Interview With Colm Woulfe: Worlds Strongest Man Competitor

August 24, 2021

Lift Big Eat Big has been involved in the Strongman world since its inception in 2011. I mean, who doesn’t love picking up and carrying odd objects?

So, its fitting that I’ve brought to Lift Big Eat Big for an epic interview Colm Woulfe (is that not the perfect last name for a Strongman?). Colm is an absolute animal in the Strongman world.

Hailing from little ol’ New Zealand, Colm has clawed his way onto the world stage having competed in two consecutive years in the Worlds Strongest Man competition. That’s no easy feat.

Colm and I first met at university having both studied sport & exercise science and remained friends since. So, without further or do, let’s jump straight into it.

Welcome To Lift Big Eat Big Colm! How’d You Get Into Strongman?

When I was at Auckland University of Technology (AUT) and doing my undergrad, one of my lecturers was Dr. Justin Keogh. Justin has been involved with numerous research papers on Strongman and was a Strongman competitor himself.

He also ran the AUT Strongman & Powerlifting Club and was always bugging me to give it a go. I was currently involved in MMA (James: could you imagine fighting someone Colm’s size?!) but stopped once I started working at AUT doing evening shifts.

Eventually he convinced me to give it a go and I’ve been hooked since. With a small background in both Powerlifting and MMA, strongman immediately appealed. It wasn't all about pure static strength like Powerlifting but still had a huge strength component, and to excel you must be well rounded in all aspects of strength.

Weakness in one or more areas is punished. 

I have since heard Josh Thigpen say Strongman is to strength sports as MMA is to fighting.

I think this sums it up perfectly.

What Are Your Current Stats?

Colm Log Lift

I am 195 cm tall (6’4”) and 165 kg (364 lbs).

My best lifts are:

  • 380 kg (838 lbs) squat (gym)
  • 227.5 kg (501 lbs) bench
  • 400 kg (882 lbs) dead (Powerlifting) 
  • 410 kg (904 lbs) dead (Strongman)
  • 180 kg (397 lbs) log

What Are Your Greatest Competitive Achievements?

I am a 3x New Zealand Strongest Man winner, 2015 Arnold Amateur Australia winner, and competed at the 2016 and 2017 World Strongest Man (WSM).

Tell Us About Your World Strongest Man Experience?

Both years I went were in Botswana and both were awesome. It's a competition experience like no other. WSM is a TV show first and a competition second, this drives how the athletes are split up into groups with different groups doing different events.

This is what is shown on TV. What you don’t see however is the “hurry up and wait” nature of show business. Filming schedule changes, lighting and equipment issues can sometimes lead to things like a rushed warm up or having to warm up twice.

This is just another aspect as an athlete you need to take into account. What I loved about this aspect is I got to see first-hand why the greats are greats. I saw Brian Shaw have to get up at 5am and rushed to then pull 350kg for 8 reps on a deficit.

I saw Thor Bjornsson squat 320 kgs (705 lbs) for reps with ease after only warming up on 180 kgs (397 lbs). This really cemented in my mind that to be a top athlete there are no excuses, everyone is in the same boat, be ready for anything. Adapt or die.

Let’s Get Into What The Readers Came Here For. How Does A Typical Training Week Look For You?

I work with Nexus Performance for my programming and diet, so we go through different phases. For New Zealand Strongest Man, the events I have are:

  • Strongman bench press
  • Max log
  • Max deadlift
  • Farmers walk
  • Tyre flip
  • Stones

9 weeks prior to this competition I had a Powerlifting comp, so training has been powerlifting focused. Now for comp prep this is how it looks:

Monday

Floor press, Dumbbell bench press, Lat pulldowns, Cable rows, Core work.

Tuesday

Tire flip & deadlifts, Heavy lunges.

Wednesday

Cardio 40mins on bike HR under 130 BPM.

Thursday

Pressing

Log press (light and focusing on technique), Dumbbell rows, Single arm lat pulldown, Triceps assistance work (cable pulldowns or variations).

Saturday

Heavy log press, Heavy stones, Heavy farmers walk.

What Exercises Do You Need To Be Strongest In To Be A Competitive Strongman?

To be competitive you need to be well rounded across the board, a weak lift will often lead to a loss in many points. The majority of the time it's better to work on improving a weakness than focusing on further improving your strengths.

