4 Strongman Training Champion Workouts

4 Strongman Training Workouts from a Champion

If you have been searching the interwebs far and wide for the perfect workout to achieve your strongman potential, look no further!

No, seriously, stop looking for the perfect workout plan; you’re looking for a unicorn

Even if I am designing an individualized plan just for you, which you can sign up for, that plan is written in pencil (metaphorically). 

I can’t account for all the individual variables that would make a perfect program, and things would change even if I could.

Let’s say you stumbled onto this unicorn of a program. What do you do when:

  • You had a bad night’s sleep?
  • Stress is high?
  • Energy is low?
  • Your back is tight?
  • Or a million other variables that can throw a spanner in the works? 

When it comes to the “perfect” program, designing the plan is only half the equation.

The other 50% is knowing how to pivot around life’s circumstances so you can continue training long-term.

Strongman Training Principles

Train For Your Experience Level

Knowing your experience level pre-decides variables such as:

  • Training frequency
  • Exercise selection
  • Number of exercises
  • Number of sets and reps
  • etc. 

For example, suppose you have never touched a barbell but want to get into Strongman. I’d start you off with three workouts per week, less complex variations of foundational lifts like the deadlift and squat, and fewer exercises per workout. 

The less experienced you are, the more general your training can be. As you get more experience, you’ll discover more about your unique needs, strengths, and weaknesses.

Fast forward two years. I’ve been training you, and you begin to hit a plateau on some of your lifts. We can now address specific weaknesses by changing your lifting variations, training intensity, volume, recovery, and more to start moving the needle again. 

Exercise Order

This variable is hugely important to getting the most out of your training.

With rare exceptions, your training sessions should always start with your primary lifts. These are the most taxing, multi-joint movements, such as the deadlift, squat, and overhead press. 

Primary lifts demand the most out of your nervous system, and since they are often the lifts we are directly trying to improve, they should be done when you are the freshest. 

Next, you can add your secondary lifts, also called auxiliary, assistance, supplemental, or accessory lifts. 

Secondary lifts are a means to an end, like the bench press.

A powerlifter would make this a primary lift since it is one of their three tested lifts, whereas a strongman rarely, if ever, has bench press in comp. Strongman uses the lift to improve shoulder and tricep strength to help our overhead press.

The best secondary lifts are variations of the primary lifts. They tend to be more difficult or with a modified stance, bar position, tempo, bar type, or resistance type

Here are some examples of secondary lifts to complement your primary lifts:

Primary strongman lifts iron guild
DEADLIFTLOG PRESSSQUATS
Snatch-grip deadlift
Deficit deadlift
Elevated deadlift
Paused deadlifts
Banded deadlifts
Tempo deadlifts
Speed deadlifts
Romanian deadlifts
Strict barbell press
Overhead pin press
Speed Press with bands
Pause press (at forehead)
Overhead dumbbell press
Dumbbell push-press
Seated overhead press
Z press
Front squats
Pause squats
Tempo squats
Box Squats
SSB squats
Pin squats
Banded squats
Alternate stance (i.e. Sumo)

Tertiary lifts are further removed from the primary lift movements. They help improve your primary lifts by strengthening the muscles involved in those movements.

Here are some examples based on muscles we want to get bigger and/or stronger to improve our overall abilities as strength athletes:

QUADS/GLUTESSHOULDER/CHEST/TRICEPUPPER BACK
Split squats
Barbell
Dumbbell
Bulgarian
Front foot elevated
Smith machine
Hack Squat machine
Leg press
Sled pull/push
Walking lunges
Cossack squat
Lateral lunge
Sumo squats
Incline bench press
Barbell
Dumbbell
Specialty bar
High/low angle
Close grip bench
Flat dumbbell bench
Chest press machine
Overhead machine
Bent over dumbbell rows
Chest supported rows
1-arm dumbbell rows
Pendlay rows
Seated cable rows
Lat pulldowns
Pull-ups
Machine rear delt flies
Dips
Dumbbell pullovers
Straight arm pushdowns

Finally, there are single joint movements that mostly isolate one small group of muscles.

That’s right! Strongmen train biceps too!

These lifts include bicep curls, tricep pushdowns, machines, and dozens of variations that would be far too extensive for our purposes today.

These lifts are great for building bigger arms and legs or recovering blood flow. 

The most important thing to remember about isolation work is that we train muscles, not the nervous system, as we do with our compound heavy lifts.

We use less weight, more reps, slower tempo, and lower rest times, all intending to get a wicked burn in the target muscle and bring it to exhaustion. Volume, not intensity, is the key.

