The Brian Shaw Training Program!


Brian Shaw is one of the greatest strongman competitors of all time. Brian won the World’s Strongest Man competition 4 times in 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2016. He also reached the finals of the World’s Strongest Man contest a record 13 times in a row.

Brian Shaw is truly in a league of his own! 

Introduction

  • Part 1: Brian Shaw’s Squat Day
  • Part 2: Brian Shaw’s Overhead Press Day
  • Part 3: Brian Shaw’s Deadlift Day
  • Part 4: Brain Shaw’s Event Day

In this comprehensive guide I will teach you how Brian Shaw trains for his professional strongman competitions including the World’s Strongest Man.

One of the things I really like about Brian is his “champion mindset.” Brian has an unshakeable belief in himself and is willing to do whatever it takes to reach his goals.

Here is Brian Shaw himself talking about his mindset:

“The champion mindset is one of self belief, vision, overcoming any obstacle and pushing yourself to the levels most people would think are “impossible.”

As long as you can see and it and you can believe it… ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE!”

Brian Shaw used this unshakeable belief in himself to break the atlas stone world record in 2015.

People said that lifting a 555 pound atlas stone would be impossible. Brian Shaw ignored the naysayers and proved everyone wrong!

Of course you need to do more than just believe in yourself to become the world’s strongest man. You also need to train harder and smarter than anyone else in the world!

Brian Shaw almost always trains 4 days per week using a modified strongman training split. Check it out:

The Brian Shaw Training Split

  • Monday: Squat 
  • Tuesday: Overhead press
  • Thursday: Deadlift
  • Saturday: Strongman Events

Brian Shaw has 4 separate training days.

On Monday he trains his squat and performs different accessory exercises for his lower body.

On Tuesday he trains the overhead press and performs different accessory exercises for his shoulders, chest and triceps.

On Thursday he trains the deadlift and performs different upper back accessory exercises.

Finally on Saturday Brian Shaw trains the strongman events such as the super yolk, log press and atlas stones. This is Brian’s most important training day because this is when he trains the strongman events that he will be competing in at his next competition.

Now let’s take a closer look at how Brian organizes his workouts to compete against the strongest men in the world.

Part 1: Brain Shaw’s Squat Day

Brian Shaw trains the squat once per week every Monday.

Brian almost never has to perform the actual back squat in one of his strongman competitions. However, Brian knows that the squat is one of the best exercises that he can do to strengthen his legs and his entire body.

He trains the squat because it will make him stronger on almost every single strongman event including the farmer’s walk, the super yolk and the log press.

Brian Shaw almost never squats with a regular 45 pound barbell. Instead he trains the squat with 3 different specialty bars:

  • The safety squat bar
  • The spider bar
  • The cambered bar

Here is Brian Shaw explaining why he likes squatting with these specialty barbells:

“I get a lot of questions about why I use all the specialty bars and why I don’t just squat with the straight bar. It’s because every specialty bar has a different purpose. And for me it has a different purpose in my training.”

The straight bar also puts a lot of pressure on Brian’s shoulders and upper back. Brain regularly squats with weights in the 600-800 pound range so this is very understandable.

The safety squat bar is a favorite of Brian Shaw and many other strongman competitors. It has a large foam pad that sits on your upper back and shoulders which makes the bar very easy to use.

Here is a great video of Brian Shaw squatting with this bar:

Brian likes this bar because it is easier to recover from than a regular 45 pound barbell. It also gives him better carryover to his strongman events.

The safety squat bar actually has a built in camber which means the center of gravity of the bar is in front of your body. While you squat it literally feels like the bar is trying to make you fall forwards onto the ground!

When you squat with the safety squat bar your upper and lower back have to work VERY hard to prevent you from falling forward.

In other words Brian Shaw uses the safety squat bar to strengthen his back for his other strongman events like the atlas stones or loaded carries.

Brain Shaw uses the spider bar and the cambered squat bar for similar reasons: they are easier on his shoulders and help him strengthen his upper and lower back.

