If the idea of throwing weird objects around and hitting heavy stuff with other heavy stuff piques your interest, then read on – I may just have the activity for you…
My Squatbot Squad events soft-launched in June with an aerial yoga session and launched fully last week with a big bang with a beginners’ strongman session, coached by the incredible Laura Hoggins of Biceps & Bronzer fame. I’ve done a bit of strongman before and thought I knew my stuff, but I learned so much about technique from Laura that I wanted to share more with you here!
What is strongman training?
I like to describe it as chucking heavy, awkward objects around, but of course there is an official description of the sport:
Strength athletics, more generally known as strongman competitions, is a sport which tests competitors’ strength in a variety of different ways. Some of the disciplines are similar to those in powerlifting, however, strongman events also test physical endurance to a degree not found in powerlifting or other strength-based sports.
If you haven’t heard of the sport before you’ve probably heard of its biggest stars – Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson (who you might know as “The Mountain” in Game of Thrones) was the World’s Strongest Man this year and Stoke local Eddie Hall won it last year 2017. The sport might be called strongman but women compete, too – the current World’s Strongest Woman is Brooke Sousa, who won the title just last week, with Donna Moore being the previous title holder.
How do I start strongman?
If you are brand new to strength training, I’d suggest getting some experience of the squat, deadlift and press, as these skills will transfer over into your strongman training. Although the movements are based on the squat, press, pull movement archetypes, a lot of the technique is different to what you’d normally expect, so it’s best to learn this off a coach rather do the movements how you’d expect them to be.
We were very lucky to get Laura Hoggins up from London to coach this beginners’ class for us, as not only is she one of the best strongman coaches in the UK, it’s also unusual to find a session solely focused on technique for beginners. A quick Google tells me there are a few strongman gyms local to me and all seem to run mixed classes for everyone from complete beginners to advanced, so this would be your first port of call to learn the techniques involved in strongman. I first tried strongman in CrossFit classes so if you’re struggling to find a strongman-specific gym it might be worth contacting your local CrossFit box – we have strongman equipment at TRAIN and I know others around the country do too, like CrossFit Skipton and CrossFit Huntsman.
Where can I do strongman training?
You will be able to do some moves in your normal gym, like farmers carries kettlebells, and some gyms have tyres to flip – but for most strongman movements you’re going to have to find a gym that specialises in strongman or at least functional fitness.
There are ways around this, however, if you wanted to work on strongman principles but only had occasional access to a strongman gym. Try adding fat rubber grips to a normal bar to simulate an axel bar, use TRX straps to pull along a sled loaded up with weight plates, or even use heavy concrete flags or stones in your back garden to work on odd object holding and moving!
What are the best movements to try?
Laura introduced us to a couple of standard strongman movements on the day, then we mixed them up with functional movements in a strongman medley at the end of the session. These two were my favourites and really introduce the principles of strongman training – that is, moving awkward objects whilst keeping a strong, tight core.
Log clean + press
If you’re used to doing a clean and press in CrossFit or Olympic weightlifting, then this movement will be familiar to you – the technique is just a little different. The handles are inside the log, so you grab them with palms facing each other, then stand all the way up in a deadlift until the log is sat at your hip.
This is where it starts to differ from your usual clean. Squat down with the log in your hip crease and stick your elbows out, so much so that they’re almost pointing forward, and use a massive hip drive to get the log to your front rack. Elbows go higher than you think they should, a little dip, then a big drive to push press the log overhead.
My 1RM push press is 15kg than this log weighs, but it’s such an awkward object that I found it difficult to get overhead! We definitely all felt super powerful with this beast overhead.
The yoke weighs a huge 80kg on its own, so the thought of getting it on your back then moving with it seems daunting, but once you’re underneath with the crossbar in the right place it feels a lot more achievable.
This one is all about taking shuffly little steps as you cross the gym, plus keeping your chest up and core strong so the weight doesn’t crush you as you walk. When you’re ready to finish the walk, you quickly drop the yoke and get out of the way – and in true Biceps-style, a dab at the end got you extra points!
If it’s something you really get into and feel like you’d like to explore further, then there are strongman competitions all over the country. As well as training classes, there are events training classes at strongman gyms where you can give competition movements a try and experience what a competition might feel like – but if you decide that it’s just a bit of fun for you and you want to stick with the training classes, that’s cool too!
Biceps, my client Joanne, and myself have all signed up for a novice competition in November, with movements including a 100kg axel deadlift, log lift, fastest yoke carry, farmers walk, rope drag and tyre flips – all the fun stuff, then! Of course there will be pressure to perform on the day but really all you can do is try your best, so we’ll be going with no expectations other than to have a good laugh.
Whether it’s something you really get into or just give a go once, I’d encourage you to try strongman training, if only to push your limits, move your body in new ways and surprise yourself with what you’re capable of!