The latest, greatest "buzz phrase" in fitness today is modified Strongman training. The surge in popularity is understandable, as anyone who knows a thing or two about the iron will tell you that Strongman competitors are among the most powerful, most versatile athletes in the sporting world. Strength, power, stamina, functionality; you name the strength and conditioning component, these human bulldozers seem to have it.
Lately I've read dozens of articles on applied Strongman training for countless applications: Strongman training for power, Strongman training for sport, Strongman training to sort laundry; but what about Strongman training for getting HYOOGE?
Get Your Big On
So why would we want to use Strongman training to create muscular growth? Well, for one thing, it's fun! After months and months of pushing weight in the gym, who wouldn't want a chance to get out in the sun, grab a tan, and increase vitamin D levels all at the same time?
Another benefit to consider is that many Strongman lifts work the joints through multiple angles similar to gymnastics training, yet are obviously much more practical for larger dudes. (I don't know about you, but at 6'1 and 240, I doubt I'm going to be doing any back handsprings any time soon.)
What the Problem Is?
This might come as a surprise to many of you, but those 300-plus pound behemoths you see throwing around ridiculous weights at Strongman events didn't build their incredible size and strength through Strongman training alone.
If you could sneak a peek into the training diary of a Hugo Girard or Magnus ver Magnusson, you'd see they've performed years of basic, heavy exercises along with a fair share of hypertrophy work and man-sized feedings to build the incredible size and strength they possess.
So, why doesn't typical Strongman training alone create the muscular growth that bodybuilders and the Average Joes are seeking? There are two reasons:
1 – Insufficient Time Under Tension
In typical Strongman training, the length of time for exercise is generally much too short for general hypertrophy. It's largely accepted in both the literature and through observation that generally speaking, the optimal time under tension for muscular growth lies between 40-70 seconds.
When you look at most Strongman training exercises, the tire flip, stone lift, etc., the time under tension is usually less than 20 seconds; in most cases, much less. Great for strength and power, but sub-par for hypertrophy.
2 – Not Enough Negativity
The showy concentric portion of a lift may steal the focus in strength and power circles, but it's the subtle eccentric or lowering portion of the lift that's often the big player in the hypertrophy game.
The vast majority of Strongman exercises fail to target the eccentric phase to any appreciable degree, thereby potentially limiting hypertrophy. Therefore, it's my opinion that to create large increases in size using modified Strongman training, you MUST use at least one movement that includes an eccentric component in the set.
The logical solution is to superset some type of weightlifting movement along with a Strongman movement.
Modified Strongman Training for Size
In the following section, I'll give four complexes that can be placed immediately into your current routine.
For all you poor bastards toiling away at Planet Fitness with the after work crowd, I've omitted most exercises that require extremely specialized, hard to find equipment such as the yoke, stone lifts, and tire flips--although your typical spin class junkie's ass can make a worthy substitute for a 600-pound tire. (I did, however, include some specialized equipment. If they're beyond what your gym carries, see the section titled "MacGyver Moments" later on in the article where I discuss alternatives.)
These complexes are geared mainly toward athletes, but any weekend warrior looking to spice up his or her training can easily use them.
The Lobster Claw Complex
My personal favorite is one that I picked up from my SWAT team/Tactical Forces internship at the Poliquin Strength Institute. It's the only complex that I can honestly say has ever made me yak, something your typical 135-pound CrossFitter boasts about doing on a daily basis.
It's also one of the best methods for building upper back, trap, and shoulder size, as well as hip, grip, and forearm strength. Sounds like a winner to me!
This one has a wonderful side effect; it gives you lobster claws. Your hands and forearms will be cramped for days! Therefore, I name this bad boy "The Lobster Claw Complex."
- A1. Clean Grip Deadlift Sets: 5 Reps: 6 Tempo: 4010 Rest: 10 secs
- A2. Farmers Walk Sets: 5 Distance: 50 yards Tempo: N/A Rest: 180 secs
Note: The clean grip deadlift is similar to a conventional powerlifting deadlift except that the knees are more bent and the torso more upright, thereby transferring some of the load from the hamstrings and lower back onto the quads.
