlifts and variations a staple in your routine.
Atlas stones are in most any strongman competition that you can find. They are a true test of strength. I promise that you will hate them your first time, but don’t give up. Stone events include moving stones from the ground to platforms. They also include putting stones over a bar for reps, or shouldering them. In competitions, stone tacky is used to help grip the stones better with your hands and arms. This can also be used in training. What if your gym doesn’t have stones or you don’t have access to stones? You’re going to need to figure out who in your area has some. You can order stone molds online or buy premade stones on Craigslist. They are available in your area, you just don’t know it.
It usually isn’t what you can wear in strongman events. It’s what you can’t. Events will point out the “no-nos” of the event. Elbow sleeves, knee sleeves, belts, suits, straps, wraps are all legal in many events. Certain lifts may not allow straps on your belt. In training, you may want to examine a few entry forms. See what is and isn’t allowed on certain events.
Strongman Events Day
Establish an “events day” into your routine. This is a good way to get used to the demands of strongman. You can do many of the movements throughout the week. Until you do them back-to-back-to-back-to-back. You won’t truly appreciate the demands of strongman competitions. What if you don’t have the implements necessary to train on Events day? You can order implements online. Or there is somebody in your area that would love to have you join them for a training session. You will be hard pressed to find a more valuable way to spend 2 hours. What’s better than training with a bunch of guys that are stronger and more experienced than you are?
Where to Compete?
Prior to entering the strongman world, I had no idea that so many competitions are right in my backyard. You can view the different competitions at nastrongman.com for sanctioned events. You may also do a simple Google search for unsanctioned strongman events in your area. My first powerlifting meet was an unsanctioned meet. It is a great way to get your feet wet and find that passion to compete.
Strongman Beginner Classes / Divisions
For your first event, be sure to find a competition that offers a “novice” class. These weights are more manageable. They are a place for newbies to gain competition experience. You will be competing against other guys who haven’t competed very much. I trained for over a few years before ever competing. Yet I still got beat in the novice class.
I’m still new to the strongman world and still have a ton to learn. Yet I’m glad I made the first few baby steps in training and preparation. If I hadn’t, I would be even further behind than I already am.
If you’re looking to get into strongman, I encourage you to take those baby steps and compete. I trained for several years prior to getting the guts to compete. Train hard and just compete. Worst case scenario, you learn a lot and finish last in your class/division. Best case scenario, you learn a ton and dominate.