Greetings all, it is nice to be back contributing to this great e-zine!
Let me start off by responding to some possible criticism of this months article. “Chris, your articles are usually of good length and detailed and quite informative… this months article is so short?” Yes the amount of words in this months article will be somewhat shorter than many previous, but the information is probably the most important I have ever written. The article this month is short and very explicit, but contains information that must be followed if one ever plans on becoming a premier strongman. And so…
What is the most significant axim that was verified time and time again at The Strongest Man Alive Contest 1998? PRACTICE MAKES A GREAT STRONGMAN!
That is it, it is that simple. The competitors that did well (and all of those that qualified for the Finals) in the Qualifying Events, had practiced those events. Believe it or not, there were some competitors that called me 1 month out from the contest and asked if they thought it was necessary to start practicing the events (since after all they were very strong guys). Well all I can say is, the performances of those athletes corresponded well with the fact that they hadn’t practiced them much. I go back to my previous article that used the example of a football player never getting out on the football field and staying in the gym squatting, he will never be a world class football player. That makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it. Well then why is it difficult for some strength athletes to believe that they have to practice strongman events consistently to get good at strongman?
“But Chris, it can be expensive and very time consuming to make many of the implements for strongman to practice with.” To a point, that is true. In future articles, I will go over some ways to reduce the cost of making some of the implements, but it is definitely true that there is a significant commitment to become a world class strongman. Any parent that has nurtured their son or daughter in tennis in the hopes of their becoming a champion, knows that there is a quite significant financial and temporal commitment that has to be made. How about those $200 an hour private lessons and so on, it takes a considerable commitment to become a world champion in most sports and strongman is no different, except for the fact that the financial commitment is quite a bit less than for many sports.
Jouko Ahola had never seen or touched the Mavrocks before he attempted to lift them, yet he lifted all six (only one other competitor lifted No. 6 Phil Pfister) in an absolutely jaw dropping 22 seconds. He literally toyed with them, while most found No.’s 4 and 5 to be gargantuan tasks (which of course, the truth be said, they are incredible trials). Is he some supernatural stone god, who finds anything to do with stones a breeze whereas other mortal men are tested to the limit? Even though some of his strength feats do seem not from this world, the reason he is so great at the stones is because he has his own set. They are not exactly the same as the Mavrocks (mine are granite, his are concrete with a steel core) but it certainly is essentially the same event, with the concrete rocks only not being as pretty. This is absolutely his advantage, that and having a close to 900-lb deadlift! He also has his own Power Stairs, Hercules Hold and etc. He is young (27 yo) and is to determined to attempt to stay at the top of the Strongman game for some time to come. He knows that the way to beat someone that may be stronger at an event, is TO KNOW THE BEST WAY TO PERFORM THE EVENT! One learns this with practice, certainly others experience helps, but the only way that one can learn the best way for himself to perform an event is to practice it. Each individual has different leverages and learns through time, the most efficient way to perform an event.
Another great event to illustrate the power of practice is the Super Yoke. There were many 800-lb+ squatters at the event that had one heck of a time with the Yoke, and yet the winner of the event Phil Pfister has publicly stated that he has never squatted over 600 lbs. This is not to state that he does not have tremendous overall and trunk power, because he definitely does. It is simply to illustrate that one cannot rely on ones gym performance to carry over to the field at a strongman event. The competitors that did well in the Yoke, had constructed their own types of Yokes (all different from mine, but still gave the overall feeling for Yoke walking) and practiced steadily. If it isn’t obvious, walking with 650+ lbs on your back is not a natural thing to do. No matter how strong your body is the first time that you step underneath a Yoke and attempt to walk with it, your body has no idea what to do to make the walk successful. It can be a very frustrating activity at first, just like learning the proper backhand can be at first. This is definitely one event where all the knowledge in the world of how to do it, doesn’t really help that much until you get underneath one and start to practice.
Harness Pulling, Arm over Arm pull (watch some old tapes of Magnus ver and see a masterful style to pulling vehicles arm over arm) and essentially every event deserves practice.
“But Chris, with different strongman contests having different events how does one train for all of them?” The simple answer is to find out the upcoming years contests and events and try to make as much of the implements as you can and practice them in tune to which contest is coming up next. There are contests that have unique events (and I plan on my future events as having more unprecedented events), but there are definite mainstays in Strongman that you will never go wrong in practicing at because there will always be some contests that have those events in them. These are the obvious harness pulls, arm over arm pulls, some kind of over head pressing (a lot use different types of logs), some kind of awkward rock event, some type of grip or hold event and so on.
That’s it! Take what I have written here to heart and you will make light year strides in your strongman performances. I expect that most all of my competitors have taken it to heart (since they learned first hand) and I expect many of them to turn in much improved performances next year!!
