Hold Fast Iron

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Strongman Training for the Average Joe

Written By: Mark Smith

Can the average man achieve strongman status?

You see that guy in the picture? He is a massive, massive man. He is the three time World’s Strongest Man Brian Shaw. This was taken at the 2011 MetRx World’s Strongest Man Competition. He stands 6’8” and 434lbs. Now, you are probably not surprised in the slightest that this guy is strong as an ox. The other guy in the picture, the smaller, lesser massed human, is me! I am very average in stature, in this picture 5’9” and just barely 170lbs; average size, way above average strength. I want to share with you my path to strongman training and how you can get super strong just being a normal Joe Friday.

Many years ago I was your typical gym rat. I went to work and dreamed about my upcoming workout all day and counted the seconds ‘til the work bell rang and I was free to clang. Drowning in a world of training merely for aesthetics and gains I often had two and a half to three hour sessions using barbells and free weights. I worked very hard. Many of my gym rat buddies thought I might be pound-for-pound strongest in the gym. I know, I know, I know you want some numbers. I weighed at my heaviest then 155lbs, squat (high and not parallel so I wouldn’t count it today but did then when I didn’t have high standards) 535 lbs, deadlift 405 lbs, and the almighty universal standard for strength (yes, that’s sarcasm) bench press 295 lbs. So, by the gym standards I was decently strong.  BUT, I wanted more and I wanted a change because I really couldn’t do anything else.  This kind of strength didn’t translate well to other areas of life and there was something missing, I felt strong on a barbell but I didn’t feel it in my bones and soul that I was strong.

I wanted REAL strength, not “What’s your bench brah?” strength. At this time I was no stranger to watching the World’s Strongest Man on television but like most people my reaction was of awe and wonder rather than a curiosity to try.  To me these athletes were just a rare breed of super humans and there was no way I could do what they did no matter how gym strong I was. Still, they were the strongest people on the planet and if I wanted real strength I needed to do what they were doing. I decided to start with a couple atlas stones since that is the marquis event of the WSM. I started with one that was just a shade over my body weight.

First tip is starting light, even this ratio I found to be a slightly ambitious, though I made it work. YOUR DEAD LIFT MAX IS NOT A GOOD MEASURE FOR WHAT STONE YOU CAN LIFT. I made that rookie mistake. Since I had never lifted an atlas stone before I sought out some instruction, luckily the guy that made the stones for me knew what he was doing and gave me a run through. Step two with the stones; get some tips and queues from someone that knows their stones. Step three; lift the hell out of them. You will get stronger and you will grow. I basically have divided my lats into two time periods the time before the stones, when my lats looked like the connective skin on a chicken wing and the time after stones where I developed a full set of dragon wings where my back once meagerly existed.

I practiced and practiced and began to expand the tools of strong man training, I got Farmer’s handles (single best investment in my overall strength ever), a power log, weighted kegs, big awkward rocks, circus dumbbell, and of course a heavy sandbag (for days when I need to be reminded how puny I am). As I began to learn and assimilate these new tools over the course of a few years something happened; I found strength.  I mean real honest strength. This was the missing link in the gym. This was the kind of strength I felt in my bones, in my blood. This wasn’t the kind of strength that needed to be measured all the time; I didn’t need to see four plates on each side of the bar for validation. This was the kind of strength that was guttural; I knew I was stronger than I looked. I knew when I was in the yard with a few mates and something looked heavy to the point of intimidation that I could LIFT it. To me there is nothing more functional when it comes to “functional strength” than being able to pick up just about anything life puts in front of you. The inherent awkward nature of some of the strongman events are great for real life objects, like a washing machine.

What equipment do you need to train like a strongman?

If you want to start training like a strongman but like me are just a normal sized person that missed out on the gorilla gene here are three tips to start.

Get some strongman equipment

Start with the barest of essentials, a set of Farmer’s Walk handles (I think I paid $100 but it was probably less, a quick search should find you someone who welds them), an atlas stone maybe two (I would start with one that is 80% your body weight and one that is 120% of your body weight, if you are only getting one stone start with one that is just about your body weight, you will be challenged), and lastly a heavy ass sandbag (you can purchase one from Brute Force, which is high quality, or you can make one. Honestly, I would just buy one).

Be realistic

Remember this is strongman training for the average guy. You probably don’t have any experience or very little. Also, let me remind you in case you are reading this and somehow forgot: you are most likely not 6’8” 434lbs of Herculean muscle fibers. It’s ok, I forget too! So be realistic with your beginning weights and loads and embrace the journey. It has taken me nearly five years to get to where I am.

Lift some heavy shit

This may seem counterintuitive to step two, but step two is a prerequisite. Once you go through an initial period of getting the techniques down and getting a bit of load on your frame then you will be able to try heavier. That is kinda the whole point. Then the real fun begins. You can’t really consider it strongman training until its heavy as sin. This is pretty much what my Friday training consists of, is going heavy and hard that one day. This gives me the freedom to develop other skills as well as recover and not completely wreck my body. (Note, this modality is rough on the body, which is why I only do it once a week at the level I am presently) Fridays have become my favorite training day and really the highlight of my week since I began strongman training, a bonus I did not foresee. I meet with a group of guys “The Strength Guild” as we call ourselves and we do a mixture of Strongman and Highland Games (recently added) training primarily. (Follow my Facebook page I normally post something from Friday’s strongman group).

Well there you have it. With the right tools and a little time under load you too can become crazy strong and though ye may still be of mortal stature ye too will gain the strength of Thor.

About Mark Smith:

Mark Smith is the owner of Asylum Fitness in beautiful Wilmington, North Carolina. He is a Movement and Strength Coach that uses unconventional tools and methods to make his students a little better with each practice. His main focus is movement, he believes, “We were born to move. Reclaim your birthright.” He encourages his students and all those he meets to just play, similarly to when you were a kid, believing that play is the foundation of movement and movement is life. “By learning to move better and improving our mobility, everything falls into place.” he says. Mark is an Outdoor Fitness Enthusiast, is well versed in corrective exercises, and currently holds a level 1 FMS (Functional Movement Screen), and is a MovNat level 2 certified trainer and is always seeking to learn from the best. He also has a background in track and field, martial arts, ballroom dance, and currently is practicing parkour.

Asylumn Fitness: http://www.asylumfitnessnc.com/

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