Odd Object Training Primer

by A Manly Guest Contributor on March 18, 2010 · 36 comments

in Health & Sports

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Joe Hashey.

Odd object training is nothing new, but it has once again started to regain popularity. Odd object training was once done out of necessity. People did not have the means to procure state of the art training equipment, or it just wasn’t invented yet. Instead of having fancy gym machines, these people would find or make heavy objects and lift them! The result from this training was outstanding!

Over the years, the fitness industry has turned out a great deal of quality fitness equipment…and a lot of crap as well. It is time to take a look at some of the old school methods and see how we can blend them with some of the quality equipment that has been created. I prefer using odd objects in conjunction with my other strength equipment in order to compensate for one of the pitfalls of odd object training – muscular imbalances.

Odd objects can’t always be perfectly balanced. Take a log for instance. If one side is slightly larger in diameter, that end will be heavier. If you lift with that same log, in the same pattern, week after week, then some imbalances may occur. However, the benefits can be maximized if you intelligently use these objects.

Odd Objects & Where To Get Them

In this introduction to odd objects, I will focus primarily on the ones that are easy to get. No need to get fancy with this style of training. The simplicity of odd object training is what draws a lot of people to it.

I will cover a few of the odd objects that I have used with success. For each, I will give instructions on how to find the equipment as well as a few sample exercises. Again, these are just a few of the objects we use. The odd objects possible are only limited by your creativity!

1. Stones and Rocks. These objects are provided for you by good ol’ mother nature. Go out and find a few different sized stones. I have one for pinch-gripping and another few for heavier lifting. Atlas stones are a little more complicated. The easiest way is to buy a stone mold and use that.

2. Kegs. You can go to your local beer distributors and pick up a keg for the price of deposit. Perform a YouTube search for how to open the keg (it provides a better tutorial than I can type out). Once you open the keg, you can fill it with either water or another heavy object (sand, pea gravel, etc). Water provides instability and weight, while the others will provide just weight.

3. Sandbags. There are many places online to buy thick bags to use; however, I have found these expensive. I purchased three military duffle bags on ebay for around $15 and filled them with random objects – pea gravel, individual bags of sand, old clothes, and anything else I could get my hands on.

4. Rope. Thick rope is one of my favorite training tools. You can purchase either manila or nylon weave. Your local hardware store probably will not carry rope thick enough. I have purchased mine off of ebay, McMaster Carr, and from people selling used rope down by the waterfronts.

5. Tires. Tires are versatile and durable, which makes them great choices as odd objects. Additionally, they are often free! Large tires for flipping can be picked up at a tractor or truck tire shop. Small tires can be picked up used from any garage. These places have to pay to dispose of the tires, so they are usually willing to get rid of them for free as it actually saves them money.

Putting the Objects to Use

The only thing standing between you and some amazing training is a little creativity. Think of regular gym exercises that you can perform with these objects, but now with added grip, stability, and other benefits. I am a proponent of performing a regular primary lift (dead lift, squat, bench, overhead press, or variation thereof). With the exception of atlas stones and tire flipping, most odd object training should be reserved for supplemental exercises. The main reason is that gym weights are easily loaded, measured, and progressed.

The best thing I can do is display some pictures of how we have used odd objects. Your objects may very well be different from ours (larger, smaller, different shapes, etc), so these pictures and descriptions will give you an idea of some movement possibilities.

Stones

Pinch Gripping Pinch Swings

Pinch Grip Farmers Walk – Shown with Stone + 35 lb Hex Head DB

Obviously Atlas Stones can be used for loading or shouldering. However if you do not have an Atlas Stone, a keg can be a decent replacement. Smaller stones can also be used to add grips to things like curls, rows, presses, etc. Again, use your imagination with these objects. That’s half the fun!

Kegs

Clean and Press Shoulder Loading
Setting Up a Keg “Atlas Stone” Style Lift Keg Throwing

Overhead Iso Lunges

Kegs and sandbags are incredibly versatile. I could list at least 100 exercises for each, but again, follow my above rule of first thinking of gym exercises, then applying the object. Remember Zoolander’s walk-off rules? Old school rules – duplicate then elaborate. Same concept applies here, but less pretty.

