The implementation of odd object training has become more common and popular over the years. What was once reserved only for those in the underground world of warehouse and garage-style gyms can now be found in your standard commercial gym and the most prestigious collegiate and professional weight rooms.
When considering odd objects, some of the primary forms available are sandbags, kegs, tires, kettlebells, stones (or heavy medicine balls to replicate), ropes, and other fat grip pieces of equipment. These tools can be used in countless ways to improve upon and build a well-rounded training program.Odd objects are versatile enough to place them within any training program and can be effective tools for novice, intermediate, and even advanced trainees. Click To Tweet
This increasing popularity of odd object training is due to several benefits. From developing total body strength to tremendous amounts of grip strength, these pieces of equipment are true developers of applicable “functional” strength. They are versatile enough to place them within any training program and can be effective tools for novice, intermediate, and even advanced trainees.
Using odd objects to train the fundamental movement patterns is a fantastic new way to stimulate these exercises away from the barbell. In some cases, training the fundamental movements with odd objects can even be easier in comparison to their barbell-based counterparts.
For example, teaching a novice how to squat correctly while hugging a sandbag will train and check off many of the requirements of the squat, such as trunk tension, proper posture, and hip mobility, yet require even less upfront teaching than getting under a barbell. Not to mention that they’re probably handling more load than they would when training technique with an empty barbell. This serves as a great prerequisite for when they do get under the barbell, putting them in a much better starting position, figuratively and literally.
Looking at performing the exercises, they can be interchangeable with multiple pieces of equipment. However, some may be better suited to use than others just from the position or leverage that the equipment may offer.
Performing squats with a chaotic piece of equipment like the sandbag is great for developing stabilization. It offers a different challenge with every rep as the load continuously shifts around.
Video 1. Sandbag squats can be performed from the bear hug, Zercher, or shouldered position.
Kettlebell Front Rack Squat
The kettlebell front rack squat is a challenging and effective squat variation to build up the upper back muscles and force the athlete into perfect positioning. This exercise often surprises people with how difficult it really is, even when just performing with a moderate set of kettlebells.
Video 2. This exercise can be performed with a double front rack or single front rack to train the trunk in an off-loaded position.
For younger or less-experienced athletes, both exercises are great to master before moving on to the barbell squat.
Bear Hug Good Morning
Bear hugging a sandbag, keg, or any other odd object tight to the chest when performing the good morning develops the entire posterior side and grip. This exercise is especially beneficial for the mid back and trains muscles your athletes didn’t even know they had.
Focus on keeping the load secure to the body when performing the exercise, and a little load goes a long way with this movement.
Video 3. Odd object good mornings and RDLs
A secondary option for the hinge would be to perform Romanian deadlifts with the implement in the hands. Whether it be a sandbag, stone, or other option, the chaotic nature of the implement creates a greater challenge to perform this otherwise standard exercise.
Keg/Sandbag Overhead Press
Pressing a keg or sandbag overhead challenges the stability of the shoulders and trunk as the weight in the load shifts throughout the exercise. The keg’s thickness will alter the overhead press’s starting position, but a neutral grip position helps allow for a smoother technical finish.
Video 4. Overhead press with a keg and a sandbag.
Tire Partner Battle
The tire partner battle allows you to get some horizontal pressing into the program, and you can use it as a great finisher or to conclude a warm-up with a highly driven neural exercise.
With a partner or coach, the tire will start upright and be forcefully chest-pressed back and forth for the set reps or time duration. The entire body will be involved, but primarily the muscles of the upper body to accept and redirect the heavy tire back into your partner.
Pull-ups are already tough, but adding a rope to perform them takes it to an entirely new level. Rope pull-ups are not only the ultimate test of grip strength but also help develop the upper body and trunk. After performing a set, athletes often mention how their midsection is sore from the maintained brace when performing!
You can also use a rope to perform additional exercises such as inverted rows, rope rack climbs, or full rope climbs, like gym class back in the day.
Fat Bar Bent Rows
Fat bars are a little more uncommon than some of the other pieces of equipment found in this list, but that shouldn’t limit you from their benefits. A strong substitute is fat grips that you can buy and use on almost all of your pieces of equipment.
Using a fat grip will cause the athlete to squeeze more, creating more tension and overall muscular and neural involvement throughout the entire body.
Video 5. Using fat bars with an exercise like bent-over rows is a great option, but the bars and grips shouldn’t be limited only to this exercise.
5. Single Leg
Single-leg training should also be used with odd objects.
