Why Strongman

Organizing Training Blocks for Strongman

Mark Clevenger

There are a lot of different ways to create training blocks for Strongman. Most people use the traditional ‘event day’ model where they train traditional barbell methods throughout the week and then meet with a crew on the weekend to train implements they have coming up in a show. While this method works for many very good strongman competitors I prefer to view Strongman implements not as a separate tool of training for a specific show but as a daily integrated piece of equipment meant to supplement my strength and conditioning program. This is easiest done using a conjugate model of training so that is how I will explain it here.

In order to understand how I’m organizing training blocks you need to be familiar with some terminology. I use a 3 week conjugate wave to organize my training with one maximal effort lower body and upper body day programmed, as well as one dynamic effort lower body and upper body day programmed. Maximal effort work is defined as working up to max lift on a variation of the main lift you are trying to strengthen. So for overhead days that is a variation of the overhead press. Dynamic effort work uses the competition lift itself at lighter loads to work on speed of movement and technique. Special exercises are those extra exercises in your training day meant to strengthen a perceived weakness in your main lift; i.e. upper back, lower back, hamstrings, ect… General physical preparedness (GPP) is the conditioning you use at the end of your training session. An example of this template is provided below for you to get an idea of where we are starting from.

Week 1
Max Effort Lower Max Effort Upper Dynamic Effort Lower Dynamic Effort Upper
Special Exercise 1 Special Exercise 1 Special Exercise 1 Special Exercise 1
Special Exercise 2 Special Exercise 2 Special Exercise 2 Special Exercise 2
GPP GPP GPP GPP
Week 2
Max Effort Lower Max Effort Upper Dynamic Effort Lower Dynamic Effort Upper
Special Exercise 1 Special Exercise 1 Special Exercise 1 Special Exercise 1
Special Exercise 2 Special Exercise 2 Special Exercise 2 Special Exercise 2
GPP GPP GPP GPP
Week 3
Max Effort Lower Max Effort Upper Dynamic Effort Lower Dynamic Effort Upper
Special Exercise 1 Special Exercise 1 Special Exercise 1 Special Exercise 1
Special Exercise 2 Special Exercise 2 Special Exercise 2 Special Exercise 2
GPP GPP GPP GPP

For overhead events, the meat and potatoes of Strongman are the axle and log press. These events, and their alternate power variations, are trained every week with the use of other barbell/dumbbell press work used as a supplement to training to these two lifts. There are other Strongman lifts we see in competitions that must be integrated into training when you know those events are coming up, but if you’re strong in the axle/log strict press, push press, and push/split jerk you will be strong in those other lifts such as well (i.e. Viking press, circus dumbbell, ect..). This means you’ll just need technique refreshers for those various pressing events leading up to a show. Ideas of integrating these more odd events are provided a little later.

Press cycles should be organized so that you alternate between the axle and log for dynamic effort work which is performed as 12 sets of 2 reps for week 1, 10 sets of 2 reps for week 2, and then 8 sets of two reps for week 3. The relative percentages with accommodating resistance (AR, bands and chains) are 55/15%, 60/15%, 65/15% respectively. For those of you without access to AR simply use 70/75/80%  of straight weight for your working sets. For the push and power variations you should train those like Olympic lifts and perform them before your max effort work. I use straight weight for these at 7 sets of 2 reps weeks 1 and 2, with 5 sets of 2 reps in week 3. The relative percentages for this work is 75/80/85% respectively. To keep these max effort workouts from being too long use 90 second rest intervals between sets and cut out 10 minutes of GPP from the end of the workout day. To prevent accommodation rotate the power variations on the max effort day and rotate them into the dynamic effort work with AR from cycle to cycle. Below are several sample templates of these rotations.

Sample Table 1

Week 1
Max Effort Day Dynamic Effort Day
Log Clean and Split Jerk 7X2 @75% Axle Press 12X2 @55+15%
Max Effort Press Accessory Lift
Special Exercise 1 Special Exercise 1
Special Exercise 2 Special Exercise 2
GPP 10 min GPP 20 min
Week 2
Max Effort Day Dynamic Effort Day
Log Clean and Split Jerk 7X2 @80% Axle Press 10X2 @60+15%
Max Effort Press Accessory Lift
Special Exercise 1 Special Exercise 1
Special Exercise 2 Special Exercise 2
GPP 10 min GPP 20 min
Week 3
Max Effort Day Dynamic Effort Day
Log Clean and Split Jerk 5X2 @85% Axle Press 8X2 @65+15%
Max Effort Press Accessory Lift
Special Exercise 1 Special Exercise 1
Special Exercise 2 Special Exercise 2
GPP 10 min GPP 20 min

