So you’ve been doing strongman for some time now and you’ve caught the bug: you want to start venturing out into other strength sports. Maybe you just need a break from strongman for a training cycle or maybe you're deadset on giving another competition a chance.

You’ve decided on doing a powerlifting meet, but you’re not really sure how the program needs to be set up in order to take advantage of the strengths and address the weakness you’ve developed while training for strongman.

In order to make this transition, we can set up a 9-week program to get you in good shape to compete in powerlifting. In this program, we’ll split it into two separate four-week blocks and then a deload for the week before the meet. The first block will be high frequency and volume. The biggest concentration here will be on technique and sport specificity. Strongman requires a high amount of variety which is why we don’t need the more traditional accumulation phase that you might be accustomed to seeing in a program. The second phase we will then drop the volume off at a pretty good rate and bump the intensity, working with some supramax weights to push your max to new levels.

Block 1 (Weeks 1 - 4)

If you can get into the gym to train 4-5 times a week, that would be optimal here. If not, you can combine things and drop some of the assistance work. You will need a minimum of three days to dedicate to training.

Bench Training

Most strongman competitors have great shoulder strength and stability from overhead pressing, so that will play to your advantage. Most strongman competitors also have weak pecs since there is no horizontal pressing being contested. You will need to bench twice a week to develop your pecs and improve your technique.

The first day will be a technique and speed day. Start the first week with 70% of your max bench press and do five sets of three. Slowly build up to 80% by the fourth week using the same rep scheme. After doing this, drop down to 65% and get as many paused reps as you can for two sets. Do not try to do these combine style — you will injure yourself. On this day, you should focus your assistance work on building your pecs up as much as possible. This includes high volume of incline bench pressing with a barbell or dumbbells. High volume bodyweight exercises would work in nicely as well such as pushups, pushups with blast straps, or any other variation of pushups. Body weight exercises are nice because you can generally handle quite a bit more volume than a barbell exercise.


The second bench day will be heavier but still concentrating on technique. Do doubles on this day. Start the first week doing eight sets of two with 75%. Each wee,k increase 5% and drop off one set. After completing your benching, drop the weight 5% and do two sets of max reps with a closer grip, about three fingers narrower from what you usually do. Again, pause all of these reps.

On this day concentrate on your shoulders and triceps. For shoulders work, use medium rep ranges from 5-8 reps and be aware of how your shoulders feel. If they feel beat up, try to do strict press variations that are a little less abusive for the shoulders. For triceps they will be sensitive after all the pressing, so two variations with four to five sets each should be ample.

Squat Training

The squat training will be high frequency. I want you squatting three times per week. Two days will be back squats along with one other back squat variation such as paused back squats or box squats. Which one you choose depends on where your squat falls apart. The third day will be an assistance squat day. Choose a variation of squat that addresses your weaknesses. A lot of strongman competitors are very quad dominant since most loads they face are anterior loads. Very wide box squats might be a good variation to work in here for you. If you find yourself caving forward then consider SSB squats. If your stability is wretched, then maybe cambered bar squats will do it. We don’t need to get fancy yet with variations, the main focus is just to perfect your back squat technique. There will be room for accommodating resistance in the second block.

The first day will be a high volume speed day, 12 sets of three or 10 sets of two as an example. Work between 55% and 75% here. Ultimately, let your speed decide how many sets you do. Choose a rep range for the day and a weight. Keep going until the squats start to feel slow or fatigue is causing your form to be compromised. For your second exercise do paused back squats. Do three total sets and keep the weight between 60% and 75%. Let your form decide how many reps you do. Once your form breaks down from a rep, stop. Choose assistance exercises that address the weakness in your squat. For example if your hamstrings are weak, glute ham raises should be a staple. If your low back extensors are off , use a reverse hyper. Choose two to three assistance exercises and keep the volume pretty high. Don’t go heavy at all.

The second day will alternate between moderate weight and heavy weight. On the moderate weight days, stay between 65% and 75%. Be warned, this day should be really hard. It should leave you laying on the ground in between sets because your legs are cooked. The first week should be five sets of 10 reps using 65% of your max. The third week will be five sets of eight using 75% of your max. The even weeks will be pretty heavy.


The second week is five sets of three with 80% of your max and the fourth week four sets of two with 90% of your max. The second exercise will be front squats. The front squats will just be opposite of the back squats that day. So on the rep days for your back squat do five to six sets of two, working up to a difficult double. On the heavy days for back squats just do sets of six working up to a difficult set of six.

