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  • Craig Marker 12:33 pm on April 16, 2015 Permalink | Reply  

    How to Ruck 

    By Al Ciampa, SFG

    I wrote an article some time ago about physically preparing for combat in mountainous terrain. One of the critical aspects of this preparation was foot marching. I’d like to explore and expand upon this concept of foot marching, also known as ruckmarching, or “rucking” for short, because it’s an activity with many benefits, and can be a tremendously effective addition to your physical training program.

    The term, “rucksack”, first used in the United Kingdom, and later adopted by many other countries including U.S. Military forces, originated from the German word describing where it was worn on the body: “the back” (der Rücken), combined with what it was: a sack. If you’ve ever been on a long afternoon walk over a pleasurable scenic route through nature, carrying supplies in a backpack, then you’ve been rucking. But unlike backpacking, which has a primary purpose of the hike and destination, when you are rucking, you are purposefully marching–conditioning yourself to travel long distances on varied terrain, carrying weight for the express purpose of physical training.

    Rucking is applicable to everyone who has the physical ability to walk. Besides being historically the simple and most effective way to prepare a Solider for duty, it is also a fantastic way to improve aerobic conditioning, strength, posture, and mental health. Rucking gets you outdoors and offers you the elevated heart rate of jogging at the more moderate pace–and less impactful activity–of walking, by strapping a load to your back. Infrequent long-slow distance (LSD) sessions are important for building a wide aerobic base for use as the platform to increased anaerobic performances. Unloaded walking uses your bodyweight for resistance, which is fixed, and speed as the intensity variable. But the velocity in our walking gait has a low ceiling, allowing only the deconditioned among us to even begin to stimulate a conditioning effect. For those who are better conditioned than your typical sedentary coach potato, another variable must be introduced for increased intensities: loading. Additionally, using rucking for your LSD work provides a natural mental benefit that you can’t quite seem to get from jogging. Get out on a natural trail and explore your world once per week … then dump your anti-depressants (full disclosure: I’m not a doc).

    To use this tool properly, you need to understand how to apply it. Reading through the U.S. Army’s field manual, number 21-18, “Foot Marches”, leaves one with a lot of guessing to do. Amended in 1990, this manual contains comprehensive information with respect to the logistics of tactically relocating a lot of foot soldiers and their equipment between point A and point B, affording them the energy reserves to be mission-ready upon arrival. But very little is mentioned about how to train this activity. What I learned in the Service about how to ruck was handed down from NCO to NCO, and was not found in field manuals. Not surprisingly, we did a lot of things wrong. I’ve learned a lot through my experiences since then.

    Perusing some of the literature available online written about rucking also leaves one wanting. People have sent me some of these works over the years and my reading of some of the methods discussed have left me feeling anywhere from disappointed to downright annoyed. The disconnect between what works in reality and what some authors recommend is in some cases complete and in others, just embarrassing. Many of these programs focus on some brand of Military operator selection course preparation, even those that are marketed to recreational hikers and fitness enthusiasts. They seem to imply that we all need to train like prospective operators, or we’re not really training. Preparing for a rigorous Military selection course differs from rucking for basic conditioning–for both the Soldier and recreational athlete alike. The basic movement and logistics are the same, but the programming is different. I will take the reader from A-Z: how to prep your gear, how to walk, how to program, and why. This will serve as a multi-purpose use tool, whether you aim to improve your general fitness, or prepare for a more rigorous professional requirement.


    Whether you are rucking for aerobic conditioning, soldiering, or selection, you need quality gear that fits. Many elements are important to a successful experience, such as comfortable clothes, safety equipment, and protection from the elements, but I will focus on the two most important here: your pack and your footwear.

    Your Pack

    Packs are available in two styles: framed, or frameless. Frameless packs are essentially schoolbook bags. Framed packs are offered with internal or external frames, the latter usually requiring some assembly. Just about every rucksack comes with some kind of internal skeleton. Externally framed packs can carry more weight, but are less comfortable. An external frame can also be rigged for other uses, such as carrying elk-meat out of the woods; or this crafty weapon used during the Vietnam conflict and later popularized by Jesse Ventura’s character in the movie, “Predator”: 

    If you use an externally framed pack, ensure that you assemble it properly, or you will make it even more uncomfortable than it tends to already be. For those in Military Service, you will likely be issued an externally framed pack, so you will need to get used to this type of rucksack.

    For recreation or physical fitness training, however, internally framed packs are more appropriate. They are more comfortable and can carry more than enough weight for most applications. Any named rucksack distributor offers high-quality merchandise, and you will pay for it. However, it is worth spending near $200USD on a good pack, even if you are using for general fitness only.

    Get a pack that fits you–ensure that you can pull the straps tight enough to cinch down on your shoulder girdle, leaving little space underneath your armpits. You don’t need to fasten your waist or sternum straps for a conditioning walk on relatively flat terrain. However, if you will be running an obstacle course or climbing up steep terrain, it may be a good idea to fasten these straps. Learn to pack your ruck properly: keep the load’s center of mass close to you. Placing the weight lower in the pack, making it closer to your hips is recommended, but I like it a bit higher. You should experiment with the placement of the load to discover where you like it. It’s also important that the load is balanced from left to right and stable in the pack. This takes some practice to get right so don’t minimize this task’s importance. Because packs with internal frames place the gear right up against your back, pack the items such that they do not jab you while you are wearing your rucksack. Nothing is more uncomfortable than getting speared by camping gear while you walk. When you are using your pack for a purpose, such as carrying supplies on a hike, your load will be the total weight of your needs. When training, you can craft any item(s) into a load for resistance. Sand bags are great tool to use for a training load. You can fill them with various amounts of weight and they conform well inside the pack and up against your back. I have bags of cement varying in weight and wrapped in 100-mile/hour (duct) tape for protection and durability: 


    These are very comfortable to carry for long durations and are available very cheap at your local home improvement store. I’ve heard of using bricks, rocks, kettlebells, pots and pans, etc., but I would recommend setting yourself up with something more comfortable. Even old textbooks work well.

    Your Shoes

    If you’re in the Service, your footwear is chosen for you: combat boots. You have to train as you fight, so you’ll be rucking in your boots. Make sure they fit well: press your heel to the back of the boot and ensure that you have enough room off the front of the toe, but not too much. Your feet will swell when you ruck, so don’t wear boots that are too tight, and try them on in whatever thickness socks you are going to wear. Modern boots do not require the break-in period that the old leather boot used to, but to avoid unnecessary foot issues, do wear your new boots in a bit before you hit the road. If you don’t need to be in uniform on your walk, unblouse your trouser legs and lace your boots like so:


    … using two sets of laces for each boot, the bottom lace tighter, to hold your foot in place, and the upper lace looser, to allow your lower leg room to swell.

    For the rest of us, I advocate some type of “less” shoe … not a true minimalist shoe, but one with less support, and minimal heel-toe drop. The Native Americans populated the Americas barefoot, or wearing a thin layer of animal skins on their feet. Let me say it outright: I don’t advocate barefoot running or hiking … I advocate minimal, but sufficient footwear (though I have witnessed more than a few hikers coming off the Appalachian Trail in flip-flops). If you are overweight (either excessive adipose OR muscle tissue) and run for exercise on dense surfaces, then you’ll probably want more cushion than a true barefoot shoe provides. If you are normal weight for your structure and run on softer terrain, then you can go with as little support as possible. This will be an individual choice and experience.

    Wearing footwear that allows your foot to be close to the ground will minimize the chances of “rolling your ankle”, making the ankle support characteristics of boots unnecessary. This lets your own lower leg strength adapt to support your ankle stability. Boots also provide far too much arch and foot support. The more support your foot has, the less it has to navigating the ground and support your body weight, which is very unhealthy for your legs and feet. The work that your foot and leg has to do with minimal support maintains the strength and balance within these structures, reversing or preventing muscle atrophy. Many cases of lower leg and foot pain can be traced back to weak and atrophied foot and lower leg muscles not doing their part to support the foot’s arch. So for your training, less support and stabilization is better, but jumping from spending 24/7 in a highly stabilizing and supportive boot to none at all will cause some “growing pains”. Be smart, and gradually reduce external foot support. Give your feet and lower legs adequate time to re-adapt to the task of supporting your body–take up to 3-6 months to work into less shoe. Finally, make sure your footwear fits properly, and play with different lacing techniques. I use this: 


    You may wonder why I’m advocating minimal shoes instead of hiking boots. I’m not saying that boots have no place in hiking–they provide protection from the elements, support to your feet and ankles in harsh terrain, and can allow you a better foothold in some cases. In your training, however, why not take the time to also stimulate the proper functioning of the foot and lower legs?


    Select any terrain or trail that suits you. You can ruckmarch around your subdivision with a loaded pack, getting your training time in, but you may not reap the mental health benefits. Don’t walk too far on heavily crowded roads, and change sides periodically if you must. Choose a terrain which most matches your application: if you’re headed for a selection course in sand, clay, and hilly terrain, do less hardball time (i.e., rucking on firm or paved surfaces–though some training here will be necessary) and more time on a surface similar to your target environment. For general recreation and fitness, just get out and enjoy nature. Challenge your body to navigate the natural terrain. You can find guided trails in most locations, or simply go off-road and make your own trail. A charged up GPS and cell phone as well as other emergency precautions may apply. I personally do most of my rucking on the roads, occasionally driving to a trail. I enjoy the convenience of walking right out my front door.


