What Is Strongman?
Strongman is a strength sport, much like powerlifting and the weight-lifting you see in the Olympics. People who get interested in weight-lifting are usually trying to find the best way to gain muscle or lose fat. Often those people turn to CrossFit, bodybuilding, or powerlifting, largely because these are well-known. Strongman, however, is different than all of those and definitely worth trying.
Strongman consists of different "events" where you score points. For example, a bodybuilder is awarded points for how aesthetic he is. Strongman, however, gives points for events like lifting logs, or trucks, or even pulling planes. This is what makes the sport different than others—lifting heavy, odd objects, anything from boulders to motorcycles, and everything in between. But don't be intimidated! Practically every strongman movement can be replicated in a commercial gym. So if you want to get in the best shape of your life through one of the most fun sports out there, strongman is for you.
Strongman for Athletes
If you're an athlete, or just want to be more athletic, strongman is perfect for you. Why? Well, the movements are what we call, "functional" movements. This means that instead of pulling a bar while you're in perfect position, you perform movements that aren't as easy. What's easier, picking a 200 pound bar up, or a 200 pound rock? Ask anyone who's done both, and they'll tell you the bar is much easier.
Why is this important? Well, if you've played sports, you'll realize that you can't always set up for the perfect kick, or the perfect shot. Sports are largely a game of improvisation, and strongman trains you for that. Also, strongman can help those who don't participate in sports or athletics at all! I've been to a gym where a 60+ year old lady came in with back pain asking for help. They taught her to lift like a strongman, and her back pain was the best it had been in YEARS. Strongman is the real deal. It will make you stronger physically and mentally, and if done right, it can get you absolutely shredded.
5 Strongman Movements
1. Farmers Carries Farmers carries can be done in just about any gym, because they require only dumbbells. There is a special item used in the professional competitions, but you don't need those. All you need to do, is grab a dumbbell in each hand, and walk back and forth. Seriously. Just relax your shoulders and let them sink down. This exercise will make for some massive shoulders and arms.
The Lift The setup for a set of farmers carries is fairly simple. Pick the dumbbells up, and squeeze them as hard as you can. This will make sure to activate your forearms as much as possible. When picking up the weights, make sure to keep your back as straight as possible. If you put a PVC pipe on your back, you should be able to feel it all the way up your back. If you can, your back is straight. Now I'm not saying to go and get a PVC pipe, but that's the thing you're looking for when you try and keep your back straight. Once the weights are off the ground and you're holding them, relax your traps. The traps are the muscles in the shoulders that connect to your neck, and actually go down into the middle of your back. When your traps are relaxed, start walking. Keep your core tight, and just move your legs. You should remain straight up with your chest out the whole time. Walk as far as you can before dropping the weight. You can add this movement to the end of a shoulder workout. Do three sets, walking as far as you can, for a great burnout effect.
2. Deadlifts Deadlifts might be considered cheating, because they aren't a strongman exclusive movement, but they made the list simply because of how great they are. Deadlifts will make for a thick and strong back, as well as building the glutes and hamstrings. To perform this movement like a true strongman, try deficit deadlifts by standing on something and then pulling the weight.
The Lift In order to perform the lift, you need to first understand that there are two different ways to deadlift. First, is the conventional stance, which involves your hands positioned outside your legs. The other option is a sumo deadlift, which involves your hands positioned inside your legs, with a much wider stance. For this article, we'll be focusing on a conventional stance. A good starting point is to get your feet shoulder width apart, and stick your chest out. From this position, squat down as far as you can before your back starts to round. Once you reach the point where your back rounds, start to hinge at your hips, no longer bending your legs, but bringing your chest towards the ground. Go as low as you need to in order to grab the bar. Your hands should be just outside of your legs. Remember to keep your chest up, and try to push your feet through the ground and squeeze your glutes as you pick the weight up from the ground. REMEMBER to always keep your spine in a neutral position. This means that your back should not be rounded, or over extended. You should finish the movement in a "lockout" position. This means that you're standing straight up, with your glutes tight, and chest up. Once at this point, slowly let the weight down, keeping your back straight, and chest up.
3. Yoke Walks Yoke walks are a simple mass and strength builder, and will build your whole back, core, and legs. All you need to do in order to perform this movement, is grab a barbell and put it on your back like a squat. Then, walk. Load up the bar as heavy as you can while still being under control. Make sure to keep your back straight, and your balance on point or else you could fall and hurt yourself or someone else.
The Lift To begin a yoke walk, you'll need to get underneath the barbell. Now, barbell positioning varies from person to person, but with a yoke walk, you generally want the bar on the back of your delts. ("Delts" just being the fancy term for shoulders.) You should be able to put them on the meat of your shoulders. This position may be uncomfortable at first, but not painful. If you experience pain, then it's wise to ask a doctor about your shoulder health. When you place the bar, you also want to grip it. Your hands should be wrapped around the bar, with your palms forward. Once the bar is positioned properly, lift the weight up. When you lift the weight, or have any load on your body, always brace your core. I'll likely write an article on just bracing soon, as it is extremely important, but for now, just make sure you keep your abs activated. You should have a very slight lean in your torso, bending at the hips. This ensures the bar actually stays on your back. Once the weight is fully on your shoulders, begin walking. Take it slow, as it isn't a race, and you don't want to get injured. Once you've completed the exercise, bring the weight back to the rack, and set it down carefully, making sure to get the bar fully on the rack so it doesn't fall. (It's not fun when it falls!)
