In most sports, there is a time and place for training specificity and a time to focus on muscle growth. The sport of strongman is no different. You may think you need to be practicing the specific competition movements year-round—and always with maximal weights—but any sport that asks you to get stronger requires periodization. You simply won't make significant progress in the sport if you're constantly hauling around soul-crushing amounts of weight.
Anthony Fuhrman, the 105-kilogram World's Strongest Man and Team Bodybuilding.com athlete, says there is no true off-season for strongman. This makes having a smart program that incorporates as much hypertrophy work as possible even more important, particularly if you're a beginner or amateur in the sport.
Depending on equipment, time, and how his body is responding, Fuhrman says he will incorporate higher volume training into his routine, even as a contest approaches. In a sport that doesn't always have a consistent competition schedule, it is important to force your own hypertrophy phases and think year-round rather than just the next 6-8 weeks at a time.
Here are several reasons for keeping hypertrophy on your radar when training for strongman competitions:
Reason 1: Increased Muscle Size
Considering that the definition of hypertrophy is an increase in the size of skeletal muscle, growing bigger muscles is an obvious by-product of high-volume training. Strongman is a sport where you're attempting to lift maximal weights, not showing off your physique, so many athletes don't acknowledge the importance of hypertrophy training. Still, the more muscle you have, the greater your strength potential, and adding that muscle requires dedicated hypertrophy phases, even if it means swallowing your pride and taking occasional breaks from your max-out days.
Reason 2: Faster Recovery
Using higher reps and lighter weights creates enhanced blood flow, which helps carry oxygen and nutrients to muscles in the process of healing. Hypertrophy training often targets smaller muscle groups and stabilizers that are used during compound movements but not targeted with the same metabolic stress and tension they get with volume training.
"This differs from the traditional 80-90 percent [of max] work at lower reps," Fuhrman says. "The problem with putting that amount of stress on your body on a regular basis is that eventually your tendons, ligaments, and bones will break down from the effects of repetitive sheer force."
Reason 3: Allows Room for Conditioning
The benefits of conditioning include improved body composition, aerobic capacity, power output, and work capacity. This is true regardless of your sport, and it certainly applies to strongman.
As Fuhrman puts it, "Conditioning is like the ugly stepchild of strength sports—a lot of athletes won't do it, but the ones at the top of their field do."
His own routine includes at least 20 minutes of conditioning performed three times per week, along with two high-intensity interval training (HIIT) sessions per week. The HIIT lasts 10-20 minutes and will typically be something like "every minute on the minute" (EMOM) 3-rep squats for 20 minutes total. Fuhrman also likes to superset rowing with light push presses for as many rounds as possible for a preset amount of time.
The conditioning doesn't have to be strongman specific. The prowler, sled work, and cleans and snatches (if you're familiar with the technique) can work well. Even limiting your rest periods between sets during your regular training sessions can help.
Grow Like a Strongman Should
Below is a sample of what a hypertrophy workout might look like for Fuhrman in his off-season. This is an upper-body day based around the press movement.
"The basic principles to follow are to choose a priming exercise for the area to be improved—in this case, lateral raises for shoulders—and 2-3 compound exercises followed by 5-6 hypertrophy exercises," he says. "It is important in strongman to be able to move heavy weight over a given time, not just for one rep, which is why what would normally be strength-based exercises are [done] higher-rep."