Table of Contents:
- 1. What is Strongman?
- 2. Picking Your Strongman Contest
- 3. Strongman Contest Prep
- 4. Your First Strongman Contest
- 5. After The Meet
- 6. Dealing With Injury
- 7. The Strongman Events
- 7.1. Super Yoke
- 7.2. Log Clean and Press
- 7.3. Axle Clean and Press
- 7.4. Conan's Wheel
- 7.5. Tire Flip
- 7.6. Truck Pull
- 7.7. Sled Drag
- 7.8. Car Deadlift
- 7.8. Farmer's Walk
This Guide Teaches You:
- What type of training and conditioning is required to compete in strongman.
- How to pick a strongman contest.
- What types of items are necessities for your gym bag.
- How to deal with training related injuries.
- About the 9 major strongman events, and how to perform them.
This guide is meant to introduce newcomers to the sport of Strongman. In it, I will describe training methods, event preparation, contest preparation, how to search for and choose a contest, and what to do once you are there. This is not meant to be an end all, be all work, but simply an introduction to the sport.
What Is Strongman?
So, what is strongman? Strongman is, in many ways, a throwback to the days of the circus performers and traveling strongmen of long ago. It is a strength sport, but unlike weight lifting or powerlifting, the events are greatly varied. In strongman you may go from a maximal weight deadlift to pressing a log or axle overhead for reps. Or you may find yourself doing a partial squat many hundreds of pounds over your full squat max only to have to run a relay with relatively light objects loaded onto a truck. Strongman is a brutal showcase of strength, endurance, and will.
We’ve all seen the inhuman behemoths lifting enormous rocks and pulling trains on TV in the World’s Strongest Man competition. Compare this to the weight lifting you have seen in the Olympics or powerlifting’s 3 lifts and you begin to understand what makes this sport truly unique. Variety. Just being strong in a few motions isn’t enough to succeed. You must be strong, you must have technique, and you must be able to adapt to whatever is thrown at you.
This leads us into what could be an enormous topic. The mentality of a strongman. In order to enjoy the sport, you must be adaptable, dynamic, and a little crazy. Sane people do not deadlift cars for reps. Most people call it a day after tearing a callous. You must want to succeed badly enough to ignore pain, to learn new events as they come and push yourself beyond failure. If that sounds like fun, I have the sport for you. And keep in mind, it’s not just for men! There are plenty of strongwomen competitors too.
Before You Begin Strongman Training
As you begin looking into the sport of strongman, keep this in mind. You need to be strong. It may sound painfully obvious, but if you don’t have a solid base of strength you are very likely to injure yourself during events training or a meet. Aside from the safety aspect, it takes a tremendous amount of strength to deadlift a car or pull a semi truck. If you aren’t already squatting 3 plates, benching 2, and deadlifting at least 4, spend a few more months on a solid beginner program to develop the strength necessary to really train for this sport. I promise, it’s a lot more fun when you can get at least one rep in every event.
So you can squat, bench press, and deadlift way past my minimums. And believe me, those are bare minimums. How’s your conditioning? If you are out of breath after getting another pack of bacon out of the fridge, how are you going to do running with 600+ pounds on your back or tossing kegs into the back of a truck? You don’t need to be finishing in the top 10 of a 5k, but you should have some basic conditioning or you won’t be able to recover between events sufficiently, let alone do well in a max distance event with a heavy load. The good news is that strongman work itself is excellent work to increase your cardiovascular abilities. As a matter of fact, recent studies have shown it to be superior to traditional cardio for fat burn and muscle retention.
Finally, know what you’re getting into. This is a rough sport. You will get hurt. You will drop something on your foot, roll an ankle under the yoke, tear something in your leg, shift your vertebrae out of alignment, get a nasty sunburn, pull a hamstring because its cold out, bust your shoulder, tear a biceps, and probably shart yourself at least once. You might only have one of these things happen, or all of them. But its no worse than football or basketball or MMA. If the events sound fun, if you love heavy weight and being very strong in every aspect, this is the sport for you. If you just want to be big like Derek Poundstone but are afraid to deadlift because your mother’s fitness instructor said it’s bad for your back, then it’s time to do some soul searching and figure out whether you should open a vegan tapas place or take up knitting.
