There's a widely accepted dictum in the iron game: If you're totally shredded but have no muscle, nobody cares. Likewise, if you're massive but look like a member of the Hutt species, nobody cares.
Being shredded and carrying around impressive amounts of muscle simultaneously, however, is the Holy Grail of strength training. It's not easy, but it's worth the work.
Want to see some of the most exceptional examples of the weight room trifecta of jacked, shredded, and strong as hell? Turn on the World's Strongest Man contest. The competitors at the pinnacle of strength athletics are 300-pound monsters who still sport abs that would make any bro jealous.
Don't be the guy or girl in the gym who can't show the muscle they've worked so hard for because it's hidden by body fat. Strongman training has a low learning curve, and the movements tend to recruit your entire body. So even if the title of "world's strongest" isn't on your bucket list, strongman training deserves your consideration as a way to get shredded while maintaining muscle mass and having a blast.
Vince Urbank 871 Conventional Deadlift
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What's So Special About Strongman?
One reason strongmen are ripped is that their chosen sport requires them to excel at so many things. Another is that excellent conditioning is a requirement for every event. Unlike other strength sports like powerlifting, where the competitors focus on a few max attempts, most strongman events are grueling medleys, races, or repetition events. You don't get good at pulling a bus without dropping some body fat!
Strongman is a sport where you train by doing, so if you want to train and look like a shred-monster strongman, the first place to look for inspiration is actual strongman events. While events differ from competition to competition, several basic categories are almost always present:
- Overhead pressing for reps or max weight
- Deadlifting for reps or max weight
- Loaded carries (e.g., farmer's walks or keg races)
- Heavy implement/vehicle drags
There are more total events than what I've listed, but we want to focus on events that can be performed even if you don't have access to strongman style equipment. In addition, I'm assuming that if you're reading this, you're not a pro strongman looking for training tips.
Equipment You'll Need (And Substitutions)
Strongman training requires access to more than your standard barbells and dumbbells. However, some substitutions can allow you to perform this type of training in almost any gym. After all, we can't all work out in a hardcore dungeon that has tires and chains and huge Atlas stones to throw around.
Hopefully you've got access to at least some of the equipment on this list. If not, check out my other strongman training article for more ideas on things you can do in a normal gym.
- Fat barbell
- Alternative: Regular barbell with thick grips
- Loadable strongman log
- Alternative: swiss bar/football bar/parallel-grip barbell
- Farmer's carry handles
- Alternative: heavy dumbbells
- Alternative: build your own!
- Sledgehammer and tire
- Prowler, dragging sled, or a car in an empty parking lot
Most of this equipment can be found in any well-stocked gym. Thick-grip attachments such as Fat Gripz are pretty cheap and fit in your gym bag. You can make your own sandbag easily; plenty of websites provide directions. A sledgehammer is also pretty cheap, and it's one of the best conditioning tools you can buy.
If your gym doesn't have a Prowler or dragging sled, you need to join another gym or bug the hell out of the owners until they get one. If that doesn't work, the Internet offers plenty of DIY versions, or you can always do a vehicle push, which is even more fun. However, be very careful if you choose this option. Use an empty parking lot and always have a buddy there to steer and watch for traffic.
Building the Strongman Fat-Loss Program
When you look at a good fat-loss program, much like strongman competitions, there are always certain elements that make it successful. An effective fat-loss program revolves around compound movements that activate many muscle groups simultaneously, keeps rest periods short, and doesn't compromise hard-earned muscle mass. You won't find any 10-mile runs or aerobics classes in this program.
What you will find are heavy weights and fast-paced events that you could easily use to compete against yourself or your friends. The program won't abandon traditional lifting altogether, but instead will be used in combination with strongman-style events.
Just like any other solid training program, your diet needs to be in line with your goal and training. Since this is primarily a fat-loss program, that should be your priority in nutrition. The lifting in this program is designed to maintain your existing muscle. If you eat right and prioritize protein, it's entirely possible that you'll even gain more muscle while losing fat.
Doing the World's Strongest Fat-Loss Program
Now on to the program! You'll be doing full-body workouts three days a week. On off days you can either rest or, since this is a fat-loss program, do some very light cardio like walking. Keep at least two days of rest between each week's third workout and the day 1 of the next week.
This program targets fat loss by keeping the pace up and pairing or circuiting intense full-body movements. Pay attention to your rest periods! They don't have to be exact, and you can use your judgment, but if the program says rest 60 seconds, don't take three minutes at the water fountain between sets. The goal is to get ripped, and taking coffee breaks mid-workout isn't going to help you get there.