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Original Research

The Strength and Conditioning Practices of Strongman Competitors

Winwood, Paul W1,2; Keogh, Justin WL1; Harris, Nigel K1

Author Information
Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: November 2011 - Volume 25 - Issue 11 - p 3118-3128
doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e318212daea
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Abstract

Introduction

In the past decade, the sport of strongman has surged in popularity in many countries, both as a spectator sport and in the number of active competitors. Strongman style training modalities may have some advantages over traditional gym-based resistance training approaches. For example, traditional gym-based training exercises are generally performed with 2 feet side by side and require the load to be moved in the vertical plane (20). Strongman events represent functional movements in multiple planes and challenge the whole musculoskeletal system in terms of strength, stability, and physiological demands (25). As a result, many strength and conditioning specialists are beginning to incorporate strongman exercises into the conditioning programs of their athletes (1,13). Although the resistance training practices of strength and conditioning coaches (6-9) and athletes (14,16,27,29,31,34,35) have been extensively examined, no research has yet examined common strongman training practices. Thus, strength and conditioning coaches have little evidence base on which to inform the inclusion of strongman training within their programming practice.

Only 4 scientific studies appear to have been conducted on any of the strongman events (3,19,20,25) with the emphasis being on the metabolic and biomechanical (kinematic determinants of performance and lower back and hip loads) demands of these exercises. The first published study of a strongman event examined the metabolic demands of pushing and pulling a motor vehicle (3). The athletes achieved peak VO2 and heart rate (HR) values within the first 100m (65 and 96%, respectively, of treadmill maximum values), recorded a blood lactate (BLa) concentration of 15.6 mmol·L−1, and experienced an acute decrement in vertical jump height of 10 cm (−17% of maximum) immediately after performing each of these tasks. In a more recent study, Keogh et al. (20) examined the change in HR and BLa across multiple sets of tire flips. Findings from this study showed comparable HR and BLa levels to that of car push and car pull of Berning et al. (3).

Of the biomechanical studies, the first study published was that of McGill et al. (25). Trunk muscle activation and lumbar spine motion, load, and stiffness were examined in 3 strongman competitors and comparisons made in the different strongman events (tire flip, Atlas stones, log lift, farmers walk, and yoke walk). These lifts were generally characterized by high to very high spinal compression and shear forces, joint torques, and activity of many of the hip and trunk stabilizers (as assessed via electromyography [EMG]). The other 2 biomechanical studies conducted have sought to characterize the kinematics of 2 strongman exercises, that is, the tire flip and heavy, sprint-style sled pull (19,20). Keogh et al. (20) examined the temporal analysis of the tire flip. The main finding of the study was that the duration of the second pull was the strongest determinant of tire flip performance. The heavy sprint–style sled pull was examined using 6 resistance trained subjects experienced in performing the heavy sled pull (19). Video analysis showed kinematic similarities to the acceleration phase of sprinting; however, the sled pull had significantly smaller step lengths and step rates, longer ground contact time, and a more horizontal trunk in several phases of these sled pulls. The findings suggest that the ability to generate large propulsive anterioposterior forces and impulses during relatively short periods of ground contact is critical for successful heavy sled pull performance.

The strongman studies provide some evidence of the physiological and biomechanical characteristics of strongman training. The studies show that the athletes need power through midrange (20), metabolic conditioning (3) and high core and hip abduction strength and stability, grip strength, and high levels of overall strength (25). There is no empirical evidence on how strongman competitors train. The purpose of this study was to (a) describe the strength and conditioning practices employed by strongman competitors and (b) determine how well strongman competitors apply the scientific principles of resistance training. Such an analysis would be most useful for novice strongman competitors and those wishing to compete in the sport of strongman. Strength and conditioning coaches will also benefit in terms of how to best incorporate strongman exercises into their athlete's resistance training programs to help maximize performance enhancements.

Methods

Experimental Approach to the Problem

This exploratory descriptive study was designed to provide comprehensive descriptive information about the training practices of strongman competitors. The research hypothesis was that strongmen competitors follow scientifically based strength and conditioning practices in their annual training programs, which was assessed through a comprehensive survey of strength and conditioning practices.

