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Strongman Training for the Average Joe

Pillar of Strength

WARNING!
The exercises and content expressed in this column are for illustrative purposes only. Consult your physician before trying any physical activity or nutritional plan. RECOIL and its contributors are not responsible for any harm or injuries sustained while attempting these techniques.

We’ve all seen the behemoths on TV performing insane feats of strength: pulling an 18-wheeler, deadlifting an axle with several large tires attached, or carrying a huge stone for distance. Some of these seem inconceivable. For the vast majority of us, they absolutely are, but what we can take away from these incredible performances are concepts and a style of training that can lead to tremendous gains in strength. For others, it’ll change things up a bit and give you some much-needed variation in your training. Enter strongman training for the average joe.

Components of Strongman Training

When considering strongman training, you might be thinking that it’s not for you; maybe for others, but it’s just too hard core for you. This really couldn’t be further from the truth. There are several factors making up strongman competitions that we can use in our training that will result in great progress. Varying your training regimen can be a great thing.

Now, you don’t need to rush over to Menard’s and attempt to make a gigantic stone. Nor do you need to figure out how you’re going to get the axle off of your car. We’ll use what we can in a typical gym or training facility to get the same effect. Let’s go over some of the basics of strongman training, and then create a game plan that’ll have you well on your way to great strength gains.

One of the first commonalities in strongman training is simplicity. Many programs involve few exercises with many sets, based on just a few types of movements. Secondly, heavy weights are obviously a large aspect of the program. You won’t become the World’s Strongest Man with sets of dumbbell curls for 15 reps. We’re usually talking heavy sets of two or three repetitions. There are definitely variations, but strength is built with low reps and more sets.

Strongman Training for the Average Joe photo
Next, grip training is an absolute must. Pulling a truck or deadlifting a car or truck axle requires a ridiculous amount of grip strength. This is often accomplished with thicker bars and handles, simply changing your grip to make holding weight more challenging, or just lifting a lot of weight.

Most of these strongman events involve some sort of time component. These guys are pulling something, carrying something, or holding something for a length of time. Based on the mathematical equation for power (force multiplied by distance divided by time), one could make a convincing argument these competitions should be called the World’s Most Powerful Man. In any case, completing exercises for time is a critical component for strongman training, and it should be part of your strongman training.

Strongman training tends to include static holds and concentric lifts (lifting, not lowering, the weight), so including that type of training will better mimic strongman-style training. Examples of lifts like this include pulling a truck, holding a heavy object in each hand, or lifting boulders and placing them on pedestals. In doing this type of lifting, the exercises such as deadlifting, tire flipping, or moving a huge weight overhead involve the entire body. So, we’ll look to mimic this as well.

Exercises You Can Do With Regular Gym Equipment

Not many of us have spare tractor tires lying around or boulders to lift. While that tends to be what these guys lift in competition, you can get a great strength benefit without figuring out the logistics of shipping a boulder to your house. Much of the equipment at your local gym or training facility has everything you need. Let’s break down these types of lifts, and give you options to do on your own.

Conventional/Sumo Deadlift

This is an easy one. These guys typically lift an axle with huge tires attached. While it may not look as impressive, you can certainly use a bar and regular weights to do the same thing. Vary up the stance so you’re getting a good mix of conventional and sumo stances in your deadlifts.

1. Conventional/Sumo Deadlift

Strongman Training for the Average Joe photo

> Start by standing with your shins touching the barbell and your feet about one-and-a-half times shoulder-width apart. Your toes should also be pointed out a bit.

Strongman Training for the Average Joe photo

> Sit your hips back while reaching forward to keep your spine in a neutral position.

Strongman Training for the Average Joe photo

> Grab the bar in between your knees about shoulder-width apart. Your hands should be directly underneath your shoulders.

Strongman Training for the Average Joe photo

> Drive your feet into the floor, focusing on pushing the bar off the ground, not pulling it with your back. Squeeze your butt at the top and bring your hips to the bar.

