A few weeks ago I wrote and we gave away a periodized strongman program that was complex, detailed and comprehensive. It has the athlete training 5 days per week, with an optional events day on Saturday. Being a periodized model, it helps for the athlete to keep solid records and have a flexible personal schedule with time for recovery.
This is not possible for many competitors, and I get asked all the time what are the most important things to do in the gym on a limited training schedule. All athletes should understand that you get the most amount of results out of just a few exercises. By committing to just a few key movements, you can cover almost all your bases in minimal time and still make great progress in the gym and in contests.
Each of the following exercises is either dedicated to building complete full body strength or covering the demands of multiple events. An athlete with 45 minutes three days a week can be competitive by working hard on these movements and getting in solid nutrition.
If you have been in the gym more than 5 minutes, someone is going to be extolling the benefits of the squat. It is almost comical how quickly everyone who wants to solve a strength problem will begin to ask about your squats. Without getting all fan boy on the most written about exercise there is, I will just give my 2 cents on how you should train them for strongman.
- Two days per week
- Use a variety of reps; 20 is great for endurance, three for strength, and any amount in between for a combination of both.
- 3 work sets minimum
- One day should see you going as deep as possible, the other can be a modified version such as box or front squats.
- Wear squat/weightlifting shoes
Picking up a weight and walking with it is what humans have done as work for millennia. If you have access to plate loadable implements here, that’s excellent, but unnecessary as dumbbells can work too. The pickup is great for your deadlift, the grip work is unparalleled for the forearms, the abdominals and low back muscles are engaged, and nearly every muscle in the body comes into play when you begin walking.
- One day per week.
- Mix between heavy for short runs and light for distance.
- Although seen less frequently in contests, turning with a significant weight really ups the muscular stress involved here.
- 3 work sets here should be plenty
The Overhead Press
If you can dedicate yourself, it is preferable you learn to jerk the weight over head. It has been the gold standard for putting max weight over head for over fifty years for a reason; but it is not the only only overhead you should do. The strict press and push press have tons of value for building strength and size as well.
- Two sessions per week; one press, one jerk.
- Again, 3’s for strength, 10’s for endurance.
- Since we are on limited time, clean the reps 75% of the sessions and work out of the rack on overloads.
- Get creative here and use dumbbells for some stability work from time to time.
Stones lifting makes you strong. It also builds endurance, conditioning, and mental toughness. To me, it just didn’t feel like a real contest without a stone series or stone for reps. Another full body builder here, very little is left unworked after a good stone session. To minimize the damage they can do to the skin, make sure you protect yourself with sleeves and neoprene.
- One session per week, with a few weeks off per year. Forty weeks of loading over the course of 52 is plenty.
- After warm up two sets of triples and then two sets of 10 under sixty seconds is a great session.
- Don’t always load directly in front of the platform. Try having the stone ten feet from the platform and work a carry and load one week a month.
- The stone can also be shouldered if you are looking to get a more demanding lift in.
There isn’t another exercise that is more underrated than the pull-up. I am always astounded wehen they aren’t part of a Strongman program. There are many modifications of this movement that engage most of the muscles in the upper body. The Latissimus Dorsi are the prime movers here and those muscles are responsible for a huge portion of the work done in Strongman. A massive wide back is a must for any serious competitor.
- Twice per week is ideal on this exercise
- Big guys should work bodyweight for low numbers and an assisted machine for high reps
- Lighter athletes should use weights to get triples, and bodyweight for reps.
- Change grip to target different muscle groups on the back, wide grip, narrow, chin ups, etc.
- I love this variation to help with stone and sandbag pick ups
These aren’t the only exercises you can do. If you allow 45 minutes for your session and you work at solid pace, dedicating 20-30 minutes to these movements will give you time for side work. Sprints, sled drags, dumbbell snatches, Plyos, and anything else athletic you allot time for will complement these exercises.
A simple workout is often the most effective for many athletes who value quality over quantity.
Editors note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein are the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.
Featured image: Matthew Bryers on YouTube