    How to walk … this seems so obvious that I should just skip over it. No. My clinical experience analyzing human locomotion indicates that many people do not walk properly, even without a load on their back, so let’s check this box. Rucking is an excellent opportunity to improve and reinforce your natural walking gait–the one that strengthens your body rather than adding stress and dysfunction.

    Walking gait is a heel-to-toe affair that should incorporate the entire body. A stiffened spine should resist trunk motion while the arms and legs transfer force into the ground. So, the “core” must be strong enough to tie together Dr. Mark’s “four knots”. Or, Geoff and Tim’s “X” must be tight and resilient. The opposite arms and legs must work together during contralateral locomotion by transferring their respective forces through the trunk. Rucking can develop spinal integrity and core resilience like no other activity.

    Stand up tall, take short but frequent strides, and drive your arms hard. The description from top to bottom: keep your head up with your eyes looking out 10-15 feet in front of you, using your peripheral vision to navigate the ground directly below your feet. Do not walk with your head down. You may need to drop your head periodically to negotiate obstacles (don’t step “on” smaller items in your path–step around them), but always seek good cervical spine alignment.


    “Anti-shrug” your shoulders under the straps of the pack. Don’t pull them down hard, but do keep them down and back. The straps of the pack provide a traction-like effect on the muscles of your upper body, as they “press down” on your shoulder girdle. Use the long duration of the walk under this effect as a tool to open up your chest and increase thoracic spine mobility. Continually check yourself for shrugging or rounding your shoulders forward, and reset them as you go. The postural improvement you can gain here can be phenomenal, if you stay aware of your positioning while you walk.

    Keep your midline (the space on your abdomen between your sternum and pubic bone) neutral, that is to say, slightly “hollowed”. Practice this by standing up, and “crunching”, as in the exercise–close your midline. This is trunk flexion. Now do the opposite: open your midline. This is trunk extension. Staying a bit hollow is to keep your midline slightly closed. Practice this often. Think of a crisp and sharp kettlebell swing. The desired position while walking is similar to the plank position at the top of the swing. Keep your hips open and extended. Only a very heavy load on your back should cause some hip flexion, but this should be minimized. Your center of gravity shifts rearward as a function of the weight in your pack. Try to offset this shift by leaning forward at your ankles, and less than your hips: 


    Bipedal walking, as in human locomotion, resembles an upside-down pendulum. Find this balance between almost falling over forward and backwards with the different center of gravity that the load creates, and offset it at the ankles through your stride. You will step out to the front less with a heavier pack and more with a lighter one, but this difference will be within a small margin. With practice and attention to this, you will get this balance right, and minimize hip flexion. As I like to say, “Walk on your glutes”. Keep these muscles clenched and feel them drive your legs back. This very important part of locomotion will help to keep your hips open and balanced. Your knees should naturally get into the correct angle: greater going up hill, and less going downhill. While you can just about let your knees do what they do naturally, your feet are a different story …

    You need to really concentrate on what your feet are doing. Your stride should be short, landing on the heel or heel/midfoot. As your leg accelerates through the stride, actively push off the ground through your great toe. Your legs are close to extension while walking, so focus on using them as long levers, “swinging” the ankles about the hips. The glutes (and hamstrings) are to the rear of the leg driving it back, and the hip-flexors are to the front, swinging them forward. If you can’t feel this action during your walk, try my two-hand overspeed swings, focusing on the tug-of-war between the opposing body lines, posterior v. anterior:

    The concert of your glutes, hamstrings, and quads forcefully catapult the bell forward, then the lats, abdominals, and hip flexors catch it and throw it back into the hinge. This is a similar action to what you should be feel as you walk, though with one leg at a time. Proprioceptively, you should feel your elbow and humerus on one side of your body connected to your knee and femur on the other as you walk. The limbs on opposite sides move together: the momentum of the same side arm counters the motion of the same side leg; and the force of the opposite side arm both pulls the leg forward, and drives it backward by it’s action through the “X”. It may take some time to develop this feeling–do some more crawling.


    To summarize the technique, keep your head up, shoulders down and back, midline hollowed, hips open, and walk on your glutes while deliberately swinging your arms. This takes practice to master … so, practice while you’re walking around during the day as well. This description of rucking technique is in stark contrast to what I first learned: “Put your head down and stay with me”, Sgt. Bo demanded of me on my first team ruckmarch. Learn from my mistakes …

    View the ruckmarch not as a task to be finished, like a more conventional fitness goal, but as postural and locomotion practice. Feel the posture of your body and its movements and it will make you a stronger walker. Through this practice of high-quality walking, you will complete your distance goals. Build up to a very brisk walk, but do not run.

    You will likely experience some stiffness in your upper body during your walk with a loaded pack.  From time to time during your walk, do this drill: continue to drive the legs through your midsection as you interlace your fingers in front of your upper chest. Then, raise your elbows to the sky while your interlaced fingers remain in front of your upper chest. Then, force your hands overhead, fingers still interlaced. Rotate your shoulders around–protract and retract your scapulae–with your fingers still interlaced. Then, release your hands, and slowly lower your arms until they point out to the sides, like a cross. Rotate your shoulders some more: like pouring a pitcher of water forward and backward. Then, make larger arm circles before re-cinching your pack’s straps and anti-shrugging your shoulders back down into normal arm carriage. Seek to keep your midline a bit hollow the whole time, and don’t chicken neck during this drill. This periodic flexing and rotating is great for shoulder health and mobility, and will help to open the chest and thoracic spine.


    Basic Conditioning

    If you decide to add rucking to your training, please, start out light and short, depending upon your experience. However strong or conditioned you currently are, if you’ve never endured under a load, you will run the risk of joint pain or injury. Start out with a distance between 2-4 miles, carrying 15-25lbs of weight. Walk once per week, and increase only one of these variables each week: either 5-10lbs, or 1-2 miles. Use nasal breathing to guide your pace–you literally should be able to keep a conversation going. For basic fitness conditioning, working up to 60min ruck once per week, with a load that gets your HR to an average of 125-135bpm (age dependent) is sufficient. You can use a HR monitor or the “180 minus your age” formula to calculate your target HR, but there’s no need to get particular about it. First, maximize your speed … give your body time to adapt to walking briskly with a loaded pack. When, and only when, you have achieved your max walking speed, then add weight to your initial 15-25lb load until you acquire the appropriate HR. It’s really this simple–your basic LSD work applied to ruckmarching.

    Basic program:

    • Practice posture/walking.
    • Increase speed to max.
    • Slowly increase load OR distance until desired length and weight is met.


    Soldiering/Higher-End Recreation

    For specific applications, such as basic soldiering or selection preparation, you’ll need to do more than the above. For basic soldiering, maintain the frequency, but increase the distance and load. Highly dependent on your career field, rucking 8 miles each week with 35lbs is the minimum. Be able to cover this distance on the hardball in around two hours, and over terrain in about 2.5 hours … without running. And be prepared to go out to 12-15mi every once in a while, or when required. The U.S. Army’s standard is 12mi in 3 hours with 35lbs, rifle, Kevlar-helmet, and boots/BDUs (a former duty uniform moniker).


    For selection course prep, you are going to have to get to the point that you enjoy having that “tick” on your back. However, this may be true only for those courses that use loaded packing as a foundational activity. Though many of the operator selection courses across the Military have you constantly under a loaded pack, some do not. Most (if not all) do require some sort of timed ruckmarch, so although you will have to be prepared for this specific event, it may not need to be to the extent found in this section. For the majority of courses, you will likely carry 50lbs+ of dry weight in your pack most of the time … meaning that during any movement, your home will be your back. So, your prep will have to change from the basic model accordingly. Understand that this course will suck no matter how physically prepared you are, so first, get right–mentally.

    You will need to ruck 2-3 times per week, but there is no need to recreate your training into the event itself. Don’t overdo it. Work up to 50lbs for your longer rucks and walk over both terrain and on the road … though there won’t be much “easy” road walking during the course. Push your long ruck out to 20mi in small weekly increases. Work up to being very comfortable walking at near top speed with this load out to this distance. One of your weekly walks will need to be short and heavy, and this is fine to do on the hardball. Work up to 90-100lbs and be able to go 4-5mi. Stay postured up as described (as best you can), and walk quickly without running.

    If you’re capable of a weekly 10-miler with 40lbs at the start of your training, then you should be ready in 60-90 days. You will only need 4-6 weeks of those very heavy walks in your prep program, including the gradual increases up to the training load. Combine this with a simple but intelligent strength program and one weekly run session. Remember, however, don’t turn your training program into your event. You don’t need to meet the intensities, distances, and suck-factor of the event during your training. Train intelligently towards a peak, then “compete” at your course with your acquired abilities … guys have been making the cut for years with nothing more than rucking, running, and calisthenics. Train smart.

