4 Things You Can Learn from Strongmen

How to Get Stronger Mentally & Prepare to Succeed

Strongman competitions are a lot like life. You need to be tough mentally and physically. Check out these lessons from the trenches.

After a Strongman competition, competitors always look back and wonder what they could have done better. If you reduce your mistakes down to the least common denominator, most of them turn out to be mental. It wasn’t that you weren’t capable of doing well or that you didn’t possess the strength, it was that something imbedded itself in your head causing you to make a mental foul-up that affected your physical performance.

Here are four lessons I learned the hard way during Strongman competitions. As you’ll see, there’s a lot you can learn about life too.

1. Once You Shoot An Arrow, It’s Gone

Don’t Dwell On Past Events.

If you messed up your last event, you have to let it go. We’ve all had times when things didn’t go our way. When you botch something you had expected to excel at, it’s easy to get angry or start to feel sorry for yourself. The problem with doing this during a Strongman competition is that you have other events to prepare for. If you hold on to this singular screw-up and continually return to it there’s no way your head will be ready to do your best moving forward.

The longer you carry the weight of that past event, the more exhausted, stressed, and checked-out you’ll become. None of these are conducive to performing your best for the remainder of the day.

No, you shouldn’t treat your mishap like it was nothing. Go ahead and get angry, yell if you have to, stomp off and berate yourself under your breath. But then let it go. You’ll have plenty of time to dwell on this after your day is over, but now is not the time. Do what you have to do, then return to being a professional. You’ll never make progress if you don’t change this pattern immediately.

Do This Instead

Next time you really drop the ball, take a few minutes to burn off that excess anger, but do so in private. Then take five slow breaths in this fashion:

  1. Take air slowly into your belly through your nose to the count of “one thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three.”
  2. Hold the air for three more counts.
  3. Exhale slowly through your mouth to the count of three.
  4. Then remain without air for three more counts before taking your next breath.
  5. Repeat four more times.

Sounds like hippie bullshit, but “box breathing” is used by top echelon performers in all realms of life, from NFL players and Navy SEALs to CEOs and even tired moms with crying newborns. Box breathing will lower your heart rate, decrease blood pressure, and bring your focus back to the two things you can control: your breathing and your attitude.

You screwed up. Own it. But don’t let yourself get carried away to a point that it owns you. The sooner you can calm your emotions down and begin changing that negative energy to positive focus for your next challenge, the better you’ll perform.

2. Own Your Performance

It’s All Your Fault.

Realize that whatever went well and whatever went badly, it was your fault. You are extremely blessed to have the choices you do and the physical and mental capacity to even compete in something like a Strongman competition. Do you have any idea of how many people would kill to have the opportunities and gifts we take for granted each and every day?

Having a bad yoke time makes for a rough afternoon. Not being able to walk to the bathroom under your own power is infinitely worse. Get some perspective. There are no victims at a Strongman competition… and very few real victims in life.

Whether the promoter changed one of the events at the last minute or it was raining during your press medley, your performance is STILL your performance. If you blame others for your lack of preparation and poor showing, you won’t make it far in this sport, or even in life for that matter.

Do This Instead

If you compete, never leave your fate in the hands of the judges. In regular life, never leave your fate in the hands of other people.

If your timekeeper was slow with the stopwatch for your farmer’s walk event, switch the blame from the judge to yourself. Rather than berating the timekeeper for his lack of attention, look at what you could have done better. If you had moved the implements faster, then fractions of a second wouldn’t be the thing that separates you from the rest of the pack.

Could you have asked the judge prior to your run for clarification on exactly what he was looking for before he stops the clock? If you would have told him a specific time you were trying to beat before you performed your run, do you think he would’ve been more in tuned to focusing in on what was about to take place? Everyone (judges included) likes to see people push themselves to new levels.

Now which guy is going to get more positive focus and attention? The guy who’s polite and has voiced that he’s trying to beat his PR, or the guy who yells at others and talks about them behind their backs?

The second you switch the blame to yourself and take ownership of your performance, the sooner you’ll find ways to improve the next time. Whether you compete well or you drop the ball, the fault should always fall on your shoulders.

3. Have a Kit, Make a Plan

Practice How You Play.

Think back to a time where you had to give a presentation. You were nervous, right? That’s normal. Any time you need to get in front of a group of people it’s stressful. An event at a Strongman competition is no different. Only one thing can take down that level of anxiety: preparation. If you’re fully prepared for what’s about to take place, you can refocus that nervous energy into following your cues and doing your job.

I’ve had far too many events during competitions where the first time I ever touched a particular brand of implement was during warm-ups. I’ve even competed where I hadn’t practiced the exact medley we’d be performing. My thinking was that I’d just get so strong that the details would take care of themselves. This may have worked at smaller, local shows, but on bigger stages I got pummeled.

