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  • Nikki Shlosser 2:31 pm on October 30, 2014 Permalink | Reply  

    Strength Training for High School Volleyball 

    By Kash Morrow

     

     
    I have had the opportunity to strength train my two daughters for the last few years. Savannah is 16 years old, 5’10”, a junior in High School and a volleyball athlete. Madison is 14 years old, 5’4”, 92lbs, a freshman in High School and a volleyball and basketball athlete. Savannah now strength trains on her own while Madison still does her training sessions with me. We have been able to spend some quality time together and have had some pretty good conversations about whatever was going on in their lives at the time. Some sessions were strictly about strength while others were about the girls just bumping the volleyball back and forth and then getting in a few sessions of swings.

    I recently followed up an earlier discussion with Pavel which ended with advice on how I should incorporate strength training into Madison’s practice, with a specific goal of improving her overhand serve.

    I had first contacted Pavel in May 2012 seeking advice on how to get Madison strong enough over the next few months so she could overhand serve. Pavel recommended she focus primarily on pullups. She did, and reached the point where she could do multiple sets of 2-5 with a max of 8. She did pullups and practiced her overhand serve. By the beginning of her seventh grade volleyball season, she was around 4’8” and maybe 75 pounds. She was little, but quick and strong and had an effective overhand serve. Since that time, she has strength trained consistently. She worked with Senior SFG Jason Marshall a couple of times and added in swings, TGU’s, goblet squats, deadlifts, and hard style planks.

    Strength training with my daughters has been very rewarding but at times frustrating. There have been a few times when my daughters have questioned why they are doing a certain exercise versus another one. They also are not shy about voicing any and all doubts and complaints. That’s ok and to be expected (there haven’t been many complaints) but it makes it somewhat challenging. I think it’s good for them to ask questions so they can form their own opinions. Try to make sure you have an answer. Saying “because I told you to”, has not worked well for me.

    Also, if you as a parent elect to go down the path of strength training your kids, you need to realize that there may come a time when they want to do something else or do it differently. My oldest daughter, Savannah, trained with me and her younger sister last summer. She decided that she wanted to strength train on her own this year. She is primarily doing multiple sets of goblet squats and overhead presses. She picked two good exercises to focus on. She is also doing a variety of lunges and some pushups. The important thing is that she recognizes the importance of strength training, has a few good exercises in her arsenal, and as Dan John says: “is showing up”. One of our goals as parents should be to instill self-reliance in our children. Her showing up on her own is a big deal. While I admit that I miss our training or practice sessions together, I’m proud of her. If your kids enjoy training with you it can be a good experience for both of you. If not, I would urge you to find something else to do together.

    With my daughters I’ve learned that I have to simplify and keep the entire workout short. The primary focus is on strength. I suggest that you take an Easy Strength approach. Have a limited number of high return exercises, keep the reps low, let the weights go up naturally, and stop the session if they are having a bad day. Both girls had sand volleyball three afternoons a week and indoor volleyball 2-3 mornings a week for most of the summer. The training sessions that Madison started with this past Summer included a handful of different warm-up and stretching exercises that took about 10 minutes to complete. The actual practice included swings, deadlifts, presses, power cleans, and loaded carries. That took another 20-30 minutes. By the midway point of the break, we had figured out that there were a few exercises that Madison wasn’t receiving benefit from so we simplified again and tried to get rid of any and all fluff. The first part of the summer Madison was doing half-TGU’s for 8-12 reps each side with a light KB. SFG Al Ciampa suggested that we change that to full TGU’s, 2-3 reps per side, at a weight that is right at the edge of her ability. She has seen a good return on that. We ditched the Spider-Man crawls, the stretching is being taken care of in her volleyball warmup, no more presses at this time because she’s getting enough overhead work at practice, and we dropped the deadlift and power clean for the next couple of months. We have recently added Full Contact Twist and 1-arm Bench Press. We are going to try the Full Contact Twist for 3-4 weeks to see if there is an increase in power on her serves.

    An example of Madison’s sessions, both in-season and off- season are:

    Madison Summer Workout 2014 2-4 days per week

    Rocks, Nods, Spider-Man Crawl, Standing Cross Crawl Overhead Squats w/PVC 2X8
    Hip Flexor Stretch 1X5 each side
    Goblet Squats 1X8
    Half-TGU’s 8-12 each side w/light KB
    Jumprope 25-50 reps forward and backward
    Single leg box squat 1X5 each leg

    Deadlift: around 10 reps 2X5, 3X3, 6X1
    Single or Double KB Overhead Press: around 10 reps
    Swings: 30-50 reps 16kg bell (sets of 10)
    Loaded Carry
    Lateral walk w/band
    Power Wheel 1X5
    Hardstyle Plank: 1
    *We alternated between Deadlift and Power Clean every other workout. Same reps.

    In-Season Workout: *2-3 times per week

    Rocks, Nods 1X10
    Overhead Squat w/pvc 1-2X8
    **Goblet Squat 1X8
    TGU’s 2-3 each side with a challenging weight
    Full Contact Twists 2X5
    1-arm bench press: around 10 reps each side
    Various Style Swings with 16kg bell: 4X10 Hardstyle, Ballistic, 1 Hand
    Farmers Walk: 200+/- yards with 16 kg bells. We vary the total distance and number of stops every workout. We are about to increase the weight.
    Lateral walk w/band
    Power Wheel 1-3 sets of 7

    *Every third workout or so, we add every loaded carry we can think of. She does a few reps of pullups throughout the week.
    *If we are short on time, she only does the rocks, nods and Farmers Walk.
    **We just replaced the Goblet Squat with Double KB Front Squats, 3X8. Madison wants to add a little size to her legs. She is going rock bottom and using a challenging weight.
     

    Madison is one of two freshmen who’ve been asked to play both JV and Varsity this season at her High School. She is by far the smallest girl on the varsity team. At the first game of the season the coach told the girls that Madison was the only player he wanted to jump serve. Between three JV games and four Varsity games that night, Madison made 30+ jump serves without missing a single one. On the court, her strength and quickness were very visible. Intensity and an adequate amount of time spent practicing your sport are two important parts of success on the field of play. Being stronger than your competition is a very important third.
     

    New to some of these drills?
    There’s a DVD for that.
     
  • Nikki Shlosser 2:55 pm on October 28, 2014 Permalink | Reply  

    The Long View 

    By Pavel Tsatsouline, Chairman

     

     

    The Notre Dame cathedral in Paris is a remarkable work of faith, art, and engineering. Enter it, and you experience an out-of-this-world feeling of being lifted up to heavens, floating up on a beam of light.
     

     

    The person who initiated the building of the cathedral, Maurice de Sully, bishop of Paris, did not get to see it finished. The construction was completed over a century later and refinements took centuries more.
     

    The story of Notre Dame de Paris was typical for the middle ages. As Durham World Heritage site put it, “[t]he building of monumental cathedrals in the middle ages was a reflection of faith and the channel for much of the creative energy of medieval European society… As cathedrals took decades, and often even centuries to complete, few people who worked on them expected to see them finished during their lifetimes.” Another magnificent Gothic cathedral, the Duomo di Milano took almost six centuries to complete! “Being involved in the construction of a cathedral, even as the building patron, required a willingness to be part of a process that was larger than oneself.”
     

    The nobility of undertaking a task far bigger than one’s life with certainty of not seeing it completed is incomprehensible in the XXI century. Not only does the modern man have no attention span to plan ahead, he has no pride for what he leaves behind. Decades old houses will crumble long before those built centuries ago. Consumer goods bought today practically fall apart and one could easily imagine our society slipping into a dystopia from a sci-fi story I once read. Imagine the government mandating that clothes be made to fall apart after 24 hours, to be replaced by new ones and stimulate the economy… And drinks are forbidden to quench thirst… Does it sound like the fitness industry today?
     

