Strongman Training - Everything You Need To Know

Updated: Apr 1

The benefits – Training approach – Equipment – Diet & nutrition – Exercise tutorial


Article Contents

Introduction
Benefits of strongman training
Benefits of strength training
Strongman training approach
Strongman kit
3 Super strongmen
Strongman diet and nutrition
6 strongman exercises - masterclass tutorial
Conclusion
References

Introduction

Firstly, before we consider the how, we must clarify the why. So, why bother training like a strongman?


For starters strongman-style exercises are typically functional in nature. When executing a barrel lift or tyre flip, say, two staples of the strongman diet, a veritable legion of muscles must work in synchronicity. In addition, because the exercises are compound movements, they transition through multiple joints which improves biomechanical coordination while stimulating neuromuscular adaptations – that is, developing bigger muscles (aka hypertrophy).


It is this multi-muscular attribute of strongman exercises that forges functional physicality – that is, raw power that delivers superior performance. Something traditional gym-based static lifting is woefully inferior at doing.


In addition to augmenting one’s physical robustness, strongman training can also build mental toughness. There’s no getting away from the fact, power cleaning kegs, heaving heavy hammers, tossing tractor tyres and lumping about loadstones (if you happen to possess any), batters and bruises the body. And no one in history ever got through a strongman session without spilling blood – even if it was just a couple of drops. As a consequence of this corporal conditioning you’ll inevitably develop a durable disposition and those once challenging gym sessions will feel like a day out at a spar.


Below are some other benefits of strongman training


Improved body coordination

Functional exercises, unlike their inferior static counterparts, require that we move across unconventional planes. For example, a keg power-clean to over-head toss will engage the body in ways that singularly a clean to press could not. I see static lifting as two dimensional, whereas functional training is three dimensional.


Augmented biomechanical synchronicity

Because functional exercises require that the trainer coordinates their lumbering mass through multiple movements while transitioning three dimensions, out of necessity they will, by dint of necessity, develop mastery over their body. If not they’ll find themselves crushed under that tyre like the Wicked Witch of the West under Dorothy’s house.


Enhanced proprioception

Complex, multi-dimensional movements demand continuous conscious engagement. When performing a series of hammer tyre slams, say, you can’t lapse into a daydream – like you can with most all static exercises. The inherent complexity of functional training forces a unification of mind and body which brings about a strengthening of neural pathways: aka proprioception – aka mind body connection.


Re-correcting strength imbalances

The physical strength of the trainer who engages predominantly in static, gym-based exercises tends to represent a set of scales overladen on one side. Yes, they might boast a 220 bench, or 330 dead, or 440 squat, but when they’re required to exert force outside of a two dimensional plane their true strength shows its meek face. Picture the Adonis who, with bulging biceps and an inflated chest, can scarcely perform a single tyre flip without inducing cardiac arrest.


Functional exercises, on the other hand, which are the hallmark of strongman training, develop the body in unison and strength imbalances are quickly exposed. Two logical outcomes follow from this: 1) the trainer gives up and goes back to the gym; 2) the trainer perseveres and in so doing rectifies the imbalances. Picture Atlas, on whose shoulders rests the world.


Strongman kit is relatively cheap and surprisingly easy to procure

Contrary to popular opinion you don’t need to spend a fortune on strongman equipment. For precisely zero pounds I procured a 150kg tyre, 65kg aluminium beer keg (minus the beer) and a decent sled. How? You may well ask. Simple. While out cycling I spotted a disused tractor tyre in a farmyard. I asked the farmer politely if he mind me having it. He didn’t. I cycled straight home, got my better half to drive me back and I subsequently rolled that tyre 3 miles back home. Yeah, I got some right dodgy looks, but you can’t pass-up an opportunity for quality training kit!


The barrel I ‘appropriated’ from a derelict pub and, as for the sled, I got a friend of mine, a plumber by trade, to weld it together from factory offcuts and half-inch thick cast-iron plates.

As well as being cheap – or, if you’re prepared to scavenge, beg, borrow and steal, free – strongman equipment is eminently durable. In a thousand years’ time I’ll be little more than scattered dust, but my strongman kit will be as good as new. Especially my sled, that thing’s invincible!



Benefits of Strength Training

Strength is usually pursued as an end in and of itself. Usually because the strong man (or woman!) receives backslaps, adulation and kudos from fellow gym frequenters and the physically enfeebled. As physical attributes go strength is by far the most coveted. This has been the case for thousands of years. In the Iliad Homer sings the praises of the strong man and it was Hercules’ strength alone that carried his name through the ages.


However, when acquired in this mind-set – to be strong because it carries considerable social coin – strength is almost worthless. Honestly, in the real world when’s Billy Big Arms ever going to called-up to curl 100kees?


But when used to enhance performance in activities – such as a physical discipline like swimming or rowing – augmented strength is highly beneficial. Watson cites a study showing performance gains made by elite level athletes after adopting strength training techniques. A mere ‘four weeks of strength training produced a 19 per cent increase in power which resulted in a 4 per cent improvement in swimming speed.’ For a performance athlete a 4% improvement is enormous.


