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Starting Strong | Strength Specialization


Myself, like hundreds of adults young and old, have found ourselves glued to TV screens on numerous occasions watching freak athletes perform feats of insane strength. One event that always caught my eye was the Atlas Stone. Here is this behemoth of a human being moving probably one of the most awkward things possible with such ease, it’s like watching a child play with building blocks. Though these folks may be stronger than a brick, well it takes way more work than just a massive squat or deadlift to manage such uniquely articulated events. Things such as Stones, Logs or Kegs take skill and practice only to be found in appropriately programmed routines specific to a Strongman Specilization. In our last article we established the importance of utilizing appropriate baseline strength and conditioning foundations, this time we touch on the work it takes to truly be a Strongman Athlete.


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Specialization is an important term in the world of Sports. One that is often overlooked by bystanders and spectators. It’s almost assumed that most athletes within Strongman are just brutally strong, allowing such actions like a shouldered keg or tire flip to just come naturally. Hate to break it to you folks, but these events take practice and, much like a basketball player practicing three point shots, a strongman MUST practice the skills needed to not only compete in the events being tested but to perform them as efficiently and safely as possible as to move on to the next event with as little injury as possible.


One of my favorite examples, and unfortunately the most butchered movement in Strongman due to its brief understanding via the “Sport of Competitive Exercise” is the Continental Clean and Press. Though seen in many Crossfit “Fail” videos, a very popular Strongman Movement, the Continental Clean and Press is just what it sounds like… a Clean and Press, but with a little twist. Firstly, the movement is not performed with a typical bar but an Axle bar usually twice the circumference of your usual straight bar without any gnarling whatsoever. The increased grip difficulty brings about the uniqueness of the movement as laid out step by step.


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  • Bar begins immediately above the mid-foot much like a deadlift, held by the lifter in a mixed grip conventional deadlift/Olympic clean starting position with the shoulders immediately over the bar, hips down and spine neutral
  • The first pull begins from the floor in with the mixed grip leading to a full extension much like an Olympic clean; however, being caught in the gut above the Strong Person’s belt, rather than in the “catch” front racked squat position.
  • From here, the grip is switched to double overhand with a quick transition and, depending on the weight of the bar, worked up the gut/chest or immediately and aggressively pulled to the shoulders either to what would be Front Rack position in the power or split stance.
  • At this point, depending on the event being tested, the bar is either Pressed, Push Pressed or Jerked overhead



Simple? Not so much. This, like many other Strongman events like the Circus Dumbbell, various Stone, Sled, Caber, and throwing events, to name a few, takes time to learn and develop. Some take weeks, while others take years and as a Strong Person gets stronger, the event needs to be retuned and developed to accommodate that newly added strength. As laid out in our previous article, “Strongman - Baseline Strength Work”, event programming is consistent and then progressively it’s more aggressively periodized the closer a competition comes to allow the athlete to become more proficient in the skills needed to compete.


Football Players don’t just walk out on the field and tackle each other, Baseball players don’t just dust off the mound and throw a 90mph fastball, and Strongman Athletes definitely do not, in any way, just walk out to the platform and perform a keg throw without first practicing and knowing how. Every athlete has a base, then has their skill and then specializes further and further until game day. Then, and only then, does the culmination of all efforts come together to makeup what it is to be a Strongman.


TEAM USPlabs Rendy Delacruz


Written by Rob Saeva of No Coast Strength and Conditioning
Follow Rob, Professional Strength and Conditioning Coach and Amateur Powerlifter, on Twitter


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