Sandbags

Sandbags, like kegs, can be used for a huge array of exercises. I prefer to “grab cloth” when sandbag training. This means, instead of using the handles for grip, I grab the cloth of the bag as if I was grabbing someone by the shirt. This makes it tougher on the grip. Here are some suggested exercises:

Sandbag Pull Through Setup Sandbag Pull Through Finish
Shouldered Sandbag Squat Front Hold Sandbag Step-up

Rope
Rope is a unique training tool. I like to use it for everything from rope battling to added grip on pull-ups. It is worth it to have a few different sizes and lengths in your repertoire. It is best to not get the rope wet, as it frays and not to leave it out in the sun.

Rope Mountain Climbers Rope Battling (other end attached to tree)

Thick Rope Supine Rows

Tires

Tires come in all shapes and sizes, so these exercises are just suggestions. They are unique since you can do everything from beat them with a sledgehammer to throw them for explosive training.

Rotational Tire Throws Tire Flips

And only if you are crazy….Tire Hercules Holds (two tires, same size)

Conclusion

Odd object training will bring a boost to your supplemental exercises. They are creative, enjoyable and EFFECTIVE! I would recommend these for anyone from athletes (especially athletes) to people looking to spice up their programs. Tires, kegs, stones, ropes, and sandbags can all be successfully incorporated into your training protocols. Now get training!

Joe Hashey is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist through the NSCA. He is a former D1AA college football player and is giving away 3 BONUSES for joining the FREE Synergy Newsletter! Joe can be reached through his popular strength training blog – www.Synergy-Athletics.com.

{ 36 comments… read them below or add one }

1 John March 18, 2010 at 1:07 am

And it’s a whole lot cheaper than getting a gym membership!

2 Chris March 18, 2010 at 3:16 am

It’s also a lot more fun than regular training – easier to stick to than regular equipment because variety is easier and doing things like lugging tires around is entertaining

3 Brett March 18, 2010 at 3:47 am

You guys all need to check out this guy who is from my hometown. His name is Steve Justa and although he is one of the strangest guys ever, he is also world famous as this kind of bodybuilder. He even wrote a book if any of you are really interested in finding out more about this. Or, just search his name on youtube and you’ll find videos of him lifting up a tractor…and playing the keyboard.

http://www.oldtimestrongman.com/steve_justa.html

4 Tyler Logan March 18, 2010 at 4:46 am

Nice post! I was looking for ways to increase my core strength recently in fact. I’ve often though about just going out there and picking heavy stuff up but I always seemed to have frowned against it. Now though, rocks and tyres look fun.

5 Scott K March 18, 2010 at 8:33 am

Love the post. I lift tote bags with volumes of my encyclopedia in them.

6 Charlie March 18, 2010 at 8:50 am

Excellent post. Would like more descriptions of proper form for some of these exercises. Will have to check out those Steve Justa vids.

7 John Sifferman March 18, 2010 at 9:43 am

Good article with practical suggestions!

I’ve always been a big fan of odd object lifting mostly because it puts good lifting skills into perspective. You have less opportunities to “cheat” with a keg than you do with a barbell, for instance.

8 Joe Hashey March 18, 2010 at 9:47 am

Charlie – proper form and bracing is certainly important. I’ll try to get some new videos up about it in the next few weeks!

Joe

9 Gus March 18, 2010 at 9:50 am

I have done this sort of training before and can honestly say itworks your strength differently than the gym. This will build alot of functional strength. It is good for training with the scottish Heavy Events and is alot of fun.

10 Markus Laumann March 18, 2010 at 10:03 am

I feel like someone should mention http://www.crossfit.com as another option for non-standard workouts. They stress usable, real-world fitness with simple equipment over body-building and complicated weightlifting machinations.

