First of all, let me give credit where credit is due. I was inspired to write this article based on another article that was posted on IPYU.com’s website, which is “Powerlifting for Beginners.” The author was not listed, but I can hope that they can appreciate my efforts to recognize them. After browsing through many of the informative articles that are posted on the site, I realized that helping beginning strongmen/strongwomen is exactly what my first effort as an IPYU writer should be geared toward. Otherwise, how am I going to prevent seeing all the things that I hate seeing in the gym and at competitions? Go to the root of the problem, right? Right.
Is Strongman/Competing Right For Me?
This should be the first question that you answer prior to jumping into some strongman inspired routine in hopes of becoming the next Derek Poundstone (a very strong professional strongman) or Derek Stone (a very strong amateur strongman) for that matter. There are several routes that you can take in your desire for meathead greatness; some of the popular routes include weightlifting (Olympic), powerlifting, bodybuilding, crossfit, and strongman. There are many commonalities to these routes, but the three most evident are as follows:
- Dedication – Before you decide to take the step from gym member to competitor, know that it will require some/a lot dedication on your part. Are you ready to give up your “me” time? Read books? Read articles? Train right? Eat right? Recover right? If you’re not dedicated, you’re not going to be very good… sorry, but the truth sucks sometimes. Your old hobby will need to become part of your life if you’re going to excel.
- Respect – You better learn to respect the history and the veterans of your sport. Take the time to learn about the different federations (if applicable), learn about the history, know who the veterans are in your area/state, and reach out to those veterans for information. This will help you gain respect of and from your new peers and understand the culture that surrounds the sport.
- The Iron – When I say the “iron” I’m referring to the weight, not discriminating against machines, bumper plates, coated plates, or any other kind of weight. The iron is what links all of these routes together. We all work our asses off to be able to call ourselves competitors and strive to be called a champion.
Bodybuilders will knock the diet of powerlifters, powerlifters will knock the form of strongmen/women, strongmen/women will knock the scalable weights in crossfit, crossfit will knock the functionality of bodybuilders, and the cycle will continue… you won’t hear many competitors knock the DEDICATION of others. Why? Because beneath all of the knocking and jabbing, there is a mutual RESPECT among all competitors. What I’m saying is, if you’re not going to dedicate your time and respect the iron, don’t waste your time or time of the guys and gals busting their ass to compete; it simply isn’t fair to anyone.
At the conclusion of this article, you may decide that strongman isn’t for you and, yet, competing is right for you. Figure out where you’re going to fit in and start training.
Training v. Working Out
To my peers and myself, there is a huge difference between people that workout and people that train. You can workout with a thigh master, you can’t train with one (Author’s note: I’m not saying or implying that Suzanne Somers doesn’t look fantastic in her mid-60s because she does). If you decide to drive around your community for a quick drive, you won’t need gas or direction; however, if you are going to drive cross country or, in some cases, state-to-state, you need a road map, will stop for gas, measure your progress, and make checks along the way. Working out is like a quick drive, you can go to the gym with the general goal of getting healthier; training is like the long trip, you have a plan that you’re following to reach a goal with a plan to measure your progress along the way. If you’ve never trained, you’re going to have to learn to do it. Many competitors are former collegiate/high school athletes and/or veterans of their sport, so they have the up on you. If you show up unprepared, you’re going to look unprepared.
“Whattaya bench?” is a very common question that ALL athletes/competitors get asked, so get ready for it. How important is your answer to you? If it’s very important, you’re not cut out for strongman. I do bench press in my training regimen, but I hate this question regardless. I started hating this question in my teenage years after reading an interview with Henry Rollins (musician, artist, author) in some rock magazine, where the interviewer asked him if he was still working out, then followed up with “Whattaya bench?” Henry flipped a switch and went off about the bench press measurement of strength and how he never gets asked “Whattaya deadlift?” Back then, I hated it because I thought Henry Rollins was cool, but now I understand what he was getting at. As a strongman, the average person won’t ask you “how many times can you deadlift a Cadillac?” The average person is going to ask about your bench. As a beginner, you should be ready for it… you’re bench press may not impress the average person or it may, but when you explain to them that you really don’t train for a maximum bench press… their mind will be blown.
