Sunday, October 6, 2013

POWERLIFTING VS. STRONGMAN: LESSONS LEARNED

The following is essentially stream of consciousness.  Just wanted to capture some thoughts going through my head in the wake of my first strongman contest.

I in no way am claiming any sort of mastery of strongman, given my extensive 1 competition a week ago, nor am I a powerlifting guru, but now that I have experienced both sports in some capacity, I felt it was time to reflect on how my powerlifting training benefitted my strongman experience, and other thoughts on the two sports.  (If you missed my write-up on my strongman competition experience, it was the post prior to this one, along with a video.  Give it a review to see where I am coming from.)

ATLAS STONES


The thing that sticks out in my head the most is the atlas stones.  Grabbing the stone during the event was literally the first time I had ever handled a stone, and after about 3 repetitions I got a feel for the movement and was able to really move with the stone.  I ended up tying for first place in the event with someone with far more strongman experience than I, and I know that, had I had the technique figured out to start with, I could have gotten at least 2 more reps in the time frame.

I read a lot of advice for how to train for the stones if you don’t have access, and the two biggest movements I saw mentioned were front squats and zercher squats.  The argument was that these 2 movements replicated the movement patter of the stones, as the weight was in front of you, and with zerchers, cradled in your arm, like the stones.  However, from my experience, another great movement to train for the stones is safety squat bar squats.


Though you aren’t holding the weight in front of you, the stress on your upper back when loading the stone is incredibly similar to what you feel when coming up from the bottom of a safety squat bar squat.  The weight is trying to throw you forward and crush your shoulders into your thighs the entire time you squat, and you have to actively fight and resist the movement, but the same way that the stone is trying to pull you forward while you are doing your back to arch up and out of the bottom of the load.  I know that, as I was loading the stone and learned how to perform the load in one movement rather than 2 (lapping and loading the stone versus simply picking it up off the floor and loading it), that the movement pattern I was executing felt exactly like the thousands of safety squat bar squats I had performed in the past.

SAFETY SQUAT BAR

This ultimately takes me to my next point, which is that, as far as squatting for strongman goes, I can’t see much need for a straight bar, whereas I think the safety squat bar is invaluable.  Truth be told, I don’t just hold this opinion for strongman, but in general.  If a gun were held to my head and I was told I could only pick one squat to do for the rest of my life, I wouldn’t even hesitate to pick the safety squat bar squat.


"I suppose a reverse hyper would be out of the question?"

In terms of strongman though, I will list some of the chief benefits of the movement as I understand the sport.

1:  The SSB is a deadlift builder.  Louie Simmons was quoted as saying that it should be called the deadlift squat bar, and I couldn’t agree more.  Because of the stress on the upper back one endures while using the weight, you not only train to drive with your legs to move a heavy load, but to stabilize your upperback as well.  Having a bulletproof upperback on deads means that the weight never rounds your shoulders forward against your own volition, and that you will be able to recruit your lats and drive with your legs while exerting all of your force against the bar.  Additionally, your hip drive will be far more powerful, simply because having the bar in the correct position via your static upper back strength means that you will be able to drive your hips into the bar much earlier into the deadlift, rather than having to keep pulling the weight with your upper back all the way to lockout.

Given the fact that almost every strongman competition will have some sort of deadlift event, I would say that this tool is invaluable for a strongman competitor in this regard.


What a great sport

2:  As I mentioned above, the Atlas stones benefit greatly from use of the safety squat bar.  Additionally, because of its upperback building potential, I would imagine even more events would benefit from it’s training.  Farmer’s walks require a strong upperback, as does the yoke walk, dragging, etc.  Even if an event does not mimic the mechanics of the squat itself, the muscles the movement recruits and the strength it develops has some great carryover.

3:  There are limited squat events in strongman.  Not to say that there are not any (and truth be told, they are one of my favorite events to watch, such as this one http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ccHNZcOCJ4Q), but simply that, compared to the deadlift, there is a far greater chance of there not being a squat event in a competition than there being one.  Jim Wendler spoke of how the safety squat bar squat mechanic isn’t like the straight bar squat, in that it is less technical, and you can simply brute strength your way out of the hole with limited technique.  I have experienced this first hand when I abstained from straight bar squatting for almost a full year and exclusively used the safety squat bar.  It is very easy to let your upper back fall forward only to “catch” it with the SSB, whereas a straight bar will roll off your back and try to take your head off.