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Listen to Your Body

Every time I give this advice, I get the “yeah yeah” head nod because everybody has heard this before, but few put it into practice.

Here’s what I mean by listening to your body: Have a plan, but write it in pencil.

The best program in the world can’t account for all of life’s circumstances. Even the program Big Loz sends me isn’t in stone (or iron, for that matter). 

I know my body well enough to recognize when it isn’t ready for his program.

My approach, no matter how good or bad I’m feeling, is:

Warm-ups dictate my workout. I take it one exercise at a time. 

Days ago, my plan was to deadlift three sets of six reps at 385 lbs for my primary lift. However, I was in a bad mood all day and felt about as strong as a wet noodle.

I started my warm-up sets.

I hit 135 for eight, 225 for six, 315 for four, and 355 for 2. I felt primed and ready for 385 lbs, which felt so easy that I added ten more pounds to my second set.

After smoking 395, I jumped to 405 and did seven reps with lots in the tank!

If I had let my emotions and perceived lack of energy before my warm-ups dictate my workout, I would have skipped them or pre-decided to go lighter than programmed. 

Conversely, two weeks ago, I was meant to hit 250lbs on log press for four reps.

I was feeling similarly lethargic.

This time, my warm-ups never got easier, so I decided it would be unsafe to proceed with plan A.

Instead, I decided to do a strict press instead of a push-press with 200lbs. 

The vast majority of the injuries I’ve suffered were due to a lack of training structure or adhering so rigidly to the structure that I ignored warning signs.

Strongman Exercises Selection

WARNING! SCIENTIFIC CONTENT!

A seemingly obvious principle in exercise science is the SAID principle or Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands.

What does this mean? Buckle up, gang. Are you ready for this? 

Captain Obvious is reporting for duty to say that if you want to get better at bench press, the best exercise to train is bench press. What if you want to get better at deadlift? Good job—it’s the deadlift!

Captain obvious

In the strength training world, there is this neverending trend of seeking after the magic accessory lift that’s going to help you blow past your plateau on a lift. Lat training to improve your bench or hamstring training to boost your deadlift. 

We include these secondary exercises to aid in our primary lifts. However, nothing, and I mean nothing, will strengthen your primary lifts more than training them.

Deadlifting

The late and legendary Jon Pall Sigmarsson famously said,

“There’s no reason to be alive if you can’t do a deadlift!”

That’s a bit extreme, in my opinion. To his point, if you don’t heavily invest in the deadlift, you won’t make it very far in the sport of strongman.

Additionally, I believe everybody should deadlift regardless of their lifting or fitness goals.

Being able to pick up dead weight off the ground is a foundational movement for long-term health. But don’t limit yourself to the traditional barbell deadlift from the floor. Other variations of deadlift in the sport include:

  • Wagon wheel deadlift: larger plates that elevate the bar.
  • Axle Deadlift: thicker bar, which is stiffer and harder to break off the floor.
  • Farmer’s handle deadlift: Typically a higher starting position, allowing for more leg drive.

Clean and Overhead Pressing

King of the overhead press: Zydrunas Savickas!

As I mentioned in my other blog, real men press standing up! 

On a serious note, not only is overhead press included in 99% of strongman competitions, but like the deadlift, it is an essential skill for long-term health and daily function.

What the heck is a clean though?

Well, it’s something you have to do in the vast majority of comps with an overhead press, and it’s simply bringing the implement to the front rack or pressing position.

Learning how to clean, whether it’s an axle, a log, a circus dumbbell, or a variety of other pressing implements, is a fundamental athletic movement that will develop powerful, explosive abilities that will translate to other events.

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Carrying/Moving/Loading

Yoke Carry Big Loz

My coach and legendary hauler of heavy sh*t, Laurence Shahlaei carrying a 580kg/1280lbs yoke!

Carrying and moving events are perhaps as much of a staple of Strongman as the deadlift.

If you look at the history of the World’s Strongest Man, you would be hard-pressed to find a winner who struggled with moving events. Moving fast with weight is a must!

If you want to dabble with carrying and loading events, you can try the following:

  • Sandbags
  • Atlas Stones
  • Natural Stones
  • Circus Dumbbell
  • Fire Hydrant
  • Steel Box Loaded with Weight

If all you have is sandbags, that is perfectly fine.

Practicing the transition between different objects can set you apart in a comp with a loading race, as most athletes don’t train with weird objects.

Pulling/Dragging/Pushing

Amputee vs. 50,000lbs!

