If you’ve ever had the chance to spectate at a strongman event, you’d find that there are few exercises as awe-inspiring as the Atlas stone event. What it is essentially, is the act of picking up a solid concrete ball from the ground, bringing it up to chest-height and placing it atop a raised pedestal. This happens not once, but multiple times. Due to its taxing nature, competitive strongmen take training for the Atlas stone even very seriously, but it’s not something that ever y gym can offer. Yet, there is a way for regular gym-goers to reap the benefits of this savage movement.
Since the idea of putting heavy stones in the hands of inexperienced lifters can be something of an insurance and liability nightmare, most gyms tend to avoid stocking heavy Atlas stones as part of their equipment inventory. In a pinch however, a heavy medicine ball or slam ball can be used to mimic the effects of lifting a heavy stone.
Location and equipment courtesy of TripleFit
Experienced strongmen and strongwomen will attest to the importance if distilling the act of lifting and raising the Atlas stone into “one motion”. That is, execution of the movement should be done as fluid as possible to avoid any potential leaks in energy that may contribute to premature fatigue.
Generating and maintaining momentum is key here. Much like how a barbell clean or snatch is performed, you’d want to visualise channelling energy from the ground up, through your body and into the ball. As you will be performing multiple repetitions, finding your rhythm and sticking to it will allow you to move and perform more efficiently.
Since balls will typically be much lighter than traditional Atlas stones (you should still pick a challenging weight though), the modality of the exercise needs to be tweaked to allow it to maintain its effectiveness. In place of mechanical load, intensity will come via the total volume of the exercise and how densely it’s performed. You can perform it HIIT-style (1:6 work-rest periods) or with ladder circuits (working up in ball weight before going back down). Going for time or a set number of repetitions per set both work equally well, but be sure to keep to controlled rest periods.
Although having a strongman yoke is ideal for such a movement, a squat rack can easily be used as a substitute by setting a barbell up on either the rack supports or J-hooks. If you don’t have a buddy to spot you, jerry-rig a ball ramp with a heavy plate leaning against a small stack of other plates so that the ball will land and roll back to you after every toss. It might look a bit odd, but it sure works!