If you have been following my earlier writings on what are the important attributes for the aspiring strongman and good ways to develop those attributes, the next question should be: How do I fit the information into a workable weekly/monthly schedule? Well one could look at how the Pros schedule their training. Wayne Price works shoulders and chest on Monday, deadlifts on Tuesday, rests on Wednesday, does snatches on Thursday, squats on Fridays and biceps and triceps on Saturday with consistent aerobic training thrown in throughout the week. Riku Kiri hits chest and biceps on Monday, legs on Tuesday, event training on Wednesday, shoulders and triceps on Thursday, and back on Friday. Magnus Samuelson hits chest and triceps on Monday, legs and deadlifts on Tuesday, rests on Wednesday, shoulders and biceps on Thursday, rests on Friday, and upper back on Saturday with some aerobic and event training interspersed. Jamie Reeves does legs on Monday, rests on Tuesday, chest and triceps on Wednesday, running and throwing on Thursday, deadlifts on Friday, running and throwing on Saturday, and shoulders on Sunday.
What do all of the above training schedules have in common? An overwhelming emphasis on gym work for strength development. The emphasis on event training is minor through out the week. I am not going to say that when they do train the events they do not go at it full force and with tremendous intensity, but percentage of training time devoted to event training is minor. I am not about to say that their training methods are flawed, they have all proven themselves to be World Champions in one discipline or another. What I am going to say is that I believe (and have seen in many athletes training for my contest) that when one emphasizes specific event training more one tends to have better event performances.
How many powerlifters do every exercise for their legs, back, chest, shoulders and arms without performing the squat, deadlift and bench regularly? All powerlifters regularly perform (most weekly or biweekly) the 3 power lifts just as all Olympic lifters consistently perform the Olympic lifts and all tennis players consistently get out on the court and practice their backhand approach or serve and volley. What I am saying is that to be a champion strongman, one must consistently practice strongman events. It is that simple. Who can convince me that it is not true that the more one practices the events, the better one will get at them. Does this mean that one should not work in the gym? Absolutely not, I have already detailed in previous articles very beneficial gym exercises. What it does mean is that event training should become an equal with gym work. To use another example, professional skiers do a good amount of strength training, stretching, and so on but they also SKI a very large amount. I want this point to be very clear because this type of strongman training is foreign to most strength athletes reading this.
So are there any examples of strongman pros that utilize a training schedule similar to the type I am espousing? Jouko Ahola does and I don’t bring him up as an example because he has done quite well in the sport the last year. I bring him up as an example because he trains in a way that I think is the most efficient and result producing for Strongman. Jouko has a two week cycle. Week 1 Monday he trains back, on Tuesday he trains chest, Wednesday he trains biceps, Thursday he trains shoulders, and Friday he trains legs. Week 2 is devoted entirely to event training. He does rock lifting, Mavrock-type lifting, power stairs, barrel loading, and other events. He has many of the strongman implements at his gym. This type of general schedule is what I recommend. I am not saying to do each body part exactly as he has it scheduled on the first week. This is a personal choice although I do believe that all major body parts should be hit once that week. What I like about the schedule is devoting half of training time to event training. BUT CHRIS, won’t this make you weaker as you are only lifting rocks and playing on the stairs whereas you get really strong in the gym? Absolutely not, if you believe anything I have said in the past articles you must know that odd lifts and event training hit fibers and utilize full body conditioning and leverage in a way impossible to get from barbells and lat machines. You will not lose strength, you will gain strength in ways you couldn’t before.
There is one caveat to this. There is a group of contestants who train at a gym near where I live that have been training regularly during the week and event training for my contest on Saturdays. Since they were hitting all body parts and major lifts (they were powerlifters as well) during the week, and really terrorizing their bodies on Saturdays with the events; they found that over the months they were too tired to workout as hard during the week. They also thought to stop benching as they were inclining for reps (one of my events) on Saturday. So they found that while their strength in some areas significantly improved (grip, abdominal stabilizers, calf) their major lifts suffered. The reason for this occurrence is that it is very difficult to incorporate both types of training (gym work and event training) into the same week and be able to hit both just as hard. One is better able to do hit gym work very hard one week and event training the next. What it does is allow you to stay fresh and not over train and consistently get better at both lifts in the gym and your events. BUT CHRIS, won’t my major lifts suffer from only training them once every two weeks? Only if you don’t hit them hard the week that you are training them. To use Jouko as an example again, while I do believe that no matter what he did he would never have a world record in the bench; he has posted an 890 deadlift! Your muscles only recover and grow stronger when you are not training them and to have such a variety of muscle and strength stimulating movements over a two week period disallows the muscles to adapt easily.
