The strongman is the most diverse strength athlete on the planet. The best in the world can press, pull, and load stones at bone crushing weights all while being athletic and in great anaerobic condition. Getting all this done requires a very comprehensive training program that considers how to fly through sticking points and prevent injuries.
Often athletes will only work the same movements and wonder why they have begun to stall on progress. There are three exercises in particular the work the full body and help to make you a stronger athlete overall. See where you can include them in your next programming cycle.
The Behind the Neck Jerk
- Use it to break through overhead plateaus by overloading the delts and triceps.
- Increased power (explosiveness) in the hips.
This was a staple of my training program because it worked the overload principle. Meaning, this movement allowed me to lift more weight than I could with a traditional jerk. When placing weight directly on the back of the neck (and off jerk blocks) you can move it straight into the overhead position. It is also more comfortable than holding it in a traditional rack position (for those of us who were not brought up in weightlifting). My best ever jerk from the front was 385 pounds but I was able to take 402 off the back.
By going heavier, my jerks from the front felt lighter. This is due to the body’s adaption to having a heavier weight overhead. My brain was aware of what to expect and all of my other muscles adapted to having that much stress locked out. It was easy to hit triples with 375 off the back regularly, but from the front that would have been impossible.
If you haven’t taken a jerk from behind the neck before, start slow and use jerk blocks. You will be amazed at how effortlessly the weight shoots overhead and the power you can generate from your hips. It’s similar to the comfort difference and ability to generate power on a back squat versus a front squat. Make sure you have the jerk blocks low enough to accommodate your dip. This way you don’t make the rookie mistake of walking the weight out of the blocks to jerk it. They are there to catch the weight when you drop it. There’s no need to step back with it. Simply get the weight high on the neck and get the elbows under the bar. Take a small dip (remember knees out) and drive up while dropping down.
Your arms will fly up with the weight because you are going straight up and down. Most of us have some faulty mechanics on our dip, and you may tip slightly forward. This makes the exercise much harder than it needs to be. Get used to a proper dip and drive, and watch your overhead go crazy.
Sandbag Carries: Light and Heavy
- Can fix issues in the lockout of the deadlift or finishing stone loads
- Excellent for increasing lower back strength and endurance
- Helps with conditioning the entire cardiovascular system
Coach and author Dan John is the forerunner of using weighted carries as an overall strength building tool. By picking up an object and walking or running with it, you are doing the most natural human movement possible. For millennia we have needed to transport objects by sheer force distances for survival.
I recommend using light and heavy sandbags for this full body improvement exercise. Working a bag that is lighter than your bodyweight will improve muscular endurance, aerobic and anaerobic capacity, and place stress on every muscle in your body. A great benefit of this is improving the supportive muscles in the ankles that are not worked during regular static training. Picking up your foot, balancing on one, and then transferring to the other will place stress from the foot to calf that can help prevent future injuries. When you amp the weight up past body weight and travel shorter distances, you will fatigue all the muscles of the posterior chain and improve muscles that are also required to be a top notch stone loader.
Seated Arm Over Arm Pull
- Great for improving the farmers walk and picks from the floor
- Increase the strength in your hands, legs, and lat muscles
- Improves speed and hand eye coordination
By far one of the best movements you can do to develop a strong body is pulling an object at you by using the legs, arms and lower back. There are many variations of this event, the simplest which is pictured. Attach a heavy sled or weight to the end of a thick rope (this helps with hand strength) and set yourself in a heavy tire. Start in a tight position with the legs fixed against the mouth of the tire and the knees against the chest. Explode back and finish the pull with the arms. As soon as the arms reach the body, recompact the legs, explode again and begin pulling. Repeat until the object is at your feet.
There isn’t one muscle in your body that escapes the workload here, and it helps you to become more coordinated in your movements. I would make this a staple in your off season training, especially when you are trying to add more mass. Why? Because you want the gains you make during a mass cycle to be one of good quality muscle and to not let your level of fitness slide too much. By doing this exercise you teach new muscle to be flexible in how it is used and expose it to different energy cycles.
Instead of always focusing on just working the key lifts, full body exercises break up your training and help to coordinate all the efforts of the different specialized exercises. Making sure you are a complete athlete is the name of the game in the ever more challenging world of strongman. Be sure to use all the tools you have at your disposal and not let your training become stagnant.