When it comes to strongman competitions, every competitor has events that he/she is stronger at or weaker at. It may be due to height, body weight/composition, overall athleticism as well as skill/technique. After a successful 2002 strongman season , I sat down and identified some weaknesses that I needed to work on. I set some goals and objectives for the winter of 2002/2003 to give me a basic plan. My weaknesses included:
- Overhead pressing strength/ability - While my overhead lifts improved drastically throughout the year it was still a weak point for me causing me lower placing and prize money.
- Core/Trunk strength and stability - You see so many people in the gym training on those big Swiss Balls for back and ab strength-I should know the importance of this, being a personal trainerâ€¦but I still underestimate it's importance. I have weighted ab work, both lying and standing as a part of my workout and I also do high repetition ab work on other days as a part of a circuit I sometimes do. However, I needed to get the truck of my tall body stronger for stability in different events.
- Limit Strength - A crucial aspect of my training that is coming along, yet still can be considered a "weak point" would be my overall body strength. The 1RM (1 rep max) for my deadlift, squat, incline bench and clean & jerk needed to improve while not losing my foot speed and athleticism.
With all of this in mind, I put together a workout program that would focus on weak point training as well as maintenance of my "strengths". Due to my schedule, I was able to put together a 3-day program with 1 auxiliary day that could be done depending on how my body felt. This was what I came up with.
Incline Bench Press - The weight on this exercise depending on what week I was on. Week 1 I maxed out with 335 x 3 reps. (This gives me an "approximate/projected" max of around 360.) After that, I did work between 78-90% of that max.
Hammer Strength Hi Pull - This was done in a 6-10 rep range with 3-4 working sets. I like this machine since each arm works independently and the motion is "joint friendly".
Seated BB Shoulder Press - Back to basics with this exercise. We did most of the reps behind the head, but only down so the bar would stop in line with the top of the ear (to limit external rotation of the shoulder). I slowly worked my way up to working sets with 185lbs. (You may think, he's a "strongman" and that's all he can doâ€¦I told you it was my weak point!!! You try it with arms that seem like they're 4' long!!!) Needless to say, this raw pressing ability has helped me tremendously when performing my push presses and jerks. I genereally performed 3-4 sets of 6-10 reps on my working sets. This varied however, depending on how much incline we did and how trashed the shoulders and tris were.
Triceps Extensions - We did all sorts of extensions varying from straight bars, EZ curl bars, cables and dumbbells. I think my favorite and the most effective one for strongman and log pressing would have to be using DBs with the palms in facing each other. Almost like a reverse hammer curl, you lie on a bench with the elbow extended and palms facing each other. Then, slowly lower the DBs down to around your ear, on each side of your head. Return to the starting position. We would vary sets and reps either 5x5, 7x8 or 6x10, again depending on how trashed we were. We would finish our workout with some rear delt work, external rotation work and some bicep work. This workout was done in the beginning of the week when I was fresh from 2 days off of training and lots of eating.
(Above: Intensity is crucial when lifting heavy weight and trying to improve. I always thought of Arnold or other competitors and thought "if they can do it, I can do it")
Clean or Clean and Jerk - Depending on the week, I would start this day with either cleans or c+j. I maxed out at 335lbs and then worked around that number. 1 week I'd do sets at 265-285 or hit heavy singles at 300-305. Always focusing on bar speed, foot placement and getting the elbows high in the "racked" position. My clean ability improved greatly after hundreds of reps over the past few months.
(Above: Good friend and WSM competitor Jesse Marunde easily cleans and presses 300+ pounds on a 2" bar 15 times.)
Overhead Squats - Anyone who's ever tried these will know how much they suck and how weak a lot of people really are. I could squat close to 600lbs but could barely use 95lbs in the overhead squat exercise. Slowly working on technique, trunk tightness and shoulder stability I was able to work my way up to 3-4 sets of 8-10 reps with 135 as a working weight. My shoulders were often more sore from doing these as all the shoulder work on Tuesday!
Leg Press/Leg Curl/Calf Raise - I often did these exercises in a "circuit" fashion to keep the HR up and get a lot of reps in. My legs are not a weak point, so I would bust through these to keep the strength and size I have.
Abs - I finish my workout with 5-10 sets of weighted ab work using medicine balls, the triceps rope on the cable machine or with a plate on my chest. This really helped me develop a stronger midsection.
I often throw other exercises in on this day. Shrugs were always good to do as they help in many strongman events. I'd sometimes do DB upright rows, hack squats or low back work on a Swiss ball.
This is my main event training day. I'll train all the events I plan on doing in an upcoming competition. However, since I'm not training for any specific competition, I'll just choose 4 or 5 events and train them in different orders. Last week, I started with stone loading, then tire flip, log clean and press and ending with a ton of grip and weighted ab work.
Stones - Below, you see me lifting the third stone in the 2002 Oregon's Strongest Beaver competition. I have built and bought stones and boxes to mimic those seen in most strongman competitions. I may train lighter stones and lift them onto my shoulder for sets of 6-8 reps or I'll work on doing the stones in sequence like I would have to do in competition. Many of the top strongman competitors will often stay under 330lbs on their stone work and just concentrate on speed and technique.
Tire Flip - This is a total body workout and if you've ever tried this it will totally kick your *ss. It works the hams, glutes, low and upper back, your biceps as well as your grip. We have a few different size tires that we work with. Some days we'll do the lighter tire for sets of 15-20 or drop sets (flipping the heavier tire for a few flips then goto the lighter tire for 10 flips).
(Above: Me showing the incorrect way to flip a tire, or the correct way to hurt your back-depending on how you look at it.)
(Above: Heath Otto shows the proper way to start the tire flip. With your chest resting on the tread, you can lean into the tire and flip it using a more "fluid" motion. Heath competed at Strongman Amateur Nationals in 2002 and is a student at Boise State U.)
Log Cleans and Presses - One of the most important events I have trained this winter has been the log clean and press. This has been my weak point since starting the sport and even though I've improved dramatically at it the past 12 months, it's still a weak point of mine. We often do it as the first exercise on our Saturday workout and work at certain percentages of our 1RM. Sometimes, at the end of our workout, we'll go back to the log for 2-3 more sets. This is a little crazy, but I feel that you have to be able to perform even when you're fatigued-just like in competition. So we'll go back to the log after all the other events and hit 60-70% of our max for a few pause sets to failure. This is really killer and you gotta be tough to do it >> but it'll pay off in competition when you're about to collapse and the log clean and press is next!!
(Above: Grant Higa (Washington) cleans a log weighing around 300lbs. in his Nordstroms boots. Grant is a professional strongman and just placed 2nd in Hawaii's Strongest Man-Feb, 2003.)
In summary, that's been my winter workout program. I am currently working on putting together this year's Strongest Man & Woman in the West competition here in Boise on June 7th. Continuing to work on technique and experience with all the events as well as planning on another great competitive season. Please email w/questions at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please feel free to email me with any questions! Keep training hard!