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A guide to Training Strongman Without Implements

Article By Drew Spriggs 

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While specificity will always win when it comes to doing strongman events (ie. doing the actual event), occasionally you can’t get to train with the equipment. If you’re in that situation, you can break down the individual movements that make up the event, and work on these separately – by the time you get back to training with the implements you should hopefully be stronger (and you’ll DEFINITELY be stronger than if you hadn’t done anything!) This process is also great to really nail down any weaknesses you may have (ie. struggling with the pickup for farmers walks), and a great lower impact way to build strength/size for your ‘off season’. All that being said, let’s go through what movements the basic events are made up of, what muscles are doing the majority of the work and how to train these with general gym equipment.

Yoke walk – while the bar is positioned on your back (as you would with a squat), quad strength doesn’t appear to be a massive player with a yoke walk. The movement can be broken down into getting the yoke off the ground and hips through (gluteal, to an extent quads), being able to keep it upright (core musculature to support your spine) and keeping it stable while you’re walking (core musculature, calves, gluteal group). That being said, one of the most beneficial exercises for increasing your yoke walk distance is the paused front squat – these will massively increase abdominal strength (wearing a belt is fine) and teach your body to stay upright while under a longitudinal load. Gluteal endurance can be increased a number of ways – high rep glute-ham raises, sandbag glute bridges (a favourite of mine) and also hip thrusts are all great exercises that should be a staple of most beginning strongmen/strongwomen. If you’re finding that you are struggling to get weights off the ground, the squat lockouts can help here but they aren’t necessary for most people. Finally, adding in a few sets of high-rep calf raises can help with stability.

Farmers/frame walk – two main aspects to this event; getting the implement off the ground and your hips forward (hamstrings, gluteal group and to a smaller extent, quads) and having the grip endurance (forearm flexors, brachioradialis) to hold onto it. As the pickup height and mechanics are quite different to a standard deadlift, simply conventionally deadlifting off the ground isn’t as effective as you would think. If you have access to a trap bar, this is PERFECT for training the farmers walk – your hands are in a similar position, the pickup height is generally similar and it’s quite brutal on your grip strength. If you’re lucky, the gym will even have enough area for you to do walks with it – about as close to a frame carry as you will get. If not, doing heavy trap bar deadlifts will massively increase your pickup strength off the ground. Finally, grip strength can be trained a number of ways but the most applicable is high rep Kirk shrugs – these will obliterate your forearms and traps.

Atlas stones – the king of strongman events, and also one people seem to love or hate. The movements for it are simple – getting the stone off the ground and lapped (hamstrings, lats/pecs/forearms, lumbar extensors), then getting it from the lap to your chest then over the bar (quads, core, gluteal group, thoracic extensors) . Breaking it down, the initial phase of the pull can be approximated with stiff-leg deadlifts for hamstring strength, and good mornings/reverse hypers for the lumbar extensors. Increasing your grip on the stone can be achieved by doing decline flyes and wide-grip chinups – the lats play a role in scapula retraction and stabilisation. From there, there are a number of exercises that will help – front/zercher squats for core/quad strength, seated good-mornings for thoracic extension and glute bridges/ghr’s for gluteal strength.

Log – once again a few aspects to the lift; getting the log off the ground and onto your lap (similar to atlas stones – hamstrings, lumbar extensors), from a lapped position to your chest (brachioradialis, traps, posterior chain) and finally from your chest to overhead (anterior deltoid, triceps). As the log will generally be of less weight than you can stiff-legged deadlift, there isn’t usually a big need to add strength into this initial movement. While the log ‘clean’ isn’t that comparable to a hang clean, performing this movement will have some carryover to explosiveness, along with DB hammer curls to help roll it up your chest. Finally the initial part of the press can be easily be copied with barbell push presses (which place a greater load on the anterior deltoid than strict pressing alone, as well as explosiveness), and the final part of the press can be improved by doing incline bench (once again, better than just strict pressing as you are pressing in a closer plane of movement).

Keg toss – one of the easiest to do. Heavy kettlebell swings are almost the exact same movement, and most gyms these days will have kettlebells to a decent weight.

Obviously this is a very simplified list, and only covers the 4 most basic events (plus one extra), and covers substitution exercises that can be done in most gyms with very little learning curve. There are literally hundreds of exercises that will help you become a better strongman, and this article only covers the basic few. That being said, if you were to build a program out of the exercises listed here, it would go a long way into helping you add strength to strongman events.

Cliffs:

*yoke walk – front/zercher squats, glute bridges/ghr’s, calf raises
*farmers/frame walk – trap bar deadlift, Kirk shrugs
*atlas stones – stiff-legged deadlift, decline flyes, (seated) good mornings, front/zercher squats, wide-grip pull ups
*log – stiff-legged deadlift, hang clean, hammer curl, push press, incline bench
*keg toss – kettlebell swing

Drew is a competitive powerlifter and strongman, who realised that strength training had a massive positive effect on other areas of his life. After realising he was much better at teaching others how to be lift than lifting himself, he decided to step down off the platform and create Dreadnought Strength – an online and in-person coaching business that dedicates itself to allowing regular people to experience the transformative power of strength training. He is available for online coaching from Starting StrongmanYou can follow Drew & DreadNought Strength on Facebook & Instagram

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