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Strongman is the quintessential definition of non-traditional training.

In contrast to its sister strength sports like Olympic weightlifting and powerlifting, strongman isn’t always the easiest sport to train specifically for.

It would only make sense that in that non-traditional fashion, it wouldn’t be as cut-and-dry to just train every single event for a competition perfectly as it is scripted on the competition flier.

Whereas powerlifting and Olympic lifting in comparison, if you have the respective versions of a barbell, plates, and collars, relatively speaking, that will be adequate for competition prep.

Comparably, you are not always going to have the equipment you need available or easily accessible if you are preparing for a strongman show.

This makes training a little more complicated to plan if your strength sport of choice is strongman.

Barbell Deming High School Samson Equipment

Why the Need to use Simulated Exercises

In broad strokes, a barbell is just a barbell.

A forty-five-pound plate is like any other of equal weight.

Collars are generally similar or serve the same function.

However, unique to strongman training among the big three strength sports, the equipment often features a different design, make, size, shape, or dimension.

Unless you are training in a rare “perfect storm” scenario at the competition host venue, with the competition implements and under the same parameters and conditions, you will likely need to improvise at some point during your preparation.

So, how do you train as optimally as possible for a strongman contest when the equipment requires more than just a barbell?

What steps can you take to prepare for the events and implements when you have no or limited access to them?

This article will outline the process for those who don’t have the ideal training conditions and offer tips for makeshift event training.

This way, you can maximize your preparation and be as ready as possible for your next competition.

We will also provide examples of how you can simulate some strongman events without the actual equipment.

Nick O'Brien Guest Author

Training as Close as Possible

Following the SAID (Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands) principle, strongman training aims to replicate competition conditions as closely as possible.

This includes using equipment that mimics the implements used in competitions, creating a training environment that closely resembles the actual event conditions.

The goal is to ensure that athletes can adapt to the specific demands of their upcoming strongman contests, highlighting the significance of simulated exercises in achieving competition readiness.

In order to train as closely as possible, the best way to start is with the end in mind.

First things first, you want to start with the events being contested since specific implements may be difficult to access and that will be the main thing we’ll be trying to replicate for our training.

Obviously, the best-case scenario, and thus our primary plan, will be to train the events at the competition venue with the exact implements, under the same conditions and parameters set by the event promoter.

This is often a tall task.

Competitions can be hours or states away and it is just not feasible to set aside this time to travel and train in this manner consistently leading up to the show.

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Therefore, our second-best option will be to train at another facility with similar implements to that of the competition setting, under as-close-as-possible conditions and the parameters set by the promoter.

This allows you the ability to train in a similar atmosphere and replicate the type of equipment and training that will be utilized in the competition.

With that being said, I highly encourage everyone to try to get their hands on the exact implements that will be in the competition at least once ahead of time.

If this secondary situation is what you find yourself in and you are not lucky enough to be training where the competition will be held, going to the venue to train once or twice is certainly not going to suffice.

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Therefore, you’ll still need to have a plan for the larger part of your calendar and the bulk of your training.

Now if you don’t fall into either of the two above categories, and you don’t have the money and space for the exact same equipment or equivalent versions, you are going to need to get creative with your event training.

Even worse than that, if you train at a not so strength sport friendly gym, you’re going to really need to find a way that you can get your hands on some implements, mimic some of these strongman movements and be able to train properly in this style despite your gyms’ limitations.

So, our tertiary plan will be to train with any makeshift equipment as close as possible to the implements or movements, under similar conditions and those same parameters as our primary and secondary plan that fall in-line with the competition rules.

This is where creating some ‘simulator-type’ strongman-esque lifts comes into play.

Once you know what events are going to be in your competition and you have determined where you are primarily going to be training, it is time to figure out exactly how you will train based off the access you have to event-specific implements.

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Replicate What You Can: Working Backwards

The challenge of not having access to specific equipment necessitates a backward design approach to training.

