top of page

The Complete Guide to Mastering the Mighty Atlas Stone Lift

Learn to lift Atlas stones, a key strongman event, focusing on technique, muscles, training tips, and alternative exercises.

Man lifting and atlas stone

Introduction

The atlas stone is a spherical weight or heavy object used in strongman competitions and training. Varying in size and weight, atlas stones test an athlete's ability to lift and carry extremely awkward, heavy items. The stones range from lightweight at approximately 45 kilograms up to over 227 kilograms for professional events.



The atlas stone event requires competitors to lift a series of progressively heavier stones onto platforms of increasing height. This full-body event develops tremendous strength, power, grip, and endurance. The unpredictable shape challenges athletes to control and stabilise the stones.


Atlas stones have become a staple of strongman competitions globally. The finale to crown "The World's Strongest Man" often culminates in lifting the legendary Atlas Stones. Training with the atlas stone helps strongman athletes prepare for the demands of competition while building explosive strength.



Muscles Worked

The atlas stone lift engages nearly every major muscle group in the body, providing a comprehensive strength training exercise. According to research, the primary movers during the atlas stone lift are the back, legs, shoulders, core, and grip muscles.


Man lifting atlas stone

The lats, traps, rhomboids, rear delts, and erector spinae in the back are heavily involved in the initial lift off the ground as well as supporting the weight during the load phase. The quadriceps, glutes, and hamstrings in the legs provide the force to stand up with the stone. The anterior and lateral deltoid muscles in the shoulders assist with lifting the stone onto the platform.


In the core, the rectus abdominis, obliques, and transverse abdominis contract to stabilise the spine during the asymmetrical lift. Meanwhile, the forearm flexors and extensors in the grip work isometrically to hold onto the stone.


Understanding the full-body nature of the atlas stone lift is essential for programming it effectively for maximal strength and power development.


Proper Lifting Technique

Proper form and technique are crucial for successfully lifting atlas stones while avoiding injury. Here are some key tips on stance, hip position, lifting motion, lockout, and common mistakes to avoid:


Stance

Adopt a shoulder-width or wider stance depending on the size of the stone. You need to straddle the stone to keep is center of gravity as close as possible to yur own. Your toes pointed slightly outward. Keep your feet firmly planted for a stable base of support. Wider stances are better suited for larger stones, while narrower stances facilitate the smaller stones.

atlas stones on platforms

Hip Position

Your aim should be to hinge at the hips so youre able to utalise the powerful glute and hamstring muscles. Push your knees outwards slightly as you descend to make room for your arms in-between your knees. Maintain the stone close to your body throughout the lift.


Lifting Motion

Initiate the lift by driving through your feet almost like leg pressing the floor away from you. Once the stone passes your knees you will move you legs and feet underneathe the stone, allowing you to rest some of the weight on your thighs.


Extension

We are now setting up for the extension. Adjsuting your grip more towards the top of the stone 10 and 2 on a clock to aviod using the arms to try and curl the stone up. Now drive hard with you legs whilst driving your hips through and pulling up with you arms. This will both drive and roll the stone up your torso


Lockout

Complete the lift by extending your knees and hips until you are standing tall. You will have a small lean back at the top but I try to aviod this being to excessive as it may place to much stress on the lower back. Keep the stone close to your body throughout the motion.


Common Mistakes

Prevent rounding your back when lifting the stone, as this can lead to injury. Also, avoid 'squatting' the stone up by using too much quadriceps. Ensure to engage the hamstrings and glutes effectively. Do not jerk the stone or rely on momentum rather than controlled technique.


Maintaining proper lifting technique for the atlas stone necessitates full-body tension, leg drive, a straight back, and explosive yet controlled movements to safely handle heavy loads.


Programming Atlas Stones

When planning atlas stone training, correctly managing frequency, volume, and intensity is crucial. Atlas stones exert a high degree of stress on the body, therefore, adequate recovery between training sessions is vital. For most trainees, 1-2 dedicated atlas stone training sessions per week is ideal.


As a novice, begin with 3-5 sets of 1-3 repetitions, prioritising technique over volume. Allow 2-3 minutes rest between sets. As your skills improve, gradually increase the volume to 4-6 sets of 3-5 reps. Advanced strongman athletes may perform up to 10 heavy single rep sessions.


You can control the intensity by increasing the size and weight of the stone. Beginners should commence with lighter stones of approximately 40-90 kilograms. Intermediate lifters may use stones up to 120 kilograms, whereas advanced athletes regularly train with stones over 120+ kilograms. When ready, increase the stone weight incrementally, by approximately 10-30 kilograms at a time. Unlike barbell lifts most gyms do not have small jumps when it comes to stones. It's normal for the jumps to be up 40kg if this is the case you just need to spend more time with the lighter stone building your strength and power before moving up.


man lifting atlas stone in the snow

It's vital to progress slowly as an atlas stone beginner. Allow your body to adapt over several weeks before amping up the volume or intensity. Patience is crucial to avoid overuse injuries whilst mastering the proper techniques. Master the lighter stones before advancing too hastily.


Training Without Stones

If you don't have access to actual atlas stones, there are several useful exercises that can replicate the loading and lifting patterns of actual stones. These exercises allow you to develop the core strength, grip strength, and hip drive necessary for atlas stone lifting.


