This past weekend I had the honor of competing once again in the San Diego Scottish Highland Games competition. It would mark my 4th year in a row of competing and a personal best games. I threw a number of PRs (personal records) and did better overall than any games previously. After the games I thought a bit on what it took to get to the place I had arrived at competitively and how far I still have to go. Out of this bit of reflection I gleaned a few ideas right out the gate that I have chosen to share. I’ve tried to place these qualities in order of importance and with that in mind they are as follows: technique, strength, and speed. I’ve joked that the Scottish Highland Games is one of the only games where you will see athletes taking a cigar break in between events. Although that’s just a joke (sort of), it does point out that the highland games is not an endurance event. Perhaps you could argue that it is a strength endurance event, but only in the sense that you are throwing heavy objects every 10-20minutes for 9ish hours. Which in and of itself takes a level of endurance over the long haul.
Taking into account the qualities necessary to do well in the games (technique, strength, and speed), I’m here to focus on one. Strength. I’m not an expert on technique, my throws look okay. I’m not #1, but my ever improving form coupled with my aggressive strength training I am working on constantly bolsters my ability to step onto the field confidently and make improvements every time the games are held. With that in mind I’m here to share just a little bit about my training in particular. Below are five of the biggest movements you’ll find me doing consistently in the gym to get stronger and elevate my scores. Keep in mind these are just a few of the lifts I do to help myself. There are many other accessory exercises and variations I throw into the mix to keep it fun and interesting for myself.
1. Back Squats The classic. The single best way to actively strengthen your legs (and body) while improving yourself as a human being. When it comes to competing in the games, having strong legs, core, and power is critical. If you can’t drive weight with your legs you’re going to go nowhere. Literally. Being able to control weight and movement in a loaded position is something you will be doing in nearly every event of the games.
2. Deadlifts Another classic. Following on the tail of squats, (intended), deadlifts are a cornerstone of developing a powerful set of hips and legs to compliment the benefits gleaned from all the squatting you’ve been doing. Deadlifts help increase hip strength and drive in extension. Being able to pull a heavy weight from the floor and handle it properly while all the while maintaining a strong grip will take you far. With that in mind I’d like to point out that I LOVE doing deadlifts on a fat bar. Because I’ve said forever if you have a strong grip, everything else is easier. When you cannot only rip a weight off he floor with confidence that your grip will hold, you can eliminate the need for gloves in competition. Which to me is just a bonus. Do your deadlifts. They will make you a better athlete and fiercer competitor by improving your armor. You could say that deadlifts have got your back.
3. Overhead Press/Push Press
If you don’t already do overhead presses, then I’m not sure what to tell you, because you might as well chop off your feet and then try to run a marathon for how much good you’re currently doing yourself. The highland games don’t just require powerful legs and hips. They take powerful shoulders. Having an even remotely decent chance at doing well takes a strong set of shoulders. The ability to stabilize weight overhead is critical. As an athlete in these competitions you need to not only be able to pull weights out of the hole, but drive them away from your body. Being able to strict press well overhead makes you strong. Being able to take all the strength you’ve gained from doing your squats and deadlifts, (because you have been doing them right?), and now use your legs to HELP drive weight away from you is even better. Enter the push press. The push press combines the awesome power you now have from squats and deads and uses it to help get more weight overhead. In games you will be throwing stones, think shot put), and leg drive will compliment that shoulder strength to make you unstoppable.
4. Double Kettlebell Cleans This one is a bit of a curveball for some people. But I maintain that being able to do double kettlebell cleans heavy and well will give you a leg up on the competition. Mastering this movement is an amazing way to improve hip strength and power as well as speed. Incorporating all of the aforementioned moves into your program will make you a force to be reckoned with, but without developing some speed you may never get the weight moving very well. This is definitely a technical movement and I’ve heard some people argue it’s hard to become truly strong doing them, but it’s been my experience that these people either A.) don’t practice them enough or B.) Have terrible form holding them back. The fact of the matter is that heavy dual kettlebell cleans mimic a lot of the movements involved in the games. I don’t know about you, but I believe being technically efficient in training in a way that transfers to the games is a win win. To cap off everything else I’ve pointed out. If you’re still not convinced, try finding a certified kettlebell instructor (such as an RKC from Ambition Athletics) and have them teach you and see if you don’t come out the other side a better athlete. 5. Vertical Medicine Ball Tosses This exercise is another one some people don’t expect. But I’ll stick by this one forever. You have to be able to drive off the ground in the games, pulling weight the entire time. This exercise closely mimics the movement in the caber toss. In the caber toss you’ll find yourself with an 18’+ pole in your hands that you need to launch into the air. Your ability to jump, drive with your hips, and throw this caber into the air all comes together. Similarly this exercise is extremely close. By taking a heavy medicine ball 15, 20, 25, 30lbs, and up, you practice jumping and launching it as high as possible. The drive and pull here is critical to the caber toss. I recommend finding a place with a certain height ceiling, (our ceiling is 20’), and practicing trying to hit the roof. Once you can confidently hit the roof with a given weight it’s time to move up. This exercise will improve that speed off the floor and pull overhead and back that you’ll need.
There you have it, five of my favorite movements in preparation for the highland games. Like I stated earlier, I’m not guru on throwing technique, mine is always improving. What I do know about is getting strong, and in a competition where the strong survive, you’ll be glad you did your squats. Technique will help you, but strength will pull you through. See you on the field.