What Powerlifters Can Learn From Strongman Competitors
For starters, this is not some opinion piece on why strongman competitors are infinitely better than powerlifters for *insert x number of silly reasons here*.
I’m not about infighting in what should just collectively be the “strength community”. I love the simple idea of bettering yourself and getting stronger, regardless of your chosen realm of lifting.
That being said I think there is always something to learn from those who do things differently than you. Staying in your own little box of how things are “supposed” to be done is a great way to develop a rigid and dogmatic state of mind that is only going to hold you back in the long run. ALWAYS be willing to learn new things.
Being a strongman competitor myself, and at this point basically living in a strongman gym surrounded by high level competitors, here’s a few tips from the strongman “way of life” that I think would be helpful for any power lifter to adapt into their own training.
This is the single best trait I believe any good strongman competitor has.
Strongman culture can basically be summarized by the phrase- “Bet you can’t lift that”
Followed subsequently by a hotheaded individual figuring out how the hell they are going to lift that.
This is the kind of stubbornness I can get behind. No complaining. No whining that the object is too big, or too awkward, or too heavy. Just pure determination until the “problem” that has been placed in front of them is solved.
On the other hand powerlifters can sometimes gain the label “powerlifting princess”. Everything has to be just right. The right bar, with the right plates, with the right combo rack, on picture perfect level flooring, with the AC set to the perfect temperature, with “their” song playing in the background, and planetary alignment of our solar system…
This type of personality is so draining. While I do not believe this is every powerlifter and there are plenty of powerlifters that display the same adaptability of strongmen…this stereotype very much exists.
In fact, I’ve seen powerlifters complain about these very same things at our gym including “internet famous” powerlifters (Insanely well equipped gym, with ample space, and specialty equipment, and you’re still complaining? Def wanna be friends with you).
If you want to instantly lose respect amongst strongman competitors feel free to complain about any of the above while you’re hanging around them.
There is no “standard” for strongman competitions. You are showing up and doing 5 different events every single comp. The events can be on completely different implements than what you trained on. Or on an implement that is one of a kind. Add on top of this you could end up doing something completely different from what you expected come comp day (It’s very normal for their to be comp day rule changes/weight changes for strongman).
Best part is no one complains about this. It’s just part of the sport. Something unexpected happens, and still, you put your head down and go to work.
Don’t be the guy complaining that everything isn’t “perfect”. That you’d “be stronger if you had better equipment, or a better training facility”. Make it work with what you’ve got however you have to.
GET STRONGER…TO GET STRONGER:
Powerlifters hands down get the award for mastery of the principle of specificity.
The degree of skill and efficiency that high level powerlifters reach by sticking to the big 3 lifts and close variations thereof is genuinely insane.
That being said I find a lot of up and coming powerlifters can get carried away with trying to cut corners through technique efficiency alone, or they are diving into the specificity of advanced level powerlifting programming too soon.
Sometimes the answer to your strength question is very simply, “you need to get stronger.”
“Oh my deadlift lockout is weak”- You need to get stronger…
“My bench press is lagging behind”- You need to get stronger…
“My girlfriend just dumped me”- You need to get stronger...
Not everything in lifting has to be over-analyzed.
“Oh my deadlift lockout is bad so I should do this deadlift variation and only that variation, add in a bunch of this accessory exercise, probably should just change the whole program all together now that I think of it.”
Will this help? Possibly. But I find a lot of overthinking and worrying goes into simple problems like this that are genuinely fixed by continuing to train, and…you guessed it…getting stronger.
It’s hard for strongman competitors to train with the same degree of specificity as powerlifters. One, due to the sheer amount of events there are in strongman compared to powerliftings three. Two, because each comp is always going to be 5 different events to worry about.
There’s no good way to train for the 5 events with the same level of specificity that powerlifters can constantly train for the squat, bench, and deadlift.
To fight against this strongmen just have to be generally speaking…strong…go figure. Trust is placed in the fact that if general strength in movements like the deadlift, overhead press, and squat are driven up, specific strength for competition events is going to go up as well.
Obviously strongman competitors will practice with the needed implements, but it’s more so to retain or gain skill with the implement not as a true means of driving strength progress. Most of the strength work is coming from a normal old barbell.
For those competitors not lucky enough to have a strongman gym nearby, a barbell could very well be all they train with until they finally get to the competition. Even when a strongman competitor knows they won’t be able to up their skill with an event, there’s that trust that if they get stronger, everything will be okay.
My advice for you more intermediate level powerlifters, develop that solid base of strength before worrying about emulating your favorite powerlifter. Perfect technique efficiency will help you put some pounds on the bar sure. But so will genuinely being strong. Put in the time, put in the reps, and work towards building that base before you get overly concerned with all the small things.
MINDSET OVER EVERYTHING:
Lifting weights can unfortunately get associated with big egos and general narcissism (Not without reason either). However, when I watch everyday strongman competitors train and compete I tend not to see those sides come out (make no mistake those personalities are still there) but you’re often just watching genuine confidence in motion.
You can’t be good at many of strongman’s events without a certain level of confidence.
Log and circus dumbbell require commitment to willingly throwing yourself underneath a heavy piece of metal.
Stone loads require a “full send” if you want any hope of a properly heavy stone making it to the platform.
Yoke requires dealing with an incredible amount of pressure, knowing if you release your brace it’s game over.
Things just don’t work in strongman unless you actually believe you can do them, it’s one of the bigger hurdles to get over with being good at the sport.
When it comes down to coaching strongman athletes many failed attempts are followed up by a coach simply saying “it’s there”. No cues, no technique corrections, the athlete simply has to trust that they can do what they are doing and they’ll hit the lift.
Many lifters will mistake being hyped up, or lifting angry, as confidence, but there is a distinct difference between jacking up your emotional state vs. genuinely believing you’ve got this.
Strongmen may admittedly have dominant mindsets to a fault (never backing down from challenges even when it may be in their best interests) but it’s what makes them so good at lifting the weights that they do.
When you combine the raw strength of a properly trained individual, and the confidence level that they can do anything put in front of them, you get an especially dangerous competitor to go against.