When my editor explained that there was an assignment with my name on it—just down the road, nonetheless—which would require me to ditch the keyboard and work out with two of the world’s strongest men, the Stoltman brothers: Luke and Tom Stoltman, I leapt at the chance perhaps fortunately without any consideration at all.
I was more than eager, because I know that it’s these kinds of crazy experiences that remind a 40-cough-something-year-old writer like me that there’s no substitute for getting out of your comfort zone and learning from the best. So, with a desire to hang out with the legendary Scottish behemoths without completely embarrassing myself, I headed to a gym in Twickenham, London, all in the name of a great story.
Luckily, this proved to be a life changing encounter and what I learned could very well change your life too.
First of all, you don’t have to be one of the world’s strongest men to train in the strong man style. While Luke Stoltman is a five-time winner of Scotland’s Strongest Man and the 2021 European Strongest Man, and his younger brother Tom Stoltman has been recognized as the World’s Strongest Man for the last two years, I’m pleased to say that the guys offered no ego when putting me through one of their grueling workouts. In fact, both men believe that training ‘strongman’ is beneficial for everyone, since it is predominantly about building mobility and explosive power, and this is something that we could all use—at any age.
Strongman Style Training Is Suitable for Anyone
As a former semi-professional-wrestler-turned-content provider, it turns out that my days of grunting and groaning are not quite behind me, as I found out here. Strength training often involves the activation of all the major muscle groups, including the chest, back, shoulders, arms, legs and core. It’s intense, but one of the key benefits of this type of full-body session is that it increases your overall fitness levels. Not only can this style of workout lead to better flexibility, but it also burns a ton of calories along the way. It’s not just for beefy blokes like the Stoltman’s either, with studies confirming that full-body training is just as valuable to the fairer sex; reducing the risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and certain types of cancer.
The next thing you need to understand about this kind of workout is that flimsy equipment that buckles under pressure just won’t do. Thankfully, observing our workout at St. Mary’s Gym in Twickenham was the CEO of Primal Strength, Steven Rinaldi. He was a rugby player and bodybuilder before throwing his hat into the area of gym supply and now his Primal Strength Brand counts JD Gyms and UFC Gyms as just some of his clients. St Mary’s Gym is fully kitted out by Primal Strength too, and the Stoltman’s are also big fans of the brand.
“I think, when you look at products now, and we’re supplying to guys like the Stoltman’s, the product has to be suitable even at 450kg,” says Steven. Of course, there’s no chance of me ever reaching those dizzying heights, but I did hit several personal records on the day.
Here’s how the workout went down, and what I learned.
The Stoltman Brothers’ Strongman Workout
The Farmer’s Walk
Interviewing elite athletes and ripped celebrities is a great motivator, and so I try to hit the gym five times per week. I’m far from where I want to be physique, or fitness wise, but I came into this workout with a relatively good level of fitness and despite how intimidating the farmers walk might look at first, it realty is an exercise that the vast majority of people can do.
I was tasked with four rounds of farmer’s walks, beginning with a low weight and then (a bit too trustingly) I allowed the brothers to ramp-up the weight with each subsequent round. Starting light and working your way up means that you can find your own sweet spot. The farmers walk should be challenging, but not painful. As a fan of the trap bar deadlift, I found the farmers walk to be a great exercise, and I’ll be adding it to my regular routine.
Tom was keen to point out that as you turn to face the other direction, you begin to sway to the side as the weight increases, and I definitely felt that! The official World’s Strongest Man also advised me to take great care of my grip so as not to drop the bar as I walked. Luke explained that in competition, the Stoltman brothers have been lifting upwards of 400kg/ 881.8 pounds, uphill! While such weight will forever be out of my reach, I was ecstatic to watch our video footage back and find that I’d hit a new PR of 130kg / 286.6 pounds.
As someone who has been raising a dumbbell for more than 25 years, I’d never attempted a single-arm jerk before this particular workout. Therefore, any lift became a PR! While many dumbbell movements are about isolating muscles such as the biceps, or triceps, the jerk requires the whole body.
I was able to lift the lighter weights without nailing the proper technique, but the jerk is all about positioning and explosive power in order to make proper progress. The first step is to get the dumbbell into a snug position on your shoulder before thrusting up with your whole body. That means the legs and core will be working before you even engage your arms. In the early stages, I was able to lift without working my legs, but as we increased the load, the only way to move the dumbbell skywards was to really push the feet down and bring the knees up, while launching the arms upward. After some trial and error, I was pleased to hit 35kg/ 77 pounds here. In fact, I thew myself into that last jerk so much that on the way back down, the momentum took me for a little jog, much to our amusement!
Primal Strength Curved Treadmill
The Primal Strength Curved Treadmill is ideal for internal training and sprints. It’s also perfect for strongmen like Luke and Tom Stoltman, since they use it to condition themselves for pulling and pushing loads, like a tractor! The Stoltman brothers put me through three rounds of 30 seconds on and then 30 seconds off. And, while the Primal Strength Curved Treadmill already has its own heavy duty resistance settings, the man-mountains decided to add a little more friction for good measure, in the form of their gigantic feet! While the boys had some great fun at my expense (I thought the machine was broken!) they did point out that the proper technique with this kind of movement is to push down with the toes and drive them into the ground. Lessons learned.
Overhead Push Press
As a regular with the overhead press, I was once again out of my element here with the push press. Having always practiced more of a strict press that doesn’t engage the lower body as much, I was shown how to raise more weight by lifting off with my feet and exploding upwards. In Luke’s demonstration of the move, he was on tiptoes during the final stages of his ascent. After some practice, I was able to replicate the movement, albeit with a bit more work needed with explosiveness. Still, I racked up a PR of 45kg/99.2 pounds. “Nice,” said Luke. “Good,” said Tom. Is there anything more inspiring than receiving encouraging comments from those that are leagues ahead of you!?
The Finisher: Single Arm Jerk Challenge
For the finisher, it was back to the single-arm jerk to test what I had learned in terms of engaging my legs and core, and generating some explosive power. Four dumbbells of increasing weight were laid out side by side in front of me, with the object of the challenge being to lift each weight consecutively. The Stoltman brothers pointed out that there was no race here, but instead to concentrate on great form in order to complete the objective.
As the Stoltman brothers looked on with words of encouragement, I made my way through each weight until I got to my earlier PR of 35kg/ 77 pounds. Would I hit it after taxing my body so much since that very first round? I took my time to give myself every chance, and with a deep breath I gave it my all, just about nailing it! “Easy,” said Luke. Well, I wouldn’t go that far! Still, I was walking on air for the rest of the day.
With sweat running down my face from an awesome workout, I learned that was is important here really isn’t just the numbers on the plates. What matters is that having trained since my teens, I hurled myself into something new in my 40s, with two guys that are at the top of their game lifting me up with their infectious positivity. You can’t underestimate the extra progress you will make if you get the right encouragement!
Also of note here, is just how much you might change your own life, and outlook on fitness, by training in the “strongman style.” You really don’t have to pull a tractor uphill, like the Stoltman’s to get involved. There’s a great deal of self-esteem to be amassed from breaking personal records and that shouldn’t be understated, but this style of training is also great way to shake up your routine. Moves such as the single arm jerk, and overhead push press are less about isolating the arms and more about building on your body’s own functional movement. You’ll engage your core without ever doing a single sit-up! Finally, strongman training is just simply more fun, meaning that you will get a buzz out of trying something new.