Now let’s look at a typical Brian Shaw squat workout. Check it out:

A Typical Brian Shaw Squat Workout

  • Exercise #1: Cambered bar box squat, 3 sets of 4-6 reps
  • Exercise #2: Hip extension machine, 3 sets of 10-12 reps
  • Exercise #3: Unilateral 45 degree leg press, 3 sets of 10-12 reps
  • Exercise #4: Lying leg curl, 3 sets of 10-12 reps

Here is the training video for this workout:

For this workout Brian Shaw performs a few heavy sets with the cambered bar.

The cambered bar sits on your shoulders like a regular 45 pound barbell. The big difference is the bar has a giant camber in it which lowers the center of gravity of the exercise.

The weights also swing forwards and backwards while you squat which forces your legs, lower back and core muscles to work MUCH harder while you squat.

Here is Brian Shaw explaining why he likes the cambered bar so much:

“With this cambered bar I feel this different than I do with a safety squat bar or with a spider bar for example. It has a different effect. So what I’m going for right now is the leg drive actually getting off the box.

So I feel like it’s a little bit easier to lock up when I’m underneath this bar and sit back to the box and then really emphasize driving my hips as I’m getting up off the box. So that’s the main purpose there.”

For this workout Brian Shaw worked up to a few reasonably heavy sets of 4-6 reps.

Brian likes to slowly ramp up his weights over the course of 3-4 months while he prepares for his strongman competitions. This lets him slowly build up his strength over time without burning himself out.

Many world-class powerlifters like Ed Coan used a similar approach in their training.

One of the really interesting things about Brian Shaw’s squat training is he alternates “heavy” weeks and “speed” weeks. For example:

  • Week 1: Heavy Squat
  • Week 2: Speed Squats
  • Week 3: Heavy Squats
  • Week 4: Speed Squats

And so on. Brian Shaw found that performing heavy squats and heavy deadlifts every single week was too much to recover from. However, if he alternates heavy and light weeks he can make consistent long-term progress. 

Here is what one of Brian Shaw’s speed squat workouts looks like. Check it out:

Brian Shaw Squat Workout

  • Exercise #1: Safety squat bar squat with chains (to pins), 3 sets of 4-6 reps
  • Exercise #2: 45 degree leg press with bands, 3 sets of 8-12 reps
  • Exercise #3: Lying leg curl, 3 sets of 8-12 reps

Here is the training video for this workout:

For this workout Brian Shaw is performing safety squat bar squats with chains. He is also squatting down and pausing the bar on a pair of safety pins.

Brian found that squatting to pins improves his deadlifting strength because it mimics the starting position of a deadlift where the weight is resting on the ground. 

During his speed squat workouts Brian Shaw also likes to train in the 4-6 rep range rather than using sets of 1-2 reps like a lot of powerlifters use.

Brian keeps the weight relatively light and focuses on moving the bar as fast as possible. This is very similar to compensatory acceleration training as used by Josh Bryant or the dynamic effort method as used by Louie Simmons.

Here is Brian Shaw talking about his speed squats:

“Now like I said this weight felt super easy for me, but it’s the right point in the training to shut it down now because I want to add more weight in the coming weeks.

It’s a good weight, but again I’m not training to squat a big weight, I’m just using this as an accessory to the deadlift and I got that work done.”

Brian Shaw’s squat day is a very important training day. He uses the squat as a tool to improve his lower body strength and to improve his performance on all of the other strongman events.

I really like how Brian uses different specialty bars and other training tools such as bands and chains to inject more variety into his workouts. It seems like the athletes who use more variety in their workouts have fewer injuries and longer training careers than those who don’t.

The legendary bodybuilding coach John Meadows also believed in the importance of using a variety of exercises to avoid injuries. 

Part 2: Brain Shaw’s Overhead Press Day

The overhead press is one of the most important events for a strongman competitor. Every strongman competition has 1-2 overhead pressing events such as the log press, the axle press, the circus dumbbell press or the viking press.

There is no getting around it: if you want to be the world’s strongest man then you must have a strong pair of shoulders!

Brian Shaw trains the overhead press every Tuesday. 

