When I was in high school, at the end of every wrestling season, NJ would compete against PA in the annual NJ/PA All-Star Wrestling Match. I saw PA winning ALL the time. It was rare for NJ to beat PA. I thought to myself back then. It must be those PA farm boys.
Now, not all of PA is farms and manual labor. There are cities as well. But, I’ve seen the wrestlers who come from families who have farms. These kids were doing manual labor since they were in pre-school, carrying around bags of feed for the animals and moving things around on the farm. They were raised to be WORKERS. As they got older, they worked harder, lifter heavier things and did more work on the farm.
Rumor has it that every wrestler in PA has a climbing rope in his garage or barn. As soon as I moved into my current house and saw we had high ceilings in the garage, the first thing I did was put up a climbing rope.
I’ve got old videos of Dr. Ken Leistner training Football players and local lifters from his garage and the dirt parking lot behind his old gym, Iron Island Gym. These guys are running with barbells on their back, carrying cannon balls (YES, Cannon Balls), pushing old oil barrels around on hand trucks – these guys were just attacking odd objects and going all out.
In the video you see a few guys throwing up off to the side, behind school buses. I guess this was a parking lot for school buses behind Dr. Ken’s Gym. They were just training by carrying and lifting all different types of objects. Yes, TRAINING. Moving around a bunch of odd objects. They pushed each other, challenged one another and inspired each other.
Jim Wendler explains that lifting weights is our way of inventing manual labor. Jim inspired me to mow my lawn with a weight vest on. I used the weight vest and ankle weights when mowing the lawn.
Farm boy style training — moving heavy objects and straining yourself under tough conditions can have a dramatic increase in an athlete’s confidence. It teaches them not to give up during the struggle, and to commit to the task at hand. It’s as simple as “Getting your hands dirty and moving the dirt.”
The best part is that most of this homemade strength equipment can be purchased from Home Depot and you can make them yourself. The pulling sleds I own were welded by a few guys from my Dad’s work. Most sleds cost over $100 which is not expensive. You can also go ahead and make your sled with a spare car tire. Mine was made from scrap metal, but they work just the same and produce the same results. You can always improvise, as this NO Rules Training is not supposed to be pretty. Making sure your equipment looks cool is the last thing anyone should care about. Focus on RESULTS. Your fancy gym doesn’t automate results. Results come from WORK.
Here is a list of equipment you can choose from. Once again, you can buy all, some, or none of this equipment. It all depends on your goals.
- Sledge Hammer (10 – 20 lbs)
- Pulling Sled (welded together or improvise by using a spare tire)
- 2” Heavy Duty Rope – 10 – 25 ft. (the length will determine its various uses)
- tow straps 10’ length (large eyes for hands to slip through)
- Play Sand
- Duct Tape
- Contractor Bags
- Army Navy Duffel Bag
- 2 Buckets
- Tree Logs
- Kegs filled with water
The kegs I picked up from a local restaurant bar and made trades of my Encyclopedia of Underground Strength or purchased them for the $20 recycling fee. Sandbags I make with play sand or sometimes with rubber mulch. You need to wrap the sand up in a few contractor bags, so they don’t break easily.
I’ve also had some luck scouring junk yards; sometimes they give tires away, so they don’t need to pay recycling fees. To make a tire heavier, get one with the wheel that comes with it. You then loop a chain through the wheel and attach the rope to the chain.
The large rope can be purchased from various stores depending on where you live. If you live near water, check the boating docks and see if anyone is getting rid of their old ropes. You can use the long ropes for hand over hand sled pulls.
Truck Pushing is something I did on the regular when I had my garage gym. I would go to the elementary schools on weekends as no one was there and had a wide open parking lot plus a playground for calisthenics.
If it’s too hard to push your car or truck, build up your strength through all the other training and for the time being, you & a training partner can push the car together. Just push it for a longer distance or time, and eventually, do some solo pushing.
Carrying a sandbag up & down stadium stairs for one minute is an awesome overall strength & conditioning exercise. Hit a few setoff stadium stairs with the sandbag and then attack the sandbag basics: squats, shouldering, clean & press, lunges.
Pushing a heavy wheelbarrow up a slight hill or even a steep hill for 1 minute or longer will work your entire body, especially your grip, legs, and back. The wobbling of the wheelbarrow will work your “core” – as much as I hate that fad word, a lot of these odd objects get your body worked in ways that traditional lifting does not.
The balancing of the wheelbarrow will put extra work on your abs, obliques, legs shoulders, upper back, and grip. You can load your wheelbarrow with Olympic plates, stones or any heavy objects that will test your mind and body. Weight is weight; 200 lbs is always 200 lbs.
When I was helping the wrestling team at Blair Academy, at the time they were dominating the competition nationally. I believe they still are. The Coach had 5 or 6 wheelbarrows placed near the wrestling building, and there was a steep hill outside. The kids would take turns sitting in the wheelbarrow. They would race up the hill and then walk down together, switch the guy sitting in the wheelbarrow and race again. Hill sprints with wheelbarrows are tough on the grip, legs and back, especially uphill.
If you’re alone, try loading your wheelbarrow with sandbags and kettlebells. Push the wheelbarrow until you achieve your distance, then perform a few Kettlebell or Sandbag exercises with high intensity, then push that wheelbarrow up again. Repeat for time or desired sets and get the work done!
Buckets filled with sand, stones & gravel are awesome for grip. I take foam or a small hand towel and tape them around the handles to make my gripping surface larger; this makes my hands and grip work that much harder. You can make your farmer handles with PVC pipe, chain and then looping Olympic plates through the chains. Carry one in each hand or carry one arm only suitcase style for trunk stability.
