When I was first starting my company Mavrocat Productions, Inc. in the late ’90s and working on building up the sport of Strongman in the United States, I worked on a series of articles to help those interested get into Strongman Training. There was very little information on Strongman training during this period. I put a good amount of effort and thought into them and they were really well received at the time. In doing a bit of research it appears that even years later, they have been referenced as a sort of standard for information on entry into beginning training for Strongman. These responses came up on some strength and bodybuilding forums 7 years and 13 years after the articles were originally published.
So what I wanted to do was bring them back! Now that I have my own blog, I thought what a great way to connect with my past and in the process impart some solid training advice to my readership. There were 10 full articles so I will split them up here into 6 separate posts. I will keep everything exactly as they were originally written with no editing (even the font will be the same Verdana.. ha!) so it won’t present perfectly. And check out the cool 1990’s back and forth stone gifs at the bottom of every post 🙂 Use these to navigate through the articles. Looking through them now.. what is kind of funny is that I never finished them. You can see on the last page that I talk about a future article that I never wrote… maybe I will someday on this blog!
Well on to the articles.. I hope you find them interesting and informative. I know I am really excited to bring them back after 16 years!
There are many individual and varied training schedules for different strength contests. What makes Strongman training different?
I believe there are 10 areas that need to be trained (directly or indirectly)
for one to become a top level Strongman competitor. Those areas are as
1) Muscular and Aerobic Conditioning
2) Absolute and Repetitive Strength
3) Explosive Strength
5) Grip Strength
6) Ability to Move Effectively with Weight
7) Complete Range Strength
9) Ability to Accept Varied and Intense Pain
10) Fighting Ability.
In this months installment, I will detail precisely what the just mentioned areas entail and why they are important to aspiring strongmen. Next month I will discuss my recommendations on how to specifically train and improve these areas. I will now go through one by one the 10 attributes.
Unlike, for example Powerlifting, Olympic Lifting and Arm Wrestling; Strongman requires a high level of both muscular and aerobic conditioning for optimum performance. For both success at specific events and the ability to endure successfully an entire contest, an aspiring strongman must be a well conditioned athlete, not just a strong one. A good (indicating in this instance a tough) strongman contest is an all day (sometimes multiple day) very brutal affair. The number of events in a contest tends to range from 4 to 12, many times all events occurring the same day. This type of length of exertion taps into areas of intensity and pain that other strength sports can’t match. I recently talked with Phil Martin (a top level Strongman and Highland Games competitor who will be competing at my contest) and he remarked how many of the powerlifters (first time Strongman competitors) at the U.S. Strongman Finals were surprised at the intensity of conditioning that had to be utilized at that contest. In addition to being able to thrive under the intensity of the duration of contests, there are also specific events at most contests that require superior conditioning for top performance. There are always competitors that cannot even finish events because of their inability to handle the aerobic and conditioning aspect of those events. Examples of very aerobically demanding events are The Farmers Walk, The Tire Flip, The Pole Push and The Stone Carry.
Along with the aerobic endurance, muscular endurance is needed in both the lower and upper body in many events. Lower body muscular endurance is needed for The Farmers Walk, The Super Yoke, The Pole Push and others. Upper body muscular endurance is needed in Arm over Arm Pulls, Farmers Walk, Cross Position Holds and others. The message is clear to start today to introduce or continue on with aerobic and muscular conditioning in your training schedule.
The second attribute needed for success in Strongman is probably the most obvious, absolute and repetitive strength. Absolute strength is ones one rep maximum poundage in all lifts, and repetitive strength is ones maximum repetitions possible in all lifts at various poundages in those lifts. It goes without saying that since a high percentage of events in virtually all Strongman competitions involve the testing of both of these types of strength; it would be wise for the aspiring strongman to constantly try to improve his performance in both these types of strength. Examples of absolute strength events are the Silver Dollar Deadlift and the Platform Lift. Examples of repetitive strength events are the Log Lift for Repetitions and Shouldering Mavrocks for repetitions.
Explosive strength is something that is not trained seriously by many lifters while some develop this type of strength every time they train. Powerlifters tend not to have great explosive strength, while Olympic lifters and Highland Games athletes tend to develop it indirectly from their training. Something that is important to realize is that this type of strength enhances performance not only in the purely explosive events ( 56 lb weight for height,Tire Toss etc.) but in my opinion, virtually all of Strongman. For example, in any man on man event (Pole push, Bar pull against Opponent, Arm wrestling etc.) the quicker and more forcefully one can start the better ones chancing of winning. One might remember Geoff Capes going up against 400 lb Grizzly Brown in the Bar pull Against Opponent and it looked like a truly Herculean task for Geoff to pull so large and strong of a man off the floor, and yet because of his unbelievably quick and forceful pull up Grizzly came. One has to believe that it is possible to have both great absolute and
explosive power, Shane Hamman and Stefan Botev are two living examples.
Why is agility important to strongmen? Because the objects that are to be lifted and/or carried in many Strongman events are very awkward. Having the ability to move fluidly and having quick muscular and neurophysiological response to the constantly changing lifting constraints placed on one by a sandbag or filled barrel, enables one to perform those tasks more quickly and efficiently. Lifting a barrel overhead is the exact opposite, in terms of muscular effort required, to holding objects for time in the cross position. If one does not keep up with the constantly changing correct lifting positions involved in lifting a liquid filled barrel overhead, one will not succeed in making that lift. A lesser percentage of the lifts required in Strongman involve straightforward linear planes, most require the ability to move with and/or against the weight. Thus being agile benefits
the strongman tremendously.
Almost without question there will be events in any Strongman competition that require great grip strength. When I write of grip strength, I am referring to all forms of grip strength not only manual grip strength. My definition of grip strength is the ability to effectively and powerfully hold on to something, and the object in question may be held on by various parts of the body not only the hands. An example of what I am getting at is the Stone Carry. When one is carrying the Hanford Stone (or any carrying stone) one
is gripping on to it less with ones hands and more with ones forearms, biceps, and the crushing strength of ones chest. So when writing of grip strength in Strongman, one has to relate all the various forms that one has to grip objects in Strongman (manually being only one of them). Manual grip strength is very, very important in Strongman though, and should be approached with great fervor in ones training. If I might state one good rule of thumb (and fingers 🙂 ) for grip training, it would be “Never use straps.” Many an aspiring strongman has not performed up to his true potential because his grip betrayed him. It has been said that the tighter one can grip an object, the more of ones force one can exert on it.