The Cutting Edge of Fitness is 2000 Years Old
Nowadays, people seem to be into fitness and strength training more than ever. Fit is the new sexy, and everybody is at least thinking about doing some sort of training. Still, the myth of “you need to go to the gym to get strong” is alive despite all the information available on the Interwebs. Well, let’s face it: training at home or with so-called “unconventional” tools is not for everybody.
There’s a title of a chapter in a book I wrote years ago entitled Super Strength and Endurance for Martial Arts. I chose to use that as the title of this article because it bears on exactly what we’re about to talk about. Newcomers to the world of training will think the things we talked about in this issue of this magazine, odd objects specifically, are a new craze or fad in unconventional training.
The entire premise of that chapter and really even this article now, is that it’s not. Possibly the most awesome training on the planet isn’t new. It isn’t fancy, it isn’t high tech. It is, in fact, the original bar-bells of mankind. It’s thousands of years old. It’s the first training of real warriors and athletes from all over the globe. It predates most written history.
It’s training with stones, barrels, sandbags, logs, and any other exceptionally heavy everyday object. Or at least objects that most people lifted that predate the “All I need to survive is thumbs and my cell phone era,” of technology we live in now.
Many people in the fitness industry would argue that the disc loading barbell was the greatest invention in strength and health, and it did usher in the modern era of fitness. I suppose if you are counting for the mainstream, then yes it probably is.
However, real strength has never been mainstream and never will be. Real strength, even when built with a normal barbell, requires an effort that the masses of humanity will never give. It requires you getting your hands dirty and probably going outside. It will require you to sweat in a way that isn’t glistening or chic or comfortable.
You might even bleed. However, if you’re willing to get out of the box of weakness that most of mankind lives in and get into the deepest primal training there is, then you might come out on the other side with a type of strength most humans can’t even fathom. You may not want that, but for me, the primal vitality and the ability to dominate in the real world that you get from odd object training is invaluable. What it can make you into is so much more that it’s worth any effort.
WAIT, SO IF THE MODERN BARBELL IS SO AWESOME, WHY BOTHER WITH OTHER STUFF?
Valid question. In fact, you should be prepared once you get into the real, crushingly out-of-the-box training I’m about to tell you about, you’re going to get that question all of the time. Usually, they come from guys whose biceps won’t be as big as your ankles. Guys who think that the only proper way to train is whatever Johnny Swole is doing this week.
Here’s the simple explanation of why you should be training with odd objects…
A barbell is meant to be lifted. It’s great. I advocate lifting barbells.
I come from a powerlifting back-ground and spent years lifting and still regularly lift barbells. You should be doing it. However, a barbell is not the end-all of training. A barbell is balanced and made to be gripped. It has a relatively friendly center of gravity and is easy use. Odd objects don’t. That is their beauty.
You see, they are real life. They’re really the endpoint of training with a barbell. The thing is, as strong as a barbell makes you, it can fall short. I found that one day while working with some cousins of mine who are steel workers.
I’d been powerlifting for a few years and was lightyears stronger than these guys, especially with a barbell. However, when I worked a few days with them moving odd pieces of iron and different, completely unnaturally shaped heavy implements, I found out they were pretty doggone strong, and I wasn’t satisfied with my own performance.
There was something missing in my training, and that’s exactly what it was, the lifting of things that were never designed to be lifted. So I added them, and I found a whole new dimension of strength that carried over to the strongman and barbell lifting as well as martial arts and every other area of life.
I also have found this: a man who is very strong with odd objects will almost always be strong with a barbell, but it does not always play in reverse. Rarely will you see a man able to lift a 300 pound stone, who can’t pretty easily deadlift 500 to 700 pounds with a barbell. However, it’s pretty easy to find a guy who can lift a 500 or 600 pound barbell who can’t pick up the 300 pound stone.
The difference in grip and body position and ability to manipulate yourself and gravity is why. Those are the things that play in real life.
So, What are the Tools of the Odd Object Training Trade?
You probably have seen most of them in a strongman contest on ESPN or some other television net-work. What you don’t know is that those are almost all passed down from some historic lift made by an earlier strongman or an earlier training group. In fact, I bet most of you have never heard some of the amazing historical stories of strength athletes and warriors nor from where our modern train-ing really stems.
You probably don’t know that the first myth of strength and the founding principle of training in the modern era, which is progressive resistance, is based on ancient Greek wrestler, Milo of Crotona. He became strong by carrying a live calf around the Olympic stadium every day until it became a full grown bull.
