A Strongman’s Guide to Gear: Competition Starter Pack

There is a running joke amongst many in the Strongman world, which is that we’re just in it for the gear. Strongman competitors are the ultimate “gear whores”, as a friend indelicately put it. Lever lifting belts, pronged belts, velcro belts, soft belts, elbow sleeves, wrist wraps, knee sleeves, Rehband shorts, mouth guards, deadlift/squat suits, lifting shoes, Converse, hiking boots, stone sleeves, duct tape, receiver gloves: we like our stuff. Some seasoned competitors may have a different pair of shoes for every event (and by “some,” I mean mean me. Insert joke about women loving shoes here.)

This is in part due to the varied nature of Strongman competition. Take an event like a yoke walk, where there is an incredible amount of challenge to the competitor’s ability to stay braced and tight under a massive load while moving and thus where the competitor might be best supported by stiff thick shoes like hiking boots and double-belting (wearing a soft belt like Rehband or Mueller underneath a thick leather belt). Compare that to a moving event like a sandbag or keg run where you need to be fast and dynamic and might benefit from more flexible training shoes, a light soft or velcro belt, and not much else.

There are a lot of different possible combinations of gear that different athletes might prefer, and that can be overwhelming to a beginner, so I want to talk about the very basics. The following are what I personally consider the best investments out of the gate for someone totally new to Strongman competitions.

Lifting Belt

This is number one in my book. With many Strongman movements demanding a tight braced core, wearing a belt is a good way to remind yourself of that important fact: you have the feedback of the belt to remind you to “brace,” or engage, your abdominal muscles, as well as slight structural support (depending on the stiffness of the belt).

Whether it’s a farmer carry or deadlift, abdominal bracing is crucial to efficacy as well as safety, and a belt will remind you of that. You don’t have to blow your paycheck, either. You can spend less than $30 at a sporting goods store on a cheap but relatively stiff Harbinger velcro belt, and later invest in a fancier, tougher leather lever or prong belt.

I wore a Harbinger velcro belt of moderate stiffness for about a year before getting a heavier duty leather one. When you are ready for a leather belt, there is tons of variation, so selecting a cheaper single-prong leather belt from Amazon for $50 could be helpful before you throw down $200 on a personalized lever belt only to discover that you really don’t like the width or thickness. Go cheap first and try a few variations, then invest.

Below: I’m wearing my Spud velcro belt, a gift from my coach. Hang out with experienced Strongmen and they might just unload their old gear on you!

Shoes

Obviously, you have to wear shoes. Actually, you don’t, but I wouldn’t recommend going barefoot (I’ve seen people cut their feet open on yokes and it was gross! Let’s keep unnecessary injuries to a minimum). If you can only invest in one pair of training and competition shoes first, something with a flat sole like Converse or Vans are a really safe bet.

You can press, deadlift, walk and run in them without much issue, and the thin sole allows you to “grip the floor” with your feet, which is really helpful to stabilizing your body. My second recommendation would be a lightly supportive athletic trainer (which you would remove for deadlifts, as shoe cushioning on deadlifts is usually not beneficial to the lift and you’re better off just wearing socks); maybe less ideal for pressing and deadlifting, but great for moving, which is at least half the competition.

When you’re starting out and trying to figure out what works for you, keep it simple and try new shoes out in training, not on competition day. Converse are my go-to and they look cool, which is crucially important. I swear Converse didn’t pay me to say this, at least not yet. How do they not have a Powerlifter or Strongman shoe yet? Cough cough, I’m waiting.

Mouthguard

This may be a surprise to some of my fellow competitors, because I RARELY see it, but I swear by my mouthpiece for deadlifts, yoke, farmer, and stones (and anything REALLY heavy where I know I’m going to be straining at close to max effort output). Some of the people I train with have been wearing them for a while, but it took me hitting my head on stone-over-bar and thus biting the atlas stone and chipping a tooth to decide that it was worth paying $15 for an Everlast boxing mouthpiece to avoid such further incidents.

Strongman events often feature, shall we say, an element of unpredictability, and protecting your face is just a good idea, unless you are really confident you can shell out for extra dental work. There is also some data that suggests that being able to bite down and maintain safe jaw alignment could actually improve movement quality, so there are many hypothetical and practical benefits.

My infamous stone incident:

Wrist Wraps

This one is pretty straight-forward and affordable. Wrist wraps provide support to the wrist joint (it’s not cheating, it’s just smart) as well as protection from more unnecessary minor injuries. (I’m all about avoiding unnecessary pain – there is plenty of necessary pain in Strongman already.) A 100 lb plus circus dumbbell cutting into your wrist leaves frickin’ awful bruising that is totally unnecessary and distractingly painful. I wince whenever I see novices pressing dumbbells or logs without wrist support. There’s no reason for it – wrap up and focus on your lift, not how much your forearm hurts from repeated impact.

Those are my essential Strongman Starter Pack recommendations. There is tons of room for variation, and different things work for different bodies. If you are able to train at a gym that has extra gear, or with lifters who have old and spare gear, politely ask to experiment with it before throwing down your dollars – then you can find out if you like it or not before investing. You can also try to find cheaper versions of things like Rehbands on Amazon, and while the quality might not last, that might be okay if you decide it’s the not equipment for you.

With everything, wear it in training first, practice with it before you take it to a competition. Competition day is hectic enough without you stressing about whether you’re going to like pressing in your brand new lifters.

Let us know in the comments or email if you have questions about what gear to buy, and we can address it a future article!

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: @captainstarbuck on Instagram

Cara Brennan

Cara Brennan

Finishing acting school in 2010 left Cara directionless and depressed, slinging drinks for work while half-heartedly and inconsistently auditioning. She had tons of ambition, but little discipline and no direction. After a psychologically devastating break-up, she decided that, even though she had had almost no athletic development since her early teens, taking control of her body would help her find stability and a way out of her depression. She started working at an NYC gym, and began studying under the training staff. She began like many do: by following Starting Strength’s 5x5 template, and then Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1, experimenting constantly while she learned. She developed a deep desire to challenge herself physically, and training helped her manage the mental health issues that had plagued her for years.

She did her first strongman competition in April, 2015, and has competed over twenty times since then, at the regional, national, and world level. She immediately became hooked on the sport (she has also dabbled in highland games, weightlifting and powerlifting, and aggressively stalks the various Dottirs on social media - that’s the same as trying Crossfit, right?).

Strongman helped her reconnect to her artistic side. She found strongman initially through the internet via sources like Starting Strongman and T-Nation, and she wanted to give back and experience the sport in a more cerebral way by writing. Her experience in strongman inspired aspects of her webseries, Asher, which features an athletic, stone-lifting protagonist.

Cara became a personal trainer in 2014, and strongman became not only a vehicle for personal and physical development, but it also transformed her professional life: She has trained with and learned from a wide scope of strength and fitness professionals, including Dr. Pat Davidson, Zydrunas Savickas, Liefia Ingalls, Dan Trink, Travis Mash, and Cara’s coach, Andrew Triana (of The Performance Vibe with Zach and Nicholas Hadge). She currently trains her clients in Manhattan, and they range from twenty-something-year-old strength hobbyists to grandparents and post-surgery/post-rehab trainees.

Cara is very interested in how strength training and competition become means of personal development, and much of her writing explores the more cerebral aspects of training. She believes that a good training environment, a strong goal and an intelligent program can changes lives far beyond just the body’s performance capabilities. You can learn more about her on her Instagram @captainstarbuck and at www.thecarabrennan.com.

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