Six Weeks To Strongman

6 Weeks_Strongman Header

“It looks like everyone else is chalking up, so we’re going to, too. Act natural.”

I glanced over to see my training partner Jen Sinkler vigorously rubbing a brick of chalk over her shoulders, chest, and thighs. She tossed it to me next, and as I chalked up I glanced around. She was right: All the other female competitors were already covered in white smears. I had to laugh inside as I recalled a highly controversial list trainer Bret Contreras compiled a while back on training women, in which he included a line about women loving to train with chalk, then clapping and getting powder all over the place in the process.

I grinned, gave my hands one hard clap, and walked through my own cloud of white to the starting line for the yoke carry, a 300-pound monster we were to carry as quickly as we could for 100 feet. The standings in the contest so far dictated that Jen and I were to race our yokes at the same time. We tossed each other a grin, put our game faces on and ducked under the yoke bar, positioning it on our chalked up shoulders and waiting for the start whistle.

Jen's Yoke Carry

In the end, she beat me (of course she did, she loves to compete!), but we were the first women in the contest to manage to make it over the finish line, and the cheers from the crowd lifted me up once I was able to dump the weight off my shoulders.

It was a growing theme of the day. It was our first strongman contest and we were the new kids on the block, but our whole team was more than holding their own, and no one would have known it. Pam won two of the five events. Jen placed fourth overall out of 13 competitors, and since there were no weight classes in this contest, all the women competed directly against each other, regardless of heft. And Maggie and I both joined the “300 Club” by setting PRs in our deadlift that day. (That’s what I’m celebrating in the photo below.)

Strongman 6

It is hard to describe the feeling of freedom and accomplishment that comes with being physically capable. It’s even harder to describe when you accomplish feats that most people wouldn’t even dream of attempting.

All this is made even more amazing when you consider we made these leaps of strength with just six weeks of specific-ish training.

Road To Strongman

 I’m going to be straight with you: There are many, many sound training programs available to you that will get you results in the gym. But a good program is just that: a good program on a sheet of paper. It’s up to you to do the work. There were three things my team did to make the program I wrote less about work and more about fun and progress, and three things you can apply to better your own workouts in the gym — strongman training or not.

1. Consistency

Between the four of us, we agreed on a training schedule. We would meet three times a week, and there would be no missed/cancelled training sessions (ride or die, homies). When Jen hit the road for travel, she took her program with her and made the time to train. When Pam went on a Disney Cruise with her family (her love of cartoon characters is not to be believed) she did the same. We shot for the same days and times every week to get in a training groove while also allowing adequate recovery time.

Pam Dumbbell Press

2. Mindfulness

I cannot stress this enough: You gotta listen to the cues your body sends you. What feels great for my body might feel terrible for yours. After years of playing international-level rugby and competing in a multitude of endurance events, Pam’s body – while still being very fit – had specific issues that needed to be addressed in training. Believe me when I say that there is not a single workout on the planet that is worth getting injured over.

You will see in the program attached that there are options listed for every movement. This exactly mimics how our group trained together. When we deadlifted together, it was likely we would all be assuming different stances (i.e. conventional, sumo or Jefferson). Biceps curls tweaked Jen’s elbow so she would do chin-ups instead. Walking lunges were awkward for me – I have pins in my right ankle, which limits my ROM – so I would do box step-ups instead. By working within our bodies’ limitations, rather than fighting against them, we all were able to make continuous progress without injury.

Think of it this way: Imagine a big circle. All the things you are currently capable of doing live inside that circle. If you work with what you have, and focus on getting a little bit better, a little faster, a little stronger in each workout, in ways that don’t cause you pain (this is the key) you’re going to give the edges of your circle continuous little nudges. Your circle is going to get bigger and hold more capabilities and soon you’ll be doing things you were never previously able to do.

This is why, in contest, Jen was able to deadlift 300 pounds for 11 reps in one minute. She had never done it before. She almost always deadlifts sumo, but for most strongman competitions, it isn’t allowed. Only the conventional stance was permitted, a stance she hadn’t tested her max in for years.

When that bar flew off the ground on the first rep and then kept going . . .and going . . .and going . . .it was truly a joyful sight to behold.

Strongman 7

3. A System of Support

The sport of strongman is a concept foreign to a lot of people. And whether you choose to train for it or you’re heading down a different path, the very best thing you can do is surround yourself with people who share your goals and who are there to support you.

 

Consistency, especially in the beginning stages, is hard. Having a workout buddy, or a group like we did, ensures a feeling of accountability — you don’t want to let each other down. When you can laugh about how hip thrust always make you burp or Jefferson deadlifts always cause you to ovulate (sorry, guys) it becomes about more than the training. You’ve found your tribe. Accountability breeds consistency and consistency is easy when your training is fun.

