Strongman Analytics

Strongman Analytics 

Dr. Mark Clevenger 

The title of the sport of Strongman can be deceiving, it implies that only absolute strength is tested and that the statically strongest person always wins. This cannot be further from the truth. A Strongman contest is a series of 5 different events that can test an athletes absolute strength, repetition strength, speed strength, conditioning, athleticism, and equipment mastery. Too often athletes in the sport tend to focus on absolute strength and forget to think about these other aspects of events that are worth just as much, if not more points on your score by the end of the contest. I want to walk you through an analytics process of viewing the sport so you can construct your training to maximize your performance on any given event at any competition. 

Absolute Strength

In almost every contest you will have a deadlift and overhead press variation event. This is automatically 2 out of 5 events that you are going to be tested on, so your absolute strength for the most carry over to these events should be in the deadlift, log press, and axle press. Where people get too caught up here is thinking your 1 rep max in these lifts carries over to more than just these lifts. A big deadlift does not necessarily mean a fast yoke run, or a fast truck pull, and a big log press does not necessarily mean a good circus dumbbell performance. They do help, but they are not the sole performance indicators to these other lifts. Being statically strong in these two lifts is important but they only directly carry over to these two event variations.

Knowing how important these two lifts are for 2 out of 5 contested events, the bulk of your offseason training should consist of building strength in these lifts, while your contest prep should be focused on refining your technique for these lifts. Take a look at where and why you fail at these lifts and let that direct your accessory work. Pick out 1 or 2 aspects of these lifts that you struggle at (hamstring strength, bar path, stabilization, ect…) and train those, because getting better at those will make you better at this main lift. Then go ahead and fill the rest of your training time with lower impact exercises that will help keep your joints and body healthy in the long term (*cough *cough cardio…. *cough *cough generalized physical preparedness). 

After you’ve picked a contest with some variation of deadlift and overhead press, the next question you should be wondering is when to start contest prep? This is highly variable from athlete to athlete. Some athletes need more event proficiency to maximize their current strength levels with an implement, and thus a little bit longer of a contest prep cycle. Other athletes may have greater event proficiency, or natural ability, and subsequently need less specific work requiring less prep time. With that being said, you should be honest with yourself and see where you fall on this spectrum to determine how long of a prep you need. In either case, anything longer than 12-16 weeks, including taper and deload, is too much. At that point any extra time should just be spent getting stronger and healthier during an off season training block.

Repetition Strength

Just because you’ve got a huge 1 rep max on a given event, doesn’t mean you’ve got the movement efficiency and repetition strength to crank out the number of reps it’s going to take to win an event on game day. Don’t get me wrong, it helps, but absolute strength is not the sole determining factor to winning a reps event.

The first step in analyzing a reps event is asking yourself how the weight compares to your current strength levels in that event? If it’s less than 80% of your 1 rep max then you know the bulk of your event training needs to be focused on the conditioning, repetition strength, and overall movement economy to maximize your performance. If the event is closer to 85-90% of your 1 rep max then there should be a solid mix of absolute strength work and some repetition work, to give yourself the best chance at reps on game day. Lastly, if an event falls in the 90+% range, or above your current max, then your contest prep focus needs to be on absolute strength.

Speed Strength, Conditioning, Athleticism

This is by far the most underrated aspect of Strongman. In a typical Strongman competition 3 of the events will hinge on these things. Yes, being statically strong or having great repetition strength has scored you well in two events, but if you move like molasses, do the stanky leg while carrying weight, and get winded after 20s of work, you won’t place very high in these events. The common fault I see athletes make with regards to these events is the belief that if they get statically stronger it will magically give them work capacity, make them fast, and make them explosive. It has to be understood that these qualities, while connected in some fashions to absolute and repetition strength, are stand alone qualities and have to be trained independently. 

If there’s a conditioning event (max distance carry, ect..) and you can barely move competition weight because it’s so heavy, then you probably don’t need the bulk of your event training to be lighter weight for longer distances, this is where absolute strength in the event will give you the best performance. On the flip side if the competition weight is manageable relative to your abilities, then you probably need to be hammering your conditioning and efficiency for the event (recognize a theme yet?). If this is where you find yourself, understanding the mark to beat is an important training and programming tool. This is where you guesstimate where the top performers will score and train for that mark to ensure you maximize your points earned for that event. Don’t miss out on the podium because you didn’t know what mark to train for and subsequently under perform an event that costs you a lot of points.

