We all know the importance of the big, compound movements when it comes to getting strong.
The bench, squat and deadlift are among the three best exercises you can do for developing strength. Combine them with quality back work, overhead pressing, gymnastics training, unilateral and posterior chain work and you are really making a huge dent.
But when it comes to real-world strength, whether it be for athletics or other life, there is one training modality that will give you an even bigger bang for your buck.
And that is strongman training.
For those who don’t know, strongman training involves lifting and or carrying odd objects.
Kegs, tires, yokes, sleds, sandbags, and different implements are all tools you can use from your strength toolbox.
When you train with only barbells and dumbbells your body will adapt to those specific movement patterns.
With strongman training your body has to adapt to the increased stability demands placed on it by having to consciously stabilize the unstable object.
For instance, when you are trying to clean and press a keg filled with water, you have to really place emphasis on trying to control the keg so it doesn’t rip your shoulders out of the sockets.
This is much more realistic when it comes to real life. Especially in sports like fighting or wrestling.
In addition, the extra stability demand also creates a great stimulus for increasing muscular size.
Don’t get me wrong, barbell movements are extremely important, but they won’t have as much carryover to the real world as something like a loaded carry would. Basic barbell training should be the meat and potatoes to your training, however incorporating strongman training will take your strength to new levels.
Along with added real-world strength, strongman training will also create a tremendous conditioning effect.
If your gym doesn’t have any strongman equipment have no fear. You can easily grab some equipment from a junkyard, liquor store, and army-navy store to create your own. The good news is all of that stuff is cheap and can easily be stored in your backyard or garage.
I want to run down a list of my favorite strongman exercises and how you can use them to take your strength to the next level.
The most practical version of this exercise is a farmer’s walk with dumbbells. Simply grab a heavy pair of dumbbells and stand up tall. Ensure good posture through the entirety of the set by keeping your shoulders back and your chest up high. Be sure to keep your abdominals contracted throughout the set as well. All you are going to do is walk for either distance or time.
Typically, I recommend sets for 30 seconds, but sometimes we will do sets of 45 or 60 seconds. Some people may even go longer than that.
You can also make it competitive and try to beat your buddy’s distance that he or she walked with a specific weight.
The farmer’s walk is great for developing grip and abdominal strength, as well as adding size to your traps and forearms.
Pushing a sled is one of my favorite lower body exercises. The great thing about it is that there is no eccentric component of the exercise. This allows you to do an incredible amount of work, without getting sore. Which is why I love sled pushing for in-season athletes.
My favorite variation is the Prowler sled. In terms of conditioning, there aren’t many tools that have the same effect as the Prowler.
But it is also great for strength too. If you are a football player, it doesn’t get much more “sport specific” than this.
REVERSE SLED DRAG
Reverse sled dragging is an awesome way to hit the quadriceps. Grab a pair of straps with handles, and use a carabiner to connect them to your sled. Grab the handles, keep full tension on the straps, sit back, stay low and walk or run backwards.
A keg is an incredible strength implement. Grab an empty one at a liquor store, and do a quick YouTube search to learn how to make one for training.
Once filled with water, a keg is incredible difficult to stabilize. One of my favorite things to do with it is a clean and press. Trust me, when using a keg filled with water, an 80 lb. clean and press feels like a house.
You can also do a simple standing overhead press or even a loaded carry.
A keg will help you develop strength and stability of your core, as well as your entire upper body.
Flipping a tire has become extremely popular these days. Unfortunately, what hasn’t become very popular is the proper mechanics to actually perform the exercise correctly.
That’s because this exercise is not for everyone. If you have low back issues or poor flexibility, it may be difficult to maintain a neutral spine in the starting position since you have to get extremely low to the ground.
However, if you can maintain proper technique throughout the movement, flipping a tire can be a great dynamic exercise. It’s great for developing strength and power in the lower body and posterior chain.
To execute the movement properly, approach the tire and bend your knees while keeping your chest and butt up, creating an “arch” in your low back. Stick your hands under the tire with an underhand grip. Be sure to keep your elbows fully extended and use your lower body to flip the tire, otherwise you could end up attempting a 400 lb. bicep curl.
Initiate the movement by driving your hips forward, as you would in a deadlift. Once the tire is almost standing up straight, quickly flip your hands and push the tire over to its side.
This is one of my favorite things to do and could be done by pretty much anyone.
Grab yourself a sledgehammer from a hardware store. I recommend getting a heavy and intermediate one.
Grab the sledgehammer similar to the way you would hold a baseball bat, only with your hands close together and at the bottom of the handle. When you are ready to slam your top hand will slide upward on the way up, and back down to its starting position as you slam it down onto your tractor tire.
Be sure to engage your core and use your abs to slam the hammer, not just your arms. Keep in mind that you’ll want to switch your grip and do as many slams with your left hand on top as your right.
You can do these for reps or time. If you aren’t sure where to start, try a 30 second set on each arm and count your reps. That will give you a good base for a starting point.
This exercise will greatly benefit your grip, conditioning and even power.
Sandbags have a very similar effect as kegs do when it comes to training.
They are very difficult to stabilize which elicits a great training effect. They can help develop grip strength, overall strength and conditioning.
They can be used in a much wider exercise selection than kegs however.
Since going over all the different exercises you could perform with a sandbag could be it’s own post, I’ll just go over one of my favorites.
That’s sandbag shouldering.
Lie the bag on its side, parallel to the front of your body. Get down in a deadlift position and place your hands under each side of the bag as if you were going to scoop it.
Grab hold of the bag and literally deadlift the bag up, while simultaneously pulling it to your right shoulder. Then, slam the bag back to its starting position, reset your back angle so you are in a safe pulling position and pull to your left shoulder. Repeat this process nonstop for time.
Generally I prescribe 30 second sets.
Strongman training is a staple in my training system. It is especially important for athletes since it forces their bodies to respond to a whole new stimulus.
But this is also important for the general population as well.
I hope you guys are excited to try this stuff out. It’s a great way to break away from the monotony of your everyday gym.
The beauty of this is that you can do this all in your garage or backyard.
Compete with your friends and have some fun.
If you aren’t sure how to perform any of these movements or have any questions at all, feel free to shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks guys, I’ll catch you all next week!