Atlas Stones: How to Perform the “One Motion” and Reap Its Benefits

In a previous article, I covered how athletes can benefit from introducing the atlas stone into their training program. Today I will be providing more insight into a specific movement used with the atlas stone: the “one motion”.

It’s hard to argue with the strength and power that training with the atlas stone can provide. Lifting the atlas stone is an extremely taxing and challenging movement that fully taxes the body in a way many other multi-joint movements cannot match. That being said, it can be made more challenging still, through the introduction of the “one motion.”

Many people who are not involved in the Strongman community tend to think of the atlas stone as a singular movement, but for those focused on performance in the strongman community, the usage of the “one motion” technique is necessary to gain the edge in competition. In the setting of competitive strongmen, the one motion is used to gain a lead typically on the atlas stone series. This is due to it being judged on either the most stones that are loaded in a given amount of time, or the amount of time to complete the series.

Typically, athletes will “one motion” as many stones as possible to save time instead of lapping the stone and then loading them. This can cut precious seconds off their time and help increase their final standing.

Prime examples of “one motioning” are seen at the World’s Strongest Man Competition. Many times the title has been determined by who wins the stones. Although these high level athletes use this as a means to obtain victory, learning the “one motion” can help every athlete no matter what competitive endeavour in which they are involved.

How to One Motion

For the one motion, the start position is the same for both “two motion” and one. An athlete needs to straddle the stone with the mid-foot creating a line down the center of the stone. Typically when I teach the “one motion” an athlete needs to bend over and get the upper abdomen as close to the stone as possible. This will limit the distance the athlete needs to “row” the stone to their body.

The athlete needs to squeeze the stone as hard as possible and lift in a manner similar to an RDL while simultaneously rowing the stone hard into their body. Once the stone passes the knee, the athlete needs to violently extend the hips, and while still hugging that stone as hard as possible, then perform extension of the back and make their way into full triple extension. This movement should be a smooth movement with no stop or reset time. Finally, the athlete will release the stone onto the platform or over the bar.

[Check your form with our Atlas Stone guide written by strongman Michael Gill!]

Benefits of the One Motion

All of the benefits that come with loading an atlas stone are still present with the “one motion”. The biggest difference is that there is no pause or chance to reset before the extension. The movement becomes much more challenging. This variation requires incredible full body coordination and great kinesthetic awareness to perform. Pulling the stone and holding it against the body also recruits the posterior chain and upper back musculature to a great degree.

If you look at all of the best “one motioners” in strongman, all of them have insane back strength and development. By using the “one motion” it also increases lifters’ confidence as it requires a high level of strength and power. The final benefit is for those who train the max stone as well; if you are able to increase your strength on the “one motion” your standard stone load will increase as well. And who doesn’t like to lift even bigger stones?

Programming the One Motion for Non-Strongman Athletes

As a coach, when I program the “one motion”, I approach it similar to the olympic lifts. This is because the movement needs to be explosive and continuous. I addressed this in a previous article but for general athletes that do not compete in strongman the likelihood that you will use tacky is very unlikely. For safety purposes I still recommend either using grip gloves or tacky towels so that there is a better grip when lifting the stone. Now, along this same line, I understand most athletes will not have access to atlas stones, but you can still train this movement. Simply use either a stone trainer, which is the sleeve of a barbell that has be unattached, or use a large diameter slam or Dynamax Medicine ball.

Sets and reps when programming the “one motion” can be addressed in many different ways. One of my personal favorites is a training technique that I also use for almost all strength and CrossFit athletes, and that is to do an EMOM. Use a stone you know you can already “one motion” easily to start, and the first few sessions that you train the “one motion” stick with this same weight.

As the weeks go on, add one-rep on the minute. Example. Wk1: 10×1, wk2: 10×2, Wk3: 10×3, Wk4: 10×1. For the next four weeks,follow the same scheme, but increase the weight of the stone. Since the absolute load will be less than a typical stone load, athletes will be able to follow this progression for quite some time before they stall out.

Another approach is to perform heavy singles and doubles for 3-5 sets with a good amount of recovery time between sets of at least 3-5 min. This will allow for plenty of recovery for one’s energy systems so you will maximize an athlete’s performance from set to set. Athletes are also able to increase their max strength and confidence training with heavier loads which can be extremely challenging.

The final training modality is sets for time. For this I have athletes start with a single set and have an athlete one motion over a bar. Similar to the progression of the EMOM each week add a set. Once you get through a 4-week phase increase the weight of the stone. This will increase athletes’ work capacity and conditioning while still practicing proper technique even in a tired and worn-out state. By training this an athlete will be able to handle greater training intensities over their career.

Feature image from screenshot from Strength Asylum YouTube channel.

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