Subjects

Inclusion criteria were defined as being a local, National, and International strongman competitor. Participants had to be men aged 18–45 years, have at least 12 months current experience in using common strongman exercises such as the tire flip, farmers walk, log press, and sled drags in their conditioning programs. They had to have competed in at least 1 strongman competition within the last year or were in training for their first strongman competition. Only fully completed questionnaires were used for data analysis. Thus, the results from 167 strongman competitors from 20 countries were used in this study. The subjects consisted of 83 local, 65 national, and 19 international competitors. Tables 1 and 2 provide a summary of the results. To protect the confidentiality of the strongman competitors, no participant's details were associated with the survey. The participants' mean (±SD) age, height, and weight were 30 ± 7 years, 183 ± 7 cm, and 113 ± 20 kg, respectively. This study was approved by the AUT University Ethics Committee, Auckland, New Zealand.

Table 1
Table 1:
Summary of the most common strength and conditioning practices for exercise selection and training organization among strongman competitors.
Table 2
Table 2:
Summary of the most common training practices for strongman training.

Research Instrument

The survey Strongman Training Practices was adapted from the survey used in research with elite powerlifters (34). The original survey was pilot tested with participants of the local strongman and power lifting club to ensure its validity for use with this population. As a result of the pilot testing, the survey was slightly modified including clarifying and improving the wording of a small number of questions before it was administered to the sample. The 65-item strongman survey was sectioned into 3 main different areas of inquiry, including exercise selection, training protocols and organization, and strongman training. Training protocols and organization included questions on periodization, hypertrophy (i.e., training directly focused on building muscle size and mass), maximal strength training, strength and power training (i.e., training methods that were focused on increasing explosive strength and power), and aerobic and anaerobic conditioning. The strongman events training section included questions on strongman implements used in training. Participants were asked to give their most common or typical training values for each training phase. Closed questions were used for all questions (questions 1–64) except question 65 where an open-ended question was presented. Additional demographic information including gender, age, height, weight, weight training, and strongman training experience, and 1RM lifts were collected from the questionnaire (demographic and 1RM information was self-reported from participants). Sportsurvey.co.nz was used to launch the electronic survey on the Internet.

Data Collection

Strongmen were recruited through multimedia. The primary method was posting the link to the survey on national and international strongman forums (e.g., Aussie Strength forum, Australia; Sugden Barbell forum, United Kingdom; Marunde Muscle, USA; and North American Strongman Incorporated) and the social networking site Facebook. Presidents of strongman clubs in New Zealand, Australia, and America were contacted by email and sent an electronic link to the online survey to deliver to their club members. An information sheet outlining the objectives and purpose of the study was detailed on the first page of the online survey.

Statistical Analyses

All questions that were related to the application of the scientific principles of resistance training were categorized. Categorical and ordinal data were reported as percentages of response. Univariate analysis was used to describe the basic features of the data in this study. Microsoft excel was used for data analysis.

Results

Exercise Selection

One hundred and sixty-seven subjects (100%) reported performing traditional resistance exercises such as the squat and deadlift as part of their training. Subjects were asked to indicate what type of squats and deadlifts they most commonly performed in their training. Sixty-six percent of subjects reported that the back squat was the most commonly performed squat, and 88% reported that the conventional deadlift was the most commonly performed deadlift used in their training. Front squats and partial deadlifts were reported as sometimes and quite often performed by 68 and 63% of subjects, respectively.

Training Protocols and Organization

One hundred and thirty-four of the 167 (80.2%) subjects included some method of periodization in their training organization, and 138 of the 167 (82.6%) subjects used some sort of training log or training diary.

Hypertrophy

One hundred and twenty-three of the 167 (73.7%) subjects included hypertrophy training in their training organization. Eight-two percent of subjects performed their hypertrophy training close to failure or to failure. Eighty percent of the subjects performed 8–12 repetitions per set for their hypertrophy training. Ten repetitions were the most common reported training practice (32.2%) performed for hypertrophy among strongman competitors. Eighty-five percent of the subjects performed 3–5 sets per exercise for their hypertrophy training. Fifty-nine percent of the subjects used rest periods of <2 minutes between sets for their hypertrophy training, with between 1 and 2 minutes the most common reported rest period (39.7%).

