We have something in common, you and I. We’re both chasing strength, building muscles (without eating any!), developing our athleticism, and generally just trying to become stronger people.
This is our goal but there are many roads to achieve it.
When wanting to upgrade their biomachine the standard option most people seem to go for is to mindlessly drag their as to the local gym. There they either execute some three-day-split routine from Men’s Fitness or just grind the treadmill.
No wonder people hate training… The same boring thing, day in and day out, with nothing but fuzzy, superficial goals looming somewhere ahead.
Don’t fall into that beginners’ trap!
You’ll spend many, many hours improving your body and performance, so why not have fun meanwhile?
Try some new forms of training every now and then.
There are five common strength sports: powerlifting, girevoy sports, weightlifting, CrossFit, and strongman. Between them I’m certain you’ll find something you’ll love.
Why not bodybuilding? They use the same equipment and exercises like some of the above strength sports but their goal is very different. Bodybuilders want to look strong, while these sports want to truly you make you strong.
(We’ll have a look at bodyweight training later – subscribe now so you don’t miss that article!)
Powerlifting is probably the sport that most average Joes will feel the most familiar with.
It began in the US and the UK in the 50s’ and was originally called “odd lifts”, because of all the various objects they lifted.
However, since the 60s’ competitions in powerlifting – also called meets – consist of three lifts: squat, bench press, and deadlift. Thus, those lifts (and their variations) are what powerlifters train the most.
Funny trivia: in the UK, before the mid 60’s, powerlifters used to compete in biceps curls instead of deadlifts.
Let’s have a look at the three lifts. For illustration I’m going to use the videos put together by Art of Manliness, where their Bret McKay is instructed by legendary coach Mark Rippetoe of Starting Strength fame.
There are endless variations of the squat but the powerlifting variety is performed with a barbell on your back, squatting down till your hip crease is below your knee and then standing back up.
Probably the most common lift in your local gym.
One of the most basic movements of the human body: bending down to pick something up from the ground. In this case a barbell, with potentially hundreds of kilos on it.
Bill McCarthy. 120 kg vegan powerlifter with personal bests of 340 kg squat, 227.5 kg bench press and 282.5 kg deadlift.
Melody Schoenfeld. ~47 kg vegan powerlifter with personal bests of 190 lbs (86.2 kg) squat, 125 lbs (56.7 kg) bench press and 259 lbs (117.5 kg) deadlift.
Also known as the sport of kettlebell lifting (but the original Russian name is so much cooler).
The kettlebell is an amazing piece of training equipment. It’s so versatile, in that it can train your entire body and be used for conditioning and strength training both.
Most people are probably familiar with the kettlebell swing but there are so, so many different exercises you can do with the kettlebell.
Developed in Russia back in the 1700s, the kettlebell has been used for competition and sports throughout Russia and Europe since the 40s’.
There are two forms of competition: biathlon and long cycle. We’ll see how these work, illustrated by two excellent videos from Kettlebell Training Academy (thanks guys!).
In the biathlon you perform one set of jerks for ten minutes, followed by a set of snatches for another ten minutes.
In the long cycle you perform one set of long jerks for ten minutes.
Mike Mahler of Aggressive Strength. Strength coach and kettlebell expert. Considered by many to be the most experienced kettlebell instructor in the US.
Scott Green. Vegan personal trainer, martial arts instructor, certified IKFF kettlebell coach, and captain of the kettlebell sport division of PlantBuilt.
It’s very common to hear people confusing weightlifting with the act of simply lifting weights, where the former is an actual olympic sport. Hence it’s often called olympic weightlifting or OLY for short.
Just as with powerlifting all the main training in weightlifting is done with a barbell. Although it differs a little between the sports, it’s really nothing you and me will notice much.
One thing we will notice however is the different weights. Since weightlifting is all about throwing heavy weights overhead it happens that you need to drop the bar from a high altitude and that’s no good with iron plates. Instead weightlifting uses rubber coated weights – bumper plates.
Funny trivia: weightlifters actually generate more power in their lifts than do powerlifters.
The two lifts in weightlifting are snatch and clean and jerk and for their demonstration we’ll use some beautiful Hookgrip slow motion videos.
The snatch is one of the most technical lifts (and also one of the most fun one!). Its objective is to lift the bar from the floor to overhead in one continuous movement.
Clean and jerk
During the clean, the weightlifter pulls the bar from the floor to a racked position resting on the shoulders. This is followed by the jerk, during which the weightlifter raises the bar overhead on locked-out arms, finishing with her body in a fully extended position.
CrossFit is one of my favorite training regimes (which is why I took the L1 Certificate Course) and probably the one form of exercise I’d recommend to most people wanting to “get fit”.
While a lot of people love it, it’s also massively misunderstood.
CrossFit’s about preparing you for the unknown (general physical preparedness). This is done by practicing a wide variety of exercises, ranging from light to heavy weights, long grinding workouts to short intensive ones.
If you think all of the strength sports in this article sounds like fun, then CrossFit might be for you. It borrows freely from weightlifting, kettlebell lifting, gymnastics, etc, and combines them in some very interesting (and super tough) workouts.
There are just way too many exercises to show to get a good picture of what CrossFit is. Instead, have a look at this recap from CrossFit Games 2015 – the annual “olympics of CrossFit”.
CrossFit Games 2015
Ed Bauer. Bodybuilder, CrossFit L1 Trainer, personal trainer, and owner of PlantFit Strength and Conditioning.
You have probably seen or at least heard of the World’s Strongest Man competition. That’s the equivalent of the World Cup of Strongman.
Another popular Strongman competition is the Highland Games in Scotland.
It’s a sport that primarily requires the guys (and girls!) to be incredibly strong. But not only do they lift heavy objects – they also have to move them over long distances and quickly so.
This is true functional training!
Competitions can be one part regular lifts like squats, deadlift, and press but all done with odd objects. Other parts are loading atlas stones, carrying crosses, flipping tractor tires and pulling trucks.
Have a look at the Europe’s Strongest Man from a few years back, to see the different events they compete in.
Europe’s Strongest Man 2014
Hafþór “The Mountain” Bjornsson kicking ass and winning the title.
Patrik Baboumian. Seriously strong guy! Patrik holds many world records (including a 550 kg yoke carry) and proves that you don’t need to eat meat to be elite level strong.
Are you bored with your training? Or do you want a more substantial goal than just improving your looks?
Then go and try one of these strength sports! Get out of your comfort zone and challenge yourself with something new. It’ll do you a lot of good and I’m sure you’ll have loads of fun in the process.
And who knows – maybe you’ll even find a new love for training?