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  • 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!”

     

     
  • Nikki Shlosser 2:15 pm on October 2, 2014 Permalink | Reply  

    Who Doesn’t Need a Better Press? 

    By Dr. B Ramana, SFG

     

     

    If you are around on online forums, social media and fitness blogs, you may have heard this: “Yeah, who doesn’t need a heavier press, huh?”

    Many of you are worried about not being able to press your snatch bell with confidence. How then will you sustain sessions with double bells?

    Listen, there are many, many things one can say and do to help fix your weakness. I will attempt to cover as many as I can before I fall asleep.
     

    Fix Your Restrictions

    In many, if not most, cases the press weakness is secondary to a poor shoulder position/stability that itself may be secondary to:

    a) Tight neck

    b) Tight T-spine

    c) Poor shoulder complex mechanics for any reason, including tight lats and pecs.

    So, you need a good diagnostic assessment*, therapy to fix pain or tightness, and continued strength training. In short, you need a good coach.
     

    Fix Your Press Pattern

    You should be pressing the bell the correct way: forearms vertical, elbows down, wrists neutral and a solid upright plank in place. Most newbies tend to press the bell in a forward plane. This is simply not happening! The bell is pressed up and back, and at the top, you lockout while moving the chest forward. Doing bottoms-up presses and get ups will help you get this. You can also play around with Waiter’s (open palm on bell belly) presses.*
     

     

    Fix Your Weakness

    When you do a full press session, amounting to say 100 reps in 45 minutes with a snatch bell, you will realize where your press is likely weak. Typically, it is:

    *Motor control (you must be able to continue maintaining your press form even as you are getting tired— fatigue management)

    *Weak trunk musculature (? obliques)— you are typically unable to plank strongly as the bell locks out. Pull your kneecaps up harder, son!

    *Weak glutes

    *Weak triceps

    *Poor conditioning

    All these weak areas may be addressed by doing more swings and getups. Simple and Sinister, anybody?

    Ha.
     

    What Else?

    If all the above don’t really apply to you much, and you still need to get stronger at the press, then specific press programs will help you greatly.

    Basic: “to press a lot, you have to press a lot!”

    My basic methodology for someone who doesn’t need much help in pressing mechanics is two-fold:

    • Get them to press more, at least 3 times a week. And cycle the volume, density or intensity.
    • Get them used to a heavier bell, so that the press bell feels easier. This kind of neural overloading for short bursts of time can help you break a weight barrier, of course within limits! For many people, neural drive recruitment will do good things to their lifts.

    Here are some specific techniques using the bell you cannot press OR your regular bell (play around):

    1. Take the bell you cannot press, put it up overhead anyway you can (snatch, push press, jerk press with assistance). Lockout hard. With full tension, bring the bell down an inch. Press it back. Bring it down 2 inches. Lock it out again. 3 inches, 4 inches, and done.

    Change sides. Do this a few times. Don’t attempt to press that same bell now. Let it be for now. Another day, another week or month. Be patient.

    2. Take an insanely heavy bell, clean and squat. That’s just it. Just cleaning and squatting that bell will make you stronger at the base, where it counts.

    3. Take your regular press bell and press while standing on the opposite leg. It teaches your body to get more juice out of the legs.

    4. Put up the heavy bell and teach your body to stabilize with it. There are many ways you can do this:

    *Hold for time

    *Quarter squat and walk 2 steps sideways, back and forward.

    *Practice T-spine extension — drive your chest forward so that the arm is behind the ear. Feel strong.

    *Do a lunge or two.

    *Rotate your body on either side, a few times, breathing all the time.

    *Windmill, but be careful. Better to start with lighter weights if you haven’t already done so. Maybe just touch your bent elbow to the knee, rather than try to get all the way down with a heavy bell.

    5. Do overhead walks for time with a lighter bell and build on it. This builds shoulder endurance (especially for the rotator cuff muscles). Typically, go to a park and walk for 50 to 100 meters. At your cert, I will see you do it at the grad workout, heheh. Get to work!

