I know what you’re thinking: “Barbell Strongman? Like those old-time strongman lifting circus barbells?” As much as I admire those feats of strength, this article will not be touching on that fascinating topic. I use the term Barbell Strongman to refer to those individuals who aim to become strongman competitors but only have access to basic barbell equipment be it at a training facility or in their garage or basement. Most of us start out as a Barbell Strongman unless you are lucky enough live near a gym that hosts the implements and coaches to show you the ropes (pun intended). I was not this lucky: I started as a Barbell Strongman.
Even if you are one of the lucky ones, a good coach would start you off with basic barbell strength movements. The reason I am bringing up the idea of the Barbell Strongman is because this character is foundational to being a competitive strongman and provides a platform for me to convince those crazy enough to give it a go, to give it a go. A Barbell Strongman encompasses a primal attitude: to get stronger regardless. Not regardless of x, y or z. Regardless, period. These people pick up whatever is laying around that pushes them towards getting stronger, including barbells.
I was, I am, and I will continue to be a Barbell Strongman. And I want to discuss the methods I have used to emulate this character in hopes that you can do the same—should your heart desire it. The discussion will follow in three parts, this first part being about the attitude of the Barbell Strongman. The attitude sets the stage for success whether you’re squatting barbells at the local gym or loading stones in your garage. If you want to compete in strongman, the first thing you must do is get strong!
Gaining strength has both physical and mental aspects, each playing a crucial part in your development as a strength athlete. Ideally, you should be working on increasing both of these aspects simultaneously. Physically, you need to pick things up and put them down. Mentally, you need to pick yourself up and put yourself down. When the ups and downs occur is unique to each individual but both the ups and the downs are necessary. Mostly because of gravity.
With the explosion of the fitness industry, it is not very difficult these days to gain access to a barbell and weights. If you are a Barbell Strongman, you will find a way to have access to these simple pieces of equipment regardless. Make this happen and you can get strong in a very controlled manner with a plethora of scientific and empirical evidence supporting the use of barbell-based resistance training.
I started my strongman journey six years ago with exactly what I have described: an attitude and some basic barbell equipment. This summer I am going to compete at Ontario’s Strongest Man, the goal that started me on my path of being a Barbell Strongman. For most of my journey, I have trained at facilities with standard equipment such as barbells, racks, dumbbells, benches, and machines. But I just kept one focus on my mind: getting strong(er).
Slowly, I have built some of the implements and met fellow competitors along the way who invited me to train with them. Until recently, I still have only had limited exposure to the strongman events. It was hard to believe this was the case when looking back. So, I crunched the numbers to provide evidence that this attitude I keep mentioning can go a long way. The graph below show the results of this numerical inquiry.
I have decomposed my last 5 years of training into sessions that had a primary focus on either barbell exercises or exercises involving strongman implements. Each of these two training session types was then normalized as a percentage of the total training sessions per year. On average, 90% of my training sessions were centered around barbell movements while only 10% was completed using strongman implements. In fact, my first year of serious training was exclusively completed using barbells and dumbbells. This may seem unorthodox but know that it was not planned. Due to multiple factors such as limited access to strongman implements, a student salary, and not having a vehicle for all of my career, I had to make the best of my barbell training. I would have liked to increase my implement training frequency as technical practice would likely have helped me to progress faster. Regardless, I have still been able to make steady progress. You can too if you align your mindset with that of the Barbell Strongman.
I share this idea, this character, this attitude with you to highlight the fact that the journey to meet your strongman goals, or any goal, starts in your mind. Training implements, methods and partners will come and go but your attitude should remain constant. Focus on getting strong and don’t get hung up on the variables you can’t control, like only having a barbell to train with. If you want to be a strongman, start by being a Barbell Strongman.
By Tyler Desplenter
Tyler is the founder of Norther Warrior. He competes as an amateur Strongman and Powerlifter in Ontario, Canada. He is working towards his PhD in robotics and control systems including the study of biomechanical modelling of human motion and control of wearable assistive devices. @strongbear89