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Friday, December 16, 2011

Strongman for Runners? Part 2: Tire flipping....yes please!

Strongman for Runners?  Part One: Why I will be developing freaky gorilla strength this winter

The dude in that medieval torture device is my friend Alex De Marco. We went to law school together. He's just as intense in normal conversation as he is in this picture. And he competes in strongman competitions.

Folks who have spent any amount of time bored and at home on a weekday afternoon at around 3pm know what I'm talking about when I say "strongman". If you flip through your cable channels for long enough at random times of the day, you're bound to find some kind of "world's strongest man" competition. These folks are performing incredible feats of strength; from pulling semi-trucks, to flipping tractor tires, to deadlifting Volkswagons. I've always found it incredibly entertaining. But I never thought I would be doing anything like it.

Especially not as a runner right? Usually runners can't squat off the toilet with the morning paper, much less squat a small car like these guys (and De Marco does have several pictures of him doing just that). Like I said in Part 1 of this series though, I don't think it necessarily has to be that way. You might not be able to cars lift like my buddy here, but it's not inconceivable to think that you can be strong and also go long.

Now you could do something traditional to build strength. Programs like the one I described in Part 1 will build that freaky gorilla strength you're looking for. That stuff is great. It also gets kind of boring. It also leaves out much of the benefits I talked about with high-intensity interval training programs like Crossfit and Crossfit Endurance. There is too much evidence that HIIT is effective in building endurance. No need to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

I think the perfect program would be a more strength-centric and powerlifting inspired program that included elements of HIIT. Kind of like if powerlifting and Crossfit had a baby? Turns out...that program already exists. And it looks a lot like this:

If your wife doesn't let you keep a tractor tire in your garage, you can always make it double as a sand box!

If you really think about it, strongman stuff seems made for runners. It's all about your posterior chain. You know...your ass muscles...and all the other stuff on the back of your body that you use for running. Those are the same muscles you use when you deadlift a car, or flip a tire, or pull a big rig down the street with a harness, or farmer walk with the frame of a smart car (which if you're doing it right should be more of a farmer "run").

Strongman events also provide the same kind of high-intensity workouts that make Crossfitters such successful runners, just with more of an emphasis on strength. The point of any strongman event is either to perform a set of tasks as fast as possible (like putting Atlas stones up on a platform), or to complete as many repetitions of a given movement in a period of time (deadlifting a Volkswagon for time for example). Extend the time or repetitions of that event, and maybe reduce the weight used, and you have yourself something that looks an awful lot like a WOD ("workout of the day" for those not yet initiated into the Cult).

And to top it all off, it's an incredible functional fitness workout. Lifting irregular objects is a stability muscle toasting workout unlike any other. Training these strongman events will straight up wreck you.

Side note: I understand that it's debateable at this point whether Crossfit-style training leads to better race times than traditional LSD-style endurance training. But that's another post. Besides, whenever someone argues that point with me, I just take off my shirt. Actually I take off my shirt even when I'm not arguing that point. I'm like the cast of the Jersey Shore without the tan-o-rexia. I can't help flashin those abs!

Now I'm not exactly an innovator here when it comes to blending strongman moves and Crossfit. Rob Orlando of Hybrid Athletics has been doing this sort of thing for years. He's a champion strongman turned Crossfitter who posts his strongman-inspired WODs on a site called StrongmanWOD.com. I'm not even the first person to suggest this sort of stuff for running. According to my friend Alex, 5-time World Strongest Man winner Mariusz Pudzianowski was big into endurance sports. But I am the first one to suggest this stuff on this website. I know...impressive right?

So how do you incorporate strongman into your current training? Here are some quick tips. I hope to be training more with my friend Alex and learning even more. I'll have more tips and talk about my strongman adventures in the coming weeks. Maybe even some videos of him making lift cars til I puke.

1. Back to basics:

I spent a whole post talking about the importance of the deadlift. Even if you train strongman-style, you can't get away from the fact that the foundation of developing good strength has always been, and will always be good old-fashioned compound movements. You should be focusing your training on the big three functional lifts: deadlifts, squats, and overhead presses. Strongmen also spend a lot of time doing Olympic lifts like the clean and jerk or snatch for explosiveness and power. Developing explosiveness in the same way will also help your running.

Again, I would keep the weights heavy and the reps low. Too many reps on these exercises invites bad form and injury. The tested and proven protocol for these exercises is 5 sets of 5 reps. Do it that way. Not 7 sets of 3 reps. Not 10 sets of 1 rep. Seriously. People with bigger necks than you have already figured this one out. You do it their way until you can beat their max squat.