Starting with the competition events and working backward, we aim to create the most accurate training simulations possible.

This process may involve using alternative implements or devising unique setups to mimic the competition conditions.

It underscores the creativity and adaptability required in strongman training.

Work backwards and come to your best solution.

Understand that because you are not using the usual implements and equipment, there will be an experimental phase.

Much like doing a new strongman event for the first time or even retraining for one you have not done in a long time, there are going to be things that need to be ironed out and retrained.

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Some sessions may focus on getting used to the equipment, the distance, the weight, the transition (for a medley), the total volume, the order of events, and the gear you utilize.

The difference between practicing a new event or trying to replicate one with sub-optimal equipment versus just reintroducing one into your training is significant.

You have no real reference point for how it should go.

You don’t necessarily know what weight to use, how fast it should be, or what is typically expected of that event.

It will take a little longer to work out some of the kinks and see how you can best train with the setup you have created.

The key thing is to not rush the process.

Experiment with different ways to train the event.

When you find something that works, make note of it.

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Remember it, record it, document it in some way, and continue to improve it.

To give an example, it took me a couple of strongman event training days to finally figure out that no matter how much weight I used to anchor it, what I put behind the free-standing landmines, or where I put the weight to get the right angle to simulate a car squat, it was always going to shift during the lift.

I made small tweaks for a couple of weeks trying out different ways to adjust this, with little to no real improvement to my issue.

A better solution only came randomly during one training session having some of my athletes around.

It was only after having them stand on the plates that were anchoring the landmines and barbells down, did I find the best way to keep the bars in place and thus the best way to replicate that car squat apparatus at that particular gym.

Considerations with Simulator Exercises

When employing simulated exercises, several factors must be considered, including the safety and effectiveness of makeshift equipment and the fidelity of the simulation to actual competition conditions.

These considerations ensure that athletes can train effectively without compromising their preparation or safety.

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Other Ways to Get Implements & Train

This section explores various strategies for accessing or creating strongman implements, from purchasing equipment to DIY solutions.

It emphasizes the necessity of creativity and resourcefulness for strongman athletes facing the challenges of limited equipment availability.

Yes, there are other ways to train for certain events without just trying to replicate them.

More often than not, doing so will only solve the issue for one or two implements, not everything necessary to fully train for a competition.

Yes, you can purchase your own version of the implement, but it could still be a different style, dimension, make, or weight.

Also, using that equipment or storing it can pose an issue, not to mention the overall cost.

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An alternative option would be to find a welder or make your own DIY version.

You can run into the same cost issues as simply purchasing the implement as stated above but this time with the additional risk of decreased safety and durability of the product potentially at the expense of saving a couple of bucks.

Another option would be to search for implements used or borrow it from a buddy who may have a similar version.

Most of the time, this is someone’s second option anyway if the equipment isn’t already at the gym you train at or already in your garage gym or storage unit facility.

So, the chances of being so lucky to find the perfect replica to borrow are slim to none.

The options to purchase the equipment, get a version built, borrow a training partner, or being close enough to the competition venue to use the exact equipment are the first steps in training for a strongman competition properly.

However, often these options may only solve the issue temporarily, for one show, but are not a viable solution when looking further down the road in your career.

Getting creative as a serious or casual strongman competitor and making your own strongman simulator exercises becomes a necessity.

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Replicate What You Can

As we have discussed, lacking full access to equipment and facing constraints can limit your training for events as they are laid out.

It’s crucial to devise an alternate method at this juncture.

Simulated strongman movements and implements become essential when direct access to equipment is unavailable.

Just because you lack the same equipment or implements does not mean you cannot properly prepare for the competition.

Replicating equipment and strongman events involves more than just the physical items used.

Your preparation should extend beyond mere equipment mimicry.

It’s vital to emulate, as closely as possible, the actual competition conditions.
This includes the event order, medley transitions, equipment usage, commands, rules, and specific competition details.

