Why I Want to be DUMMY STRONG!
How to Build REAL WORLD Strength
by Alec Enkiri | 10/13/23
What the Heck is DUMMY Strength?
Ya ever gone down to the farm and seen Bubba over there tossing around big bales of hay all day long like he's training for the keg toss in the next World's Strongest Man Competition? After which he proceeds to challenge you to a little bit of wrasslin' and accidentally breaks both of your arms in the process.
That is because Bubba has got that real world, DUMMY STRENGTH! And it has nothing to do with him being stupid, instead it has everything to do with the type of training that he does. Make no mistake, growing up on the farm is its own type of training, much of which would actually resemble the types of things that you see in Strongman events.
There really seems to be a subtle but dramatic difference between the type of static strength built using nothing but highly predictable implements, like barbells and dumbbells, versus the type of brute, real world strength built using pretty much anything and everything else: sandbags, sleds, awkward objects, things that you carry, things that you throw, things that you toss, and heave, and twist around with and that reverberate, and shift, and jar, and wobble, and fight back when you try to handle them.
Basically, we are talking about the differences between dealing with heavy and awkward real world objects, as opposed to simply dealing with heavy barbells. Barbells are designed to be as ergonomical as possible. They are designed to make the experience of lifting heavy shit as pleasant as it can possibly be, which is still not very pleasant, but it is a hell of a lot more pleasant than dealing with heavy and awkward/bulky/shifty objects.
Seriously, if I have to help one more friend move their furniture I just might gouge my own eyes out. But for some reason I do enjoy playing with sandbags in the gym! Go figure.
So What Makes Somebody DUMMY Strong?
I have a theory about what dummy strength is. It may or may not be right, but I do have a theory! Nonetheless, you really kind of know it when you see it. When some husky, burly dude displays it there really is no mistaking it and the eyes know it. So to try to quantify it may be a little superfluous, but I'm going to give it a stab anyway!
I believe, primarily, it is in the core musculature. Now, I'm not going to break those muscles down. I'm not going to distinguish between the internal and external obliques, the sides vs the front, the superficial vs the deep, rectus vs transverse, the lats, the glutes, the erectors, etc. ALL of these muscles comprise "the core" (and by the very name we have given them as a unit they are vital to our ability to thrive), and the important part is not the individual muscles themselves, but rather their ability to work in synchrony, as a team, to produce maximal tension.
More tension → more stability → greater force transfer from the limbs through to the environment.
When we work with these sorts of heavy and awkward aforementioned tools we emphasize this capacity to varying degrees across the synchronous "core" unit, often times above all else.
Along with this, there are also aspects of stabilizer muscles across the body that come into play during this type of work (muscles that often get neglected), and the hands, fingers, and forearms also get emphasized more than usual. Getting all of these important but underworked muscles and body segments emphasized and adequately worked in different sorts of new and unique ways simply builds a different type of brutish, real world strength.
The main point is, this real world strength, or dummy strength concept really challenges you in a different way compared to typical gym or weight room work. You can't really replicate this idea in any meaningful way if all you do is train with a barbell and dumbbells (or worse...machines!).
What are the Applications of Dummy Strength?
So why should you strive to build what I am calling "real world" strength, a.k.a dummy strength? What are the benefits of it? And why should you take the time and energy to build it?
Firstly, I guess you have to ask yourself WHY you train in the first place. For me, I want to...
build strength and resilience that are going to serve me well as I age
be as physically capable and well rounded as possible (do badass shit)
Naturally, working to build dummy strength is going to be a part of this process because training for it checks all 3 of these boxes at once. The variety that the concept necessarily entails provides spice and excitement to your training. The different carries, lifts, throws, etc. make you strong and powerful while building GOD LEVEL core and back strength, and that is going to make you resilient while simultaneously making you capable of performing badass feats of physicality.
I want to be able to do this for a long time, and I want to be able to do it at a level that is a step above what the average guy is ever going to get to (or really, a step above what the above average guy is ever going to get to). This real world strength, dummy strength concept is a glaring hole that most people never address (or that some people even actively and willfully ignore!), therefore training these sorts of exercises hard and intently puts me a step ahead of everybody else.
So if you're anything like me then the ideas discussed in this article will prove very beneficial for you in pursuit of your fitness and training goals. But then, on the other side of the coin, why would you consider potentially not pursuing this idea of dummy strength?
What Dummy Strength Won't Help You Accomplish
While I think being DUMMY STRONG is fucking fantastic, there are still certain fitness goals that these concepts are not really applicable to.
It won't do much for barbell sports
It won't do lick for "aesthetics" training
These dummy strength concepts won't be very helpful for you if your goal is to excel in a barbell only sport, such as Powerlifting or Olympic Weightlifting. Instead, focusing on this dummy strength concept is simply going to be an opportunity cost for you, that is, it is going to take away from time and energy that could have been better spent directly working on and improving the activities themselves (getting stronger and more skilled with a barbell at your competition lifts of choice) rather than focusing on an esoteric, and more generalized concept like this one.
The simple fact of the matter is that barbell only sports are not reliant on this dummy strength concept because they are simply more precise endeavors. The nature of the dummy strength idea is imprecision, awkwardness, and potentially even chaos. Brute force and power over pure skill. Whereas, the nature of barbell sports is skill and precision.
You can view this as a positive thing or a negative thing depending on the lens that you choose to look at it through. Personally, I previously would have viewed the precise nature of barbell sports as a good thing: a high level of skill in a specialized endeavor. Today, however, after my ideas, theories, and methodologies have evolved over the course of my fitness and training career, and I have grown to more so see the value in being a generalist over a specialist, I actually view it as much more of a negative thing.
