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Step into Ben Bergeron’s gym in Natick, Massachusetts, and you’ll use barbells, dumbbells, and your own body weight during a workout. But don’t be surprised if you also sweat with yokes, ropes, sleds, tires, monkey bars, peg boards, sandbags, sledgehammers, stones, and logs.
Bergeron calls it “odd object conditioning.”
And there’s good reason for hauling a log for distance or hanging from monkey bars.
“In real life, you’re not lifting a 33 millimetre bar that’s perfectly loaded on each side,” he says. “You’re lifting asymmetrical objects. Things that may be heavier on one side. Things that may be lopsided. You’re more likely to pick up a couch or your 50-pound kid than two 35-pound dumbbells in each hand.”
You want to be strong? Lift real stuff.
Exercising with unconventional objects isn’t a novel idea, of course. But this type of training has recently gained popularity due to the CrossFit Games. Bergeron, who is the owner of CrossFit New England and Competitors Training, has competed on teams at the Games twice. He also trains top athletes—like 2015 first place female Games winner Katrin Davidsdottie and second place male finisher Matt Frasier.
While the events at the Games are supposed to be a surprise, Bergeron says there are patterns.
“You know there will always be a water event, an event that involves running, and something with a barbell,” he says. “And there’s always something with an odd object. People have had to carry super heavy punching bags, flip huge refrigerators, carry logs. Over the years, it’s become less of an anomaly. It would be irresponsible not to train for an odd object event.”
As a result, it’s become a part of his training philosophy, supplementing well-established exercises in his programming.
“It shouldn’t make up the bulk of your training,” he cautions. “When using an odd object, you can’t move it that quickly, so it lowers your power output or wattage for that workout. You still need to do pullups, pushups, running, squats, and deadlifts, too.”
But combining odd object training with traditional programming is what makes you a well-rounded athlete, he says.
That’s why all of Bergeron’s clients—average Joe’s to world-class athletes—do “odd object Tuesdays.” They may climb or pull ropes, do “buddy bear crawls”—in which one person holds on to you piggy-back style while you travel on all fours—or run, press, squat, or lunge as a team with the “worm,” six 60- to 80-pound sandbags sown together.
The drills are tough because your body isn’t used to moving in those patterns. But it’s the unfamiliarity that forces you to adapt and get better, he says. (Want more hard workouts?
Plus, your body will never get accustomed to this training because the possibilities are endless, says Bergeron. “Look around your house. Whatever you find, that’s your equipment for the day.”
Bergeron recently visited his mother in Cape Cod. They had no workout equipment, so he took his mom, wife, and 15-year-old daughter out on the front yard, and they did thrusters and swings with large 10-gallon water jugs.
Below are some other ideas from Bergeron of odd object routines you can use at home. In your yard. This weekend. His advice: Aim to do each workout as fast as possible.
1. Load up a wheelbarrow with stones, mulch, or even a buddy, and then push it across your yard 50 times from end to end.
2. Fill a duffle bag up with something heavy like dirt, gravel, or sand. Run 100 meters with it in your arms, and then drop down to the ground and perform 15 pushups. That’s 1 round. Do 10.
3. Grab the biggest tree branch, log, or piece of fire wood you can find. Do 30 cleans to presses, letting the wood come to the ground between each rep. Then hold the object across your shoulders and perform 30 alternating lunges. That’s 1 round. Do 5.