Strongman Training Principles: Why You Should Train Stronger
by John L. Sargent, Ph.D., CSCS
The first thing I want to say is that there are two types of strength athletes in any sport: those who train hard and compete, and those who don’t train at all or only do so with the assistance of other people’s equipment.
There are many reasons why someone might not train, but one of the most common ones is because they aren’t strong enough. While it may seem like everyone else is doing it, if you’re not training, then you’re missing out on some great opportunities to improve your own performance.
If you’re reading this article, chances are you have been trained in some form of weight training. If you haven’t, well maybe now is the time to start! Here’s why:
Strength improves athletic ability and physical fitness. Strength increases overall health and reduces risk factors for disease such as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and stroke. Strength decreases injury rates during sports participation. Strength enhances mental focus while performing tasks requiring concentration (such as driving). Strength increases bone density, thus preventing osteoporosis and reducing the risk of fractures due to falls.
Strength reduces the risk of developing an anxiety or stress disorder.
Athletes in any sport must be strong in some capacity to perform well. Look at any professional or collegiate athlete; I can guarantee that they’re all strong! And if they aren’t, then they’ve fallen behind their competitors who are.
Think about it – how can you be an elite endurance runner if you’re weak? Or how can you be an elite powerlifter if your endurance sucks?
The fact is, you can’t. So if you want to be the best at your sport, then train for it!
And that brings us to the first reason on the list above:
Strength improves athletic ability and physical fitness.
There are many different types of strength:
Limit Strength (Maximum Effort)
Athletic Performance Strength (Chronic Adaptation)
General Physical Preparedness Strength (Acute Adaptation)
And that’s just to name a few.
Now that we’ve identified that strength is important to performance, how do you improve it?
Well, one way to improve your performance in any of the categories above is through Powerlifting training.
For most people, Powerlifting is a hard sell because it’s NOT how they envision serious training. They think about lying on a bench and pumping out a couple of reps with some light weight.
How is that going to make me stronger as an athlete?
They don’t see the direct carryover from the sport they participate in to what they’re doing in the gym.
So I’m going to present a hypothetical athlete, and I want you to think about how Powerlifting training can directly affect his or her athletic performance:
Let’s say we have an endurance runner who is preparing for their next competition – a marathon.
How can Powerlifting improve his or her running performance?
Well, as I’ve pointed out, strength is strength. If you can increase your strength, then you can perform the specific strength-based movements involved in your sport better and for a longer period of time.
Does this mean that if you get stronger you’ll suddenly become a great sprinter?
No, this means that you’ll be able to exert more force into the ground with each step you take. This increased force production will lead to greater performance outcomes during endurance running events.
Let’s look at jumping athletes.
How can Powerlifting help them?
Well, it can improve their rate of force development as well as their rate of force absorption. Rate of force development is the amount of time it takes to move from zero to maximum force. This is why you’ll see jump athletes pause briefly before exploding upwards or outwards. They’re using the elastic energy storage capabilities of their muscles to create a powerful contraction.
In this case, elastic energy storage is dependent upon your muscle’s ability to increase its’ length (via sarcomere addition) and therefore it’s maximum velocity of contraction. Powerlifting training can improve both of these factors which improves your athlete’s jumping performance.
So as you can see, Powerlifting can be an important part of any serious athlete’s training whether they’re a baseball player, a tennis player or even a soccer player. It’s the core of “being strong” which is the foundation of being an athlete.
Most athletes don’t need to worry about how much they can bench press or squat. They just need to be strong enough in these exercises to improve their performance. But there are limits to how far you can take this concept. At some point you DO have to try to increase your bench press 1RM, clean and jerk 1RM or back squat 1RM.
This is why most athletes need to incorporate Powerlifting techniques into their training even if they aren’t competitive Powerlifters. Just like how you have a strength coach to teach you how to squat or deadlift, your athletic coach teaches you how to run faster, jump higher or throw harder.