Brian has a very simple formula that he follows for his overhead press workouts:

  • Exercise #1: Overhead Press
  • Exercise #2: Incline Press
  • Exercise #3: Flat Press
  • Exercise #4: Triceps Isolation Exercise

Brian Shaw is a big believer in the principle of specificity.

He starts his workouts with the overhead press because that is the main exercise he wants to get stronger at. He also performs a variety of other pressing exercises such as the incline dumbbell press and the close grip bench press to build up his chest and triceps strength.

Finally Brian finishes his overhead pressing workout with some type of triceps isolation exercise.

Here is a very typical overhead pressing workout for Brian Shaw. Check it out:

Brian Shaw Overhead Press Workout

  • Exercise #1: Seated military press, 3 sets of 4-6 reps
  • Exercise #2: 45 degree incline log press with chains, 3 sets of 8-12 reps
  • Exercise #3: Flat machine press, 3 sets of 8-12 reps
  • Exercise #4: Cable overhead extension (high pulley), 3 sets of 8-12 reps

Here is the training video for this workout:

This is a very typical “pressing” workout for Brian Shaw. This workout was performed several months before his next strongman competition so he only worked up to a moderately heavy set of 5 reps on the seated overhead press.

After his first exercise Brian performs a variety of accessory exercises for his chest, shoulders and triceps.

When Brian Shaw is closer to his strongman competitions he likes to focus on the overhead pressing events that he is actually competing in. For example if Brian is competing in the log press in his next competition then he will perform that first in his workout.

Here is what one of Brian Shaw’s log press workouts looks like. Check it out:

Brian Shaw Overhead Press Workout

  • Exercise #1: Standing log press (from rack), 3 x sets of 6-12 reps
  • Exercise #2: 45 degree incline dumbbell press, 4 sets of 8-12 reps
  • Exercise #3: Flat machine press, 4 sets of 8-12 reps
  • Exercise #4: Machine overhead press, 4 sets of 8-12 reps
  • Exercise #5: Standing DB lateral raise, 2 sets of 8-12 reps

Here is the training video for this workout:

If you have never performed the log press before then you have NO IDEA how hard this exercise is!

The log press is a very difficult exercise. The log itself is very large which pushes the center of mass of the exercise further out in front of your body. This forces your shoulders and upper back to work much harder than normal.

After the log press Brian moves onto a variety of accessory exercises for his chest, shoulders and triceps.

Brian Shaw also trains the overhead press on his “events” day later in the week. We will cover that in part 4 of this article.

Part 3: Brain Shaw’s Deadlift Day

The legendary strongman competitor Jón Páll Sigmarsson has a great quote:

“There’s no reason to be alive if you cannot do deadlift!”

The deadlift is by far the most important exercise for a strongman competitor. Almost every strongman event including the atlas stones, the farmer’s walk, loaded carries and the log press force you to lift a weight off the ground.

Most strongman competitions also feature some type of deadlift event such as the car deadlift, the tire deadlift or the elephant bar deadlift. If you want to be the world’s strongest man then building a huge deadlift has to be one of your top priorities!

Brian Shaw knows this so he trains the deadlift every Thursday.

Brian found through trial and error that he can’t recover from a heavy deadlift workout every single week. Instead he alternates between a “heavy” deadlift week and a “speed” deadlift week. For example:

Brian Shaw’s Deadlift Training Schedule

  • Week 1: Heavy Deadlift
  • Week 2: Speed Deadlift

And so on. Brian Shaw is very smart and organizes his training so he is only going heavy on the squat OR the deadlift each week. For example:

Week 1

  • Heavy Squat
  • Speed Deadlift

Week 2

  • Speed Squat
  • Heavy Deadlift

Many world-class powerlifters including Matt Kroc used a similar intensity-cycling approach for their squat and deadlift workouts.

So how does Brian Shaw organize his heavy deadlift workouts? That is a great question.

Brian uses a very similar form of linear periodization for his heavy deadlift workouts. He slowly ramps up his weights over 8-16 weeks leading up to his next strongman competition.

In the last 2-3 weeks before his competition he is lifting his heaviest weights for 1-3 reps.

