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Junkyard training can benefit athletes if done right

Gaining a competitive advantage has caused many athletes and coaches to look for new training strategies. One that has garnered interest is "junkyard training," but does the use of heavy, odd-sized everyday implements, such as your car, really increase strength during a training regimen? A New Mexico State University exercise physiologist says there is value if the junkyard training is done right.

New Mexico State University exercise physiologist Joseph Berning, an assistant professor in the NMSU College of Education's Department of Human Performance, Dance and Recreation, seen here pulling a car, conducted a research study on junkyard training. Berning looked at the metabolic demands of pushing and pulling a car. (NMSU Courtesy Photo)

"Junkyard training appeals to athletes because it forces your body to do something it doesn't normally do. It allows you to test yourself, but strength coaches need to be aware of the very high energy output and should consider it an advanced form of training," said Joseph Berning, an assistant professor in the NMSU College of Education's Department of Human Performance, Dance and Recreation. "The growing popularity of 'strongman competitions' has inspired expansion of imaginative training options and has fueled adoption of these strategies in traditional sports. Football teams are the most likely to embrace this philosophy, but it is slowly gaining acceptance in other sports."

Berning, along with colleagues Kent Adams of California State University, Monterey Bay; Mike Climstein of Australian Catholic University; and Bryant Stamford of Hanover College, published an article in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research based on research that looks at the metabolic demands of pushing and pulling a motor vehicle.

"The purpose of this study was to begin to lay a foundation for research on junkyard training's demands and effectiveness," Berning said.

To test the effect of pushing and pulling a vehicle, Berning and his colleagues conducted a study using six strength-trained athletes in three sessions where they were asked to push or pull a car weighing almost two tons about a quarter of a mile. The athletes were assessed before and after each session to determine the impact of the exercise on their bodies.

Berning said all subjects experienced dizziness or nausea. Results indicated that the athletes achieved their peak exertion early in the exercise and the exercise was exhausting with an extremely high heart rate being sustained for several minutes. Berning cautions that stressing the body to this extent may have negative training outcomes; therefore, he recommends that training of this nature be carefully individualized, planned and monitored, but the extreme psychological excitement that occurs cannot be ignored.

"The uniqueness and novelty of these events can encourage athletes to achieve extreme performance levels well above their typical training abilities," Berning said. He cautions, though, that strength coaches must be wary of overpromoting toughness in athletes during training that can cause harm.

"The goal is to increase strength and fitness, to enhance an athlete's level of capability, so they can perform better in an athletic environment. Junkyard training has considerable potential as a unique, exciting and unorthodox training method that can be incorporated into a periodized training plan," Berning said. "However, strength coaches must be aware of the ultra-high metabolic and neuromuscular stresses that can be imposed by this type of training and take these factors into consideration when plotting individualized training and recovery strategies. A coach has to determine that an athlete has reached a certain level of strength before including this type of training method."