THE AXLE (total cost: $55)
Disclaimer: The act of pressing an axle will NOT make you Mariusz Pudzianowksi
I have written about the awesomeness of this implement on many occasions, but will briefly summarize once again. The axle is similar to the barbell in that it is a straight bar that you can put weight on. It differs from the barbell in that it is about 2” in diameter, has no rotating handles, in many cases no knurling on it. It is also one of the most common implements one will need to press in strongman. I’ve competed in 5 contests so far, and every single contest had an axle press in it (one clean and press for reps w/cleaning each rep, one clean and press w/clean once and press away, and 3 medleys with an axle in it). If you look through NAS or US Strongman upcoming competitions, you will find the axle appears in the majority of the competitions as well, so training with one is crucial.
Making an axle is simple. Get to a home improvement store that sells plumbing pipe. Find the largest galvanized steel pipe you can that will still fit a weight plate on it (I brought along a 2.5lb plate to check all this out, but a 1.5” pipe should most likely do the trick). Have an employee cut the pipe to 7.5” (Fun fact: most “7 foot barbells” are slightly longer than 7’, and if you want this to fit in a rack, you’ll want it longer). Buy a roll of duct/gorilla tape. Measure 2’ from each end and wrap the tape around this point over and over again until you have created collars large enough in diameter to stop your plates from rolling in toward the center of the bar. Congrats: you have an axle. If you want some cheap clips to hold the plates on the bar, you can buy some battery clamps at the same hardware store, as spring collars tend to not fit on here. Otherwise, locking collars work well.
From my experience, training with this style of axle will make you stronger come competition day. The lack of knurling will make your grip awesome, and my axle at home tends to be slightly thicker than anything I’ve seen in competition. If you are lucky enough to get an axle with knurling in competition (happened to me once), even better. This will last a long time when it comes to pressing. I have been told by a fabricator that it most likely will not hold up for heavy deads/drops from overhead, but I have yet to try that to be able to give you a report one way or the other.
On display: Homemade axle. Not on display: cardio
KEGS (prices vary depending on availability)
The keg is another incredibly valuable resource to have as a budding strongman. Kegs can be pressed, thrown, carried, or put over a bar depending on the intent of the contest promoter, and their unique shape/size makes it difficult to replicate the technique needed using anything else. Thankfully, depending on how big of a party town you are in, kegs can be pretty cheap. You can usually find someone on craigslist looking to get rid of one, or you can try to bother local bars and offer to pay the deposit on a keg.
I will at this time get into the legality of keg ownership. When you purchase a keg of beer from a distributor, you are BUYING the beer, and they are LEASING you the keg. The brewery still owns the actual keg, while all you own is the beer. This means that, when you buy a keg and do not return it to the store, even though you paid the deposit on the keg, you still do not own the keg. The brewery still has legal ownership of said keg, you simply lost your deposit on it and did not return it. It is most likely the same thing when you buy one of these kegs off of craigslist/from a bar, so if you find this aspect squeamish, this method may not work out for you. It is however worth noting that "illegal keg ownership" is incredibly decriminalized, so unless Anheuser Busch comes by your garage for a surprise inspection, you'll be fine.
Odds are, if your keg still has the brewery stickers all over it, you don't actually own it
If you want to buy a keg straight up, it gets a little less economic. Brand new ones costs about $120, which is still an awesome deal for such a versatile and valuable piece of equipment.
What really makes kegs economic though, is loading them. If you want a sloshy/challenging keg, you can load them with water straight from the hose. Use your bathroom scale to find out how much weight you put in it. If you don’t want it too sloshy, you can always fill it to the very top and make it insanely heavy. However, if you want a more stable filler, you can buy sand from any home improvement store for about $2.50 for 50lbs. Comparing that to the cost of iron plates makes it soon incredibly obvious why a keg is such a great economic choice for a strongman, as once you’ve made the initial investment on the shell itself, you have one of the cheapest loadable implements on the planet.
As was previously mentioned, kegs can be used for just about anything to make someone strong. Get your keg and lean how to clean and press it overhead. Once you can do that, pick it up and run with it as far/fast as you can. Once you can do that, try to get it over a bar/load it to a platform. Pour sand out/put sand in as needed, or get a few different kegs of varying weights and have an awesome workout. One other major benefit of the keg for a home gym owner is it’s a fantastic platform to put heavy dumbbells/logs on to eliminate the clean out of a movement, or something you can stack a sandbag onto during training.
