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Strongman Article: Strongman Training for Powerlifters

Strongman Training For Powerlifters

by Ian Driscoll

Coming from a powerlifting background and previous to that, a kid who just wanted to get bigger and stronger for high school sports, strongman training has proved to be the most effective and fun training that I have ever done.

Strongman training is hard, damn hard. However, the benefits are hard to ignore whether your goal is to add slabs of muscle mass, becoming a more explosive athlete or simply put pounds on your gym lifts.

tire axle

Getting Started in Strongman Training

First I’ll start off with a little bit of personal history. My first year of college, I was a hungry 18 year old powerlifter looking to up my game. I had always enjoyed strongman competitions on TV and decided I was going to give it a shot.

I drove two and a half hours to a garage gym known as Jobe’s Steel Jungle every weekend. There I had the opportunity to experience what “Strongman Sunday’s” were all about. Log presses, axle presses, deadlifts (of all varieties), keg loading, stone loading, yoke walks, farmers walks, sandbag carries, and sled pulls are a list in a vague memory of what I have done there.

On these weekends I only did three or four strongman events and I was left exhausted. The two and a half hour drive back was always euphoric. My t-shirt was stained with sweat, tacky, and chalk but the recent memory of strongman training was all that was on my mind.

My Improvement in the Powerlifts from Strongman Training

This weekly strongman training carried over to my powerlifting in a noticeable way. I used to have trouble stabilizing my body under 405 pounds in a squat. I would look like a baby giraffe coming out of the womb. Heavy yoke walks took care of that problem. The yoke walks taught me how to create tension and brace my body. Instead of having a coach tell me abstractly how to create tension and brace the trunk, I threw myself under a heavy yoke, kept my body as upright as possible and I learned exceptionally quick what bracing and creating tension feels like.

I used to have problems double overhand deadlifting anything over 315 pounds. Farmers walks took care of that, something about walking with 260 pounds in each hand for 100 feet will cure most grip problems. My deadlift and squat were suffering from the inability of pushing the hips through. I loaded a stone 20 times in a row, you have no choice but to learn how to use the hips.

Enough about my personal experience; here’s how strongman training can benefit you:

Benefits of Strongman Training

Loaded Triple Extension:
Triple extension is simply the simultaneous extension of the ankles, knees, and hips. Classic barbell lifts such as the squat, deadlift, and power clean demonstrate this.

stone over bar

With strongman implements, one can take it a bit further. Loading an atlas stone to a relatively high platform trying not to let the stone break one’s spine in half or flipping a heavy tractor tire will have one go from a deep squat position through to the tippy toes. With these implements being odd objects, the awkwardness is a nice change of pace and the technique is not as comprehensive as a barbell lift.

There is something primal about flipping an 800 pound tire or loading a 300 pound stone. For powerlifters, we don’t need to go extremely heavy with strongman implements. Just getting out of the gym and doing something exciting that provokes hard work is beneficial. We can argue all day about what is optimal or what’s best for triple extension and to be honest I see a lot more carryover from strongman based triple extension movements to the gym than what the gym brings to strongman.

yoke

Bracing the trunk:
In order to walk with 600 pounds in the hands, 800 pounds on the back, or load something over 300 pounds to a platform it is critical to brace the trunk. It is impossible to do any of these disciplines efficiently without bracing effectively. Yes, one can learn how to brace the trunk very well in a squat, bench press, or deadlift but walking with the weights one can deadlift or squat takes the bracing concept to a whole new level and makes them more efficient when they go back to traditional squatting, bench pressing or deadlifting.

jeddblobwatch

Grip strength:
Bearhug walking with a heavy keg, farmers walks or doing some axle deadlifts will develop that manly handshake and improve upon the ability to lift heavier weights. It is called the law of irradiation, the harder an individual can squeeze something, the more efficiently the chain of muscles can be utilized. Nothing fancy here, just hard, grueling work.

Explosiveness:
Along with loaded triple extension, and bracing the trunk that aid in explosiveness, strongman events are supposed to be done fast. Things are timed in strongman, we need to be as efficient as possible. A classic example of developing explosiveness would be tire flips as fast as possible for 50 feet or cleaning a heavy axle up to the shoulders. Personally, there is a direct correlation to the speed of my power lifts when I add in strongman training.

Mental strength:
What makes strongman appealing to me is the amount of mental strength it takes to endure the events. There have been a couple times I literally thought that I was going to die. Everyone wants to set down a heavy yoke, drop the farmers when their shoulders feel like their being pulled out of socket, let go of an atlas stone when it rips into their forearm, grind through a 15th rep on a deadlift for reps or drop the log when it is crushing their lungs. The intense commitment and desire to plow through these mental barriers is, to me, invaluable.

truck pull

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How to add strongman events to a powerlifting routine?

There are many ways to go about doing this. Here are a couple of examples…

Full Strongman Day:
I suggest replacing a gym day for an event day if one is lucky enough to have access to the implements. For example, you can get your main powerlifting work done during the week, and then do your Strongman Training on Saturday or Sunday.

Strongman Lifts as Accessory Movements:
Another way to add Strongman Training is by using strongman events in place of other accessory movements. For example, after deadlift training one could hit five sets of five on tire flips, instead of straight leg deads. Another example would be an axle clean and press for three sets of five after bench training. An additional example could be three sets of 50 feet on yoke walks after squatting.

The options are limitless, but one must be smart about it. Strongman training has a funny way of leaving the body in a pile of ash if one gets carried away. One event day consisting of three events or substituting a main accessory for a similar strongman event.

Wrapping it Up

In summary, strongman training is great. On the other hand, it is not the end all be all of training. A lot of elite level powerlifters have never touched strongman equipment. For strength athletes, strongmen included, the classic barbell lifts are going to be the priority of a training system. My thoughts and ideas are to give you a few tools you can try out on your own and see if they aid in your strength sport. There is a time and a place for several tools, I am under the impression strongman training is one of those under-utilized tools that has a great carryover to the powerlifts.

-Ian Driscoll-


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