2. Train events

You're probably not going to find a set of Atlas stones lying around your local gym. But I bet your gym has things like a trap bar. Throw a ton of weight on it and take it for a walk. You just did a farmer's walk; a strongman staple. Put some weights in your kid's sled or the bed of a wheelbarrow (take the wheels off!) and you have a drag sled. If you look creatively at the world around you, you can find the equipment necessary to mimic a strongman event. And adding those events to your workouts will provide you with tons of functional strength.

If those exercises don't interest you, how about keg tosses and lifts? If you buy the kind that's full of beer, it's a great exercise for your muscles and your liver. Other exercises include yoke carries and presses, tug of war, fingal fingers, and much more! The possibilities are limited only by your imagination...and the amount of crap that your wife will let you put in the garage.

You are not dragging that thing home mister!

3. Get a grip

If you've ever done any kind of heavy weightlifting, you know that it's usually your grip that fails first. If you haven't...it's usually your grip that fails first. And after that, it doesn't matter how much gas you have left in the tank. If you can't grip a weight, you can't lift it.

Events like the farmer's walk are great for grip. But you don't always have to grab a weight and run around with it to get a good workout. Try doing your basic lifts with a so-called "fat bar", which is a barbell with a 2-inch diameter. You can also grab heavy things and hold them with just your hands or fingers for as long as you possibly can. In law school, I used to practice my pinch grip by holding multiple law books using just my fingers. Sometimes I even got around to reading them.

Phone books still are good for something!

Now even though I've said that strength and endurance can go hand in hand, at some point they represent burning the candle at both ends.. Too much strength will make you bulky and interfere with your running efficiency. Too much running has a catabolic effect on your muscles and will result in your body literally eating your strength gains. The key is finding a balance.

It also remains to be seen whether this sort of training will work for ultramarathons. Certainly the CFE protocol will get you across the finish line. But as folks who have tried it note, it's only good up to a certain point (usually the 50 mile mark). Beyond that there's no substitute for good, old-fashioned running.

I love doing lots of heavy lifting, so I'm excited to see if this kind of stuff will work for me. Winter is the perfect time to focus on getting some good strength for the upcoming running season citizens. I know I'll be doing that by flipping tires and lifting cars. Won't you join me?

Happy tire flipping citizens!


  1. Is there a gym around MG/Plymouth/New Hope where you can do this type of workout? Or are you doing this at home?

  2. Ryan, I am doing it all at home, or at my friend Alex's house. He has an entire strongman setup in his garage. Otherwise a good gym for powerlifting is The Gym in Plymouth. Lots of strong dudes over there.

  3. Hey, I just wanted to comment that I just recently looked at a presentation on "the Science of Sport blog" where they cited research that showed that amongst elite sprinters:

    "Faster speeds are not achieved vie more rapid leg movements"

    and then concluded from this that

    "Nearly all the differences in sprinting performance result from what occurs on the ground"

    Basically, we can only run at so high a cadence, what influenced outcome the most is how the legs were used at the given cadence. I know that you cited sprinting in your first post, but I just thought it was interesting to read both pieces of information, in a short time from of each other because to me it provides a good case for increases in strength providing some potential benefit in all types of running because it will affect what "occurs on the groud".

  4. David, take a look at the article by Barry Ross I linked in Part One of this post. It talks about the most important part of speed being the amount of force you use to power through your stride. Which of course is all strength and power, and strength endurance in the case of long distance runners. Interesting stuff.

  5. Jason = long distance & barefoot runner expert plus some cross-training & insanely popular blogger.

    Christian = long distance & barefoot runner expert plus strong man compenent (interesting) & hugely popular blogger & full of swag.

    Pete = horrible barefoot runner & Functional Fitness obsessive man & somewhat popular blogger

    Together the three of us are a force to be reckoned with. We are like the Justice League for strange folks! We need a logo or something!

  6. The blog is really nice and informative about the road and construction.Thanks for the blog post.

  7. Well, thanks for the awesome tips. Really guys, hats off to you. You’re doing a risky job and it may result in muscle twisting or may result in massive health disaster. Tire flips or vehicle flips are trending now among teenagers and mostly adults. They try different breath taking stunts and sometimes get badly injured or die. I think is it mandatory or required to get involved in such life risking activities. I don’t think so. If you want to build a body then go ahead and there are other ways but getting involved in this is something I don’t support.

  8. Actually helpful but looks something missing, you should mention some precautions or warnings that will grab the attention of small kids but it's fine ,these stunt are only for adults .

  9. Wow! Awesome stuff. I really love to read your article. Trying or inventing new things are good but don’t put extra strain while doing something new. It may affect your body or health. Thanks for the post

  10. Actually, the posted stuff was awesome! Hats up to them who puts their complete efforts for this work. Invention is good but it makes more essential to keep your body healthy and nice. Glad to read your stuff my friend. Thanks for the post!

  11. This type of message always inspiring and I prefer to read quality content, so happy to find good place too much here in the past, the writing is just great, thanks for the post.

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