Spotlight on: Strongman training

More than likely, you would have seen the televised broadcast of the World’s Strongest Man at least once in your life. Pulling trucks and airplanes, lifting cars, flipping tyres, and pressing logs certainly looks impressive, but this type of training also has immense benefits for your overall health and fitness levels.

And don’t worry – you won’t become a huge, bulky beast unless you eat like one! Strongman competitors eat upwards of 6000-7000 calories per day but for us mere mortals it is one of the best forms of exercises to torch body fat and build muscle mass.

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What is Strongman training?
Strongman training involves a wide variety of events. These include the keg toss, tyre flip, farmer’s walk, yoke walk, sled pull and drag, tug-of-war, and sandbag carry, just to name a few. Some of the equipment such as logs, atlas stones, and deadlift frames are very difficult to find in regular gyms, but certain exercises can be mimicked with regular barbells and dumbbells.

If your gym does not have handles for farmer’s walks, simply grab the heaviest dumbbells you can find. You should not be able to hold on to them for more than a minute. If your gym does not have thick axle bars, you can buy some Fat Gripz. Instead of a proper frame carry, load up a trap bar and walk as far as you can.

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Frame carry

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Although no two strongman competitions are the same, there are certain variations of lifts which will regularly feature. For example, most competitions have some form of deadlift – whether lifting for max weight or for max repetitions in a certain period of time, as well as variations on the height, thickness of the bar and apparatus being lifted. Make sure you spend time varying your stance and grip, as well as training from blocks and from a deficit.

Strongman competitions often involve unusual types of deadlifts

Strongman competitions often involve unusual types of deadlifts

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Some form of overhead pressing will also feature in competition. This may involve a log press, axle press or single arm circus dumbbell press. Spend time practicing strict overhead pressing as well as clean and jerks to work on explosiveness.

Log pressing

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Finally, there will usually always be some form of loading event. This may be in the form of a medley, where you take one heavy object, carry it a certain distance and load it either over a bar or into some form of vehicle, and then sprint back to pick up the remainder of the objects in turn. There are usually four or five objects which range from sandbags to kegs to metal blocks to concrete slabs.

Most competitions will also usually have a farmers walk or frame carry event, where you pick up very heavy weights in each hand (usually equivalent to more than twice your body weight) and walk a certain distance.

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Farmer’s walks

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Competitions may also have a timed hold event. This may involve a crucifix (holding weights at shoulder height for as long as possible) or an overhead hold. This will test your mental strength more than anything, and give you a heightened pain tolerance as you struggle to maintain the position for as long as possible.

Crucifix hold

Crucifix hold

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What are the benefits of Strongman training?
Strongman training not only increases physical strength and muscle mass, but it also improves your mental toughness, conditioning, muscular endurance and power. Because of the uniqueness of the events, you are building all-over “functional” strength that possesses a great deal of carryover into every-day life. You will develop a wide range of abilities that are best trained in event-specific exercises.

Unlike powerlifting, which simply tests a maximal load single repetition, strongman training requires not only brutal strength but also muscular endurance. The sport asks you to not only deadlift 1.5 to 2 times your body weight, but to do it as many times as possible in 60 seconds.

Yoke walk

Yoke walk

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You may not be planning to enter any competitions, but that doesn’t mean you can’t train like a pro. Strongman competitors are some of the best athletes in the world as they have strength, stamina and high levels of conditioning.

How do I start?
Strongman training requires a great deal of technique, so it is important to learn from an experienced coach. Find a trainer that has competed in a strongman event themselves, especially if you plan on entering a competition as you will need to know about proper hydration and fuelling during the lengthy day (competitions often run upwards of five hours).

Lifting atlas stones is a lot harder than it looks!

Lifting atlas stones is a lot harder than it looks!

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Strongman training is very difficult, not to mention dangerous, to do on your own. Many of the weights you are lifting may seem impossible, so it is important to have someone on the sidelines to encourage you to push beyond your mental barriers. It greatly benefits to find people who are stronger than you, and train with them.

There is no one correct method of performing the events, so it requires a coach as well as some supervised trial and error to ensure that injuries do not result.

What event would you be most interested to try?

Spotlight on: Powerlifting

Continuing on from our last post about Olympic lifting, today’s post is all about powerlifting, and the benefits of hitting huge numbers on the squat, bench press and deadlift.

What is powerlifting?
Like Olympic lifting, powerlifting is based on single, maximal load lifts. The lifts tested are the squat, bench press and deadlift, performed in that order. Also like Olympic lifting, the athlete is given three attempts at each lift.

Generally, your first attempt should be 87-93 per cent of your previously-tested one rep max. For your second attempt, aim for a 2.5-5kg personal record. If you make that lift, push your limits and base your next attempt on how easy the second lift went up.

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A powerlifting squat

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Athletes with the highest squat, bench and deadlift receive awards as well as the athlete with the highest competition total, which is the combined number of the highest successful lifts from all three categories. If two lifters put up the same total, the lighter of the two places higher.

As in Olympic lifting, there are various weight classes and age divisions for both male and female lifters. Competitions may either be equipped or unequipped, the latter of which is also known as raw lifting. The distinction is based on benching shirts and squat and deadlifting suits which provide additional support. Weight belts, wrist straps, knee sleeves and special shoes may be worn in either division.

Most powerlifters wear flat-soled shoes, such as Chuck Taylors, for squats and deadlifts. For the bench press, a sneaker with a slightly raised heel is preferred to assist with leg drive.

