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Competing in a strong man competition is something more people are doing. It could be because they’ve seen the old clips of Franco Columbu running with a refrigerator on his back, were impressed with the strength, athleticism, and physique of 5x World’s Strongest Man Mariusz Pudzianowski, or are just in awe of the now 3x World’s Strongest Man, 420lbs behemoth that is American Brian Shaw. This article will show you a couple ways to get ready for your first strong man competition.
Even though almost any strong man competition you choose to enter will have weight classes, that doesn’t mean you don’t still want to be as strong as possible. This starts in the gym. You’ll want to not only build as much strength as you can, but focus on exercises that will have the greatest carryover to strong man competition events.
The bench press might be popular in the gym, but it’s almost never done in strong man events, so don’t put too much focus on it. Instead, emphasize the overhead press and its variants as there’s almost always some sort of overhead event. This could be a log clean and press, lever clean & press, or axle clean & press. You’ll want to be able to press your bodyweight if you weigh 230lbs or less, and at least 270lbs if you weigh more than 230.
There’s also almost always some sort of deadlift event, too. This could be an actual barbell deadlift, pulling an axle or truck wheels, or deadlifting a car on a giant lever. Squatting isn’t as important as deadlifting, but there’s often some sort of squat-based event, too. Either way, being able to squat and deadlift 2.25-2.5x your bodyweight should ensure that you have enough base strength to be competitive.
Unlike powerlifting and Olympic lifting which are both contested literally one rep at a time, almost every event in a strong man competition includes some sort of conditioning element. Whether you’re loading atlas stones, doing farmer’s walks, or pulling a truck, you’re going to have to have conditioning. The less you’re sucking wind, the more – and longer – you’ll be able to utilize your strength.
Although conditioning is vitally important, you don’t need to do too much of it, either. Too much time spent on conditioning can hinder your strength improvements. You’ll want to be training the actual strong man events (see the next section), and doing so can act almost as a “built-in” conditioning session. One additional conditioning workout plus some easy aerobic walking each week (see the sample workout below) is more than enough.
If you ever want to place well in a strong man competition, you’re going to have to train the actual events themselves. You’d not try to play football or enter an MMA fight without actually practicing, and a strong man competition is no different. While serious strength and conditioning are both needed, you need skills in the events themselves to do well.
Strong man events are a bit of a double-edged sword in that they’re really hard to mimic unless you have access to the actual implements used. This means either having to purchase them yourself or finding a gym that has them, which isn’t always easy. On the flip side, the implements and weights are usually universal.
There really are a lot of ways you could lay out a strong man workout, depending on how strong you are, how experienced you are with strong man implements, and when you’re able to practice the events. But here is a sample weekly layout that could work well:
You’ll also want to do one interval training workout per week. Choose from sprints at the park, hill sprints, or 20-30 minutes of 30 seconds on / 30 seconds off intervals done on your favorite piece of cardio equipment. You can do this on any day you like besides Saturday. Also adding in 30 minutes of easy walking for additional aerobic benefit and recovery 2-3x/week whenever you like would be a good idea.
The NAS (North American Strongman) and USS (United States Strongman) are the two biggest amateur strong man sanctioning bodies and routinely hold contests you could enter. You can go to their websites to find out about upcoming competitions in your area. This is how you’d find out about the registration process, fees, and more.
You’ll also get information on which strong man events will be contested in each competition. This is important as you’ll want to be sure that you’re actually strong enough to compete. There should be five events per competition, and you’ll want to be strong enough to competitively perform three or four of them. If you’re not, spend some more time training before entering a contest.
One other thing to consider is if you should enter the “novice” or “open” division. More often than not, the novice division is your better choice if you’re brand new to competing in strong man. However, if you know by looking at the event information on the NAS or USS websites that you’re strong enough to likely be an “easy” winner in the novice class, then choose the open division.
If you have a chance to train for and compete in a strong man competition, you should do it. You’ll be more well-rounded, it’ll be a new experience, and you’ll probably have fun. The workouts don’t have to deviate too far from what you might already be doing and chances are you’ll meet some great new friends along the way.