    Fuel & Water

    I’m not going into much depth here but it is important enough to mention. Briefly, it is better to train yourself to complete your walks without food. Try and ruck early in the day on an empty stomach. Unlike endurance races, you are not in competition with others; and some Military applications will require you to perform with a lack of fuel. Rucking on an empty stomach will also improve metabolic flexibility, and fatty acid fuel use. Eat well after your hike.

    Make sure that you hydrate … do not underestimate the importance of water intake, especially on the longer walks, and in warmer and humid climates. Dehydration can get out in front of you quickly, and with no warning. Drink plenty of water the night before, try to ruck in the earlier, cooler part of the day, and carry water with you on your walk. Drink water throughout your walk, even if you’re not thirsty. In general, if you’re sweating less, then you’ll need to drink less, but this is highly dependent on a number of variables.

    Benefits of Rucking

    The number one benefit of rucking is aerobic conditioning. Engaging your body in activities that keep your heart rate at an elevated but moderate rate for an extended period of time improves your aerobic base through adaptations seen at the cellular level. These improvements can only be accomplished by moving at a low intensity for a sustained duration. Perform a search for “mitochondria health”, “metabolic flexibility”, “aerobic base”, and “long-slow distance exercise”. There is plenty of material conveniently available elsewhere on this subject and it is too lengthy for this article. As opposed to jogging, swimming, biking, or rowing, rucking is easy on the joints, places you in a very strong and correct posture, and doesn’t compel the user to “go glycolytic” (using primarily glucose metabolism by training too intensely), as you are already moving at the top speed of your walking gait. You could of course, load too heavy, find an uphill route, etc., to increase the intensity but you won’t get that feeling of needing to move faster for more conditioning once underway, as the “high” of the exercise-induced endorphins washes over you.

    I can’t overemphasize the postural benefits from rucking. If … IF … you constantly correct your posture as described, you might just remove some of your constant low-back pain, lack of hip flexibility, and thoracic spine issues. You will most certainly tighten your “X” and build resilience into your trunk. This resilience will reduce your potential for non-collision injury, and increase your performances in other activities.

    I’ve been ruckmarching for years and have personally found that it is a fantastic mood elevator; and it seems to be more effective at it than jogging. This may occur because walking both steadies your head closer to static than jogging, and produces slower locomotive speeds. These two differences allow you to receive greater and more accurate information about your environment. The further you remove yourself from the vehicles and bustle of the roads, and the closer to nature that you can get, the greater the positive effect on your mood.

    Coupled with my basic program of crawls, get ups, and swings, ruckmarching rounds out the resilience producing effects within your chassis, improves your mental health, and establishes a wide-platform of aerobic fitness. Happy trails!

    Other articles by this author:

    Hardening the Soldier for Combat
    The Truth Shall Set You Free
    Where Do you Go After Simple?

    Al Ciampa has been a barbell athlete for 25+ years; a former powerlifter and bench press specialist, he has a raw bench press of 605lbs in training and 585lbs in competition, at the time, setting an IPA record. He served in the US Army first as a LRS-D team member, then as director of the Army’s hand-to-hand combat program in South Korea: Modern Army Combatives Program. After his service, he co-opened and led training for a fitness and health & wellness center, specializing in strength & conditioning, and nutrition that served Military units and the local public. Feeling a want to support the Military again, he now works as an exercise physiologist and health educator for the US Air Force, specializing in rehabilitation, strength & conditioning, nutrition, and instructor development. He has a MS in sports and health science; certified SFG1, FMS, ACSM, and USAW; and has been recognized for excellence by the Secretary of Defense, Mr. Chuck Hagel.

    Come Visit the New StrongFirst 5.11 Store


  • Craig Marker 2:42 pm on April 14, 2015 Permalink | Reply  

    Preparing an MMA Fighter 

    By Pavel Macek, SFG Team Leader



    On January 24, 2015, Viktor Pešta won a unanimous decision over Konstantin Erokhin. Below are the secrets to his strength training.

    Viktor’s MMA coach, Dan Barták, and his gym, Penta Gym Prague, were voted as best MMA gym and best MMA coach of 2014. Moreover, Viktor left for Sweden to Allstars Training Center and later to the US (Alliance MMA) to train together with  the elite MMA coaches and athletes like Alexander Gustafsson and Phil Davis. As far as MMA preparation was concerned, he had great coaching. Strength and conditioning, on the other hand, was a different story.  Viktor says:

    “As for strength and conditioning prep, I didn’t have any systematic approach before. Sometimes I did a CrossFit WOD or some circuit training, or visited a regular gym.“

    It was time to change that. Our KB5 Gym Prague took over his movement, strength and conditioning prep.

    Viktor Pešta, Dan Barták (MMA coach), Pavel Macek (S&C Coach)

    Below is a short summary of our basic MMA prep for Viktor and his brothers-in-arms.  As you read through it, take careful note that everything we did was made to enhance his skill in his sport; anything that could have gotten in the way was mercilessly avoided or removed.  A solid lesson in training any of your clients – be they athletes or average Joes and Janes.

    Movement Quality

    First and foremost, we ran Viktor (as well as other fighters) through the FMS screen and assigned him a few corrective exercises to take the brakes off of his body and unlock his power (hamstring stretch, hip flexor stretch, and T-spine mobility drill).

    We also taught Viktor a short Original Strength Resets sequence, as well as Simple & Sinister kettlebell warmup.  10 minutes each training session and he was done, ready to move on to the meat of the program.

    General Physical Preparation

    Our StrongFirst-based strength & conditioning program includes kettlebells, bodyweight, and barbell. As the entry tool I chose the kettlebell and put Viktor on a Simple & Sinister program (i.e., kettlebell swings and get-ups). S&S in the mornings, MMA training later in the day, both almost daily. Viktor comments:

    “When I started to train according the StrongFirst methodology in the KB5 Gym, I didn’t like it in the beginning that much because Pavel was very strict about working on proper technique first. But when we started to lift heavier weights, everything changed and I started to enjoy the practice a lot.”



    Once Viktor got to heavier get-ups (36 kg+), we started to alternate get-ups with push presses (Pavel Tsatsouline’s recommendation). One day we did swings and get-ups, other day swings and push presses. Push presses were also done in a S&S way – 10×10 with a focus on  maximum power output, with Fast & Loose shadow boxing between the rounds.

    I was very careful about the maximum explosiveness in his swings and push presses, and the breathing+recovery between the rounds, as well as control and proper movement in his get-ups.


    Viktor quickly got to 40-44 kg kettlebell in his swings and get ups, and 28 kg kettlebell in push presses. On couple of occasions I had him deload the weight on purpose to make sure every single rep stayed crisp and strict. We didn’t worry about breaking lifting records, or learning more complex exercises for time being – he is an MMA fighter, not powerlifter or girevik.  Tempting as it may be to allow your ego to get the better of you, whenever you are training a professional athlete anything that does not directly improve the qualities required of their sport must not creep into their programming, no matter how sexy or popular they may be.  Just enough is plenty.

    With this mindset, I left all of his other conditioning work for his already intense sport-specific MMA practice – i.e. shadow boxing, heavy bag work, pads, sparring drills, and sparring.

    I also recommended that he focus on easy and medium MMA training sessions in the off-season, and build up a solid strength, conditioning, and MMA skill foundation for future pre-fight tapering.

    Specific Sport Preparation

    Once or twice a week I prescribed Wrestler Bridges – Front Bridge, Back Bridge and the so-called Rolling Bridge. I have also reminded all the fighters that clinch work = neck strengthening. As we saw in the fight with Erokhin, Viktor’s strong neck and (strong will!) has helped him to survive the grenades his opponent was throwing at him. Neck strengthening drills are a must for all combat athletes.

    Neck Bridges: Russian Lion George Hackenschmidt


    Some fighters are willing to train hard, but to have results like a pro, they also have to eat and rest like pros.

    I recommended that Viktor add grass-fed meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, healthy fats (butter/ghee, coconut oil, good quality olive oil, avocados), rice and potatoes. Plenty of water. We have cut grains, legumes (including soy and soy products), sweets, sweet soda drinks, artifical fats like margarine, other vegetable oils, diary, and fast food. We added Omega 3, probiotics, good quality protein drinks and BCAA.

    As for regeneration, the order was to go sleep early (10:30 PM latest!), to have at least 8 hours of good quality sleep (preferably more), and if possible short nap after the morning practice session. I have also prescribed simple cold showers protocol for better recovery.


    In the end of 2014, Viktor left for Sweden to a training camp at Alexander Gustaffson‘s Allstar Team. The closer he came to his fight, the more sport specific Viktor’s  S&C prep was. As the fight approached, we reduced his kettlebell practice to 2 times a week, as his MMA prep was getting more and more intensive and would not tolerate anything more than the bare minimum of practice if both his preparation were to remain solid and his victory to be assured. Viktor recalls:

    “When I arrived in Sweden for my MMA camp, many of my fellow fighters told me that I am stronger than the last time they saw me. I was happy to see  the objectively measurable results. The StrongFirst-based strength and conditioning prep advantage is that it is not time consuming. Same goes for the equipment. I was traveling a lot, but I could find kettlebells in every gym, so I could continue with my training program.”