Picking Your Strongman Contest
You’ve made it this far. You decided you would like to be a strongman. Now what? Find a contest of course! Visit NAS Strongman for lists of upcoming competitions. Send in your dues and fees, and start getting your plan together.
I’m suggesting you pick a contest now rather than training for events because most of you will not have easy access to a real gym. Most commercial gyms aren’t going to cut it for specialized equipment. Research your contest option, check what events are going to be done. Find one close by and that plays to your strengths. If you’re a crappy presser (like me), don’t go for one that is half pressing events. Find something heavy with pulls, which should be easy to do. Same goes for strong pressers, find a heavy pressing contest!
I’m going to leave event training specifics for a later section as it will be enormous. The sheer number of events to prep for will grow that section quickly and I would rather you use it as a reference than slog through it now.
Strongman Contest Prep
This ain’t bodybuilding, buddy. No one here cares about your 4 pack abs. For your first contest, don’t worry about cutting, bulking, recomping, weight class, or any of that sort of thing. Train, eat, recover and get strong. This is not an excuse to become enormously fat, nor is it an excuse to stop eating as much as you need to. Just chill out and train like an animal.
I covered this earlier, but here it is again. Take this time to get as strong as possible. Your 37 rep drop sets of leg extensions are useless now. Spend your time and energy in the gym with heavy barbell compound movements. Squat, press, and deadlift. Press for reps and for max singles. Do barbell and hammer curls. What? Curls? Yes, do them. Don’t go overboard, but ignoring your biceps is a great way to tear one.
If you are training right, after your session you should be exhausted and ravenous (ok, it may take an hour or two before the nausea dissipates and you feel hungry, but it will happen). This isn’t the time for chicken breast and broccoli unless you smother it in cheese, bacon, and more cheese. You need food. Again, this is within reason, but if you’re taking in 2000 calories a day for strongman prep, you had better be a woman and under 5’4”.
I want to see you eating at least 3000 calories a day from quality food like chicken, ground beef, rice, potatoes, good cheese, bacon, butter and lots and lots of vegetables. Personally, I cut at 3000 calories a day and it feels restrictive to eat so little, so I don’t want to hear any whining about how much food you “have” to eat. No one is making you eat anything. Be awesome or don’t.
As much as you can, practice the movements. If you know there will be a car deadlift at 18”, load up a trap bar with 600 pounds and do deadlifts off of blocks. Try Fat Gripz if you don’t have access to an axle. Wrap towels around a Swiss bar to mimic a log for pressing, and do dumbbell farmers walks if that’s all you can get ahold of. Push or pull a heavy sled. Do whatever it takes to feel more comfortable with the events you will be facing.
Consider adding these movements on a weekend events day, separate from your normal lifting. However, be careful not to let yourself get too beat up. You may need to reduce your volume on your standard program during prep.
Your First Strongman Meet
You’ve picked your contest, you’ve trained hard, you’ve eaten well, and today is the big day. Today, you become a strongman. But lets back up about 24 hours and go over some things to do, not do,and what to bring.
The day and night before, eat normally. Don’t binge, don’t eat anything unusual. The last thing you want is stomach trouble during a deadlift. Again, don’t worry about what you weigh in at. Leave that for your 3rd or 4th contest. Be sure to back your back the night before. Here is what I suggest packing.
- Lifting Belt - A good solid belt is always a good idea.
- Wraps - Wrist wraps and knee wraps if you use them.
- Lifting Straps - This isn’t the time for demagoguery. you can lift more with them, use them.
- Lifting Chalk - Increase your grip and the friction on your back for yoke walks.