If you find yourself with a distance for time event (yoke, farmers, ect…) this is not about how strong you are, but how fast you are. If you can’t move fast with weight you have to ask yourself why? Is it a bracing issue? Dynamic unilateral stability issue? Hip strength? Understand why, and train the heck out of that so you can get better at these events without training them all the time. Constantly training events in this sport will wear your body down, especially moving events. So work on finding ways to get better at these events with traditional strength training methods to not only save the wear and tear of these events but this will also give you a greater carry over to other events as well. 

I can’t count how many times I’ve seen an athlete in a medley carry something heavy impressively fast, then as they transitioned back to another implement 50’ away would shuffle or light jog, then again be incredibly fast carrying another heavy piece of equipment. Then you see them followed up by another athlete, not as fast carrying objects, but was an absolute blur sprinting between the implements, making up that time they lost on the carry and actually ending up beating a ‘stronger’ competitor because of it. Time is time, it’s counting from the whistle to the finish, everything you do in that span of time matters. Being an athlete and making your body fast not only with the parts where you carry weight, but the transitions between them as well, will ensure that the best time you are physically capable of is achieved. The takeaway here is, be as fast as you can at all aspects of an event, not just certain parts of it. 

Equipment Mastery

The argument I hear too often in Strongman is that you don’t need the equipment, you just need to be strong. Although competitors can take the equipment specifications for contest training too far (what are the exact dimensions of the farmers’ handles? What is the exact height of the pull for the car deadlift? Ect…), the idea that you don’t need to be proficient with a piece of equipment is absurd. That’s like telling an Olympic discus thrower that they don’t need practice with the discus, they just need to be powerful. Yes, it helps, but there is technique to every different event we do for our body types, and knowing the details of how to make an event work for you is a significant part of contest preparation. 

Lastly, understanding the gear allowed for a contest and how your body is best aligned for a movement pattern is hugely important. Did they say no deadlift suits in the event explanation? If it will help, throw on the suit. Did they say no deadlift suit but didn’t mention briefs? If it will help, throw on your briefs. Are you allowed to wear grip shirts or double soft/hard belts for the overhead? If so and it helps, wear it. Are you a shorter athlete who can get a wide stance and knees under the bar on an elevated deadlift? I guarantee you can pull more that way than a traditional stance with the bar under your knee. In the end, use any equipment or technique that is allowed that will help you maximize your strengths or leverages in every event for the sake of gaining the most points on game day. 

The Point

The point I’m trying to make with all of this, analyze every detail of every event, in every contest you sign up for. Compare this to your strengths and your weaknesses, and let that dictate your training. Stop getting caught up in having a big deadlift and big log press (yes these are important but not everything) and neglect the aspects of other events that equally determine your final points standings at a show.  Far more often in this sport we see a better all around athlete beat out a much stronger athlete because of how they prepared their body for each event. Remember, in the end it is called Strongman, but there are many different types of strength and none so more important than another.

Strongman is a Jealous Lover

Mark Clevenger

I’m not going to lie, if “Strongman” were a woman, and you met her at a bar, she would be a solid 10. She would be incredibly hot, love to eat, lift heavy, and would confess that she “never does traditional cardio.” You’ve got to go for it, right? I mean, what could possibly be wrong with her? All of these first signs feel so right and then you figure it out… she’s a stage 5 clinger. If you don’t spend your every waking moment thinking about how you are going to incorporate “Strongman” into your life giving every ounce of your energy and time to her… I promise something bad is going to happen to you.

If she catches you thinking about another form of training she’s gonna key your car. Don’t have time to spend with her this weekend because of work? You’ll come home to your Playstation 4 and all of your games burning in the front yard. With all of this said, you should be asking yourself, “is she even worth it?” If so, how do you keep this stage 5 crazy at bay so you can enjoy this beautiful 10 on a daily basis?

Forgive me for sounding like a misogynistic pig while I’ve tried to illustrate a point about the sport of Strongman. The thing is, training and competing in Strongman can be the most appealing, fulfilling, and exciting sport on the planet, but only if you give it a prime spot on your priority list. This is going to mean devoting the time and attention needed for training, recovery, nutrition, and implement-specific technique work. Here are the top three things you should be ready to do to keep this dime piece happy.

