I attended a CrossFit Strongman Certification given by Rob Orlando and hosted by CrossFit Causeway in Coleraine recently and wanted to share some of my thoughts and experiences from the weekend.

I’ll have to admit to not having much of a background in strongman training but have always like the idea of it and when I saw that Rob Orlando was coming to Ireland for the certification I very quickly decided I wanted to go.


Strongman training (mainly) consists of lifting, carrying, pushing, pulling and flipping of large and often irregular objects. Nowadays, when you picture strongman competitors you’d probably imagine really huge guys (usually from a Scandinavian country) pulling trucks and lifting cars on worlds strongest man TV shows. Sure this is part of the top and televised level of strongman but this type of training can have many practical applications for all of us in our everyday training.

If you’ve not familiar with who Rob Orlando is, he is a CrossFitter and strongman competitor. He is the owner of CrossFit Hybrid Athletics in the U.S. and for some years has been incorporating strongman movements into his CrossFit training and into the programming for his gym for some years now and has been at the forefront of promoting strongman training it to a wider audience. He has a background in competing in both strongman and CrossFit and finished 22nd in the 2009 CrossFit Games and 15th at the 2010 CrossFit Games. He is an incredibly strong and I have to admit pretty cool guy. Here is a short video that’s worth checking out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iEErD4XOBcY.

Rob opened by explaining why he feels that strongman training has such a carry over to CrossFit and summed it up quite nicely with the phrase “large loads over long distance”. This is a phrase that is used quite often in CrossFit circles but it also nicely sums up a large part of strongman training. Picture the strongest man competitions from TV again and that truck being pulled for distance or that giant stone being lifted from the floor to a high pedestal all can be summarised by this one phrase.

For those of us who weight train regularly we are used to lifting weights from the floor. This happens in regular and repeatable manner, the bar is the same thickness, the height of the plates mean that the bar is the same height from the floor each time and the same distance from our shins. This all means that we can (at least aim to) lift the bar from the floor in such a way that gives the most mechanical advantage over the weight, moving the weight in a predetermined path keeping the bar as close to our body as possible. This mechanical advantage is somewhat taken away from us in strongman training. Atlas stones (large spheres of concrete ranging anywhere from a few kilos in weight to as heavy as you can find a mold to make), kegs, axle bars, all of these things are different in shape, they wont be at the same distance from your shins each time, they are much harder to grip and far more awkward to handle. I had never had a chance to train with any of these implements before so I was very interested to see what they were like.

Power cleaning a sand filled beer keg is a very different thing to power cleaning a barbell. The plates on a barbell spin, we can release our grip on the barbell to allow faster turn over of our elbows when creating that nice rack position to receive the weight. All of this changes with a keg. If you ever get the chance to power clean a keg and an instructor tells you to really get your chin out of the way then I’d recommend following their advice, I checked out what happens when you don’t move your chin back enough so you don’t have to try it.

Atlas stones are another interesting one, we were shown to ways of lifting these from the floor to our shoulders. The first one involved deadlifting the stone from the floor, cradling it and then using an explosive hip extension cleaning it to the shoulder. The second way involved getting into a low squat and cradling the atlas stone on the floor and taking the atlas stone to the shoulder in one explosive motion. During the atlas stone instruction Rob Orlando played a quick video he had taken of his son (five years old at the time) picking up a very large pumpkin from the ground. Rob said that he hadn’t cued or coached his son in any way on how to pick up the pumpkin but how his son did it was a perfect example of how to pick up an atlas stone.

It makes for interesting thinking that we will, with very little coaching pick these kind of objects up correctly which can make them easy to coach but also easy to participate in. Most of the strongman implements or movements can be incorporated into CrossFit workouts quite easily. Tabata atlas stone lifts, 45 seconds of tyre flips followed by 45 seconds of “box” jumps onto the tyre, all simple but very effective workouts incorporated throughout the day. There was even a short workout involving power cleans with an axle bar paired with the dreaded burpee. If used correctly, these movements can be used as both a conditioning tool and a very effective way to build raw strength.

The day was finished off with some yoke carries and farmers walks. The yoke is an awesome implement, picture something that looks like a free standing squat rack with a bar across the top joining the two stands. Once suitably loaded with weight you simply stand up under it as if you were about to high bar squat and then start walking. If anyone is trying to decide what to buy me for Christmas then one of these will do nicely, but you may also need to buy me somewhere to store it!

I may not get to incorporate strongman movements into my everyday training but I will be looking to sprinkle it in now an again if possible as it is a very fun way to train and very beneficial.