- Shoes - Lose the chucks! Pack something with good grip.
- Water - No less than one gallon.
- Food - Meets can run long. Bring some protein bars and a sandwich.
- Sun screen
- Extra clothes
- Warm clothes for fall/winter comps
- Extra under wear
- Heavy duty first aid kit
- Pain killers
- Squat suit
- Deadlift suit
- Deadlift slippers
- Climbing shoes
- Heavy walking shoes/boots
- Baby powder
Be sure to at least pack the minimum items, and I really suggest bringing along the ones from the reasonable list as well. Most people reading this won’t need to concern themselves with anything from the advanced list, but if you have specialized stuff from powerlifting you may as well bring it as long as your competition allows it. Remember, check the rules!
Ok, we’re back to the day of. Get there early. Don’t worry about weigh in, just show up healthy. Relax. This is going to be a long day, save your energy and rage for the actual events. Listen closely to the rules as they are gone over in the lifter’s meeting, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Play with the implements if you can. This is a lot easier if you show up early. Just don’t wear yourself out. And finally, have fun and give it hell!
After The Meet
Congratulations! You did great. It doesn’t matter to me if you took first place, last place, or looked like a Jack Russell terrier humping a pillow while trying to flip the tire. You put it on the line and finished. Now go eat. I suggest your favorite pizza place. 2 large pizzas, plus one for the road. Or whatever food you like. Go have a good time, eat a lot, laugh with friends, relive the good parts.
After the celebration is done, it’s time to analyze your strengths and weaknesses. Was your pressing really as good as you thought? Did you flip a 600 pound tire like it was nothing? Go back through the meet event by event, preferably via video if you can. Find what you did right and wrong. Learn from it. Then take a week off from lifting. Keep eating well. No crazy bulks or cuts right now. Just eat and recover. You are going to be bone tired and prone to injury right after the meet, so let yourself heal up before hitting the gym again. Then,pick your next meet and start training again!
Where Do You Go From Here?
After your meet, you have a lot of options. If you’re like me, you’ll be running numbers and routines through your head and feel just sort of lost for a week or so on what to do. This will pass, you’ll get the fire back quickly. Now, you have a few options on what to do.
Stay strongman: If you loved the competition, loved the events, and want to keep training this way, awesome! I’m glad to have another dedicated athlete in the sport. Just don’t expect me to take it easy on you on game day. You’re mine punk. Also keep in mind you just picked one of the most difficult sports to train for. Look around for Strongman and Powerlifting gyms in your area. If there aren’t any, have equipment made for you and start your own gym or move. If you’re serious about the sport, you’ll do what it takes.
Go powerlifting: If you really liked the static strength events, didn’t really like all this running around stuff, and thing you want to give powerlifting a try, then go for it! Powerlifting requires less specialized equipment, especially at the novice and intermediate level, so finding a decent gym will be a little easier, but not by much.
Go bodybuilding: Strongman is a great way to do conditioning work for bodybuilding. If the contests in strongman aren’t your thing but you like the training and like being big and ripped, do a bodybuilding contest.
Go home: If you just aren’t cut out for competitive lifting, that's ok too. There’s nothing wrong with just going to the gym to get a decent physique and stay active. But if I catch you curling in my squat rack, I will break you.
Dealing with Injury
Entire books could be written on this topic, and have been I am sure. But here is the quick and dirty on it. There are several types of injuries you may suffer in strongman. I’ll go through a few of the levels of injury and my suggestions on how to deal with them.
- A callous tear or grating the skin of your shin during a deadlift.
- Swear under your breath (there may be children around) and wash it out when you can.
- Strained muscle, broken finger, chipped tooth.
- As above, but find the tooth piece if you can for your trophy case. Ice later.
- Minor muscle tear, sprains, dislocations
- Ice, pressure, pain killers. Consider withdrawing from the meet unless you are about to set a record.
- Torn muscle or ligament, compound fracture.
- As above. Withdraw from meet unless you will set a national or world record.
