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Strongman Article: Strongman Training for Powerlifters

Monday, January 27th, 2014

Strongman Training For Powerlifters

by Ian Driscoll

Coming from a powerlifting background and previous to that, a kid who just wanted to get bigger and stronger for high school sports, strongman training has proved to be the most effective and fun training that I have ever done.

Strongman training is hard, damn hard. However, the benefits are hard to ignore whether your goal is to add slabs of muscle mass, becoming a more explosive athlete or simply put pounds on your gym lifts.

tire axle

Getting Started in Strongman Training

First I’ll start off with a little bit of personal history. My first year of college, I was a hungry 18 year old powerlifter looking to up my game. I had always enjoyed strongman competitions on TV and decided I was going to give it a shot.

I drove two and a half hours to a garage gym known as Jobe’s Steel Jungle every weekend. There I had the opportunity to experience what “Strongman Sunday’s” were all about. Log presses, axle presses, deadlifts (of all varieties), keg loading, stone loading, yoke walks, farmers walks, sandbag carries, and sled pulls are a list in a vague memory of what I have done there.

On these weekends I only did three or four strongman events and I was left exhausted. The two and a half hour drive back was always euphoric. My t-shirt was stained with sweat, tacky, and chalk but the recent memory of strongman training was all that was on my mind.

My Improvement in the Powerlifts from Strongman Training

This weekly strongman training carried over to my powerlifting in a noticeable way. I used to have trouble stabilizing my body under 405 pounds in a squat. I would look like a baby giraffe coming out of the womb. Heavy yoke walks took care of that problem. The yoke walks taught me how to create tension and brace my body. Instead of having a coach tell me abstractly how to create tension and brace the trunk, I threw myself under a heavy yoke, kept my body as upright as possible and I learned exceptionally quick what bracing and creating tension feels like.

I used to have problems double overhand deadlifting anything over 315 pounds. Farmers walks took care of that, something about walking with 260 pounds in each hand for 100 feet will cure most grip problems. My deadlift and squat were suffering from the inability of pushing the hips through. I loaded a stone 20 times in a row, you have no choice but to learn how to use the hips.

Enough about my personal experience; here’s how strongman training can benefit you:

Benefits of Strongman Training

Loaded Triple Extension:
Triple extension is simply the simultaneous extension of the ankles, knees, and hips. Classic barbell lifts such as the squat, deadlift, and power clean demonstrate this.

stone over bar

With strongman implements, one can take it a bit further. Loading an atlas stone to a relatively high platform trying not to let the stone break one’s spine in half or flipping a heavy tractor tire will have one go from a deep squat position through to the tippy toes. With these implements being odd objects, the awkwardness is a nice change of pace and the technique is not as comprehensive as a barbell lift.

There is something primal about flipping an 800 pound tire or loading a 300 pound stone. For powerlifters, we don’t need to go extremely heavy with strongman implements. Just getting out of the gym and doing something exciting that provokes hard work is beneficial. We can argue all day about what is optimal or what’s best for triple extension and to be honest I see a lot more carryover from strongman based triple extension movements to the gym than what the gym brings to strongman.

yoke

Bracing the trunk:
In order to walk with 600 pounds in the hands, 800 pounds on the back, or load something over 300 pounds to a platform it is critical to brace the trunk. It is impossible to do any of these disciplines efficiently without bracing effectively. Yes, one can learn how to brace the trunk very well in a squat, bench press, or deadlift but walking with the weights one can deadlift or squat takes the bracing concept to a whole new level and makes them more efficient when they go back to traditional squatting, bench pressing or deadlifting.

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Grip strength:
Bearhug walking with a heavy keg, farmers walks or doing some axle deadlifts will develop that manly handshake and improve upon the ability to lift heavier weights. It is called the law of irradiation, the harder an individual can squeeze something, the more efficiently the chain of muscles can be utilized. Nothing fancy here, just hard, grueling work.

Explosiveness:
Along with loaded triple extension, and bracing the trunk that aid in explosiveness, strongman events are supposed to be done fast. Things are timed in strongman, we need to be as efficient as possible. A classic example of developing explosiveness would be tire flips as fast as possible for 50 feet or cleaning a heavy axle up to the shoulders. Personally, there is a direct correlation to the speed of my power lifts when I add in strongman training.

Mental strength:
What makes strongman appealing to me is the amount of mental strength it takes to endure the events. There have been a couple times I literally thought that I was going to die. Everyone wants to set down a heavy yoke, drop the farmers when their shoulders feel like their being pulled out of socket, let go of an atlas stone when it rips into their forearm, grind through a 15th rep on a deadlift for reps or drop the log when it is crushing their lungs. The intense commitment and desire to plow through these mental barriers is, to me, invaluable.

truck pull

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How to add strongman events to a powerlifting routine?

