Jack Lovett is a S&C specialist, owner of Spartan Performance and two-time British natural strongman champion. He is based in Consett, County Durham.
The log is very much synonymous with both strongman training and contests, but it is also an invaluable tool in my training arsenal for many of my personal training clients, irrespective of their training goal or sport. Why? Because training with a ‘strongman’ log provides a myriad of strength and performance benefits that barbells alone simply can’t deliver.
Such is the versatility of a strongman log that it is simple to incorporate into the strength and conditioning routine of most healthy individuals. Doing so will develop full-body strength in a way that barbells and dumbbells can’t match. The fundamentals of strength training remain timeless – squat, deadlift, overhead press, bench press and clean – but a variety of barbell and log lifts will keep you progressing longer. Here are the key benefits, then follow my advice for incorporating logs into your programme.
Firstly, the neutral grip of the log press is far more bio-mechanically suitable for shoulder and wrist health than the internally-rotated position associated with the bench press and standard barbell overhead press. Healthy shoulders and wrists are of paramount importance to the general gym goer and athlete alike. There is also significantly more biceps recruitment involved in the clean and press movement because of the neutral hand placement. Strong arms and grip are particularly useful to combat athletes and general trainers alike.
Log exercises involve the entire body, especially in overhead log presses, where the upper back musculature must stabilise the torso in conjunction with the abdominals on the opposite side of the body. Hence individuals new to log pressing often notice the need for greater rhomboid strength, as well as noticeable abdominal soreness after their first few sessions. This need for core stability increases in proportion to the diameter of the log. Logs are available in a variety of diameters; there is no industry standard. From my own experience, I personally recommend between 10-inch and 12-inch diameter logs.
Additionally, because the log’s centre of gravity is farther away from the lifters own centre of gravity than with a regular barbell, there is a greater lower back recruitment. The log also encourages a valuable movement pattern for power and combat athletes, especially when performing clean and press movements. This is because of the development of hip strength and explosiveness: all essential qualities in all kicking, punching, takedowns, clinching and grappling movements.
Master the movement
The log clean and press is a great strength and conditioning builder for all, as well as an excellent indicator of sport-specific fitness.
• Grip the handles in the middle or slightly towards the body whilst taking a shoulder width stance, toes pointing slightly out.
• Hinge into the starting position by flexing at the hips, then the knees, keeping the lower back tight throughout.
• First ‘deadlift’ the log, standing straight up.
• Squat down bringing the log tight into the lap, ensuring the elbows are held high and wide.
• To clean the log, extend the hips forward forcefully, rolling the log up the torso to a racked position at the shoulders. This is especially useful for athletes as it reinforces hip drive and explosion.
• From a solid racked position brace the core whilst dropping into a quarter squat stance, flexing at the hips. Reverse this dip by exploding into triple extension of the hips, knees and ankles, transferring lower body-generated force through the core, up through the arms and into the log.
• Lock the arms out above the head whilst bringing the head forward, chin down.
• Return the log to the floor under control and repeat as required.
Incorporating log clean and presses into my client programmes can take on a variety of forms, depending on the training goal. Here are some of my favourites.
Train for time
Doing the clean and press for time is an excellent conditioning workout that is particularly useful to combat athletes, as well as individuals looking to strip body fat and build work capacity. Try 6 x 15secs work with 120secs rest between sets or 10 x 3 reps with 60s rest between sets. Notice that I do not prescribe loads here. Instead I strongly advocate that individuals focus heavily on form and technique. Those underexposed to log training will be caught off-guard easily by the demands of the object. Safe lifting over load every time for me.
Other key log lifts
Below are some other log lifts I like to use, but do not expect your barbell strength in these lifts to correlate to your log performance. The movements are similar but the objects are not. Become proficient in using the log, and then begin to load according to your own ability.
Log zercher squat
This is a tremendous variation on the barbell zercher squat, which requires far greater core and upper body isometric strength than traditional squatting movements alone.
• Pull the log into the body, securing it horizontally with both biceps and forearms squeezing isometrically.
• Brace the core and break at the hips, squatting as low as possible whilst maintaining a straight lower back.
• Squat back up, pushing through the heels, ensuring the chest is high and knees track outward.
• Once upright brace the core to prevent hyperextension at the lower back.
Log bent-over row
The lift is performed exactly as with a standard barbell with the exception of having a neutral grip.
• I find individuals to be stronger on this than standard barbell rows and thus more weight can be used to stimulate back development.
• Larger diameter logs reduce the range of motion and present their own unique challenges.
• Log rows require a greater core stabilisation than barbell rows and also fatigue the lower back more. With this in mind use them smartly.
Log zercher carry
Like all loaded carries, this is a simple exercise that is both effective and efficient, enabling multiple qualities to be trained simultaneously.
• ‘Zercher Squat’ the log, standing upright in the process. Ensure not to lean back to accommodate the load.
• Instead, brace the core musculature and carry for a set distance in even strides.
• At all times the log should be held tight to the torso
I prefer my clients to train on a log without the aid of a lifting belt, because this will negate the core-strengthening effects of the log press. However, this advice is under the assumption that the individual’s training emphasis is upon technique and exercise proficiency. In such cases the load used should be moderate to light and a belt surplus to requirements. Experienced individuals loading heavier and competitive strength athletes working up to their one- to three-rep max can use a belt if they see fit. After all, there are no prizes for the most stubborn yet injured lifter.
I do recommend the use of neoprene sleeves (on both elbows and knees). These act to increase the elasticity and extensibility of the covered area by maintaining an elevated temperature throughout training. All my clients/athletes and myself ‘feel’ better when using these and that is more than enough for me to advocate their use. Please note these are not lifting aids and will not improve your lifts as lifting wraps may, but act to reduce the chance of injury in the respective joints.