Purported benefits of strength training include

Increased muscle mass
Increased strength
Stronger tendon and ligaments
Increased metabolic rate
Anti-ageing benefits
Reduced fat
Increased one density
Reduced blood pressure
Reduced blood cholesterol and blood fats
Improved posture
Reduction in injury susceptibility
Improved psychological well-being
Improved appearance

(List adapted from Anita Bean’s Strength Training: The Complete Guide To)



Strongman Training Approach

Now that we’ve considered the many benefits associated with strongman exercises, let’s turn our attention to training approaches. However, there’s one crucial point to bear in mind before embarking on a strongman-style training programme; and that is: heavy lifting places greater stress on the body thus, if you fail to execute near flawless form and/or train too often, you are more likely to incur an injury. To reduce injury susceptibility ensure always to:


1) Thoroughly warm-up before engaging in strongman/strength training
2) Progressively increase loads throughout the session
3) Master the lifting techniques on lighter loads first
4) Ensure to rest for 1 to 2 days between strongman sessions
5) Employ the support of a training partner if possible
6) Provide the body with adequate, quality nutrition post training (to aid recover)
7) Implement a post-session rehabilitation routine
8) DO NOT EVER try to lift more than you are physically capable
9) And always value the quality of the lift over the load lifted

To start a strongman training programme you will of course need access to the appropriate equipment. If you haven’t followed in my footsteps, and gone out on the pinch, below the programme I have included number of links to strongman kit that you can buy (see below).


But assuming that you do have access to a range of different training items, below you will find a 4-Week Strongman Training Programme based around that of a professional strongman competitor. For those who have been used to gym training, CrossFit of circuit training, the programme will appear a little parsimonious; that is, it doesn’t contain a great deal of exercises, reps and sets. There’s a reason for this.


The training protocol for improving strength is to reduce sets and repetitions while increasing loads and rest periods between lifts. Arnold Schwarzenegger said that to develop his impressive size and strength he ‘included a lot of heavy’ lifting in his routine and, he tells us, when trying to build strength and size, ‘you need to train according to basic power principals – fewer reps and sets, more rest between sets, but with increased poundage,’ (The Encyclopaedia Of Modern Bodybuilding – p.493).


Also, unlike, perhaps, cardiovascular and muscular endurance training, which require considerable volume to make noticeable physical development, significant strength gains can be achieved with surprisingly few weekly sessions.


For example, Anita Bean (2008), in her book The Complete Guide to Strength Training, cites research showing ‘that a basic weight training programme lasting just 25 minutes, three times a week, can increase muscle mass by about 1kg over an eight-week period, while lean mass gains of 20 per cent of your starting body weight are common after the first year of training.’


So, in summary, when transitioning from a more involved training routine to that of one predicated on strength/strongman principals, it is important to curtail volume and focus more on poundage, lifting technique and, of course, rest, recover and nutrition. For as Bean (2008) put it, though often overlooked or underestimated, these all play a ‘crucial part of a strength training programme.’


(Please note: the programme is supposed only to serve as a guide and offer a generic outline of how a strongman regime could be structured.)


It stands to reason that you will encounter an exercise(s) in the 4-week plan that, for whatever reason, you are unable to perform. If this possible eventuality manifests into reality don’t sweat it! Simple substitute the exercise for one which possess comparable characteristics and similarly stimulates the body.


By way of example, let’s say that you don’t have a tyre to flip. Listen, that’s not the end of the world and other exercises can be recruited to fill the void of that tyre. A terrific whole-body strength developer – which is perhaps in some ways superior to tyre flipping – is car pushing. Yep, you read that right: car pushing. A friend of mine used to perform this exercise all the time – and he was super strong (and super strange). He’d ask the ‘missus’ to maintain a steady course and apply the breaks when appropriate, then, up and down his close, he’d push his car. Granted, there are a million and one limitations to this exercise (if it can be called that), but if you live in a quiet neighbourhood and you care not a damn about your street credibility, then this could just be the perfect replacement to tyre flips.



Strongman kit


Mirafit M1 Weight Drag Sled and Harness (£79.99)

Product Overview (click image for availability)

  • Super strong steel construction.

  • Curved edge on platform ensures plates are well protected.

  • Suitable for use on most terrains including grass, Astro turf and sand.

  • Suitable for Olympic weight plates.

  • Collapsible fold flat post for excellent portability.

  • Includes adjustable shoulder harness.


Sleds make for excellent training tools. They boast a breadth of exercise applications and are far more versatile than their simplistic design suggests. Consequently, they are one of the most underrated and underused pieces of exercise equipment available. Bit of shame that because they are stellar for developing superior whole-body physicality. And, if you’ve got access to a good stretch of grass, they can build explosive sprint performance. With Mirafit’s exceptionally well-made sled, which looks like a Robot Wars champion, you’ll soon possess the pulling strength of an ox.



Tractor Tyre EVO AGG (£175.00)

Product Overview (click image for availability)

  • Big, spherical rubber tyre.

  • Constructed from rubber!

  • Super durable.

  • Weighs a lot.