That being said, in gym lift terms having a decent push press, and decent deadlift are what I would say are the most important.

Next would be having a decent squat (any variation). When looking at adding in strongman moves that are easy to do at a regular gym, next would-be doing sandbag pickups and carries. This will train the same movements as required in picking up and extending with numerous other implements including stones and log cleans.

Ideally if you had the specific implements you could train on them. Then farmers walks and yokes and some kind of overhead toss and you have the big bases covered.

Should A Strongman Bench Press?

The bench press is a multi-joint compound movement that stresses the pecs shoulders and triceps which makes it a great assistance movement for strongman.

The vast majority of strongman pressing movements will be overhead so bench pressing is definitely not a requirement, assuming an athlete is healthy though I can't see any real justifications for not using a bench press or variation.

I would favor variations such as incline, dumbbell, and floor presses over a powerlifting competition style but even then it’s a great exercise and a healthy athlete can definitely make use of it.

How Do You Incorporate Conditioning Into Your Training? Is It Important?

Colm Continental Axle Clean

Go on walks most days, usually 3-4km for health and aerobic capacity. Otherwise the anaerobic conditioning takes care of itself with doing loading race or reps sets depending on the upcoming competition.

If I don’t have a comp coming up I usually have some form of aerobic conditioning once or twice a week at the end of a session with something low impact like reverse sled drag, sled push, exercise bike sprints for something like 5 sets of 1 minute depending on exactly what we’re are focusing on.

I’ve Seen Strongman Programs That Have “Agility Training” Such As Ladders. Is This Something You Would Do Or Find Useful?

I don’t personally do them or use them with clients’ programs. I don’t think doing agility ladder drills has any carry over to foot speed or coordination when adding in a heavy weight to the mix. They also don’t have the best carry over to regular agility as summed up nicely in an article James wrote here.

My view is using the specific events to practice your footwork. For example, practice your farmers footwork while doing farmers, likewise with yoke and front carries. If I have a client who I think needs more work at being agile and light on their feet I would likely have them do short shuttle runs.

This is specific to the run you would actually do in strongman in a loading race, it would involve some real agility in changing direction plus help with conditioning.

If I had a client who was already fit and agile without load but needed better footwork on yoke, I would have them perform more lighter sets of yokes practicing short sharp steps and slowly increasing the load throughout the weeks.

What Is A Common Strongman Training Myth You’d Like To Dispel?

That you need to be training the Strongman events heavy year-round. I often see newer athletes take a powerlifting program and apply, copy the percentages recommended and do this for the events.

This can be a recipe for injury. While we do need to train the events, I think a smarter approach is to do it in phases. For example, let's say I had a client who needed to work on his yoke, in an offseason block I would likely have him go no higher than 60% of his max 15m yoke weight, working predominantly in the 50% range.

Yoke is a speed event at the end of the day, fastest time wins.

The client needs to work on their footwork with the yoke. That's the technical side of it taken care of, now what we also need is the client to have a stronger lower body and core to handle the heavy weights.

How do I accomplish this? With traditional gym training, hypertrophy and strength work with squats or their variations. Then when we finish the offseason phase and start a comp prep at 8-10 weeks out, we can start loading weight to the actual yoke and start pushing up the weight closer to comp.

I believe this to be a more efficient strategy than having the athlete doing sets of 85% yoke week after week in the offseason, when they could have been putting that energy towards doing some decent volume in squatting movements.

Do I Need To Be As Massive As You To Compete In The Sport?

If you want to become the Strongest Man or Woman in the world you need to be bigger than average, there's no denying that. However, there are weight classes in Strongman and you can always focus on getting as strongman as you can for a certain weight.

In my opinion just focus on getting yourself as strong as possible while staying healthy and see where your bodyweight sits.

What’s Some Advice For Someone Looking To Get Into Strongman?

Be patient, don’t focus on what other people are lifting and focus on yourself. Real strength takes years to build.

Where Can People Find You If They Want To Know About Your Services?

You can follow me @thewolfmancolmwoulfe on Instagram which is down below. If you want to get in touch about online coaching or have any Strongman related questions, feel free to DM me!

About the Author

I am a professional strength & conditioning coach that works with professional and international teams and athletes. I am a published scientific researcher and have completed my Masters in Sport & Exercise Science. I've combined my knowledge of research and experience to bring you the most practical bites to be applied to your training.

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