The 6 Strongman Exercises You Need To Know

Feb 22, 2022 | Exercise guides, Sports Performance, Strength & Conditioning

Strongman training looks crazy. Huge people moving huge weights in the form of semi trucks, concrete balls, massive logs, barrels, and tractor tires—how do you even get into something like that? Maybe you’ve seen Strongman competitors before and have written off their seemingly odd movements as being irrelevant to your training. If so, you’d be wrong. 

Strength Ambassadors offer a ton of educational content alongside training sessions and workshops out of their strength facility in London. In this post, head coach, Andy, breaks down some foundational strongman movements: deadlifts, sled pushes, lat pulldowns,  kettlebell swings, atlas stone loads, and tire flips. 

Getting started with strongman work doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Just throw a few of these movements into your training every week and you might find yourself ready to compete with the big dogs one day. 

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Start Here to Get Primed for Strongman Work

Strongman exercises are for everyone. If you’re looking to build up your power, increase muscle mass, and be able to carry in all the groceries at once, you could stand to give strongman a try. Whether you’re a weightlifting beginner or you train hard regularly, strongman work will do just that: make you strong. There’s a huge variety of strongman exercises, but what you can do depends on your goals and movement competency.

There are six basic strongman exercises that Strength Ambassadors believe everyone should know.

These six include: deadlifts, wide grip lat pull-downs, atlas stone lifts, tire flips, prowler pushes, and heavy kettlebell swings.

With some practice, anyone looking to get into this form of fitness can do these movements.

To perform these exercises correctly, make sure you dial in your form or work with a coach to guide you through each lift.

1. Deadlift

 

If you want to be strong, you need to deadlift. The barbell deadlift has the greatest carryover to any activity involving lifting heavy things off the ground. It’s also great for your core strength, grip strength, and overall athletic development. Don’t skip out on deadlifts if you want to be strong like bull.

The deadlift is a fantastic place to start in any strongman training session because it works your whole body—particularly your posterior chain: glutes, hamstrings, and lower back. Deadlifts are a solid foundational movement that boost your stamina for other strongman training work.

Strongman-Deadlift

Deadlift like a strongman

 

  • Place your feet shoulder-width apart and touch the bar with your shins.
  • With an overhand or pronated grip, reach down and grasp the bar firmly with your palms facing down.
  • Engage/brace your core with a breath. Keep your gaze focused on a point down and just in front of you (so your neck is neutral).
  • Press down through the floor and stand up tall, lifting the bar up your body with a flat back. Use your glutes to push your hips forward as the bar passes your knees.
  • When lowering the bar back to the floor, keep tight control and a stable spine. Don’t let your back round aggressively. 
2. Prowler / sled push

 

Pushing a sled is one of the most heart-racey, leg-pumping training exercises for overall strength and endurance. You can train almost all the muscle groups in your body just by pushing enough weight or pushing lighter weight over enough distance. When you think of raw power, the idea of pushing something heavy definitely comes to mind.

A pinnacle piece for strongman training, prowler pushes provide amazing stimulus for athletes to build strength, speed, and force.

Prowler (sled) push like a strongman

 

    • Grasp the prowler handles firmly with your arms straight out in front of you and your elbows fully locked out.
    • Lean into the prowler so your torso is almost parallel to the ground.
    • Keep your upper body stable and eyes forward as you drive your feet into the ground, sliding the prowler forward with marching, military-like steps.

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3. Wide grip lat pulldown

 

Lat pull-downs focus on your “pull up muscles”, the latissimus dorsi. They’re the big flat muscles on either side of your middle back that look like wings. Usually considered a bodybuilding exercise, lat pull-downs are actually an excellent accessory for strongman pulling events like arm-over-arm, log or axle clean, and all sorts of deadlifts. 

They’re also a healthy countermovement for bench press, targeting your mid and upper back muscles.

