HOW TO GET STARTED IN STRONGMAN - a basic primer

HOW TO GET STARTED IN STRONGMAN

A basic primer from OntarioStrongman

last updated: 14 May 2006

Table of Contents

1. Introduction


2. Health and Fitness


3. Strength and Conditioning


4. Gym Training


5. Making and Acquiring Implements
5.1 Log
5.2 Farmers Walk
5.3 Loading & Carries
5.4 Tires
5.5 Thick Bar
5.6 Atlas Stones
5.7 Kegs
5.8 Rope and Harness


6. Event Training Tips
6.1 Log
6.2 Farmers Walk
6.3 Stones
6.4 Carries & Conans
6.5 Tire Flip
6.6 Truck Pull


7. Your First Competition


1.     INTRODUCTION

This document is not intended to be the definitive guide to strongman training. It is simply some thoughts that may help other people get started.

I personally have had to find out a lot of things the hard way, so hopefully this will help some people save their time and energy.

Jedd Johnson (Diesel Crew) and Steve Slater (Slater Stone Molds) have put together an excellent Basic Introduction to Strongman Training DVD, available at the below link.

Strongman DVD Special - Disk Art

Disclaimer: I am neither a physician nor a certified personal trainer. Use of any suggestions or advice in the following document is at your own risk.

Return to Top

2.     HEALTH AND FITNESS

Before you even think about becoming a strongman, you must ensure that you are healthy. Go to your doctor for a complete physical if you have any doubts at all. This is not a sport for anyone with a history of heart problems or respiratory difficulties.

Be warned that any old (or new) injuries and weaknesses will be spotlighted the first time that you attempt a strongman event. Play it safe - rehabilitate existing injuries before you begin event training.

Line up a chiropracter and a massage therapist/ART practitioner/physical therapist. You're going to need their services.

Return to Top

3.     STRENGTH AND CONDITIONING

The most frequently asked novice question is, "How much should I be able to lift?"

In order to be successful in this sport, a certain level of core strength is required. However, that level will vary between individuals and weight classes, so it is difficult to define with any degree of certainty. At the very least, you should have at least one year of good, solid powerlifting training under your belt before attempting to compete at an amateur level. Assuming that there are weight classes in your competitions, lightweights and middleweights should be able to bench 200 lbs, military press 130 lbs, clean and jerk 180 lbs, squat 300 lbs and deadlift 350 lbs - as a bare minimum. Heavyweights should be closer to the classic 3-4-5 as a minimum (bench 300, squat 400, deadlift 500 lbs, military press over 150 lbs).

Conditioning is a major factor as well. If you cannot run 50 feet without collapsing and heaving up a lung, you're going to have some trouble when the cardio events come along. There is an incredible amount of conditioning required to be successful at this, so face it: you're going to have to do some of that dreaded cardio training as well.

Return to Top

4.     GYM TRAINING

As mentioned previously, a solid foundation of powerlifting is definitely required. Therefore, work on the "Big Three" is in order - Bench, Squat, Deadlift.

People often say that there's no bench press in strongman...however, unless you have some physical limitation, don't hesitate to train it - if nothing else, it is a good compound exercise. However, only close-grip and incline benching really carry over well into strongman. Two- or three-board presses are excellent triceps exercises that will help with log lockouts. You should also concentrate on overhead work and Olympic lifts...these exercises will pay dividends down the road. Explosiveness is a good thing for many events.

Ensure that you are getting even muscular development. Many injuries are caused by nothing more than muscle imbalances. If you generally squat with a wide stance, ensure that you occasionally throw in oly-style squats and lunges to work the quads and hit the VMO. Your front delts get plenty of work doing presses -- do some isolation work for the rear delts.

Recommended exercises are as follows:

  • Squat. Narrow- and wide-stance. Front squats and Zerchers (with a thick bar). Excellent exercises for adding mass and strength.


  • Deadlift -- regular deadlift, deadlift from plates (helps the initial "pick" for the atlas stones) and deadlift from pins. Mostly lower back and hamstring involvement. The deadlift is probably the most useful gym training movement for the strongman. Other variations include RDL, SLDL, Axle DL, DL holds, suitcase DL - with Farmers Walk implements or a pair of loaded bars.

