Size is very important for being successful in competition. By putting on both muscle mass and overall body weight, the strongman is better able to handle the implements and poundages required to compete and win. For instance, if a particular competition calls for hoisting stones, strength is only one of the attributes needed to lift these concrete spheres of the ground. Possessing massive forearms, immense pectorals and thick, powerful abdominals are required to grasp the stone, tuck it into the torso, and hoist it upward after getting it of the ground.
The first thing to remember is that normally, hypertrophy of muscle tissue happens when you use a rep range of 8–12 reps. This is typically accomplished via a combination of single and multijoint movements with very specific movement patterns (i.e., “bodybuilding” workouts). But because muscle hypertrophy isn’t the main goal of a strongman competitor, I have to alter this methodology to meet the needs of my rather unique sport.
I normally focus on a main big multijoint movement to build strength first in my workouts, such as the squat, deadlift, overhead press, etc. For example, for the squat my preferred rep range is 3–6 reps. This total is far below typically strict hypertrophy training. It stresses connective tissue much more than traditional training, while still forcing anabolic muscular growth because of the sheer amount of stress that the muscles need to overcome.
Lower-rep training allows the strongman lifter to bulk up the major muscle groups and stabilize the joints sufficiently to be able to handle the tasks of his sport. In addition, the concentration on multijoint movements improves the ability to perform well in competition through a variety of different required strongman events.
The reliance on “big” exercises is not, however, the sole basis of my strongman training. After I finish my major strength movement for the day, I always do accessory work to complement the multijoint exercise that I completed first. This is probably not much different from the average powerlifter or common bodybuilder in the off-season. What follows below is my basic mass-building schedule.
LEG DAY: Squats and leg press (major multijoint exercises at 3–6 reps per set after a couple of warmups), followed by glute/ hamstring raises, stepups, leg extensions, leg curls, etc. (in the 8–12 rep range).
BACK DAY: Deadlifts (major multijoint exercises at 3–6 reps per set after a couple of warmups), followed by good mornings, back extensions, pulldowns, rows, shrugs, etc. (in the 8–12 rep range).
SHOULDERS AND CHEST DAY: Overhead press, incline press, and close-grip bench press (major multijoint exercises at 3–6 reps per set after a couple of warmups), followed by chest flyes, triceps work, etc. (in the 8–12 rep range).