By JOHN CLARK Breaking Muscle
The sport of strongman is a demanding one. It requires brute strength mixed with speed, agility, and endurance. A sport that tests you to your limits both physically and mentally. One that provides tremendous highs but can also bring crushing lows.
If you are experiencing those lows, ask yourself what is holding you back. Take a look at your training, mindset, and goals. Regardless of your experience in the sport, mistakes in any of these four fundamental areas can be detrimental to your progress.
Let’s have a look at four common mistakes in approach and preparation for strongman competitions, and how to fix them.
I competed against four World’s Strongest Men competitors and finished last, but I still learned a lot.
1. I’m Not Strong Enough Yet
If I had a pound for every time I’ve been asked, “How strong do I need to be?” I’d have my daily protein intake paid for each week.
“[D]on’t allow your experiences of competitions to stall you because you are looking at those around you and thinking you’re not strong enough.”
The answer to this question is dependent on your goals. If you want to be the World’s Strongest Man, then you will need a 220kg overhead press, 462kg deadlift, and 350kg squat. Even with those, you will simply be competitive, and winning is far from a given. If you just want to have a go at strongman and see what happens, then you should be able to press your bodyweight overhead and deadlift and squat double your bodyweight.
As the sport of strongman continues to grow and evolve, the standard rises. Thirty years ago, my log press would be a world record. Now, it’s only deemed above-average. But don’t allow your experiences of competitions to stall you because you are looking at those around you and thinking you’re not strong enough.
2. The Value of Competition
Nothing focuses the mind and polarizes your efforts like an upcoming competition. Find a competition that suits your level of ability and just give it a go. That said, experience counts for a lot in this sport, so if you get the chance to compete at a higher level than you may think you’re capable of, don’t turn that chance down either. I competed against four World’s Strongest Men competitors in January after a last-minute invite to an international-level show. I finished last. But despite the result, I learned a lot from being around some of the strongest men on the planet.
“Nothing focuses the mind and polarizes your efforts like an upcoming competition. Find a competition that suits your level of ability and just have a go.”
Coming last isn’t a disgrace. You learn, you consolidate your new learning with what you already know, and you get better as a result. Embrace the competition instead of waiting for that perfect light competition that you’ll blitz and where you’ll win a meaningless trophy. Novice titles are irrelevant in the big scheme of strongman, so don’t focus on winning. Focus on experiencing the competition, getting to know the strongman family, and deciding if strongman is where you want to dedicate your training time.
Twenty years ago, my press would be a world record. Now it’s only above-average. I haven’t let that stop me.
3. Max, Max, Max
Part of the attraction to strongman is the circus-like nature of the lifts. The circus dumbbell, log lift, yoke run, and Atlas stone all look impressive and beyond the capabilities of mortal men and women. Everyone wants a photograph or video of themselves performing these events.
But these movements are all highly technical and require practice and constant refinement. Continually hitting event work isn’t an issue. You can perform the events as often as you feel comfortable or want to. The issues is the percentages that you are doing them with.
“Learn the technique, perfect the movement, and then apply effort, intensity, and volume in a progressive way.”
Everyone wants a shiny new personal best for their YouTube channel. Therefore, many trainees continually chase their event max in training. For example, max yoke, max dumbbell, and max log all in one session. Consider the stress that places on your body, along with the impact that has on your recovery and your ability to train the next week.
Apply similar percentages to your event training as you would your press, squat, and deadlift. You don’t max those three lifts each and every session, so don’t max out the events you are practicing. Learn the technique, perfect the movement, and then apply effort, intensity, and volume in a progressive way.
4. Become Strong, Then Become a Strongman
Many people forget that building strength is like any other part of fitness. It takes time, hard work, and dedication. Strength isn’t built quickly and easily. If you want to be a strongman, don’t forget you need time to become strong first.
“Lifting too heavy and pushing your boundaries too often means you get hurt. Or you see no progress, decide to abandon the plan, and stop training for strength all together.”
Stuck on that 220kg deadlift barrier while you look at others moving up toward the 300kg club? It’s all too easy to get frustrated and try to speed up the process. You start training more, training with higher percentages, and scouring the Internet for a magic supplement or nutrition plan in the hope you’ll progress faster.
Invariably, this leads to one of two things – injury or defeat. Lifting too heavy and pushing your boundaries too often means you get hurt. Or you experience no progress, decide to abandon the plan, and stop training for strength all together.
If you want to be a strongman, don’t forget you need time to become strong first.
There are no shortcuts around hard work, a good training plan, and a commitment to getting the work done. Consider these tips:
- The strongest lifter is often the one who’s been injury free the longest.
- Don’t put your body and health at risk by neglecting your foundations of mobility, movement, fitness, and an appropriate training plan. You will regret it when you’re in hospital with a bulging disc or torn muscle.
- Create a strong foundation and build. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Become strong, then become a strongman.
Build From the Ground Up
Regardless of where you are on your current journey into strongman, whether you are just trying out the sport or are an experienced competitor, ask yourself these questions:
- Is your fear of failure holding you back?
- Are you pushing your event training too hard?
- Are you sacrificing long-term health and injury-free training to speed up the process?
If your answer to any of these questions is yes, then the only solution is to build from the ground up. Reassess your priorities, so you can lay a solid foundation. From here, build a huge level of strength. Only by following this process in this order will you be able compete at your highest capabilities.