Strength

One hundred and sixty-two of the 167 (97.0%) subjects included maximal strength training in their training organization. Ninety-seven percent of the subjects performed 1–6 repetitions per set for their maximal strength training. Three repetitions were the most common reported training practice (46.3%) performed for maximal strength training. Seventy-one percent of the subjects performed 3–5 sets per exercise for maximal strength training. Eight-seven percent of the subjects performed rest periods of >2 minutes between sets for their maximal strength training, with the most common rest period being 3–4 minutes (35.6%).

Power

One hundred and fifty-one of the 167 (90.4%) subjects included power training in their training organization. Eighty-eight percent of the subjects performed 1–6 repetitions per set for their power training. Three repetitions were the most common reported training practice (33.8%) performed for power among strongman competitors. Seventy percent of the subjects performed 3–5 sets per exercise for their power training. Five sets were the most common reported training practice (31.8%) performed for power among strongman competitors. Fifty-eight percent of the subjects performed rest periods of >2 minutes between sets for their power training. The most common reported rest period between sets (28.5%) among strongman competitors for power training was 2–2:59 minutes.

Repetition Speed

Subjects were asked whether they performed their traditional resistance exercises as fast as possible (maximum), at speeds less than maximum, or a mixture of maximum and less than maximum. The results showed that 50.6% of strongman competitors performed traditional resistance exercises as fast as possible (maximum), and 40.7% performed a mixture of maximum and less than maximum.

Explosive Training Load

Subjects were asked whether they attempted to lift submaximal loads (0–70% 1RM) as fast as possible in the squat or deadlift. Approximately 60% of strongman competitors performed speed repetitions with submaximal loads in the squat and deadlift. The submaximal load of 51–60% of 1RM was the most popular training load in the squat (67.3%) and deadlift (63.1%). Figure 1 illustrates the percentage of strongman competitors who used submaximal loads for each of the power lifts.

Figure 1
Figure 1:
Analysis of submaximal loads (expressed as a %1 repetition maximum [%1RM]) used for speed repetitions in the squat and deadlift.
Resistance Materials Used

Fifty-six percent of the strongman competitors surveyed incorporated elastic bands in their training, and 38% used chains. Figure 2 illustrates the use of bands and chains in the squat, upper body press, deadlift, and assistance exercises.

Figure 2
Figure 2:
Percentage of strongman competitors who used bands or chains for the squat, upper body press, deadlift, or assistance exercises.
Adjunct Power Training Methods

Eight-eight percent of the strongman competitors reported that they perform Olympic lifts or their derivatives (cleans, snatch, jerk, and high pull) as part of their strongman training. Subjects were asked to indicate what type of Olympic lifts they performed in their training. Seventy-eight percent of subjects reported that the clean was the most performed Olympic lift used in their training. Figure 3 illustrates the use of the various types of Olympic lifts.

Figure 3
Figure 3:
Percentage of strongman competitors who perform Olympic lifting and their derivatives.

Subjects were asked what loads (as a % of their maximum) they most typically train with for their Olympic lifting. Thirty-two percent reported using 81–90% of 1RM as their most common Olympic lifting training load. Figure 4 illustrates the loads used for Olympic lifting and their derivatives.

Figure 4
Figure 4:
Analysis of loads used for Olympic lifting and their derivatives.

Strongman competitors were asked if they performed upper and lower body plyometrics as part of their training. Twenty-nine percent reported using upper body plyometrics, and 54% performed lower body plyometrics.

Twenty percent of the strongman competitors reported that they perform weighted ballistic lifts (i.e., squat jump, bench press throw) as part of their strongman training. Subjects were also asked what loads (as a % of their maximum) they most typically train with for their ballistic lifting. Twenty-five percent reported using the training load of 31–40%. Figure 5 illustrates the loads used for ballistic lifting.

Figure 5
Figure 5:
Analysis of loads used for ballistic lifting.