As far as quintessential strongman disciplines go, tyre flipping is perhaps second only to Atlas stones. Strongmen have been flipping tyres since there were tyres to flip. And there’s a perfectly rational reason why aspirant strongmen flip tyres. Reason: because few if any single exercise develops whole-body strength like heaving a recalcitrant spherical lump of rubber from the floor and pushing it over. In performing that single movement, which is actually an assortment of many, the major muscle groups are recruited along with every synergist in the near vicinity. In addition, if you’ve got it in you for a tyre flipping AMRAP, the muscles of the cardio-respiratory system will also receive a ruddy good workout to boot.



Mirafit ‘Hex’ Bar with Quick Release Collars (£119.00)

Product Overview (click image for availability)

  • Mirafit Standard Chrome Shrug Bar - Includes 2 orange quick release spring collars.

  • Heavy duty solid steel 16kg bar with chrome finish - Multi-grip knurled handles - for use with standard 1" weights.

  • Maximum weight capacity 300kg.

  • Measurements: length: 148cm - Sleeve length: 29cm - Centre length: 60cm - Depth: 59cm.


Hex bars are brilliant for performing deadlifts and Farmer’s walk. Because you can stand inside the hexagonal frame, the lifting position is more natural and thus more comfortable. The same cannot be said for the Olympic bar, which puts you behind the load. Consequently, when executing heavy lifts on an Olympic bar you are forced forwards which inevitably places excessive strain on the lower back. This does not happen when lifting with a hex bar.

Received lost of solid feedback: 5 stars with over 200 reviews



PELLOR Fitness Weights Sandbags (£38.99)

Product Overview (click image for availability)

  • Fillable inner-bags enables progressive load training

  • Each bag is equipped with 6 handles to provide a variety of grip options for your workout

  • The outer shell and filler bags are made from highly durable 1200D Oxford fabric which reduces leakages.



The functional fitness utility of power bags has long been recognised. In addition to being neigh on indestructible, which makes them great value for money (a common characteristic of all strongman kit), power bags can be used to develop strength, functional strength, muscular endurance, core stability and, if you dare do burpees into cleans, they’ll have your heart racing like a horny rabbit’s.


As well as offering a unique and dynamic dimension to your fitness sessions, their unique design affords the trainer multiple exercise options. For example, with a power bag you could perform conventional movements – such as squats and deadlifts – or get down and functional by integrating them into exercises like burpees and (my personal favourite) hanging snatch into over-head throw.


For more strongman kit follow the link!


3 Super Strongmen


Mariusz Pudzianowski

Born: 7 February 1977 (age 44 years), Biala Rawska, Poland

Height: 1.86 m

Weight: 119 kg


Mariusz Pudzianowski – aka the ‘Dominator’ – is widely regarded as the greatest strongman in history. This accolade is probably attributed to the fact that he has won more World’s Strongest Man titles since the sport started in 1977. In addition, Pudzianowski won two runner-up titles and a plethora of other strongman contests.


Strength Personal Bests






Eddie Hall

Born: 15 January 1988 (age 33 years), Newcastle-under-Lyme

Height: 1.9 m

Weight: 164 kg


Eddie Hall is considered the best British strongman. He won the World’s Strongest Man in 2017 – one of only two Brits to have ever done so – and took multiple titles in the UK’s Strongest Man and England’s Strongest Man. Hall was also the first human ever to pull (deadlift) 500kg (1,102lbs); a record that he famously set in 2016. This is just one of the many world records Hall has set in strong man. See extensive list below.


Strength Personal Bests

  • Deadlift world record with straps and suit – 500 kilograms (1,102 lb) (former world record)

  • Axle press – 216 kilograms (476 lb) (world record)

  • Rogue Elephant Bar Deadlift with straps – 465 kilograms (1,025 lb)

  • Deadlift with straps – 463 kilograms (1,021 lb)

  • Log lift – 213 kilograms (470 lb)

  • CrossFit Grace – 60 kilograms (132 lb) for 30 repetitions in 50 seconds (World Record)


Gym lifts

  • Squat – 405 kilograms (893 lb)

  • Bench press – 300 kilograms (661 lb) (equipped)

  • Leg press – 1,000 kilograms (2,205 lb) for 10 reps

  • Silver dollar deadlift – 536 kilograms (1,182 lb) (former world record)


Brian Shaw

Born: 26 February 1982 (age 39 years), Fort Lupton, Colorado, United States

Height: 2.03 m

Weight: 190–200 kg (419–440 lb)


Brian Shaw is perhaps the most decorated strongman in history. He has won the World’s Strongest Man 4 times while also becoming the first man to win both the Arnold Strongman Classic and World’s Strongest Man contests consecutively in the same year. He has achieved this monumental feat on two speared occasions: in 2011 and 2015. Shaw also holds multiple titles in ‘lesser’ contests: such as the Strongman Super Series (which he won 6 times), World’s Ultimate Strongman and America’s Strongest Man. To add to this impressive string of strongman success, Shaw has set numerous world record titles.