The Strongman Events
Now that you have the basics of what to expect and how to prepare, let’s take a look at some of the more common events.
The Yoke Walk is an outstanding test of overall strength, endurance, and willpower. This isn’t like walking out a squat or carrying farmer’s walk implements. This event is unique in the balance required for a massively heavy load across the shoulders while moving. It will tax your upper, mid, and lower back, your quads, your hamstrings, your calves, your core, even your arms and chest. This is also the event that injured me in my first meet, so it holds a special place in my heart.
So what is the yoke? The yoke is a frame with two upright posts connected by a crossbeam that sits across your shoulders. The posts will have skids or platforms of some sort to keep them stable. Weights will be added on the posts to increase the weight of the implement. The first thing to note about the yoke is that is will be heavy, and probably heavier than you have squatted to full depth before. Expect something in the range of 500-600 pounds at a small meet. The cross bar will likely be around 2 inches thick, so while it may bite down less, keep in mind it may be a little more likely to slip, so chalk up.
To perform a yoke walk, set the cross bar to the appropriate height, somewhere around a quarter squat, or as deep as you see most people in the gym go. You may want the bar a little higher, but be sure that you have at least 3 inches of ground clearance when you stand up with it, otherwise you risk the skids dragging and losing your momentum and balance. Try different hand placements to see what feels most stable. Notice I did not say comfortable, there is no such thing as comfortable in strongman. I like my hands farther out, but many competitors prefer a narrow, near shoulder width grip.
Arrange yourself under the bar, take in big air like you would for squatting, and lock the yoke out. Once you are standing erect, take a half second if needed to get stable. Now, taking small, quick steps, walk as fast as you can to the other side of the course. Do your best not to have any sort of spring in your step, try to maintain a flat gait if possible. Any side to side or up and down movement will cause the yoke to swing, costing you balance, time, and possibly causing injury.
Do your best to take small breaths as well, large ones can drop your internal pressure and cost your stability.
So there is the yoke walk. It’s a fairly simple event to learn, but a very difficult one to become proficient in. Every contest I have attended with a yoke walk has seen at least one injury during the event from someone who wasn’t properly prepared. A few final tips as we wrap up. This is a good event for a belt and wrist wraps. Stay tight, stay stable, and stay even. If you have to drop the implement, do it, and pick it back up as quickly as possible rather than trying to save it and risking a hamstring injury. And most of all, revel in walking down a field with weight that would crush your fellow man.
Log Clean and Press:
The log clean and press is unlike anything you have done before, unless that is you’ve performed the log clean and press. This event is a test of core stability and raw upper body strength. Strong shoulders and triceps will win the day here. This is nothing like pressing a standard barbell, or even an axle, so be prepared for the learning curve on this one before you begin moving appreciable weight.
There are three major differences between the log and a traditional barbell. The first and most obvious is the girth of the log. A 12” in diameter log makes life difficult not only with the weight, but by pushing the center of gravity farther away from you. This in turn makes balance very difficult and reduced the amount of leg drive that transfers into the implement. The second difference is the lack of spinning collars. This will increase the difficulty of getting under the bar during the press and make it feel heavier during the clean. Finally, the parallel grip of the two handles dramatically changes the dynamics needed to perform the clean and significantly alters the pressing portion as well.
To perform the log clean and press, grip the handles inside the log firmly and pull it to your waist. Squat down and pull the log into your stomach, keeping your elbows high and flared. Now explode up through your legs, shrugging to assist in rolling the log up your chest. Do not try to curl the log unless you enjoy the thought of biceps surgery.
Once the log is in place on your upper chest (it will not rack nicely on your shoulders), lean back and get some air. Dip down and perform a push press if needed, but keep in mind that your center of gravity is out in front, so you will not get as much help from the legs. As the log clears your head, move beneath it to gain stability and lock it out. Depending on the event, you may only need to clean the log once, then press for reps, or you may be required to clean it each time. If pressing for reps after a single clean, catch the implement on your chest and press again until failure. If you must clean it each time, lower it under control as event coordinators get grumpy if you drop their log from above your head.
