Strongman 101

This article was written for by Sam Farris. Sam was nice enough to write a post while the LiftBigEatBig team was in China. Enjoy reading about how you can easily implement strongman training into your daily programming.

Strongman is making a comeback, a real comeback, and not just as far as TV ratings are concerned. It’s coming back into gyms for regular humans and you no longer have be 6’5’’ and 3 bills to play. With mass produced Crossfit equipment and rise to “celebrity” status of Strongmen like Rob Orlando, Strongman tools are at your fingertips.

Now that Strongman resources are everywhere, what better idea than to add it into your workouts to fill some holes often missing in regular Crossfit programming. What holes you ask? How about grip strength, aggression on the Olympic lifts, and spinal erectors that would make a stegosaurus jealous…just to name a few.

Grip Strength and Big Backs

The first point I will discuss is grip strength. Ever felt like you could do more pullups if only it weren’t for your forearms? Or that you could get a faster “Grace” time, but holding on the bar for unbroken reps is not allowed because of your grip strength? Well, I’m here to tell you that there are strongman apparati cures for those first world problems. Not only will the following exercises dramatically strengthen your grip, it will give you a back that will put Rob Orlando to shame.


Farmers Walk: Load Farmers Walk bars with 85% of your DL max, pick them up and start walking about 100ft (It will hurt the shit out of your hands, but you are not a child, so you will power through and not complain). If you absolutely cannot do 85% of your DL without dropping it, then lower the weight (make sure it’s still challenging) and repeat for 3-5 sets.


Axle Deadlift: You will take a much lower percentage of your deadlift this time. Instead, start with 70% and try to pull this double overhand. If you feel like the weight is cemented to the floor, you know you have work to do grip strength wise.

Massive Spinal Erectors

The second thing that can be improved using Strongman would be your spine. Aside from awesome form, what else can help keep your back injury free? Massive spinal erectors. You want to lay down and have your back look like a fucking mountain range. If you are a CFFB disciple, you know that Welbourne always says you that can tell someone’s an athlete when they walk away by looking for big traps, big back, big ass, big hammys. The spinal erectors are the key piece in that *buzzword alert* posterior chain.

Here, I’ve outlines more strongman tools that can help strengthen and grow the erectors:

· Stone: We all know you want a nice flat back when deadlifting, but most real world shit won’t allow you to get that perfect deadlift setup. Instead, you have to do rounded back deadlifts in most real world situations–for example, helping friends move furniture because you are stronger than them, carrying drunk friends to the car, etc. Stones are a perfect way to do this. By lapping then shouldering a giant cement circle you can barely fit your arms around, you will put yourself in an imperfect position which will really tax your whole body. Not to mention getting your fingers deep down under the stone will again help that forearm strength.

· Zercher Yoke and Conan’s Wheel: Chances are you will not run across a yoke unless you have a real Strongman nearby, but this following idea is the same. Take a super heavy load (1.5-2x bw), set it about even with where you wear your lifting belt on your stomach, pick it off the ground, make your belly “fat” against it and lean slightly back and get to walking for some distance.


No, not like being angry all the time. I mean aggression as in Coach B junkyard dog aggression, as in Olympic lifting. Most CrossFitters, and those just learning the lifts, are just not aggressive when pulling under the bar. Yes, we all know it is heavy and intimidating to get under heavy weights for the first time, but this isn’t a post about the snatch or clean and jerk. Here are several Strongman tools to help you become faster and more aggressive.


Log clean and push press/jerk: Although the clean is drastically different with a rotating barbell, learning to go overhead with a log will certainly teach you to stay solid when getting under a heavy load. How thick the log is and where it sits on your chest in the rack position, will teach you to keep your chest up in heavy jerks. How awkward it is, will teach you to really step through and stack the bones to be stable in the recovery of the jerk.


Stones: Lifting stones will help teach you the aggressive 1st and 2nd pulls you need in the Olympic lifts. Although not *buzzword alert* biomechanically the same, go ahead and lap a 250lb plus stone and try to get it up to your shoulder or on a platform without some “speed though the middle”. Normal folks aren’t gonna be able to do this without that learned aggression and speed.

Programming Strongman Assistance Work

Here are some ways to incorporate the Strongman exercises into your workouts.


Log Clean Anyway Overhead: Use this as a replacement for shoulder or push press on days after squat and bench


Axle DL/Zercher Yoke/Conan’s Wheel/Stones/Farmers: Use on days after DL depending your personal DL weaknesses (grip strength, weak erectors, weak upper back)


Before you go all Level 1 Syndrome and program a 45 min chipper with this shit, look at the way Strongmen use it. 3 minutes is about the longest they are going to go on any one event. So be smart, and use a similar load for some CF benchmarks. For example, substitute regular Fran for “Log Fran”, or regular Diane for “Axel Diane”. Or how about “Grace”, “The Chief”, or “The Ensign” using stones?

Sam is head coach at Southern Maryland CrossFit. He has been in the fitness industry cutting out garbage while soaking up and applying real knowledge since 2004. He is a competitive olympic weightlifter and CrossFitter. Follow him on twitter @Crabcakes_N_CF.

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