Strength records set in the gym

  • Squat – 903 lb (410 kg)

  • Bench press – 525 lb (238 kg) × 2

  • Deadlift (from blocks) – 1,091 lb (495 kg)

  • Rack Pull – 1,365 lb (619 kg)

  • Long Bar Deadlift – 1,031 lb (468 kg)

  • Log Press – 465 lb (211 kg)

  • Indoor Rowing – 100 metres in 12.8 seconds (unofficial world record at the time, since beaten by Loren Howard with 12.6)


Grip training records

  • Little Big Horn Handle – 238 lb (108 kg) – previous record was 236.53 lb (107.29 kg)

  • Dinnie Stone carry – 11.54 ft (3.52 m) (Dinnie Stones are two heft blocks of granite with iron ring handles. They have a combined weight of 332.49 kg: the larger stone weighing 188.02 kg and the smaller stone weighing 144.47 kg).


Strongman (official Strongman competition)

  • Deadlift (with straps) – 1,014 lb (460 kg) (World's Strongest Man 2017)

  • Rogue Elephant Bar Deadlift (with straps) – 1,021 lb (463 kg) (Arnold Strongman Classic 2016 & 2019)

  • Hummer Tire Strongman Deadlift (with straps) – 1,140 lb (520 kg)

  • Log Lift – 440 lb (200 kg) × 2

  • Atlas Stone/Manhood Stone – 560 lb (250 kg)

  • Keg Toss – 8 kegs in 16.59 seconds (World's Strongest Man 2014)

  • Keg Toss – 7.25m (World's Strongest Man 2016)



Strongman Diet and Nutrition

To eat like a strongman requires equal, if not more, dedication and commitment than to train like one. In fact, strongmen spend far more time eating than they do lifting. This has led some elite level athletes to liken eating to a full-time occupation or, in the words of Brian Shaw, ‘a daily competition’.


Typically, a top rank strongman competitor will consume in excess of 10,000 calories a day (Shaw boasts a stomach cramping 12,000!), which is nearly five times the number that the average male would consume (as recommended by dietitians and public health officials). This means that not only is each meal substantially bigger, but the number of meals swells significantly seeing the strongman eat every hour or so throughout the day.


Basically, to build the muscles and strength required to compete at an elite level, you must become a walking, talking, living, breathing all-you-can-eat buffet.

But why must the aspiring strongmen eat so much?


It’s quite simple really, the human body has not evolved to retain substantial muscle mass. Our ancestors were eminently nomadic, and for the nomad superfluous weight is only ever going to slow or impede progress. Plus, the more mass you have the more fuel you require to feed it; and back then calories were both scarce and hard to come by. Hard to believe though it is, but there was once a time when supermarkets and eateries didn’t litter the landscape.


The natural, or typical, human stature is rather quite slight – even skeletal. The lean athletic human form is exemplified by tribal cultures; consider the Maasai of Africa, or the Aborigine of Australia, or the Amazonian Awá people.


Thus, to build the requisite musculature to heave 500kg off the floor, power-press a family of four, or ox pull a 40-ton truck, requires the consistent consumption of an obscene volume of calories (including synthetically derived substances such as protein shakes and steroids). For as soon as the strongman reverts to the standard diet – that is, 3 daily squares totalling about 2000 calories – their muscle mass and superior strength will quickly dissolve.


With that said, food groups that the aspirant strongman must pay especial attention too are those rich in protein and carbohydrates. Protein is of paramount importance because the ‘body’ uses it to repair and rebuild muscle fibres: and muscle to the strongman is what horsepower is to the Formula 1 driver.


Carbohydrates, though they do not support tissue growth as such, are a source of fuel and thus supply the strongman with the energy required to engage in high-intense training. Of course, fruit and vegetables, often comprising little more than a garnish at the side of the strongman’s diet, are nonetheless important because of their invaluable vitamin content: vitamins, we must not forget, ‘play an important role in energy production, hemoglobin synthesis, maintenance of bone health, adequate immune function, and protection of body against oxidative damage,’ (Rodriguez et al 2021).


But is the diet of a strongman healthy? Well, if nutritional science is anything to go by, the answer to that question is a resounding no. In the public domain there is a ton of research demonstrating the detrimental impacts a high-protein, high-calorie diet has on human health. Unfortunately, limited space does not permit an exploration of this terse insight; to adequately discuss the subject would take us too far from the topic of this article. However, even strongmen competitors know that their diet and lifestyle is detrimental to their long-term health. In an interview Eddie Hall, 2017 World’s Strongest Man, openly admitted that his diet has ‘probably taken a few decades’ off his life.


What does this mean for the person who wants to train strongman but doesn’t want to jeopardise their health? The good news is, to train strongman and enjoy a significant increase in strength, does not require that you radically overhaul your diet and start consuming 10,000 calories a day.


By including strongmen exercises into your weekly routine, such as tyre slips, barrel carries and/or deadlifts, and of course adhering to strength training principals, you will likely enjoy noticeable whole-body strength improvements. Even while consuming a healthy, balanced diet.


