Strongman For The Tactical Athlete
Posted on September 19 2019
Though I’m not necessarily a proponent of Crossfit, Crossfit has certainly made an impact on strength training in the last decade. One of its impacts has been to help bring Strongman techniques to the common man or woman. Somehow, people discovered that Atlas stones were just concrete and you could actually size the stone to your specifications; that it didn’t actually have to weigh 350+ lbs. In fact, because of its increasing popularity, there are now companies that manufacture “Atlas Stone like” items that are sometimes just a rounded bag fillable with sand, as light as 70lbs, or others that manufacture oversized medicine balls, filled with whatever it is medicine balls are filled with. And of course, there are also small logs that you can add plates to scale as opposed to buying a giant tree trunk and just hoping that you can lift it even once. The point is, strongman techniques can be incorporated into your training no matter where you’re at in the strength continuum. And it’s particularly important to the Tactical Athlete.
Think about what it is that you, this audience, does or may be called to do in your line of duty. For the firefighter, running with two large ladders in each hand or throwing a large hose over your shoulder on your way to fight a blazing fire. There’s very little “form” or “technique” involved in such an activity. You just get the job done. What about the police officer or EMT that’s got to move that unconscious 250lb man to a safe place or even simply into the ambulance itself? Or the infantryman who has to throw his wounded buddy over a shoulder, hold him in place with one arm while dragging sensitive equipment off the battlefield with the other arm? If all you’ve done to prepare for these moments is the Bench Press and thousands of curls (probably while standing in the only squat rack in the gym), then you will fail and put lives in jeopardy. Often stated to those of us in the military, “Fight like you train. Train like you fight.”
All of these above activities require the engagement of your full body. When training in the gym, consider the same. Mark Rippetoe and Lon Kilgore write in Practical Programming for Strength Training, “It is not productive for athletes to think in terms of body parts or muscle groups, as bodybuilders do. The human body functions as a system – in sports and life – with all of its component parts operating together in coordinated synergy.” However, because most strongman techniques are considered heavy loads, are often unbalanced or awkward (you can imagine what it’s like carrying a sloshing keg the length of a basketball court, as fast as you can), and engage pretty much every muscle in your body to some degree, these techniques can be particularly stressful on your central nervous system. Therefore, one must be careful in how these techniques are programmed in to your workout, particularly as you don’t want overtraining to occur, and then when called upon to actually perform in the line of duty, have it detract from saving a life.
There are two ways in which you can incorporate strongman techniques into your program; one or two strongman inspired techniques incorporated into your regular lifting routine, or choose one dedicated strongman day per week. But first the tools of the trade.
Strongman Exercises: Their Tools and Their Substitutes.
This is by no means all inclusive but are ones that I like to incorporate into my own training.
- Log Clean & Press: This one is hard to substitute. Rogue Fitness and EliteFTS sell hollow, metal tubes that are easily scalable as they don’t weigh that much from the start and you can add plates as you progress in your ability. For an actual log, scalable or otherwise, you can go to Slaters Hardware. They have other tools as well. Unfortunately, they’re all pretty pricey. So if you want a cheaper substitute that mimics the style of the lift, EliteFTS sells a bar with neutral grip that simulates as close as possible the log press. Check that out here.
- Farmers Walk: Of course in competition, this usually requires two large, thick bars for each hand. Two large buckets with handles, filled with sand may be substituted. You can also use dumbells and we sell a strap by Spud Inc that you can simply wrap around plates. Just grip the strap, and start walking.
- Super Yoke: Again, if you don’t have a yolk, it can be hard to manage. Nonetheless, you can simply put a bar across your back as if squatting, and walk. To add a further challenge, Spud Inc sells straps to hang from the bar with weight plates at the end of the straps. The swinging weights will add an extra element to the activity. And of course, if working with a group, grab a buddy, throw him over your shoulder, and move quickly.
- Atlas Stone Lifting: Lifting a large, rounded stone from the ground and placing it on a platform or dropping it over a bar/hurdle. Many places sell concrete molds to make your own or, as mentioned above, you can buy sandbag substitutes or just use a sandbag itself.
- Hussafel Stone: This is a stone shaped in a way for you to hold and carry across the front of your body. Again, you can mold your own (check out the many video’s on youtube) or even buy one fillable with sand. You can also simply use a sandbag itself.
- Truck Pull: Yes you can actually pull a truck with a harness around your chest or there are all sorts of sleds you can purchase for the same. We sell sleds here as well. Or simply grab an old tire from a local business waiting to send it off to recycling and start pulling. With the pull, you can use a rope and pull something towards you, you can simply grab that rope and walk backwards, or throw the rope over your shoulder and walk forward.
- Viking Press: In competition, this is usually a large basket, filled with stones or whatever, with one end on a hinge and the other side having handles. Therefore, you are pressing up and away. At our compound, I will simply put a bar with one end in the corner, put weight on the other end, and press with one arm or two.
- Tire Flip: Pretty self explanatory. For an added cardio element, do a flip and then jump into the tire and back out on the opposite side, then flip the tire back and repeat.
Incorporating It Into Your Daily Regimen:
Assuming that most of you start with a large, main lift (Squat, Bench Press, Deadlift, Military Press, etc…) and then go into accessory work, it is best to keep that main lift first and then immediately move into another heavy, strongman lift (as you don’t want to detract from the progress of your main lift). Some exercises are better than others for this. For instance, you don’t want to do the sled pull second as this will smoke you completely and you will simply be fried for any other work. The best exercises then are the Log Clean & Press (or just press), Stone lifting, or something like the Viking Press. Do 3-5 sets of 3-5 reps. Then move on to your accessory work. Within the finisher, incorporate a more cardio intensive strongman technique. See sample workout below:
Main Lift: Squat (5 sets x 5 reps)
Strongman: Log Clean & Press (3-5 sets x 3-5 reps)
Accessory 1: Hamstring Curls (5 sets x 10-12 reps)
Accessory 2: Dumbell Lunges (5 sets x 10-12 reps)
Finisher: 100m run, tire flip (lighter tire) x 10, AbMat Situps x 20 for 4-5 rounds (rest as needed)
Incorporating Strongman once per week:
Lift 1: Log Clean & Press (8-10 sets x 2 reps)
Lift 2: Yoke Walk (4 sets x 50 feet)
Lift 3: Fat bar row (8-10 sets x 3 reps)
Lift 4: Sled drag (4 sets x 100 feet)
Ensure that if you’re incorporating the training once per week, that you really listen to your body and watch your timing. If you just did heavy deadlifts the day prior, you may want to take a day of rest prior to doing a full strongman day. Or instead, do a light-weight medley (for example: farmers walk > sled pull > sandbag push press) for cardio and call it a day.
A few places to buy strongman tools for your own home gym:
And of course, Sheepdog Strong offers some as well.
Sheepdog Strong programs offer a Strongman style day once per week in our programs. Typically these are in the form of a circuit, forcing you to move under weight. We believe that in terms of "Tactical Specificity," meaning exercising specific to the demands of the Tactical Athlete, a strongman style of training comes the closest to prepare you for anything and everything that you may face in the field.
There’s something very primal about these odd lifts. In a way, perhaps, it taps into our core. There’s nothing like doing log lifts, then wiping the sweat from your face with your shirt, and catching a whiff of oak. Or carrying a large stone from one end of the field to the other. Deep down, we all can probably feel the eyes of the warriors of old watching, for they having trained the same.