After many years on the fringes, strongmen have found their pantheon, powered by the popularity of Thor Bjornsson as The Mountain in Game of Thrones. Former champion Brian Shaw has more YouTube subscribers than Zac Efron. But chief among them is reigning title holder, Martins Licis.
Licis began his strongman quest two decades ago. Born in Latvia and raised in the USA, he fell in love with the training as a teenager, when he returned to his homeland and his grandfather introduced him to stone lifting. At 20, he told his parents he wanted to move to California to train with Odd E. Haugen, a strongman legend, and he gradually began climbing the ranks.
Some of his efforts may seem exotic, the log clean and press and pulling cars come to mind, but most of his movements boil down to a millenia-old action you do every day – you pick something up, take it somewhere, and then put it down.
In most workouts, you position your body perfectly to lift your weight, but strongmen pick up everything from giant stones to circus dumbbells any way they can, building resilient bodies that can handle challenges from all angles. “It really is the most functional training there is,” Licis says.
“We do things everyone can,” says Licis, “with a whole lot of weight.” He smiles, then goes over to his iPad and turns up the Rammstein and takes a sniff of smelling salts before heading to the pull-up bar and powers through 21 reps. He weighs more than 25 stone.
No matter how much weight you use, strongman exercises push your body to build fundamental strength. Your core and legs get stronger as you pull things off the ground, and you build durability in your back. And all that might translates into your everyday life, making light work of shopping bags and removal boxes. You’ll do more than pack on muscle with Licis’ training. You’ll know now exactly how to use it.
Tricks of the Trade
These swaps will strongarm Licis’ knowledge into your training
Log clean and press
Set up in a deadlift position, row the log up your legs, then inhale deeply and roll it to your chest. Press it up for 3 sets of 4.
No log? Try…
The continental clean. Clean the bar to your chest with a mixed grip, flipping the underhand over the bar as you do.
Atlas stone lifts
Squat and grab the stone from the bottom. Lift to your thighs and sit back. Stand and roll it up your chest. Do 3 sets of 3.
No stone? Try...
The Zercher squat. Stand with a loaded barbell in the crooks of your elbows. Sit back into the squat then reverse.
Heavy farmer's walks
Reach for proper farmer’s handles and load up heavy. Stand up and squeeze and set your shoulder joint. Walk 3 set of 20m.
No farmer's handles? Try…
Doing the farmer’s walk with barbells. Dumbbells work but barbells are unstable, which maximises the benefit of this move.
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