Not the crappy movie, but the kind of farm boy strength that comes from hard manual labor, and usually leaves you with the desire to throw on a flannel shirt and grow out your beard.
Now I have no problem admitting that I’m about as far from a farm boy as they get. Sure I enjoy wearing a flannel shirt, and the occasional country concert, but that’s about as close as I get to being a country boy. But there is no doubt that the kind of manual labor that you find on a farm can bring about some impressive physiques. Of course I’m talking about real manual labor, which is harder to find today in a world where most farming is done by machines, but if you do by chance run into somebody who has spent most of their life working their own farm then they are gonna be in damn respectable shape.
A few weeks ago I was visiting some family friends and had the chance to spend a few days helping out around the place. Even though I can hold my own in the gym I found my grip, and traps burning after hauling load after load of stone from one end of the grounds to the other. My shoulders were more tired than ever after, and my heart was beating out of my chest after a day spent digging a drainage ditch. The next morning I had DOMS in just about every muscle, sure this kind of work alone wouldn’t build the ideal physique but add this to a solid lifting routine and what would you end up with ?
Strong, lean muscles, that preform as good as they look.
A Lesson from My Own Past
I remember in high school about twice a year we would play teams from the more, ahem… rural areas outside town. Usually these teams held their own pretty damn well too, a couple times we even caught a royal ass whooping from them. Now our schools were roughly the same size, yet every year these teams would show up with bigger, stronger players. They also always had lineman sporting beards that I still can’t attain as I near my mid twenties, intimidating stuff for a 16 year old. So besides amazing beard genetics, what was the difference between the two groups ?
Our group grew up in town, where the closest most of us got to hard physical labor was push mowing the yard. The other group started working on farms before they could buy their own tickets to PG-13 movies. Sure we spent three or four days a week working hard in the weight room, we did our dead lifts and squats like every good high school football player should, but the other guy was doing that and more. They were the classic example of corn fed farm boys. We might have had better numbers in the power lifts, but these guys had real world strength, they had moved heavy objects outside the gym, the kind of activity that lends itself perfectly to sports like football and wrestling.
They had real functional strength, and not that crap they call functional where you stand on a bosu ball with your eyes closed on one foot doing band curls.
How I Put the Two Together
A few years after I graduated I was given the chance to work with my old high school football team, and given the task of putting together the strength and conditioning program for the JV squad. We had some good athletes, but they were, to put it nicely, mostly a group of powdered ass boys who needed to be introduced to some tough work.
I met with them 4 days a week, Monday, Wednesday and Friday we met in the weight room for a total body strength workout, focusing on explosive reps in the 4-6 rep range. All workouts started off with either a squat, dead lift or powerclean variation, then we would select pushing or pulling exercises, alternating between moving in the horizontal or vertical plane. And since I was working teenagers I would give them 15 minutes of isolation work at the end which was always used on abs and biceps.
An example of our Strength workouts would look like this:
- 1) Dead Lift – 5 sets of 4-6 reps
- 2A) Push Press – 5 sets of 4-6 reps
- 2B)Weighted Chin ups – 5 sets of 4-6 reps
- 3A) decline board sit ups
- 3B) barbell curls
We would rotate in other lifts like close grip benches, barbell and dumbbell rows, back and front squats, all the big bang for your buck exercises.
After the lifting was done we would move on to things like dot drills, box jumps, and wind sprints, but the real fun stuff happened on Saturday morning. In an effort to mimic some of the work that our farm boy foes were doing on the other side of the county I came up with a circuit that would work the muscles that weren’t getting used in the weight room.
I purchased three 50 pound sand bags (super cheap), and filled some old duffel bags up, one was 100 pounds, the other 50. We would do uneven farmers carries, I’d have the boys clean the bags to their shoulders and walk to the end of the practice field and back. They learned to hate the sand bags.
Next was tire flips, lucky for them somebody had abandoned an old monster truck tire behind the school about a decade ago and every football team since had spent the summer learning to flip the 500+ lb tire. Once they’d flipped the tire to the other side they’d get to whack it with the sledgehammer till they’re grip and shoulders were fried.
I had gone to Lowe’s and purchased a hundred feet of rope, and attached it a few 45 lb plates. I’d have the kids tie it to my weight belt and sprint forward and backwards with it. Basically a poor mans Prowler. Then I’d have them brace themselves on the edge of the parking lot and pull the rope to themselves.
Finally we’d jog up to the track and they would get to push my SUV around, and if you can drive your legs hard enough to push a 4000 lb vehicle then getting the 220 lineman across from you out of the tailbacks way is a hell of a lot easier. Not to mention that its a great way to work on conditioning and knock some fat off without having to brave the mind numbing boredom of a treadmill.
Putting Your Own Circuit Together
If you’ve got any kind of backyard you should be able to put something together now that the weather will be warming up soon. If you’re a big city dweller its going to be tough, but maybe give that friend in the suburbs a call and see if he’s up for a workout.
- Tire Flips or – for distance, pick a spot and go there and back
- Sledge strikes – bang the tire from the left, the right, and then climb up topic and swing down, think like you were cutting wood.
- Sand Bag or Heavy Bag cleans – clean the bag from the ground, to your shoulder, alternating left and right
- Bag carries, farmers carries, firemans carries, clutched to your chest. – Just switch it up and focus on doing a lot of walking with a heavy object. You’d be amazed how tough this is.
- Bag Presses – get the bag above your head, simple as that. Going to be awkward at first, try not to drop anything on your head.
- Sled or Vehicle push – If you can swing it financially, buy a prowler, if not, go out with a buddy and take turns sitting in the driver seat and pushing your car for distance. Heads up, people will stop and ask if you need a jump or something, so go do this in a field or in front on your house where there isn’t traffic. Obviously doing this out on Main street is a no no.
So does it work ?
Well my JV team went from a 1-2 win team to winning 7 games, and after a summer spent spent pushing my truck around I was able to find a mean streak in a couple of kids that I didn’t think possible.
It’s going to get warm soon, and you’re gonna want to spend more time outside, so why not get a few buddies together on the weekend, spend an hour or two working up a sweat outside, and then reward yourselves with grilling some steaks and having a beer.
See ya outside.