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Deadlifting in a suit as an equipped lifter

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What are the benefits of powerlifting?
Lifting heavy weights assists muscle growth and fat loss – two things which make our bodies aesthetically more pleasing. Not only is the muscle you build attractive, but it is strong too!

Many people associate powerlifting with big, burly men, but there are many incredibly fit powerlifters out there. When your main goal is increasing strength, it is easy to overeat and therefore hold on to fat, but it is not essential and will not happen by accident.

Because of the time spent under heavy tension, powerlifters have very strong bones and are therefore more resistant to not only breakages but also osteoporosis and joint problems in later life.

Powerlifting workouts are also short but effective. The main concern is increasing the weights on the big three lifts, so there is not much time devoted to performing isolation exercises.

Outside of competition, powerlifters tend to train in a very low repetition range (five or less repetitions, with lots of single repetition sets) and often use bands and chains to improve explosiveness.

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Like Olympic lifting, powerlifting is not only physically tough but mentally challenging. If you are not in the right head space before attempting a maximal lift, you will not succeed. Similarly, if you miss a lift, you have to know how to recover quickly and not let it affect the rest of your performance. This mental strength has a wonderful carry over into other aspects of your life.

Repeatedly testing the limits of what your body can do is incredibly rewarding. You will become very connected to your body, and learn to listen to what it is telling you, while also growing your self-confidence and perseverance.

How do I start?
Unlike Olympic lifting, where it is essential to have a coach teach you proper technique, powerlifting can be self-taught. That being said, you cannot expect to just walk up to a bar and execute a perfect deadlift. Take time to read a lot of articles and watch a lot of videos to learn proper technique.

If you are serious about competing, it is best to do so under the supervision of a coach who can cycle your training and nutrition appropriately in the months leading up to the competition, as well as make modifications to your form to increase performance. It is particularly helpful to have a trainer with you on competition day to keep your calm and remind you of the key points you need to remember.

Powerlifting competitions are open to everyone, but to put up a competitive total, it is best if you can squat and bench press at least 1.5 times your body weight, and dead lift close to twice your body weight or more.

Have you ever tried powerlifting?

Spotlight on: Olympic lifting

There are various styles of weight training that one can practice, including Olympic lifting, powerlifting, Crossfit and Strongman training. Over the coming weeks, we will dissect each of the aforementioned training methods and discuss the benefits of each. First, let’s consider Olympic weightlifting.

What is Olympic lifting?
This style of weightlifting is featured in the Olympics, whereby athletes attempt two maximum-weight single barbell lifts. The first event is the snatch, which involves lifting the bar from the floor to an overhead position in a single motion.

snatchlift

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The second Olympic lift is the clean and jerk, which involves first lifting the bar to shoulder height and then pressing it overhead after a short pause, while also shifting the legs into a lunge position.

What are the benefits of Olympic lifting?
We have discussed the benefits of resistance training here, but Olympic weightlifting offers a host of additional benefits. Athletes and advanced weightlifters can benefit from incorporating both the snatch and clean and jerk to improve explosive and functional strength.

The Olympic lifts train both strength and power. They are completed explosively and require a great deal of mobility and coordination.

Not only does Olympic lifting build muscular strength, but it is also taxing on the cardiovascular system. Because the bar travels such a great distance in a short period of time, it engages every muscle in the body and leaves the heart racing. They are also therefore a great tool for improving body composition, as they build muscle while accelerating fat loss. These lifts also elevate testosterone levels, which increases muscle growth and fat breakdown.

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Athletes who include Olympic weightlifting in their training regime see an associated increased performance in their chosen sport. These lifts mimic movements such as jumps and sprints by requiring explosive extension of the ankle, knee and hip.

Finally, unlike other exercises such as chest presses and squats, it is impossible to ‘cheat’ cleans and snatches. If the weight is too heavy, you will not be able to shift the bar. Furthermore, until you master perfect technique, you will not reach your full potential in these lifts.

How do I start?
The snatch and the clean and jerk are both highly specialised movements that hold a high risk of injury. Consequently, it is extremely important to start under the guidance of a coach who is an expert in these exercises.

You do not need any special equipment when you first start out; however, over time you might like to invest in specifically-designed Olympic weightlifting shoes, a weight belt and knee wraps.

Have you ever tried Olympic lifting?

Improving your swing

With summer approaching, more and more people will be venturing out into the sunshine to indulge in a round or two of golf. Before you dust off the clubs, you can start incorporating some exercises in your usual gym routine in preparation for a summer on the green.

As a golfer, it is important to focus on rotation exercises and building up power and strength in the core, legs, hips and back. Despite appearances, the energy from your golf swing does not stem from your arms but rather your core power.

Although it is important to increase the size and strength of certain muscles in the body, too much strength training can actually hinder your progress. It is equally important to focus on improving flexibility and mobility to improve your game.

To increase strength in the back, perform exercises such as chin-ups, inverted rows, weighted rows and deadlifts.

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An inverted row

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For your lower body, perform squats, lunges, split squats, glute bridges and resistance band walks.

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Lateral band walks

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To increase your flexibility while rotating, incorporate seated medicine ball rotations, rotational cable chest presses, low to high medicine ball rotations, and side planks with a reach over and under.

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Medicine ball rotations

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You can also perform a modified golf backswing while holding a light medicine ball. Hold a medicine ball at chest height, with elbows pointed to the side. Rotate as if you were making a backswing, keeping your legs steady and extending your arms slightly. Return to centre, and then repeat alternating between sides.

backswing

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Perform three of the above rotational exercises two to three times per week, completing three sets of 15 repetitions. For the lower body and back-targeted exercises, complete three to four sets of 8-12 repetitions once per week.