Tips for your first Strongman Competition

As I think back, I believe my first sanctioned Strongman competition was in early 2010. It was Motor City Strongest Man, I was still in school at Purdue and my brother and I took the drive up to Detroit early in the morning the day of the competition. If I remember correctly I earned a last place finish in the heavyweights (if I wasn’t in last place it was probably because someone else withdrew due to an injury). Despite not placing well that day, I fell in love with the sport and to this day am hooked. Right now I have a couple of athletes that are interested in competing in their first strongman competitions so it got me thinking about what things they (and you) can do to make their first competition successful. Most of these tips are things I didn’t even know that I didn’t know leading up to my first competition but the thing that I think I did right that day was going into the competition without any expectations and I had a lot of fun. I would encourage anyone thinking about entering their first competition to do the same, have a good time and enjoy the fun of competing and challenging yourself.

Here are some tips that I hope you’ll find handy:

Don’t cut weight. One of the most common things I hear about when people talk about starting to compete is cutting weight. The rule of thumb I absolutely love comes from Mr. Chris Vachio, a seasoned veteran of the sport: “if the number of competitions you have done is less than the amount of weight you need to cut don’t do it.” Having to restrict calories and worry about water weight adds an additional layer of stress on something that is already stressful enough. You are better off being as strong as you can be and devote the extra energy on practicing events rather than on cutting down to a lighter weight class. Your first competition should be a learning experience and a chance to really see what Strongman is about so enjoy it! Once you get some experience competing you’ll better know where you are in relation to others and will be better able to make the adjustments to your training that you need.
Be strong enough. This is pretty simple concept, and for land’s sake, it’s even in the name of the sport. Whether you are competing as a novice or in the open division make sure that you’re strong enough to do each of the events. One of the worst feelings in a competition is when you zero on an event or get completely stapled by the weight. Give yourself the best chance at having a great day by knowing you can handle the weights of a competition. Sometimes it might be a little tough to know how well you can handle a certain weight in an event if you don’t have access to the implements. Starting Strongman has a nice feature on their website that has a map locating strongman gyms so it would do you well to find one in your area and get a feel for some of the implements. The good news is that just about every competition is going to have an overhead event, a deadlift, a moving event, and a loading event so if you are strong in those types of movements the competition should go well.
Be fit enough. While being strong is the goal it is also important to have good lung capacity when competing. Usually each individual event has a 60 second time limit so, especially if you’re new, having the ability to go all out for 60 seconds is very important. While strength is literally the name of the game, when you have max reps or distance you need to be able to go almost all out for the whole time. An added benefit of being well conditioned is that your recovery will be a lot better between events and you’ll endure better throughout the day as well as your training leading up to the competition.
Train the events with more experienced competitors. If you train at a typical gym you probably won’t have access to many of the implements used in the sport, but between the growth of CrossFit and Strongman there have never been so many places that have the equipment needed to train Strongman events. Starting Strongman has a strongman gym finder on that will literally pinpoint where the various equipped gyms are. Take the time to travel to one or more of these to learn a few things from some veterans– it will be time well spent. Typically strongman competitors are very welcoming and supportive of anyone joining our little family and will take time out of their own workouts to help someone trying to improve themselves. Getting your hands on the implements a few times before your first competition will help you out tremendously as technique on all of the events is very important.
Wear the right kind of shoes. The shoes you wear during your competition should be something you’ve been training in and are comfortable moving in. The type of shoe you want is something that is lightweight, has a firm sole (something that’s not soft or cushiony, you don’t want any give in your foot when you have a lot of weight on your back), and in general hold your foot fairly snugly in place. Something like an Adidas Samba, Puma Roma, or No Bull training shoe are all great general purpose shoes that would service you perfectly well for a whole competition. As you progress in the sport there are several other kinds of shoes that are better suited for specific events, but I don’t recommend buying them for your first outing. However, if you already have one or more of these you can train in them and see if they help your performance. Generally an Olympic shoe can help on overhead events, wrestling shoes or deadlift slippers are great for deadlifting events, and climbing shoes are the best for truck pulls and sled drags. If you don’t have climbing shoes, work boots are a good substitute. Again, if you already have these shoes go ahead and bring them but if not a good general shoe will work quite well.
Empty and repack your gym bag. The last thing you want to do is show up to the competition and find out that you forgot your belt or other piece of gear. Although most people are cool and will let you use theirs it can be stressful discovering that you’re missing something important. The night before you leave for the competition take the time to completely unpack and repack your gym bag. After you have emptied it entirely go over every piece of equipment you need for each event making sure you have it and have confirmed that you put it exactly where you want it. Make a checklist either mentally or on paper and check each thing off as you pack it up. This might not seem like such a big deal, but going through all your gear and mentally checking off that you not only have but have confirmed putting it in its place can save you a lot of stress and prevent some last minute scrambling at the competition.
Make sure you eat and drink during the competition. Most Strongman competitions have 5 events that roughly take an hour each. It’s going to be a fairly long day and you might not even realize that you’re hungry until it’s too late and your performance declines. It can be hard too to eat “normal” foods because of the nature of the day, typically an all-out effort followed by a long break. It took me a few years to find what works well for me to eat during a competition but now I have it pretty dialed in. My usual cooler is packed with a few PB&J sandwiches (I’ll eat a whole or half sandwich after each event), a big Tupperware of mixed berries, a protein shake, and a couple of Gatorades/waters. Everything is pretty light in my stomach so I don’t feel bloated or heavy eating it, and it provides the carbs and fat needed to keep blood sugar stable all day. There are plenty of other things that you can take depending on what sits well with you but that is just an example of what has worked well for me. I would encourage you to experiment a little with your foods leading up to your competition and find foods that digest easily and don’t make you feel heavy.
Warm up. The beginning of a competition are always chaotic, be prepared for that. Be intentional about your warmup and make sure you get a chance to do some of the actual movement of the event. Before the start of the event everyone lines up in front of the implement and take turns getting their warmup sets in. There is mutual respect as everyone does this so don’t be intimidated to get your hands on the implement. Bring some resistance bands in your bag that you can use to get some work in, and if you have a routine of corrective exercises you do before your normal training make sure to get those in too. Finally make sure you get your turns on the implements to warm up with. Even if you are fortunate enough to train in a facility that has strongman equipment there is a good chance that the implement used in the competition will feel different from what you are used to.
Enjoy the experience. Finally your first competition is going to be a learning experience anyway you look at it, so learn what you can and get some good experience. Have some fun, and enjoy the ability to move powerfully. Your performance the day of the competition is the reflection of the preparation you’ve done leading up to it. Put in some good work leading up to your first competition and you should be able to enjoy a good performance and may even walk away with a few new friends.
I hope that these tips will help you make the most of your first competition. Strongman is truly an enjoyable sport and there are many great people involved at all levels of the sport. Coach John Wooden’s definition of success was to put forth your best effort on a daily basis, the compounding effect of this was unparalleled triumph on the basketball court so as I leave you now I want to leave you with that ideal to strive for, knowing that it will serve you well in your strongman career as well as all other aspects of life.

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