  • Bent-over Rows. Another excellent compound movement. For barbell rows, grip can be either double-overhand or double-underhand. Dumbbell rows are also highly recommended.

  • Power Cleans. Good explosive exercise.

  • Good Mornings: lower back/hamstrings. Good for the second phase of stone loading.

  • Overhead work. military press, jerks, snatches, push press, dumbbell press, push press, raises. Your shoulders can never be too strong.

  • Bench. Incline, close grip and dumbell benching are highly recommended. Close grip, two- and three-board benching will build the triceps and will help with the log, as well as any other event that involves straightening the arm.

    What is two- and three-board benching? Take a length of 2x6 board, and cut it into five pieces about 14" long. Nail two together - that's your two-board. Nail another two together, then nail the third atop the first two. That's your three-board. When you are benching, place either of them on top of your sternum, ensuring that you secure them somehow (or you'll end up with a bloody nose - believe me). Have a partner hold them in place, tie or strap them, place a rolled-up towel under the boards at the top of the chest to keep them level, or (my method) wear a loose sweatshirt and slide them into place beneath it. When you bench, bring the bar down to the top of the boards. This works the lockout, but mimics the feeling of a normal bench. You should also be able to use a lot more weight than you can normally bench.



  • Accessory work - traps (dynamic shrug), calves (standing calf raise, also worked with the dynamic shrug), abs (weighted incline situps - add heavy weights, sets of 10), Glute-Ham Raises, Saxon Side Bends. DB Hammer Curls, Cross-body hammer curls, MVM DB curls. Heavy cheat curls will help with portions of the tire flip, and the DB curls will help with hand-over-hand truck pulls.

  • Prehab work - rotator cuff exercises such as band dislocates, internal and external rotations, hitchhikers, scapula protractions (bench shrugs), as well as a good stretching regime post-workout.


  • SAMPLE TWO-WEEK TRAINING SPLIT
     

    Tuesday

  • Deadlift
  • Military Press
  • Good Morning
  • core work

  • Tuesday

  • Squat
  • Power Clean
  • Push Press
  • core work

  • Thursday

  • Squat
  • 3-board press
  • Bent-over rows
  • core work

  • Thursday

  • Deadlift
  • Military Press
  • Front Squat
  • core work

  • Friday

  • Accessory work

  • Friday

  • Accessory work

  • Sunday

  • EVENTS
  • Sunday

  • EVENTS


  • Putting It All Together

    Always try to have one compound movement (compound = involving more than one muscle group) per workout. Normally, programs are constructed around three major compound exercises: squats, deadlifts and bench (or an overhead press). After performing your "major" exercise, accessory exercises are added. For program construction tips, please read JV Askem's CREATING A STRENGTH TRAINING PROTOCOL. For more in-depth information, have a look at the rest of JV's articles. There are additional resources, including spreadsheets for periodizing your workouts, available from the OntarioStrongman Resource section.

    For a thorough discussion of which exercises are best for what events, please read Bob Jodoin's excellent article, Strongman Training Tips and Advice, Part I - http://www.ontariostrongman.ca/resources/training/strongmantraining.html

    Return to Top

    5.     MAKING AND ACQUIRING IMPLEMENTS

    There are now several places to purchase implements online.

    In Ontario:

    Ontario Custom Metal Fabrication


    In North America:


    Pitbull Strongman Equipment: http://www.marunde-muscle.com/pitbull.html/

    Jackal's Gym: http://www.jackalsgym.com/jackmain.htm

    IronMind: http://www.ironmind.com/

    Williams Strength Products: http://www.williamsstrength.com/


    In the UK:


    Pullum Sports: http://www.pullumsports.com/


    Make friends with a welder. Get to know the people at the local scrapyard.

    5.1      Log

    METAL LOG

    Use well casing or similar material, cut holes for handholds, weld parallel handles (24" apart) and end plugs, weld plate mounts onto end plugs.

    See Tom Jones' step-by-step instructions for more details.


