How to: Compete in Your First Strongman Competition

So you’ve seen guys like Hafthor “The Mountain” Bjornsson and Brian Shaw lift obscene amounts of weight on YouTube and television. These competitors compete in crazy events like the atlas stones, log, truck pull, car deadlifts, and so many more events specific to the sport of strongman itself.

What many people don’t know is that strongman is not strictly reserved for the giants of the world. Anyone can compete in the sport regardless of bodyweight or strength level, and it can be a fulfilling lifelong hobby to fall into. The strongman community is like no other in terms of the support and friendship you will find along the way, not to mention this will be great motivation to keep you physically active over the long term.

Here’s everything you need to know about how you can compete in your very first strongman competition.

(Check out this video for a walkthrough of what to expect at a strongman competition!) 

1. “How Strong Do I Need to Be To Compete?”

The number one thing holding individuals back from hopping into their first comp is fear. Fear of not being strong enough. Fear of zeroing an event. Fear of embarrassing yourself in front of a crowd. Throw it all away.

Working in a strongman focused gym I find a lot of people are actually interested in the sport of strongman but “want to wait until they are ready” or “want to wait until they are stronger” before they hop into their first event. The paradox here being that, you’re never going to be ready to compete until you do actually compete in your first comp. No matter how much training you do, no matter how strong you get, you’re never going to feel “truly ready” and the sooner you hop in to the deep end the better. Competing is the best way to learn and the looming knowledge of an upcoming strongman comp can also drive strength progress individuals wouldn’t otherwise see on their own. It gives a sense of urgency to training.

“But what if I fail an event?”…so what? Zeroing events in strongman is much less of a big deal than everyone makes it out to be. If you give your absolute best against an event and it still wasn’t enough, that’s okay. It sucks I get it, but understand that you’re still doing better than every single person that has avoided competing. Competing in this sport is almost guaranteeing you are going to end up taking some L’s one way or another. This is not a bad thing. It’s a learning experience and it’s how you grow to come back stronger and better than you were last time.

To put your mind at ease even further the strongman community is more supportive than I think most expect. Where your might think it’d just be a crowd of ego driven individuals grunting and picking up heavy objects, strongman competitors will actively help out and support new competitors. Don’t be surprised when a complete stranger offers you equipment to borrow, tips for making an event easier, or is right there next to you cheering you on when it’s your turn to go. The supportive community of strongman is often what keeps competitors coming back to the sport and is unlike any of the other strength sports out there.

2. Get a Membership For A Strongman Federation:

As with any other strength sports you will need a membership to compete in strongman competitions. DON’T SHOW UP TO A COMP WITHOUT HAVING BOUGHT A MEMBERSHIP (This happens to at least on person per strongman competition).  Don’t worry this isn’t going to run you a lot of money, usually $30ish dollars for a year.

In the United States you have two major federations to choose from, United States Strongman and Strongman Corporation. There’s no big distinction between these federations the main differences are the weight classes are slightly different, and Strongman Corporation allows you to qualify for some higher level events. Other than that, it’s personal preference. Some people like USS more, some like Strongman Corp, other’s like both. I can’t make that decision for you.

Look at the events in your area to figure out which you’d like to compete in then get the membership you need from the affiliated federation. You can also just buy both memberships if money is not an issue and this will allow you to compete in basically any comp you want!


Strongman Corp:

3. Pick Your Competition: 

Strongman competitions can be tricky because they aren’t labeled quite as well as say the sport of powerlifting. With powerlifting you have very obvious local meets, state meets, regional meets, national level meets, and finally international events. With the level of experience in terms of the athletes competing increasing with each of those levels.

It’s a lot more of a free for all when it comes to strongman. While there are higher level meets like Nationals, and The Official Strongman games, everything else in between is exactly that…“in between”. Weights for the events will be at the promoters discretion and the skill level of athletes showing up to the events can vary wildly.

That being said you’ll usually find some events in your area that are known for being “beginner friendly”. Either the weights for the events are lighter, or the competitors showing up are all first timers or more casual competitors. It’s good to chat up strongmen in your area to find out what good first time comps could be for you. From there, competitions will usually be harder/the competitors will be more seasoned the more well known a competition is. If you find yourself going into a state wide strongman comp, or a strongman comp that has been running for ten years, chances are it’s going to draw out some higher level competitors.

(You can find competitions in your area on The USS and Strongman Corp websites respectively)

Starting yourself out with the more casual competitions then working your way up the ladder is a great way to not only build your strength, but also your confidence and understanding of how strongman competitions run.

4 Pick Your Weight Class: 

If this is your very first strongman comp you will most likely be signing up for the “novice” weight class. This class is reserved for first time competitors/ those who haven’t won or podiumed in a novice competition before (Granted there are no actual “rules” enforcing this, more of a strongman honor system than anything else).

The novice class is great for beginners as there is no weight cutoff, so there won’t be any added stress that you have to make weight leading up to the competition. Additionally, the novice class will typically be given lighter weights for the events than the other weight classes. Keep in mind, however, because novice class does not have a weight class you could be a 180lb individual who has to face a 250lb individual in competition (This happens quite frequently actually). If that’s a concern of yours you can hop into any of the open weight classes where individuals have to be a specific weight.

Once you’ve gotten through the ropes with your first novice competition it’s strongly encouraged you start competing in the “open weight classes” (Lightweight, Middleweight, Heavyweight, and Superheavyweight). Each of these weight classes have different bodyweight requirements depending on what federation you are competing in, but it guarantees that everyone in the weight class is on a level playing field. Some individuals can get stuck in the novice class, again out of fear of the heavier weights and tougher competition of the open weight classes. It might take an adjustment period, it might be too heavy at first, but jumping in is how you eventually get better. Get comfortable with getting uncomfortable.

5. TRAIN: 

Once you have everything picked out and you are all signed up all that is left to do is TRAIN!

This is the fun part, putting in a lot of hard work to reach your end goal of the competition. Strongman training is not all that different from any other strength sport. Starting off further away from the comp you’ll be focused on getting in a lot of quality volume building a strong foundation for yourself. As the competition get’s closer intensity will increase and you may get more specific to the comp events themselves.

While the 5 events of a strongman competition will always change in general strongmen need to be good at, deadlifting things, pressing things, carrying things, and holding onto things. If you have those basic movements down it’ll get you far in strongman with more work needed just to learn the skills and techniques that go into more specific events.

If you can I’d highly suggest finding a strongman gym near you to be able to get work in on event implements leading up to a competition. Even if you can only make it to that gym once a month it’s better than nothing. Also keep an eye out for if your competition has an equipment testing day where you can actually see and use the implements you will be using for the competition. Strongman implements are usually one of a kind so it can be a big advantage if you know what you are dealing with ahead of time.

Other than that train hard leading up to your competition and leave every bit of effort you’ve got at the comp!


Matt Molloy

Matt Molloy

I'm a graduate the University of Pittsburgh with a major in Exercise Science. I’m a local guy (North Penn) and athletics has dominated my life. I've led teams in basketball, baseball, soccer, golf and my passion, long distance running. I've been strength training for 6 years with a focus in power-lifting but have recently stretched to strongman since joining the pride here at the Den. When I’m not in the gym I enjoy, spending time with my friends, music, and relaxing and playing some video games.