    At StrongFirst we refuse to chase our tails in pursuit of the next novelty, only to discard the tired yesterday’s fad. We are inspired by the ancient builders who built on a solid foundation and built to last. I envision a society of strong and proud people. Where every woman can do a pullup and every man can deadlift at least two times his bodyweight without a belt. Where strength is built not in pursuit of vanity but duty. Ancient Romans made exercise a legal requirement for all male citizens aged 17 to 60. I dream of a society where it is not a legal mandate but a moral imperative for all citizens, men and women, and way past 60. Where it is incredibly uncool to be weak.
     

    I am not naïve and I realize that the odds of realizing this vision are long. In a best case scenario it would take decades. I accept that. I set the course for StrongFirst to become a cultural institution akin to Boy Scouts a hundred years from now. An institution that has put the noble value of strength on a pedestal, a pedestal on which it has stood for most of the history of mankind. This is the mandate that I gave to our new CEO Eric Frohardt. It matters little whether Eric or I live long enough to see this vision realized, as long as we get StrongFirst closer to its goal before passing on the baton.
     

    This week marks two years of StrongFirst opening its doors. It is a small and meaningless number. Our organization has been around a decade and a half under a different name—and for millennia under the many names of our predecessors who valued strength, warriors and builders. And we are here to stay for centuries.
     

    Long live strength!
     

     
  • Nikki Shlosser 12:04 pm on October 23, 2014 Permalink | Reply  

    SFG Level II Prep Story 

    By Abby Keyes, SFG II

     

     

    The Level II SFG

    As expected, StrongFirst blew me away with an incredible weekend, at the Level II SFG.  We are lucky to be able to learn from the phenomenal lineup of Masters, Seniors, Team Leaders, and Assistants that StrongFirst has put together.

    To pass Level II you need to re-certify in all Level I skills and also test for Level II skills.
     
     
    Level I+ Skills: 

    Tested with two snatch sized kettlebells: (12 kg for me)

    • DBL KB Swing
    • DBL KB Clean
    • DBL KB Press
    • DLB KB Front Squat
    • DBL KB Snatch (tested with two bells one size under your snatch size)
    • Getup (with a kettlebell 1/3 heavier than your snatch bell)

     
    Level I+ Performance Tests:

    • 5 Minute snatch test
    • Pullup/Flexed arm hang

     
    Level II Skills:

    Tested with one snatch sized kettlebell:

    • Windmill

    Tested with two snatch sized kettlebells:

    • DBL KB Push Press
    • DBL KB Jerk
    • Bent Press (This was taught but not tested.  That could change at any time so be sure to read the requirements before attending)

     
    Level II Strength Test:

    • One arm Clean and Military Press

    This is based on your bodyweight.  My test size was 18kg.
     

    What to Expect

    After check in on day one, you weigh in and do your pullup/flexed arm hang test.  In the morning you will also perform the snatch test and 1/3  bodyweight (for ladies) and 1/2 bodyweight (for men) clean and military press test.  The afternoon consists of Level I skill review and practice.  The last thing we did on day one was test Level I+ skills.

    The second day is devoted to Level II skills.  Just like in Level I, they break the skills apart into small elements for practice and troubleshooting before putting the entire lift together.
     

     

    The last day was spent on more practice, fine-tuning the skills we learned the previous day, and taking the written test.  After lunch is a little more practice, then skill test time!  And of course the finale: the grad workout!

    Since you have already been through SFG I, you have etched in your memory the pain and fatigue you felt from that weekend.  You remember all the swings….so many swings!  Your hamstrings hurt in a way they never had before, your hands were blistered and ripped, and you would not let anyone near you sit in flexion for fear of more swings.

    While Level II is not a walk in the park, the volume of what you do is less.  Level II candidates have “earned their stripes” as they told the Level I candidates in Chicago.  You are working on more technically difficult skills this time.  I was tired and sore, but the degree was significantly less from Level I.

     

    On Preparation

    Once again, you need to do the dreaded snatch test.  Everyone has his or her own preferred method to this.  I personally like to switch hands every ten and go non-stop until I hit 100.  If you’ve done this before, you know what works for you.

    I do not recommend massive numbers of snatches for preparation.  You do not want to show up with torn hands or wrecked shoulders.  I did lots of heavy 1-arm swings with some heavy 2-arm swings thrown in to build my endurance.  I practiced the 5-minute test once per month.  Be sure to check out Aleks Salkin’s awesome recent blog about making the snatch test a bit easier.

    The jerk for me was…well…somewhat of a jerk.  It took quite a while for me to get the timing down.  My snatch bells are 12kg.  I am “too strong” for these bells and it actually made it more difficult because I could press them out.  I trained 14kg or 16kg for a long time to get the timing down. Then, in the last few weeks practiced again with 12kg to make sure I could do it with the light weight too.

    My other issue was my instinct to start in more of a hinge pattern.  (This is what we are used to right?)  One of my teammates told me to think of the first dip more as a barbell front squat to encourage my back to stay vertical.  She also, she said to let my knees come forward a little bit.  Big difference.  I was able to keep better tension in my abs and made the entire lift more effective.  I applied same cue to the push press as well.
     

     

    I am a big believer in being prepared so I trained for 5 months.  My plan was 4 training days per week including a Level I skill day, a Level II skill day, and 2 strength days.  There are lots of overhead lifts happening for Level 2 so I needed to be careful not to burn out my shoulders.

    The skill practice days were somewhat short.  I really did consider them just practice, not a “workout”.  Each practice started with 1-3 getups after my regular warm-up/correctives.  I most often practiced my skills in ladder format or 5×5 sets.

    The press can be a sticking point for many people at Level II.  I included low-volume press work in my strength days along with barbell deadlifts, back squats, and weighted pull-ups.
     

     

    I used Eustress training (see below) for the press, deadlift and squat.  One press day was 30-50 reps, slightly lighter weight, and the other press day was 10-15 reps with a slightly heavier weight.  This helped me get well beyond strong enough for the clean and press test.

    I trained my weighted pullup by following Pavel’s Fighter Pullup Program starting at the 3RM program.
     

    Eustress Training

    Eustress training is incredibly simple and effective.  Eustress training is done in a calm, positive state, as opposed to a distressed state like many people are used to.  You are to keep your heart rate low, breathe through your nose, and every rep should feel fast.

    I did 30-50 sets of one rep each resting as necessary between each set.  Each rep should look and feel easy.  I never trained to failure.  For my press I chose a kettlebell that I could lockout easily without grinding, and my squat and deadlift weight was around 65% of my 1RM.  I steadily increased my weight always making sure I was within Eustress guidelines and not grinding the lift.

    Benefits of Eustress Training  (Quoted from Craig Weller’s article “The 50 Rep Workout:  Build Muscle with Eustress Training” on scrawnytobrawny.com)

    Rapid recovery: Training in a calm, positive eustress state (as opposed to distress, like most workouts) allows quicker recovery and trains you to maintain a calm, controlled mental state while putting out a workload that would absolutely floor most people.

    Hypertrophy:  High volume heavy compound lifts induce a substantial neuroendocrine response. (That means you’ll grow bigger muscles.)

    Technical proficiency: Training flawless technique in the big lifts will make quality movement a habit. The better you move, the better you feel and perform.

    Local muscular endurance: This type of training increases density of mitochondria (cellular powerhouses) and the oxidative capacity of fast twitch fibers. That means you’ll have more energy without needing to tap into your other energy systems.
     

    My Training

    Day 1:  Level 1 Skill Practice
    Day 2:  Eustress Deadlift, Eustress Military Press: Light/High Rep,  Weighted Pullup Ladder
    Day 3:  Level 2 Skill Practice
    Day 4:  Eustress Squat, Military Press: Heavy/Low Rep, Weighted Pullup Ladder

    I ended my workouts with heavy one-arm or two-arm swings.  The number of reps depended on how I was feeling.

    Some days I would sub in a workout from my classes as a “variety” day just to mix it up a little.
     

