My first introduction to strongman training was watching it on the TV as a kid. As you may have seen in the “About me” section of the blog, my first experience of it personally was when I started attending a gym in Suffolk which specialised in strongman training (surprisingly I wasn’t incentivised, or perhaps able, at the age of 6, to suddenly start pulling trucks). It was when I started attending this Suffolk gym that my love of exercise really became a passion.
Back then, I would always get the question of where I got my protein, how I could put on muscle with only plants etc etc. I don’t by any stretch of the imagination claim to be one of the first vegan’s in the world, but even only a few years ago veganism was still an alien concept to many. In the fitness world it often still is, which is part of the reason for this blog - to educate people that being vegan doesn’t only make you mentally strong, but can make you physically strong too.
I even had one instance where someone complimented me on how much I was lifting, then after later finding out I’m vegan, informed me that you need meat to be strong (even though he had just the previous week commented on my strength - interesting logic!).
What is Strongman Training?
Strongman training is a form of strength training. It involves training to do all kinds of weird and wonderful things, like picking up 100kg+ atlas stones and loading them onto a platform the height of your head. Or strapping a truck to you and pulling it along. I took part in an amateur strongman competition once, where I had the enjoyment of lifting a car off the ground (only at one end – I didn’t hold it over my head!).
It caught my interest largely because it was different and fun. Now-a-days I tend to do more bodybuilding and powerlifting training due to moving location, and therefore gym, which unfortunately means there is less strongman equipment available. Otherwise I would still be doing strongman training, and as soon as I get the chance, I will start doing it again.
It is not, however, necessarily the healthiest form of training. For strongman training, you are constantly pushing the boundaries, pushing your body to the very limit and hoping it doesn’t snap! If you watch any year of World’s Strongest Man you will see how many contestants are either overcoming injuries or get injuries at the event.
In general, the way I tended to train for strongman was to do 5 sets of 3 to 5 reps at 90% of my one rep max, then do some accessory work afterwards. It was a good method, and meant I was able to increase the weight a little most weeks. This form of training does, however, require long rest periods, and training in a calorie surplus and people who do this often put on fat as well as muscle. It is possible to do without putting on fat, but it’s a difficult balancing act to see the gains.
Being vegan and doing strongman training was pretty interesting. A lot of my friends would be eating lots of meat to get protein, drink lots of whey protein shakes and generally look pretty unhealthy. Don’t get me wrong – I did not look like a finely tuned athletic machine – I was overweight and the only six pack in sight was in the fridge…! I didn’t, however, get nearly as tired and exhausted as my friends. I had plenty of energy, generally clean energy! I was eating lots of plant protein sources and having healthy fats in my diet, my arteries were not clogging and my breathing wasn’t laboured.
Now, I never got to be one of the strongest, nor one of the biggest whilst training, but that was due to my training (I wasn’t putting enough time and effort in) rather than being vegan. You can see some examples of athletes now being vegan and performing amazingly. One great example of this is the strongman Patrik Baboumian. Patrik has been a vegetarian since 2005, and then turned vegan in November of 2011. He has an impressive number of titles under his belt, including under 105kg German strongman champion. In 2009 he got the world record for the log lift (under 105kg category) with a whopping 165kg! The following year in 2010 got the German Record in the loglift (over 105kg category) with an impressive 180kg. He then beat this in 2011 with a 185kg lift, winning Germany’s strongest man title in the same year. I can already see what some of you are thinking “yes but these are all when he was vegetarian – did he manage to sustain or improve when he became vegan?”
Since becoming vegan he became European champion in powerlifting, set a world record in beer keg lifting (150.2kg), world record in Front Hold (20kg for 1min 26 seconds), world record in yoke walk (550.2kg over 10m), then beat it two years later with a world record of 560kg in 28 seconds.
As I’m sure you will agree, these are impressive records. Especially from someone who “doesn’t get enough protein”…
What I’m trying to get across, is that you can definitely be strong and vegan. The stereotype of a weak, pale, unhealthy vegan is hopefully long gone, but the stigma that you can’t get AS strong, or stronger than someone who isn’t on a plant based diet, is a myth.
Whilst some will say, “but there has never been a vegan win World’s Strongest Man”, you can easily also say with confidence there has also been a hell of a lot more non-vegans who have not become World’s Strongest Man. According to a survey in 2017, only 0.5% of the country were vegan at the time. So, if we took that same statistic for World’s Strongest Man and for arguments sake, we would expect to see a vegan win World’s Strongest Man once every 200 years, all else being equal.
Whilst I have only mentioned one athlete here (don’t worry, I do not in any way, shape or form consider myself an athlete), I will be doing an article in future weeks on vegan athletes, where I will tell you all about some other great male and female athletes who are vegan and have become huge successes in their fields.