Like many events in strongman, this one is a good candidate for supportive gear and chalk. Chalk up your hands, chest, and shoulders to prevent slippage. Add a belt for increased core stability and wrist wraps if you have them. Depending on the rules of the competition, you may be allowed elbow sleeves, but this is not a constant, so check the rules before you put them on.
Axle Clean and Press:
For those without much knowledge of the axle clean, or the axle itself, lets start at the beginning. The axle is a nasty bar, about 2 inches thick, and normally has no knurling. The entire point of this bar is to make gripping it difficult. Some folks, like Mark Felix for example, have hands so large that grip isn’t a big issue, but for the rest of us, this bar adds a whole new level of difficulty. One other thing to keep in mind is that unlike a normal barbell, the axle does not spin, making the movements much more awkward when trying to get under it for a clean and press/jerk.
I’ll assume you’ve done a clean and press with a normal bar here. If the weight is light enough, approach the bar, grab it, clean it and press it. Be warned that its going to feel a lot heavier than normal because of the diameter of the bar. If it is too heavy to clean in a traditional way, go for the continental clean.
The continental clean involves pulling the bar up to rest on your upper abdomen and then finishing the movement up to the shoulders. Often you will take an over/under grip on the bar to get a good enough hold to get it up that high. This is the grip I’ll go forward with here. Unfortunately I do not have an axle in the garage, so I’ll have to do something thinking on how to do a demo video for you all in the upcoming weeks.
To perform the continental clean, grip the axle in an over under grip. Pull upward quickly and shrug the bar as you extend upwards. Depending on your fed, you may be able to rest the bar on your belt. However, this is not allowed in a number of feds, so be sure to read the rules carefully. If you can’t rest the bar on your belt, ignore this part, you’ll just have to generate enough power and speed to rest the bar on your gut. Don’t have a gut? Get one. I suggest pizza, hot wings, and lots of fried chicken.
Once the bar is resting on your belt, take a moment to reset yourself. Dip down, and explode upwards again, hands still in an over under grip and land the bar as high on your abs as you can. From here, things follow normally for both styles.
You will likely need to lean back some to catch the bar on your upper abs. Quickly switch your grip to a double overhand grip (this is where a gut comes in handy with keeping the bar in one place) Grip the bar and pull it into yourself, not up, as hard as you can. Now continue with a cleaning motion up to the shoulders. If you have to inch it up slowly in small bursts, fine, just do whatever it takes to get it to the shoulders. As a side note, it may help to chalk your chest and shoulders to aide in keeping the bar from slipping.
From there you can press the bar or jerk it or whatever is required.
This may be one of the most manly sounding events in Strongman. It is also certainly one of the most likely to make you cry like a little girl. The idea is simple. Hold a 3” thick bar in a zercher grip and walk in a circle for as long as you are able. The execution is one of the most painful things you are likely to experience outside of passing a kidney stone.
The Conan’s Wheel implement is essentially a long bar attached to a wheel or something similar that will allow you to walk in a large circle. The bar will be connected to some sort of basket or platform where weights will be loaded. You will be required to squat down, cradle the bar in your arms, and walk in a circle until you fail. Be very careful on this event as I have seen more hernias and lower back pulls on this than any other event. For heavyweights, the loads I have seen have been between 450 and 550 pounds.
To perform this event, approach the bar as far to the inside as allowed. No reason to walk extra distance that won’t be counted. Get big air, and squat down as you would to perform a dead stop zercher squat. Put your forearms under the bar and pull them back towards you, locking them in place with the bar resting just above your elbows. Now stand up. If you’re still in one piece, you’re doing great.
