5 Strongman Movements For A Stronger, Bigger, Leaner Physique

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We all need a change of pace in our daily lives from time to time. In the gym, we too, need to change things up every now and again. But the last thing we want to do is to adopt bad habits when we try something new.

Strongman training is a great way to augment your fitness goals on your journey to a stronger, faster and leaner physique.

If you’re into bodybuilding and aesthetics, training like a strongman probably doesn’t catch your attention. Why would anyone who doesn’t compete in the sport want or need to incorporate strongman lifts into their training?

You’ve seen the events on ESPN, and while their feats of strength are mind-blowing, you have no interest in having their body composition. But before you turn your cheek on strongman training, consider what Arnold Schwarzenegger once said: “The basis of bodybuilding is developing muscle mass by lifting heavy weights.”

Arnold deadlifted over 700 pounds and epitomized a tapered waist. He also had a 300 pound clean and press with an off-season weight of 260 pounds.

In bodybuilding’s golden age, when waists were smaller, bodybuilders trained with heavy deadlifts. This approach was catalyzed by Bob Hoffman who said “Train for strength and shape will follow.”

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Training for strength can be an arduous process. When you need a mental vacation from the traditional lifts, but don’t want to slack off and lose strength, pivoting to strongman training is hands down one of the best ways to do so. The best part is, you don’t have to compete in the sport to reap the benefits.

Strongman training has had a reputation for overweight guys pulling trucks and carrying refrigerators. But the sport has evolved significantly and can now be used for multiple purposes from improving body composition, increasing sports performance or building muscle.

Before we set you up with a list of movements you can start doing today, lets look at a few reasons why adding strongman training to your routine is beneficial.

Strongman Training Benefits

Strongman Training Makes You Stronger

What makes strongman training so effective is the large, unbalanced loads you have to move across multiple distances and time domains. Unlike barbells or dumbbells, the strongman movements force you to make adjustments in your positioning that induce massive amounts of muscle tension that your body isn’t typically exposed to.

To bring about positive change in your strength level an overload must be applied. This can only take place if the training load you are placing on your body is above the habitual level. By adding in things like loaded carries, atlas stone work, and tire flips, overloading your muscles won’t be a problem.

By pivoting from conventional lifts and going through a season of strongman training you can side-step strength gain plateaus. Conventional lifts require you to move loads across a fixed path. While there is a lot of room for progress in these lifts, at some point your movement selection must by varied enough to stimulate strength gains over time.

If you recruit the same movements with the same training load for too long, strength gains will stall. This is known as accommodation, and injecting strongman training into your routine allows you to avoid it.

Mr. Olympia Ronnie ColemanStrongman Training Makes You Bigger

Muscle gains are the by-product of large amounts of time under tension, typically at sub-maximal loads. In traditional style bodybuilding, sets will fall anywhere from 20 to 60 seconds long. Time domains with strongman movements are very similar, lasting anywhere from 30 to 90 seconds. What does this mean?

It means that the energy system being taxed in each respective style of training is the same.

Despite the name, strongman events and movements are often not a feat of showcasing maximal strength. Rather, it’s a test of strength over time and distance. In bodybuilding, it’s rarely a maximal strength approach. Instead, similar to strongman, it’s a test of strength over time and how much volume you can handle.

The energy system that is being taxed in each respective style of training is the anaerobic lactic capacity. In each domain, this energy system is activated when lifts or movements are executed for 30 to 120 seconds. This type of training induces the highest amount of growth hormone production which is a vital factor in building muscle.

Strongman Training Makes You Leaner

It’s no secret that anaerobic style type of training is great for fat loss. Commonly known and popularized as HIIT (high intensity interval training), this type of training burns a ton of calories while your training, but the main benefit is the after burn when you finish your last interval.

A timeless study reveals that when it comes to changing your body composition, HIIT has a greater impact in comparison to steady state aerobics. Subjects did either 20 weeks of steady state, or 15 weeks of sprint intervals. The interval group lost 9x more bodyfat and 12% more belly fat than the group who did steady state aerobics.

To fulfill your interval training needs, strongman movements fit the bill. Moving large loads at a high intensity in a time domain of 30 to 60 seconds is largely anaerobic, and sure as hell beats the slow death of trudging along on a treadmill.

The Strongman Movements

Farmer’s Walk

Have you ever shaken a strongman’s hand? You probably felt like you had just met the incredible hulk and wondered if you even know what the word “strong” means.

For an incredible grip strength and conditioning, the farmer’s walk has little competition. It’s a classic event in the sport, but it can be done by anyone order to get some big time impact on your strength and carryover into your lifting.

