In March 2014 Power Athlete launched their flagship program, aptly named Field Strong, and being a Power Athlete follower since 2009, I naturally jumped onboard. Field Strong was new and different in that it allowed @John the ability to dial in and constantly evolve the programming; he knew an invested group of loyal followers were not going to cafeteria train or secret squirrel the program, cherry picking their favorite pieces and neglecting the rest. This shift was a game changer for athletes who, like me, wanted to seriously sharpen and hone our athletic performance traits under John’s guidance.
To this day, John still personally writes every Power Athlete training program you see on our site, attacking limitations he sees in people’s training. But, building powerful athletes requires the proper equipment, and just like every movement in the program, every piece of equipment used in Field Strong has a specific purpose behind it. You can try to find ways to work around them and still manage to get sweaty, but you won’t be tapping into the true purpose of the training and driving the desired adaptations. Rather than talking about trying to outsmart the program, get smart about how you outfit your gym.
We saw the first example of utilizing a specific piece of equipment to drive a targeted adaptation in Field Strong’s second cycle, aka the “Sandbag Cycle,” which is forever etched in my memory. For those of you who experienced it then or have been through it since, you know how grueling cycle it can be. The intent behind this cycle was to use an awkward, imbalanced implement to increase an athlete’s tensile strength. At the time, the heaviest sandbag I had was 95 lbs. - a far cry from the 135 lbs the program frequently required. The easy solution would have been to just load a barbell or grab some heavy dumbbells, but that would have defeated the intended purpose. So, I had to get smart and invest in a heavier sandbag to accomplish John’s purpose.
This article will highlight pieces of equipment that have been part of the evolution of Field Strong over the years as well as the purpose behind their implementation.
You know what’s nice about a barbell? It is perfectly balanced, manufactured with knurling and a diameter that allows for an easier grip, a well-lubricated bearing system the allows for the bar to nicely rotate enables the bar to rotate smoothly, and two collars that evenly distribute the weight. All this comes together to create a This a great and tool that allows us to lift a bunch heavy of weights with relative ease. You know what doesn’t have any of that? A bag of sand. Have you ever tried to Power Clean a 135 lb sandbag? I don’t know about you, but I’m convinced there is no way that a bag labeled as 135 lbs really weighs 135 lbs.
Sandbags are awkward, grip intensive, full body, and create a fu-- um, I mean “new” challenge to posture and position in Primal movements. By its nature, the weight distribution of the sandbag is constantly shifting the distribution of weight, which in turn forces you to have to continuously fight to maintain control. This fight, further develops your tensile strength and tests your ability to react to a shift in external load in real time through space. Sandbags are where we introduced the “Field” in Field Strong. Don’t believe me? Hit Zach Even-Esh’s Old Schoool Welbourn Sandbag Challenge: 30 Sandbag Ground to Shoulder @ 60% BW.
Cost: Depending on the size around $65-$150. Or get a crafty and make your own.
While most gyms are going to have the standard 10-20 lb Dynamax Med-Balls, there are a few problems with these for our plyometric application. First, they are too soft, meaning they hit a wall their kinetic force will dissipate into its surface; this is a problem because the med-ball drills are not only designed to improve your ability to produce force but also your ability to reduce and control force. Reactive med-balls maintain their kinetic energy and bounce back faster when thrown against a wall which translates to a greater challenge to maintain posture and position as you catch them and reverse the action.
Second, the name of the game with these med-balls is speed and power, so less is more. You should have 4 lb., 6 lb., and 8 lb. reactive med-balls in your collection. These qualities make it an effective tool to practice producing and reducing forces through all primals and all planes of motion. In other words, this means increased performance and injury prevention.
Not explicitly in the programming, however this is a simple yet highly effective tool for addressing limiting factors and imbalances in the lower extremities. Our ankles are able to produce a massive amount of force; consequently, all this force must be safely reduced. Speed doesn’t always kill, but uncontrolled deceleration does. With the physio board we can work on tibialis anterior and calf control, which can help improve ankle function. This means better and stronger ankles to help support everything upstream (knees, hips, etc). Speaking of upstream, the physio board is also a great way to strengthen the stabilizers in the hips through all planes of motion.
Cost: between $15-$25 and an hour watching Home Improvement for carpentry tips.
Less is more! The smallest boxes most gyms have are around 20 inches tall. These can be useful for box jumps, but aren’t optimal for executing step ups. The Power Athlete step up calls for the hips to be slightly above the knee when the lead foot is flat on the box; this allows for proper posterior chain engagement. For most people this setup position is going to be challenging to achieve with such a tall box the 10-12 inch box enables the proper setup position. This allows for proper execution, resulting in the transfer of training to on-field performance. To dial in your step up, check out how we coach our athletes up in their set up and execution.
Unfortunately, you are going to find that a 10-12 inch plyometric box is something that you probably can’t purchase. So you are going to have to construct one or find someone who is handy.
You might be thinking to yourself, “Trampoline? What are we doing, an 80s cardio routine?!” In your dreams Swayze. In reality, the trampoline allows us to reinforce a number of things: posture and position of the torso, knee and ankle position during the violent drive phase and coordination between arms and legs at top speed are just a few examples of the traits we want to dial-in. The trampoline is a patterning tool, much like arm swings and the wall drill. It is tricking you into keeping the knees up, maintaining dorsiflexion, and drive position at high speeds. You can’t pose your way out of trampoline sprints.
Additionally, we get the question all the time: “What can I sub for sprinting when it is snowing out?” This is one of the best alternatives we have.
Simply thinking you can work around this by just doing high knees in place misses the mark, just like Michael Bay missed the point in Pearl Harbor.
Cost: around $40 Amazon.
Safety Squat Bar
The Safety Squat Bar falls squarely in the category of a luxury item and not something that is absolutely needed to glean the benefits of Field Strong. That being said, there are some major positives to having one in your arsenal. The handles in the front enable someone who is having shoulder, bicep, or wrist injuries and allows them to continue to load a bar on their back. Additionally, the bar is designed with a camber, and sits slightly higher on the shoulders. These two components are going to cause the bar to pull you forward, challenging trunk strength and your ability to maintain a strong posture and position. This can be a great addition to any lower body Primals like the lunge.
For the reasons above, during Dr. Fred Hatfield's last 8 years in powerlifting, he trained exclusively with the Safety Squat Bar. He had such a close affiliation with and popularized the bar that it is commonly known by another moniker:the Hatfield Bar.
Cost: You can get a nice one for around $400.
Invest in Your Training
All of the Power Athlete programs run through the 3P filter: Purposeful, Practical, and Prudent. The same goes for the equipment we implement in these programs. I am going to Tarantino this and start at the end and work our way to the beginning.
(1) Make sure that the programming, equipment, and movements are accomplishing what they set out to do a.k.a. prudent.
(2) The practicality of it. Simply put: do you have the necessary equipment?
(3) Have a purpose behind why you are doing what you are doing.
With Field Strong, a handful of specific pieces of equipment can go a long way in the pursuit of becoming a Power Athlete. Now that you understand why they have been selected, you can choose how to outfit your gym in order to Empower Your Performance.
If you can’t practically apply the program, then you can’t fully achieve the purpose.
Get smart, and invest in your training.
After an introduction to CrossFit in 2007, Carl became a certified coach in 2009 and co-owner of CrossFit South Bend in 2011. In addition to coaching CrossFit and CrossFit Football classes at the gym, Carl has been coaching high school rugby since 2009. He uses the CrossFit Football and Power Athlete concepts to help his young athletes identify their goals and provides pointed instruction to help achieve those goals.