Odd Object Lifting Training
By Stefan Ferron B.A., B.Kin., B.Ed., CPT
In this article I will discuss lifting "odd objects", or things not typically found at the gym.
The words "odd objects" started creeping into the vocabulary of the general strength training population approximately 7 or 8 years ago with the release of Brooks Kubiks' dynamite book Dinosaur Training, as well as Steve Justa's equally impressive work, Rock, Iron, Steel. Both these books are available from Ironmind Enterprises, Inc. and are highly recommended. In their respective works, both men stress the importance of not only training with barbell and dumbbells, but also with awkwardly shaped objects; sandbags, rocks, barrels, kegs, logs, anvils and basically anything heavy and "bulky" that can be lifted in a safe manner.
Simply put, this type of training hits muscles that would never normally be worked in the typical gym workout, namely the stabilizers. Stabilizers are the small muscles in the body that often lie deep under larger muscle groups and who help provide stability and strength to joints along with the tendons and ligaments. Odd object lifting taxes both the large and small muscles of the body, and as such, develops an individuals strength to a degree not achievable with only a barbell or dumbbell.
In his book, Justa coins the term "strength endurance"; using a heavy poundage in a given movement for an extended distance or period of time. For example, walking while wearing a 100 lb. weighted vest and completing a certain distance, let's say 2 miles, while wearing that vest. Brooks Kubik suggests going out and buying a couple of old army duffel bags at a local army surplus store, filling them each with 100 lbs. to 150 lbs. of sand, and walking with one in each hand for distance or time. The number of exercises and movements possible is basically limitless.
As can be seen, the benefits of working out by lifting odd objects is threefold; firstly, when heavy weights are used, regardless of the exercise, the body's large musculature will be severely taxed, secondly, when a heavy weight is carried, pushed, or pulled for a substantial distance or time with little rest, the body's cardiovascular system will be worked to the utmost, and thirdly, with the use of awkwardly shaped objects the body's stabilizers will also be worked to the absolute limit.
ODD OBJECT EXERCISES
Below I have listed various exercises that could be performed. This list is not all inclusive and there are many more ideas out there that I either do not know of or haven't been exposed to. Don't be afraid to experiment and come up with your own ideas, creativity is the key.
Wheelbarrow push - Fill up a wheelbarrow with sand, rocks or anything heavy and push it.
Car push/pull - Get someone to steer the family car and push or pull it around the block.
Sled push/pull - Rip the wheel and stands off of a wheelbarrow, fill it up with anything heavy and push or pull it.
Farmers walk - Grab a pair of heavy dumbbells or duffel bags full of sand and walk with them.
Miscellaneous carries - Grab anything, an anvil, a barrel/keg filled with something, a rock, a
heavy sandbag and walk with it.
Lift and load - Get a heavy object and lift it onto an elevated surface, then return it to the ground, repeat until dead.
Weighted vest or backpack - Fill a backpack with sand, put it on and walk with it.
Barbell carries - Hold a barbell in the top position of the deadlift and walk with it, place a barbell
on your back like a squat and walk with it.
My first piece of advice regarding the implementation of these protocols is to consider them workouts in and of themselves. For example, two days out of the week do your "normal" gym stuff, maybe Monday and Friday. However, on Wednesday, dedicate an hour to performing only one of the above exercises. Some individuals, on the other hand, will like to simply tack on a set of heavy farmers walk or barbell carry at the end of their workout.
My second piece of advice is to view these types of workouts as mental and physical challenges that must be met. For example, if you have access to a soccer field (or a large field of any type), decide beforehand that come hell or high water you're going to walk the length of it twenty times while bearhugging a 100 lb. sandbag. A workout along these lines will run you into the ground without the need of any additional work and you'll feel the results for days. In addition, get a few friends together and do it simultaneously. This is a great way to motivate and push one another past your normal limits.
As far the "hows" of implementing these exercises, that's completely up to your discretion and preferences. You can lift a certain weight a certain number of times (lift and load drill), you can carry a particular weight a predetermined distance (barbell carries) or you can simply set your watch to countdown one hour and perform any lift, stopping when needed, until the hour is up.
Once again, be creative and revel in the challenge and pain.
Some practical considerations for performig the above workouts are as follows;
When working out in the gym it is helpful if there are few or no people around. This way no one can grab the squat rack (not that anyone usually would), chinning bar or dipping stands between your sets. Remember, if you have to wait in between sets you're losing some of the conditioning effect. It's also handy to have a training partner who can strip the weight off previous exercises while you continue your circuit so when you come back around to that exercise it's ready to go. They can also act as a spotter if you're doing benches or the like. Don't eat directly before hitting the gym and know where the nearest garbage can is or how far the washrooms are. Trust me, when I worked out in this manner there was more than one occasion where I was a breath or two from losing my lunch. I'm not kidding about this.
Regarding "odd object" lifting, do it outside if at all possible. You might as well get some fresh air while you kill yourself, and plus it's easier to drop a bag a sand on grass without a hassle than on a newly waxed gym floor at the local health club. When you train outside be aware of the sun. Sunblock is a good idea as is plenty and plenty of water. Choose a time of day where the sun is low in the sky; 6-9 am or 3-6 pm are ideal. Make sure the terrain you're using is level. You don't want to twist your ankle in a divot or trip on a clump of grass.