Odd Object Lifting For “Functional Strength”



Through my own experiences as an athlete and training other athletes, I was taught a powerful lesson that was once (and perhaps still is seen as a fad): Training ONLY with free weights and bodyweight exercises is limiting your potential in developing strength above and beyond the "norm", especially if you're an athlete.

The body quickly gets bored and adapts to training methods unless you implement variety. Variety can be the training tools, the speed of the exercises, the range of motion, the start positions, the hand spacing / grip of the barbell, etc.

But, one of my biggest reasons behind the use of odd objects are these 2 benefits:

1) The development of mental toughness under awkward / struggling positions

2) The development of physical strength in awkward positions. I also call these positions the "oh shit" position and Mel Siff coined this imperfect training.

Mel felt that by purposely performing an exercise in an awkward or "wrong technique", you were better preparing the body for the awkward positions that cause injuries in sports or heavy lifting.

My Firs Lesson in Strongman Training / Odd Objects:

The first time I went to the tire yard to flip tires I got a RUDE awakening.

This was sometime around 2003 or 2004 and my buddy and I were pretty strong with our barbell and bodyweight training.

I was squatting 455 for sets of 3 - 5, benching 300 for 3 reps and assumed I would easily rip through these tractor tires.

The guys at the yard drove up in their mini fork lift and lowered a tire from the 20 ft pile of tractor tires. These tires had steel belts in them so they looked small but were actually quite heavy for their size.

Getting in a favorable position to flip these tires wasn't happening. The tires were narrow and too low to get my chest under them so I had to power curl the damn tire.

A better set up / technique for the tire flip is a wider tire that allows leverage where you can drive your chest into the tire.

It took me what seemed an eternity to wrestle the first tire up and get ONE ugly rep. My buddy watched in shock as I almost got crushed under the tire. My buddy went to flip the tire and was shit outta luck. He couldn't flip that tire and kept getting stuck with it mid rep.

Tire Flipping At The Edison Tire Yard Back In The Day.....
Tire Flipping At The Edison Tire Yard Back In The Day.....

We were untrained in the world of imperfect training. Barbells, dumbbells, bodyweight and even machines. No problem. Odd objects posed a problem and we were fired up.

Embarrassed with our lack of power to flip the first tire, I told the guy operating the fork lift that we need a lighter tire.

Reluctantly, he pulled down a slightly smaller tire and again, I wrestled that bad boy up and over and finished that rep in shock and exhaustion.

My training partner took his turn and barely made the tire flip as well. We traded rep for rep and each rep got a little better, a little faster and slightly less embarrassing.

The 2 guys working in the tire yard were smoking cigarettes, they laughed at us as they watched us struggle through each rep.

When we stopped to take a breather, both men threw down their cigarettes, approached the tire without warm up and tore through the tire for several reps in a row as if it was child's play.

It was THEN that I realized how our strength was limited from traditional training. 

Kegs, Sandbags, Tires..... they ALL attack the muscles in a very unique way that simply can't be developed through traditional workouts. Certainly, if you're a powerlifter, there is not much need for odd objects.

But, if you're an athlete or any kind, the odd objects can be effectively mixed in with free weights to develop you into a more explosive, tougher athlete.

[youtube width="640" height="360"]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=akivgiWFbtc[/youtube]

[youtube width="640" height="360"]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dvyr56XGHrQ[/youtube]

[youtube width="640" height="360"]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sN-S6Ql36EA[/youtube]

[youtube width="640" height="360"]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hlL4tNG2ig4[/youtube]

When I started training outside of my bodybuilding methods, all I had was "gym strength". I was strong with the exercises I could perform in the gym but the odd objects crushed me.

The first time I carried a tree log in my backyard my back and abs never felt such an intense challenge. When I climbed the rope in my backyard my entire body cramped up. I was clenching that rope with all my might.


My physical abilities outside of the traditional gym exercises were nothing to write home to Mom about. I had to get out of my comfort zone to develop REAL World Strength, a type of strength that is needed for athletics, military, law enforcement, mental toughness and plain ol' being a BadAss.

As a father, it was imperative for me to develop a new sense of toughness, to keep my edge while the majority of men who hit their 30s began making excuses, I wanted to make myself into a stronger man, inside and out.

I knew that training outside my comfort zone was the ticket towards pushing me to new heights in mind, body and spirit. It can do the same for you. The first step is exactly that, taking the first step.

Many will make excuses or say all you need to do is squat, bench, deadlift and press. If you're a powerlifter, yes. But if you want a challenge and want to get out of your comfort zone, then learn to lift shit that gets you living my motto:

"Get Comfortable Being UNcomfortable"

Drop a comment with your thoughts and / or questions.

