Cardio for Strongmen and Strongwomen to Supercharge Your Conditioning

Yes, strongman athletes need to train cardio. Here’s how.

The sport of strongman — which includes strongwomen — is known for spotlighting absurdly heavy lifts of incredibly awkward objects. But it’s not just about picking up weights and putting them back down. Strongman athletes might not look like conventional marathoners, but these herculean feats demand a high level of conditioning.

Traditionally, when athletes say “cardio,” they’re referring to low-intensity, steady-state cardio. Think: 45-minute jogs and easy-going cycling. But your cardiovascular system isn’t a one-trick pony. Athletes need to be in good shape for their specific sport — which means conditioning their cardiovascular system to be excellent at executing the needs of their sport.

A strongman ready to lift.
Credit: sportoakimirka / Shutterstock

Strongman athletes of any gender need to be able to breathe through maximum-effort events, including all-out sprints and medleys of incredibly heavy pushes, pulls, and carries.

Editor’s Note: The content on BarBend is meant to be informative in nature, but it should not be taken as medical advice. When starting a new training regimen and/or diet, it is always a good idea to consult with a trusted medical professional. We are not a medical resource. The opinions and articles on this site are not intended for use as diagnosis, prevention, and/or treatment of health problems. They are not substitutes for consulting a qualified medical professional.

What Is Cardio for Strongman Athletes?

When athletes typically think of cardiovascular exercise, they might envision a treadmill, an elliptical, or even a rower. But not all forms of cardio need to be performed at slow and steady intervals. Nor do you need to be able to sprint to be a well-conditioned athlete. 

To be a well-conditioned strongman athlete, you don’t have to be able to run a marathon. But you do have to be able to breathe — and stay strong — through intense strength-related events. Some will only last a few seconds, like a max effort deadlift. Other events will last upwards of a minute, like loading medleys. You need to have enough stamina to get through all of this.

A strongman athlete performs a tire flip in front of a crowd.
Credit: criben / Shutterstock

For strongman athletes, cardio often looks like performing relatively short bouts — less than 90 seconds or so — of very high-intensity lifts, carries, pushes, or pulls

This kind of typical strongman training like this has such a strong impact on heart rate that it may well have cardiovascular benefits on its own — akin to running on a treadmill. (1)

Strongman Conditioning Vs. Strongman Cardio

Cardiovascular training means different things to different athletes. For some, it might mean training to generally improve your cardiovascular fitness by training your heart — which is a muscle, after all — to pump blood more efficiently. This might mean long walks on the treadmill at high inclines so that you finally can walk up that neighborhood hill without wheezing.

For others, cardiovascular training is often referred to as conditioning. Typically, workouts people refer to as “conditioning” are more high-intensity than when people say “cardio.” But ultimately, it means the same thing — you’re training your heart and lungs (your cardiovascular system) to work more efficiently.

As a strongman athlete, you want a mix of both. You need that high-intensity, short-term burst of power for events — and the ability to breathe and stay calm under all that pressure. You also need a strong base of aerobic fitness to build on to maintain and improve general heart health.

Benefits of Cardio for Strongman Athletes

If you’re a strongman athlete, you need to be able to breathe through incredible intense lifts. It’s not only about muscular endurance when you’re carrying absurdly heavy stones, shields, and other odd implements. It’s also about the ability of your lungs and heart to keep up with your work. Here’s why strongman athletes need cardio training.

Improve Competition Performance

Events in strongman competitions range in time to completion from a few seconds to several minutes. Making sure you’re training to fuel such intense performances with sufficient, event-specific doses of cardio training.

Most strongman athletes improve their conditioning in sports-specific ways. Need to be able to perform as many log press reps as you can in 60 seconds? Training with the log itself is perhaps the best way to help you figure out how to regulate your breathing and heart rate during that specific, repeated bout of effort.

Similarly, stone loads require a tremendous amount of conditioning — it’s not enough to be strong, but you have to maintain that strength to finish your load quickly and efficiently. Even if you are cardiovascularly fit enough to do dozens of box jumps, for example, you might not be conditioned in the way you need to be to succeed at this event.

Therefore, a large proportion of strongman conditioning involves training for specific events with various loads, rep schemes, and timing. The more you practice these kinds of conditioning for events, the better you’ll get at them.