There are many ways to go about doing this. Here are a couple of examples…

Full Strongman Day:
I suggest replacing a gym day for an event day if one is lucky enough to have access to the implements. For example, you can get your main powerlifting work done during the week, and then do your Strongman Training on Saturday or Sunday.

Strongman Lifts as Accessory Movements:
Another way to add Strongman Training is by using strongman events in place of other accessory movements. For example, after deadlift training one could hit five sets of five on tire flips, instead of straight leg deads. Another example would be an axle clean and press for three sets of five after bench training. An additional example could be three sets of 50 feet on yoke walks after squatting.

The options are limitless, but one must be smart about it. Strongman training has a funny way of leaving the body in a pile of ash if one gets carried away. One event day consisting of three events or substituting a main accessory for a similar strongman event.

Wrapping it Up

In summary, strongman training is great. On the other hand, it is not the end all be all of training. A lot of elite level powerlifters have never touched strongman equipment. For strength athletes, strongmen included, the classic barbell lifts are going to be the priority of a training system. My thoughts and ideas are to give you a few tools you can try out on your own and see if they aid in your strength sport. There is a time and a place for several tools, I am under the impression strongman training is one of those under-utilized tools that has a great carryover to the powerlifts.

-Ian Driscoll-


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6 Tips for Improving Your Continental Clean

Monday, October 28th, 2013

The Continental Clean

The Continental Clean is a technique for pulling a bar from the ground to the shoulder while utilizing the belly or belt for assistance. The “Continental” is very different from the Olympic Clean.

The term “Clean” from the Olympic Lifts is used because the original lift was performed without allowing the barbell to touch the body at all. These days, brushing the bar against the body is permitted, but to use the belly or belt for assistance is expressly disallowed.

The “Continental” is most often used in Strongman Competitions with the Axle, and is generally used prior to Pressing, Push-Pressing, or Jerking the Axle Overhead to finish off the repetition. With the level of weights that are able to be lifted overhead on the axle, the Continental becomes a necessity, since the Grip limits how much one can lift in the initial phase of the movement, pulling the Axle to the Shoulder for the “Clean.”

How to Improve the Continental Clean

The Continental Clean is a highly technical lift, so here are 6 tips that you use use to improve your technique and make your Continental more efficient.

1. Wrist Wrap Awareness

Wrist Wraps are important on this event because when catching the Axle at the shoulder, there is a chance that the wrist can get bent back. Also, with wrist wraps on, your grip will be stabilized for the overhead portion of the lift. However, one mistake that people often make is they leave the thumb/finger loops on their thumb. The thumb is very important in getting a solid grip on the Axle, and having the loops still on the thumbs will cause interference in gripping the bar.

2. Drive with the Lower Body

Once you have the bar on your belly, you must propel it up to the shoulders using your legs and hips. The harder and faster you can pop the barbell or axle the better. You will save time on each repetition and you will conserve strength and energy for the duration of the set/event.

3. Make Faster Transitions

If you analyze the movement, there are at least 4 individual parts:

  • Pull to Belly
  • Stretch Reflex (Lowering the Body)
  • Popping Bar off Belly (Propelling Upwards)
  • Catch at Shoulder

The quicker you can move through each phase and transition, the better. For instance, once it hits your belly, your aim should be to pop it up with your lower body to the shoulder, which requires a quick drop of the body, a rapid ammortization phase, and then the thrust to pop the bar up. If you need a breath between the catch and the press that is fine, but try to limit it to one. Standing there holding the bar on the belly is far too much of an energy leak and waste of time.

4. Alternate Hands on the First Pull

It is fastest to pull the bar from the ground with the hands both overhand, but this will be limited by your grip strength. If you find you can’t pull the weight you need to with a double overhand grip, feel free to alternate them. This will enable you to pull faster and with more strength, plus it might even allow you to pull the bar up to the perfect spot on your belly. Either way, the higher you can pull like this the better, because it will help you save energy. Energy leaks are the worst thing in strongman. If you can reduce them, you can become that much more efficient. Once you get the bar to your belly or shoulder, then transition to double pronated.

5. Keep the Bar Close

It is more efficient to have the bar stay close to your body at all times than to let it drift away. Pull it outwards only as far as you need to in order to pass your belt, and keep the transition from belly to shoulder nice and close to the chest as well. If it loops outward away from the body, it will be harder to control and you will have to move your body too much to catch and re-direct it.

