Using Strongman Training in a Sports Performance Context

Strongman training is popular in both private and public sectors of coaching. Many questions exist regarding the application and/or efficacy of it. Here’s my take in short.
My conviction is many individuals have not earned the right engage in these activities and there exists essential criteria that must be met first:
Ø An acceptable level of relative strength in classic compound exercises
Ø An acceptable presentation of the joint-by-joint (1,2) in one’s own body.
Being able to express said strength and optimal joint mechanics in closed-loop activities like weight training is a sine qua non before expressing it in open loop activities like strongman events. In reality, it’s more like an "attempt" to express solid joint mechanics during these events because we all know this is not going to happen the entire time, the nature of the sport does not allow for it. But even attempting to express what you don't have is a failure already. Then why do individuals still choose to do it? Obviously, because they don't care and like the adrenaline rush. Some will always deem the psychology more important than the rest of the equation but my stance is you need to be qualified to do most strongman events. Contextually, what's important here is that for some individuals doing strongman just motivates them even more to break down their passive structures the next time as they most likely will continue competing. Even worse, if it’s a coach engaging in these events they might be likely to implement contraindicated strongman activities with their athletes and break them down as well, which as McGill has demonstrated, does not fit the long term athletic development model.
Indeed, many passive structures of the body are poorly vascularized so it takes longer for nutrients to arrive and tissue remodeling to occur. After stress has been applied proteoglycan and collagen turnover can take a very long time. Even if some research does support the induction of minor damage to passive structures for the sake of maintaining tissue physiology and biomechanics it doesn’t matter here because strongman events are eliciting huge amounts of stresses in said tissues (McGill et at. 2009), especially when done without proper mechanics. Is it any wonder why world-class strongmen demonstrate better and less injurious body mechanics (McGill et at. 2009) during the events? In this light, they last longer in the sport whereas competitors using poor technique often and sooner in their career break down their passive structures earlier.
In the end I think there are better ways than strongman training to enhance the driver variable in the performance equation which can be just as "intense,” don't require my suggested criteria, and can be implemented without the expense of the athletes frame and tires.
In the past I’ve expressed my opinion on the issue and it generated this comment a number of times:
“All the scientific training in the world isn’t as good as the intensity that strongman training brings!”
Dissecting this statement brings us back to the same analogy as usual, which is that of the vehicle. The underline suggestion is that “intensity” (aka The Driver) is not as potent (some would say important) a stimulus as the other parts (Engine, Frame & Tires, Fuel). This is false; especially when that initiative promotes negatives outcomes. Buffering a component, say the driver, at the expense of the other, say the frame and tires, is negligible. I won’t go as far as to tell someone their choices are “right” or “wrong” as obviously “it depends” is the best choice here but nevertheless this is my conviction regarding strongman training. Certain events may be excellent choices for some but I am speaking about strongman as a whole. In fact I use some modified variations of the events in my athletes programs, but when asked for a general perspective on strongman training, the above is my answer.

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  1. RickKaselj says:

    Hi Sam,
    Great blog post!
    Many sports-specific training facilities have begun to incorporate movements associated with the Strongman Training and really, the beauty of this training is that there's no one way to perform the exercises, which usually ends up improvising the whole event.
    Keep writing, I always look forward to reading your blogs.
    Rick Kaselj

  2. Sam Leahey says:

    Thanks for the kind words, Rick. I’ll try and keep it up!

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