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Australian National Champion Power lifter
“Hey, you should come and train with us – we have a rock, it’s about 70kg,” the strongman said. He seemed hugely proud of this, like a Dad talking about a three-year-old son who has just performed Beethoven’s Hammer klavier piano sonata. “We’ve got another one too, but I don’t know how much that weighs – it’s too big for us to lift onto the scales.”
“Functional” is an overused word in fitness circles, but is there anything more useful than being able to pick up heavy stuff and move it somewhere else? That’s the basis of several strongman events, which typically involve walking/running as fast as possible while carrying heavy weights in their hands or on their back, flipping over massive truck tyres or picking up boulders or big natural rocks.
Now the sporting world is catching on that these types of activities are useful for all kinds of athletes, even swimmers – eleven-time Olympic medallist, Ryan Lochte, credited his performances at the 2012 Olympic trials to the introduction of strongman sessions to his training.
Here are three good reasons why strongman training can work so well for a variety of sports:
Incredible Grip Strength
Strongmen require incredible grip strength, which comes in “handy” for anything which involves handling an opponent (e.g. wrestling, American football), a bat or a racquet.
A strongman’s core strength is hard to beat. I thought power lifters had great core strength, but these guys not only pick up big weights, they run around with them! In this way, their core strength is not only used for power and posture, but for stability and balance.
No Muscle Neglection Strongman actions use a long chain of both big and small muscles together for maximum power – nothing is neglected.
You can buy the specialist strongman training equipment, but you don’t have to in order to get a taste of strongman training. Here are some exercises you can do with friends around your neighborhood.
In strongman, there is an event called keg toss, where competitors toss a keg over their head and behind them. If you don’t drink a lot of beer, you can imitate this with an old boxing bag or a medicine ball even a decent rock. This action trains explosive hip extension so you can generate ‘leg’ power from your hips and glutes through the triple extension of legs, hips and shoulders. It’s also good for improving and posterior chain strength overall, and despite its speed and explosive nature, it has low impact on the shoulders.
Go into a squat with the object resting on the ground in front of you. Grip it firmly on each side and then launch yourself to a standing jump position. Use the lower back muscles to gain leverage and launch the keg backwards over your head. Keep your chest up during the backswing and try to forcefully throw your entire body.
Find a flat or nearly flat empty parking lot and have a friend in the driver’s seat with the car in neutral – now push! This exercise trains leg drive and stride length while keeping a firm core position, plus it doesn’t have the eccentric motion of a squat or deadlift, so it tends to cause less muscle soreness. You can push a set distance for time, push as far as possible in a set time or for an extra challenge, push it a set distance but come to a complete stop every 5-10m.
Grab something heavy in each arm and carry it down by your side, moving as fast as you can, taking small steps with your head up. This exercises more than just grip strength – it teaches to retain your power and force into the ground while an external force trying to knock you off your path. It’s also great for improving muscular endurance, anaerobic capacity, grip strength and your upper back, trap and oblique strength, while building hip, knee and ankle stability. For an added challenge, mark out a zigzag course.
Don’t have an equal weight for each hand? Doesn’t matter – that’s just an added challenge. Just swap hands for the weights each set.
Get a sandbag or a punching/kicking bag and stand with it vertical. Wrap your arms around it and pick it up, placing it high on the chest and leaning back slightly, then move as fast as you can with it. Your feet should be pointing out as you walk. This exercise works the lower back and core, but it also teaches an athlete to breathe under strain. Some coaches have drawn a correlation between this and increased lung capacity, as well as better ‘metabolic conditioning’ – the storage and delivery of energy for activity.
Attach some kind of weight to a rope 15-20m long. The thicker the rope, the better – it will shred your hands less and work your grip and forearm strength more. Sit on the ground with your legs bent, holding the rope with both hands. Pull the rope back with one hand while rotating your torso, change to the other side and keep alternating hands. This will work your arms, obliques and upper back. If you have a friend/s but no weight, do an old-fashioned tug-of-war. This creates a constant flexion and extension of the knee that transfers well to movements such as kicking in swimming.
Dom competed at 68kg bodyweight in the under-80kg division of the 2013 NSW Strongman Championship and was runner-up.
Learn more about strongman here.