I’ve been lifting weights since I was in middle school, and I started competing in strongman when I got to college. Five years and two national championships later, I can still openly admit I don’t have all the answers. I know, what a shocker. If you asked me years ago I would have said “I have no idea what the f*** I’m doing” and it would’ve been true. Thankfully, I had some really experienced and smart people around me.
I’ve come a long way, and learned more than I ever thought I would, and I look forward to all the learning I have ahead of me. I do feel like this is a great time to drop some knowledge bombs on all the newcomers to strongman, as the sport seems to be growing faster than ever. So let me save you some time, plenty of losses, and a boat-load of money on college degrees, and I’ll tell you the three biggest issues I see with most strongman competitors at contests.
#1 – The Game Is All About Consistency
Winning strongman competitions really is all about consistency. Thank god, or I wouldn’t have a win to my name. This is a rare occasion in sport where it pays to be pretty good at everything instead of being amazing at one or two things. This is especially true when you get to top level competitions in strongman. You can’t win a contest if you’re zeroing an event.
I know what you’re thinking; it’s not sexy. It’s not like having a world record deadlift or the best log press in your weight class. That’s hot and gets tons of recognition. Probably because it’s easier for most people to understand and relate to. So you’ve got an amazing deadlift, but it won’t bring home any trophies if the rest of your game sucks.
My first few contests, I would pretty much just count on my back and legs to get me through the competition. Deadlifts, squats, carries… no problem. But I also zeroed half the overhead events. The last time I didn’t win a contest at the 175 pound weight class, was all because I zeroed a circus dumbbell. Never letting that happen again.
So my advice, train the events you hate and suck at as your number one priority. Don’t wait to lose a contest to then get fired up about it. If you can’t be honest with yourself, ask a training partner and find out what you need to work on. Once you know, program it at the beginning of the week, at the beginning of the session, and train it often.
I’ve never said getting better was always fun, but winning is fun. If you’ve got the best (inset event name here) but can’t win a contest… cool story, bro. You’ll start winning shows when you don’t have holes in your game anymore.
#2 – I’m Using So-&-So’s Blah Blah Blah Method
Okay, maybe if you’re a complete beginner you’ll get away with this one so long as you stick to it. Let’s be real though, you want to compete and you want to win. So why are you doing someone else’s program? Oh, because it helped them break this record and helped them win that title. That’s cool; too bad you’re not them.
This goes back to fixing the holes in your game to be consistent. How do you expect to be the best version of yourself if you aren’t following a program that’s specifically designed for you? Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of good programs out there; minimalist, 5/3/1, cube, etc., and that’s fine, but it won’t benefit you as well as a specific program customized to your individual needs.
Alright, but I don’t know how to program a training cycle. I get it, it’s hard work. It’s taken me years of practice and lots of edits (they’re not mistakes just learning trials). Truth is, it’s easy to reach out in the community and have 100 different people offer you online personal programs; hell, I’ll do it. Only thing is you’ll have to sift through 97 hacks to get to three people competent enough to help. That’s solution number one, I guess.
Solution number two is a double-edged sword with me. I make a living off training people and writing programs, but I will say in the long run I think it’s best to do it yourself and start figuring it out. I honestly believe you’ll make mistakes, learn a lot more, and force yourself to ask a lot more questions if you do it this way, even if it’s not as practical. At the very least I can still answer questions. Every time I write a program I have a contact list of about five or six people I’ll call and bounce ideas off of.
Solution three is nothing you haven’t heard me say before. Invest in a BioForce HRV system. Let me start with clearing up a misconception. I’m not sponsored by them (or anyone else), and although I work for the company, my pay is in no way affected by its sales. I just believe in how it works. Because it’s science, dummy.
This solution is the middle ground of the other two. Using a monitoring tool like BioForce HRV can help you fine-tune a program, whether a generic program or custom one, to make sure you get the most out of your training cycle. Remember, everyone responds to stimulus differently; this just helps show you how you’re responding and how to make the adjustments necessary to get the most out of your training.
#3 – Master Your Craft
This one is so funny to me, because from my professional standpoint we have it so easy. Any other athlete that comes into the gym, I have to plan accordingly with their practice schedules, games, and private sessions with their technique coach. Strongman competitors, it’s all in the gym.
Maybe it’s because it’s all in the gym that it gets overlooked and quickly clumped together with the other strength exercises. If that’s the case let me open your mind on this one, strongman events are as much skill work as they are strength work for a competitor. BOOM! So why don’t you train it that way? All I hear about is how heavy it is.
Well, it helps to be strong, Patrick! Sure, I know that, I completely agree. I also know for a fact half the guys at Nationals this year were bigger and stronger than me. Oh wait, that’s because I’m just consistent and well-rounded, right?
Did you ever stop to think that maybe I got that much better because the process of becoming much more technically efficient is fast than the process of becoming stronger? Did you ever think about how much time it takes to recover from working on technique than it does from heavily loading your system?
None of what I just said should be mind-blowing, but from what I’ve seen all over the internet and every time I go to a contest, it must be. Practice your skills, train your technique, and look for ways to become more efficient.
I have been truly blessed by those around me in the Pacific Northwest to learn tricks and tips to make every movement better. If you’re not as fortunate as I am in the area you’re in, don’t be afraid to seek help. Again, just be cautious when going to the internet and the YouTube videos; there’s a lot of absolute garbage out there that’ll actually make you worse and in danger than make you better.
Just like training programs though, techniques are also varied from person to person and should be individualized. Thankfully, I am here to tell you that Zack McCarley and I have put together the highest quality video instructional series of all time! (For strongman event training anyway.) It encompasses the most common events, multiple technical variations, how to train and program them, along with over four hours of high production videos.
Bad news is we aren’t releasing it until January. Don’t worry, it’ll still be epic come New Year’s and I’ll come out with more detailed content before then. I hope this has helped address some of the glaring issues with your strongman game. Feel free to email me questions or topics at [email protected].
Patrick “The Cannon” Castelli is a 24-year-old two-time 175-pound Strongman National Champion, 149-pound DII college National wrestler, and a USPA State record holder in powerlifting. Currently, Patrick is a Strength and Conditioning Coach with a BS in Kinesiology specializing in Movement Studies and Sports Psychology.