Aerobic and Anaerobic Conditioning

One hundred and fifty subjects (89.8%) reported performing aerobic/anaerobic conditioning as part of their strongman training. The time of 16–30 minutes was the most common reported training practice (28.5%) performed for aerobic/anaerobic training. Thirty-five percent of subjects reported that other conditioning (i.e., sport specific) was the most commonly performed aerobic/anaerobic conditioning. High-intensity interval training and a combination of high and low intensity cardio were reported as sometimes and quite often performed by 55 and 53% of subjects, respectively.

Strongman Events Training

Fifty percent of the strongman competitors surveyed use strongman implements only in a strongman events training day, and 50% mixed gym work and strongman implements together. Forty-four percent of strongman competitors trained with strongman implements once a week, compared to 24% who trained twice a week and 18% who trained <1 a week (may only train once every 2 weeks).

The farmers walk, log press, and stones had the highest percentage of use (96.4, 95.2, and 94.0%, respectively) among the strongman competitors surveyed in this study. Subjects were asked to indicate what other type of strongman implements they used on a frequent basis in their strongman training. Figure 6 illustrates the percentage of strongman competitors that use the various strongman implements in training. Other strongman exercises and implements reported used in training by 37 competitors included; Overhead press (Viking, sleeper press, and dumbbells), carries (Conan's wheel, shield, hydrant, and frame), pulls (harness, arm over arm, ropes, and chains), walks (duck and yoke), lifts (safe, kettle bells, and car deadlift), holds (crucifix), and grip exercises (block, hand, and tools).

Figure 6
Figure 6:
Percentage of strongman competitors who use the strongman implements in training.

Tire Flip

One hundred and thirty-seven of the 167 (82.0%) subjects included the tire flip in their strongman training. Ninety-one percent of those subjects performed the tire flip once a week or once every 2 weeks. Less than once a week was the most commonly reported training practice (53.3%) performed for the tire flip among strongman competitors. Three sets were the most common reported training practice (40.1%) performed for tire flip training among strongman competitors. Ninety-one percent of the subjects performed 3–10 repetitions per set for their tire flip training, with 10 repetitions per set being the most commonly (31.4%) performed. The majority of the subjects performed the tire flip with loads the same as (50.4%) or heavier (34.6%) than those encountered in competition.

Log Clean and Press

One hundred and fifty-nine of the 167 (95.2%) subjects included the log clean and press in their strongman training. Once a week was the most common reported training practice (61.0%) performed for the log clean and press among strongman competitors. Eight-three percent of the subjects performed 3–6 sets for their log clean and press training, with 5 sets being the most common reported training practice (37.1%). Eight-four percent of the subjects performed 3–10 repetitions per set for their log clean and press training, with 5 repetitions per set being the most common reported training practice (30.4%). The majority of the subjects performed the log clean and press with loads the same as (47.5%) or heavier (39.4%) than those encountered in a competition involving the log clean and press for repetitions.

Stones

One hundred and fifty-seven of the 167 (94.0%) subjects included the stones in their strongman training. Ninety-four percent of subjects performed the stones less than once a week. Once a week was the most common reported training practice (48.4%) performed for the stones among strongman competitors. Ninety-one percent of the subjects performed 1–6 sets for their stones training. Three sets were the most common reported training practice (28.0%) performed for stones training among strongman competitors. Ninety-five percent of the subjects performed 1–6 repetitions per set for their stones training. Five repetitions per set were the most common reported training practice (29.3%) performed for stones training among strongman competitors. Sixty-two percent of the subjects performed the stones with loads the same as those encountered in a competition.

Farmers Walk

One hundred and sixty-one of the 167 (96.4%) subjects included the farmers walk in their strongman training. Ninety-three percent of subjects performed the farmers walk once every 2 weeks or once a week. Once a week was the most common reported training practice (59.6%) performed for the farmers walk among strongman competitors. Eighty-nine percent of the subjects covered the distance of 20–50 m as part of a working set for their farmers walk training. Twenty meters was the most common reported training practice (37.9%) performed per set for farmers walk training among strongman competitors. The majority of the subjects performed the farmers walk with loads the same (42.3%) as or heavier (46.6%) than those encountered in a competition.

