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Why We Use Strongman Training As A Method For Conditioning With Athletes

Updated: Oct 9, 2022

Strongman training is one of the best ways to target any kind of conditioning goals when you are short on time. From Aerobic work to Power work, it can be structured in a variety of ways where you get more bang for your buck. With all the qualities we are trying to develop, it is important that we as strength and conditioning coaches utilize the best training methods possible as we check off the clients physical attribute boxes throughout their programming.

This saves us some time during our training session yet stresses our body to produce multiple adaptations while staying lighter on our central nervous system. ( depending on the way it is programmed) so we can still gain some cardiovascular work daily or weekly.

Now, this does not mean that i am saying we do not perform any steady-state cardio, HIIT, Sprints, or other forms of conditioning as i know there are plenty of benefits towards those as well. But most athletes already just executed a workout and may not benefit fully from another 30+ minutes of conditioning (especially monotonous) .

Noticing in our football athletes, after we implemented strongman conditioning work into their sessions, it has provided a new stimulus just like other forms of conditioning yet it becomes more competitive therefore each athlete distributes more intention in it while having fun. This also keeps them fresh for the next day and does not burn them out when they come in the very next day for their session. This blog is just showing why we use these methods and not saying we don't use other at times.

Remember these reasons as you try and implement some strongman work next time you get frustrated about having to hop on a bike or treadmill again.

Benefits of Strongman Conditioning Methods

Strongman training has evolved and could be used for multiple purposes. From gaining overall strength, improving body composition, improving endurance, gaining better muscle recruitment and getting athletes ready for game competition.

These types of training methods mimic traditional lifts and also have a impactful carryover to daily competition while also targeting equal or even greater musculature.

For example, the sled press can mimic the specific angles needed on a football field at any position while blocking, keeping your hands tight, your core activated and driving your feet.

The farmers carry mimics an offset load on one side of the body like how in basketball you have your opponent pushing on one side of your body while running down the court. What muscles you use and how you sub-consciously stabilize your body against these opposing forces can make the different in scoring or turning the ball over.


Training Conditioning & Strength Together

A huge reason we like to utilize this method is the simple fact that you can train both of these qualities in the workout. No need to wake up early, or go to the gym or field again, just to do a "conditioning workout" This makes the workout and daily tasks much more efficient from a time stand point.

When i was an athlete, during the off-season i always prided myself on getting to workout twice a day. Thinking this was separating me, but little did i know i was wasting time. Instead of adding my conditioning methods into workouts, i always felt like it was necessary to split up my lifting and conditioning for the simple fact that i didn't want the effort of my lift to take away from my conditioning and vice versa.

Strongman is Hypertrophic in nature, meaning it actually will help athletes maintain muscle mass during the session and ESPECIALLY in-season when they are typically in a catabolic state and losing muscle during season rapidly. Coaches would be better off having quick short competitions of strongman style conditioning, instead of a whole 1 hour workout just to only hit bench press and clean.

Using a circuit training style, if you want Aerobic type of work then have sets last approximately 2 minutes and the total workout lasting 30 minutes. If you want more power type of work, have sets last anywhere from 15-30 seconds and sessions lasting anywhere from 10-15minutes. Pick 3-5 strongman exercises, do 3-5 rounds with anywhere from 1-2 minute rest in between. Depending on the variation of time during set, work, and rest, this can work different energy systems all while having the same exercises. This is a plus for any strength & conditioning coach.

Avoiding DOMS & Muscle Soreness with Strongman Conditioning

One main reason we favor strongman training methods for conditioning is because it produces very little muscle soreness. With myself and with all our athletes, no matter what energy system or quality we were targeting they never come back the next day completed fatigued or drained from high conditioning days. Unlike how some athletes would after a high volume session of sprinting.

Compared to traditional cardio or general weight training, most strongman exercises don't cause significant muscle damage because they are primarily concentric in nature and no matter the load, (sleds, logs, stones, sandbags, farmer handles) it doesn't typically use the stretch-shortening cycle.

For example, A sled drag study In "The Physiology of Strongman Training. Strength and Conditioning Journal" stated that there is no increase in creatine kinase which is a key marker studied in the role of muscle damage. (Woulfe, C 2014).

The researchers attribute this to the different phases of movement (eccentric, isometric, concentric) that damages the muscle which is again, absent in most strongman methods. This key factor was very important for our programming decisions because you can get a very similar metabolic stress that will burn fat and contribute high lactate levels, but without the delayed onset muscle soreness that you feel for days after and interferes with the next training session or sports practice.

Adding Strongman Lifts for Better Body Composition

Muscle Gain-

As stated above, Strongman conditioning not only is effective like traditional methods for sustaining muscle, but it can actually add muscle as well. In a 7-week study of rugby athletes, researchers found that players who used strongman conditioning exercises including Sleds, farmers walks, axle press, heavy sled pull, and log lifts saw a higher increase of muscle mass than similar traditional exercises with similar movement patterns. (Winwood, P 2014)

This study was done in the journal of research for strength and conditioning when looking at traditional development methods vs strongman training methods on rugby athletes.

For Endurance: Find 3-5 exercises that you can perform for 1-2minutes for about 5 rounds at 1 minute each.

For Anaerobic Development: (Like shorter, more intense bursts) Find the same amount of strongman exercises but instead perform for 2-45 seconds, for 3-4 sets with about 2 minutes of rest.

Fat Loss-

Strongman training workouts even performed for longer durations are still more anaerobic by nature. I bring this up because anaerobic conditioning has been researched which resulted in 10-20 percent more fat loss than traditional aerobic conditioning.

When hitting the talking points about reduced soreness, I also brought up the increase in lactate levels. Now to explain, Lactate is the byproduct of exercise that is metabolically stressful and also stimulates our body to release growth hormone. Thus, increasing our body's chances to burn fat.

Former studies in a sled drag workout (5 sets of 2x20 meters with 75% BW or a Tire Flip workout with a 400lb Tire performing 2 sets of 6 flips) resulted in significantly higher lactate build ups than an exhaustive treadmill workout in less time.

Take Away Points:

So if you are a strength and conditioning coach, a sport coach, an athlete, or even a regular gym go-er who just wants to change up their "cardio days" Give a strongman conditioning session a go. Design the workout around tire flips, tire/sled drags, sled pulls and pushes, battle ropes, sandbags, or farmer carries with a minimum working set time of :20seconds and alternate between upper and lower focused movements.

Build and maintain muscle, burn more fat, be less sore, and increase your cardiovascular health. What's not to love about this conditioning style?

If you are a current athlete or even a former athlete who just goes to the gym and you feel like you don't know where to begin or lack in progress, reach out and make a request to talk to a certified and qualified strength and conditioning coach to get your program structured! Email or fill out a request on our website @ to get your custom program and journey started today!

Here at Built Sports Performance, we provide individualized training programs that are specifically tailored to what your needs and goals are. If you are in the area or even out of state, we can get you the right custom coaching to help your dreams come true!

If you have more questions, we encourage you to leave a comment on the post or again, reach out. Thank you!

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