Another ability that is crucial to being a successful strongman, and is seldom trained, is the ability to move quickly and efficiently with weighted objects. Virtually all weight training is based on stationary lifting. Think of any major lift (squat, bench, curl, military press, snatch, clean and jerk) and the idea behind them is to move the weight while staying in virtually the same spot. It could be said that the walkout in the squat or the jerk of the clean and jerk trains the ability to move with weights somewhat, but this type of limited movement is not what one will find in events in Strongman. In many events in Strongman (Super Yoke, Farmers Walk, Loading Medley and others), one has to be able to confidently and efficiently move the required weight and this is developed from working the musculature and getting the neural response from specific types of training that one has to incorporate into their training. Moving quickly with 500 lbs (on your back or in your hands) requires different abilities and training than squatting 800 lbs and in its own way can be just as difficult.
A lot of lifters get lost in the middle. The middle I refer to is the many midpoints in lifts. How many lifters do you know that stall right above the knees in the deadlift, right above parallel in the squat, or even right above parallel in the barbell curl? All those points are difficult places to be and are the sticking points for many lifters. Another potential source of difficulty (and of course if trained for, another potential source of success) in Strongman is that the range of motion for the lifts can vary from very long to vary short. In any lift the range can and does vary from contest to contest. This is something that just doesn’t happen in other strength sports. What this means is that one cannot rely on their high performance on their standard lifts to carry through for them on those type of lifts in Strongman. I’m not going to say that having World Records in standard lifts is going to hurt (it will definitely help!) but one is not giving himself the best chance if he doesn’t train at many points in all lifts. This of course means much rack and isometric/isometronic work. My Silver Dollar Deadlift bar for instance is 18 inches off the ground; which for most individuals is a 3/4 or 2/3 deadlift. If this area of the deadlift is ones sticking point, then one might not get off the ground what one could have the strength to lift.
One aspect of Strongman that is unique when compared to most other sports is the variability of events from one contest to the next and the uncertainty of ones abilities that arises from having to contend with events that are difficult to train for directly. There are dozens of ways that one can directly train to improve ones tennis game, but how does one directly train a refrigerator walk (without resorting to the unrecommended route of strapping a refrigerator to your back)? It is a fact that as more and more Strongman competitions are produced, there will be more and more unique events popping up and it will become more and more difficult (not impossible, just difficult) to directly train for all of them. Therefore, very beneficial attributes for an aspiring strongman to have are the confidence and courage to believe one can succeed at any event and a lack of fear of injury from participating events that one has not trained directly for. Some men naturally have these attributes, some need the guidance of experience and training to enhance theirs.
Strongmen are not sissies. A sissy could not endure the sometimes terrific and unusual forms of pain that a successful strongman must endure. This toughness deals with not only the fact that Strongman does tend to be injury-possible, but also accepting and overcoming the pains associated with performing some of the events. Examples of such pain are carrying 700 lbs on your shoulders for time, locking onto a somewhat sharp 350 lb stone and walking with it as far as you can, picking up the back end of a car and pushing it over, and any type of cross position event. Working out very hard and lifting tremendous amounts of weight can be painful, but certain Strongman events seem out to test ones limit to endure torture.
When I wrote that a successful strongman should have a well honed fighting ability, I did not mean to imply that he has to be a top level boxer or an accomplished street brawler. The fighting ability that I refer to is an instinctual willingness and readiness to do battle. This type of attitude of getting angry and attempting to destroy the event (not merely do well at it) can be cultivated and is utilized in other sports, but it is a necessary in Strongman. This attribute helps in all events, but it is most utilized in man on man events. When one approaches a Bar pull against opponent, Pole push, or Tug of War one has to get PISSED. Pissed at the opponent and pissed at the thought of not succeeding. This is concentrated anger at the event and the competitor during the event, but generally doesn’t translate into animosity toward the competitor after the event (although it definitely can), Tempers have been known to flare during any Pole push as one can feel as if his opponent is trying to drive him into the ground (and lo and behold that is what he should be trying to do!) So my message is be a fighter, get fierce and become a champion.
