The 5 Most Important Movements for Strongman Athletes

Everyone knows how to train for a powerlifting meet. There’s no real “surprises” to worry about, it’s always going to be the squat, bench, and deadlift. It’s always going to be a single rep with the same rule set, and you even get to pick what weight you will be lifting at your competition.

Strongman athletes, however, have to accommodate for the fact that every single competition they are going into could have 5 completely different events from their last comp. The rules can be different, the weights are usually selected for them, and better yet both of those two things can change the day of the competition.

How do you program to accommodate for this? What if you are a strongman in your off season and just want to build some general strength? What actually are the “main” strongman movement patterns?

Here’s the 5 most important movement patterns for strongman athletes if you boil everything down to the “basics“.

1. Deadlifts

I’m going to put the most obvious one first. There’s no getting around it, if you want to be a competitive strongman athlete you’re going to need to put a lot of emphasis on your deadlift.

Not only is there guaranteed to be some sort of deadlift event in any strongman competition that you sign up for. Most of the “non-deadlift” strongman events are heavily posterior chain dominant or flat out are an identical hip hinge movement to the deadlift.

Having a solid base of strength in the deadlift is going to help you across the board in almost any event you enter into.

You can’t just be a one trick pony though. You should be equally skilled in 1 rep maxing your deadlift, as well as handling tons of volume for events like max reps in 60 seconds. Likewise you should be able to handle deadlifts from varying pick heights and implements.

Deadlifts are one thing that should never be “rotated out” of your strongman programming and will make up the meat and potatoes of your training emphasis.

2. Push Press

A lot of people will say strongman programming is mainly deadlifts and strict press. Not bad advice but, I’d argue that’s only partially true. 

I’d say strongman programming is mainly deadlifts and push press.

Reason being…you will almost never be required to strict press implements in competition. At the very least you’ll be allowed to push press, and most events will allow you to take things one step further and either push jerk or split jerk the implements.

Push press is a skill I tend to see athletes take a decent amount of time training before they are really able to use their legs to drive up max loads in overhead events so start training it early and frequently.

3. Front Squats

Squats don’t get a whole lot of love when it comes to strongman competitions. There are a handful of squat based strongman events and you’ll see them pop up every once and awhile but it’s rare and they’ll never take the spot light away from the main deadlift events.

That being said you should still be squatting in your programming. 

However, you probably don’t need to be low bar squatting like you’re getting ready for a powerlifting meet. I’d put the focus on more quad dominant squat movement patterns with vertical torso positioning like the front squat.

Not only is building up some big strong quads going to be helpful for a lot of the moving events in strongman, the front squat position is the exact position you end up in for main strongman events like the log and the atlas stones.

Double down the fact that if you are constantly practicing your front rack position in the front squat you’ll be way more prepared for pressing events like the log and axle. Holding a 300lb log won’t seem as scary if you are used to holding 400lbs+ of weight in your front rack position for squats.

4. Carries

Strongman events will almost always feature some sort of carry event, either in the form of a medley or a singular implement.

The general formats being “pick up all this stuff and move it over thereorpick up this thing and don’t put it down for as long as possible“.

Being consistently used to move quickly and smoothly with heavy objects in hand should be a skill you are well versed in if you want to be good at strongman.

Program in heavy carries in the form of sandbags, kegs, farmers walk implements, natural stones, basically anything heavy that you can carry is fair game. This can be formatted in a variety of ways, short max effort carries, long distance carries for multiple sets, or as some lighter weight conditioning work at the tail end of your training.

5. Grip Work

Improving your grip/hand strength/forearm strength is similar to improving your deadlift in strongman. The stronger you get with it, the easier basically every single event you can imagine will be.

Yes, you are going to run into grip events in strongman like max farmers carries/holds, plate holds, grip implements, and you should be ready for those.

However, the psychological boost that can come from having some strong hands is highly underrated in my opinion. Having an implement “feel” light in your hands can be a big confidence boost compared to it feeling like a sack of bricks.

There’s 1001 ways to train grip and I don’t think any one school of thought is really better than the other. Whatever style of grip training you are most likely to adhere to and train consistently will be the best for you.

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.