Andrew Charniga, Jr.
Commentary on news, texts, articles and other forms of media.
Training and Conditioning, December 2008
Garratt, K., “Tough Competition”, XVIII:9:29 – 33
Ostensibly this article is designed to enlighten the reader of the benefits of “strongman training” as “a way to break the monotony of the weight room.” This silly idea is unfortunately a sad reflection of the current state of some strength and conditioning programs.
Many of us old timers still remember having to fend off the proliferation of old wives tales about lifting barbells not being good for athletes to develop strength because it will make you “muscle bound.” Those myths persisted for many years and in some cases still do. They were a real impediment to getting athletes into the weight room to develop strength for their respective sports.
If we understand correctly, part of the rational to employ strongman events is to get out of the weight room because it is boring. So, help us understand.
Why is it better to go out, pick up stones, roll tires, throw beer kegs and such than to use traditional implements like barbells and dumbbells to develop applicable skills for dynamic sports strength and power training?
First, we should enlighten the reader as to what exactly constitutes strongman events. Strongman events involve a variety of implements such as large stones, truck tires, makeshift barbells for overhead pressing or bars connected to cars for dead lift, squat types of exercises, beer kegs, trucks or other large machinery for the athletes to pull from one point to another for time, and so forth.
The popularity of these events has culminated in “World’s Strongest Man” competitions on television that has, no doubt, increased public awareness of this form of entertainment and, subsequently, its popularity, much like professional wrestling.
How these activities would factor into strength training for dynamic sports such as football is unclear, especially when their adherents (as cited in the article) write all of these impressive initials after their names: SCCC, CSCS, MS, MA, MSCC, and so forth.
These are educated people with tons of certifications; remember all those initials. Supposedly they have the knowledge and experience to decide that practicing these events, among other things, are “the best way to train for football” and provides “some unique football specific benefits that are hard to achieve in the weight room.”
What exactly do they do for athletes in dynamic sports, especially those athletes who have to move quickly and at the same time perform specific skills which require explosive strength, flexibility, agility, and dexterity?
For that matter, what do these “enlightened professionals” have in their weight rooms for their football players that cause the boredom, and the consequent need to run outside to pick up tires and stones?
These titans of strength and conditioning should be careful with their answer to these simple questions because their respective athletic directors are going to want to know why the schools have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on weight equipment that is boring and not “functional” like strongman stuff.
According to one of the experts, “The physical benefits are beyond reason…it’s the best way to train for football.”
This man’s athletic director is going to want to know why the school spends big bucks on all sorts of fancy new stuff, every few years or so, when they could have saved a bundle by going to the junk yard and picked up the “best stuff,” the “functional equipment” such as tires, beer kegs, and so forth for a song? After all, training with that stuff “is the best way to train for football,” isn’t it?
And, what about the school’s football boosters? Could it be their donations are used to buy fancy stuff, ostensibly, which is not only not “functional” but boring to boot, when, after all, used tires, empty beer kegs, stones, and logs will not only do just fine, but are more fun to boot??
Let’s take a closer look for a moment at the so called “World Strongest Man.”
Please note that despite the registered trademark that is written after this, to be found on the organization’s web site, the title “The world’s strongest man” is in fact the property of The International Olympic Committee. The reason is that many years of prior use by many publications, TV, etc., is in reference to the winner of the super heavyweight division of the Olympic weightlifting competition.
Currently the real “world’s strongest man” is Matthias Steiner of Germany, the super heavyweight champion of the Beijing Olympics. He lifted 203 kg in the snatch and 258 kg in the clean and jerk. His total weight lifted was the gold medal result of 461 kg. He is the world’s strongest man.
The Wolrd’s Strongest Man M. Steiner (GER)
The strongman event is in reality a form of athletic entertainment much like professional wrestling with make up events, make up equipment, and make up titles. It is a crude effort to distinguish itself from established power sports which, among other things, have long established rules and regulations, equipment specifications, and, in the modern age, testing for performance enhancing substances.
The made up strongman events such as the truck pull, tires, kegs, and stones are essentially tests of brute strength with little carry over to any sport but strongman. For instance, none of these “world’s strongest men” competitors listed on the organization’s web site were at the Beijing Olympics. Certainly the functionality of their strongmen events (which, remember, are so functional to football) would easily carry over to two such simple, ordinary, barbell exercises as the snatch and the clean and jerk?
