NB : This article is from the ebook Sgt Sweaty’s Old School Training Course, available for free at sgtsweaty.com.
There is no doubt that barbells are a supreme tool of building overall body power, but there is a certain type of strength that they do not build. You see, barbells are well balanced objects. Many things in life though, are not. Very few things would be as perfect as a barbell, so your body isn’t fully suited to control awkward, unwieldy objects. How do you go about building this odd strength? Through the use of things that are very difficult to lift, such as sandbags, kegs, rocks, chunks of steel; whatever you can think of. Training in this manner is taking the blunt but impressive K.A. Bar from barbell training, and sharpening it and getting its maximum potential out of it through the use of odd objects.
While they’re meant to give you that razor’s edge of strength, if you don’t have a barbell then they are still a fantastic overall strength building tool that you can train with. It’s much better to lift only odd objects and still get pretty damn strong than to do nothing.
Using these monsters will work the hell out of your body’s stabilizing muscles, the ones you never knew you even had. You’re working them much harder in completely different ways from how a barbell ever could because it’s so perfectly balanced, and they don’t work the all-important stabilizers.
Your stabilizers do just that, they stabilize. They contract isometrically to support your body under a load. This is why manual laborers can be so strong, because they work the heck out of their muscles and stabilizers the way barbells can’t. An opposing lineman in the sport of football isn’t going to push against you in a perfectly balanced fashion like a barbell will; they’re going to be fighting you in all different directions. Lifting odd objects will give you advantage over any Joe who only lifts barbells, no matter who you are.
To round out your training, in addition to barbells you must train with odd objects, such as rocks, sandbags and kegs. These are very awkward objects to train with, so your body will adapt as so. Use of them will also help to improve your grip strength tremendously.
Lifting a barbell isn’t nearly the same thing as trying to shoulder a 200lb sandbag or pressing a beer keg that’s half filled with water. They’re unbalanced objects that shift around, fighting you every step of the way. Almost as if it were alive. You have to do so by sheer power and control, because there isn’t any comfortable way of balancing with each object, because you have to do that yourself. They’ll keep shifting around, making themselves nearly impossible to control. If you can’t clean and press that sandbag, then you can’t do it. There is no bouncing or cheating, just pure grit and determination. Odd objects are a terrific solution on how one can go about building farm boy, pig wrastlin’ strength that allows you to move damn near anything you want.
Say you’re a firefighter in a burning building and you have to throw an unconscious person on your shoulder and carry them out of harm’s way. Which tool do you think would best mimic this action – power cleaning a perfectly balanced barbell or shouldering a live, heavy sandbag that keeps shifting around on you, giving you no comfortable handles to grab on to? If you answered sandbag, then have a cookie or twelve.
Keep in mind you can use smaller objects of lighter poundages, but that doesn’t make them any less valuable, or heavy for that matter. Try pressing a keg that’s only halfway filled up with water. This only weighs about 100lbs, which would be nothing for an even, balanced barbell press, right? But the water has plenty of room to slosh around in and be a complete bear to move, forcing itself from back and forth to left to right, with quite a bit of power. Do that a couple of times, then try to convince yourself they don’t work if you’re a doubter. You will be so incredibly sore that you can hardly get out of bed the next day if you work them in too quick. Never underestimate the potential of these little devils.
Another benefit is the simplicity to apply them. Pretty much any exercise you do with them will work your entire body superbly; weather it be curls, presses, shouldering, squats, whatever. It’s very simple to get a very difficult (meaning effective) workout with them and it hardly even requires any thinking. Be creative and think of a workout to do right beforehand; do anything you can think of with them and you’ll be applying them right.
Random odd objects are very easy to find and get a good workout with. Basically just find anything heavy and lift it. In the words of The Heavy Metal Iron Master Steve Justa – “If you don’t have a barbell, then lift a tractor.”
You can use rocks, sandbags, railroad ties and rails, barrels, kegs, tractors, chunks of steel, chunks of cement, sewer grates, trucks, cars, tables, tires, sledgehammers, sleds, rope – the possibilities are endless. Just keep your eyes open for heavy things wherever you go and see if you can legally obtain them.