Strongman training has become very popular in recent years, and for a very good reason. It is an incredibly efficient way to improve your strength endurance and lean up.
When done correctly, strongman training is better than any “cardio” routine. For most sports, you need muscular endurance, which normal treadmill and elliptical training will not give you. Do not conflate cardiovascular endurance with strength endurance. You do need both, but only one of these methods will provide them.
Strongman Training for Cardio
If you need to improve your endurance, strongman training might be the most efficient way to go. Yes, endurance training can and should be done with sport specific training. So if you are a boxer, you should do rounds and bag work for endurance. If you’re a runner, you should run.
However, adding strongman training to your routine will give you not only some refreshing variation, but it has added benefits which we’ll talk about in the next section.
There’s no doubt that doing a set of tire flips or farmers walks is fantastic endurance training. If you’ve ever tried them, you know. If you haven’t tried them, you can ask anyone who has. I’ve never seen anyone dispute this.
The reason strongman training is so effective for cardiovascular endurance is the anaerobic aspect of it. Just like wind sprints and HIIT, using anaerobic exercises increases both your anaerobic and your aerobic work capacity.
The same is not true for aerobic work. And yes, anaerobic exercise does dilate the left ventricle of the heart for greater blood flow, just like aerobic exercise.
Strongman Training for Strength and Strength Endurance
So we’ve talked about how strongman training and anaerobic work does the same things as traditional cardio. Now let’s talk about one of the added benefits strongman training has to offer.
If you need to exert any kind of significant force, be it running fast, jumping high or pushing something heavy, then of course you need to be strong. If you have to do any of these things multiple times, you need strength endurance.
Strongman training offers all of this in one workout. It builds strength of course since you have to lift and move heavy things. But strength endurance is just as important for almost any athlete.
Strength endurance is, just as the name suggests, the muscles capacity to repeat forceful contractions. This is separate from your cardiovascular endurance because the muscles use ATP for energy. That’s why this is considered anaerobic. You’re using phosphates instead of oxygen when working at higher intensities.
That’s why running at 10K at a moderate pace is a completely different game than springing a 200 meter dash. Both of them may be running, but it’s apples to oranges on the cellular level.
The reason strongman training is so effective at improving strength endurance is simply because you are moving heavy weight for distance and time, rather than traditional reps for the most part. You’re trying to do some cardio with heavy impedance, such as a 400 pound tire. That’s much better than a 25 pound weight vest.
This is also why strongman training is good for your sports endurance. Doing wrestling drills or rounds in the ring are important, but adding some tire flips and sled drags gives you a more intense effect on your strength endurance because it forces you to use strong muscular contractions throughout each set.
Strongman Training for Fat Loss
Here’s one almost everyone will find useful, weather you’re an athlete who needs to lean up, or a couch potato who wants to lose the muffin top. Strongman training is an outstanding way to improve your body composition.
We all know that anaerobic training is the best way to burn fat. Now we have another way to do that in addition to wingate sprinting and burpies that doesn’t require a lot of equipment. If fat loss is your goal, you don’t need to spend a lot of money on strongman equipment. Tire flips are one of the most effective exercises you can do, and the tire you can often get for free.
A quick search online will show you where the industrial tire dealers are for your area. These places often have used tires they would have to pay to dispose of. You can help them by taking it off their hands for free. You may need to wait for a while and continually check back with them before you find a suitable size tire, but it’s worth the wait.
Here’s how to pick the correct size tire:
- The tire should sit at least 20 inches above the ground when laid flat on its side. Any lower, and you will not be able to get into proper position when lifting it. This goes for men and women.
- For high school athletes and recreational trainees, 325-400 pounds is a good weight for the tire.
- Collegiate athletes should go with 400-600 pounds.
- Pros and larger collegiate athletes, look for a tire over 600 pounds.
These are general rules, of course. You should give the tire a few practice flips before you pick one to make sure it’s not too easy or too hard. Don’t be intimidated by these numbers either. Remember that most of the weight will rest on the ground during the exercise.
Performing Strongman Training
Now that we’ve got the why out of the way, lets get to the how. There are several different exercises in strongman training. We’ll focus on two of the most popular, most effective, safest and most convenient ones.
We’ve covered how to pick the right tire for you. So here’s how to execute the tire flip.
- The starting position should have your hands wider than your feet and your chest leaning into the tire (hence the 20″ tire width) with the feet 2-3 feet away from the tire. Reaching straight down and lifting the tire vertically can cause the biceps to tear.
- Drive your legs and hips up while keeping your arms straight to begin the lift.
- Use momentum and one knee to keep the tire up while you drop yourself underneath it, and move your hands to an overhead pressing position. DO NOT PULL THE TIRE UP WITH YOUR ARMS!
- Once underneath the tire, drive a second time with your legs and shoulders to push the tire all the way over. You’ve completed one rep.
You can either flip the tire for a set amount of time, i.e. 30 seconds in which you try to get as many flips as possible, or you can flip the tire a certain number of times (4-5) in as little time as possible.
If strength is your goal, use long rest periods, such as 4-5 minutes. If you want to lean up or train your endurance, keep the rest around 90 seconds.
The farmers walk is a beautiful exercise. It works the posterior chain, the core and the upper back with some added grip work. Like the tire flip, it takes some mental strength to make it thorough a farmers walk workout.
The method is simple. You take a handle in each hand, lift and walk as fast as you can of either the prescribed distance or time. Just make sure you lift the handles with proper form so you don’t hurt your back.
You will want to get some actual farmers walk handles for the most benefits. Using dumbbells is a hassle because your thighs bump into them as you walk. You also miss out on some wrist and forearm work since the dumbbells aren’t long enough to sway and swing, the same goes for straps.
I wrote a whole article on the importance of grip and forearm strength that may help you make your decision. The forearm strength is not to be overlooked. Read about the importance of grip strength here.
I use the farmers walk handles from StrengthShopUSA.com. They’re prices are competitive. The quality:cost ratio is great, and the customer service is genuinely good. They have a few versions you can check out here:
Final Points for Strongman Training
For each of these exercises, I recommend doing them on the same or similar surface to what you’d be on during your sporting event. If you play football, do them on grass or turf. If you wrestle, do them on a mat.
You can do strongman training 2-3 days a week or more. You can combine these two exercises together, stick to one of them and do more sets, or you can learn other strongman exercises and combine the ones you like.
As a general rule, stick to 2-4 sets per exercise, and use the rest parameters I explained above.
That’s all for now. I hope you enjoyed this one.