    Viktor’s Sample Program – A/B Training Sessions


    Morning Practice:

    • (Foam Rolling), OS Resets – 10 minutes
    • S&S Movement Prep – 3 circuits of (10x Halo, 5x StrongFirst Hip Bridge, 5x Prying Goblet Squat)
    • S&S Swings – 10×10, active rest – MMA shadowboxing, done in the Fast & Loose way
    • S&S Get-Ups – 5+5
    • Stretching

    Afternoon Practice

    • MMA


    Morning Practice:

    • (Foam Rolling), OS Resets – 10 minutes
    • S&S Mov Prep – 3 circuits of (10x Halo, 5x StrongFirst Hip Bridge, 5x Prying Goblet Squat)
    • S&S Swings – 10×10, active rest – MMA shadowboxing, done in the Fast & Loose way
    • Push-Presses – 10×10, active rest – MMA shadowboxing, done in the Fast & Loose way
    • Stretching

    Afternoon Practice

    • MMA – pads, heavy bag, technique, sparring drills, sparring

    Homework: Correctives, neck strengthening exercises, proper diet, enough rest.

    Take careful note that his program encompasses more than simply lifting kettlebells. In true StrongFirst style,  the quality of his movement as well as the quality of his recovery are elements that receive ample attention in his training, while making the right amount of room for the training needed to help him excel at his sport.  As you’ll notice, what is the “right amount” changes as the demands of his sport practice change.  The same holds true for any student.  The ebb and flow of life demands an ebb and flow in training.

    Keys to the Fight

    The development of sustaining power (like the power wrought from StrongFirst’s Hardstyle kettlebell training) is one of the keys to success in MMA – you just can’t count on a first round KO. Joe Rogan commented:

    “This is a real lesson for fighters who are watching this as well – don’t always unload that gas tank – be prepared for a guy like Viktor Pešta.”




    The judges scored the fight 3:0 for Viktor – unanimous decision victory (29-28, 30-27, 30-27). When asked about his strength and conditioning prep, Viktor says: “My strength and conditioning definitely helped me in the fight. Unlike my opponent I didn’t gas out in the first round, and kept the pressure for all three rounds.”

    Viktor, congratulations!
    About Viktor Pešta: Viktor is currently the only Czech fighter in UFC. He trains MMA at Penta Gym Prague under Dan Barták and in Swedish Allstars Team with Alexander Gustafsson. His strength and conditioning preparation is taken care of by KB5 Gym Prague under the guidance of Pavel Macek, SFG Team Leader. Please visit Viktor‘s official Facebook page. Any type of PR or sponsorship is greatly appreciated!


    Pavel Macek

    Pavel Macek, SFG Team Leader, SFB, SFL, teaches strength and conditioning at KB5 Gym, Chinese combatives (Practical Hung Kyun) and MMA.

    (This article was humbly and gratefully edited and proofread by Aleks Salkin, SFG II, SFB – a friend of Pavel Macek and a fan of Viktor Pešta)


  • Craig Marker 2:11 pm on April 7, 2015 Permalink | Reply  

    The Patience of Strength 

    By Pavel Tsatsouline, Chairman

    David Rigert.

    David Rigert. The strong do not rush.

    “Give them great meals of beef and iron and steel,” wrote Shakespeare in Henry V.  “They will eat like wolves and fight like devils.”

    Given a choice, I do not think these fierce warriors would have gone to a fast food joint to get their beef.  It has been established that a McDonald’s average customer finishes his meal in a little over 10min.  I wonder if there is an inverse relationship between the quality and the time it takes to consume it?  I know that in strength training there is—a kid who rushes from set to set will never get strong.

    As a reaction to the fast food trend, Italian food writer Carlo Petrini launched a “slow food” movement to promote leisurely meals to enjoy the company of one’s friends and family and even to taste the food.  Perhaps we should do the same in strength and even conditioning?

    Russian sports scientists identified three types of rest intervals within a session (Matveev, 1991):

    • Ordinary interval.  It provides “relative normalization of the function.”  By its end the work capacity approaches the level before the previous exercise bout, to the point where neither the quality nor the quantity suffer.
    • Stress interval.  “Its duration is so short that the next load [set] is overlaid onto the remaining functional activity of certain systems of the organism caused by the previous load [set].  As a result, the effect of the next load [set] is increased.”

    This interval is shorter than the ordinary one, obviously.  Performance does not have to go down but it comes from a greater effort.

    • Stimulation interval is the shortest interval after which the performance increases.  Note that this is increase is short term rather than long term (facilitation rather than supercompensation).  As fatigue sets in, facilitation stops taking place.

    Note that the same given time interval may change with fatigue—from stimulation to ordinary to stress.

    In elite weightlifting and powerlifting stress rest intervals are very rare.  The only high profile example I can think of is Louie Simmons’ “dynamic effort day”.

    A stimulation interval is most common among American powerlifters, especially those following the classic 1980s methodology of Coan & Co.  They would think nothing of taking 20min between heavy sets of squats and Soviet research supports this practice in this context.  Hippenreiter (quoted in Zimkin, 1975) had his subjects do an all-out set of military presses.  Their ability to repeat their performance was still down by 10% on the 7th minute.  By 12th minute the work capacity exceeded the initial value and stayed up until the 25th minute.

    Axis “Y” represents the work capacity, the dotted line at 100% being the initial level.
    The numbers on the “X” axis are minutes after the set.

    It must be stressed that the above timing applies all-out sets; recovery is much quicker in sets stopped far from failure, as is the case in Olympic weightlifting.  Ordinary intervals are standard in that sport.  “Multiyear research has demonstrated that rest intervals usually range from 2 to 5 minutes.  The next set should be performed when the athlete is subjectively ready for it.” (Medvedev, 1969)  Other authorities like Vorobyev (1981) were in total agreement.

    A number of Russian powerlifters, including the national team, follow a training methodology derived from the Soviet weightlifting one.  As expected, they practice ordinary rest periods (although they appear to be stress intervals to Westerners).  Consider these recommendations by Sheyko (2008):

    80% 1RM x 5 reps/2 sets—2-3min

    75% 1RM x 5/5—4-5min

    90-95% 1RM x 1-2—5-7min

    Any experienced American powerlifter will tell you that the first is nearly impossible and the second is brutal.  Not so to Russians, due to their high work capacity developed by their training methodology (a topic for another conversation).  For them these are ordinary intervals.

    In summary, if you are only practicing incomplete recovery between your sets of strength exercises, you will never achieve your potential.  Density protocols certainly have their place in hypertrophy training—but they are an equivalent of fast food, to be consumed only occasionally.  Most of the time your rest periods should be ordinary (you feel recovered) or stimulating (much longer than whatever your “feelings” are telling you).  An example of the former is ladders; of the latter GTG.

    Next time we will talk about the benefits of longer rest periods for “conditioning”.  Until then, practice “slow rest” and enjoy your strength gains!

    Apply the patience of the Barbell at the StrongFirst Lifter Certification.


  • Craig Marker 2:29 pm on March 31, 2015 Permalink | Reply  

    Training the Endurance Athlete 

    By Peter Park

    Peter Park has trained many professional athletes, most notably endurance athletes like Lance Armstrong. While many endurance athletes continue to be overly-concerned with more and more “endurance” training at the expense of strength training, Peter understands the importance of strengthening the endurance athlete. His strategy is explained below. 

    The strength techniques I use with my endurance athletes today have evolved 180 degrees from the way I trained myself as a professional triathlete thirty years ago. Back then, I would go into the gym 2-3 days per week, do 15-20 reps of squats, luges, box jumps, pushups, pull-ups etc. in circuit format as fast as possible. I was more concerned about keeping my heart rate and endorphins high than any real benefit to my racing. My training partners and I were the envy of the gym for how “fit” we were, but little did I realize, I was basically going in the gym and doing the exact same workout, and using the exact energy systems as I was when swimming, cycling and running.

    Today, I train athletes with a mixture of my own experimentation and experience, along with elements picked up from incredible mentors like Pavel, Phil Maffetone, Lance Armstrong, and many others. Although I train athletes in all sports, I am best known for my work with endurance athletes, such as cyclist Lance Armstrong and motocross legend Chad Reed.


    Most of my endurance athletes have very long competitive racing seasons. A typical race calendar for an Ironman triathlete, for example, will go from April to mid-October. There is no possible way an athlete can stay sharp or peaked for that long a period of time. Therefore, I set an athlete’s season to peak once in May and early June, then again in September and early October.

    The basic framework of a sample schedule for an Ironman triathlete:

    1. End of October and November: off-season
    2. December to end of March: base training, higher volume strength training.
    3. April to mid May: interval training, lower volume strength training.
    4. June to late July: peaking for early season Ironman, easy strength.
    5. Late July to End of August: base training, higher volume strength work.
    6. September to early October: peaking for seasons key race (Ironman Hawaii), lower volume, higher intensity strength work.

    Off-season is a time to shut the factory down, reflect, reorganize, and plan for the next season. I have found that 6 weeks is about the perfect amount of time for the off-season. My clients will stay active doing activities such as trail running and mountain biking etc., but nothing structured and only when they feel like it. I recommend most athletes stay out of the gym during this brief period — I want them to refresh the body and mind to be ready to get after it when the time comes.