This is a very focused way to train. It is, in my opinion the best way to train for Strongman. Is it the best way to train to post the highest total at a powerlifting meet? Probably not, but these articles are designed to help you become a better strongman and that is all. Is this a cheap way to train? No, you have to figure out (and in future articles I will discuss ways that to lessen the cost) ways to manufacture close facsimiles to implements in events that are in most contests or that are in the next contest that you are competing in. This does require a reasonable amount of ingenuity and money, make no mistake but how many of world class athletes in other sports have gotten to their status without a tremendous amount of dedication (which could include sacrificing some things in your life to pay for some strongman implements). I am not writing to relate to you the quickest, easiest and cheapest way to become reasonably proficient at Strongman, I am writing to relate to you my opinion on the best way to become the best you can be at Strongman. You must practice the events to become better at them, there is no other way. There are those who because of their strength start out good at an event, but no one breaks a world record the first time they try an event.
In addition to the stated gym work week 1 followed by event training week 2 schedule, I would definitely include two to three times both weeks aerobic conditioning. This aerobic conditioning should once again be relatively short and intense in nature, like the farmers walk or weighted stair climbing or wind sprints; and to improve fat utilization (which will occur in a 6 to 8 hour Strongman contest) I recommend the aerobics take place in the morning when your glycogen levels are at their lowest.
So now that I have an idea of how to set up a general schedule for training, what are the actual exercises that I should be using? Next month, I will detail my training schedule and progress that I am getting since I have gotten back into training. Until then, best of luck in your training!
Greetings. Thank you for coming back this issue and I hope you take away some useful information. I believe that you should. This month, I will be synthesizing my theories from the previous articles into my training schedule that I am currently using. I would like to preface this article by stating that I understand if some of the training may not seem feasible for you at the moment because of time, equipment, money etc. In future articles I will describe ways of cheaply getting similar equipment and also condensing the training so that it can fit into your schedule. My schedule then is a good outline for your training, and you can add, remove, replace or condense particular pieces as is necessary and still get tremendous results.
To let you know where I am at physically in relation to being competitive in Strongman, let me bluntly say that I am close to being in the worst shape of my lifting career. Six weeks ago, I was in the worst shape of my lifting career. If I have learned anything, it is that if you want to get in the best shape of your life start training for a Strongman competition; and if you want to get in the worst shape of your life start producing a strongman competition. I don’t say this to seek some sympathy (never been that type of person), I only say it because it describes the conditions that allowed me to get to the point that I am at. There has been simply so much time and effort involved in putting my contest on that I had to forgo training and eating enough. So I have lost 45 pounds and have the resting heart rate equivalent to a normal individuals aerobic conditioning zone. I am currently 245 lbs and have lost a good amount of strength. So, six weeks ago I decided enough is enough and found ways to get back into training. That exact training schedule follows. I do believe it to be my most well thought out schedule I have ever been on and hope that you can find much to benefit from in it.
I knew (as I hope most know) that I could not go immediately full force back into training. I was not conditioned for it and it would not be profitable (i.e. I would benefit more from reduced training in the initial stages). I started off with, and only did this for the first four weeks, 5 to 6 days a week of varied Farmers Walking. It is a tremendous overall aerobic and muscular conditioner and develops the ability to move with weight and hand strength that I wanted back so desperately. My specific training was (and I would do this in the morning for the extra aerobic and lipolytic benefits) 500 feet with a pair of unknurled 50lb dumbbells followed by 60 feet (I am now up to 180 feet) with my 110lb suitcases followed by 100 feet with 35 lb. block weights for thumb strengthening. I did this initially for 3 sets and am now up to 5 sets with approximately 2 minute breaks in between. It feels good and is fun while you are doing it, but (about half the time) a couple of hours later I feel like I want to die. It can be a real killer and makes you want to go to sleep for a while, but hey STRONGMAN CONTESTS ARE REAL KILLERS! So you have to start dealing with feeling very drained sometimes. As I said I do this 5 times a week and could tell a real difference in my strength and physique within 2 weeks. My grip strength has improved significantly, my aerobic capacity is up and everything from my ankles to my traps is getting harder and more defined. The Farmers Walk builds up areas not normally developed easily in the gym like your ankles, wrists and elbows.