6. Isolate, Train and Strengthen Each Phase

After doing your primary work, (and even including the press) go back and work each phase of the lift with heavier weight to strengthen each phase. In other words, if you max out with 200 on the full lift to the shoulder, you can perform the following drills:

  • Full Pull to Shoulder: With light weight, practice pulling straight to the shoulder from the floor (like an actual clean)
  • Belly to Shoulder: With heavier weight, practice popping the bar from belly to shoulder. Don’t return it to the floor every time. Just let it roll down to the chest and re-grip it. It should feel really good on the chest bones.
  • Floor to Belly: Do some sets with double overhand and alternating grips. Put on heavier weight and just get the bar to your belly as fast as you can then go right back to the floor.

These are just a few bullet points you can start working on to improve your Continental Clean. If you take a video to the weight room with you, I can pretty much guarantee you will improve even more, because you will be able to iron out your technical bumps that much more quickly.

Improving the Continental Clean – Videos

Here’s a quick video showing some cues I was able to catch in my own training for instant improvement.

Just a couple of weeks later, I was able to improve even further on my Continental Clean.


Get More Information on Improving Your Strongman Lifts

If you are interested in more information regarding the Strongman Overhead Lifts, be sure to sign up for email updates using the form below. Steve Slater and I will be shooting a new DVD that covers the Overhead Strongman Lifts in November, including the Log Press, the Axle Press, The Monster Dumbbell (One Arm Overhead Lift), the Viking Press, and more.

All the best in your training,

Jedd


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Beginner Odd Object Training

Wednesday, August 14th, 2013

Odd Object Training – Intense & Fun Strength Training

Odd Object training, lifting things like atlas stones, kegs, and sandbags is a very rewarding form of training. You get strong in ways that barbells and dumbbells can not provide and it is fun to pick things up that 99% of the population will never do.

Recently, I wanted to start working some odd object training into the routine. Optimally, I would have wanted to lift some atlas stones. But since it had been over a year since I last trained them, I wanted to work Odd Object Training back in slowly.

Instead of jumping right into stones, I opted to do some sandbag lifting and keg lifting. Both of these implements are shaped very similar to stones, and allow you to get used to the body positions of stone lifting and to somewhat practice the stone lifting technique.

The day I did this was also my Overhead Pressing day so I still wanted to do some overhead work. Since I was working with 110-lb Sandbag and a 127-lb Keg, I was able to get plenty of overhead lifting volume in.

Sandbag Training

For the sandbag, I decided I would do full cleans and presses. This would allow my back to get accustomed once again to the round-back position of odd object training, without going as heavy as my lightest stone, 230-lbs.

To stay conservative, I started with just 3 repetitions in my first set, and then added 1 repetition each set. All the while, I was trying to move faster and faster with the clean and the press in order to get a bit of an increase cardiovascular demand.

In the video you will see that I put a Timer in, just to show how quickly or slowly I was moving through the repetitions. Since there was a clean to the shoulder on each repetition, much more muscle was involved than just performing one clean and going for repetitions afterwards.

Here’s the video so you can see how it went.

Keg Lifting

With the Keg I decided to move to just one clean and multiple presses during the set. The clean is much tougher with my Keg because it is only half full of scrap steel and it shifts around quite a bit. I didn’t want to push my luck on my wrist, so 1 clean per set was good enough.

I also tried to perform a Keg Snatch, lifting it from between the legs overhead in one movement. I didn’t quite get it but I did come close. I think next workout I will be able to perform the snatch.

Check out the video:

As you watch the videos, you will see that I definitely have gotten a bit rusty with my Odd Object training. When you don’t do it for a while, you forget the challenge of controlling these implements, especially during the flip-over/catching portion of the Keg and Sandbag clean. After a couple of sets, I was able to knock most of the rust off.

For those who are new to this kind of training, you will want to approach it somewhat how I did. Even after the ow volume of work that I did, I was still sore in the middle back the next day. This is most likely due to the fact that I have been using so many conventional training implements (barbells, dumbbells) that my back is not used to stabilizing against such a dynamic load.

But that is actually the whole idea with Odd Object Training. It makes your body work harder than with regular equipment, so it helps you develop even more as an athlete or strength enthusiast.

Naturally, when you first start out with Odd Object Training, you’ll want to start out light and gradually move up as you get used to the demands of the Odd Objects. A good starter weight for most gals is about 50-lbs and for guys, about 80-lbs. That kind of weight with these bulky implements with give you a good introduction.

If you are interested in learning more about Odd Object Training, make sure you sign up for my newsletter, because more information will be coming your way.

