Strongman competitors are the stuff of legend, but you don’t have to move to Iceland or Poland to become one. Here’s your guide to building strongman-caliber strength in an average gym.
The names just sound strong: Magnús ver Magnússon. Jón Páll Sigmarsson. Mariusz Pudzianowski. The immortal Bill Kazmaier. Many of us grew up watching these giants performing unfathomable feats at the World’s Strongest Man competition and knew right away that we wanted to be like them. To a child, it felt like watching the Hulk himself compete on ESPN.
Today, we watch guys like Eddie Hall, Brian Shaw, Martins Licis and Hafþór “The Mountain” Júlíus Björnsson. Then we take that inspiration and hit the gym to train… nothing like how strongmen train. Well, enough of that!
No, you probably can’t train for elite strongman competitions without having access to specialized equipment. But you can definitely build that special combination of muscle, hustle, and toughness that typifies strongmen and strongwomen at your standard commercial gym. But it’s going to take a solid, strategic plan. This is that plan.
Commercial Gym Strongman: Meet Your Events
While no two strongman contests are identical, there are almost always variations of three events: a big pull, an overhead push, and a heavy carry. All three can be trained in numerous ways in the gym and can build the sort of multifaceted strength that defines strongman training.
I recommend investing in a high-quality leather lifting belt, wrist wraps for presses, and wrist straps for heavy pulls to get the most out of this training program. You can use your straps on deadlifts and clean pulls, but not on farmer’s carries. You still need to build that grip!
Here are your “events” to focus on, and a program to get seriously strong at them.
Event 1: Deadlift
Deadlifts in strongman appear in a host of different guises: max lifts, lifts for max reps in a time frame, pulls from different heights, axle deadlifts, and others. Get strong at deadlifts and you’ll build your backside from traps to calves and gain an iron grip, excellent core strength, and the ability to use your entire body as a powerful unit.
Event 2: Overhead Press
If strongman competitions were simpler, training by pressing a heavy-ass barbell overhead would be enough. But they’re not, and it’s not. Instead, overhead strongman events often involve oddly shaped objects like logs, stones, or globe dumbbells. These events require strong shoulders and arms in addition to excellent core stability and overall power.
To build this foundation in your gym, get comfortable with all variations of pressing, push-presses, and jerks. Just like with the deadlift, press with thick bars or fat grips. Look around to see if there’s a multi-grip bar collecting dust in the corner of the weight room. If there is, use it. At home, press logs, sandbags, and other irregular objects.
Event 3: Loaded Carries
Quick! Think of a strongman event. For most people, the first thing that comes to mind involves holding or carrying rocks or stones. Among the most common are farmer’s carries and the Atlas stone loading race.
Most of these events are extremely taxing on the grip and require the entire body to work in unison to move the object. Luckily, most gyms have an almost unlimited number of heavy things to carry.
You can build up your grip and carrying strength simply by doing farmer’s walks with dumbbells. Trap-bar walks with normal or thick grips, sandbag carries, and Zercher squats or carries are also all excellent at building carrying strength.
Follow The Strongman Program
This program consists of two four-week blocks, culminating with an optional mock strongman contest where you can compete against yourself to see your hard work pay off.
The first four weeks follow a four-day upper/lower-body split training schedule. The high volume will pack on some extra muscle while upping your work capacity and endurance. The second four-week block switches to three full-body training days per week with a focus on strength and power.
While you’re following it, your best bet is to eat like a strongman! Pack in the calories, prioritize protein, and don’t fear the scale going up a few clicks.