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The complete guide to strongman training, equipment and competitions part 1

Der vollständige Ratgeber zum Thema Strongman Training, Equipment und Wettkämpfen Teil 1

This guide covers the following topics:

  • What kind of training is needed for Strongman competitions?
  • How you should choose your Strongman competition.
  • What items to include in your training bag.
  • How to deal with training related injuries.
  • What are the 9 main Strongman disciplines and how are they performed?


This guide is designed to introduce you to the sport of Strongman. In this guide I will describe training methods, how to prepare for competitions, what criteria you should use to choose a competition and what you should do at such a competition. This guide is not intended to be exhaustive, but more of an introduction to the sport.

What is the strongman sport?

What exactly is this sport? In many ways, strongman sport is a kind of time travel back to the days of circus athletes and traveling strength athletes. Strongman is a strength sport, but unlike weightlifting and powerlifting, the competition disciplines vary greatly. In strongman competitions, you may have to perform deadlifts log presses or overhead axle presses on reps after a max attempt. Or you may have to perform partial repetitions of squats with hundreds of kilos or a deep squat with maximum weight and then run with relatively light objects. Strongman is a brutal display of physical strength, endurance and willpower.

We've all seen superhuman-looking mass monsters on TV lifting enormous stones and pulling entire trains. Compare this to the weightlifting you've seen at the Olympics or the powerlifting you've seen at competitions and you'll begin to understand what makes this sport so unique. Variety. Just being strong at a few exercises is not enough to be successful. You need to be strong, have the right technique and be able to adapt to whatever is asked of you.

This leads us to what can be a hugely important issue - the mentality of a strongman. To enjoy the sport, you need to be adaptable, dynamic and a little crazy. Sane people simply don't do deadlifts with cars on reps. Most people stop when they get calluses on their hands. You have to want to succeed so badly that you ignore the pain to learn every event that may come and you have to go beyond failure. If that sounds like fun to you, then I have a sport for you. And keep in mind that this is not just a sport for men. There are plenty of strongwomen too!

Before you start strongman training

When you start looking into this sport, you should keep the following in mind: You need to be strong. This may sound more than obvious, but if you don't have a solid strength base, you will most likely injure yourself during training or competition. Aside from the safety aspect, it takes a tremendous amount of strength to lift a car or pull a truck.

If you're not already doing squats at 140 kilos, bench presses at 100 kilos and deadlifts at 180 kilos, then you should spend a few more months on a solid beginner program to develop the strength you need to really train for this sport. I promise you that it will be much more fun if you can do at least one repetition of each exercise.

Can you already do squats, bench presses and deadlifts with weights beyond my minimum requirements? And believe me, these are absolute minimums. Then the next question is what your fitness level is like. If you're already out of breath by the time you've got another pack of bacon out of the fridge, how are you going to manage to run with 300+ kilos on your back or lift barrels into a truck?

You don't have to be in the top 10 in a 5000 meter run, but you should have some basic fitness, otherwise you won't be able to recover sufficiently between events in a competition - let alone perform well in an event over a maximum distance with a heavy weight.

The good news is that strongman training is an excellent workout for your cardiovascular condition in itself. Recent studies have even shown that it is superior to traditional cardio training when it comes to burning fat and maintaining existing muscle mass.

Last but not least, you should know what you are getting yourself into. It's a rough and tough sport. You will hurt yourself. You're going to drop something heavy on your foot, sprain your ankle, tear a muscle fiber in your leg, sprain your spine, get a nasty sunburn, pull your hamstring, dislocate your shoulder, hurt your biceps or whatever. One or all of these things can happen to you.

But it's no worse than American football, basketball or MMA. If these disciplines sound like fun to you and if you love heavy weights and being strong in every aspect, then this is your sport. If you just want to be muscular and bulky but are afraid to do deadlifts because your mom's fitness trainer said it's bad for your back, then do some self-discovery and think about opening a vegan tapas store or taking up knitting.

Choosing a strongman competition

You've made it this far. You've decided that you'd like to be a strongman. Go to one of the strongman websites, choose a competition, sign up and put together your plan.

I would suggest you pick a competition now rather than training for a discipline, as most readers probably don't have easy access to a real weight room. Most commercial gyms will not be able to provide you with the specialized equipment you need. Research your competition options and find out what disciplines are required. Find a nearby competition that plays to your strengths. Find something with heavy pulls if that's easy for you. The same goes for strong pushers - find a competition with heavy pushing disciplines.

I save specific training for different disciplines for a later area as this will become extensive. The sheer number of different disciplines will make this section grow quickly and I would rather you use this section as a reference than go through it here.

Strongman Competition Preparation

This is not bodybuilding. No one here is interested in your six-pack. For your first competition, you don't need to worry about definition, mass gain, body recomposition, weight classes or anything along those lines. Train, eat, regenerate and get strong. Of course, that's no excuse to get hugely fat and it's also no excuse to stop eating as much as you need to. Just relax and train like an animal.

I've covered this before, but here it is again. Use this time to get as strong as you can. Your descending sets of leg extensions with 37 reps are completely useless at this point. Spend your time and energy in the weight room training with heavy barbell basic exercises. Squats, presses and deadlifts. Train for repetitions and maximum single attempts. Train barbell curls and hammer curls. What? Curls? Yes, train curls. Don't overdo it, but ignoring your biceps is a great way to tighten them up.

If you train properly, you should be exhausted and ravenous after your session (okay, it may take an hour or two for the nausea to fade and you to get hungry, but it will happen). This is not the time for chicken breasts and broccoli, as long as you don't garnish them with cheese, bacon and more cheese. You need food. Within reason of course, but if you're eating 2000 kcal a day during a Strongman race prep, you better be a 150 cm tall woman.