    Finally, find the closest SFG II in your area to help you with your skills.  If there are none, I encourage you to reach out to someone online.  Try Facebook, or the StrongFirst Discussion Forum. Many people within StrongFirst are more than willing to help you.

    Good luck to you!  We are…StrongFirst!

     

     
  • Nikki Shlosser 12:04 pm on October 23, 2014 Permalink | Reply  

    SFG Level II Prep Story 

    By Abby Keyes, SFG II

     

     

    The Level II SFG

    As expected, StrongFirst blew me away with an incredible weekend, at the Level II SFG.  We are lucky to be able to learn from the phenomenal lineup of Masters, Seniors, Team Leaders, and Assistants that StrongFirst has put together.

    To pass Level II you need to re-certify in all Level I skills and also test for Level II skills.
     
     
    Level I+ Skills: 

    Tested with two snatch sized kettlebells: (12 kg for me)

    • DBL KB Swing
    • DBL KB Clean
    • DBL KB Press
    • DLB KB Front Squat
    • DBL KB Snatch (tested with two bells one size under your snatch size)
    • Getup (with a kettlebell 1/3 heavier than your snatch bell)

     
    Level I+ Performance Tests:

    • 5 Minute snatch test
    • Pullup/Flexed arm hang

     
    Level II Skills:

    Tested with one snatch sized kettlebell:

    • Windmill

    Tested with two snatch sized kettlebells:

    • DBL KB Push Press
    • DBL KB Jerk
    • Bent Press (This was taught but not tested.  That could change at any time so be sure to read the requirements before attending)

     
    Level II Strength Test:

    • One arm Clean and Military Press

    This is based on your bodyweight.  My test size was 18kg.
     

    What to Expect

    After check in on day one, you weigh in and do your pullup/flexed arm hang test.  In the morning you will also perform the snatch test and 1/3  bodyweight (for ladies) and 1/2 bodyweight (for men) clean and military press test.  The afternoon consists of Level I skill review and practice.  The last thing we did on day one was test Level I+ skills.

    The second day is devoted to Level II skills.  Just like in Level I, they break the skills apart into small elements for practice and troubleshooting before putting the entire lift together.
     

     

    The last day was spent on more practice, fine-tuning the skills we learned the previous day, and taking the written test.  After lunch is a little more practice, then skill test time!  And of course the finale: the grad workout!

    Since you have already been through SFG I, you have etched in your memory the pain and fatigue you felt from that weekend.  You remember all the swings….so many swings!  Your hamstrings hurt in a way they never had before, your hands were blistered and ripped, and you would not let anyone near you sit in flexion for fear of more swings.

    While Level II is not a walk in the park, the volume of what you do is less.  Level II candidates have “earned their stripes” as they told the Level I candidates in Chicago.  You are working on more technically difficult skills this time.  I was tired and sore, but the degree was significantly less from Level I.

     

    On Preparation

    Once again, you need to do the dreaded snatch test.  Everyone has his or her own preferred method to this.  I personally like to switch hands every ten and go non-stop until I hit 100.  If you’ve done this before, you know what works for you.

    I do not recommend massive numbers of snatches for preparation.  You do not want to show up with torn hands or wrecked shoulders.  I did lots of heavy 1-arm swings with some heavy 2-arm swings thrown in to build my endurance.  I practiced the 5-minute test once per month.  Be sure to check out Aleks Salkin’s awesome recent blog about making the snatch test a bit easier.

    The jerk for me was…well…somewhat of a jerk.  It took quite a while for me to get the timing down.  My snatch bells are 12kg.  I am “too strong” for these bells and it actually made it more difficult because I could press them out.  I trained 14kg or 16kg for a long time to get the timing down. Then, in the last few weeks practiced again with 12kg to make sure I could do it with the light weight too.

    My other issue was my instinct to start in more of a hinge pattern.  (This is what we are used to right?)  One of my teammates told me to think of the first dip more as a barbell front squat to encourage my back to stay vertical.  She also, she said to let my knees come forward a little bit.  Big difference.  I was able to keep better tension in my abs and made the entire lift more effective.  I applied same cue to the push press as well.
     

     

    I am a big believer in being prepared so I trained for 5 months.  My plan was 4 training days per week including a Level I skill day, a Level II skill day, and 2 strength days.  There are lots of overhead lifts happening for Level 2 so I needed to be careful not to burn out my shoulders.

    The skill practice days were somewhat short.  I really did consider them just practice, not a “workout”.  Each practice started with 1-3 getups after my regular warm-up/correctives.  I most often practiced my skills in ladder format or 5×5 sets.

    The press can be a sticking point for many people at Level II.  I included low-volume press work in my strength days along with barbell deadlifts, back squats, and weighted pull-ups.
     

     

    I used Eustress training (see below) for the press, deadlift and squat.  One press day was 30-50 reps, slightly lighter weight, and the other press day was 10-15 reps with a slightly heavier weight.  This helped me get well beyond strong enough for the clean and press test.

    I trained my weighted pullup by following Pavel’s Fighter Pullup Program starting at the 3RM program.
     

    Eustress Training

    Eustress training is incredibly simple and effective.  Eustress training is done in a calm, positive state, as opposed to a distressed state like many people are used to.  You are to keep your heart rate low, breathe through your nose, and every rep should feel fast.

    I did 30-50 sets of one rep each resting as necessary between each set.  Each rep should look and feel easy.  I never trained to failure.  For my press I chose a kettlebell that I could lockout easily without grinding, and my squat and deadlift weight was around 65% of my 1RM.  I steadily increased my weight always making sure I was within Eustress guidelines and not grinding the lift.

    Benefits of Eustress Training  (Quoted from Craig Weller’s article “The 50 Rep Workout:  Build Muscle with Eustress Training” on scrawnytobrawny.com)

    Rapid recovery: Training in a calm, positive eustress state (as opposed to distress, like most workouts) allows quicker recovery and trains you to maintain a calm, controlled mental state while putting out a workload that would absolutely floor most people.

    Hypertrophy:  High volume heavy compound lifts induce a substantial neuroendocrine response. (That means you’ll grow bigger muscles.)

    Technical proficiency: Training flawless technique in the big lifts will make quality movement a habit. The better you move, the better you feel and perform.

    Local muscular endurance: This type of training increases density of mitochondria (cellular powerhouses) and the oxidative capacity of fast twitch fibers. That means you’ll have more energy without needing to tap into your other energy systems.
     

    My Training

    Day 1:  Level 1 Skill Practice
    Day 2:  Eustress Deadlift, Eustress Military Press: Light/High Rep,  Weighted Pullup Ladder
    Day 3:  Level 2 Skill Practice
    Day 4:  Eustress Squat, Military Press: Heavy/Low Rep, Weighted Pullup Ladder

    I ended my workouts with heavy one-arm or two-arm swings.  The number of reps depended on how I was feeling.

    Some days I would sub in a workout from my classes as a “variety” day just to mix it up a little.
     

    Finally, find the closest SFG II in your area to help you with your skills.  If there are none, I encourage you to reach out to someone online.  Try Facebook, or the StrongFirst Discussion Forum. Many people within StrongFirst are more than willing to help you.

    Good luck to you!  We are…StrongFirst!

     

     
  • Nikki Shlosser 2:13 pm on October 21, 2014 Permalink | Reply  

    The Truth Shall Set You Free 

    By Al Ciampa, SFG

    I’ve got a few articles brewing right now, but I woke up in the middle of the night with this idea burning in my brain so, I put the “pen” to it.  I wrote an article a while back discussing how Soldiers might prepare for operations in mountainous terrain. I have a follow-up article about ruckmarching that will take the reader completely through the process to include performance and fitness benefits.  I have another one in the queue discussing nutrition.  As I feel that StrongFirst is my home, I hope that they are published here; and, by linking them together, readers may watch my thoughts evolve… because once written down, the ideas become a snapshot of the author’s thoughts, frozen in time; rather than the ever-expanding, incorporating, and deliberating “consciousness” that they form.

