Here's what you need to know...
- To be truly strong, you need anaconda strength: the internal pressure required to heft, pull, and carry heavy weights.
- The best movements include snatch-grip deadlifts, Zerchers, loaded carries, sled and sandbag work, kettlebell cleans, and thick bar exercises.
- Rack work also builds the anaconda muscles. Load up a squat, deadlift, or overhead press, lock it out, and hold it until your eyeballs bleed.
Anaconda Strength = Inner Strength
Gyula Zsivotzky was an Olympic gold medalist in the hammer throw. His training reflected the age in which he competed. He lifted, he ran, and he did gymnastics. Above all, he trained like an athlete.
He once told us a secret about his training:
"We humans are like bicycle inner tubes. Our performance depends on our inner pressure. Sadly, most of us ride around on underinflated tires. True, the world looks at our treads first, but what really counts is the pressure."
It makes perfect sense when you think about it. He was talking about something I call "anaconda strength."
How To Know If You've Got It
Mastering this internal pressure is the secret to a number of athletic movements.
In the Highland Games, I once picked up an 18-foot, 185-pound caber and stood up. The wind up at the top of the caber isn't like the wind on the ground, so the caber's top would pop, move, and lurch with the breeze... and the crowd wondered why I just continued to stand there.
The truth was, I couldn't move.
When the top of the caber moved, the bottom leapt away too. I was lacking anaconda strength. It's not upper-body push, quad dominant strength, or hip hinge ability; it's squeezing everything out to hold everything in place.
And that's the missing link in everyone's training.
How do you know if you're lacking anaconda strength? Easy.
Can you deadlift double bodyweight? Can you walk with bodyweight in each hand? Can you make a catch over the middle, get hit sideways by a linebacker, crash to the ground, and then pop up and say, "That all you got?"
Internal Pressure & Armor Building
There are traditional lifting movements that build this internal pressure. I refer to these movements as "armor building." The short list:
- Tumbling (especially the more aggressive martial arts rolls and cartwheels)
- Snatch-grip deadlifts
- Zercher squats and Zercher deadlifts (the second demands a lot of flexibility)
- Double kettlebell cleans
- Thick bar work, including deadlifts and curls
Rack work can help, too. Few people do isometric work any more, but there are three movements that promote this internal tension:
- Press lockouts
- Squat lockouts
- Deadlift lockouts
Set the bar in a rack about one inch from the "top" of each of these movements. Now, load the barbell up, lock it out, and just hold it in that position.
You'll be shocked at how much you can load. It might be double your normal max.
Now, it might take a while to get there, but as you load heavier and heavier, you'll find that internal pressure building up and up. That's anaconda strength.
Be careful on lockouts. Always use that rare commodity known as common sense.
Training the Anaconda Muscles
An alternate way to train anaconda strength – perhaps the best way to train it – is bag carries.
Bags are easy to come by. Find a field pack and add load to it. Some use wood chips, while others go to hardware stores and add washers or bolts. Don't add nails or screws unless you're into self-mutilation.
Eighty pounds is about the best weight for most uses. I also use water softener bags that weigh 40 pounds each. They allow you to load up to 120 pounds without a lot of hassle, but they pose a bit of a problem if they break.
The best training tool is to simply bear hug the load and walk away. You can quickly feel the odd breathing pattern that you need to walk and hug. There are, of course, more sophisticated training methods.
Photo Credit: Deuce Gym
- Bear crawl for 50 yards.
- Stand up, grab the bag, and bear-hug for another 50 yards.
You can do "I go/you go" with a partner (I bear crawl while you bear hug) and make a training session of it.
The "Whole World is Your Hill" Sled Pulls
Photo Credit: Rogue Fitness
To up the intensity and the feeling of internal pressure, add a sled.
Harness the sled to yourself and then grab the bag and try to "sprint" away. The next day, you'll receive a visit from the hamstring fairy and unlike most fairies, this one is anything but kind.
Sled drags are the easiest way to mimic hill work. The downside of hills is the fact that you get to the top. Then what? With sleds, the whole world is a hill.
Walking forward with a sled works the hamstrings while walking backwards with a sled is a great quad workout, especially for the area around the knees. It's leg extensions without the embarrassment of actually using a leg extension. And, it of course builds the anaconda muscles.
To go up to the next step, we combine the bag and the sled with a loaded backpack.
You can load a backpack with just about anything. I have a quality backpack that we can load with a 32 kilo kettlebell. Put on the backpack first, then hook the sled up to your waist and pick up the bag.
Now, sprint away.
All of this mimics what throwing the caber feels like on a hot, sunny day. This movement will teach you anaconda strength.