Sample Table 2

Week 1
Max Effort Day Dynamic Effort Day
Axle Clean and Split Jerk 7X2 @75% Log Press 12X2 @55+15%
Max Effort Press Accessory Lift
Special Exercise 1 Special Exercise 1
Special Exercise 2 Special Exercise 2
GPP 10 min GPP 20 min
Week 2
Max Effort Day Dynamic Effort Day
Axle Clean and Split Jerk 7X2 @80% Log Press 10X2 @60+15%
Max Effort Press Accessory Lift
Special Exercise 1 Special Exercise 1
Special Exercise 2 Special Exercise 2
GPP 10 min GPP 20 min
Week 3
Max Effort Day Dynamic Effort Day
Axle Clean and Split Jerk 5X2 @85% Log Press 8X2 @65+15%
Max Effort Press Accessory Lift
Special Exercise 1 Special Exercise 1
Special Exercise 2 Special Exercise 2
GPP 10 min GPP 20 min

Sample Table 3

Week 1
Max Effort Day Dynamic Effort Day
Log Push Press 7X2 @75% Axle Press 12X2 @55+15%
Max Effort Press Accessory Lift
Special Exercise 1 Special Exercise 1
Special Exercise 2 Special Exercise 2
GPP 10 min GPP 20 min
Week 2
Max Effort Day Dynamic Effort Day
Log Push Press 7X2 @80% Axle Press 10X2 @60+15%
Max Effort Press Accessory Lift
Special Exercise 1 Special Exercise 1
Special Exercise 2 Special Exercise 2
GPP 10 min GPP 20 min
Week 3
Max Effort Day Dynamic Effort Day
Log Push Press 5X2 @85% Axle Press 8X2 @65+15%
Max Effort Press Accessory Lift
Special Exercise 1 Special Exercise 1
Special Exercise 2 Special Exercise 2
GPP 10 min GPP 20 min

You can see with each various cycle the log and axle lifts are rotated to prevent accommodation and the power variations are treated as Olympic lifts on max effort days, with the log and axle strict press rotated every 3 week wave for dynamic work. Now, if you had an overhead event coming up in a contest that wasn’t a log or axle you would simply replace a max effort lift with that specific event to get an idea of where you’re at with it and then let it be a special exercise you train on your dynamic day. You shouldn’t need any more than a single 3 week block of work to adequately prepare you for an upcoming competition.

Programming the different Strongman deadlift variations into training is probably the easiest lift to integrate into a 3 week conjugate training block. With so many different types of deadlifts used in the sport rotating all of them in on max effort days gives the athlete a good idea of where they are at with each lift year round. I then use the dynamic days to train the traditional deadlift since the higher that number goes the higher all the other deadlift variations will go. I don’t think it can get any simpler than this. An example is listed below.

Week 1
Max Effort Day Dynamic Effort Day
13” Deadlift Max Deadlift 12X2 @55+15%
Squat Variation Squat Variation
Special Exercise 1 Special Exercise 1
Special Exercise 2 Special Exercise 2
GPP 10 min GPP 20 min
Week 2
Max Effort Day Dynamic Effort Day
Axle Bar 18” Deadlift Max Deadlift 12X2 @60+15%
Squat Variation Squat Variation
Special Exercise 1 Special Exercise 1
Special Exercise 2 Special Exercise 2
GPP 10 min GPP 20 min
Week 3
Max Effort Day Dynamic Effort Day
Frame Deadlift Max Deadlift 10X2 @65+15%
Squat Variation Squat Variation
Special Exercise 1 Special Exercise 1
Special Exercise 2 Special Exercise 2
GPP 10 min GPP 20 min

To this point everything seems very standard and I’m sure you’re asking yourself where all the other random Strongman events go? The easiest to place to start, on the coattails of deadlift/squat programming, is the yoke runs, farmers runs, and atlas stone loads. In order to use these pieces of equipment for specific strength and conditioning purposes we have to understand what parts/systems of the body we are using them for.

When we use the yoke properly, arms pressing out or wrapped around pulling in, we are engaging our upper and mid backs to stabilize the load so our legs can move efficiently. This load itself in conjunction with the moving weight challenges our core dynamically as we walk (quickly) from one point to another. So if you find your upper back, mid back, or midline stability are issues in your deadlift or squat with heavy working sets you can implement heavy yoke walks on max effort days in place of a special exercise. These runs should be shorter in distance and higher in intensity. If you find that these issues only arise with higher repetition sets after fatigue starts to set in then implement lighter yoke runs for a longer distance on dynamic effort days by substituting these runs for one of the special exercises. These runs should be longer in distance and of a lower intensity. An example of each is provided below.

Week 1
Max Effort Day Dynamic Effort Day
Deadlift Variation Max Deadlift 12X2 @55+15%
Squat Variation Squat Variation
Special Exercise 1 Yoke Run 5X100′ @60%
Special Exercise 2 Special Exercise 2
GPP 10 min GPP 20 min
Week 2
Max Effort Day Dynamic Effort Day
Deadlift Variation Max Deadlift 12X2 @60+15%
Squat Variation Squat Variation
Special Exercise 1 Yoke Run 5X100′ @65%
Special Exercise 2 Special Exercise 2
GPP 10 min GPP 20 min
Week 3
Max Effort Day Dynamic Effort Day
Deadlift Variation Max Deadlift 10X2 @65+15%
Squat Variation Squat Variation
Special Exercise 1 Yoke Run 5X100′ @70%
Special Exercise 2 Special Exercise 2
GPP 10 min GPP 20 min

