Atlas Stone are the event most synonymous with strongman. Lifting, carrying, throwing and loading stones are the original tests of strength. There are challenge stones all throughout countries such as Iceland and Scotland that date back thousands of years. They are the original strongman event and arguably the most important since there will be some type of stone load in almost every strongman competition and it is traditionally the last event. You cannot be a good strongman if you are not a good stone loader. Nothing is more exciting in strongman than a close competition where it comes down to the stones to see who the champion is.
Phil Phifster vs Mariusz in 2006
Derek Poundstone vs Mariusz in 2008
Look at the reaction of the man who came out on top in these match ups and the man who was bested. What feeling do you want? I’ve been on both ends. I had a 3 way tie going into Washington’s Strongest Apple last year in a keg load and came out the victor and it felt amazing but losing a lead on the last event feels 100x worse.
Nothing will make you better at stones than actually lifting stones but you might not have access to stones every week and for me training them more than twice a month beats me up way too much. Here are the most effective assistance exercises I have found that can be done in any regular gym.
Stone Trainer: This is the closest you can get to mimic lifting a stone in a normal gym.
Unscrew the end of a cheap barbell or grab a loading pin. Load it on the bar and lay it so the plates are standing up, grip it around the plates. DO NOT grab the bottom of the plates by the lip to make it easier to grip. You need to train your upper body to be able to squeeze the stone and this is one of the biggest benefits of the stone trainer. Keep it to a weight you can lift up in one motion from floor to extension (don’t work lapping a stone with the stone trainer) for 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps. Your chest and forearms will be on fire from having to grip it for that long. That amount of time under tension can’t really be duplicated with an actual stone.
Off the floor: When picking a stone you are in a stiff leg deadlift position so naturally stiff leg deadlifts will help with the initial pick and build up that hamstring strength to rip stones off the floor. I like to do them for dead stop reps after my regular deadlifting for sets of 6-12 reps. Leave your ego at home and lighten the load. Make sure you actually feel it in your hamstrings and are not putting unnecessary stress on your low back.
Loading: Front Squats will give you the quad and upper back strength to stand up with heavy stones and load them onto the platform. I like to cycle these really heavy to overload with reps in the 3-5 range to build strength for big stones and lighter in the range of 6-15 reps to help condition myself for comps that have a light stone over bar for reps.
Grip: The area I’ve struggled with the most on stones is actually gripping the stones off the ground. Aside from proper tacky I have found doing some chest flies has helped a bit with the squeeze and who doesn’t want a bigger chest anyway? I prefer dumbbell flies on various inclines with a real deep stretch at the bottom for sets of 3-4 and reps in the 12-20 range. Another thing I can not recommend highly enough is the Spartan Stone Sleeves they have taken my stone loading to new heights!