Unlike the strongman, make up barbells with tires, logs, or bars attached to a car and such, the international barbell is perfectly balanced with dimensions, specific weight tolerances, uniform markings for hand placement etc. This apparatus ensures that any international weightlifting competition, anywhere in the world, the playing field is uniform.
So, you would think the weightlifting barbell would be much easier to negotiate for any of these “world’s strongest men.” Unlike “awkward and hard to handle implements,” there is no need to worry about balancing an international barbell. Just pick up the most weight to arms length overhead and you get to be Olympic champion, the real “World’s Strongest Man.”
If these men were really the strongest men in the world and not entertainers, why go through all these weird shenanigans with make up implements which increase the risk of injury because they are “awkward and hard to handle?”
For instance, let the strongmen dispense with the “over head lift” or the giant log lift and substitute a standard barbell. Both of the strongman implements involve some form of overhead press, so instead of an awkward make up object, a regular barbell ought to be easy to press.
The Olympic press was abolished from weightlifting competitions after 1972. The world records at the end of that year were 90 kg class 197.5 kg (435 lbs), 110 kg class 213.5kg (470 lbs), superheavyweight class 236.5kg (520 lbs).
Any of these “world’s strongest men” can certainly be able to beat the record of David Rigert of 197.5 kg set in 1972. If anyone can beat that mark try to overcome Kozin’s (110 kg class) 213.5 kg. Should Kozin’s press not present a problem, by all means the “world’s strongest strong men” should attack the record of a real world’s strongest man. Someone who actually earned this traditionally bestowed title, Vassily Alexeyev who pressed 236.5 kg.
However, it is highly unlikely any of the strongmen could even challenge Rigert, let alone Alexeyev.
1. They would lack the power and coordination to lift a regular barbell to the chest (the first part of the press exercise);
2. They have too much muscle mass or lack sufficient joint mobility in the arms to let the barbell rest on their clavicles to begin the exercise properly;
3. They would simply lack the strength and coordination to actually press that much weight to arms length overhead.
For instance, Jang Mi-ran (KOR) became the strongest woman in the world by winning the gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics in the 75+ class with a result of snatch 140 kg and clean and jerk 186 kg at a bodyweight of 116.75. The most weight in the clean and jerk former “world’s strongest man” Bill Kazmaier could ever muster was about 170 kg at a bodyweight of over 130 kg.
The World’s Strongest Woman Jang Mi -ran (KOR)
The fact of the matter is these strongmen are refugees from the real world of dynamic sports; they could not make it in dynamic sports and were also rans.
So, what is the attraction for these make up strong man events to strength and conditioning for dynamic sports?
If you can’t teach your athletes to lift a specially designed, actual sport implement in the weight room and to train diligently fully accepting the “boredom” of hard work, then you copy what the guys who can’t do it either; so you employ make up stuff to ease the boredom of the weight room.
There is a special section of this article concerning “Strongman safety.” Astonishingly, the safety information presented is not intended to be a joke, but anyone with experience in sports training would look at this and conclude that “Strongman safety” is an oxymoron.
“Building mental toughness competitive desire …. Are top priorities.”
With tires and beer kegs?
This is such a crock. There is no known connection to throwing beer kegs, picking up stones, and pretend competitions with building mental toughness. The truth be known, hard work, a lot of exceptionally boring hard work builds mental toughness and character.
Michael Phelps trained seven days a week for swimming. He reasoned that this gave him a 52 day per year advantage over his competitors. Try jumping in a swimming pool seven days a week, week after week after week. The result of all of this boredom was eight gold medals. A colossal amount of boring work in the pursuit of athletic perfection. That is mental toughness.
Nadia Comeneci performed each of her routines ten times per day. That’s four events times ten. How boring is that? It is so incredibly boring she earned the first ever tens in gymnastic competitions.
“It’s a great way to incorporate functional exercise, and that’s a big buzz term these days.”
Never were truer words spoken. “Functional exercise” is just that a big buzz term. And, that is all it is buzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz