Strongman (and women) are different beasts of strength athletes. They aren't just strong lifting a regular barbell. They can lift and carry pretty much anything. That's what makes Strongman so unique. The strength you gain could be termed "farm boy strong” and soon you’ll be moving your couch around your home for fun.
Strongman training involves lifting, dragging, pressing, or carrying odd-shaped implements that you won't find in your commercial gym. It is a blend of brute strength, power, technique, and conditioning.
If you're looking to get started with Strongman-style training, or you're looking for some new training ideas, then I've got you covered in this article.
What Is Strongman?
Strongman is like the Mixed Martial Arts of the strength sports world. It is a combination of everything. It’s not just about how much you can lift. But about how many times can you lift it, how far you can pull it or carry it, or how fast you can complete the event.
This means not only is there a large strength component, but you also need to possess high levels of aerobic and anaerobic conditioning, speed, and power.
Most notably, Strongman is unique based on the equipment used. They would be described as “non-traditional implements .” Common Strongman exercises include sled pulls, farmers walks, tire flips, and plenty of overhead pressing and carry variations.
The uniqueness of Strongman extends further than the implements used. Strongman exercises are often performed in the horizontal plane and involve a moving component . Whereas traditional strength training is predominantly performed vertically (e.g. squat).
While Strongman training involves funky pieces of equipment, Strongman competitions also differ from the usual strength sport. Powerlifting and Weightlifting allow you to pick your attempts so you know exactly how much you are going to lift.
You have no such luck in Strongman. Whatever the weight of the implement is on the day, that’s what you’re lifting, carrying, or dragging. This can even include pulling a 10-ton truck. This is what makes Strongman such a fun and addictive sport. You can test your strength with real-world applications.
Benefits Of Strongman Training
The main benefit of Strongman training is the "functional strength" aspect of being able to lift, move, and carry odd-shaped implements. Deadlifting 500 lbs and deadlifting a large stone or rock are two different tasks.
While being able to deadlift 500 lbs will give you the capacity to lift a heavy stone, you need to lift heavy stones regularly to learn the skill and develop the strength in that exercise. Being able to lift odd objects means when you need to move house, perform yard work, or move heavy furniture, you are well prepared for the task.
The downside to this is you will have your friends calling you to help them move or load heavy things they found on Craigslist.
Secondly, Strongman training provides a strong cardiovascular benefit that traditional strength training doesn’t.
For example, pushing or pulling a car for 50 m has similar cardiovascular demands as a 17-minute circuit training session . Yet the 50 m push or pull only takes up to a minute.
Finally, Strongman training produces a similar metabolic and hormonal response to traditional strength training . However, it doesn’t induce the same levels of muscle damage as most exercises are concentric only (no lowering phase). For example, the backward sled drag doesn’t increase the marker of muscle damage creatine kinase and has vertical jump recover to baseline level within 3 hours .
Meaning that many Strongman exercises are relatively easy to recover from. For those that enjoy training regularly, Strongman-style events might be your ticket to more frequent training without the negative effects.
How Often Do Strongmen Train?
Strongmen will usually train 4 times per week. Three of those days will be Powerlifting style training days with bodybuilding movements to supplement their strength movements. The fourth day is usually an events day.
This is a day that is almost like a mini-competition without the maximum loads and effort (but will sometimes include maximum weights). A typical events day might start with an overhead event. This could be the log or even a keg. Following this, a moving event will take place.
The choice is yours here and can depend on your weakness. If you struggle with the yoke, you may perform speed reps with a light yoke. Or if front-loaded carries are your weakness, this may involve a sandbag carry. Finally, you can finish the session with a loading exercise such as stones or sandbags onto a platform.
This doesn’t mean that you can only perform events on an events day. You can incorporate events within your training week. Here are some example pairings that work well.
How Long Are Strongman Sessions?
Strongman training sessions range anywhere from 1-2 hours depending on the type of session. The event days will take longer as you will need more rest between each set because of how taxing some of the exercises can be.
For example, tire flips have been shown to elicit blood lactate values of 10.4 mmol/L which is well above the aerobic threshold of 2 mmol/L indicating the high-intensity nature of the exercise .
Are Strongmen Stronger Than Bodybuilders?
Overall, Strongmen are stronger than bodybuilders. Bodybuilders don't train for strength. They train purely for muscle growth. That is what they are judged on for their sport (among symmetry and other factors). But strength isn’t one of them.
Strongmen need to be strong so they have the strength reserve for competition events. Meaning if an event requires deadlifts for max reps at 200 kg, if you can deadlift 250 kg and someone else can deadlift 220 kg, you will be much better off and will win the event.
You will be operating at a much lower percentage of your maximum and have more energy for future events.