The daily dietary intake of Brian Shaw (4 X World’s Strongest Man) and Eddie Hall (World’s Strongest Man 2017)



6 Strongman Exercises: A Masterclass Tutorial


Strongman Exercise #1: Tyre Flip

Muscles worked: all of them. The initial phase of the tyre flip, which sees the strongman almost deadlift the tyre level with their waist, is predominantly lower back, glutes and quadriceps. Once the tyre is level with the waist, or there on abouts, the muscles of the arms and chest are recruited in the transition phase. So, like I said, all of them.


Tyre flipping certainly is a whole-body exercise. And, I confidently assert, it alone is superior to a full gym training session. Seriously, if you were to buy one piece of exercise equipment, make it a tractor tyre for not only are they invincible but surprisingly versatile. For example, as well as performing the classic flip, you can stand in the middle of your tyre and do deadlifting or squats. Also, you can Farmer’s walk with a tyre and, as I do with mine, use it as a Boxing/Thai Boxing aid: yep, I punch and kick my tyre!


But back to tyre flips.


If you are able to introduce this exercise into your training regime you very soon will experience an increase in strength gains as well as explosive power. In addition, you’ll develop a super strong back and legs.


Teaching points

  1. After conducting a 10-minute inclusive and progressive warm-up, consisting of a complimentary mix of cardiovascular and resistance exercises, prepare your environment for some tyre slipping.

  2. What do I mean by preparing your environment? I mean make sure that you don’t flip near breakable or valuable objects – such as the plant pot-littered patio or your shiny new car. Also, if you possess any, ensure that no pets of children are let loose in the near vicinity; god forbid that you should squash the family beagle!

  3. Prior to performing your flips, you might want to strap-in to a pair of training gloves and girt yourself with a lifting belt.

  4. Stand in front of your tyre so that your feet are situated close to the peripheral arc; the circumference of the tyre should in fact cut through your centre of mass.

  5. Bending at the knees ensuring to keep the back as straight as possible (rounding is almost unavoidable – but it shouldn’t pose a problem as long as you engage the core a drive through quads and glutes) – grasp the underneath of the tyre.

  6. Before executing the flip it is imperative that you have sufficiently grasped the tyre. If you fail here the tyre will slip from your hands and probably take a skin graft from your shin.

  7. Grasped firmly, perform the first phase of the flip: heave the tyre up level with your waist.

  8. Now, using your leg or hip as a support, you must momentarily rest the tyre while you change the position of your hands in preparation for the second phase of the flip.

  9. The hands, at this stage, should be in the typical pushing position.

  10. In one smooth movement push the tyre over. But do NOT follow it. Wait until it has come to a rest before you perform the next flip.


Dos

  • Prepare your environment before engaging in this exercise.

  • Make sure you’re feet are firmly planted before executing the flip.

  • Bend at the knees ensuring to keep the back as straight as possible.

  • Look forward and in the direction of travel.

  • Ensure that you have a firm grasp of the underside of the tyre before initiating the movement.


Don’ts

  • Do not snatch the tyre from the floor – just as you would with a deadlift, take up the ‘slack’ prior to lifting.

  • Do not hold your breath when flipping.

  • Do not follow the tyre forward once you have flipped it; allow it to come to a complete rest before initiating the next flip.



Strongman Exercise #2: Barrel Lift and Carry

Muscles worked: all of them.


The barrel lift and carry is a quintessential strongman discipline. It’s also a real tough guy, big boy back slaps, beer chugging exercise that makes you feel like a ‘proper man’. Seriously, after a couple of sets of keg carriers you’ll be strutting around with imaginary carpets under your armpits.


But as well as imbuing you with the ‘gorilla complex’ the barrel lift and carry is a class act at building whole-body strength. Also, if adopted as a permanent fixture of your fitness regime, this exercise will help you forge enviable physical robustness.


Teaching points

  1. Firstly, standard procedure: prepare your environment being especially mindful of purging the path along which you plan to carry your barrel of any hazardous objects. Also, warm-up.

  2. Centre your mass over the barrel; it should be between your legs.

  3. Bending down at the knees ensuring to keep that back straight, grasp the barrel.

  4. Now stand up.

  5. In this position the barrel should be roughly level with your waist – a little above the pelvic bone – and your hands grasping the top and bottom lip of the barrel.

  6. To manoeuvre the obstinate brute of an object into a more ‘comfortable’ position, you will need momentarily to balance the barrel on one knee while you level out your hands.

  7. At this stage the barrel should be resting horizontally across your lower stomach and your hands are inline.

  8. Proceed to walk.

  9. When you have covered the set distance either drop the barrel or place it down under control.


Dos

  • Make sure that you have prepared your environment and that you have thoroughly warmed up before executing the lift.

  • Select a barrel weight commensurate with your current strength.

  • Keep the muscles of the core actively engaged throughout the lift and walk.


Don’ts

  • *Do not, under any circumstances, round your back!*

  • Do not snatch the weight from the floor – hoist that barrel off the floor as though it were a priceless antique.

  • Do not hold your breath.



Strongman Exercise #3: Farmer’s Walk

Muscles worked: primarily the quadriceps and glutes, but also trapezius, deltoids and forearms. And, of course, every muscle in-between.


