In the 19th century, the term strongman referred to an exhibitor of strength (before strength sports were codified into weightlifting,powerlifting etc., becoming actual athletic competitions) or circus performers of similar ilk who displayed feats of strength such as the bent press (not to be confused with the bench press, which did not exist at the time), supporting large amounts of weight held overhead at arm’s length, steel bending, chain breaking, etc. Large amounts of wrist, hand, and tendon strength were required for these feats, as well as prodigious oblique strength.
In the late 20th century the term strongman changed to describe one who competes in strength athletics – a more modern eclectic strength competition in which competitors lift rocks, tote refrigerators, pull trains, walk while towing an eighteen wheel truck behind them, etc. The most famous competition of this type is World’s Strongest Man and the “World’s Strongest Man Super Series”, however North American Strongman, Inc. (NAS) and the Canadian Federation of Strength Athletes (CFSA) hold amateur and other meets throughout the United States and Canada.
In recent years, interest in the sport at the grassroots level has skyrocketed, leading to the spontaneous formation of local clubs, loosely affiliated with provincial/state and national associations.
Many sports-specific training facilities have begun to incorporate movements associated with strongman competitions into their general training schemes, albeit with lighter weights used; e.g. tire flips, sled drags, object loading or carrying, log pressing, farmer’s walks and so on.
Training for strongman involves building overall strength in the gym, and training with competition implements to gain familiarity. In the gym it is necessary to train the entire body for strength, especially with variants of the squat, deadlift, and overhead press. Also important is explosive power, developed by weightlifting-style lifts, and cardiovascular conditioning. Grip strength must also be developed. Like any sport, it is necessary to train using the equipment one encounters in the sport. In the case of strongman, these include logs, tires, yokes, farmer’s walk implements, etc.; building strength in the gym alone is insufficient.
Though competitive strongman events are ever changing, there are a number of staples that frequently appear on the international stage, including:
- Atlas Stones
- Axle Press
- Car Flip
- Dumbbell Press
- Fingal’s Finger
- Frame Carry
- Keg Toss
- Log Press
- Tire Flip