Strongman Cardio by Mike Westerling


by Mike Westerling


Usually when I take on a new athlete and they hit their first “conditioning” day they immediately say they’re out of shape and ask if they should add in “cardio”. What they fail to realize is that they just did “cardio”, strongman style. They think they shouldn’t be out of breath and ready to throw up from the workout they just did and they must be dreadfully out of shape. If they weren’t on the verge of puking either I didn’t program it right or they didn’t try very hard. You will never see a strongman event that lasts more than 2 minutes so the most I will program is about 5. If you can suffer through hell for 5 minutes and somehow muster up the will to keep pulling, dragging or walking till you accomplish the task 2 minutes in a contest will seem like a breeze. Well, not really, but you sure won’t be down for the count afterwards.



So for those that don’t know it, GPP stands for “General Physical Preparedness” and as the name implies it is the body’s preparedness for any task it may encounter. In life that may be any number of a million tasks from a 30 mile hike to the sudden impact from having to jump out of a burning building. The more broad and general your conditioning program is the more likely you will be ready for anything. Now for a competitive strongman the possibilities aren’t quite as varied and it’s more like anything from pulling an airplane to carrying a giant stone. Since strongman is a very specific fringe sport we aren’t as interested in as general a base or preparedness. We will be a bit more specific than  “ready for anything” we will make it “ready for anything the promoters throw at you” (hopefully).

What does that entail? Pressing logs over their heads, walking while supporting weight in any number of positions, trying to grip odd objects bear hug style, pulling, dragging and pushing anything from sleds with motorcycles on them to busses full of cheerleaders. Now the base program should be developing the top end strength needed to move these seemingly unmovable objects while at the same time developing the techniques specific to the common events. However, the GPP needs to address all the different stresses a strongman may encounter that could rip the average humans body apart while giving them the ability to think clearly and continue to push themselves to operate at their top end for up to 2 minutes. Here are some simple GPP workouts I like to incorporate into my athletes workouts to help them prepare for anything. On all these workouts you time yourself from beginning to end of the workout and each time you hit it you try to finish faster.




5 rounds of: 75% farmers carry for 50ft followed by medium sled drag for 50 ft. Basically you load up your farmers with about 75% of what your max 50ft carry would be and your sled with a weight you could get some good speed on but not so heavy you could run backwards with it. You then carry the farmers 50ft then run back and drag the sled 50ft five times without stopping at all.



3 rounds of: Carry a 200lb sandbag 100ft then push a vehicle 100ft. Do this 3 times without stopping.



5 rounds of: Pull the weight 50ft with your arms then drag it back to start. 5 times without stopping. This one I like to add a round each time to up to 10 rounds before increasing weight.



Drag your car (or just lean your butt against it and push backwards) 100ft then immediately push it back to start. Do 5 rounds and rest 1 minute between rounds. Each time you do this one you drop 10 sec off your rest period then when you get to 30 sec rest increase the distance and start back at 60 sec rest periods. The goal is to become faster and need less rest to recover.




Drag sled 50ft and immediately push back. Do this for 5 rounds without stopping. Add a round each time till you can get 10 in around 7 minutes then increase weight and start back at 5.



Load the yoke and farmers at about 50% of your max 50ft run on each and just carry them both 50ft for 5 rounds each without stopping till done.


The goal of all these workouts is to develop cardio specific to short intense bursts and increase the athletes ability to suffer through periods of extreme stress without subjecting the body to loads heavy enough to take away from the main strength days. They are all best done as stand alone workouts where no other work beside warm up and stretching/mobility is done. Obviously any combo of events and exercises can be worked in similar ways. I like to stay away from real risky moves like tire flip where a wrong move could end up disastrous for the athlete. Obviously longer distances could be done for less rounds or shorter for more. The trick is to keep the athlete in the 3-5 minute range, occasionally going in the 7-10 minute range. Obviously if an athlete is out of shape these may go into the 12 minute range. However, if they do go over the time ranges I recommend keeping the volume the same and getting the work done till the athlete can get into that time frame with the workout as prescribed rather than dropping the volume to stay in the lower time range.

As a show draws near and the exact events are known the upcoming medley would take the place of the GPP workouts to allow the athlete to get as efficient as possible with the actual events. However, a strong, well rounded athlete with scary conditioning should be able to handle pretty much any medley that comes their way as long as they know the technique. This is what GPP is all about. By the way, I promise no amount of traditional cardio would make those workouts “easy” if they are done with an honest effort to get the best time possible. As a matter of fact if they are done with the right intensity they will get any athlete on the verge of puking.


Thanks for reading!

6 Responses to Strongman Cardio by Mike Westerling

  1. billy reds September 20, 2012 at 12:31 am #

    Thanks for the info Mike.I do some of this type of cardio and puking is def a factor.haha

  2. Randy Moore September 20, 2012 at 12:38 pm #

    I like your philosophy! Hate cardio, but like your philosophy.

  3. Tyler Harnett September 21, 2012 at 9:09 pm #

    Awesome article again Mike. So it sounds like these workouts are done on “off” days?

    How frequently do you normally have your guys complete these?

    Thanks again for all the awesome info

    • Mike westerling September 25, 2012 at 4:19 pm #

      Typical setup is monday overhead, weds hip legs and back, friday conditioning.

  4. Rob Sheldon January 16, 2013 at 7:02 pm #

    Wow, GREAT article, thanks so much!


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