Introduction To Strongman Competitions
By trevorkashey Athletic Xtreme
Strongman is a sport that most everyone is familiar with, but very few know much about. It’s not all a bunch of giant European monsters with polysyllabic names. Although those are the guys you are most likely to see on television, strongman is actually a very accessible sport to the individual on the local, state, and even national level. It is all the same fun looking events (scaled, of course), along with a tight knit community of athletes who are more likely to cheer you on to hit a personal best than not, even if it means you beat them.
Where do I compete?
The governing body of all official strongman contests in the US is North American Strongman, Inc (NAS). This following website has all the official contest announcements and entry forms (updated frequently). If you traveled, you could compete in a contest every weekend if you wanted!
When you look up a contest in your state, call or zap an e-mail to the contest promoter. The community is tight-knit enough that it will be easy for him (or her) to refer you to a gym (or more likely, a crew of guys) that have all the equipment you need to start kicking ass. It isn’t uncommon for people to store goodies in their garage and drag them out to the cul de sac on weekends, or to just run a very small private gym out of a storage unit. Most all crews welcome newcomers and enjoy promoting the growth of the sport of strongman.
The 4 Key Components of Strongman
Strongman can be categorized into two main motions (and several other important factors) that should be the building blocks of all your strength programming.
1. The Overhead Press or Push Press.
Bench press has it’s place as an accessory movement to the overhead press in strongman, but if you can’t push it over your head nobody cares! Strongman is less about aesthetics and more about performance and horsepower. Not that a set of cannonball delts ever hurt anyone.
2. The Deadlift
In strongman, damn near every single event starts out with the implement on the ground. The first thing you have to do is pick it up! If you don’t have a posterior chain (think hamstrings, glutes, and lower back) made of steel then you are pretty quick to get whooped!
That leads me to the third most important thing in strongman (albeit not a movement specifically)
3. Grip strength
Although some contests allow straps for a maximum deadlift event, you are not likely to see straps allowed in any of the other events. Most every contest will contain an event, or two, or three that will take your grip to the maximum, and it will likely be the limiting factor in your performance.
4. Anaerobic Capacity
Many strongman events will require you to either lift a weight for as many repetitions as you can in a given time interval, have you carry an implement for distance, or have you travel with an implement a prescribed distance for time. Having the capacity to perform exceptionally while in an anaerobic state is PARAMOUNT to being successful in strongman. Any gym rat with some time under their belt can deadlift 4 plates, but can you deadlift it 15 times in under a minute? Totally different monster.
Putting it Altogether
As your strongman interest and training matures, you will find yourself doing all sorts of funky exercises you may have never heard of or had no use for in the past. You quickly realize that function of compound movements tailored to a specific event is MUCH more useful than a typical single joint bodybuilding movement.
In bodybuilding or general weight training, most people have a schedule that relates to a body part e.g. back day, chest day, leg day. In strength sports that is typically not the case at all. When you transition from a gym rat to an athlete you quickly make the change to not just workout but to TRAIN. Not only do you train you train MOVEMENTS you don’t train a bodypart.
Similar to powerlifting you may separate your workouts in accordance to movements, such as “push” days or “pull” days. If you train with a crew, then the addition of an “event” day is also typical. Event days are great, nothing replaces the intensity and camaraderie of a group of fellas pushing you to the limit.
I, for instance, train 4 days per week. I do not have an event day in particular, but I do have a good supply of your typical strongman implements. As such, I incorporate them into my workouts as necessary, so I don’t need to dedicate an entire day to events.
I train the following way:
Mon: Posterior chain dominant push (squat)
Tues: Push (overhead press)
Thurs: Posterior chain dominant pull (deadlift)
Fri: Press accessory (isolated triceps work, light bench press, bodyweight movements, etc.)
Since strongman is SO HEAVY on the posterior chain, one has to be smart with their programming to allow recovery and supercompensation to allow one to progress. For the typical gym rat who is starting out, simply taking a powerlifting routine and replacing your bench day with an overhead day is fairly common. Although that is typical, it is not necessarily optimal.
When one trains for a sport long enough they eventually hire a coach to help with programming or find out what works for them to give them optimal performance.
I hope you enjoyed my small introduction on how to get started into the awesome sport of strongman! More information to come.