You may have never seen some of the extreme skills practiced at the Shaolin Temple in China. One of which is the lifting of a giant teapot that can weigh over 250 pounds. You may not have heard of the Fianna– a legendary group of Irish warriors who had a testing stone that you had to be able to lift to join their band. That stone has been located and is now a challenge to modern strongmen today.
You probably don’t know about the stone lifting from the great Hindu traditions of wrestling and calisthenics. What you can know now, is how you stack up against legends. If you train with the same stones that have sat on the Earth since the beginning of time and the same ones lifted by our forefathers, then you know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, whether you are strong or not.
FOR ME, ALMOST ANYTHING CAN BECOME AN ODD OBJECT.
In fact, you can lift a barbell in a way that takes the normal linear motions out and makes it a non-conforming object. However, the basics start with stones. I’m a big believer in the basic movements of the human body: lift off the ground, lift overhead, squat, and carry. Personally, I’m a fan of uncut natural stones as well. How-ever, cut stones are just as much fun. Those are the completely round ones you see in Strongman Competition often referred to as Atlas stones.
One of the things you’ll have questions about from people when you start doing this kind of training, especially with something like an Atlas stone, is about lifting with a rounded back. Most of your gym experts are going to tell you that’s the worst thing you can ever do. For most training and in life that may be true.
However, people all around the world lift with a round-ed back to lift something that forces you to get into a low enough position to put your fingers on the ground like a stone does all the time.
As long as you are bracing the same way that you would with a barbell– breathing into your diaphragm and contracting the muscles in your back. Be intelligent and don’t loosen your muscular tension. Lifting odd objects over a long period of time actually makes your back less susceptible to injury and strengthens deep core muscles that you really don’t even know you had.
You’ll also find that every object requires a different grip and slightly different body position. One of the real benefits here is that you are constantly getting slight variation which is exactly the way the body moves with and against things in everyday life outside of the gym. Barbells are always the same.
Every stone has a little different grip. Every sandbag has a little different grip. Every anvil, every barrel, etc. For most objects, you’re going to want to have your legs slightly outside the object to lift it. Place your hands as deeply under the object as possible. Brace with the arms and upper back to the shoulders. Squat down as much as possible and then pull the object up similar to a deadlift, but the position is deeper.
Most really heavy objects are going to require you to pull it to your lap and then stand. That means pull it up to the thighs, pull the object as deeply as possible into the hips and torso then sit into a squat position. Re-grip and then push with your hips, pulling the object up.
To stand, bring it either to the chest or to the shoulders. Then obviously you can press it over-head or whatever other movement you had planned to do.
Each object has its own benefits and reasons to train with them. Sandbags are cheap, easy, and they shift, which is very much like wrestling a live human opponent. A water-filled barrel does much the same thing especially in a barrel less than full or a barrel with mixed with half water and half solid mass such as stones or lead or sand. Loaded in this manner, the barrel tends to shift quite radically as you lift it similar to moving a human against his or her will.
Each of the objects can work every muscle in the body and will work many of them much harder than almost any other training method you will find. Whatever you plan to do with them: lifting them off the ground, loading them onto a platform, lifting them to the shoulder, pressing them overhead, doing variations of carrying either at the arm or bear hug style or overhead, or on the shoulder or supporting them in different positions, squatting, and lunging with them in differ-ent positions, etc.
All of this works the body in a phenomenally powerful way that gives you strength that you just can’t get without this type of training.
Since we’re already outside the box, you might as well come along on this madness journey with me a step further. I’ve been lifting these kinds of objects for 15 or 20 years and have now begun to experiment with many other combinations of positions and feats.
For instance, some of the pictures include supporting a stone in a iron bar position, supporting a stone in a wall sit or chair position, supporting a stone on the shoulder while flipping a kettlebell with the opposite hand, supporting a stone to tabletop position, carrying a stone one-handed while pulling a truck, holding a dumbbell in one hand with the other hand carrying a stone while dragging a tire and with a weight strapped to the waist at the same time, dragging a tire by tying a rope around the stone and using the stone to bear hug and then drag.
Or even tying a stone to a post with a rope and doing different isometric pulls with it.
Make sure you start with the basics– squats, presses, and pulls. These are the basics of all human movement. Then you can do the crazy stuff. The stuff that people don’t believe is possible.
The stuff that touches the legends of old and makes you start making comic book superheroes nervous. Most importantly, have fun. I truly hope you enjoy this training! Now get strong, get superhuman, and God bless.