Join Date: Feb 2007
Location: Tucson, AZ
Odd objects are also fantastic medium for training explosive work. Exercises such as Olympic lift variations and throws make odd objects such a valuable tool for training. What keeps coaches from using such great lifts such as the snatch, clean, and jerk is knowing that their clients do not possess the flexibility to perform the lifts well. This is especially true in case of the wrists for cleans. With using sandbags and kegs, this problem is eliminated as anyone can quickly learn how to perform a safe and effective clean or snatch in just minutes. Don’t be mistaken though, Olympic lifts are not just for athletes. Everyone needs to learn how to move fast, have a stronger posterior chain, and increase body coordination.
The Downside of Strongman Training
As with any new training method, BFS believes that coaches should look with a skeptical eye at strongman training before including it in workouts as auxiliary exercises. Playing devil’s advocate, here are some of our concerns.
SAFETY. Not only must athletes be trained to safely practice and spot strongman exercises, coaches must address the fact that there can be a high risk of injury with some of these events – especially tire flipping, in which there is the possibility of the tire falling back on the athlete, or injuring the biceps when improper flipping technique is used. Just ask Gagné.
“I work with a lot of high-level athletes in hockey and football, and there’s a great enough risk of injury with those sports that I don’t want to risk injuring them in the off-season with strongman training. Only if an athlete has an adequate base in Olympic lifting would I consider performing these movements, and I wouldn’t perform them year-round.” In fact, Gagné says that despite his own skill in the exercise and his knowledge of proper warm-up techniques, he almost snapped a biceps tendon while practicing the exercise. Art McDermott agrees.
Coach McDermott, owner of the Poliquin Performance Center in Boston, is one of the foremost experts in the world on strongman training and is writing a book on the subject. Says McDermott, “There are too many people using strongman techniques without proper training. It would be like my mom trying to show someone Olympic lifting — you can expect the worst to happen!”
Does Strongman Training Work?
One of the most vocal advocates of strongman training is Allen Hedrick, strength coach at the Air Force Academy, who has been implementing strongman training with his athletes for the past five years, starting with water-filled barrels, then tractor tires and logs. On a brief visit to the Academy this summer I saw an impressive arrangement of heavy tires, kegs and other strongman apparatus. Says Hedrick, “We use this type of training to supplement our emphasis on barbells and dumbbells, not as a replacement.”
The rationale for including this type of training is that Hedrick believes that the resistance is active, compared to the static exercises performed with barbells. One example he provides is the water-filled barrels. As the barrel is lifted, the water shifts and makes the activity unstable. Although there is little scientific research available at present to evaluate the effectiveness of the active resistance of strongman training compared to the static resistance of barbells, Hedrick believes that in sports such as football, this type of training would be more sport specific because athletes encounter active resistance in the form of opponents.
“The ability to demonstrate maximal 1-rep strength is only important in the sports of Olympic lifting and power lifting. In football – and most if not all other sports functional strength is more important than 1-rep barbell strength. Having my athletes bench press or squat with a keg may not be the best way to increase their ability to demonstrate max 1-rep strength with a barbell, but I believe it does build a higher level of functional strength.”
Hedrick also believes that such training has resulted in fewer injuries, citing that only two of their players required knee surgery this year.
Although there are many proponents of strongman training, it does have its critics. One is Mario Greco, an accomplished strength coach from Canada who has worked with many world-class sprinters and professional hockey and football players. Coach Greco believes that strongman training is not the panacea of athletic enhancement.
“The duration that most of these exercises are performed makes it impractical to use them for maximal strength training,” says Greco. “You don’t perform a farmer’s walk or a tire flip for one rep, so the recruitment of the fast-twitch motor units cannot be as high as you’re able to achieve in conventional weight training. I also see little value in this type of training for improving agility or running speed, and for that matter the skills that are required for football linemen. In football, linemen are continuously driving through with their legs, and they are reacting to the actions of their opponents. If you really want to get more sport specific, have offensive linemen practice speed bag work and defensive lineman practice grappling or wrestling drills.”
Another strength coach who challenges the idea of sport-specificity is Paul Gagné. Gagné’s client list includes two of the best golfers in the world, Michelle Wie and Michael Campbell; Olympic champions in figure skating; and over 100 athletes in professional hockey and football. Says Gagné, “One problem with saying that strongman training is sport specific is that the grips used often depress neuromuscular activity. With a barbell or a dumbbell you are always able to apply the precise amount of tension you want because your hands are closed. If you flip a tire, your hand is open, which reduces the neuromuscular activity. For sport-specific training, I would rather rely on complex neuromuscular exercises such as the Olympic lifts. So I would say that if you want to train the energy systems, strongman training is fine; but there are limitations to applying strongman training to sports."
Good stuff, IMO.