Like Jen recently said, “Your gym should be your ‘third place’ [a cherished place for socializing, separate from the usual two, the home and the workplace] and if it isn’t, you need to keep looking.”

This support system is why, in the hour following the competition, we got a group text from Pam:

“OK. That. Was. Fun. And you guys are awesome training partners. Thanks for all the training and fun. What’s next?!”

Jen Happy Face

What’s Next

The fun’s not over yet! A powerlifting competition is on deck for mid-August (which means we’re into our next program already) and there is more strongman on the horizon. As for you, whether you’re just looking to get stronger, you want to switch up your routine, or you really are interested in competing in strongman (do it do it do it!) give this 6-week program a shot, and let me know what you think.

And please. . .use ALL the chalk.

What You’re Really Here For: The Program

First, it’s worth noting that all of my team members and myself came into this program with a base level of strength and knowledge. This training program assumes you already know how to properly squat, deadlift, and overhead press, and that you also have the knowledge to scale the movement to your own ability, if needed. If you are shaky in any of these areas, I highly encourage you to reach out to a coach or trainer to help shore up any weak spots and fill in any knowledge gaps. Coo?

This program is broken down into two 3-week training blocks.

Strongman_Comp

Weeks 1-3 focus heavily on building pure strength, with the main emphasis on strengthening the posterior chain and upper body pushing and pulling. You’ll wrap up your strength session with either a short, hard conditioning set or specific grip training.  (Because if you can’t grip it, you can’t rip it, yo.)

Weeks 4-6 add in more volume, as well as power and speed development. More advanced strength movements reside in this block of training and each strength session ends with a more event-specific drill.

You can click on THIS LINK for the full program (it’s a PDF download), but I’ve listed some of the more unusual movements below to give you a taste of all the fun you’re about to get into:

The Anderson Squat

One of the events in our competition was the odd-object carry and load: five objects of increasing weight that were to be picked up, carried between 5 and 15 feet, and loaded onto a 48-inch-tall truck bed. One of the movements we used in training to prepare for this — because we didn’t have access to more event-specific training equipment — was the Anderson squat.

In it, load the bar onto pins inside the squat rack and you begin the movement from the bottom position. This eliminates the stretch reflex that can help bounce you out of the bottom of the squat and builds truly authentic strength from a dead-stop position — very helpful when you have to get into a deep squat position to pick up a heavy object.

AndersonSeq

This is a harder variation of the typical back squat. If you’re new to the Anderson squat, deload the bar a bit – or a lot. Keep your chest up, your abs braced, and drive your legs down through the floor.

The Z Press

In strongman, even though each competition hosts different events, you can always count on an overhead press being included. To work on developing pure upper-body strength, we incorporated the Z-Press, a press done from a seated position on the floor.

ZPressSeq

The legs are taken out of the equation here, and a lot of emphasis on placed on the back and shoulders. If your hip mobility limits you from sitting up with a straight spine when your legs are extended, prop yourself up by sitting on stacked plates or a low box. Brace your abdominals and drive the arms up to lock out.

The Sandbag Load

In strongman – and in life in general – it makes sense to get strong in awkward positions to be able carry oddly shaped things. Outside the gym, you’re not always going to have the luxury of a perfectly balanced bar that sits near your center of gravity. So, we included sandbag loads in our training to adapt our bodies to loading with a flexed, or rounded spine, as well as the “cleaning” technique required to load the object on a high platform.

SandbagSeq

Start with a light sandbag folded in half, or a moderately heavy medicine ball. Grip your fingers underneath and row the object into your chest. Sit back, lower your hips, and set the object on your lap. Hug the object to you nice and tight, drive your legs down, hips forward, and head back. Either tap the object to the bar or toss it over.

For strongman events, coaches and resources in your area, check out Kalle Beck’s website, www.startingstrongman.com, and check out the interview we did with Beck and competitor Maya Camille Winters, “So You Want to Be a Strongman?

Have fun getting superhero strong with THIS PROGRAM! I’m always happy to answer any questions and receive feedback, so comment below or shoot me an email at jvb@movementminneapolis.com.

[Event-day photos taken by the talented Jason Albus of Jalbus Photo.]

Tags:

Author:Jennifer Blake

Jennifer Blake’s leggings might be pink but her weights aren’t. A personal trainer at The Movement Minneapolis she is a powerlifting and strongman enthusiast with a passion for human movement, here to spread the good word that strong is fun. Facebook: Strong Is Fun, Twitter, Instagram
Comments: 12

12 Responses to “Six Weeks To Strongman”

  1. Lori
    July 15, 2014 at 8:54 pm #

    HEY, LADY!! Way to go! I’ve continued to follow you since the Asheville Radiance retreat. It was so great getting to know you there. I’m SO jealous. I’m still working on my snatch lifts. I just PR’d on my squat (190) and my bench (120). I killed my goal of a 200 deadlift back in November.