Truck Pull

Eighty-one of the 167 (48.5%) subjects included the truck pull in their strongman training. Ninety-nine percent of subjects performed the truck pull once every 2 weeks or once a week. Less than once a week was the most common reported training practice (69.1%) among strongman competitors who performed the truck pull. Seventy-two percent of the subjects covered the distance of 20–30 m as part of a working set for their truck pull training. Thirty meters was the most common reported training practice (39.5%) performed per set for truck pull training among strongman competitors. Eighty-three percent of the subjects performed the truck pull with loads the same (43.0%) as or lighter (40.0%) than those encountered in a competition.

Subjects were asked to indicate how long their rest periods were between sets for their strongman training. Fifty-eight percent of subjects rested for >4 minutes between sets.

The last question of the survey was designed to provide the strongman competitors an opportunity to provide additional data or make specific comments regarding the survey. Forty-six strongman competitors offered a variety of responses. These responses are described in Table 3.

Table 3
Table 3:
Comments (N = 46).*

Discussion

This is the first survey of the strength and conditioning practices of strongman competitors. The number of respondents (167) is higher than the number of respondents associated with surveys of strength and conditioning practices in football, hockey, baseball, basketball, and power lifting (6-9,30,34). The majority of strongman competitors use training variables (loads, sets, reps, and rest periods) that are within the suggested guidelines for the various phases and types of training investigated in this study, thus supporting the hypothesis that most of the strongmen competitors in this study follow many scientifically based strength and conditioning practices.

The majority of subjects (80.2%) included some method of periodization in their training organization, which is lower than that previously reported in elite British powerlifters (96.4%) (34) but similar to those reported by major league baseball strength coaches (85.7%) and National basketball strength coaches (85.0%). This finding suggests that the majority of strongman competitors design their training to emphasize a particular adaptation with the goal of increasing physical performance.

Because all subjects performed traditional gym-based resistance exercises, it shows that they understand the need for increasing strength for successful strongman performance. Variants of squats and deadlifts were performed, with back and front squats, and conventional and partial deadlifts the preferred choices of these exercises.

One hundred and twenty-three of the 167 (73.7%) subjects included hypertrophy training in their training organization. The majority of subjects performed 3–5 sets of 8–12 repetitions per exercise for hypertrophy training, which is consistent with guidelines for this form of training (11). Research has established that the force a muscle can exert is related to its cross-section area (21). Strongman competitors may use hypertrophy training to increase their fat-free mass, which in turn allows for greater force production (4,18).

Ninety-seven percent of subjects included maximal strength training in their training organization. This finding suggests that strongman competitors believe that maximal strength is one of the most important physiological components to compete successfully in strongman events. The majority of subjects performed 3–5 sets of 1–6 repetitions per exercise with rest periods >2 minutes. These variables are within the suggested guidelines reported for performing maximal strength training (11). The high levels of maximal strength training may be necessary in the sport of strongman to enable these athletes to cope with the extremely high spinal and hip loads (25).

The results of this study demonstrate that strongman competitors use a variety of power training methods. The majority of subjects attempted to lift loads in traditional exercises (i.e., squat, bench press, and deadlift) as fast as possible. This training practice is commonly referred to as compensatory acceleration and may provide a superior way of training to increase force and rate of force production (2,36). Results from this study demonstrated that 60% of strongman competitors incorporate submaximal loads in the squat and deadlift in their explosive training. This is lower than the 75.0% reported by elite powerlifters (34). The submaximal load of 51–60% 1RM was the most common training load in the squat (67.3%) and deadlift (63.1%) among strongman competitors. This finding represents a slightly lower explosive training load than the 61–70%1RM recently reported by elite powerlifters (34). These differences may be because of the differences between the sports type. In the sport of strongman, the ability to move heavy loads at higher velocities would be advantageous. This is evident in this study with 88% of strongman competitors using Olympic lifting exercises or their derivatives as part of their strongman training, which is higher than the 69% reported by elite powerlifters (34). This finding gives evidence to the similarities between the training practices of strongman competitors, elite powerlifters, and weightlifters. The unique biomechanical characteristics of Olympic lifting exercises allow for the use of heavy loads to be moved at high velocities, thus producing higher power outputs than traditional lifts (24). In addition, the greater skill complexity required for the Olympic lifting exercises may be advantageous by facilitating the development of a broader physical abilities spectrum (i.e., balance, coordination, and flexibility), which seems to be better transferred to performance (15). The findings from this study demonstrate that strongman competitors in common with elite powerlifters combine compensatory acceleration with heavy and submaximal loads to enhance force and rate of force development across a range of velocities.