 

Week 1
Max Effort Day Dynamic Effort Day
Deadlift Variation Max Deadlift 12X2 @55+15%
Squat Variation Squat Variation
Yoke Run 3X50′ @80% Special Exercise 1
Special Exercise 2 Special Exercise 2
GPP 10 min GPP 20 min
Week 2
Max Effort Day Dynamic Effort Day
Deadlift Variation Max Deadlift 12X2 @60+15%
Squat Variation Squat Variation
Yoke Run 3X50′ @85% Special Exercise 1
Special Exercise 2 Special Exercise 2
GPP 10 min GPP 20 min
Week 3
Max Effort Day Dynamic Effort Day
Deadlift Variation Max Deadlift 10X2 @65+15%
Squat Variation Squat Variation
Yoke Run 2X50′ @90% Special Exercise 1
Special Exercise 2 Special Exercise 2
GPP 10 min GPP 20 min

Much like the yoke walks, farmers runs are great tools to strengthen your upper back, mid back, midline stabilizers, and grip. These too can be substituted as the yoke is on max effort and dynamic effort days as shown above using the same distances and intensities. Lastly, atlas stones when performed with an emphasis on the ‘high pull’ from the upper back become a great tool for strengthening your dynamic hugger muscles (chest, biceps, and internal rotators), hips, mid and upper back. For general strength and conditioning purposes, not competition specific purposes, you can use these on lower body dynamic effort days with lighter weights for volume. Substitute these as a special exercise and perform 3 sets of 8-12 reps with only one pickup from the floor per set and resetting in the lap between repetitions. This will minimize the stress on the bicep while maximizing the strengthening effect on the hips, chest, mid and upper back.

In terms of implementing other random event training (tire flip, husafel carries, sandbag runs, sled work, keg carries, ect…) into your general strength training routine, use these implements as part of your GPP at the end of workouts. Rotate the implements carried, alternate distances traveled, use different timed sets, and add other various forms of external resistance to these carries (sled drag from the waist while carrying a sandbag, sled pulls with a weight vest, ect…). By rotating these implements into your GPP blocks you constantly work the technique of the implements, increase your speed with the implements, raising your general work capacity with the implements, as well as increasing your specific strength with each implement. Many of these different implements can cause a lot of wear and tear on the body or excessively strain on certain muscle groups so I always recommend working with light to moderate weights of each implement relative to the athletes strength to prevent excessive wear and tear. When you start prepping for specific items in an upcoming competition you can start to go heavy with these tools.

Some closing notes about organizing training blocks for Strongman. Strongman implements are not a separate piece of training equipment only to be used when you have a contest coming up, they are integral pieces of equipment meant to strengthen lagging areas of your body in order to lift more weight. Implementing these tools as I’ve outlined not only allows you strengthen weak points but also helps you become proficient at the individual implements themselves. This way when you do become contest specific in your training you’ve already established a broad base of strength to build your competitive performance from. Enjoy the process of experimentation with the plug and play framework provided until you find the right programming balance that works for you.

2 thoughts on “Organizing Training Blocks for Strongman

  1. Excellent. Very, very helpful.Questions:I have 4 main days: ME upper and lower (Mon and Tues), DE upper and lower (Thrs and Fri). Should I change the order at all?I do the big 3 lifts and supplement with OH work and I try to use strongman implements for accessories and conditioning. Thoughts?Wednesday: I usually do more GPP: carries for intervals, sleds, hypers, and/or something dynamic: Oly work from the hang or band KBS or jumps. Usually constantly moving, and less than 30mins. Any changes here?Saturday: strongman technique and things I missed. Low to moderate intensity. Any changes here?All my training is in the AM. Periodically, when I have my shit together (almost never over the last 5 years), I’ll do a 3 week wave of something to “shock me”. It’s always in the afternoon. Last time it was tri-cep push downs + face pulls + standing abs. I did it 5X/week and increased reps over that time. Then I stopped and either didn’t do it the next wave or found a different area to hit. Thoughts here?Thanks. Valuable as always.PS: Dustin failed to budge the 265lb stone today.JIMMake your mind, body, and will UNBREAKABLEJim BeebeCrossFit Unbreakable2198 Reeves Rd., Bldg. 2APlainfield, IN 46168317-224-6960http://www.crossfitunbreakable.comFacebook Twitter 

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    1. Your ME/DE workout split is fine, I would work that strongman technique training into your ME or DE days as accessory work based on what events are coming up in a contest or events you’re not good at. Whatever your sport is (or with strongman what events are coming up) dictates what you should consider your main or primary supplemental lifts. The big 3 are great if you’re a powerlifter or prepping for a powerlifting meet, and that usually works for Strongman as well, but I always treat overhead as my third main lift instead of bench. Then I use bench as an accessory to my overhead since that’s the meat and potatoes of Strongman. Take your Wed idea and move that to Sat to serve as active recovery. As far as the extra work, you can always get creative and just incorporate that with Strongman implements into your GPP during the week, kill two birds with one stone. Just some thoughts and ideas based on the information you gave me. As always feel free to comment/email with questions.

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