Strongman training is the epitome of functional training. It’s about moving awkward objects from Point A to Point B quickly, whether its a stone or keg overheard or a farmers carry 100 meters. But most of the Strongman equipment, things like tires and logs, are generally shoved untouched in a small corner of the gym. That’s a big mistake because -regardless of what kind of athlete you are — everyone can benefit from incorporating some Strongman stuff into their training.
“I view it as an unavoidable opportunity to develop fitness,” said Deuce Gym owner Logan Gelbrich, who teaches the CrossFit Strongman certifications and incorporates a lot of those principles into his gym’s general physical preparedness (GPP) classes. “ People think, ‘Oh, it’s the weird stuff in the corner for the strong people that’s super fringy that you maybe do on Saturdays’.
I know if we are doing hang power cleans today there’s going to be common faults in virtually every intermediate or beginner athlete. But if we are cleaning sandbags, I’ll see better moment out of people faster. I can get them moving heavier with more intensity than I can be with a more intricate movement [like a snatch]. If I’m humble enough as a coach to take a few steps back and realize my job is broad, general inclusive fitness, I should at least consider these movements.”
But how do you start incorporating them? Gelbrich has an easy three-step process.
1. Carry, carry, carry.
If there’s one thing you take out of this article it’s that —at the very least— you should be carrying more. Heavy kettle bell carries, single-arm farmers carries, yoke carries. Carry, carry, carry. Why?
“It’s a very easy place to start and a very wide gaping hole in GPP training that is missing in a lot of people’s training. We never carry stuff and we say we are in a general fitness program.” Gelbrich said.
“It’s all adaptation and results. You don’t tweak your anything carrying. It’s an extreme developer of your whole chain. You can make yourself feel as awful as you want. You aren’t going to bang up your shoulders or hips. its an all-pro, no-con type of thing.”
You could easily take an workout with 12 pull-ups, 24 pushups and 24 doubles under, let’s see a 10-minute AMRAP, and add in a bodyweight sandbag carry 100 feet. Think of it as an intro to Strongman stuff in a familiar training experience.
2. Subbing Out Movement Patterns.
Let’s say you’re programming Elizabeth for your gym, but instead of ground-to-overhead and ring dips it becomes atlas stone to shoulder and ring dips.
“Mentally, it’s not this [thinking] ‘Holy shit, you are turning this gym into a Strongman freak show,’” Gelbrich said.
For athletes who aren’t on a general CrossFit program and are more linear strength athletes, it’s about tweaking your accessory work.
“To that athlete, I would say variance instead of that [typical accessory lift] would help you out as well,” Gelbrich said.
Instead of hamstring accessory work like RDLs, deficit deadlifts or kettle bell swings you could add the keg carry, sandbag clean or log clean as an accessory piece.
“I don’t view the Strongman stuff as this niche trick, you got to figure out. Surely there’s some specific techniques about it but it’s all just movement,” Gelbrich said. “There’s pressing- we see it a lot with dumbbells and barbells and handstand pushups. The log or axle is just another way to vary the pressing we see otherwise.”
3. Be open to training sessions that look more specific Strongman-esque
After you’ve done Steps 1 and 2 you’re probably thinking this stuff isn’t so crazy after all. That’s when you can start to work in full-on Strongman-style workouts. Think heavy, short work periods —30 to 60 seconds— with lots of rest in between.
“CrossFit coaches can really default to too many oxidation [aerobic] systems: a death by whatever, a 20-minute couplet and we are dead.” Gelbrich said. “We tend to cover our bases in that system. We train capacity in the short 0-10 [second] zone. We do heavy singles and heavy triples and heavy sets of five [lifting], but there’s this challenge to really dial in the glycolytic pathway which, coincidentally, is home base for the sport of Strongman.”
Max effort sled pushes, tire flips and stones give you a window, typically inside of 60 seconds for some major power output.
“It’s a minute or less on purpose. That’s a very potent training stimulus. It also happens to be a place that takes a lot of courage to program,” Gelbrich said. “Thirty seconds of work, one minute rest, six rounds and let it be hard. Strongman is a good trick to improve our development and programming and exposure to that middle energy system.”
Images 1 and 3 courtesy of Deuce Gym. Image 4 courtesy of Luke Espe.