Rock lifting creates real world transferable strength. It challenges the body to adapt a million times more than the conventional barbell. It is through variety and practical application that we develop functional strength.
Rock lifting is not only for cave men
For some reason when some of us imagine our cavemen ancestors we picture hairy beasts carrying clubs and crushing each other with giant rocks.
Although this probably wasn’t the case on a regular basis there may be some truth to the rock lifting caveman. There is archaeological evidence of hammer stones being used by cavemen, probably used to break food such as nuts open.
Stone age hunters also utilized dead-fall traps. A dead-fall trap usually consist of an extremely heavy rock, at least five times heavier than the prey wishing to be caught, that is held up with selection of branches that act as triggers. When the prey moves under the rock to collect the bait, the trigger is activated and you can probably imagine the rest. It would have took a lot of brute strength to set these kind of traps, particularly for larger prey.
The imagination doesn’t have to stretch far to picture a caveman dispute in which rocks are used as weapons to crush the adversity.
Whether this is the case or not rock lifting offers a fantastic series of natural movements that can be performed with nothing but, well rocks.
Swap the iron lifting for rock lifting
Lifting the conventional iron (free weights) is not without it’s merits, particularly for the lower body as the legs need to be loaded far more than the upper body for adaption to take place. Conventional lifting allows you to be able to gradually increase the weight and easily track progression.
With that said it does not aid the body in becoming as well adapted to lifting things in the real world as rock lifting does.
Take a body builder who is experienced in hoisting weights and get them to do the job of a furniture delivery man for a day and watch how they complain about their stiff back the next day. The tribesman or man who lifts rocks would not have such an issue as rock lifting creates truly functional strength.
It’s all in the grip!
Barbells, dumbbells and kettle-bells are perfectly designed to allow the human hand to grasp them. This is not the case with objects found in the natural environment, or even in the urban environment for that matter.
If you are ever required to lift something outside of the gym, it will likely be an awkward shape and thus be difficult to grasp. Rocks are those awkward shapes, which is why rock lifting promotes a more varied grip strength than that of iron lifting.
To prevent the rock from falling out of your hands stabilization muscles are activated throughout the entire body. A rock that requires two hands to hold also requires activation of the chest, shoulders, back, arms and legs to keep it steady. These stabilization muscles would still be activated when lifting a barbell but to a much lesser extent.
All handles on traditional free weights are roughly the same, meaning the object being carried always provides a similar load for the muscles, presuming the movement remains the same. The weight can be increased but this only changes the intensity at which the same muscles have to work.
This is not the case when lifting rocks as no two rocks are shaped the same. There are always slight variations in the grip, and in the distribution of effort used across the muscles as the rocks are never perfectly balanced or their weight evenly distributed. This gives the body movement variety. If you wish to up the intensity simply find a heavier, or more awkward shaped rock to lift.
Rock lifting on natural terrain
Another variable that stays consistent when lifting weights in the gym is that of the terrain. Gym floors are even flat surfaces. When lifting rocks in the natural environment the terrain always varies. Perhaps you are lifting on a beach, in the mountains, or in the forest.
The ground of all these environments are very different. The terrain is usually uneven. There are always other objects on the floor such as pebbles stones and tree branches, that alter the bodies alignment. All these natural variables promote a wide range of adaptions and make the body better suited to lifting a variety of objects in less predictable environments. It also strengthens the body in out of alignment positions.
Once you have the hang of lifting rocks in the natural environment you can increase the variability further by training barefoot. Instead of the foot being on the flat surface of the shoe it has all the variables of the terrain described above to adapt to. Be careful with this one though. Don’t want to drop a rock on a barefoot. Ooouch!!
How about some movements? In this article we are going to look at some foundation movements that increase brute strength, upon which some more complex movements can be added.
When getting started perform all these movements in the 5-12 rep range for 2-3 sets. Once comfortable with them adjust as you please to create further variety.