    The base training period is the most important cycle of the season. If done correctly, it sets the framework and foundation for a successful race season. If done poorly, mediocre results and often frustrating injuries result.


    Training and nutrition take on very symbiotic roles in this stage. The two programs are equally important and dependent on each other for success.

    Nutrition-wise, I have had the most success with clients following a low carbohydrate (for an endurance athlete), high fat and moderate protein diet during the base period. I recommend keeping the carbs to about 100 grams (give or take) for the entire base period. The purpose is to force the body to shift to using fat for its primary energy source instead of carbohydrates. With little glycogen available, the body is forced to get the fatty acids mobilized from fat stores to be used for energy. When I see a client at the end of this period eat a breakfast such as eggs, bacon and some avocado, do a 3-4 hour ride with only water, and have no blood sugar issues, I know they have become the fat-burning machine I want.


    All the cardio training during this period is performed at aerobic heart rate. The purpose is to get your aerobic system as efficient as possible. In a nutshell, you are looking to increase the production of mitochondria in muscle cells. Doing this longer, lower-level aerobic training builds more mitochondria and capillaries for better fat mobilization and oxygen transport to muscles.

    I still use Phil Maffetone’s 180-[age] to get the athlete’s max aerobic pace. For example, if you were 30 years old, your max aerobic rate would be 150 (180-30). All workouts stay in this heart rate range. I will still do various types of interval training in this period, but all under the prescribed heart rate.

    People are often very frustrated at first about how slow they have to go to stay under the required rate. It takes a lot of patience and willpower, but the results are remarkable. It is not uncommon to see a 3-mile running time trial be 5-7 minutes faster at the same heart rate at the end of a base-building period.

    Strength Training

    The base period is also the time where strength training can be maximized. With the cardio being done at a lower intensity, I ramp up the strength work during the base period. I will generally have clients strength train 3 days a week: Monday and Friday are the heavier, more intense days while Wednesday’s workouts are lower in intensity and may include single leg work, explosive work such as hill bounds, and kettlebell complexes. Reps are kept in 2-5 ranges on the main lifts, the 5-10 range with assistant work. Volume varies from week to week, but generally 10-12 working reps for my main lifts. Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday I will prescribe a short program of correctives and mobility to do on their own.


    I use a variable load schedule with both the cardio and the strength work. Some weeks, I will emphasize the mileage in the cardio, and cut back on the volume and  intensity on the strength side. Other weeks, I may reverse it, and up the intensity and volume in the strength, and cut back on the cardio training. I also make sure to demand a recovery period every 3-4 weeks, dropping volume considerably in both cardio and strength.

    Every athlete is different in how much volume and intensity they can handle. It is my job to make sure the athlete is progressing and absorbing the training. It is far better to be slightly undertrained, than overtrained.

    A typical example of a strength program during the base period:

    Warm up: 2 x

    1. Goblet squats
    2. Hip thrusts with barbell or dumbbell
    3. Halos
    4. Empty Olympic bar overhead squat to side lunges

    Circuit 1:  3 x 4 reps ( 75-80% effort or 4 with 2-3 left in tank): heavier deadlifts Monday and heavier squats Friday.

    1. Deadlifts
    2. One arm kettlebell press

    Circuit 2: 3 x 4 reps ( 75-80% effort or 5 with 2-3 left in tank)

    1. Zecher squats
    2. Pull-ups

    Circuit 3:  Quicker pace holding form: wear heart rate monitor and stay under prescribed rate.  2-3 x

    1. Pushups: as many as possible with perfect tight form
    2. Swings: 10-15 reps
    3. Renegade row: 7 per side
    4. Swings: 10-15 reps

    Core: 2 x

    1. Get-ups: 1-2 per arm
    2. Farmer walks
    3. Stir the pots

    On a side note, the program will vary depending on the type of endurance athlete I am working with. For example, triathletes and motocross athletes can afford and need to have some upper body strength, to compete in their respective sports. A Tour de France rider, like Lance, or an elite marathon runner, needs to be very careful about having too much weight upstairs. In fact, with Lance, our goal was achieving the core strength of a gymnast, the leg strength of a powerlifter, and the upper body size of a 12-year-old girl! Strength to weight ratio is huge in pro cycling and marathon running. Therefore, when designing an endurance athlete’s program, you need to be careful with your exercise selection.

    When April rolls around, my athletes are strong, fat burning machines, and more than ready to start some quality speed sessions. We will do some “training” races in May and early June, then a scheduled peak race in late June. It always surprises me how few speed workouts an athlete needs if the base training was done correctly. The aerobic system is so efficient, 3-5 key workouts or races are all that is needed to reach a peak.

    The higher intensity speed work will eat up glycogen levels. Therefore, I will advise my athletes to increase carbohydrate intake by 60-100 grams for every high intensity hour of training.

    During this period I cut the strength training to 2 days per week. Both the volume and intensity in this phase is decreased. It is very much like Pavel and Dan John’s Easy Strength philosophy of training in season. Get in some quality work, never train to failure, and finish completely unfatigued and able to attack any workout your sport requires. I try to schedule the strength workouts the evening after the cardio speed workouts. I prefer this method to give the athlete adequate recovery in between the high-end intense days. The strength workouts will continue until about 2 weeks before the peak race. At this point, the work is done and the goal is to do just enough work to stay sharp for race day.


    A typical strength workout in this peaking phase:

    Active warm-up: 10 min of goblet squats, bridges, leg swings etc.

    Short reactive work:

    1. Hill Bounds
    2. Eccentric swings or snatches

    Circuit 1:  2-3 sets

    1. Deadlifts:  3 sets of 2-3 reps 70-75% of max. moving bar quick
    2. Kettlebell Push Press:  3-5 reps explosive

    Circuit 2:

    1. Front squats (kettlebell or barbell): 2-3 reps 70-75% of max. explosive
    2. Pull-ups or medicine ball slams

    Core work:

    I will do a short circuit here that may consist of get-ups, farmer walks and various planking or rotational and anti-rotational work.

    Occasionally I will add in a few assistance exercises if no races are planned for the weekend. After the peak race, I will give the athlete a 6-week mini off-season to rejuvenate and recover. From here, it is back to base training and heavier strength work for 6 weeks or so to build to the next race.

    I hope this article gave the StrongFirst reader some insight on how an endurance athlete trains, and more specifically, how strength work is implemented in the overall program. I have always believed strength training to be a huge part of an endurance athlete’s program; not only for performance, but also for longevity and injury prevention. I will continue to fine-tune my methods, and look forward to sharing them here.

    About the Author

    Peter Park, Founder of the Platinum brand and co-owner of the Platinum Fitness Summerland facility in Santa Barbara County, CA, brings a past rich with his own professional athletic achievements to his 23 years of experience training elite athletes, big-screen celebrities, top touring musicians, and common citizens that are serious about their fitness, mobility, and longevity. As a culmination of his experience, Peter recently authored a book on Foundation training, which lengthens and strengthens the back body, equaling out one’s total body strength, posture, flexibility, and overall body awareness. Click here to learn more about the book on Amazon.com

  • Craig Marker 1:16 pm on March 24, 2015 Permalink | Reply  

    The Top Five Ab Training Mistakes 

    By Pavel Tsatsouline, Chairman

    The full contact twist.
    Photo courtesy Prof. Stuart McGill’s Spine Biomechanics Lab at the University of Waterloo, Canada

    By now proper abdominal training should not be a mystery.  The body of experience and scientific knowledge serve up powerful methods on a platter—yet they get lost in the Internet noise…

    Perhaps a fashionable “list article” will catch your attention?  With apologies to Rob Lawrence, who rightfully despises list articles as “snack food for the mind”, here is my list of ab dont’s:

    Mistake #1: Chasing the “burn”

    The “burn” is just a manifestation of mounting acidity produced when one is in the glycolytic energy pathway, the choice pathway for amateur coaches more interested in “smoking” their victims than in making them strong.  Dr. Fred Hatfield famously quipped, “You like burn?—Light a match.”

    High levels of tension are prerequisite for making a muscle stronger and the highest levels of it are available for less than 30sec—before the burn kicks in.

    Mistake #2: Not focusing on the contraction

    Your muscle can contract in response to the load (feed-back) or to a command from your brain even in the absence of resistance (feed-forward).  Examples of the former are the farmer’s carry and the double kettlebell front squat.  Examples of the latter are, the double kettlebell clean, the hard style sit-up, and power breathing.  For maximal strength development both types of training are a must.

    Bodybuilders got the feed-forward ab work figured out.  They focus on the contraction rather than the reps—and have the abs to show for it.  First Mr. Olympia Larry Scott, a master of “mind-muscle connection”, showed me some of his ab contraction techniques.  His attention to detail and understanding of anatomy were impressive and his focus was extraordinary.  Mr. Scott was the exact opposite of the clowns glued to their phones while doing crunches.

    Pavel’s patented abdominal training device has clocked over 175% of maximal voluntary isometric contraction at Prof. McGill’s lab. In other words, if you purposefully tense your abs as hard as possible, the Ab Pavelizer™ will make them tense almost twice as hard!
    Photo courtesy Prof. Stuart McGill’s Spine Biomechanics Lab at the University of Waterloo, Canada

    Mistake #3: Not using enough resistance

    Feed-back training demands high external resistance.  It can be a heavy weight or poor leverage.

