When most individuals think of “Strongman”, two thoughts tend to come in mind. First, massive 6-foot plus giants of human beings and second, Atlas Stones. The Atlas Stone and the concept behind it are as traditional as Strongman gets, reaching back to the roots of the Iron Game. Though the stone itself is a rather abrasive object to attempt to lift, the concept behind it is paramount to any athlete and can be applied to much more than just the cement molded stones seen in sporting events.
The anatomy of a stone lift, or what we are going to call an “Odd Object” lift is consistent of all chains of the human body. From start to finish the posterior chain, core, and shoulder girdle are manipulating the object to the individual’s center of gravity whether to project it to a specific point or hold to carry. Starting from the bottom the object is deadlifted to the knees where it can easily be grasped to move into what we will call the “second lift”. The second lift takes this object and either brings it to the shoulder or onto/over a threshold while being “bear hugged” to the chest typically tucked under the chin or cheek and being projected upward from extension through the posterior chain.
The biggest misconception of Strongman is the manipulation of the spine through most lifts. Though a very taboo subject across the board; the rounded thoracic spine is very common and is a natural position for the strongman (and natural for humans as well). The key point of breakdown in a lift such as a stone, sandbag, keg, etc. is the rounding of the lumbar spine. While coaching or performing odd lift movements, keep an eye on the low spine and manipulate weight according to form breakdown. If lumbar fails, the lift shouldn’t be performed and needs to be modified. Secondly, all objects should be lifted from the ground and manipulated safely with a strong clutch negating the bicep. One of the most common injuries in most Strongman movements is a torn or separated bicep.
Now that we have the details out of the way; let’s move some heavy shit! The Odd Object lift can be done for 3 major movements. These include:
- Object to Shoulder/Overhead
- Object over/on threshold
- Carried for distance
All movements can be performed for time, reps, or weight. Typically, it’s best to start simple and then get more complex as you master the motion. All of these can be performed with basic objects you can find at your local hardware store such as a bag of mulch or cement, thick/long PVC filled with water, logs, etc.
The first movement I want to cover is Object to Shoulder. This is where all other movements begin and must be performed first. As stated above, the object is first deadlifted with a tight clasp and straight arms (remember, avoid using your biceps). The object determines the start point of the lift; however, most of them begin between the balls of the feet with a straight lumbar spine. From here the object is cradled at the knee within a squat position. At this point it is easiest to clutch it tight to the chest to project to the shoulder. From the heels through, pull the hips forward and begin “rolling” the object through extension to the shoulder, then cradle it tucked next to the ear and clasped with one arm around the outside and the other hand bracing the front. For most athletes, this is a great way to develop glute engagement and explosive extension.
The next progression to developing your odd object lifting is to take said object and put it over or on to something. Most are probably familiar with the Atlas Stone to podium you’ll see on televised events. Big dudes, big stones (pun intended?), and super tall pedestals. The most important thing is to start slow and keep it simple. Remember, all lifts begin with the above movement but in most cases it isn’t cradled at the shoulder but clutched to the chest and placed from that point over or onto your threshold. Most thresholds can be as simple as a well supported shelf, a rack or even the back of a truck or cargo vehicle. If it’s safe and can support said weight, it can be used. Start very simple with something chest height to get used to the motion and increase as you see fit. Avoid anything that you need to push the object upwards for the sake of learning and to avoid dropping said weight on your precious feet.
The final progression to this brute act of manliness is to grow a thick freaking beard… I’m kidding… it might help with some padding though!
In all seriousness, the next and final major odd object progression is to carry said odd object to a specific location for distance or time. This is one of those major movements that would be good to do with a partner or coach solely because form breakdown will not just be in the lift but through the carry. Avoid overextension of the spine through the carry movement. As the above lifts, the first portion of the lift is the same ending at the chest in what we will call “Front Rack” for the sake of familiarity. Pick a distance, pick a threshold or end point, pick up your weight and get moving!
Any and all of these movements can be done in various programmed points whether it be for event programming, weight, time, height or a variety; as well as while performing body weight movements like squats or lunges. My favorite way to get the heart rate up and beating is to either couple an object to shoulder with body weight movements for an “Every Minute On The Minute” style set up or Tabata style (20 Seconds work to 10 seconds rest for 8 sets). Another great program set up is a weight ladder ascending or descending either to a peak weight or for time.
From bro-ing out, to bro-ing down; odd object lifts are a great way to develop overall strength and conditioning for just about any sport. With safety in mind, nothing is more brahlic than picking up a heavy-ass object and putting it somewhere for everyone to see, so you can say “Hey, look at this freakin’ thing while I put it over here like a damn boss!”
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