How Strongman Oleksii Novikov Trains Before Competition

The 2020 World's Strongest Man revealed his final workout before winning "Strength Island."

On March 8, 2021, the 2020 World’s Strongman Man (WSM) champion Oleksii Novikov of Ukraine took to his relatively new YouTube channel to pull back the curtain on what his final training session looked like before he traveled to Bahrain for the World’s Ultimate Strongman (WUS) “Strength Island” competition. SPOILER ALERT: he won that contest.

Standing 6’1″ at a bodyweight of approximately 300 pounds, Novikov is often one of the smaller athletes at the elite strongman competitions he competes in. He regularly faces off against giants like 2020 WSM bronze-medalist JF Caron or 2020 WSM runner-up Tom Stoltman‘s towering six-foot-eight-inch 384-pound frame. Yet Novikov’s consistency across the plethora of strongman events has launched him to the top of the strongman pound-for-pound leaderboard, so to speak, over the past year. On top of all that, he is still very early in his strongman career at age 24 — he’s tied with Jón Páll Sigmarsson as the youngest ever WSM champion.

The year before his ascension atop the strongman throne, Novikov failed to make the finals of the 2019 WSM due to losing a stone-off against Trey Mitchell in the group stage. So how is Novikov training now to propel him ahead of the field in such a short period of time? Well, the WSM champ has decided to give an inside look.

Check out the video of Novikov’s final training session, which focused on giant dumbbells and medley work, before winning WUS “Strength Island,” which took place on March 13, 2021, below courtesy of his YouTube channel:

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Dumbbell Training

Novikov is no stranger to the heavy dumbbell. He currently holds the heavy dumbbell for reps world record after scoring 11 reps in 75 seconds of a 100-kilogram (220-pound) dumbbell on WUS “Feats of Strength” series. Before diving into the workout, the champ breaks down the two different dumbbells used in strongman competition.

Giant Dumbbell vs. Cyr Dumbbell

The giant dumbbell (also known as the heavy dumbbell) is what the name suggests. The bells on each end of the handle are usually as large, if not larger, than the head of the strongmen lifting it. The Cyr dumbbell — named after French-Canadian strongman of the late nineteenth century Louis Cyr — has two spheres at each end of the handle. Due to its appearance, the Cyr dumbbell is sometimes referred to as the circus dumbbell.

For “Strength Island,” the heavy dumbbell event utilized the Cyr dumbbell. Still, Novikov focused his training on both since the heavy dumbbell can support the 100 kilograms (220 pounds) he wants to prepare with (his Cyr dumbbell was only 56 kilograms (123.5 pounds).

As he did during his world recording setting set on the “Feats of Strength” series, Novikov lifted the giant dumbbell with his right arm. For the sake of efficiency — as the heavy dumbbell event is more often scored in highest reps within a specific time limit rather than maximum weight — Novikov utilizes a rotation technique to drop the dumbbell.

After locking out each rep, Novikov rotates his arm so that his thumb faces away from him when dropping the dumbbell. This positions the dumbbell perpendicular to his body so that when it hits the ground, mat, or in Novikov’s case, the tire, it won’t roll away from him. A rolling dumbbell can cost a strongman precious seconds during their set, which can be the difference between winning and losing an event. Additionally, turning the dumbbell so it falls perpendicular to his body lands it in a near-perfect position to begin the next rep immediately. If you rewatch the video around the 1:35 mark, you will see how this rotation technique is routine for Novikov, allowing for efficient reps.

Lifting Chalk

Novikov highlights the importance of chalking both hands with magnesium carbonate to ensure the skin is dry and won’t tear during a rep. Considering how heavy the dumbbells they lift are, if an athlete’s hands are sweaty or sticky, the dumbbell’s weight can pull or tear the skin and even potentially the muscles. Novikov will train with a dumbbell that weighs upwards of 145 kilograms (319.7 pounds), and his equipment can support up to 160 kilograms (352.7 pounds). 

Knee Sleeves

Novikov also wears knee sleeves supported with additional bands. Although the heavy dumbbell’s focus is primarily technique and stresses the shoulder, each rep involves what is essentially a clean of the dumbbell to the racked position on the strongman’s trap before a single-arm jerk.

Performing that many cleans with such a heavy load in a condensed time frame can apply a lot of stress to the knees. Novikov admits that he does feel some knee discomfort when training the heavy dumbbell but fends off injury with proper technique and support.

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Loading Medley

The other focus of Novikov’s training is the loading medley. It is safe to assume there will be a loading medley of some kind at any elite strongman contest. Medleys involve various awkwardly-shaped heavy objects that competitors need to lift and carry for a given distance before loading them onto a platform. For an idea of the obscure objects used, the loading medley at the 2020 WSM utilized monster truck parts.

Although competitors need to be strong enough to lift and load the objects, they also need proper agility and cardio to get it done efficiently. This is the type of event where Novikov’s smaller size than the rest of the competitive field is potentially advantageous. Novikov took second in the medley event at the 2020 WSM, finishing just over a second behind 2020 Britain’s Strongest Man Adam Bishop.

Novikov’s training medley consists of the following objects carried down a track and tossed over a high bar:

  • Sandbag 120 kilograms (264 pounds)
  • Heavy Shield — 110 kilograms (242 pounds), similar in shape to the Husafel Stone.
  • Atlas Stone 120 kilograms (264 pounds)

The items’ weights are similar, but the shape and grip required to carry them are very different. The sandbag is flexible and can be carried in front of the body or over the shoulders. The shield, more often than not, will require an underhand grip. The Atlas Stone involves an overhand open-palm grip that can be tricky to carry with a rounded back.

Although the Atlas Stones often have their own event in competition, using it as part of a training medley helps prepare Novikov for most objects a competition medley could present. His training medley is comprised of a pliable object, an angular object, and a spherical object.


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A post shared by Oleksii Novikov (@novikov_strong_wsm)

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Future Goals

In addition to defending his title as WSM in 2021, Novikov has his sights set on besting the Cyr dumbbell world record of 150 kilograms (330.7 pounds) currently held by Poland’s Mateusz Kieliszkowski. Kieliszkowski could not compete at the 2020 WSM contest due to injury but was the runner-up at the event in 2018 and 2019. Assuming Kieliszkowski is healthy for the 2021 WSM contest, it’s likely the headlines will reflect a battle between him and Novikov for the title.

Featured image: @novikov_strong_wsm on Instagram