In November 2020, Oleksii Novikov, became the second-youngest man to win the World’s Strongest Man title. Only the legendary Icelandic strongman, Jon Pall Sigmarsson has claimed the title at a younger age than Novikov. During the competition Novikov set a new world record in the 18-inch deadlift, lifting a mind-blowing 537.5kg. Given most strongmen peak in their 30s, Novikov seems to have the potential to go on and become a multiple winner of the World’s Strongest Man title.
Oleksii was kind enough to interrupt his preparations for the 2021 event and take time out of his brutal training schedule to sit down with Muscle & Strength contributor Tom MacCormick to discuss his preparations to defend the crown.
The World’s Strongest Man competition is designed to push strongmen to their absolute limits, challenging not only their physical strength, but their agility, and mental toughness too. Read on to learn how Oleksii trains and eats to develop the superhuman strength levels required to win this epic event.
Oleksii Novikov: 2020's World Strongest Man
What motivated you to become the world’s strongest man – how long have you had the ambition and what keeps you motivated to get stronger?
In my mind, for a man, the desire to be physically strong comes naturally. I personally wanted to be the strongest in the world. The idea and ambition appeared when I was young, around 17 years old, when my trainer put this thought into my focus. I’m always motivated as I do what I love and it is natural for me.
Strongman is obviously a sport for big people. Please share your vital statistics to give our readers an idea about your physique. So, how tall you are, how much do you weigh, how big are your arms and quads?
You know I’m not the tallest and the hardest among strongman sportsmen. I’m 186cm (6ft 1 in) tall and my weight is 136kg (300 lbs.). My biceps are 50cm (19.6 inches) and my quad is 79cm (31.1 inches).
Tell us about some of your best performances. How much can you lift?
My training differs a lot, depending on the preparation stage, but generally, when I’m in the active phase I have 5-9 training sessions a week 2-3 hours each. The sessions vary, from physical rehabilitation to heavy weightlifting. The training programs are built around competitions I plan to compete in. So everything needs to be planned and timed accordingly.
When thinking about your fitness goals, what are you trying to achieve? What is the plan and what do you do differently in the run up to the competition?
I don’t have any fitness goals, in terms of fitness as such. I’m a strongman and my goals are dedicated to this sport and to being healthy. Before the competitions, I always have a strict regime of workouts but equally importantly eating and sleeping. This allows me to achieve the highest goals in this sport on competition day. Sleep is crucial for it all, and when I can, I use the MCT CBD oil from NaturalWorks before going to bed.
Strongman is a sport that challenges many physical qualities. Obviously, you need to be strong, but you also need work capacity, strength endurance, static strength, dynamic strength, etc. How do you juggle all of these in your training? Do you train all these qualities simultaneously or do you separate them into different phases?
You are right that strongman includes different qualities, and this is one of the most difficult aspects of my job - to combine them and develop them effectively requires more effort, time, recovery, and equipment. Together with my trainer, we collect a list of all exercises that are included in the World Strong Man (WSM) competition and classify them according to the following principles:
- Absolute strength - exercises for strength endurance, where you are required to work quickly within a 1-minute interval
- Traction - to work with traction
- Pushing - pushing or exercises overloading the leg muscles
- Overhead - exercises for lifting weights above oneself
We divide all these exercises into categories and evaluate where to subtract and where to add, depending on our priorities, arranging them into a cycle of exercises. This cycle usually takes 10 days. For 10 days I train 2 times a day (2 days in a row), followed by a 1-day rest. Depending on the state of my health and the degree of recovery between cycles, I rest for 1-2 days and repeat the cycle several times. For example, I am currently preparing for the WSM competition utilizing this training routine. Since during such competitions the load lasts several days in a row, the cycle is built to reflect and support this. The 3rd day – rest/recovery/rehabilitation may include stretching, water treatments, massage, and recovery training for the whole body and specific muscles.
How do you split your time between training in the gym on more traditional lifts (eg. squats and deadlifts) and training the competition lifts?
