It’s an eternal argument – which strength sport creates the best athletes? Powerlifters are incredibly strong, but they tend to focus exclusively on the big three competitive lifts. Bodybuilders have huge muscles but are often more show than go. Olympic lifters are fast and powerful but specialize entirely in the Olympic lifts. Strongman competitors are probably the best all-rounders, but that’s a sport dominated by giants!
The truth is that the demands of each of the strength sports are so different that, to excel at them, you need to specialize. That’s why most top-class powerlifters mostly do powerlifting training, and very few elite strongmen are also bodybuilders. Of course, there ARE exceptions, but they’re relatively few and far between.
It all comes down to the fitness principle of Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands or SAID for short. According to SAID, you are fit for what you do. If you train like an Olympic lifter, you will get better at the Olympic lifts, and if you train like a bodybuilder, your muscles should get bigger.
But what would happen if you combined elements from each of the strengths sports and put them into one training program?
While such an approach probably won’t win you any gold medals, it should mean you develop an impressive physique that’s as strong and athletic as it looks.
If you’re bored of your current workout plan or want to try your hand at a different training style, this is the program for you. Don’t limit yourself to just bodybuilding, powerlifting, or strongman – do them all!
The Strength Sports Training Program – Overview
The strength sports training program involves four workouts per week, and each one is dedicated to one style of training.
Over the course of a week, you’ll do one workout each of:
While each workout involves different exercises, set and rep schemes, and intensity levels, there is enough overlap between each one that, by the end of the week, you will have stimulated all the mechanisms necessary to increase strength, muscle size, and power.
This program is ideal for anyone who:
- Gets bored easily
- Can’t decide on what type of training they want to do
- Wants a break from their usual style of training
- Is stuck in a training or progress rut
- Athletes who need all-around strengths, e.g., football players
- Off-season athletes
- Anyone who wants to be an all-rounder and not a specialist
Your weekly schedule looks like this:
The Strength Sports Training Program – The Workouts
Before each of the following workouts, make sure you spend a few minutes warming up and preparing your body and mind for what you are about to do. Start off with 5-10 minutes of light cardio to raise your core temperature, followed by some dynamic stretching and mobility exercises.
Finish your warm-up with a few sets of the main exercises for the workout you are about to do, using progressively heavier weights.
For example, if your workout involves sets of four squats with 100kg:
- 20kg (empty bar) x 10 reps
- 40kg x 8 reps
- 60kg x 5 reps
- 80kg x 3 reps
- 100kg x 4 reps (1stwork set)
Workout one – powerlifting
Powerlifters specialize in the squat, bench press, and deadlift. Between them, these three lifts constitute a full-body workout. In competition, powerlifters do single reps, but that’s exhausting, both mentally and physically. So, for this workout, you’re going to focus on sets of 4-6 reps. This provides a nice balance between building maximal strength and muscle size.
Don’t worry that this workout looks pretty spartan and lacks any accessory exercises; any developmental gaps are addressed in the subsequent workouts.
|1||Barbell back squat||5||4-6||2-3 minutes|
|2||Barbell bench press||5||4-6||2-3 minutes|
|3||Barbell deadlift||3||4-6||2-3 minutes|
Why only three sets of deadlifts? Squats and deadlifts work many of the same muscles, and residual fatigue means you don’t need the same volume for both lifts. Trying to do the same number of sets of both lifts could lead to overtraining, and your posterior chain will be trained hard in subsequent workouts.
In terms of load assignment, start off with moderately heavy weights, so you finish your first set feeling like you could do another 3-4 reps. Increase the weights set by set so that, for your final effort, you come very close to failure within the prescribed rep range.
Workout two – Olympic lifting
Olympic lifters specialize in two lifts – the snatch and the clean and jerk. Weights are lifted explosively so that momentum and speed make it easier to handle heavy weights. The downside of Olympic lifting is that snatches and clean and jerks are hard to learn. For the purposes of this program, you are going to perform simplified versions of these key exercises.
|1||Hang snatch||6||3||2-3 minutes|
|2||Power clean and push-press||6||3||2-3 minutes|
Check out our guides to these exercises:
For loading, start off with a light weight (e.g., 40kg) and do three reps. Rest and increase the weight by 5-10% and do another three reps. Continue increasing the weight until you notice your bar speed starting to slow down. When the bar speed decreases significantly, it’s time to stop. Unlike the powerlifts, you do not want to snatch or clean and press to failure.
Workout three – Bodybuilding
This bodybuilding workout is based on Arnold Schwarzenegger’s famous Golden Six program. It’s a full-body workout that works all your major muscles. However, we’ve made a few small changes to the original so that it fits our program better.
|1||Front or trap bar squat||4||8-12||60-90 seconds|
|2||Incline dumbbell bench press||3||8-12||60-90 seconds|
|4||Seated dumbbell overhead press||3||8-12||60-90 seconds|
|5||Barbell curls||3||8-12||60-90 seconds|
*AMRAP = As Many Reps as Possible. Just keep pumping out the reps to failure.
Choose a weight that causes you to fail between 8-12 reps. If you can do more than 12 reps, the load is too light, but if you can’t manage eight, it’s too heavy.
Workout four – Strongman
Your final workout depends on the equipment you have available but should mirror the demands of competitive strongman. Using the list below for inspiration, pick 4-6 exercises and create a workout that challenges your entire body. Include a mix of static exercises (squats, overhead presses, deadlifts) and dynamic exercises (load carries, pushing /pulling, etc.)
- Deadlifts for maximum reps for time, e.g., 300lbs in 60 seconds
- Squat medley of 5 reps of each of goblet squats, front squats, back squats
- Strict barbell overhead press for max weight or reps
- Farmer’s walk for distance or time
- Truck push or pull
- Tire flip for distance or time
- Heavy sandbag or rock carry
- Deadlift hold for time
Stuck for ideas? Check out or guide to Train for Strongman in a Commercial Gym.
The main thing to remember for this workout is to keep things varied and fun. Work hard, but don’t get too hung up on the details. Make this workout more challenging by training with a friend and picking 2-3 disciplines each. Keep track of who does best, and the loser buys the post-workout protein shakes.
A lot of gym-goers specialize when they don’t need to. For example, bodybuilding is probably the most popular type of strength training, and yet very few lifters would actually call themselves bodybuilders. It’s not like they’re going to put on some posing trunks, shave their body hair, get oiled up, and strut their stuff on stage anytime soon!
Don’t limit yourself to just one type of workout – there are lots of different training styles to try, and they can all be enjoyable and productive.
Try our Strengths Sports Training Program for a couple of months and experience the benefits of doing several different types of workouts. It may be just what you need to avoid boredom, bust out of your current training rut, or just have fun in the gym. You may even discover an aptitude or passion that you didn’t know you had. After all, if you’ve never done Olympic lifting, how do you know that it’s not the perfect strength sport for you?