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Strongman Training 101, Part 1

By Brian King

This article is for the strongman competitor who is just starting to compete and really has no clue about how to train. However, there may be some things that the advanced athlete can use to improve his or her game as well. There are three different approaches to training for strongman. Most articles are written about one person???s training philosophy, but here you will get three views from three, very qualified strongmen???Eric Hammer, Bryan Dermody, and myself.  

Hammer is an assistant director of Olympic sports performance at the University of Louisville. He earned his pro status at the Central USA in July. Bryan Dermody is the assistant football strength and conditioning coach at the University of Louisville. He is one of the top ranked amateur heavyweights in the country and writes columns for Iron Mind. I am the manager of a fitness center. I have worked at the collegiate level as an assistant football and assistant strength and conditioning coach and consider myself to be one of the top ranked heavyweight amateurs in the country.

Since there are six questions, I will break this down into two parts because the first two questions are long.

Quest 1. During the off-season when you aren???t competing, what type of training template do you follow in the weight room? What, if any, type of event training do you do?

Hammer: My off-season template looks something like this:






Saturday or Sunday

ME cleans
DE squats
ME deadlifts
ME overhead
ME snatch ME squat
DE overhead
DE deadlifts Events
Accessory Accessory Accessory Accessory Accessory Accessory
Dumbbell/kettlebell  swings

GPP session
Romanian deadlift
Front squat
Strict overhead
Incline bench
One-arm dumbbell snatch

GPP session
Good mornings
Split jerks
  GPP session

I event train once a week, and I usually alternate three to four events each week, working on form and technique. I am a big believer in the Olympic lifts and what they can do for you. So I tend to train them at least twice per week throughout the off-season. I also utilize favorites such as front squats, good mornings, jerks, any type of deadlifts, and plyometrics.
I like to use a conjugated periodization approach to ensure that I hit all areas of training. This includes max effort, speed, and repetition work to build up my weaknesses, add to my strengths, and generate some general physical preparedness. I don't use percentages on my max effort work because I want to get stronger. But I will use them on my accessory movements. Each phase of training lasts about 3???4 weeks, following a base, load, load, deload weekly progression in volume and intensity.

Dermody:  My off-season template:


1) ME lower 2) Work cap/ grip 3) ME upper 4)  DE lower 5) Lower asst 6) Events 7)  Events
Snatch, 3X5,
Some type of
work capacity (i.e. sled drag, DB complex, light tire flips, etc.)
Some type of jerk or push press.

Best set of 1, 2,
or 3 reps.

Cleans, 3X5,
typically heavy
Front squat, reverse
hypers, or glute ham raise with moderate
Pick the six most common events and train three per week I may do events; if
not I will do
moderate front squats,
moderate snatch, and heavy rows
Squat, deadlift, or good mornings

Best set of 1, 2 or, 3 reps

Static grip work
Five sets of either heavy close grip or steep incline
Speed squats
w/band tension, 5???8X2
Static grip work I try to set a PR on one event each week, do 4???6
heavy sets on
one, and 4???6 light sets on one
Medium to heavy
Romanian deadlift, squat, or front squat
  Five heavy sets of some type of
overhead press
Speed deadlift,
10???16X1 w/band tension or
straight bar

King: I have come up with a modified version of training that includes Westside concepts, Olympic lifting, and circuit training. By combining all three, I can work on strength, explosion speed, and conditioning. I believe in the use of many movements, not in a training day but rather to have at your expense. This will allow you to find any weaknesses that you may have. As a general rule, I will switch up my ME movement about every three weeks and my Olympic movements every two to three weeks.

I will train the events on Saturdays. Events change weekly and so do the intensity levels. I try to train every event so that I can get accustomed to the movement. Plus, it breaks the monotony of training the same movements every week. The only two events that won't change are the 12-inch log and the Atlas stones. If I go for a max on the log then I will train the stones light and vice versa. I like to put the emphasis on these two movements because you will see them at every show you compete in. Below is a sample training week:

Monday, ME lower

Tuesday, extra

Wednesday, ME upper

Thursday, DE lower/speed


Saturday, events

Box squat w/T-bar
rows, 4X10
Light Dumbell work
and low back and
Push jerks Cleans, 3X3 I do very little. This is
a day to relax and get ready for Saturday
12" log for max
Farmers for distance
Conans wheel heavy
Hack squat, 3X10
w/shrugs, 3X15
  8" log incline, 3X5 w/CS rows, 3X15 Box squat w/bands,
5X2 (50???60%, 1 RM)
w/dumbbell high pulls, 3X10
  Tire flips for reps
Stones to staggered
platforms up to 340lb
Romanian deadlift, 3X8 w/dec abs, 3X40 w/neck, 3X20   Dumbbell bench, 3X8
w/biceps, 3X10
Deadlifts, 5X2 (50???60%)   Accessory work  
Abs, neck, light cardio
45 degree back raise,

w/biceps, 3X10

  Tricep extension, 3X8
w/abs, 3X20 w/neck, 3X10
Plyo jumps, 3X5    
Sled drags for cardio   Some type of cardio Leg curls, 3X10 w/abs, 3X30    



Quest 2. When you are actively competing, how does gym and event training differ from what you do in the off-season?