Visualization and brute strength can take you far, but technique is king and will beat you any day of the week. You have to practice exactly how you play or you’ll pay for it when competition day arrives.

Do This Instead

Map out all of the events on a white board or sheet of paper, every event you’ll be performing at a given competition. At the top, make a list of what you need to bring to the contest to perform the event to the best of your ability. If you press in Olympic shoes, put them in your kit. If you need chalk, it goes in your bag. If you plan on using tacky, you better be sure to bring your own.

Never rely on fellow competitors or assume the promoter is going to provide any of the items necessary for your competition. A carpenter wouldn’t show up for a job without a hammer; you shouldn’t be showing up to a show hoping to borrow someone’s wrist wraps.

Think of all the possible scenarios that could take place (change of rules, change of event, change of implement) and plan for it. This is part of owning your performance. If you show up without the necessary gear, don’t blame anyone but yourself. Preparation is key.

Below the “equipment” portion of your list, write out exactly what you’re going to do for each individual event and the cues/tips that need to be second nature. Lay everything out. If you need to chalk up your shirt, write it down. If you need to “squeeze the bar” it should make the list. If you need to drive through your heels, make a note of it.

Sear your plan into your brain. Practice the events exactly as you’ll perform them at the competition. Make all of your mistakes before walking into the arena. Assess what you did well and what can be improved upon.

When it comes to different brands of implements, call around to other gyms to see if they have the exact same type being used at your competition. Go to the actual venue if possible and try out their log, touch the stones, and walk the surface you’ll be competing on. Try to anticipate which events will be indoors and which will be outdoors, then make a plan, add the necessary items to your list and pack your kit accordingly. Making a list and packing my kit have helped me to quiet my anxiety and have ensured that I didn’t forget anything come game day.

What about “real life” applications? Just think of a challenge that you know is coming and go through the same steps:

  • Make a plan and write it out.
  • Don’t rely on others to make preparations for you.
  • Do your recon. Find out what’s coming and prepare for it.
  • Practice exactly. Have to take a standardized test? Take last year’s test to prepare. Have to give a presentation? Practice in the same environment, wearing the same clothes, using the same tools.

4. Switching from “Surviving” to “Performing”

Forget About the Competition. Attack, Attack, Attack.

One thing that has greatly affected my performance during Strongman shows is a switch in mindset right before my name is called to compete. There are always one or two particular events that weigh heavy on my mind. Usually it can be boiled down to my lack of preparation, but whenever I go into an event saying to myself, “Man, I hope this goes okay,” I perform horribly. I find myself just trying to “survive” the event rather than attacking it.

Whenever I walked up to an implement with an aggressive mindset and my internal dialogue was, “I can’t wait to see how well I do at this; I know this is a good event for me,” I crush it. Much of this confidence was built in the hours prior to the competition, spent in practice and working on my chops, but that simple switch in mindset has made all of the difference.

I’ve also had times when I’ve been scheduled to compete later in the day. Watching the other competitors struggle caused me to psych myself out. Even if the event was one that I knew I’d excel at, seeing other people continually drop the farmer’s handles or fumble with a log made me think that something must be wrong with the implements, and suddenly I’m thinking that I’m going to struggle too.

I let other people’s performances dictate my own. At times like these, I found myself just hoping to “survive” the event rather than going out there and “performing.”

Do This Instead

Use the information you’re gathering from other people’s performances to your advantage rather than letting it psyche you out. In Strongman, if everyone is struggling while cleaning the log, try to figure out why so you can anticipate what to expect and adjust. Switch your mindset from being a victim of the log, adapt accordingly, then attack the log like it owes you money. That same mindset works in real life too.

If you start to hear your self-talk turning negative, shut it down immediately. Leave the area and put in earbuds if necessary. Negativity is a cancer, one that spirals downward quickly and never serves you well. If you feel yourself getting psyched out, make it a point to stop watching your competition and go back to the cues and training that you’ve drilled into your brain. Visualize what you’re going to do and see yourself performing to the best of your ability.

Negative emotions and taking into consideration how you “feel” about a particular event aren’t going to raise your performance. You have control over your effort and your attitude. Don’t let someone else’s performance dictate your own.

If you’ve put in the work, it will show. If you haven’t, that will show as well. Trust your training and have faith in your hours of preparation. When they call your name, forget about your “feelings” – just get out there and do your job. Nothing exists other than your cues and your approach. You didn’t come here to merely survive. You came here to perform and excel. Switch your mindset and your game will change.

In Strongman, what separates the top guys from the average guys usually isn’t how much they can deadlift. It’s their mental fortitude, positive attitude, and the ability to control their emotions when no one else can. Just like in your day-to-day life.