Coaches, why do people come to you? Especially if you’re in CrossFit, there’s a good chance that people are looking for your help to get stronger, lose weight, feel better and build lean mass.
Unless you’re a specialized coach, I’d be willing to bet that the ‘Average Joe’ doesn’t come into your front door looking to master the third pull of their clean, or they want to see you because they just can’t crack the code of their middle distance race turnover (mostly because they don’t even know that they’d even want that).
They want to look, feel, and perform better. Period.
With this in mind, I find it surprising at how many CrossFit gyms have GHD machines, climbing ropes, gymnastics rings and wood weightlifting platforms, and how few gyms have sandbags, tires and even atlas stones. Considering the goals of improved basic fitness, I’ve come to learn strongman tools provide some of the most direct, basic routes to achieving these goals. Coincidentally, they do so quicker, more effectively, and without many of the flexibility and motor pattern limitations of other training disciplines.
I’ve had some experience over the past 10 years, so I can take a group of 10 people and guide them through a progression with the barbell hang power clean (relatively simple movement) to understand load, intensity, hip extension and power. This progression would take some time, but it wouldn’t be over today. I feel confident that I can get these 10 strangers moving fairly well after about 15 minutes of guided instruction. However, they wouldn’t be anywhere close to mastering these concepts, and many of them likely wouldn’t be ready to bear any substantial load or intensity.
With a sandbag or an atlas stone, however, I could have the same group of 10 people fully understand load, intensity, hip extension and power in four minutes.
I’m not saying the barbell should be pushed aside. It’s an essential tool in my opinion. What I’m saying is that considering the potent simplicity of these basic strongman tools, there’s no reason not to implement them.
Why don’t more gyms embrace strongman tools?
In my opinion, most of this question can be answered in a couple ways. The first is that strongman seems like an incredibly fringe fitness practice reserved only for the strongest men. This myth can be trumped in the same way that barbell practices can be trumped. Sandbags and atlas stones, for example, come in all shapes and sizes. Furthermore, the laws of scalability apply just as well.
Also, I think there’s a general ignorance to how to use these tools. Until coaches and gym owners use them, there will be a resistance to buy and include them. Luckily, this community has an incredible leader in Rob Orlando, who tours the world with his CrossFit Strongman Seminar to teach athletes and coaches how simple and effective strongman implements can be.
Finally, if barbells and kettlebells are intimidating, you can imagine what the sight of kegs and atlas stones does to the psyche of the outside observer. This fear, however, is often equally and oppositely replaced once men and women play with these tools and realize that it’s possibly the most fun they’ve ever had in a gym.
As I like to tell the students at DEUCE Gym in Venice Beach, “If you want to make this stuff rocket science, knock yourself out. But it’s not. This is basic.” And, in return folks are getting stronger than ever, faster than ever, and having more fun than ever.
Did I mention it’s a lot easier to coach beginners to shoulder a stone than it is to snatch a barbell?