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  • Craig Marker 2:26 pm on February 24, 2015 Permalink | Reply  

    How to Build Your Slow Fibers, Part II 

    By Pavel Tsatsouline, Chairman


    Karen Smith, Master SFG demonstrating the diamond pushup

    This article continues the series started in Should You Build Your Slow Fibers? and continued in How to Build Your Slow Fibers, Part I.

    Today I will present you with a plan that will increase your pressing strength and endurance by building up slow muscle fibers in your triceps. The plan may be used in conjunction with any type of press—the kettlebell military press, the one-arm pushup, the barbell bench press, etc.

    • Carry on your regular press training—low reps and multiple sets aimed at neural adaptations and fast fiber hypertrophy.
    • The exercise is a diamond pushup done in a particular manner: thumbs and index fingers of both hands touching, hands under the sternum, slow constant tension movement in the middle 1/3 of the range of motion.
    • All sets must be done to failure, which must occur in 30-60sec—no more, no less. Raise your hands or feet if necessary to adjust the resistance accordingly.
    • Do not hold your breath; “breathe behind the shield”.
    • The first minute after each set shake the muscles you just worked—swing your arms, shadow box, massage your triceps, etc. to reduce the congestion as quickly as possible! It is essential for the program’s success.
    • A minimal rest between sets is 5min. This number is not negotiable and a longer rest of 10min is preferable. You may do other exercises during that time. Or you may choose the GTG tactic and spread your sets throughout the day. One can do pushups anywhere.
    • Do your slow pushups to failure twice a week, a high volume day and a low volume day. Perform the following number of sets:


    On the heavy pushup day you may train as usual—grinds and ballistics—except for presses.  Do no presses of any kinds, including get-ups.  You may train heavy presses the day after, but not hard.  Following is a sample weekly schedule fitting the Rite of Passage kettlebell press plan.  As an option, the light pushup session may be moved to Saturday.

    And here is a schedule for an athlete training the OAP in the GTG manner:

    Finally, a schedule for a lifter bench pressing twice a week:

    On week 7 or 8 test your press strength (the press of your choice).  10min later test your pushups reps.  You need a baseline of both coming into the program.

    Next time we will discuss the pros and cons of training both the FT and the ST fibers in all muscle groups along with the guidelines for doing it.  Until then, pressing power to you!

  • Craig Marker 11:51 am on February 17, 2015 Permalink | Reply  

    Optimizing Back Health With The Kettlebell Swing 

    by Scott Iardella, SFG II SFL

    We all know the kettlebell swing has many benefits. Would you put “back health” at the top of the list? I would. What exactly is back health? Back health means having a strong, powerful back that’s free from injury. Being free from injury is one of the biggest benefits I’ve personally experienced with the kettlebell swing through the years.

    You already know that the swing is a high power full body explosive movement that doesn’t stress the back, when it’s executed properly. But, I would say that it’s one of the most effective exercises for total back health that we have available to us. Let me give you some reasons why.

    For example, World Powerlifting Champion, Brad Gillingham has directly attributed the kettlebell swing as a key factor with his return to competition after several failed rehabilitation attempts.

    Brad Gillingham

    Brad Gillingham uses kettlebells to keep his back healthy

    I should also give you some background and perspective on my own experiences related to back health. Many years ago I experienced a severe disc herniation in the lumbar spine at level L4-L5, which is a common site for disc herniation.

    The experience was one of the most painful and devastating things I’ve ever been through in my life. The rapidly progressive radiating pain in my left leg was so severe, there was no position I could find that would alleviate it. This means I couldn’t sleep, let alone perform any normal functional activity. It wasn’t long after my injury that I had a surgical discectomy to alleviate the pain. The road back from surgery was a long one, but a successful one, which is another story in itself.