SANDBAGS ($65, if not less)
One of the few times where "sandbagging" isn't being used in reference to the Novice division
For cost of sandbag, I’m referencing the Ironmind “Tough as Nails” sandbag, but there are tons of vendors out there and lots of DIY options. As the name infers, this is a bag loaded with sand. Reference the above section on kegs to see why having a sand loadable implement is a boon for the strongman on a budget. However, what makes the sandbag different from a keg is that, while the keg will maintain it’s size and shape in most circumstances (assuming you don’t drop it from lockout and dent it…oops), a sandbag is far more chaotic, and will shift and sway as you attempt to pick it up. This means cleaning and pressing a sandbag will make you strong all over as you attempt to overcome a heavy moving object escaping your gasp, while running with a sandbag will require a deathgrip.
Sandbags can be used to do pretty much anything a keg can do. You can clean and press them, put them over a bar, toss them, run with them in a medley, etc. I will caution that the “Tough As Nails” sandbag is NOT, as I have managed to create a small tear in it by dropping it onto a small rock on my sidewalk, and the stitching is coming undone due to constantly dragging it on concrete. I should take better care of my equipment, but the name mislead me. Thankfully, you can always gorilla tape a sandbag, and if you get a cheap furniture dolly, transportation becomes easier.
One other boon of the sandbag is that, for how versatile of an implement it is, it’s very much transportable. I had a competition last January, and 2 weeks before it I was going to my in-laws for Christmas in New Years. Knowing I was going to be there a while and might not be able to get to the gym often, I threw my sandbag in the car and was able to do a huge variety of workouts with just one piece of equipment. I got very good at cleaning awkward objects, lapping heavy implements, pressing a moving weight, etc etc. You don’t need to bring a whole gym with you, just one sandbag can go far.
Again, if you can get these cheap, make a few in different weights. Variety is good.
FARMER’S WALKS (Oh so many possibilities)
A REAL blacksmith understands the value in bringing his OWN anvil to the job
There is just no excuse to not be training the Famer’s Walk (in terms of equipment availability, I don’t want to start a stupid war discussing the validity of this exercise as it applies to synchronized swimming). The whole point of the movement was to BE simple: grab something heavy in each hand and walk with it. To say you don’t have access to the equipment is just false. In terms of getting close to what you’ll use in competition, that’s where things can get a little trickier, but not by much.
The obvious go to is dumbbells. Find the heaviest ones in your gym or get some plate loadable ones and go to town. What will suck about this approach is the pick up: DBs tend to be much lower on the ground than farmer’s handles, so you’ll have to do the deficit deadlift from hell just to pick these up. If you got 2 kegs, you can make your life easier put setting one on each side and grabbing the dumbbell, or do the same with benches at your gym.
What inevitably happens with the above is that the dumbbells eventually aren’t heavy enough. In this case, you could always buy the Spud Inc traveling farmer’s handles, recently released for about $65. These things look awesome to me, and may make it into my gym bag at some point if I’m ever traveling and want to still train farmers. Again, no excuses here, and plenty cheap.
If you don’t want to pay someone to build you farmer’s handles, you’re in luck, because aside from the axle they’re one of the easiest implements in the world to build. I build a pair of side loaded farmer’s handles out of about $80 worth of plumbing pipe with a hand drill. It really sucked and took about 4 hours, but they can hold up to 285 per hand with no issues. You could build a pair of top loaded handles using wood and flanges/plumbing pipes in probably a fraction of the time with a power screwdriver. Just get some 2x6s, cut them to about 5’ in length, get four 1.5” pipe nipples at about 1’ in length and a flange for each nipple and install the flanges/nipples at either end of the boards. You now have the posts for your farmer’s walk implements. All you need now is to decide how high you want the actual handles, by the appropriate sized pipe nipple/flange/L pipe, and you can make your handle. Use wood screws to secure the flanges and you’re set. This should help out.
Then, of course, there is always stuff like this
If you build/assembled everything above, you’d have an axle, keg, sandbag and some farmer’s walk handles. You’re looking at spending anywhere between $150-300 depending on how sophisticated/legal your build is, about the cost of 1 quality barbell. For that cost, you have the ability to train for the following events.
-Axle clean and press (clean once and press away)
-Axle clean and press (clean and press each rep)
-Overhead press medley (axle, keg, sandbag)
-Axle deadlift (reps, max weight, in a medley, etc)
-Keg clean and press
-Carry medley (keg and sandbag)
-Sandbag clean and press
-“Stones” (the mechanics with lapping a sandbag/keg and getting it over a bar can be similar)
-Farmer’s walk deadlift
Not to mention to massive amount of “overall strength” training with such awkward implements will develop, which will benefit you in a variety of strongman movements. You’ll have the majority of your bases covered in competition day, with the yoke walk probably being the only event that can’t really be replicated/improved without some exposure to the equipment.
Good luck in your training!