Make sure you check out their video section. A beyond awesome resource for learning about all matters of fitness. http://www.crossfit.com/cf-info/excercise.html

11 Bruce March 18, 2010 at 10:10 am

“You can go to your local beer distributors and pick up a keg for the price of deposit.”

A “deposit” is not the same as a “purchase”. My understanding is that the deposit that you pay on a keg does not come close to covering the actual cost of a keg. If you put a deposit on a keg (as opposed to outright purchasing one), you have an obligation to return that keg in the same condition it was given to you.

Having said that, it’s entirely possible that beer distributors will have old kegs that they’d be happy to (permanently) part with for a small fee.

12 Joe Hashey March 18, 2010 at 10:17 am

Bruce

I understand what you mean. The actual keg construction I’m sure costs more than the deposit. I do know many states have been cranking up their deposit fees lately, so perhaps you could call first.

However people “home brew” wine and beers in kegs often so distributors do get the questions about how to obtain one and the policies are just charge deposit (from the places I have asked in NYS).

I had to pay $20 each for 2 keg deposits and they gave me another one for free (pump was broke). I did tell them exactly what I was using it for and they wished me good luck. Those guys were pretty strong from hauling them around all day themselves!

Thanks for the comments and bringing that possible issue to light Bruce!

Joe

13 Chris Conti March 18, 2010 at 10:48 am

Great article!
It goes to show you that with enough creativity, you really can get great workouts without paying hundreds (or thousands) of bucks on equipment…

Very helpful, very practical and useful article! Hope to see more from this author!

14 bryan March 18, 2010 at 10:56 am

very interesting and informative article…being an avid weight lifter i always look for fresh ideas…hope to read more articles like this from you in the future

15 Erik Arneson March 18, 2010 at 2:23 pm

I always thought that weight training was rather dull and boring, but this looks creative, interesting, and fun. I am going to start looking for things to lift up! Maybe I should start with my 20 pound cat.

16 Mike R March 18, 2010 at 2:36 pm

Markus: I think you’re on the wrong site!?. Crossfit has NOTHING to do with Manliness or Odd Object training! They are all about money and nothing else…

Joe Hashey is legit, and he is putting out quality info to help others and expose them to training with Odd Objects. I won’t rant or plug my gym on here… Just want to say thanks for sharing the info, and keep killin’ it!

17 Jase March 18, 2010 at 3:39 pm

I used to work on the beer delivery truck. Nothing stings you into working harder than being the young bloke struggling to lift two slabs (cartons/cases) at the same time while these skinny old men are slinging around full kegs. Even once you graduate to kegs – they’ll keep rolling off the truck at the same speed regardless of how fast you can move, so if you fall behind the next one will just land on you.

I got fit pretty quick!

18 Buck Six March 18, 2010 at 5:39 pm

There was this old gentleman in Elizabeth, Indiana, USA, that made his own gymnasium equipment. He made a treadmill from a section of conveyor scrapped from a local shipping company, barbells from old car flywheels and wheel rims, and other exercise equipment from scrap he had found. He must have been in his 80′s, and showed my co-worker and I how he used all his home-made stuff. He was impressive! He also made windmills from sheet metal and wheel hubs. We were there to install his satellite systems, and that job is quite a workout climbing on roofs, hauling ladders, up and down, all day.

Bucksix

19 Joe Hashey March 18, 2010 at 7:23 pm

Bucksix,

That guy sounds like he has an AWESOME set up! I’d like to see that! Very creative, thanks for sharing. Mike – thanks for the “legit” comment, I appreciate it.

Also – thanks for everyone chiming in about the experiences – I’m happy to read about them.

Joe Hashey

20 Jeremy March 18, 2010 at 7:27 pm

I’ve been reading this blog from the beginning and every time, every single time, there is a fitness post about any fitness topic whatsoever, someone will comment about Crossfit. It’s like clockwork. I respect Crossfit, but come on, everyone knows about it by now. There’s no need to bring it up with regards to everything!

