Diet and Nutrition

Strongman Training for Maximum Hypertrophy

It’s obvious that strongman training is a great way to build mass, but this type of training is not commonly leveraged by bodybuilders or athletes looking for maximum hypertrophy. In fact, few programs exist that provide a comprehensive solution for those who are seeking a combination of aesthetic, power, volume, and speed work.

The program described in this article is designed to be a highly effective protocol for athletes, strongmen, and bodybuilders alike.

First, let’s take a look at the components of an effective hypertrophy program: volume, compound movements, good technique, overload, and recovery.

We all know that strongman movements can build power, but they can also yield great muscle-building gains when utilized properly. Each strongman movement calls on multiple muscle groups and many of these exercises can be performed with minimal equipment.  Most competitive strongmen do very little hypertrophy work, yet they have muscular physiques due to the complexity and difficulty of event training.

One of the primary differences between strongman training and standard training splits is the way that the programs are structured. Not only do strongman training sessions require more recovery time between workouts, but the athlete also needs to be fully recovered going into the event training day. The typical protocol for a strongman workout includes 3-5 events (exercises) of 1-2 sets each, and it is not uncommon use 5-15 minute rest periods between sets. This means that a workout may consist of less than 10 sets but may range from 90-180 minutes in duration.

How does all of this apply to hypertrophy? We can go back to the beginning of this article for the answer: compound movements, overload, volume, and recovery.

Strongman training is characterized by high intensity/high volume and is very demanding. However,  adding long rest periods and cycling intensity easily allows for proper recovery. Adding in strongman workouts is a great shock principle for the experienced athlete/bodybuilder and novice lifter alike.

Here are some of the most common strongman exercises:

Giant Tire Flip – Take a large heavy equipment tire and flip it end over end.

Farmers Walk – Carry one implement in each hand for a given distance or time.

Log, Axle, Keg, or Dumbbell Clean & Press – Take a weight from the ground to overhead.

Vehicle, Chain, or Sled Pulling (harness, drag, arm-over-arm) – Move an object by pulling/pushing for a specific distance or time.

Yoke Walk – Carry a weight across your back for a designated time or distance.

Sandbag, Keg, or Stone Loading and Carrying – Pick an object up and put it on a platform or carry for a designated time / distance.

Deadlift Variations and Medleys – Grab a weight and stand up with it.

Strongman Tom Mutaffis in action!

Analysis of some of the strongman movements shows that many of them incorporate movements that are similar to common gym exercises. This list includes:

  • Military press, incline press, push press
  • Partial squat, front squat
  • Deadlift, SLDL, bent-over row, shrug, power clean, rack pull
  • Calf raises, high intensity cardio

Imagine the amount of muscle activation, hormone release, and overload that this type of training provides! When done once per week, these workouts can spark incredible mass gains.

Here is an example of how to work strongman training into a hypertrophy/mass program:

PHASE 1

Week 1:

  • Monday – Chest / Triceps / Shoulders
  • Tuesday – Lower Body / Squat
  • Focus (Front or Back), Deadlift
  • Accessory (SLDL or Deficit)
  • Wednesday – Rest
  • Thursday – Back / Biceps
  • Friday – Rest
  • Saturday – *Strongman (Volume)
  • Sunday – Rest

Week 2:

  • Monday – Chest / Triceps / Shoulders
  • Tuesday – Lower Body / Deadlift
  • Focus (Rack Pull, Standard),
  • Squat Accessory (Front, Box)
  • Wednesday – Rest
  • Thursday – Back / Biceps
  • Friday – Rest
  • Saturday – **Strongman (Speed)
  • Sunday – Rest

Week 3

  • Monday – Chest / Back
  • Tuesday – Lower Body / Speed –
  • Power Cleans, Jump Squats, Power or
  • Hang Snatch
  • Wednesday – Rest
  • Thursday – Biceps / Triceps / Shoulders
  • Friday – Rest
  • Saturday – ***Strongman (Power)
  • Sunday – Rest

Week 4

  • Monday – Chest / Triceps / Shoulders
  • Tuesday – Lower Body / Squat
  • Focus (Front or Back), Deadlift
  • Accessory (SLDL or Deficit)
  • Wednesday – Rest
  • Thursday – Back / Biceps
  • Friday – Rest
  • Saturday – *Strongman (Volume)
  • Sunday – Rest

PHASE 2

Repeat training sessions from weeks one, two, and three.

