As a collegiate S & C coach, I've noticed that an emphasis is being placed on strength and conditioning as a tool to enhance athletic performance. For example, in the last few years a majority of schools in the Mountain West Conference, including the Air Force Academy, have built new strength and conditioning facilities. Further, more and more facilities are being supervised by highly qualified S & C professionals.
Most collegiate strength and conditioning programs emphasize free weight training and performance of the Olympic-style exercises. Most also use the concept of periodization when designing training programs. While differences in the periodization model used from program to program exist, there are strong similarities in program design from school to school.
Because of this, a lot of athletes are training in high quality facilities directed by well educated professionals utilizing programs that have strong similarities in design. So, the challenge for me as a strength and conditioning coach is to find a way to provide my athletes a competitive edge in their training programs.
The purpose of this article is to describe how I use specific implements to provide this competitive advantage for my athletes. However, as you'll see, you don't have to be an athlete to be able to benefit from including these implements into your own training program.
Importance of Science
The amount of sports science research being conducted and published is significant. It's my responsibility as a strength and conditioning professional to take advantage of this research and apply it when possible. The biggest part of any training program should be based on what science tells us is the best approach to achieving the desired performance goal.
However, one area of sports performance training that has received little attention is training with implements. A review of literature shows little if any research performed evaluating the effectiveness of training with strongman-type implements such as kegs and tires.
Principles of Training
Although there's a lack of research evaluating the value of implement training, the same principles that apply to traditional training methods should be used to guide it. I believe the most important concept to remember is the concept of training movements, not muscle groups.
Increases in strength and power occur primarily in the movement used during training. As a result, the more dissimilar the movement pattern used during training is to the movement pattern used during competition, the less valuable such training becomes. That is, if you want to get stronger or more powerful performing a specific movement, that movement pattern has to be duplicated as closely as possible during training.
Training Movements During Implement Training
Some implement training transfers very effectively to athletics. For example, the movement of flipping a tire transfers well to specific athletic movements, as does benching or squatting a keg.
In addition, implement training provides greater variation in training, which has a positive effect on reducing the physiological and psychological staleness that can occur when performing the same strength training movements repetitively.
Water Filled Implements
One implement I really like using with our athletes at the Air Force Academy is the water filled keg. Water provides a unique training stimulus because it provides an active resistance rather than a static resistance.
The water contained within the keg is constantly moving during the performance of the exercise. Contrast that to a typical barbell, dumbbell, or resistance training machine where the resistance is relatively static, i.e. there's very little, if any, extraneous movement occurring.
There's little research on the value of training with an active fluid resistance. However, it makes logical sense to me that training with a water filled keg provides a more sport-specific method of training as compared to lifting with static resistances only, because in many competitive situations the athlete encounters a dynamic resistance (in the form of an opponent) rather than a static resistance.
For the individual lifting for general fitness training, a keg provides the added benefit of more actively recruiting the stabilizing muscles. Injury prevention may also be enhanced when training with an active fluid resistance because of the additional need for stability and control during this type of training.
Implement Training Supplements Traditional Training Methods
I'm not suggesting that implement training become the primary form of resistance training. Barbells and dumbbells are still the main tools for developing strength and power.
However, if your goal is to use the weight room to provide yourself a competitive edge, or to make your training as functional as possible, then supplementing traditional training with implement training makes perfect sense.
I've provided an example workout showing a combination of traditional training methods with implement training. The following list explains the abbreviations used in the workout presented in the table below:
TB: Total body exercise. This is one of the Olympic-style lifts or related training exercise.
CL: Core lift. This is a multi-joint exercise such as a squat.
AL: Auxiliary lift. This is a single joint exercise such as a biceps curl.
WT: Weighted. The exercise is performed with an external resistance to provide added intensity.
MR: Manual resistance. The exercise uses a partner as the form of resistance.
MB: Medicine ball.
Alt: Alternating. The exercise is performed alternating legs or alternating arms (depending on the exercise being performed).