The Farmer’s Walk is a classic strength building exercise and one that always features in World Strongman events. Simple though it undeniably is, few exercises develop whole-body strength like carrying by your sides two evenly weighted objects.


In addition, unlike static strength exercises, such as deadlifts, squats or standing overhead press, the Farmer’s Walk facilitates the augmentation of functional physicality – that is, strength with a broader utilitarian purpose beyond the parochial one of impressing people in the gym.


Teaching points

  1. Farmer’s Walk can be performed with a myriad of different weighted objects. The only quality the objects must possess is that they are equal in weight. So, for example, you could Farmer’s Walk with kettlebells, dumbbells, jerry cans (a military training aid), weighted Olympic plates, etc., etc.

  2. Once you’ve selected the objects to be carried, and after performing a comprehensive warm-up, mark out a walkway of X distance. Ensure that the walkway is cleared of clutter and that the ground underfoot is firm and flat.

  3. Performing a partial lunge bend at the knees grasp the objects.

  4. Before standing ensure that you have a firm grip.

  5. Now, maintaining a straight back, stand up. Keep you eyes fixed forward as you do so.

  6. Once you are standing tall and you have control of the weights proceed to walk.

  7. When walking keep your arms straight at your sides, continue to look forward – fix the eyes on your destination not on your feet – chest out, shoulders braced back, breathing normally.

  8. Having covered the distance return the weights to the floor being conscious to apply the same technique as when you picked them up.


Dos

  • Make sure that the objects are even in weight (obviously) and spaced sufficiently so that you can stand in the middle of them.

  • Select a weight commensurate with your current strength.

  • Keep the muscles of the core actively engaged throughout the lift and walk.


Don’ts

  • *Do not, under any circumstances, round your back!*

  • Do not snatch the weights from the floor – take up the slack prior to lifting.

  • Do not hold your breath.

  • Do not use wraps!



Strongman Exercise #4: Deadlift

Muscles worked: the deadlift truly is a whole-body exercise and pretty much every muscle from your trapezius down to your calves are in some way stimulated when executing this towering giant amongst strength movements. The primary muscles engaged, however, include the quadriceps, gluteus maximus (aka the extensor muscle of the hip), erector spinae (a group of muscles which run the length of the vertebral column) and forearms – for when holding the bar of course (incidentally, though often overlooked as an essential link in the long chain of muscles recruited to perform the deadlift, the forearms are usually the first to fatigue during a heavy lift (which accounts for why some cheats use barbell wraps)).


Truly, if it’s strength you’re after then you absolutely must include the deadlift into your training regime. As Delavier (2010) says, as well as working ‘virtually every muscle . . . it builds terrific hip, lower back, and trapezius muscles mass.’ But the benefits of regularly performing this power-packed exercise do not stop at developing superior strength and size. Deadlifting will also improve your physical performance in other fitness and sporting disciplines – such as ergo rowing, rugby and most all combat sports.


But, a word of caution! Though all strength exercises pose a significant injury risk factor, in comparison, say, to calisthenics or light weight resistance muscular endurance movements, the deadlift is arguably the riskiest of them all. Why?


Well, when that egotistical moron overloads the bar in a crude and quite vain attempt to win some of that highly coveted gym kudos, in his extreme ignorance he’ll not only place huge loads on his lower spine but, in order to execute the lift, will no doubt resort to incorrect technique.


The potential consequence of applying incorrect deadlifting technique?


Ruptured erector spinae, slipped discs, popped nerves and burst blood vessels are all on the menu waiting to be served up. I’ve even heard a harrowing story of one overzealous trainer who sheared his spine in half when rounding his back and ratcheting an overloaded bar up his quaky quads.


Do me a favour, whenever completing a set of deadlifts keep the above list of potentially life-altering injuries in the forefront of your mind. By doing this it will ensure that a) you do not overload the bar; and b) that you maintain the strictest technique from the beginning to the end of the exercise.


Teaching points

*When deadlifting for the first time it is advisable to have an experienced trainer coaching you through the movement.* If you don’t have such a luxury make sure that you use a super light bar!


  1. Firstly, then, begin by organising your weight and engineering your environment so that you will in no way be impeded whilst performing the exercise.

  2. Start with your feet under the bar adopting a stance slightly over shoulder width.

  3. Bending at the knee and ensuring to keep the back perfectly straight grasp the bar: the palms should face toward you and your hands should be spaced slightly wider than your feet so as to prevent your arms and knees clashing.

  4. Before executing the lift take the slack out of the bar by applying force against the load.

  5. Looking forward and slightly up fire through the quads and glutes pushing the hips forwards as you stand.

  6. Once you are fully erect there should be a slight bend in the knees – not locked out. Also, from a side angle, a vertical line could be drawn from your shoulders down to your heels. A common mistake is to lean back. DO NOT do this! All you will succeed in doing is compressing the intervertebral discs around the lumbar region.

