May 12, 2022 7 min read
Strongman exercises may seem daunting. After all, huge athletes lifting massive amounts of weight is something that most of us cannot do. That being said, incorporating strongman exercises into your workout routine can help to burn fat and build muscle, you just probably won’t be lifting the same sort of weight as a typical strongman!
Aside from losing weight and increasing muscle mass there are other key benefits to strongman training. These include the following;
Many exercises undertaken by strongmen competitors are compound movements, meaning they recruit more than one muscle group. Couple that with lifting heavy weights for lower repetitions and you’ll quickly notice your strength gains increase.
Thanks to strongman exercises helping you to build lots of lean muscle and gain huge amounts of strength you’ll find if you compete in sports such as powerlifting, crossfit games and even bodybuilding you’ll reap the benefits of your strongman training.
If you’re a bodybuilder or powerlifter (and even if you’re not!) and you begin to get frustrated with any lack of progress, this could be down to repetitive workouts where your body has simply got too used your training methods.
By incorporating a strongman routine into your training you’ll be firing up different muscles and challenging your body in a whole new way. This in turn, could help you to blast through any workout plateaus.
Strongman exercises can increase your core strength, this in turn will help to shake off any lower back pain. By strengthening all of your key muscle groups you’ll improve your functional movement patterns. These are natural ways in which most of us move every day. Think of squatting down to pick something up off the floor. There are seven movement patterns which are push, pull, lunge, squat, carry, hinge and twist. An increase in muscle mass will improve these patterns and significantly reduce your likelihood for injury.
Strongman competitions comprise of a variety of exercises. Most commonly these include some of the following;
Commonly a powerlifting movement, a deadlift involves lifting a loaded barbell off the ground until you have ‘locked out’ at the hips. It’s a hip hinge movement that involves multiple muscle groups, especially the posterior chain muscles. In a powerlifting competition, the movement need only be completed once. However, in a strongman competition they need to repeat the movement as many times as possible.
In strongman competitions, this would involve five atlas stones that differ in weight. Each stone has to be hoisted up off of the ground and placed on its platform. The exercise begins with the strongman lifting the lightest stone and progressing through to the heaviest stone. The lifter who completes all five stones in the quickest amount of time would be the winner.
This movement requires the competitor to lift a heavy log from the ground, perform an overhead lift before returning the weight back to the floor. It’s necessary to perform the movement in a controlled fashion, not least to reduce the chance of injury, and as many times as possible in a specific timeframe.
The farmers walk exercise involves lifting and carrying a heavy load in each hand and walking for a specific distance. In a strongman competition, the lifter who completes the walk in the fastest time is declared the winner and they can drop and pick up the weights as many times as they wish. Strongman competitors have been known to lift upwards of 160kg in each hand!
This movement takes its inspiration from the highland games whereby the competitor is required to toss a keg over a wall which is over 4 metres tall. With each throw, the weight of the keg becomes heavier with the heaviest being 24kg.
From a spectator’s viewpoint, the vehicle pull is likely the most impressive of all the strongman movements. The strongman is equipped with a harness and pulling rope and is required to pull the chosen vehicle for a specified distance. The terrains can vary from sand to concrete and even ice, as can the vehicle with the most unusual being a tram packed with passengers weighing in at a staggering 4535kg.
Whilst we’ve addressed some of the more popular strongman movements above, some would be easy to replicate with others not so much. Below we list some suitable alternatives so you can reap the benefits of strongman training without being a strongman competitor!
This is an easy one to replicate either in the gym or at home. All you need is a good quality barbell and some weight plates. Just be sure to nail the form when going heavy to prevent injury.
Not an easy one to replicate and if you have plenty of patience and the right materials, you could even make your own atlas stones. A quick Google search will provide plenty of methods to enable you to do this.
However, another way of doing this is by removing a barbell collar from its bar (not possible if the bar is fully welded of course) and loading it up with your plates. Lift the loaded collar up from the floor, ensuring you lift it the correct way to prevent the plates from sliding off.
