In “true” Strongman training, just about every exercise is MAX Effort or at least somewhere close to it. This is because the true nature of that sport is, in and of itself, STRENGTH. However, when using Strongman variations for fitness purposes, its not wise to train with extremely heavy loads as your purpose isn’t just strength but also conditioning and overall fitness. And because Strongman training has the added benefit of cardiovascular development (unlike powerlifting or Olympic lifting variants) , the training can be used in a variety of different ways successfully.
When we program Strongman lifts into our workouts we do it because of the sheer fun it brings! Its just down right fun to express your strengths through non traditional training. Pushing trucks, flipping tires, pulling sleds and carrying inordinate heavy objects presents a challenge while you strength train that is unmatched by any set/rep scheme. Its also a sneaky way to do a ton of work without thinking about set after set and rep after rep. Its feels like a bigger accomplishment to do heavy hand over hand rope pulls for sets over just doing single arm rows day after day. It’s similar to those who love distance running , but hate running every day on a track due to its tedious nature. So to fight this they chose parks and nature courses to run because of the variety it brings. Likewise, Strongman training breaks up the monotony of traditional training and gives a workout a fresh twist.
The problem with Strongman training is that it can be mis programmed and become useless work unless its used correctly. Since Strongman training involves much more than strength, its important to understand the metabolic demands of the different lifts and use them accordingly if you plan to see results.
With this said here are the 3 main ways whe use Strongman training variants for our clients looking to get stronger, more fit and in better shape!
Let me take a quick minute to explain how we categorize the lifts and this will give a better clue as to how we use them:
Strongman training (the sport) is comprised pretty much of ALL primary exercises. This, for the professional Strongman, makes the challenges much bigger than we non-strongmen ever see. In using these exercises for our workouts we break them down into sections not based on strength but based on the primary energy system requirements to complete each task. Understanding of that aspect of Strongman training will be all you need to develop a well rounded program for individuals looking better fitness levels. Strongman training can be either alactic/aerobic or lactic/aerobic. This basically means that the initial response is either that of an alactic or lactic nature. Each event, depending on the length/time allotted for that lift will determine the energy system used. The energy system used determines the way in which we can use it for fitness purposes. The terms lactic & alactic express two distinct conditions found within our anaerobic energy system response.
It has been well know that we have a aerobic & anaerobic heart rate zone. The aerobic system is the system that we use primarily because its responsible for the majority of our energy production. Day to day we use aerobic energy (oxygen) more often than any other system to generate ATP for our body’s billions of cells to use in energy production. This system is long lasting and slow to fatigue. On the flip side, our anaerobic energy system is used when we require our bodies to move at higher speeds and intensities. We have an anaerobic lactic system that can provide energy for anywhere from 60-90seconds. We also have a anaerobic alactic system that can provide energy for the highest of intensities ranging from 10-12seconds roughly.
Strongman training usually is highly intensive exercise based on a time or high rep scheme. For this purpose, the majority of it fits into the anaerobic lactic zone. This is one of the biggest factors in determining its place in your workout!
While there is much more detail we could go into regarding the specifics of energy systems and exercise selection, I want to get into how we use them and answer questions you may have later.
*One thing I will mention 1st is that all of these exercises must be evaluated on a person to person basis and executed with extreme caution.
Our 3 favorite ways to incorporate Strongman lifts into workouts are:
#1 – As a primary POWER lift. We like to program all explosive work into the very beginning our our training sessions. With this said, you need to make sure any variation you chose if of sub-maximal nature and can be performed for reps of a minimum of 5 very explosively.
My favorite ones are :
- The backward KEG toss or backward Heavy Med Ball toss -This is a great full body explosive lift that will get your CNS activated and produce great results in power/force development.
- Light or Medium weight Tire Flips – Flipping a light tire explosively is another great way to start your workouts and preparation for a great day in the gym. Since its full body, you can do them before either a leg or a upper body day.
figured this was a good time to insert my latest poster
- Log Clean + Press – The Log is one of my favorite tools and can be used on upper body days to get you rocking! I’d perform sub maximal sets of 3-5 with 60-90sec rest intervals. Remember, we’re looking for explosive so speed of movement is the way to go!
- Short Prowler Sprints – These are great for leg days. 8-15yd sprints with a moderate weight will definitely be a great start to your workout. be careful that the load isn’t too much. Heavy prowler sprint can cause a considerable amount of lactate build up and kill your legs. Light, short and too the point sprints will prepare you for a tail kicking day.
# 2 – Assistance work variations! These are some of my favorite variations because of that “sneaky” benefit you get and the sheer variety of the training. These exercises stimulate a more long term hypertrophy like response and are highly lactate in nature. These will burn but the accomplishment you get when you’re done is second to none!
- Hand over hand rope pull – Possibly one of my favorite exercises ever. This exercise involves both strength in the forearms, biceps, back, abs, legs and mental toughness. Use a thick rope (1 inch or thicker) for best results. This exercise is a great way to do single arm assistance work for upper body training sessions. We use 3-5 sets of 30yards or more.
- Sled Dragging/pulling – These might quite possibly my LEAST favorite exercises ever! They are extremely hard but they WORK! Heavy sled dragging (forward walking) is a great variation on upper body day. This single leg motion gives you the freedom to do rep after rep but since the load is behind you it really reduces the amount of stress placed on you physically (as opposed to step ups or lunges). In addition, the range of motion simulates the natural acceleration position so this can be used for post injury training as well. Sled pulling (backwards walking) is another great variation that builds great strength in the arms, back, quads and glutes. Great assistance exercises in general and due to the time of each set work well as assistance work.
- Truck/Prowler Push- similar to the sled drag this acts the same way only the load is in front of you as opposed to behind you. We usually load up on weights when we use these for assistance work. Be careful, these are grueling but they build great strength and conditioning for those who use them!
# 3 - As a FINISHER! Finishers are the perfect blend of strength, power & endurance. The reason we use these exercises are finishers is because they have that “top off” effect. Finishers usually involve high reps/time under tension & cardiovascular conditioning. Some of our favorite finishers are:
- Farmers Walk – The farmers walk is extremely grueling and can make a great addition to just about any work out! Everything from your grip, forearms, shoulders, legs, abs and more! These we load up (weight varying depending on size of the individual, strength of the individual and size of the individuals hands). Walking in a “zig-zag” fashion increases the difficulty as you have to stabilize the weight shift and maintain a stable posture.
- TUG-OF-WAR – This exercise may not qualify a traditional “strongman” but it shares a lot of the same similarities as the rope pulls & truck pulls. Having people square off against each other or in small groups is the best way to maximize the effectiveness of this training tool. Its fool proof as all you have to do is sit back and pull. However, it’s highly effective in being a great finisher to a workout as it involves much more than just arms. Its legs, abs, shoulders, biceps, low back etc… I’d definitely give these a try if you have the ability to do them!
- Atlas Stone carry – This kills! Carrying huge heavy inordinate objects is always a great workout finisher. Picking up this huge stone and carrying is (any way you can) to the desired place can work every single muscle you have! The big issue with these are many people don’t own a huge stone and even if they did, probably cannot pick them up. So with that in mind, I also think its good to use heavy medicine balls, book bags full of sand, heavy sand bags, even barbells loaded up. The key is to be creative and work your way up!