How I Decided to Become a Strongman

Yesterday I attended an event that solidified my ultimate goal in strength training, the Colorado State Fair’s Strongman Competition, presented by the Colorado Strongman Association. This was my first live witnessing of strongman and I must say that it was much better than watching the World’s Strongest Man on TV.

The competition included competitors in four classes: Women, Lightweight Novice (under 250 lbs and athletes had a limit on how long they’ve been competing), Lightweight Open (under 250 lbs, no other requirements), and Heavyweight Open (over 250 lbs). This competition included standard strongman fair as far as the events: an Overhead Medley that included cleaning and pressing a keg, a log, an axle, and a stone (Open classes only), a Tire Flip, a Walking Medley with a farmer’s a keg carry, a Keg Toss, and the Atlas Stones.

As I watched, especially the lightweight classes, I realized that I could do this. This isn’t something reserved for 300+lb monsters. These lightweights were moving objects nearly as heavy and as far as their heavy brethren.

Then I became particularly interested in the novice class as this is where I would compete next year. These competitors: Jacob Lowry, Jacob Elitch, Tom Cruise (really his name), David Kerr, and Jeff Watson all performed well in each event, but there were a few things I noticed in their techniques, a few weaknesses that I could capitalize on in my own training.

First, several of these guys attempted to clean the axle with a mixed grip, which was a big mistake. The only guys in the novice class who completed the Overhead Medley used an overhand grip; the more experienced guys in the open classes had the technique of flipping their underhand over, but that still looked very risky. In the tire flip, I noticed that many of the novices used the same leg or knee to kick under the tire. This seemed to really fatigue that leg for them and cost time, while the open class competitors switched legs a few times. There didn’t appear to be a secret to the keg toss or the atlas stones.

Upon seeing this spectacle I have decided that I want to be a strongman, as well as achieving my physique goals. In addition I have done my homework for what that will take. According to Dan Harrison, who has been NY, AZ, and CA’s Strongest Man as well as the North American Strongman Best Athlete and just won his strongman pro card, “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.”

strongman axle 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. That tells me that I have a lot of work on my deadlift. I currently squat over 400, and am close to a 300 bench, but my deadlift is only 365 and it is my grip that is failing.

So, Fat Gripz™ are my new best friends for every possible lift, as they will turn any barbell into an axle and this will in turn improve my grip for deadlifting. The other great advice that I got from Dan has to do with a training schedule. Dan recommends starting out with one day a week of training at a strongman specific gym, and then increasing to three: “my training schedule for about 2 years was…”

  • 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.

strongman stone

“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.”

So, my plan is to continue my current training schedule with the addition of more lifts with Fat Gripz™, especially clean and press, until my deadlift gets over 500. Then I’ll make the trek to Denver to start training at one of the strongman gyms there and really begin my journey to Strongman Greatness.

Reference: Harrison, D. (2010). MY LIFE AS A STRONGMAN. Arthur’s Hall of Viking Manliness. Retrieved from

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