In the last decade, the opportunities to compete in Strongman contests and hybrid events (functional fitness-style events, Highland Games, etc.) has increased at a crazy pace. People love the challenge of pushing themselves physically and trying to determine in a multitude of ways just how strong they are. My social media feeds are filled with awesome videos of excited competitors hitting PR’s and winning events. Many of these athlete’s videos are well executed, but there are a few that are cringe worthy. There are three (plus a bonus) mistakes I see more than I should, and they are easily remedied with some forethought and better set up. While competing injury and pain free is rare, you certainly don’t want to be making avoidable mistakes.
1. Deadlift Smarter
I discussed here the deadlift, and that article breaks down the different pulls you can do in a contest. The main difference between the Powerlifter’s pull and that of a Strongman is the use of straps. This advantage to the Strongman is huge. It changes the focus of the event that can be limited by hand strength to an all out back and legs challenge. For the Powerlifter to pull maximum weight, they will use the over under grip on the bar. This has one palm facing the body and the other facing out (supinated) towards the judges. This grip stops the rotation of the bar and increases the amount you can lift over a double overhand pull. The problem with this grip is the increased stress on the biceps tendon of the forward facing palm.
It can be argued that you don’t see many Powerlifters tear biceps this way. That seems to be reasonably true. But the Powerlifter is executing the lift with perfect form and a single repetition on a calibrated bar. This is not the case in Strongman. Most deadlifts are for repetitions, and after pulling full out for 60 seconds, your form is sure to slip.
When you have the advantage of using straps there is no good reason to use the mixed grip. Always strap in double overhand and eliminate a great deal of biceps stress. You will also be stronger in this position and can wrap the strap much tighter. I cringe when I see a mixed grip strapped to the bar. It’s not necessary, and if something were to go wrong it is going to increase the chance or seriousness of a tear due to the release time of the strap.
To strengthen grip in training, just avoid using the straps on the deadlift until you actually need them. If you can pull 500 with a double overhand grip, don’t strap in until your surpass that weight.
A related tip here is to master the use of straps. Being able to wrap them quickly and tightly will help your game immensely. Buy a pair of high quality nylon straps that aren’t too thick. You don’t need a lot of extra bulk in your hand, and cotton straps can wear out and break during a heavy pull.
2. Never, Ever Flip a Wet Tire
Having one palm facing away from you when pulling a heavy object can raise some cause for concern. When flipping a tire, often both palms are in the supine position. This is the nature of the beast, and you must make sure you get as much of your body against the tire to alleviate the stress on the biceps when doing the exercise. There is one caution here that I’ve heard from every experienced strongman and strength coach that I have worked with: never flip a wet tire.
Water on rubber makes the tire a dangerous game. Your hands can easily slip, and the quick jerk can put all the weight on one arm, causing an instant snap of the tendon. Unfortunately I have witnessed it twice. One was a partial tear, but the other was a full snap that derailed a promising career. Losing control of a tire can also cause you to fall and become pinned under it. If you store your tires outside, make certain they are dry prior to use.
3. Pay Attention to Atlas Stone Form
The king of all strength lifts is the Atlas Stone. I review proper technique in this article. When done correctly, the stone is between your feet, close to your center of gravity, and you pick it up from the ground using a technique very similar to the Romanian or stiff leg deadlift. This movement most evenly distributes the weight of the stone across your feet and loads the hips, legs and back in the most efficient way possible.
I see a few competitors doing a much different pick that has them dropping the entire body closer to the floor and trying to scoop the stone up with their forearms. This has the body off balance, and the stone is far too removed from the center of gravity to be efficient. As it is lifted from the ground, the stone is then pulled back toward the athlete and that creates a massive amount of low back stress in a position where the back is not protected. This event is difficult enough without moving the weight further from your center of gravity. Whenever possible, keep the weight you are moving as close to you as possible.
4. Bonus Pro Tip: Wash Your Sleeves!
Video can’t cover every single base when it comes to safety, and there is one very important bit of information this is often overlooked; wash your neoprene sleeves! They are like sponges soaking up your sweat and become a breeding ground for smells and bacteria. Turn them inside out and soak in cold water, white vinegar, and Woolite for about 15 minutes. Rinse them out and then let air dry for 24 hours in front of a fan. There is no reason to give yourself an infection from dirty gear. Your training group will thank you as well.
Staying healthy is paramount to enjoying your time in Strongman. Just a few corrections to your game can keep it that way. Practice like you play and always strive to do it with perfection.
Mike Gill is a retired 105kg professional strongman and currently a broadcaster for Strongman Corporation. He has a background in all weight disciplines and has competed in Bodybuilding, Powerlifting and Weightlifting. He can be reached at @prostrongman onTwitter, Snapchat, and Instagram.
Featured image: Michele Wozniak, Strongman Corporation