4. Atlas Stones The stones are easily the most iconic strongman event in the sports history, seeing massive men lift boulders. However, for the average gym goer, it can be a great movement for a great back, strong legs, and huge arms. Now obviously, most gyms don't have boulders to lift. But, a sandbag, or bumper plates could work. If you talk to gym management and they have an old barbell, ask if you can use it as a makeshift stone. All you need to do is unscrew the part you put the weight on, and load it with bumper plates. To actually do the movement, squat down, pick it up, and stand up with it. If you can, put it over a bar.
The Lift Atlas stones can be a bit tricky, but assuming you don't have an actual boulder to use, it get's a bit simpler. If you're using bumper plates, then squat down, with your legs wide. The makeshift stone should be in between your legs. Instead of wrapping your arms around the side like most would think, you want to wrap your arms over the "stone", with your palms facing back at you. This makes the act of loading, (Putting it over a bar, or on a platform) much easier. Get your fingertips underneath it, and begin to pull it towards your body, while pulling it up. You should place it on your thighs to get a better grip, and prepare to really drive it up. Once in a squat with it placed firmly on your legs, begin to drive your legs up, and extend your back, driving the configuration of plates up and over the thing you're loading it on. If you don't have something to load it onto, just lighten the "stone" and bring it up onto your shoulder, holding it there with one hand.
REMINDER Your gym might not want you to do this. Make sure it's alright with management first. Also, be courteous. Don't just drop the thing unless you have padding underneath it.
5. Overhead Press The overhead press is great for athletes and anyone wanting to look better. It builds your shoulders, arms, and core, some of the most aesthetic muscles. Also, it's a killer exercise for strength. What screams, "I'm powerful" more than putting 300 pounds over your head? Exactly. Start doing this exercise. The only reason this exercise isn't higher on the list, is it can be a bit dangerous if done incorrectly. Make sure your back is straight, and you keep your core stable, and you'll be fine.
The Lift The "overhead press" (OHP) can be performed in a number of ways, but strongmen largely train the push press, so we'll focus on that. What constitutes the push press, is leg drive, in order to bring a weight from your chest above your head. To perform the OHP, set the bar up on a rack, much like a squat or yoke walk. Bring the bar to rest as tight to your upper chest and neck as possible. It will be uncomfortable, but keep it there. You want to make sure that your elbows are forward and a little bit out, but not pointing down just yet. Now, set your feet about shoulder width apart, and get ready to push. To start the movement, bend at your knees, and drive your legs into the ground, bringing momentum and power up your body. While you do this, drive the bar straight up with your arms and leg power combined. When pressing with your arms, you can drop your elbows a bit so you're comfortable, but not all the way down. Make sure you keep your spine neutral, and straight. You should NOT lean backwards. This will put too much pressure on your back. The finish to the movement should be the elbows locked out, and the bar above your head. Once done, bring the weight slowly down to your starting position, with elbows straight, and re-rack the weight.
Congratulations! You've made it through your first course in basic strongman movements. I hope this article serves as an introduction to the sport of strongman for those who don't know about it, and helps you reach your goals. Strongman will make you strong, and aesthetic, so why not try it? Plus, it's so fun, and the community is absolutely fantastic. If you haven't already, add strongman movements to your workout routine. Your body will thank you.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2017 Will Burton
John from India on August 05, 2017:
I am an avid follower of the annual strongman competition and a big fan of Zydrunas savickas
John from India on August 05, 2017:
I am an avid follower of the annual strongman competition and a big fan of Zydrunas savickas
Will Burton (author) from Oregon on August 03, 2017:
Hey Marge! Sorry for not getting back to you until now, but I've been really busy these past few days. Anyways, to answer your question, yes. It is possible to build strength without building muscle mass. However, more muscle with directly effect your maximum strength levels. Assume that someone who has 85 kilos of muscle can lift 350 kilos in the squat, bench press, and deadlift. (This of course is a combined "total" of the three lifts) If someone had 100 kilos of muscle, they would be able to lift more at their strongest level. Another way to look at it, is like this. An ant will lift much less than an elephant, but the ant is extremely strong for it's size, like the elephant. They're both strong, but the larger will be able to move more weight. Now, protein timing won't necessarily effect how your muscle grows larger or stronger. Strength, as most people know it, is lifting as much weight as possible. Of course, a lot of things factor into that, such as technique, speed, and overall force put into the bar. So, you can absolutely get stronger without building muscle, however, it will likely be due to an increase in your nervous systems ability to control your body, rather than your muscle's strength levels magically going up. On a final note, no, protein timing won't make a difference in strength compared to mass. With that said, eat your protein. It will help in strength, and mass building. If your goal is to put on strength and not muscle, look up strength training ideas, or, message me back. I actually sell training programs! Thank you for the comment!
Janean Overman from Virginia on August 01, 2017:
Very descriptive and interesting hub. Thanks for sharing.
Patty Inglish MS from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on August 01, 2017:
"Strongman" is a fun name for a sport and I bet it will attract a lot of participants - and spectators.