  7. To conclude the exercise simply return the bar to the start position making sure to retrace your steps.


Methods of modification

Really the only methods of modifying the deadlift is by including chains or resistance bands which serve to increase the load at the point of peak contraction. There is also the option of including a plyometric jump at the end of the upwards phase of the movement – but I would only ever advise this when using low resistance.


Dos

  • Make sure you are in a comfortable position before executing the lift.

  • Select a weight commensurate with your current strength.

  • Keep the muscles of the core actively engaged throughout the lift.


Don’ts

  • *Do not, under any circumstances, round your back!*

  • Do not snatch the bar from the floor – take up the slack prior to lifting.

  • Do not lock out the knees in the top most position.

  • Do not arch your back at the top position .

  • Do not ratchet the bar up your quads – the movement from start to finish should be smooth and continuous.

  • Do not hold your breath.

  • Do not use bar wraps!



Strongman Exercise #5: Squats

Muscles worked: When squatting the primary muscles recruited are those of the gluteus maximus (bum), the quadriceps (vastus lateralis, rectus femoris and vastus medialis), adductor magnus (hamstrings), the soleus (lower calves) and the abdominals and erector spinae.


‘The squat is the number one bodybuilding movement because it involves a large part of the muscular system,’

Delavier (Strength Training Anatomy)


Benefits of Squats: besides building strength in the obvious muscle group squatting is also an excellent exercises for developing strength in your core, transverse abdominus and pelvic griddle and I’ve heard it said that it can develop whole-body growth.


Squats have for a long time been recognised as one of the best strength and size building exercises. Arnold Schwarzenegger said that to develop his impressive size and strength he ‘included a lot of Heavy Squats in my leg routine, especially Half Squats.’ He goes on to tell us that, when trying to build strength and size, ‘you need to train according to basic power principals – fewer reps and sets, more rest between sets, but with increased poundage,’ (The Encyclopaedia Of Modern Bodybuilding – p.493).


Teaching points

  1. Firstly prepare the barbell: ensure that you have not overloaded it and that, if you are using a free-weight bar, the clips are securely fastened so as to prevent the discs from sliding off the end. Also, ensure that the bar is set at the correct height for you: often you see people set it too high or too low which requires that they manoeuvre their bodies in an unnatural position to un-rack the weight. It’s best to set the bar slightly below your shoulders.

  2. Now stand under the bar. Before attempting to un-rack it make sure that your feet are in the correct position, your hands are evenly spaced and that the bar is resting across your trapezius muscles.

  3. When you are comfortable and have organised your anatomy in the correct position, only now should you consider removing the bar from the rack.

  4. To do so tighten up the core, stand up under control and step back and away from the rack (of course whether you need to do this depends on the structure that you are squatting in).

  5. Again organise your feet so they are just over shoulder width apart.

  6. Under control slowly execute a squat ensuring to bend at the knee.

  7. When there is a 90° angle between the calf and hamstring pause then fire through the quadriceps as you return back to the start position.


Dos

  • Maintain a smooth continuous movement from start to finish.

  • Keep your eyes riveted on an indefinite point in the distance (or a spot on the gym wall).

  • Ensure that your entire foot remains flat on the floor – it is common mistake to lift the heel.


Don’ts

  • DO NOT flex your spine – ‘this error contributes to most lower back injuries, especially slipped discs,’ (Delavier).

  • Don’t let your knees collapse inward – this is indicative of physical incompatibilities with the weight selected; in short, the squatter has gone too heavy: it’s better by far to lift less weight and to lift it well than to overload the bar and look like one of those fools fighting under the load, body quaking and creaking.

  • Don’t hold your breath.

  • Don’t shift your weight onto your toes.

  • Don’t collapse at the hips. You see this a lot in squatters and it’s usually a consequence of one of two reasons: 1) the squatter is not physically capable of correctly lifting the weight selected; or 2) they lack the necessary flexibility to dip lower than 45°. To compensate, and to delude themselves into thinking that they’ve completed the full movement, they fold at the waist. All this does it place massive stress on the lower back thus significantly increasing the risk of injury. Best either to reduce the weight or stop at 45°.



Strongman Exercise #6: Military (or ‘standing over-head’) Press

Muscles worked: the primary muscles engaged when performing the military press include the deltoids (all three heads: anterior, medial and posterior), pectoralis major (mainly the upper part of the chest), triceps, abdominals, erector spinae and, if you decide to use your legs to assist the movement, quadriceps.


I fell in love with this exercise after watching that scene in the film Red Heat where Arnold Schwarzenegger, standing amongst a group of menacing prisoners, manhandles a huge barbell and proceeds to military press it above his head. Awesome!


But that scene perfectly portrays the type of exercise military press is – viz. overtly masculine and ideal for jail house gym-style training sessions; after all, you wouldn’t want to be seen by your fellow inmates performing sets of spotty dogs now would you? That’d rightly land you in the soup and get you a ruddy good shanking in the shower!


In addition to imbuing you with an aura of machoism, the military press is perhaps one of the best (if not the best) exercises for developing over-head pressing strength and building shoulders like boulders! Thus, in short, no self-respecting strength regime would be without three sets of six.


