Starting Strongman Program Review
I recently completed the Starting Strongman free 12-week strongman training program (SS12) and wanted to share my thoughts and results.
I began the program sometime around late August 2014 and just completed it around the end of January 2015. Yes, I realize that this is longer than 12 weeks. I really just used this program as a guideline for my training and followed it as closely as I could. One modification that I made is that, instead of training 4 days/week as the program prescribed, I trained 3 days/week as this struck a better balance for me personally between training and the rest of my life. This approach, I found, also allowed my body proper time to recover between sessions. I also remained very flexible with myself and my schedule and if life threw a busy week at me and I only got two workouts that week, or one, or none, then hey, that was what I got done that week and that was okay. I would just pick up with the next prescribed session when I got back around to it. This balance and flexibility between training and the rest of life was important to sustaining longer term perseverance and success.
I train primarily at home in my garage in the Midwest where weather and cold can, at times, be factors that affect my training. I may or may not have been able to get outside for moving events on any particular day, so I would modify the movements in question, or sub them out for something else. Also, my home gym is not too extensive at this time, and was even less so when I started the program. I didn’t necessarily have every piece of equipment that the program called for when I started, and I still don’t. I picked up some equipment as I went along, but I also did a good bit of substituting of movements and still did my best to follow the set and rep schemes as prescribed. Some examples of some movements that I had to modify are:
- V-ups instead of ab roll-outs
- Bumper plate carries as moving event
- Bumper plate loading as loading event (I had no real “implements” when I started the program)
- Standing/stationary lunges instead of walking lunges when inclement weather would restrict my space
- Flat bench press instead of incline DB bench (I don’t have heavy dumbbells or an incline bench… or even a flat bench – I used a large Igloo cooler that could support me)
- Bent-over barbell rows instead of DB rows
- Axle skull crushers instead of banded tricep press-downs
…plus some others. That’s not to say that these exercises are as good as the prescribed movements for building strongman strength. But I really felt that, as a beginner, it was very important to do SOMETHING and to not let lack of equipment stop me from pursuing this program. Instead it just spurred creativity.
I did, however, acquire some equipment along the way as I saw what the program was demanding and figured out what would be valuable acquisitions. Pieces of equipment that I picked up along the way are:
- Strongfit sandbag with hardware store sand (bought, obviously) *code startingstrongman to save 10%
- Keg (free) filled with extra sand from home renovation project (free, sort of)
- Resistance band (bought)
- Tractor tire (free)
- Medium sized industrial tire (can be loaded, can also catch a keg loaded over a bar, may be future makings of a sled…?) (free)
- Hyperforce knee and elbow sleeves *code startingstrongman5 to save 5% (which are very helpful in a cold environment)
- 4” deadlift blocks (built from materials I had on hand)
- Loading pin/stone trainer (made from collar of old barbell) (free)
- Car deadlift simulator (I happen to have two barbells – an old one and a newer one, so there you go…)
The big lesson that I learned here is that if anyone is considering this program or strongman training in general, especially in a home gym setting as I was, they should not let lack of equipment hinder that pursuit.
Over the course of my more than decade-long gym “career”, this was my first attempt at following any structured program. I have always been a gym guy, but have generally just trained whatever I wanted to do on any given day. So the first thing that I noticed when I started this program was the volume. There is SO MUCH volume in the SS12 – WAY more than I had been doing before! So the first big lesson that I learned is that if I wanted to train strongman, I needed a lot more volume work than I had been giving myself on my own, and I needed a program to tell me how to do that. The second thing I noticed is that there was MUCH more arm training than I had been doing. Arm training for me had been pretty much non-existent, as I had convinced myself that the “big” lifts (squats, deads, presses…) were all I needed to focus on. I thought arm training like bicep curls and tricep press-downs were just for the bodybuilders. Boy was I ever wrong. This was a very important lesson for me to learn. The third major lesson that I learned was that, as a result of all this new volume and intensity, recovery was enormously important. Food, water, SLEEP! I had to learn how to “recover hard” and not just “train hard”. Yes, this is a beginner’s program, and I am a beginner, but it is still very intense and difficult. Good results take hard work!
I am still preparing for my first strongman contest in a few months, but I have seen some good progress, REAL progress. Objectively speaking, here are some PR’s that I hit at or around the end of this program (this is the fun part):
- My back squat, historically a very weak lift for me, made a huge jump from 305 to 375
- Deadlift improved by 50lbs from 405 to 455
- Front squat, 245 to 275
- Strict press on an axle, made a modest jump from 165 to 175
- Bench press, a lift I largely ignored because I didn’t think it mattered in strongman or in life, and even on this program only trained as an accessory, improved from 225 to 245
…and I feel primed for more! For reference, I am 6’1” and about 240lbs. Subjectively, I get noticed more and more in public settings for being the “big guy”, so that’s always fun. My numbers are not world beaters, or even really that impressive by any competitive standards. But the evidence is there and the improvement is very real.
In summary, I would say that the biggest thing I learned is that by letting go of my own programming and letting someone else’s knowledge guide me, I was really able to grow. And to any other beginners out there who may be considering starting this program and dipping their proverbial toe in the strongman waters, I say do it! Don’t let a lack of a particular training environment or equipment stop you from jumping in. Just do the best with whatever you have access to, work hard, maintain a creative, positive attitude, and acquire or gain access to whatever you can as you go. Just do your best and you will progress!