Before strength sports were categorized into weightlifting/powerlifting and bodybuilding, they were referred to as “strongman” sports. In the 19th century, these sports were popular circus attractions. The “strongmen” would perform great feats of strength, power, and agility to wow the audience.
Strongman vs Powerlifting vs Bodybuilding
Since powerlifting and bodybuilding developed from strongman training and competition, there are many similarities in the three. There are also some significant differences. A bodybuilder’s main focus is their physical appearance. The main goal is to achieve a defined physique that is well proportioned. Bodybuilders have a low body fat percentage to help with the sculpted look they desire. Powerlifting does not focus on the outward appearance but on puts an emphasis on strength. Powerlifters generally have a higher body fat percentage than bodybuilders and focus on the following events: the squat, bench press, and deadlift.
Strongman athletes vary from both powerlifters and bodybuilders in that their events are much more varied, less structured and use what most would consider “common” items instead of just traditional weights. Strongman competition requires a person to be very well rounded in their athletic abilities. It requires a great deal of endurance strength, grip strength, explosive power, and mental strength.
Some of the events in a strongman competition are the keg toss, tire flip, farmers walk, stone loading, and the car flip, to name a few. These events are exactly as they are named. The keg toss for example, involves tossing an empty keg as far as you can. In the tire and car flips, tires and cars are actually flipped over. These types of events are what make strongman competitions so appealing to audiences. Most spectators find it much more interesting to see someone flip over a car than to do a 600+ pound deadlift.
Training for a strongman competition is very intense. Not only does the athlete need to work on some traditional powerlifting techniques in the gym or at home with free weights, it is also crucial that the actual items used in the competition are practiced with. Some of these items are easier to come by than others. Empty kegs can usually be purchased from a local liquor store pretty cheap. Tire companies are generally willing to part with their used tractor tires as well. They will usually give them away for free.
Below are some of the strongman events along with traditional exercises that can help when training for them:
Atlas Stones: deadlift, power clean, squats, glute-hams raises
Log/Viking: military press, power snatch, bent rows, high pulls
Tire/Car Flip: deadlift, calf raises, front squats, heavy core work
Farmers Walk: shrugs, grip work, rack pulls, lunges
Throwing events: clean and jerk, power clean, snatch variations, medicine ball
Effective training for strongman events should include a variety of the exercises mentioned above as well as practice with the actual event item (such as the keg). The athlete may need to improvise and use different items that are similar to the event item if such item is not readily available. A gradual increase in the weight and number of reps is important to prevent injury and to get the most effective training.