Kentucky Strong: Three Common Strongman Programming Mistakes

TAGS: medley events, Chase Karnes, programming, training program, weaknesses, strongman

I’ve consulted with and programmed for many strongman competitors. Typically, the first thing I’ll do is take a look at their current training program and find out what they’ve found to work for them in the past and what their biggest weaknesses and strengths are. While looking over their current training program, there are a handful of things that have been common mistakes among the majority.

1. Limiting themselves to a seven-day training week while trying to do too much

While it can be done, I typically recommend extending the “training week” from the typical seven-day split to a rotating fourteen-day split. I originally started experimenting with this after talking with strongman/strength coach Adam Feit about his programming years ago. He and his training partners had developed a ten-day split in order to train everything that they felt they needed for strongman. They had run into the same problem that I had—fitting everything needed into seven days.

Once I started experimenting and writing up templates, I realized that the ten-day split wasn’t for me or my schedule. Because I only typically have time to train on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays, the ten-day rotation threw that off. It also meant that my “event day,” typically Saturdays with other strongman competitors, fell on odd days of the week as the cycle rotated. I also found many others who had the same issues that I did with the ten-day rotation, so I decided to extend this into a fourteen-day split.

Another thing to consider is that strongman has multiple events in each contest. For example, the last contest that I had to prepare for had seven different events. Of those seven events, some were medleys (multiple events in the same event such as yoke/sled drag medley). Counting each event in each medley, I actually had to be prepared for eleven different implements/events. That's not even counting the gym lifts trained for strongman. It’s hard enough to fit eleven different events in one week not to mention adding in work for the squat, deadlift, bench press, and accessories.

You’d simply alternate “week A” and “week B,” essentially making it a fourteen-day rotating split. Most people try to adopt a powerlifting “split” or “template” for strongman. I won't say that this can’t work, but most powerlifting templates require squatting and deadlifting in the same week. While I’m not against this, adding in an event day on top of that with something taxing like the yoke or atlas stones in that same week and it’s just a matter of time before most people start to break down. This allows you to hit your main lifts and follow them up with some quality supplementary work.

For example, I know that the back squat is a great overall strength builder, and I also find that it has carryover to my yoke walk, car deadlift, and a handful of other events. I also know that the deadlift is a great overall strength builder with probably the most carryover to strongman. Then there are front squats. Those have definite carryover to atlas stones and my overhead press. Oh, and Romanian deadlifts definitely help on atlas stones, Husafell/sandbag picks and carries, and a handful of events. But for most trainees, it just isn't ideal to program in back squats, deadlifts, front squats, and Romanian deadlifts all in a seven-day week with strongman events, recovery, and progress.

And that’s the beauty of the fourteen-day rotation. It allows you to get in what’s needed while still allowing for recovery and continual progress of the big lifts.

2. Skipping the “small stuff”

Another common mistake that I see is people skipping “the small stuff.” By the small stuff, I’m talking about abdominal work, low back work, upper back work, mobility, warm-ups, recovery, and so on. The funny thing is most people know that this stuff is important. But you know what? They're lazy. They skip it. Hell, I’ll be consulting with someone and looking at his program on paper. It may be a very solid program on paper, but as he explains things, it starts to unravel. He'll say something like, “Oh yeah, I’ve got low back and abs written on the template but usually I skip that” or “I usually skip over the warm-up to save time.”

You know who doesn’t skip the small stuff? The guy who beats you next time. That’s who. I’m adamant about this because I’ve made this mistake. I spent too long neglecting my abdominal and lower back work. I figured, “I’m squatting and deadlifting. That’s all I need.” Wrong.

My yoke walk sucked for the longest time. One of my biggest problems was a weak midsection. So I started training my abs and low back religiously. You know what happened? My yoke went up. So did my squat and deadlift. So take the extra 5–15 minutes and don’t be lazy. Don’t cut corners. If it’s programmed in, it had better have a purpose. If it has a purpose, it had better get done.

I know sometimes life gets in the way or you literally just have time to get your big lift in. While you shouldn’t make it a habit, here are two great options that I use personally and recommend when this happens.

  • Sometimes I’ll run out of time to get my accessory work in during the time that I had allotted to train. So when this happens, I stay in the gym late once my workday is over. Or I’ll come home and make myself do it in my wife’s home gym before I do anything else. Either way, it gets done at some point later in the same day.
  • Sometimes I’ll move it to the following day—the earlier the better. So if I trained on Monday but didn’t get in curls, triceps extensions, and rollouts, I’ll simply do them Tuesday morning. Because I only train three days a week, this allows me to adjust things as needed.

While I’d prefer to get the work done in the actual sessions, I’ve found these two options to be better than skipping it all together. So no matter how you have to get it in, don’t skip the small stuff.

3. Not programming for their own weaknesses

This one doesn’t make any sense to me at all. I’ll be working with someone on a lift and identify a weakness immediately. I’ll then tell the lifter and he’ll respond with, “Oh yeah, I know my ____ is weak.” I’ll then ask him what supplemental or accessory work he's doing for that weakness. When he responds with none, I immediately want to bash my head into the side of the power rack.

So you’re telling me that your weak point on your log press is your triceps? And I can see that’s your weak point. But when I ask you what you're doing for your log press and you're just log pressing, it’s almost unbelievable. If your triceps are weak, program in some direct triceps work. It really is that simple sometimes. If just doing log press isn’t increasing your log press and you know that your triceps are a weak point, guess what? You need some direct triceps work. You don’t need an arm day. You don’t need four accessory movements with varying set and rep ranges. You just need to do some dips or close grip bench or whatever your favorite triceps movement is.

Most of the time, that’s all it takes. So when you're writing your training program, make sure that you're programming your supplemental/accessory work to help strengthen your weak points. Otherwise, you're doing the exact same thing over and over and expecting a different result. That’s insanity.

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