The OldTime Strongperson Workout

By Andrew Heffernan |

What can you learn about fitness from someone who drags semitrucks, lifts massive stones and flips 800-pound tires for fun?

More than you might think.

“Strongman training is really the ultimate in functional training,” says Elliott Hulse, a professional strongman from St. Petersburg, Fla., where he trains everyone from strength athletes to recreational fitness buffs. “You’re pushing, pulling, lifting, dragging and throwing heavy things. Our bodies are designed for these activities, and we’re healthier and more vital when we do them.”

Fellow strongman coach and former competitor Steve Pulcinella, USAW, owner of Iron Sport Gym in Glenolden, Pa., concurs: “When you exert maximum strength for one to two minutes straight — like you do in competition — it’s like running an all-out quarter-mile: great for building strength, power and endurance at the same time.”

In other words, strongman-style training is an old-school version of the all-in-one workouts most cutting-edge fitness experts believe all of us should be doing. It’s just a little more novel, a little more intense and, well, a little more fun.

Although it’s generally called “strongman” training (named after the mustachioed stage performers who lifted, smashed and balanced odd-shaped heavy things onstage beginning in the 1800s), many women find this type of workout makes them firmer and more sculpted than the workouts they’re accustomed to. (And fear not: Whether you’re male or female, strongman training won’t give you the round belly and gigantic neck of a strongman competitor unless you’re also eating like one!)

Hulse and Pulcinella have created the following modified strongperson workout you can do using equipment available at your local health club. During some exercises, you’ll use that equipment in unusual ways, but that’s part of what makes this “old-meets-new” workout fun: It’s anything but the same old thing.

The Workout

Spend five minutes doing a dynamic warm-up, making sure to mobilize your major joints, with an emphasis on the hips and shoulders. Then perform the following four exercises in order, resting as indicated. Perform the workout up to two times a week on nonconsecutive days as a full-body strength-training session.

1. Medicine-Ball Loading

  1. Squat down, retrieve the ball and repeat the movement as quickly as possible, taking care not to hit your head on the bar.

Tips: Because most medicine balls are relatively light, you don’t have to be too concerned with picture-perfect form when you squat down to get the ball — just bend over, grab it and lift it over the bar.

In competition, strongmen perform this exercise using Atlas stones — massive rocks sometimes weighing hundreds of pounds each. For them, it’s a brutal test of raw strength. For you, it’s a fun and unusual (but intense!) ramp-up to the tougher moves to come.

  As many reps as possible in one minute. Rest 90 seconds and repeat one or two more times for a total of two or three sets. Space out your reps.

  1.  Reverse the movement, straightening your arms and lowering the bar back to the starting position.

Tips:  “Many strongman events require you to pull something heavy toward you — a stone, a truck, a rope attached to something heavy,” says Pulcinella. For people seeking functional fitness, the bent-over row helps keep the muscles in the midback healthy — a major key to improved posture

 Two or three sets of eight to 12, resting one minute between sets. Use a lighter implement than a standard 45-pound barbell.Add more weight!If your workout area is small, walk in a square, a figure-eight pattern, or along an out-and-back path. For an added balance-and-control challenge, you can try this movement with a barbell, grasping the center of the bar with one hand.

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