Skip to content

Learn From The Pros Part 1


Compiled and Edited by Bryan Barrett


Fools always think their own way is best, but wise people listen to what others tell them.”-Proverbs 12:15.  It would not be right for me to call you a fool but you’re about to get advice from the top Amateur Strongman in 2014 who reached the pinnacle of amateurism and are now Professional American Strongmen; so listen! This article will be part one of a two part series where the 2014 American Pro Card winners give some insight to those starting out who have aspirations of reaching greatness.

1. What lifts are a staple in your program and why? 

James Deffinbaugh– I generally train 3 days a week – a deadlift day, an overhead day, and a squat/load/heavy mobile day.  One day a week always has an emphasis on deadlift or a deadlift variation – I generally spend most of my off season on standard deadlifts since I’m weaker from the floor and I spend so much time doing side handled and partial deadlifts in competition prep.  One day is primarily an overhead press of some kind. I don’t have a staple – I might work on log, axle, bar, or dumbbell depending on what I think I need to work on at that time.  My last day is most often a front squat. When I am preparing for a show I often still front squat first, but my emphasis is on the event(s) I’m training. In this case I just do what I would consider maintenance, maybe a top set that I can do keeping high speed. It’s not enough to impact my main lifts, but it’s a great way to get ready for heavy events and helps me to not lose my strength base as I focus more on events.

Jimmy Dart– I prefer a well-rounded program however the typical rotation of overhead presses, static and dynamic, mid rep ranges on pulls and heavier fronts.

Stan Carradine– Squats help build the legs to be able to stand up with heavy weight for the yoke. Deadlifts help with picking farmers, build the back and well, Deadlift. Overhead press, I like because the main purpose is the press, but second, when you get the lift overhead you have to have a tight core to hold the weight.  Front squats are great because it helps me to work on driving my hips for stones.


Jimmy Dart


2. Do you have a plan every time you step in the gym to train? 

Deffinbaugh– When I’m not preparing for a show, I usually know what my main lifts are going to be but I decide on actual weight and reps during warmups. When I’m preparing for a competition, I know the weights, distances, and if applicable goal times for my main lifts/events. I still don’t generally plan most of my accessory work, unless there’s something specific I know I need to work on. I’ve been doing this a long time and I can usually feel intuitively how much accessory work I need to do – if I do too much it will affect my next training session, not enough and I’m cheating myself.

Dart– Yes, I was being programed by Mike Mastell, who was absolutely an integral part in clutching the card.  Each day was projected and planned methodically.

Carradine– My main thing when I step in the gym, is to be better than the last day, be better than last week, always knowing that there is someone out training you.


James Deffinbaugh


3. How many weeks out do you start training for a competition? 

Deffinbaugh– For a big competition, I start to think about it as soon as they post the events. That might mean obtaining/building any equipment I need to train on, and working specific parts of lifts or variations that I want to build up before my real competition prep begins.  Before I start to gear up for the show, I take 1-3 weeks to start messing around with the events – getting a feel for them without any real plan yet. This is when I set my goals for the events. Then I take 8-12 weeks of actual planned competition prep, which usually consists of two waves.

Dart– I would typically start training 12-16 weeks out for the show depending on the level of conditioning and magnitude of weights being used.  I believe I trained around 14 weeks for the Pro Card show.

Carradine– I try to get in 12 weeks. I tried 15 and that just wore me out. I did an 8 week cycle, I liked it because it wasn’t rough on my body but felt like I wasn’t prepared.


4. Do you have training partners or train alone? Does it matter?

Deffinbaugh– I almost always train with training partners. It matters immensely to me, without training partners I’d still just be going to the gym every couple of months to do my curls and quarter squats.  I’ve been very fortunate to have trained with the Fargo crew for more than 8 years – without them I wouldn’t know how to squat much less win a national championship. You can learn a lot nowadays with YouTube videos, online training, and resources such as Starting Strongman, but nothing replaces someone there to help correct issues, to bounce ideas off of, and to motivate you. When I do train alone, it’s just harder to get the intensity and explosiveness I need in my training. And it makes it fun – and that’s what it’s all about in the end. If you’re not having fun then what’s the point?

Dart– I trained alone for the most part, however occasionally I did have some training partners training for their own respective shows as well. It most certainly matters when you are trying to overcome your established boundaries and push the envelope.  Too often you get complacent with training, and even when you think you’re pushing yourself there’s always another notch you can take it up too.

Carradine- Starting out I trained alone, I now train with Mike Burke. When you have a partner telling you, you can do more, you could have done more, that make you want to work harder. Plus having a training partner, you compete with that person daily helping you prepare and get stronger.

Stan Carradine

5. What are a few pieces of Strongman equipment everyone should have?

Deffinbaugh– If someone is just starting out, they should really seek out people in the area that have the equipment and experience. Starting from scratch is tough. If there’s no one in your area, I’d go sandbags -> farmers -> log -> yoke -> sled. Sandbags first because they’re cheap and versatile. Front carries, loads, presses – there’s a lot you can do with them. Farmers next since they’re not too pricey and are a great introduction to heavy moving events and grip work. Log as an intro to alternative overhead movements. Yokes are great as you can move the most weight on a yoke over any other moving event. Sleds and prowlers are great conditioning work, and I think mentally can teach you to push through barriers as your legs start to feel like they’re on fire and you learn to keep pushing through.

Dart- The Log, Yoke, Farmers and Husafell Stone.  The log because it is an awkward press, works much more than the barbell or axle and is a mystery to most, with few who can master it.  It recruits anterior and posterior chain, the whole thoracic and scapular expanse as well as a tremendous amount of shoulders and triceps.  The Yoke because you simply cannot mimic anything like it using conventional gym equipment.  It is by far the best stability tool you can use during a dynamic motion.  It teaches you to remain calm under a tremendous amount of weight and pressure, how to manage your breath and accelerate a heavy load as quick as possible.
Husafel Stone because its evil, a serious challenge mentally and physically; picture a long distance run while being suffocated at the same time your arms feel like they’re going to be torn off.  It’s cruel and a serious conditioning tool.  Farmers walk mimics the motor pattern like the yoke, but doesn’t beat you up as much.  It’s excellent to keep your CNS primed, works on reaction time and accelerating the weight.

Carradine– I think you need to have a log, axle, yoke, farmers, and stones. Those I think are by far the main lifts that will be in any show.


Starting Strongman appreciates these ASC Pro Strongmen giving up their time to help those starting out be more successful. Be on the lookout for Part 2, where we will talk to other 2014 Pro Card winners and help you reach those strongman goals.


James Deffinbaugh is a Lightweight Professional Strongman who earned his American Strongman Pro Card at 2014 North American Strongman Nationals. You can follow James on Facebook and YouTube 

Jimmy Dart is a Lightweight Professional Strongman who earned his American Strongman Pro Card at The Shreveport Fit for Life Platinum Plus. You can follow Jimmy on Facebook

Stan Carradine is a Heavyweight Professional Strongman who earned his American Strongman Pro Card at The Shreveport Fit for Life Platinum Plus. You can follow Stan on Facebook and Instagram

Bryan Barrett has been competing in Strongman for five years with two Top 5 finishes at North American Strongman Nationals and an Arnold Qualifier in 2015. A High School Strength and Conditioning Coach in Texas, married with two kids. You can follow Bryan on facebook and Instagram 





Leave a Reply

Note: XHTML is allowed. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS