When people think of strongman they think of 400 pound guys called Magnus or Thor lifting ungodly amounts of weight. Unfortunately this is the pinnacle of the strongmen which doesn’t represent the vast majority of people doing strongman movements. This would be the same as equating a pickup game of basketball to the NBA finals. Same basic movements but much different skill and dedication level.
A big benefit of strongman movements is the low barrier of entry, both in cost and in skill. For $1500 you can get a Concept2 rower, or 1 barbell and a set of plates. Both of these would only allow 1 athlete at a time to perform 1 exercise. If you took that money and invested it in strongman equipment you could get a full set of stones and sandbags and have 20-30 people work out at the same time. Strongman equipment can also be made by oneself for next to nothing. Now the skill aspect, the ease of teaching the movements are one of the most rewarding aspects. A movement such as a power clean is often taught to athletes in order or help them create more explosive power from the hips. Unfortunately the skill involved in receiving the bar an risk of injury to the wrist for athletes is often not worth it. Teaching someone how to do a proper clean might take several sessions to several weeks, then loading the movement will take much longer as skill will be the limiting factor for a long time. A sandbag clean or stone to shoulder takes about 10 minutes to teach and the athlete can quickly start generating massive power from the hips without being limited by skill.
Why do we choose to use strongman movements. Barbells are a great way of expressing strength, they fit nicely in your hand, are perfectly balanced, you can keep the bar nice and close to your body, the total weight is clearly understood. This sounds like a better implement to be able to consistently measure of test your strength, but not the best way to train it. Unfortunately life outside the gym is not as predictable as a well balanced barbell. Strongman movements are odd, awkward, misshapen, difficult to balance, all of these allow for the better overall development of strength by forcing you to engage more of your body to try and move the same weight. When you go back to a barbell after pressing a sandbag it almost feel like you are cheating. Strongman athetes are presented with a constantly changing field of play and a better athlete makes quicker adjustments and responds more favourably to an unfavourable stimuli. Barbells exists only in a gym setting.
Probably the most important aspect of strongman movements is that it helps build a solid structure. What I mean about structure is overall body strength and physical confidence in handling a load. A perfect example of this would be stepping out with a new, possible PR, back squat weight. Its stressful on the body, its hard to breathe, it feels heavy on your back, your legs are shaking, you are physically being crushed by the weight. Throw a bunch of weight on a yoke and take it for a walk. As you start building up that weight it will eventually be much more than your squat. Your body and mind will adapt to this heavy load. This will make the walk out with the new squat weight feel a lot easier next time you squat.
For most athletes the biggest limiting factors and risk of injury are core strength and grip strength. Strongman movements help to improve these more than almost any other movement, probably more than training these body parts directly. Doing movements such as axle and fat bar movements, farmers carry, grabbing sandbags improve your grip incredibly fast. Bracing under several hundred pound yoke or taking a sandbag for a walk holding it on your belly is an excellent way to teach bracing and improve your entire core.
Strongman movement also have a bit of a unique aspect if that they don’t have a clear technique, it requires the athlete to look within and find out what works for them. This is obvious in events such as the log press. It can be any style of press, strict press, push press, jerk, a big learn back, what ever works for you. So you end up playing around with the movements to better understand how your body works.
For the guys who are already big and strong, they usually hate doing cardio. Well strongman movements can fix that. There are some awesome ways to do non traditional cardio without having to sit on a bike or going for a run. Instead push a sled or take a sandbag for a walk. Both require little skill and will do wonders for your conditioning.
Probably the best reason to learn strongman movements is life. Life is full of unknown weights and odd shapes, from picking up your grandkids to carrying a full load of groceries up 4 flights of stairs. Strongman movements vary in weight to properly represent the load required by the athletes current needs. The movement pattern is the same for grandma picking up the grandsons hockey bag and putting it up on a shelf to a strongman loading a stone to a platform.
Yours in Health,