By Coach Jason Struck
This is part 2 of a 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.
First time here? Read part 1, then head back over.
“What if I don’t win?”
I sure as shit hope you don’t. Don’t get me wrong, I want what’s best for you. But if you win your very first time competing, that’s a very good sign that you either chose a show that was too easy, or that you waited way too long to start competing. I guess sometimes there are going to be great athletes that transition away from a related sport, like highland games or weightlifting, and they are already stronger and faster than most people out there, and yes, they will do well early. But if you are reading this article, hopefully that doesn’t apply to you. There should be a logical progression in your training and competing. In competing, you should start as early as possible, and you should lose, and you should learn from your loss what your weak points are, and you will know what to work harder on for next time. Then next time, you will do a little better. Repeat this basic process until you are on the world stage.
“Is there such thing as starting to compete too soon?”
OK, contrary to what I said before, yes, there is probably a time when you are still too new to training and implements to consider competing. When you KNOW you are going to zero 3 out of 5 or more of the events, don’t do the contest. When there’s a greater chance of you getting hurt than learning anything, don’t do it.
Any promoter can create a show with any weights they like, however, there’s definitely a trend in the North American Strongman world. There are three levels of contests: Level 1, Level 2, and Platinum Plus. Level 1 shows are the easiest. Level 2 shows offer more qualifying spots to the National Championship and thus often attract more and better competitors. And finally the Platinum Level shows often offer professional qualification to winners of specific divisions. With each level of contest, the weights and difficulty of events tend to go up. So, you’re best bet is to start with a Level 1 show in your area. Furthermore, the larger the show, and the more contestants there are, the more they will divide the contestants into their proper respective divisions. That could mean that amongst novices there are two or more groups of light and heavyweights, further making the contest better suited to you and more fairly contested.
Novice divisions are usually offered for men and women. If you are a man, look and see where that split is. It can be anything the promoter chooses (there are no official weight classes in Novice competition). However, there is usually a split at 200 or 231 pounds if there are 10 or more novice men. If you are a woman, I strongly urge you to consider finding either a women’s only show, or a large contest in a very large market (major city with lots of CrossFit boxes, like Northern California or the DC area). I say this because there will not only be a greater chance of having a novice division for women at these shows, but there’s also a larger chance that they will have a lightweight and heavyweight split, too.
As I stated earlier, our novices do a version of the Texas Method, and as such we tend to think in terms of 5RM for our a lot of our benchmarks. Across a large number of athletes (70-80 different trainees in the last 2-3 years), I have observed some fairly consistent trends. First is a strong correlation between the 5RM back squat and 1RM clean and jerk and 1RM deadlift. Keep in mind, there’s a lot of individual variation, based on prior training and experience and particular strengths and weaknesses, but this should provide a rough guide of what to expect based on what you can do with basic gym lifts. Also, if you don’t do the back squat the way we do the back squat, your mileage may vary.
Most athletes will clean and jerk about 75% of what their 5RM back squat is, give or take about 5%. So, if you back squat 100×5, you can reasonably expect to C&J 70-80lbs. We’ve also noted that most athletes deadlift about 135% of their 5RM back squat, but that varies much more widely, say +/- 15%. We track other lifts very closely, especially amongst our strongman competitors, chief among them the 5RM push press. That seems to have a tremendous carry over to all overhead events.
The reason I am sharing all of this with you is, as we stated above, the clean and press, and the deadlift WILL be contested at your first show. And they likely won’t be barbell events, but these barbell variations can often be decent predictors of what you can expect AFTER some practice with the implements. In our experience, the axle is so similar to a barbell, that unless you have grip problems, there’s the least amount of difference between that and the barbell. On the log, most people can expect to lift 10% less than the bar for quite some time, but it’s true that some athletes will eventually do more on a log than they can on a regular bar (that’s rare). The circus dumbbell is so different, it’s impossible to make a strong correlation. But I will say this: it’s not just your two hand press divided in half. If you have a strong core and shoulder stability, you can do much more than 50% of your two arm max with the circus dumbbell, it just takes a lot of practice. Other implements (like the keg) are their own beast.
Deadlifting can be subdivided into a few different categories: Height, direction, and grip.
- Height means “How far off the floor is your grip?” A regular bar is 9”, and sometimes you must pull from lower than that (a deficit), but typically it’s that high or higher. Truck tires are commonly about 15” and the 18” deadlift is a common event. Basically, as the starting height goes up, so does the weight.
- Direction means “Where’s the bar, and what direction does it go?” Is it straight in front of you and goes straight up (like a conventional deadlift)? Or is it on your sides, like a farmers walk, frame, or ‘trap’ bar? Most people will lift more from the sides. Sometimes the bar doesn’t go straight up, but rather it’s part of a lever (like a car frame), and as you lift it angles backwards. This takes some getting used to, but it’s not terribly different.
- With grip, is it standard bar size (25-33mm), or is it a 2” axle? Can you use straps? Typically, as things get harder to grip, your performance declines, and sometimes surprisingly so.
Based on the relationships above, I have devised a rough sketch of maxes that would indicate sufficient preparedness to do a novice contest, like a typical Level 1 NAS show. Again, any promoter can choose any weight for any event, but these guidelines are based on a meta-analysis of 10-20 shows over the last 2-3 years that we’ve participated in from North Carolina to Delaware, and what the average weights were for very common events such as:
- Log, axle, and keg Clean and Press for reps.
- 18” axle and frame deadlift for reps.
- Several stone loading events.
These guidelines aren’t exhaustive, and offer no guarantee that you’ll be able to do anything, but frankly, if you can hit the numbers below you’ll probably be just fine at your first show, especially if you can get some quality instruction (in person) on the implements before the contest.
|Class||Back Squat 5RM||Push Press 5RM||Deadlift 1RM||C&J 1RM|
If your lifts aren’t there yet, better keep lifting. And eating.