Here is what one of Brian Shaw’s heavy deadlift workouts looks like in the last month before his next competition. Check it out:

Brian Shaw’s Heavy Deadlift Workout

  • Exercise #1: Conventional deadlift, 3 sets of 1 rep
  • Exercise #2: Good morning machine, 3 sets of 8-12 reps
  • Exercise #3: Hip extension machine, 3 sets of 8-12 reps
  • Exercise #4: Lat pulldown (wide / overhand grip), 3 sets of 8-12 reps
  • Exercise #5: Seated machine row, 3 sets of 8-12 reps
  • Exercise #6: Standing cable face pull, 3 sets of 8-12 reps

Here is the training video for this workout:

Brian Shaw works up to an absolutely massive 1,000+ pound deadlift for this workout – WOW!

Brian was getting ready to compete with a special deadlift bar called the “elephant bar.” This specialty barbell bends much more than a regular barbell.

This makes it easier to lift the weight off the ground because the 45 pound plates at the end of the barbell are still in contact with the ground for the first few inches of the exercise.

However, the elephant bar is also very “whippy” and difficult to control.

Briant Shaw didn’t have access to an elephant bar so he did the next best thing: he used an ultra-long barbell with the 45-pound plates very wide on the barbell. This was Brian’s way of mimicking the elephant bar so that he would be as prepared as possible for his next competition.

After his heavy sets of deadlifts Brian performs a variety of accessory exercises for his upper and lower back. Brian Shaw performs all of his upper back accessory exercises on his deadlift day rather than his upper body training days.

This is a strategy that many other strongman competitors including the one-and-only Eddie Hall use in their training.

Brian Shaw is an incredibly creative person and it really shines through in his deadlift workouts. He has invented some ways to attack weak points in the deadlift that I had never even heard of!

For example one of Brian’s craziest ideas is to attach a cable pulley to the barbell and have a training partner pull on the cable to apply extra resistance at his weak point or “sticking point.”

Here is a great training video demonstrating this technique:

His training partner starts pulling on the pulley right when Brian reaches his sticking point. He pauses at the sticking point for one second before exploding the weight up to the lockout position.

This is actually an advanced form of isometric training. Many other powerlifting coaches including Josh Bryant use isometric training to blast through sticking points in the deadlift.

In case you were curious here is Brian Shaw’s full isometric deadlift workout:

Brian Shaw’s Isometric Deadlift Workout

  • Exercise #1: Conventional deadlift, 3 sets of 2 reps**
  • Exercise #2: Trap bar deadlift, 3 sets of 4-6 reps
  • Exercise #3: Seated cable row (alternating arms), 3 sets of 8-12 reps

Brian Shaw only trains the deadlift heavy every other week. On his lighter weeks Brian likes to perform multiple “speed sets” in the spirit of the Westside Barbell training program.

The main benefit of the speed sets is they let Brian practice his deadlift technique and build explosive strength off the ground without overtraining his lower back.

When you are deadlifting over 1,000 pounds like Brian you need to decrease your deadlift training frequency in order to continue making progress.

The world’s strongest deadlift Hafthor Bjornsson also likes to alternate between “heavy” deadlift workouts and “speed” deadlift workouts for this reason.

Here is what Brian Shaw’s typical speed deadlift workout looks like. Check it out:

Brian Shaw Speed Deadlift Workout

  • Exercise #1: Speed deadlift**, 8 sets of 2 reps
  • Exercise #2: Lat pulldowns (wide / overhand grip), 3 sets of 8-12 reps
  • Exercise #3: Seated cable rows (V-handle), 3 sets of 8-12 reps

Here is the training video for this workout:

For his speed deadlift workouts Brian likes to perform 8 sets of 2 reps with 50-60% of his 1-rep max. Brian used 495 pounds for this speed deadlift workout which is right in that 50%-60% range.

These speed deadlifts give Brian extra practice on the deadlift without burning out his lower back or his central nervous system.

If you want to build a massive deadlift then I highly recommend you try alternating heavy / speed deadlift workouts.

Eric Lilliebridge uses a similar strategy in his “Lilliebridge Method” training program.

Part 4: Brian Shaw’s Event Day

If you want to win the World’s Strongest Man competition then you have to train the actual strongman events. There is no getting around this!