    WOODEN LOG

    Materials required:

  • Log


  • Pay a visit to your local lumber yard. Ask for a peeled log, about 10" - 13" in diameter and 5' - 6' long. You will usually be charged $2 - $3 per linear foot. Be warned - the log might seem far too heavy when it is green - but it will lose 60 - 70% of its weight as it dries.

  • Saw


  • Acquire a chainsaw that can do "plunge cuts"; i.e. has a lubricated sprocket at the end of the cutting arm, enabling cuts with the tip of the saw.

  • 1" Spade drill bit, 12" long


  • 1" pipe, at least 5' long (and a means to cut the pipe - hacksaw, reciprocating saw, pipe cutter)


  • hammer





  • My log, after a few years of use and abuse.



    Find and mark the log's center of gravity, using a pivot.

    Measure and mark 12" out from each side of the center.

    Draw a box measuring at least 8" x 8", centered around your two marks and even with each other.

    Using a plunge cut, cut out the holes. If you do not want the holes all the way through the log, you will have to cross-hatch your cuts and chip out the remaining wood with a hammer and chisel or hatchet. I thought that the structural integrity of the log might be somewhat compromised if the cutouts were to be punched right through the log, so I only went to a depth of about 85%.

    Rotate the log 90 degrees. Drill two holes for the handles - 24" apart. If you have the 12" long bit, you can drill straight through without having to worry about lining up your holes on each end.

    Also drill holes at least 6" deep in each end of the log.

    Cut your pipe - you will need 2 x 12" handles (depending on the width of your log) and two 16"-18" weight loading bars for the ends. Hammer them into the holes you have drilled.

    Slap several coats of deck sealer or stain or paint onto your log. After the paint has dried, wrap about 15' of " rope, or 8' of " rope around each end and soak/seal with glue or resin. This should prevent splitting when the log is dropped.

    5.2      Farmers Walk

    Here's an excerpt from JV Askem's Tightwad series: Pipe and bolt Farmer's Walks

    Other suggestions:

  • oxygen cylinders (weld handles, fill with water, water and sand, lead shot)
  • railroad ties -- drill holes, add pipe handles
  • railroad rail sections (weld handles)
  • plate loaded bars (weld handles to 2" pipe stock)
  • triceps bars (not long enough, but cheap & will do for training holds)

    5.3      Loading & Carries

    One of the joys of Strongman is the multiplicity of events. That being said, there are a number of things that can be done with just a heavy rock or a sandbag.

    Fieldstones - get a few of these. Talk to local farmers - they usually have a rock pile somewhere, and are eager to get rid of them. Select a few, of varying sizes. Try to find at least one that is flat on one side, and that tapers to a point. That will be your Husafell Stone. The remainder can be used for loading practice.

    Metal Barrels - you'll want five of these to use as loading platforms.

    Sandbags - very cheap, come in small 50 lb bags. Duct-tape four or six together, or put them in a burlap/canvas bag and use them for loading, carries or rows.

    5.4      Tires

    Check out local farms, a farm equipment dealer, a gravel company or an OTR (Off The Road) Tire Centre. Since they have to pay to dispose of used tires, they are usually more than happy to let you take as many as you want. You want to look in the 400 - 800 lb weight range. Look for size 23.5 - 25 (around 600 lbs) or 23.5 R 25 (around 700 lbs). These tires will measure 5' - 6' across and 2' - 3' high. Pick up two matching 14" tires while you're at it. You'll use these as cushions for the log press, and "unloading bumpers" for stones. If you require more of a challenge, look for a 26.5 R 25 (around 850 - 900 lbs with normal tread wear).

    I've created a detailed summary of suitable tires in the 750 - 1100 lb range from Goodyear and Bridgestone/Firestone (pdf file -- right-click, select save as).

    5.5      Thick Bar or Axle

    Suggestions:

  • 2" pipe, drill small hole and use set screw with old collars to permanently mount inside collars at each end
  • 2" PCV pipe "sleeving" regular bar (around 2.5" OD)

    5.6      Atlas Stones

    Stones are available for purchase in various locations, but shipping costs can be prohibitive if the manufacturer is not local. There are a few different methods for home construction of atlas stones -- some easier than others.