Depending on several things, you could either do a third squat exercise here or do some bodybuilding type exercises. If you really don’t feel comfortable with your back squats yet, work on some moderate volume triples for paused squats. Four to five sets working with 65-75% for one to three second pauses. If you feel comfortable squatting then you can get funky with split squats, leg extensions, or lunges — anything to pump a ton of blood into your legs and get them to grow (and of course look better in a singlet).

The third squat day will be tacked on to another day. In the ideal circumstance it will be added into the assistance work for your deadlift day. This is just moderate volume, moderate intensity squatting. Shouldn’t be anything too difficult; we are just looking to increase your squat frequency. Volume 5’s or 3’s would be fine here for five to six sets. If you’re doing sets of five then 70% will work. If you’re doing sets of three then 75% will work. You can just go based on how you feel.

Deadlift Training

Deadlift is the one thing you should be pretty comfortable with since there is a lot of that in strongman. The one thing you’ll need to get used to is pulling without straps and not hitching. For some folks this might mean changing your stance up a bit. I’ve seen a trend of strongmen having a fairly wide stance for conventional deadlifting. This allows great pop off the floor but makes it harder to lockout once the bar breaks your knees. No big deal in strongman because you can hitch that bar until the cows come home. In powerlifting, that isn’t going to fly. In order to eliminate this hole in your pull, you can simply move your stance in a bit which will put your glutes in a better position to complete the pull. We are going to deadlift with fairly low volume in the first block since you’re already coming in with a strong pull and also to allow for recovery from all of the squatting.

The first week will be a few sets of speed pulls either three sets of three, or four sets of two, using 65% of your 1 RM. Then drop down a bit and do some paused pulls, pause right where your deadlift stalls, and make sure to concentrate on maintaining neutral spine throughout the entire pull. Same rep scheme here: 3x3 or 4x2.

Your assistance work will just be high rep upper/mid back stuff. You’re getting in plenty of posterior chain work on your squat days. Things like pulldowns, pull-ups, and rows fit in here. If you’re training five days a week, this is also where you’ll include the extra squat day. The third week will be the same scheme but just bumped up by 5%. Week two will be warm up to one set of max reps 85% and then do your assistance work. The key here is to make sure every rep is clean: no touch and go or hitching or garbage reps. Week four you’ll do the same except increase it by 2.5%. This should give you a small jump but it will be enough of a difference that it will make you work a little harder to match your reps from week two.


Block 2 (Weeks 5 - 8)

This is where we drop the volume off a cliff, bump the intensity and the specificity. You’ll only be training three days here. One day dedicated to each of the main three lifts.

Bench Training

Your bench training will consist of three bench variations and then some shoulder and arms pump work. Weeks five and seven will be moderate volume. Week five is three sets of six to eight reps with 75% of your max and week seven is three sets of four to six reps with 85% of your max. Even though you’re doing reps, make sure you’re pausing every rep.

Your second bench exercise will be to pick up your weak point in the bench. If you have difficulty with lockout then I recommend closer grip bench. I call it closer grip bench because you’re two to three fingers inside normal. If I say close grip bench I often see guys with their hands far too narrow. If your bench is weak right in the bottom portion you’re going to do a paused spoto press. This is where you bring the bar down to about one to two inches off the chest, hold the bar static, and then press up. The rep ranges here will be two sets of 8-10 both weeks. Go based on feel here depending on how burned out you feel from the previous exercise.

The third exercise will be either a slingshot bench press or a reverse band bench press. We’re going to cut the reps back a little bit; you’ll do three sets of four to six the first week and three sets of three to five the second week. Use a weight that is 5% heavier than the weight you were working with for bench press. We’re just trying to get in some quality rep volume with a heavier weight and the sling shot or reverse band will help save your shoulders a bit while allowing you to handle a heavier weight. If your shoulders are really juiced up then you could do a two board press or use the EliteFTS Shoulder Saver in place of this. The shoulder assistance work is just front raises superset with lateral raises three sets of 15 and the arms work is up to you just try to get a lot of blood flowing into your arms.

Weeks six and eight will be heavy singles and overload work. For all singles have your training partners give you the necessary commands. Week six warm up and start taking singles at 85%. Work up to about 92.5% of your max here. Then throw on the slingshot and hit that for a double. Add a bit of weight do another double. You’ll hit four doubles total here. Your final double should be right around your max without the slingshot on. Again, you can use reverse bands if you don’t have a slingshot for this.


