Strongman training and the use of strongman implements have gained popularity as a training method for sportspeople and general population alike. Competitions consist of many different events and they usually involve lifting or carrying various heavy implements under time constraints. While some of these events involve equipment and implements unavailable to most recreational rugby players or clubs, the events and exercises in strongman can be mimicked and thus performed in a gym or rugby club environment.
Winwood and colleagues in 2014 examined the use of strongman exercises and equipment and the reasons for their use, in the development of athletic performance. They surveyed 220 strength and conditioning coaches with an average of 9 years of general strength and conditioning experience of strongman training for athletes. Coaches from amateur, semi-professional and professional teams responded to the survey and 19 countries were represented. The coaches listed thirty-eight sports as their primary emphasis with rugby league, American football, rugby union, basketball, baseball, and soccer the most common.
The survey found that 88% of coaches reported using strongman implements to train their athletes. The top five were sleds, ropes, kettlebells, tyres, and sandbags. Coaches identified improvements in conditioning, explosive strength, power, and muscular endurance as their main targets when utilising strongman training. The coaches also identified better transfer to functional performance and variation as main reasons why they used strongman training.
Strongman training is clearly a training modality that provides a novel and varied training stimulus. Exercises can improve muscular hypertrophy, strength endurance, strength, and conditioning levels in rugby players. The awkward shaped and heavy implements challenge body control and produce many different forces. The unbalanced nature of implements such as sandbags and water filled cans challenge stability and thus the player must constantly adjust muscular tension during the exercise. This develops core stability and strength which could transfer well to many rugby skills. The novelty of strongman training is also useful in maintaining the interest of players, especially if they have many years of training experience. Strongman training can provide a new and exciting stimulus while still working on the necessary components of fitness.