Stay Low and PULL!
By: Bob Jodoin
Harness pulling is a very popular strongman event. Powerlifters like sled work to help with their GPP (General Physical Preparedness). You load up a sled and pull it in a bunch of different ways. This is great for recuperation and physical preparedness. There really is no eccentric load, which is good for our purposes. This article is about clipping in, getting low and hauling some serious weight for the purpose of getting stronger in many ways. We’ll step out of the realm of GPP and into the range of anaerobic threshold training. Give ’till it hurts and then keep on giving. Pulling isn’t just for strongmen anymore.
The first thing you need for serious pulling is a good harness. It should be fit properly, be easy to get in and out of, place the forces of the pull into the right places and be way stronger than anything you could ever pull. You don’t want to be fighting a harness as it falls off of you during a heavy pull. When you get low the pull should be coming from the chest and shoulders. It is hard enough to breath with a 25,000lb truck in tow without a harness crushing your diaphragm. I’ve been a strongman competitor, coach, promoter, personal trainer, strength coach and seminar attendee involved in harness pulling. The harness that I’ve found to answer all of the needs of the strongman, athletic or fitness enthusiast is The Spud Inc. Harness (www.southcarolinabarbell.com). It completely eliminates the problem of people in the gym undoing the straps (which drives me nuts), due to the seat belt feature, and is going to outlast your legs or the truck you are pulling. The pull is set up in the right place and the adjustments are super easy. Getting athletes in and out could not be simpler (or faster) and the chest strap keeps the harness out of the arteries in your arms when you use a rope. I did a little minor consulting on the design and I highly recommend it.
What to pull:
Pull something heavy. This could be a sled, a tire, a truck, an airplane, a train or whatever else you can find. Be sure to use an adult licensed driver behind the wheel of any vehicle you choose to pull.
If you are pulling a near max truck or training for a strongman competition it will be a very good idea to use a rope. Attach it to something stationary beyond where you intend to finish your pull. Have a helper bring the rope tight before you begin. Quick hands add an advantage here. You will want to maintain a strong pull arm-over-arm. If you get moving faster than you hands can take up the slack then toss the rope and make sure your helper knows to get it out of the way of the object coming in behind you.
Once you have everything set up and you are clipped into a heavy chain or lifting strap it is time to fight physics. Getting things in motion is the hard part. You can use a staggered foot position or drive off of two feet like a big leg press (best for super rolling loads). Once you are in motion it is key to keep things moving. Quick feet and fierce forward effort are the key. Stay low and enjoy the burn. I always stay with my athletes in training and try to keep a hand on the harness. I don’t assist but I do not want someone to slip and kiss the concrete. Make sure your athlete has on proper shoes for the surface and that they are well tied. For heavy work I recommend high/mid top shoes. They could be hiking, combat, football cleats, mountain climbing or even Chucks but you’ve got a better chance of keeping high/mid-tops on. http://www.flexcart.com/members/elitefts/default.asp?m=PD&cid=276&pid=845
There are lots of parameters that you can control. You have options to go heavy, lighter, short distance, long distance, different surfaces, dead drag objects, rolling objects, sprints, rope assisted and you can even pull uphill .
Time on a given distance and a given load are also good things to track. If you get faster then go heavier. For general athletics it is a good idea to mix it up and use many loading patterns. You can also do timed intervals to match energy requirements in any given sport. I even like to use pulls in medleys. Sometimes I would have clients go 100 ft with a load and then unclip them and have them pull 100 ft backwards with a handle. Mix it up.
Strength and Conditioning:
Athletes love pulling. They get to do something different and they get a heck of a workout that doesn’t leave them too sore. A harness also works great for doing JumpStretch Band™ fire-out drills. You can do resisted sprinting, heavy and light conditioning and heavy monster pulling. Your athletes will love the change of pace and the new challenge.
I have seen people shed good quantities of fat by going through a cycle of heavy harness pull training. I would only give this to more experienced clients with decent balance and control but it is one sure fire way to lose fat while also increasing strength and having some fun. Let a 40-year-old Mom pull a full sized pick-up across the parking lot and see how empowered she feels. It is also something fun to pull out when they start asking about something new to tone the “thighs and butt”. You’ll get the glutes, hams, quads, calves, stabilizers and the heart working in whole new ways.
Harness pulling is important in strongman training but it also has its uses in athletic strength and conditioning as well as general fitness. Stay low and PULL!!!
Bob Jodoin is an ISSA Master Trainer,New York Strength Master Trainer, NBFE Fellow and former Director of Strength and Conditioning at Total Performance Sports. He is now a strength & conditioning coach, strongman coach as well as a personal trainer in sunny Orlando Florida. He serves as a S&C advisor for youth sports to the Winter Springs Pop Warner Midgets, Wild AAU 14U baseball and M-PACT Sports.