Developing Toughness Through Strongman Training/ Gut Check Workouts

Toughness is a characteristic that is highly desirable in football players. The ability to endure, adapt and overcome is a trait that allows teams and players to push themselves beyond their comfort zone. As coaches, we are always looking for ways to create situations that require our players to overcome adversity. We feel strongman training helps this. “Gut Check” workouts accomplishes this in the off season when we can not put the pads on.


We use a number of exercises throughout the year. However, what I wanted to discuss was how we implement our strongman training into our summer workouts. That is, what our “Gut Check” sessions are. Most teams in our league have workouts at 9am, 3pm or at night. We choose to go at 7am. We sell this to our guys as another way we demand more, why we are different, why we are tough, etc. We make sure they know even though it is summer it isn’t break time for us. We are getting up and going to work each day to get better. (I would like to go earlier but the school building isn’t open so it limits us).


Our strongman training is typically done once a week over the summer. We develop a circuit and each station in the circuit lasts 4-5 minutes. We like our stations to keep our guys active at all times. No waiting around. However, maximum effort and intensity is encouraged. Our guys are typically getting after each other, in a positive way, during the stations. Our stations are laid out clockwise around the field. We try to keep enough space between each station that forces the players to sprint a significant distance to and from stations. Every station begins and ends with a “break”. We feel this reinforces the team unity concept. We have our manager in the middle timing the segments and calling out the time during stations.


That was the set up. The stations consist of a tire exercise, sledge hammer work, barrel throw or carry, partner carry, prowlers, and farmers/ yolk walks. A typical set up would be:


Station 1: Tires – Execute tire flips with a partner in an alternating fashion. While your partner is flipping the tire, execute 2 burpees before taking your turn on the tire. We flip for 50 yards & back.


Station 2: Sledge Hammers – Execute slams on the tire. Performing 10 in a row. After finishing, drop to the ground in plank position while your partner goes. Continue for 4-5 minutes.


Station 3: Barrels – Throw a 55-gallon plastic drum over a 12 foot high net. Immediately do 5 tuck jumps, then retrieve the barrel and throw again for a total of 5. Partner not going will execute push ups.


Station 4: Carries –  Fireman carry a partner (piggy back position across the shoulders) through a zig-zag cone course. Each partner goes 3 times.


Station 5: Prowlers – Have player push a 45-pound plate along the turf for 50 yards then have partner push it back. Partner not going must follow along bear crawling.


Station 6: Farmers Walks – Have players carry dumbells through a zig-zag cone course. We usually make this a relay to let them compete.


We finish this session with the best 3 of 5 Tug Of War session. We generally make it offense vs defense, seniors vs juniors, etc. Coaches get involved as well at times.


Lastly, our “Gut Check” workouts. These are my favorite as they combine common exercise strung together into a grueling circuit. This is all about who can deal with discomfort and who can battle through adversity. One circuit we do is have the Marines come out to run their combat fitness course. The Marines do this free and it is available to all high school teams. Another workout we do is “The 300 Workout”. The circuit for time the actors from the movie 300 had to do to prove they were in shape for the movie. We make it competitive and keep a time clock on the wall, as well as records of our fastest finishers.


I hope this gives you some good ideas for summer training during these last few weeks before most of us begin fall camp.