Bodybuilding Techniques for Strongman: How Hypertrophy Can Improve Your Game

Borrow from the world of bodybuilding to make bigger gains in strongman training and competition.

As we progress through our strongman journey, we look to improve our maximum strength, set volume, and speed on carry events. While just doing the exercises with proper form and recovery practices works in the beginning, intermediate and advanced athletes will need to introduce certain variables into their programs to overcome the limitations of linear progress. When you hit certain plateaus it may benefit you to incorporate techniques that are often limited to the bodybuilding world. If you are adventurous and want to experience some incredible gains, try the following set modifiers to kickstart some new growth.

A strongman lifting a heavy bag

Negatives

Known to be a great technique for building mass, lengthening the concentric portion of an exercise can help strongmen build stability and endurance on an event as well. This works well on presses and modified deadlifts to bolster weak spots. On the log I will have clients use 75% of a maximum and press the weight dynamically and then lower it back to the start slowly and under complete control. Done for sets of 5 to 8 it has excellent effects on power, size and the ability to maintain stability through a lift.

Points to remember:

  • Always maintain control
  • There should be at least a 1 to 3 ratio of speed on the movement, quickly explosive on the lift and then very slowly to the starting point.
  • Do these last, as they will rob you of power early in the training session.

Strip Sets

When a bodybuilder wants to really wring out a muscle group, they often perform a set or two where they drop the weight and do more reps. This may consist of one or two drops and it really benefits the muscular endurance fibers. Because of the nature of the beast, strip sets can also help a strongman’s anaerobic capacity. By adding these in close to a contest you can squeeze an extra rep or four in when you think you are completely beat. Using a plate loaded car deadlift as an example, the athlete would do a work set at contest weight for the max reps they can get or until time runs out. Then the training partners would take off 10 to 20% of the weight and the athlete would immediately go for more reps.

Points to remember:

  • It’s easier to get injured when you hit actual failure so be careful with this technique and listen to your body.
  • It is best used sparingly before a contest to maximize your capacity for repetitions. Overuse can lead to overtraining.

Forced Reps

These have been a staple of hardcore or heavy duty training styles. Dorian Yates trained for many contests having a partner help him get reps when his body was incapable of more and that is the idea here. Safely have your partner help you along when you can’t get any more reps on your own. I would use these on pull-ups and other basic exercises that help your events. If you can only get three pull-ups, have your partner help spot you in the back and push you for a few more reps. Getting an extra two or three pull-ups can really help fire up the central nervous system and help you get some additional strength.

Points to remember:

  • A popular way to do forced reps is combine them with negatives. Many times you can’t handle the eccentric alone but can handle the concentric in a slow controlled fashion.
  • These can be very dangerous on many exercises. I would avoid them on overhead movements, squats, and deadlifts as the risk and ability to safely help the athlete get more from the set is not worth the little you can gain from it.

Supersets

This is my favorite way to get more from a workout in a short amount of time. There are two ways to do supersets. You can do two exercises for the same muscle group back to back with no rest. You can also work opposite muscle groups in the same fashion. The first technique is really a great way to build additional mass. I like to pair a low rep strength building exercise with a high rep isolation movement. Combine your two rep set of presses with a set of 10 rep side raises to build mass in the shoulders. You combine the best of both worlds here.

Putting together a push/pull for opposite muscles is also a fantastic way to employ this technique. A set of bent over rows combined with a dumbbell press will push your anaerobic capacity and stimulate tired muscle groups to work harder.

Points to remember:

  • As with all these techniques overuse can lead to burnout very quickly.
  • Remember to adjust your weights to slightly lower than usual or count on doing less reps.

Incorporating some of these techniques can really revitalize a stale routine and add some reps or mass to your frame. Remember to not over use them and don’t push to complete failure on exercises that can pose a real risk of injury. As always have fun with these suggestions and experiment to see what works best for you.

Editors note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein are the author’s and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.

Images: @Cody_Abell 

Michael Gill

Michael Gill

Weight training is in the blood of BarBend contributor Mike Gill. Learning how to lift as part of his conditioning for Jr. High School wrestling fueled a passion that has lasted now for 35 years. He has a background in all weight disciplines and has competed in Bodybuilding, Powerlifting and Weightlifting eventually finding his niche and turning professional in the sport of Strongman. Retired from competition, he now focuses on coaching and applying events from the most versatile weight discipline to other sports. His vast knowledge of Strongman has been highlighted in his work as a color commentator for live broadcasts of the Arnold World Championships, National Amateur Championships, World’s Strongest Man Over 40 and World’s Strongest Woman.Not limiting himself to just working with weights, Mike has used his decades of discipline to work as a life coach and speaker. Additionally he can often be seen in New York City as a stand up comic.He can be reached for coaching at Michaelgill100 [at] gmail.com, @prostrongman on Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram, and on Facebook.

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