    How bad was the pain prior to surgery? The disc herniation was so severe I had what’s termed “sciatic scoliosis” which is a lateral curvature of the spine as a result of the sciatic pain (the disc herniation). In other words, I literally couldn’t straighten my spine because it made the excruciating and constant pain even worse. Imagine that. It was a bad situation that escalated quickly until my surgery.

    As with most adversity, great things usually come out of it. It ultimately led to me becoming a physical therapist (PT) and working with many back pain patients through the years and helping a lot of people. To this day, this is why I have the utmost respect for optimizing spinal position with training. This something I take very seriously for myself and for those I work with.

    The point of all this? I understand back pain much more than I would have ever wanted. The experiences provided a total appreciation and unique perspective on the importance of optimizing back health.


    First, we need to remember that no one study alone answers all the questions and cannot be used to make broad conclusions. Instead, we must view each study as a piece of the puzzle in the entire body of evidence in a particular area. With this understanding, there were some key findings in the landmark study by Dr. Stuart McGill looking at the biomechanics and muscle activation of the one handed kettlebell swing.

    A key question the study looked to answer was if the kettlebell swing had a unique loading benefit that may be perceived as therapeutic for some (ex. Gillingham, myself, others) yet could potentially cause discomfort in other people? Let’s be clear, technique has a lot to do with how a person would expect to feel during and after performing the kettlebell swing, I think we all agree on that.

    It should be noted that subjects in the McGill study did not have any current or previous low back issues. The study also included a single case study of the kettlebell swing performed by none other than Pavel Tsatsouline. As with most kettlebell studies to date, the kettlebell size used was a 16 kg kettlebell for the swings, with the exception of Pavel who used a 32 kg kettlebell, more on this in a minute.

    Pavel at Prof. McGill’s lab at the University of Waterloo, Canada

    The swing technique was the standard hardstyle technique, but did include “kime” at the top of the swing. Kime is a brief muscular pulse at the top in an attempt to elicit a rapid muscle contraction-relaxation.


    If you’ve performed a swing, you know there are many muscles that are activated. In the study, EMG (electomyography) was conducted to analyze the muscle firing of the following:

    Rectus Abdominis
    External Obliques
    Internal Obliques
    Latissimus Dorsi
    Erector Spinae
    Gluteus Medius
    Gluteus Maximus
    Rectus Femoris
    Biceps Femoris

    While all of these muscles are important, the hip extensors, specifically the gluteals are of great importance during the swing. The term “gluteal amnesia” is commonly used in the fitness community to describe the lack of firing in the glutes for many key exercises. Glute activation is one of the most powerful phenomenons of a properly executed kettlebell swing and many other athletic, power exercises.

    Glute activation is so important that even the great Tiger Woods made a recent comment after a poor showing in a golf tournament about his glutes. He stated the following, “It’s just my glutes are shutting off. Then they don’t activate and then, hence, it goes into my lower back. So, I tried to activate my glutes as best I could, in between, but it just they never stayed activated.” These were actual comments following his withdrawal from the tournament. Just a thought, but maybe Tiger would benefit from a kettlebell swing.

    Back to the McGill study. The study demonstrated significant results in regards to glute activation with the most impressive numbers produced by Pavel’s one hand swing. Pavel generated such powerful muscle activity, his contralateral (opposite side) gluteal muscles fired at 100% MVC (maximal voluntary contraction). Without question, the one hand swing is a proven solution to activate the glutes.


    The study also revealed an interesting ratio of compressive force to shear force. Let me explain. If we have 2 spine vertebrae, think of the compressive force being the downward pressure of the top vertebrae on the vertebrae below it. This downward pressure is the compressive force.

    If we have the same 2 vertebrae, visualize the one on top being forced forward relative to the one on the bottom. This is the shear force. Understanding how these 2 forces impact the spine are significant considerations for the kettlebell swing, according to the data by Dr. McGill.