Strongman events aren’t always exactly what you see on Met-Rx World’s Strongest Man broadcasted on ESPN because those are huge events with even bigger budgets. Local contests won’t have the same budgets or backing as professional events. Strongman events are unique and hard to train for because most competitions have a unique set. Events are listed on the entry form, so you can start preparing for them. Here are some events/areas that you can train for, as a beginner, to ensure that you are ready for strongman.
*A more extensive list can be found here http://www.illpumpyouup.com/articles/common-strong-man-events.htm
Most events are going to have an overhead event, including, but not limited to, log press, axle press, circus dumbbell press, keg press, Viking press, or any variety of the above. Depending on the specific event, the competitor has to clean the weight and then press it overhead. Overhead events can vary as a timed medley, one rep max, last man standing, max press reps, max clean and press reps, or another method that the promoter can scheme up. The overhead event can make you or break your training or competition. The strength of your grip, triceps, shoulders, legs, and overall form are important factors in dominating the overhead events.
Grip is a very important, if not the most important, factor in strongman training and competition. Crucifix holds, farmers carry, deadlift holds, clean and press, pulling events, and others revolve around a good grip. Grip strength is so often overlooked, mostly because it’s easier to blame something else. Improving grip strength can be accomplished by purchasing grip trainers, doing plate pinches (insert technical term), and training forearms.
Being a competent deadlifter is important in order to be a competent strongman. If you are weak at deadlifting, you will probably find yourself being weak at most strongman events. Deadlift specific events can include many different deadlift implements, like axle deadlifts or car deadlifts. If you are starting the transition from working out to training, start making deadlifts and variations a staple in your routine.
Atlas stones are in most any strongman competition that you can find and they are a true test of strength. I promise that you will hate them your first time, but don’t give up. Stone events include moving stones from the ground to platforms, putting stones over a bar for reps, or shouldering them. In competitions, stone tacky is used to help grip the stones better with your hands and arms; this can also be used in training. If your gym doesn’t have stones or you don’t have access to stones, you’re going to need to figure out who in your area has some. You can order stone molds online or buy premade stones on craigslist… they are available in your area, you just don’t know it.
It usually isn’t what you can wear in strongman events, it is what you can’t. Events will point out the “no-nos” of the event. Elbow sleeves, knee sleeves, belts, suits, straps, wraps are all legal in many events, while certain lifts may not allow straps or “shelfing” on your belt. In training, you may want to examine a few entry forms and see what is and isn’t allowed on certain events.
Establishing an “events day” into your routine is a good way to get used to the demands of strongman. You can do many of the movements throughout the week, but until you do them back-to-back-to-back-to-back, you won’t truly appreciate the demands of strongman competitions. Again, if you don’t have the implements necessary to train an events day, you can order implements online and/or there is somebody in your area that would love to have you join them for a training session. You will be hard pressed to find a more valuable way to spend 2 hours than training with a bunch of guys that are stronger and more experienced than you are.
Where to Compete?
Prior to entering the strongman world, I had no idea that so many competitions are right in my backyard. You can view the different competitions at nastrongman.com for sanctioned events; you may also do a simple Google search for unsanctioned strongman events in your area. My first powerlifting meet was an unsanctioned meet, it is a great way to get your feet wet and finds that passion to compete.
Beginner Classes / Divisions
For your first event, be sure to find a competition that offers a “novice” class. These weights are more manageable and are a place for newbies to gain competition experience. You will be competing against other guys who haven’t competed very much. I trained for over a few years before ever competing and still got beat in the novice class.
I’m still new to the strongman world and still have a ton to learn, but without making the first few baby steps in training and preparation, I would be even farther behind than I already am. If you’re looking to get into strongman, I encourage you to make those baby steps and compete. I trained for several years prior to getting the guts to compete… train hard and just compete. Worst case scenario, you learn a lot and finish last in your class/division… best case scenario, you learn a ton and dominate.