Strongman Training

By Kenneth Nowicki (aka BigScottishBastard) – MT Pro-member
(September 2009)

Due to the upsurge in people asking about how to train specifically for strongman or more like a strongman when looking for added strength, I decided it would be a good idea to write an article about how a basic strongman routine can be put together and implemented.

If you are training specifically for strongman then you want to find someone close by that also trains for strongman and has the necessary equipment (e.g. Atlas stones, farmer's Walk, tyres, chains, etc) so that you are also able to train the actual strongman events as you've seen on TV.

On the other hand, if you are just training for strength the same basic gym routine to follow will still be suitable. A general basic routine for strongman is a four day split broken down into three gym days and one event day. You should have a pull day, an overhead day and a push day followed by an event day at the weekend.

You may set the routine out as follows:

MondayPull day
WednesdayOverhead day
FridayPush day
Saturday / SundayEvent day

The main exercises on each of the three gym days should be deadlifts, push press / push jerk and front / back squats respectively.

On top of these main heavy compound movements there are assistance exercises that also need to be included in the routine to aid and help build the main exercises. Assistance exercises on a pull day would be exercises for upper back, biceps and exercises for lower back and hamstrings; therefore a typical Monday would look similar to this:

  • Deadlifts
  • Row variation (barbell row, dumbbell row, seated row)
  • Pulldowns
  • Stiff-legged deadlifts or good mornings
  • Hammer curls or another type of bicep exercise

With reference to biceps in strongman, hammer curls would be the best exercise and this exercise will help with a lot of the specific events in competition; tyre flip and stones are two examples.

Another technique that seems to be becoming more popular with the top elite guys is very high rep barbell curls; empty bar going for speed for sets of say 50 reps or more. I have seen Marshall White's training log saying he did 140ish reps in under 2 minutes. The reasoning behind this is to train the biceps for truck pull endurance and to stop them tearing.

On the overhead day assistance exercises could be bench press, a strict press and then something to just burn out the shoulders. I train triceps on a separate day to overheads, but in a basic routine triceps would also be included here on overhead day; so Wednesday would be as follows:

  • Push Press from rack / clean and press
  • Cleans (if main overhead exercise has been done from rack)
  • Bench press
  • Seated dumbbell press
  • Lateral raise

Triceps would then be trained by doing a few exercises such as skull crushers, dumbbell overhead extension (2 hands) and then pushdown can be used to finish off the triceps.

You need to ensure that you build the explosiveness on overhead movements so that you have that speed for events such as log press and axle press, but you also need to ensure you build that static strict press to ensure that you can lockout the weight.

I jerk overhead presses usually, but have recently started to add push press for reps from the rack as a main assistance exercise as this will help me on Viking press, where you cannot double dip like the jerk technique.

Finally push day assistance exercises could be leg press, Karlsen squat and then high reps front / back squats depending which you have already done that day.

At the moment my leg routine looks like this:

  • Front squats
  • 180kg back squat for max reps
  • Leg press
  • Karlsen Squat
  • Then occasionally leg extension

High reps work on things like the max rep set and leg extensions will help build the endurance aspect of leg strength which comes into play during truck pull, medley and drag events. Karlsen squats are basically reverse hack squats, this movement helps build a strong tyre flip and also a strong truck pull.

On event day usually three or four events will be chosen and trained for speed, technique, etc. If there is a certain contest coming up then usually weak events that will be a part of the contest will be trained to help improve them.