Thank you all for coming back to peruse my musings on Strongman Training. In the last month, I have received numerous e-mails and posted messages describing how much many of you are getting out of these articles and I would like to publicly say here how much it means to me. Truly, you the aspiring (and many established) strongmen are the reason that I write these articles and it makes it very worthwhile. So Thanks!
For those who having been following my articles, you will know that I am going to start describing the Week 2 Event Training portion of my training. I will also begin to describe ways of inexpensively and reasonably easily acquiring usable implements for the aforementioned Event Training. So, I will now go onto describing Week 2 Mondays’ training. To reestablish where we are for those who are just joining us, my training schedule consists of one week (aptly named Week 1) of gym training followed by one week (Week 2) of Event Training and then back to Week 1. Monday’s training in Week 2 consists of Rocks, Logs and Sandbags. So here we go…
A very important preface to the descriptions of the training that I will describe is the fact that this is training and not a competition. What am I trying to say? I mean that you will be working with the various implements to train the body to be stronger and better at specific events, not to go out and see only how big a rock you can lift or your max log clean and press. For the same reason that going into a gym 8 weeks out from a powerlifting contest doing a 5 minute warm-up and then only trying one max squat, one max dead and one max bench is not the best way to train to get a better squat, dead and bench; going out in Week 2 and only attempting max rock lifts and log overhead presses is not the best way to train for Strongman competition. When you go out into your yard or basement to Event train, expect to spend 1.5 to 2 hours and also to experience whole new levels of pain.
Another quick note before I go onto the specifics of Monday’s training, whenever I write of sandbags; this can always be interchanged with barrels (of whatever type). I do sometimes substitute barrels (especially on those days when the sandbags seem especially slippery… hehe) and every so often going back and forth is good cross-training.
Now, I will describe the specifics of the type of equipment to have for Monday’s session and inexpensive ways to go about acquiring them. Optimally, the following is what you should have (of course, it may be necessary to slowly build up to having all of these. Having even half of it is great): 1) Seven rectangular, flat rocks 2) Three reasonably spherical rocks 3) one lifting log 4) many multiple use logs 5) a set of 25 bricks 6) eight 100 LB sandbag sacks 7) two military grade duffel bags.
So how could one acquire these items? The best place to get lifting rocks is a stonery. You should be able to find one in most major cities and probably many smaller towns as well. The one I go to has a 5000lb scale, so I am able to weigh what I think looks good (i.e. the weight that I am looking for). There is, of course, the possibility of going to a quarry, or riverbed; the main difficulty is getting the rocks out onto your truck. I would suggest ultimately (because you don’t necessarily need all of these right in the beginning) getting a 135lb, 170lb, 200lb, 220lb, 260lb, 300lb and 400lb flat rocks and a 240lb, 300lb and 360lb spherical stones.
Making a steel log is possible, but generally very costly and time consuming. Making a wooden lifting log is simpler, but still not the easiest task (and many times storing it is not the easiest task either, as you don’t want it to get wet). The exact diameter and length are something that you might have to play with a little, too. It is impossible for me to tell you the exact dimensions to get a certain weight, because different wood has different densities. The best thing to do when going to a lumberyard is to err on the light side, although I would try not to get it any lighter than 135lbs. Having the handles cut in (the holes should be ovalic to allow for torquing when cleaning the log) and the weight sleeves on the sides made is difficult for me to tell you exactly how to do as I have never had to actually do it myself, but with perhaps a carpenters advice it shouldn’t be too difficult to figure out. Some help with the dimensions would be that the handles should be 24” apart and the sleeves should be at least 16” long. The “multi-use” logs can actually be any type of wood pieces reasonably sized (under 4 feet long) from 25lbs to 100lbs, with maybe 5 total. I won’t insult your intelligence by telling you how to find them. The 8 sacks of sand aren’t too difficult to find either, just go to most any hardware store. It doesn’t really matter what type of sand it is. I have found the easiest way to keep the sandbags from splitting is to wrap them with grocery bags and then cover them entirely in duct tape. Most “Uncle Sam’s” type military surplus shops have very large heavy nylon duffel bags that sell for around $20. You will find them well worth the investment.
On to the actual training for the day….
I find that I generally use three different ways to warm up but only utilizing one of the following three ways per workout: 1) If it is winter, I generally keep everything inside the garage and moving it all to the backyard or the drive way is more than enough warm-up… BELIEVE ME! 2) If everything is already on the field; I will either jog carrying one of the sandbags under each arm stopping and starting as necessary for a duration of 10 minutes or 3) Do 2 sets of a clean and press with the 135lb flat stone. I then go immediately into the training.
I generally order the workout going from the rocks to the logs to the sandbags, but sometimes I will throw everything out in the field and attack the about to be mentioned exercises in no particular order.
I have 4 core exercises that I do with the flat rocks and I think your training could benefit tremendously from entering them into your program (although there are many other useful rock movements and I would perform any that you feel have value, I have found the following to the most result producing):
1) Clean and Press
3) Arched back Squats
4) Carry for distance.
The clean and press should be performed with the flat stones (I have pressed my round stones a few times, but it really is too dangerous because of a lack of grip) and is reasonably self-explanatory. The real key is to get the rock high enough on your chest that you are forced to arch your back significantly (this feeling being the first thing you will probably notice that differentiates them from standard presses) enough that you really involve the rhomboids and lats and force the erectors and lumbars into a very tight position (and very back strengthening position). I cannot say for sure, but I believe this exercise has helped my deadlifting power more than anything, it taxes your back that much. I will either press and then throw it all the way to the ground again or press for reps from the chest. It can be said (and is true) that a large hand tends to find rock pressing easier because of the ability and confidence engaged to being able to grip the rock well. While my hand strength is one of my best strength attributes, I have relatively small hands and have never felt 100% comfortable with the rock press but I just deal with it.
