Takeaways From My First Strongman Competition

TAGS: front plate hold, Atlas Stone, strength sports, Strongman competition, deadlift medley, Joe Schillero, farmer's carry, log press, strongman, powerlifting


I’ve been competing in powerlifting for about eight years, and after moving to Cincinnati for a new job this past summer, I wanted to take advantage of the change and start training to compete in a strongman competition. I went and watched a competition hosted by Iron Asylum Strongman at River City Barbell in September and decided to compete in the River City Barbell Classic on January 5th. That gave me about four months to focus my training on preparing for the events. In this competition, the five events were the Max Log Press, a 60-second Deadlift Medley (axle, barbell, frame), Farmers Carry, Front Plate Hold, and an Atlas Stone series.

Powerlifting gave me a great foundation for strongman, but since overhead pressing had never been a primary focus with powerlifting, I knew it was going to need a lot of work. My conditioning has been pretty good, but particularly for the Deadlift Medley, I knew I was going to have to prepare for the endurance to push reps on the frame. I had never pressed a log, deadlifted a frame, or done Atlas Stones; so I knew I was going to have to at least try these a few times and get an idea of the strategy/technique.

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Thankfully I was able to train with the Iron Asylum crew a decent amount of times before the competition so I could get an idea of the events and some tips on what to do and what not to do. Like with most strength sports, everyone I’ve met in strongman has been incredibly helpful, and I can’t say enough how much I appreciated the Iron Asylum guys and girls’ critique and encouragement. I’ve also learned a ton from my elitefts teammates like Zach Gallmann, Andy Deck, Clint Darden, and Chase Karnes. If you’re considering competing in strongman, I definitely recommend finding a group of strongman competitors who can give you guidance on the unique events and challenge you.

How I Trained

I kept the same core philosophy of how I’ve been training but made adjustments based on the events for the competition. My primary strength movements were the overhead press and box squat, and then for deadlift, I rotated between higher volume cluster sets to build conditioning and event practice.

Every few weeks, I was able to meet up with the Iron Asylum lifters to practice events, and on the weeks in between, I slowly built up deadlift volume. I did a lot of back and rear delt assistance work to support all the pressing and deadlifting I was doing (especially since I hadn’t been overhead pressing that much in the past). After my primary lower body days, I also did a lot of conditioning/practice with Farmers Carries. A lot of my training centered on trying to get mentally used to pushing through fatigue for the deadlift and farmers events (and knowing that I’d be tired by the time Atlas Stones rolled around).

Competition Day

First off, I really need to give due credit to Lee Woody and all the volunteers who helped run the competition at River City Barbell. I haven’t been to many strongman competitions, but I feel like if they aren’t organized well, they could easily turn into a mess and a long day. Everything at this competition ran really smoothly, and the competition got done early without feeling rushed. Everyone had a great time, and like with a lot of powerlifting meets, competitors all helped each other and cheered each other on. There were also quite a few new competitors, and it looked like they all had a great experience.

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Going into the competition, I was able to press with the log a couple times, try the frame once, and try Atlas Stones twice. Based on how everything went going into the competition, my goals were to:

  • Not zero anything or get injured
  • Get three out of three and PR on Log Press (and start the competition on a good note)
  • Get over 22 reps on the frame in the Deadlift Medley (the number I got when I tried it the first time)
  • Have a solid run on Farmers Carry with no drops or mistakes
  • Get at least 30 to 40 seconds on the Front Hold
  • Get all five Atlas Stones on the final series (the one time I tried the series, I only got four)

My thought process was if I could accomplish those, it would be a great foundation to work off of for future competitions. I also felt like if I could accomplish those and adjust to any unforeseen circumstances, I could be in a good place to win the novice lightweight (less than 220 pounds) division.

Strongman Comp Photo_1

The day went really smoothly, and I was able to accomplish all of the goals I set out to hit and won my class. The only big mistake that I’m glad didn’t hurt me too bad was not realizing that I didn’t get one of the Atlas Stones in the series into its hole on the platform, and it cost me an extra second or two to go back and set it. Aside from that, I didn’t have any major issues.

In addition to the events themselves, I had an awesome time. People have asked me what I like more; powerlifting or strongman, and I feel like my answer is similar to whether I like equipped or raw lifting more. I like different things about each competition, and it really depends on what my goals are that given year. I will say this, that at least in the case of this event, strongman definitely made for a cool environment for both the spectators and competitors. It really was a great experience, and like powerlifting, there was a large bell curve of skills and abilities.

If you’re considering trying out strongman, don’t be intimidated or worry about being at a high level to try it out. Just make sure you know the events for the competition and make sure you’re able to do them (and at the weights they are at). It’s a great time and a learning experience, and it can teach you a lot about your strengths and weaknesses (mentally and physically).

READ MORE: How Strong is Strong Enough? 

What’s Next

Moving forward, I’ll be competing in the 198 Open Class (my bodyweight has been sitting at around 195 to 198 pounds). Technically I qualified for USS Nationals since I won my class, but I would want to be sure I can handle all the heavier events before I consider competing. I know that my pressing has to be a lot stronger, and I’m going to be putting a lot of work into my barbell overhead press. My deadlift strength isn’t bad, but I know it’ll need to be stronger as well to be able to have a shot at the higher-level events.

One thing that will benefit me from competing equipped is that I’ve spent plenty of time pulling in a deadlift suit. Everything needs to improve, but strength on those two areas will be a big focus for me. I definitely see the potential I have for a lot of the events, but like anything, it’s going to take time. I’m looking forward to the process and am excited to continue getting stronger physically and mentally.

The challenges of strength sports share parallels to many aspects of life, and if you haven’t competed before, I encourage you to give it a shot.


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