  • Week 5 = Week 1 Workout
  • Week 6 = Week 2 Workout
  • Week 7 = Week 3 Workout

Week 8 (DELOAD)

Active recovery activities can be performed such as stretching, walking, swimming, or cycling.

Make sure to get plenty of rest and consume an ample amount of protein.

*Strongman Volume Workout: Distances of 100-200 feet, 2-3 sets per event (65-75%) / 4-5 events

**Strongman Speed Workout: Distances of 50-80 feet, 3 sets per event (60%) / 4-5 events

***Strongman Power Workout: Distances of 30-50 feet, 1 set per event (90%+) / 4 events

This program can be repeated continuously by starting back at the beginning following the ‘Deload’ week.

A Word on Progression

As with any program, the goal is to make progressive increases from week to week by increasing volume, weight, reps, or decreasing the time in which the workout is completed. One effective way to make progress is a dual-progression program alternating between volume objectives and power objectives from week to week and constantly aiming to break previous PRs.

For example, an athlete with a 350 lb 1RM incline press might do 225-250 lbs for max reps one week (aiming for 15+) and then try to improve his 3 RM the following week (315+ lbs). This approach will provide further balance of strength, hypertrophy, and conditioning, which is a theme of this program.

You may notice above, I’ve talked about Speed, Volume and Power workouts. I have outlined a typical training session for each below:

Strongman ‘Speed’ Workout

Overhead Press:

  • Log clean and press (clean each rep) – (2) sets of   7-10 reps at 70%.

Moving Events:

  • Tire Flip – (2) sets of 50’ with moderate tire for speed.
  • Yoke / Farmers Medley (superset) – (2) sets at 75%, 60’ each for speed.

Static Event:

  • Atlas Stones – (2) sets of stone over bar for reps, 60-90 seconds @ 75%

Conditioning Work:

  • Sled Drags – (2) sets of 80 feet with moderate weight for speed.

Strongman ‘Volume’ Workout

Overhead Press:

  • Log clean and press (clean once) – (3) sets of   10 reps at 65%.

Moving Events:

  • Farmers – (3) sets of 100’ with moderate weight.
  • Yoke/Tire Medley (superset) – (2) sets at 80’.

Static Event:

  • Atlas Stones – (3) sets of 5 stone series.

Conditioning Work:

  • Harness Sled Drags – (1) sets of long range sled drag (500+ feet each)

Strongman ‘Power’ Workout

Overhead Press:

  • Log clean and press (clean each) – (2) sets of 2 reps at 85-90%.

Moving Events:

  • Yoke – (3) sets of 35-50’ with increasingly heavy weights. Drops are ok, just finish the course.
  • Farmers / Tire Medley (superset) – (2) sets, one light and one max effort; 50’ each way.

Static Event:

  • Atlas Stones – (5) singles with heavy stone.

Conditioning Work:

  • Tire Drags – (2) sets of 50 feet, heavy.

In summary, this is a long-term and comprehensive strength / size / conditioning program that will yield consistent gains in all physique and performance aspects!

And I’ll leave you with a video of me performing some tough strongman exercises!

Tom Mutaffis Training Video – January 2010

Written by Tom Mutaffis

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – Strongman Training for Maximum Hypertrophy discussion thread.

About Tom Mutaffis

Tom Mutaffis is a seasoned Strongman competitor, possessing a rare combination of lean muscularity, athleticism, and raw power.

His first Strongman competition was in 2006, and once again he was a quick study winning his third competition and following that with a string of 6 podium appearances (to include 4 wins!). His early success propelled him to the 2007 North America’s Strongest Man Nationals in Las Vegas. Once again, Tom prevailed defeating a field of 22 state and regional champions to be crowned the 200 lbs class National Champion.

Tom has also competed in Powerlifting and broke the RAW American Deadlift Record in the 220 lbs Junior Class at the 2007 APA United States Open.

Tom is sponsored by AtLarge Nutrition and you can find more information about him here – Tom Mutaffis AtLarge Nutrition Athlete Profile