Have you seen the strongman competition? Won by Zydrūnas Savickas in 2009, it is held annually and often involves giant men such as Bill Kazmaier, Mariusz Pudzianowski and Magnus Ver Magnusson performing feats of strength that are unimaginable and awe inspiring. Performing stunts like lifting atlas balls, the 'Hercules hold', keg toss, flipping over giant tyres, 'duck walk' and car carry, against both the clock and competitors; the strong man competition is the ultimate strength event in the world. The strength and conditioning of these athletes is phenomenal. There strength conditioning not only involves the ability to lift massive weights but to carry them over distances which takes into consideration the cardio vascular aspect of their training. When you see the strongman events you cannot help but notice that some of these athletes push themselves to the point of bleeding through their noses. The effort and dedication put into the event is out of sacrificial love to be the best no matter the cost. I would not want to tread lightly into the gym workout or training program of any of these Incredible Hulks let alone compete in Strongman.
One of the strongman events is the pulling of a truck or airplane with a rope. Vehicles such as transport trucks, trams, buses or airplanes are pulled across a 30 metre course by hand as fast as possible. In 2007 a fire engine truck was pulled and in 2008 a coal truck. The truck itself sometimes weighs over 12 tonnes. How is a human being able to pull a truck that heavy? What kind of weight training, strength training exercise, strength conditioning or gym workout would one follow to attain such monster proportions of strength? Some of these athletes are able to pull the truck past 30 metres in approximately 30-40 seconds. This demonstrates raw strength together with endurance and speed. How is a human being able to perform such a feat? Does science hold an answer to this? Is this all geometry and physics? Or is this something to do with the strength training anatomy of the individual concerned i.e. is he a superman?
Yes it takes phenomenal strength to do this. But is there more to it? Examining the truck or airplane pull in detail - when you look at the stance of the athlete in the event, you notice his stance is somewhat similar to a 100m sprinter in the blocks. Have a close look at Dwain Chambers, Usain Bolt or Assafa Powel in their blocks before their sprint off in the 100m. The strongman stance is similar. They all tend to lean forward at a 45 degree angle.
A ball thrown into the air at a 45 degree angle travels the furthest. A cricket batsman like Vivian Richards from the West Indies or Aravinda De Silva from Sri Lanka are able to hit the leather cricket ball out of the cricket ground, past the spectators, over the sea gulls and into the nearby housing complexes by targeting their hits at a 45 degree angle. This is pure physics. A projectile fired at 45 degrees travels the furthest as at this angle most distance is covered at maximum force. This theory is implemented in firing missiles and rockets. Therefore by maintaining a 45 degree angle to the ground, the strength training anatomy of a strongman is able to drive the most force against the truck / plane he is pulling. A higher angle exerts less force and possibly causes difficulties in balancing as his centre of mass / gravity is thrown off course. A lower angle reduces the frictional pull the strongman has on the ground. The strength exertion at a 45 degree angle is the greatest.
Having a look at the truck / plane pull reveals that a strongman does not perform one single pull (or thrust forward), but instead exerts a sustained set of continuous repetitive pulls. His strength conditioning involves momentum. He does not explode with one pull alone but uses the speed from each pull to drive the next pull. Bodybuilders often avoid this sort of training as momentum uses physics rather than muscle fibre to make the weights move in their training motion. Each pull from the strongman slackens the rope before being pulled again. Friction causes the truck to slow down after each pull. This strongman event is likened to a strength training exercise of performing a 220 Kg squat for more than 40 repetitions in less than 30-40 seconds. Does that sound doable to you?
What does all this have to do with Rugby? The World Cup is not too far away and a lot needs to be done in preparation. Strength training and more so - functional strength training, is likely to be the decisive factor in the Rugby World Cup 2011. The Tri Nations 2009 revealed that strength, force and endurance crowned South Africa the victors. There is just about time for teams across the world to tap into functional strength training and drink the spoils of warrior grade training. Who better does one learn from than the kings of strength and endurance? The strongman.