Till then, train hard and Live The Code 365


PS: A big part of my programming for athletes is the blend of powerlifting and odd objects. This is what helps us transform athletes beyond the mere physical. The mental aspect is crucial to their success and that's what our training system develops: The Agile, Mobile & Hostile athlete.

If you're a Coach, Athlete or Parent of an Athlete and want to learn The Underground Strength System, Click HERE for our next CERT.




35 Responses

  1. Dustin W. says:

    I love the tire. My conditioning work envolves flipping the tire for 40feet then farmer carrying it back. That is my 600#. Then 800# is a good weight to crank fast sets with form. My big pig!? Well the beast is an all out war!
    Start light, but don’t sit there working on repetitions. If you’re getting over 12 reps easy you will need a bigger tire. For me the problem with the transition from 600-800# was I developed poor form with the 600# tire because I can do it in one motion without knee. First time I went to do the 800# I have to adjust quickly because it wasn’t going that easy. First couple reps when fresh I can get it with one movement, but after that I have to knee it.
    I will use atlas stones that I made for training, but I prefer field stones. Something about lifting an object that the earth made over thousands of years excites me.
    Good Stuff Z!

    1. DW you’re a monster straight outta the books of IronMind MILO!

  2. Awesome post Big Z!

    I completely agree. Just doing lifts in the gym is shortsighted and kinda boring at times.

    When I made my 75 lb sandbag last year it was tougher than handling a 200 lb barbell. It took practice in awkward positions to eventually prevail.

    1. Hellz yea, Robbie, use both the barbell and the sandbag and now we have someone deadly!

  3. Great stuff, Z, as always !
    Been following your training ideas since 2005.

    1. Thnx, Frank! Time flies, brutha!

  4. When you lift odd objects, you’re not doing oneovement
    You’re doing two or three. Most of what’s been going on in modern gyms has been about getting a lift down to one movement. All of the equipment has been geared towards this goal and its very limited strength development.

    1. TRUE! It’s a wrestling match often times to get the bag off the ground!

    1. John, hellz yea, thnx brutha!

  5. The best thing about odd objects(especially sandbags)is not just the hardcore aspect but the versatility to train at home. One or two bags and you have the best homegym equipment and therefore, no more pussifying ‘I cant workout because there is no gym in my area’ stuff. Does nt have to fear about dropping the weight and crack the floor. Most people here in my country lives in an apartment where space is limited and garage gym is something for the privilged. Sandbags Rock!!!

  6. Dustin Maynard says:

    Training with a keg for 10 solid months along with bodyweight training—allowed me to build such strength, that i could bend steel bars at will. Prior to keg training, i used a lot of low n heavy reps with the barbell. My training was based on high reps with the keg. My muscular endurance became insane, my kungs were twin steam engines, and the strength alone….I felt like an old time strongman and understoood why they frequently used awkward objects.

    One day I was put to the test, challenged, and mocked upon by big ole’ footballers– “Keg training does jack shit for you, besides the fact it is so awkward to lift. it would never be able to get as heavy as a barbell.” Now that’s true, it cannot get heavy as a barbell. But it pissed me off nonetheless. I took the challenge to their territory and beat or matched them pound for pound. Equivalent in the squat, deadlift, curl and overhead press. They did however beat me in their holy grail bench press. Then it was my turn. One keg, partially filled with 130lbs of water. None of these boys could clean n press it. Hell they struggled to shoulder it. My 225lb sand-filled keg….none of them could come remotely close to shouldering it. The water-filled keg, i could press for 3 reps per minute for an hr straight and did do 21 reps in one set. The sand-filled keg, I can lift any time and any day of the week. The footballers could power clean well over 300lbs. If that story does not tell you how much strength you could build from awkward object training—-then I dont know what to tell ya. Now-a-days, I combine heavy barbell lifting and keg training. And like Chuck Sipes, I can bend steel bars at will. Awesome post.

    Z, i want to hear about George again. That story inspires, brutha.

  7. Odd Object lifting…cuz life doesnt have symmetrical handles.

  8. Man, this is awesome!
    No tire yet, so I took down my 100lb boxing bag to do bear hug squats, back squats, single arm balancing squats, bag flips, and all kinds of fun out in the yard.
    Throw assorted weights, medicine balls, and smaller bags at each distance of the circuit, and you get a “unique” feeling you don’t get in the gym.

  9. Amazing video by the way! I guess before they invented barbells they started off with a barrel which contains water or wine or something of the sort to weigh it down. But wow! Now? They use tires man!

