What is functional hypertrophy?
Strategic muscle growth that will help enhance sports (in this case strongman) performance. Other positive side effects of such training include better body composition and the prevention of injury.
When training a strongman our goal is to hypertrophy the higher threshold fibres as too much hypertrophy in the lower threshold fibres will negatively affect the speed of muscle contraction. Since many events are timed, speed can play an important role. Also, just as excess body fat will affect endurance, too much 'bulk' will do the same when the dreaded medley events are performed.
Only gaining muscle where needed (functional hypertrophy), and not just weight/fat will become more commonplace in strongman. It's not always the biggest/heaviest strongman that wins, as shown by Vytautas Lalas this past week in finishing 2nd Place at World's Strongest Man. Lalas is 5 ft 10 inches and 135kg, Savickas (1st Place) is 6 ft 3 inches and 170kg & Thor Bjornsson is 6 ft 9 inches and 190kg+! Only gaining functional hypertrophy is even more important in the u90kg & u105kg categories due to the limit on bodyweight.
The Protocol: This method was popularised by Steve Holman. It increases time under tension of the muscle after you've completed the desired number of reps by pulsing/completing partial reps at the stretch position (Bottom, Mid or Top range).
When/how I use it with Strongmen: This method can be useful if the athlete has a squat event in his next competition. I would use it at the beginning of an Accumulation/Volume based phase, or as a finisher/B series of an Intensification/intensity based phase. I also recommend using this to help peak a strongman as the last Accumulation phase 4-6 weeks out from competition.
Modified Hepburn Method
The Protocol: There are various routines that can be found under this title but I prefer the 8 x 1, followed by 4 x 5 for strongman work. The high volume of singles increases maximal strength & ramps up the CNS for the functional hypertrophy work so you're able to lift more weight.
When/how I use it with Strongmen: This is great for events that need to be performed for a 1 Rep Max on competition day.
The Protocol: 5 sets of 5 reps. Each rep has a 10-15 second pause between them. 90% of your 1RM is used. Usually you'd be able to get 6 sets of 3 reps at this intensity which is 18 reps total. By taking the 10-15 second pause you'll be performing 25 reps. Grab a calculator if you don't believe me! Like the above protocol the CNS is now firing which will ensure a higher strength level for your remedial/assistance work and therefore greater functional hypertrophy.
When/how I use it with Strongmen: This is great for those events that are for reps, but are considered near maximal. I would use it usually in an intensification phase and is great to use 7-9 weeks out from competition when looking to increase relative strength.
When/how I use it with Strongmen: I like to use this at the beginning accumulation phase of a program for muscle groups that I intend to peak 12 weeks later. For instance if you're looking to increase your overhead pressing you could do shoulders with this on day 1 and triceps on day 4.
The Protocol: The protocol involves pairing a compound lift, such as a squat, with an explosive movement, such as a jump or Olympic lift. There are various sets and rep protocols and exercise selections.
When/how I use it with Strongmen: This would be ideal for an explosive event such as a keg toss over a height. You will improve power output and force production. You could even use it to peak a strongman 1-3 weeks from competition, with deloading volume each week.
The Protocol: There are many variations on drop sets but the premise behind them is universal. You will tap into higher threshold motor fibres through maximal motor unit recruitment. This leads to greater fibre damage and an increase in muscle growth. I wrote about 3 different drop set protocols here.
When/how I use it with Strongmen: Depending on the protocol you can use it to enhance any strength quality.
The Protocol: Eccentric training is one of the best tools to overcome plateaus. I highly recommend using eccentric hooks so the weight unloads at the bottom of the range of motion and you can explode back up. Depending on your eccentric strength deficit you could use up to 50% more weight than your 1RM. If your arms/legs are shaking like you've got Parkinson's then you know you've picked a decent poundage!
When/how I use it with Strongmen: I use it if the strongman has plateaued on a static lift. Another great byproduct of eccentric training is an increase in tendon strength. This is of paramount importance in a sport where injury can set you back weeks or months.
*Note: You don't have to just be a strongman to use these protocols!
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