Not every lifter wants to look like a classic bodybuilder with oversized deltoids and a relatively low body fat percentage. Some prefer the look and functionality of many strongman competitors, with their impressive lift totals and substantial grip strength.
However, unlike the well-documented methods of achieving other athletic body types, training for the strongman competitor’s physique is somewhat less covered in fitness media, leading many exercisers to wonder how they can go about pursuing their goal of looking like a strongman competitor.
To put it in a nutshell, achieving a strongman physique entails consuming a surplus of calories alongside extremely heavy free weight training, with a particular focus on functional gross strength involving the entirety of the body.
In more technical terms, the strongman body is one of high body weight, high skeletal muscle mass and excellent strength output capacity.
In particular, the strongman physique features thick upper legs, a wide back and will often have a layer of fat covering the abdominal muscles, meaning that the much-coveted six pack is not visible for many individuals with a strongman body.
Though the actual appearance of strongman competitors can vary in terms of proportions and body fat percentage, one inarguable fact is that they are quite physically strong, regardless of their appearance.
Strongman competitors and lifters who train in a similar manner to them will often move hundreds of pounds of weight in the form of awkwardly shaped objects as a natural component of their workout program.
As such, training for a strongman body doesn't just involve looking like a strongman competitor, but also replicating the functionality and raw physical strength that they are known for as well.
As was briefly mentioned earlier, the strongman body can often vary in terms of body composition.
What this means is that the relative body fat percentage of strongman competitors will vary between individuals, with some die-hard strongman athletes sporting a gut over their abdominal muscles so as to maximize their body weight advantage, while others may compromise and even sport a six-pack due to their low body fat percentage.
What all individuals with a strongman physique share, however, is a high amount of muscle mass capable of outputting significant force despite an awkward angle of resistance.
This means that dieting for a strongman body can involve somewhat less time spent in a state of caloric restriction, unlike other body types that require significant body fat control in order to achieve their ideal weight and appearance.
The strongman competitor’s physique is likely the right body type for you if your goals involve developing significant muscular strength, you don’t much care for having visible abs or if you wish to compete in strongman competitions.
Conversely, for individuals that have been advised to control their body fat percentage by a physician, or those that do not wish to perform extremely heavy compound movements, it is likely that training and dieting for a strongman body is an inadvisable course of action.
Though having a strongman physique involves having well-developed musculature throughout the entirety of the body, certain muscle groups are accentuated more than others due to their functionality and role in classic strongman exercises.
The quadriceps femoris and gluteus maximus muscles of the lower body are the largest in most strongman physiques, as they generate the greatest amount of force in any movement that is not isolated to the muscles of the upper body.
Furthermore, the upper body of a strongman physique will feature large trapezius muscles alongside a wide back on account of having a well-developed latissimus dorsi, with the various muscles of the forearms also being quite bulky due to the importance of grip strength in strongman training.
Whether you plan to compete in strongman events or simply wish to replicate their training style, understanding what sort of exercises are focused on by strongman competitors and their coaches will aid in achieving your goals.
Even if you are not planning to join any sort of strength-based athletic competition, incorporating these exercises or their accessory movements into your training will doubtless result in achieving the strongman body.
Perhaps the most iconic strength-based lift of all, the deadlift is a frequent mainstay of many strongman competitions, wherein it acts as a gauge of total-body strength and explosiveness in a variety of different manners.
The deadlift is measured during strongman events in several ways, with a simple maximal load repetition being the most common - though other measurements such as maximum repetitions within a length of time or deadlift exercise variations are also frequently encountered.
As such, the manner in which strongman athletes train their deadlift can differ depending on what sort of competition they are planning to compete in.
Strongman competitions will often feature an overhead press lift as well - though, not what the typical lifter imagines when the term overhead press is used (like below).
Instead, strongman athletes will lift awkwardly shaped objects that are not normally found in the gym, usually to add an additional level of difficulty to the exercise or otherwise change it in some small mechanical way.
Due to the awkward shape of the items these strongman competitors lift, more than simple deltoid strength is required; a stable core, excellent mobility and some level of genetic compatibility will also be required to excel with this particular competition lift.
The term “loaded carry” refers to any sort of mobile exercise involving the lifter carrying a heavy load, either on their back or by gripping the source of the resistance.
In strongman competitions, this can take quite a number of different forms, from heavy log carries to dragging boulders across a predetermined length of space.
Loaded carries incorporate practically every aspect of athleticism into their execution, with muscular strength, aerobic endurance and even mobility all being employed throughout a loaded carry performance.
In particular, loaded carries will recruit the core and forearms to the greatest degree, as it is these muscle groups that must remain contracted in a multitude of ways so as to ensure that the exerciser does not injure themselves or fail the lift.
Working to achieve a strongman physique is much like any other athletic body type, wherein the lifter must incorporate proper training methodology, dieting techniques and the right type of exercises in order to reach their goal.
When training for the body of a strongman competitor, exercisers will see the best results by being in a caloric surplus and consuming enough protein to accelerate their muscular development - two factors that are not limited by the need to keep their body fat percentage low, as would be the case with other athletic body types.