Even though the total TUT for this deadlift protocol is only 30 seconds, the additional time on the Farmers Walk will cause further increases in growth and strength. This is true of all the complexes described here.
After finishing this complex, I promptly jogged to the bathroom where I emptied the entire contents of my stomach. Unfortunately, my hands were so cramped from the grip requirements that I had to rest my head on the wall in order not to fall into my own vomit. Imagine that, my own personal Lindsay Lohan moment. Mom would be so proud.
The Chicken Dance Complex
This nasty, crippling SOB seems to be the favorite if you enjoy performing the "chicken dance," but it's also great for sports where explosion and pressing is a factor such as for football linemen.
Use enough weight on the Prowler so that A2 has to be grinded ; you shouldn't be able to sprint the 20 yards like you're an actor on the set of Baywatch. It can be easily modified for skill positions in football by decreasing the weight and adding yardage. This is also a spectacular choice for upper back, triceps, and shoulder size, as well as leg strength.
- A1. Clean to Press Sets: 5 Reps: 6 Tempo: 20X0 Rest: 10 secs.
- A2. Prowler Sprint Sets: 5 Distance: 20 yards Tempo: N/A Rest: 180 secs
The Back Attack Complex
This one is great for MMA fighters. It creates a phenomenal stimulus for grip and rotational strength as well as massive growth in the lats and forearms; all extremely important factors in every combat sport. (This complex is also exceptionally good for throwing arts such as judo.)
It can be further amplified by using Fat Gripz on the chins. If you're single, I don't suggest that you do this on a Saturday morning as you may regret it if you go home alone that night. Single guys forced to become "masters of their own domain" do not do well with sore hands and limp wrists. And no, this time I'm not speaking from experience. At all.
- A1. Chin-Up Sets: 5 Reps: 8 Tempo: 4010 Rest: 10 secs
- A2. Rope Pull (hand over hand) Sets: 5 Distance: 75 yards Tempo: N/A Rest: 180 secs
The Prison Rape Complex
How's that for an imaginative title? Although it hardly sounds like something that the average gym rat residing outside of Ryker's Island would want to try, this final complex is great for increasing leg size and can be used in any gym, without special equipment.
This nasty treat is a modification of Charles Poliquin's excellent program, "German Body Comp for Athletes." It's not exactly "Strongman" training per se, but it works great for hypertrophy and conditioning and if you really want to punish yourself, put it at the start of one of your leg routines.
It's guaranteed to evoke dry heaving in less than 10 minutes and will make you walk like a prison newbie for a week. But in terms of hypertrophy? Good luck finding pants to fit after a few weeks of using it.
- A1. Snatch Pull Sets: 5 Reps: 6 Tempo: 20X0 Rest: 10 secs
- A2. Walking Lunge Sets: 5 Reps: 8 Tempo: 20X Rest: 100 secs
Some of these movements do require special equipment such as the Prowler, a thick 75-foot rope, and Farmers Walk implements, any of which might be a tall order if you toil away at a 24 Hour Fitness franchise. Yet these movements can easily be partially simulated through other means.
For example, no Farmers Walk implements? Use heavy dumbbells. Just don't drop them on your toes, and not on that 250-pound guy with the Kill Your Mom tattoo, either.
No rope? That's okay, attach a triceps rope to a weight stack and alternate pulling from left hand to right hand for 20-30 seconds. Works like a charm.
No Prowler? No problem. Steal a Club Step from the aerobics room, turn it upside down on the floor, add weights or have a chubby workout partner sit on it, and get pushing. Is it optimal? No. Will you get more weird looks than Sarah Palin at a Mensa Meeting? Sure thing. Will it work? Hell yes.
To apply these routines, I suggest you use them at the start of your training days to get your normal boring-ass workouts off to an ass-kicking start. You can also try having a separate Strongman training day, in which case I'd choose any two of the complexes and get to work. I would not suggest doing anything else that day; trust me, you won't want to.
These four Strongman-inspired routines will make you bigger, stronger, and better conditioned. Put in the necessary sweat and perseverance and soon you'll be rewarded with much improved total body strength and conditioning levels, not to mention some serious growth throughout the back, legs, shoulders, and grip.
You never know, some awestruck newb at the gym might ask you if you're one of those Strongman guys from TV?