Have you ever been curious to know how a strong(wo)man competition is run? Read on to find out how a competition is typically operated and what events you can expect to see in competition.
Amateur-level competitions will typically lump men and women together, either running the two competitions simultaneously or with the men’s comp on a Saturday and the women’s on a Sunday, or vice versa. If it’s a big competition, they may also have to split the men’s classes over two days.
Competitions generally start at 10am, 11am or, more rarely, at 12pm.
The shortest competition I’ve been to lasted 2.5 hours (there was only one weight category and all the events were ready to go), and the longest two were close to 7 hours (Britain’s Most Powerful Woman and England’s Strongest Woman). The average time seems to be about five hours. Given your actual competition time will only add up to 5-6 minutes in total, it’s a heck of a lot of time spent sitting around.
The first part of the day is the weigh-in. All athletes have to weigh in, regardless of what weight category they are competing in.
In the UK, there are typically three weight classes: under 63kg (139lbs), under 75kg (165lbs) and over 75kg. However, these categories are far from being set in stone and recently I have seen an under/over 65kg competition, an under 55kg weight class and the under/over 70kg competition I recently pulled out of.
Although it is common to weigh in the day before a competition in the US, here in the UK weigh-ins typically start two hours and close half an hour before the official starting time. This sucks for anyone having to cut weight, as it only gives you a limited time to rehydrate and refuel.
About 30 minutes before the competition starts, all athletes are given a chance to warm up using the competition implements. This is important as equipment will vary from gym to gym so even if you are used to training with a log, a competition log will often have a completely different feel.
Everyone has a different style of warming up. Many warm up completely to full competition weight, while others (like me!) prefer to keep things light. I typically never lift anything above 60% of the actual competition weight during a warm-up, as I don’t want to use up too much energy. However, this also increases the risk of injury so keep that in mind.
Running order and point scoring
Somewhere between weighing in and warming up, the running order of competitors will be drawn out of a hat. This determines the order of the first event, but then subsequent events are done in the order of where you performed in the previous event.
For example, if you achieve the second-fastest time in one event, you will go second-last in the next event. Going last gives you an advantage as you know exactly how much weight, how many reps, or what time you need to beat.
Sometimes, but not always, the last event is done in order of actual overall standings. By basing the order on performance in previous events rather than overall standings, it maintains an element of mystery as you don’t know exactly where you are placed.
Although, it is not difficult to figure out where you stand provided you are keeping tabs on all your fellow competitors. The scoring system is quite simple. The number of points is determined by the number of competitors and the better you perform, the more points you will receive. For example, if there are eight competitors and you win an event, you will get eight points, and the person who came last will get one point.
At the end of the day, the person who has the most points wins. This means that it is entirely possible to win a competition based on points alone, rather than winning lots of events. When I won my first competition, I only actually won two events. But, because I performed consistently and placed second during the others, I was able to rack up more points and sneak away with the title.
The competition itself
Roughly speaking, there are usually five or six events with each one taking about an hour. It will depend on a number of factors such as how many competitors are involved, whether it’s a max weight attempt or max rep attempt lift, if competitors are lifting one at a time or simultaneously, and how quickly the organisers move between events.
I have been to some spectacularly-run competitions where all the events are set up, and it’s simply a matter of moving from one to the next. Unfortunately, the more common scenario seems to be one where the event organisers set up one event at a time.
Most competitions will have a 20-30 minute break after the third event which, frankly, pisses me off. There’s so much time spent waiting around for your turn already – adding in a break seems to just delay the process even further.
They usually have a big space for people to place their bags and stretch out. I usually spend most of my time chilling here with headphones in. I typically stay off my phone all day – unless I’m sending text updates to friends – as I don’t want to be distracted by social media and emails. There is often a physio on site to deal with any injuries or aches.
In terms of the events themselves, there is always a pressing and a deadlift event. This may be a max weight attempt – where everyone has to hit the opener and then nominates three further weights to lift – or it may be a set weight for maximum repetitions in a certain time (usually 60 or 75 seconds), or it may even be a medley (i.e. you have to press a log, barbell, then single arm dumbbell – all increasing in weight).
Each competition will vary its implements. Your deadlift event may involve a regular bar, axle bar, elevated bar with tyres, car, or quad bike like in my last comp. In very rare cases the deadlift event will be replaced by a squat – but those are the competitions I don’t enter 😉
There will usually be some kind of pulling event – either in a harness or using a rope to pull arm-over-arm. The better competitions will have something like a car, van or plane to pull, or otherwise you will be stuck with a boring old sled.
Farmers walks are another very common event and test not only grip strength but core and mental strength.
Loading events are also quite common, where you have to take a certain number of heavy objects (kegs, sandbags, atlas stones, etc) and run with them from one point to another.
Other events include things like a yoke walk, Conan’s wheel, Hussafel stone carry, tyre flip, and endurance events such as crucifix holds, frame holds, Hercules holds and overhead holds.
Most competitions will finish with an atlas stone event, which may involve lifting a single weight stone as many times as possible in a certain time period, or loading various weighted stones to a high platform.
My favourite event is tied between harness pulls and loading medleys. My least favourite is any kind of endurance event, as my mental strength is significantly lacking.
There is usually another 20-30 minute break before they announce the results. If two competitors are tied for first place, there will be a sudden-death type event to determine the winner (at my last comp, it was a tug-of-war). Again, they announce in reverse order and the top three competitors will receive a trophy or medal and, if they’re lucky, some prizes.
By this stage, I may have been at the competition venue for close to 10 hours, so I just want to get the heck out of there and to the nearest burger joint!
Have you ever been to a strongman competition? Do you have any other questions about what happens there?