Reactive Training Systems (RTS) began as a training system for powerlifters. It has since evolved into a system of principles that can govern any sort of physical training from weightlifting to general fitness and from bodybuilding to mixed martial arts. One of the most interesting applications so far has been applying RTS to Strongman.

I like training Strongman athletes for several reasons. The biggest reason is that Strongman requires a very interesting and ever changing skill set to be successful. Success in one show may depend heavily on absolute strength in an athlete’s back where success at the next show may depend heavily on speed during walking events. Add on the comparatively complex energy system demands and you can have some pretty interesting training problems! But solving those problems is part of the fun of programming.

So without further adieu, here is a primer on using RTS to train for Strongman. Keep in mind that a complete discussion of the topic would well exceed the length of an article, so this will just get you thinking about the various training topics and how to address them.

The stopwatch is your friend

One central player in RTS is the rate of perceived exertion (RPE). Crossing the original concept of the RPE into the world of Strongman presents some unique challenges. The RPE is centrally based on the question, “How many reps do you have left?” While some events such as the log press and the 18-inch deadlift can function quite well with rates of perceived exertion, there are many times in Strongman where this is difficult, if not impossible, to answer. Walking movements in particular pose problems. How do you know how many reps you had left when you weren’t really doing reps to begin with?

In these situations, I recommend using a stopwatch. With practice, this method can even be better than subjective rates of perceived exertion altogether. Just track your times and compare them. If you wanted to be even more serious, you could do some math to find out your average speed. If you divide the distance traveled (in feet) by the number of seconds it took you to get there, you’ll get your average speed in feet per second. This can now be compared to other distances. It shouldn’t take much observation to figure out your typical speeds with various weights. Then when you see that you’re become faster with the same weight, you know you’ve gotten better. If you’re slower than usual on a given day, you can back down the weight to get your foot speed to the desired levels.

The challenge is to use your speed as a governor in selecting your training weights. This is difficult to do, and to be honest, I don’t have the answer (yet). However, I do know that the starting point is as simple as observation.

Plan your training well

Take the time to learn about planning your training. Planning your training is a huge topic and doing it well on an individualized level can take a lot of work. But it can certainly pay off. Lots of Strongman competitors would be better prepared if they understood how to sequence training.

The first thing you should do is look at the contest you plan on entering. What events will be there? Then determine what each event will require. Here’s an example. Let’s say your next show has a log press for reps event, and the log weighs 220 lbs. If your 1RM is 190 lbs, you obviously have to develop greater absolute strength. But what if your 1RM is 240 lbs? You would benefit most from developing absolute strength because you’ll be using approximately 90 percent of your 1RM at the contest. There is very little you can do to increase the number of reps you can do at 90 percent of your 1RM. On the other hand, if you increase your 1RM to 275 lbs, you can almost certainly do several more reps with the 220-lb log. But what if you’re starting with a 300-lb 1RM? In this case, you would likely be best served training strength endurance in order to crank out a few more reps.

After you determine which traits you need to develop, just figure out how to get there. In general, absolute strength is a function of neural efficiency and fiber cross-sectional areas (generically this is a muscle’s size). So if your event will require absolute strength, first develop your cross-sectional area and then develop your neural efficiency as the contest draws closer. Other traits such as explosive strength and strength endurance can be a bit more complicated and not always clear cut. That said, a good general progression for explosive strength is cross-sectional area >> absolute strength >> explosive strength. A good general progression for strength endurance is cross-sectional area >> absolute strength >> strength endurance.

Adapting fatigue percentages

Using fatigue percentages to autoregulate your training volumes is a very effective means of volume management. But just like the RPE, this can get difficult when it’s applied to various unconventional movements commonplace in Strongman. If you aren’t familiar with fatigue percentages, I apologize, but I must direct you to the Reactive Training Manual for details. The topic itself is just too big for a single article.

However, if you’re already familiar with fatigue percentages, this can be a unique way to use them in the context of Strongman’s walking events. If you use your speed as an RPE, you can fundamentally follow the same flow as you would for barbell movements. Drop the implement weight by the required percentage and continue until you can no longer keep up your speed. The number of runs you do with the implements is totally dependent on how well you withstand the acute fatigue. This allows the volume to automatically adjust to your capability for the day—a very powerful training tool.

Stay creative…

In my experience, Strongman athletes are among the most creative in terms of being resourceful in their training environment. I’ve seen homemade implements and a number of other things that really attest to the dedication of these athletes. Use that same creativity and determination in your overall training processes. As I said in the introduction, a complete adaptation of RTS to Strongman would exceed article length, so use the ideas here as a primer and be creative with how you implement the RTS principles. The principles of good physical training don’t change with the sport so be encouraged that you can find a way to use RTS to your advantage in Strongman!

Elite Fitness Systems strives to be a recognized leader in the strength training industry by providing the highest quality strength training products and services while providing the highest level of customer service in the industry. For the best training equipment, information, and accessories, visit us at