Add Strongman Training to Fill in Your Training Gaps

downloadI’ve stated before that I think that there are 3 things that everybody should do to be able to perform at their best and bulletproof themselves:

  1. Hill sprints/sled pushes
  2. Various Carries
  3. regular movement in all 3 planes of motion
    • multi directional plyometric variations/Medicine ball drills

While I covered the 3rd point pretty extensively in the post linked above, I wanted to give a little better explanation on the first 2, continue to build on #3, and explain how to have some fun when putting it all together.

I like having a strongman or athletic type of day in my training. Years ago, I bought one of Jason Ferruggia’s training programs, which included one and it really drove home a lot of what we used to do as kids when we were training at the Westbrook Rec Center trying to become the best wrestlers we could be.

We didn’t have much equipment, but we regularly pushed cars in parking lots, carried each other on our backs, over our shoulders, or “bridal” style in front of us up stairs, and carried dumbbells as far as we could carry them. The fact that the few bars that we had access to were so rusty that we had to wrap towels around them so we didn’t need a tetanus shot essentially made everything we did thick grip lifts too.

As I got a little older and had access to more equipment, some of that stuff made it’s way out of my programs while I tinkered with shiny new machines and the Weider principles of bodybuilding. This led to a lot of semi wasted training time and effort. I mean, I learned by trial and a lot of error, but that time could have been much more beneficial had I stuck with and built on what we had been doing all along.

Seeing the stuff that I used to do in Ferruggia’s program, and a whole day devoted to it, brought me back to my roots and reinforced that we were on the right track after all, even though we had no clue. I mean, we still did a lot of that stuff in wrestling practice, with all of the partner carries and tossing around the big stuffed dummy that’s laying around every wrestling room in the world, but having guys like Jason and Dan John talk about the importance of odd implement training validated it’s importance to me.

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If you see one of these anywhere in the world, please return it to the nearest wrestling room.

This is the deal: life happens in 3 dimensions. Most exercises that you can load up are not. This doesn’t make them bad, it just means that we might need to find some other stuff to bridge the gap and make sure our strength training carries over to the real world. This is where a strongman/athlete day fits in.

I love to include Olympic lifting variations here, jumps, medicine ball throws, fat gripz work, rope pulling and climbing, sprints, sled pushing and dragging, sandbag lifts, carries, and any combination of the above that you can think of. If you have access to a big ass tire and can get down to flip that sumbitch without rounding your back, those are fair game too. Have an empty keg laying around? Take it outside and huck it a few times.

These don’t have to be pre programmed each week, which allows for a little extra fun in that you don’t know what kind of challenges you’ll make for yourself until you get after it. As an added bonus, a lot of it doesn’t have to happen in a gym, so you can utilize being outside, which I hear is good for you.

Just think about Rocky 4, when he’s training in Russia for Drago, and he’s carrying the tree across his back in waist deep snow. That’s what we’re looking for during a strongman day-getting the whole body to work as a unit and doing some unconventional stuff.

As an example, here’s what I did on Friday after my warm up:


1A. Single Leg Medial and Lateral Hurdle Hops with a stick 3×3

1B. Medicine Ball Side Toss 3×8

2. Barbell Complex: Hang Clean, Front Squat, Push Press 3×3+3+1

3. Fat Grip Dealift 4×5

4. Goblet Carries 2x about :60

5. Battling Ropes 8x:15 on/:45 off


Nothing revolutionary, but it was fun, broke up the monotony, and outside of the cleans, I didn’t really have to think about technique much, so I could just go and get after it. Back in Boston, I had a big rock that must’ve weighed about 100 pounds that me and my guys would pick up and carry to the end of the driveway, drop it, then push a sled back. We sold the house (the rock was regrettably included in the sale) but I’m sure there’s still a divot in the grass where we’d drop it at each end of the driveway. It was hard, it was fun. and we were better for it.

Have some fun with this stuff and fill in the gaps in your training to build some real world strength. If you have a friend, get them in on it, too. I have no doubt that you guys will be able to come up with stuff to challenge each other, and when your buddy carries the 90 pound dumbbells for 48 seconds, I’m sure it’ll push you to get 50.

After all, that’s what makes training fun and keeps you motivated to keep at it day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year. People program hop all the time because they’re bored, and since they never stick to anything consistently, they fail to make any appreciable progress. This allows for variability each week, while also keeping the nuts and bolts of your program consistent.

And isn’t consistent progress what it’s all about?

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