Below is an interesting article from strength & conditioning coach Kevin Shattock (Podium Performance). The article discusses the use of traditional strongman type training for improving fitness and sports performance. Have a read and see if you think strongman type training might be beneficial to you. If it is then contact KT Conditioning to see how we can implement this within your training programs.
There has recently been an increase in the popularity of using strongman training to improve fitness and sporting performance. Traditionally, strength training programs have been based on power lifting and weightlifting exercises and variations. However, many of these exercises, when the proper technique is mastered, require the body or bar to travel through specific bar paths, which limits the variation of a training stimulus to some degree. In addition, these exercises require force production primarily in a vertical direction, whereas most sports require horizontal force development and movement in all 3 planes. To train athletes using the principle of training specificity, other methods of strength training should be explored.
Strongman implements can provide a novel training stimulus and be integrated into a strength and conditioning program with the benefits of increased muscular hypertrophy (size), strength endurance, a possible increase in sport-specific strength and an increased enjoyment of training. Common strongman implements used in training include tractor tyres, sandbags, water-filled kegs, farmers walk, pushing/pulling sleds and steel logs. By following general weight training safety recommendations, such as lifting with good lifting mechanics and loading using the principle of progressive overload, the use of strongman implements can be performed successfully with low risk with athletes of all ages and strength/skill levels.
General Physical Preparation
In a periodised training program, physical training is broken down into 2 parts - General preparation training (GPP) and Sport-specific performance training (SSP). Both of these training parts have individual functions in the training program of an athlete during the preparatory phase of training.
During the preparatory phase, GPP initiates the training and focuses on building a solid physiological foundation, including strength, speed, flexibility, balance, and increasing work capacity for the intense training to follow. The use of strongman implements, along with more traditional strength training equipment, can be used to meet these goals. Some strength and conditioning professionals seem to avoid strongman implement training because of the lack of sport specific movement patterns. I believe that many strongman exercises do have sport-specific movement patterns. Additionally, because the GPP should not focus on sport-specific movements but total body physical training, implementation of these types of exercises into a training program is recommended for many strength / power sports during this phase in the program. Several different sports such as american football, rugby and basketball have reported using strongman implements and are likely to see benefits from their use.
During the GPP phase, high volumes of training at moderate intensities are typically recommended. A log clean and press, where the log is cleaned at each rep, is a great tool for increasing strength endurance of the entire body. The nature of carrying events works very well as a means of increasing strength endurance and anaerobic energy system endurance. Carrying farmers walk implements, water-filled kegs, or pushing/pulling sleds are examples of exercises that fit into this category. These exercises are normally done for prescribed distances.
Progression is accomplished by increasing the distance the object is carried or the weight of the object and will lead to increases in strength endurance. Variation of rest periods can also be used to increase anaerobic work capacity. Exercises using strongman implements will also provide a great stimulus for hypertrophy, another purpose of the GPP, because of the large amount of time under tension. When performing a carrying exercise, such as a keg carry or farmers walks, the arms, trapezius and upper back musculature must generate a large amount of tension to maintain positioning of the keg and sustain that tension throughout the exercise. The core musculature is forced to stabilize the body, while the legs produce force to rapidly move with the implement.
It has been demonstrated that exercises incorporating large musculature, such as that of strongman exercises, produce the greatest increases in anabolic hormones, leading to increases in muscular hypertrophy. Using strongman implements as a means of increasing maximal strength does have limitations. The small incremental increases in weight necessary to increase maximal strength are difficult to achieve with most implements. Adding weight to implements, such as atlas stones, kegs, or tyres, can often prove difficult. Because of this, increasing maximal strength with low reps, such as 1–3 reps, is best left for more common free weight exercises done in a weight room, rather than attempting lifts of maximally loaded strongman implements. Some athletes also may not have the strength necessary to lift heavy implements, such as a 200kg tyre or 100kg keg. In cases such as this, coaches can find additional implements of a lighter weight or use partners to lift heavy implements such as a large tyre.
The use of strongman implements may be better used when training to increase basic strength, where 4–8 reps of an exercise are performed. This allows for a broader range of weight that can be used on an exercise and therefore a better progression for that exercise. For example, when an athlete is able to perform 7–8 reps in an exercise, the weight can then be increased to a load where the athlete will be able to perform 4–5 reps and then work to be able to perform 7–8 reps at the new weight. Gains made in basic strength using this repetition range will also contribute to overall gains made in maximal strength by the athlete.