Now start walking in quick, even paces. Keep your back tight and upright, even lean back a little if you can. Keep your hands as far up as possible so that you can go until the massive muscles in your legs and upper back fail instead of your puny biceps. Take small, quick breaths, but be careful not to hyperventilate. These event is for total distance, so moderate speed and steady is your best bet. Right about now, you’ll be wanting to quit. Don’t, you’ve only made it three steps. Keep your legs moving and don’t stop until you can’t physically continue.
This event is exceptionally hard on the core and hamstrings, so be sure to protect them as best you can. I suggest a belt, but you will need to turn it around so that you are not able to rest the bar on your buckle. I also suggest chalking your arms and gut to get every last bit of grip you can.
This isn’t a very technical event, but it is brutally difficult. The best way to prep for it is to use either the actual implement or to do zercher walks with a yoke. If you don’t have access to either of these, at the very least try some zercher squats with a traditional barbell, possibly wrapped in a towel to reduce the massive bruising heavy weight will cause.
This is a pretty solid event. You have a tire, probably in the 600 pound range. You flip it end over end for reps. Done. Next video. Ok, ok, I’ll give you a little more info. There’s actually more technique in this event than you might think. I’ll cover set up, grip, each portion of the actual movement. At the end, I’ll give you some ideas on where you can get your own tire, possibly free of charge.
A word of caution. It is very easy to injure yourself on the tire. This is not a deadlift, it’s not some fancy triple extension with a twist, and for the love of God this is not a curl. So don’t even try it. Curl a 600 pound tire and you will eventually tear a biceps.
I’ve seen a few different tire flip event types. Some were for distance, other for reps, all were timed. When going a set distance, the push at the top can make or break you. It is somewhat less important when going for a set number of reps, but can still kill your time if you are off center, causing the tire to wobble and roll when it hits the ground. I’ll go over the basics, and then cover the differences in technique between the two.
To set up, take a hip width or wider stance, whatever is comfortable, and at least 12-18 inches back from the tire. Squat down to the tire and try to place your shoulders against it. Take a wider than shoulder width grip if possible, with your fingers firmly beneath the tread. Depending on the tire, tall guys like me can run into trouble getting down far enough to get their shoulders against the tire, but do your best.
Now that you are set up and gripping the tire, you will drive your legs down and back, keeping your back straight and tight and your arms locked. Again, curl this thing and you’ll tear something. When you are close to locking out, still leaning forward into the tire, begin to shove it forward with your chest and hips. You may need to bring a knee into it to support it as you step forward. Continue in a single motion to push and shove hard as the tire reaches upright. However, do not shove off center, or the tire may roll, costing you time and your pride. There are few things more humiliating than trying to get the tire to stop wobbling around on the ground so you can grip it again.
Some people will chalk up before the flip, or go shirtless in hopes of getting better traction. I would suggest chalk, but can’t really say much as far as shirtless goes. I think it would tear my chest hair out and I am rather fond of my rug.
I promised you I would talk about the difference between a rep goal and a distance goal. Its not a big change in technique, but here it is. When going for a rep goal, don’t worry about trying to shove the tire far at the top. Just get it down stably and quickly. On a distance goal, try to watch others. I have seen tires that will require an extra flip because it fell 2 inches short of the finish line, killing the competitors time.
The best thing you can do to get better at tire flips is to flip a tire. To do that, you need a big tire. And let’s be honest, the tires your gym has are probably lacking. If it’s under 500 pounds, its not going to help much.
When looking for a tire, check out places that sell farm equipment or just a standard tire shop. I got mine from tire place close by by picking up the phone book and calling tire shops asking if they had any old OTR tires they were looking to get rid of. They were more than happy to give it to me for free, so hopefully you will be able to get as good of a deal in your area.
The harnessed truck pull is one of the most well known events in strongman. Few things inspire awe like watching a single man pull a semi or a C130 Hercules. Here’s what to expect for your first time in the harness.
