Training for Strongman

After all my rambling about strength training, I decided I should put mine to the test. So I signed up for the novice round at England’s Strongest Man Under 80kg.

That weight category is very important. I have loved strongman ever since witnessing Magnus Ver Magnusson conquer all mortals in the early ’90s, but as a medium-sized chap I never wanted to – or believed I could – grow to the vast size necessary to compete with the monsters. Then one day at Genesis Gym I saw Lewis Blackwood lifting Atlas stone and discovered that strongman has weight categories. That changed everything.

At the end of April I signed up for a competition in mid-July, figuring that three months of training would be ample preparation. Then I immediately jumped into six weeks of working flat out on a film up in Leeds. The next time I opened my eyes it was the week-long binge of Download Festival in June, then it was 5 weeks until the competition and I had no idea where to even begin.

I also didn’t have a place to train. I’d moved out of London away from Genesis (my favourite gym) and 99% of other gyms feature a distinct lack of Atlas stones, farmer’s grips, axels, logs, yokes and the other strange and wonderful things that strongmen and strongwomen have to heft.

However, in a fortunate turn of events I happened to nip down to the nearest gym to my parents’ house – Wild Gym on the outskirts of High Wycombe. It’s wonderful place, but it’s primarily a functional fitness facility where movement is emphasised over the lifting of vast weights. Yet, lo and behold, they just so happened to have access to a whole stack of strongman training equipment! There was even a strongman training session every Monday night!

[Update: Wild Gym is now investing in a huge amount of additional strongman equipment, so watch this space!]

So began my five weeks of training in strongman, building up to these events:

Deadlift: 170kg as many times as possible in 60 seconds

Log Press: 70kg from floor to overhead as many times as possible in 60 seconds

Yoke Carry: 200kg for two 20m lengths as fast as possible

Truck Pull: 7.5 tons as far as possible in 60 seconds

Atlas Stones: 90kg over a yoke as many times as possible in 60 seconds

It wasn’t easy. In fact it was the exact opposite of easy, which I suppose is the entire point of strongman. For example, despite having just competed 4 months of overhead press training with an Olympic bar up to and over 100kg, as soon as I loaded a thick strongman log up to 70kg I could barely move the damn thing. The centre of mass is shifted forwards, your hands and arms are at a totally different angle, and you don’t feel like you can drive with your legs without dropping the whole thing on your feet. It was a truly humbling experience that made me realise the size of the task I had set myself, trying to get to grips with this within a month.

My training schedule went very roughly as follows:

Monday: strongman events, primarily those in the competition: log press, heavy Atlas stone and yoke carry.

Tuesday: upper body: bench press, chin ups and mobility

Wednesday: climbing

Thursday: leg power: deadlift, squat, light Atlas stone and mobility

Friday: endurance/capacity training: carrying heavy stuff around the place

Weekend: overhead: push press or log press

Slowly but surely I started to learn the techniques, but I still had no idea what was expected of me in the competition. How many reps should I expect to have to complete in a minute to be competitive? 4? 6? 8? No idea.

The first time I did floor to overhead, for example, it took 15 seconds to complete each rep. That was four in 60 seconds if I could make it through a full minute of hefting that weight, which I couldn’t – I was dying at 45 seconds. Even so, it seemed reasonable to expect that, after a month of training, I might be able to squeeze out another couple of reps if I could go the distance. That would give me six…but I decided to aim for eight. That’s twice as many, which was a pleasant-sounding ambition.

That number seemed realistic for each event. Many more than eight reps and surely you’re no longer in the realm of strongman, right? I asked around at training and was told, “It depends on the event, but in a novice comp some people will be closer to 20 than 10.”

That was bad news. I was confident of being able to hit five or six reps in each event, and aiming for eight as an ambitious goal. Nevertheless, I set to training. A couple of weeks later I could get six overheard reps out in 45 seconds, but was still dying on my ass after that. I practised Atlas stones and worked up to six reps, but I was moving slowly and it was taking a long time.

My deadlift had been very strong back in May, but for some reason I just couldn’t find my groove with it in the weeks leading up to the comp. It might have been all the Atlas Stones and other training giving my lower back a hammering, but less than two weeks out from the contest I found myself incapable of hefting 225kg: roughly three times my bodyweight which I had come to think of as a stable heavy lift of mine. It was worrying.

Moreover, practising deadlifting 170kg for a minute solid was proving to be a difficult thing to fit in without buggering up the rest of my training through sheer fatigue. As for practising the truck pull, I didn’t have a truck so I pulled a land rover twice… It was horrible!

Then, friends, it was over. I did one last Monday evening session and it was time to rest up for the competition at the weekend.

Oh…and lose some weight. Whoops.

About the Author
Ed Gamester is a silly man who lives in the United Kingdom. He is the harbinger of Ghost Squad, singer of Gay Bum and author of A Rum Run Awry. He fights, kills and dies for TV and films, and gallivants around the place wrestling, drinking and lifting things for glory and profit. Where Ed treads, there stamp the boots of the Guild. Ed does not wear glasses, but feels this photograph makes him look more intelligent and artistically talented than he is. Feel free to contact him: he is disappointingly affable.

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