7 Strongman Lifts for Beginners (and Nearly Every Athlete)

Strongman training is not for the faint of heart. Often, strongmen (and strongwomen) need to showcase unparalleled strength, muscular endurance, and anaerobic capacities while pushing, pulling, dragging, throwing, and carrying a wide array of objects.

Strongman training incorporates a wide array of foundational movements, ones that nearly every athlete can benefit from. Each strongman event and movement requires a certain amount of strength, skill, and a tenacious spirit that can be applied to other power, strength, and fitness sports.

To the newbie, strongman-style training can be daunting, however many newbies (as well as all levels of athletes) can benefit from incorporating these seven movements into their current training routine.

Why Do Them?

Movement under loads, maximal strength, and work capacity in a wide array of applications (pushing, pulling, lifting, throwing, dragging, etc) can increase overall strength, athleticism, and fitness. Novice athletes and fitness goers can learn basic movement patterning while developing fundemantal strength and fitness, especially when combining these exercises into strength sets or conditioning circuits.

Zercher Squat

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In a recent article, we discussed the Zercher Squat, and why every athlete can benefit from performing them. The Zercher Squat is a front-loaded squatting movement that can be performed to develop core stability and postural and leg strength. This simple exercise can be performed with beginners as well as higher level lifters.

Farmers Carry

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Farmers carries or walks, as well as other loaded carries develop leg, back, and core strength. The simplicity of the exercise, and it’s functional roots, allow for increased loading with relatively low risks, which can stimulate serious strength and postural development. Ready to try out some loaded carries? Try out these variations here.

One-Arm Snatch

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In a recent article we discussed the origin and benefits of unilateral training of the snatch, making the case for nearly every athlete to incorporate this movement within some aspect of their training program. The unilateral component, as well as the explosiveness of this movement, makes this a great way to challenge lifts and develop overall athleticism in arguable less time than the formal Olympic lifts (meaning, while snatches and clean and jerks have their place, this movement may be easier to teach and progress lifters towards more complex movements)

Fat Bar Clean & Press

If you have access to a log bar or fat grips, try performing this highly functional movement. This is a great exercise for beginners to learn the basics of power development and learning to use the body as one strong, fluid system. While similar to formal clean & jerks, this movement often is performed with slower speeds, which can help in the early phases of training to develop a sound movement patterning.

It is important to note that this style of clean & press is different from the formal Olympic lift, however both can play a large role in overall athletic development. Additionally, formal strongmen and women rest the bar on their stomachs/belts, which requires proper coaching and skills. Generally speaking, find a fluid path to take the bar from the ground to the front rack position, and then pressed overhead using the legs, hips, and upper body (press) and keeping a stable spine. 

Sled Drag

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Dragging (while seated, standing, crawling, etc) a weighted sled, car, plane, or semi-truck is pretty straightforward. Challenging leg strength, stamina, mental fortitude, and work capacity will develop stronger, fitter individuals. Athletes can drag heavy or light loads for time, distance, or race depending on their goals, each offering improvements in strength, cardiovascular fitness, and muscular hypertrophy.

Stone Lift

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Whether these are done with a round stone, weighted ball, or odd object, lifting something from the ground to the shoulder is highly applicable to most things throughout human life. Increased hip, back, and arm strength are just a few of the benefits derived from lifting heavy and sometimes oddly shaped objects. The Scottish Highland Games athletes (as well as many natives) have done this for years, so much that Rogue Fitness even did a special documentary called “Stoneland”.

Yoke Walk

This falls under “loaded carries/walks”, this movement is primitive and highly effective at developing system strength and stability. By simply bracing, loading weight onto one’s shoulders, and moving, athletes will develop the physical and mental strength and stamina necessary to progress throughout their long-term fitness journey. Similar to the drags and walks, this exercise can be done for loading, time, distance, or a combination of those to meet the needs and goals of the program.

Final Words

I am a huge fan at incorporating these basic “strongman” movements into many beginner fitness routines (even with very minimal loading) to set the foundation of fitness. Nearly every athlete (and nearly every fitness level) can benefit from incorporating these throughout their training routine, whether for strength sets or conditioning segments (choosing a few and performing together in medleys/circuits).

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: @mikejdewar on Instagram, taken by Martin Romero

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Mike holds a Master's in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor's in Exercise Science. Currently, Mike has been with BarBend since 2016, where he covers Olympic weightlifting, sports performance training, and functional fitness. He's a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and is the Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach at New York University, in which he works primarily with baseball, softball, track and field, cross country. Mike is also the Founder of J2FIT, a strength and conditioning brand in New York City that offers personal training, online programs for sports performance, and has an established USAW Olympic Weightlifting club.In his first two years writing with BarBend, Mike has published over 500+ articles related to strength and conditioning, Olympic weightlifting, strength development, and fitness. Mike’s passion for fitness, strength training, and athletics was inspired by his athletic career in both football and baseball, in which he developed a deep respect for the barbell, speed training, and the acquisition on muscle.Mike has extensive education and real-world experience in the realms of strength development, advanced sports conditioning, Olympic weightlifting, and human movement. He has a deep passion for Olympic weightlifting as well as functional fitness, old-school bodybuilding, and strength sports.Outside of the gym, Mike is an avid outdoorsman and traveller, who takes annual hunting and fishing trips to Canada and other parts of the Midwest, and has made it a personal goal of his to travel to one new country, every year (he has made it to 10 in the past 3 years). Lastly, Mike runs Rugged Self, which is dedicated to enjoying the finer things in life; like a nice glass of whiskey (and a medium to full-bodied cigar) after a hard day of squatting with great conversations with his close friends and family.