Now I’m going to share with you some Powerlifting programs that I’ve used successfully with athletes of all ages, skill levels and with a wide variety of goals (i.e. getting stronger, increasing power production, improving strength-speed profile, getting “bigger”, losing fat, etc.)
In some ways these programs ARE similar to ones you’re already familiar with. For example, beginning weightlifters or athletes can use a modified version of a novice program like the one I gave in Part 1.
Other programs are more complex and are best used by athletes who have at least a few months of proper training under their belt. Let’s get started.
Beginner Powerlifting Programs
Most readers of this site are probably not beginners. However, there’s probably someone close to you that is: a nephew, a cousin, a neighbor, etc. Someone who’s interested in lifting weights and wants to get started on the right foot. Well I’ve got some advice for you in this section.
Personally I like to divide beginners into two categories: kids and teenagers and adults. Kids (typically defined as up to the age of 12) generally have amazing abilities to adapt to training. Hell, some kids are ready for advanced training methods at a younger age. However, as we all know kids get big and “grow into their bodies” very quickly.
That being said, training early is essential for setting lifetime habits.
But how can you do this without breaking the kid?
Simple: start light. Real light.
Beginner Powerlifting Programs for Kids and Teens
When it comes to training, kids are like finely crafted German cars; they require a light touch on the gas pedal or they’ll stall out and give you problems. You can certainly apply intense training to a kid, but you need to do it gradually and carefully.
The programs I’m going to give out here are not just for random kids off the street. No, these programs are for kids who have been training a while or at least have the willingness to do what you tell them to do. In addition, the younger the kid is, the more careful you’ll need to be with these programs. Don’t be afraid to start a kid at the very beginning and work up slowly. Kids are growing very quickly and excessive growth stimulation is a bad thing.
Before I share the programs, let me explain how you should implement these programs. You need to be able to measure strength changes. Most gyms have standard tests like push-ups, sit-ups, and pull-ups that most kids can learn relatively quickly. Kids are also notoriously competitive so get them to try beat their personal records on a weekly (or even daily) basis. You can also do tests of agility and other things but the point is that you need a way to measure progress and keep the kid interested long-term.
Here are some examples of how you can test strength:
Push-ups: Measure the amount of push-ups a kid can do in 1 minute. Standard grading scale would be 25+ = excellent 20-24 = very good 15-19 = good 10-14 = average 0-9 = failing
Sit-ups: Measure the amount of sit-ups a kid can do in 1 minute. Standard grading scale would be 50+ = excellent 40-44 = very good 30-39 = good 20-29 = average 10-19 = failing
Pull-ups: Measure the amount of pull-ups a kid can do. Standard grading scale would be 6+ = excellent, 5 = very good, 4 = good, 3 = average, 2 = weak, 1 = failing
Here’s a sample beginner program for kids that’s relatively light on the weights and high on the conditioning. The weight part of this program is more like “resistance” than traditional lifting weights, but over time it adds up. Kids today are not used to this sort of training so it will be new and challenging to them.
50 jumping jacks
25 jumping jacks
Day 2: Rest
5×50 yard run
45 jumping jacks
4×25 push-ups (1 minute rest) *add weight if possible*
25 jumping jacks
Day 4: Rest
5×50 yard run
40 jumping jacks
5×20 push-ups (1 minute rest) *add weight if possible*
35 jumping jacks
Day 6: Rest
Week 2: Repeat week 1 except push the running to 45 yards and push the weighted push
Sources & references used in this article:
How coaches use strongman implements in strength and conditioning practice by PW Winwood, JB Cronin, JWL Keogh… – … Journal of Sports …, 2014 – journals.sagepub.com
The use of strongman type implements and training to increase sport performance in collegiate athletes by B Zemke, G Wright – Strength & Conditioning Journal, 2011 – cdn.journals.lww.com
Chill Out: Cryotherapy for Strongman and Sport Recovery by F Loss, C Stress – rjkayser.com