In this study, 80% of strongman competitors performed their Olympic lifts with loads 51–90% of 1RM. Research has found that peak power for the power clean was maximized at 70% of 1RM; however, no statistically significant differences existed between peak power outputs at 50, 60, 80, and 90% of 1RM (17). In this study, the clean was the most commonly performed Olympic lifting exercise performed by strongman competitors followed by the jerk, the snatch, and the high pull. The clean was also the most frequently performed Olympic lifting exercise among elite powerlifters; however, only 10% of elite powerlifters performed the jerk compared to the 52% of strongman competitors. These differences may be because of the specificity of the sports. Strongman competitors may incorporate the jerk in training to have a crossover effect to overhead events such as the axle or log clean and press. Stone et al. (32) have suggested that the more similar a training exercise is to actual physical performance, the greater the probabilities of transfer. The results of this study therefore demonstrate that strongman competitors use a range of Olympic lifting exercises that simulate common competition events and use training loads for these exercises that elicit the highest power outputs.

The use of ballistic training and plyometrics has been reported in the literature as ways of developing power and whole-body explosiveness (33,34). The results of this study indicated that 29% of strongman competitors perform upper body plyometrics, and 54% perform lower body plyometrics. This is higher than the 14.3 and 17.9%, respectively, reported by elite powerlifters (34). The differences between the sports may indicate sport specificity. Plyometric exercises are based on the use of the stretch-shortening cycle. A rapid eccentric muscle action stimulates the stretch reflex and storage of elastic energy thus increasing the force produced during the subsequent concentric action. For strongman competitor training, this stretch reflex may be beneficial for events such as the keg toss and log press where higher forces and rate of force production would be advantageous.

In ballistic exercises, loads are accelerated through the whole range of motion (there is no deceleration phase). This results in greater velocity of movement, force output, and EMG activity than the traditional exercises performed explosively (28). The results of this study indicated that only 20% of the strongman competitors perform ballistic lifts (i.e., squat jump, bench press throw) as part of their strongman training. Part of this reason may be sport specificity. Strongman events are generally performed with the intention to move heavy loads as quickly as possible, thus competitors may think it more advantageous training with heavy resistance to improve the high-force portions of the force–velocity curve instead of the high–velocity portion. Of those subjects, however, who performed ballistic lifting, 93% trained with loads of 10– 60% 1RM. The training loads of 20 and 50% of 1RM have been recommended for the jump squat and bench press, respectively, as these loads were found to maximize peak power (5,12). The results of this study indicate that strongman competitors who performed ballistic exercises typically use the training loads that will elicit the highest peak powers.

The results of this study found that 56% of strongman competitors surveyed incorporated elastic bands in their training, and 38% used chains. Recently, Swinton et al. (34) found that 57.1% of powerlifters incorporated chains, and 39.3% incorporated bands (respectively) in their training. It is likely that strongman competitors and powerlifters use chains and bands as a means of developing strength and power. The use of chains and bands is recommended for multijoint exercises such as the squat that are characterized by an ascending strength curve (26). The increased training load during the ascent offers the potential for a greater concentric training load than that is manageable because of the mechanical advantage that occurs as the lifter ascends during these exercises (10). As a result, greater muscle tension can be achieved throughout the range of movement thereby improving the potential for neuromuscular adaptations.

Strongman events can last from a few seconds (e.g., 1RM log press) to several minutes (e.g., truck pull and medleys) and involve high physiological demands both aerobically and anaerobically (3,20). In this study, 89.8% of strongman competitors performed aerobic/anaerobic conditioning as part of their strongman training. Strongman competitors incorporate low- and high-intensity aerobic/anaerobic conditioning in their programs; however, sport-specific conditioning is the most commonly performed (35%). Some clarification of sport-specific conditioning was given by some strongman competitors in the open-ended question at the end of the survey. When training for sport-specific conditioning, strongman competitors used lighter than competition loads, which allowed a high number of repetitions to be performed for events such as the log clean and press or to help obtain large distances for events such as the farmers walk. The results of this study demonstrate that strongman competitors incorporate a variety of aerobic and anaerobic training in their strongman training to optimize performance.