  10. I love your Articles about old strength training! Cause that’s the way it WORKS! You get brutal strength and you get to know how to use your strength for maximum potential!
    Keep up that good work man! Too sad I’m living in Germany, would love to come over to your gym and train with you and maybe show you some of my own training.

    1. Wolf – My Uncle lives in Frankfurt, if I ever visit you will know!

  11. Zach, do any of your online programs contain exercises that are made up from sandbags/rings/rope climbing/db’s? I tend to avoid traditional barbell squats and deads and most weightlifting programs use them heavily.

  12. Hi Z, your story reminds me of a similar comparison between gym trained and worked physiques that I experienced in my teens.

    Sat listening to 2 friends bickering about who had the best muscles, one a golf course groundsman the other a gym fanatic, after a while I had enough and asked them to remove their tops. Although the muscles were about the same size, the appearance of the worked muscle was definitely better thus it definitely pays to get outside and exercise for functionality.

  13. Hi Zach,
    What are the pros & cons of only using sandbags?

    1. You’ll get GREAT at using sandbags and will have a carry over to some other lifts BUT I am sure you will eventually hit a wall and get bored without added variety

      1. Will 6-12 months of sandbag overhead press, floor press, bent overs rows, etc. have any carry over to the same barbell exercises?

  14. how do you feel about heavy dumbell isometrics thrown into the mix with cable ,cables isos dumbells barbells, bodyweight, and strongman type exercises

    1. @Marc – dumbbell or ANY isometrics can have their place, with odd objects and strongman you are often in an isometric position also iso while carrying

      There is also iso holding while pulling bars against pins (deadlift cage), etc and they are very intense

      Isometrics are great is trying to overcome sticking points, you see weightlifters doing this often as well.

  15. Nothing quite like “workingman’s strength”!
    I did manual labor for much of my life, like cutting tress, unloading freight cars, etc.
    I does make a difference over time.
    I remember when the tire yard article first came out, it’s good to read it again.
    Thanks, Z!

  16. Mayukh Sen says:

    Hey Zach,awesome post,I am a big believer in compound lifting movements and this sandbag article is just awesome,however,I had something different in mind,I recently acquired a bag that has strong handles on it and it can easily hold 60kg of weight,I managed to gather 15 4kg bricks,and I want to put those bricks in the bag,and want to work on unilateral isolation movements,now I have this question for you,could you please name some unilateral controlled isolation free weight movements that add awesome functional and structural strength that translates to mma matches or no holds barred fighting,I mean for striking and grappling.I want to work on such moves that enables me to generate force with very poor leverage,I could really use your recommendation if you had something in your mind.I am thinking about working on bent over reverse lateral raises,front and lateral raises and strict one arm overhead presses and strict one arm bench flies,these movements when done unilaterally with heavyweights add great core strength and functional power,however I am looking forward to more advices on this matter and you specially teach methos to generate functional realistic strength training methods,somif you are seeing this I hope to recieve some suggestions,thnx in advance.

    1. The best way to increase power in MMA is through speed training of your skill and speed lifts / heavy lifts of compound exercises as well as:

      throwing and jumping

      isolation exercises, etc are happening always while you train through the clinch, etc.

      * some great unilateral exercises would be:

      bulgarian split squats (pause at bottom for 2-3 seconds)

      1 arm push ups

      1 arm recline rows with rope or rings

      punching and rowing with bands

      dumbbell snatches from the ground every rep

      kneeling jumps

      This Book is highly recommended: bit.ly/explosive-power

  17. I like a combination of the 2. I find that after starting odd object workouts that my barbell workouts have improved.

    It is almost like the odd object work is something you can do because of being in good shape. Since I started tire flipping I have added 10lbs to my deadlift too so I think it goes both ways and it does not have to be one or the other.

    For tire flipping specifically I find that you get stronger at it very fast. My first tire was 250lbs and at first was hard to flip. After just 2 months I had to get a 350.

    1. YES, technique is strength, strength is technique. The barbell carries over to off objects for sure. Keep attacking, my friend.

  18. I traded my 4′ diameter 250lb tire for a 5′ 350lb. I went from doing 12+ reps per set to max 4.

    I am expecting great changes in future workouts.

  19. I thought my new tire was 350 lbs. it is a 20.5 R 25. Approx 5′ diameter. Minimal tread wear on it because the previous owner drove over something. There are still the rubber nubs on the sides. Is 350 accurate or is it heavier/lighter. I couldn’t find an exact answer but if I do I will post it.

  20. Climbing a 2″ rope erased all and any muscle imbalances in my body. I do seasonal work at a pumpkin farm and took some home.

    Tommorow I’m going to put a pipe through them and have gods ugliest – akwardess – barbell on the planet.

    Pumpkin presses. Its awkward its fun and its no joke Susan.

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