When I was a 21-year-old, 175-pound kid relatively new to the world of lifting weights, some friends introduced me to an underground sport known as strongman. I was initially wary, but loved the spectacle and slowly began to infiltrate their weekend training sessions.
Before long, I was the smallest in the group to flip a 700-pound tractor tire. The moment it hit the ground, I knew this was the training style for me—and I ended up taking it seriously enough to win two Canadian Lightweight Strongman titles and attend five world championships.
More people than ever are feeling the draw that I felt. If you suspect you might be one of them, here's what you need to know to get started.
What Is Strongman?
At its core, strongman is a sport—or simply a training style—in which you pick up and/or hold a range of heavy objects. Unlike powerlifting, where the contested lifts are always the same, strongman is unpredictable both in what you'll be asked lift and how you lift it.
Sometimes, you might do heavy barbell lifts. Other times, you'll move objects or weights from place to place—this is a common way for bodybuilders to do strongman training, as well. In competitions, you can be scored by time, reps, maximum weight lifted, or even have to race another competitor head-to-head.
Strongman obviously involves strength, but also requires a great deal of athleticism, skill, and mental toughness. It's a little like CrossFit because it's so unpredictable, but really, there's nothing else like it.
Is There Strongwoman?
Yes! The trend of women turning to weights doesn't stop at CrossFit or bodybuilding. Strongwoman is also growing in popularity, and there are nearly as many women as men at many competitions. If strong is the new sexy, it doesn't get any sexier than this!
Do I Have to Be Huge to Be a Strongman?
Definitely not! I'm anything but huge, and strongman competitions feature a wide range of weight classes. Go to one, and you'll see bodies of all shapes and sizes. This is a sport that is open to anyone who is willing to put in the work and get better. Male or female, 150 pounds or 350, learning lifter or old-school gym rat—there is a place for you.
That said, strongman can be a great way to gain weight along with eating and supplementing for size. And being larger is definitely an advantage on certain lifts.
Weight gainer shakes are a favorite of strongmen and women trying to move up a class. Don't fear the number on the scale going up!
What Happens in a Strongman Competition?
Every contest is different, and like CrossFit competitions, that's a big appeal of the sport. Most shows take place over the course of a few hours and include four or five different events. Small local competitions sometimes cap registration at 10-12 competitors, but larger contests often last two days and include dozens of athletes.
Strongwoman contests typically run alongside the men's shows. The rules are the same, but the weights are just a bit lighter and the objects are sometimes slightly modified.
What Equipment Do I Need for Strongman Training?
Assuming that you have access to the training equipment or know how to do some strongman training in an average gym, you don't need a lot. That said, if you know you need or want one of these for an actual competition, it's essential to practice using it for weeks or months ahead of time. You don't want any surprises on meet day!
- Wrist wraps and/or elbow sleeves for heavy presses
- Lifting belt for deadlifts and a range of other lifts
- Lifting straps for deadlifts
Ask experienced competitors how they managed their contest day and what made the most difference. Have your gym bag packed the night before, sleep well, and go into your competition feeling ready!
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What Are the Most Important Strongman Events to Practice?
There are dozens of events that could be included in any given competition. However, most events feature at least a couple of classic strongman challenges.
1. Pressing Events
In strongman, the press goes far beyond the dumbbells and barbells you're used to seeing in your gym. The point of these events is to push heavy, awkward objects over your head. Often, you have to pick these objects off the ground before you press them overhead.
Log Press: A clean and push-press using a hollow neutral-grip bar.
Axle Press: A clean and push-press using a thick-grip bar.
Circus Dumbbell Press: A two-handed clean of an excessively large globe dumbbell, followed by a single-arm push-press.
A quality nylon or leather belt is a must for presses and big pulls in strongman. Break yours in before competition day!
2. Lifting Events
These events set strongman apart from other lifting sports. If you've ever seen World's Strongest Man on television, chances are you've seen some of these classic events.
Atlas Stone: Pick up giant, concrete balls and load them onto a platform or over a bar.
Tire Flip: Lift and flip a giant tractor tire repeatedly until you reach the finish line. These can weigh over 1,000 pounds!
Car Deadlift: Perform a neutral-grip deadlift of a frame that happens to be attached to a car.
3. Carrying Events
The moving events demand you to cover some ground while you carry heavy objects. These are often crowd favorites and can be either against the clock or a head-to-head race.
Yoke Carry: Carrying a short squat-rack-shaped frame on your shoulders, usually loaded with extra weight.
Farmer's Walk: Pick up a frame or two long bars and walk with them as quickly as possible to the finish line.
Ready to build a foundation of raw strength? Then learn how to do it the right way from a world-class strongman! Check out Total-Package Strength with Anthony Fuhrman, available only in BodyFit.