     

     

    6. Press in half kneeling stance, on the side of your front leg.

    7. Variety: press bottoms-up, two bells in two hands, two bells in one hand, one bell bottoms-up stacked on the other (go very, very light, and don’t get a fractured toe!). However, remember, these are only for your play day, when you don’t have serious training.

    8. Unconventional PL approach: get very strong by doing a powerlifting cycle on the bench, DL, squat and military press. There are hundreds of templates.

    Master SFG Reifkind wrote a highly-regarded article on using the Westside template to get a heavier press.

    9. Bodyweight/isometric approach: Read Aleks Salkin’s post on pressing heavier with handstand work.

    10. Build mass: for some people, simply putting more mass may be the need of the hour. Men, who are in the wrong autumns of their lives, don’t blink if you need to be doing some high volume complex that hits your arms, shoulder and upper back. There are many templates available, including several by Geoff Neupert, SFG II.
     

    What to do when you have a shoulder injury and still want to retain pressing strength?

    1. Get medically cleared. This means you are not looking at surgery, and you just need to wait it out and rehab.
    2. Do specific shoulder rehab, as appropriate.
    3. Use bottoms-up presses. One of my students who had bicipital tendinosis and shoulder pain and stiffness and was unable to get even a single 16 kg press did bottoms-up presses with the 12 kg on an Easy Strength template, and banged out easy 16 kg presses in a month!
    4. Stick to get ups.
    5. Use the landmine press. Use a barbell and stick one end in the corner of the walls, and press in half-kneel and other positions. Great fun for people who are otherwise written off overhead loading.
    6. Use bands for presses.
    7. Get your lower body and trunk get really strong in the meanwhile with the usual stuff (squats, DL, etcetera).
    8. Backward crawl. It really is a great triceps builder.

     

    There’s a lot in there for you to assimilate and implement.

    This was, by no means, the be-all-and-end-all press article. It just encapsulates my thoughts and strategies for the most part, much of it learned from the SFG Masters and Pavel.

    As always, focus on technique, and stay tight!

     

    *Some people are not best suited to an overhead press. 

    **Note that the press groove in a barbell military press and a bench press are different from a kettlebell military press. 

     

     

    Dr. B. Ramana, variously known as Ram or Rambodoc, is a senior laparoscopic and bariatric surgeon. He is India’s first SFG instructor (soon to be SFL as well) and teaches at India’s only Hardstyle strength gym ‘Soul Of Strength’ in Kolkata. He works with a wide range of students including bent, 80 year old people and young studettes who can Get Up with bells ordinary men cannot even lift. He strongly believes in the power of strength training as a rehab tool.

     
  • Nikki Shlosser 2:20 pm on September 30, 2014 Permalink | Reply  

    “Dry, Fighting Weight” 

    By Pavel Tsatsouline, Chairman and Geoff Neupert, SFG II

     

    A student of Geoff’s, Stacy Clemson, SFG II

    At StrongFirst we never focused on fat loss — and got it anyway as a side effect of our strength and power focused training.  We used to call it “the what the hell effect” until Geoff Neupert, SFG II and the author of excellent book Kettlebell Strong, came across a study by Izumiya et al. (2008).  From the study’s title: “Fast… fiber growth reduces fat mass and improves metabolic parameters…” 

    Neupert, an accomplished Olympic lifter himself, pointed out how lean weightlifters are—all without the dishonor of aerobics.  Indeed, the Soviet national team had a standard of 6-7% body fat for everyone but heavyweights—and David Rigert, one of the greatest weightlifters of all time, had 4% body fat at a bodyweight of 200-220.  He called it “dry, fighting weight”.

     

    “Dry, fighting weight” of David Rigert

     

    What is extraordinary about the Japanese study is ”… a reduction in accumulated white adipose tissue and improvements in metabolic parameters independent of physical activity or changes in the level of food intake.” (the emphasis is mine—P.T.)