21 bostonhud March 18, 2010 at 7:35 pm

MikeR- How can you say Crossfit is about money? Its a free site…?

Jeremy- I found out about Crossfit from this site. Its good for others to share the info that they have- I’ve got many friends who’ve never heard of it.

22 Mark Nutting March 18, 2010 at 7:56 pm

Hey Joe,
Great job with this post! Keep it up.

23 Joe Hashey March 18, 2010 at 9:02 pm

Thanks Mark! I hope I get back up to Maine this summer. Some serious odd objects up there in the woods.

Joe

24 Mr. Durden March 19, 2010 at 10:44 am

I just don’t know where I would store my huge tires

25 Mike R March 19, 2010 at 1:04 pm

Bostonhud: here is a link to my blog, http://strong101.blogspot.com/2010/03/fk-crossfit.html. If you would like to discuss further feel free to contact me Strong_101@yahoo.com. Get STRONG!

26 Uberhack March 22, 2010 at 11:36 am

These guys have a great how-to video for making sandbags. They actually use wood pellets.
http://www.mtnathlete.com/subpage_details.php?subpage_ID=189&page_ID=25

27 Joe Hashey March 25, 2010 at 7:57 am

Uberhack – I enjoy mtn athlete videos, I think they have a decent one on a tire sled as well.

I did put up a video a few weeks on how to combine ropes and sandbag construction – because the problem with the sandbags are they eventually leak (woodpellets being MUCH better than actual sand).

Here is what we use – http://synergy-athletics.com/effective-strength-training/no-leak-diy-sandbag-trick/

Thanks for commenting and adding that info!

Joe

28 Matt March 30, 2010 at 7:36 pm

You forgot heavy chains. You can also easily get a great leg workout by putting your car in neutral and pushing it around.

29 Vaarok April 2, 2010 at 7:33 pm

Full or partially full ammo crates are also very useful. They’re heavy but they have big grab-handles.

30 Derek April 4, 2010 at 11:05 pm

Oh my… the utter phallic-ness of the top picture.

31 Steven April 16, 2010 at 7:04 pm

A couple exercises I recommend with rope:

Get a think, heavy rope. Pull it and wrap it in a circle at the other end. Repeat the process. This works your whole upper body, and especially your forearms and shoulders. The twisting motion is great.

Same thick, heavy rope: throw one end over a tree, or something over your head that is strong. Just pull the rope over the branch/pull-up bar straight down one hand at a time. Go for extension.

32 Tugboat April 26, 2010 at 9:04 am

Thank you for posting up a great post!

I believe that this is important to share with the hundreds of men out there who are looking for real strength, and this post would be the best way to start. I grew up in the country–so needless to say, I was around a lot of logs, boulders, tractor tires, sledgehammers, kegs/oil barrels. I am one of those guys who people would say “Damn, that kid got farmboy strength”

When I did get into barbell lifting–I eventually was able to deadlift 700 pounds. I am only using this example–I am not throwing all my stats out. I was probably 190-200 when I could deadlift that much. Then I really started thinking about it. There is almost nothing out there in the ‘outside world’ where one will grasp onto a specific 1.67 inch olympic barbell or whatever the measurement is. Say, if you’re a lifting a couch–or a heavy box, table, engine, barrel, kegs, logs. Do you see a specific sphere like bar for you to grasp onto? Not really, man? Back then, i didn’t ‘train per se’…with the odd objects. I just used them one way or another for whatever the purpose was.So, I decided to literally train with almost all the equipment mentioned above. Now get this—an oil barrel can go up to 500 pounds. ya’ll heard of shouldering a barrel right? Technically, that is superior to the deadlift…because just shouldering the barrel requires you to first–mimic the deadlift motion then heaving a LIVE ‘water sloshing’ barrel that you have to seriously muscle out and place it on your shoulder. Once you are able to shoulder 300lb kegs and oil barrels, especially with your grip in the most gruelling manner as possible–you will quickly realize the deadlift is …well…a second favorite? But hands down, the best barbell movement to do is the deadlift.

