(Part 2 can be found here)
It is no secret that I am a big fan of heavy odd objects. Whether it is a stone, log, or sandbag, I enjoy the challenge that comes from lifting awkward objects that were never intended for exercise. As I’ve mentioned before, odd object training develops a type of real world strength that is unique from anything you will experience in a conventional gym. The question that I’m often asked though is whether or not the strength derived from odd object training carries over to free weights. In other words, does odd object training make you better at lifting heavy dumbbells or barbells?
Yes and No
Whenever I’m asked about carry over between tools, I begin by stating the obvious. Strength is strength. As your body becomes stronger, you will be better equipped to perform feats that require strength.
Unfortunately, that’s only a partial answer however. A more complete statement is that strength is strength, to an extent. Thus, while you can gain strength by lifting almost anything, specificity will eventually take precedence as you approach more significant loads.
Using myself as an example, I can maintain a moderate level of strength in many lifts as long as I am regularly challenging myself against maximal resistance. It doesn’t matter where the resistance comes from as long as it is significant (ex. weights, odd objects, isometrics, etc.). If I’m looking to maximize a specific lift though, I need to focus more attention towards that particular exercise.
Therefore, strength isn’t just strength, it is also a skill. And the skill needed to perform one exercise is unique from another. For instance, the skill required to deadlift is different from the skill required to handle a heavy stone. One might assist the other to an extent, but eventually that assistance will peak. At that point, you will need more specific work to continually improve with the given exercise.
When pondering the carry over between one tool and another, it is also important to consider efficiency. To put it bluntly, lifting one tool isn’t the most efficient way to become better at lifting another. Thus, if you want to become better at lifting barbells, the most efficient way to do so is by lifting barbells.
Naturally, the same logic also applies to odd objects. If you wish to become better at lifting heavy stones, you need to wrap your hands around a heavy stone. Barbell strength might provide an excellent foundation, but that foundation will only take you so far. Once again, the time will eventually come when more specific work is needed.
Although it is a commonly asked question, I have always struggled to understand why so many people expect carry over between odd objects and free weights. Significant strength with any tool is not something that is haphazardly attained. To develop impressive strength in a given exercise, one must engage in purposeful training that is specific to the task at hand.
Therefore, while it is nice to experience carry over between tools, one should not train with carry over as the goal. Certainly welcome it when it exists, but also recognize that it will only take you so far. If you have significant goals with a specific exercise or tool, be sure that your program does not overlook the importance of specificity. Random work will only take you so far.
“Example is the school of mankind, and they will learn at no other.” – Edmund Burke