Strength gets more complicated. What weight/rep combination does one look
to train for? I can only tell you to look at the specific contest that
you are working towards and determine what type of repetitive strength
would be useful. It doesn't only mean a specific event (say overhead barrel
press for reps), but also the repetitive musculo-endurance strength that
is inherently required in other events (like the repetitive leg strength
that is required in a farmers walk). I would train for those events and
not randomly for every type of repetitive strength limit (the overtraining
would kill you). One interesting point about repetitive strength (and I
have seen this time and time again) is that when one has not trained for
it regularly like many powerlifters, ones numbers go up very quickly and
it is very satisfying. One thing I would also not recommend (until the
contest) is to go beyond failure or a heavy burn. I do believe that recovery
and subsequent growth and strength work best with intense training that
doesn't involve a lot of frequent negatives, forced reps, and partials.
These types of growth stimulators should be infrequently used.
3. There are some explosive weightlifting movements that I would start to include (if they aren't already) in your training right away; and those are the one handed clean and the one handed snatch. You thought I might say the snatch and the clean and jerk didn't you? Do I think you shouldn't do these movements? Absolutely not, I am not going to go against 100 years of proof of the ability of these movements to improve and showcase explosive strength. What I am saying is that they are universally known for their ability to develop this type of strength and I am writing (of course) to try and hopefully show you something new. What makes one handed Olympic type movements so beneficial I believe is the demands they place on balance. If one has perfect and on demand balance one can utilize his explosive ability throughout the unusual and often unbalanced demands that are placed on him in Strongman. Never once have I seen an individual I am training not improve on his one arm clean and jerk 20% in less than 2 months. This type of increased functionally more usable (because of the fact that most objects to be lifted in the world are not balanced) power always determines who trained for the events in a Strongman competition and who just trained as he always had, hoping his general strength would pull him through. I would recommend beyond these two lifts what I call ONE ARM ZERCHERS. What one does is place the inside of his elbow under a moderately heavy dumbbell (in the beginning) and using tremendous bicep, brachialis, forearm flexor, rotator cuff, and anterior deltoid rips it off the floor to chest height while at the same time (to keep it stable) locking in the dumbbell using tremendous curling/bicep crushing strength. Try it, it is a whole new world of pain and subsequent strength improvement. Finally, set aside one day a week or every other week to do all your exercises exclusively for explosiveness (meaning here finishing the positive portion of the lift in under two seconds); your weights used will go down but it will tap in to unused fibers and develop the kind of speed with weight that is necessary in this sport.
4. How does one teach and/or train agility? There are many ways as everyone might well know. Dancers are gymnasts are some of the most agile people out there, but does a champion strongman need this type of agility (it would be something to see a ballerina who could shoulder a 250 rock)? No, what the aspiring strongman needs is the ability to move fluidly and efficiently with weight and the ability to execute a certain strength movement as efficiently as possible. The agility that one needs in the sport could be summed up as being light on ones feet while ones hands are carrying heavy things. How does one train to develop this ability? I would start working with the most unbalanced and unruly objects you can get your hands on. A dancer performs movements that at first feel quite unnatural and difficult, in the same way a construction worker throws sandbags around very inefficiently and strenuously the first time he is on the job. The more practice and repeated effort that they both give to the required task, the more it becomes second nature and they perform the task efficiently. One really has to stop thinking of lifting weights as a stationary operation and get out there and move. Probably the best way to develop agility is practicing typical Strongman events and doing a lot of what I call grab and run. What Grab and Run entails is putting two awkward implements (you might want to start with two heavy dumbbells though) about 50 feet apart and moving down quickly to pick the first one up and run with it to the second one while tossing it back and forth between your hands, and then pick up the second one and run back to the start. You could also incorporate good sandbag or shot put tossing between hands to develop manual agility.
5. I am definitely not the one to go to for the final word on how to train grip strength, that is John Brookfield and his book “The Mastery of Hand Strength” is the definitive book on the subject and a must read. You can order this book through IRONMIND at 1-916-265-6725. I give credit where credit is due and we have all learned a lot from John on developing crushing, pinching and supportive grip strength. This having been said, I can relate three exercises (all of them are covered by Brookfield) that I feel are invaluable in developing the ability to “hold on” that is so vital in Strongman. The first and possibly most overlooked finger, hand, wrist and forearm strengthener is nail bending. You simply take a nail (from 8 penny if this a weak area all the way up to the 100 penny for supermen) and bend it into a U pressing on it (at your chest) upward or at your navel pressing downward. It is actually somewhat complex to describe, but after some practice you will get the hang of it. I believe there is no better wrist and lower arm tendon strengthener , and it also very much toughens up your hands (which is something you really need for Strongman). The next exercise I would recommend is thick handled (2” to 3”) dumbbell one arm high pulls with as heavy a weight as possible. Thick handled holds are good, but I feel that the explosive high pulling action requires your grip to be reactive and this is very useful in strongman. The final grip exercise I would recommend is finger pulls. There are very few exercises more painful and result producing than 4, 3, 2, 1 finger and thumb pulls (or some call them finger deadlifts) they toughen up every tendon in the hand. An easy way to do finger pulls is with a strong nylon rope tied around a heavy dumbbell handle and you pull from one end up. Only doing and mastering these three exercises will help your grip and wrist strength tremendously.
Next month I will detail the final 5 attributes and ways to train them. Until then, best of luck in your training.
Chris Mavromatis has a double B.S. in Neuropsychology and International
Economics from Indiana University-Bloomington. He lived and Sweden and
Belgium for 2 years and attended and learned from many strongman championships
all over Europe. He has competed in Regional Strongman competitions in
Belgium and Denmark. He has contacts and knowledge from numerous strongmen
over Europe and North America. He is currently producing the premier strongman
competition "The Strongest Man Alive Contest" in St. Louis, MO on August
1st and 2nd, 1998 and this contest can be viewed with frequent updates
Reproduction of this article, in whole or part, for any purposed other than personal use is prohibited without written consent. Copyright 1998 Chris Mavromatis.