Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Strongman vs. Traditional Training: Strongmen Implements May Improve Muscle Mass and Sprint Abilities, Traditional Training is the Better Fat Burner, Squat & Sled Perf. Builder

Illustration of various strongman events. A = heavy sprint-style sled pull; B = log lift; C = axle press; D = farmers walk; E = arm over arm prowler pull.
In his PhD thesis, Paul William Winwood analyzed the differences between strongman and traditional training in five steps - with study 5, a 7-week resistance training study producing the most interesting data.

Before Winwood randomly assigned thirty experienced resistance-trained rugby players who had been assessed for body composition, strength, power, speed and change of direction (COD) measures before the study to either strongman or classic resistance training, he conducted a survey in 193 strenght and conditioning coaches. 88% percent of the respondents said that they'd use strongman implements in the training of their athletes, with sleds, ropes, kettlebells, tyres, sandbags and farmers walk bars ranked as the top six implements used.
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In study two, which was undertaken to determine the injury epidemiology of strongman athletes, Winwood found that 82% of strongman athletes reported injuries (1.6 ±1.5 training injuries/lifter/y, 0.4 ±0.7 competition injuries/lifter/y, 5.5 ±6.5 training injuries/1000 hr training) with the highest reported areas of injury being lower back (24%), shoulder (21%), bicep (11%) and knee (11%).
Figure 1: Winwood's survey shows that (a) sled pulling / pushing is the conditioning coaches' favorite strongmen implement and that (b) the implements are used for several reasons, mostly to improve the conditioning or explosive power / strength of the coaches' clients who are obviously no strongmen (Winwood. 2015)
The data also reveals that the most common type of injuries was strains and tears of muscle (38%) and tendon (23%). Winwood also points out that
"[a]n interesting finding from this study was that although 54% of injuries resulted from traditional training, strongman athletes were 1.9 times more likely to sustain injury when performing strongman implement training when exposure to the type of training was considered" (Winwood. 2015).
Studies three, four and five were then devoted to a comparison of the biomechanical characteristics of three strongman exercises (farmers walk, heavy sprint style sled pull and log lift) with three traditional exercises (deadlift, squat and clean and jerk), respectively. These studies gave insight into the potential stresses associated with strongman training implements and the likely chronic adaptations associated with training with these implements. Data Winwood used to design the workout routines in the previously mentioned 7-week comparison between strongman and classic resistance training.
Table 1: Overview of the training regminen (Winwood. 2015)
The seven-week training intervention involved participants performing either traditional resistance training or a strongman training programme (Table 1). The traditional and strongman exercises were paired based on biomechanical similarity and loads were equated between the two groups. The exercises chosen are commonly performed in strength and conditioning practice, and by strongman athletes for the development of muscular strength and power" (Winwood. 2015)
Overall, all strength and functional performance measures tended to improve with training (0.2% to 7%), thus providing evidence that both training programmes provided positive training adaptations (see Figure 2). However, no significant (p < 0.01) between-group differences were found for the functional performance measures, indicating that there was no statistically significant advantage between traditional and strongman training methods.
Figure 2: Minimal changes in body composition (left) and big changes in strength (right | Winwood. 2015).
Much to the disappointment of the strongmen fans, Winwood also observed that between group effects traditional training was associated with greater (small-moderate) effect size changes in body fat mass (ES = -0.38), % body fat (ES = -0.38), 1RM squat (ES = 0.47) and deadlift (ES = 0.66), COD turning ability (ES = - 0.38) and total COD time (ES = - 0.25), horizontal jump (ES = 0.56), and sled push performance (ES = - 0.31 to - 0.46) than strongman training. One must say, though, that the absolute changes in body composition are more or less insignificant.

Furthermore it's not like strongman didn't have an advantage, either. The strongman training was found to elicit small-large greater increases in muscle mass (ES = 0.44), 1RM bent over row (ES =1.10), 5 m (ES = - 0.28) sprint performance and COD acceleration (ES = - 0.33) than traditional training.
Bottom line: Overall it is thus just as Winwood says: "[T]he principle finding in this study was the non-significant between-group differences in body composition and functional performance measures after seven weeks of resistance training.

Speaking of "do what you want" using kettlebells may be an alternative, too.
The initial hypothesis that one would be vastly superior to the other does thus have to be rejected as both types of training did not offer a significant advantage over the other for improving these outcomes with a short-term training program. Against that background it would be interesting to see how a higher volume training with more than two supervised workouts per week and/or a different group of subjects would react to the program used in the study at hand. Without the corresponding data, we do yet have to conclude that you should do whatever you like: Both classic and strongmen resistance training work... but the latter, and that's another results of the study at hand, is definitely more injury prone | Comment on Facebook!
  • Winwood, Paul. Strongman implements training: applications for strength and conditioning practice. Diss. Auckland University of Technology, 2015.