*Please note – we wrote this article originally in 2016. Consider this a revision, with an additional 3 years of studying and research to add.
Second only to possibly the Atlas stone, the log is by far the most recognisable Strongman event. Traditionally formed from huge timbers, this implement is now seen in all shapes and sizes, material types, lengths, widths and start weights. The polar opposite to the uniformity of a barbell, this ungainliness is what strongman is all about, and should never change.
But gaining a deeper understanding of WHY the log demands so much more strength and stability to press compared to a barbell, and not just accepting that 'it's huge', will surely be useful in ones training.
As a designer and manufacturer of such implements, we not only have the ability to conduct tests and develop theories ourselves, but also have contact with log pressers of all levels and backgrounds, from beginners through to the best in the country, the world, and of all time.
We strive to build the best strongman equipment possible, so understanding these concepts is critical to progress. In the topics below, we will cover basics of log geometry, through to some ideas that may never have been formalised in text.
Let's begin with some simple concepts. The length of a log will have a critical impact on 'tilt balance' of the press. An extremely short log will keep the additional weight added very close to the lifter, while a longer log will amplify the effect the same weight has from left to right. It should be noted that the base weight of the log will have an effect on this. If a lift is 150kg, a long log that weighs 140kg with 10kg of plates will be easier to balance from side to side than a 60kg long log with 90kg of plates. The more mass at the ends amplifies the control needed. But it is here where a common compromise to many strongman implements must be made. Nobody wants to see a log that is barely wider than the lifters shoulders, they want to see something huge. Interestingly though, Big Z once told me he lifted a very short log, where the weight was loaded between the handles (in the centre of the log). He said it was the worst log he had ever lifted.
By the nature of its position, the barbell allows a lifter to grip it where it is most suitable to them. The logs neutral grip, perpendicular to this, is not so. Too wide, and the press becomes fundamentally different to 'normal', and challenging to keep on the shoulders. Too narrow, and it limits the use of shoulders and back in the lift. It's for this reason we make 'ladies', 'mens' and 'pro' logs. It is unlikely a 160kg man will feel comfortable at the same grip width as a 64kg female, and vice versa.
We should all be fairly familiar with the 3 standard sizes of log, 8 10 and 12 inch (actually 219mm, 273mm and 323mm in our range. The inch size refers to a ‘nominal bore’ spec on ordering, not an actual inch diameter) but what impact do they have on the lift? There are many variables here. For a smaller lifter, the smaller diameter log is much easier to hold in the rack position than the huge 12 inch. But for a giant heavyweight, the 8 inch will challenge their shoulder and arm mobility to keep it racked. Pure geometry also suggests the larger diameter log brings the handle height higher, shortening the range of motion of the press.
As for the clean, similar differences occur. While the small diameter initially seems more manageable, keeping the chest in contact with a larger log is easier. Also, the degrees of rotation will change between logs. A lifters torso length (from lap to rack position) doesn’t change. But how far the log moves through a full rotation does, depending on the size. Lets say, for example, a lifters torso length is 50cm. One full revolution of an 8 inch log is 688mm, where as a 12 inch is 1014mm. So an 8 inch needs to do almost a full revolution of rolling to the shoulders, where as a 12 on the same lifter is under half.
Now we begin to investigate some more advanced concepts. Just like a car or bike wheel, the further mass (or weight) is away from the axis (axle in a wheels case) the more challenging it is to accelerate or decelerate it. A barbells sleeves and bearings render this a non-event, but on a log it can have a massive effect. Beginning the rotation of a 12 inch log is much harder than an 8 inch. STOPPING the rotation once at the shoulders is also a factor. This could be seen clearly on our Mad Max log, used at the Arnold Classic AU in 2016. Zyndrunas and I spoke at length (or as lengthy as one can with a man known for few words, especially in English) about this concept, and he noted the wide ends, at almost 40kg each, were a challenge to stop rotating at the shoulders. But once again, a compromise between aesthetics of the equipment and performance must be reached.
Wall thickness also plays a role in this. The thicker the wall, the more mass is at the outer extremity of the logs rotation, making it harder to rotate.
The Golden log weight?
In recent times, I have heard other comments about different logs (some ours, some others) being harder to clean, at the same weight. It has occurred to me that it has always been a lighter base weight of log that has been the ‘harder’ one. An example is our 65kg shorty 12 inch, loaded to 120kg, compared to the MiniMax (105kg) loaded to 120kg. Another was the Rogue 10 inch (32kg) loaded to 100kg, compared to a 50kg base weight (ASW Big G in comp at Ohio, VS her prep at home). She had cleaned it many many times in prep, but struggled in comp. The conclusion I have come to is we use the rotational mass of the log to help ‘finish’ the clean (intertia). Although not on bearings, the plates can still spin on the log, so they don’t contribute to the inertia, so once the roll has started, they contribute nothing at the end.
Based on anecdotal data, I estimate that a log that is 60-70% of the lifters max is ideal for maximising the inertia assistance.
The prototype 'rotationally balanced log' - a dream to clean, a nightmare to press. A concept we have been experimenting with for some time now, we realised that the material removed from the log main tube for the hand grips creates a huge imbalance towards the 'bottom' of the log. In the case of our standard 10 inch long, 12kg of material is removed. So if you look at the log from the end, and draw a line parallel with the floor, the top half of the log is around half the weight of the bottom half! In the clean, the heavy bottom half is the point furthest away from the body, making the clean more challenging. Balancing this makes the clean much faster and easier.
But wen the log is at the shoulders, the heavy side is now closest to the body, and when the press is initiated, I suggest that the extra unbalanced weight actually helps the log move back over the head. The balanced log offers no additional help, so it gives the impression of coming forward in comparison to a normal log, as we are all so used to working around the imbalance.
Centre grip – when to use it
We see so often a log slipping on a lifters chest when cleaning. A modern response is wear a grip shirt. An old school response is get a stronger upper back/row. One thing we tried a few years back was adding a course, textured paint to the centre of the log. It was so effective, Rob Kearney asked me to ship the log to the US, after he pressed 200kg with ease. The down sides to using this on a commercially available log? A – it will rip your face off on anything more than one or two lifts B – you never know what sort of log you will get at a comp. 99% of them won’t have a textured finish, so why kid yourself in training, only to get butchered in comp? Train hard, compete easy…
How to build the perfect log?
Based on points discussed earlier, I don't think there is such a thing as a perfect log. Ideal geometry for one person will be different to another. Logs shouldn't be 'easy' to use, but they shouldn't be unnecessarily difficult to use either. A combination of something that looks impressive and something that is manageable to lift is often hard to find.
Understanding the physics of how a log moves, and training on as many different types of logs with this knowledge in mind is key.