Deconstructing Your Strongman Training Program

Everyone who hires a coach (or a programmer) has the faith that they are picking the right person for the job. In the client’s mind the money they are spending will get them information that is better than what they can get for free on the internet, or is better than what other coaches have to offer. While this can hold true some of the time, this is not going to be true in other circumstances. No matter what you believe to be true, the end result will come out in your performance. This is ultimately a good test of the coaching. You also should chose a programmer that has some experience in the sport of strongman. It is a very unique sport with demands that you can not understand until you have been there.

Many times, decisions are based on emotional reasons and we forget to use our logic to make a good decision. By taking a look at what has been provided with us, you can examine your program and work with your coach more closely in its implementation at any stage of the game.

Step One: Understanding Volume

Volume is simply the amount of weight moved in a session. Expressed mathematically, it is Weight x Sets x Reps. This easy concept is the base of all your programming. To get stronger on the press, pull and squat, science indicates low volume with frequent sessions will be the most effective way to train. So first, your program should match the amount of days and time you will hit the gym and spread the volume out over those days. The more days you can train, the faster you will get strong. This is due to being able to train at higher intensity.

Step Two: Intensity

This is where most trainees get confused. I am not talking about walking into the gym with your pre-workout kicking in, turning Rage Against the Machine all the way up, and simply working until you are shot. What we are referring to is the amount of weight moved in a set in relationship to your maximum poundages. When the intensity is high, the amount of reps will be lower. An example of this may be 3×2 at 90% or your one rep max for an overhead.

In strongman you must also account for how damaging some of the exercises can be to your central nervous system and joints and tendons. Doing tire flips, stone loads and circus dumbbell at a high percentage of max can take its toll if done for long periods.

Step Three: The Exercises

Obviously this is what you are doing in your session. Are you doing just squats, or squats and leg exercises together? Maybe full body every session? Are there some bodybuilding exercises involved like curls? There can be synergistic flow in the combination of movements and there can also be antagonistic movements. I still believe bar, dumbbell and kettlebell work should be the base of you program to assist the odd object lifting. Bent over rows and front squats go a long way in helping the front squat without having to use the implements themselves.

Step Four: The Program or Periodization

The combination of the above in a program is what you are paying for. After laying the above lengthy foundation, I will now help you look at what you paid for (or got free) and analyze it out of the box. This can save you valuable time if this program is not up to snuff. Now that you have a general concept of what makes a program let’s look at it constructively.

Does the program make good use of your time?

  • Make sure that if you can train five days, that the program takes this into consideration and makes good use of those days.
  • Is it reasonable to do the work listed in a set amount of time? If not, what can be cut?

What is the relationship between volume and intensity?

This is the key! In a well organized program the volume and intensity will increase over a set period of time. Then just as importantly, taper off in the weeks nearing a contest. Check the sets and reps over the course of a few weeks. If week one has you doing 3×3 at 80 percent  for three exercises, and a month later you are doing 5×3 at 90 percent, you are on the right track. Just as importantly you should see that cut back a few weeks prior to your meet (maybe 3×2 at 85 percent) to help you recover for the contest.

The increase in work over the course of the program should also be gradual. Just a small increase every week in sets or reps or weight. Your body will only make small strength gains in recovery, so big jumps here will set you up for failure. Slow consistent gains will help you avoid injury and make consistent long term progress.

Do the exercises make sense?

Exercise selection is just as important and it all starts with a good base. For anyone who lifts anything, I believe the squat is going to be the key to your program. Heavy or light, high or low, front or back, squats are a total game changer. I can’t recall anyone I’ve ever met of merit in this game without a great squat. I also think at least two sessions a week should have squats built into them. The rest of the time needs to see you rowing and pulling up, practicing your press and making sure you are building a rock solid posterior chain. If you are lacking on the hard core basics, ask why!

If you are leading up to a specific event does the program compliment this? If you have a log coming up in eight weeks are you doing overheads with that,  cause using a axle here wouldn’t make much sense. If it’s a heavy static type event the front carries and sled work should cut to maintenance levels. Being in the right shape has plenty to do with doing the right work!

If you have part of your program dedicated to muscle growth and mass building then make certain the amount of hypertrophy work isn’t interfering with your strength recovery. This “side work” should be the first thing to go if you are pressed for time or your strength gains are suffering.

Does the program address the goals you specified or need to work on?

  • If you need conditioning work is this implemented and does it get more difficult over time?
  • If you are looking to add to your press is this prioritized in your training? It should seem odd to you if want to break a log record but 50% of your time is spent rack pulling and tire flipping.
  • Do you have the equipment you need to complete the program? Make sure you make the programmer aware of things you don’t have so they don’t need to rewrite it. It’s hard to box squat without a solid box.

By breaking your program down with some simple math and common sense you should have a road map that you can understand that will aid in your training. A great program will give you a direct route to success and avoid too many scenic routes and detours.

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

Images courtesy Michele Wozniak