I remember watching my first World’s Strongest Man competition on ESPN. The competition featured Bill Kazmaier, Geoff Capes, and a few others. I was amazed at how these men could lift ungodly weights across multiple planes, push cars and even pull trains. They weren’t human. They didn’t appear to have any wink links. And so, for the past twenty-five years I’ve incorporated more and more strongman training into my own training programs to prepare for the Olympic Games and to help my clients achieve their own respective goals.
Is strongman training right for me? Yes. I could stop there, but I’ve never seen anyone who could not benefit from some variation of strongman training. You have to remember that the athletes you see on television are training to attain the pinnacle of strongman. The weights lifted during their training are meant to push the limitations of nature. If they didn’t, then it’s hard to justify the name the World’s Strongest Man. Despite the name and what you see on television strongman training is about more than moving heavy loads. It’s the application of strength in real world scenarios. Most of us will never need to figure out our maximum bench press, squat, clean, or other lift, but almost all of us have struggled to pick up a couch with a friend or carry our children. That’s the heart of strongman training and, in my opinion, it can create the foundation for a strong, healthy independent life as we age or enable you to dominate the competition fields.
Strongman – at all levels – is the expression of the fundamental movement patterns with varying loads. Those movements are the loaded carry, squat, hinge (or dead lift), press and pull. Executing these movements with unorthodox implements with varying reps and loading schemes challenges your entire body to work together. This type of global training builds a strong foundation for athletic improvement or for life. Training plans can be tweaked to focus on weight loss or for maximum strength development. It’s an extraordinarily versatile platform for anyone that want’s to build whole body strength.
When I first began strongman style training, I started with the farmer’s carry. The farmer’s carry is one of the simplest loaded carries you can do and you probably do it more than you realize already. You simply use your hands to pick up two objects of similar size and walk with them. The objects could be almost anything – dumbbells, kettle bells, or even milk jugs. You can carry them for set amount of time, distance, or any combination of the two. Proper technique for carrying implements requires maintaining a braced core with a spine in a neutral position. For beginners the grip will usually fail before your body gets out of position making this exercise hazardous only to those with excessively large feet. Start light with set periods of time. Gradually increase either the weight or the time. At some point you’ll like carry a maximum load for specific distance and just repeat the exercise.
Dead lifts are the ultimate in whole body strength. And of course, being a strongman exercises, it’s not just any dead lift. It’s dead lifting something with a thick grip. Grip training should be a staple in everyone’s training. The movement requires lifting a heavy object from the floor to the waist. Again, you can pick almost anything off the floor. Mastering the dead lift technique will keep your back strong and healthy for your entire life, not to mention the added benefits of an enhanced grip and glute activation. I like to dead lift at least once or twice per week.
Finally, the overhead press is perhaps one of the most underutilized pressing movements in the gym. Maybe a lot of people perceive it as dangerous, but I think it has more to do with the emphasis on the bench in the United States as the true test of manhood. Hogwash. Pressing a personal best overhead is like claiming victory in a prize fight. You just feel like a stud. Give it a try. Start light and press a weight from your chest to overhead. Make sure your core stays in strong and spine remains in a neutral position. So what if you can bench more. Other pressing movements are for kids and rehab. In throwing it’s said you can’t fire a cannon from a canoe. This exercise helps you build a battleship for any occasion. To do it well requires a great transfer of power from the floor to all the way overhead. Want to dominate the fields of play or the games of life, this is an exercise that you need to add into your training plans.
That’s a brief introduction to strongman training. Strongman training isn’t about lifting cars. It’s about building the strongest possible foundation. A strong foundation starts with a strong center and works out from there. Loaded carries, dead lifts, and presses are three great tools. Before you try these on your own, visit a SPARC specialist today to learn proper technique!