Throughout the movement from the ground to overhead, you will be forced to change your hand positions multiple times and this will toughen your hands up quite nicely. It depends on the competition, but sometimes you will be forced to push your press back over your head to complete the rep. I would not train this way because it is reasonably more dangerous. I would simply press from the chest up and out, it is much easier to maintain your balance and grip on the rock. Oh and chalk up well, on both the hands and the chest. The intricacies of the movement should be pretty natural and will come to you. As far as rep ranges go, or at least two months (four workouts) I would rep high (8 to 15 reps) with the lighter stones (135er, 170er or 200lber depending on your strength going into it) to develop the technique and confidence to lift heavier. Do not, I repeat DO NOT attempt a rock that is way out of your league the first time out (it is too dangerous), relax the ego for a while and you will be much better off in the end. By the way, the world record is 330lbs, so I do not expect anyone to lift the 400lb rock overhead and getting the 300lb will make you among the best rock lifters (and overall strongest men) in the world.
Rock rowing can and should be done with both flat and round rocks. The position that you are forced into when using flat rocks (especially if the rocks are wide) will work your upper back and biceps like no other exercise; and the movement with the round rocks will increase your confidence when picking up Mavrock type stones and also improve your chest crushing ability. I find this actually quite fun. You are forced to bend over quite far when doing these types of rows (as opposed to standard barbell rows which are best done at about a 60 degree angle) and this works wonders for the lower back as well. Do both higher reps 6 to 12 and max pulls. On the max pulls (which would go up to the 400lb flat rock, POSSIBLY, and the 360lb spherical stone) hold the finished position for a few seconds to groove in the strength and improve your overall rock lifting.
Arched back squats are best done with round rocks (although flat rocks work quite well and you are generally actually able to get more roundness to the back) and also work the body in a very unique way. You stand up with a round rock with arms parallel to the floor and you simply squat done until the rock is in your lap and then back up again. This tests many aspects of your strength, and I don’t have to tell you which ones you will find out when you try them and develops a unique type of explosiveness that cannot be duplicated. You might find that your grip on the rock goes before your squatting and lower back strength goes. That is Ok, your ability to grip the rock will come and when it does you will be a much more proficient rock lifter. Go for reps on this one (3 to 20) and don’t do one rep limits (that really isn’t the point of the exercise.
Many people don’t carry round rocks for distance, but it is a great exercise and feels comfortable somehow (maybe it is just me… hehe) but of course flat rocks are the mainstay for carrying. You can pick them up off the ground or from a platform. There is nothing unmanly about taking them from a platform, usually at this point in the workout I am just not interested in picking it off the floor and this exercise is not really about that type of strength. The movement is very straightforward, just keep trying to go farther and use different rocks so as to improve your ability to hold on to any type of rock. I generally do three sets with pretty long breaks in between (because you will be so out of breath).
The two basic movements that I always do with the round rocks are 1) cleans and 2) pick and throws. Cleaning a round rock to each shoulder alternately is a great exercise and should be done in one motion, although as the rocks get heavier you will find that at first (and of course possibly always) you will not be able to do it in one motion. You will first get it to your lap and then throw it up to the shoulder. This is a slower and more physically exhausting way of cleaning a rock, so progressively try and get through that part of the motion and get the clean in one movement. Alternate to each shoulder, but I can guarantee you that one of them will always feel easier than the other (generally the same side of the body that your writing hand is on). Not much else to say about this movement except it is also more beneficial when going for higher reps, even when attempting to shoulder a weight for the first time (say the 300lb spherical rock, which is quite a great clean) try to do it a second and third time (allowing enough rest in between as needed).
Pick and throws with a round rock is my name for a movement that signifies that loading spherical stones has become easy to an individual. When Magnus ver used to pick up and load the MacGlashen stones in his later competitive years, he would get it to his chest and seemingly bounce it off and propel the stone forward onto (and sometimes over) the barrel. This exercise duplicates that movement and will add infinitely to your understanding and power in loading round stones. What you do is simply grab the stone off the ground in the same fashion as you normally would and then get it up to the chest. When at chest level, swing back with your trunk and then pop your chest forward while releasing your arms from the rock. Let me see if I can get you to visualize in more detail. You are standing up with the rock with arms around it (exactly on the sides, not lower or higher) and you arch your back steeply (causing your whole torso to rock backwards, while your feet are in the same position with legs just following the lead of the torso) and you then quickly rocket forward with the arms now higher than parallel with the ground (the chest having been puffed out) and you release the arms and push the rock off with the whipping motion of your torso and chest. You are not pushing the rock off of you with your arms, but are sending it flying with the snap of your torso and explosion of the torque in your back. Oh and as far as distances to try to get with the rock, this is not the point (and yes they will not be far). The point is to develop a strong follow through with the rock once at the barrel, so that you can power it on to it.
Next month, I will go into the specifics of the log usage and sandbag training. I realized that that detailing this training will take almost as much writing as everything up to this point, and I think there is a lot of good information to digest here and delaying the rest til next month will give you all time to find your rocks, logs and sandbags. Stick with me, take my advice to heart, train every session like everything is on the line and maybe someday you too can become The Strongest Man Alive!! Best of luck in your Training!