How to Use Strongman Exercises for Conditioning

Published on November 28, 2019 by James Dixon
Cross training workout - Two muscular men during competition in the farmer's walk exercise

Strongmen have to be amongst the best adapted athletes to high workloads.

Therefore, strongman exercises are amongst the toughest, most efficient movements you can find for improving performance, cardiovascular health, and building dense muscle mass.

They are great tools for improving your physique.

There is more to them than this, however: they will improve your athletic performance, core strength, and often coordination whilst helping you to build the kind of tenacious mindset that every athlete needs.

Bodybuilder Trying To Pick Up A Stone
Strongman training lends itself to high workloads

The kinds of exercises we are talking about here mostly involve concentric movements. This makes them relatively easy to recover from, even when training at higher resistances and workloads. You can get the results you want without really frying your central nervous system.

These three exercises are my favourite strongman moves that you can incorporate into any routine today.

1. Prowler push

This is perhaps my favourite exercise outside of the big four (squat, deadlift, bench and overhead press). The prowler push is a fantastic finisher for your legs and core- I often use them on AstroTurf as an assistance move after heavy squats. It allows you to really put 100% of your energy into the workout whilst being safe and comfortable.

Alongside pushing your cardiovascular system into overdrive (my heartrate often hits 90% BPM or so on the prowler), this exercise will target your core muscles, your quads and your calves all in quite a major way. It will elicit hypertrophy whilst greatly improving your lactate threshold.

sled push woman pushing weights workout exercise
You will use your full body moving the prowler from point A to point B

You can either go for lighter weights and sprint with the prowler or go for heavy weights and walk or jog with it (the latter is my preferred option, as it puts the most amount of trauma into your muscles, which is precisely what you want). Take short rests and work on keeping your heart rate up and your muscles burning throughout.

2. Backwards sled drag

This is another favourite of mine. I usually go for it as a finisher after deadlifts, as it has a great deal of carry over into your posterior chain. Attach a rope or TRX cable to the sled, lean backwards, holding the handles, push the balls of your feet down and drive yourself backwards one step at a time.

You have the option of going light and keeping tension in your calves or going heavy and bringing it more into your heels and hamstrings. Both work well and should be used as often as possible.

Make sure you’re only using your legs to move the sled- keep your upper body still and stable, with your lats packed and your core braced. Try not to weave your torso, and definitely don’t turn this into a row with your back and arms.

sled rope pull woman pulling weights workout exercise
You want a stable torso and burning legs

As with any sled or prowler exercise, this will work your lactate threshold. You can push yourself far longer than equivalent exercises, hence why I use this as a finisher most often. Race the clock for a real challenge- I most often set up a hundred-yard pull utilising a ten-minute EMOM protocol (Every Minute On the Minute).

Most of the pressure will be felt in your posterior chain and glutes, exactly where you want to target as you hit hypertrophy for deadlift training.

3. Farmer’s carries

The last exercise today is another old trusty: the farmer’s carry.

The best way to perform them is with proper farmer’s carry handles. However, most commercial gyms won’t have them. I often opt to use a trap bar instead, as you can get the same position going and can load up multiple times your bodyweight if you need to.

You can use dumbbells or kettlebells, but these won’t be able to get heavy enough for most people. If you go for a four hundred metre walk with them, great: if you’re looking for strength building with a ten-yard walk, they won’t cut it.

Either way, you will want to deadlift the weight up to the start position. This will make sure you get the position you need, but will also light up your posterior chain, bringing in that mind-muscle connection. Mind muscle is a big benefit of the farmer’s carry, so do it right.

Young muscular sportsman doing farmer's walk exercise during his cross training workout
Farmer’s carries represent a gruelling challenge

Other than this, you will be working your grip (big time), your traps, core, legs, arms… most parts of your body take on a fair amount of isometric tension during farmer’s carries.

This will all work to improve your ability to stand under load. It will improve total strength and spot specific strength, and will shoot your heart rate sky high, making the farmer’s carry great for conditioning.

Use it at the end of any workout, multiple times per week if you can manage. Either go for short walks against a clock or as part of a circuit or go for a longer walk for a real mindset challenge.

All of these exercises can be taken in isolation or as part of a larger circuit or program. If you want to, you can build a whole training session around any one of them (or all of them- I often do.) If not, you can throw them in as finishers after your main lifts and accessories are through.

Either way, load up, push yourself hard, and make sure you’re sweating, shaking and gasping for air at the end. This will be the best way to elicit hypertrophy, to condition your lactate threshold and cardiovascular capacity, and to make sure that you use every last shred of muscle fibre and every last ounce of energy before you leave the gym.

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