Yearly Planning for Strongman

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As a fairly young competitor and coach, I feel like my experiences are far beyond my years in the field. Experiences and connections I’m very thankful to have. One that comes to mind when considering how to plan for success in strongman, is by first defining success.

A PR is a Win

Success in strongman can be very different from person to person, depending on who you ask, and that’s a good thing. I think it’s important to for each strongman competitor to sit and consider that before moving forward. Yet one quote that seems to always ring true to every strongman, regardless of their level or experience were words from Zack McCarley, a 6 time national champion in the sport of strongman, and in my honest opinion, the most dominant 105 kilo strongman to date.

Zack and I were discussing a contest one day and he looked at me and said, “hey man, a PR is a win.”

Let me expand on a seemingly simply few words from the champ, because I’m sure every strength enthusiast is reading this, and is unimpressed with this statement and a very, “duh!” look on their face. I had just finished an event mid-contest and although I hit a personal best, I didn’t place as high as I had hoped in the event.

To get me out of my childish temperament, Zack pointed out to me, if you go to a contest, and PR in every event, and you still don’t win the contest, you were simply out-matched that day on those events. There’s no shame in that, and in fact, the opposite is true. You should be proud of the progress you made and happy with the PRs you’ve accomplished. A PR is a win!

Block Periodization 101 and the Season’s End

Alright, so what does that have to do with planning for a successful year in strongman competition? Well, with the NAS National Championships just passing last weekend, for a majority of the athletes and competitors, it marks the “end” of the strongman competitive “season”.

For the most part, if you were to go back to block periodization 101, and map out all the contests you had planned for the year, many strongman competitors would have the National Championships marked as their “Superbowl”, or at the very least, the “playoffs”, and unless you have qualified for a higher level show, this marks the end of your season. For everyone else moving on up in competition, congrats! The principles in this article will simply apply to you a little later on the calendar.

If we are trying to plan for future success, the first thing I do is reflect on the previous year’s progress and results. Sometimes you have to look backwards to move forwards. Although I still believe a PR is a win, sometimes that isn’t the win you are looking for, and you want to improve regardless. Hell, I’ve won contests where I hit PRs and I still wasn’t satisfied or content with my performance or outcome.

The nice thing about strongman though, is that it is very quantifiable and measureable. With that said, it’s also incredibly convenient that results are almost always posted shortly after a contest is concluded. Makes things very easy for an analytical competitor like myself.

Do Your Homework

To prepare for the upcoming year or season, the first thing I do is compile the results of each competition I did that year, as well as one or two other high level shows that I may not have had the ability to attend. Easy enough to do, since every federation and promoter usually makes the results and score sheets public and attainable.

Next, I highlight or mark my results from each contest I did, including the placing I finished on each event. If the athletes you compete against are the same group of people, I’ll group the similar events together, and see if I made any progress that year, both in terms of my performance and my placings against similar competitors.

This is the beginning of my data collection process, and is pretty much a self-reflection. I do encourage you to look for three things in particular

  • Which events did I have the most success in? (typically your strengths)
  • Which events did I give up the most points in? (typically your weaknesses)
  • And which events did I see the most personal progress in? (Likely something you spend the most time on in training)

If you can identify those three things, your off-season is already off to a great start!

From here it gets a bit more interesting, or at least honest. My next suggestion is to critically evaluate where you were winning and losing events. Sometimes it’s hard to take an honest look of your own performance, and if so, I hope your friends and training partners are honest with you instead of a bunch of “yes-men” fan-boy type of friends. Luckily, I have Zack McCarley and he’s brutally honest with me (sometimes down-right mean and insulting haha). It gets a bit tricky from here though…

Know Your Enemy

I feel fortunate enough to say I think the lightweight class of strongman is a pretty well put together group of guys that I would call friends, but “know your enemy” sounded like a more catching title referencing some strategic war campaign. The principle is the same though, it’s good to know your competition and what you’re up against.

You should already have the results from the higher level contests, and the good news is, the top doesn’t change too drastically when considering the top 15 or so placers. However, I do like to go back and collect a few years of competition results. Typically, I personally collect and compare the results from the previous two national championships, and the previous two lightweight world championships from the Arnold.

Just as you tried to identify your progress, try and do the same with your competitors. I’m not saying do this for everyone in your weight class. Instead, pick a few of the guys at the top, or maybe just the winner of each event, and try to find a trend in their progress on those events from the past two years. Once you’ve done this, consider yourself educated on the field of competitors


Collecting Data for the Sake of Collecting Data

I hate this. Collecting data just for the sake of it sounds a lot like useless busy-work to me. If you’ve followed what I’ve explained though, the data you’ve collected can be VERY useful, so long as you act on it. But what to do with all these strengths and weaknesses, and progress trends you’ve found?

It’s pretty simple really. If I know what kind of trend of progression my competitors are following, I can typically estimate roughly where they’ll be in a year. Granted this is an estimation and not an exact science, but if I know what they did last year to win a particular event, and they made so much progress in the previous year, I should have a rough idea of what will win a similar event the next year. That is already hugely beneficial if you are a serious competitor.

Couple that knowledge if your renewed honest reflection of your own strengths and weaknesses, you can lay out exactly what kind of events need the most work. I say “what kind of events” because as long as events aren’t standardized and chosen by each promoter, you can’t be sure what you’ll have to do at the next contest…but it also isn’t likely too different from the data you’ve reviewed (especially if you looked two years back).


Time to Plan Ahead

In case you didn’t catch the earlier small hint, I am a fan of block periodzation and using it for strongman. If you can block out sections of the calendar, even as simple as off-season, pre-season, in-season, and a block of time dedicated to the biggest contest of the year, you can start putting all the reflections and estimations you’ve made to good use.

It doesn’t have to be overly complicated, but I’ll use myself as an example. After winning the lightweight World Championship at the Arnold, the biggest issues I wanted to address and improve on included my static strength, particularly my overhead press.

Looking forward, with the most important contests of my calendar year being the NAS National Championships at 175 lbs in October, the 198 lbs World Championships in November, and the 175 lbs World Championships in March, I knew I had roughly 6 months to really focus on the issues of my static strength and overhead press.

A lot can be accomplished in six months, and I thought to myself, how can I best use this time to increase my strength? Well, there are three options that came to mind, technical efficiency was one, training specifically for maximal strength was another, and simply putting on more size and hypertrophy was the third.

I pride myself on being a very technically sound strongman, and contribute a lot of my success to it, so it didn’t seem wise to spend a lot of the six months on that. It was clear that I was still a little undersized as a lightweight (particularly is I planned on competing at 198 lbs in the near future), so I dedicated a portion of that six month block to a hypertrohic goal and training style. I followed it up with a simple idea that if I needed to be stronger statically, who are the strongest static lifters out there? Some would argue powerlifters, so why don’t dedicate some time to training like a powerlifter, before transitioning back into training for specific strongman contest performance?


Putting it All Together for a Successful Year

Each block had a specific focus, matched with specific goals that lead to some of the areas I felt needed to be addressed the most during my “off-season” as it is often difficult to address these in the middle of specific contest preps. Ideally, that time needs to be spend preparing for the contest at hand.

If you can take the time to address the methods I’ve outlined above, and then execute on those realizations you’ve made after reflecting on the previous year, I’d say you are setting yourself up for a very successful season! Especially when you consider what Zack told me years ago. If you act on the information I’ve described above, you definitely should see some impressive growth in you game as a strongman competitor come to fruition in the upcoming contests. Just keep in mind, “a PR is a win!”

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