by Mark Clevenger
July 6th 2016
A strongman has a strong back. This is the foundation that strongman programming is built upon. The muscles of the back help stabilize the axial skeleton (core) through which our appendicular system (limbs) work. It allows for the transmission of force from the ground to heavy things we move from one place to another. The problem with a lot of strongman programming is the lack of core work. The focus is only on the muscles of the back and ignores the anterolateral (AL) core musculature. These ignored muscles include the ‘traditional’ abdominals, both sets of oblique’s, and the transverse abdominis. These muscles are the Luke Skywalker of our core force, bringing balance to the axial system for the betterment of strongmen everywhere.
Traditionally, most of our training volume is utilized for our main lifts. In these lifts the back bears the majority of the burden from the weight. In addition to these main lifts we perform additional isolated accessory movements to further strengthen our backs. Taking it even further, we perform more strongman specific movements, like carries and loads, which again are meant to strengthen our back. Then we may do some planks or Russian twists for a couple of sets at the end of a workout and call it a day. In this scenario, the posterior core musculature is disproportionally strengthened when compared to the AL musculature. Granted, these muscles are not able to move heavy weights like their posterior compadres, but this doesn’t mean they aren’t important.
The greatest issue with such a muscle disproportion in the core is the increased risk of injury. There is no shortage of available data that support the idea that stability of the spinal column and static balance of the core is directly correlated to trunk flexor, extensor, and lateral endurance measures1,2. This proves there is a need for a strong relationship between both the large powerful posterior core muscles and the smaller weaker muscles of the AL core. Any large gap in strength and endurance between the posterior core musculature and the AL core musculature leads to instability of the spinal column and static balance of the core. This instability and loss of balance under large loads, like during deadlifts or keg carries, is a personal invitation from you to the injury monster for him to come to your training session and ruin your day.
Another advantage of increasing the amount of AL core work is the translation to our strongman event specific performance, like in our log presses and stone loads. Available data shows us that overall core strengthening leads to an increase in trunk strength and lower leg functional stability2,3,4. Obviously training the complete core strengthens the complete core and adds to stability of the spinal column, but the effect of increased lower limb functional stability can come as a surprise. Considering the fact that the core is a conduit of force transfer between our appendicular system and the ground, it is easy to see how a more stable transfer of force can create better positional stability for the limbs operating through it. Coincidently, this includes 100% of all strongman exercises.
If you’re a Sith lord on the dark side of AL core training and you’re thinking about joining light I’ve got a good place for you to start. For the sake of education let’s look at some of the components that warrant consideration when programming for your AL core .First, consider the 3 types of motion your AL core operates in: Anterior flexion, lateral flexion, and axial (torso) rotation. These 3 elements should be worked at least twice through each microcycle. Second, consider the type of contractions these muscles are capable of producing: Concentric (shortening), eccentric (lengthening under tension), and isometric (tension produced without movement). You should cycle though each of these contraction types with each of the above mentioned types of motion every other microcycle. Lastly, don’t think about training your AL core in terms of sets and reps. Instead, think about it in terms of time spent under tension (TUT). You should start by trying to accumulate at least 4 quality minutes of TUT that is dispersed among the types of motion and contraction types listed, with 8 minutes being the eventual goal to reach. I’ve included a 4 week mesocycle of AL core training exercises and progressions below. The exercise section includes elaborated descriptions for clarity and do not always represent the traditional name for each. Exercise progressions should only be used when previous exercises, with prescribed quality TUT, have been achieved consistently. This mesocycle, in conjunction with the information listed, should help start you on your path to becoming an AL Jedi.
We know how important a strong back is to strongman since these large muscles are at the center of almost everything we do and they rightfully deserve a lot of attention. The problem with posterior chain and core training arises when we neglect the AL core muscles in our programming and training. These muscles provide significant contributions to both injury prevention and exercise performance. We must not ignore these essential muscles and allow them to become disproportionately weaker than their posterior counterparts. The next time you train and think there is no time for your AL core, that is Emperor Palpatine calling you to the dark side. Ignore his call by choosing the light and your strongman career will prosper.
- Barati A. Safarcherati A. Aghayari A. Azizi F. Abbasi H. Evaluation of Relationship between Trunk Muscle Endurance and Static Balance in Male Students. Asian J Sports Med. 2013; 4(4): 289-294.
- Bliss L. Teeple P. Core Stability: The centerpiece of any Training Program. Current Sports Medicine Reports. 2005; 4(3): 179-183.
- The Effect of Core Strengthening on Lower Leg Functional Stability in Football Players. R. M. Tarpy. California University of Pennsylvania. Master’s Thesis Proposal. libweb.calu.edu/thesis/umi-cop-1009.pdf. 2005. Accessed May 14, 2016 at 4:01pm.
- Sellentin R. Jones R. The Effect of Core and Lower Limb Exercises on Trunk Strength and Lower Limb Stability on Australian Soldiers. Journal of Military Veterans Health. 2012; 20(4): 21-35.