Have you ever lined up across from a brute on the football field, rugby pitch, or on the mats? I’m not talking about a strong opponent…I’m talking about a freaky, scary strong opponent. I’m talking about the kind of opponent who is strong in every single position (even the worst positions). Talk about a challenge – a daunting, mentally and physically, grueling challenge.
How are they so strong? How do I become one of these athletes? Are these brutes born or made? Maybe it’s a little of both…
My father was a tradesman. Like most tradesmen, my father would take side jobs, often bringing me to the jobsite as a young boy. As soon as I could take direction and do a little work, I took direction and did a lot of work. We’re talking basic laborer tasks: moving sand and gravel; loading and unloading lumber and other building materials; stacking bricks, blocks, and stones; splitting and stacking firewood, etc. My uncle is welder and I did the same things for him. My father’s cousins own tree trimming and masonry businesses and I did the same things for them. Let me tell you…my father, his brother, and all his cousins are fucking strong. These are the kind of dudes you don’t want to find in a dark alley or on the football field.
I started playing youth football when I was five years old. I started lifting weights in my basement when I was 12 years old. The moment I started lifting weights, I recognized the benefits of my training on the football field: I ran faster, hit harder, and I was more difficult to tackle. I got hooked on slinging iron. I continued hitting the weights, continued getting bigger and stronger, and saw continued success in sports.
Just like everyone else, my energy and focus were poured into academics and sports during the school year. I hit the weights hard during the school year, training for sports, but in the summers I worked as a laborer with my father, my uncle and cousins, and on a few farms. By summer’s end I would show up to my high school football double sessions stronger and more durable than everyone else. My summer weightroom sabbaticals were augmented with two months of Field Work and it showed on the field. My friends and teammates lifted on a summer program without a Field Work component. While my teammates busted their asses in the weightroom, I was busy getting working man strong. When I was asked how I got so much stronger every year, I just replied, “I worked all summer.”
Why was I more prepared than my teammates? Field Work, by design, is intended to be heavy, awkward, and grip intensive. Barbells don’t fight back, but sandbags, atlas stones, and opponents do. Dealing with an object or an opponent taking you out of perfect position while you’re trying to impose your will upon it, is much different than slinging a barbell around in the gym. Strength is developed in all positions with exposure and training. Moving through the sagittal, transverse, and frontal planes and combining movements through the planes of motion is sport. It is also everyday life on a jobsite. A 20-pound sledgehammer is a bear to swing, but it’s the tool of choice when you need to turn big pieces of concrete into little pieces of concrete and you don’t have a jackhammer. It also combines movement through the sagittal and transverse planes. What I didn’t realize then is I was in a constant state of training. I was exposed to multi-plane movements, odd objects, and positions that prepared me to compete.
Barbells are nice. Barbells are convenient. Barbells fit nicely into your hand, they’re balanced, and they rotate predictably. But, most objects found on jobsites or farms are not. 120-pound concrete blocks for building foundations, 80-pound bundles of shingles, 8-foot sections of pipe, buckets of sand, wheelbarrows of concrete, loads of lumber, logs, and bails of hay are not easily moved from point A to point B.
A barbell is an effective training tool, but don’t be married to it. Get out and do something different. Get outside of your comfort zone. Get your hands on some tires, logs, sledgehammers, atlas stones, sandbags, slosh pipes…hell, anything that isn’t convenient to lift and move around and use it in training. Believe me, you will reap the benefits.
If you don’t have sandbags, atlas stones, or kegs, you can make them. Hit the Army Surplus store grab some duffels and a few contractor bags and make some sandbags. I used borrowed stone molds to make my atlas stones – I’m sure another decent soul will lend a hand in your pursuit of strength. Eat the deposit on the keg of beer you drank at your last raging house party, fill it with water, lift it, carry it, and throw it around.
Anyone who’s been to the CrossFit Football Coach’s Seminar can tell you Field Work is an important part of the Collegiate Strength Template; having two dedicated days in the 3-week cycle. Field Work days are your time as a coach or athlete to be creative and have some fun while you’re putting in the work. We’ve heard countless stories of coaches building killers with sandbags, engine blocks, and even rolls of carpet. In fact, I trained with a group of guys who lifted and carried old fire hydrants. Fire hydrants! You are only limited by your own creativity when it comes to this shit.
Think I’m not serious about it? Check out Field Strong Cycle 2 – SANDBAGS. PAHQ developed an entire cycle of Field Strong dedicated to sandbag training. This cycle of Field Strong is EPIC. Have you done it? Are you enough of a Power Athlete to complete this cycle? There’s only one way to find out… https://powerathletehq.com/membership/
This bit of advice is not just for my follow Power Athletes. All you competitive exercisers better take note: as the CrossFit Mothership starts looking for new ways to challenge your fitness, you better expect the unexpected…
CrossFit Games 2015 Event 2 – Sandbag 2015
Move 720 / 480 pounds of sandbags across the stadium
“Athletes begin on the stadium floor and will run to the top of the stairs on the north side of the stadium, then must move all the sandbags down the stairs, across the stadium floor, up the wall, and to the top of the stairs on the south side of the stadium. Each athlete will have access to a wheelbarrow to use in the moving of the bags across the floor. The event is complete when all bags have been piled on the opposite side of the stadium.”
Sounds a lot like Field Work to me. Stacie Tovar won her heat in the Sandbag 2015 event. Her reaction: “I should have done well at this, coming from a farm in Nebraska.” If you’re neglecting odd object training, you’re doing yourself a disservice. Think outside the box – it’s time to get working man strong.
Power Athlete coach. CrossFit Football test mule. Jiu-Jitsu lover. Lion killer. Whiskey drinker.
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Great article @bobby
my dad worked for the railroad and I remember him building a garden in my house growing up; he was using railroad ties as the outline of the garden. Anyhow, he grabbed two, palmed one in each hand and curled them up on his shoulder – I was 8 at the time – he said grab one… I don’t think it moved at all. That was the moment I realized what strength was.
I know that feeling, buddy. My pops was a freaky dude…he was 5’10” and 265lb in his prime. I wish I could locate a picture that sums it all up – my dad wheeling me around in a wheelbarrow when I was around 6. He just got off a job and was rocking a set of Carhartt overalls with no shirt…YOKED.
I’ve been preaching the “use tires instead of slam balls” message for years now. Glad that someone else finally agrees with me.
good shit brother. I have a dad story too. I remember when he use to work as a garbage man for Lake County back in the days when dudes rode on the back and manually lifted full garbage cans emptying them in the back of the truck. These dudes did that shit 6 days per week for 10-12 hours per day. Then hit the bar for a couple beers, went home, crashed, and woke up to do it all over again. When I was 12 I went with him on his route for a day and it fucking destroyed my soul. I realized then that there was a difference between weight room strong and working man strong. I swore right then and there that I’d work to be good at both!
@denny Fire hydrant carries. You get me, brother.
I did hard manual labor for many years.
Thank GOD I am still healthy, strong, and fit ; I will be 65 in ten more days.
Took me a while, but found this pic. Used tires are free and laugh at lightning. Slam balls are $80+ and break on asphalt.
@ingob Love the tire throws, buddy. I prefer not to use sandbags and slam balls for big throws as well. Walking over to a broken 50lb slam ball after your first throw is a great way to put a dampener on your training day.
Great article bobby. Grabbing some shingles and timbers from work and bringing them the the gym has given all my non trades buddy’s a whole new since of what strong can be. I have been waiting for someone to hit the nail on the head with this, so to speak. Nice work
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