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By Kim Goss

In 1977, weightlifter Bruce Wilhelm won the first World’s Strongest Man competition. He competed against athletes from a variety of sports in events such as running with a 180kg refrigerator strapped to his back, pushing a 320kg wheelbarrow, and bending steel bars with his bare hands. While strongman has become a popular addition to late night TV, it is also a legitimate sport today, and is a popular form of training to help those interested in developing physical power.

In the early days of strongman competition, the events varied each year, but now the events are standardised. So what specifically do these exercises do? In a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research in 2009, researchers found that strongman exercises “challenge the strength of the body linkage, together with the stabilising system, in a different way than traditional approaches”. In other words, strongman exercises could be considered a form of functional training that enables you to deal with the disruptive forces that occur in sports, as well as being useful for real-life challenges.

As a body transformation tool, strongman training enables you to lose body fat without compromising muscle tissue, which can happen when aerobic training is emphasised. Strongman training develops a particular type of strength known as functional hypertrophy. This means that not only do muscles get stronger, but they will also develop a higher level of muscular endurance than strength training methods that focus on lifting the heaviest weights for very low reps.

The farmer’s walk
One of the most popular strongman exercises is the farmer’s walk, which involves carrying cylinders over short distances. Using dumbbells or kettlebells is not recommended for this exercise, because they can impede your walking mechanics and can cause bruising as they will bang against your thighs. The farmer’s walk is great for developing muscular endurance and strengthening the grip, neck and abdominals. Setting the standard in this exercise is Canadian strongman Hugo Girard. Girard carried two farmer’s walk cylinders, each weighing 175kg, for 25 metres in just over 21.39 seconds!

Tire flipping
Another popular strongman exercise is tire flipping, which works all the major muscle groups used in conventional weight training exercises such as deadlifts and power cleans. Tires are awkward to lift and less stable than a barbell; therefore, good technique is critical to prevent injury, as the tire can fall back on you. Some gyms have several lighter tires available so that those who want to do this exercise can warm up properly.

Log press
The log press focuses on the upper body muscles, especially the shoulders and triceps. It is performed with a cylinder that has parallel handles on the inside so that you can perform the exercise with a neutral grip. A neutral grip places less stress on the shoulders than a barbell exercise performed with the palms facing away from the body. The cylinder is much larger than a barbell, so for the cylinder to clear your head, you must lean back during the exercise. As such, those with lower back problems should probably avoid the log press.

Pulling/pushing sleds
Rather than pushing wheelbarrows or pulling trucks, modern strongman training involves pulling sleds (forward, backward and sideways) and pushing sleds. These sleds have pegs attached so that additional weight can be added. No only do these sleds work the major muscles of the lower body, but there are specific exercises that can be performed that focus on the upper body muscles, especially those of the upper back.

Put it into practice
Strongman training requires specific equipment, but most of it is relatively inexpensive and should last a lifetime. All the exercises can be performed outdoors, which is good because many of the exercises have you carrying heavy weights for distance. The equipment that takes up the most space is the super yoke, which consists of large frames that you carry across your shoulders to develop overall strength, and the tires.

To perform strongman training safely, you have to know what you’re doing. Strongman training is not commonly taught in most strength training certifications, so it’s important to seek out coaches who have practiced these exercises and know how to teach them.

Strongman training is a unique strength and conditioning challenge that improves body composition and increases strength and muscular endurance. It’s also a heck of a lot of fun and as such will help motivate clients and trainers to get strong and fit.

Poliquin Group is based in East Greenwich, Rhode Island, USA. Their mission is to be an educational leader in the fields of athletic and physical fitness training. Among the unique courses they offer are the Poliquin® BioSignature Modulation, which has ascertained the relationship between body fat stores and hormonal profiles, the PICP™ and their Poliquin® Personal Training Online Certification. You can learn more about their educational programs at

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