I’m not training for powerlifting at the moment although that’s where I started and spent about three years of my strength journey after CrossFit. My experience in training for powerlifting involved training the main lifts - squat, bench and deadlift, along with variations of these lifts. It also involved training accessories in a very traditional bodybuilding style and format in order to address weaknesses and imbalances as well as stimulate general muscle development. My training schedule varied a little depending on competitions but generally, I was in the gym 3-5 days a week with an emphasis on recovery. If I did any conditioning, it was short. Very short. I'm talking a couple of tabatas or something under 10 minutes a couple of times a week.
In terms of competition powerlifting, you have three opportunities at each of the main lifts, with the best of each counting towards your “total”. A day of competition might see you complete 9 lifts. It’s gruelling and if you do it right, there should be nothing ‘in the tank’ after the final deadlift.
Traditional strongman competition sees at least 5 separate events, generally performed over the course of one day. The variation of implements and tests of strength are infinite. Some events are variations on traditional lifts (eg. axel replacing a standard bar), stones, yoke, farmers carries, log lifts, holds of many kinds, pulls of every kind... The events could be maximal strength tests, maximum reps over time or weight over distance/ speed (ie farmers carry).
I’ve been training for Strongman competition for about two years now and I’ve found that training strength alone will let you down when it comes time to compete . You need conditioning, speed, explosiveness, strategy AND strength to do well in strongman.
Staying well rounded enough to tackle whatever comes up in strongman is a challenge which reminds me more of CrossFit training than powerlifting to be honest. I've also found that training for Strongman gives me a versatility that I have not had while training powerlifting. It's not a coincidence that many high level CrossFit athletes incorporate odd objects and methods of strongman into their training. It speaks to the broad benefits of the style of training.
Late last year when I was peaking for a very heavy competition, I spoke to a couple of very strong and very excellent women who have trained and competed in both Strongman and Powerlifting. I think I wanted a bit of reassurance about how crushed I was feeling. I know how powerlifting feels pre comp but pre strongman is newer territory for me. I also asked them if they could tell me what they have found to be the main differences in their training for competition in each sport.
Rebecca, can you tell me what's you've found to be the main differences between training for powerlifting vs training for strongman?
Training for powerlifting vs strongman........short answer, one is much more fun 😂
I guess the biggest difference for me is recovery, powerlifting was essentially the same basic movements repeatedly (not always, but a great deal of the time) whereas strongman, especially any specific event training is generally outside of the basic movement patterns so the stress on the body is greater, the joints especially, it just takes longer to recover, you can feel muscles you don't pay much mind to hurting the following days.
Training wise for me there is a great deal more work done on conditioning all the assisting muscles to deal with stress under strange loads, lots of stability work and also conditioning to be able to perform a stressful movement for upwards of 60 seconds. I'm sure all of these things I did during powerlifting training too but it's a lot clearer in strongman that you need to have well rounded strength through a load of different movement patterns and training for that is taxing.
The other big thing for me was numbers, I remember being anxious for hours and hours before PL training because I knew I had to hit XYZ weight and reps, strongman to some degree has always been a fun thing, like "Oh, I get to go the gym and just see how much of this weird thing I can push/pull/drag,.. There's rarely a mental worry accompanying training. TBC - I found I sometimes need a minimum two days rest before i go back into the gym...it fuuucks with my old powerlifting head. That said, I do like that it has shifted the focus to me having to listen to how respond to the training stimulus and to how I recover... rather than obsessing over the numbers on my excel spreadsheet haha...
100%. It's so easy to get bogged down in 'the plan'. I spent a good 2/3 years trying to train in mining camps after 13 hour shifts because that's what was on the plan. You have to take a step back sometimes and just listen and adjust things. It's so hard with social media too because you can get caught up in how other people are training, but we each have our own circumstances.
Alex Smith and the auburn locks of Sarah McKinnon at ProRaw in 2016
Alex In training for strongman, thereare more events to train, which means your program needs to be much more specific to target a) the events and then b) accessory movements to help with those events.
I find that recovery is a lot harder because some of the events are more taxing (ie. yoke, stones) whereas in powerlifting the deadlift is probably the hardest in terms of strain on the body.
As strongman isn't only static events (like powerlifting), programs need to consist of things to help you with speed and explosiveness Powerlifting programs tend to be repetitive in the movements and variations, whereas with strongman I've found the ways to increase strength is endless I.e Olympic weightlifting has been so helpful to me in training for strongman.
Another main difference is that the training week structure. With strongman training you're either squishing a LOT into one week or spreading it into two weeks is useful, as having 5 events to train for can be really hard 😂
image of Jess by Fiona Barrett Photography
Jess For me the main difference is lack of specificity in strongman compared to powerlifting...
For strongman, instead of 3 main lifts and variations of the same, there’s so many different events and implement. Unless you’re training for a competition, it’s virtually impossible to specialise.
The variety is so much more enjoyable! The programming is also easier to tweak if you need to (injury or recovery). For example, instead of going heavy with a movement (if that what you had planned), you can change and to do maximum reps or for speed instead.
What about how you feel. Is it the same? Powerlifting is so conducive to OCD...Strongman feels different in that regard to me...
Feeling-wise my body and brain definitely feel different doing Strongman. My life situation has changed heaps since then though so I don’t know how much is down to the actual change of sport though.
Earlier this year it dawned on me that when I was powerlifting I basically went back to my eating disorder ways... when I was cutting weight- I started restricted eating and getting all these weird habits back. I was super anxious and depressive! It wasn’t until I was doing strongman properly that I realised how bad it had been and now I have none of that at all. I think the regimentedness of powerlifting tapped into all my negative behaviours.
I definitely agree about the OCD in so far as there’s so much technique and skill involved in perfecting the movements for powerlifting...in training your most biomechanically efficient movement...that it almost encourages overanalysis. There’s so many papers written and science people in the sport. For me I never got into that side; I was in the other camp like old school lifters that just grip and rip!