I want to see you eating at least 3000 kcal per day in the form of good quality food such as poultry, minced meat, rice, potatoes, good cheese, bacon, butter and lots of vegetables. Personally, I stop at 3000 kcal a day and it feels restrictive to eat so little - so I don't want to hear any moaning about how hard it is to eat so much. No one is forcing you to eat. Be admirable or don't.

Practice the exercises/movements as often as possible. If you know there will be a deadlift from a height of 45 centimeters at your competition, load a trap bar with 300 kilos and perform deadlifts from blocks. Try a fat grip bar if you don't have access to an axle. Wrap towels around a Swiss bar (see below) to mimic a yoke (log) for pressing and perform farmer's walks with dumbbells if that's all that's within your reach. Do whatever it takes to get used to the disciplines you will face.

Consider doing these exercises on a weekend day, separate from your training. However, be careful not to overextend yourself. You may need to reduce the volume of your standard training program during competition preparation.

Your first Strongman competition

You've chosen your competition, you've trained hard, you've eaten well and today is your big day. Today you become a strongman. But let's go back in time 24 hours and go through some of the things you should do, what you shouldn't do and what you should bring to your competition.

Eat normally the day and evening before the competition. Don't overeat and don't eat anything unusual. The last thing you want is stomach problems during the deadlift. Don't worry about your weight on competition day. Save it for your third or fourth competition. Pack your bag the night before. Here is a list of things I would recommend:

The minimum kit

  • Weightlifting belt - a good solid belt is always a good idea
  • Bandages - wrist and knee bandages if you are using them
  • Grip aids - This is not the time for demagoguery - you can move more weight with them, so use them
  • Chalk/talc - Improves your grip and friction on your back during yoke walks
  • Shoes - Forget your chucks! Pack something with good grip
  • Water - no less than 2 liters
  • Food - Strongman competitions can last a long time. Bring some protein bars and a sandwich

Sensible things

  • Sunscreen
  • Extra clothing
  • Warm clothing for competitions during fall and winter
  • Extra underwear
  • A first aid kit
  • Ammonia
  • Painkillers

Advanced items

  • Squat suit
  • Deadlift suit
  • Deadlift shoes
  • Climbing shoes
  • Heavy hiking boots
  • Baby powder

Make sure you pack at least the minimum equipment and I can only recommend that you also take the items on the sensible items list. Most people reading this don't need to worry about the items on the advanced items list, but if you have specific equipment for powerlifting training then you can of course take this with you if your competition allows its use. Remember to check the rules!

Okay, we're back on competition day. Get there early. Don't worry about your weight, just show up healthy. Relax. This is going to be a long day - save your energy and frenzy for the actual disciplines. Listen to the rules being gone over at the athletes' meeting and don't be afraid to ask questions. Play around with the equipment if you can. This is much easier if you show up early. But don't exhaust yourself. And last but not least: Have fun and give it your all!

After the competition

Congratulations, you've made it. It doesn't matter whether you came first or last or whether you looked like a Jack Russell Terrier pulling on a pillow during the tire flip. You took a chance and you got through it. And now go and eat something. I recommend your favorite pizzeria. 2 large pizzas and one for the way home. Or whatever you like to eat. Have a good time, eat a lot, laugh with friends, relive the good parts.

After you've finished celebrating, it's time to analyze your strengths and weaknesses. Was your push as good as you thought? Did you manage the tire flip with the 300 kilo tire with ease? Go through the competition discipline by discipline - preferably on video if possible. Learn from it. And then take a week off from training. Just eat and regenerate. You will be dead tired and injury prone straight after a competition - recover and let your body heal before you go back to training. Then choose your next competition and start training again.

What happens after this?

After your competition, you have many options. If you're like me, you'll have numbers and programs running through your head and you won't know what to do for a week or so. This will pass and the fire will quickly return. Then you have some options on how to continue.

Stay strongman

If you enjoyed the competition and the disciplines and want to continue training in this way - great - I'm glad another dedicated athlete has found their way into the sport. However, don't expect me to make it easy for you now. Keep in mind that you have chosen one of the hardest sports to train for. Look for strongman and powerlifter weight rooms in your area. If there are none, have your own equipment made and open your own weight room - or move. If you're serious about this sport, you'll do whatever it takes.

Start with powerlifting

If you enjoyed the static strength disciplines but didn't like all that running around and think you should try powerlifting, then do it! Powerlifting requires less specialized equipment, which is especially true for the beginner stage, so finding a decent gym or weight room will be a little easier - though not much easier.

Go for bodybuilding

Strongman is an excellent way to do conditioning training for bodybuilding. If strongman competitions are not for you, but you like to be muscular and defined, then enter a bodybuilding competition.

Go home

If you're not cut out for weightlifting competitions, that's okay too. There's nothing wrong with just working out in the gym to develop a good body and stay active. However, if I catch you doing curls on my squat rack, then God bless you ;-).

How you should deal with injuries

Whole books could be written on this topic and I'm sure they already have been. Here is a quick and brief treatment of the topic. There are a number of injuries that you can sustain in strongman sports. I'll go through some of the severities of injuries and give you recommendations on what to do and what you should do.

Very minor:

  • Skin abrasions on the shins during deadlifts
    • Curse quietly to yourself (there may be children present) and wash it off if you can


  • A pulled muscle, a broken finger, a cracked tooth
    • As above, but find the broken piece of tooth for your trophy collection. Treat the injury with ice later


  • Minor muscle (fiber) tears, sprains, dislocations
    • Ice, pressure, painkillers. Consider not competing again until you are fully ready to set a new best performance


  • A torn muscle, a torn tendon, a compound fracture
    • As above. Withdraw from competition until you are ready to set a national or world record

In the second part of this article, I will discuss the most important disciplines in strongman competitions and explain what you need to pay attention to.


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