Repetitive Strength gets more complicated. What weight/rep combination does one look to train for? I can only tell you to look at the specific contest that you are working towards and determine what type of repetitive strength would be useful. It doesn’t only mean a specific event (say overhead barrel press for reps), but also the repetitive musculo-endurance strength that is inherently required in other events (like the repetitive leg strength that is required in a farmers walk). I would train for those events and not randomly for every type of repetitive strength limit (the overtraining would kill you). One interesting point about repetitive strength (and I have seen this time and time again) is that when one has not trained for it regularly like many powerlifters, ones numbers go up very quickly and it is very satisfying. One thing I would also not recommend (until the contest) is to go beyond failure or a heavy burn. I do believe that recovery and subsequent growth and strength work best with intense training that doesn’t involve a lot of frequent negatives, forced reps, and partials. These types of growth stimulators should be infrequently used.
3. There are some explosive weightlifting movements that I would start to include (if they aren’t already) in your training right away; and those are the one handed clean and the one handed snatch. You thought I might say the snatch and the clean and jerk didn’t you? Do I think you shouldn’t do these movements? Absolutely not, I am not going to go against 100 years of proof of the ability of these movements to improve and showcase explosive strength. What I am saying is that they are universally known for their ability to develop this type of strength and I am writing (of course) to try and hopefully show you something new. What makes one handed Olympic type movements so beneficial I believe is the demands they place on balance. If one has perfect and on demand balance one can utilize his explosive ability throughout the unusual and often unbalanced demands that are placed on him in Strongman. Never once have I seen an individual I am training not improve on his one arm clean and jerk 20% in less than 2 months. This type of increased functionally more usable (because of the fact that most objects to be lifted in the world are not balanced) power always determines who trained for the events in a Strongman competition and who just trained as he always had, hoping his general strength would pull him through. I would recommend beyond these two lifts what I call ONE ARM ZERCHERS. What one does is place the inside of his elbow under a moderately heavy dumbbell (in the beginning) and using tremendous bicep, brachialis, forearm flexor, rotator cuff, and anterior deltoid rips it off the floor to chest height while at the same time (to keep it stable) locking in the dumbbell using tremendous curling/bicep crushing strength. Try it, it is a whole new world of pain and subsequent strength improvement. Finally, set aside one day a week or every other week to do all your exercises exclusively for explosiveness (meaning here finishing the positive portion of the lift in under two seconds); your weights used will go down but it will tap in to unused fibers and develop the kind of speed with weight that is necessary in this sport.
4. How does one teach and/or train agility? There are many ways as everyone might well know. Dancers are gymnasts are some of the most agile people out there, but does a champion strongman need this type of agility (it would be something to see a ballerina who could shoulder a 250 rock)? No, what the aspiring strongman needs is the ability to move fluidly and efficiently with weight and the ability to execute a certain strength movement as efficiently as possible. The agility that one needs in the sport could be summed up as being light on ones feet while ones hands are carrying heavy things. How does one train to develop this ability? I would start working with the most unbalanced and unruly objects you can get your hands on. A dancer performs movements that at first feel quite unnatural and difficult, in the same way a construction worker throws sandbags around very inefficiently and strenuously the first time he is on the job. The more practice and repeated effort that they both give to the required task, the more it becomes second nature and they perform the task efficiently. One really has to stop thinking of lifting weights as a stationary operation and get out there and move. Probably the best way to develop agility is practicing typical Strongman events and doing a lot of what I call grab and run. What Grab and Run entails is putting two awkward implements (you might want to start with two heavy dumbbells though) about 50 feet apart and moving down quickly to pick the first one up and run with it to the second one while tossing it back and forth between your hands, and then pick up the second one and run back to the start. You could also incorporate good sandbag or shot put tossing between hands to develop manual agility.