If you have any questions on Odd Object Training, be sure to leave them below.

All the best in your training.

Jedd


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Top 5 Strongman Training Events to Build Real Word Strength

Saturday, July 27th, 2013
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I recently attended a seminar with several other fitness guys, many of whom were personal trainers and strength coaches. After one of the talks, it was time to get some coffee and one of the personal trainers, Lance, came over and talked to me.

He told me that he trains in some major chain gym with a bunch of machines and not a speck of chalk in the place at all. (If I had to train in a place like that, I might last two weeks before I went to another gym, just not my kind of long-term place)

So, as it turns out, Lance is sick of this place too. He said he just doesn’t think all the machines are helping him or his clients build “Real World Strength.”

He basically said, “What is sitting on a padded seat pushing against weight-stack resistance going to do to help me be strong enough to push a car out of a ditch?

Ya know what? Lance is right.

Machines just don’t cut it when it comes to building the kind of strength that you need when your car is stuck in a ditch, or if you have to carry a giant recliner down a flight of stairs.

That’s why I like Strongman Training.

Strongman Training, especially in the sense of lifting big, round, odd objects, like Stones, Sandbags, and Kegs, helps you develop the kind of strength that you can call on when you need it.

When you train with bulky implements like those, you literally feel like you can lift anything that crosses your path.

That kind of confidence can really come in handy in “Real World” situations.

So, now Lance is on a MISSION. He has a two-car garage just like mine and he wants to start Strongman Training.

But, he wanted to know what Strongman Gear and what types of Strongman Lifts he should focus on.

So, I told him about the Top 5 Strongman Training Lifts I suggest.

Top 5 Strongman Lifts/Events that Build REAL WORLD STRENGTH

1. Log Lift / Overhead Lifting


Bill Kazmaier – Log Lift

I LOVE Overhead Lifting and for that reason my favorite implement is the Log. It builds tremendous overhead strength, and it makes you develop a strong Core, Grip, and Power, especially when you perform dynamic overhead lifts.

2. Atlas Stones

Atlas_Stones
Loading Atlas Stones

When you lift atlas stones, it makes you feel like you are capable of superhuman feats. There’s just something awesome about pulling a big, ugly, round stone off the ground and then either popping it up onto a platform or dropping it right back to earth (train outside if you are going to drop it, ha ha ha)

3. The Yoke

fridge-yoke
Phil Pfister – Refrigerator Yoke Walk

The Yoke is an implement that you carry across your shoulders. I absolutely HATE this event, but it makes you RUGGEDLY STRONG both physically and mentally. A heavy-ass Yoke draped across your back wants to crush you into the ground like a soda can, but you don’t let it. You just take one step at a time and show it who is boss.

4. The Tire Flip

tire-flip
Ready for the Tire Flip

You would be surprised at how big of a tire you can flip. Flipping a giant industrial tire may seem like a daunting task, but when you apply the strength you have worked to build with the proper technique, like I show you here, you can EXCEED your own expectations.

5. Farmer’s Walk / Frame Carry

derek-poundstone-frame
Derek Poundstone – Frame Carry

This lift just plain makes a MONSTER out of you. Obviously, this exercise builds your Grip Strength, which is something I LOVE, but it also beefs up your Traps, Shoulders, Erectors, and Glutes. I like this exercise so much, I generally do it TWICE A WEEK.

There you have it – in my opinion the TOP 5 LIFTS from the world of Strongman Training. If you do these lifts, I guarantee you will develop strength that you can use in MANY other facets of life where you need to be able to lift heavy, bulky stuff.

The only caveat I would throw out there is NOT to try these lifts until you know the proper technique, so you can GET THE MOST OUT OF THEM.

If you need to learn the technique for these lifts, all you need to do is go here: Strongman Training DVD

All the best in your training.

Jedd

Arm Training – It’s Not Just for Bodybuilders

Wednesday, December 19th, 2012
superstar graham20
Superstar Billy Graham, circa: 1974

Many times over the years I have heard statements like the following:

    “I don’t train arms, because I am not a bodybuilder, I am a strength athlete.”
    “I don’t train arms, because I do rows.”
    “I don’t do curls, because I only do multi-joint exercises.”
    “I don’t do curls, because blah blah blah.”

I will be honest, I have even made statements such as these in the past because I thought it was a waste of time.

After all, for quite some time, I didn’t do dedicated Bicep Training and my arms are still bigger than most people’s.

However, ever since this past August when I watched a friend tear his bicep during a grip contest, I have taken a different viewpoint on this “issue.”

I talk about it in this video:


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