In the truck pull, you will be strapped into a harness that goes across your shoulders and chest. This harness is hooked to a truck or something similar, and you will walk forward against the harness to move it. You will likely have a thick rope tied to something sturdy in front of you which you will use to help pull yourself forward with your back and arms. In a local level competition, expect something like a semi truck with no trailer or possibly a fire truck. The bigger the competition, the bigger the truck.
This event is 60% brute strength and 40% technique. You are going to need a huge push from your legs to get this truck moving, but without the proper technique, things will slow quickly. Do your best to stay low in the harness, with your chest closer to parallel to the ground than upright. This will allow you to push through the harness rather than fight it. It will also let you take better advantage of the rope to assist you in pulling yourself along.
Once you overcome the initial inertia of the truck, chop your steps to keep it moving. That is, take quick, powerful steps. Don’t try to step too far, you want to be at a good leverage point for each push. As you drive forward with your legs, pull hard on the rope to keep yourself in position and moving. Do not let up with your drive at any point or the truck will slow quickly, and you will have to expend enormous energy to get it moving again. Always drive straight ahead and to your best to avoid weaving side to side as your legs grow tire as this will only waste effort.
In this event I recommend chalking up your hands and wearing shoes with excellent grip. I have seen a lot of people come into this event wearing chucks, and they have a terrible time trying to get any sort of traction. Rock climbing shoes are an excellent choice for this event if you have the extra money, but a decently treaded hiking boot can work as well.
The sled drag is a strongman staple. This event will tax your grip, back, quads, and calves, along with the rest of your body. Often the second part of a medley, you may not have the luxury of coming into this event fresh, so train accordingly. The idea of dragging a heavy sled from point A to point B doesn’t sound like a whole lot of trouble. However, there is some technique to this event, along with lots of raw power and endurance needed.
Sled drags fall into a general category of drags as far as events go. You may have a large anchor attached to giant chains, or pull a barge through water, or something else where you will perform this general movement. Setup is simple. Grasp the bar, chain or rope firmly, and walk backwards as quickly as you can. So far, it sounds easy. And it would be, except for our buddies friction and inertia.
To overcome inertia, it is likely that you will need to lean back and jerk the sled to get it moving. This can be tricky though because unless you keep the rope or chain tight, by the time you have recovered and are ready to move back, the implement will already have come to a rest. The key is to lean back and begin walking at the very start. Once you have the implement moving, do not stop! Take quick, small steps and gain as much speed as you can. This is not an event to pace yourself on, and the more speed you build, the better. However, do not sacrifice balance in the interest of speed. Falling backwards will rob you of all your momentum and a significant amount of pride.
Suggested equipment for this event would be chalk for your hands and shoes that have excellent grip. Some may like a belt, but I prefer not to have one for this as I don’t get much out of it in this case. There isn’t really a good way to add gear to help with this event, but once you break the implement free, find a good pace and keep pulling.
The Car Deadlift is a strongman classic. You can find this event anywhere from local competitions all the way up to the international stage. There are a couple variations on this lift when it comes to the type of bar used, and it can make a significant difference in the areas stressed during the lift.
Before we cover the specifics based on the different implement types, lets go over the basics. The bar will most likely be a fair bit higher than in a traditional deadlift, probably somewhere around 18 inches for the grip. Most local level competitions will see weights around 600 pounds in the hands. You will take your stance, grip the bar and stand erect to lockout. After receiving the down signal, you will lower the implement under control and wait for the lift command before attempting the next rep.
Depending on what is available, you will perform this event with one of two types of bar. The first is a traditional straight bar attached to the implement on which the car is resting. This may be the most familiar to you but can throw a curve ball in that the bar will not swing towards or away from you as a normal bar would. Since the bar is attached directly to the implement, it will move in its own track, not yours. With that in mind, no other adjustments are necessary.
