Milo of Croton was a wrestler who lived in the 6th century BC. He was perhaps most famous for an amazing feat of strength in which he lifted a calf, everyday, from birth. As the calf grew bigger and eventually into a fully grown bull, he continued to lift it. This is a story of both a linear strength progression and of perhaps one of the most inventive odd object lifts of all time.
In todays sanitized gym environments you’ll rarely find a weight that isn’t designed to be easy to lift. Perfectly balanced dumbbells, barbells and kettlebells are commonplace and resistance machines are, by and large, pretty comfortable to use. While this is great for gym businesses, is it really the best thing for the results of the people using them?
In the “real world”, things are difficult to lift. If you’ve ever moved house then you’ll know what I mean. And this isn’t limited to the occasional event like moving - sports, hunting and even carrying the shopping back from the store (modern day hunting) requires that you lift and/or move an uneven, odd object. So why don’t we prepare for this in the gym?
For this article I’ll define an odd object as:
“an object not designed specifically to be used for the purposes of exercise and/or an object that has not been designed to make exercising with it easier”
This can, in theory, cover a whole range of things that you can use in place of traditional free weights. In reality though, it will probably include the following things:
The nature of odd object lifting is in fact very similar to traditional free weight training, with many of the same (albeit sometimes modified) versions of the standard lifts - including deadlifts, squats, cleans, presses and pulls. The major difference with these odd objects is that they are un-balanced, odd shaped and very challenging to lift. It is precisely this challenge that can yield great results.
Lifting something that is un-balanced will do wonders for your strength and also your ability to lift things in daily life. When was the last time you lifted something like a dumbbell or barbell outside of the gym? Training with odd objects will also have a strong transfer into sporting performance, especially in contact sports.
It’s also a great way to get strong on a budget - I regularly speak to people who say that they can’t afford a gym membership or that exercise equipment is too expensive. Odd objects are generally either very cheap or free - I’ve managed to get well over 500kg of odd objects for my garage gym for absolutely nothing. Most people will be glad to give you old tyres and the like - the reality is that you’ll probably be saving them the money to get rid of them. The same weight in traditional free weights would have cost me at least £1000.
The reason most people don’t even try odd object lifting is that it is both harder than conventional free weight training and that they generally believe that it won’t give them good results.
People have been lifting odd objects for strength for thousands of years. And, in the 2011 Worlds Strongest Man competition, the final consisted of the following events:
Apart from the deadlift (which was performed with a standard olympic bar), every event was an odd object lift. If the strongest men in the world are tested this way then there should be no doubt that odd object lifting has a legitimate place in every strength training programme.
This is not an article about replacing everything that you’re currently doing with an odd object lift. My recommendation is that you combine some traditional barbell and dumbbell lifts with some odd object lifts - see it as a bit of ‘serious fun’ to put into each session. It will supplement your traditional training very well and I guarantee that you’ll see improvements in your other lifts.
Aim for large compound movements that utilise multiple muscles and joints. This is good advice for strength training generally and not just odd object lifting.
Exercises to try:
But, most of all, don’t be limited by anything. Use your imagination and apply sound training principles to your odd object lifting and you’ll achieve great results.
Odd object lifting is a legitimate practice for improving your strength. Get yourself some stones, a sandbag or tyre and add in a little odd object work each week - try some lifts, throws, carries and drags.
Originally published in Fitness Levels Magazine.
Matthew Palfrey is a strength and conditioning coach, author, consultant to the health and fitness industry and the founder of Sandbag Fitness - a specialist company that promotes the use of sandbag training for fitness. Find out more at www.sandbagfitnessstore.com
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