View Full Version : Strongman training for the military

Emily Mattes
01-08-2009, 08:41 AM
An interesting proposal was brought up on another forum I frequent yesterday: Strongman training as a form of GPP PT for military types. It's been my assumption that Crossfit (like just main page WODs) would be the best sort of training for someone in that field, but this poster--a Marine who'd done Crossfit--argued that Strongman training, mixed with some endurance and sprinting work, would better fit the GPP needs of someone in the military as it would better provide for the strength needed for extra equipment and armor and stuff that a soldier would have to carry in combat situations, you'd be doing a lot of work with heavy odd objects, and you'd still be working on speed and stuff.

This seemed like a pretty interesting proposal to me, but I don't know a lot of about Strongman training. I figured it's like a lot of heavy lifting, with some short heavy conditioning sessions, and odd object work, but I'm not sure. I know there are people here who do it so I wanted to see what you guys think about this.

Arden Cogar Jr.
01-08-2009, 09:57 AM
Very interesting. I've never been in the military so I really can't opine to a rationale behind what would be best for their fitness needs. I've always associated their conditioning requirements with "beyond bad ass" and I'll leave it at that.

I've done a lot of strongman implement training. To be frank, I considered it "heavy" metabolic conditioning - it is GPP at it's finest. The size and weight of the implement used should be relevant to your strength and strength experience levels. I can use the heavier implements, but it's not necessary to get the affect for my own training. I did a rendition of the Arnold timber carry with an 800lb+ implement a few years ago that left my traps and shoulders sore as all get out even though I only took a handful of steps with the object. Doing the carry with a lighter weight, or flipping a smaller tire, for up to 90 seconds was more along the lines of what would benefit what I want to do.

I regularly include carry and drags, and stone/block lifting/carrying in my training as they are great functional fitness that takes the heart rate and pain threholds into new territory. That new territory has to be metered or one runs the risk of injury - so I don't do these movements very often.

I can understand the reason why the person suggested this sort of protocol. To be frank, there are a half million ways to skin a cat. None, in my opinion, are any better than the others - they're just different. A person has to try lots of stuff to find out what works best for them. If that makes any sense?

All the best,

Don Stevenson
01-08-2009, 04:29 PM
I write a lot of programs for military guys from pre enlistment to SF selection and I definitely agree that Strongman training is ideal for military personnel HOWEVER I don't think it's an either/or proposition.

There is a place in military conditioning programs for basic barbell work, olympic lifting, kettlebells, CrossFit, distance running and pack marching and strongman training.

I always like to start people off with a base of basic deadlifting, overhead pressing and squats plus CF work and then as they advance we add strongman training.

I'd agree with Arden that doing efforts of things like tyre flipping, carries, overhead work etc in the area of 90 second efforts is an excellent functional fitness builder for military people and indeed the Australian army (and I'm sure many other armies worldwide) use a lot of lift and carry stuff in their PT.

It's funny that this came up because I'm actually right in the middle of writing an article for a local military magazine and it's on strongman training!

I'll post a link to it here once it's done for comment.

Howard Wilcox
01-08-2009, 06:04 PM

That sounds like an interesting article/post...is there any way you could post a link to it?

Thank you,


Adam Gagliardi
01-08-2009, 06:19 PM
what Arden said......
.....My personal opinion is that strongman training is probably the most useful type of training one could do when combined with the basic lifts: squats, DL's, presses,Pulls, for many reasons, but mainly due to moving odd loads over various distances. it's rare that when something needs to be carried its an equally balanced BB.

George Mounce
01-08-2009, 06:34 PM
Here is a take from a military guy.

Strongman training in the purest sense is horrible for the military because the tests the military does to qualify "fitness" have absolutely nothing to do with Strongman type competitions. Honestly - the military doesn't care how much you squat or deadlift. If they did, their globo-style gyms would be set up this way. They are not throughout the vast majority of them. They involve a ton of treadmills, and iron weights that cannot be dropped. For about 1/100th the price (and I've done the math) you could outfit a gym at any base that would be better suited for the military's needs. It isn't happening anytime soon though, so thanks for your wasted tax dollars.

Would it be great training overall? Sure. But GPP programs (i.e. CrossFit) work better to pass the test, and keep your level of work high for longer periods of time.

You put a bunch of fat/lazy Air Force people through strongman training, they still won't pass the run, and I would say as an AF member that 90%+ failures of the PFT are due to slow run times (and we are talking you need to run 1.5 miles in 13 minutes here people). This is of course often related to a crappy diet.

Please don't get me wrong, I think Strongman training is awesome. But it isn't the answer to the military's problem. Fit people in the military stay fit regardless, and the majority who pass with 100s can run well and have a slim waistline. The overwhelming majority though have more issues that need to be reconciled first.

Edit: Reread the first post - the sprinting/endurance work is the key, not the Strongman part. You could do SS or the CA WODS (which I do) and pass the test with 100% and be strong as a bull.