The second type of implement used as two handles parallel to each other so that you will take hold of one in each hand in a neutral grip. This will be more reminiscent of a trap bar deadlift, but again, the bar will move in its path, not yours. Take care not to set up with your feet in the way of the bar as it may fall on them as you set it down. Another difficulty is the extreme stress on the hamstrings this variation incurs. This grip, for me at least, reduces the amount of quad I can involve in the motion and by the end feels like my hammies are being shredded.
Keep in mind this event is for reps in a limited amount of time so pace yourself. Do not jerk or be hasty, just keep churning out quality reps as long as you can. Once things begin to get hairy, remember that this is strongman, not powerlifting. You can ramp and hitch as much as you want. Avoid it as long as you can as it will waste energy, but it can be an effective tool to eek out another couple of reps.
This is an excellent event to get geared up for. Strongman does not, in any of the feds I have competed in, separate geared vs non-geared lifters. There is no glory in going completely raw and losing. Check your rules, but often you will be able to wear a belt, knee wraps, wrist straps and a deadlift suit. This is also a good time to take off your shoes or switch to deadlift slippers. Gear it up boys and girls, and take home the gold.
Some final thoughts on training for this event. Traditional deadlifts are an obvious choice, and rack pulls from mid shin can help you become more accustomed to heavy weight from the height you will need to pull from. I strongly suggest doing trap bar deadlifts if you don’t have access to the actual neutral grip implement as these best mimic the movement. However, you may have to get creative as most commercial gym trap bars don’t allow you to load more than 5 plates per side and this is woefully inadequate. I won’t make specific suggestions as I don’t want people coming back to me after trying something and getting kicked out of their gym, but if it’s important enough to you, you’ll find a way to add weight.
On the surface, this even seems simple. You pick up a special bar in each hand and walk. Nothing to it, right? Yeah, pretty much. But don’t think this is an easy event. I’ll walk you through step by step on what to do, where things go wrong, and how to train for this event.
The farmer’s walk isn’t just about brute strength; it’s about speed and stability as well. Honestly, this is most of strongman. Being strong statically isn’t enough. You must be fast, strong, stable, and conditioned.
At the start of the event, you will be positioned between two bars, generally 4-6 inches thick, with plates loaded on each end. Handles will be centered on the bar allowing you a good grip, as well as a fairly high position to pick the weight up from. I can’t speak for all contests, but the farmer’s walks I have encountered have generally been in the range of 225 per hand. Not crushingly heavy, but tricky to hold onto if you aren’t used to it.
Before you get in position, chalk up. Grip is a big deal here and you don’t want to slip. Slipping on this event is a good way to tear a callous, and not the little ones near your fingers, but the only that should be building up on your palms as well. Not getting calluses on your palms? You’re gripping the bar to far towards your fingers and won’t get as good of a grip this way.
Ok, you’re all set up and chalked up. Grip the handles firmly, and on the mark, lift. If this is your first time, I would suggest lifting to lockout, then beginning forward movement as these things are heavy and awkward. Otherwise, in training, see what works best for you. Now, taking short, quick steps and small quick breaths to stay tight, make your way to the other end of the field as quickly as possible.
Depending on the course, you may be done at the other end, you may drop the implements and re-pick, or you may have to hold on to them as you turn around. If it’s the first 2, you’re golden. The 3rd is a bit more tricky. As you turn, the implements are going to swing away from you, and as you straighten out, they are going to keep turning. Inertia is a bitch. Do your best to stay tight and keep moving. You may want to slow down and make a slightly wider turn, but practice this first several times if at all possible.
As for training, using actual implements is by far the best way to go. Dumbbells are no where near the same. They will bounce against your thighs, are usually far too light, and don’t swing nearly enough. On the other hand, if that is all you have to work with, it’s not a terrible option. Also consider grabbing a heavy sand bag in each hand or something similar to train your grip for this. It isn’t about crushing strength as much as grip strength/endurance.
So there you are. The farmer’s walk. I’ll do my best to get a video of a decent loaded walk this weekend so you can get an idea of what one looks like. They aren’t super technical, but remember, there are a few points that can come up to bite you.