By Josh Thigpen
Most of us know the main lifts in the gym that help with strongman. Deadlifts obviously, overhead presses, and squats are always a must for leg power. But what about assistance work? Some scoff at certain assistance exercises, but certain movements can really be helpful in strongman.
Some movements can hit muscles at a different angle than say, a regular squat can. Sometimes if a weakness is identified a muscle can be isolated with a specific assistance exercise. This could include any and all machines where appropriate.
There is no quicker way to show your lack of true strength training knowledge than to show disdain for an assistance movement because you think that it is not hardcore enough. Usually the only people who do this are people relatively new to the game and want to prove they are “in” with the strength world. They then proceed to make fun of any number of exercises like leg extensions, etc. Perhaps the best example of this hubris is when Zydrunas Zavickas started posting videos of himself doing shoulder presses using a Smith machine. You could almost hear the confusion of the lifting world. Brains malfunctioned, feelings were hurt, and some were downright scared.
The strongest presser of all time was using a smith machine? The smith machine is of course the holy grail of mockery when it comes to equipment. Then zydrunas went even further and said it is the best exercise for shoulder strength. Some people never recovered from that statement. It was the greatest lesson ever that anything can be used as a tool to get better. The best are willing to do whatever it is to get better. Needless to say, many people now use a smith machine to build pressing power.
So here are 5 of my favorite assistance movements for strongman.
I have left squats off the list even though I consider them an assistance movement for strongman. Most people utilize squats in training and sometimes it actually is an event. So, in no particular order they are as follows.
Leg press- of course it’s always annoying when someone tries to impress you with leg press numbers rather than squat. And when they load it up with too much weight and do 2 inch reps, its equally annoying. Nevertheless, the leg press can be of great benefit to a strongman. It can really develop leg power without using the back. But perhaps the best benefit from leg press is that it can really help build your deadlift power, particularly off the floor. When you leg press it puts you in a similar position as a deadlift start. Still not convinced? Eddie Hall, Brian Shaw, Zydrunas Zavickas, Mariusz Pudzianowski and Jouko Ahola are just a small list of top strongmen who have utilized the leg press in training. The first man to ever pull 1,000 pounds, Andy Bolton, also heavily utilized leg press.
Barbell and dumbbell rows- I’m combining these two because the important thing is that you are rowing. Either one is of great benefit for strongman. Think of how many events you are rowing something off the ground, log, sandbag, stones etc. Building the back is always going to strengthen the deadlift. Furthermore rows can help harness and arm over arm truck pulls alike. In my own experience dumbbell rows are great for building the rhomboids in particular. Bil Kazmaier was a fan of dumbbell rows to various positions on the chest and waist in order to hit the back in different ways. Always include some kind of rowing into your training!
Curls- The biceps and forearms going to be used extensively on almost every single event in strongman. The stronger they are the better strongman you will be. Some people try and take biceps out of the equation on strongman events. But they are going to work no matter how much you try and take them out. This is not Olympic weightlifting, you need your biceps in strongman. This does not mean I am implying to use biceps only on an event. The whole body should work together to lift implements, but that includes biceps. Biceps are a muscle, use them!! Hammer curls and heavy barbell curls are great for strongman and an added benefit is that your grip will get stronger as your forearms do.
Band tricep pushdowns- These have been crucial in building pressing power for me and anyone else I have taught them to. Just loop a band over a pull up bar or anything you can secure it to. The benefit of the band is that the tension increases as you lockout. When you hold the lockout for a two count you will really build lockout power as well. These also seem to build the triceps without putting alot of pressure on the elbows, which can really save some people wear and tear. I like to do 2 or 3 sets with a hammer fist grip and 2 or 3 palms facing the floor. You can always increase or decrease the tension on the band by moving your hands up or down on the band. These are always included in Cube for Strongman protocol, including Cyborg. Try them out, and always be explosive. Your triceps will blow up.
Incline Press – Incline press can be crucial in building overhead power, particularly the log press. On a log you have to lean back, this causes the upper chest to come into play. The stronger your upper chest, the stronger your log will be. But incline press will help every other overhead as well, even circus dumbbell. The reason for this is you can usually handle more weight on incline press than overhead and this will overload your triceps and force them to feel heavier weight. This will in turn build your pressing. In addition to regular barbell press, a variation I love to use is dumbbell incline Flye/press hybrid. I do these with palms facing each other and go not quite as wide as a fly, but wider than a press. Give them a shot and watch your log press go up.
There are of course, many more assistance movements that can benefit strongman but these are 5 of my favorites. Remember that everything has its place and can help you get better! All of these can be found in my new Cube for Strongman CYBORG program. And dont forget all Cube books are on sale this month!!