It's Not Heavy, It's Awkward

April 5, 2022

To those who love to lift, I know how you feel. I get that rush when I hit a big PR; that urge to go back and do it all again tomorrow. I love getting stronger, and more than anything, I love a new challenge.

We all have a little competitive edge in us. For me, when I approach something new and fail, I just need to keep trying until I succeed. That was what happened to me the first time I ever tried odd-object training. It was a simple tire flip. At that point in my fitness journey, I could probably squat about 200 pounds. But flipping this 200 pound tire? Impossible. Then a few months later, a D-ball. 100 pounds. I could deadlift 100 pounds, I could even clean 100 pounds, but this ball? There was no way I could get it to my shoulder. My excuse? “It’s not heavy, it's awkward”. We’ve all said this when carrying some giant box from Amazon, or moving furniture in our homes. But what if we could train that quality?

Many of us have seen odd-object training in the form of Strongman competitions on television. But let me tell you; you don’t need to be 6’4 and 300lb to be able to benefit from Strongman training. In fact, Strongman training has become very popular with fitness enthusiasts everywhere, and isn’t quite as intimidating as we thought. My hope is by the time you finish reading this article, you will find the inspiration to try some of these methods for yourself, and realize that it’s not just for “the big guys”.

Odd-object training comes in many different forms, and there are endless different products that are now on the market to satisfy the needs of fitness enthusiasts everywhere. Here are a few odd objects that are often incorporated into training:

  • D-Balls - similar to an atlas stone, but a more user-friendly rubber ball filled with sand
  • Sand bags - usually a longer cylinder shaped bag filled with sand
  • Giant tires
  • Sleds

Many of these items can be found at big box gyms, CrossFit gyms and the like. They can also be easily found online to purchase.

    What kind of exercises can you do with this equipment? Here are a few of the main lifts you might want to try out:

  • Deadlift - can be done with D-Balls or sand bag, lifting the load to the waist
  • Carries
  • Bear hug carry: ball or sand bag held at the chest
  • Front rack carry: ball or sand bag held at the shoulders in front
  • Ruck carry: sand bag resting on the back of the shoulders
  • Farmer Carry: sand bag(s) held at the sides
  • Cleans - can be done with D-ball or sand bag, bringing the weight from the ground up to the shoulders
  • Tire Flip: lifting the tire off the ground to the chest, then pushing it over
  • Sled Push
  • Sled Pull - using straps with handles attached to a sled

So what are the benefits of odd-object training? Before I get too far, I should say that this type of training should only be used if you have a good base of strength, otherwise injury is more likely. Odd-object training uses a lot of the same techniques as traditional training, but the size and shape of the objects make good technique more difficult. Therefore, you should know how to squat and deadlift with good technique before attempting odd-object lifts.

#1: Increased Core Strength

One of the main benefits of odd-object training is increased core strength. If you’re into lifting you’ll know that lifting anything off the ground requires good core strength. And I don’t just mean the six-pack muscles we all think of when someone says “core”. I mean all the abdominal muscles, as well as the low back muscles: basically everything that surrounds your mid-section and stabilizes your spine. Lifting a barbell off the ground can feel easier than an odd object because we can keep the load closer to our center of gravity, easing the load on the spine. With an odd object such as a sandbag or D-ball, the size of the object makes it more difficult to keep the load close to the body, which requires the core muscles to work harder. This means higher muscle recruitment, especially in the posterior chain muscles such as the back and glutes. This is why I always recommend starting with low weights when experimenting with odd-object lifts; they can have immense effects on core strength, but can also put the low back at risk if you go too heavy too soon.

#2: Physical Preparedness

Another reason I love odd-object lifts is they are a great tool for GPP, or general physical preparedness. GPP is usually the type of training that occurs with the general population, and is often the type of training that athletes would do in the early off-season. It’s exactly what it sounds like: general fitness for any task, which combines strength, endurance, and aerobic fitness amongst other things. We love farmer carries, sled pushes and the like when training GPP, therefore odd object training fits here nicely. You’d be surprised at how high your heart rate can get just by picking up something heavy and carrying it 20 yards. All of these odd-object lifts can help build work capacity and base strength that will aid with heavy lifting in the future. An added benefit is that most of these lifts are full body exercises, using the legs to lift, the upper body to hold and press, and the back and core muscles to stabilize.  It will also have a big impact on your grip strength, which is beneficial for all lifting. The odd size and lack of perfectly shaped handles (like a dumbbell or barbell) creates a higher demand on grip strength.

#3: Being a Badass

Lastly, we all love feeling like a badass. Is this a real reason? I would argue that it is. There is definitely a huge confidence boost when we successfully lift or move that object. It’s a primal thing for us; pick up the heavy object, move it from point A to point B. It’s something that makes us feel useful, and builds confidence for the next time we’re faced with a similar task, like moving that fridge or couch. It’s an empowering feeling when we accomplish a feat of strength, especially when it’s something that you’ve seen some of  the strongest people on the planet doing. It’s similar to the feeling you might get when doing Olympic style lifts; feeling athletic and powerful in a different way than jumping with a pair of dumbbells in your hands. Some may argue that the same stimulus can be given with a traditional deadlift or squat or press, but lifting a tire or D-ball or sandbag just feels different, in more ways than one.

In conclusion

    To sum it all up, odd-object lifting has many benefits, only few of which I’ve named here. There is definitely something we can all get from this type of training, and I truly believe that almost anyone can do it. You don’t need to be a Strongman competitor to do this type of training, and you definitely don’t need to be intimidated by it. If we start small, work within our own means, and progress gradually, we can all learn how to do these lifts safely and efficiently, and reap all the benefits.

Jen Winger