The Science Side 3: Strongman vs Traditional Training

This month I’ll be analysing a study entitled Strongman Vs Traditional Resistance Training Effects on Muscular Function and Performance by Winwood, Cronin, Posthumus, Finlayson, Gill and Keogh published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research (2015).

The Study

The aim of the study was to determine how a strongman based training program compared with a traditional strength training program in developing the physical attributes required for sports such as Rugby.

The test group was made up of thirty, male, resistance-trained, amateur and semi-professional rugby players.

At the start of the training cycle all of the athletes underwent the following battery of tests:

·         Body composition

·         5, 10 and 30-m sprint time

·         Horizontal jump distance

·         Seated medicine ball chest press throw

·         Vertical jump height

·         Grip strength

·         15-m 70kg sled push

·          5-0-5 Change of Direction (COD) test

 

The athletes were also tested to establish their current 1-3 Rep Max’s in a number of conventional barbell lifts including the Squat, Deadlift, Bent Over Row, Military Press and Clean and Jerk. Training loads for both the Strongman and Traditional lifts were based on these results. All of the athletes were re-tested on these lifts at the end of the program.

 

The Program

Half of the group followed a 7 week pre-season training program using traditional ‘Strongman’ equipment which was performed twice per week (see below):

 

Strongman Program

Log lift

Farmers walk

Axle press

Heavy sled pull

Arm over arm prowler pull

 

The other half followed a 7 week training program using similar but more traditional equipment and exercises which was also performed twice per week (see below):

 

Traditional Program

Clean and jerk

Deadlift

Military press

Back squat

1 arm row

 

What Did They Find?

As far as the performance tests were concerned no significant differences were found between the two training programs (both groups improved a similar amount on the tests when they were redone after the 7 weeks of training). There were a few results which I found particularly interesting.

·         Muscle mass and Body fat: The Strongman training had a slight advantage over the traditional program meaning the Strongman group put on a bit more muscle and lost more body fat. This is not hugely surprising to me considering how taxing strongman training can be but is interesting to note nonetheless.

·         Clean & Jerk and Barbell Military Press: Both groups had very similar improvements in the C&J and Military Press despite the fact that these exercises were performed every week by the traditional group and not at all by the Strongman group.

·         Squat: The traditional training group had a greater increase in their squats than the Strongman group (7.5% vs 2.7%). This was to be expected seeing as the strongman group didn’t squat during their program, but the difference was less than I would have predicted.

·         Deadlift: The traditional training group had a greater increase in their Deadlifts than the strongman group (11.0% vs 5.7%). As with the squat, the difference was less than I would have predicted seeing as the Strongman group didn’t Deadlift as part of their program.

·         Bent Over Row: Neither group performed the barbell bent over row but the strongman group increased this lift by a far greater amount than the traditionally programmed group (13.6% vs 4.3%).

·         70-kg sled push: The Traditional Training group improved their 70kg sled push time by a (slightly) greater margin than the Strongman Group (3.4% vs 1.2%). This was surprising to me considering the Strongman group has the Sled Pull as part of their program. I would have expected the fact that they had regularly trained a similar looking exercise to have led to a greater increase for this group

 

What does this mean?

Many coaches would be scornful of a preseason training program for rugby players which didn’t contain Squats or Deadlifts. But when it comes to developing the key physical attributes, required for success in the sport, this study has shown that they aren’t necessarily essential. Remember that for a rugby player (or any other athlete bar Powerlifters for that matter) success isn’t measured by how much they can squat, but by how well they can play the game and this is much more closely linked to sprint speed, agility etc., than kilos on a barbell. This study has shown that a program which involved no conventional Squats, Deadlifts or Olympic lifts can be just as effective at improving those qualities as one which does. While I wouldn’t rush to abandon the traditional lifts in favour of Strongman equipment entirely it’s great to be reminded that we shouldn’t become married to certain exercises simply because we assume they are the best tools for the job.

Secondly take a moment to consider the impact of the strongman training on the Squats, Deadlifts, Military Press and Clean and Jerks of the Strongman group. No they didn’t improve as much as the group who were training them week in week out but they did improve! Many people wouldn’t dream of dropping one of these lifts from their training for fear of losing hard earned kilos off their Squat, Deadlift etc. These guys did exactly that (for seven weeks!) and they actually improved on them, all be it only marginally. For me this is one of the biggest take home points: You can mix your training up more than you think without sacrificing strength in the lifts you take a break from.

Finally, take a moment to consider the implications of the sled push vs sled pull results. As coaches it is often tempting to make assumptions about the relevance of an exercise to a given activity based on the visual similarity of one the other. Pulling a sled along by a harness looks pretty much the same as pushing one along yet in this study the sled pull did slightly less to improve the sled push than the (visually quite different) Squats, Deadlifts and Cleans.

 

Doing it Yourself

I don’t recommend you rush to replace all of your traditional barbell exercises with their Strongman equivalents however I do suggest you introduce them as accessories to Presses, Squats and Deadlifts. I do in my own training and that of  many of my clients to great effect. Keep and eye out of our up-coming article on the Strongman implements and how and when we like to use them here at PPG but in the meantime a great place to start is with Farmers Carries on Deadlift day!

 

Let Us Help You #BeMoreAwesome!

Strongman training is a great way to revitalize your training, it’s fun and as we have seen just as effective as it’s conventional counterpart, if you would like to introduce some strongman style training into your program feel free to drop us an email or just come down and check out Plymouth Performance Gym!

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