Saturday, January 25, 2014

Strongman Muscle

     What follows is the original, "uncut" version of an article of mine that was published a few months ago in Planet Muscle magazine.  This is a form of training that I enjoy occasionally doing.  If you're the kind of lifter that actually enjoys more Crossfit-style training—as opposed to the more conventional training I typically recommend—this should be right up your alley.


Strongman Muscle
Using Strongman-style Training for Maximum Muscle Gains

     Watch the “World’s Strongest Man” competition and you’ll see some of the most massively muscled men on the planet.  And they didn’t get that way by training like your average bodybuilder.  They got big, strong, and muscular by training on core lifts (squats, deadlifts, overhead presses, etc.) and utilizing a lot of odd lifts such as the farmer’s walk, log presses, sand-bag carries, and the tire flip—to name just a few.
     Most of you reading this will probably never compete in a strongman competition, but the kind of lifting they utilize can be a great way of training for any bodybuilder looking to pack on some muscle mass.
     The program presented here allows you to train as if you were preparing for—or even competing in—a strongman competition.  First, I am going to lay out the parameters of the program.  Second, I will discuss the benefits of training in such a manner.  And third, I will offer an example of what a couple weeks of training should look like.
The Nuts and Bolts of Strongman Muscle
     This program has you training 2 days-per-week.  (No, you did not read that incorrectly.   You will only need 2 “primary” training days each week, though it’s perfectly fine to have 1 or 2 “extra” workouts to aid in recovery and to promote growth—but we’ll get around to that in a little bit.)  The most popular days for lifters is usually Monday and Thursday, but any 2 non-consecutive days will work.
     Each training session will have you performing (at the minimum) 4 exercises.  You will perform a lower body “pushing” movement, a lower body “pulling” movement, an upper body “pushing” movement, and an odd lift at each session.
     On each day, you will pick one of the exercises as your “max effort” movement.  For this exercise, you will work up to a max single.  This exercise will be rotated from at each workout.
     On each day, you will select one exercise as your “max for reps” movement.  After a thorough warm-up, you will select a heavy weight where you would expect to reach failure somewhere between the 5th and the 10th repetition.  (The repetition range doesn’t have to be exact.)  You will take this set to the point of momentary muscular failure.
     On each day, you will select one exercise as your “max for sets” movement.  On this exercise, you will select a weight that is somewhere between 80%-90% of your one-rep maximum.  You will then select a certain number of reps (be it 2, 3, 4, or 5 reps) and you will perform as many sets as possible for the prescribed number of reps that you choose.
     Your last exercise for each day will be an “odd lift.”  This exercise will be either a “distance” exercise while carrying or holding an object, or it will be a “timed” exercise, in which you have to see how long you can hold or carry an object.
     Each workout will be different.  You will constantly rotate exercises for each “event” above.
The Benefits of Strongman Muscle Training
     Workouts performed in this manner have several different benefits.
     For myself (and the two workout partners I currently train with), the most important benefit is that this kind of training is fun.  Every training session—especially when you have more than one training partner—is like a mini-strongman competition.  You want to “win” each exercise by doing more reps, lifting more weight, or doing more sets than any of your partners.
     If a workout isn’t interesting and enjoyable to perform, then I have no use for it.  This training, however, is highly enjoyable.
     Another benefit is that your body never grows “stale” on this program.  Nothing about the workout is set in stone.  You are constantly changing exercises.  This means that even though you are always lifting heavy, your body—not to mention mind—doesn’t get “burned out.”  Training plateaus become a thing of the past.
     The workout is also highly adaptable.  As you get more advanced, you can add exercises for either max rep, max set, or max weight movements.  Also, if you are short on time—or just don’t feel like training as much as usual—then you can just drop one of the exercises from your arsenal.
     With only 2 training sessions each week, the program is not that hard to stick with.  Almost anyone can make time for 2 sessions-per-week.
An Example “Strongman Muscle” Program
     What follows is a template for what your program should look like.  You will notice that I have provided plenty of variety as far as what exercises to perform on each day.  Perform the exercises that work best for you, but don’t necessarily perform the exercises that you enjoy doing.  Chances are if you dislike a certain exercise, then you should do it.
     After I lay out the program, I’ll give you a few extra tips to make sure your workouts are as effective as possible.
Week One/Day One
A. Max Effort for Lower Body Pushing Exercise – work up to a max single.  Choose one of the following exercises:
  • Squats
  • Front Squats
  • Box Squats
  • Bottom Position Squats
  • Squat Lockouts
B. Max Reps for Lower Body Pulling Exercise – perform one set (after warm-ups) to momentary muscular failure, using a rep range between 5 and 10 reps.  Choose one of the following exercises:
  • Sumo Deadlifts
  • Deadlifts
  • Deadlift lockouts
  • Stiff-Legged Deadlifts
  • Snatch-Grip Deadlifts
C. Max Sets for Upper Body Pushing Exercise – Using 85% of your one-rep maximum, perform as many sets of 3 reps as possible.  Choose one of the following exercises:
  • Flat Bench Presses
  • Incline Bench Presses
  • Dumbbell Bench Presses
  • Bottom Position Bench Presses
  • Board Presses
  • Floor Presses
D. Odd Lift for Distance Exercise.  Choose one of the following exercises:
  • Farmer’s Walk (with dumbbells)
  • Sandbag Carry
  • Sled Drag