  • Making reusable fibreglass stone molds: OntarioStrongman Fibreglass Mold Construction
  • Stonemaking - original article... locally saved version

  • Jason Keen's "This Old Atlas Stone"

  • "Making an Atlas Stone" threads on StrongmanTraining: Thread #1...... Thread #2


    5.7      Kegs

    Uses: Loading, carries, presses, weight-for-height throws

    Try to buy a few empty ones from your local bar/brewery/beer store. They should sell you a few for the cost of the deposit. If they won't sell you empties, you're going to have to bite the bullet -- get a few full ones, and have a party. Then, fill the kegs with water or sand.

    A standard-sized keg weighs 27 pounds. Filled with:

  • Water - 160 lbs
  • Sand - 240 lbs
  • Cement - 360 lbs


  • Articles discussing keg valve removal:
  • How to obtain and fill a keg
  • How to remove a valve.
  • Sanke Keg Disassembly

    5.8      Rope and Harness

    Rope should be over 1.5" in diameter, and not coarse. Look in shipyards, large specialty sporting goods suppliers or manufacturers. Tug-of-war rope or rope-climb rope used in schools is perfect. You will need 50' - 100'.

    Pulling harnesses can be ordered online from IronMind. Industrial "Fall" harnesses can also be used. After using an incredibly comfortable IronMind harness, I padded our "fall harness" with towels to make it a bit more comfortable.

    Return to Top

    6.      Event Training Tips

    6.1      Log

    Log Lift methods will vary depending upon the event; i.e. Max Log or Log for Reps.


    The Clean

    Assume your "power" stance - should be same as your squat or deadlift stance. Ass out, back arched, head up, looking forward.

    Try to tilt the log forwards slightly. Clean the log over your knees and onto your upper thighs. Pull the log (still tilted forwards) into the top of your belly and explode up, rotating your wrists up and the log towards you. The log should climb over your pecs and be in the proper pressing position by the time you are standing.


    The Push Press

    Log should be resting on top of your pecs. Elbows should be in (not flared), forearms perpendicular to ground, back arched slightly. Log should be above centre of gravity. Dip down into a quarter-squat and explode upwards. Time the press properly - the log should be clearing your head at about the same time as your legs are straightening. Momentum and triceps power should now lock out the press.


    The Rebend

    If you lack the power to lock out the log, try REBENDING the knees (if allowed by competition rules). To execute this, after the log is over your head and is slowing to a stop, unlock the knees and DROP BENEATH the log quickly. The log will stay where it is, but you will now have your arms locked out, with your knees bent. Now, simply stand up for legal lockout.


    Power Jerk/Split Jerk

    The Power Jerk and the Split Jerk are methods derived from the Olympic lifts. These methods require a great deal of practice and coaching to acquire the necessary skills, and will not be covered here at this time.

    NOTE: Don't watch the log as it clears your head. Keep looking forward and push your head through your arms to help lock out.

    6.2      Farmers Walk

    Short article from Jason Keen.


    Stance

    Try to lean forward. At the lift off, start walking as soon as the weights are moving up. Don't wait to lockout before moving, as this just wastes time. Use your body weight and the weight of the farmers to make you move faster. Keep "soft" knees; e.g. don't let your knees lock. Try to actually bring your knees up with each step. If you can move quickly, grasp the farmers handles towards the back. The implement will tip forward, and will pull you with it. Of you have a good grip but move slowly, hold the handles towards the front for a more stable walk.

    Fixed handle farmers: When you grip, bend your wrists before you grasp the handle so that you get the bar way into your hand. Your palm will hold the weight (the skin of the palm will pull down a bit and wrap around the bar), not just the fingers. Close your hand and press against your forefinger and middle finger with your thumb. Keep your wrists bent a bit, and this should lock your grip in place. It will hurt afterwards, but it works.

    Revolving handle farmers: use a hook grip. This WILL hurt until you get used to it.


