Q: Strongman training looks cool, but complicated. And I’m no pro strongman, just someone who wants to be big and strong. What’s a simple place to start?
Yes, strongman and bodybuilding training can play nicely together. In fact, both can help to make the other one better! I’ve had astounding success with clients who want to add size by integrating strongman training into their otherwise traditional muscle-building program.
I can also say that when I program strongman training for my athletes, they get excited! They love how challenging these movements are, and how they stimulate and challenge the body in new ways.
Here are three simple ways to mix strongman work into your normal split.
1. Carry a Keg on Back Day
I still remember the sorest—in a good way—my upper back has ever been. It was from keg carries when I was doing strongman training. Nothing in the orthodox strength-training book ever made me feel like that! Ever since, I’ve been a believer. The fact that strongman competitors have some of the biggest traps and backs on the planet doesn’t hurt, either.
Looking for the best way to finish up a workout of the best traditional back-building moves? Just hold something incredibly heavy out in front of you and start walking. The isometric contraction this produces is hard to replicate with free weights.
Strongman Back Finisher: Perform 2-3 carries of 30 seconds. If you’re in a normal gym, an alternative is to do front-racked carries with two heavy dumbbells or kettlebells.
2. Build an Iron Grip with Fat-Bar Pulls
Nearly all strongman events involve grip. Whether you’re doing a farmer’s walk, axle deadlift, static hold, or drags and carries, you’ve got to be able to hold a serious load. As a result, professional strongmen have some of the strongest grips and most fearsome forearms in the world. But they don’t get them through ”direct” grip training. Instead of getting cute and fancy, they just skip the wrist straps and hold onto the iron.
I built up MLB pitcher Noah Syndergaard’s grip strength by having him do some partial deadlift cluster sets with a 2-inch bar. It’s harder than it looks—and it looks hard.
Axle Bar Partial Deadlift Cluster Set: Pull from knee height or slightly higher for 3 reps, then rest for 15 seconds. Repeat for 4 minutes, using a double-overhand grip on a fat bar or thick grips. This can be a great finisher for either back day or an arm workout.
Supplementing with creatine has been shown to boost grip strength in addition to overall muscle and strength. For strongman training and overall gains, 5 grams a day is a no-brainer.
3. Destroy Your Legs with Sled Pulls
Due to their unpredictability, super-heavy loads, and long duration, strongman events are one of the best ways to build mental toughness. But certain ones, like sled drags, also annihilate specific muscles—like the legs.
In the video, TJ Clark and I load up a sled with plates and the keg. My instructions are seriously straightforward: Lean back, keep your arms straight, and walk backward. Never stop moving your feet, no matter how much your lower body—or lungs or brain—are screaming.
As I discovered when I trained with strongman legend Odd Haugen years ago, this simple movement will melt your quads, hips, and glutes as much as any of the best gym-based leg moves. But it’ll take more than just legs to keep that sled moving. After a round or two, it’s all mental.
Leg Finisher: Drag a sled for 4 sets of 60 feet, or across a parking lot, resting 1 minute between sets. Face forward to emphasize the glutes and hips, or backward to focus on the quads. Mix it up!
How To Program Strongman Training
As my mentor, the late Dr. Fred Hatfield, used to say about training, ”There is good, better, and best. And strongman training is the best.”
It’s simple, brutal, and can work with what you’re already doing. Here are the two best ways to program it if you’re not going to become a full-on competitive strongman:
- Have an occasional or weekly strongman-focused workout.
- Add any strongman event to your existing strength training, either as a periodized strength move—push-presses come to mind—or a finisher.
If you add it to your existing program, make sure you remove one or two of the exercises you’d normally do. That way you can keep your gym time under control—and keep your ass from getting totally kicked.
Ready to build a foundation of raw strength that’ll carry over to everything else you want to do? Learn how the right way from a world-class strongman! Check out Total-Package Strength with Anthony Fuhrman, available only in BodyFit.