    To the topic at hand…

    Yesterday, I received a link to yet another article written by a physical training “guru”, touting what training is effective, and what is not.  How do you, the reader — the consumer of fitness and performance information — evaluate the credibility of an author and his recommendations?  Without decades of personal trial and error, how do you discern the information from the misinformation?  As our organization is not one to critically deconstruct and trash-talk competing ideas and authors, this piece will remain professional and speak general in nature.  “We’re not saying that they are wrong, we’re saying that we are right.”  The truly frustrating aspect of reading articles like these is that the authors tend to use claims of a particular expertise in order to give weight and credibility to their opinions — which they try to pass off as some sort of natural law.  I humbly submit to you now, that I don’t claim “guru status”…all I truly know about physical training is that:

    I “think” that I recognize those patterns that seem to work for many different people.

    My frustration with expert advice began when I was sent a training manual designed to prepare a Soldier (or civilian prospective) for the U.S. Army’s Special Forces Assessment and Selection course (SFAS).  I cannot recall, but I believe that it was sent to me by a man who may not have even been selected his first time out.  This manual was written and endorsed by a top organization in the field.  The material on the pages within caused a bit of bile to reach the back of my throat.  This nonsense — truly this was nonsense — was endorsed by a top organization in the strength and conditioning (S&C) field.  Worse yet, there is literature available (for sale, of course) that was authored by individuals who have successfully navigated these training evolutions… and it is not much better.  How does this happen?  How do prominent organizations, coaches, trainers, and athletes recommend programs that would most obviously not lead to significant results?

    Many authors and trainers list the evidence of their experiences training “elite Military units”, or “professional athletes”, or “top collegiate athletes”, or “Olympic athletes and hopefuls”, or “competitively-ranked fighters”, etc.  Read the many bios of coaches and trainers permeating the World-Wide-Web for an example.  Presumably, this experience is supposed to be indicative of a great knowledge that they will eagerly pass on to you, for a modest fee.  This is not to suggest that professionals should provide their services without compensation — they absolutely should be paid for what they do. But, let me give you some food for thought…

    Top athletes are at the top, because they are genetically gifted, and supremely motivated.  The weed-out process in elite sport is so great that only the true cream rises to the top.  S&C coaches working with these athletes do not require any skills of a strength coach… any program will work for these individuals, and most of these individuals show up with what has worked for them in the past.  Most S&C coaches at this level are truly there to check the box… to keep the athletes safe.  Lawrence Taylor never lifted a weight.

    This is not to say that there are no quality coaches in these ranks — there are for certain —it is to say that exposure to high-end competition alone does not qualify a knowledge base.  This same theme can be found across top end athletes — professional, D1 collegiate, Olympians, MMA fighters.  The competition of sport is such that only the genetically gifted — those who naturally start out at a high level of performance and can increase that performance on essentially any sound training program — are out on the track, court, or field of play.  The “knowledge” of the respective S&C coach makes little, if any, difference in that athlete.  Moreover, a program that produces results in the elite has little applicability to common folk.

    Let’s return to the Military application.  Admittedly, I have a biased opinion with respect to this population due to the many years of working with and within these ranks.  If training suggestions lead to a Service-member successfully navigating a rigorous selection course, meeting fitness standards, or, to a lesser extent, being successful in combat operations, this should provide strong evidence of efficacy than those of high-level sports.  Why?  And, why the “lesser extent” clause on operational fitness?

    Training suggestions that lead to success in assessment courses have more significance, especially if many individuals experience similar results.  Most assessment courses, physically, consist of an individual “competing” against a set of standards and not against others for position.  Yes, each assessment also has a teamwork aspect to them, but overall, if you’re physically prepared, you will succeed (there are the few who get “peered-out” of some assessments due to a “self-before-others” attitude).  This construct means that the cream — the genetic freaks — doesn’t necessarily rise to the top.  The difference between competing against standards, and competing against others is that less than naturally gifted individuals can “make the team”.  The standards of performance, here, are set in stone… the individual meets them, or not.  The standards of performance in competition sport are dynamic — the better the competition, the higher the standards… which make the competition even better, and so forth.

    Average men can join the elite level in a Military environment.  For the average man to accomplish this, the physical training program is more than likely, an effective one.  The results of these programs, tested time and again, begin to describe a pattern.  Average men, doing the hard, but intelligent work, achieve superior results… cause >> effect?

    The efficacy of a physical training program has a weaker association on the operational readiness of a group of individuals.  Dan John describes his notion of “the impact of the strength coach”…  there are just too many variables in a team-based, operational environment to say with any certainty that it is the physical training program which led to success.  To paraphrase Dan, if I can get this guy to pull 500, or snatch a 32kg for 100+ reps in 5-min, and he loses half a leg to an IED, did the training program help his team to their later successes?  Although the association between a physical training program and the outcome of combat operations is loose due to complexity, I feel that we inherently understand that physical preparation makes a significant contribution to operational success.

    So, experience in Military applications might be more telling of the efficacy of an author’s, or coach’s recommendations than those in high-end sports applications.  Where else might we see this phenomenon?  What about the “regular” folk?  Those 14yo, obese, X-box babies who might like to make the JV team… those run-of-the-mill desk jockeys, whose lifestyles have left their health behind… those soccer mom’s who want to regain some of the vitality of their youth.  This application — these cases of changing the direction of the lives of regular folk — quite possibly indicates that the coach or trainer is doing something correct.  But, the fact that beginners tend to improve on any training program also makes this application suspect.

    I have trained many, many, many people in the past 25 years or so, from all walks of life.  I’ve trained myself to diverse high-level achievements.  I currently work with diverse individuals, at distance and locally, both free of charge and for compensation.  My current and limited spectrum of students spans a gap from the disabled to the prospective operator.  I try to give back by contributing to this community, via forums and other personal communications.   Even with this experience, however cognizant and critical I try to remain with respect to the cause and effect of my suggestions on outcomes, I can’t say that I KNOW all that much.  I have a bio like many other instructors and coaches, describing the various communities that I have guided.  I have letters after my name.  But still, I only…

    “…think that I recognize those patterns that seem to work for many different people.”

    My recommendation for the reader is this: be alert for misinformation.  Getting stronger will always be an asset… but past a certain level of strength, for most general applications, there is likely minimal return for your efforts.  You need to learn for yourself what works for you by trial and error — this takes time.  You have to consider your application, your specific needs, and your specific goals.  Lots of (if not all) programs may work, at some point, for you.  Safety should be a first priority.  Realize that collective “knowledge” (as in our forum) may only be marginally better that an individual’s knowledge… agreement doesn’t make it correct.  However, the more we add to this body of ideas, and the more positive results we see, the more confident we may become in our collective suggestions.

    “Yours in strength”.

     

    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.

     

     
  • Nikki Shlosser 4:00 pm on October 16, 2014 Permalink | Reply  

    How Heavy Should I Go in a Turkish Get-up? 

    By Delaine Ross, Senior SFG

     

     

    Should Your Get-Ups Be Light or Heavy?

    Here’s the thing.  We TEACH get-ups very light.  That’s because students are moving around for the very first time with a weight overhead.  And so of course, there is a danger of dropping a very-heavy weight onto your very-vulnerable face.  But once a student owns the movement and learns to use his body as one unit — the way it is meant to work — a much heavier bell can (and should) be used.  The get-up is not just a light warmup mobility exercise (although there are definite benefits there) — it should also be a serious strength exercise, once the student owns the movement with confidence.
     

    Where Did We Get Confused?

    “Naked” get-ups, shoe get-ups, very light get-ups are all great teaching tools as well as good practice and mobility work.  I think that when the awesome book and DVD set, Kalos Thenos came out people lost interest in heavy get-ups almost completely, replacing them with the light get-ups with neck/shoulder rotations and the high hip bridge — much like when people gave up heavy snatching altogether when Viking Warrior Conditioning came out.
     

