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“Preparing for Strength” A Strongman Training Series, Pt. 1 – Dave Pankow, RKC

This is the first in a series of articles I am writing to help more clearly define some guidelines when training for a strongman event.  There are many different methods of training that can be adopted to help prepare for a strongman event, but also many things to consider when designing the correct program for you specifically.

I have been interested in strength sport for as long as I can remember and began competing in 2012 in the 200# weight class.  I had relatively low expectations for my first competition, other than trying to not make a fool of myself, and was surprised to take first place in the 200# class at Motor City’s Strongest Man 2012. I have been hooked ever since.  When researching how to train for my first contest I never found a program that seemed to match my needs.  Most programs seem to adopt the conjugate system or 5/3/1 method.  These are great templates for powerlifting, and for a high level lifter can produce great results that will transfer over to most strength sports.  They are not, however, complete systems when training for the large amount of skills needed for strongman events.

What about someone new to strength sport?  While I am not new to lifting weights as I have been lifting for the last 16 years and made personal training my career for the past 10 years, I am still new to competitive strength sport even with my under the bar experience.  I needed a plan to set myself up to succeed in this venture.  My level of GPP (General Physical Preparedness) was without a doubt a huge help to winning my first time competing.

If you are serious about being a competitor and staying injury free CHECK YOUR EGO AT THE DOOR.  Below is a list of factors to consider when designing a program and creating an environment to train in that will breed success.

1. Choose a competition…and sign up.

2. Decide which weight class you will be competing in.

3. Find a gym and a training partner or group that has the implements and attitude that is going to take your training where it needs to be.  (If your gym is painted purple and yellow, frowns on deadlifting and doing actual work, you might consider changing locations.)

4. Schedule your training sessions and hold yourself accountable.

5. Develop a program that will strengthen the weak links in your chain.  If you want to be really strong, you’re going to need to focus on the things you suck at.

6. Trust your program and stick to it, but be willing to make adjustments as needed.

Here’s the the first 3 from the list in more detail.

– Choose a competition…and sign up:

This sounds simple enough, but I have seen many people dabble with the idea of competing and want to train without the commitment of selecting and signing up for a competition.  Training partners who don’t commit to an event will not be nearly as productive in the gym and will more than likely hinder you rather that push you.  Without the commitment of a specific competition, how will you design a program?  Sit down with your training partner and choose a competition that is a minimum of 3 months out and give yourself the chance to set up a proper training cycle for competition.

– Decide which weight class you will be competing in:

Depending on the size of competition chosen, there will be a varying amount of weight classes.  For smaller comps, there will sometimes only be a lightweight and heavyweight division.  Lightweights are typically 231# and under with heavyweights starting around 265#.  Larger competitions will break down the weight divisions into smaller classes.  Using proper planning and diet, it is definitely smart to come in weighing near the top of your class, as some competitions will allow weigh-ins the day prior.  You will need to plan on competitors taking advantage of this and weighing an average of 10-15# heavier on competition day.

– Find a gym and a training partner or group that has the implements and attitude that is going to take your training where it needs to be:

Successful people surround themselves with motivated and successful people.  Training partners and groups tend to move as a single unit.  This means that if one part of this unit is lacking motivation and drive, everyone will suffer.  Energy, good and bad, is contagious.  A good training partner will pick you up on days that you are struggling.  A good partner will also kick you in the ass and tell you when you need to step it up, squat deeper, lockout a lift, and make you a better lifter.  Training with someone who has no critique about your lifts in an effort to save your feelings will never make you a better lifter.  Don’t be afraid to drop people that aren’t training to the standards and energy of the group.  Most cities have multiple places to train ranging from squeaky clean health clubs to dirty garage gyms.  Find a place that has the equipment you need and the atmosphere that motivates you to lift hard.  If you find yourself in a gym that is not filled with like-minded lifters and an atmosphere that is not hungry for results, seek out a place that does.

Following these first few tips should help you get in the correct mindset and in the right environment to do some serious training.  In part 2, I will go over the remaining four points and discuss in depth how to put together a decent program that is time efficient and will make you strong.


Dave Pankow, RKC: Dave has always been fascinated by feats of strength.  Designing programs and teaching technique of lifts and movements is his specialty. It’s been a rewarding career that has him learning everyday. Dave’s results speak volumes about him as a trainer and have built his business on a great reputation. In 2011 I began training for my first strongman competition.  He competed in his first competition, Motor City’s Strongest Man, in early 2012 and took first place in the 200 pound division. He plans on competing several more times this year and in years to come.


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