At the Arnold Australia Strongman Championships this year, we threw two monster frames into the mix, as the much anticipated mystery event. Both pros and amateurs got the chance to test their grip and mental resolve, without the use of straps, on the 2.8m long, 1.2m wide steel behemoths.
Despite heavily taped handles, many competitors found this event challenging. Although they were not able to train for the event, so mysterious that it was, the overall weight was not dramatically heavier than many competitors training weight on the farmers carry apparatus, so what is the difference?
At first glance, a frame carry may appear less challenging than it's separate handled cousin. The pickup height is usually quite high, so the dead lift is less challenging, and the fact that each side is linked together means the unit moves as one, rather than two very heavy, unstable objects crossing over, banging into your thighs etc. But now let's break down some reasons why a frame is much MORE challenging.
Length - Our standard 'long' farmers handles are 1.5m long, enough space for a tall competitor to stride out, without hitting the plate load at either end. The frame was almost double this, and with the majority of weight at either extremity, this demands much more wrist control over the handles. Any dipping of the nose of the frame is amplified by its length, so it's ground clearance is much less than a shorter handle of the same pick up height.
The effect of 'included angle' - This surprising feature may have slipped past many, unless your 3rd year university physics classes are still fresh in your mind, or your are a professional rigger. It is, put simply, an amplification of load on each 'arm' of a sling used to pick up a load from a single point, in relation to the angle of pick up. Take a look at the graphic below.
We will assume that we can all pick up 1 tonne for starters, to make the maths simpler. For farmers carry, your arms mimic the two circles on the left and right, half of the load is on each side, as the weight is directly below the shoulder. For frame carry, you become the circle in the middle, and each side of the triangle is one of your arms. If you are tall with long arms, you might look like the green triangle, a very small amplification of load (another win for Brian Shaw). But if you are shorter, and you closer resemble the yellow triangle, you are now experiencing an amplification of 0.7 per side, or 1.4 in total. Although you are still picking up 1000kg, your arms are now experiencing 1400kg total. The wider the grip, the worse the numbers stack up.
Inability to get a very 'deep' grip - When training farmers, our coaches often encourage us to take a very 'deep' grip, reaching as far around the handle as possible, which over a 15m distance, will buy the competitor valuable seconds, and in turn, meters. This technique again relies on the handle being able to drop under the shoulder, and again is negated by the width of the handles on the frame. Unless the competitor can lift the comp weight with a VERY bent elbow, this grip position is impossible. It's now down to pure brute grip strength.
Although the frame event was tough, that's Strongman. The events are only rarely exactly the same as you train at the gym. Learning tricks and techniques are important, but at the end of the day, not much trumps hard, brute strength. Now at least we know WHY it was so tough.