In the second of our series, VPT Ryan Lea shows us how to inject inspiration into our training regime by training like a strongman/woman. So, listen up and get ready to unleash the monster within.
This isn't as hard as you might think. All you have to do is pick up a weight, and carry it over distance – it's as simple as that! The skills needed are minimal. But, the benefits are amazing. You can develop powerful legs and hips, build strength through the core, and develop a strong and stable back – as well as phenomenal grip strength and improved posture. It's also very intense on the cardiovascular system, too. You just need to make sure your back is straight when you up pick up the weight. If you create a perfect posture by standing tall with your shoulders pinched back, and arms locked out at your side, then it's a matter of walking over a certain distance. Start at a slow pace, heel-to-toe. Keep your body tall, and core and shoulders tensed.
Variations include carrying a weight in one hand by your side (suitcase carry) or loading two kettlebells into the front rack position (front rack carries). A more advanced move is the overhead carry, where you can hold a heavy plate – or two kettlebells – over your head, and move over a distance. This advanced move can really improve strength in the lower traps and posture.
Pulling and flipping
If I was to say "strongman" or "strongwoman" to you, you would probably think of some giant man or woman either pulling a plane, or flipping a big tractor tyre. You would be correct as these are two of the main events that everyone loves to watch in these competitions, and which are two of the hardest to compete in. Obviously, most gyms won't be kitted out with an aeroplane, truck or giant tractor tyre – although here at Gymbox we do have prowler sleds, battle ropes and a gym tyres. These work just as well. For pulling, all you have to do is attach a battle rope to the prowler and load it with weight – then you're ready to go. Again, there are many variations. You could try including seated pulls (sitting on the floor), standing pulls (stand in a squat stance, and keep your back straight), over shoulder drag – or you can use a harness to real test your strength.
For the tyre you can flip it over distance, or switch side-to-side with every flip. This will allow you to keep the work rate and intensity high. Also, with the technique, you really need to get a good grip and stance, then drive into the tyre as you lift. This teaches you to be explosive in the hips, and not to rest the tyre half way up on your knee. This will stop you pushing it over, instead of flipping it. If you don't have a tyre then a couple of sets of power clean and jerks will simulate the up-and-under of the tyre flip.
The deadlift is one of the main measures of absolute strength, and in strongman/woman they use this movement in a variety of ways. Conventional deadlifts are a staple part of most people's programs, and can get a bit monotonous when you get stuck at a certain weight and cant get past it. Using the variety of unconventional grips that strongman/woman use could help you get out of your plateau, and back to progressing your weights. There are four great ways to go unconventional:
1) The trap bar deadlift. Load the body in a different way to allow the muscles to react and grow. Pull the weight from the handles which are side-by-side. This deadlift is great for people who have mobility issues, and struggle with good form by pulling a barbell from the floor.
2) Transform a conventional barbell by using fat grips to create a thick bar (axel bar). This will improve your grip strength.
3 & 4) Go for partial deadlifts from blocks, or the rack – this will allow you to add more load as it's a shorter distance. These are more accessory moves, but can really help you progress. Also try deficit deadlifts by standing on a raised platform or plate. This will allow you to improve your pulling strength in the first couple of inches of the lift.
You must ensure your back is tight and straight at all times. When lifting from the floor, imagine you're driving the floor away with your feet, whilst pulling with a tight straight back. Lowering the weight needs to be done with the hips, keeping your back straight push the hips back until the bar slides down your legs and is just past your knees. You can then lower the rest of the way with your legs.
Squatting is another major move used in strongman/woman, and like deadlifts, can also be done in many variations – including high bar back squat, low bar back squat, front squat and zercher squat. All these have a place in strongman/woman training. So, when it comes to squatting, it will usually be the reps or weight that are changed during the event – not the movement – so your main programming for squatting should include things like working in the 1-5 rep range, pyramid sets where the weight increases, total reps in a set time etc.
The technique for this movement is very important, so the set-up is crucial to ensure the bar is centred on your back, and sitting on your traps. When unracking the weight take 2-3 small steps back so you can clear the rack. Get your feet set just outside shoulder width with your toes pointing slightly out. Think of a clock face which says 10 to 2. Take a big deep breath into your stomach, lock your abs, and slowly lower the weight under control. As soon as you hit the bottom, explode up squeezing the quads, and finishing with the glutes.
If you back issues or mobility problems, researchers in a new study found that muscle activation between prowler pushes (sled) and back squats were very similar when it came to quad, hamstring and core activation. Lower back activation is hugely reduced in the prowler pushes, which make it a great alternative to squatting.
Clean and press
With the clean and press, the shape and size of the equipment is the key factor. When you think of a clean and press, you think of the axel bar (thick bar) and circus dumbbell and log. Therefore, fat grips become a staple piece of equipment in training. As only specialist gyms have axel bars, circus dumbbells and logs, you need to improvise to get the desired effect. You can wrap a fat grip around a dumbbell to simulate a circus dumbbell, or wrap a pair around a barbell to simulate the grip of a thick axle bar. This will allow you to feel the difference the grip makes when lifting from the floor. The clean and press is a great move for massively improving shoulder strength, grip and explosive power throughout the body. If you don't have a fat grip, it's also fine to use a conventional dumbbell and barbell. However, they only cost £20, so might be worth investing in your own pair to get the full effect of the lifts.
There are two parts to this technique to take into consideration. Firstly, the clean – this will be from the floor with the dumbbell, and from the floor (or blocks) with the axel bar and log. Both are pulls where you need to get the bar to the shoulder to set up for the press. You will need to get a strong grip, keep your back straight, and explode up so the bar and dumbbell land in the press position. For the log you will get the weight above the knees, then rest it in a sitting position on the legs. Once comfortable, you then explode up, rolling it to the top of the chest where it will then be pressed. Secondly, once in the press position, take a big deep breath into you stomach brace, bend the knees forward (slightly), and explode up again, locking your arms out at the top of the moment.
Loading and throwing
When you think loading you think of atlas stones, sandbags, and kegs. When you think throwing, you think of kegs and kettlebells. These two types of training are pretty specialist. But, again, as it's becoming more popular – and Gymbox wisely invests in rubber atlas stones – you can start to incorporate these once specialist movements into your training. A great way to do this is get your atlas stones, and also two box jump boxes, and stand them on their side. This will allow them to be as tall as the ones you see at the strongman/woman events (between 4ft-6ft). Another great use of the atlas stone is the throw over the shoulder. This allows you to develop the explosive power you get from the keg toss, without throwing a weight through the roof or window! Furthermore, both of these movements can also be completed by using sandbags, which most gyms have.
For technique, make sure you get a good grip under the stone, then squeeze with your forearms and pull it up onto your knees. Then adjust your grip, get tight over the stone, then explode into a triple extension (hips through, up on your toes, pull up to your chin) and place the stone on the box. It's the same for the throw, but instead of placing it, you throw it over either shoulder.