As a trainer and coach in strong(wo)man, one of the most common questions I have been asked is how to train events when you don’t have access to the equipment. First go to www.StartingStrongman.com and check out the strongman gym locator to see if there are any gyms nearby. Many of the people I program for don’t have the advantage of training at a gym all week that has all the basics for strong(wo)man. However just about all of them are able to travel at least one day during the week to another gym that does have access to these. With that being said, I have competed in many contests where I didn’t have any of the equipment needed for the competition. In fact, for my first competition, all I had was a 225lb stone and an 8 inch diameter log press. As many of you know that have already competed a 12 inch log makes a big difference from one that is much smaller in the way you must set up for the press.
One of the nice things about strongman is that you can get some of the basics very cheap with a good welder. You may not be able to keep these pieces of equipment at your commercial gym, but many competitors simply get together at each other houses and train right in their driveway, or even in the road. Some basics you can get pretty cheap are: farmer’s handles, stone loader, fat gripz, sandbags, kegs, and tires. For tires you can easily go to your local tire supplier for tractors and they will gladly give away tires of any size for absolutely free. Once these tires become damaged the tires will need to be recycled, however for them to have these tire recycled actually costs them quite a bit of money. What happens is they will store these old tires in the back of the store with no purpose so they are more than happy to give them away. All of the tires at my gym were hand delivered by the store, because they were so happy to get rid of them.
In every strong(wo)man competition there will always be some form of an overhead press, so you need to train this event hard. When training at a commercial gym you will usually only have access to barbells and basic dumbbells. Working on your push press, and/or jerk will apply to pressing an axle or a log, BUT the whip from a barbell is much easier to press then a stiff axle, especially when it is loaded with tires that do not rotate. This is why the continental clean is more efficient at cleaning an axle with fixed plates that do not rotate with you. However you will have to stick with working on power cleans for the time being. Doing a “full” clean will serve no purpose in strong(wo)man as you will not be able to get under an axle, and trust me I have seen people try. It is possible to continental a barbell of course, but you will get some funny looks from around your gym. Most commercial gyms also do not have bumpers to use, so you will have to be very careful with dropping the weights, as this will only get you kicked out of most commercial gyms today. An axle can be relatively cheap to find as well. My first axle was just a pipe that was cut and welded to fit the specs of a strongman axle, and it only costs me $60. Most gyms have no problem with its members keeping their equipment there, so be sure to check.
The circus dumbbell is very simple to train at a commercial gym. You will need some fat gripz and I would recommend getting them in both the 2 inch diameter and the 2 ½ as you will run into dumbbells in contests that will have different sized grips. Hopefully your gym will have heavy dumbbells to use, because if you are a guy, then your starting weight will be at least 100lbs in competition. Also if your gym allows it, you can always purchase a loadable dumbbell, which is how I trained this event before having a circus dumbbell.
Training for the log will be the toughest as the barbell is a completely different clean and press. I find the swiss bar applies best to the log, and this is something that most gyms will have. The best thing about the swiss bar is you can clean and press it with the exact technique as the log. My first time clean and pressing a log I had no real technique so I power cleaned the log up, which worked at lighter weights. I see this as a big mistake in beginners as most come from leaning how to power clean first like myself.
Here is an example of what an overhead press day can look like at a commercial gym: (Keep in mind when I say press it means to press with your best technique push press, push jerk, split jerk. In strong(wo)man it doesn’t not matter how you get it over your head as long as you lock it out)
1. Barbell Press out of rack Reach a heavy triple rest as needed
2. Dumbbell clean and press 3 x 3 each arm (speed work @65%) 2 min rest
3. Accessory work Chin ups, dips, etc
The deadlift will be the most simple to train for. Most strongman contests will have the bar raised to a certain height, but this should not be a problem in any gym. Unless of course you train at planet fitness, and in that case you are beyond our help. In my first strongman contest it was an axle deadlift for reps, but we could use straps so I wasn’t too worried about my grip. However when I started pulling over 10 reps my forearms were on fire! The problem was I had regular straps that weren’t quite long enough to go around the bar.
Make sure you get a good pair of lifting straps in the new Lift Big Eat Big Store here. To train the deadlift at a raised height you will most likely have to do rack pulls, which is how I trained until I was able to get blocks and mats to raise the bar. I don’t care for rack pulls that much because it does change the way the bar will break the floor. The safeties of the rack are moved in more so when you are pulling some heavy weights the bar will bend differently and will change the feel of the deadlift. If you are able to, always do your raised deadlifts off of mats or blocks. Of course if you don’t have this option then rack pulls will be your only choice. Just make sure to control the bar down as best you can as rack pulls can bend and warp the bar if you crash it down over and over. This happened once at my gym and I now do not allow rack pulls for this reason. The only time deadlifting will get tricky is when you are training for a car deadlift. If you have access to a trap/hex bar then this will be ideal as most car deadlifts will have side handles. When it comes to a car deadlift there is a great deal of quad involvement from having the chest higher and having to lean back more. If your gym allows it you can take two bars and put them in a corner so the ends cannot move around. Load the bars to a desired weight and strap in to start pulling. I have yet to see a car deadlift that does not allow straps so make sure you use them when trying this.