During traditional training in the gym, the proportion split is roughly 80% / 20%, it all depends on priorities and the season. Currently, while preparing for the competition, we require training on specialized equipment, as well as access to a gym to train isolated muscle groups, which naturally takes more time. In-between competitions (off-season) traditional training becomes the priority while utilizing special hypertrophy techniques to build muscle mass.
You are exceptionally good at both deadlifts and overhead presses. This is quite rare as the ideal biomechanics/leverages for each lift are different. Did you find both lifts developed quite naturally for you or did you have to invest a lot more effort in one than the other?
These are relatively different exercises. If the deadlift is absolute strength, where it matters is how well you recovered after training and how well you feel your body, these training sessions are usually held every 10-14 days. Rehabilitation and full recovery, as well as the well-coordinated work of all muscle groups, are extremely important!
And as for the overhead (dumbbell), the technique of performing the exercises is important, and specifically dexterity, flexibility, speed, and coordination of movements, and again how well you feel your muscles. Often, if an athlete has a weightlifting background, it helps a lot, since both ‘push’ and muscle tension are involved, followed by relaxation and again tension when we catch the projectile. Therefore, in lifting a dumbbell, strength is not always the most important factor, while the technique is. Experience and the amount of repetitions carried out are also important, especially progression to and achievement of successful and valid attempts, not to waste time on unsuccessful ones or on a weight that is beyond your ability to lift. It is better to strive for up to 90% success rate in attempts, as the higher the success rate ensures that the right balance is established between absolute strength vs technique requirement as well as insuring quicker progress.
Tell us about your approach to your diet. What kinds of food do you eat (like lots of protein?) and what is the overall plan for what you eat and drink? I also read that you eat six times a day – what is the idea of this?
My diet isn’t very strict, it is balanced, I just eat healthily and a lot. The idea of eating 6 times a day is meant to allow me to simply eat more and get in the calories I need each day. For example, my first meal is usually early in the morning, around 6 am, I eat, and then go have some more sleep, and after that, I have my second breakfast. I regularly eat 7,000 calories per day and have been as high as 10,000 sometimes.
Describe what you might normally eat over a normal training day.
- Breakfast: oatmeal/buckwheat with eggs or protein + vegetables
- Lunch: porridge and meat (chicken or beef) + vegetables
- Dinners/main meal: porridge or pasta with meat or seafood + vegetables
- Snacks: bananas, protein bars
- Drinks and shakes: protein cocktail, coffee, tea, water
That seems like a healthy diet, but getting 7,000 calories from those foods must be difficult. Do you allow yourself some treat foods for pleasure and to hit your overall energy needs? For example, stuff like chocolate, pizza, cookies – Which is your favorite?
I’m not a chocolate person, but I love eating Haribo sweets, cornflakes, and cakes.
Ok, what is your absolute favorite meal?
Lately, I've become a sushi fan.
How does your physique affect your daily life and can it sometimes be hard to get clothes and so on?
In my daily life, my physique mostly has positive effects, as people respect sportsmen generally, but certainly, it is difficult to find clothes of my size, I just wonder how guys who are bigger than me do it. I mostly wear sports clothes as there are my sizes, but in terms of casual stuff, it is always a challenge. There are also situations when I can’t use some attractions that have weight limits.
With 25 of the strongest men on the planet competing for the crown of the World’s Strongest Man Oleksii needs to be on his A-game to come out victorious for the second year running. Very few people have won the title. Even fewer have defended it.
This year sees the first-ever inclusion of the Titan’s Turntable event where athletes will push an antique locomotive 180 degrees. The 19th century JW Bowker steam engine will be sitting on top of a California State Railroad Museum Turntable, originally built in 1911. With events like that the competition is undeniably an incredible test of strength and a fantastic spectacle. With his intelligent, analytical, and single-minded pursuit of excellence, Oleksii has given himself the best chance possible of beating the other strongmen to the coveted title.