The results of this study found that the majority of strongman competitors trained with strongman implements at least once a week. Fifty percent of the strongman competitors use strongman implements only in a strongman events training day, whereas the remainder combined gym work and strongman event training in the same session. This finding suggests that strongman use 2 different methods to incorporate event training in their programs. However, it is unclear if one approach is superior to the other.

The results of this study demonstrated that strongman competitors use a wide variety of training implements in their training. The farmers' walk, log press, and stones had the highest percentage of use (96.4, 95.2, and 94.0%, respectively) among the strongman competitors surveyed in this study. Other implements reported as being used by the majority of competitors were the tire flip, axle, yoke, sleds, and kegs. Thirty-seven competitors reported using other implements that consisted of grip strength tools, kettle bells, and dumbbells; and carrying; lifting; dragging; and pressing implements.

The results from this study demonstrated that the majority of subjects rested for >4 minutes between sets for their strongman implement training. Previous research has demonstrated that the rest period between sets and exercises affects the muscles responses to resistance exercise and influence how much of the adenosine triphosphate phosphocreatine (ATP-PC) energy source is recovered (22). In addition, the length of the rest period has a dramatic influence on the metabolic, hormonal, and cardiovascular responses to an acute bout of resistance exercise and the performance of subsequent sets (23). The rest interval of >4 minutes indicates that strongman competitors use the long rest period to increase their ability to exhibit maximal strength and power with heavy strongman implements. This results indicates that strongman competitors understand the optimal rest periods for strength and power training as the rest interval of >4 minutes is within the suggested guidelines reported for performing absolute strength or power training (11).

The tire flip, log clean and press, farmers walk, and truck pull are strongman events commonly found in strongman competitions. In this study, 82% percent of competitors reported using the tire flip, 95.2% included the log clean and press, 96.4% included the farmers walk, and 48.5% included the truck pull in their strongman training. Differences existed in the way the subjects trained each event. The majority of subjects trained the tire flip less than once per week with the most common reported training practice being 3 sets of 10 repetitions with the same load as encountered in competition. Strongman competitors may use the higher rep range for the tire flip to help with the high physiological demands the tire flip places on the bodies system (20). In contrast, the majority of subjects performed the log clean and press once a week with the same loads as encountered in competition. Five sets of 5 repetitions was the most common reported training practice, which has previously been reported as one of the best methods to elicit increases in maximal strength (33).

The farmers walk and truck pull were reported as the most common (96.4%) and least used (48.5%) strongman training events, respectively, used by the subjects in this study. The majority of subjects reported performing the farmers walk once a week and the truck pull less than once per week. Differences existed in training practices with the distances and the loads used between these events. The most common reported training practices for the truck pull was pulling a truck for 30 m with loads the same as encountered in competition, whereas subjects performed the farmers walk at a distance of 20 m with loads heavier than encountered in competition. This result may indicate that for the farmers walk, subjects use the heavier loads to help improve their grip and carrying strength. Observations of elite strongman competitors competing in the farmers walk gives support to the fact that grip strength and carrying strength may be fundamental factors in successful farmers walk performance. However, further research is needed to validate this.

Analysis of the answers to the open-ended question in the survey revealed that strongman competitors vary their training and periodically alter training variables (i.e., sets, reps, loads) during different stages of their training. The type of events (i.e., max effort or reps event) in a competition can determine loading strategies, and competitors determine the most efficacious training protocols for each event. Future studies should build on this study and examine how strongman training practices differ at various phases of the year.

Practical Applications

This article serves as the first comprehensive description of common strength and conditioning practices of strongman competitors. Strongman competitors and strength and conditioning coaches can use these data as a review of strength and conditioning practices and as a possible source of new ideas to diversify and improve their training practices. These data should also prove useful to future investigators and practitioners as a source for comparison. Future research should investigate the risks and neuromuscular benefits associated with using strongman-type implements in training.

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Keywords:

hypertrophy; maximal strength; periodization; power; survey; training organization

© 2011 National Strength and Conditioning Association