    Examples of the former include the full contact twist and the one-arm farmer carry.  I am not including a weighted sit-up because it is a pain logistically.  Getting a stack of 45s in place and then holding on to them is not something you want to do more than once…  Examples of the latter are the dragon flag and the hanging leg raise.

    Mistake #4: Exclusively isometric training

    Isometrics are very valuable and the role of planks, L-seats, and heavy lifts demanding a strong brace cannot be underestimated.  However, experience has taught me that people who have not trained their abs dynamically, a stretch followed by a peak contraction, are not fully aware how to engage them 100% statically. (Of course, such training is not for the flexion intolerant.)

    Mistake #5: Not making every exercise an abdominal exercise

    An expertly performed heavy deadlift is an exercise in both feed-forward and feed-back tension.  Engaging a solid brace before the pull is the former.  Staying tight under a moving load is the latter.

    Former Mr. Olympia Dr. Franco Columbu told me that because he hated direct abdominal work all he did for his abs was keeping them tight in all lifts.  He ended up winning the “Best Abs” award and, more importantly, deadlifting over 700 pounds at a bodyweight of around 180.

    The call to action

    There are many exercises to choose from for effective ab training.  The key is to practice both feed-forward and feed-back tension and to say farewell to the “burn”.  All of the StrongFirst curricula—kettlebell, bodyweight, and barbell—are obsessive about building strong abs.  Consider the Total Tension Kettlebell Complex as an example.

    You can always keep it Kettlebell Simple & Sinister.  On the given plan the efforts are brief and intense—10 reps per set in the swing and 1 in the get-up.  The get-up has a dynamic spine flexion component that cramps your abbies the way the sit-up never could.  Feed-forward tension is addressed through bracing and power breathing.  Feed-back tension is taken care of once you persevere to reach at least the “simple” goal.  When you wrestle a heavy kettlebell in a single arm exercise, everything in your midsection cannot help lighting up like a Christmas tree.

    Power to your abs!

    The StrongFirst Courses and Certifications are great ways to learn the feed forward and feed backward methods in this article.


  • Craig Marker 4:48 pm on March 20, 2015 Permalink | Reply  

    Tactical Strength Challenge – It is Approaching 

    By Brett Jones, Chief SFG Instructor

    Group Camaraderie
    It is approaching. The event you have been preparing for is drawing near.

    Does it approach with the sound of the Jaws theme (da) or the Rocky theme?

    I’ll let you think about it for a moment…

    You may have put months of training, sweat and focus into this event. And for the purposes of this article we will assume that that event is the April TSC. Pull-ups, deadlifts and snatches – oh my… Will “the plan come together” as they used to say on the A-Team?

    Hopefully you began your training plan with the end in mind. Working backwards from a competition date and goals for that day is the best way to lay out the plan. There are many paths you could have been on to get to the event but now the time is here. So how do you arrive on “game day” ready to perform?

    Snatch Test

    I don’t know who said it (maybe Dan John) but the saying to keep in mind here is:

    “You cannot win an event in the last week or so of training — but you CAN lose it.” click to tweet

    In other words, the work has been put in and in the short-term leading up to the event, there is little to be gained but a lot to be lost if you try to “cram” for the event. Let’s boil this down to the last two weeks before the TSC.

    In general I am a huge fan of replicating the event day as a training day, in the last few weeks of training, especially. If your TSC is on Saturday at 3 pm I would try to get as close as possible to that timeframe for a main training day on Saturdays. You do not want to be in the routine of an evening exercise session and all of the sudden have to get up at 6 am to compete (or vice versa). Teach your body that it needs to be ready at a certain day and time; don’t just hope that it will rise to the challenge.

    The training for this day should basically mimic the event. If you have never had to perform an intense set of snatches after pulling a max deadlift and pull-ups you might be in for a surprise. And competition days are not the days for surprises. This does not mean that every Saturday is a day where you try to max out the three events. It means you should structure your training in the format of the event. If deadlifts are first in the order, then deadlifts are your first lift of that day, etc. This is applying a “grease the groove” type of mentality to your competition. When you have “lived” the competition for the last few Saturdays, you can roll into the event with a calm focus.

    Your last heavy or intense sessions should be about 2 weeks prior so that the week before the event is just easy recovery and prep work. April 11 is the day so April 4 should be an easy run through of the event. But March 28 could have been your last intense session. Between the 28th and the 4th is up to you and your knowledge of how you recover. Some people will be able to have some specific work on the events during that week while others need to glide in with easier work. For example, an individual with good recovery might hit the last intense pull-up work on the 30th and a good snatch practice on April 1st but the last heavy deadlift will likely have been pulled on the 28th of March or before. All of this is adjusted to you the individual. If this is your first time peaking for an event, you will learn a great deal and be better able to create your plan for future events.


    Snatch Test

    Snatch Test

    To succeed in a competition, a long-term build-up in training is required. Shortly before an event, not much more can be gained – but fatal mistakes can be made. I really like these tips for tapering from 2Peak:

    1. Don’t make any experiments just before (or during) an event.
    2. Remain calm and collected. Remember that long term training brings results.
    3. Don’t try to make good any training deficit shortly before an event.

    So it is approaching. Hopefully these tips will help you plan accordingly as you complete your training plan and compete at the TSC.

    Further Reading:

    About the Author:
    Brett Jones is the Chief Instructor for SFG and a Certified Athletic Trainer and Strength and Conditioning Specialist based in Pittsburgh, PA. Mr. Jones holds a Bachelor of Science in Sports Medicine from High Point University, a Master of Science in Rehabilitative Sciences from Clarion University of Pennsylvania, and is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA). With over 20 years of experience, Brett is an Advisory Board member and presenter for Functional Movement Systems. He continues to evolve his approach to training and teaching, and is passionate about improving the quality of education for the fitness industry. He is available for consultations and distance coaching by e-mailing him at appliedstrength@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter: @BrettEJones.

    Sign up for the  Tactical Strength Challenge.


  • Craig Marker 12:41 pm on March 17, 2015 Permalink | Reply  

    StrongFirst after Pregnancy 

    By Abby Clark, SFG

    In September, 2014 I had the opportunity to assist a StrongFirst level 1 certification course in Philadelphia. I was a little nervous because I just had my first baby in May, 2014 and I wasn’t confident I could pass the technique and snatch test to recertify. Happily, I can say I did, and I did it well. I even did a TGU with a 20kg size bell! Since that victorious day I have hit multiple PR’s with my lifts and am currently training for the Iron Maiden.

    So what enabled me to regain the strength to complete the test and to perform better than I ever had prior to pregnancy? The starting point was reconnecting to my “core.”
    You have probably heard trainers talk about strengthening your core. Right? I mean, what the heck is your “core” anyway?

    Recently, I was at the dentist office I chatted with the dental hygienist about strength training. She said her trainer told her to “find your core.” She said she looked everywhere, even in the car, and couldn’t find it.

    So where exactly is your core?

    I discussed the core with my friend and colleague, Dr. Sarah Hnath, a physical therapist and CSCS trainer who specializes in pregnancy and postpartum training. She said that the “core” is actually a group of 4 muscles that believe it or not, does NOT include “the abs”, or at least the typical “6 pack abs” that most people refer to. The muscles that comprise the core are:

    • The Diaphragm
    • The Transverse Abdominis
    • The Multifidus Muscle
    • The Pelvic Floor Muscles

    Dr. Hnath refers to these 4 muscles as “the building blocks” of all movement.

    “Without proper use of ALL core muscles and good strength & coordination with activity, people are setting themselves up for injuries and conditions such as low back pain and incontinence as well as missing the key component to better movement and performance.”

    No matter your pre-pregnancy fitness level every woman should spend a good amount of time re-strengthening their pelvic floor and abdominal wall before advancing on to weighted exercises.

    The first 6-10 weeks after giving birth are typically spent taking care of your newborn while allowing your body to heal from the trauma of childbirth. The length of recovery can vary depending on a number of things like whether or not you had a vaginal delivery or a cesarean.

    Once the doctor gives the okay to start exercising many women are determined to jump right into their old training routine or start a new one because they want to shed off their pregnancy weight and get their bodies back.

    Even if you are cleared to begin exercising again, it is advised to wait at least 12 weeks after giving birth before you do any exercises that specifically target the rectus abdominis like sit-ups, crunches, and planks because they increase intra-abdominal pressure which puts added stress on the pelvic floor, low back, etc.

    According to Dr. Hnath, doing exercises that directly target the rectus abdominis as opposed to the transverse abdominis too early can cause diastasis recti (DRA) since the layer of connective tissue that separates the rectus abdominis (the linea alba) is still under the effect of relaxin and other hormones from pregnancy. And since the integrity of many areas, including the joints of your hips and spine, can still be destabilized by the hormone relaxin, putting your body under the stress of any heavy loaded exercises is not advised.

    This long period of waiting to strength train again and increase the intensity in your workouts can be frustrating, but it is a great time to work on consciously rebuilding your core muscles before advancing on.