Example Strongman Program
Day 1: Overhead Focus
A1) Push Press
4 x 5
B1) 1-Arm DB Press
3 x 8-10
C1) Pendlay Rows
4 x 6-8
D1) Close Grip Floor Press
3 x 10
E1) Axle Curl
3 x 10
Day 2: Deadlift Focus
1 x 6 + 3 x 6 Back Off Sets
73% 1RM + 60-64% 1RM
B1) Front Loaded Carry
3 x 40 m (Speed Reps)
3 x 15-20
D1) Back Extension
3 x 10-15
Day 3: Squat Focus
A1) Pause Squat
4 x 6
B1) Speed Yoke Walk
4 x 40 m (Speed Reps)
C1) Leg Press
3 x 10-15
D1) Leg Curl
3 x 10-15
Day 4: Events Day
A1) Log Clean & Press
2 x (3 x 1)
Increasing Intensity Wave
B1) Farmers Walk
4 x 20 m (Speed Reps)
C1) Stone Loading
2 x 2 light, 2 x 2 moderate, 2 x 1 heavy
Perhaps you don’t want to compete in Strongman like WSM competitor Colm Woulfe (the man behind a lot of the research cited in this article) and just want to dabble in some of the Strongman exercises to add some variety and fun to your training. That’s great! You can use any of the basic Strongman events as part of your training.
But you can get even more creative with these Strongman training combos designed to build strength and size in muscles you never knew you had.
Strongman Training Combos For Strength And Size
These combinations will absolutely pack some muscle on your frame, but also build your work capacity if you want to start moving heavier weights within Strongman training.
Farmer Walk To Shrug
Farmer walks are a great way to build your traps, among many other things, so one of my favorite combinations is to perform a farmer walk for 50 feet, then go directly to barbells shrugs. Aside from building your traps, you are also working on your grip.
Make sure you use straps on the shrugs, or your grip will surely give out on your next set of farmers. Choose a weight that is about 75% of your max farmer to begin with, and I prefer to do higher rep shrugs so choose a weight that will allow you to get 15-20 reps. Try this combo at the end of a deadlift day. 2 sets are all you need.
Overhead Yoke Carry To One Motion Log
Most of you are probably familiar with carrying the yoke on your back, or in front of you to simulate the Conan's wheel. This is something that you will rarely see in a contest but is great to work on your lockout, and stability when pressing.
Start by pressing the yoke overhead, either by strict pressing or doing a slight push press. Jumping the weight up will make it very difficult to get it under control as the yoke will swing more. Once overhead think about pressing the yoke up as high as possible, and do not let your elbows bend at all.
With the yoke locked out overhead, carry it for 50 feet, and be very careful lowering the weight as it can drop the wrong way towards your face. For the one motion log, you will need to go very light here around 60% of your 1 rep max.
I perform this combo at the end of my overhead press day so I like to keep the lower body involvement to a minimum. After the first rep just lower the log to your lap and continue to drive it up over your head, using your hip drive to get it moving. You should be explosive on every rep here, and 2 sets with 10 reps will be good.
Yoke To Walking Lunges
A great exercise to build the yoke itself is walking lunges. You work on stability as well as your quads, two things you need for a big yoke. Again, this is not about how much weight you are moving so work on your foot speed here.
Around 60% of your max yoke is perfect, but carry it for 100 feet if you have room for it. In the video, you will see I carry it for 50 feet then turn around and bring it back. The lunges I prefer to do with chains over my neck, as I won't have to worry about holding on to anything.
Immediately after finishing the yoke throw a few chains on your neck, or if you don’t have them some light dumbbells will be fine, and lunge for 100 feet.
Hand Over Hand Sled Pull To Sled Curl
The hand-over-hand sled pull is an event I honestly don't see enough in strongman. Whether it is in a competition coming up for you or not, this is a movement you want to work on.
You will strengthen your back, lats, arms, and grip all in one. This can be done either in a seated or standing position, but I prefer to stand as I am working on this event for speed. Keep tension on the rope at all times, and do not let it loosen, or the rope will sway from side to side slowing you down.
Once the sled is at your feet, have a pair of straps attached to the other side. Curl the sled with very strict form, and it’s important as you step back to keep tension on the sled at all times.
These are great finishers to any of your training sessions if are taking a break from heavy training, and want to pack on some serious muscle.
Start your training cycle with the weights moderately light, and as you progress slowly increase the weight each week. You will find when returning to heavy event training you will be faster and stronger than ever.
1. Woulfe, C., Harris, N., Keogh, J., & Wood, M. (2014). The physiology of strongman training. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 36(6), 84-95.
2. Harris, N. K., Woulfe, C. J., Wood, M. R., Dulson, D. K., Gluchowski, A. K., & Keogh, J. B. (2016). Acute physiological responses to strongman training compared to traditional strength training. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 30(5), 1397-1408.
3. West, D. J., Cunningham, D. J., Finn, C. V., Scott, P. M., Crewther, B. T., Cook, C. J., & Kilduff, L. P. (2014). The metabolic, hormonal, biochemical, and neuromuscular function responses to a backward sled drag training session. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 28(1), 265-272.
4. Keogh, J. W., Payne, A. L., Anderson, B. B., & Atkins, P. J. (2010). A brief description of the biomechanics and physiology of a strongman event: The tire flip. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 24(5), 1223-1228.