And rest assured — this kind of training can “count” as cardio. Research suggests that strongman training can impact the heart rate so much that it produces cardiovascular benefits, not unlike those produced by treadmill running. (1)

Increase Mental Focus and Calm

If you’ve never tried to both regulate your breathing and properly brace your core and body for a max rep deadlift event, panic might set in. Being unable to breathe can make you both anxious and light-headed, which is not an optimal combination for lifting at your best. You don’t want that to happen under competition lights. 

A strongwoman about to lift a barbell.
Credit: Kitreel / Shutterstock

Instead, use your training sessions to acquaint yourself with the unique rigors of performing high-intensity lifts multiple times in a row or for a long period. Get your heart and lungs accustomed to the physical stressors they’ll face in your strongman career. Then, you can focus on moving heavy weight instead of panicking about whether you’ll be able to eke out another breath under that load.

Boost Aerobic Fitness

Strongman training is extremely high-intensity, taking a large toll on the body and mind. Being able to develop cardiovascular endurance at lower levels of intensity is important for recovery and longevity.

Strongman athletes will want to strongly consider adding low-intensity activities like walking or cycling to their routine. Bouts of walking between 15 and 45 minutes a few times a week can provide an additional base level of cardiovascular fitness for strongman athletes. (2)

With this higher base level of aerobic fitness, strongman athletes set themselves up for event success and physical longevity to succeed at their sport longer.

Soothe Nervous System

Strongman training is tough on both the body and mind. Adding low-intensity cardio to your routine can help reduce stress hormones and soothe the body’s sympathetic nervous system — the “fight, flight, fawn, or freeze” response. (3)

Although it’s more typical to associate strongman events and training with getting very fired up, strongman athletes need to be able to stay calm and focused through immense levels of physical stress and pain. Soothing your nervous system with regular walks and other low-intensity cardio can help give you the baseline you need for that sense of calm.

Improve Overall Health

You don’t have to do high-impact jogging or slog through endless hours on the treadmill. Walking a few miles each day — divided into as many small walks as you’d like — may produce similar benefits to jogging in terms of reducing the risk of high cholesterol, diabetes, and high blood pressure while improving your VO2 max. (4)

In these ways, building a strong base of underlying health can help improve your longevity as an athlete. The cardio that you perform as a strongman athlete can steer you in the right direction.

Reduce Joint and Back Pain

Statistically, male strongman athletes are among the physically largest male athletes across strength sports. (5) Combine this with the fact that the sport itself creates a great deal of mechanical stress on the entire body, and you’ve got yourself a formula for a much-needed emphasis on recovery. (5) Aerobic conditioning can help do just that. 

Walking three times a week may have the added benefit of helping reduce joint pain and lower back pain — which is certainly not hard to come by when you’re a strongman athlete. (6)(7) Brisk walks might also bolster your immune system, which is good news for anyone with a strength training regimen to stick to. (8)

Programming Cardio for Strongman Athletes

Generally speaking, strength athletes benefit from combining low-intensity aerobic training with higher-intensity sports-specific conditioning. Here’s how to work the different kinds of cardio into your strongman program.

Aerobic Fitness Base

As a strongman athlete, you’ll generally get your cardiovascular conditioning from strongman-specific training. After all, you’ll want to make sure you’re prioritizing your ability to perform well in events.

But no matter what strongman exercises you choose to help maximize your conditioning for events, consider adding long, low-intensity walks into your routine. These recovery walks can work tremendously well at improving your base of aerobic fitness, potentially making you better equipped to take on the more intense conditioning challenges demanded by the sport. (2)

Adding walking to your routine can work wonders for your mental health, immune system, joint pains, and overall health (including heart health). (3)(4)(6)(7)(8) As with anything in fitness, start small and build up from there. A few 15-minute walks per week can gradually become a few 45-minute walks per week, which many strongman athletes will use to improve their recovery and overall base of cardiovascular fitness. (2)

Set yourself up for success by supplementing your event-specific conditioning with low-intensity conditioning like walking.

Strongman Cardio Exercises

Although you likely don’t immediately associate strongman with cardio exercises, pretty much all strongman events and lifts can be used to advance cardiovascular training. Here are some of the exercises you can use to improve your conditioning.





Many of the exercises on this list are just one variation or a generic descriptor for multiple exercises. For example, safety squat bar squats, Zercher squats, front squats, back squats, and more are all included in the generic “squat.” Similarly, the loaded carry variations used in strongman are nearly endless — farmer’s carries and suitcase carries are just the beginning.

Strongman Cardio Exercise Selection

Training for strongman requires a great deal of precision. Since the sport takes such an immense toll on the body, you’ll need to make sure all of your work is as effective as possible. To do that, choose which exercises you’re using higher reps and time for carefully.