Strongman Training for the Average Joe photo

> Lower the weight back to the starting position, while keeping your back flat.

2. Barbell Overhead Press

This is another pretty easy exercise to do on your own. Strongman competitors lift gigantic logs overhead, which can easily be replicated in the gym with a regular Olympic bar and plates. Generally speaking, this exercise shouldn’t pose a problem, but you have to know your body. If you can’t get your arms over your head without arching your lower back, that’s an issue. It’s recommended, at the very least, that you use dumbbells to give your shoulders freedom of movement. If that hurts, or you still notice your back arching, go to a single-arm dumbbell overhead press or nix the exercise altogether.

Strongman Training for the Average Joe photo

> Begin in a standing position with the bar 1 to 2 inches below your collarbone, and push your elbows slightly forward and inward.

Strongman Training for the Average Joe photo

> Begin driving the bar overhead by generating power through your elbows, not your hands. There’s a definite distinction. As you begin to press the bar past your face, imagine pushing yourself away from the bar as hard as you can.

Strongman Training for the Average Joe photo

> Push your head and shoulders under the bar as you reach the top position.

Strongman Training for the Average Joe photo

> Return the bar to the starting position.

3. Loaded Carry

Strongman Training for the Average Joe photo

Strongman Training for the Average Joe photo

Strongman Training for the Average Joe photo

Loaded carries are another staple in strongman training, as well as strength and conditioning. These can be great for building overall body strength and muscle, enhancing core stability, improving shoulder health, and increasing your conditioning. Whether it’s a large stone, a keg, or some other object, carrying something heavy for a distance is always in the training program. We can easily do carries that yield some great benefits. Our carries of choice are the barbell carry, trap bar carry, and Zercher carry. This will give you some options and variation in your training.

4. Sled Work

Strongman Training for the Average Joe photo

Strongman Training for the Average Joe photo

Strongman Training for the Average Joe photo

Pulling or pushing something heavy is another common exercise and does a great job building leg strength, endurance, faster sprinting, and overall conditioning. Whereas pulling a truck might be pretty common, we’ll pull or push a weighted sled. These are harder to find at traditional gyms but are becoming more common in private fitness facilities and personal training gyms. For the sled, we’ll focus on pushing the sled, pulling the sled with a suspension trainer attached, and pulling the sled with a harness.

Sled and Carry Combinations

Strongman Training for the Average Joe photo

What happens when you combine sled work and carries? You get several of the benefits of each all at once — strength, stability, power, and conditioning all wrapped up in one. Pull the sled with a harness and two heavy dumbbells in your hands. It’s very challenging and also very beneficial.

Sample Programming
Exercise Sets Repetitions Rest (Seconds)
Conventional Sumolift 6 3 120-180
Barbell Overhead Press 4 4 90-120
Loaded Carry 4 30 Yards 90-120
Sled Push 4 30 Yards 120-180

Conclusion

This type of training is sure to deliver some great strength gains. After all, if you’re going to take any tips from people on building strength, it only makes sense to learn from the best. Implement these exercises within your own program, or feel free to use this article as a sample of how to structure your training. Either way, you’ll get a hell of a lot stronger.

Places to Buy Strongman Equipment

Strongman Training for the Average Joe photo

Rogue Fitness
Rogue is fairly well known as being integrated into CrossFit, but they also have a good strongman following. Anything you need related to strongman training can be found here.
www.roguefitness.com

Elite FTS
Elite FTS also has a strong following not only for powerlifting and strongman training equipment, but also for education. This is a great resource to pick up some supplies while learning more about strongman training.
www.elitefts.com

About The Author

Ryne Gioviano is the owner of Achieve Personal Training & Lifestyle Design located in Aurora, Illinois. He earned his master’s degree in exercise physiology and is a certified personal trainer through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. You can find more information at www.achieve-personaltraining.com or reach him on Twitter at @rgioviano.


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