11 October 2016

2 lessons from strongman training

What you need to know

  • Use limited range of movement to lift more than you could at full range to ready yourself for a new personal record.
  • Loaded carries are criminally underused by powerlifters and most gym bros; pick it up and walk.


Watching the giants on World’s Strongest Man at Christmas performing unreal feats of strength probably seems miles away from what you do in the gym but there are lessons for us mere mortals that can be applied in regular gyms and without specialised equipment.


1.    Overload 

Through virtue of the variety of exercises undertaken in strongman events and the fact that the focus is on lifting heavy stuff outside barbell techniques, strongman training includes movements that are often heavier than their barbell cousins.  Anyone who has trained strongman for a while will know their value in crossing over to barbell movements; squat, bench, deadlift. 



Performing an exercise that allows you to lift heavier than the barbell equivalent overloads the central nervous system (CNS) making it easier when it comes to achieving personal records (PRs) in the lighter barbell movement.  Having experienced the heavier load before you’ll also have more confidence when the weight is on your back or in your hands at the start of the lift.


While overloading movements is often overlooked in regular powerlifting programs these partial movements can also often be safer to use while working through injuries.  By avoiding the troubled range of movement you can still experience enough load to reduce the atrophy and neuromuscular losses while you can’t train fully.



Without the use of specialised strongman equipment you can overload your regular movements by using using a movement similar to the regular barbell exercise you want to progress but with a shorter range of movement.  Use the exercises below to go heavy:


  • Anderson squats to overload squats
  • Pin press to overload bench press
  • Rack pulls to overload deadlift


Aim for 6-8 reps at your full ROM max, then progress heavier to your target PR.


2.     Loaded carries 

Walking is probably the most neglected of movement in powerlifters and probably most gym users.  Yet it’s something we all do everyday; taking up to 10,000 steps times a day.



In my time I have seen older men in particular perform impressive feats of strength but not be able to walk freely.  Whilst I don’t need to point out the benefits from being able to walk this shows up the kind of unbalanced training that will leave you exposed to injury, and the number one barrier to gains in strength training? Injury.  If it stops you getting injured it helps you progress. 


Walking itself recruits a large number of muscles, so imagine the results you get from loading it? Lunges and single leg work are great but just can’t be loaded to the extent a carry can. Loaded carries will make you stronger, leaner and more muscular.  The single sided carry variations are also a very good tool for teaching you how to use your core effectively.



Loaded carries can be as simple as picking up a dumbbell and walking but variations include  pushing and pulling sleds, weight vests, sandbags and balls,.


Here are my favourites:

  • For all round size and strength use farmers walks - aim to be able to carry your body weight in either hand.
  • For core strength and stability use single sided carries - simply carry a slam ball or Atlas stone on one shoulder.
  • For shoulder strength and stability use over head carries - put a barbell or pair of dumbbells over head and walk.


Start out light, walk for a minute and see where that takes you.


In a nutshell… 

Strongman training rocks and can transfer nicely into other types of training, particularly powerlifting! Why wouldn’t you do it? The limited equipment in a gym often dictates the exercises you do but apply the principles above to the equipment at your disposal to build true whole body strength.


Coach Dom Kinsey


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