Example Deadlift training:
1. Deadlift: reach a heavy triple rest as needed
2 Car Deadlift Simulator: 3 x 8 2 min rest
3 Accessory work : GHR, RDL’s, ab work
Training for the yoke I will say is the most difficult without having a yoke walk. The most important thing will be to get moving with some weight on you in some way. When training for my first competition with a yoke I focused on a lot of core work as controlling the yoke to not swing will take great amounts of core stability. If you haven’t yet, check out my article on core training here. If you have bumpers at your gym then load up a bar in a squat rack and getting moving with it. I recommend bumpers here as you will most likely have to drop the bar at some point and that’s not going to fly at a commercial gym that do not have them. A very inexpensive way to make a yoke is to get two loading pins and some chains. Load the pins up to a desired weight and attach them to any standard bar, or an axle if you have one. The bar thickness of a yoke will have at least a 2 inches, and most likely 3. A chain yoke is far more difficult than any yoke you will have in a contest, and is how many pro strongmen train for yoke walks. It’s always better to train on equipment more difficult then you will have in a contest.
Another aspect of having a big yoke is to have a lot of single leg strength for added control while moving. My absolute favorite is barbell walking lunges, and if you have a safety bar this will be even better to use. The yoke is a brutal event that will tax your entire body head to toe, and as many people (especially guys) hate walking lunges, I find they translate the best to the yoke. In my first competition with a yoke I thought I would have no problem with it since it was only 600lbs, and I was able to squat that already. Makes sense right? Well I found out the hard way that having a big squat did not mean I could move with weight on my back. Of course it was also a car yoke which is far more difficult than a regular yoke as the car moves around a lot more.
Example training day: (if unable to mimic any kind of yoke)
Power Cleans: 3 x 3
Back Squat: Reach a heavy triple
Paused Front Squats: 3 x 3
Barbell Walking Lunges
If you are unable to get a bar on your back to get moving then you need to do a loaded carry of some kind. Dumbbell walking lunges, suitcase dumbbell walking lunges (held in one arm), and any version of farmers walk will help to train for the yoke.
Training for the farmers walk in a commercial gym won’t be quite as tricky as the yoke will be. Again you need to get some weight in your hands, and get moving so enough space will be needed. You will need lots of grip to excel at a farmers walk, so make sure you have a pair of fat gripz to attach onto a bar, or dumbbells. If you’re gym has heavy enough dumbbells then slap on some fat gripz and do your farmers walks this way. Suitcase farmers walks are my favorite accessory work to train for farmers, and again add the fat grips if you are unable to have challenging enough weight. If you are able to get two barbells you can do farmers walks with your hands centered on the bars. However this will be a much different balance then the actually farmers handles but it will get the job done.
Performing farmer walks with a trap bar is also a great alternative, but the individual weights of the farmers handles will make them slightly more difficult. Attaching chains to the trap bar is also a great way to increase the difficulty of the movement, and also very humbling if you have never tried it. Again the most important thing here is to get weight s in your hands and get moving. There are a lot of options here if you do not have handles, and again make sure you focus on grip strength the most.
Training for a stone event without any stones will not be easy, but you can strengthen the muscles involved with a lot of accessory work. Stiff legged deadlifts are my favorite to strengthen the first part of the movement as your starting position will be similar to lap the stone. When performing a sldl for the purpose of training for stone loading make sure you are in a slightly wider stance as you would be when getting over a stone. You will also need to squeeze the stone to be able to hold onto it, so dumbbell flyes are another favorite of mine. If you have access to a pec dec this will be ideal as you can get constant tension throughout the movement. Being able to squeeze the stone off the ground is a part of stone loading that people take for granted, and something competitors with shorter arms will have difficult with. Another great exercise for crushing strength is doing what’s called a plate squeeze. Take two plates and face the flat sides out. Put the plates together, and hold them to your chest. Squeeze as hard as you can and slowly press them out in front of you to lockout and slowly bring them back in. 3 to 4 sets of 5 reps will be good here with about a 3130 tempo (3 seconds out, 1 second hold, 3 seconds back). Direct chest work, and have the ability to “crush” the stone are crucial to lapping it.
Once the stone is lapped the single best exercise to train the load is paused front squats. Many competitors front squat for this reason, but the pause will mimic the movement of loading a stone as you will be pausing at the bottom of the movement to adjust the hand in the proper position. To learn how to properly load an atlas stone check out my article here. If you are able to get a stone loader this will also be the next best thing in place of stones. A stone loader is simply a loading pin that you will put bumpers on. I have trained many competitors with only access to this, and they have all done very well at stones in a contest. The main reason is using a stone loader is far more difficult than an actual stone, especially when tacky is involved. You can see in the video I only have 200lbs on it, and it is fairly difficult.
I have covered the main events in strong(wo)man as I feel if any competitor is sufficient in these lifts they will be prepared for any competition. Of course it is always an advantage to have the exact equipment but in my first year of strong(wo)man I had very little equipment so it is possible to train, and be prepared for competition. With the popularity of strong(wo)man and crossfit growing, you would be hard pressed to not find a gym within at least an hour that has some of the equipment needed. I know many great competitors that train a commercial gym and get there big 4 lifts up, then travel as much as 2 hours on a weekend to train events. For those of you with more access to strongman equipment make sure to check out my program designed for the strong(wo)man competitor: The Lightning Method. If you have an event you have to train for and don’t have the equipment let us know in the comments.