The family of Strongman competitors is a close-knit group. These individuals are a kindred spirit who cheer one another on during competition, pick one another up in defeat, and encourage and motivate one another during training. Within this Strongman group is an even smaller group, a sub-culture of a sub-culture. Kristin Johnson of the MONSTER GARAGE GYM is one of the newest members added to this group, the professional branch off of the Strongman strength tree.
Most recently, Kristin Johnson was known as the #5 ranked women’s amateur strongman in the middleweight division. This was a label she earned at the 2016 Arnold Expo. Prior to that, Kristin was the NAS Kentucky State and NAS Illinois State champion strongman in her division. As a competitive powerlifter, Kristin has pressed over 300 POUNDS RAW and 450 POUNDS (shirt) also at a bodyweight of 181 pounds and finds herself routinely in the top 5 and top 10 rankings worldwide in her division as a powerlifter as well.
As elitefts and MGG are about Live, Learn and Pass on, we want to take advantage of what Kristin has achieved through her hard work and partnering with some of the sport’s best teachers in an effort to provide those striving for this elusive card to learn from one of the true up-and-comers in the world of Strongman.[gallery ids="146474,146509,146510"]
So, at this time, I am going to turn over the keyboard to Kristin, as she will be doing the heavy lifting (pun intended) in this article to share with you, 20 huge strongman tips that have served her well as she set her sites on, created a plan for, executed the plan for and achieved the goal of becoming a pro-card carrying Strongman competitor.
When Eric first approached me about writing down the things I've used to get to this point in my Strongman career, I really didn't know what to say. Looking back on my short career in the sport, I've done so much; but I've never actually thought about the year-to-year, week-to-week, day-to-day details that go into prepping for a competition. I'll be building a foundation first, with the basics of getting involved in the sport, ultimately leading up to the top-tips for competing at a professional level.
Kristin's Top-20 Strongman Tips
20. Find and sign up for a competition
The main Strongman organizations are Strongman Corporation and United States Strongman. These two companies throw great shows and really care about their athletes. Most Level 1 shows will have a novice division, allowing an athlete to compete without the pressure of placing against more experienced athletes.
19. Look at the events, specifically for the contest you signed up for, and train them at least once a week
It can be difficult to find all the implements needed for a competition, but with a little creativity, almost any event can be replicated. If you don't have access to most of the implements needed, a simple YouTube or Google search will give you plenty of ideas on how to make your equipment work.
18. Find a good team or training partner
As someone that trained alone for years, I understand the difficulty of finding a training partner that will be mutually beneficial. In addition, it's difficult to find a team and try to train with them as a beginner. The coolest thing about Strongman is the camaraderie among all athletes, professional to novice. As a novice, it is imperative to immerse yourself in the team atmosphere and that includes helping load and unload, spotting and helping to clean up after a training session.
17. Start following professional and experienced amateur Strongman competitors
Being new to Strongman it is natural to have endless questions about everything from events to nutrition. Seasoned athletes will frequently post videos or blogs on some of these hot topics. In addition, being able to watch others train and compete, will not only help teach proper form, it will help light that competitive fire!
16. Do not compare yourself to other athletes
When getting started in any sport, it is natural to want to compare yourself to someone you look up to or admire in that sport. There are significant differences between looking up to and comparing yourself to someone. The best athletes in the sport didn't just wake up one morning being the strongest or the fastest in the world, they worked their tails off, day in and day out, for years. The only person you should be comparing yourself to is the person you were the day before.
15. The night before competition day
So it's the night before your first strongman show, and you're kind of freaking out. Don't worry, you're not the first and you won't be the last. "What do I wear? What do I eat? What do I bring? Will there be food to buy? What about water?" These thoughts will be flying through your mind as fast as you can say, "what do you mean no tacky?"
As a novice competitor, you may not have three different pairs of shoes for different events, your own chalk, multiple belts, etc., and that's okay! Pack the things you've been using in training and try not to veer too far from what you've trained with. Competition day isn't the day to try a new pair of Oly shoes, just because someone suggested it. Bring water, a couple changes of clothes, any wraps/belts/straps you've been using in training and a positive attitude! Lastly, get rested! It's going to be a long, dirty day!
