Getting Started in Modern and Oldtime Strongman

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Christopher (no relation) asks:

What are some good resources for a person who’s never done strongman training to get started? There’s alot of info out there and it can get a little overwhelming. Any help would be MUCH appreciated. Thanks for your time!

First of all it’s important to distinguish “strongman” further and this is exactly what I asked about first.

There’s the modern day strongman as is seen on ESPN that involves lifting cars, stones, dragging airplanes and more.

Strongman Comp Stone Lift

Although some competitions have weight classes, it is by and large a big man’s sport.

How do you get started with this? It really comes down to working on the events themselves. That’s going to give you the best results if you plan to actually compete.

But if you don’t plan to compete, is this stuff still worth doing? Absolutely.

The foundational weightlifting exercises are going to be important.

Squats, deadlifts, rows, overhead pressing and jerks are all crucial.

Just using a barbell for this you can go pretty far in developing that absolute strength that is needed.

Then you need to lift some odd objects.

Rocks, barrels, kegs, logs, etc.

This takes that strength and makes it awkward. It also adds more of an endurance component. Not “running marathon” type of endurance, but all out in thirty seconds to two minutes.

Just using some odd objects, even if not doing specific strongman events themselves, you’ll better gain this type of strength.

A huge part of it is being able to carry heavy things. Learn more about that here.

The more I’ve done it and spoken to others that also do so, the more I see this as a foundational movement pattern.

All kinds of carrying with all kinds of tools.

You can read much more about the last time I did a strongman competition here. 

Of course, this does blend over into the oldtime strongman training too. One of the key differences in ways to think about them is modern strongman is competitive while oldtime strongman is more performance based, as in “showing off” your strength.

Oldtime strongman can still often involve lifting heavy weights. However, it more often involves lifting other objects and even huge groups of people. This is because the average person doesn’t get excited about a 500 lb. barbell, but seeing you lift 3 people, that weigh the same, it looks much more impressive.

Arthur Saxon supports the weight of twelve men in 1912

These sort of lifts are often done in a support manner. You’re not lifting, so much as you are supporting the weight.

Just working on some “normal” weight lifting exercises like squats or deadlifts, you can do these in more of a partial or support manner to build this type of strength.

Then there are the huge amount of feats of strength that are primarily dependent on hand strength.

Phonebook tearing, nail bending, frying pan rolling, anvil lifting and much more.

Any strongman worth his salt will develop strong hands. It’s part and parcel of being a strongman.

Bent Horseshoe

There is a certain technique to each one of these feats. You must learn that, and then you must build the strength behind it.

Some oldtime strongman stunts take a fair amount of skill and balance. The bent press comes to mind. Kettlebell juggling is another.

Here of course the skill and technique must be taken even further as you practice on the feats themselves.

That’s probably a lot to take in at once. So how do you get started?

Besides doing the basics, pick one or two feats you’d like to work on. Learn any technique needed in doing them and then train them regularly.

As you see success in them you can switch your focus and do other things over time. But don’t try to do it all at once as it can’t be done.

As for learning more of the specifics I’ve got two resources for you.

Signup for a free video series at this link. It’s a series of videos from myself and Bud Jeffries, one of the top performing strongmen alive today.

And also there is this whole list of articles covering just about every type of feat of strength with videos and details on doing them. 

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