T Nation

My Intro Post, Unconventional Training


I dropped out of conventional weightlifting not too long ago and have taken up more unconventional weight training activities. The main reason I decided to do this was because I started working in construction and saw just how physically powerful my co-workers were in spite of never lifting a weight in a gym.

And it made me think that if I started training in a manner similar to the activities they do, but approaching it as a weightlifting system, I could really make something of myself. I want to be a well-rounded athlete. And I stress the term athlete. I want to be strong, fast, and durable.

Here is a list of implements that I have at my disposal:

Adjustable sandbag (pea gravel, actually) with weight increments of 5, 10, and 25 lbs up to 200 lbs.
Sledgehammer and tire with which to strike
Backpack with weights for traditional 'bodyweight' exercises.
Captains of Crush grip trainers

As for the type of work I do, it is typically full-body focusing on developing functional strength, balance, coordination, explosiveness, and speed. I incorporated the sandbag and weighted backpack to develop all of these attributes.

In addition, I have started doing a slew of gymnastic movements as I wish to develop the type of athleticism that gymnasts exhibit. As for endurance, explosiveness, and speed, I have also taken up sprinting. I run like a maniac in my back yard probably looking like an absolute freak to my neighbors, but oh well!

A problem I face is that it is difficult to find programming suitable for what I want to accomplish with the implements and exercises I utilize. I am as much of a bumbling amateur as a person can be. And I was wondering where I might find programming that would correspond to the type of training I do and the goals I have set. And if there are any other suggestions with regards to training or training tools, I would welcome them.

Excuse me if this post is scattered. I was also uncertain as to where to post this, so I just decided to go with this forum. Thank you for taking the time to read it. I appreciate it.


Can you please tell me what unfunctional strength is?


The kind of strength training that isn't functional in the real world.


Strength to make your toenails grow faster, for one.


I would appreciate serious replies, please.


I think that this is a very ineteresting and serious post.

First, there is no way that i can offer 'advice' : i am a beginner with weights.

However i am strongly drawn to the unconventional and improvised approach and will probbaly go down this route once i have got a basic level of gym strength.

A few observations :

Coach Dan John says about weights and training :
Pick weight up off the ground
Carry it around
Put weight overhead.

Doesnt specify that it has to be a fancy barbell/dumbell whatever--just weight.

So maybe Dan Johns work would be aworthwhile read.

Secondly i notice that Chad Waterbury has some really interesting articles at the moment where the focus is performance and not necasarily with weights--but body weight.

Soe things that i do that are similar :
1.Get out in the woods and cut/carry heavy logs and carry home (uphill)--lots of cutting, splitting and carrying.
2.Improvising with body weight exercises out there as well : press ups/pull ups/dips etc.
3.Trying to get up hills as fast as i can with weight.

Some folks around here are really into their sled drags and 'prowler' work as well--worth a look at.

One further thought--look at the russianns..pavel tatsouline seems to have some solid work with kb's (pretty cheap).

Hope you have fun with this.


Yeah bra, the gym is a fantasy world, your huge bench press wont follow you beyond those doors.


When you're in the gym, you're actually in the Matrix. True story.


Thank you for the reply, big nurse. It is appreciated. I really enjoy unconventional training as it makes for a more interesting workout. And I think emulating real-world activities goes a long way towards developing abilities suitable for work outside of the gym. I hope your unconventional training goes well. :slight_smile:


Maybe look into some strong man training methods. I'm not sure where you could start but just google it and see from there, sounds like a similar approach to your training. Don't forget the big 4 movements such as the squat, shoulder press (standing), deadlift and bench press, they are functional movements and will assist any kind of training IMHO.


You're welcome.
Original reply written in haste, as and when i have some time i will post again as this subject has been getting the brain time recently and i am closer to formulating my own ideas about this for next years effort.

EDIT 1. With regards to your question over on the beginners thread, i have chosen not to answer over there simply as it's a pretty hostile thread especially to open questions like yours.
I don't believe that there is a clear cut answer howevr :
It should be feasible to trim some body fat while preserving muscle mass and performance, that is more a function of eating well (increased protein/decreased carbs) and creating caloric deficit.
Just to say that is what i am doing right now for 5-6 week intensive fat loss period. I am aiming for a 3kg (roughly 3% bf reduction)
(i keep my log over in the over 35s section and currently under the 'carry on nurse' banner.


what does that even mean? If you get really stong in the gym you'll still be strong outside of the gym.

Do you think that deadlifting 500+lbs in the gym wont help you when it comes time to help your buddy move his couch?

Do you think that bench pressing 350+lbs in the gym wont help you when it comes time to push your car if you run out of gas?

Do you think that curling 135+lbs for reps in the gym wont help you when it comes time to pick up a cooler full of food and carry it from your car to the BBQ area?

Do you think that overhead pressing the 100lb DB's for reps wont help you when it comes time to load up the family luggage on top of the car and head out for your next vacation?

yeah all that un-functional strength in the real world. who needs it.


Don't forget the tricep kickback! When you're doing a relay race using a kettlebell as the baton, you want to be able to kick that back to the next runner in the event that you overshoot the handoff and you have to backhand it to the next runner.


Yeah but none of those things are as awesomely functional as slamming a sledge hammer against a tire all day. You know, cause that makes you good at......uh....you know.



Good luck buddy. The problem I see with your method is that it might be hard to measure progression.
It is progression that helps you get stronger and better.

Anyway, start that log and we will see how you go.



Anything requiring a high anaerobic capacity perhaps ?


Well if thats the OP's goals i would probably recommend doing some prowler work at the gym, but he doesnt step foot in that fantasy land.

Prowler FTW


I don't mean to bash your idea/training here, but I believe greg has a point. The reason your coworkers seem so powerful is because they do the same actions over and over, for 40 hours a week, for years. Take an untrained person and stick them in a gym for that amount of time, and you will see them lifting weights that are reasonably heavy (to an untrained person) like its a damn feather.

Not to say what you can do without gym weights is useless, but I can guarantee you, the people in this world that are "functionally" the strongest in your eyes, all hit the weights. In the gym.


I think this is a great post. I have similar ideas about training myself. After several years of doing conventional gym training I find that there are still loads of physical activities I am just rubbish at. Sure my 1rms on bench and deadlift have shot up since I started working out and I do see a carry-over to real-life situations where I am required to use strength, but I wouldn't say this carry-over is by any means proportional to the improvement I have had in the gym.

I believe that squat, overhead press, chins, rows and deadlift are core exercises that any good routine should be based around but there are so many types of activity that, in my experience, they have not prepared me for. In particular I find that my grip, core and general endurance give out really quickly.

I find these main gym exercises great for building up max strength but so few times in reality is anyone required to do the equivalent of a 500lb deadlift. Much more likely that they will have to lift a much lighter but more awkward weight for a greater period of time.

I personally believe that the best way to go to improve this type of strength is to base it on the main compound exercises but also to do plenty of assistance work with sandbags, bodyweight work, kettlebells and strongman exercises such as farmers walks. I imagine, although I haven't tried it, that Jim Wendler's 5-3-1 with bodyweight assistance variation would suit you well, with the sandbag stuff etc done as a finisher or on non-gym days.


Would totally love to see you 'bench' a car forward, without using your legs.