One of the many things I have learned from the great Cato Rutherford is that, “modified strongman training is the bridge between the pure strength work, and the pure conditioning work”. While the modified strongman methods seemed like something of a fad a few years ago, it appears these methods are here to stay. For very good reason too - they work really well!
It is kind of like the holy trinity; for the fighters I work with, pure strength, pure conditioning and modified strongman training are the cornerstones of athletic development.
Due to the complex nature of most combat sports, and the overlapping strength qualities & energy systems demands of competition, it can be very confusing for some coaches to choose an effective way to cater to all these needs. Once again, I would like to help simplify the equation.
I recommend you focus on developing the pure strength and the pure conditioning concurrently during the GPP (general physical preparation) phases, as you get closer to competition and start hitting your targets strength-wise, pull back on the frequency of strength sessions while adding in more SPP (specific physical preparation) work including modified strongman sessions.
Bear in mind, I use the term SPP loosely. I believe that unless your sport involves you competing with a barbell in your hand, anything you do in the pure strength training phases is technically classed as GPP. By SPP, I mean more specific physical preparation than GPP.
Just like in competition where you have a bunch of overlapping strength qualities and energy systems demands, the modified strongman work will closely simulate that type of contractile and force-output environment. During the pure strength phases the athlete will get really good at moving heavy loads between 4-6 reps for example, but in the modified strongman phases they will need to find a way to move similarly heavy loads for timed intervals more closely resembling competition rounds.
Be aware that this style of session places a different kind of demand on the bodily systems, and it will take some time for the adaptive processes to catch up. This will be somewhat of a shock to the system because of the combination of high neurological, muscular and metabolic demands these sessions present. I recommend cutting training frequency initially when you throw modified strongman training into the mix. Fight athlete preparation can be a very complex and unforgiving bitch - respect the recovery process, allow the athlete to adapt fully to a complex stimulus like modified strongman, don’t grind them into oblivion.
As for actual exercises and loading parameters for the strongman sessions, it depends largely on what is available to you, but I would recommend a push movement, a drag movement, a carry movement, and some kind of overhead pressing movement. I have included a sample modified strongman workout which we used in preparation for one of our athlete’s 2015 IBJJF Gi World Championship. The rounds are designed to simulate 6 minute IBJJF tournament fights.
* 2-4 rounds (start with 2, build work capacity up to 4 rounds over the SPP) 10-20sec rest between exercises, 3-4min rest between rounds
* Prowler push (0.75 x bodyweight loaded) 90sec
* Log Clean & Press (keep the weight relatively light, continuous reps) 90sec
* Sled drag (0.75 x bodyweight loaded) 90sec
* Trap Bar Farmers carry (1.2 x bodyweight loaded) 90sec
Please don’t throw your athlete in the deep end with these sessions, take your time to figure out the correct load for each exercise. Just because our athlete was working at 0.75 or 1.2 x bodyweight loaded on these exercises doesn’t mean that load is right for everybody. Start slowly, build your work capacity, then increase the load.
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