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From the moment I returned from the 2016 World’s Strongest Man to the moment I set off for the 2017 event, I gave 100%. I didn’t miss one training session, one meal, or one physical therapy or cardio session. I was obsessed.
I trained at my usual gym, Strength Asylum in Stoke, England, with my usual training partner, Luke Fulbrook. We didn’t periodize or back off at any point. We just trained heavy all year. The way I train hasn’t changed much over the years. I consistently train heavy but never one-rep max. I work at 80 to 90% of my one-rep max for up to six reps. If I can do more than six reps, I add more weight next time. I’ve followed this six-rep rule since I started training. If I feel good at a weight, I might do more than six reps, but in general, you’ll never see me do more than six.
The only thing I changed was that I cut down on assistance exercises for smaller muscles like biceps, calves, and abs. I just didn’t feel they were making any difference. I was putting too much energy and recovery into repairing those muscles when I needed to be focusing on the big, key muscles, like quads and glutes, that do the brunt of the work.
Some strongmen have separate days for gym and event training, but I find it more effective to combine the two. If you are going to train yoke, you want to thrash your legs first to get them burned out. You are not only warming up properly but also simulating a competition scenario because it’s highly unlikely you will start an event fresh.
Here’s how a typical week broke down. As you’ll see, it’s pretty basic—it’s what I did out of the gym to recover that gave me an edge over my rivals.
Something else I changed from last year, which was very expensive, was that when I trained a muscle group, I had it worked on the next morning by my physical therapist, Richard Sale, for 1½ hours. For example, after I trained legs on Monday, he’d work on my legs on Tuesday morning. I had regular therapy four or five times a week, plus additional sessions to treat any niggles.
On average I was having six physical therapy sessions a week, which easily cost over $250. Add up the cost over 52 weeks, and it’s quite pricey. But physical therapy is crucial. I even took Richard with me to the World’s Strongest Man.
I also have lots of recovery equipment at home, so after every training session, I’d do hot-cold treatments for at least an hour and then eat. If I had time afterward, I’d go into my hyperbaric chamber for 1½ hours.
That’s how I lived for a year. I didn’t have any alcohol, holidays, or nights out with my wife or days out with the kids because they would tire me out too much. My family understood it was what I needed to do to be the best and left me to it. It was 100% dedication. Looking back, I don’t know how I did it. It was a massive obsession to become the World’s Strongest Man.
2011: Wins the first of six U.K.’s Strongest Man titles.
2012: Finishes eighth in his first appearance at Europe’s Strongest Man.
2013: Misses out on the final of World’s Strongest Man by one point.
2014: Finishes sixth at the World’s Strongest Man.
2015: Sets a deadlift world record of 462kg (1,019 lbs) in front of Arnold Schwarzenegger at the Arnold Classic Australia.
2016: Becomes first man in history to deadlift 500kg (1,102 lbs).
2017: Wins the World’s Strongest Man at age 29.
I just did squats, leg press, and yoke. Simple. But to do those three exercises could take four hours. That may be hard to believe, but when you’re doing stupid-heavy sets you need lots of rest.
Remember, I could be squatting 350kg-plus (772 lbs.), so I needed a good 10 to 15 minutes to recover between sets. Doing three or four sets at that weight can easily take an hour when you’re resting that much.
I did the same on leg press, working up to huge amounts of weight and having plenty of rest between sets. That could take another hour, then I’d spend an hour or so on the yoke.
This day was about building my pressing power. There is always a pressing event at the World’s Strongest Man. Again, I kept it simple and had long rests between sets. I’d do flat bench and incline bench, then do triceps.
I took it nice and easy, working up to a megaheavy weight on the presses and then just doing one set on triceps.’
My idea of a recovery day is different from most others’. I had something small to eat first thing, then did an hour of cardio, which could be tire flipping, sled pushing, or boxing. Straight after that, I’d have a regular exercise session, then I’d go home and eat.
I’d have a full English breakfast, plus cereal, beef jerky, yogurt, and I’d keep eating until my personal trainer arrived at 10:30 a.m. for 1½ hours of intense exercise. Then I’d eat dinner, which would be something like a huge steak or chicken and pasta.
Then I’d visit another therapist for shock wave therapy, which helps the muscles recover by breaking them down.
Then I’d eat again, something like chicken and rice, and have another 1½-hour exercise session in the afternoon, doing full hip mobility and breaking down the glutes.
I then stretched in the pool for 1½ hours and did a good 1½ hours of hot-cold treatments, which consisted of a sauna followed by an ice bath several times.
Then I’d go home, eat, and go to bed. That was my day off! It was nonstop.
Again, I kept things simple. I did deadlifts first, followed by two assistance exercises, like lat pulldowns and a rowing exercise. With the weights I used, that could easily take three or four hours, no problem.
I warmed up on dumbbell presses, working up to 30 to 40 reps using 132-pound dumbbells just to get some blood into the shoulders. Then I went straight into a log press and finished with some side delts.
Two months before the World’s Strongest Man, I heard viking press would be included in the events, so I switched to that. Fortunately, it requires a similar technique to log press.
I followed the same routine as Wednesday. I also did personal appearances and media interviews on this day.
I swam for an hour in the afternoon, then stretched for 1½ hours, followed by hot-cold treatments for another 1½ hours. I didn’t do any physical therapy.