Back yard gyms and improvised equipment are the origins of many a dedicated lifter, especially strongmen. This nostalgic rant is about the specificity of strongman style training and the improvisations I made in the first few years of my journey to becoming a strength athlete, when all my training was done in mine and other people's backyards.
When I discovered the sport of strongman it quickly became my passion, simultaneously presenting new challenges and great rewards. At the time I didn't own a whole lot of equipment and the stuff I did have was conventional; my bars were spin lock, not even olympic spec. But strongman athletes use fat bars, axles and monster dumbbells with much thicker handles than anything you're likely to find in an average gym, never mind my house.
For me to train more thoroughly and get the most out of what I had, I needed to improvise. For instance, my home gym (which I facetiously referred to as The Facility) had a veranda. I strung some heavy chains over the sturdiest beam and created my own version of a Savickas press. With some D-rings to adjust the bar height I could perform overhead press, floor press and, most importantly, front squats. For the first year and more of my training, this apparatus was the cornerstone of my lower body work, before I began deadlifting and back squatting mid-2011. I wear a chain around my neck today to remind me of these chains, where I began.
Now let's talk about training specificity. I actually blogged about Fat Gripz two years ago over at Weight Lifting Academy. Improving my grip strength and learning strongman-specific events were two challenges that Fat Gripz helped me overcome. They now come in three varieties and two sizes, though the 'Black Ops' edition Gripz are not yet available in Oz. The red 'Extremes' are my favourite because they approximate the thickness of an axle or monster dumbbell. By adding these to my equipment I could simulate strongman training methods such as the dumbbell clean-press, axle power-cleans and deadlifts. They can also be added to a variety of conventional barbell and dumbbell exercises to make your regular training a whole lot tougher. Fat Gripz will seriously strengthen your grip while you strengthen the rest of your body.
As you can see by what I had to do to my trap bar in order to deadlift a challenging amount, I'm not returning to backyard training anytime soon! The reason why I am posting all this now is because I've recently been in touch with my US contact for Fat Gripz. In 2014 Franco very generously sent me several pairs of 'Extremes' and other merchandise as prizes for the competitors of the WA Strongman qualifier held in July. He's again very generously sending me more, as the last pair I had I lent to some guy who attended my first clinic at PTC and never returned with them. Another pair was lifted from Genesis Bentley before that. I also had a pair of blue ones with my name engraved on them... I have no idea what happened to them but it's probable they were nicked, too.*
In return for Franco's generosity I'll be making a short video on how I used Fat Gripz in my training as a beginner-intermediate lifter, and provide some demonstrations of the grip strength they have helped me to build.
*Nope! I lost them, and recently found them again.