Standing next to an object like a picnic table or a barrel, I rotate my body and pick up the bag or bucket while lifting it to the other side onto the object. I have also done this rotational movement using a kettlebell. It’s rotational loading which is excellent for sports that either requires rotation or anti-rotation/stability against rotation.
When I began training athletes outdoors, I was immediately shocked by how many had NO clue how to pick up a sledgehammer and go to work. Using a sledgehammer must be done safely. Start with a lighter hammer and make sure your hands do not slip off the handle. This means to focus and pay attention to your surroundings. No one else should be standing close to you while using the sledge; however, in the suburbs, this is foreign territory.
Companies now make large sledgehammers or maces that can be loaded even heavier with sand. I’ve got a few extra-large hammers that go up to 50 lbs when loaded with sand. Of course, the guy who throws that hammer around like it’s nothing grew up on a farm. It all makes sense. I’ve got college athletes who become very awkward as soon as they need to swing the sledgehammer and hit a tractor tire.
If you can use a mace, it’s a bit safer because the mace is a round head vs. the rectangular head of a sledgehammer. If your sledgehammer hits a tire slightly from an angle that hammer can rebound if you’re not ready and in charge. The mace has a round surface, so it’s less likely to bounce back awkwardly.
Train from multiple angles if you have the space to do so. Use the sledgehammer with overhead swings, swings from each side as well as 1-handed strikes. The 1-handed strikes are advanced so don’t get all crazy with this. Too often people seek novelty for the sake of novelty and ignore the risk vs. reward ratio of an exercise. The 1-arm strikes will increase the emphasis on grip strength.
A safer option with even more variety in your training can come from medicine ball slams from an overhead position, lateral throws against the wall or to a partner and many other directions – ALL med ball throws and slams are a great way to simulate sledgehammer work without the grip component and more safety, especially if you’re in an area where there are lots of people moving around.
Farm boy style training should be creative & fun. It all depends on where you live and what you have access to. My buddy John Welbourn purchased a farm, and he’s had guys partner up to pull trees that were cut down. The guys had to drag and row the tree in groups of 2. You don’t go counting sets or reps here; you just do the work until the work is done. If you’re always looking for “optimal” training, then you’ll never break through the walls of good. Don’t fear to push beyond norms.
While coaching at the college, I always took time to get the guys outside, even when it was the middle of winter, to get some Farm Boy Strong work done. I might sneak in some tire flips or carrying an odd object outdoors during a finisher circuit during the winter where they can get in and out for three rounds.
A circuit mixed with outdoors and indoors would look like this:
- Tire Flip x 3
- Battle Rope x 50 (2 exercises, 25 reps each)
- Plyo Jumps Up Stairs x 3 (There was a set of stairs for lower and upper level of the weight room so the wrestlers would jump up the stairs equating to 2-3 jumps and then they repeated this 3 times)
During the warmer months, I might get the guys outside and get a full training session in with the odd objects. I don’t count the sets or reps. Instead, I monitor their energy levels during training. You can see when they begin to slow down or when it’s time to shut it down.
We’ll bring tires, Kettlebells, and sleds outside. Depending on where we are, I usually have access to large sandbags of 80-150 lbs. At “The Underground Strength Gym” locations, we’ve got tires, anvils, kegs, sandbags and everything we need. I’ll organize a circuit, and the athletes will just attack the circuit. We’re done when we’re done! I view the strongman circuits and NO Rules Training like sprint training. I stop before we slow down.
- Sled Drags x 100 ft
- Tire Flip x 4
- Sledge Hammer Strikes x 10 / 10 (switch top hand at 10 reps)
- Anvil / Stone / Keg Carry x 100 ft
- Hand Over Hand Sled Pull x 50 ft.
If an athlete is strong enough, we’ll challenge them to clean & press the odd object for a few reps and then carry it for distance. To spice things up, you can create some competition. Time the athletes in how long it takes to flip the tire a certain distance or for 5 reps. Maybe you time the athletes in a circuit to see who gets the best time. Competition fires everyone up, and you just need to keep all safety factors in mind. I will adjust the competition for the different size/age athletes.
High school & College athletes can have 2 divisions; over and under 175 lbs. This way the athletes compete against guys somewhat in their size. On the flip side, I always say, Strong is STRONG. I see plenty of lighter guys out lifting heavier guys. I am careful not to plant the seed of belief that all bigger guys are stronger. That isn’t always the case!
Sometimes I will organize partners to do a 400-meter Kettlebell farmer walk trip. Every 50 ft your partner switches with you. This allows you to carry heavy weights and the volume catches up fast.
If I am taking a group of athletes to a park near my gym, I have them carry moderate Kettlebells, and then when we get to the park, I take them through some movement prep, some sprint and jump training, some light Kettlebell work, and then we play a game of Ultimate Football (same as Ultimate Frisbee). It gets the athletes sprinting, jumping and changing direction.
Then, they partner up and carry the Kettlebells back to the gym, and THEN we start banging the weights. Kids don’t get outside and play anymore, it’s amazing. People stare at us while we play Ultimate Football as if the aliens have just landed.
Make no mistake about it, you might think it’s normal to lift weights and work hard, but this world still sees that as “crazy.” I love what my buddy Joe DeSena is doing with SPARTAN; his goal is to rip 100 million people off their couches through his races all around the world.
It is imperative you get around other like-minded, hard-working people to fuel your fire. Do NOT allow “common folk” to bring you down to thinking of this type of training, this type of living, is strange. NO. We are normal. “They” are wrong.
For more information, you will want to review the Underground Strength Coach Certification.