Strongman training is hands down one of the best ways to help you reach your fitness goals. It will save you training time because it produces multiple adaptations in the body at once (goodbye excess body fat, hello muscle). Strongman training also gives you a mental vacation from traditional gym workouts.
Benefits of Strongman Training
For most of us, the typical image of strongman athletes is huge overweight guys lifting refrigerators and pushing trucks up a hill. In fact, strongman training has evolved and can be used for multiple purposes, from improving body composition to getting athletes ready for competition.
Strongman exercises mimic traditional weight training lifts and have large carryover to daily life while targeting equal or greater musculature.
For example, the farmer’s walk mimics picking up two piles of loaded grocery bags and carrying them in from the car.
The overhead log press trains you to pick up heavy boxes or other objects and put them on a shelf overhead. The sled drag trains you to accelerate for a quicker first step and faster maximal speed.
In addition to being truly “functional,” these exercises are great for core stabilization to keep the lower back safe and protected.
Train Strongman to Put On Muscle
Strongman training can be equally effective as traditional training for putting on muscle. For example, a 7-week study of rugby players found that a strongmen workout consisting of exercises including the log lift, farmers’ walk, axle press, heavy sled pull, and prowler pull led to greater increase in muscle mass than biomechanically similar traditional exercises.
Maximize muscle gain by using exercises that are easily loaded like sled drag and farmer’s walk. Each set should last 30 to 45 seconds for 3 to 4 sets. Loads that do not allow for at least 30 seconds of the exercise to be completed prior to failure are too heavy. Use rest periods of 90 to 120 seconds.
Use Strongman For Fat Loss Training
Conditioning workouts that are anaerobic in nature are more effective for producing fat loss than traditional aerobic exercise. In a series of experiments, researchers have found that in less than half the training time (20 to 25 minutes for anaerobic compared to 45 to 50 minutes for aerobic), anaerobic training has resulted in 10 to 20 percent more fat loss than aerobic exercise.
Strongman training fits the bill, being largely anaerobic and resulting in a large accumulation of lactate in the body. Lactate is a byproduct of exercise that is metabolically stressful and stimulates growth hormone release, a potent fat burning hormone.
For example, a sled drag workout (5 sets of 2 X 20 meters loaded with 75 percent of body mass) produced lactate levels of 12 mmol/L. A tire flip study (2 sets of 6 flips with a 232-kg tire) resulted in lactate buildup of 10.2 mmol/L. Both values are higher than with an exhausting treadmill workout.
Design metabolic workouts around tire flip, sled drag, battle ropes, or sled pulls with intervals lasting a minimum of 30 seconds. If longer intervals are used, alternate between exercises that target the upper versus lower body because metabolic conditioning is exclusive to active muscle groups.
Avoid DOMS Muscle Soreness With Strongman
One reason strength coaches favor strongman training is that it produces very little muscle soreness. Compared to traditional weight training, most strongman exercises don’t cause significant muscle damage because they are primarily concentric in nature and don’t use the stretch shortening cycle.
For example, in the sled drag study mentioned above, there was no increase in creatine kinase, a key marker of muscle damage. Researchers attribute this to the fact that it is the lengthening, eccentric muscle motion that damages tissue, which is absent in sled training.
This is important because you can get a similar metabolic disturbance with high lactate and fat burning hormone levels but without the killer DOMS muscle soreness that inhibits a high training frequency and interferes with sports practice.
Train Conditioning & Strength in The Same Workout
A huge draw of strongman training is the fact that you can train strength and conditioning in the same workout. No need to wake up early to do a separate cardio workout.
Additionally, because strongman training is hypertrophic in nature, it helps athletes maintain muscle mass during the season when they are typically catabolic and losing muscle rapidly.
Use circuit training, with work sets lasting 1 to 2 minutes and the total workout lasting 20 to 30 minutes. Pick 5 different exercises and train them for 1 minute each for 5 rounds with 1-minute rest. Take care to use loads that allow you to perform the exercise with proper form for the full minute.
Points of Caution
Recovery is all the more important with strongman training due to both the heavy loads and large metabolic component. Hydration, post-workout nutrition, and adequate sleep should be prioritized and accounted for in programming.
Ensure high levels of core stability prior to starting strongman training. Because strongman exercises target the entire body with heavy loads, there is a risk of injury of the lower back. Be sure to master technique and achieve high levels of strength in the squat, deadlift, and overhead press prior to training strongman.