I cannot tell you how many times when I had my Big ole’ muscular buddies coming over to my place. I do not look like those dudes…and sometimes they seriously underestimate me until they realize they cannot challenge me in or out of the gym and I owe my strength to odd objects, really. Time and time again, i would ask my buddy to simply just clean and press a 115 pound keg with water in it. Sounds easy, right? Tell me why these guys who could clean and press 225lbs with ease and some up to 300 could not even get one rep???? It’s a joke! I’ll tell you why…a keg fights back. All this odd object training wil generate and build tremendous power that few will match in or out of the gym, fellas. and last of all–maybe the best reason of all…how can you NOT feel manly hoisting a 300 pound rock, log, or keg to your shoulders? That’s brute strength right there! Have a go at it, fellas. You’ll be glad you did! So…thanks Joe for the post!

33 Tugboat April 26, 2010 at 9:29 am

Sorry men,

I forgot to share another opinion. If you REALLY think about it? Shouldn’t you say that barbells are actually the odd objects? And the equipment mentioned above—are real world strength building objects? Granted, barbells were made for the sole purpose of lifting. Howver, in all my years of flipping 300-600 pound tractor tires, or swinging an Ax to chop wood (a sledgehammer in your case), lifting oil barrels from here to there, lifting and flipping big ole’ logs. That stuff is not exactly odd? It’s real ‘work’ ya know? As i said before, you will rarely ever come across an object where it has a sphere-like bar for you to grasp on? Technically, this makes me think barbells and dumbbells are the odd objects if you think about it?

Also…another great exercise that I realize that was not mentioned in depth above–dragging/pulling/pushing/&carrying weight. Everybody should seriously include this in their training. How many times in the past were you required to carry a table or a large box from here to there. It was tough, right? Or did any of your cars break down at midnight and you had to push it for 2 miles? I sure hope i was not the only one who did that…then again, I don’t want ya’ll to go through that either! haha! if you are able to drag/pull/push/carry a tremendous amount of weight for large distances–you will be in incredible shape. trust me. There will always come a time when you will have to do that in one way or another.

Simply push your car around as mentioned. Drag a tractor tire. Carry a 300 pound sandbag in a bearhug position for 100 yard…the same for a keg. shoulder whatever and walk for a distance. I once shouldered a 120 pound gristly log and walked for 3 miles alternating shoulders. I once tied on 100 pounds of rusted chains onto my upperbody and walked three miles. I pushed a car for 2 miles with nobody driving the damn thing because everybody was to busy sleeping, dammit. haha! really…or just tie a rope to your keg…drag it. Think about it this way, men. If you were in the woods with your friends, girlfriend, or family. Suppose one of them got hurt? Wouldn’t you like to know you could carry whoever and even if they weighed 120-300lbs and carried them for 3-5 miles to safety?

If you like my way of thinking, give it hell.

34 RL May 23, 2010 at 3:16 am

hi Tugboat,

I went to steal a large piece of chopped tree from my neighbor’s yard…having no experience felling trees I can tell you they’re heavy (and I deadlift a respectable 415 so far). I was carrying it down my block which is a busy street, and people were flabbergasted (I have glasses too and am Asian so those things really throw people off). I dropped the damn thing and damn, was it loud! I was playing with it, and when some kids came out (I’m a student living in a student house)…they totally ignored me! I guess they were speechless as to WTF they just saw…a guy standing over a log!

35 Tugboat July 20, 2010 at 11:28 am

@RL

Awesome story, dude! Sorry it took me so long to respond. But I started cracking up when I read your post. An asian guy with glasses carrying a big-ass log through the city. I know why those guys were speechless. They were probably saying stuff like “yo, yo…this Asian Superman just totally blew his cover.” HAHA! Where the heck was i!? I would’ve gotten that on film, dude! Rock on, RL.

36 Mike D December 25, 2013 at 1:15 pm

I’ve tried keg training before and sprained by wrist/forearm pretty good. Its a great way to train but just be careful guys!

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