As well, if muscular hypertrophy or "aesthetics" (whatever that means to you) are your only goals in the gym then this dummy strength concept is also really not for you. It would be a waste of time, it would be a waste of energy, and it would simply be another opportunity cost as these dummy strength exercises do not build muscle in the way that an aesthetics bro would care for (primarily upper traps, side delts, biceps, triceps, etc. - basically any small muscle that has the potential to immediately make someone appear more "jacked").
Further, chasing this idea may actually prove to be detrimental to your goal of "aesthetics" because these dummy strength exercises are the types of movements and actvities that are going to build a massively strong core, along with thick and powerful obliques, and over time this is likely going to result in a wider waist (wider due to greater muscularity, but wider nonetheless) which is the ultimate bane of the pretty boy aesthetics chaser.
How To Build Dummy Strength
Finally! The part you've all been waiting for: how to build yourself some idiotic, moronic, just plain stupid, DUMMY strength! I kind of alluded to this at the beginning of the article, but I believe that many of the concepts and training methodologies surrounding the sport of strongman really hone in on well on this dummy strength aspect and build more brute, real world strength than much of the stuff you typically see people doing in the gym and in the weight room.
For example, a lot of top level, world elite strongmen cannot squat or deadlift nearly as much weight as world level powerlifting competitors of equivalent weight classes, but in reality the strongmen are still stronger than the powerlifters because they would wipe the floor with them in nearly any other test of strength due to the fact that they train with this dummy strength concept in mind on a weekly basis pretty much year round.
Now, these same guys also train hard and heavy with barbells and they do their traditional weight room work too, so I'm not saying to throw your barbell out with the bath water! Barbell training is really still the foundation of everything here. You need this predictable and stable implement to help you continually raise the ceiling for overall force production, but once you start to augment this foundational training with the strongman inspired movements that is when you will graduate from "gym bro" to BADASS.
Here are some ways that I have been incorporating this concept in my training in the last few months...
Lots of different types of loaded carries!
Overhead carries, zercher carries, front rack carries, yoke carries, waiter carries, and farmer's carries. Sometimes I go heavy for short distances. Other times I go lighter for longer distances. Mix it up and do both!
I also own a pair of swing straps from Spud Inc. that I do loaded carries with. The reverberations caused by the swing straps that then need to be repeatedly stabilized under massive load take the DUMMINESS to the next level here!
Just for some perspective, I have loaded 545lbs onto a front rack with a barbell and taken it for a comfortable walk. The very first time I used the swing straps I loaded 315lbs onto the bar, stood up with it in a front rack position...and I could not walk. And believe me I fucking tried! But my brain would not allow me to take a single step, I shit you not, because the instability was so great and my brain knew my body was not ready to handle it and so it just wouldn't even let me try. If I had taken a step I would have immediately lost control of the bar and probably toppled over.
Since that initial humbling foray I have improved this exercise into the high 300's with a little bit more room to grow still, probably into the low 400's. But this anecdote was just to give you guys some perspective. A front rack carry in and of itself is already a massive hit to the upper back as well as the entire core region, but once you add in these swing straps it just becomes next fucking level.
Not for the faint of heart!
Another dummy strength favorite of mine is sled work. You can push the sled, pull the sled, run with the sled, forwards, backwards, sideways, and more! Go heavy, go light, mix it up, and do it often and you will be rewarded with all the benefits the sled has to offer.
You can carry the sandbag in a variety of different ways: overhead, bear hug, on the back of the shoulders, over one shoulder, or in a zercher carry.
Another option is simply loading a heavy ass sandbag onto your shoulders for reps. This is brutal work! The forearms, the fingers, the hands, the upper back, and the core musculature all get trashed from this. There are also aspects of power involved from heaving the bag from the hips up to the shoulders, and it's just an all around good time that really nails the body in multiple different ways at once and gives you one hell of a stimulus that you can't really get elsewhere.
You can throw anything. For example, I used to throw a big hunk of log that I had lying around in my backyard. So as long as you have the space and the object doesn't break on impact you really can throw pretty much anything, but barring that, a medicine ball is kind of the obvious choice here. In terms of throws, tossing stuff up overhead (like in a push press) is great for the legs and shoulders. Heaving objects backwards and overhead (like in a keg toss) is going to build power in the hips and strength in the grip. You can also do a variety of chest throws, side tosses, scoop tosses, and slams - pretty much anything you can think of! Your imagination is really the only limiting factor here.
All different varieties of throws, tosses, and slams are going to build power as well as teach you how to enhance the transfer of force through the core region. They are also going to get the hands and forearms involved in the action as well, and they are going to teach you how to coordinate between the upper and the lower body, which is an important but understated benefit. Finally, these throwing and slamming actions will teach you how to be violent and aggressive. Most people simply lack the capacity to turn EVERYTHING ON instantaneously, but in order to excel at throws, slams, and tosses that is what you must learn how to do.
So that is DUMMY STRENGTH! You don't have to go full strongman to get all the benefits here, and you don't have to move down to the farm and start baling hay with Bubba. With just a few simple tweaks and additions to your training you can get pretty much all the benefits of these endeavors, and become the most corn fed, badass dude on the block!
Most of the equipment that I have personally obtained so far for these purposes is also relatively inexpensive, which makes this concept and these ideas accessible, and as far as I'm concerned, we would all be a lot stronger and a lot more badass if more of us started to incorporate these dummy strength concepts into our training. Start small, work your way up slowly, and have fun!
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