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Ensure your training, and not just the implements used, aligns with competition requirements.

This maximizes your readiness for competition day.

Training rigorously is advised, even with full equipment access.

This becomes even more critical when you have limited access to competition essentials.

No excuses should prevent training as closely as possible to the event conditions.
Remember, you committed to the competition.

Avoid complaining about the lack of access to implements.

Instead, embrace creativity, find alternatives, and train intensively.

Having limited access to the exact equipment or implements does not justify poor performance.

Blaming preparation shortcomings on this lack of access is solely your responsibility.

Exercise Examples 

Below are some scenarios where you might find yourself with the need to call an audible with your training and utilize the next best choice of equipment or setup in order to train for a specific strongman event.

Again, this is always a case-by-case situation, so find what works best for you and your constraints. 

Strongman Training Nick Samson Equipment 4

Competition Event: Atlas Stone Medley

  • 1st Choice: Atlas Stone Medley
  • 2nd Choice: Atlas Stone/Sandbag Load over bar (as pictured)
  • 3rd Choice: Stone/Sandbag load to platform

Exercise: Warm up with Stone/Sandbag ‘picks’

  • 2 sets x 5 reps (or series of 5 different stones/sandbag) timed sets, completed as fast as possible
Strongman Training Nick Samson Equipment 3

Competition Event: Car Squat

  • 1st Choice: Car Squat
  • 2nd Choice: 2-Landmine Car Squat Simulator (as pictured)
  • 3rd Choice: Hatfield Box Squat

Exercise: Warm up with 3×5 Rep

2 sets of as many reps as possible in :60 secs

Strongman Training Nick Samson Equipment 1

Competition Event: Viking Press

  • 1st Choice: Viking Press
  • 2nd Choice: 2-Landmine Viking Press Simulator (as pictured)
  • 3rd Choice: 2-DB Push Press

Exercise: Warm up with 3×3 Rep

1-rep attempts increasing weight by 20# increments. Go up until you miss (Wessels rule*)

*Wessels rule = if you miss an attempt, you’re done with that event. Plan your openers accordingly

Parting Thoughts  

Strongman training embodies the spirit of ingenuity and perseverance.

It often requires athletes to train under less-than-ideal conditions.

This article champions the value of simulated exercises in preparing for strongman competitions.

It encourages athletes to embrace the challenges and opportunities of improvisational training.

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Training under the same parameters and conditions, using as close to the same implements as possible, gives you the best opportunity to achieve these specific adaptations.

It ultimately prepares you to compete at your best on contest day.

I hope this article gives you some new ideas to train for various strongman events leading up to a competition. Strongman isn’t perfect, and it is often rough around the edges and messy. Which I would argue makes it so intriguing a strength sport to be a part of.

Don’t be afraid to come up with your own plan, build your own implement, try something new out, and attack it! If it is not so great, go back to the drawing board and bang out a new plan for the next session. Necessity is the mother of invention.

And if you don’t have a stockpile of strongman equipment or a couple thousand dollars lying around to purchase brand new gear to put into your 10,000sq/ft personal facility, I would say it is time to get a little more inventive with your training.

Get creative. Have some fun. And get after it!

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Nick O'Brien Headshot

Nick O’Brien

college strength and conditioning coach, national level Strongman competitor and Highland games athlete, and an Officer in the United States Army.

A native of Oceanside, CA, O’Brien earned his Master’s degree in Applied Health Physiology in 2014 and his Bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science in 2012 from Salisbury University. A member of the CSCCa and NSCA, he currently holds the SCCC, CSCS, FMS, USAW-L1 and USAPL-CC professional certifications.

In addition to his coaching experience, O’Brien is a national level strongman competitor and Highland games athlete. He is a committee member of the NSCA Strongman SIG and the Host of “The Strength Game” Podcast. O’Brien is also a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army and currently resides in Jacksonville, FL.

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