14. Competition day
The day has finally arrived, the day you've trained for, the day you've put blood sweat and tears into. For some people, the first thing they do is eat breakfast, fuel for showtime. For me, personally, I can't eat much, if anything, the morning of a competition. I'll stress again, do not try something new today. If you haven't done it in training, don't try it today.
Upon arrival at the venue, find a spot where the athletes can store their stuff for the day and set up camp. Make sure you're still able to see and hear the competition field and the announcer. Soon after arrival, there will be a rules meeting for all athletes, going over any last minute event changes and clarification on rules for each event. Now is not the time to be shy. If there is something you don't understand, ASK. You don't want to zero an event because you didn't understand the directions.
Once the show is rolling, after your first event, your nerves will have calmed down a little. Now it's time to start getting your head in the game but also to have fun. Get to know your competition. I am incredibly grateful to have such awesome competition, but I'm also grateful to call those same women my friends.
At the end of the day, no matter where you placed, you did something most people will never do. And for that, you should be proud!
13. I did my first competition, what now?
Now that your first competition is over, it's time to decide what your next move will be. Assuming you had a blast and want more, find your next show! Find a show to go to with one of your new friends or find a show in a different state.
12. Learn from your mistakes
Look back on your first contest and analyze the things that you think went well and the things that didn't go so well. Being honest with yourself is important here too! If you had a teammate or friend at the competition, you might want to ask them their opinion as well. Once you have your lists compiled, take a close look at the things that didn't go well and delve deeper into why. Really try to find the antecedent, then make a plan to correct it for your next show.
This one is simple. Eat.
Being a strength athlete requires a caloric intake to fuel the body for optimal performance. I am, by no means, saying this is an excuse for all-out binges five nights a week, but we do require a bit more intake than the "average" person. I've seen athletes use everything from Paleo, to Keto, to IIFYM, to "if it fits in your mouth." I am not an expert with any of these, but for myself, I find that high protein, moderate carb and low fat works best for me. On training days my carbs will be slightly higher than non-training day, but I keep things pretty even for the most part.
What it comes down to is what works best for you and your body. I highly suggest tracking your food, via an app or a food diary. Weighing and measuring food may not be of importance yet, but start tracking what you're eating and how you're feeling, in order to make adjustments. What a lot of people fail to remember is that results from proper nutrition are often not seen immediately, and will fall off the wagon too quick. Stay the course!
So far we've talked about the importance of nutrition and its vital role in your output for training. Now, let's talk supplements. Anyone can walk into their local supplement store, ask an associate what they should be using, and they'll probably walk out with $300 of garbage. What has worked for me, for many years, is simple:
*All supplements are from Universal Nutrition
- Protein: Ultra Whey Pro post-workout and Casein Pro at night
- Pre-workout: Shock Therapy — I train at 4 AM, caffeine is needed to get me started
- BCAAs: Juiced Aminos to stimulate protein synthesis
- Multivitamin: Animal Pak
I make sure to always have these supplements at my disposal, even when traveling. The more consistent you are with your supplementation, the more results you'll see. I will say, however, there is not a "magic pill." These are SUPPLEMENTS, things that coincide with your consistent training and nutrition.
9. Training equipment
The more competing we do, the more we learn about what we need in order to be the best competitor we can be. If our competition has a belt that will help them pull one more rep more than me, I better have a belt on too. If wrist wraps will keep my wrists from collapsing under a log, I better get a nice firm pair. I've said this before, and I'll say it again, do not use something new on competition day that you haven't used in training! When you sign up for a show, make mental notes of what things you have and what you'll need in order to help you be successful, then train with them!
8. Programming research
Now that you've done a show or two, and you're looking to compete again, it's time to find a training program to bring out the all-around strength in you. Sticking with the typical gym bro program isn't going to work for us strength athletes. Sure, big biceps are cool, but throwing around huge Atlas Stones and deadlifting cars are way cooler anyway. Plus, traps are the new abs anyway. Squat a lot. Deadlift and press a lot. Search for programs that will include event-training days, as well as build your brute strength and speed.
