Strongman Training for Fat Loss
Written by Michele Vieux

Looking for something different to throw into your workout routine to help promote fat loss? Strongman training is a fun, adaptable and effective approach that you can do almost anywhere to get amazing results in a short period of time. Without getting too sciency on you, I want to give you the basics on how it works and give you the tools to create your own program to turn everyday chores into a strongman routine.

Strongman training is comprised of heavy and intense interval training. Contrary to popular belief, this style of anaerobic training is more effective for fat burning than aerobic training because it forces the body to adapt in a way that prioritizes burning fat as fuel and releases growth hormone (GH) – which is great for fat regulation. Aerobic training, on the other hand, tends to burn carbohydrates first and can increase cortisol production in a way that leads to muscle degradation. (See my 2009 post, Say No To LSD for more information on why I don’t like aerobic training for fat loss.)

The reason anaerobic interval training works so much better is that it requires the body to adapt metabolically—your body is forced to burn fat to sustain the level of intensity being asked of it. It also elevates energy use for more than 24 hours post-workout, which has a dramatic effect on belly fat loss. (Is Aerobic or Anaerobic Training Best for Getting Rid of Belly Fat?, Charles Poliquin)

Strongmen (and women) burn more fat even up to 24-hours and longer after they finish their workouts! Anaerobic training, such as strongman training, increase excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC) which means you keep burning fat after you finish your workout. A 2006 review showed that protocols that are more anaerobic in nature produce higher EPOC values than steady-state aerobic training because the trained muscle cells must rest restore physiological factors in the cells, which translates to a lot of energy expenditure. (Is Aerobic or Anaerobic Training Best for Getting Rid of Belly Fat?, Charles Poliquin)

Another element of strongman training that promotes fat loss is the use of odd-shaped and unevenly balanced objects. Using Sleds, Ropes, Medicine Balls, Sand Bags, and all other sorts of different and odd-shaped implements in strongman training not only keeps training interesting, but it also creates barriers to vastly improved efficiency. While efficiencies are great for performance, a more efficient athlete may not be working quite so hard. Efficiencies are developed when an athlete’s brain figures out which muscles to activate and which to relax to permit the best coordination of effort. If the balance point of the odd object is always changing, this process becomes much more difficult and the athlete will have to fire nearly every muscle just to stabilize the loads. The more muscles involved, the more energy expended, and thus, better weight loss results.

I use strongman training with many of my clients at least once a week and I hope it is something that they look forward to because of the challenge and diversity of the movements. Not only does it increase lean muscle mass, but also transferable strength and it can help correct structural imbalances. Besides all the scientific evidence of why it’s great, I believe strongman training also improves mental toughness and promotes teamwork. It can be easily suited to all levels, and can be done almost anywhere with any object.

It is fun to get creative with exercises and workouts. so I want to provide you with a few options that you can use either in the gym, or better yet, in your own backyard. Look for exercises that call for you to move or hold onto a heavy load for a period of time of 30-120 seconds. Some of my favorites are:

  • Medicine ball or sandbag ground-to-shoulder
  • Sled Work – low bar push, reverse drag, seated hand-over-hand pull, plank pull, etc.
  • Rope whips
  • Single-arm dumbbell press
  • Farmer carry, suitcase carry, waiter carry
  • Lunges w/ sandbag or other object
  • Moving piles of weight or other objects like bricks across the gym or yard
  • Bailing hay
  • Wheelbarrow push, truck push/pull
  • Yoke walk or partner carry

Choose 3-5 exercises to work with at a time trying to vary the movements as much as possible from different categories like push, pull, carry, lift from ground, lower to ground, explosive, constant, etc. Give yourself a very small rest between exercises (15-30 seconds) which should basically just be viewed as transition time. Once you start the movement, push as hard or fast as you can until you complete it. The workout can take anywhere from 15-30+ minutes where you are moving constantly but the intensity is varied based on the movement or task.

Sample Strongman Workout in Gym
Four sets:
Rope Whips x 60 reps (as quickly as possible)
Rest 15 seconds
Low Bar Sled Push x 25 yards (as heavy as possible)
Rest 15 seconds
Medicine Ball Ground-to-Shoulder x 10 reps (as heavy as possible)
Rest 15 seconds
Farmer Carry x 50 yards (as heavy as possible)

Sample Stongman Workout at Home
Five sets:
Mulch Bag Toss (onto wheelbarrow) x 5 bags
Rest 20-30 seconds
Wheelbarrow Sprint (to back yard) x 60 yards
Rest 20-30 seconds
Zercher Squats x 5 reps per bag (25 reps per round)
Rest 20-30 seconds

Give them a shot and let me know how they go!