How do you program your strongman training? A day at a time? Weekly? Monthly? It’s time to look at the bigger picture... the whole year.

Recently, I’ve heard others discussing how complicated it is to program and periodize training for strongman. While it’s not necessarily simple, I personally don’t think it’s nearly as complicated as some make it out to be. While explaining all the ins and outs of periodization and programming for strongman is too much to cover in a single article, I will be covering some general basic ideas and explanations of how I personally think things should be done. In a nutshell, you want to get strong on the squat, deadlift, bench press (or incline), and overhead press. This is your general physical preparedness (GPP). You also want to get stronger on the actual strongman events (and improve technique, timing, etc.). This is your specific physical preparation (SPP).

In the examples below, we will be using an amateur strongman competitor and view how his yearly training plan could look. This is typically how I set up my training year. His most important competition of the year is the National championship that typically falls in early November. We will also assume that he competes seriously a couple of other times a year besides Nationals. Keep in mind that the months can change however needed to fit your training schedule, but the ideas stay the same.

November through December: Transition Phase (Post Nationals)

This is a great time to take a full week or two off of training. Typically, Nationals is a two-day competition that is very physically and mentally demanding. It’s almost always the heaviest competition of the year and typically has seven to eight events spread over two days, but if you consider the amount of medleys that can appear (Yoke Walk/Farmer Walk Medley), sometimes it’s more like 10 or 11 events. The majority of all other strongman competitions are one day and typically composed of five events. The body and mind need some time to rest and recover. Once you head back into the gym, you’ll want to ease your way back into training. If you have any nagging injuries or any other issues, this is the time to focus on getting them taken care of. If you don’t have any injuries or other issues, this is still time to allow the body to rest and recover. During this four to six-week training phase, I recommend limiting strongman events or not even touching them at all. Some would say that this is also a great time to get the barbell out of your hands and stick with more dumbbell and body weight work. While I think this is a great idea, I’ve never been able to force myself to do so. I hate that type of training, and I can’t force myself to get rid of the basic barbell exercises, even for a short time.

Here are a few rules for this phase:

  1. Decrease intensity of main movements and increase volume.
  2. If you need more muscle mass, spend more time training for hypertrophy instead of strength. The only time I don’t recommend this is if you’re currently at the top of your weight class and don’t have a plan of moving up just yet.
  3. If you choose to do events during this phase, omit atlas stones.
  4. Whichever press (or presses) was done at Nationals, you’ll omit that and pick whichever wasn’t trained during this phase. For example, if Nationals had a circus dumbbell and axle, you’ll stick with the log press during this phase.
  5. The remaining events not at Nationals will make up the rest of your events for this phase. For example, if there was a frame carry at Nationals, switch to farmers carry. If there was a Husafell stone carry, switch to sandbag carries, etc.
  6. Train hard and with purpose.
  7. Focus on mobility, flexibility, and improving your technique.
  8. If there’s a new movement that you’d like to add, this is the time to start learning it.

Example split during this phase:


  • Squat
  • Overhead
  • Chins
  • GHRs
  • Ab Wheel Roll-outs


  • Deadlift
  • Bench
  • One-arm Row
  • Lunges
  • Hanging Leg Raises

Saturday (optional strongman event day):

  • Event #1: Your worst event
  • Event #2: Your best event
  • Conditioning: Light Prowler® sprints. Don’t kill yourself here.


I’m not a big fan of testing strength in the gym. I like to spend my time building it. Also, I don’t want to waste a training session that could have been spent getting stronger to see how strong I am today. However, I do enjoy the feeling of hitting a new one-rep max PR. I see a lot of guys maxing out on squats, deadlifts, bench press, log press, etc., as they are preparing for a competition, or even worse, preparing for Nationals. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the most important time to test yourself is on the competition field, not in the gym training. Don’t be that guy who hits a huge PR on whatever lift two or three weeks before a competition and then shows up only to have a piss-poor performance. Since strongman does not typically have max lifts in competition, especially not at Nationals, taking the week after a competition to test yourself is, in my opinion, the best time. This is, of course, assuming that you are healthy after the competition and don’t have another one coming up anytime soon. If you competed on Saturday, I’d recommend testing strength and upper body lifts on Wednesday and any lower body lifts on Thursday. Don’t max out on everything just because. Pick a lift or two and test them that week. If you choose to test, you can start your next training phase that following Tuesday or even the following Monday (10-11 days after). Regardless of when you start, listen to your body and make sure that you’ve taken the proper amount of time to recover. Only you can decide this. At the end of the day, testing after a competition is completely optional and I don’t recommend it every time. However, it is the ideal time if you must test and much better than testing while preparing for a competition.

