by Blake Dedas
Atlas stone lifting is a staple event in strong(wo)man competitions. It takes multiple forms and you will want to be prepared to tackle the challenge. As an added bonus, many find successfully lifting these stones to be incredibly gratifying in both training and at competition.
TYPES: The challenge of atlas stone lifting may be presented in any number of ways, but the main three forms are (1) lifting an atlas stone to a platform, usually as part of a stone series; (2) lifting an atlas stone over a bar (typically 46-48” for women, 50-52” for men) for max weight or max reps; and (3) lifting an atlas stone to shoulder for max weight or max reps. (1) and (2) generally involve the same technique while (3) requires a slight variation in arm placement and a bit of work to place and keep the stone on your shoulder.
Atlas stone to platform or over bar:
Initial Positioning: Stand almost directly over the stone with the stone between your feet. The idea is to utilize optimal deadlift positioning for the initial pick. Extend your arms straight down on both sides of the stone in the approximate center with your hands cupping underneath as much as possible. Most find it helpful to spread your fingers out.
Initial Pick: During the initial pick, squeeze the stone to maintain control of the object but deadlift weight your legs and back. DO NOT LIFT THE STONE WITH YOUR ARMS, ESPECIALLY NOT YOUR BICEPS. You cannot curl the atlas stone when the weight gets significantly heavy. Do not try.
Lapping: As the stone comes up to around your knees, position your knees so that you can either roll the stone up and over your knees into your lap or pinch your knees together to create a platform on which to rest the stone.
Repositioning: Once the stone is lapped, you should be sitting in a squat position with your head and chest upright and your hips at or below parallel to your knees. Reposition your arms and hands such that your arms reach straight out in front of you, slightly above the halfway point (center from a side view of) the stone and your hands pointing down toward the bottom of the stone. (Think “hands at 10:00 and 2:00”). This position will provide the best positioning to maximize control of the stone while minimizing the tension on your bicep.
Stand & Extend: Once repositioned, pull the stone really tight into your chest and stand up while attempting to roll the stone up your chest. Drive your hips forward/up and your chest, shoulders, and arms upward. Continue to extend the hips forward taking your body’s momentum forward to drive the stone up and onto / over the goal height. Extend onto your toes.
Atlas stone to shoulder:
Repeat steps above 1 through 3 above.
Repositioning: Once the stone is lapped, you should be sitting in a deep squat position with your head and chest upright and your hips at/below parallel to your knees. Reposition your arms and hands such that your non-dominant arm is slightly lower than straight under and partially under the stone while your dominant arm is slightly higher than straight and partially over the stone. The dominant arm will be the side that you are taking the stone to shoulder while the non-dominant arm will primarily serve as support and guidance. (Reverse this set-up should you want to shoulder to your non-dominant side).
Stand & Extend: Once repositioned, pull the stone into your chest and stand up while attempting to roll the stone up your chest. Drive your hips forward and your chest, dominant shoulder, and dominant arm upward. Continue to extend the hips forward driving your body’s momentum upward to drive the stone up toward your shoulder. Use your non-dominant arm to lift and guide the stone toward the shoulder through the movement.
Complete: To complete this lift, find the balance of the stone on your shoulder (note: it WILL be uncomfortable, especially for smaller athletes) and remove your non-dominant support arm from the stone to show control.
There are a couple tips that can help guide you toward success in these types of lifts. Some of these vary depending on individual background.
The heavier and bigger diameter the stone, the greater likelihood “rolling” up and over the knees will be required.
For heavier stones, getting the stone as high on the chest as possible in the lap position will be mandatory for success. Sitting deep into the squat will maximize this effort. The key is to shorten the distance the stone has to roll to achieve the required height. To do this, get the stone to the chest rather than midsection, abdomen, hips, or upper thighs during the lapping/repositioning stage.
Explosiveness out of the lapping position will help drive the momentum through the entirety of the movements. This is the point in the lift where you can re-catch your breath and/or take a deep breath for the Valsalva maneuver in preparation for the next steps.
If a stone is relatively light, you might be able to save time with a “one motion” load--that is, picking it up and loading it without stopping to lap it and reposition. Once you master the technique described earlier, you can give it a try (keep it light!).
(A Coach Beebs tip) If you don’t have a platform/bar to train with, you can always train “stone extensions.” Lap the stone and extend all the way up as described before, but instead of putting it onto a bar or platform, just extend as high as possible, then sit back down into the lap position, and repeat for as many reps as desired.
There are several basic tricks that can give you a leg up and put you in a better position to muscle your way through the lift.
Tacky – a resinous substance that, if allowed in competition, is a must for better grip on stones. You can probably borrow someone’s tacky before buying your own. It’s helpful (and less messy) to train without tacky at least some of the time.
Shoes – a common lifter, healed squat shoe, weightlifting shoe will help you sit deeper during the lapping stage. And give you an extra bit of height to get it high enough to load.
Forearm protection – leather sleeves or good ol’ pre-wrap and duct tape will save the skin on your forearms at the small sacrifice of some hair.
Belt – position your belt with the buckle behind you if you want to wear one. This will save you from pinching/piercing your belly with the stone.
Shirt – tight thick durable shirt, pulled tight and or tied behind you. This will protect your chest and also prevent the stone from rolling up into your shirt, especially if tacky is being used.
Grip shirt – a special shirt with silicone print that provides additional friction for the stone.
Baby oil, Goo-gone, coconut oil, WD-40 or similar product to remove the tacky afterward along with a disposable towel. TACKY DOES NOT COME OFF WITH SOAP AND WATER.