You need to know right away that our athletes at the US Air Force Academy don't train as if they're preparing for a strongman competition. The concept of training specificity makes it clear there are few similarities between competing in a strongman competition and competing as a football, basketball, or hockey athlete.

We emphasize the use of barbells and dumbbells, performing a variety of multiple-joint closed kinetic chain exercises in the training programs of our athletes, with a major priority placed on performance of the weightlifting movements (e.g., cleans, jerks, snatches, and associated training exercises).

However, just as strength and conditioning coaches borrow from the sports of powerlifting and weightlifting when designing programs for their athletes, we can also borrow from activities associated with strongman training. The thing to remember is to take those aspects of strongman training, powerlifting, or weightlifting that can be successfully applied to the sport that youÕre preparing for and disregard the rest.

This is the approach we've taken at the Air Force Academy with the training programs of our athletes. Just as our athletes perform cleans and snatches (like a weightlifter) and squats and bench presses (like a powerlifter) they also flip tires and lift various water and sand filled implements (like a strongman competitor) as a way to improve athletic performance. This mixture of training provides the best pathway to improving athletic performance.

Want an inside peek at how we do it? Read on.


Implements We Use and Why

Below is a list of the implements we integrate into the training programs of our athletes and an explanation of why we chose to use these specific implements.

Truck/Tractor Tires

We emphasize performance of the weightlifting movements with our athletes, primarily as a way to enhance lower body power capabilities. The explosive triple extension of the ankle, knee, and hip required to perform these exercises transfers well to a variety of movements seen in athletics. This same explosive triple extension occurs when flipping a tire, with some added benefits.

First, the movement involves a combination of vertical and horizontal forces because the tire is moving both upward and forward, rather than the strictly vertical movement involved in cleans, jerks, and snatches. Think of an offensive lineman exploding out of his stance to block an opponent or a hockey athlete delivering a check. You can now understand the advantage of the horizontal movement required when flipping a tire as compared to the strictly vertical movement when performing the weightlifting movements.

Secondly, you donÕt have to catch the tire after you flip it, unlike the clean, jerk, and snatch that all involve a catching phase. While there are benefits to performing this catching phase, being able to focus completely on the explosion phase of the exercise without having a catch phase is also advantageous.

As a result, on the days our athletes perform dumbbell cleans they're allowed to substitute one or more of their dumbbell sets with a tire flip. Those athletes who are injured and can't catch the bar or dumbbells because of an injury to the back, shoulder, elbow, or wrist are also encouraged to flip the tire if they can do it pain free.

We have five tires in our facility at the Academy. The tires were at a truck tire repair shop ready to be taken to the dump and were free for the asking. They range in weight from 275 to 400 pounds. They've been modified so that the athletes can load additional weight in the center of the tire. This allows them to adjust the weight based on their individual strength levels rather than having to choose from just five different weights.

Kegs

We have kegs ranging from 30 pounds up to 260 pounds. The kegs, like the tires, were donated to us. Although there's currently no research that I'm aware of to support the value of water filled implements, it makes sense that training with a dynamic resistance (i.e., the water is moving inside the keg during the exercise) provides certain advantages that a more traditional static resistance (barbell, dumbbell, or machine) can't provide.

For example, many athletes encounter active resistances in the form of an opponent rather than a static resistance during competition. Because of this, it would seem that athletes who supplement their training with dynamic resistance exercises would be better prepared to meet the challenges encountered during competition as compared to athletes who only trained using static resistances.

We perform a variety of exercises with the kegs. Nearly every exercise that's performed with a barbell or dumbbell can also be performed with a keg (excluding the weightlifting movements). That means we perform lower body exercises such as squats, lunges, and straight leg deadlifts, and upper body exercises such as bench, incline, and bent rows with the kegs.

In addition to the kegs, we also make use of water filled logs and dumbbells in our training programs. These are specialty items we had built for us.

Sandbags

We had our sandbags made for us in-house, and they can be made relatively inexpensively. While not to the same degree as the water filled implements, the sandbags do provide a dynamic resistance because the sand moves within the bag during training.

Exercises such as squats, lunges, good mornings, bench, and shoulder presses can be performed with the sandbags and adds variety to the training program. Our sandbags range from 75 up to 200 pounds and provide a unique challenge to our athletes. A couple of sandbag exercises are shown below.


Example Program

It needs to be made clear that our programs are built around barbells and dumbbells. As shown below, we blend implement training into our programs so that our athletes get the advantages of both forms of training.

To help you better understand the workouts, the following list provides explanation of the abbreviations:


POWER CYCLE 1

DEFENSIVE BACKS

DATES: June 9-July 6

CYCLE: Power 1

GOAL: Increases in muscle power, because of the positive relationship between muscle power and performance.

LENGTH: 4 weeks

INTENSITY: On total body exercises, select a resistance that allows completion of the full number of required repetitions on the first set only prior to increasing resistance. On timed exercises, reduce the resistance as necessary to maintain the desired speed of movement each set.

PACE: Total body lifts performed explosively. Timed lifts performed at a pace that allows completion of the required number of repetitions in the specified time period.

REST: Three minutes between total body exercises, 2:30 between all other sets and exercises.

SETS/REPS:

MONDAY/FRIDAY MONDAY FRIDAY MONDAY FRIDAY

TOTAL BODY

       

Hang Split Alt Foot Snatch TB

5x3

5x2

5x3

5x2

WT Lifted (On Command)

       
         

Split Alt Foot Jerk TB

5x3

5x2

5x3

5x2

WT Lifted

       
         

LOWER BODY

       

Squats CL

1x5

1x3

1x5

1x3

WT Lift

       
         

Squats TL

3x5@8s

3x3@4s

3x5@8s

3x3@4s

WT Lifted

       
         

Keg/Log Pivot Lunges TL

4x5@8s

4x3@4s

4x5@8s

4x3@4s

WT Lifted (Total)

       
         

TRUNK

       

MB Off Center Rotate Throw

3x10

3x10

3x10

3x10

WT Lifted

       
         

MB Chop Throws

3x10

3x10

3x10

3x10

WT Lifted

       
         

UPPER BACK

       

MR Up-Right Row

2x8

2x8

2x8

2x8

Reps  (1-Leg/Eyes Closed)

       
         

NECK

       

MR Flex/Ext

2x8

2x8

2x8

2x8

Reps Completed

       


Summary

While there are obvious differences between training for a strongman competition and training to improve athletic performance, there are facets of strongman training that are applicable to training many types of athletes. As a strength and conditioning coach, you need to take advantage of a variety of training methods if those methods can provide an advantage to the performance capabilities of your athletes.