    The following postpartum strength training exercises helped me to reconnect to the key core muscles, begin rebuilding my overall strength and improve my movement patterns while embracing my new “strong mom” body.

    Phase I

    TVA activation drill- The Transverse Abdominis (TVA) is the deepest layer in your abdominal wall and can be very difficult to connect to. You can find your TVA by lying down on your back with your knees bent, place your hands on your hip bones and slide your hands down approximately 1 inch. Cough. You will feel a muscle tighten up…that is your transverse abdominis.

    Pelvic Floor Activation- You can do this in any position. It’s the same action as trying stop yourself from peeing your pants.

    Diaphragm breathing- Lay on your back and place one hand below your rib cage and the other one on your chest. Breathe into the hand resting below your ribcage and allow the breath to travel up to your hand that is resting on your chest. Exhale out of your mouth and allow your breath to empty out of your chest first then your belly. Repeat.

    You know you are breathing properly when you can breathe into your hand on your belly first as opposed to breathing from your chest which is unfortunately how we tend to breathe.

    Pallof standing cable presses

    Lateral cable chops

    Phase 2

    After the 12 week mark (and with your doctor’s approval), the following exercises will help strengthen your rectus abdominis and prepare you for heavier lifting:

    TRX or ring ab roll outs (partial reps) on your knees

    Front load carries (e.g., overhead, rack, and farmer walks)

    StrongFirst planks

    Phase 3

    After you’ve regained strength and stability in your entire mid-section, you can reintroduce compound strength exercises like swings, Turkish get-ups, and deadlifts.


    I am confident that I was successful in passing the technique and snatch test only 4 months postpartum because I took the time to rebuild my “building blocks’ in a way that was progressive and respectful to my body.

    Remember to always talk to your doctor before starting any new program. Keep in mind that you might be motivated more than ever to get back to your old routine, but you are in a NEW body that went through a process that needs a lot of recovery. Be patient, take baby steps, and listen to your body. If you train with intention you will avoid injury related pitfalls and you will continue to move towards your goal.

    About the Author

    Abby ClarkAbby Clark SFG, RYT, PN-1
    Abby strives to help others attain that elusive balance between fitness, nutrition, health, and happiness. She specializes in strength training and nutrition for women who wish to improve their confidence, health, and lifestyle. She is a mom and co-owner of a personal training gym with her husband, Danny Clark. For more information, go to http://www.thebikinicompetitor.com/.


    To learn more, Find an Instructor.


  • Craig Marker 5:24 pm on March 10, 2015 Permalink | Reply  

    How to Build Your Slow Fibers Part III 

    By Pavel Tsatsouline, Chairman

    Master SFG Jon Engum teaching an SFB bodyweight certification in South Korea.

    To put this article in context read Should You Build Your Slow Fibers?, How to Build Your Slow Fibers, Part I, and How to Build Your Slow Fibers, Part II.

    Adding a triceps ST hypertrophy protocol to your pressing regimen is not too much of a burden. Not too complex, not too draining. Ditto for pumping up your forearms. Attempting to combine FT and ST training for all major muscle groups is an altogether different ball game. Before you jump in head first, here is what you need to consider.

    One of the flaws of the “everything works” and “change is good” bodybuilding mentality is a lack of traction. Say, you have built up your squats and quads with a classic FT protocol like 5×5. Lured by Prof. Selouyanov’s promise of adding 25% to your squat in 6-8 weeks, you drop heavy squats and start burning your thighs out with light weights. Now even if you realize such gains, your hard earned fast fibers will shrink. You have robbed Peter to pay Paul. And when you go back to heavy fives you will repeat the process, only now it is Paul who will be robbed to pay Peter… So either keep training your slow fibers for the rest of your training life—or do not do it at all.

    If you do decide to take on hypertrophy of both FT and ST—good luck!—you will need to train both fiber types concurrently, which is very demanding on your endocrine system, your time, and your programming skills. Or use block periodization that allows you to build one while maintaining the other and then reverse. Easier on the schedule and the glands; just as hard on the brain when it comes to planning.

    Here is one template to consider. Alternate blocks of: 1) FT hypertrophy and ST maintenance; 2) ST hypertrophy and FT maintenance. “Maintenance” means doing as little work as necessary not to go backward. Maintenance loads are individual but 2-3 sets to failure once a week is a good starting point for your slow fibers. Based on Prof. Selouyanov’s research, even for maintenance ST fibers demand hard sets. Your fast fibers’ size, on the other hand, can be easily maintained without pushing to RM. Once a week remains the standard frequency; something along the lines of 2-3 easy sets of 5 with around 10RM should do the trick.

    Start with 4-week blocks. After several months experiment with 2-week blocks and see which option works better for you. I must stress that block periodization is an advanced planning tool. Do not use it until you are strong at least by gym standards: say multiple tactical pullups for a lady or half bodyweight strict one-arm military press for a gent. Otherwise, as I wrote before introducing another block periodization plan in Return of the Kettlebell, “burn before reading”.

    Do neural training every week at low volume and varying intensity. If you need to peak your strength for an event, follow up several building blocks with a 4-week peaking cycle in which you focus on heavy neural training while doing a minimal amount of maintenance work for both types of fibers.

    Onto the weekly schedule. Train each muscle group 2-3 times a week. During the FT block there will be one heavy FT day and one light FT day plus a light ST session either on the same day as the light FT session or on a separate day.

    Figure out the rest on your own. A tripwire: if you need any more information than that to plan out your FT+ST training, you should not be doing it.

    After his extraordinary powerlifting career Dr. Judd Biasiotto,
    the author of Psych, became a successful bodybuilder who favored the “burn”

    Although ongoing FT+ST hypertrophy training can and has been done, I am convinced that training the entire body in this manner it is too much commitment for everyone but professional bodybuilders.  Most athletes should select one of the following simpler strategies:

    1)     Only FT hypertrophy;

    2)     Only ST hypertrophy;

    3)     Only FT hypertrophy for some muscle groups and only ST hypertrophy for others;

    4)     Any of the above—plus both FT and ST hypertrophy for a select muscle group or two.

    When choosing between the FT and the ST, in one muscle group or in all of them, ask yourself the following questions:

    “Psychologically, do I thrive on heavy fives or do I dig the “burn”?

    Some folks live for the heavy metal and an effort narrowly focused in time.  When I suggested ST hypertrophy to Master SFG Brett Jones, he politely declined.  As expected; Rob Lawrence once joked that when Brett and I had gotten together to train we did triples for “cardio”.

    Others’ hearts do not flutter at the thought about barbells bending under many wheels; they prefer the slow torture of reps.  If you choose the mode that does not suit your personality, the odds of you sticking to it for years and decades are slim.

    “How important to me is endurance?”

    If you can go either way, heavy or burn, and your sport demands endurance—any kind of endurance—make the ST choice.  Remember, slow fibers come pre-equipped with mitochondria, which means you get both strength and conditioning.

    “Do I have injuries preventing me from lifting heavy?”

    If you do, ST training is the obvious choice.

    If your medical condition allows you to safely do a low volume of heavy lifts, by all means do them at least once a week for a few comfortable singles, doubles, triples.  Otherwise, no matter how big your muscles get, your nervous system and connective tissues will not allow you to express their strength.  ST hypertrophy plus ultra low volume low rep practice of the competitive lifts is a solid training strategy for an injured powerlifter or weightlifter.

    If your doc does not allow heavy lifting at all, he might okay kettlebell swings plus ST goblet squats.  Swings enable one to generate and withstand high forces even with a light weight.  In the GSQ, once you hit failure, descend rock bottom, wedge your elbows between your knees, and pry.  Then park the bell and sit back on the deck…  A powerful method for hard living types with high mileage.

    To summarize the slow fiber hypertrophy articles’ series, new Russian research presents fascinating training opportunities for a variety of athletes and non-athletes.  It also adds even more choices to an already overwhelming menu the XXI century offers.  Keeping it Simple & Sinister is always an option.

  • Craig Marker 5:35 pm on March 6, 2015 Permalink | Reply  

    Success Comes in Many Different Forms 

    by Andrea U-Shi Chang, Senior SFG, TSC Coordinator

    Willard (Jim) Sloan with Seth Thomas, SFG-II, SFB

    Willard (Jim) Sloan entered to compete in the Strong First Tactical Strength Challenge (TSC) last October. People enter the TSC for a lot of different reasons, but Jim at age 56, entered for perhaps one of the best reasons of all – to celebrate his life.

    Celebrating a New Start

    Jim competed in powerlifting, arm-wrestling, karate, and judo since he was quite young, He ran in competitive events his whole life. Five days prior to competing in a Tough Mudder, Jim didn’t feel right, but being a tough guy, he went home instead of getting checked. His recent yearly physical had showed ‘perfect’ blood work. The following day he drove himself to the hospital and found out he had had a heart attack. After open heart surgery, Jim began the return to health with his physical therapist and doctors.

    He was told by many of his health care workers that he shouldn’t lift weights. However, his cardiologist told him that his strength training over the years had saved him and that he should continue.