Next month, I will detail various ways which the preceding 10 attributes can be cultivated and mastered, so that you, the reader, will have the tools to eventually possibly become “The Strongest Man Alive”.
Until then, remember in Strongman it is not the pain that hurts….
This month I will present multiple ways for one to improve upon ones performance in the first 5 of the 10 areas that I detailed last month. To recap for those who missed last months article, I had specified that there are 10 attributes that I feel are necessary for excelling as a strongman and they are:
|1) Muscular and Aerobic Conditioning
2) Absolute and Repetitive Strength
3) Explosive Strength
5) Grip Strength
|6) Ability to move effectively with weight
7) Complete Range Strength
9) Ability to accept varied and intense pain
10) Fighting Ability
I will present as many different types of training for each individual attribute as I can, so that you will be able to find something that you can utilize that fits your style of training. Next month I will detail the final 5 attributes and in June I will attempt to filter all this information into some specific training schedules and show how someone could fit my ideas into his training. So on to each attribute that I feel is important to excellence in Strongman one by one.
1. When I state that strongmen should have well developed aerobic capacity, I do not mean that they should be able to run a marathon. The cardiac output that occurs in Strongman is much more similar in analogy to a sprint. The muscular endurance required for excellence in strongman is not like a 100k bike race or a 5 mile rowing competition, it is more like a 30 rep squatting session. The above two facts have a big impact on the types of training that are important for successful conditioning in Strongman. One should not waste his training time running multiple mile distances or getting on the step machine for an hour. These types of exercises while not being bad for your overall health are not very productive training for aspiring strongmen. Your aerobic and neuromuscular system has to be built up to handle and thrive on short bursts of extremely intense, short duration work-output. The kind of demands made on your system from carrying 150 lb weights for 300 feet or producing maximum effort for 60 seconds in a back to back tug-of-war are what strongmen need to work to handle well. You can pace yourself to a point in certain exercises (say Farmers Walk) but every second there are significant demands on the system from the weights that you are using and one must be up to task condition wise. Exercises that I feel are very valuable in producing the level of aerobic conditioning that I am talking about are Farmers Walk, high rep squatting and deadlifting, Safety squat bar yoke walking, high rep lunge-squatting, rock carrying, wind sprints, sprinting stairs while weighted, barrel loading, weighted backpack sprinting, and a personal favorite running while dragging sandbags behind you. If you can sprint 300 feet while holding onto a pair of 100 lb dumbbells without feeling winded, you are of a high level of aerobic conditioning. Exercises that I feel help produce a high muscular endurance threshold are incorporating high (12-50) rep work on all your exercises including all strongman feats (rocks, barrels etc.). Certainly as the next paragraph will attest, one should not exclusively utilize high rep work, but it should be a percentage of the work done. I would say any exercise that you do, you should in some way incorporate both low/one rep max work and higher rep work to condition the nervous system to that type of work. It is true that a 700 lb bencher will be able to perform many reps at 315 lbs, but he will be able to do more reps, recover faster and have better capillary response when he incorporates high rep work into his training.
2. Absolute strength is something that I will not really touch on much here, I leave that to the Powerlifting, Olympic Lifting and other max strength specialists. Both they and you know good training schedules to achieve tremendous absolute strength in lifts. What I will emphasize about this type of strength training is one should start to think about absolute strength in broader terms. The squat, deadlift, bench, snatch and clean and jerk are all great lifts, and develop tremendous overall usable power. I am not about to say that one should not include these lifts in his routine. He should. What one should not do in training for Strongman is dedicate himself exclusively to attaining higher maxes in those lifts. Start to think a little bit like a bodybuilder in terms of developing all muscle groups and their potential corresponding power. Should one be concerned about his max curl or bent over row? Absolutely! Should one be concerned about his max overhead barrel lift and max 2 1/2” handled dumbbell hold time? Absolutely! Start to believe and start to train with the knowledge that in Strongman any strength is helpful, no strength will hurt and all strength is necessary.