Thank you and if I don’t get an article out before then, HAPPY HOLIDAYS AND NEW YEAR TO ALL!
Greetings and a Happy New Year from all of us at Mavrocat Productions, Inc. Hope it is your strongest year yet!
This month I will go into the rest (Week 1 Monday and Wednesday being in Octobers issue) of the training routine that I am using to get back into competition shape. If you will remember my training schedule goes Week 1, Monday is Legs, Calves, and various Zercher lifts; Wednesday is Chest and Shoulders; Friday is Deadlifts, Low Back and Upper Back; and Sunday is Biceps and Triceps. Week 2 is broken down Monday is Rocks, Logs and Sandbags; Wednesday is Harness Pulling, Arm over Arm pulling and Tire Flipping and Friday is Super Yoke, various object drags and various holds for time. During both weeks, I am still performing the Farmers Walk (in the style described in the October issue) between 3 to 5 days a week in the morning. On to the specifics:
Week 1 Friday is composed of the following exercises: Either (meaning I alternate them each week) standard deadlifts from the floor or hands at side deadlifts from the floor, deadlifts from the rack, heavy reverse hyperextensions or seated good mornings, 2 to 3 different varieties of rowing, one heavy shrugging exercise.
I will start off with one plate on each side and keeping adding plates on the deadlift and finish with a 2 to 3 rep max. Do I pull conventional or sumo-style? If you have been following my thinking over the months, then you have to know it is conventional. Sumo is a waste of time for Strongman, actually essentially pointless. But Chris, aren’t there times when you go to pick something up and your stance is wider than a conventional deadlift (like rocks or tires)? Yes there are and that is what the Zerchers on Monday are for. Pull Conventially, end of story.
While I am a fan of high rep squats, if you are already doing those I wouldn’t incorporate high rep deadlifts very often because there isn’t much point. Deadlifts are your core exercise for overall power and ability to pick up heavy things, so go heavy and for reps of 3 to 8. I usually go with 5’s. You tend to know that what you can pull for 5, you can pull about 50lbs more for a single (at least this has been my experience) and so 5’s are a good gauge for when you are going into a competition, although I will cycle down to triples and double in the final weeks (if, of course, I know there is a deadlift in that competition otherwise I will stay with 5’s). I am not going to go into detail as to the best way to deadlift for power (there are other authors here, who could probably do that more eloquently), I will simply say that they are quite important.
As I said above, on one week I will pull from the floor with a regular bar and the next week I will pull using a special bar (I got through a company in a bodybuilding magazine, I believe it is HomeGym Warehouse or something) that has handles on both sides of you and is not completely closed in (like a Trap bar). The sides are straight and there is a back bar that connects them altogether. Hard to describe really, but you definitely don’t need the same bar just one that has handle on the side. The one thing that I do like about this bar, as opposed to a Trap Bar, is that the handles are 3 inches above the weight sleeves. This means that your hands are 9 inches above the floor, as opposed to the ~6 inches of a standard bar. This gives it a good feel and more closely approximates the lifting of the back of a car. It is also not like a rack deadlift, because it is not that high. I have found that I can use about 100lbs more on this pull, then on a standard pull and this makes for a good gauge as to my progress on a standard pull.
The utility of having the hands at the sides comes from the fact that many implements in Strongman are designed so that you have to pick up the implement with handles at your sides and also from the fact that it changes the leverage of the lift and shocks the muscle and forces new growth and strength. I find it a great way to progress on my standard deadlift and it keeps me from getting stale. Again sets of 5’s. Whichever type of deadlift I am doing, I will then go to rack deadlifts. I will do 4 progressively heavier sets, ending with a double or triple. I will either actually do standard bar deadlifts off of a rack or use the handles to the side bar and put it on boxes. I either pull from at the knee or even higher (sometimes making it a lockout of sorts). The last set should always be at least 100lbs heavier than your last pull from the floor set, sometimes 150lbs heavier.
To isolate more the lumbars and erectors, I then throw in 3 sets of either hyperextensions or seated good mornings with reps in the 8 to 12 range. Reverse hypers are really great and if your gym doesn’t have one, try to get them to get one. It is very restorative to the back and hits the erectors and opens them up and gets blood to them (as opposed to the crushing they get from squatting et al). Seated Good Mornings are fantastic, but go slow with them and really watch your form. Never do singles with good mornings, there is both no point and it is too dangerous. I will not really go into the benefits of doing them and having a strong lower back and erectors, because it should be obvious.