January through Mid-March: Off-Season (GPP)

I think all strongman competitors should have a clearly defined “off-season” during the year. Too many guys are always competing and not taking the time to focus on rehabbing injuries, building strength, building muscle, and allowing themselves time to recover. During the off-season, the main focus of training should be to bring up your weakest event(s), build overall strength, and if you could use some more muscle mass, then increasing it as well. The majority of your lifts should consist of the basic barbell movements whether your emphasis is strength or hypertrophy. Squats, deadlifts, bench press (or incline), and overhead presses should be the foundation of your programming during this phase. This is your general physical preparedness for the sport of strongman. With those exercises, combined with smart assistance and accessory work, you’re set. The gym lifts are pushed pretty hard during this phase. The events are also pushed hard as well, but most of your focus should be geared toward improving your weakest one or two events. Conditioning is done to maintain a decent level of conditioning, but it should not make up a large part of the programming.

Mid-March through Mid-April: Transition Phase

During this phase there is a gradual increase in events and event training and a gradual decrease in the emphasis of gym lifts. If the athlete knows of a specific competition coming up, he will want to start training the specific events for that competition and the specific gym lifts he feels have the most carryover to those events. The athlete should also take into account the specific energy systems each event taxes, making sure his conditioning and training is programmed in-line with these needs. For example, if an upcoming contest has an atlas stone for reps over a bar, and the stone is fairly light for the athlete, doing a set of high-rep front squats after the main squatting movement would be beneficial for this athlete (in order to condition the quads, upper back, and abs for the high reps that will be put up in competition). The stone should still be trained but in a programmed fashion, not by testing how many reps he can get over the bar each week with the competition weight. Towards the end of this phase, there should be more emphasis on the actual events and their improvement, while less emphasis should fall on the gym lifts. This isn’t an excuse not to train hard, but rather it’s a reminder to train smart. You’ll still be pushing your training hard.

Mid-April through Mid-May: Pre-Contest (SPP)

During this phase the main emphasis should be on the actual events that will be in the competition. One mistake I often see athletes doing is using the exact same weight, events, distance, time, etc. as they will do in competition. This is a mistake, in my opinion, because they are essentially “testing” the events each week. I’m not saying that you can’t improve by doing this, but I don’t feel that it’s the best or smartest way. The event should be programmed smart. If it’s an event that’s super heavy for you, then you’ll essentially want to try to peak for that event. For example, if it’s a super heavy yoke walk, you may want to program with some sort of linear progression model for it—starting lighter but incorporating a longer distance than the competition will have. As the competition approaches, the weight is increasing while the distance decreases. Or, if it’s a heavy log clean and press for reps, it would be best for the athlete to focus on increasing his maximal strength. On the other hand, if it was a light log clean and press for reps, the athlete would be better off focusing on hitting a heavy set followed by a high-rep back-off set (or two) with a lighter weight. Whatever the deadlift event is, the athlete would be better suited to drop the deadlift from his training in place of the event deadlift if the implement is available. You don’t want to be deadlifting on Wednesday and then hitting the axle deadlift event again on Saturday. Again, these are just examples and it’s impossible to go over every possible scenario in this article. On gym lifts, you’ll want to put some work in, but I think stronger athletes may be better off focusing on maintaining their strength instead of pushing to increase it. You won’t gain much strength in such a short amount of time, especially if you’re pushing the event hard like you should be. But you sure can get weaker if you get injured, and it’s hard for a stronger athlete to improve everything (all five or more events and gym lifts) at once. For a weaker, novice athlete, he will be able to push everything a bit harder and still progress.

Mid-May through June: Competition Phase

During this time the athlete may compete in one or two competitions. If the athlete chooses two competitions, I recommend picking two that aren’t on back-to-back weekends. The athlete has the majority of his training focus on the events for the upcoming competition(s) during this phase (with the majority of his focus on improving his worst events while also training his best events). Gym lifts should still be trained but not pushed during this time. For example, an athlete who follows 5/3/1 would be better off hitting his minimum reps on the last set, or at least leaving more “in the tank,” than he would in the “off-season.” I typically recommend taking 10 days off before most competitions, but at a minimum I’d recommend seven days off. The only exception to this is if the competition is extremely light for you and you literally want to treat it as a “training day.” I still, however, recommend getting your gym lifts done early in the week so that you have some time to recover. I don’t typically recommend this, but I understand when at athlete wants to do this (and I’ve done it a few times myself with no negative repercussions).

Let’s assume this athlete is competing on May 18th and again on June 8th. Here is how I would recommend setting up this competition phase:

May 8th: Last training day before deload.

May 9th – 17th: Deload. Light walking, easy bodyweight movements (squats, push ups, chins, etc.), foam rolling, stretching, etc.

May 18th: Compete

May19th – May 24th: Rest and recover from previous competition. Light walking, bodyweight movements, foam rolling, stretching, Epsom salt baths.