The farmer’s walk will push the limits of your grip while your traps, shoulders and abs all get lit up with a quasi-isometric contraction during the carry. You’ve been warned up front.

If you incorporate this lift into your training your upper back and traps will see some big time gains. And, you’ll be able to walk around with a handshake that make men feel like they are in 4th grade again. If you’re ok with these side effects, proceed with the farmer’s walk.
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Truck Pull or Sled Drag

Strongman athletes aren’t the only ones who use pulling movements to increase their capacity, but one of the most notable gyms in the country utilizes them as well. Westside Barbell, a powerlifiting gym, puts all of their athletes through a ton of sled dragging work to bring up the posterior chain.

Pulling a truck requires every muscle in your body to fire, but your legs will feel like they’re on fire after you’re done. And, it also makes you look like a superhero. But for most people, you don’t have a truck or the equipment to execute this movement.

Your next best option is pulling a sled. For a combination of glute, hamstring and quad development that delivers a nice dose of conditioning, you’ll look no further than sled pulling. For those who have past knee issues, dragging a sled is an excellent option that blunts the impact on the knees but still offers a great conditioning workout.

Tire Flips

Tire flips should be tough.

Unfortunately, mainstream fitness has turned them into an ineffective exercise. Using small tires that don’t provide enough load cause people to perform a rounded-back squat at best, and a tire curl at worst. If the goal was high rep conditioning, do some kettebell swings. If you want to hit your biceps, curl a barbell.

The tire flip is intended to be a strength movement that recruits a massive amount of musculature. To do so, you’ll have to find the appropriate tire.

Get your hands on a tire that lays flat on the ground and comes up near your knee. This height is important because it will allow you to properly “push” into the tire in order to flip it.

A good benchmark for non-strongman athletes is to flip a tire 3.75 times your bodyweight for 10 reps under one minute.

Circus Dumbbell Press With Fat Grip

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The circus dumbbell press an old-time strongman movement. Despite it’s name, it’s a movement that every lifter should have in their repertoire. It’s an impressive lift that hits the whole body.

Adding the circus dumbbell press, or also known as the dumbbell clean and press, you’ll ensure that that you’re not all show and no go. And, throwing on a fat grip onto your dumbbell while increase your grip strength carrying over to the deadlift and your pull ups.

For 60 to 90 seconds per set, you’ll clean the dumbbell from the ground to your shoulder, then press it overhead. To recover, you’ll rack the dumbbell back to the shoulder and then back to the ground to repeat another rep. After 60 to 90 seconds, you’ll not only be gassed, but you’ll also have a wicked shoulder pump.

Atlas Stone

Shouldering a stone is arguably the most iconic movement when it comes to strongman lifts. And it’s known for good reason. There aren’t many greater test of will, grit and full bodystrength to the atlas stone. Stone loads will build up your back, biceps, forearms and core.

Your local sporting good store probably won’t have atlas stones in stock. You’ll have to order a mold online and make your own. But, since strongman lifts are getting popular there are some private sellers on Craigslist who sell atlas stones that they usually make in their garage.

If you can’t get your hands on a stone, the next best option will be a Zercher squat. If you’ve got a back that doesn’t allow you to squat or shoulders that prevent you from racking the bar, the Zercher squat is a great alternative that can provide enough load to stimulate while influencing good movement pattern.

Wrapping Up

The benefits are huge, but don’t expect strongman training to be a walk in the park.
Pivoting your training in this way for a season and taking a break from conventional lifts will provide dividends that include increased strength, more muscle and better body composition. Stronger, bigger and leaner. Who wouldn’t want that?

These five lifts can help you build more mass, stay leaner, and increase your athleticism. Break up the monotony of your normal training routine and mix it up with strongman training.

And, when you return to the classic lifts, you’ll step into the gym again with the fire in your belly that you had when you first ripped the barbell off the floor.

References

1) EPOC Comparison Between Isocaloric Bouts of Steady-State Aerobic, Intermittent Aerobic, and Resistance Training. – PubMed – NCBI. (n.d.).
2) Impact of exercise intensity on body fatness and skeletal muscle metabolism. – PubMed – NCBI. (n.d.).
3) Zatsiorsky, V. M. (1995). Science and practice of strength training. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

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Name: Brian McFadden

Bio: Brian teaches motivated but overwhelmed active individuals the importance of adopting an integrative approach to their health and fitness, so they can finally make the gains they want in the gym, but also live a healthy life outside of it.