5. I am definitely not the one to go to for the final word on how to train grip strength, that is John Brookfield and his book “The Mastery of Hand Strength” is the definitive book on the subject and a must read. You can order this book through IRONMIND at 1-916-265-6725. I give credit where credit is due and we have all learned a lot from John on developing crushing, pinching and supportive grip strength. This having been said, I can relate three exercises (all of them are covered by Brookfield) that I feel are invaluable in developing the ability to “hold on” that is so vital in Strongman. The first and possibly most overlooked finger, hand, wrist and forearm strengthener is nail bending. You simply take a nail (from 8 penny if this a weak area all the way up to the 100 penny for supermen) and bend it into a U pressing on it (at your chest) upward or at your navel pressing downward. It is actually somewhat complex to describe, but after some practice you will get the hang of it. I believe there is no better wrist and lower arm tendon strengthener , and it also very much toughens up your hands (which is something you really need for Strongman). The next exercise I would recommend is thick handled (2” to 3”) dumbbell one arm high pulls with as heavy a weight as possible. Thick handled holds are good, but I feel that the explosive high pulling action requires your grip to be reactive and this is very useful in strongman. The final grip exercise I would recommend is finger pulls. There are very few exercises more painful and result producing than 4, 3, 2, 1 finger and thumb pulls (or some call them finger deadlifts) they toughen up every tendon in the hand. An easy way to do finger pulls is with a strong nylon rope tied around a heavy dumbbell handle and you pull from one end up. Only doing and mastering these three exercises will help your grip and wrist strength tremendously.
Next month I will detail the final 5 attributes and ways to train them. Until then, best of luck in your training.
To recap for those new to this series, in the first month 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
Last month I detailed ways to improve upon ones performance in the first 5 of the 10 areas above, and this month I will do the same for the final 5 attributes.
6. Aspiring strongmen should get out of the gym! Now that I have got your attention, I will detail what I mean by this. In almost any gym that I have been in it is not allowed to walk around with 500 lbs on a squat bar on your back, or bring in some beer kegs and load them on to the front counter. To learn and improve on ones ability to move effectively with weight, one has to go to the back parking lot of the gym or to a field. As simplistic as it might sound the best way to improve this ability is to perform the required movements. The most important movements in this arena are moving with weights carried in your hands, moving with weight carried on your shoulders and moving with weight harnessed to your back.
I’m sure it is obvious by now to those who have been following the articles that I am partial to the Farmers Walk and it is the obvious choice to improve upon ones ability to move with weights carried in your hands. Try to include the Farmers Walk one to two times a week at the end of your workouts. I strongly suggest warming up on this exercise with progressive weight increases. I would suggest two warm up sets with 50% of the maximum weight you can carry for 200 feet and then 1 set at 80% and one all out set. Only rest 1-2 minutes in between the sets to maximize the aerobic benefit. One can utilize dumbbells, sandbags or rocks; use your imagination but definitely get out there and do it. Every now and again it is really valuable to throw in obstacles (steps or other) to make the walk more difficult.
Practicing moving with weights carried on your shoulders can be dangerous, I warn you that straight off and all exercises detailed are at your own risk. Having said that it is possible to perform a Yoke Walk (which is simply walking with a weighted bar across your shoulders) relatively safely, but doing so does require some ingenuity. There have been those who have taken a heavily weighted squat bar out of the racks and start walking with it, but this is an example of the type of exercises that I do not recommend. I’m sure it is obvious that tripping while doing this could create quite significant problems. On the other hand it is not necessary to go to the trouble and expense to have event quality Super Yokes made. The easiest way that I recommend (and several gyms that I know are utilizing this technique) is to get two 55 gallon drums, attach chains to them, hook them to a squat bar, weld the sleeves of the squat bar so that they don’t revolve and fill the drums with the desired weight. This way when one falls the drums hit the floor and not ones neck.
Getting a good harness to hook up to cars and or weighted sleds can be somewhat difficult, but what I recommend is going to a sporting goods shop and trying some of their harnesses that they use for mountain climbing and sky diving. While maybe not perfect they usually work quite well. Then simply get some rope, hook up to almost anything (although usually cars and training sleds work best) and pull. I would recommend both flat ground pulling and uphill pulling. Both are absolutely tremendous overall body workouts and stimulate fibers you never knew you had. This is one exercise that you get better at very quickly too. I would recommend once a week or every other week for this one.
