Strongman implements training: applications for strength and conditioning practice

Winwood, Paul
Cronin, John
Keogh, Justin
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Doctor of Philosophy
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Auckland University of Technology

In recent years, the use of strongman training modalities for performance enhancement have become popular in strength and conditioning practice. While advocates of strongman training have suggested strongman implement training is more specific than other forms of strength training and may help ‘bridge’ the gap between gymnasium-based strength training and functional performance, little information exists in the scientific literature as to the risks and benefits of strongman implement training. This thesis sought to investigate the possible injury risks and benefits of strongman implement training in strength and conditioning practice.

In study one, a survey was used to determine how strength and conditioning coaches utilised strongman training implements in their strength and conditioning practice. It was found that eighty-eight percent (n = 193) of coaches used strongman implements in the training of their athletes, with sleds, ropes, kettlebells, tyres, sandbags and farmers walk bars ranked as the top six implements used. Anaerobic/metabolic conditioning, explosive strength/power and muscle endurance were the three main physiological reasons for strongman implement use.

Study two was undertaken to determine the injury epidemiology of strongman athletes. Eighty two percent of strongman athletes reported injuries (1.6 ±1.5 training injuries/lifter/y, 0.4 ±0.7 competition injuries/lifter/y, 5.5 ±6.5 training injuries/1000 hr training) with the highest reported areas of injury being lower back (24%), shoulder (21%), bicep (11%) and knee (11%). The most common type of injuries was strains and tears of muscle (38%) and tendon (23%). An interesting finding from this study was that although 54% of injuries resulted from traditional training, strongman athletes were 1.9 times more likely to sustain injury when performing strongman implement training when exposure to the type of training was considered.

Studies three, four and five compared the biomechanical characteristics of three strongman exercises (farmers walk, heavy sprint style sled pull and log lift) with three traditional exercises (deadlift, squat and clean and jerk), respectively. These studies gave insight into the potential stresses associated with strongman training implements and the likely chronic adaptations associated with training with these implements. The kinetic data presented on the strongman and traditional exercises provided the necessary information to help accurately equate loading in the final training study.

The final study presented in this thesis compared the effects of seven weeks of strongman resistance training versus traditional resistance training. Thirty experienced resistance-trained rugby players were assessed for body composition, strength, power, speed and change of direction (COD) measures. The main findings were that all performance measures improved with training (0.2% to 7.0%) in both the strongman and traditional training groups, however no significant between-group differences were observed in functional performance measures after 7-weeks of resistance training. Between group differences indicated small positive effects in muscle mass and acceleration performance and large improvements in 1RM bent over row strength associated with strongman compared to traditional training. Small to moderate positive changes in 1RM squat and deadlift strength, horizontal jump, COD turning ability and sled push performance were associated with traditional compared to strongman training. These results suggest that strongman and traditional training approaches may elicit similar responses over short-term training periods.

This thesis provides insight into strongman implement training and its potential applications for strength and conditioning practice. The studies presented in this thesis provide the first evidence of how strength and conditioning coaches utilise strongman implements in practice and the injury epidemiology associated with strongman implement training. The biomechanical studies provide insight into the acute stresses associated with strongman implement training and the likely long-term chronic adaptations associated with these implements. The training study provides the first empirical evidence of the chronic effects of strongman resistance training on body composition, strength, power, and speed measures. Strength and conditioning coaches can use the data from this thesis as a possible source of new ideas to diversify and improve their training practices. The data can be used to help guide programming, which can be used to help maximise the transfer of training to sport performance and therefore improve training efficiency.

Weight training , Injuries , Biomechanics , Resistance training , Functional
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