Powerlifting Pro Tip: Get Better With These Strongman Moves

Sep 29, 2022 | Exercise guides, Strength & Conditioning

Closeup portrait of a bodybuilder girding on his bodybuilding belt

Hitting plateaus in your big three lifts? Try switching it up with these beefy strongman moves to improve your overall strength and help you hit some deadlift, squat, and bench press PRs. Your new total is waiting for you.

Joseph Lucero, owner of Harvesting Strength, is a powerlifter and strongman coach with years of practical S&C experience in high school, collegiate, and professional settings. In this blog, he explains how these 3 strongman moves will translate to your powerlifting prowess.

John Fasulo
Joseph lucero

Leverage in Powerlifting (Is Sumo Cheating?)

I am about to make a statement that might sound familiar for those who powerlift… “Bro, is sumo cheating?”

This endless debate among powerlifters tends to be about the sumo deadlift vs the conventional deadlift. People vouch that sumo is cheating and if you ask me… I’m not the biggest fan. BUT at the same time, if it’s legal in competition, then why not? You’re still moving massive amounts of weight against gravity.

This argument stems from the biomechanics of lifting. In theory, the wider your stance, the shorter the movement (because you’re closer to the ground). And if the movement is shorter, you can load more. This is a pretty general statement based on all the fuss. The bench press has a similar concept: the wider your bench grip, the better chance (physically) you have of being successful.

My point is, there’s a heavy emphasis on the biomechanical leverages that exist in powerlifting. Some body types naturally seem to be more successful than others. So, what can you do to improve your powerlifting abilities? One thing athletes rarely consider is trying strongman!

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Strongman is All About Raw Strength

I’m sure that at first, the idea of doing strongman to improve powerlifting sounds odd. In powerlifting, it’s all about maximum strength in the squat, bench, and deadlift. So, how does doing a farmer walk or a log press help with your powerlifting ability?

In strongman, it’s all about being STRONG.

Strongman doesn’t have the luxury of manipulating leverages like in powerlifting, so when you do strongman, you just have to be strong, period.

Sure there are different techniques for certain events, but the big picture is that you need to train strength to make sure you are the best strongman around.

So how do you implement strongman into your powerlifting regimen? Let’s focus on three strongman events that heavily translate into powerlifting: the farmer walk, yoke walk, and the clean and press.

The Farmer Walk

The farmer walk is done by carrying an object in your hands from one location to another. You could use two handles, or you could use a singular device such as a frame or trap bar. Ultimately, you’re required to hold onto the weight and carry it for a specific distance. It’s grueling and nasty if you do it right.

This type of strongman lift is correlated with the deadlift.

With the farmer walk, you need to have great grip, solid posture, and brutal muscular endurance (especially in your legs). If you think about the farmer walk in relation to a conventional deadlift, the farmer walk improves your grip and your postural/core muscles. It also helps make gains in those posterior chain muscles for improving leg drive off the floor.

Young muscular sportsman doing farmer's walk exercise during his cross training workout

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Yoke Walk

The yoke requires you to move a heavy amount of weight on your back off the floor for a specific distance. This is another walking event, but unlike the farmer walk, the weight is displaced on your back like a squat (not in your hands like a deadlift).

As you walk with the weight, you’re taking the full load of the yoke onto each leg for multiple reps over a given distance. Since the weight is displaced on your upper back for the yoke walk, your postural muscles, leg and hip muscles all get a great workout. Not to mention the stability involved in supporting the weight on your upper back.

There’s a heavy correlation between the yoke walk and the squat.

I’m willing to bet that the more you can yoke walk, the more you can squat. On the flip side, the more you squat, the more you can yoke walk.

The Clean and Press

The clean helps with explosive ability in the hips, and the overhead press aids your bench press.

I’m sure there are a ton of coaches who might argue the idea of an overhead press aiding the bench press. Supporting weight overhead puts major emphasis on your shoulders and triceps, with less power needed from your pectoralis major (the big movers for the bench press).

BUT that extra work on your shoulders and triceps might be what pushes you through a plateau in performance and puts your bench press back on the map! The great thing about strongman is that it doesn’t matter how the weight gets overhead, so you can use all of your upper body power.

PS. As I mention in Dip Your Way to a Stronger Bench Press, you need that power from your triceps for a big bench anyway!

Maybe you’re getting bored using the same old weights for your squat, bench and deadlift. It’s easy to get stuck in your head about it. Sometimes in life and in training, shaking things up is just what you need to make progress or to approach a challenging lift with a new mindset.

Strongman puts a little less emphasis on biomechanical advantage than powerlifting, so the movements are fun and can give your inner iron monster a little slap in the face.

I encourage you to mess around with these strongman movements in your next training session and see how they feel — you might be sore in some new places just before hitting your next PR.

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