7) Everyone reading this already knows two things: 1) Where their sticking points are in their lifts 2) To work in the rack to help overcome those sticking points and better their full range strength. I would elaborate on this by saying that if you think that you don’t know where your sticking points are in some of your lifts, get a friend to watch you as you perform your lifts and concentrate yourself and it will be easy to figure out the sticking points. I agree that standard rack work at various points in ones lifts can help. I would definitely get in the rack.
The only suggestion that I would actually have to help one develop complete range strength is to start “hanging”. No I am not suggesting laying around and watching TV with your friends as a good substitute for training, when I say “hanging” I mean to frequently perform “hang” movements in your training. What is a hang movement? I am sure you have all performed or know “hang cleans” which are basically a reduced range and reduced momentum full clean. The “hang” is that you start in a sticking point position for many people in the full clean. This training technique I would frequently apply to many lifts, especially those that you have trouble with sticking points in. What makes “hang” lifting different than rack work is that you don’t start the lift from a dead position off the rack. You start the lift from a difficult and low momentum position. This develops getting through that sticking point in a different way than rack work. It is tough and develops tremendous explosiveness out of your sticking point. An example of applying this to an exercise is “hang” barbell curls. If your sticking point is (as it is for many) at the near parallel to the floor position, then start your curl there and finish to the top of the movement. Once again what makes this different from a rack partial curl (and although this might seem like a small difference it is not) is that you step out of the uprights and hold it at that parallel position before you start curling instead of curling it directly from the racks.
8) How does one work on developing increased courage? Certainly this is not the time or place to detail every way to develop ones sense of courage, there are scores of psychology books on that. All I could really offer is the notion that one overcomes fear of something by knowing one can do that something. One only learns that one can do something by doing that something. I know this is a stunning revelation but it is true 😉 What I mean to say is that you have to practice the movements and try and compete regularly to develop the confidence and thereby courage to compete in Strongman because there are some pretty frightening events. I would like to meet the man who walked up to his first 400 lb rock, that defied to be picked up, without some trepidation or asking the question “Why am I doing this?” This fear lessens with practice and competing, it is that simple.
9) Start training like a strongman and one of two things will happen: 1) You will quit because of the intensity and pain associated with the training or 2) You will develop a thorough ability to accept varied and intense pain. Make no mistake that walking with 600 lbs on your back or carrying a jagged rock against your chest or pulling a 25,000 lb truck is quite uncomfortable. There are many more pleasant things to do to your body, but one must be able to accept the pain and possibility of scratches and bruises that come along with performing strongman events if one desires to be a successful strongman. There have been some strongmen that I have know that came from a martial arts background where they practiced “torture tests” and through these tests improved their ability to deal with pain. Am I saying this is necessary? No, but it is something that one might think about, it can be really beneficial. There is also the old motto too that simply states “Tough it up and go” and a lot of times this is where you will be at the start of an event. Remember that there is no way of altering the fact that some events are painful to practice and perform, but one can alter the way one handles that fact.
10) Ones ability to and desire to fight are certainly partly genetic but this attribute can also be learned and cultivated. When I write of fighting, I hope it is obvious I am not meaning street brawling or boxing. What I mean is the fire, the desire and the ability to “rage”. Rage against a weight, rage against a time needed, rage against your own fears and rage against an opponent (without doing any physical harm, only besting him in an event) are examples of the rage that I speak of. This ability to get pissed off enough to perform at your highest level is something that is imperative in strongman. This rage has to be controlled at certain points, so as not to overcome the competitor and backfire but this rage has to able to be exhumed at a moments notice. I really cannot tell one how to develop this rage for excellence, I suspect that it is already in you the reader to a certain extent since you are reading about how to excel at Strongman. You probably have some lifting experience or at least interest and knowledge; and you know that there are times when you have to get angry or the lift/event will not be at your best level. Many competitors go to certain places in their psyches to drawn upon something to fuel the required rage. I do not believe that this is necessary (one can simply draw upon the realization of the urgency of accomplishing the required task) but it does seem to work for some competitors.
That is all for this month. Next month I will try to help sift through all the information presented the last three months and present different ways of creating training schedules from it. Until then best of luck in your training and thank you for giving me some time.