DB/Tire Squat Clean: On the days our athletes perform dumbbell hang squat cleans, we give them the opportunity to perform a tire flip. This tire flip is performed with a movement similar to the pull sequence seen during a clean.
STRENGTH CYCLE I
CYCLE: Strength 1
GOAL: To increase muscle strength, because of the positive relationship between strength and power.
LENGTH: 4 weeks
INTENSITY: Complete the full number of required repetitions on the first set only, prior to increasing resistance.
PACE: Total body lifts performed as explosively as possible. All other exercises lift in 2 seconds, lower in 3 seconds.
REST: 2:30 between total body lifts, 2:00 between all other exercises.
Week 1: TB=4x5, CL=4x7, AL=3x8
Week 2: TB=4x2, CL=4x4, AL=3x8
Week 3: TB=4x5, CL=4x7, AL=3x8
Week 4: TB=4x2, CL=4x4, AL=3x8
Squat Clean (Floor) TB
DB Hang Clean/Tire Flip TB
Hang Alt Foot Snatch TB
Keg Lateral Squat CL
Keg/Log 1-Leg Squat CL
Keg/Log Hockey Lunge CL
Bench Press (1-Set Standing) CL
WT Decline Twist Pushdown
WT Reverse Back Ext
MB Trunk Twist 3x15
Keg/Log Straight Leg Dead Lift
WT Russian Twist 3x15
WT Toe Touchers 3x15
MR Row 2x8
DB/Keg Bench Press CL
Keg Shoulder Press CL
MR Front Raise 2x8
MR Lat Flexion 2x8
DB Row CL
MR Flex/Ext 2x8
Description of Suggested Training Implements
We were able to get the kegs donated to us by local beer distributors simply by asking. I'm sure with enough persistence you could locate kegs available at little or no cost to you as well.
The number of kegs you'll need, and the range of keg weights required, will depend on the number of lifters training at one time and the variety of keg exercises you plan on including in the training program. Some exercises, such as a keg front raise, require a light weight (20 pounds), while you might need a 300 pound keg or more to perform a keg squat.
Because of the additional balance and stability requirements, you won't be able to use the same amount of weight in a keg exercise that you use when performing the same exercise with a barbell. While initially this may seem to compromise potential increases in strength, remember that you're building a higher level of functional strength: strength that can be used effectively during competition.
The kegs can be filled to the desired weight by placing the keg on a scale and using a hose to fill it with water until the required weight is reached. A full size keg, filled with water, will weigh about 160 pounds. Further increases in weight can be accomplished by mixing sand with the water. Sand has the advantage of being inexpensive, and because it stays wet it maintains its dynamic characteristics, moving inside the keg as the exercise is performed.
Keg stands can be built to make it easier to perform exercises such as squats, lunges, or shoulder press. These stands securely hold the keg in place at about shoulder height to make it easier to place the keg in the correct position to perform the desired exercise. Think of the keg stand as a squat rack.
The tires we use (used truck and heavy equipment tires that were given to us) are customized so that we can place additional weight in the center of the tire.
Unlike the kegs, where a variety of exercises can be performed, the tires are only flipped. The movement at the ankle, knee, and hip are very similar to performing a clean pull.
Using the tires does provide some advantages over a traditional barbell. First, flipping the tire provides greater variety in the training program. Next, an injury may prevent you from performing a barbell clean, but often times flipping the tire is less stressful to an existing injury.
Finally, because there's no catch phase when flipping a tire, people are sometimes better able to focus on the explosion phase of the movement.
Description of Implement Exercises
The list provided isn't an all-inclusive list of the exercises that can be performed with these implements; it's only a description of the implement exercises most commonly performed by our athletes at the Academy. Most of the implement exercises are performed very similarly to the same exercises performed with traditional strength training equipment.
I want to point out that the Olympic-style exercises aren't performed with the kegs. The chance of injury is just too great because of the technical difficulty of performing these types of exercises and the awkwardness of using kegs.
Remember that in all of the exercises performed with kegs, the training weight must be reduced in comparison to what an athlete would use with a traditional barbell or dumbbell.