Don Stevenson
01-08-2009, 07:46 PM
I always tell people that you've got to differentiate between passing the fitness tests and actually being "Combat fit"

If you possess a high level of GPP and good basic strength then you'll be fit and relatively injury free when faced with the demands of the job. You'll also be able to pass the tests at a pretty good level at any time and ace them with very little specific preparation.

The reverse is not true though. If you specialise on passing the tests then you may be able to do 100's of pushups but you may lack the strength to handle real life situations.

The of course there are the people who are scared of the tests because they don;t train and eat crap. Doing something like strongman training is just going to break those people!

Emily Mattes
01-08-2009, 08:41 PM
Huh, "Combat fit" versus "Test fit" sounds like "college ready" and "good SAT score"--the test doesn't necessarily measure what you want it to measure, but if you're very, very ready for college you will probably do OK on the test.

Howard, the quote is below. It was just a post in a larger discussion, no article or anything.

See, I disagree with the notion that Crossfit is so great for military folks. A lot of what we do involves moving around with heavy objects, somtimes in combat, but most of the time not. Yeah, we have to be able to sprint and move with a big flak jacket loaded down with ammo and other crap, which is something that I dont think crossfit really addresses. I personally think that Strongman workout would be FAR more beneficial for these types of tasks, as it involves speed and endurance training combined with heavy and sometimes awkward objects. I think that that would be a more effective program for combat conditioning versus hundreds of repititions of low-weight or no-weight excercises. Combine it with some endurance work (Since strongman stuff doesnt seem to do a lot of that) and I think you'd have a far more effective program for your average soldier/Marine/sailor. Plus, it would have a much greater carryover into our every day tasks. Need to get that M2 machine gun up on that ring-mount? Well its a good thing you trained with atlas stones! Ammo cans need to be moved around the base? Well your grip is really strong thanks to farmers walks! Doing a forced march with a pack? Well hell, you're really good at the car walk (Or something similar to it) and your endurance is good, so thats no sweat!

And I'd like to qualify the previous statement by saying that I am a Marine, Ive done a lot of crossfit, and have spent a lot of time in Iraq. I dont train strongman though.

Dave Van Skike
01-08-2009, 09:45 PM
i don't really "know" cross fit from a hole in the ground but the folks I train with that do it are wicked good at interval type hard fast glycolic zone training....this stuff is the fastest thing to adapt to training wise and the quickest to go when you slack off. given the temporary nature of this type of the relatively high physical/caloric toll as compared to SM training which takes a while to build strenght of but the adaptation is less transient...I know which one I'd go with.

George Mounce
01-09-2009, 02:12 AM
"Combat" fit is great. But "combat" fit people already pass the test regardless, and those engaged in real combat stay fit by doing their job, not by working out with a program. You don't stay fat with the high level of energy used by a combat troop.

My guess is anyone capable of doing 100's of push-ups can handle most real-world situations unless their only ability is to do push-ups. I do the CA WODs and can handle 7gs like its nothing. My metcon is the stuff Greg provides. I personally think the CA WODs are excellent for my job (pilot) because my job actually does the rest of what I need physiologically, and the CA WOD provides the strength component with some 5-10 min metcons thrown in. Most of the deployment injuries in the Air Force anyways are back related, and more often than not related to incorrect lifting. Teaching people to lift things from the ground to shoulder height (basically a power clean) would do plenty as far as the lifting is concerned.

Adam Gagliardi
01-09-2009, 03:45 AM
SM training also need not be as heavy as seen on TV....just training the movements of different carries and odd object loads is sure to apply to military life...sure it may not help that much with testing but those tests are about as worthwile as the ones we do in the FD...pretty much not worth anything.

Mark Fu
01-12-2009, 12:58 PM
A friend of mine, Scott Brengel, a pro strongman competitor and C.S.C.S had this offer:

Part of this topic reminds me of the old argument of training high school and college athletes to be proficient at combine testing rather than the skills that would be most relevant on the gridiron. In this case it all boils down to personal preference and circumstance.

Military basic training is first and foremost a right of passage layered in decades of tradition. Although it may not be the most optimal program for preparing a recruit for the exact demands of the job, it is a proven effective means for getting hundreds of potential soldiers – “salty or “lean and mean”. When dealing with large numbers, you can never expect to have the most advantageous training protocol – it’s just not realistic from a practicality standpoint.

So what do you do? It all depends whether you are about to enter basic training or if the soldier is already on active duty and only has to maintain a reasonable or minimal level of fitness with reasonable or minimal requirements and testing.

If we are talking about a new recruit, the most sensible thing to do is what most factory type athletic training centers do with their football athletes. That is to simply keep it simple and gear their training for the tests applicable to their combine scores. So for the potential soldiers, I would definitely gear my training towards more of a circuit-type scheme both lactic capacity and aerobic in nature, using exercises geared more towards muscular endurance - crossfit does fit the mold here.

