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Is the world getting stronger?
Today’s gym users have a bewildering range of options when it comes to choosing how to work out. From sweaty yoga at 100 degrees to underwater spin classes, the variety is almost endless. New trends (or fads, depending on how you view them) will keep on being launched.
But one of the big trends in fitness right now is very rooted in the past. And because of its firm foundation in science and results, there’s no sign of it going away soon. We’re talking about strength training, and in particular the way that strongman and strongwoman competitions have hit the mainstream.
So here’s our take on what’s been described as ‘the decathlon of strength sports’ that brings together tests of brute strength, grip strength, speed, power and endurance.
WHY HAS STRONGMAN/WOMAN TRAINING GONE MAINSTREAM?
Growing awareness of the fitness benefits of this style of training is fuelling a boom in its popularity. The aim of developing a strong, lean body is the goal for most people. They understand that it’s brilliant for fat loss, and that it trains multiple energy systems, from muscular endurance to pure strength development.
Events in a typical competition include the farmer’s walk, heavy tyre flips, loading sandbags, and lifting Atlas stones, kegs and logs. What’s great about these challenges is that the movements are relatively straightforward and easy to teach. This means they are ideal for those who struggle with coordination or more complex movements – as long as the weights involved are manageable.
Also, although some specialist pieces of equipment are used in competitions (and these should be provided for anyone training for competitions), it is easy for any club or trainer to create a similar experience using several pieces of familiar functional training equipment. So let’s move on to look at the main types of exercise and movement in a strongman competition, and how clubs can use readily available equipment to get their members having fun doing them on the gym floor.
FIVE WAYS TO BRING STRONGMAN TRAINING INTO THE GYM
There are six familiar features of strongman competitions that can be easily translated over to workouts in any club.
Several different forms of deadlift are featured at strongman competitions, from a straightforward maximum weight challenge to a test to see how many reps can be done in a minute. Although the competitions often make use of some pretty far out equipment (fancy deadlifting concrete blocks, a family car or eight huge truck tyres?), a traditional combination of bar and weight plates will do just as well in the gym.
New to the Escape Range for 2017 is the Elite Urethane Bumper Plate. A blend of hard-wearing urethane over a steel core shrugs off impacts to stay looking new for longer. From a usability point of view, they are thinner than many other plates; an important feature with the deadlift, in which your strongest members will need to fit more plates on the bar than with just about any other style of lift.
Clean and Press
As with the deadlift, a regular set of bars and plates will do the job well when it comes to the clean and jerk. But a great alternative to bars and plates is the use of a weighted bag. For example, Escape’s Sandbag is often used by trainers who want to coach members on lifting technique, but without initially getting into the possible complexity of using Olympic-style equipment.
The Sandbag is much more accessible for most people than bars and plates, yet it’s still capable of being used in the classic clean and press, thanks to its sturdy handles and a weight range that goes all the way up to 40kg.
A carry in a strongman competition can include a yoke walk, farmer’s walk or a duck walk. These are often measured over distance for time. Carrying heavy loads over a distance may be the epitome of strongman competitions as it can be incredibly tough and is a great spectator event.
There are specialist tools for some of these carries, such as loadable farmer’s walk rigs, but these aren’t necessary. Every gym has a set of dumbbells, and these are excellent tools for a loaded walk. Lifting and walking with a pair of dumbbells, one in each hand, is a simple way to replicate the demands of the carry. Alternatively, the handles on the Escape TIYR make it great for lifts and carries.
The classic crowd-pleaser at every strongman event is when competitors lift Atlas stones or beer kegs from the floor to a platform, repeated as many times as possible within a set time. It’s a great event for spectators, as well as being a huge challenge for participants.
But what if your club doesn’t have Atlas stones, kegs or a specialist platform? It’s easy to recreate the experience with just two pieces of equipment.
First, just about any heavy object will serve well in this exercise. A good example from the Escape range, for example, is the Sandbag. One of the heavier bags in the range will work really well as an object for loading. Most people would find that lifting a 40 kg Sandbag onto and down from a platform for 60 seconds would be a real challenge – especially as the contents of the Sandbag are unstable and move around to add difficulty to the exercise.
Second, instead of a specialist platform, why not use a plyometric box as the target for the loading exercise? Escape’s Plyosoft Box and new PLYO360 both come in three main heights, so they can be used individually or stacked to create a platform of a suitable height for all levels of strength and ability.
Flipping tyres is another classic strongman exercise. At competitions in the outdoors, a big tractor tyre looks the part, fitting in with the rugged ethos of the event. But in the gym, a tractor tyre is far from ideal: hard to keep clean, prone to leaving marks on flooring and limited in what can be done with it.
The Escape TIYR was launched a few years ago to bring the tyre flip into the gym. Originally, it was available in three weights: 40kg, 60kg and 80kg. Recently, we added a 100kg version so that even the strongest gym members have something to challenge them.
Strongman competitions normally feature a vehicle pull, from a small truck right up to a fire engine or even an airplane. Most clubs will struggle to provide members with a vehicle, but there is a great alternative: a sled loaded with weight plates will be plenty of challenge for everyone.
Load up an Escape Quad Sled with the plates of your choice, attach some Battle Ropes and you’re all set. Make sure the flooring is suitable though: turf style flooring is ideal, such as our Speed Track or Portable Speed Track.
ARE YOU FULLY EQUIPPED FOR ALL-ROUND STRENGTH TRAINING?
We’re all about providing clubs with strength tools in a huge range of weights, so that a club can cater for members of all abilities. You’ll see that when you check out the weighted equipment featured in this article:
Sandbag (available from 10 kg / 22 lbs to 40 kg / 88lbs).
TIYR (available from 40 kg / 90 lbs to 100 kg / 220 lbs).
Elite Urethane Bumper Plates (available from 5 kg / 11 lbs to 25 kg / 55 lbs).
Plus, the PLYO360 and Plyosoft Box plyometric boxes are both available in multiple heights (30cm / 12 inches, 45cm / 18 inches and 60cm / 24 inches).
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