     

    I am not saying the Kalos Thenos get-up is bad — on the contrary, I think it is a great drill for both newbies and advanced lifters as well as an instructor tool to screen movement problems, asymmetries, spot tight hip flexors, and the list goes on… But when a whole type of get-up is abandoned, a crucial part of the picture is missing.
     

    The Expectation

    Kalos Thenos get-up yang is the heavy get-up.  The SFG is first and foremost a “School of Strength” and we should get moving with some heavy weights overhead.  As Master SFG Brett Jones said one weekend as we were getting ready for the Level II cert, you should have the ability to own different kinds of get-ups.  You should be able to high hip bridge AND low sweep — as well as many other kinds of get-ups.  It’s all about body control and strength.

     

     

    Note on Differences

    The heavy get-up will look a little different.  You will probably have to sit more into your hip to under the weight for more leverage when coming up into the kneeling position.  Your breathing will be more of a power breathing style.  The high hip bridge is probably out of the question if you are maxing out.  A max-weight get-up looks very different from the Kalos Thenos get-up — and that’s ok…
     

    Get To Heavy

    So how do you work on getting up with a heavier weight?  You do some drills to make sure you know how to use your body as a single unit.

    Kneeling and half-kneeling press drills take out some “cheating” and force you to lock into place.  You may feel your abs working extra hard on the opposite side (the body is set up like an “X” but that is a whole different story… let Tim Andersen tell it here.)  After you do these drills, try something heavy.  In the 4 classes I observed today at my gym, we set 11 PRs after doing various half kneeling press drills… some of those PRs were newbies (who are expected to move up relatively quickly) but some of those students had been with us for YEARS!  One student who has been coming for 3 years did her first TGU with a 16kg — and made it look easy!
     

    Bottom Line

    The Kalos Thenos get-up is a fantastic way to perform the exercise, but it’s not the only way to train get-ups.  Just like you can use Master SFG Dan John’s Easy Strength program to pattern movements with lighter weights in order to train for a personal record, you can increase your mobility and stability with the Kalos Thenos get-up in order to get-up with some substantial weight above head, and it will help increase your other lifts as well.
     

    Homework

    If you are trying to press a certain weight, get-up with that weight or even one bell heavier.  Getting used to moving around with that weight overhead and using your whole body to connect to support it will get you your gains faster.

     

    Delaine Ross got her Russian Kettlebell Certification (RKC) in September 2006, where she won the form and technique challenge. Soon after, she moved back to Atlanta and opened Condition Kettlebell Gym in the Fall of 2007.

    Delaine got her RKC Level 2 certification in June of 2008 and in March 2010 was promoted to RKC Team Leader by Chief Instructor Pavel Tsatsouline.  When Pavel created StrongFirst, she accepted a Senior Instructor position in the new organization.  She is excited to continue to use her experience and expertise to spread kettlebell training and its benefits teaching both newbies and instructor level courses.

     
  • Nikki Shlosser 3:59 pm on October 14, 2014 Permalink | Reply  

    Strength Aerobics 

    By Pavel Tsatsouline, Chairman

     

    Alexey Senart, SFG Team Leader

    “Conditioning” is a very vague term—and it is for the better, given the scientists’ lack of understanding of endurance, its different facets, and the variables affecting it.

    Fighters and other hard living types love killing themselves in the glycolytic pathway.  Because burn is painful and plain sucks.  But this is far from the only way to “condition”.  Enter the alactacid pathway plus aerobic recovery.  (Learn the basic science in the StrongFirst Roadwork blog.)

    “Enjoy” the “strength aerobics” circuit by Alexey Senart, SFG Team Leader.  Take a kettlebell you can comfortably press ten times or so and do:

      • 1 left hand clean
      • 1 left hand military press
      • 1 left hand front squat (change stance if needed before squatting)
      • Park the bell
      • Shake off the tension with “fast and loose” drills
      • Repeat on the right.

    Easy so far, right?

    Shake off the tension with “fast and loose” drills, and keep going.  Select a pace you can sustain for a long time (a metronome might be helpful), and carry on.  For 10, 20, even 30min…

    Alexey has found this to be a perfect “field” workout for those who frequently have to travel, be on military deployment or on vacation with one bell in the trunk.  You will maintain most of your strength while greatly enhancing your work capacity.  I suggest alternating the above with S&S day to day.

    And if you are not traveling, have access to heavy kettlebells, and prioritize strength in your training, use the above workout as the light day for your presses and squats.

     

     

    If you prefer “conditioning” with bodyweight, try the following workout Steve Maxwell and I designed for our students at a bodyweight course we were teaching almost a decade ago:

      • One-arm pushup, left x 1 rep
      • One-arm pushup, right x 1 rep
      • Pullup with the palms facing and the fists touching each other, emphasizing the left x 1 rep
      • Pullup with the palms facing and the fists touching each other, emphasizing the right x 1 rep
      • Pistol, left x 1 rep
      • Pistol, right x 1 rep

    I go, you go—the 1:1 work rest ratio.  Shake off the tension while your training partner is working.  Ladder the works for 2 and then 3 reps—and start over.  Three rounds of (1, 2, 3) will get your attention.

    We selected the strongest students in attendance—Yoana Teran (today SFG Team Leader) and Sarah Cheatham (formerly a Senior instructor in my old organization)—and put them through the paces.  Although stronger than most men and exceptionally conditioned with kettlebells, the ladies had to sweat to get through the circuit.  Even without the “burn” that traditionally accompanies “conditioning” circuits.

    Android work capacity to you!

     

    You can’t alternate with S&S unless you own S&S.
    GET IT HERE

     

     
  • Nikki Shlosser 2:45 pm on October 9, 2014 Permalink | Reply  

    How to Make Your Snatch Test Easier 

    By Aleks Salkin, SFG II, SFB

     

     

    Wailing.  Gnashing of teeth.  Rending of clothing and sitting in sack cloth and ashes.

    Nothing about the SFG certification weekend, it seems, causes as much internal drama, strife, worry, fear, and nervousness (not to mention all 5 stages of grief) as the oft-maligned and inexplicably feared snatch test.

    Well, knock it off.  And for goodness sake, pull yourself together.  It’s only 5 minutes, and your cert weekend is nearly 24 hours in total.  You can do this — and make it easier on yourself.  I’ll show you how.
     

    Betsy Collie, Senior SFG, snatching with ease

    Master SFG David Whitley said something to me at the SFG II in Italy recently that probably serves as the ultimate summary of what this article strives to be: “I’m all about making hard stuff easier.”  And why not?  When hard stuff is easier, are you not stronger?  Is that not the point of this cert — indeed, this whole system?

    Tempting as it may seem to simply snatch a whole lot, there are a lot better and less-exhausting options to go from chump to champ in your snatching.  You will have to snatch, yes, but it doesn’t have to become a part-time job.  In fact, it shouldn’t.  If you are preparing for the SFG weekend you have a lot more important stuff to focus on.

    This program is one that can fit into your current training without interrupting or bogging it down unnecessarily.
     

    Before we get into the program itself, let’s first go over the preliminaries.

    1) You must be able to lock your hand out overhead safely.  This means elbow locked and bicep near the ear while standing at attention.   “Chicken-necking” is forbidden, as it’s dangerous and will do nothing to help your performance.  Also, because chicken makes you weak.

    Proper lockout — bicep by the ear, shoulder packed, and everything stacked one on top of the other.

    Chicken-necking, plus unpacked shoulder and bent elbow. Not. Even. Once.

    2) You should be familiar with the SFG Big Six as a whole — swings, get ups, clean, military press, and front squat in addition to the snatch.  All of these moves build one upon the other, so the better and more familiar you are with them as a whole, the better off you’ll be in preparing for your snatch test.  They all bring something helpful to the table, from building monster hip drive with the swing, learning to tame the arc with the clean, building powerful, never-say-die legs with the front squat, and getting familiar and confident with overhead strength and stability in the Turkish Get Up and military press, all of the Big Six play a big role.  Don’t neglect them.

