When training for a strongman competition, it can be very easy to get caught up in the main multijoint exercises such as overhead presses, squats, and deadlifts. I would firmly agree that those “big three” are the main strength and mass-building exercises that should be included in every aspiring or championship caliber strongman’s training. What does come as a surprise is that so many strongman competitors forget about all of the accessory movements that complement those major mass builders.

It is common to hear strongman competitors talk about exercises such as curls, abdominal work, or conditioning in a somewhat negative way. They will sometimes say things like, “Only pretty boys do curls” or “I am not a bodybuilder, so I don’t need to do ab work.” It always makes me laugh, as the small accessory exercises do very much have their place in overall strength training and should be done by even the biggest and strongest guys out there.

Now I will say that it is always important to work your major multijoint exercises first in any training routine. It wouldn’t make much sense to fatigue your triceps with pressdowns before you started benching because your chest muscles wouldn’t be able to get worked as hard due to the triceps being fatigued.

But we do, of course, need to talk about how to incorporate these secondary movements into a strongman training routine. So let me give you a rundown on how I train these accessory movements during my preparation for the Arnold Strongman Classic, World’s Strongest Man, or any other event. On my press day, I like to choose a couple of different triceps- specific movements to do. I normally rotate between skull crushers, cable pressdowns, overhead rope extensions, or something similar. I will also normally throw in a superset of cable chest flyes and one of the triceps exercises.

On my deadlift/back day, I will add in all my upper-back work such as seated rows, pulldowns, and so forth only after performing deadlifts. After that I like to throw in high face pulls, rear-delt flyes, and some biceps work such as barbell and hammer curls, as well.

With my leg training day, I finish my session with leg extensions, leg curls, and calf raises. These always come after heavy squats or leg presses. For these accessory lifts I use higher reps, somewhere between about 12–20 reps.

I will normally do core work two to three times per week. I really like to rotate movements that I use for abdominal and complete midsection training. I use everything from regular crunches and hanging leg raises to core-blaster rotations and heavy side bends. I like to keep my rep range higher with the core work, so the sets will be anywhere from 10–50 reps each.

The bottom line is that strongmen are not so different from bodybuilders or powerlifters in regard to overall training philosophy. We may not run around in our swim trunks like bodybuilding competitors or concentrate only on the big three lifts like our powerlifting brethren, but there’s much more to our sport than just lifting stones or deadlifting giant truck tires. Success in competitive strongman requires complete strength, so assistance work is of critical importance for total body power.

So when I do curls in the gym it may not be for the girls, but rest assured that my biceps are as strong as they can be and they still look pretty darn good!