Commit to her, there can be no one else

There can be no one else. If you think you can train for Crossfit, Powerlifting, Olympic lifting, and water polo and be safe competing in Strongman you’re wrong. Every sport has its own unique set of sporting demands that must be addressed in training to prevent injury. The more sports we compete in the longer the list of sporting demands that must be addressed becomes, but there are only so many training hours a week that we can fit in or recover from. Eventually, things on this important list get neglected and it’s not too long until the injury fairy ends up paying you a visit. If you’re going to compete in Strongman, commit to Strongman.


If you wanna wear skinny jeans and have ‘cut abs’ all the while being able to deadlift cars and run with hundreds of pounds on your back, you’re obviously in the wrong sport. Training for Strongman is hard and requires the proper fuel to keep doing it day in and day out. If your body isn’t getting the nutrients it needs to recover, guess what? It’s going to break.

Active and passive recovery

When you’re not in the gym training, or eating to be in the gym training, you should be focusing on recovery. This includes 8 hours of sleep a night, lots of water all day every day, using a lacrosse ball or foam rolling problematic body parts every day, getting on a regular massage schedule, and going for regular walks on both training days and rest days. If you don’t focus on recovery, recovery won’t focus on you and that’s how you end up hurt.

It may sound like I’m trying to make this an all or nothing scenario, but I’m really just trying to stress the importance of sport specific training.  Do some athletes dabble in multiple sports and do just fine? Yes, but think about how many players you have you seen on the show ‘Cheaters’, that is generally the exception and not the rule. What I don’t understand is, why dabble with a 10, when you can simply have a 10? In the end, if you’re a weightlifting player who wants a side chick, Strongman is not the one to just play around with.

Commit to her or you’ll regret it.

The 5 types of strongman competitors you’ll see at your fist novice competition

By Mark Clevenger
September 10th 2016

The following are the 5 most common strongman competitors you’ll see at your first novice competition.

  1. The guy/girl that doesn’t belong: This is the athlete who crushes every event and obviously should have been an open competitor. How they got to compete in the novice division is still a mystery of the universe. Their mastery of the implements and timing of the details suggest this is nowhere near their first rodeo. You watch and learn as much as you can from them all the while hating the fact that you have to compete against them.
  2. The guy/girl that doesn’t belong, part deux: This is the athlete who zeros almost every event. Why they decided to pay money to compete in something they are physically unprepared for baffles everyone there. Fellow competitors give them tips and cheer them on because that’s what this sport is all about. When it’s all said and done we just hope they fall in love with the sport, learn from the experience, hit the weight room… hard, and come back when they’re a little more prepared. Mad props to this athlete for putting themselves out there though.
  3. The strong Crossfitter: This athlete is strong (by Crossfit standards, take that however you want) and pretty good at Crossfit. They thought this success would parlay to success as a novice strongman, and most of the time it does. They have the mental toughness required to attack each event with 100% of themselves, they have the strength endurance to repeat this effort in multiple events throughout the day, and they are generally good at both overhead and lightweight deadlift events. They are not as good at the more traditional strongman implements like farmers walks, atlas stones, ect… Their strengths in the overhead and lightweight deadlift events generally carry them through pedestrian performances in the other events to the podium.
  4. The naturally strong athlete that never really works out: This athlete claims to never really workout. They do manual labor all day for a living and decided to compete on a whim because it sounded cool. You believe them when they say they never train because they look like a baby giraffe trying to walk when they touch any barbell or implement. They generally come out the gate doing reasonably well in the first two events and then either get hurt, or their bodies tank, because they are not used to repeating maximum effort for multiple events in a row. You watch them jealous of their natural talents and wondering how good they could be at this sport if they worked at it.funnylifting
  5. The athlete who has committed to the sport but not ready for open competition yet: This was me. I trained in strongman every college football offseason because I was a blocking tight end and my strength coach was an ex-strongman competitor. By the end of every season I lost so many of the gains I made that the cycle just restarted for the following season until I graduated. These athletes are fairly strong overall and have a good grasp on the implements because they are part of their regular training regime. They truly love the sport, are always in the hunt for the podium, and perform fairly well in every event. These athletes generally make the jump to the open division shortly after they start competing in the sport.

This list isn’t all inclusive, there are other ‘types’ of athletes you’ll encounter. These are just the 5 most common that I have seen. Ask yourself if you fall into one of these categories. If you fall into the first, do everyone a favor and compete in the open division. Kicking kittens isn’t cool and the other athletes won’t appreciate you dominating a division below where you belong. If you fall into any other, you have a good idea of what to expect based on the type of athlete you are. Either way go enjoy the experience, learn from the vets, be a good sport, then go out and connect with your fellow competitors after the contest for burgers and beer.