To put it simply we will do almost every type of rowing you have heard of, and some that I am quite sure you haven’t. Basics are barbell and dumbbell rowing, seated and T-bar machine rowing and heavy pulldowns to the front (pulldowns to the back do not hit the lats and rhomboids as hard and is not worth the risk to the shoulders). The key once again, is to have different exercises to do each week. Constantly getting stronger on everything is easiest, when you are constantly doing different things. One exercise that I will let you in on, (and this is probably the best information in this article) and I can virtually guarantee you have not heard anywhere else, is what I call arm over arm rowing.
Why is it that some mediocre deadlifters and rowers are good arm over arm pullers, while some top-flight deadlifters and rowers (meaning 400lbs + for reps on bent over rows) are not great arm over arm pullers? It is grip; because gripping the boating rope they use in arm over arm pulling is a unique strength. So I devised doing rows with that rope. So simple, yet can make such profound improvements in both your overall grip and your arm over arm performance. What I did was I tied a short (6 to 12 inches) of the 1.5 inch hempen rope that I have for my arm over arm pull to both arm a barbell and my rowing machines. Now I am both improving my grip and gaining great lat and rhomboid strength, while unquestionably improving my arm over arm ability. The easiest way to get the rope to attach well to the bar or machine is to have a rope company put a strong loop into it, so that it goes on and off easy. I cannot tell you how much this has helped my pulling and is an advantage that now you too know about. I must say that I was a little hesitant about writing about this exercise, because now everyone will have this advantage too, hehe.
One rep shrugging is not worthwhile, as it is almost impossible to know if you are shrugging or not when the weight is so heavy that you can only barely do one rep. That (and the fact that the traps respond better to higher reps) is the reason that we do between 6 to 12 reps on the shrugs. Once again using all different types of bars, dumbells and etc. We do 4 sets and get progressively heavier. One of the bet ways to shrug (that some have attributed to Lee Haney) is to have the bar or dumbbell behind you. You pick up the barbell off the rack behind you and shrug that way. It does seem to hit the traps more efficiently and creates a strong sense of balance. We always end each set with a maximum time hold in the top position.
Week 1 Sunday is Biceps and Triceps. I have never done more than 9 sets for either body part, and see no reason too. Get in, destroy them and get out and let them rest. They are little muscle groups, so they can be over worked. Generally we will do 3 sets of three different exercises for both muscle groups or one very heavy basic exercise for 4 to 5 sets followed by one lighter exercise for 3 sets.
For Biceps, I prefer heavy wide grip EZ curl bar curls, followed by heavy slightly cheating hammer curls, and finishing with (another piece of very useful information for this month) across the chest hammer curls. This exercise is by far the most important for your biceps because it very well may save you from tearing a bicep. Where do strength athletes overwhelmingly tear their biceps? The elbow… as opposed to at the upper tie-in. If you hammer curl across your torso ending at the opposite shoulder (this is the description of the exercise) it strengthens the tendon that attaches the lower bicep. To describe this exercise again, you start with the dumbells at your sides with a hammer grip and alternately curl them (close to your body) across your stomach past your pec and ending at your shoulder. It feels different then other curls (you don’t feel it over your whole bicep) because it is working it differently. We always finish biceps with this exercise, it is that important. It is a big favorite of Magnus ver and he has never torn his bicep. With the last exercise being one that we always do, we will change the first two over workouts to keep the biceps fresh and work them from different angles.
Another interesting way to hit them is with sliding curls. If you have never heard of these before, you hold a straight bar (or possibly and EZ curl bar, but it just doesn’t seem to work as well) and start in the same position as if you are going to normally curl it (at your thighs), but instead of arcing out and up… you pull your elbows back and slide the bar up your torso ’til you can go no higher. This really hits the belly of the bicep and will develop good starting power. Do I do my curls strict or cheating? I like to think it is in between, not using the whole body to leverage it up but exploding with it none the less. There really are few times in Strongman where you have to be strict about your pulling/curling.
Triceps are so important, because of their central role in pressing, that we work them very hard. We do the meat and potatoes triceps exercises like EZ curl bar skull crushers, two handed dumbbell French presses and rope (once again using the rope) pushdowns. One very good exercise that you might not know about is where you lie on the floor and take a dumbbell and do skull crushers to the floor (in other words behind the head and stopping at the floor). You can use more weight than the standard dumbbell skull crusher because it is a limited range of motion, but it really helps the lockout in the press because the hardest part for the triceps is to get past that mid range of the press. A very good exercise. We also like the isolation of doing one arm work, such as one arm pressdowns. Even the seemingly bodybuilding exercise of kickbacks can be useful if done heavy enough, because of their ability to hit the inner tricep.
I think going through an arm workout pretty fast is important too, because of the need to get the arms used to the buildup and removal of lactic acid, that you will notice quite strongly in your first Strongman competition. That and the fact that the muscles of the upper arm recover quickly between sets.
That is it for this month, next month I will go into Week 2 of the Training Schedule. Thanks and as always best of luck in your training!