About two weeks ago, I started to incorporate my gym and event training into my routine and the system is as follows. It is Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday in Week 1 Gym training and Monday, Wednesday and Friday in Week 2 Event Training. Week 1 is broken down as follows, Monday is Legs, Calves and various Zercher lifts; Wednesday is Chest and Shoulders; Friday is Deadlifts, Low Back and Upper Back; and Sunday is Biceps and Triceps. Week 2 is broken down Monday is Rocks, Logs and Sandbags; Wednesday is Harness Pulling, Arm over Arm Pulling and Tire Flipping; and Friday is Super Yoke, various object drags and various holds for time. During both weeks, I am still performing the above mentioned Farmers Walk between 3 to 5 days a week in the morning. On to the specifics:
Week 1 Monday is composed of the following exercises:
- High rep (12 to 25) squats,
- 14 second squats,
- Top position front squats,
- High rep and very heavy explosive standing calf raises,
- Zercher deadlifts
- Two handed dumbbell deadlifts.
There are two reasons that I do high rep squats as opposed to max weight squats: 1) I do not at the moment have training partners and putting 600+lbs on your back without spotters is not particularly reasonable 2) I think they are tremendous for conditioning and develop similar (notice I did not say same) leg strength development. The best I have ever done was 405 for 23 reps, would love to get back there. I like to use all types of bars (standard York, Buffalo Bars, Safety Squat and 2″) when squatting to hit different areas. 14-second squats are 6 seconds down, 2 seconds in the hole, and 6 seconds up down for 6 reps per set. These are real killers and seem to help train the nervous system for better squatting; also holding the weight in the hole is good for all types of rock and tire work. You always want to finish the rep before you should, but don’t. Try them and see how horrible they are! When I say top position front squats I mean front squatting off the rack allowing only 18 to 6 inches to reach completion of the rep. If possible, I also think it is great to utilize a 2″ or 2 1/2″ bar because it is a lot more comfortable and easier to balance for guys with big arms. Builds tremendous quad strength and helps strengthen the erectors. They are great for any type of harness pull or tug of war, where the range of motion is limited. Doing both high rep and low rep standing calf raised conditions the calves and allows for the development of great lower body explosiveness. Pretty straightforward really. When performing Zerchers (which by the way I consider absolutely necessary for Strongman because of their ability to train low position strength) I also like to use a 2″ bar because it fits better and is more comfortable on the interior of the elbow. I like between 4 to 8 reps with about 50 to 60% of your max deadlift. Dumbbell deadlifts also train low position strength because you have to get so damn low to pick them up. All of you 500lb deadlifters, see if you can pick up a pair of 200lb dumbells of the floor. It is the proverbial bitch. In strongman, many times you have to pick up things that are much lower than a barbell so the last two exercises help train that strength.
Week 1 Wednesday is composed of the following exercises:
- High rep inclines using the Buffalo Bar or dumbbells palms facing;
- Variations on the standing push press for reps and max weight either barbell or dumbells;
- Brick lifting or sandbag crushing;
- Barbell or dumbbell high pulls.
I do inclines, as opposed to flat bench presses, for a number of reasons, but before I go into them I want to state that while I don’t think flat benching is the most useful exercise for strongman… if you like them then by all means replace the inclines with flat benches. The reasons I do inclines are:
- There is more inclining or overhead pressing by far than flat benching in Strongman
- Studies have shown and personal experience has verified that they hit the whole chest wall just as hard
- My body seems better designed to incline than flat bench for some reason (as always, take in all knowledge you can and then do what seems to work best).
I do perform max inclines on occasion for variety and I think they are useful. I also use my log and odd bars to get my body used to the objects that you sometimes are faced to lift in a strongman competition. My push presses will be either barbell, dumbbell, log or sandbag and sometimes I will clean the implement (but usually not because that is what the high pulls are for). I don’t do strict presses much, although I do like seated behind the necks, because you are almost never faced to do a strict press in competition and I think that push presses or push jerks develop more explosive power and work the shoulders just as well. Brick lifting [for a detailed description of brick lifting please refer to my websites Training Tips] is a tremendous way to develop the bearhugging crushing strength that you have to utilize on the rocks. Sandbag crushing is similar, it is where you take a reasonably heavy sandbag (between 60 and 150 lbs) and lift it of a platform and hold it by pushing in on both sides with your hands and then forearms. High pulls are straightforward, but very useful and for variation and a great grip workout use thick gripped barbells or dumbells. One-arm 2 1/2 inch dumbbell high pulls can work wonders for your explosiveness. Wow, I just noticed that this article is getting seriously long and I don’t want to bore you… so I will fill you in on Fridays and Sundays work and my event Training next issue. I think there is a good amount to benefit from in what is written. Thanks a lot and best of luck in your training!