    I know the pride you feel when you do something so empowering. It’s such a great sense of accomplishment.

    Keep it up!! Can’t wait to see how you do in the next competition. I know you’ll kill it!! You guys are a great team.

  2. Susan
    July 16, 2014 at 6:05 am #

    Thanks for the awesome post (and the training guide!) It’s great to hear details about the competition, get some training tips, and see how much fun you all had doing it. I love your commitment to supporting each other by showing up to train. I’m now looking for like-minded workout partners so we can challenge each other, hold each other accountable, and most of all, make it fun!

  3. Brittany
    July 16, 2014 at 12:44 pm #

    Hey, Jennifer!

    First of all, thank you SO much for sharing this! It could not have come at a more perfect time as I’ve been debating over the past couple of weeks whether or not I want to compete in my first Strongman comp and this solidified it for me – I’m doing it!

    My question for you is: can this program be cycled through twice for a total training time of 3 months? There’s a comp I’m looking at in November and was planning on training Aug/Sept/Oct. for it. Do you think the program would work well this way? Any direction you could give me would be awesome!

    Thank you again for sharing this. You ladies are the awesomest 🙂

  4. Angela
    August 9, 2014 at 4:32 pm #

    This. Looks. Awesome!! I’m in the middle of a 12 week program that is similar to this (phase 1 strength, phase 2 density circuits, phase 3…haven’t hit that yet 🙂 ) and I’ve wanted to continue with a similar program. So excited to give this a try in 6-7 weeks!! 🙂

  5. Shannon
    October 1, 2014 at 8:29 am #

    I have just finished this program and absolutely loved it! Thinking of starting it all over. Curious, what do you do on the days you are not Strongman training? Thanks.

    • Jennifer Blake
      October 1, 2014 at 10:02 am #

      Shannon, I’m so happy to hear you loved the program!

      To be honest, when we were strongman training we were in a time crunch — because of that, we wanted to be absolutely fresh for every training session. Off days were OFF days, where the most strenuous activity was a breezy walk or light yoga.

      That being said, there are definitely things you can do on your off days, if you’re feeling like your energy levels are good, you’re getting enough sleep, aren’t too sore, etc. Non-strongman days are usually when the conditioning piece happens, since in competition, so much happens in a relatively short amount of time. This is where short hill sprint sessions, kettlebell swing or snatch tests, or a short circuit from Jen’s “Lift Weights Faster” e-book can happen.

      I hope this helps, and again, I’m so happy you enjoyed the program. Keep in touch!:)

  6. Shannon
    October 1, 2014 at 1:36 pm #

    Thanks Jennifer! I already have “Lift Weights Faster” (printed out as a booklet, hole punched, and in a binder. NERD ALERT!) so I’ll start to incorporate that into my weekly routine. Thanks again!

  7. Marlo
    April 16, 2015 at 3:00 pm #

    hey! Amber over at RRM sent me over here! I will be starting this next week. I have done powerlifting, bodybuilding, strong lifts 5×5 and have been in such a rut lately. This will be a fun change up for me. I will document my journey and report back. Thanks for sharing your plan, I know how much work it is to create a plan and its generous of you to share!

  8. John Mort
    April 12, 2016 at 9:42 pm #

    Hi,
    My wife was a competitive powerlifter for 20years until retiring at 52, she had pbs of 355 s, 245 b, 374 d, she now does mainly hiit circuits or group class would this training help with metabolic stuff, tah

    • Jennifer Blake
      April 13, 2016 at 11:33 am #

      Hi, John! Holy cow your wife is strong! Even though there is a short, metabolic push at the end of each training day, this program definitely puts strength first. If your wife wants to start incorporating heavier free weights again, she will love it. But if she’s really liking HIIT circuits but wants to shake things up a bit, Jen Sinkler’s Lift Weights Faster 2 could be right up her alley. LWF2 is a metabolic circuit library with workouts that range from bodyweight-only to free weights and the workouts are divided into 10, 20, and 30 minute lengths. More about that here: http://www.liftweightsfaster.com/get-lift-weights-faster-2/

      I hope that helps! 🙂

  9. john mort
    April 14, 2016 at 10:43 pm #

    Hi. Thanx for the reply, funny didn’t really think I would get one ( thought the site might be one of those all noise no action type) I will certainly get her to look at the site as it looks fair dinkum..
    John

  10. Jen
    September 9, 2017 at 11:51 am #

    Thank you,thank you, thank you. I ❤️ You,💪🏼💪🏼💪🏼💪🏼!

Leave a Reply