Zercher Squats

The Zercher squat is conducted by cradling a barbell or other piece of equipment in the crooks of your elbows and squatting down. This simulates the torso position and hip drive of the initial pick phase of the atlas stone lift. For more information, refer to this Reddit thread on simulating atlas stones.


Zercher Deadlift

The Zercher Deadlift combines elements of the traditional deadlift with the unique front-loading position of the Zercher hold, emphasizing engagement of the core, back, and legs. This exercise particularly challenges your ability to lift weights from a deep position the lower back. Perfroming this movement from the floor is not for beginners but it can be done from a raised position to place lower demand on flexiblity and strength of the deep squat position.


Sandbag Loading

Picking up and carrying weighty sandbags can simulate the grip and loading of atlas stones. Start with a lighter bag and gradually increase to heavier ones, emulating the same hugging technique employed with real stones.


Keg Lifts

Lifting hefty kegs from ground to shoulder and overhead cultivates the strength necessary for atlas stone lifting. Make sure to engage your core and drive with your hips.


Equipment

Atlas stones necessitate certain specialised equipment for optimal training. Key items for atlas stone lifting include:


Stone Moulds/buying Stones

Atlas stone moulds allow you to create your own atlas stones out of concrete. Moulds are available in a range of sizes from approximately 20-300 kilograms. Owning your own set of moulds enables you to cast stones in incremental weights for progressive overload. Notable sources for moulds include Rogue Fitness and Titan Fitness this isn't the best idea if you just want a few stones. There a numrous compaines who make and sell stones for me the best and most robust stones I have used are from Spartan Stones.


Tacky

Tacky is a sticky substance applied to your hands to enhance grip on the stones. Common options include pine tar, athletic tape, and commercial tacky products like Tacky. This allows you to lift heavier weights without the stone slipping from your grasp. I'm a big fan of practicing stones both tackyless and with tacky. I believe that the majority of your stone practice should be done with -out the aid of tacky as this is the old way. But when it comes to competition and personal records its worth investing in some tacky.




Beginner Program

For those new to atlas stone training, it's vital to embark on a progressive programme to build strength and technique safely. Here is an example 6-week beginner programme:

The programme is designed to develop full body strength through core exercises such as squats, deadlifts, overhead pressing, and loaded carries. Atlas stone lifts are scheduled once a week facilitating practice of the technique.


The programme uses a linear progression method, gradually augmenting the weight and intensity each week. Core lifts are kept within the range of 3-5 reps, while accessory lifts sit between 8-10 reps. Rest periods of 2-3 minutes between sets are recommended.

Here are the exercise selections, along with set and rep recommendations:

Squats: 4-5 sets x 3-5 reps

Deadlifts: 3-4 sets x 3-5 reps

Overhead Press: 3-4 sets x 5 reps

man lifting natural stone in Iceland

Bentover Rows: 3-4 sets x 6-8 reps

Loaded Carries: 3-4 sets x 15-30 meter carry

Atlas Stone Lifts: 5 x 1-2 reps, with a weekly weight increase

Over the 6 weeks, the lifter can build strength gradually in key lifts which will translate into atlas stone proficiency. Consistency is crucial for a successful beginner programme.


Intermediate Programme

Having built sufficient strength and technique as a beginner, you can progress to a more rigorous 8-week intermediate programme. Here's an example:


Warmup:

Foam rolling: 5 mins

Bodyweight squats: 2x10

Hip mobility drills: 5 mins


Main Lifts:

Zercher squats: 3x5

Anderson squats: 3x5

Sandbag loading: 5x3

Atlas stone lifts: 3x2


Accessory Work:

Suitcase deadlifts: 3x8

Farmer's walks: 3x45 meters

Hanging leg raises: 3x10

Planks: 3x30 secs


In this programme, main lifts are performed for fewer reps, around 2-5 per set, to develop strength. Accessory work uses slightly higher reps, about 8-10 per set, to build muscle size and endurance.


Advanced Programme

For those with experience looking to maximise their atlas stone performance, here is an example of a 12-week advanced programme:


Exercises:

Atlas stone lifts

Zercher squats

Anderson squats

Sandbag loading

Overhead press

Heavy carries

Sets/Reps:

Atlas stones: 5x1-3 reps, working up to a 1-rep max

Squats: 4x5-8 reps

Presses: 4x6-10 reps

Carries: 3-5 x 15-30 meter carries

The programme gradually transitions from higher volume (5 sets of 3 reps) for stones in the initial stages, to lower volume (5 singles) at the end, focusing on strength and peaking. Adequate recovery time is included to sustain the heavy stone loading.


Conclusion

Atlas stone training provides a full-body strength and conditioning workout that can help develop power in the legs, back, core, and grip. By increasing the weights gradually, you can consistently enhance your overall strength and performance.

Key points regarding the training of atlas stones are:

Maintain an athletic stance and a tense core

Keep hips close to the stone and drive with legs

Start with lighter stones and high rep volume as a beginner

Gradually increase the weight of the stones over time as technique improves

Utilise speciality exercises and equipment in training.

48 views0 comments

Comments


bottom of page