MY LIFE AS A STRONGMAN
By Dan Harrison
Dan Harrison, 6'2, 330 lbs, Resides in Orange County, CA.
I was New York's Strongest Man 2005, Arizona's Strongest Man 2006, North American Strongman Best Athlete 2006, California's Strongest Man 2008, Ranked #4 on Powerlifting Watch for SHW Class Raw Total (1984 lbs with 804-451-728), #2 Nationally Ranked Amateur Strongman. My best raw squat ever was 804, Best raw bench 462, best raw deadlift 760.
Best strongman performances in contest: Won car deadlift against all the American pros at Golden State Strongman Challenge 07, 6 stone run in 21 seconds at Arizona's Strongest Man 06 (220-370), 300 lb 12" steel log for 7 reps (clean each rep) at 2009 Amateur Nationals in Louisiana. Top 3 in multiple pro qualifier shows.
Strongman isn't a sport for everyone but it is definitely one of the most extreme sports one can be involved in. How can you compare kicking a soccer ball around or bouncing a basketball with running 100 feet with 900-1,000 pounds on your back as fast as possible or strapping into a harness and pulling a semi truck uphill 100 feet?? Picking up and running with 350lb+ objects in each hand as you feel the flesh tear away from your palms as you run for the finish line, while at the same time trying to stay ahead of the 330 lb beast next to you. He is trying to take your title, trying to out-muscle you.. trying to dominate you. Will you defeat him? This is strongman.
Strongman is a combination of all the strength sports as well as some athletic influence from football, one of the most brutal sports in existence. It borrows from Power Lifting, Olympic Weightlifting, Highland Games, and even Wrestling on occasion. While it does require a large element of endurance, it is not the same type of endurance that a runner or fighter has. While they use 40-80% intensity for long periods of time, in a Strongman show once the whistle blows, you typically have 75 seconds to push the throttle way past 100%, to push yourself with more intensity than ever believed possible. Your legs are burning, your hands are cramping up, you fight for every breath, you strain as hard as possible against that 1,000 lb tractor tire over and over again with each flip, or as you fight that last 380 lb stone up to the platform you use anything you can, arms, hands, even your face. Anything to get the job done as quickly as powerfully as possible. The pain is nothing compared to the agony of quitting early or failing, so you push on because you didn't fly 1,000 miles to a big show to just give up this easily.
Getting started in Strongman is not very difficult on paper, all you need to do is find a group of strongmen in the area and ask if you can come train with them and give the events a try. The easiest way is to check online. The late great Strongman Jesse Marunde has a great website and forum where you can find a Strongman group nearby. The web address is Welcome to Marunde Muscle
and click Forums. Strongman training can also be used by Power Lifters to change up their training and to further beef up their lifts. My Squat had been stuck at 450-500 for a few years but after less than a year of strongman training I walked into a gym and buried 500x5 and then 550x3 the next week. My Deadlift also seemed to go up 10-20 lbs a month without training it at all once I began Strongman training. I would just pull a max every few months... I came into Strongman with a 600 Deadlift and after about 6 months I went to a friend's house and pulled 625, then a month later at a show I pulled 640, then about 5 months later I tried a max and got 680. My bodyweight gains were also dramatic, I had been stuck at 215-225 for 3 years or so and no matter what I ate, I couldn't seem to break past that but a few months into Strongman and I was 235, 240, weighed in at my first show at 244, and a couple months after that I was 250, 260, and about a year after I started Strongman training I was around 270-275. There's just something about lifting a heavy weight and carrying it, such as carrying an 800 lb Yoke on your shoulders for 50 feet over and over again or dragging a super heavy anchor chain that seems to tax the body so much harder than a few sets of Squats.
I was introduced to Strongman by a friend who hooked me up with a local group, the Freak Factory, but also hooked me up with one of the living legends of Strongman, Odd Haugen. The Freak Factory really showed me what true hard work and mental toughness was in my brief time training there, but up in the hills of Ventura with Odd there were many magical days of incredible training, mentoring, and discipline. The Strongman training was such a fresh break from the traditional power training I had been doing in the gym for years, I was immediately hooked. The only thing that can hurt you when you start strongman is a lack of a foundation in the power lifts, Squat, Bench Press, and Deadlift. If you have never lifted weights before, you will be at a severe disadvantage with strongman because very heavy weights are used in many ways and it could be very easy to get hurt without that foundation. My recommended minimums for gym lifts to have a decent start at strongman is a 400+ squat, at least 500 deadlift (but preferably more), and a 300+ bench press. Many Strongmen downplay and ridicule the flat bench press but it has been my experience that increasing my flat bench press has greatly aided the overhead lifts in Strongman. All the extra tricep power has taken me very far in overhead performance! The Deadlift and Squat all build tremendous power in the lower body and most if not all of the Strongman events rely very heavily on lower body power as well as an iron core and a low back that you could crash a freight train into without damaging.
If you have a great workout your first day training Strongman, then it would be very good to stick with it if your heart truly desires. Always ask lots of questions and try to make friends with the best strongmen you can find. They will help guide you and keep you on the right path with your training and nutrition. If you are serious about becoming the best you can be in Strongman, I highly recommend that you find a way to purchase some of your own equipment. I made fabulous progress my first 2 years in Strongman training nothing but events. I put on tons of muscle and became very good at the events in a short period of time. I also broke through many physical barriers I couldn't seem to pass with my own gym training in the past. For the very first few months of my Strongman experience, I only trained once a week because I would go so hard on Strongman day that I was literally super sore all week and really couldn't do much else. I had awesome scars all over my forearms from the Atlas Stones too. After I adapted to the initial shock of the training and under the advice of Odd, I added 2 more days of training during the week. My training schedule for about 2 years was this:
Tuesday: One heavy lower body event for many many sets, either Yoke, Farmers Walk, or heavy sled drags.
Thursday: One overhead event for many many sets, clean and press with the Log or the Axle. Training heavy cleans with the Log or Axle (2” thick bar) was very important too since the easier the clean, the easier the press will be.
Sunday: Strongman events. I would do whatever the group was doing, I did Atlas Stones almost every week along with Yoke, Farmers Walk, Truck Pull, Front Carry, any type of medley, heavy drags with an Anchor Chain, etc.
I made amazing progress with this schedule. When I had added a 4th day for extra heavy back work (barbell rows, some deadlifts), I hit a wall in my progress and only when I eliminated that 4th day did I start growing again. I definitely needed to begin adding some crucial gym lifts into my training schedule after the first two years because I simply needed more brute power in some different areas that the events did not seem to hit as well, but I believe any beginner serious about Strongman needs LOTS of hours under the Strongman events to really build that foundation and technique. Once you master the events, then it is time to again change your training to decrease the volume of event work and increase the Power Lifting training. After all, if you have two Strongmen with equal technical proficiency on the events, the stronger one will always win. Yes, you can defeat a stronger athlete if you have better technique in many cases, but why not have great technique AND great power? The best have both.