Have you ever sat back and thought to yourself…

  1. I would like to be strong?
  2. I would like to be powerful?
  3. I would like to drop body fat?
  4. I would like to look athletic?

If you answered yes to any of the four questions above then strongman training could be exactly what you are looking for! So how and why do you ask? Below I will outline why this form of training is so effective for fat loss, athleticism and much more. I will also go through the biggest bang for your buck exercises, how to program effectively and how you can avoid common mistakes that will inhibit your progression.


Just one of many exercises one can incorporate into a modified strongman workout

Why Strongman?

There are three main reasons why I consider strongman training a very effective tool for a myriad of client goals. Firstly strongman training uses big compound movements that elicit greater physiological demands on our body. Many of these movements complement other exercises in the gym. For example farmers walks carry over to dead lifts whereas as super yoke walks carry over into squats. Not only will these movements get you strong and powerful quickly, they will also push you outside your comfort zone and challenge you both physically and mentally.

Secondly as a personal trainer or strength coach strongman adds another tool to your toolbox and variety to your clients training… Which apart from aiding in their results will also long term aid in client retention.

Finally strongman style training also creates one of the most effective hormonal responses in our bodies for rapid fat loss and not only that, it is a highly effective conditioning tool for novice all the way through to elite level athletes. It is something I use with clients whether they are general population or elite level professional athlete!

Periodisation of strongman training into your training schedule

Whenever you design a training program for a client the first thing I like to do is take into account their training age, current physical abilities and level of fitness.

Generally speaking for a client with a low training age under two years and poor physical ability you should get the client strong by programming straight sets on the big lifts… Which of course are the squat, deadlift and all variations of presses and pulls such as benchpress, military press, pull-up, chin-up, bent over row etc.

Build on this by following a linear progression until you hit a plateau whilst introducing remedial work as needed. Step one is you can add in your simple strongman movements such as sled drags, pulls and pushes until they are competent to handle the more complex lifts and carries such as super yoke, stone carries etc.

By doing this we will create a greater metabolic demand for novice lifters if they unable to move a heavy enough weight during the big compound movements. So load up the sleds and prowlers up as required… As these are safe and don’t put the client at a great risk of injury.

Alternatively, if you have an experienced lifter or an advanced athlete that is competent in the complex lifts, there are numerous ways to program for fat loss, strength and conditioning or hypertrophy. Some of the training systems used but are not limited to would be heavy light, tri sets, giant sets, cube method, conjugate method, undulating periodization, block or linear periodization for example.

What is the biggest bang for you buck movements?

Personally you cannot go past the big three… So the squat, deadlift and bench-press but once they are mastered that is where the fun begins!

The farmers carry, super yoke, log clean and press and atlas stones are where the real mental and physical challenges are. All these lifts allow for variants in programming. You can further challenge yourself with timed carry and walks, distance covered with weight, ascending and descending sets or load lifted in a set time.

Some common mistakes 

From experience the most common mistakes made are poor exercise sequencing, too many or different energy systems targeted in one session or a series of exercises inefficiently programmed.

Often too many exercises are selected, length session is too short or too long and overtraining is common. Overall you must know your purpose for that session which makes it easier to program… Specific goal setting is paramount!

Firstly some exercises are difficult to execute, especially under fatigue either after a set amount of reps. If you are doing a series of exercises, always do the most difficult first and least difficult last. An example of exercises sequencing would be:

A1) Lift

B1) Carry

C1) Pull or Drag

Here Brad performs repeated efforts of 240kg on the farmers walk

Training different energy systems either in different sessions or in the same session at once isn’t totally wrong but is not optimal. If you have specifically different energy systems for a certain sport try to pair them on the same day, i.e. work capacity sessions on Monday, intervals or recovery between efforts on Tuesday or even split into AM/PM sessions.

Another mistake often seen is too many exercises programmed into a single session “met con” or “finisher”. Sometimes you need to simplify this down to 2 exercises i.e. A1 and B1 and increase volume and/or sets for these instead of multiple exercises doing similar movement patterns or movements that don’t compliment any part of the session.

Consider the length of the session and the intensity or volume required.  If max intensity is required think how long you can keep it up before the positive returns of training are diminished. Again, knowing what you want of out that session and the result needed should determine the length of the session!

Remember sometimes less is more… quality over quantity!

From experience the most common mistake I have found is people neglecting rest and overtraining. Consider dropping from double days to single days or reducing the volume of your training.  Remember we need rest to recover so we can perform. Training age and physical ability will affect this. The more novice the more they can push the boundaries but as the client can handle more volume and intensity progressive rest needs to be periodised.

So there you have it, a short overview on the implementation, exercise selection and what NOT to do when it comes to strongman training!

Brad Soper

CHPC Sydney City PTM | Level 4 Coach

To watch more of Brad’s lifts on this topic follow his Facebook page here: http://www.facebook.com/BradSoperStrength

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