Week One/Day Two
A. Max Effort for Lower Body Pulling Exercise – work up to a max single.  Choose one of the following exercises:
  • Sumo Deadlifts
  • Deadlifts
  • Deadlift Lockouts
  • Snatch-Grip Deadlifts
  • Deficit Deadlifts (these are performed while standing on a box or Olympic plates)
B.  Max Reps for Upper Body Pushing Exercise – perform one set (after warm-ups) to momentary muscular failure, using a rep range between 5 and 10 reps.  Choose one of the following exercises:
  • Flat Bench Presses
  • Incline Bench Presses
  • Dumbbell Bench Presses
  • Incline Dumbbell Bench Presses
  • Weighted Dips
C. Max Sets for Lower Body Pushing Exercise – Using 90% of your one-rep maximum, perform as many sets of 2 reps as possible.  Choose one of the following exercises:
  • Squats
  • Box Squats
  • Bottom Position Squats
  • Squat Lockouts
  • High-Bar, Close-Stance Olympic Style Squats
D.  Odd Lift for Time Exercise.  Choose one of the following exercises:
  • Deadlift Hold (this exercise is done by holding a barbell as long as possible in the top position of the deadlift; use an over/over grip)
  • Crucifix Hold (this exercise is done by holding a dumbbell in each hand, with both arms being held up straight as in a crucifix )
Week Two/ Day One
A.  Max Effort for Upper Body Pushing Exercise – work up to a max single.  Choose one of the following exercises:
  • Flat Bench Presses
  • Bottom Position Bench Presses
  • Rack Lockouts
  • Board Presses
  • Floor Presses
B.  Max Reps for Lower Body Pushing Exercise – perform one set (after warm-ups) to momentary muscular failure, using a rep range between 5 and 10 reps.  Choose one of the following exercises:
  • Squats
  • Bottom Position Squats
  • High-Bar, Close-Stance Olympic Style Squats
  • Box Squats
C.  Max Sets for Lower Body Pulling Exercise – Using 90% of your one-rep maximum, perform as many sets of 2 reps as possible.  Choose one of the following exercises:
  • Deadlifts
  • Sumo Deadlifts
  • Deadlift Lockouts
  • Snatch-Grip Deadlifts
  • Deficit Deadlifts
D.  Odd Lift for “Race” Exercise.  Competing against one or more training partners, choose one of the following exercises:
  • Farmer’s Walk
  • Deadlift Hold
  • Sled Drag
Week Two/Day Two
     On this day, repeat the Week One/Day One workout, rotating from exercises per your level of strength (see below).
Tips and Tricks for Getting the Most Out of the Program
     The first thing a lot of you will notice—and probably complain about—is that there is no direct arm work, calf work, ab work, and whatnot.  Good; most of you reading this probably only need a few core exercises in order to pack on as much muscle as possible.  And the exercises that I included in this program are the best of the best, the crème de la crème, so to speak.
     Having said the above, if you still insist on doing some “extra stuff” then you have a couple of options.  The first is to simply add a couple of “pumping” exercises at the end of the sessions (assuming you have the energy).  A few sets of curls, crunches, and calf raises wouldn’t hurt.  The second option—and I like this one better—is to add an extra workout.  Let’s say that you pick Monday and Friday as your two “Strongman Muscle” days; just add an extra session on Wednesdays.  This third session shouldn’t be too intense.  A few sets each of chins, barbell curls, skullcrushers, standing calf raises, and sit-ups should do the trick.
     Now, if you are an advanced athlete—the kind of guy (or gal) who benches close to double his bodyweight, and squats and deadlifts 2 ½ times his bodyweight—then you actually need the extra session.  If this is you, then make sure you are doing plenty of ab work, lower-back work (good mornings should fit the bill nicely), lat work, and lots of triceps work.  (If you are benching close to double your bodyweight and not doing the triceps work, chances are that your bench press is going to go nowhere.)
     Another question that a lot of you will probably have is, “when do I rotate to a new exercise?”  In other words, if on your first Week One/Day One exercise you did squats for your max effort lift, sumo deadlifts for your max reps lift, incline benches for your max sets lift, and the farmer’s walk for your odd lift, what should you do come the Week Two/Day Two workout?  The answer is simple: it depends on your level of strength development.
     If you are a beginner (or just not very strong), then stick with the same exercise for 3 different workouts.  In other words, use the squat as your max effort lower body pushing movement 3 times before rotating to a new exercise.  If you are an intermediate lifter, then stick with the same exercises for 2 different workouts.  And if you are advanced, rotate exercises every time.
Summing It All Up
     I hope this article has offered you a new, more innovative way to train.  You don’t have to use this program all the time, but 8 to 12 weeks on it can do wonders.  After a couple of months of this training, you should be a lot stronger than before, not to mention bigger.  It also gives your mind and body a break because you only have to train 2 days per week.  Good luck and good training!

3 comments:

  1. Hey Sloan

    Got in my strong man workout today @Mana Barbell. Didn't help that I squatted heavy yesterday and did overhead press the day before....did farmers walks worked up 360lbs for the walks and 180lbs for log press. Mad respect for guys that train and compete in SM. Will be incorporating the format from this article as i move forward thanks man!!

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  2. Jason,

    I'm glad you liked this article. Keep up the hard work—those are some good numbers. And, as you can probably guess, there's nothing wrong with all of that frequent training!

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  3. When I was younger and completed heavy training cycles I really benefited from complete rest deload (ie no training) @44 I find I need to do some training almost everyday to avoid getting stiff, ) losing mobility etc....and yes ive surprised myself with how frequently I can train if I pay attention to some "recovery tricks"!

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