Considering the fact that not many strongman competitors are overly concerned with controlling their body fat, they will most often achieve their physique and strength developments through the use of a dirty bulking phase diet, wherein they consume large amounts of calories in order to fuel their physical growth.
While we don’t exactly advise that you eat everything in sight, having a surplus between 250 to 500 calories over your daily energy expenditure should provide more than enough resources to allow unimpeded muscular hypertrophy.
Furthermore, exercisers are advised to consume at least 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight, as protein is the main building block behind muscle protein synthesis.
Though strongman competitions will often use unconventional exercises or equipment, training for a strongman physique is somewhat more structured - often making use of free weight compound movements, just like any other strength training routine.
While the specific exercises used by strongman athletes will vary depending on what sort of event they are competing for, training for the strongman physique should include the bench press and the barbell squat, while also making use of the traditional barbell deadlift.
These exercises are otherwise known as the “big 3”, and are essential to developing a strong and balanced physique.
In particular, the squat and deadlift are included in every workout session of the strongman body training program, maximizing lower body training stimulus and ensuring that the lifter’s nervous system is well-conditioned to heavy compound movements.
Programming a strongman workout often involves a high frequency of muscular recruitment, low volume sets and even the usage of load progression schemes at the more advanced levels of strongman training.
This means that anyone who wishes to maximize the efficiency at which they reach their body goals will need some level of understanding in regards to proper training programming, or at the least a training program that is developed by a coach with experience in strongman training.
Training for a strongman body is a balancing act between performing heavy compound movements and allowing your body time to recover between workout sessions - something that may be difficult for individuals without their recovery and diet down.
As such, the suggested training frequency per muscle group is approximately two to three times within a given week, so long as the total volume in each workout is tempered appropriately.
Unlike in the case of bodybuilders or endurance athletes, individuals seeking a strongman body do not need an excessive amount of volume in order to achieve the required factors or muscularity of their goal.
While time under tension is indeed a major portion of strongman training, the majority of the exercises involved will be performed in sets of 3-8 repetitions at the most, meaning total volume is in fact comparatively quite low.
A good adage to go by when picking the volume of your sets is “quality over quantity”, where every repetition is meant to be performed with a long time under tension and high levels of resistance instead of a large number of repetitions being performed per set.
As the lifter progresses with their strongman training, their body will gradually adapt to the stimulus that is being employed to induce physical development - requiring that more advanced training methodologies be used.
The usage of periodization, progressive loading sets and even maximal volume training are all tactics used by advanced level strongman athletes whose natural linear progression have slowed or reached a plateau.
The length of time in which it will take you to reach your goal of achieving a strongman body will depend on a number of factors.
The largest and most important of these factors is your recovery methodology. Taking days off between workouts, having an adequate amount of sleep and consuming a sufficient amount of protein are all vitally important to achieving the sort of strength and muscle mass that is characteristic of a strongman competitor’s physique.
Furthermore, there is also the matter of actual strength development slowing down as the lifter progresses, with more advanced lifters only being able to add approximately 5 pounds to their maximum lifts within a month.
As such, it is actually quite difficult to estimate how long it will take for you to get a strongman body, though a good guess is approximately 1-2 years of consistent strength training, so long as every aspect of your training is perfected.
Strongman competitors utilize a significant amount of resistance exercise in order to train for their respective sport - a proven method of inducing muscular hypertrophy, or what is otherwise known as muscle “gains”.
As such, any individual that employs the usage of strongman training or similar types of resistance training will find that their muscles will grow larger over time, eventually resulting in similar volumes of muscle mass as strongmen.
Individuals of higher body weight are naturally stronger than their lighter counterparts (when not accounting for weight-to-lift ratios), and as such strongman competitors will often pack on more fat than most other athletes for the simple reason that it allows them to lift greater amounts of weight.
While this is not exactly a necessity - and there are doubtless many low body fat percentage athletes who are quite strong - it is an easy and effective method of taking advantage of the laws of physics to gain an edge over other competing strongman athletes.
Whether this practice is healthy, however, is an entirely different question.
Outside of certain training programs or periodization blocks, strongman athletes do not usually train on a daily basis - that is, unless their training split specifically isolates muscle groups in such a manner that they are not trained two days in a row.
Of course, there are exceptions to this rule, but the majority of novice to advanced level strongman competitors do not need to train the same muscles on a daily basis, and especially not consecutively.
And there you have it, an overview of how to get a strongman body as fast and as safely as possible.
Just like in the pursuit of any other athletic body type, remember that there is a level of risk in every aspect of physical training when performed improperly.
If you’re unsure of how to perform an exercise or how to structure your diet, it's a good idea to seek out the advice of a professional athletic coach.
1. Winwood, P. W., Cronin, J. B., Keogh, J. W. L., Dudson, M. K., & Gill, N. D. (2014). How Coaches Use Strongman Implements in Strength and Conditioning Practice. International Journal of Sports Science & Coaching, 9(5), 1107–1125. https://doi.org/10.1260/1747-95126.96.36.1997
2. Hindle, B.R., Lorimer, A., Winwood, P. et al. The Biomechanics and Applications of Strongman Exercises: a Systematic Review. Sports Med - Open 5, 49 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40798-019-0222-z