    The findings of the study demonstrated that the forward acceleration of the kettlebell in the swing phase produce increased posterior shear forces in relation to compressive forces. You may expect this due to the mechanics of projecting the kettlebell horizontally. If you compare this to a deadlift, for example, you’d expect more compressive force due to the downward pressure of the load and maintaining a vertical path of the bar.

    Swings require stability, yet they also promote stability. If there is true instability of one or more vertebral segments, then according to the McGill data, it would make sense that those exposed to posterior shear loads could potentially have intolerance with kettlebell swing. An important point to remember here is that these types of cases are quite uncommon, but they do exist.

    The study concludes that the majority of people should greatly benefit from the effectiveness of the kettlebell swing to strengthen the posterior chain, but there may be isolated cases who may experience shear load intolerance and may not be ideal candidates.



    Fat loss, explosive strength, a high level of conditioning, posterior chain development, and forging athleticism are all proven benefits of the kettlebell swing. One of the major benefits we don’t always consider is optimizing back heath. When it comes to back health, the swing can be considered a foundational exercise for the majority of people because of the unique features that as discussed here.

    The swing greatly contributes to high levels of muscular activation in the posterior chain, as well as abdominals. The hip hinging mechanics, neutral spine, and powerful strength and conditioning benefits make it one of the most innovative movements we have to optimize and restore back health. As a former back patient and rehabilitation professional, I would conclude that the properly performed kettlebell swing is essential for a high performing and pain free back for most people.

    McGill et al, Kettlebell Swing, Snatch, and Bottoms Up Carry: Back and Hip Muscle Activation, Motion, and Low Back Loads. JSCR Volume 26, Number 1, January 2012, pp. 16-27

    About the Author

    Article by Scott Iardella, MPT, CSCS, CISSN, SFGII, CK-FMS, USAW. Scott is an SFG Level II and SFL Instructor, former Orthopedic/Sports Medicine Physical Therapist, and has diverse credentials and experiences in strength and performance training. Scott trains and teaches in South Florida. For more information, go to RdellaTraining.com.

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

    Further Reading: My Journey to the Kettlebell by Dr. Stuart McGill

  • Craig Marker 1:51 pm on February 10, 2015 Permalink | Reply  

    How to Build Your Slow Fibers, Part I 

    By Pavel Tsatsouline, Chairman


    Great Soviet dancer Mahmoud Esambayev (center) with an army big wig and a cosmonaut in the Kremlin.

    You may have guessed that slow fibers take slow movements to train them.  To appreciate the challenge of super slow consider the “Golden God” dance by the famous Soviet Chechen dancer Mahmoud Esambayev.

    Born in a highlands village where every man and woman knew how to dance, Mahmoud started dancing at the age of seven and in his teens became a professional traveling with a troupe.  During World War II Esambayev was wounded in the leg.  The surgeon told him, “I have saved your leg but you will never be able to dance again.”  This did not stop the young man from becoming one of the most accomplished and beloved dancers in the Soviet Union.  Many of his dances could not be repeated by any other professional.  Esambayev became especially famous for his series “Dances of the Peoples of the World” in which he was able to outperform the natives.  Indian dance “Golden God” is relevant for this article.

    The dance started in a position known in ballet as a “full plié”—a rock bottom squat with the knees fully turned out, like a frog.  The dancer took a minute and a half to rise up, symbolizing the sunrise.  The dance demanded an extremely smooth ascent; little bells were attached to the dancer’s clothes and they were not supposed to ring.  Six minutes of dance followed and then the performer went back down to a full plié squat in a minute in a half—the sunset.  Indian consultants assured the Chechen that this dance demanded at least eight years of study.  Esambayev mastered it in less than three weeks! (Behold the power of having one’s foundation of basics down.)

    Before you make fun of Esambayev’s shiny clothes and make-up try taking 90sec to smoothly rise from this position.