    Turning

    Approach the turn a bit wide. As you begin the turn, try to slightly advance the outside implement, and retard (hold back) the inside implement. Bring your arms back to center as you straighten out. This should help pull you into a straight line and prevent the implements from swinging wildly.


    The "No-Turn" Turn

    If allowed in the competition, once you reach the line, cross it, Take a step at an angle backwards and you should find your self pointing in the right direction.


    Breathing

    Breathing should be in short spurts. Don't forget, you must keep your core tight.


    Speed Training

    Timed sprints, short course


    Strength Training

    Very heavy farmers, short course


    Contest Training

    Use heavier-than-contest weight on a course similar to the contest course.


    Supporting Exercises

    Traps and rhomboids - shrugs and upper back work

    Hip flexors and abs - weighted situps, ankle drags with a sled.

    Glutes and Hamstrings - Good Mornings, Romanian DLs, SLDLs, step-ups, GHRs, Reverse Hypers.

    Calves - Standing Calf Raises, Explosive (Dynamic) shrugs

    6.3      Stones


    The author, loading a 285 lb stone to a 59" platform. My method is to straddle the stone and clasp it in my arms, with the fingers on both hands spread out, then perform what is basically a stiff-legged deadlft, bringing the knees together after the stone has cleared them. It is important to not sit back too far when the stone is in your lap! If necessary, quickly reposition hands/arms, dropping them below the centreline of the stone and ensuring that the stone is resting above the "shelf" of the gut. Then, pulling the stone into the chest, explode upwards, thrusting the hips forward, rolling the stone up the chest and extending backwards. A quick movement of the torso forward should be enough to pop the stone onto the platform, as the momentum will carry it up and forward.

    Atlas Stone Training article - by Clint Darden



    Steve Kirit recommends sets of sandbag rows to improve your stone-gripping strength, and I can personally testify that these help immensely. Jesse Marunde suggests that you use tacky as little as possible, training only with chalk.

    Tacky Tips

    When you are ready to use tacky, it is available at Jackal's Gym. You may wish to quickly shave the inner portions of your forearms prior to applying the tacky. After lifting, there are several compounds that will remove it from your skin. I've found that the best one for "the field" is GOJO Cream Hand Cleaner (for removing grease, tar and oil). Apply generously, rinse with water, wipe with towel. Other methods include WD40, Goo-Gone and baby oil (nicer on the skin if you are scraped up and bleeding).


    6.4      Carries & Conans

    Conan's Wheel - Tips (Courtesy of Stetch at the P&B)

  • Feet wide
  • Set up as close to the end of the bar as possible
  • Elbows wide
  • Lock your hands together so that your hands are as close to your body as you can make them
  • Take a HUGE breath - hold it
  • Look UP
  • Lift
  • Bring your feet together (I like to bring the inside to the outside)
  • Start walking - be sure you are stable before you go
  • KEEP LOOKING UP
  • Go like hell, hold your breath for the first three steps, then try to take some tiny breaths (you can't go deep or you lose it all) and keep your speed as constant and CONTROLLED as you can
  • KEEP LOOKING UP, don't look down, to the side, or anywhere else. HEAD UP!
  • go till you drop
  • 6.5      Tire Flip

    TIRE FLIP TECHNIQUES

  • Tire Shape


  • Tire shapes vary wildly, so the technique used might vary between styles - and tire weights. The best option is to practice with as many different types of tires as you can, to prepare yourself for whatever you may encounter.


  • Tread


  • Ensure before you start flipping that you check the treads. Find treads that are a suitable height and distance apart to accomodate your stance. You may have to jam your hands between the tread or edge of the tire and the ground.


  • Stances


  • Several different styles are used, depending upon the tire style, weight, and your own strengths. All three of the following stances are simply ways to achieve the "first pull".


    First Pull:


  • Sumo Stance


  • -better suited for people who are more explosive at the top of the lift. Feet close to the tire, in a rounded-back position. Bend down quickly and pop hips up and forward towards the tire.


  • Close stance snatch grip


  • -better suited for people who are more explosive at the bottom of the lift. Bend down quickly and pop hips up and forward towards the tire.