If the individual is a career soldier, and is only subject to periodical testing – then I think there is a lot of room for using different training modalities to attain a more balanced conditioning program. A fellow pro strongman that I compete with is in the Air Force and he must adhere to some fairly strict guidelines within his high-level unit. This really impedes his ability to train more effectively for strongman. However, he still manages to keep both levels of training at a high level while maintaining the 34 inch waist requirement (if I recall correctly). I also believe that he is at the top of the list on scoring within these tests, which are mostly geared towards muscular endurance and aerobic endurance. So it is possible to incorporate strength training and maintain a high level of aerobic endurance. He is (Farmer’s) walking proof of that.

So if you are a military operator and you want to mix things up and have more of a well-rounded conditioning program and add in some training to mix in some alactic power, alactic capacity, lactic power and lactic capacity, there are many things you can do that are strongman related. There are many ways to train these events, but I will give you a just a few basic ones to keep it simple and brief.

1) Tire flip for reps (1 to 5 reps) for alactic power or alactic capacity.
2) Tire flip for distance or time (conditioning for lactic capacity) – the weight of the tire should be challenging. If you truly do this correctly, you should not be standing after you are done. The great thing about the tire is that it is all concentric action and will not cause much in terms of muscular breakdown or DOMS. But as a pro strongman, I believe this is the best single event for GPP.
3) Tire Flip and Drag (chain or sled) for lactic capacity– usually done for 50-100 ft each segment. This event will really test your mental fortitude if the weights are challenging and you push hard through the entire medley.
4) Sandbag/keg/stone pick up, carry and load. You can adjust this for any of the 4 anaerobic energy systems. You can simply load the object or you can pick them up, carry them and load them onto a platform or the back of a pick-up truck. Pick a weight that is challenging to pick off the ground, carry it 0-50ft and load it to a platform from 40-54 inches. Use between 1 to 6 objects. Weights will all depend on the size and strength of the individual. If you have average relative strength, 50-100% of your body weight will do. If you have a high degree of relative strength, strive to use bags equal to or up to 135% of your bodyweight.

Scott Brengel, C.S.C.S.


“Sports Specific Training for the Modern Day Gladiator”

Allen Yeh
01-13-2009, 03:57 AM
That was a good post, tell your friend thanks.

Derek Weaver
01-13-2009, 01:37 PM
That's a great site by the way.

I remember a workout video posted to CF where a Marine or Army guy did some gnarly workout with tire flips and carries.

Looked like a good mix of "metcon" and "strongman" implements. Can't it be both?

Adam Gagliardi
01-14-2009, 09:34 AM
i have heard of Scott and competed against Cameron, very smart athletes/ trainers...... good response by scott

Adam Gagliardi
01-14-2009, 09:36 AM
Looked like a good mix of "metcon" and "strongman" implements. Can't it be both?

thats what i was trying to get at...in strongman most medleys are very metcon, they're just heavy as hell also..no reason you cant just lighten them up a bit

Dave Van Skike
01-14-2009, 10:41 AM
thats what i was trying to get at...in strongman most medleys are very metcon, they're just heavy as hell also..no reason you cant just lighten them up a bit

truth...the metcon thing is sort of a distinction without a difference. a 300 farmers walk is heavy as hell for me but it's just a fast hard 60 seconds for a SHW.

it's weird to me that this approach is still up for debate. start by build the qualities first that takes the longest but is the most lasting adaptation (get really strong) then quickly build the tolerance for sustained efforts at a load that you'll actually experince in the field. (conditioning)..

Michael Bell
01-16-2009, 08:53 AM
Does anyone have the injury rates for Strongman training? CF seems to pride itself on reducing injury rates for the military.

Dave Van Skike
01-16-2009, 09:08 AM
Does anyone have the injury rates for Strongman training? CF seems to pride itself on reducing injury rates for the military.

I'll give you a 5 to 1 odds that neither cross fit nor strongman training would do well in a study of reducing injury rates....for anyone, not even UPS workers.

Derek Weaver
01-16-2009, 09:44 AM
I think if you're injury prone, it doesn't really matter. Improved strength and mobility never hurt, but I think it's rare that it would make a dramatic difference.

Of course, after Michael Jordan broke his leg, he became one of the strongest guys in the league at his position and was near indestructible....

Mark Fu
01-19-2009, 12:00 AM
Scott provided me with an excellent post I put up at my blog (http://mkonen.com/bblog/people/comparing-injury-rates-in-strongman-and-crossfit/) that gives his insights on injury rates in strongman, Crossfit and strength training in general. This is a good read and may keep this thread active a bit longer.


Allen Yeh
01-19-2009, 07:46 AM

Michael Bell
01-21-2009, 07:11 AM
There have been some good discussions on CF Radio after the Boyle/Cook criticisms of Crossfit on training for the military and reducing injury rates. There was a training officer who said that after implementing CF methodology he saw a dramatic decrease in the number of injuries. There was also a rebuttal about the benefits of high-rep Oly lifting, arguing that many people have to do technically difficult things when they're tired.

I don't know if I personally advocate it, but Grace is an a**kicker of a workout.