Strongman has certainly changed a lot since it first graced our TV screens in the 70s. Back when the sport was but a baby, the events were new, exciting, and unpredictable, designed to test both the strength and ingenuity of the athletes. Over the last 40 years strongman has transitioned from an American TV show to a full blown international sport, and events were standardized and narrowed down with only a handful surviving (RIP steel bending).
Nowadays you can go to any strongman competition worldwide and be met with (generally) the same tried and tested events. For the aspiring strongman, this standardization is both a blessing and a curse. One the one hand, you if you know exactly what you are letting yourself in for and can pick competitions accordingly; but on the other hand, if you don’t have access to the equipment you are at a substantial disadvantage.
Strongman equipment might becoming more prevalent, thanks to more manufacturers and the sport’s growing popularity. But for those of you training for your first comp in a commercial gym, you might need to get a little inventive.
At it’s core, strongman is all about lifting heavy awkward objects, and nothing makes a standard movement harder than throwing a fat bar into the mix. Most competitions will have at least one axle event, typically either a press or a deadlift. If you’re training in a commercial gym, the chances are that your grip won’t be getting the fat grip work it needs.
The solution is simple buy a pair of Fat Gripz or similar which will instantly turn anything, whether it’s a barbell, dumbbell, farmers walk or duck carry into a fat bar. For the commercial gym strongman these are a must. As no amount of regular barbell or work can ever prepare you for having to clean an axle.
For the lighter strongmen out there, towel pull ups are great way to work the grip without having to buy any specialist equipment.
The Conan’s Wheel is more of an exercise in masochism than it is a test of strength. All the technique and core work in the world won’t help you from the world of hurt that bar imposes on you. Agony aside the Conan’s Wheel is fortunately one of the easiest events to train equipment free.
The advice I give anyone preparing for a marathon is to spend as much time on their feet as possible, and the same goes for training the wheel, get the elbows used to being loaded up as much as you can. In an ideal world you would Zercher carry a heavy barbell in the crook of your elbows for at least 60m. In most gyms, though, that just isn’t possible, so heavy Zercher holds will do if space is at a premium.
If you happen to have access to a yoke and an unbroken 60m stretch then you can get an even better feel for the Wheel. Just drop the cross bar down to belly button height and practise walking with it. Try at all costs to avoid short zercher sprints — they might be hard and great for conditioning, but the crossover to the wheel is minimal.
If your gym happens to have a trap bar, then you’re in luck. All you need to do is load it up and get moving. This will perfectly replicate a frame carry, which will help your farmer’s walk massively. The only problem is that the frame doesn’t prepare you for the instability of having two separate handles.
This can be remedied to an extent by getting used to a heavier weight, load the trap bar up to around 120% of the competition weight. Run 20m for two to three sets before dropping down to 70 or 80% and hitting 40m runs.
If your gym is sans trap bar then you have one option left. Heavy dumbbells. Chances are that the heaviest dumbbells in your gym won’t be much more than 110lb, likely a fraction of the comp weight.
It’s not all doom and gloom, however; the low pick up and awkward handles make dumbbell farmer’s walks significantly harder than most implements you will get in a competition, and practicing the low pick up will serve you well.
This is the perfect opportunity to once again get out the Fat Gripz and after a couple of sets of 40 to 80m runs you’ll be wishing you’d gone lighter! If your grip is up to it finish off the session with some heavy double overhand barbell holds.
Atlas stones are the one event that you can rely on to be at at almost any show; from a local comp to World’s Strongest Man, stones are always going to be a favorite. They might look impossible to replicate but fortunately there are a few ways to train the movement without having access to a set of stones.
If your gym is open to a little creative destruction or you happen to have an old barbell lying around then your best option would be to create a DIY stone trainer. Unscrew the end of a barbell and load it with bumper plates. Stand the dummy stone up so that the plates are flat with the ground and grip it and rip it as you would a stone.
If your gym doesn’t encourage dismantling their equipment then you can make do with a pivot trainer, a much more convenient alternative. Secure one you load one end of a barbell in the corner of all and load the other up. Again grip and rip although this time your range of movement will be reduced.
Alternatively you can use a swiss ball and a cable machine as Michael Gill showed us earlier this year, which you can see in his article here and embedded below.
Get Really Strong
It’s undeniable that flawless technique will take you a long way in this sport but it doesn’t mean it’s the be all and end all. An incredible strength base and work capacity can make you just as competitive. Many a gym rat who has never so much as touched a stone before has walked away with a podium spot due to their freakish strength.
This phenomenon isn’t exclusive to the amateurs either, World’s Strongest Man Competitor Misha Koklyaev is famed for barely training events. Instead the Russian prioritises strength and conditioning over everything and just recapping on events in the final weeks before a contest.
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.