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Strongman or Traditional Resistance Training?

Picking a resistance training program is difficult, as many different types exist. Turn on the television and you have millions of ads screaming in your ear about the latest and greatest form of training. Even as a fitness professional, I’m constantly torn between resistance training programs.
Often one type of resistance training is deemed “superior” to other forms of training. In fact, there is unlikely a program which works for everyone. Therefore, individualization is mandatory for elite improvements. Now, gains occur in anyone who is untrained. However, for the elite resistance training subjects, setting a detailed plan tackling the individuals weaknesses is the route for the biggest gains. With that being said, research is always looking for answers for the “best” type of resistance training.
Winwood (2014) looked at two popular programs are “strongman” and “traditional” training:
  • Strongman Training: Involves full body movements, like the farmers walk, log lift, or sled pushes.
  • Traditional Training: Uses a gymnasium based approach, utilizing lifts like bench press, clean, jerk, or biceps curls.
Elite sports teams utilize both of these forms of training, therefore knowing which one provides superior results would benefit strength and conditioning coaches. This study analyzed 30 elite rugby players and randomized them into one of these forms of training for seven weeks. Before and after the training, the players underwent a litany of tests, assessing strength, power, and speed.
The study notes similar improvements in both groups, with a greater gain in broad jump for the traditional group. The strongman group achieved greater gains in the speed tests and larger gains in muscle mass.
Overall, this study notes both of these forms of training result in improvement of pure strength and functional testing. However, neither one of the programs is superior, as they both result in similar results. Seeing the improvements for each individual would be interesting, as some of the athletes were likely greater responders to the resistance training than others.
Unfortunately, this study doesn’t provide the holy grail for resistance training, just provides more insight into the necessities of individualization for greatest gains. At COR, we deeply screen our athletes, discovering their weaknesses and areas for improvement. In sports, this is directly related to their sport. For physique, it greatly depends on their movement patterns and goals. Nonetheless, gains and movement towards individual goals occurs at COR, often through different approaches for each individual.
  1. Winwood PW, Cronin JB, Posthumus LR, Finlayson S, Gill ND, Keogh JW. Strongman versus traditional resistance training effects on muscular function and performance. J Strength Cond Res. 2014 Jul 21. [Epub ahead of print]
Written by G. John Mullen