Strongman Training

by Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning, Fourth Edition
April 2021


This excerpt from the Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning, 4th Edition gives a quick glimpse into some of the implements used in strongman training.

The following is an exclusive excerpt from the book Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning-4th Edition With Web Resource, published by Human Kinetics. All text and images provided by Human Kinetics.

Strongman implement training has recently seen an increase in popularity as a proposed tool for enhancing sport performance (11, 53, 66, 80, 84, 86). Some of the (or keg) lifting, and farmer’s walks. While research on these types of exercises is limited, some evidence suggests that they can be used to introduce a high-intensity stimulus resulting in an elevated blood lactate response (12, 44, 86). Additionally, it has been suggested that these types of exercises create a greater degree of instability that effectively challenges the athlete in different ways compared to traditional resistance training activities (53).

Tire Flipping

Tire flipping typically employs truck or heavy-equipment tires that can be modified via placement of an extra load in the center to address individual strength needs (39, 80). The selection of the appropriate tire size is dependent on numerous factors that the strength and conditioning professional must consider when designing a specific program for an athlete. Thought must be given to the tire’s dimensions, including the height, width, and weight (16). As a general rule, the tire should not be taller than the athlete’s upright standing height: The taller the tire, the harder it is for the athlete to flip because of the mechanical disadvantage and the greater overall lifting distance required. Additionally, the width of the tire can affect the athlete’s ability to perform the flip. For example, narrow tires are generally considered harder to flip for taller athletes because of the limb length and depth requirements. Conversely, wider tires are more difficult for shorter athletes because of their shorter arm lengths (16). Another consideration is the tread on the tire; worn treads are more difficult to grip, and pronounced treads potentially contain cuts, debris, or exposed metal that could put the athlete at risk for injury (16, 80). Once the correct tire is selected based on the individual athlete’s strength levels, appropriate exercise technique should be used to minimize risk of injury.

Three basic techniques can be used to flip tires; these include the sumo, the backlift style, and shoulders-against-the-tire technique (16, 80). The sumo-style flipping technique uses a traditional wider sumo deadlift stance coupled with the arms positioned in a narrower grip. This type of technique is typically used by powerlifters when deadlifting. With this technique, once the tire has been raised to hip or chest height, the hands are rotated so that a forward pressing action can be performed with the arms to flip the tire (16, 80). The backlift style is performed with a narrower, more conventional deadlift stance, ending with a forward pressing motion. This technique is initiated with feet placed in a hip-width stance, plus bending at the knees and hips, allowing the athlete to grab the base of the tire and pull in a fashion similar to that with a deadlift (80). As the tire is raised, the hands are repositioned so that a forward press can be used to flip the tire (16).

Currently no research has directly explored the overall safety of either tire-flipping techniques. However, some authors suggest that the sumo style is the safest, while more recently shoulders-against-the-tire has become the preferred technique in the practical literature (16). The tire lies on its side, and the athlete addresses the tire by kneeling behind it. The feet are placed in a hip-width position with the ankles dorsiflexed. In this position the athlete places the chin and shoulders onto the tire. This placement of the tire on the shoulders is similar to that seen in a traditional barbell front squat (see chapter 15). The tire is gripped with a supinated grip with a width that is largely dependent upon the size of the tire (i.e., wider tire = narrower grip). In this position, the athlete continues to dorsiflex the ankles so that he or she is on the balls of the feet while raising the knees from the ground. At this point the athlete’s center of gravity should transition toward the tire, placing the majority of the athlete’s body weight onto the tire. The athlete then raises the chest and contracts the musculature of the lower back (16) (see the photo of the starting position in the exercise technique section near the end of the chapter).

Next, the athlete initiates the flipping movement by extending the knees and hips followed by plantar flexing the ankles in order to push the tire forward and up. As this occurs, the shoulders and hips should rise at the same rate, ending in a triple extension, from which the athlete moves forward by taking two or three small steps. Once the tire reaches hip height, the athlete forcefully flexes the hip of one leg and strikes the tire with the quadriceps. The striking of the tire with the leg allows achievement of a forceful upward momentum (16). As this occurs, the athlete switches the hands into a pronated position. After reorienting the hands, the athlete runs the feet toward the tire while forcefully extending the arms to push the tire over. Photos of all of these positions can be found in the exercise technique section near the end of the chapter.

Log Lifting

One of the classic exercises that is a part of strongman training is the log lift, which is essentially a version of the clean. Other traditional lifting movements can also be performed with logs, such as cleans, presses, jerks, rows, squats, deadlifts, and lunges (39, 64, 83). Logsare typically designed to have weight added to them while offering a midrange grip support to accommodate a pronated grip position (64). Weight is typically added with the use of traditional plates, which eliminates the need for having a variety of logs (39). Information on how to effectively load log-based exercises is limited, but training loads may be based on traditional exercises. For example, Winwood and colleagues (83) used 70% of a 1RM for a traditional clean and jerk with log training. While the connection seems logical, it is likely that athletes will not be able to lift the same load as they could in the comparable traditional exercise because of the mechanical difficulties associated with lifting the log apparatus (39).

In another type of log, water can be used to provide the resistance (39, 64). Ratamess (64) suggests that with this type of log, the fluid inside will move, resulting in an increased activation of the stabilizer muscles. While this may seem logical, no scientific papers appear to have explored this contention.

While log-based training seems to be increasing in popularity, little research has explored the effectiveness of this training method or how best to apply this type of training in the preparation of athletes in various sports. Therefore, significantly more scientific inquiry is required to provide true understanding of the efficacy of log-based training.

Farmer’s Walk

Another commonly used strongman exercise is the farmer’s walk, in which the athlete holds a load at the sides in each hand while walking forward (53, 80). Winwood and colleagues (83) suggest that exercises such as the farmer’s walk are useful training tools because they involve unstable and awkward resistances that have both unilateral and bilateral motions. Additionally, it has been suggested that the farmer’s walk develops total body anaerobic endurance, back endurance, and grip strength (80). McGill and colleagues (53) suggest that the farmer’s walk may enhance traditional resistance training programs because this exercise challenges body linkages and stabilizing systems in a different way than traditional resistance training. The farmer’s walk can be performed with static loads (e.g., a heavy dumbbell) or variable loads (e.g., water-filled objects) (80). Regardless of the type load used, it appears that the farmer’s walk offers a unique activation pattern of the core, although there is very limited research in the scientific literature supporting the use of this exercise as a strength and conditioning tool. Additionally, no available research has examined the safety of the farmer’s walk, which makes it difficult to recommend safety precautions. Thus athletes should follow generally accepted safety principles and precautions: Only advanced athletes who possess high levels of strength should attempt this exercise. While this training modality may be popular in strength and conditioning environments, more research is required in order to determine its efficacy.

Developed by the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning, Fourth Edition, is the fundamental preparation text for the Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist® (CSCS®) exam, as well as a definitive reference that strength and conditioning professionals will consult in everyday practice. The book is available in bookstores everywhere, as well as online at the NSCA Store.

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