6 Strategies to Succeed as a Novice Strongman
Ever watched the World’s Strongest Man on TV? Then you’ll have seen muscular giants performing tremendous, unfathomable feats of strength. These feats include picking up concrete balls (atlas stones) weighing hundreds of pounds, lifting cars, and tossing full kegs around like toys. You might be wondering if strongman is the sport for you, but you are not sure if you are strong enough to do some of the things you see.
Here are six simple strategies that will help you approach your first strongman competition with confidence.
#1: Sign Up and Show Up
You can only learn so much by training in the gym and watching strongman on TV. The best way to becoming a strongman competitor is to sign up for a competition. You may not be strong enough to lift the competition weights right now, and that’s okay. Pick a competition that is a few months away, and begin training those events. Many larger competitions offer a novice division for beginners. Take advantage of this option in order to get your feet wet and gain experience. You might not be able to use the actual equipment until the day of the event, so the best way to gain experience is to show up and give it a try.
There are two major Strongman Federations in the United States:
Once you have found a competition, hire a coach, or at least sign up for some training sessions to learn how to properly use the equipment. Due to the volume of CrossFit boxes popping up everywhere, you are likely to find a place with suitable equipment in your area, even if it’s not an out-and-out strongman gym.
If you cannot find a strongman coach in your area, there are plenty of coaches available online, and online videos can be also incredibly helpful in learning basic technique. Here are some online resources to get you started:
- Breaking Muscle
- Starting Strongman
- World Strongman Federation Facebook Group
- Strongman Technique
- Ladies Lift Here
#2: Lift Heavy and Recover Fully
The weights in strongman are heavy. As athletes grow stronger and bigger, the weights continue to increase. In order to properly train for these events, you will be moving heavy loads at a quick pace. Training hard all of the time takes a toll on your joints, muscles, and central nervous system.
"Part of the experience is enjoying the friendships and camaraderie that develop through hard training. Cheer on your fellow competitors and be proud of all you have accomplished. Some days will be better than others, and that’s okay."
Recover as intensely as you train by taking rest days as needed, and taking care of your body. I enjoy spending my rest days doing yoga, stretching, and getting the occasional massage to soothe sore muscles. If yoga or massage aren’t your style, I recommend purchasing a foam roller or lacrosse ball for some self-myofascial release.
Don’t forget about your most important recovery tool: sleep. If you get four hours of sleep per night and run on caffeine, you’re going to burn out quickly. It may seem impossible to squeeze in the recommended seven to eight hours per night, but this should become a priority if you are serious about training. We all get the same 24 hours in the day. Turn off the TV and make time for recovery.
#3: Eat Like It’s Your Job
If you want to perform like a strongman athlete, you’re going to have to start eating like one. If you haven’t already read these nutrition articles, you need to:
- The Intelligent Athlete's Guide to Fueling Performance
- Eat to Perform: Simple Dietary Advice for the Athlete
- Nutrition Advice to Turn You Into a Strength Training Animal
You are going to be lifting heavier weights than you ever have before, and therefore, your muscles are going to grow. Focus on the weight of the bar, not the scale. Embrace your strength.
#4: Remember Ingenuity Trumps Size
You might not think you resemble a typical strongman athlete when you look in the mirror. This is certainly the case for me. Strongman is not one size fits all, and strongman equipment is not made for the 5’2, 130 lb female. My short legs and tiny arms have often been a source of frustration while competing.
That’s where using your head comes in handy. When you don’t have the size, you’ll need to improvise.
Strongman athletes come in all sizes. Left: Kalle Beck; Middle: Nicole DeMicco; Right: Robert Oberst
When I competed in my first open division competition, I had to perform a yoke carry. I had always trained with my arms spread wide and my hands around the outside of the yoke. When I warmed up for this event on game day, I realized that my arms wouldn’t reach the sides of the yoke. Curse you, tiny wingspan!
With minutes to spare before the event began, I had to figure out how I was going to lift this enormous object. I moved my hands into different positions and practiced picking up the yoke, trying to figure out which way would keep it most securely on my back. It was ugly and slow, but I figured out a way to move it. Experiment with the equipment and how it works with your body. Just because something works for someone else, doesn't mean it will work for you. Move around and adjust your positioning as necessary.
#5: Be Prepared but Flexible
Expect the unknown. You can train for months and show up only to find out that the event, distance, weight, or other variable has been changed. Unlike other strength sports and competitions, there is no standard regulation equipment used. In powerlifting and weightlifting, for example, you can anticipate what type of barbell you will be using. When it comes to strongman, you never know what you are going to get until you show up. Sometimes the way you train isn’t the way the way the event is set up.
On a related note, make sure you practice events in the rain or snow. This is especially important if you are competing in a winter event. Strongman events tend to go ahead come rain or shine, so check the weather forecast and dress accordingly.
#6: Keep a Positive Attitude
Strongman is fun. No one is forcing you to go out and pick up insanely heavy, oddly shaped objects. Part of the experience is enjoying the friendships and camaraderie that develop through hard training. Cheer on your fellow competitors and be proud of all you have accomplished. Some days will be better than others, and that’s okay.
Embrace The Uncomfortable
While you will not become the World’s Strongest Man after one day of strongman training, you will never get there at all if you do not start. Step outside of your comfort zone and try something new. Strongman may not be everyone’s sport of choice, but all are welcome to give it a try.
Sign up for an event to give yourself a goal, train hard, fuel your body, and give yourself time to recover. Treat every event like a puzzle and figure out the most effective way to make it work for your body. Don’t be discouraged by others who may appear to pick up the sport more quickly than you. Everyone has their own strengths, and we all have different training backgrounds. Focus on the experience you gain, learn from your mistakes, and keep getting stronger.
You’ll Also Enjoy:
- 33 Reasons to Train Strongman
- An Introduction to Implement Training: Get Strong Like a Strongman
- 4 Needless Mistakes You’re Making in Strongman Training
- New on Breaking Muscle Right Now
Teaser photo and Photo 1 courtesy of Jorge Huerta Photography.
Photo 2 courtesy of Nicole DeMicco.