In March 2012, I decided to dabble in the lower end of Strongman athletic competitions with the aim of competing in two events in July—the UK Strongest Athlete (UKSA) and the Bigger Stronger Faster (BSF). In light of this, I decided to make a list of five things that I learned along the way and think are relevant to all sports, training structures, and goals in or outside the gym. For many of the more experienced lifters or competitors, these are things that you do now without even thinking, but for those of us a few rungs down the ladder, it can take competing and evaluating to really get the value of experience to sink in.

I didn’t start off as some freakishly strong or jacked dude. Like many, I was never the all-star at school, and I don’t have a degree in sport science or any of the associated topics. Whether you’re a relative novice like me or you coach novices like me, I hope there are things you can take away from this article.

1. Lift under the best and listen!

"Young men have a passion for regarding their elders as senile."—Henry Adams

Living in Durham, I was fortunate enough to be a stone's throw from one of the best Strongman gyms in the country—Spartan Performance, which is run by Worlds Natural competitor Jack Lovett. Seeking out the best guys in the area to train with or finding the best coach possible is something hammered on in articles. So there isn't anything new here, except, young guys, you have to listen. Training among world champions might look good on paper, but if you don’t take on board what they tell you and trust what they’re saying to you, it’s irrelevant. I think younger generations always think they know better. Quite often, this is true in the weight room. Guys, if someone is stronger, smarter, or richer than you, he probably knows best. Just do what he says, and in time, you can start to do things your own way.

Coaching note: Strongman is a great sport for support, and Spartan had a great atmosphere for this. Everybody I met or trained with was respectful, very supportive, and helpful. This kind of accepting and supportive environment helps nurture and breed success. If you can replicate this and teach your athletes to help and teach each other, you can build great foundations and set them up for success.

2. Get smarter.

"It is not enough to do your best; you must know what to do and then do your best."
— W. Edwards Deeming

So many athletes of all sports just go through the motions. I know I used to do it—turn up to a practice, moan a bit, get wet and cold, go home, and eat some junk or worse go out and get drunk. This inevitably produces average athletes and prevents sporting excellence. If people treated every training session like the ones in the week before a big match, they’d get a hell of a lot more out of the fifty-two weeks in a year. I tried to read and absorb as much as I could from Kiefer’s CBL to Charlie Francis to a technical tire flipping video, all of which were great aids along the way. But the most important thing I learned was to make the decision that every session or week I would be better than the previous one. Don't accept stagnation.

"Attempting to teach without inspiring the pupil with a desire to learn is hammering on cold iron." — Horace Mann

Coaching note: If you can learn how to engage with people rather than coerce them into doing something, you’ll get more results. The use of the 'stick and carrot' take constant energy and input from you. If you can get people to work hard and play smart because they want to get better and see positive results, your job will be a lot easier. Coax talent out of people and slowly teach them how they can get better. It has done wonders for the confidence of the athletes I’ve worked with.

3. Get under the bar.

"Just train." —Jack Lovett

"Just train" is something Jack said to us quite frequently during training sessions. Although I think it was mainly because he was sick of us mucking around, it does have a broader message to it. Too many people are immobilized when it comes to training or achieving goals. They either obsess over lots of minute, irrelevant factors or create huge, artificial hurdles that prevent them from being successful. I used to be highly concerned about my inability to squat to depth and worry about how dysfunctional my hips were. Blah, blah, blah. I learned to concern myself with what I could do, which in this situation was the goblet squat. By focusing on this, my ability to get deep slowly improved, and we eventually moved on to barbell squatting.

The sooner you work out what you can train rather than what you can’t, the better. You may not be genetically capable of running a sub ten-second 100 meter, loading a 200-kg atlas stone, or squatting a thousand pounds. But you know what? If you don’t get on a track, practice stones, or put a barbell on your back, you reduce whatever chance you had to zero. Charles Dickens summarizes this better than I can—“We forge the chains we wear in life.” Break yours and break those that others create about you. Don’t set limits or targets on your ability because right now you don’t have a clue how good you could be.

Coaching note: Empower people and get them training quickly. You probably have a fairly limited amount of time to show your worth. Spending session after session doing movement screens won’t show what you’re capable of as a trainer. Don’t obsess over everything. It’s fairly easy to get weak people stronger.

4. Learn to adapt and hack.

"The measure of intelligence is the ability to change." —Albert Einstein

Things will never be perfect. You can train your arse off for weeks and months and turn up on the day of a competition only to find that events have changed, you feel like shit after being in a cramped car for hours, or it’s raining. You have to prepare for this mentally and learn to become adaptable. Solitary sports like powerlifting or Strongman assume this, and you have to become self-reliant. Be able to switch it on when you need to and learn that at times you can depend only on yourself. Ultimately, it’s only going to be you out there on that platform or tarmac. Training at Westside didn’t make the likes of Dave Tate total over 2000 pounds. He moved those weights. Become your biggest critic and take responsibility for your performance. Don’t expect others to be there all the time because no matter how dedicated your coach or training partner is, it’s your pride on the line.

The hacking part is something that really came to mind in a conversation with my friend Joe Lightfoot. He really got me thinking about how you shouldn't just beat yourself but beat the system. As an example, at the BSF event, we had a secret event—a one on one tug of war (something I’d never practiced for). Luckily, the U75Kg class and the women’s class went first, so I had a good chance to evaluate the set up. Joe really helped me work out a successful technique, such as noting which side of the rope was winning more consistently and figuring out how to tackle different people’s methods. From this, I managed to beat everyone I came up against and ultimately won the U90Kg category. You can't turn up without expecting things to change. Adapt and win.

Coaching note: Don’t let athletes fall too much into a groove. Maintain variation. It's good for the body and the mind to learn to constantly adapt.

5. Never give up.

"Let me tell you the secret that has led me to my goal. My strength lies solely in my tenacity."
—Louis Pasteur

This is fairly self-explanatory but is the reason behind so many people’s sporting, business, or academic success. They never stopped or gave up no matter how black things looked. The ones who did aren’t worth reading about. My weakest event by far was my overhead press. However, I didn’t let this phase me on competition day. I just focused immediately on the next event. Whether you miss a lift, fall short, or don’t finish where you want to, don’t give up. Failure is what makes us stronger. Failing gives us direction and purpose to get better. Let this drive you on to make a point in the things you are good at. By the time it came to the finals of the UKSA, I couldn't do any better than second place realistically. But I still went hard on the final medley to win that event. Smart people learn from their failures and ensure that they don’t happen again. Become one of those people.

Coaching note: Set an example here through your own sporting success and efforts. It’s much easier to look up to someone who pushes himself on a regular basis and lives what he preaches.


Out of the ten events at the competitions I took part in, I had five first place finishes, three second place finishes, a sixth place finish, and a tenth place finish. I’m not saying this to try and show off. I’ve achieved nothing in the grand scheme of things. I just want people to think about something—if an average guy who could barely lift sixteen weeks prior to these events could achieve this, imagine what you, your family, or friends could be capable of. Believe in yourself and others around you and positive things will happen. Smart work, not just hard work, pays off.

Alongside this, I decided to raise some money for the Make-A-Wish UK Foundation. Below is a copy of a training montage filmed by Tom Whitworth at Spartan Performance. If anyone would like to make a donation, visit

In Cliff Notes form, here it is:

  • Observe what you need to and selectively filter out the junk.
  • Learn from the best and listen to them.
  • Apply to your own body and training.
  • Practice—it can make you an inch nearer to perfect.
  • Perfect—you’ll make it one day...