Written by Kalle Beck
With The 2014 CrossFit Games airing on ESPN, you may have noticed a increased prevalence in the amount of Strongman movements being used. I think every aspiring competitive exerciser should take note of this, as I don’t think this is a trend that is changing. From the local throw down to the CrossFit Games, Strongman-style movements will be a part of your competition.
I view Crossfit as the MMA of the fitness world. You need to be well versed in a variety of disciplines and skills, with no holes in your game to be a top-performing athlete. In MMA, most athletes will have a general coach and see specialists to develop certain aspects of their game (Jiu Jitsu, boxing, wrestling, diet, etc).
You see this happening more and more in Crossfit as well. People have their main coach, weightlifting coach, gymnastics coach, nutritionist, etc. Even if you don’t have a specific coach, these skills are still practiced regularly. Yet you see very little of this regarding strongman movements. Or if they are programmed, in it is with little direction or thought to how to properly do the movements. Some people even neglect doing them at all, despite their prevalence in competitions (5 of 13 events at the Crossfit Games).
One of the main reasons is due to the lack of access to Strongman equipment. Of course, this can be remedied by checking out the Strongman Gym Directory. The other reason many people neglect proper programming of Strongman movements is due to how Strongman is viewed. People see it as “just picking up stuff” – as a sport of brute force rather than one requiring substantial skill. It is not understood how technical some of the events are, and how being a bit more proficient in them will be beneficial for your performance in CrossFit competitions.
Now that we’ve discussed the “why” lets discuss the “what.” What movements should you focus on?
I break down what events to practice, based on with three main factors :
Prevalence: How likely it will be to come up in a WOD. Look at past contests. This is not a guarantee in the sport of “constantly varied,” but it’s as good as we’ve got. What I see are Sled pushes/pulls, Atlas Stone/medicine ball shoulders, front/shoulder carries (sandbag, logs, barrels, etc) & Farmers/Yoke Walk
Technical Difficulty: The more technical the movement, the more emphasis should be placed on learning how to do it correctly (similar to the Snatch and Clean & Jerk). None of the movements in Strongman are anywhere near that technical, but some are more technical than others. These events should have the biggest emphasis put on them initially, as we all know being technically proficient in your movement is key to performing well. These events include Atlas Stones, Yoke Walk and Log Press
Athletic Benefit: This is the real reason to diversify your training right? You want to be as well-rounded of an athlete as you can be. The Strongman movements that provide the most athletic benefit with the least amount of risk are Farmers Walk, Sled drags/pushes and front carries.
How to implement Strongman into your routine:
Now that we’ve covered why to do Strongman and what Strongman movements to focus on, lets break down how to implement Strongman into your routine. The number 1 way I would suggest is finding a Strongman group near you using the Strongman Gym map. Training with a group focused on Strongman will be a nice change of pace every month or so, and much like going to a weightlifting gym to learn weightlifting, it makes sense to go to a Strongman gym to learn proper technique on Strongman movements.
If this is not a possibility I recommend to train the specific events as such:
Log Press: First go read my previous article Log Press 101 for proper technique. After that, it can be used for either strength and conditioning. For strength, work up the same way you would in the clean & Jerk, utilizing sets of singles and triples to a max set. For conditioning, I recommend 8-10 rep sets, cleaning each rep. This can be thrown into any style of WOD as well.
Farmers & Yoke Walk: I recommend doing runs of 50-100ft of either implement EMOM for 5-10 minutes. This is a great way to add some conditioning to the movement as well. Do not load to a weight where you lose midline stability, especially with the yoke. You should be able to move at a fairly fast pace. Your footwork should be smooth. If it’s not, you can tell that the weight is too heavy.
Sled Pull/Drags: Try this one. Do arm over arm pulls with a heavy sled for 60-100ft and push it back. Complete as many rounds as possible in 10 minutes.
Atlas Stones: My advice is to learn how to load onto a platform or over a bar that is higher than your chest before practicing stone to shoulder. This will ensure you are using triple extension through your hips to pick up the stone, and not using your upper body/biceps which leads to a common injury with Atlas Stones: biceps tears. After you have mastered that, I think doing sets of 3 EMOM stone-to-shoulder is great, along with doing AMRAP for 30, 45, or 60 seconds. These principles can be implemented in just about any WOD as well.
Three Common Mistakes Utilizing Strongman movements
Earlier I made mention of the risk/reward of movements, and I would like to quickly cover some of the biggest mistakes I see when people use Strongman movements in their training.
Picking up Atlas Stones with bent arms: This is not the correct way to pick up an atlas stone, much the same way when a beginner learns to snatch they have a tendency to pull with their arms, rather than using their hips. The same applies to Atlas Stones. Your arms should just be hooks and you should have a high hip position at the start of the lift. It’s more similar to a deadlift than a squat.
Marathon Yoke Runs: If it appears in competition that is one thing, but doing extended runs with the Yoke is a great way to ask for an injury. Mile-long Yoke runs are testing nothing but your durability and mental fortitude. The yoke is very hard on your body as it places a big weight directly over your spine. Be careful when programming this movement, and limit the distance you carry it.
Continental Cleans: We have all seen that “Crossfit fail” video of a bunch of people bringing the bar first to their stomach, then to their shoulders. This is a technique utilized in Strongman out of necessity when going for max weight. The thick diameter of a non-rotating axle makes it impossible to clean it with a double overhand grip (its too big to hook grip) BUT if a weight is light enough, we will still power clean it in a Strongman competition. Any Axle programmed in a WOD should be light enough that the athlete should be able to power clean it. Only use the continental out of necessity.
If you’re serious about being competitive in CrossFit, you need to become proficient in the Strongman movements.
The best way to do this is to find a Strongman gym within driving distance to learn from Strongman competitors, similar to how you’d seek our specific coaching for weightlifting.
Make sure to give extra practice the Strongman movements that are the most difficult to learn.
Be careful when programming Strongman movements, always keeping in mind the risk/benefit ratio.
Kalle Beck has been competing in Strongman since 2007 as a lightweight, with career highlights including 2012 California’s Strongest Man, 2012 Washington’s Strongest Apple, Numerous top 10 finishes at America’s Strongest Man and 6th place at the 2013 Arnold World Championships. He runs a website devoted to information on Strongman www.startingstrongman.com