Competing in sports like Strongman or signing up for a powerlifting meet is becoming more common. However, finding a gym to train for those specialty sports can be tricky. So, when I go on a gym tour, I look for specific pieces of equipment to assess if they are strongman and powerlifting friendly. In a gym that caters to strength athletes, here are seven things you should see. The more checks on the list, the more you’ll get out of the gym.
1. Squat Stand
Seeing Squat stands in a commercial gym gives the member a massive advantage in training. The mobility allows the user to take the apparatus anywhere in the space. This opens their workouts to supersets, creative exercises and a safe training environment. If the gym has open floor space and you feel like making a lunge and overhead variation as a part of a circuit, you can do so without taking up a squat/power rack where other members may need that particular setup more. They can also be beneficial to Group Exercise classes because of the creativity they allow. Users can adjust the height and load the bar on the rack to avoid moving a heavy bar from the ground to shoulder height. This movement can be dangerous in untrained individuals, so the Squat Stand has a significant benefit in terms of safety.
2. Power Racks
Power Racks are a must, in my opinion. The rack allows for attachments to be added to increase the quality of training. Even 5-10% can add up over a year. Gym members can squat or bench heavier or for more reps or without a spotter. They can do rack pulls using something like these safety straps. Adjusting these straps is excellent for providing a safe environment for people to push toward their goals. Racks with pull-up bars and handles are utilized me for band-assisted pull-ups.
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3. Wall Mounted Racks
Wall Mounted Racks are generally associated with Crossfit gyms. They offer easy customization with lots of attachments, including a Landmine attachment. They take little space and setting up for floor press, or overhead press involves moving a j-hook.
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4. Bumper Plates
Bumper Plates make your deadlift look more remarkable and allow you to do it in more places around your gym. Some gyms have dedicated deadlift platforms where you may see steel or traditional plates. Maybe they have Olympic lifting platforms where bumper plates are required. As a Strongman, you need to learn variations of the clean and press, deadlift, overhead press, and squat. A lifter can drop these plates on the right flooring without destroying themselves or the floor or platform itself. If your gym has open space, like a Crossfit gym, those plates are integral to the WOD (workout of the day). You may see a sequence of exercises performed like this:
- Barbell Deadlift
- Barbell Push Press
- Barbell Step Back Lunge
Perform each for eight rounds. Starting with eight reps, descending each round until the last round with one rep. If eight is too much, start with five reps.
The most significant advantage is the consistent height of the plates, despite the difference in weight. Somebody learning to deadlift or a smaller lifter might need a bar that isn’t loaded to 135lbs. This may not seem like a big deal, but this is technically a deficit deadlift from where a standard Deadlift starts (9’’)—making the WOD above possible whether the person lifts 135 pounds or 65 pounds.
5. Deadlift Platforms
Deadlift platforms are a staple of any gym that caters to strength athletes. If your gym does not use bumper plates, these platforms protect the floor and reduce noise. If you are lucky, your gym has both Deadlift and Olympic Platforms. As a strength athlete, I need to train explosive overhead movements like Clean and Jerk and heavy Deadlifts for reps.
6. Specialty Barbells
Specialty Barbells have several benefits to a Powerlifter or Strongman. Training for specific events might have a better carry-over utilizing a bar with a curve, handles, different diameters, etc. Having knurling in the middle makes back squats more stable by gripping into the back. A bar without knurling will be more comfortable for front squatting.
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7. Dumbbell Set
A complete dumbbell set is essential for up-and-coming Strongmen, Strongwomen and Powerlifters. People can perform rotator cuff exercises and other general tissue warm-ups or preparation with lighter dumbbells. Rowing, shoulder press and single-leg deadlifts can be done with moderately heavy dumbbells. With movements like rows, the dumbbells allow for more range of motion and are used with a bench to create rows that work the upper back harder while taking the stress away from the lower back.
Heavy Dumbbells are great for larger lifters that are more powerful. However, a common complaint I hear from these lifters is they feel restricted when they can rep the heaviest bells on day one in their new commercial gym. For smaller lifters, Goblet Squats and Farmers Carry are generally done with heavy dumbbells; I like to use them to substitute for circus dumbbells.
For Overhead, Training like Log Press & Axle Clean and Press dumbbells helps develop stability because, unlike a bar, the dumbbells are not attached, making them unstable. The lifter can also adjust the leverages of the shoulder for their specific needs. For example, internally or externally rotating their shoulder. This can help the shoulder blades move more freely to create stability and power. I’ve had a few lifters see more success and longevity training with dumbbells versus barbells for pressing. Obviously, for Powerlifters barbell bench press is a must. However, many people run into overuse injuries and utilizing dumbbells for some variations can be a game-changer.
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