We deal with a lot of misnomers in the strength and conditioning world- CrossFit Football being one of them. I would venture to say another is Strongman. True to it’s name, it certainly requires an impressive base level of strength, and not only that, the highest level athletes in this style of training are the perfect example of form following function. Generally speaking, the sport is comprised of giant male specimens and has always had a much larger “bro” following, than “broette”.
The term “Strongman” has really evolved over time and still means different things to different people. In my opinion, folks outside the world of CrossFit probably have the most accurate interpretation of the term assuming it was based on channel surfing at 3am. Why ESPN – “The Ocho” insists on airing some of the most manly examples of badassery so late at night is beyond me. Strongman in it’s most pure form is man’s best display of brute strength. The movements are as varying as the implements used and over time it has found it’s way into the CrossFit community through educational seminars and training outlets such as Hybrid Athletics. Although I believe Strongman training has been altered to suit our needs, generally speaking, the spirit of the sport has been preserved.
Like most other aspects to strength and conditioning, what was once dominated by bros is now being infiltrated by the fairer sex. It does seem only natural that women would eventually gravitate towards something outright awkward and inconvenient. Think about it, we love that shit. High heels, child birth, purses that double as carryon luggage, the list goes on. In fact, it is the awkwardness of the movements that pose the most benefit to anyone looking to gain strength. Struggling to balance, manipulate, or coordinate effort in this anaerobic style will challenge and develop our efficiency. Barbells and dumbbells are conveniently shaped and very generous to our little paws. These ergonomic implements are the effectual strength training snuggie – making us feel good about ourselves when we are banging heavy weights.
Bobbi Woodson, CrossFit Strongman Seminar Staff instructor, has been competing for 4 years and is a huge proponent for getting chicks involved in Strongman. With moderate coaxing, she encouraged me to compete with her in a local competition. Despite my joking that we would simply be asked to sit in lawn chairs and correctly identify “strong men”, we were actually required to shoulder, squat and carry atlas stones, do weighted wheelbarrow walks, and my least favorite- max weight yoke carries. I had experience in my own training with all of the movements so I was pumped to get out there and push myself.
I knew it would be “hard” but it was difficult in a way I had not yet experienced in competition. Amid the forearm fatigue and grip failure was a genuine mental toughness threshold. Getting under a 400 lb yoke, attempt after attempt, only to gain 2 or 3 shaky steps takes commitment and shear fight, especially when your judge – Chad Wesley Smith of Juggernaut Training Systems – is looking at you like you like you are an incredible pussy. When the lady behemoth next to you is matching you stride for stride and the crowd is screaming because you have a meager 2 inch lead, you’ve got to think to yourself “She’s tired. I’m not. She’s weak. I’m tough.”
Aside from the mental fortitude you gain from grueling movements so intensely awkward and humbling, Bobbi likes to emphasize the crossover to our more familiar CrossFit style workouts. “Doing a workout with an odd object can be very different and taxes different muscle groups which will only increase your gains. For example, do Grace with a barbell as you normally would. Then do Grace with odd objects for a few times – stones, kegs, fire hydrants, you name it! Then go back to Grace with a barbell and you’re going to crush your time.” As you can see, Strongman training affords all athletes numerous benefits, but does it offer anything unique for the ladies?
Well, no. Training heavy with awkward objects has mutually beneficial applications to both men and women. What I will suggest, however, is that women just have a lot more …we’ll call it “opportunity”… for strength gains than our male counterparts. Don’t be mad ladies, it’s science. Absolute strength is heavily reliant on an efficient central nervous system and one of the most influential growth hormones responsible for CNS efficiency is testosterone. What we know is that anything that is going to stimulate lactate (lactic threshold training) in the bloodstream will absolutely increase testosterone. Strongman training is an excellent resource for provoking such a hormonal training response, ipso facto, chicks need it.
Ms. Woodson also says that along with it’s misleading name, there are a lot of misconceptions surrounding Strongman training. One biggie is that you can easily get injured slinging kegs, pressing axels, or carrying stones. No shit. “You can get hurt doing anything at any time. That is why we teach technique and give you the “watch outs” on how to keep yourself safe. Just like any other movements – you use your head first” says Bobbi. The other major misconception is that women will become …wait for it… too bulky. Leave to Bobbi to be a shining example of femininity and strength in this sport. “I am proof that the scale went up but my jeans size went down”.
Whether your strength gains have reached a plateau or no amount of Dr. Tom’s supplements can get you jazzed for your boring old training, Strongman movements may be the solution to your workout woes. My advice to anyone looking to implement more awkward, grip intensive, and potentially very CNS taxing movements, ask yourself what you’re training for. If it’s to get stronger, better and more prepared for the “anything and everything” that is CrossFit, or become a resident badass and compete in Strongman, find a coach and get after it. Female or male, Strong(wo)men athletes are the informal ambassadors of one of the oldest and most impressive sports in history.
A strength and conditioning coach since 2009, Cali has worked with numerous athletes spanning from rugby players to cross country skiers. Almost immediately after finding CrossFit in 2010, she was introduced to a program that better suited her athletic goals. With her existing background in powerlifting and football, she became a natural devotee to CFFB/PowerAthlete and testament to it's effectiveness. In 2012, she left D.C. and headed for the state named after her to be a part of the CrossFit Football Seminar Staff and a Jedi of Power Athlete HQ. Cali currently resides in Seattle where she works full time in law enforcement.
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