As we say, not an easy one to replicate but if you have any other alternatives for this exercise feel free to leave a comment on this article.
As with the deadlift, this is straightforward to replicate and can be done with plates and a barbell. To do the movement as a strongman would, be sure to place the barbell back on the floor before commencing with another rep.
If you’re a beginner or you’d prefer not to place the bar on the ground between reps then stand upright keeping your core muscles tight. Hold a loaded barbell and keep this resting on your chest, your hands should be around shoulder width apart. Push the bar up, directly overhead and return to the chest position before repeating. Keep in mind that you won’t be able to go as heavy as if you were to rest the bar on the ground between reps.
A circus dumbbell is essentially an exaggerated version of a regular dumbbell in that it is much larger. Standard dumbbells are relatively compact and the circus dumbbell was originally made this way purely for entertainment value with families visiting the circus marveling at the strength and prowess of the athlete who could effortlessly lift this huge weight above their heads. This movement has since gone on to become popular in strongman competitions with the current record sitting at a huge 141kg, set by Dimitar Savatinov back in 2016.
To do this one at the gym, there’s no reason why you couldn’t substitute the circus dumbbell for a regular dumbbell. It’s a fantastic explosive movement to improve upper body strength.
Start by standing over your chosen dumbbell with feet shoulder width apart. Taking the dumbbell with both hands, lift up and get the dumbbell in to the correct position. This can be tricky if you’re new to this one, so start off lighter to get used to the technique. The head of the dumbbell should be behind you and resting on the back of your shoulder. At this point you should only be lifting the weight with one hand. Dipping down slightly, you want to then explode up from your quads and lifting up the dumbbell straight above your head. Technique is very important with this one as it’s easy to be thrown off balance so it’s worthwhile watching a few videos to learn the correct form.
The keg run is a great exercise for strength and conditioning and if you can get your hands on an old beer keg, you can then fill this with either water, sand or even cement for the weight equipment. If you’re doing this in a gym a great substitute would be either a sand bag or a detached boxing bag.
To do this one, grab your chosen weight (keg, sand bag etc.) and hold it at around chest height. To keep yourself stable, you’ll want to lean back slightly with the weight resting on your chest. Simply run with the weight keeping your hips forward to maintain stability. You can do this for a specific distance or timeframe. You’ll know when you’ve exhausted yourself when you can no longer maintain the correct position with the weight pulling you forwards.
At its core, strongman exercises date back thousands of years with countries such as Greece, Rome and China partaking in recreational activity that involved the lifting of heavy objects.
As the strength sport developed and became more popular, spreading across Europe and America, it was commonplace to see strongmen and women showing off their impressive skills at the circus, theatres and other entertainment venues.
Over time, the sport took on a more competitive edge but due to the nature of the lifts, it was difficult to implement any strict rules. Competitions remained largely unregulated meaning it was not uncommon for competitors to cheat.
It wasn’t until the 1920’s that federations were formed with the aim of trying to regulate the sport and making it fair for all competitive lifters. However, it wasn’t until 1977 that the World’s Strongest Man competition was formed. It still remained largely unregulated with no specific regulating body to oversee the event and other strongman competitions would be held, all with different rules.
Back in 2002 the Arnold Strongman Classic event was launched as a direct competing event to the Worlds Strongest Man. Their aim was to bring regulation to the sport where the WSM event had failed to do so. WSM was a combination of competitive lifting and entertainment. It’s televised across the world every year.
As we explained above, incorporating a variety of takes on typical strongman lifts will help to push you through any lifting plateaus by adding a shake up to your workout routine. Not only that, you’ll build lots of lean muscle and burn a lot of fat whist improving your cardiovascular strength.
If you’ve not done so already, consider mixing up your workout routine by throwing in some strongman lifts. You’re sure to notice the difference!
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