By Coach Jason Struck
What you are in for: a two-part series that will attempt to explain my background as a coach and its basis for my recommendations to beginners vis-à-vis their preparedness to compete in a Strongman contest.
And lots of cat memes.
- You currently lift.
- You’ve heard of stuff like clean and jerks, deadlifts, squats, and push presses.
- You’re aware of other strength sports, like weightlifting, CrossFit, and powerlifting.
- You know your 1 rep max (1RM) or 5 rep max (5RM), or are at least familiar with the concept, and possess a calculator.
- You have access to the internet.
The first time I ever coached an athlete in a Strongman competition was April of 2012. It was a NAS competition here in town, but really all it was, was me convincing 4 CrossFitters to sign up for the Novice division, mostly for fun. Some of them did well, some of them not so much. When the day was over they were satisfied with their experiences, but to this day, none of them have competed again in Strongman.
Eighteen months later, I talked my next victim into trying the sport. In September of 2013, only my second time coaching an athlete through a competition, something different happened. Even though this particular athlete zeroed 2 out of 5 events and finished dead last in every single event, she wanted to do it again.
Within a few months, she was signed up for her next show, as were a few of her classmates.
Fast forward a year, and it’s the first event hosted by Ladies Lift Here, “The Ice Queen.” This is a women-only show, and Full Circle has brought 7 athletes (7 women) to the show, more than any other gym. Around this time I started competing myself, and several other guys joined the team as well. At any given time, Full Circle has 5-10 athletes training for a specific contest, and as a coach, I am very busy.
My method of calculating how much I am coaching is as follows: for each person that competes in a contest that I helped them train for (wrote their program, taught them the implements, oversaw their daily training, assisted/supported them the day of the contest, etc.), I give myself one coaching ‘point.’
Here’s how it’s been going:
2012: 4 points
2013: 1 point
2014: 14 points
2015: 27 points (One athlete at nationals)
2016: 4 points (Two bids earned to nationals thus far this year; and while they haven’t happened yet, I currently have at least 6-7 ‘points’ coming by the end of April.)
Unfortunately, this is not a metric that is commonly shared, so I have no idea how it might compare to other coaches who train athletes to compete in Strongman, but I think it’s pretty good. What I can say for certain is that I have introduced a very large number of new people to the sport since getting started, and I am really good at helping beginners prepare for their first contest. My percentage for new athletes either medaling out of the novice division or self-promoting to their respective Open division is about 72%. If you exclude those first four CrossFitters in 2012, then the percentage of athletes that medal out of Novice or go on to compete in the Open is about 89%. Not perfect, but let’s face it, this sport isn’t for everybody.
The reason I am telling you all of this is so that you can understand where I am coming from and what experience I bring to the table. This won’t be an article about Arnold’s. This will be an article about some of the most commonly asked questions in places like CrossFit gyms and Facebook groups like ‘Starting Strongman.’ I will try to address them based on my own experience, which deals mostly with women and athletes with less than 5 years of lifting experience and less than 3 years of experience with the implements and competing in the sport (myself included, sort of).
First let me explain how people become involved with Strongman at CrossFit Full Circle. It usually begins by transitioning away from CrossFit and into our ‘Barbell Strength and Power’ class. This class is mostly devoted to weightlifting and offers regular training in squatting and pressing as a way to build overall strength, for either improving CrossFit performance or perhaps transitioning towards competitive weightlifting. We follow a template known as ‘the Texas Method’ that revolves mostly around doing sets of five in the back squat, as well as presses. We tend to give equal credence to the strict or overhead press and the bench for a more well rounded strength development.
It’s typically while in this class that participants will become aware of others that are training the implements (usually as they almost get run over by a yoke or a farmers walk); they will simply see them and think it looks cool and start asking questions.
These questions are often what follows below:
Some form or iteration of “Am I strong enough?”
The truth is, the only real prerequisite to compete in Strongman is the entry fee. I mean, just about anyone can sign up for anything at any time. Don’t get me wrong, this ain’t ‘Nam – there are rules – but basically, if we are talking about doing your first novice show, you can do that whenever you like.
In all seriousness, in order to compete you need to have the desire to compete, above all else. Second to that, you need to be training (strength training!). You need to be willing to work hard, learn new things, and probably listen to your coach or other people that have more experience than you. The truth is, there’s a lot of weird stuff in Strongman, there’s almost always a proper way to do things, and rarely is it obvious at first.
Most shows (amateur ones) have five events. They consist of a clean and press event, a deadlift event, and three others that tend to center around carrying, loading, and work capacity.
“Ok. That’s great, but how much do I have to lift before I can be competitive?”
Jesus. You’re not going to let that go, are you? I think this question stems from the usual expectation that if I can deadlift X on a regular bar, how much can I do on an axle, or an 18”, or a car? There’s very little way of telling you that, my friend. You’re just going to have to try it out. The more similar two movements are, the stronger the correlation will be on performance. So yes, lifting a barbell and an axle from the floor should be pretty similar, and they probably will be, so long as you don’t have tiny hands. But then, doing an 18” deadlift requires other attributes, and frankly something like a car frame is just a totally different animal. So, stop worrying about if your gym lifts are good enough. You won’t be competing on those, so it doesn’t really matter.
The deadlift thing is pretty obvious. But then there’s other stuff, like logs, stones, kegs, and sandbags, and at that point, my original points should at last be clear. Whatever you bench doesn’t mean shit when it comes to whether or not you can do that sandbag medley, so STOP ASKING.
“Are the weird implements hard?”
Yeah, they are. That’s why you have to practice. Strongman is probably the most ‘theatrical’ strength sport, and it owes a lot of that to it’s circus roots. While lifting these odd objects is in fact harder, at the end of the day, a lot of Strongman events are purposely designed to LOOK very impressive. If you want to promote a contest that’s fun for both athletes and spectators, you want to include really cool stuff that will make great Facebook profile pictures, like monster tires, circus dumbbells, and fire trucks.
But like we said above, if you have a good coach or team to train with, they will show you how to do those things RIGHT, and there’s always a right way to do it. A lot of people think that there’s less technique in Strongman, but there’s more diversity of events than any other strength sport. As such, you cannot really afford to be a master of one at the expense of many others, so it’s true, you won’t see the technical mastery like you do in weightlifting (a sport that only has one implement and two lifts). However, that also means there’s always more to learn, and it’s a challenging sport to train for because you are always trying to get the balance right (i.e., how much time should I spend working on this event, when I also need to work on that one, too). (You gotta be a student of the game.)
“What if I don’t win?”
…Stay tuned for Part 2!
Interested in starting Strongman at CrossFit Full Circle? Give us a call now!