Let me guess…today’s workout plan is to do about 30 minutes of “cardio” and then some
“toning” exercises like crunches and dumbbell kickbacks at the end. It’s the same workout you’ve done, more-or-less, since high school. And now, just like then, you’re struggling to see results. Are you surprised?

Some athletes grow out of the no-results plan and into intervals, total-body exercises and integrated core movements. Although these workouts are undeniably effective, some of us still get fed-up with the same old weightlifting plan. If you’re feeling a bit bored with your workout or are experiencing a plateau in your  performance, some good old-fashioned strongman training might be just the key.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s a very popular form of entertainment was the strongman show. In these shows, famed muscle-men performed a variety of feats of strength from basic weightlifting to hefting animals, to bending steel. These guys didn’t typically have gym memberships; they were more likely to train at home or on the farm with whichever various awkward and heavy objects they had on hand.

Not only did they get ungodly strong, their work capacities were through the roof. For a little variety and a lot of work, saddle up for one of the following exercises:

  • Farmer’s Walk. Grab a pair of really heavy dumbbells or kettlebells, and walk. Try to start with a weight that totals about 75% of your bodyweight, walking for 60-90 seconds. Great core and grip strengthening, and a real conditioning effect.
  • Sled Push or Pull. Load up a weight sled with about your own bodyweight. Push it 150-200 feet, then pull it back using a harness system. If you lack a sled, try a heavy wheelbarrow, or even try pushing your car for a few blocks!
  • Sandbags. You’ve seen them sitting in the corner of the gym, but what to do with them? Pick one up and hug it to your chest. Now, walk up and down the stairs with it a few times. You could also pick up a heavy one, press it overhead, and then put it down on the ground. Repeat until sundown. One of our favorites is the Zercher; pick up a bag and cradle it in the crooks of your arms, then start squatting. 15-20 reps should be sufficient to remind you how weak your abs are.
  • Tire Flipping. Get a big tractor tire (easier to find than you might think) and lay it on the ground. Get your hands underneath one side of it and flip it over. If you’ve got space, just keep flipping. If you’re limited on space, just move around the tire and flip it back the other way. Our favorite is to avoid counting reps and do it for time instead: one minute work, one minute rest. Try to go for five rounds.
  • Get-Up. The Turkish Get-Up is a classic strongman exercise, and it’s one that every athlete should be doing. The general idea is simple. Lie down on the ground and pick up a weight in one hand. Holding it with a locked elbow straight overhead, get-up into a standing position. Reverse the move and repeat with the other side. Although this is probably best as a kettlebell exercise, you can use just about anything; barbells, sandbags, dumbbells, or even very small people.

These are very simple and very effective movements. Chances are, you’ll find something you like, and chances are even better that it’ll improve your fitness. I guarantee  that two Get-Ups per workout is more valuable than a hundred-thousand dumbbell kickbacks.