Hammer: My off-season template looks something like this:







Saturday and Sunday

Off Snatch
ME deadlift /squat
ME overhead
Plyos, core

GPP session
DE squat/deadlifts
DE overhead
Off Events

GPP on Sundays
  Accessory   Accessory    
  Front squats
Zercher squats
  Shoulder pre-hab    


My approach to in-season training is quality over quantity. I drop my workouts from six days to three to four days per week. My focus is on strength and staying healthy, and my gym work depends on the upcoming contest. For example, if there are several medley events then my max effort training becomes a ball busting repetition effort training session where I will try and hit a few good sets of 10???15 reps at as much weight as I can push.

I still clean and snatch during the week, but it may or may not be for max effort, depending on how my wrists, elbows, and shoulders feel. All my events are determined by the contest. I will start planning for a meet about four to six weeks out and devise a plan of progression for each event allowing for an easier week of the show. On Saturdays and Sundays, I will split up the events, focusing on form and moving heavy weight.

The week of the meet looks like this:

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Meet day
DE squat, 8X2
Squats, 3X1 at 90%
DE deadlifts, 8X2
Conv deadlifts, 3X1 at 90%
DE overhead 8X2
Push jerk 3X1 at 90%
Dynamic warm-up
20 minutes

Dumbbell complex, 3???4 moves, 2???3X3
Dynamic warm-up, 20 minutes  
Cleans 4???6X1 at 80???95%   Snatch, 4???6X1, 80???90%      

The week after entails dynamic warm-ups, dumbbell complexes, and rehab work. The next training cycle will start the following Saturday.

Dermody: My changes for in-season strongman training include one day of max effort gym work (upper and lower in the same session) and event training tailored to the specific events in the upcoming contest. I may do one or two event days, but if I can fit the events into my normal gym training (i.e. log or deadlift), I will typically only have one event day. If I am competing in shows really close to one another (1???3 weeks apart) then I will do only max effort squat and speed deadlifts or reverse the two. I may also do only speed deadlifts and speed squats, but I???ll do a heavy single afterwards with the use of chains or band tension.

My last event will typically be five to seven days from the contest. The week of the contest I will
do Olympic lifts, speed squats/deadlifts, and some overhead presses. Three days out, I will perform only work capacity stuff and dynamic flexibility work. The week after the show, I will take about two days off, and I may throw out my max effort overhead day from the next week???s training.

King: My in-season training is based on how my body feels and what events will be held at the show. I throw out all Olympic movements because they are hard on my joints and rely on speed squats and deadlifts to maintain my explosion. I will have a max effort lower body day on Monday or Tuesday, which usually consists of some form of deadlift movement. This saves my knees and shoulders from getting beat up more then they already are. I also throw in more pre-hab work, and I frequent a chiropractor or massage therapist.

Event training is usually broken into two days for more consistency and to focus more on the movement. About six weeks out, I start to focus on the events of the contest. Usually, the volume of training starts out high and gradually decreases as the show nears. The last two weeks of training are all about quality. I eliminate many warm-up sets and focus on staying healthy and working form and technique.

The week of the show I will train at the gym twice. On Monday, I will do some low rep, low weight squats or deadlifts and some accessory work. On Wednesday, I will do the same for my
upper body. For Tuesday and Thursday, I will do some light ab and low back work and stretch.  
My training the week after the show all depends on how heavy the show was. I base this week on instinct. If I feel good then I will train relatively hard, but if I feel beat down, I will do more rehab and machine work.

Here is a sample training program for in-season:


Tuesday, ME lower

Wednesday, ME upper

Thursday, speed lower


Sat/Sunday,  events

Dynamic warm-up
Barbell movements
(3???4 moves), 3X10
18" dead
Leg press, 3X10, w/CS row, 4X12
8" log incline w/band
tension, best set of 5
Box squat, 5X2
(50???60% w/bands) w/pull-downs, 4X10  
Stretch and maybe a
dumbbell or barbell complex
On Sundays we finish
with a cardio session
Dumbbell moves (3???4), moves, 3X5
Light low back/abs
Band pull-thru, 3X10

w/Shrug, 3X10
45-degree back raise, 3X10, w/Abs, 3X40

Dumbbell incline, 3X10

w/DB high pull, 3X10

DB Tri extension, 3X8
w/rear delts, 3X15

Speed deads 5x2

Leg curl 3x12

Abs, low back
Rehab/pre-hab Sled drags (cardio) Low back and abs
and neck
Some type of cardio    

Eric Hammer is currently the assistant director of Olympic sports performance at the University of Louisville, and he works with the strength and power sports. Before coming to Louisville, Hammer was the assistant strength and conditioning coach at the University of Nebraska-Omaha, where he worked with football. He holds a master's degree in exercise science as well as CSCS and USAW Level 1 certifications. Hammer has competed in strongman for three years and recently turned pro in July.

Bryan Dermody is currently football assistant strength and conditioning coach at the University of Louisville. Before coming to Louisville, Dermody held the same position at the University of Iowa. He holds a master's of science degree and is CSCS certified. He also competes in strongman.

Brian King is the founder of and is the Kentucky state chairperson for NAS, Inc. King has been an assistant football and strength and conditioning coach at the collegiate and high school levels. He holds a bachelor's degree in physical education, is CSCS certified, and currently competes in both powerlifting and strongman.

Elite Fitness Systems strives to be a recognized leader in the strength training industry by providing the highest quality strength training products and services while providing the highest level of customer service in the industry. For the best training equipment, information, and accessories, visit us at

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