    Jim credits a great deal of success to his training with kettlebells. In his words:

    “The best piece of training equipment in the world in my gym goes anywhere and can get both cardio and strength practice done in 30 minutes – for me, the simpler the better, Occam’s razor fits best. Pavel brought different protocols and implemented them in unique ways with modifications along the way to forestall stagnation – in my humble opinion I consider him the best coach/instructor in the world because he uses science not conjecture.”

    Jim at the TSC event at Albany Movement and Fitness

    Sign up now for the Tactical Strength Challenge


    October 4, 2014, was Jim’s 1 year anniversary of heart surgery and the date of the Fall Tactical Strength Challenge (TSC). Jim had begun his reborn life and was determined to compete. The Tactical Strength Challenge occurs in the spring and fall of each year. The exercises are the same at each event and the athlete can compare scores from one competition to the next. It consists of the following three events that challenge the athlete across multiple domains:

    • Strict Pull Ups or Flexed Arm Hang – Absolute upper body strength
    • Deadlift – Absolute lower body strength
    • Snatch Test – As many reps as possible of kettlebell snatches. A test of work capacity.

    In Jim’s words

    Without a doubt, the TSC was the best competition I have ever been in, and I have been in a lot! I have never been around so many good, decent, folks who are driven, but also so very supportive. Each had a goal – to beat the weights – not each other. No fancy power lifting suits here, just real strength and courage – these were people you want to get to know.

    My daughter Kelsey and I are training for the upcoming TSC three days a week with kettlebells and weights, using an 80/20 principle. Twenty percent of our exercises give us eighty percent of our results. The pull-ups, deadlift, and snatches with additional supportive exercises to reduce weak areas, and rotating them accordingly. At age twelve my daughter Kelsey pulled 185 at 99 pounds bodyweight. At her current age and weight she is on pace to pull 250 plus and she is the best training partner in the world!

    Jim’s numbers from last year

    The Spring 2014 Tactical Strength Challange is April 11, 2015 (Sign up by March 15, 2015 to get a t-shirt)

    What Are You Training For?

    Ready to host a TSC event? Contact us here to learn more: TSC@strongfirst.com

  • Craig Marker 2:05 pm on March 3, 2015 Permalink | Reply  

    StrongFirst for Golf 

    by Chris Hook, TPI-FP3, SFG2, SFL

    Tiger Woods in 2014

    You may not be a golfer or a fan of golf, but I am sure you have heard of Tiger Woods. He has been ranked the number one golfer in the world many times. However, in the last few years we have seen Tiger Woods withdraw from many tournaments due to pain or injury. Last year he underwent a microdiscectomy, which sidelined him for most of the season. In his first event of 2015 he withdrew due to back pain. In his second event of the season he withdrew after 11 holes. He was quoted as saying, “My glutes are shutting off, then they don’t activate and then, hence, it [pain] goes into my lower back. I tried to activate my glutes as best I could, in between, but they never stayed activated.”

    Glute Activation

    The public and media have made this statement into a bit of a butt joke. However, for those of us in the strength and conditioning community, we run into Gluteal Amnesia on a regular basis. Gluteal Amnesia is a real thing. It refers to an inhibition or delayed activation of the gluteal muscles, which can lead to weakness of the muscles over time and the recruitment of other muscle groups to perform the function of the glutes. The glutes play an important role in hip extension, stabilization of the pelvis, and positioning of the legs.

    The community of SFG certified professionals applies the kettlebell to very diverse populations; everyone from MMA fighters and Tactical Athletes, to people that want to get in better shape. I use the SFG principles along with kettlebells, barbells, and progressive body weight movements to increase performance for golfers. Kettlebells and training for golf performance are a perfect match. Turkish Getups, deadlifts, squats, presses, pull-ups, swings, snatches, bent presses, windmills, and all of the other standard Strong First movements are a fantastic recipe for improving golf performance.

    Kettlebells build strength for many sports

    Training for Golf does not have to be Complicated

    Golf fitness training has become more mainstream over the last decade due to the Titleist Performance Institute (TPI), which has a golf specific screening process. For those of you who don’t know, TPI combines the expertise of the medical professional, golf coach, and fitness professional. This provides the golf athlete with treatment for pain, concepts for swing and game development, and strength and conditioning to eliminate movement dysfunction, asymmetries, and limitations. Often times a biomechanical limitation prevents a golfer from efficiently performing the golf swing. Once limitations are removed a golfer will have a better chance of making changes to their golf swing and eliminating swing faults. The TPI certifications are very compatible with the FMS screen.

    We can all agree that golf is a rotational sport, but sometimes doing more rotation doesn’t provide your body with the adaptations it needs to make your swing better. Does it have to look like golf to improve your golf game? Of course not, but many of the exercises that are presented in the media to golfers are rotational movements because little explanation is needed to communicate their likely positive benefit to the golf swing. Squats may seem like a generic movement with little carryover, but their benefit to your swing and your daily movement patterns are numerous. Training for golf does not need to be over complicated with 26 different rotational movements tied up with stretchy bands.

    If you have a loss of posture in your golf swing, learning to squat could be the secret ingredient to being able to maintain your posture through impact. If you cannot maintain posture in your golf swing, working on hand position or creating more lag is just a waste of time. TPI has connected Early Extension (losing your posture toward the ball) to the inability to overhead deep squat. If you are an FMS practitioner, this should be a light bulb moment. The SFG/FMS professional might not realize that they already have all of the tools to work on golf performance, but just need to connect the dots.

    Enter Turkish Get-ups

    Learning to squat properly is vital for golf posture

    Could there be a more golf specific exercise than the Turkish Getup that also restores functional movement qualities?

    A well done TGU should be deliberate and graceful. It incorporates reaching, rolling, separating the upper and lower body, scapular stability, cervical mobility, thoracic mobility, trunk stability, stepping pattern, hip hinging, and grip strength just to mention a few benefits. It is a movement that can help restore left and right symmetry to the body. This is an important benefit to golfers because the golf swing is a repetitive and violent asymmetrical movement. But what if you need mobility? The Turkish Getup does that.

    What if you have mobility and you need more stability? Well, you’re in luck, the TGU does that too. The TGU makes you strong and flexible. It will open your hips, improve rotator cuff function, enable a better hip hinge, and make you a cup of coffee while you are switching the bell to the other side (well maybe not, but it sure does provide many benefits.). The TGU is a contralateral pattern that involves tremendous proprioception, much like your golf swing. It is great movement prep prior to playing a round, and it provides a good bang for your buck when budgeting time for exercise. If you were to visit us here at Golf Fitness Los Angeles you will likely see someone doing a TGU or pieces of one in preparation for lifting, to address a limitation, and of course to build a heavier TGU. It is easy to see how the TGU has carryover into the golf swing. Any SFG certified kettlebell instructor can teach the subtleties of mastering this movement.

    Turkish Get-Ups at Golf Fitness Los Angeles

    The more grip strength an athlete is able to produce, the more activation he/she will get in the rotator cuff. Doing exercises that put a demand on the grip has a strength-building effect on the muscles of the cuff, which are important to golf because they stabilize the shoulder as it goes through flexion, extension, abduction, adduction and internal/external rotation. Many shoulder injuries happen due to scapular instability. You just can’t use a kettlebell properly without growing your grip strength. Improved grip strength will improve power output at impact and clubface control at the top of the back swing.

    Additionally, a limitation in T-spine mobility will force an athlete to compensate by destabilizing the cuff to rotate with it in place of the T-spine. T-spine functionality goes hand-in-hand with scapular stability. To get the cuff strong and stable, the T-spine it is connected to, needs to be able to do its job of extending, flexing, and rotating, which is how it is required to move in the golf swing. You can do stretchy band internal/external rotations all day (and there is a time and place for that according to some people), but real scapular stability comes with improving grip strength. Bottom’s-up kettlebell carries anyone? All of these important pieces to an efficient golf swing are woven into the many movements we use with kettlebells.

    These are just a few examples of how our Strong First methods and tools can be of benefit to the performance needs of the recreational and professional golfer. I am sure I don’t need to mention the value of the kettlebell swing as a powerful hip hinging movement that helps an athlete create greater ground force production. That one is obvious, right? Our tools are versatile across many populations, including golfers.

    According to Tiger, he is missing some glute activity. Tiger is doing us all a favor by bringing attention to a concept that is the corner stone of most of our lifting. My athletes now joke about their glutes being more active than Tiger’s. The kettlebell, the barbell, the pull-up bar, and body weight movements can be the best golf performance tools, you just need to be able to communicate to golfers what the connection is to their golf swing. Golfers quickly come around to our methods. They don’t have flimsy goals. Their goals are always clear, measureable, and generally the same: to hit the ball farther, have a better golf swing, play better golf, and prevent injury. Kettlebells do that.

    first photo courtesy of Wikipedia

    About the Author

    Golf Fitness Chris HookChris Hook, TPI-FP3, SFG2, SFL, FMS
    Chris uses the techniques he learned from the StrongFirst Kettlebell and Barbell courses to assist his vast knowledge of training golfers. His goal is to take golfers of any level to the next level. His goal is to help changing the way people move, make them feel better, and hit the ball further. For more information, go to Golffitnesslosangeles.com/.

    To learn more about the proper way to do a kettlebell swing, attend a Kettlebell User Course and/or Find an Instructor.


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