Sport Specific Performance Training
The integration of strongman implements also works well in the middle to late pre season when training must become more sport specific. The SSP is based on the foundation established during the GPP and serves as a transition to the competitive phase of the training year. Activities during the SSP should target the physiological adaptations that are specific to the sport being trained for, including movement specificity and energy system specificity. Changes in the program variables (sets, reps, rest time) can make this form of training more sport specific.
The movements of many different strongman exercises closely replicate movements in sports. Exercises using strongman implements will have the greatest transfer to contact sports, such as rugby. The sequential extension of the hip, knee, and ankle (known as triple extension) is a movement necessary to be performed explosively for many sport movements and is the key to athletic power. Many strongman events, such as loading atlas stones, tyre flips and log clean and jerk, involve the powerful triple extension along with a heavy emphasis on core stability. Carrying exercises, such as sandbag or keg carries and farmers walk, train the isometric holding strength and endurance that is needed in sports such as MMA, judo, wrestling. In pressing exercises, the neutral grip handles of a steel log more closely replicate hand positions commonly used in sports, compared with the pronated grip of a barbell. All these exercises can be manipulated to be performed for sport-specific periods or number of reps.
Using strongman implements is a good way of incorporating strength and balance during lateral movement, a quality needed in many sports. Conventional weight training exercises for lateral movement are often limited to lateral lunge variations and can be difficult to work with a heavy load on these exercises. Lateral walking can be done with a heavy sandbag on one or both shoulders or held overhead, farmers walk implements, kegs, or a bar held in front of the body in the Zercher position. Using strongman implements to train lateral movement increases the number of exercises available for use, increasing the number of different stresses placed on the body and the overall stress because of the greater load being used.
One of the areas that strongman training can have its biggest impact is in conditioning. As mentioned before, training must become more specific to the sport during the SSP period. Using strongman implements will have the greatest effect on the phosphagen and glycolytic energy systems. Explosive repeated movements that require high levels of power are required by many team sports. Comprehensive training for sport can be accomplished using exercises that develop the prime movers of the movements used in the specific sport, matching the amplitude and direction of the movement, joint angles used, the rate and timing of force production and the dominant energy systems used. Many times only the dominant energy systems are taken into consideration when designing conditioning programs, with running and agility type drills being the most commonly used methods.
The other factors determining training specificity are then left for strength training exercises. Strongman exercises can be integrated into a conditioning program to make it more complete for the development of sport-specific energy systems while using sport-specific movements simultaneously. Contact sports require numerous repeated movements at different joint angles, with a range of force needs and rates of force production during the course of a game. Not accounting for these factors in an athletes’ conditioning regimen can be a missed opportunity for an increased performance.
Using strongman implements will force an athlete to move with a heavy weight, increasing the core stabilization needs as described earlier and may create a more sport-specific strength. Using strongman implements for conditioning purposes in the late pre season will provide a stimulus for hypertrophy at a period in the training program when there typically is an overall reduction in volume and an increase in intensity of resistance training with the primary focus being increasing power and/or speed.
Strongman exercises are very demanding on the body and use many of the same prime movers as common weight room exercises, so careful planning and periodisation is essential for success. With proper planning, strongman exercises can fit into any type of periodisation scheme. Many strongman exercises can be manipulated to match the goals of a specific training phase whether it is hypertrophy/strength endurance, strength, or power. Using the log press as an example, a log clean and press for reps can be used in the hypertrophy/strength endurance phase, a strict overhead press with the log in the strength phase, and a log push jerk in the power phase.
Strongman exercises can also be used year round as a stimulus for strength endurance and hypertrophy. This can be done by having a weekly workout with all strongman implements or using one strongman exercise as a ‘‘finisher’’ at the end of a workout. Examples of finishers include tyre flips for distance, pushing/pulling sled for distance, or any carrying exercise done for distance. When using strongman exercises in this manner as the primary stimulus for strength endurance, it is important that much of the work performed in the weight room is focused on increasing maximal strength and power. As mentioned previously, many strongman exercises do not work well for maximal strength purposes, so maximal strength training should be done in the weight room with barbell and dumbbell exercises. Power training can be done with strongman implements using light loads performed at a fast tempo.
Strongman implements are an effective tool to be incorporated into an overall training program to increase the specific parameters of strength, power and strength endurance to enhance fitness and sport performance. Strongman implements also present many unique challenges that cannot be obtained with more common exercises because of their odd shapes and unbalanced nature and are sport specific to contact sports. Athletes following such a program enjoy the challenge and variety of such workouts, which may increase the adherence to the programs.