Sunday, February 5, 2017


I know I’m not the first person to write about transitioning from powerlifting to strongman, nor am I the most qualified, but why not get some more data out there. From my own observations, there are still folks not quite understanding just what this transition entails, and what it is about the demands of strongman that make it so that you can’t just train like a powerlifter if you want to succeed.

Image result for bill kazmaier
Even Kaz took 4th in his first show and had to learn the events before he could dominate

For those of you new to my blog, for a quick background, I competed in powerlifting from 2011-2012 for a total of 3 meets in the NASA unequipped category.  I managed a 502 squat, 336 bench and 601 deadlift in my final meet as a 181lb competitor.  9 months later I would do my first strongman competition, and after that I never looked back. I got bit by the strongman bug, knocking out 8 contests in a 2 year span before being sidelined with an ACL rupture, coming back a year later and getting in my 9th with my 10th on the horizon.

Powerlifting was a solid foundation to transition into strongman, but it has some holes in it, both physically and psychologically, that need to be addressed if one wishes to be a serious strongman competitor.  They are…

1: You need to train events LIGHT and get faster

 Image result for farmer's walks with dumbbells
Ok, maybe not THIS light

Here is what pretty much every powerlifter thinks when it comes to moving events; “If I can move MORE weight than everyone else, that will mean that I’ll be able to move lighter weight FASTER than everyone else.”  This is clearly the thought process of people that have never actually been athletic, because everyone else knows that footspeed is a whole separate trainable quality, and if you train to be slow, you will be slow. 

 Image result for Starting Strength meme
Man, I wonder where all this misconceptions are coming from

Going too heavy on events reinforces slow feet, and makes it so that, when the weight is light, you’re still used to moving slowly with it.  You end up plodding along clumsily, and people significantly weaker than you completely blow you out of the water. What you need to do instead is swallow your pride and use LIGHT weight.  Like REAL light.  Like “how the hell am I getting a workout” kind of light weight.  Keep an eye on your footspeed, and only up the weight if you can maintain it.  If not, keep practicing with light weight until you can move light weight fast, THEN try to move heavy weight fast.

You KNOW you’re strong because you came from powerlifting.  You don’t need to prove it by walking a 1000lb yoke 5’.  Get under 300lbs and learn how to move quickly.  Once you can do that, the heavy weight will move better.

2: You need to work on your conditioning

 Image result for Glen Ross strongman
If you sweat this much from SITTING, you need this

In powerlifting, you literally get the lay down for 1/3 of a meet. You perform a total of 9 reps over the course of a meet.  In general, it’s not the most physically taxing sport, and the trainees are notorious for taking super long rest times between sets in training like it’s some sort of badge of honor.  Meanwhile, if you bought into stupid internet memes, you’re probably also eating Wendy’s 5x a day and sweating pure Crisco.

Strongman, at least at the local to national level, does NOT favor being fat and out of shape.  I know you can go watch WSM or the Arnold and see some dudes pushing 4 bills, but that’s a whole different competitive scene.  At the level you’ll be competing at, being out of shape is going to make you lose.  I can’t count the times I’ve watched someone literally give up in the middle of a medley simply because they ran out of gas and didn’t have the conditioning to move on.  On the other hand, I’ve seen folks clearly lacking in the strength department crush an event because they were in monster shape.

Image result for rich froning 
Yeah yeah "lol crossfit";, no way in Hell I'd ever want to compete in a medley against this guy

Those lightweight events you were doing in step 1 can come in handy here.  Consider working medleys and circuits into your training and becoming effective in higher rep ranges.  You don’t get away with walking with a sled tied to your belt anymore; you need to actually push yourself to the point that you feel like you wanna puke. Once again; you’re already strong, so don’t worry about “losing strength” by taking the time to focus on bringing up your conditioning.  Your numbers might take a slight dip while your recovery gets impacted, but in the long run you’ll become significantly stronger when you have a better baseline of conditioning.

3: Quit worrying about your 1rm squat

Image result for squat failure 
You'll look less stupid in the long run...and the short run...just in general reallly

I know this one may have offended some of you on a personal level, so feel free to take a moment before reading on.  The 1rm squat might be the holy grail of powerlifting, but I literally cannot remember the last time I’ve seen it in a strongman comp. That’s most likely because it’s a really super boring event to watch, which is partially why powerlifting isn’t on TV while strongman is.  Anyway, the point here is that your 1rm is really immaterial on the squat. You can keep the deadlift; that shows up pretty regularly.

What you NEED to focus on instead is getting good at squat reps.  The reason is 2 fold. 1; once again, this is a sport where conditioning matters along with being strong at multiple rep ranges, and higher rep squats do a fantastic job of reinforcing that.  Secondly, squats for reps DOES occasionally show up as an event, and if you can’t go 5 reps without needing to sit down, you’re going to get blown out of the water by someone better at high reps than you.

Image result for squatting on a bosu ball 
Hopefully it's not this guy

As an aside, some folks like to go completely off the reservation here and decide to do ZERO back squatting once they transition to strongman.  This is viable, but I would caution you that, since the “squat for reps” event does occasionally show up in contests, you DO want to maintain the shoulder mobility necessary to hold a bar in the squat position.  If I spend too long away from having a bar on my back, my shoulders get pissed when I make my return.  Easiest way to prevent that is to having back squats at least somewhat regularly rotated into the training.

This post is going longer than I imagined and I still have LOTS to talk about, so I'm going to cap it here.  Stay tuned next time when we discuss treating the powerlifts like assistance, the value of leg drive, technique and maintaining static strength.  As always, if you have a question or comment, feel free to write your thoughts.

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