(1) Rock pick up or dead lift
This is best movement to start with as before you can perform any of the other movements you must first be able to safely pick the rock up.
Place your feet either side of the rock. Spread your fingers wide (this allows for a better grip) and bend down and grasp the rock. Try to keep your arms as straight as possible but allow some bend to mimic the shape of the rock if required. Imagine trying to crush the stone with your hands, arms and forearms. Brace your back and pull the rock up to your hips. Remember to pull the rock off the ground, don’t try to squat the rock off the ground.
This movement primarily strengthens the back but also, the glutes, legs, traps, and arms. Daily life requires us to pick things up on a regular basis. If we can lift heavy rocks, shopping bags are no longer a problem.
(2) Rock row
Pick the rock up of the ground as described in movement (1). Drop the hips creating a slight bend in the knees. Hinge forward while reaching the glutes and hamstrings back, until the arms are approximately perpendicular to the floor and the torso is approximately parallel. Maintain a neutral spine while relaxing the traps and neck. Squeeze the rock and retract your shoulder blades drawing the elbows towards the sky, pulling the rock into your lower ribcage.
This movement activates the entire posterior chain and primarily works the muscles in the mid back and traps, but also works the lats and biceps. Second best basic back movement after the rock pick up.
(3) Rock curl
Pick the rock up as described in movement (1). Keep the elbows in front on the hips. Bend the knee slightly. Keep a neutral spine. Curl the rock up to chest keeping the elbows tucked in as much as the rock allows. Hold it at the chest and lower it to the starting position slowly. Try not swing the rock up during this movement. Rinse and repeat.
If done correctly this movement primarily works the biceps and forearms. It build the necessary strength to comfortably get into the starting position for movement (4,5,&6).
(4) Rock squat
There are two practical ways to rock squat. After picking up the rock using the method described in movement (1) you can either bring the rock to your chest keeping the elbows tucked in (end position of movement 3) and perform the squat, or place the rock on one of your shoulders and squat. When doing the latter alternate shoulders. If you are having difficulty squatting keep practising the resting squat to gain the necessary flexibility, mobility, and stability.
This movement primarily strengthens the glutes and legs, but also works the core and a range of other muscles that help to stabilize the rock.
(5) Walking lunges
Pick the rock up and place it on one of your shoulders. Keeps a straight spine and step forward. Bend the leading leg until the back knee lightly touches the ground creating a 90 degree angle. Make sure the knee on the leading leg does not go past the toes. Keeping the back straight, stand up and drive forward, so your feet come a little closer than shoulder width apart. Do this on the other leg and keep switching so you are moving forward via lunging. Do this over a distance of around 10-20m.
Similar to the squat this movement primarily strengthens the glutes and legs, but lunges require more stabilization muscle in the glutes and core which helps to improve balance.
(6) Rock Press
Start with the rock in the same position as in the end of movement (3). Lift your chest up towards the sky. Keep your elbows/forearms vertical in relation to the ground, and also keep the elbows tucked tightly into your lats, or as much as the rock allows. Look straight ahead and press the rock up. The lockout position should be directly over the shoulder joint. While the rock is in the sky shrug your shoulders up to better support it. Slowly lower the rock to the same starting position.
This movement works the shoulders, traps, chest and triceps.
Get ready for part 2 (agile and explosive strength)
The rock lifting movements described throughout this article help to build a strength foundation throughout the entire body. They are easy to learn but difficult to master. If practiced regularly they will help to strengthen and build stability in all of the muscles involved in more complex movements. This not only helps to build the strength necessary for more complex movements but also helps to prevent injury in unfamiliar movement patterns.
The movements in this article involve the feet remaining locked in the same position (with the exception of the lunge).
In the Rock Lifting (Part 2) article I will describe some rock lifting movements that will move the mass through gravity in multiple planes of motion. They will help to build agile and explosive strength. If you want to be updated as soon as this article is released please subscribe to the news letter for free (top right).
Until next time, keep rock lifting 🙂