Strongman Conditioning: How to Finish at the Top
By Chris Slone
Published: August 4, 2014
When it comes to strongman, and strength sports in general, there is a level of fear and hatred for the term conditioning.It has been bashed time and time again, but it has been for good reason it is brutal especially the type of conditioning needed to make it through a strongman competition. In fact, I have been known to use the anything-over-five-reps-is-cardio quote.
It can be tough to talk yourself into, especially if it is not specifically planned. However, even though the conditioning hate is warranted, it is still a necessary evil.
So, why should you be conditioned?
For one, you need to get through competitions and I dont mean just making it through. I am saying that you have to get through the competition and crush the last few events. If you are doing a truck pull or stone load for reps, being well-conditioned will be a true difference maker. It could mean the difference between placing first or third!
Another reason that you need to be conditioned is that you need to be able to do normal daily activities like walking up stairs, tying your shoes well, you get the idea. If you are huffing and puffing all day, what do you think the quality of your training will be like? Not good, I would imagine.
You need to be moderately conditioned in order to not pre-exhaust yourself during the days leading up to training (when you should be recovering) or the day of training.
Being conditioned will also improve your general physical preparedness (GPP). This can help you in numerous ways. For example, by improving GPP you are increasing your training potential. You are preparing your body to meet the needs of your training.
How do you know if youre doing enough? Or too much?
Strongman, by nature, is a combination of active and static events; therefore, you need to know when to cut back on conditioning in order to focus on maximal strength development. This comes down to tracking. You have to make slight, subtle changes in your programming to incorporate conditioning while you track your strength numbers. If your strength is decreasing, then you are doing too much conditioning. The conditioning can help the strength numbers long-term, but you need to implement the changes gradually.
I still believe that maximal strength is the most important factor to strongman success, so proceed with caution in terms of conditioning volume.
Now, should you go out and run six miles? Absolutely not! Conditioning for strongman is about training the proper energy systems used in the sport. (Although, there is some value in Ã?Â¢??slow cardio for many athletes, but thats for a different article. There are numerous methods of conditioning for strongman, and you can incorporate different conditioning elements as you see fit. Personally, I like to focus on sport-specific conditioning. Not only will this prepare the athlete in terms of conditioning, but it will also reinforce technique on events and allow the athlete to practice the movements.
Here are a few that I find useful:
My use of the terms in this article might be different than others (and different from what I use in general programming); however, I have reasons for why each term fits its chosen use.
In this case, the term tempo represents speeding up your reps or using shorter rest periods. This can help you in many ways, even beyond conditioning. If you practice with less weights and try to get more reps within a certain time period, continually trying to improve upon that number, then you can see a carryover into timed events in competition. Of course, this method can also do a lot to improve conditioning as well.
Anyone who has done the stone over the bar event for reps with a time-limit knows how quickly your heart rate can go up!
On the other hand, you can also adjust the tempo of your sets. By taking shorter rest periods, you are completing your volume in a shorter period of time and thus challenging your conditioning. I have done one to two work sets with an event, decreased the weight, and then done three extra sets with only 45-60 seconds of rest in between. This can take the wind out of you very quickly.
Time is a factor with which many strongman competitors are familiar. A simple way to use time for conditioning purposes is to take the time of your typical event and add 5 to 10 seconds. You can continue to add time as you progress, but do not take it too far as you do not want to lose strength.
Volume, in this case, refers to using higher reps or doing multiple rounds for an event. In the case of higher reps, you can work in ranges above what you would typically do. You would likely want to use lighter loads as well.
In terms of adding rounds to your training, you could do a few extra trips on carries, or you could add one to two more rounds on other events like stones. You can incorporate this with other variables as well, such as decreased rest periods. An example of this would be doing three rounds of 100 feet on farmers walks when the competition is one round of 100 feet. This would help prepare you for the competitive environment.
4. Max Duration
Another variable to consider for strongman conditioning would be maximum distance or time. Events such as the Husafell Stone carry or the Conans Wheel are events that call for this type of conditioning. You can work on this the same as you would in a competition (besides choosing the weight). Go as far or for as much time as possible, and adjust the weight in order to reach certain thresholds.
I hope these tips can help you add a new element to your strongman training. It is important to be prepared for every facet of the sport. If you are not conditioning, you are going to be less competitive and leave a lot on the table.
About the Author
Chris Slone has a diverse background in Strength and Conditioning. He has over 15 years Under-the-Bar experience, and over 10 years coaching experience. Slone has also worked as an Exercise Physiologist at St. Joseph-Mount Sterling Hospital in Mount Sterling, KY. Prior to that, he worked with numerous Division I athletic programs in Strength and Conditioning. Slone is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) through the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA).