You lift weights to get healthier and stronger, and, let's be honest, to look like both of those things, too. But if a real-life emergency arose, could you actually push, pull, or carry something heavy? Knowing that answer is "yes" is one of the top reasons to try Strongman training. Traditional weight-lifting builds muscle size and power, but Strongman's often oversize feats of strength prime your body for functional movements.
"Strongman training isn't a departure from traditional weight lifting — it's a complimentary way to get to a higher level of fitness, and also challenge yourself mentally and physically," says Ian Jentgen, CrossFit Strongman seminar staff and director of programming at Hybrid Athletics. Working with Strongman training's unwieldy objects — tires, large stones, sleds, and sandbags — requires more muscle fiber to fire to keep you balanced and upright, and it challenges your muscles in new ways, getting you stronger and fitter, faster. Not to mention that you'll be able to actually flip a giant tire out of the way should the need arise.
Here, Jentgen breaks down three foundational Strongman exercises to get you started.
Many strongman moves involve odd objects and lifting from sub-optimal positions. Thankfully, the farmer's carry is an exercise that lives comfortably in the realm of movements you practice daily, like carrying grocery bags. Just imagine those bags are very, very heavy. Practicing this Strongman movement will boost your pulling power and grip strength.
Though there are barbells specifically made for farmer's carries, for beginners, Jentgen suggests grabbing two kettlebells or dumbbells, and placing them on either side of you. Pick them up the same way you would do a deadlift — with knees slightly bent and chest up, push your hips back and keep your arms straight as you grab the handles; reverse the movement to stand fully upright. Once the weights are at your sides and your hips are locked, walk forward, keeping your core tight and shoulders back. Continue for 20 seconds, then stop and slowly lower the weights to the ground, keeping the same form as you had to lift them up. (You'll know you're using the right weight if you can just hold on for those last few seconds.) Rest for 40 seconds, then go again. Do six sets.
"An explosive, full-body exercise, the atlas stone-to-shoulder is an excellent movement for developing the posterior chain as well as overall positional awareness," Jentgen says. That means it will help improve your lifts — deadlift, cleans, shoulder presses, and more — along with strengthening your glutes and hamstrings.
While most of us don't have access to the typical 100-pound stone used for Atlas lifts, you can sub in a heavy Dynamax or medicine ball, which will be all the better to perfect your form. Just aim for a ball that's 30 pounds or heavier.
To start, stand with feet wide, the stone placed between your ankles. Squat down, pushing hips back and keeping back flat, and reach palms underneath the stone with arms straight. Lifting from your legs and without arching your back, pick up the stone (the position is similar to a deadlift). When it gets to thigh height, pinch your knees in, and squat down a little, allowing the stone to rest against your thighs as you readjust your grip, wrapping your arms around the stone. With weight in your heels, load your hamstrings, and explosively stand up, driving your hips forward to full extension to fire the stone up to one shoulder. Roll the stone back down to your chest, where you can wrap it back up, squat back down, and let it drop to the floor. Rest 10 to 20 seconds, and repeat. Do five reps on each side.
The tire flip requires squatting, lifting, pulling, and pushing — a total-body workout in one movement. Just don't compare it to leaning over to pick up a barbell.
"It's not a deadlift," Jentgen says. "A true tire flip is performed best when approached like a football player on the offensive line." That means you should squat down low and wide, about a foot away from the tire, so that when you lean in, your weight is in your tip-toes, palms underneath the tire. Rest your chin on top of the tire, and make full contact at your shoulders and chest. With your core tight, explosively extend your hips up to lift the tire — your arms shouldn't move. Once the tire is vertical, take a stutter step with your left foot and kick up your right knee to the top of the tire as you push it over to hit the ground. Immediately reset to your crouch, and repeat. Do three sets of five flips.
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