- Reverse lunges
- Split squats
Similar to the squat, multiple pieces of equipment can and should be used, as well as various positions of holding the odd objects: bear hug, Zercher, shouldered, etc.
Video 6. Single-leg movements include step-ups, reverse lunges, and split squats with various odd objects.
6. Total Body Training
The durability of these pieces of equipment is perfect, enabling you to violently throw, drag, flip, carry, and do any combination of movements imaginable to train the entire human body.
When performing many exercises with odd objects, it’s necessary to use the total body. You can use these exercises as alternatives to the more technical Olympic lifts, and they are also better suited when training in a circuit or conditioning training session.
Shouldering/Up and Overs
Shouldering a heavy object or completing the movement by throwing it over the shoulder is great for developing forceful hip extension and a strong initial pull from the ground using the legs, trunk, and back.
Video 7. Shouldering exercises.
One of the sneakiest and most challenging exercises, the weighted get-up, requires total body strength and coordination.
Video 8. The execution of the weighted get-up is easier said than done—hold an implement while sitting on the ground and *simply stand to your feet.*
When implanting this movement, I like to offer little insight, so it then falls on the athlete to problem-solve and figure out their own methods to get to their feet. Placing constraints on them—such as only allowing the use of one or no hands to stand—affects the pattern and difficulty of the exercise.When implanting the weighted get-up, I like to offer little insight, so it then falls on the athlete to problem-solve and figure out their own methods to get to their feet. Click To Tweet
While I am more selective with programming tire flips due to their technical requirements and ability to cause low back strain, it doesn’t take away from the fact that they develop brutal strength and total body explosiveness.
Video 9. Tire flips.
When performing the tire flip, it’s important not to pick it directly up off the ground but instead drive through the tire horizontally. This takes the pressure off the low back and is a more efficient way of flipping the tire as a whole. Once you get the tire up to your knees, you can use your knee and hip to get it vertical and finish forcefully with the upper body.
Hitting a truck tire with a sledgehammer works to develop rotational strength in the trunk, hips, and shoulders, as well as develop the grip. This may require some upfront coaching—and coordination is helpful—but once you have it down, athletes can perform this exercise in multiple different planes, such as lateral and cross-body swings.
Video 10. A series of tire sledge exercises, including overhead, single-arm, low, and cross-body swings.
Keg Clean and Press
Taking a keg from the ground and putting it overhead is a challenging exercise that can humble even the strongest athlete if they’re not prepared.
Video 11. Just like a standard clean and press, the hips are required to bring the keg overhead while keeping your midsection braced and body rooted as the weight in the keg shifts.
Fat Bar Complexes
Using a fat bar to perform complexes will develop unreal grip strength while also strengthening and developing the entire body, regardless of the exercises chosen.
Complexes shouldn’t be limited to only certain exercises or rep ranges, and I would recommend a balance of upper body, lower body, and low to high rep ranges involved.
An example of this complex would be performing five reps of each movement before putting the bar down for three total sets:
- Overhead press
- Bent row
Video 12. Fat bar complexes.
There is something inherently more fun and stimulating about training with odd objects. When performing the exercises, it’s much harder to just go through the motions and perform with a lack of not only physical engagement but mental engagement as well.There is something inherently more fun and stimulating about training with odd objects. It’s much harder to just go through the motions. Click To Tweet
Speaking with several athletes and clients over the years, utilizing these pieces of equipment has completely altered training sessions and sparked spontaneous competitions. They viewed the objects in front of them as a challenge and a self-confidence booster.
Additional Resources to Check Out
Dinosaur Training – Lost Secrets of Strength and Development, by Brooks D. Kubik
The original book on odd object training, Dinosaur Training, details how to train with odd objects such as sandbags, logs, fat bars, and more. This book set the foundation for many strength and conditioning coaches today. It should be required reading if you’re interested in learning more on this topic (or just about strength and conditioning in general).
The Encyclopedia of Underground Strength and Conditioning, by Zach Even-Esh
I consider Zach Even-Esh to have helped pave the way for strength and conditioning today, as well as being a driving force on the use of odd objects in training. Much of what was brought up in this article was inspired by Zach and by my following his work from a very young age.
He has spoken on the subject for years. While he has several resources available on the subject, nothing comes close to his actual encyclopedia of odd object training, amongst other training topics he covers in the book.
Training with odd objects exceeds the hype. Using movements outside the standard strength training tools will progress the fundamentals, build total body strength, and create a more meaningful and engaging session. You are now more likely to find these pieces of equipment wherever you may train, and you should integrate these odd objects into your training sessions to take athletes to the next level.
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