Teaching points

  1. As with all strength exercises it is imperative that, prior to attempting the lift, you firstly spend a couple of minutes organise your environment. Clear away any objects that may impede the movement and position yourself in an isolated corner of whatever maximum-security prison you are performing this exercise in.

  2. Assuming your environment is perfect for military pressing position yourself so that the bar is over your feet (I probably should have said this but the technique description is for trainers using an Olympic bar)

  3. Now, to get the bar in position – because it’s my contention that when military pressing the bar should always be taken from the floor – firstly perform a perfect deadlift (see above teaching points above) then a hang clean (see teaching points below).

  4. Ok, if all’s gone well the bar should be suspended about an inch or two under your chin, your hands spaced on the outside of your shoulders and your feet spaced a little over shoulder width apart.

  5. To perform a strict press, apply force evenly through the muscles of the shoulders, chest and triceps.

  6. Once the bar clears your head right your posture so that you are standing erect. It is natural during the initial phase of the movement to lean back slightly.

  7. In the topmost position your hands should be in line with your ankles.

  8. To complete the movement return the bar back to the upper chest in preparedness for the next rep.

  9. On conclusion of your set, to return the bar to the floor you must adhere to the technical points of the hang clean and deadlift.

Methods of modification

Personally my preferred method of modifying the military press is to make use of the legs to assist the movement – which is kind of lick performing a quasi-thruster. When the bar is resting on the upper chest just in front of your clavicles, dip at the knee and fire through the quads. This serves to put momentum in the bar. As it follows an upwards trajectory engage the deltoids as you would with a strict press. From the top position return the bar as normal. By recruiting the legs I find that I am able to shift more weight safely and I get more of a whole-body workout. But to really maximise this movement just perform a full thruster.

Dos

  • Start with a nice light weight so that you can have couple of technique practice runs prior to piling on the pounds (Kgs).

  • Ensure that you clip the weights in position when using an Olympic bar.

  • Keep your knees bent throughout all phases of the movement.

  • Keep your eye on the bar whilst pressing.

  • Keep your core actively engaged.


Don’ts

  • Do not position arms too wide apart as this deteriorate the effectiveness of the exercise.

  • Do not position your hands to close as this could throw you off balance.

  • Do not lock out at the elbows at full extension.

  • Do not overload the bar as this will place a lot of pressure on your lower spine.



5 more classic strongman exercises

List of strongman exercises and how they work the body


1: Monster Dumbbell Press

Develops: core stability; shoulder pressing power; shoulder and grip strength; mobility; upper chest, triceps and lats – and, if you take dip before pressing the dumbbell, your work the glutes and quads. This makes the monster dumbbell press a solid all-rounder.


2: Keg Run

Develops: whole-body physicality; general conditioning; biomechanical coordination; ‘clamping’ and grip strength; builds strength in the back, chest and forearms – and, of course, the legs.


3: Log Press

Develops: primarily shoulder, upper chest and trips strength; but also builds core stability and whole-body power.


4: Atlas Stone

Develops: whole-body power including, more specifically, quadriceps, lower back (erector spinae), chest and forearm strength.


5: Truck Pulls

Develops: immense leg strength and, when using a rope, forearm, biceps and lat strength. Also, truck pulling improves cardio-respiratory conditioning.



To Conclude

If this article has done its job, then you should now be the proud owner of a comprehensive understanding of the benefits of strongman training while also possessing the knowledge of how to develop and implement a strongman training programme.


In addition, you will have gained technical insight into how to perform a number of strongman and strength building exercises.


Now all that’s left is for you to procure the necessary equipment and put the theory into practice. But before you do remember always to observe safe training principals – warm-up/cool-down/stretch – and progressively increase loads.



(As we are very interested in user experience here at Hungry4Fitness, we would be very grateful if you could take a few seconds out of your day to leave a comment. Thanks in advance!)


Blog Author

Adam Priest is a former Royal Marines Commando, personal trainer, lecturer, boxing and Thai boxing enthusiast.



References


Bean. A (2015) The Complete Guide to Strength Training. Bloomsbury Sport. England.


Delavier. F. (2010) Strength Training Anatomy. Human Kinetics. USA.


Nancy R. Rodriguez, PhD, RD, CSSD, FACSM; Nancy M. DiMarco, PhD, RD, CSSD, FACSM; Susie Langley, MS, RD, CSSD (2010) Nutrition and Athletic Performance. Cited online: 12/3/2021. https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/717046_8#:~:text=Vitamins%20and%20Minerals-,Vitamins%20and%20Minerals,recovery%20from%20exercise%20and%20injury.


Strongman diet and nutrition image: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-7805879/Competitors-Britains-Strongest-Man-reveal-10-000-calorie-daily-diet.html

'This is what 10,000 calories looks like! Britain's Strongest Man competitors reveal their daily diets of shakes, tuna pasta and steaks - and admit it leaves them constantly bloated.'


Schwarzenegger. A. (1998) The Encyclopaedia Of Modern Bodybuilding. Simon& Schuster. New York.


Watson A. W. S (1995) Physical Fitness & Athletic Performance. Longman. England.

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