Another favorite event for competition promoters is pulling, pushing, or dragging vehicles or sleds.

When I say vehicles, I mean:

  • Semi-trucks (Loris)
  • Fire Trucks
  • Rhino-transport Planes
  • Double-decker Buses

These insane tests of strength are a staple of the sport and are occasionally found at local shows.

I had the pleasure (if you can call it that) of checking a fire truck pull off my bucket list, which was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

If you are fresh out of airplanes or fire trucks, don’t worry. Training for these events doesn’t require much equipment.

There are several types of pulling and pushing events:

  • Seated Arm Over Arm Pull (facing the object): Although it doesnt require a truck, you will need a sled, weights, a 30-50 foot long rope, something to push your legs against that won’t move (like a heavy sandbag), and ideally, turf to pull the sled on. You can also do this while standing for an easier set-up.
  • Sled pushing. Push the sled with straight arms.

How to Train for Strongman Competitions

Designing a program for an upcoming competition is one of my favorite things to do as a coach. It’s like putting together a puzzle, one lift at a time. 

Let’s say you are training for an upcoming competition with the following events:

  1. Deadlift for max weight
  2. Yoke carry
  3. Axle clean and press for max weight
  4. Arm over-arm truck pull
  5. Circus dumbbell for reps
  6. Farmers hold for time

There are many ways to break down a training program based on your strengths and weaknesses, but I’ll assume it’s your first show and you have no frame of reference. Here’s how I would lay out your program.

NOTE: This is an example of a program that could work for the average novice depending on their general lifting experience, fitness level, and equipment availability. Having trained people for almost ten years, I can confidently tell you that this program is potentially horrible if I give it to the wrong person and fantastic for another. Depending on who the client is, this program may look very different.

DAY 1 EXERCISESETREPREST TIME
Deadlift353-5 minutes
Trap Bar Deadlift383-5 minutes
Bent Over Barbell Row482-3 minutes
Leg Press4122-3 minutes
Lat Pulldowns3121-2 minutes
Backward Sled Pulls450ft down/back1-1.5 minutes

Here is the reasoning behind my choices for these day 1 lifts:

DAY 2 EXERCISESETREPREST TIME
Strict OHP (Axle)453-5 minutes
Close Grip Bench Press382-3 minutes
Incline Dumbbell Press3101-2 minutes
Shoulder External Rotation3151-2 minutes
Tricep Pushdown3121-2 minutes

Here is the reasoning behind my choices for these day 2 lifts:

DAY 3 EXERCISESETREPREST TIME
Axle Clean453-5 minutes
Front Squat382-3 minutes
Split Squats310 each side1-2 minutes
Hamstring Curls3121-2 minutes
Farmer’s Hold430 seconds1-2 minutes

Here is the reasoning behind my choice for the day 3 lifts:

DAY 4 EXERCISESETREPREST TIME
Circus Dumbbell453-5 minutes
Yoke382-3 minutes
Arm Over Arm Sled Pull310 each side1-2 minutes
Seated Rows4121-2 minutes
Axle Deadlift for Grip351-2 minutes

Here is the reasoning behind my choice for the day 4 lifts:

Conclusion

As you can see, there are far too many variables and individual differences to develop the perfect program for any competition. However, if you compare yourself only to your past self, listen to your body, never stop learning, and pace yourself, you will enjoy the sport for decades and be rewarded for doing so.

Frequently Asked Questions About Strongman Training

What is Strongman Training?

Strongman training, at its core, is training to be strong and fast under uncomfortable conditions. The goal is to move heavy, awkward objects such as Atlas stones, fire trucks, and more to determine who is the strongest!

Does Strongman Training Build Muscle?

Yes, it does! There is a lot of overlap between strength training and training for muscle size. Typically, in the scope of a year, a strongman should alternate between heavy cycles of strength training and lighter cycles of hypertrophy (muscle-building) training since they complement each other so well.

How Did Old-time Strongmen Train?

Back in the day, athletes couldn’t train using the exact type of equipment under perfect conditions for their competition. They weren’t told very much about the competition until the day of the competition! Training was simply about being as strong and athletic as possible. The main difference between then and now was mindset. 

My friend Magnus Ver, who won the World’s Strongest Man title four times in the 1990s, has a gym in Iceland: Magnusses Gym. The motto is, “Na Aumingjar.” The family-friendly translation is “no wimps.” 

A phrase you will virtually never hear an Icelandic or old-school strongman say is, “That’s not fair.” You deal with whatever is thrown at you and move on, and as a result, you will become stronger and more resilient. 

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