Using a wider grip encourages the lats to work harder. You’ll be taking your hands all the way to the end of the bar in this variation.

Bench press tips

Lat pulldown points of performance

 

    • Get seated on a lat pull-down machine and grab the bar with both hands at the very ends. Keep your body upright and face forward.
    • Squeezing your shoulder blades together, pull your elbows back and down.
    • Use your upper back muscles to pull the bar down and toward your chest, then squeeze your lats at the bottom of the movement. Try not to lean back.
    • Take a moment to feel the tension, then release it gently and without letting your body rock forward.
4. heavy kettlebell swings

 

Kettlebell swings train the muscles of the hips and low back to handle strong hinging movements. In strongman competitions, your hips generate power for loading stones onto high platforms or tossing kegs over high bars. It also helps with everyday activities like jogging and jumping since the swing is a dynamic motion.

The kettlebell swing engages your entire upper back and core for stability, while the muscles of the posterior hip (glutes and hamstrings) drive the weight. It’s a fast, powerful exercise that pairs well with the slower, more stationary lifts.

Heavy kettlebell swings

 

    • Place both hands on the kettlebell handle in an overhand grip.
    • Bend at your hips and push your butt back until your torso is nearly parallel to the floor.
    • Swing the weight from between your legs to out in front of you, squeezing your glutes, and snapping upright aggressively. 
    • Keep your arms straight and use your hips to propel the kettlebell up until it reaches eye level.
    • Try not to bend too much into the knees and “squat” your swing! Remember: hinge at the waist.
5. atlas stone load

 

Atlas stones might look intimidating at first, but they’re an important aspect of strongman training. Once you have foundational strength and lifting mechanics down, give the atlas stone a try. 

Despite its appearance, once you have enough practice under your belt to get the hang of the technique, Atlas stones aren’t that scary. Regularly training with an Atlas stone will build strength in your erectors, lats, pecs, rhomboids, and shoulders. It’s a meaty movement for meaty athletes.

How to load an Atlas Stone

 

  • Stand with your feet far apart and straddle the stone between your legs.
  • Begin by crouching down and cupping your hands underneath the stone. Grasp the stone with your arms, pressing them into it. 
  • Drive your hips down and pull the atlas stone into your body, aiming toward your groin so the stone rests on your thighs. Make sure you hunch your lower back as in this exercise a rounded back is necessary to properly lift the stone.
  • In a squatting position with the stone in your lap, adjust your grip so that your hands grasp the stone over the top, not from beneath. This prevents the stone from rolling away from you during the next phase.
  • Push your hips forward and up, then roll the stone up your body as you rise.
  • Hoist and place the stone on the platform of your choosing. Work with a spotter to help you stabilize the weight.
  • Roll the stone onto a thick carpet to return it to its original position.
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6. Tire flip

 

A tire flip with the correct technique will target the same muscles as a deadlift with the added bonus of a forward pushing movement. To initiate the flip, your glutes, hamstrings and back are engaged. Once the tire is ready to be pushed over, you’ll work your biceps, chest, and triceps.

How to perform a tire flip

 

  • Begin with your feet and hips shoulder-width apart. To get into position, crouch down and push your hips back while keeping your back flat, core tight.
  • Keep an eye on your hands. Make sure your hands are on the treads as you underhand grip the tire. Putting them between the treads might crush your fingers or result in a twisted bicep.
  • Power is crucial for the take-off. Use your legs to push against the ground and raise the tire to chest level. Once it hits your chest, flip your hands quickly to an overhand grip and push the tire over until it falls on its side.
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These are some solid foundational movements for strongman training, but when in doubt: work with a coach! Trying out these types of potentially dangerous exercises in a professional environment with professional trainers can go a long way.

The last thing you want is to deal with an injury, so be smart about these and consider your own capabilities. Then, over time and with deliberate practice, smash through your strength limitations and who knows… maybe even check out the strongman competition scene.  

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