Thursday, July 24, 2014

Strongman Training is as Effective as Traditional Resistance Training in Improving Body Comp, Muscular Function & Performance, Study Claims - The Data Suggests Otherwise

This image of heavy sled pulls was taken during one of the strongmen training sessions in the study at hand - for the full protocol see Table 1 (Winwood. 2014)
Brad Schoenfeld's recent study on the differential effects of 3x10 vs. 7x3 rep x set resistance training regimen (reread corresponding SuppVersity Article) took much of the wind óut of the sails of the proponents of classic hypertrophy training (3-4 sets of 8-12 reps) as the one and only training method for anyone thriving for maximal muscle gains.

An even more recent study by Paul Winwood et al. that's about to be published in the upcoming issue of the #1 journal for everything strength training, i.e. the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, does not just support the findings of Schoenfeld et al. it claims "that short term strongman training programs are as effective as traditional resistance training programs in improving aspects of body composition, muscular function and performance." (Winwood. 2014)
Maybe adding some HIIT training compensates the body fat gain with strongman training

Never Train To Burn Calories!

Tabata = 14.2kcal /min ≠ Fat Loss

30s Intervals + 2:1 Work/Rec.

Making HIIT a Hit Part I/II

Making HIIT a Hit Part II/II

HIIT Increases Post-Workout GH
Next to the fact that the two protocols in the study at hand were neither volume-matched nor based on the same exercises, there is yet another highly significant difference between the study at hand and the aforementioned powerlifting vs. classic resistance training study by Schoenfeld et al. the conclusion of the Winwood study is only "statistically correct". From a practical point of view, on the other hand, the body composition part of it is total bullshit.

If you take a look at the actual "body composition" data, even a blind man sees that the strongman protocol that consisted seven weeks /two obligatory training sessions per week) of the resistance training protocols outlined in Table 1 and two facultative, non-supervised and recorded sessions of prehabilition exercises, as well as two cardiovascular training sessions per week.
Table 1: Outline of the training protocols; * indicates that the exercise is performed explosively (Winwood. 2014)
The first thing you should realize after taking a look at the "traditional" protocol is that it's traditional, but not the protocol you would traditionally use if your main goal was to build muscle. The number of repetitions is too low there is no individual training for the arms - both of which are characteristics most hypertrophy regimens share.
Published ahead of print warning: I am not 100% sure that the data in the tables of the full text are accurate. The changes in strength parameters, for example are all negative. The article, on the other hand, speaks of increases, which is why I simply removed the "-", when I plotted the graph in Figure 1, which is now in line with the results discussed in the text.
This alone wouldn't be that bad, if the conclusion that both training regimen had identical effects on the body composition of the subjects wasn't simply flawed.
Figure 1: Changes in body composition and strength (Winwood. 2014)
Ok, the differences may not be statistically significant, but if one regimen, i.e. the "traditional" training improves, while the strongman training compromises the body composition of young men, I would be very hesitant to state that "strongman training programs are as effective as traditional resistance training programs in improving aspects of body composition" (Winwood. 2014).

If the trend the researchers must obviously have overlooked (or ignored) continues, the guys in the "traditional group" will soon look like ripped men's fitness cover models, while the guys in the strongmen group will develop a pot belly. Not exactly what anyone could want. Even if you don't care about being jacked, looking at the effects on body fat, the "traditional" strength training protocol would also classify as the healthier training regimen.
Suggested read: "Want to Get Ripped & Strong? "Battling the Rope" Could be THE Exercise to Do! The "Battle" is More Demanding Than Squats, Lunges and Deadlifts - Only Burpees Come Close" | more
Bottom line: Although the study does not, as the researchers claim, provide evidence for the efficacy of strongmen training as body composition improvers, the two regimen are in fact equally effective in improving strength and performance variables.

If you are more into increases your 1RM squat and deadlift (ES = 0.66), change of direction (COD) turning ability and total COD time, horizontal jump, and sled push performance you should gravitate towards traditional training. If, on the other hand, you are looking to improve your 1RM bent over row, 5 m sprint performance and COD acceleration, strongmen training should be your first choice.

If we assume you actually do the facilitative cardio sessions (I assume the lazy study participants didn't because it wasn't controlled), you may even achieve the same improvements in body composition (-0.4% body fat) on the strongman regimen. Furthermore we should not forget: Abs are made in the kitchen, not in the gym (learn more) - without reliable data on the quantity & quality of the food the subjects consumed the changes in body composition are hard to ascribe (solely) to the different training regimen.
  • Winwood, PW, et al. "Strongman  versus  traditional  resistance  training  effects  on  muscular  function  and  performance." Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research (2014). Publish Ahead of Print. DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000629