This is going to be a rewrite of a previous article that I did a little while about developing the core for strongman. I wrote that article in a rush, and I did not give it proper thought and time to put together an article that would be of real benefit to you. An example of what I mean is when I suggested that athletes use Olympic lifts to develop the core. While doing exercises like power cleans will build a stronger core, it is probably best prescribed to address other facets of athletic developments, like building someone’s ability to be explosive. So, I’m hoping that this article will actually provide some insight on what a strongman competitor should do to develop the core.
The role of the core for strongman athletes is pretty straightforward: it provides stability for the athlete while under a load. Having a stable core is what allows people to move heavy things. All strength sports, and truly any sport at all, will require the athlete to display an appropriate level of core strength in order to move with any kind of force or power. Powerlifters need a strong core to maintain stability and form while straining under a maximum load. Weightlifters need to be able to maintain stability while moving a load explosively. Strongman athletes, and you can include CrossFit athletes in this conversation, are unique in that they have to be able to move heavy loads while moving in a direction. So, how does a strongman athlete build a strong core?
The Valsalva Maneuver
In order to train and develop the core, it is imperative that athletes learn how to properly breathe to utilize those muscles. We all know, or should know, what the Valsalva Maneuver is. It is the act of getting the deepest breath of air we can and using it to expand our core (the abdominals, the obliques and back) a full 360°. With that breath locked in, we are able to move heavy loads. However, strongman athletes must be able to use the Valsalva maneuver while on the move. It is difficult to hold that first breath for an extended period of time; generally an athlete will need to rebreathe after a matter of seconds. A strongman athlete doing a yoke carry for 100 feet is probably not going to be able to hold their breath for the duration of the event. So, something that I find helps me is that just before I pick whatever implement I have to move, I will gather my breath and brace as hard as I can. Then I will pick the implement and start moving. While I am moving, I will try to take quick, choppy breaths out of the corner of my mouth while bracing as hard as possible. This way, I am able to breath while under load while not expelling all of the air that I gathered from the initial inhale at once. Being able to use the Valsalva maneuver while moving is a skill in and of itself that should be practiced often by strongman athletes, especially with heavy loads, to build the core’s capacity to create stability.
Just Carry Stuff
One of the surest ways for strongman athletes to develop their core is to simply move heavy things. Like all things strongman, variety is the spice of life. There are practically unlimited implements that a strongman athlete can use. For the sake of simplicity, however, it might be easier to pick just a few and progress by adding more weight, increasing the distance or the time under load. Personally, I think any strongman not using sandbags in their training is leaving a lot of unrealized strength on the table. Sandbags are heavy, awkward to pick up and a pain in the ass to move. I f$@#ing hate sandbags, but they definitely force me to brace hard and focus while moving them. On high intensity days, I’ll pick the heaviest sandbag I can carry and sprint for a short distance. On lower intensity days, I will pick a lighter bag and go for longer distances. If you are fortunate enough to be at a gym that has a Conan’s wheel (like the Atlas Strength Shop), that is one hell of a carry event to make you brace hard and train the core. Load it up and walk in a circle guided by the implement. It's about as simple an exercise that anyone can perform that has a very high demand on the core, and it’s easy to track the progression by increasing load or number of rotations. Other carries that strongman athletes should do are farmer carries, frame carries, Hussafel stones and yoke carries. One thing about the yoke that should be kept in mind is that it is quite taxing on the body. The load is pretty much directly on the spine. It is best to put some space in between yoke carry sessions to make sure that you are recovered. Whichever carry event you choose, just remember that the objective is to be able to brace while moving a load. Don’t be afraid to use straps and grip shirts to help overload and strain the core.
Like I mentioned in my previous article about building the core, another way is to incorporate isometric exercises into your barbell training. Isometric training is holding a static position to build strength or endurance. An example of this is a paused squat. The athlete will squat like normally, except hold the position once in the hole (bottom of the movement). With a tight brace, the athlete will hold the position for a few moments and squat back up. This will put strain on the core and help build strength and increase the athlete’s ability to create and maintain stability. The same method can be applied to deadlifts. An athlete can pick a point during the concentric portion of the lift to pause and brace, or use the rack to create an isometric movement. Place the safety bars just above knee height and place the barbell under the bars. Slowly deadlift the barbell until it touches the safety bars, then pull as hard as possible with deadlift form with a hard brace as if trying to deadlift the barbell through the safety bars. Hold the position for a short time, and this will help build core strength.
There are other accessory exercises that can be put into a strongman program to help build the core. An athlete could use an ab wheel, hanging leg lifts, weighted crunches or dragon flags. I am also a big fan of banded and weighted deadbugs. When selecting core specific exercises to put into your program, you need to ask yourself this question: Will this exercise require me to brace and hold that brace during the movement? If the answer is yes, then it could be a viable exercise for the purpose of building the core. Building the core’s capacity to create stability has to be about more than just contracting muscles; it’s about being about to hold a position under load. Just because someone has a six pack, it doesn’t mean that person is capable of producing stability. Big abs are nice, but abs are only part of what creates stability. Athletes need to be able to combine their abs with the obliques and back to create a solid unit, like a strong oak
Need a place that has all of the equipment you need to perform these exercises, check out the Atlas Strength shop. Send an email to email@example.com for your next visit. Also check out our apparel line and programming options on the website Be sure to like our Facebook page, here, and follow us on Instagram, here. Do you need a high quality energy supplement that won’t leave with that crashing feeling? Check out veteran owned strikeforceenergy.com and use promo code ATLASSTRENGTH at checkout to get 20% off of your order. If you’re like me, and you like to bite down while lifting, you need to protect your teeth. Check out Impact Mouthguards and their custom molded mouth guards. Use promo code ATLASSTRENGTHSHOP at checkout to get 10% off of your order.
On April 23, 2022, the Atlas Strength Shop will be hosting the first ever Louisiana’s Strongest Man/Woman. If you want to test your mettle, claim Louisiana’s Strongest title and help push the strongman movement in Louisiana, checkout ironpodium.com for all registration information. Don’t forget to take advantage of the early bird pricing.
“Rather fail with honor than succeed by fraud.” -Sophocles