When you’re looking to improve your conditioning, consider the following factors:

For example, if you want to maximize your strength in the deadlift, improve your conditioning with speed deadlift reps for one training cycle. Then, as you start to deadlift heavier, get your conditioning from other types of movement. Sled pushes are one move that can provide strong benefits while letting your grip recover from tremendous efforts in the deadlift.

Strongman Cardio Weight Selection

Speed training with submaximal loads plays a significant role in many strongman athletes’ training regimens. (2) This is particularly prevalent for big compound moves such as squats and deadlifts, which take a huge toll on the entire body — and on one’s ability to breathe through the exercise. (2)

When you’re doing speed work, you might want to opt for a load between 50 and 60 percent of your max. If you’re experienced in the sport, even this can be a significant weight on its own. And since you’ll be aiming to move the weight as quickly as possible, this can get very fatiguing very quickly. (2)

Use loads that are lighter than those expected for competition so you can perform a higher number of reps — thus sustaining that higher heart rate for a longer period. (2)

Strongman Cardio Sets and Reps

When many strength athletes and average gymgoers think about building endurance, they might perform 15 reps per set or more. But strongman athletes are not your average gymgoer. Even very low volumes can produce big changes in heart rate.

What follows are some examples of rep schemes that work well for different training implements and exercises. Consider adapting these as needed to your own routine.

A strongman athlete carries a lifts a stone in outdoor competition.
Credit: criben / Shutterstock

When you’re lifting stones or other heavy odd objects, consider performing between one and six sets of one and six reps. If endurance is your main goal, use slightly lighter stones and err toward the higher end of that set and rep scheme.

With movements that you can perform a little bit faster, you might choose a higher rep scheme. For the log clean & press, consider performing three to six sets of three to 10 reps. For tire flips, you might also choose to opt for three to four sets of three to 10 reps.

When you’re going for distance — with yoke walks, for example — try three sets of 20-meter walks. (9) Aiming for distances between 20 and 50 meters generally works well. When you’re going for longer distances, adjust the weight accordingly to make sure you’re moving sustainably.

Ensure that you’re resting sufficiently between sets. Aim to rest for at least four minutes before diving back into a set.

Strongman Cardio Load and Frequency

Strongman athletes don’t exclusively train in strongman events. Because these movements are so incredibly draining — and take such an immense toll on the body — a competitive athlete may only perform certain strongman moves once a week.

In this context, your frequency will largely depend on your intensity (load).

You don’t need to go far to make the most out of heavy pushes and pulls. A “mere” 30 meters of a truck pull “only” once a week will do the trick. You can also perform this move once every two weeks — it’ll still be effective. (2)

If you’re opting for shorter loaded carries, use a much heavier weight. When you’re only carrying your implements for 20 meters, for example, opt for more weight than what you would expect in a competition that requires a longer distance. If you travel as far as 50 meters — or are holding extremely heavy weights — once every two weeks on this move can suffice. (2)

On the other hand, when you’re looking to build more endurance with your conditioning work, you might choose to perform these kinds of carries and pulls twice a week. Just use lighter weights to enable you to travel farther or accomplish more reps with less relative wear and tear on your body.

With low-intensity conditioning exercises like walking, opt for three or four 15 to 45-minute walks per week. That might look like some long walks peppered a few times throughout the week — if not daily.

Your Takeaways

As a strongman athlete, yes, you do need cardio training. But not to worry — in general, you’ll get a great deal of conditioning work in during your regularly-scheduled programming. Here are some key takeaways:

  • Strongman athletes often get high levels of cardiovascular stimulus from training for typical strongman events like loaded carries, stone loads, and sled pushes.
  • High-rep sets for strongman athletes are not the same as high-rep sets for powerlifters or bodybuilders. If you want to build endurance and get your heart rate up, you can do that with as little as one to six reps.
  • When building your stamina in strongman events, you might find yourself only performing these lifts once a week. The rest of your week will be supplemental work, more akin to powerlifting training.
  • In addition to regular strongman event training — which provides plenty of sports-specific conditioning — aim to integrate several low-intensity cardio bouts per week, like taking 15 to 45-minute walks. If you’re not used to walking, start at the lower end of the time spectrum and work your way up.

More Strongman Content

Can’t get enough strongman content? Check out these articles to stay current on what’s going on in the wide world of strongman competitions.


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Featured Image: criben / Shutterstock