     
    Once you’ve got these in place, you’re ready to go into the specifics.  It’s mercifully simple, just not especially easy.
     

    1. Get stronger

    I’d be remiss if I didn’t include this one first.  It really is that simple — the stronger you are in your snatches, the easier it all becomes.  Think about it: Ladies, what is 16kg if you can snatch 20kg or 24kg per arm for several reps?  And gentlemen, what is 24kg if you can snatch 32 or even 40kg on either arm?  24kg is child’s play.  Even very fatigued you’ll have little issue putting it up over your head repeatedly.  All too often I meet or talk with an SFG candidate who rhapsodizes about how often he or she snatches with his or her snatch test weight or less and how “killer” it is or some such silliness, but when I bring up the suggestion “Why not try snatching with a weight a size or two above your snatch weight?” Well, you know the routine.  Wailing, gnashing of teeth, frenzied crying to the heavens, and other assorted histrionics.  Be not afraid of snatching heavier for fewer reps.  Remember:  It’s ALWAYS easier to do less if you can already do more.
     

    2. Make sure your technique is dialed-in 

    The quickest way I know of to do this (if you’re already snatching) is pretty basic.

    a) Keep your eyes forward. NOT down.  A lot of people like to look down for some reason.  Stop it.  Stop it right now.

    b) Make sure the kettlebell travels down the midline of your body, not off to the side.  When you’re snatching lighter it doesn’t matter as much, but the moment it gets heavy, this will become much harder — and not productively so.  When you’re in the hinge-to-hip-pop segment of your snatch, imagine there’s a line between your groin and your chest.  Make the kettlebell travel through that line.  By the time it’s in its final stage (the “float”) it’ll go to its proper place above your head, and far, far easier, too.

    Left: standard one-arm swing. Right: swing aimed a bit closer to midline.
    An almost imperceptible difference visually, but physically noticeable. Try this next time you snatch and you’ll find the kettlebell floats significantly easier.

    c) Keep your face relaxed and impassive.  Too many people get these grimaces and stressed-out looks on themselves from the outset, and it sets the mood (a bad one) for the rest of the set.  This is just a personal observation and not critical for your snatching per se, but from my experience, it’s made my snatching easier and smoother.

     

    3. Double breathing

    THIS is the cue that, in my correct opinion, will do more for your snatch work capacity than anything else, and I owe David Whitley big-time for it.  Back in 2012 I was assisting Master SFG Jon Engum for the flexibility portion of the first-ever Flexible Steel workshop, and David Whitley taught on day one about how to make various kettlebell lifts easier and stronger, much of it by mastering and improving on the basics (imagine that).  When it came to snatches, he introduced double breathing and my mind essentially blew right out of every side of my head right then and there.
     
     

     
    “The snatch takes twice as much time as the swing, right?  So why not breathe twice as much?”

    I’m paraphrasing, but the sentiment was the same, and the impact was deep and immediate.  This might be the only thing that rivals simply snatching heavier in making your snatch test a piece of cake.  It’s that important.

    How do you do it?  Simple: on the backswing you sniff in.  On the hip pop, you breathe out.  Old hat.  Now, as the kettlebell is making its final ascent into the lockout, you simply sniff in and breathe out again, but faster.  The beauty behind the effectiveness of this technique is that it allows you to catch your breath a little bit and maintain the hardstyle nature of the snatch so it doesn’t degenerate into sloppy breathing or unintentional anatomical breathing as you get fatigued.  As Master Whitley has said “The suck levels are the same, but you can manage it better.”

    Just how effective is this technique?  With this technique alone I went from being able to do 20 snatches in a row per arm with a 24kg bell — with a several-minute break between arms — to being able to do 30 per arm before setting it down.  3 times the work capacity because of one technique.  Yes, it’s that good.  This video will show you the rhythm and cadence needed to make it work properly.  Take some time to get the technique on this down, but be warned: once you breathe twice in the snatch, you’ll never go back. click to tweet


     

    4. Programming

    In the spirit of StrongFirst, the program is mercifully simple and relatively open-ended.  Looking back at Pavel’s landmark work Enter The Kettlebell, you’ll notice that he has you snatching only one day of the week — your light day.  The other days you’re expected to swing.

    If you’re training for your SFG cert (or re-cert) and not just general strength training, you may want to train 4 or even 5 days a week.  Whichever you choose, you’ll still only have to snatch once a week. Here is how you will program your snatches.

    Find the heaviest kettlebell that will allow for what Master SFG Fabio Zonin calls the “technical rep max”, i.e. the rep max you can achieve while maintaining picture-perfect technique.  A weight that will net you 5-7 reps is what you should be shooting for.  This will be your working weight for the next few weeks.  You will be using a template that I picked up off of my coach, mentor, and friend Scott Stevens, SFG II.

    2 minutes: snatch on the minute
    1 minute: rest
    2 minutes: snatch on the minute

    It’s very easy to fill in that extra minute when the time comes, and it takes the mental pressure off a bit throughout the program.

    With your 5-7 technical rep max bell, you will do your on-the-minute snatches thusly on your snatch day.  You will snatch on both hands before setting it down according to the 2 on, 1 off, 2 on template.  Be sure to do fast and loose each time you set the bell down.

    Week 1: 3/3
    Week 2: 4/4
    Week 3: 5/5
    Week 4: 4/4
    Week 5: 5/5
    Week 6: 6/6
    Week 7: 5/5
    Week 8: 6/6
    Week 9: 7/7
    Week 10: 6/6
    Week 11: 7/7
    Week 12: 8/8
    Week 13: REST

    For me personally, I found that once I could do 7/7 using the above format, I was far beyond ready.  Doing 56 snatches with 32 kg in 5 minutes was more than enough to prep me to bang out the easiest snatch test of my life.  No stress, and no sweat (literally).  Within minutes the only place that was still feeling it was my pumped-up forearms.

    For your other days, swing.  Heavy and often.  Again, I would not use any kettlebell under your snatch test weight.  Between 10-20 reps is good for single bell work, and 5-10 is good for doubles.  These swing days may look like this:

    Monday: Double swing (snatch test weight or one size above): 5 on the minute for 10 minutes
    Tuesday: One-arm swing (a size or two above snatch test weight): 10 on the minute for 20 minutes
    Wednesday: off
    Thursday: Double swing (snatch test weight or one size above): 5 on the minute for 15 minutes
    Friday: Snatch day
    Saturday/Sunday: off

    As the weeks go by, you’ll strive to put a few more reps on in each session until you’re doing 20 per minute with 1 bell and 10 per minute with two.  Then go up a bell size and start over.

    Naturally, you’ll still be practicing your pullups/flexed arm hangs, cleans, presses, squats, and Get Ups according to whatever program you’re following as well as any necessary correctives/restorative exercise, which means the above program should fit into anything else that you’re doing.

    There you have it.  A simple and — dare I say it — borderline EASY way of taking your snatching from chump to champ.  Give it a shot, let me know what you think, and once you’ve done it, drop me a line.  I’d love to hear about it.

     

    Aleks Salkin is a Level 2 StrongFirst-certified kettlebell instructor (SFG II), StrongFirst-certified bodyweight Instructor (SFB), and an Original Strength Certified Coach. He grew up scrawny, unathletic, weak, and goofy until he was exposed to kettlebells and the teachings and methodology of Pavel in his early 20s. He is currently based out of Jerusalem, Israel and spends his time teaching clients both in person and online as well as spreading the word of StrongFirst and calisthenics.  He regularly writes about strength and health both on his website and as a guest author on other websites. Find him online at http://www.alekssalkin.com and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/alekssalkintraining
     
     

     
  • Nikki Shlosser 2:45 pm on October 9, 2014 Permalink | Reply  

    How to Make Your Snatch Test Easier 

    By Aleks Salkin, SFG II, SFB

     

     

    Wailing.  Gnashing of teeth.  Rending of clothing and sitting in sack cloth and ashes.

