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Training for strongman/woman

As part of your strongest year we are going to be working on producing programs for other strength sports the first year was based around powerlifting. We will be covering strongman over the next 12 posts.  Strongman/women has been gaining popularity as a sport for around a decade now and has a considerable following of ameture lighter weight class men and women as well.  Training for strongman is a lot more feasible these days as there are more and more gyms that carry some if not all of the strongman implements common in competitions.  You can probably break strongman events into the following categories

  • Deadlift – any event that involves deadlift from a standard height, non standard height or a bar or non standard bar.
  • Floor to overhead – normally log or axel can be for reps, weight or in a medley
  • Moving events – Farmers, yoke or conan’s wheel
  • Carrying events – Husslefelt stone or shield carry
  • Loading events – Sandbags or kegs
  • Throwing events – Sandbags or kegs
  • Dumbbell events – circus or monster dumbbell
  • Squat event – for weight or reps nowhere near as common as deadlift
  • Holding / Grip event – deadlift holds, hercules holds, crucifix holds
  • Atlas Stones – Loading, Press or to shoulder

Strongman/woman is much more random in nature than powerlifting or weightlifting so training for the sport is a bit more problematic as you don’t have clear goals to undertake until you have a competition or show to train towards.  For the sake of simplicity we need to break the training down into core competencies that can transfer into events that are likely to come up in most competitions.  The program will also require access to strongman equipment I had a think about what to do with this aspect of the training however I decided it wasn’t really realistic to train for strongman/woman with out access to at least some of the equipment.  If you don’t have access to strongman equipment then my advice would be to look at a supertotal program with a focus on deadlift over squat as squat isn’t as important for strongman/woman.

Core competencies for the novice strongman / woman


The vast majority of strongman competitions will have some kind of deadlift event in it so it’s important to develop your deadlift strength.  The nature of strongman/woman training it is very lower body dominant so it’s only really realistic to focus your effort on getting stronger at deadlift over the week and using the squat as assistance.

Overhead strength

The next biggest element of strongman/woman training involves over head or floor to overhead there are a number of events and implements the main ones being log, axel and dumbbell.  Overhead strength should be a big focus of the upper body aspect of the program.  

Moving ability

After deadlift and overhead moving events make up a fundamental part of the sport if you have farmers, yoke and heavy sandbags in your training then you will get a lot of skills and conditioning that will transfer into different events at comp.  

Stone lifting

There is no real way to emulate atlas stone lifting and it is one of the key events in the sport and is one of the reasons I decided to produce a program that didn’t look to emulate strongman training in gyms with no kit.  There is no real way to train for the sport without access to stones even on a semi regular basis. 

Leg Strength

Leg strength is an important element to the sport but it’s more of an assistance lift than it is a key performance indicator.  Squat events are fairly rare so we will use the squat and squat variations to develop strength more relevant to the sport.  For example deep squats especially Safety bar or front squats are way more beneficial for the sport as they involve coordination of challenging the upper back and core in conjunction with using the legs.

Grip strength

Ironically vs powerlifting grip in strongman/woman is used for pretty much everything apart from deadlift since most competitions will allow straps.  Gripping implements like farmers or holds is an important capacity to have as a strongman/woman.  Grip is also a very trainable physical capacity since the muscles of the hand and forearm are small and normally slow twitch in nature you can train it hard (i.e. close to failure) multiple times a week.  There are a number of ways to train grip (pinch, crush, overhand etc) it is certainly something you can look to train at home outside of the program if you want to try and kick over every rock you can.

Back Strength

Unlike in powerlifting where having a strong back to “balance out pressing” and to make you better overall as a jump of faith there is a very strong case for having a strong back in the sport of strongman/woman.  A lot of events such as stones, loading, log, arm over arm and truck pulling directly involve arm and shoulder flexors (aka the back and biceps) so training them indirectly for strength constitutes more than just an act of “balance out training” it should be a core tennant of the physical preparation program. 

Tricep and shoulders

Finally outside of directly training the pressing of the implments used in the sport (log, axel and monster dumbbell) training should focus on tricep and shoulder strength.  Exercises such as close grip bench press and variations (block, slingshot, pin presses etc) and shoulder or high incline shoulder pressing should be key to the pressing aspect of the program.  Training the shoulders multilaterally (to the sides, out in front and rear delts) is also an important focus of the program as there are a number of events that require the holding of implments in compromised shoulder positions (battle axe hold, hammer holds and crucifix holds for example) not to mention carry over to the wider pressing program at large and to throwing events.

Dynamic training for strongman/woman

There are elements of strongman/woman that benefit from a more dynamic approach to training (overhead press / implement cleaning / throwing / loading) events. We will include some aspects of this training style into the program. We will try to keep it as useful as possible.  If you have never done any form of olympic lifting doing some as a base for strongman would be a good idea.  You don’t need to become and explosive athlete to be a good athlete in the sport however developing your power and dynamic abilities will help you to develop as a strongman/woman and it is something we will be implementing into the sport.  If you are looking for a strength sport to help you work towards training in the sport of strongman/woman than a weightlifting or super total base would be best.

The year of programing will focus on blocking the year up into 4x periods where we will follow a 12 week pattern of 4 weeks of volume/base building work where we look to bring up your base level fitness followed by 8 weeks of strength building.  We will try and focus around the core aspects of strongman/woman training.  There won’t be any peak towards competition for this program. We will just look to develop your overall ability as a strongman/woman athlete.  We may write on how to perform specifically for a competition but this is highly specific to the events you will be training for and the nature of the events.  For example a 60 second time cap rep event will have a different preparation for a maximum lift event regardless of the implement or the time scale to prepare.

Block 1 of the program – volume base.

For the 4 weeks of this block we will look to develop your general physical fitness so you can perform better during the upcoming 8 week block.

  • Hinging will focus on building some size and strength endurance
  • Leg strength will be developed through full range using less advantageous lifts
  • Back strength and pressing strength will be developed with a variety of implements and angles
  • Events will be done for longer distances and lower loads giving you a chance to develop base conditioning and technique.
  • General conditioning elements that might form warm ups or be included or encouraged as additional work will be included in the main program.

Basic setup of the training block

Days per week – 4

Week split 

Session 1 – Lowerbody and events

Session 2 – Upper Body and assistance

Rest day

Session 3 – Lower body and events

Session 4 – Upper body and assistance

Rest day

Rest day

Reps – 8-15

Sets – 3-5

Intensity – 65 – 80%

Goal of the block – 

  • Increase fitness with implements and important movements
  • Increase strength endurance
  • Spend block working on hypertrophy in important areas
  • Work on important areas of development we might not get time to work on during focus or strength blocks.
  • End the block fitter and in better shape than when we started.

Sequence of the block

Block 1 – Volume / Strength Endurance

Block 2 – Strength

Block 3 – Strength 

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