Get in some moderate intensity seated strict press work. Five sets of five reps, increase your way up to a decently hard set of five but not maximum. Then do some upper back assistance work such as face pulls or incline DB shrugs for quite a bit of volume, about five sets of 15-20 reps. Move on to arms work and, again, just chase an awesome pump.

Week eight you’ll start with 85% of your max and make jumps up to 95% of your max. If it’s an absolute smoke show you can take one more single a little heavier. Do not get egotistical about this, though; you can chase PRs in the meet where it counts. We’re looking for four to five singles total. Then put on the slingshot and take singles. Try to work your way up to 107.5% for a pause single. Again, four to five singles. Assistance work is the same as week six.

Squat Training

You’ll only be squatting once a week and we are going to really push the intensity.

Week five will be 10 sets of two using 70% with only 60 seconds rest between sets. Really smoke these reps. Then do front squats four sets of six reps. Just use a moderate weight and get in quality volume. Use a six out of 10 effort for all sets. Your final exercise will be paused back squats. Do three sets of five reps with a three-second pause at 60% of your max. Concentrate on maintaining perfect position in the hole and explode out. Do high rep GHRs for assistance work, four sets of 12-20 reps.

Week seven will be similar to week five: eight sets of two using 75% of your max and 60 seconds rest between sets. Front squats for four sets of five, increase the weight from previous. If you’re feeling good you can push the weight a little bit here. Paused squats will be three sets of three reps with a three-second pause with 65% of your max. Still concentrate on perfect positioning and exploding out of the hole. Do high rep GHRs for assistance work, four sets of 12-20 reps.

Week six will be heavy doubles with 90% of your max. Do three doubles. Then reverse band squats you’ll do three singles increasing weight each time, 95%, 100% and then finally 105% of your max on the last single. Make sure your training partners are really keeping you honest with depth. It might be a good idea here to have them give you whatever commands you’ll be getting at the meet. You don’t want to show up to the meet with any variables you haven’t prepared for. Your assistance work here will be a lot of doubles on front squat. Start with a moderate weight and work your way up to a very hard double, do a total of six to eight sets. Then do GHRs, four sets of six using band tension to make these really, really hard. Focus on just exploding through the band in order to lockout the weight.

Week eight you’re going to do three working singles with 90%, 92.5% and 95% of your max. Then, using the reverse band set up, you will take 100%, 105%, and 110% of your max. The next exercise is front squats working up to a hard double, and then GHRs using band tension for four sets of six.


Deadlift Training

Let's work through these in bullet points.

Week five will be four singles with 90% of your max. Then three singles with 95% of your max off blocks.

Week six will be three sets of three using 75% of your max.

Week seven will be three singles 90, 92.5 and 95% of your max. Then reverse band deadlifts you’ll do three singles using 100, 102.5, and 105% of your max. Make sure the bands release right at the top so you get a feel for the weight in the last little bit of the range of motion.

Week nine will be three sets of three using 80% of your max.

All days here the assistance work will be the same. Choose one hip drive exercise such as banded good mornings or Romanian DL, one mid back exercise such as pendlay rows, DB rows, meadows rows, o T-Bar rows, and then reverse hypers.


The week of the meet do a couple ultra light, ultra low volume workouts. The session furthest removed from the meet should be a back squat workout and the closest one should be bench. You’re deadlifting at the end of the previous week so there’s no need to deadlift. You want to prevent yourself from getting too tight and doing a little work to get blood flowing will actually help recovery.

That’s it; you’ll be ready to hit some big numbers. Just a few thoughts as far as advice going into the meet:

—This will be your first meet so be very conservative on your opener. This should be roughly 90% of your max, or a weight you know you could hit for a triple. The opener gets you in the meet so you need to be able to hit it flawlessly even if you’re feeling nervous and have no legs.

—Use the second attempt to choose your third. The second attempt should be a weight that is hard but you know you’ll hit. Use this lift to decide if you should try to tie your gym PR or surpass it based on how hard or easy it is.

—Try to go 9 for 9. In your first meet you’re likely not breaking world records plus everything you do is a PR so even if you make a small jump for a third attempt that’s still an improvement over your second attempt which sets the bar even higher for your next meet.

—SIT DOWN! I know you get nervous and people tend to wander but sit down when you’re not ready to go. If you’re standing all day or walking around too much you will find that by the time deadlift comes around that you have dead legs.

—Have fun. That’s really what it’s all about. This sport is way too hard and takes up far too much time and money to not enjoy it. So just have a blast.

Photos courtesy of Luke Tevebaugh at

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