    Neupert, who would become our resident fat loss expert, has commented, “So you don’t have to rely on things like EPOC, otherwise known as “the Afterburn Effect”, and you don’t have to rely on getting your heart rate up to burn off calories.  And without changing your diet—or going on a diet!  How cool is this?!”

    (Of course, eating clean will get you ripped faster.  Here is Rigert’s typical breakfast: two raw eggs, two steaks with no side dishes, 200g (almost half a pound) of sour cream, a cup of coffee, and mineral water.)

    More great news: you do not have to wait until you have built as much muscle as a Russian weightlifter.  The researchers concluded that, ”The results from the current study indicate that modest increases in type 2B skeletal muscle mass can have a profound systemic effect on whole-body metabolism and adipose tissue.” (the emphasis is mine—P.T.)

    So how do we hammer our fast fibers?—There are only three ways.  Heavy, explosive, or a combination of both.

    All of the training plans by StrongFirst’s most experienced instructors fall into the above categories.  Geoff has kindly agreed to publish one of his.

     

    A Simple Strength Program

    By Geoff Neupert, CSCS, SFG II

     

    One of the best ways to increase overall body strength is to spend some time with the Clean + Press and the Front Squat.  You can either use a single kettlebell or a pair of kettlebells.  My preference is always a pair of kettlebells for the intermediate kettlebell user because of the greater systemic strength effect.  That means there is more demand placed on the body to get stronger, so it does.

    Here’s how the program is laid out:

    A1. Clean + Press

    A2. Front Squat

    • Use your 5RM on the Press.
    • Set a timer for 30 minutes.
    • You will alternate between sets of A1 and A2: Perform a set of C+P’s, then rest.  Then perform a set of FSQ’s, then rest.  Then repeat until time expires.
    • Perform as many sets as possible while remaining as fresh as possible.
    • Refuse to “grind”—keep your rep speed the same.  If it slows down, rest more between sets.

    Week 1:

    Day 1: Ladders. 1, 2, 3

    Day 2: Sets of 1

    Day 3: Sets of 2

    Week 2:

    Day 1: Ladders. 1, 2, 3

    Day 2: Sets of 1

    Day 3: Sets of 3

    Week 3:

    Day 1: Ladders. 1, 2, 3, 4

    Day 2: Sets of 2

    Day 3: Sets of 3

    Week 4:

    Day 1: Ladders. 1, 2, 3, 4, (5)

    Day 2: Sets of 2

    Day 3: Alternate between sets of 3 and 4 if possible.

    Week 5:

    Day 1: Perform 3×3.

    Day 2: Perform a new RM with the same kettlebell(s) you used for the previous 4 weeks. Or you may go up to a heavier kettlebell(s) and perform a new RM.

    Some Notes:

    • You may be tempted to rush between reps and turn this into some kind of MetCon.  Don’t. Remember to stay fresh.
    • A simple method to “stay fresh” is to use “Fast & Loose” drills between sets.
    • Week 4, Day 3, you’ll see “Alternate between sets of 3 and 4 if possible.”  Use wisdom here.  If you can’t alternate, don’t force it.  Drop back down to 3 reps.
    • Week 5, Day 1, you’ll see “Ladders. 1, 2, 3, 4, (5).”  That means if you feel like you can do a set, or sets of 5, then do so.  If you don’t think you can, then don’t.
    • You may be wondering how many sets you should do per workout.  I don’t know.  I prefer to use “autoregulation,” meaning, we all have different training backgrounds and work capacities. What is easy for one may be hard for another, so all I do is specify the reps for you.
    • What should you do on your “off” days?  Not much.  Restoration work primarily.  Easy stretching, mobility work, yoga, or my favorite, Original Strength.  Just keep it light and easy. And certainly no MetCon.

    Enjoy!

     

    May you reach your “dry, fighting weight” without the dishonor of dieting and aerobics!

     

    # # #

     
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