Strongman Technique Series

Technique can be the difference between trophies and injuries in any sport.  This phenomenon is even more prevalent in strongman where extreme loads are coupled with high skill component movements. 

The sport of strongman incorporates lifts which are vastly different than most strength trainees normally encounter in the gym.  This can make them an excellent source of variety for powerlifters and other non-strongman strength athletes.  It also presents unique challenges to the strongman training neophyte. 

In my experience, the strongman movements which present the most formidable of these technique challenges are the log press, tire flip, and Atlas stones.  The balance of this article will address the lifts individually and will also provide helpful hints to ease your transition from strong guy to STRONGMAN. 

To see any of the below techniques in action view the video link at the end of this article.

Log Press

Included in almost every strongman contest, the log press is the most common test of overhead strength, and often a key event by virtue of being placed first in the meet. There are two variations of this event, the max log and the log for reps.

Tom Mutaffis - Log Press

 Proper Execution:

  1. Row the log into your lap and then squat down holding your elbows high.
  2. Clean the log to your shoulders by rolling it up your body. You will have to be very aggressive and really snap the log into the racked (essentially resting on the shoulders) position.
  3. Once the log is racked be sure to keep your head slightly up with your elbows held high.
  4. Begin the press/jerk by squatting down slightly and then firing the log off of your chest as you extend your hips and legs in an explosive upward movement.
  5. As soon as the log clears your head try to bring it (your head) through by moving it slightly forward and altering the path of the press slightly to the rear.  
  6. Make sure to hold your lockout at the top and, if possible, make eye contact with the judge while awaiting the good lift command. 

General Tips

  • The more leg and hip drive you can muster, the more powerful your press/jerk will be.  The Olympic lifting technique of a squat or split jerk is also used by many strongmen.  If you can master either of these techniques they can be a very effective tool in your arsenal.
  • Assistance exercises in the gym should include front squats, close grip bench presses, barbell push jerks, and power cleans.
  • Wearing flat-soled shoes will help to maintain balance.  The use of a power belt can help the lifter to stabilize their torso during the press.  It can also provide a platform to rest the barbell on if the continental clean technique is being used. 
  • Many lifters are docked reps in competition due to poor form and or improper technique.  Their haste to pound out the reps causes them to lose focus and get sloppy.  Don’t let that happen to you! 
  • Breathing is especially important during a press for reps event.  The best time to do so is with the log in your lap. 
  • Experienced pressers and strongmen can work on mastering a singular motion pressing technique which is more efficient and thus a time saver during press for reps events.  When performing this technique the lifter simply skips the rack phase of the clean and press.  A strong strict press and a very fast clean are keys to success with this technique.  The fast clean generates increased momentum to help the lifter bypass sticking points in the press. 

Tire Flip

The tire flip is a very common strongman event.  Proper technique can make a huge difference in both the weight of the tires that can be used and the speed in which the movement can be executed.

The size of the tire dictates the optimal technique to be used.  Larger/heavier tires require a double movement technique while smaller/lighter tires allow for a single motion. 

Smaller / Lighter Tire – One Motion Technique:

  1. Place your hands palms-up underneath the tire.  Keep your feet back and drive your chest into the tire.  This allows you to use your body as leverage to break the tire from the ground.
  2. Continue to drive your chest into the tire and simultaneously thrust forward and upward.  Walk forward as the tire raises.
  3. Once the tire clears your knee use your leg to briefly hold it in place while transitioning your hands from under the tire to a pushing motion (if you are extremely explosive you might find that your chest can be used in the same fashion as described for your leg).
  4. Follow the tire as it falls and re-grip as quickly as possible remembering to keep your legs back.

General Tips for Lighter Tire:

  • Skip the use of a belt as it can just get in the way of a smooth execution of the motion.
  • Give the tire a final push at the very apex of the movement.  This force, in concert with gravity, will literally cause the tire to skip forward providing for additional distance with each flip.
  • Always remain aggressive with the tire.  Time is most commonly lost during the transition between flips.  Stay focused and move as quickly as possible at all times.
  • If for any reason one hand/arm loses grip during the ascent phase of the flip abort the movement immediately (unless your knee is supporting it at the time).  This can help to avert a torn biceps or other injuries. 

Heavy Tire – Post & Flip Technique:

Begin as described above for the light tire.  The variance begins when you clear your knee.  At that point you post the tire on your thigh.  This is accomplished by wedging your leg beneath the tire and literally resting it briefly upon your leg.

  1. Once the tire is posted on your thigh you will want to try to pop it up while simultaneously either pushing on the top of the tire, or driving your shoulder underneath the implement.
  2. Make sure to maintain good body leverage and keep leaning into the tire to finish the lift.
  3. Re-group and attack the tire again.  With heavy tires it is acceptable to take a brief moment to make sure you are prepped for the next flip. 

General Tips for a Heavy Tire:

  • Always make sure to have your body leaning into the tire to optimize leverage.
  • Focus on an explosive transition from the post.
  • Minimize the time you are holding the tire in the post.  The less time holding the tire the more energy conserved.
  • Master form with sets of singles, then graduate to sets of 3-7 reps.

Atlas Stones

Atlas stone lifting is a staple in strongman contests.  It is also one of the most technical and therefore challenging lifts to master for those new to the sport. 

The lift consists of 2 main components, the lap and the load.  Setting up properly is key to a successful execution of the movement.

Setup for Atlas Stones:

  • The Atlas stones are round and relatively smooth making for an odd object that is very difficult to grasp.  Tacky is a sticky pine resin that is allowed by the rules and should be applied to the forearms and chest (if the competitor is not wearing a shirt).  This substance will greatly improve your ability to hang onto the stones as they are hoisted.
  • In lieu of, or in addition to, the use of tacky it is common practice to use either protective sleeves or athletic tape as a measure of protection for the forearms.
  • Be sure to properly warm-up your biceps. 
  • Heavier lifters may want to avoid the use of a belt as the stone can pinch the skin of their belly against it.

The Lap:

  1. Mentally gear-up for a big lift.  Begin by standing slightly back from and centered relative to the stone.
  2. Bend over and grip the stone tightly being sure to make as much contact with your hands and forearms as possible.
  3. Squeeze with all of your might and begin to row/stiff-legged deadlift the stone to break it from the ground.
  4. As the stone nears your knees squat down and pull it into your lap.  With a particularly difficult stone you can sometimes bend at the knees a bit earlier and literally roll the stone up your legs into your lap.

Loading an Atlas Stone:

  1. From the lapped position fire your hips forward and drive the stone up your body rolling it to your chest as you stand erect.
  2. Load the stone onto the platform.

Note – For higher platforms you may have to explosively pull the stone up your body and place it on your shoulder, then load.

General Tips for Stone Loading:

  • Make sure to start with the stone 6-8” away from the platform.
  • Extend your lower back as you move from the lapped to a standing position.  At the peak of the movement you should be leaning back slightly as you use a heave of your chest to help thrust the stone to the platform.
  • A close stance with your feet is beneficial for the load as it will make you “taller”, and thus make the load easier, especially for the higher platforms.
  • Training without tacky can be of benefit as it will improve your ability to hold the stones.

Strongman training is a great way to enhance overall bodily strength and general athletic prowess.  Start light, master the techniques, and then go BIG!  

Written by Tom Mutaffis

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – Strongman Technique Series discussion thread.