Most strongman competitions feature 5 separate “events” that test your real-world strength. 

Here are some of the most common types of strongman events:

  • Deadlifts
  • Farmer’s Walk
  • Super Yolk
  • Loaded Carries
  • Overhead Press
  • Atlas Stones

Every strongman competitor has to figure out how they want to train these events during the week. Some strongman competitors like Eddie Hall and Hafthor Bjornsson train the strongman events on their regular training days.

For example Hafthor Bjornsson likes to train the atlas stones and the farmer’s walk on his deadlift day.

The deadlift, the atlas stones and the farmer’s walk train a lot of the same muscles so it makes sense to train them all on the same day.

The only drawback to this approach is you have to train the strongman events at the end of your workout when you are already tired.

The 4 x world’s strongest man Brian Shaw takes a completely different approach: he trains the strongman events on their own every Saturday. Brian looks up the events that he will be competing in at his next competition and focuses on them.

Here is what one of Brian Shaw’s typical strongman events days looks like. Check it out:

Brian Shaw Event Training Workout

  • Exercise #1: Keg Toss
  • Exercise #2: Super yolk
  • Exercise #3: Frame Carry
  • Exercise #4: Atlas Stones

Here is the training video for this workout:

As you can see Brian picks 4 different strongman events and spends a good amount of time training each one.

One of Brian Shaw’s big priorities for his events day is to hone in his technique on each event. He wants to make sure that his body knows exactly what to do for each event on the day of his competition.

The last thing you want to do when you are sprinting with a 1,000+ pound super yolk on your back is to worry about how fast to shift your weight from one foot to the other!

As usual Brian Shaw uses a simple form of linear periodization for his event days. He starts out by training the events with relatively lighter weights. As he gets closer to his competition he slowly increases the weight on each exercise.

This strategy helps Brian to peak his strength on the day of his competition without beating up his body too much. 

I really like Brian Shaw’s strategy for having a separate events day. However, there is one BIG drawback that you need to be aware of: it is very difficult to recover from.

Brian is training his lower back three times per week on his squat day, his deadlift day AND on his events day.

If you have superior recovery ability then this is not a problem. However, if you have a hard time recovering from a lot of heavy lower body exercises then you may run into trouble training this way.

In that case you may want to train the events on your squat / deadlift days like Eddie Hall or Hafthor Bjornsson.

Conclusion

Brian Shaw will go down in history as one of the greatest strongman competitors of all time.

The thing that most impresses me about Brian Shaw is his longevity in the sport. He won his first World’s Strongest Man competition in 2011 and he is still training to be the best in the world!

No other strongman competitor has ever competed at such a high level for more than a decade.

So what keeps Brian Shaw going? What drives him to be the best in the world year after year? I’ll let Brian Shaw answer that question himself:

“It’s not necessarily about winning every contest at this point, but more about seeing how strong can I be? How high can I set the bar?

That’s what drives me. I want to beat myself from last year. 

This sounds like something straight out of Simon Sinek’s groundbreaking book The Infinite Game!

Brian isn’t competing for a 5th World’s Strongest Man title. He’s competing to push himself to his absolute limit and see just how far he can go, to see just how much of his God-given talent he can manifest in the world. 

Now that is what I call the champion mindset!

Brian Shaw shared his genius with the world and helped raise the consciousness of mankind. I hope his incredible story inspires you to do the same.

Here is one more quote by Brian Shaw to pump you up even more:

That’s what it has to be about—pushing yourself. If you have that fire to get better, that’s a very powerful thing.

I don’t feel like I have a lot left to prove. I don’t have anything hanging as a weight on my shoulders. But, I want to see how much better I can be.”

Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck on your strength training journey!

Dr. Mike Jansen, PT, DPT

Thanks for checking out my site! My name is Dr. Mike Jansen and I'm the founder of Revolutionary Program Design. If you want to reach your size and strength goals faster then you've come to the right place. My goal is to make RPD the #1 strength training resource available anywhere in the world. So grab a seat, kick back and relax. There's never been a better time to lift weights or to learn the art and science of strength training program design.

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