Keg Squat: Place the keg on the back, just as you would when performing barbell squats. Place the feet about shoulder width apart. Sit back at the hips and keep the back arched. Don't allow the knees to drift forward of the toes. Sit to a parallel position and then return to the starting position.
Keg 1-Leg Squat: Place the keg on the back. Stand about a step away from a utility bench. Reach back with one leg and place the foot on the bench. Keeping the back arched, initiate the movement by sitting back at the hips, not allowing the knee to drift forward of the toes on the forward foot. Continue to sit back until the mid thigh has achieved a parallel position. Maintaining an arched back, return to the starting position. Repeat with the opposite leg.
Keg Hockey Lunge: Place the keg on the back, as when performing barbell squats. Take an exaggerated stride with the right leg, stepping forward so that the right foot is 14" to 16" wider than the right shoulder. Then lower the body so that the right knee is behind the toes on the right foot and the left leg is bent with the left knee just off the floor.
From that bottom position, stride forward in one continuous movement with the left leg and take an exaggerated stride as described above. The right leg is bent and the right knee is just off the floor. It's important to keep the back arched during the entire performance of this exercise.
Keg Straight Leg Deadlift: Stand on a pair of plyometric boxes, 18" to 20" high. The keg should be sitting on its end between the two boxes. Squat down and, keeping the back arched, pick up the keg. Holding the keg at arms length, bend the knees slightly.
Maintaining that slight knee bend and the arch in the back, rotate forward at the hips and lower the keg to a point just short of touching the floor directly underneath the feet, then return to the starting position.
Keg Bench Press: Assume a lying position on a flat bench, feet on the floor and butt on the bench. Place the keg on the chest as when performing a barbell bench press. Fully extend the arms, keeping the butt on the bench and the feet flat on the floor. Lower under control. The spotter(s) must be diligent in assisting the lifter during performance of this exercise.
Keg Shoulder Press: Grip the keg high on the chest. Using a shoulder-width split stance with the feet, press the keg directly overhead until the arms are fully extended, then lower under control. It's important to not lean back while performing the exercise; the back should remain straight. Lower through the full comfortable range of motion.
Keg Incline Press: Assume a lying position on an incline bench, feet on the floor and butt on the bench. Place the keg on the chest as when performing a barbell incline press and grip the implement. Fully extend the arms then lower under control. Again, the spotter(s) must be diligent in assisting the lifter during performance of this exercise.
Keg Walking Lunges: Place the keg on the back in a barbell squat position. Take an exaggerated stride with the right leg and then lower the body so that the right knee is behind the toes on the right foot and the left leg is bent with the knee just off the floor.
From that bottom position, stride forward in one continuous movement with the left leg. The right leg is bent and the right knee is just off the floor. Keep the back arched.
Keg Side Lunge: Place the keg on the back again. Step directly laterally with the right foot through a comfortable range of motion. Keeping the left knee straight and the left foot planted, flex the right knee while sitting back at the hips and moving the hips laterally to the right. Return to the starting position and alternate the movement to the opposite side until the required number of reps has been completed.
Keg Bent Row: Place a keg on its side in front of the body and stand behind it. Bend the knees slightly and rotate at the hips to lower the upper body so the shoulders are parallel with the hips. The shoulders should be directly over the implement.
Keeping the back arched, reach down and grasp the implement. Pull the arms back so that each elbow slides along the rib cage and lift the implement to the chest, then return to the starting position.
Tire Flip: Place the feet about shoulder width apart. Keeping the back arched, sit back at the hips (not allowing the knees to drift forward of the toes) and assume an underhand grip on the tire. The hands should be slightly wider than shoulder width apart. Use the legs to lift the tire so that the hands are raised to a mid-shin position. The arms should be fully extended, the back arched, and the feet flat on the floor.
Using a jumping action, explode up through the legs and flip the tire onto its side. Once the tire has been flipped onto its side, step forward and aggressively push the tire onto its opposite side.
Brad Cardoza vs. tire.
Whether you're an elite collegiate athlete or a weekend warrior, supplemental implement training with kegs and tires can be effective, fun, and challenging. Give it a shot!