7. Competing in shows with higher stakes
What do you want out of competing? Do you just do these for fun? Really think about where you would like to take yourself with this sport and target your show entries on what you want to do. If you want to work your way up and get a Pro Card, do Platinum Plus shows, shows that will get you to those professional-level qualifiers. If you compete for fun, that's great! Meet people, lift odd, heavy objects and be an all-around badass! I learned a lot when I thought I wanted to compete for fun, not to mention meeting some amazing people!
6. Study your competition
If and when you decide you want to compete at the higher-level shows, do some research on your competition. Once an athlete roster has been posted, use the power of social media to see any training videos of your competition. It may feel uncomfortable, I get it, but it is a complete advantage to know your competition's strengths and weaknesses. The tricky part here is more mental than anything. It is imperative to not fall into the trap of comparing ourselves to our competition. Personally, if I know I'm weak on an event and my biggest competition is strong on that event, I know I need to work that much harder to even be competitive on competition day. At the same time, if I feel confident on a certain event(s), I cannot neglect them in training just because I think, "oh, I got this." Once I get that over-confident feeling, I now know to knock myself down a few pegs, kick myself back to reality and continue to train my butt off, confident or not!
5. Be selfish
At this point in the game, it's time to focus on you. Focus on where you're going and how you're going to get there, specifically in contest prep. There will be times when your friends are going out, on a Friday night, but you know you have event training in the morning. If your friends are truly your friends, they'll understand why you're passing and say, "maybe next time." Married, in a relationship or dating? Be upfront and honest about your commitment to yourself and your goals, and communicate that there will be times when you'll have to pass on date night. There will be nights when you're in bed early, when you'll be eating the same meals you've been prepping for weeks on end and not ordering pizza, no matter how much you want it.
If you're with someone that truly cares about you and your passion, they'll understand and support you and your goals. Have someone to food prep with you? Awesome! Have someone to food prep for you? Keep 'em! It's a blessing to find those people that are able to understand the mindset of a pro-level strength athlete and everything that comes along with it!
4. Get a coach
Years and years of training and competing will not teach you everything there is to know. Working with a coach was probably the best choice I made when I really started competing at the higher-level shows. If you're not constantly learning, your mind is stagnant, meaning your training will be too. Be sure to do your research before hiring a coach! There are hundreds, if not thousands of people, around the world, taking advantage of newer athletes in the sport. Ask questions! The only way to learn about the coach you're interested in is to ask loads of questions! How long have they been in the sport? What's they're training philosophy? Are they life-long learners as well? Ensuring to continuously research the most effective way to train, as well as recover? Are they available to coach in-person? Last but not least, what are YOU getting out of it?
3. Listen to your coach
This one is easy. Once you've hired a coach, LISTEN TO YOUR COACH. If you change your programming, just because you don't like it, you might as well not even have a coach. Not liking something and physically not being able to do something are two totally different things. Have a 225 axle clean programmed, but you've only done 135 before? Communicate! Without communication, your coach will assume you've completed that training session as programmed and continue to build on it!
2. Be resilient
"It ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward; how much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!" — Sylvester Stallone, Rocky Balboa.
You will not win every competition, you might get injured, you will have bad days. Period. There's more to being a Strongman athlete than just the physical aspect. Having fortitude, to continue pursuing your goals, while celebrating the success of others, isn't only a remarkable quality, it's necessary to fill the shoes of a pro-level athlete.
That kid you see staring at you in the gym? Don't snap off, let him watch, as he might be replicating what you're doing. The guy that asks the same five questions about lifting, every week? Don't get frustrated, answer with patience and kindness, he's asking you for a reason. The woman that just wants to do cardio because she's too intimidated to do anything else? Take a few minutes and teach her a few basics! "In order to be a teacher, you've got to be a student first." — Unknown
Kristin and I hope that these 20 huge strongman tips will help you in your training as a strongman competitor, a powerlifter who incorporates strongman into his/her training, or any strength athlete who sees the value of functional strength as it relates to their own strength and power goals.