May 25th: Events

May 27th: Gym Lifts

May 29th: Events

May 30th – June 7th: Deload. Light walking, easy bodyweight movements (squats, push ups, chins, etc.), foam rolling, stretching, etc.

June 8th: Compete

Mid/Late-June through July: Transition Phase

This transition phase is very similar to the one after Nationals, but it will vary greatly depending on the individual. If the competitions were really heavy and the competitor is feeling “beat up,” he would want to treat it more like the transition phase after Nationals. However, if the competitions weren’t super heavy and he is feeling pretty fresh, I’d recommend getting started during the middle of the week following the last competition. During this phase I do have a few rules:

  1. Decrease intensity of main movements and increase volume slightly.
  2. If you could use more muscle mass, spend more time training for hypertrophy in this phase instead of strength. The only time I don’t recommend this is if you’re currently at the top of your weight class and don’t have plans of moving up just yet.
  3. When training atlas stones, keep them lighter and train them every other week, not weekly.
  4. Whichever press (or presses) was done at the last competition(s), you’ll omit that and pick whichever wasn’t trained during this phase.
  5. Whichever events weren’t at the previous contest will make up the rest of your events for this phase, unless you have a glaring weak event and it can still be trained.

August through Mid-September: GPP/Early Pre-Contest (Nationals)

At this point, the events for Nationals have usually been announced. In this phase you’ll want to program your training to build your base for those events. Gym lifts should still be your basic barbell movements with your focus geared toward increasing strength. You’ll want to split the events up between Week A and Week B event days. Try to evenly distribute them so that you’re not doing all moving events on one day and all heavy static strength events on one day. For example:

National Events:

  • Axle Clean & Press for reps
  • Yoke Walk/Sandbag Medley
  • Car Deadlift
  • Tire Flip/Sled Drag Medley
  • Frame Carry
  • Husafell Stone Carry
  • Stone Over Bar

Week A: Saturday

  • Axle Clean & Press
  • Yoke Walk/Sandbag Carry Medley
  • Atlas Stone Over Bar

Week B: Saturday

  • Frame Carry
  • Tire Flip/Sled Drag Medley
  • Husafell Stone Carry

*Traditional deadlifts are done during the week.

While there are numerous ways this can be set-up, this is a great example of how to evenly spread the events out over 14 days for this phase. The events should be trained lighter than competition weight during this time if the competition weight is heavy for the competitor. If it’s moderate or even light for the competitor, he should train the event weight and sometimes a little heavier than the event weight.

Mid-September through November: SPP/Pre-Contest (Nationals)

This phase is where it all comes together. The gym lifts should still be trained hard and heavy, but they should in no way take away from your pre-contest event training. Focus shifts to the actual events for the competition. Loading will vary depending on the strength of the athlete, but some form of progression must be used. Simply doing the exact competition events, weights, and distances isn’t ideal. The same things apply from the Mid-April through Mid-May: Pre-Contest (SPP) phase above. One thing I do recommend doing when training for an event such as Nationals that has numerous events is incorporating events in during the week.


  • Axle Clean & Press
  • Chin-ups
  • Incline Bench
  • One-Arm Row


  • Car Deadlift
  • Squat
  • Sandbag Carry


  • Frame Carry
  • Tire Flip/Sled Drag Medley
  • Husafell Stone Carry

Again, there are a lot of options on how to do this. I recommend picking some events from the opposite event day and putting them in during the week wherever possible. However, always make sure that you aren’t hitting an event on the Saturday of one week and then the following Monday of the next week. Also, emphasis goes on your worst events when deciding what to add during the week. Stick with smaller/lighter events when adding them during the week. For example, sandbag carries over yoke walk, etc. At the end of this phase, I recommend taking seven to ten days off before the competition to rest and recover. Stay active with very light activity (easy walk) and focus on recovery methods. Typically I don’t recommend a massage or Epsom salt bath within four days of the competition. I have no science behind this, but I feel it could relax the athlete too much. So better safe than sorry I say.

November: Nationals

The day the athlete has been training the entire year for is finally here. Going into the competition he knows that he trained as hard and as smart as possible, and at the end of the two days, the strongest man shall win. There’s no time for thinking—it’s time to attack the events and go to war. Most of all, it’s a war between the athlete and the implements. Knowing that you’ve spent the entire year doing everything possible to perform your best on this day—this is what this sport is about.

No, this plan isn’t perfect, and most of you probably shouldn’t follow it exactly as laid out, but hopefully it gives you some insight on how to set up your annual training plan. I see too many people not looking at the big picture. They see their training at a month, a week, or even worse—a day at a time. This is not optimal. It’s time to change the way those athletes program and periodize their training for maximal results. Hopefully you learned a thing or two that you can apply to your own training.