    Nothing about the SFG certification weekend, it seems, causes as much internal drama, strife, worry, fear, and nervousness (not to mention all 5 stages of grief) as the oft-maligned and inexplicably feared snatch test.

    Well, knock it off.  And for goodness sake, pull yourself together.  It’s only 5 minutes, and your cert weekend is nearly 24 hours in total.  You can do this — and make it easier on yourself.  I’ll show you how.
     

    Betsy Collie, Senior SFG, snatching with ease

    Master SFG David Whitley said something to me at the SFG II in Italy recently that probably serves as the ultimate summary of what this article strives to be: “I’m all about making hard stuff easier.”  And why not?  When hard stuff is easier, are you not stronger?  Is that not the point of this cert — indeed, this whole system?

    Tempting as it may seem to simply snatch a whole lot, there are a lot better and less-exhausting options to go from chump to champ in your snatching.  You will have to snatch, yes, but it doesn’t have to become a part-time job.  In fact, it shouldn’t.  If you are preparing for the SFG weekend you have a lot more important stuff to focus on.

    This program is one that can fit into your current training without interrupting or bogging it down unnecessarily.
     

    Before we get into the program itself, let’s first go over the preliminaries.

    1) You must be able to lock your hand out overhead safely.  This means elbow locked and bicep near the ear while standing at attention.   “Chicken-necking” is forbidden, as it’s dangerous and will do nothing to help your performance.  Also, because chicken makes you weak.

    Proper lockout — bicep by the ear, shoulder packed, and everything stacked one on top of the other.

    Chicken-necking, plus unpacked shoulder and bent elbow. Not. Even. Once.

    2) You should be familiar with the SFG Big Six as a whole — swings, get ups, clean, military press, and front squat in addition to the snatch.  All of these moves build one upon the other, so the better and more familiar you are with them as a whole, the better off you’ll be in preparing for your snatch test.  They all bring something helpful to the table, from building monster hip drive with the swing, learning to tame the arc with the clean, building powerful, never-say-die legs with the front squat, and getting familiar and confident with overhead strength and stability in the Turkish Get Up and military press, all of the Big Six play a big role.  Don’t neglect them.

     
    Once you’ve got these in place, you’re ready to go into the specifics.  It’s mercifully simple, just not especially easy.
     

    1. Get stronger

    I’d be remiss if I didn’t include this one first.  It really is that simple — the stronger you are in your snatches, the easier it all becomes.  Think about it: Ladies, what is 16kg if you can snatch 20kg or 24kg per arm for several reps?  And gentlemen, what is 24kg if you can snatch 32 or even 40kg on either arm?  24kg is child’s play.  Even very fatigued you’ll have little issue putting it up over your head repeatedly.  All too often I meet or talk with an SFG candidate who rhapsodizes about how often he or she snatches with his or her snatch test weight or less and how “killer” it is or some such silliness, but when I bring up the suggestion “Why not try snatching with a weight a size or two above your snatch weight?” Well, you know the routine.  Wailing, gnashing of teeth, frenzied crying to the heavens, and other assorted histrionics.  Be not afraid of snatching heavier for fewer reps.  Remember:  It’s ALWAYS easier to do less if you can already do more.
     

    2. Make sure your technique is dialed-in 

    The quickest way I know of to do this (if you’re already snatching) is pretty basic.

    a) Keep your eyes forward. NOT down.  A lot of people like to look down for some reason.  Stop it.  Stop it right now.

    b) Make sure the kettlebell travels down the midline of your body, not off to the side.  When you’re snatching lighter it doesn’t matter as much, but the moment it gets heavy, this will become much harder — and not productively so.  When you’re in the hinge-to-hip-pop segment of your snatch, imagine there’s a line between your groin and your chest.  Make the kettlebell travel through that line.  By the time it’s in its final stage (the “float”) it’ll go to its proper place above your head, and far, far easier, too.

    Left: standard one-arm swing. Right: swing aimed a bit closer to midline.
    An almost imperceptible difference visually, but physically noticeable. Try this next time you snatch and you’ll find the kettlebell floats significantly easier.

    c) Keep your face relaxed and impassive.  Too many people get these grimaces and stressed-out looks on themselves from the outset, and it sets the mood (a bad one) for the rest of the set.  This is just a personal observation and not critical for your snatching per se, but from my experience, it’s made my snatching easier and smoother.

     

    3. Double breathing

    THIS is the cue that, in my correct opinion, will do more for your snatch work capacity than anything else, and I owe David Whitley big-time for it.  Back in 2012 I was assisting Master SFG Jon Engum for the flexibility portion of the first-ever Flexible Steel workshop, and David Whitley taught on day one about how to make various kettlebell lifts easier and stronger, much of it by mastering and improving on the basics (imagine that).  When it came to snatches, he introduced double breathing and my mind essentially blew right out of every side of my head right then and there.
     
     

     
    “The snatch takes twice as much time as the swing, right?  So why not breathe twice as much?”

    I’m paraphrasing, but the sentiment was the same, and the impact was deep and immediate.  This might be the only thing that rivals simply snatching heavier in making your snatch test a piece of cake.  It’s that important.

    How do you do it?  Simple: on the backswing you sniff in.  On the hip pop, you breathe out.  Old hat.  Now, as the kettlebell is making its final ascent into the lockout, you simply sniff in and breathe out again, but faster.  The beauty behind the effectiveness of this technique is that it allows you to catch your breath a little bit and maintain the hardstyle nature of the snatch so it doesn’t degenerate into sloppy breathing or unintentional anatomical breathing as you get fatigued.  As Master Whitley has said “The suck levels are the same, but you can manage it better.”

    Just how effective is this technique?  With this technique alone I went from being able to do 20 snatches in a row per arm with a 24kg bell — with a several-minute break between arms — to being able to do 30 per arm before setting it down.  3 times the work capacity because of one technique.  Yes, it’s that good.  This video will show you the rhythm and cadence needed to make it work properly.  Take some time to get the technique on this down, but be warned: once you breathe twice in the snatch, you’ll never go back. click to tweet


     

    4. Programming

    In the spirit of StrongFirst, the program is mercifully simple and relatively open-ended.  Looking back at Pavel’s landmark work Enter The Kettlebell, you’ll notice that he has you snatching only one day of the week — your light day.  The other days you’re expected to swing.

    If you’re training for your SFG cert (or re-cert) and not just general strength training, you may want to train 4 or even 5 days a week.  Whichever you choose, you’ll still only have to snatch once a week. Here is how you will program your snatches.

    Find the heaviest kettlebell that will allow for what Master SFG Fabio Zonin calls the “technical rep max”, i.e. the rep max you can achieve while maintaining picture-perfect technique.  A weight that will net you 5-7 reps is what you should be shooting for.  This will be your working weight for the next few weeks.  You will be using a template that I picked up off of my coach, mentor, and friend Scott Stevens, SFG II.

    2 minutes: snatch on the minute
    1 minute: rest
    2 minutes: snatch on the minute

    It’s very easy to fill in that extra minute when the time comes, and it takes the mental pressure off a bit throughout the program.

    With your 5-7 technical rep max bell, you will do your on-the-minute snatches thusly on your snatch day.  You will snatch on both hands before setting it down according to the 2 on, 1 off, 2 on template.  Be sure to do fast and loose each time you set the bell down.

    Week 1: 3/3
    Week 2: 4/4
    Week 3: 5/5
    Week 4: 4/4
    Week 5: 5/5
    Week 6: 6/6
    Week 7: 5/5
    Week 8: 6/6
    Week 9: 7/7
    Week 10: 6/6
    Week 11: 7/7
    Week 12: 8/8
    Week 13: REST

    For me personally, I found that once I could do 7/7 using the above format, I was far beyond ready.  Doing 56 snatches with 32 kg in 5 minutes was more than enough to prep me to bang out the easiest snatch test of my life.  No stress, and no sweat (literally).  Within minutes the only place that was still feeling it was my pumped-up forearms.