All of the above having been said, I feel this only further solidifies the need to SSB squat as a strongman.  The time invested in straight bar squatting has limited return on competition success.  Few events require prowess on straight bar squatting as a technique, whereas many events necessitate strong legs, which either movement pattern can develop, and a strong upperback, which the SSB shines at.  I feel that the brute leg strength that is developed from the SSB, though not as technically sound as with a straight bar, will also carry over to squat based events, should the need arise.  The only confounding variable I can foresee here is if one trains the squat to improve their Olympic lifts, and in turn trains their Olympic lifts to become a better strongman.  Given my limited exposure to all Olympic lifting and powerlifting background, I cannot wager much comment on this issue, and would instead actually invite others to chime in with their on experiences.  This in turn leads me to my next area of focus.

CLEANS AND DEADLIFTS

Here, I make no recommendations, but more share my experiences.  I have spent a lot of time refining my deadlift technique for the sake of taking advantage of my proportions.  My technique focuses on keeping the bar very close, keep my feet close together, rolling the bar towards my body, and many other mechanical considerations based around minimizing movement away from the body and keeping the bar close.  When I attempted to clean, these mechanics were greatly disadvantageous, and prevented me from being able to shoulder a weight.  I needed to start with the bar much further in front of me, get my weight forward, and explode upward rather than backward.

This became an area of concern come competition day, as my body would naturally default to the deadlift (what it had more experience with) whenever I attempted to clean, due to the relatively similar starting natures of either lift.  It in turn begs the question of how to address this.  My concern is that, were I to invest a great deal of time improving my clean technique, it would in turn override my body’s instincts for deadlifting.  Somehow, Koklyaev manages to not only have impressive Olympic lifts, but a 900+lb deadlift as well, which means to me that he is either able to discern the difference when he lifts or he simply uses his Olympic lifting technique to pull a massive deadlift.


I have never loved and envied one person so much at one time


I am wondering if perhaps the solution would be something as simple as wearing weightlifting shoes when I clean and chucks when I deadlift, so that the signal for the movement pattern difference is present before the lift even starts.  Curious to hear any input on this.

This is already a lot to digest, so I will let it marinade for now and come back to it next week.

7 comments:

  1. Cool to see you're getting into strongman.

    re: SSB's--for those of us without, similar benefits for using the "Strap Bar" (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EKOUj6aUXH0)?

    re: cleans/deadlifts--I asked LW strongman Chase Karnes about this a while back and he said that the movement interference is too high to make cleans worth doing as anything except GPP. From my own experience/analysis, the axle is more similar to a speed deadlift than a clean anyway...there's no triple extension, 3rd pull, etc (unless you're Misha!). I wear Oly shoes when squatting, cleaning, and pressing, and Chucks when deadlifting, as do most other people I know.

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    1. The issue I see with the strap bar is the lack of camber. I think it does a good job of simulating the shoulder saving aspect of the bar, but doesn't really tax the upper back like a SSB does.

      I feel the same with the clean at this point, especially since training it jacked my wrist up something fierce.

      Koklyaev is just nuts. I remember watching the 2005 IFSA show and seeing him full clean the axel, haha.

      Thanks for the reply.

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  2. Bummer. I don't think a SSB is in my budget (financially or space-wise) for a while.

    With other guys I've talked to, what the oly lift issue has come down to is whether or not you are proficient at them already. The guys that use Oly lifts in their training (Misha, Marunde, etc) are guys that were trained in them before strongman and were able to do them with big weights so they actually got benefit from it. For the rest of us mere mortals, speed work with deadlifts, squats, and the implements will do more for explosive power.

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  3. Here's a good article on non-stone stone training too.

    http://ironmillstrong.com/stone-training-101-part-1/

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  4. I say get oly shoes and work on lots of RDLs and some hang cleans in them. This will help your clean, but not interfere with your "powerlifting deadlift" technique at all.

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    1. Thanks man. I've heard the hang clean idea from somewhere else too, and I'm really liking it. I think it'll be just the thing. Thanks for the advice.

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