  • Superman stance


  • Feet about 4 feet away from the tire, almost horizontal to start. Start lift with feet parallel to each other. Drive with power leg, then step with the opposite leg. Be explosive -- momentum is your ally. You should now be standing erect with one end of the tire about 3 feet off the ground.

    Don't pause between positions - this all should be one seamless movement!


    Second Pull:

    Once the weight is past the hips, drop down and change your hand position to a "push press" stance. Simultaneously, drive into the tire with your knee/thigh to keep the momentum going. Get the tire to a vertical position, then push the tire down to the ground. If the event is for flips/time, just give it enough of a push to drop it. If the event is for distance, give it a hefty shove, and the tire will move a few extra feet. This may be enough to save you a full flip over the entire course.

    Tire Flip Video - a step-by-step explanation from Mark Phillipi. right-click, select "Save As"

    6.6     Truck Pull

    HARNESS PULL

    The start:

  • body at about a 45 degree angle to the ground
  • feet well apart and splayed out, legs slightly bent
  • "fall forward" to use your bodyweight for assistance
  • If you have a guide rope, start with your arms about 1.5' in front of your body - begin pulling towards your lower abdominal area
  • if you aren't using a guide rope, imagine that you are climbing a rock wall -- your entire body almost hugging the wall
  • contract your abs - bring your upper body towards your thighs
  • straighten your legs - the truck should be moving, your hips and upper body should be low and parallel to the ground and well in front of your feet
  • once the truck is moving well, your feet should be brought closer together - short, quick, powerful steps using the quads to drive forward
  • keep looking down the entire time - try to follow an imaginary straight line on the ground


  • HAND-OVER HAND PULL

    The start:

  • let the spotter know towards what side they should take up the excess rope
  • stand up with a slight backwards lean
  • take up as much slack in the rope as possible
  • with arms fully extended and legs slightly bent, "fall backward" to use your bodyweight for assistance
  • when your butt meets the ground, pull the rope as if you are performing a sumo deadlift
  • your legs should straighten at the same time that your back reaches full extension
  • quickly "swarming" up the rope, reposition your hands as you sit up and slide forward
  • continue to achieve full extension on your pulls

    Return to Top

    7.     Your First Competition

    Try to eat cereal, milk and dry toast for breakfast, with fruit juice. Your nerves will probably be acting up a bit. Not to worry, that's normal -- take an antacid tablet 20 minutes before the competition starts, if necessary. Stay hydrated -- take small sips of sports drink throughout the day. Try not to consume any carbs in the two hours before the competition starts. Your sports drinks should contain 6 - 8% carbs (preferably two types, like glucose and fructose), electrolytes, salt and creatine monohydrate.

    Here's some things that you may not think of, but you'll wish you had thought to bring.

  • A cooler filled with diced fruit that can be eaten by hand (apples, melons etc.)
  • lots of water/Gatorade-type drink and a few protein shakes
  • granola bars
  • a sandwich to munch on, in case the contest goes longer than expected
  • a lawn chair, in case the promoter doesn't bring enough
  • wraps, straps, belts, chalk, tacky etc.
  • spare towel, hand cleaner for tacky removal (GOJO)
  • Suntan lotion, hat, first aid kit (bandages, adhesive tape, super glue or NuSkin in case you tear a callous)
  • A spare shirt to wear home


  • For the week leading up to the comp, abstain from alcohol. The last heavy training session should be 7 days before the comp; reduce training load by 50% every two days after that. Carb loading should be started four days before the competition, unless you are close to your weight limit.

    Good luck - have a great time!

    Return to Top

    About The Author


    Grant Buhr is an active strongman competitor, and is currently the Executive Director of the Ontario Strongman Association, as well as the webmaster of ontariostrongman.ca.

    He wishes to gratefully acknowledge the training and input provided by Ryan Green and Travis Lyndon.

    Please note that this document is dynamic in nature, and will be undergoing numerous changes and updates as time goes on.

    Copyright (c) 2004, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2011 by Grant Buhr. All rights reserved.




    Home | Competitions | Results | Athletes | Promoters | Resources | Links | Boards