If you're not already interested in the sport of strongman, you probably clicked on this article out of sheer curiosity. Strongman lifts? Why would non-strongmen want to incorporate strongman lifts into their normal routine? That's a great question, but the answer is no mystery.
For one, strongman lifts can increase your full-body strength and develop muscles you didn't even know you had. The one and only Arnold "the Austrian Oak" Schwarzenegger once stated that "the basis of bodybuilding is developing muscle mass by lifting heavy weights." Arnold had a deadlift greater than 600 pounds, a 300-pound clean and jerk, and an offseason bodyweight of roughly 260 pounds. You can bet your bottom dollar that Arnold didn't get a 600-pound deadlift doing biceps curls.
Incorporating some strongman lifts into your program can also jack up your heart rate, burn more calories, and keep your body fat from creeping up. If you're a physique athlete, you know that maintaining lower body fat levels in the off-season allows for an easier prep and is better for your body, but who wants to have a love affair with a treadmill year round?
We've covered that strongman can help you get stronger and stay leaner, but my favorite part of strongman is that it can make you a better athlete. What good is all that hard-earned muscle if you can't apply it? Where is the functionality? To be a successful strongman, you have to be strong, yes, but you also have to be powerful, explosive, and fast. You need these same qualities to reach a higher level of athleticism.
I have been fortunate enough to compete in both bodybuilding and strongman. Although I was not specifically training for size, I have never put on more lean body mass in a shorter amount of time than when I started strongman training. These 7 lifts can help you build more mass, stay leaner, and increase your athleticism. Break up the monotony of your normal regimen and try them!
EXERCISE 1 18-Inch Deadlifts or Rack Pulls
The best athletes all have one thing in common: a wide and thick back! This common strongman movement can help build yours. Often, strongmen are called in competition to deadlift with oversized tires on the bar, or from blocks which raise the bar to approximately 18 inches. If you stand six-feet tall, the extra height puts the bar about an inch or two below your kneecaps.
This movement is often used by athletes to build strength in the lockout portion of the deadlift. Most athletes will find they are stronger in this movement than a conventional deadlift. Regardless of your goals, this lift will likely help you earn more strength and size in your upper back, increase your deadlift PR, and give you greater thickness come next competition season!
Perform 3 sets of 5-8 reps of conventional deadlifts followed by 3 sets of rack pulls. Place the bar so it sits 1-2 inches below your kneecaps.
EXERCISE 2 Atlas Stones or Zercher Squats
Atlas stones are the pinnacle of strongman. There is no greater test of full-body strength or exercise that's more fun. Stone loads will build and strengthen your biceps, shoulders, hamstrings, and core. Generally, Atlas stones are hard to come by, so if you're serious about getting one, buy a mold online or check your local Craigslist.
An alternative gym movement is the Zercher squat. Because the bar is not loaded on your back, but rests in the crook of your elbows at the front of your body, you'll be able to squat to a greater depth. Deep squats will dramatically strengthen your posterior chain so you can be more prepared for those tough leg days. If the bar placement is uncomfortable, wear neoprene sleeves for extra padding.
Load a stone to a height of 48 inches in clusters of 2-5 reps for no more than 15 total repetitions. If you don't have a stone, perform 4 sets of 5-8 reps of Zercher squats after your primary lift like leg press or the squat.
EXERCISE 3 Barbell Push Press
Want big boulder shoulders? Take a lesson from a strongman. Strongmen are known for their overhead pressing power. Push-pressing will add major size to your shoulders and upper chest, and strengthen your triceps for lockout power. This is a great movement to incorporate when your traditional military press strength tops out.
Perform 4 sets of 5-8 reps. Control the eccentric, or negative, portion of the lift by slowly lowering it back to your shoulders.
EXERCISE 4 Farmer's Walk
Have you ever shaken a strongman's hand? I bet it left you wondering if your hand would ever be the same. For a crushing grip and a little functional cardio, incorporate the farmer's walk into your workout. Often, strongmen use special handles in this event, but you can perform loaded carries with dumbbells.
The farmer's walk will test your grip strength as gravity tries to rip the weight from your hands; meanwhile, your traps and shoulders will be on fire as they try aid your hands. Overall, look for this exercise to build your upper back, grip, and traps. Start by walking longer durations with lighter weight to build up your work capacity, conditioning, and grip strength.
Find a set of dumbbells that will be challenging, but you can carry for 100 feet. Walk for 100 feet around your gym and then set them down. Perform 4 sets for strength. For conditioning, perform up to 12 sets with 1-2-minute rests between sets.
EXERCISE 5 Tire Flip
The tire flip is a great movement to build full-body strength and take your conditioning to a new level. Flip the tire for greater distances to get a greater aerobic workout. Don't have access to a tire? No problem: Perform the clean and press for 12-15 repetitions.
Flip a tire for 12-15 total flips, rest, and repeat 5 times. No tire? Clean and press a moderate weight for 12-15 reps for 4 sets. Make sure to keep good form.
EXERCISE 6 Circus Dumbbell Press or Dumbbell Clean and Press
The circus dumbbell goes way back. We all recognize this movement from the black and white images of mustachioed, singlet-clad men hoisting bulbous dumbbells over their heads. Like the barbell push press, the dumbbell press will aid in your shoulder development. If it's performed for time, it can also be a great conditioning tool.
After your traditional shoulder or chest workout, grab a moderately heavy dumbbell and take it over to an area where you have some space. If you have a fat-grip, put it on the dumbbell. For 90 seconds, move the dumbbell from the ground to your shoulder, and then hoist it overhead. Control the dumbbell back to the ground. Then switch shoulders and repeat. Perform 3 sets of 90 seconds of presses with 90 seconds of rest between sets. You'll feel a serious shoulder burn.
EXERCISE 7 Truck Pull or Sled Drag
The truck pull is always a fun event! It tests the strength of your whole body and will burn the heck out of your legs. I know, there's only one little problem with this: you probably don't have a fire truck just lying around. The best option is a sled. Sled work can dramatically build your quads and hamstrings while testing your conditioning level. This movement is also knee-friendly and a great option for anyone with knee injuries.
Tie a rope to a sled and drag it, leaning forward, for 100 feet. Then, drag the sled backward to the starting position. Repeat this 4 times at the end of your legs workout.