    For your other days, swing.  Heavy and often.  Again, I would not use any kettlebell under your snatch test weight.  Between 10-20 reps is good for single bell work, and 5-10 is good for doubles.  These swing days may look like this:

    Monday: Double swing (snatch test weight or one size above): 5 on the minute for 10 minutes
    Tuesday: One-arm swing (a size or two above snatch test weight): 10 on the minute for 20 minutes
    Wednesday: off
    Thursday: Double swing (snatch test weight or one size above): 5 on the minute for 15 minutes
    Friday: Snatch day
    Saturday/Sunday: off

    As the weeks go by, you’ll strive to put a few more reps on in each session until you’re doing 20 per minute with 1 bell and 10 per minute with two.  Then go up a bell size and start over.

    Naturally, you’ll still be practicing your pullups/flexed arm hangs, cleans, presses, squats, and Get Ups according to whatever program you’re following as well as any necessary correctives/restorative exercise, which means the above program should fit into anything else that you’re doing.

    There you have it.  A simple and — dare I say it — borderline EASY way of taking your snatching from chump to champ.  Give it a shot, let me know what you think, and once you’ve done it, drop me a line.  I’d love to hear about it.

     

    Aleks Salkin is a Level 2 StrongFirst-certified kettlebell instructor (SFG II), StrongFirst-certified bodyweight Instructor (SFB), and an Original Strength Certified Coach. He grew up scrawny, unathletic, weak, and goofy until he was exposed to kettlebells and the teachings and methodology of Pavel in his early 20s. He is currently based out of Jerusalem, Israel and spends his time teaching clients both in person and online as well as spreading the word of StrongFirst and calisthenics.  He regularly writes about strength and health both on his website and as a guest author on other websites. Find him online at http://www.alekssalkin.com and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/alekssalkintraining
     
     

     
  • Nikki Shlosser 2:20 pm on October 7, 2014 Permalink | Reply  

    Bodyweight Strength for Ultra-Endurance Sports 

    By Nathan M., SFB

     

     

    I was introduced to StrongFirst through my employer 5.11 Tactical.  I will admit I was a bit stoked the night I was seated next to Pavel for dinner at the first meeting, as it offered the chance at casual conversation.  I remembered Pavel from all the magazine coverage over the years advertising his strength programs for the military and athletes, and with having had personal paths in both realms, I relished the opportunity to chat.

    The first things that struck me was how genuine, considerate and down to earth Pavel is, which is incredibly important for teachers/instructors of any discipline (shooting, running, etc.).  He inquired about my current training goals and showed a real interest in helping me by dinner’s end, although that was not why he was there.  We also discussed some political issues around at the time and I immediately realized how staunchly patriotic this “Crazy Russian” is about America (bonus points to a potential long-lasting friendship).  Pavel and I parted ways that night with the invitation to reconnect in the near future at one of StrongFirst’s upcoming courses.

    In regards to “my training,” I have had a mixed bag of experiences at different levels from being an Olympic hopeful for Tae Kwon Do in 1992 (the year it was temporarily cancelled from the program, unfortunately) to Marine Corps PT, heavy lifting programs, combative programs, and most recently as of May 2012, ultra-marathon running… in a weighted military-style plate carrier.   Yes, I just said that.  I have now completed two ultras (one 62 miles and the other 100 miles) running with an additional 23lbs. of weight.  I have also done a 108lb. ruck march in 20 hours covering 32.5 miles within the past year as well.  I do these to support veteran charities through the Never Quit Mission www.neverquitmission.org

    In the world of ultra-marathon training, you can ask 10 people how to train for one and you will get 10 different answers; and when you throw in the running with weight variable, there are no answers, but only questions, like “why?”  I know this because I have been very fortunate through one of my colleagues to connect with some of the world’s most experienced ultra-runners who have run in the Badwater 135, one of the toughest events around.

    In talking with the veteran Badwater runners early on, not one of them really ever mentioned “strength training,” which I found ironic for a race that required you to keep on your legs for 135 miles…with hills!  I am sure some form of resistance training has played a role in each of their running careers, but it didn’t come through in discussion.  I knew that I would have to explore this area more, but was afraid of the strength training I knew, because I didn’t want to increase muscle size and impact my running negatively. (I am one of those guys who gains lean muscle mass pretty easily.  I know, woe is me, right? Now that half of you hate me already we can continue on…)

    The rock solid date to attend a StrongFirst cert came about 6 weeks before I was to participate in an event called “Carry the Load” (where I did the 108lb. ruck).  It was StrongFirst’s SFB Bodyweight Instructor Certification.  I really didn’t know what to expect of the certification, but having shifted a lot of my training over the years to more bodyweight exercises due to a lack of accessibility to traditional gym equipment, I was glad for the opportunity to learn, and also to get some real training time with Pavel.

    The morning I arrived at the host gym in Tucson, Pavel was all smiles, as I noticed he was throughout the day with everyone… and patient, and was very accommodating in introducing me to some of his instructors and students, which made me feel very welcomed.

    Over the course of the next two days I saw feats of “real strength” from male and female, both young and, well… older.  I’m 39, so I tread lightly here.  From one-handed pushups, strict pull-ups, flags, one-legged squats, handstand pushups, and sometimes combinations of the aforementioned, it was just astounding!  The truly amazing thing however was from the people who were not able to do these things the morning of Day 1, but doing them by Day 2.  The secret?  Years of dedication, research, and “taking it to the lab” on StrongFirst’s behalf, to be able to articulate and translate proven principles of strength techniques within two days!

    StrongFirst’s approach to teaching strength principles breaks it down Barney-style to even rocks like myself, and links technique to technique upon a building block system interspersed with practical examples and exercises along the way. You literally “FEEL YOURSELF GETTING STRONGER DURING THE COURSE.”  Mind blowing.

    Two areas of particular interest to me were “Hollowing out,” and “the Dominanta.”  Hollowing out is the engagement of your core muscles and muscles of your glutes and is taught as a foundational part of all techniques.  This really grabbed my attention as it was one of the first times I ever really felt my hips pull underneath me properly, something I had been working on since attending a running form clinic, but just kept missing it. The Dominanta is less tangible however, but can be learned, and is more of a mental exercise in the recruitment of all of your muscles into one primary focus of strength, but once you have it, you have it; but equally if you lose it during a feat of strength, well… good luck.

     

     

    I would say though that one of the most profound lessons I took away from the cert was not necessarily a core part of the curriculum, however it could fall under the “programing” section taught, and reflected true, straight to penetrate, no BS “wisdom” when Pavel said to me in a one-on-one conversation, “Nate, stop making every workout like you are training for selection.” (Military special operations selection.)  Boom!  The hammer had been dropped.  Like most, I was under the impression of 100% maximal effort every workout, and not approaching my workouts in a more pragmatic manner of “percentages of intensity,” allowing for enough mental and physical recovery time while building up to a defined event of maximal exertion. (This is also a good approach in helping to prevent injury.)

    Upon departing the StrongFirst Bodyweight Cert I could not wait to sit down and program out my workouts, incorporating the principles learned (which also extend to weighted strength feats) for the next weeks building up to the Carry the Load event.  During those weeks of training with StrongFirst principles, and in my training today preparing to establish a world record, I have become a believer, because I have seen and felt the effects personally.  Although not everything fits just perfectly into my training regime due to the need for high mileage and just time on my feet for the conditioning aspect to acclimate my body to run 20+ hours, I am constantly reminded of Professor Leonid Matveev’s words, “Strength is the foundation for the development of the rest of physical qualities,” as shared in StrongFirst’s teachings, and their ethos of “Be what you choose to be, but be strong first!”

     

     
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