    Fortunately for you, slow fiber hypertrophy training is less painful than that; a set should take only 30-60sec. Today I will outline one of slow fiber building protocols by Prof. Victor Selouyanov. As mentioned earlier, his methods have been used with great success by top Russian athletes from a variety of sports, from bicycle racing to judo; from soccer to full contact karate.

    • Style of performance: super slow, no acceleration.
    • Range of motion: partial that does not allow rest at any point.
    • Set duration: 30-60sec to failure (both heavy and light days).
    • Rest between sets of a given exercise: 5-10min, active (walk, “fast and loose”). Other exercises may be done during that window.
    • Resistance: 30-70% 1RM for the lower body and 10-40% 1RM for the upper body. No difference in resistance from heavy to light day.
    • Weekly schedule: bodybuilding style split training; a heavy day and a light day per muscle group.
    • Volume: 4-9 sets on heavy day; 1-3 sets on light day.

    The resistance is chosen to hit failure within the specified time frame. The difference in % 1RM between the lower and upper body exercises is explained by a higher concentration of ST fibers in the legs.

    The purpose of going to failure is dual. One, to create a particular metabolic environment. Two, to cause psychological stress that promotes release of anabolic hormones. Unlike with heavier lifting, it is OK to go to failure. Since the exercise feels so different from a heavy lift, neural adaptations—learning failure—are not a problem. Safety is not much of an issue either as the weights are very light. Besides, with the exception of the back squat, Prof. Selouyanov favors isolation bodybuilding exercises for ST hypertrophy. Among those he recommends to elite wrestlers are preacher curls and skull crushers! (See Easy Strength for explanations why these “sissy” moves are beneficial to experienced athletes but not beginners.)

    Selouyanov is a big fan of super slow partial back hypers. Reportedly, they were one of the key training secrets of Vasily Alexeev. The weightlifting great had back problems and was unable to do heavy clean pulls (deadlifts). So he would kick everyone out of the gym, lock the doors, and do slow partial back extensions over a pommel horse with a barbell weighing only 40-60kg. The rest, as they say, is history.

    Bodyweight and partner exercises are also frequently used by elite Russian wrestlers coached in Selouyanov’s method. His protocol is only for training the muscle, not the movement, and it does not matter what type of resistance you are using, as long as you burn out your guns in the specified manner.

    Contrary to what you might have read on the Internet, no one knows the exact mechanisms of turning on the muscle building machinery. Prof. Selouyanov developed the above protocol based on his own theory. In a nutshell, four conditions must be met for muscle hypertrophy:

    1. Presence of amino acids in the cell.
    2. An increased concentration of anabolic hormones in the blood as a result of psychological strain.
    3. An increased concentration of free creatine in the muscle fibers.
    4. An increased concentration of hydrogen ions (H+) in the muscle fibers.

    The first condition is obvious. The second supports training to failure and making the muscles burn miserably. The third and fourth take some explanation.

    Both free creatine and hydrogen ions unlock the muscle doors to anabolic hormones. The latter go in and turn on the genetic machinery responsible for protein synthesis.

    The 30-60sec window is defined by the goal of increasing these substances’ concentration. Free creatine is formed when muscle uses creatine phosphate as fuel and CP is usually used up in half a minute of hard work. Hydrogen ions are a byproduct of muscular contraction. Their concentration is maxed out at 60sec and at 30sec it reaches 65%. Now the set timing makes sense.

    A super slow non-lockout style of exercise performance is dictated by the slow fibers’ ability to use oxygen and to rapidly recover. The blood vessels’ occlusion produced by this traditional bodybuilding technique cancels this ability.

    You might ask, how does the Russian professor’s methodology differ from what bodybuilders have been doing for decades? Sure, he has precisely defined the loading parameters, but that is refinement, not innovation.

    It is the radical 5-10min rest period that gives Selouyanov’s method its unique edge. Bodybuilders, when doing constant tension, peak contraction, and super slow reps, always rush the rest periods, chasing max pump (pump is a manifestation of H+ accumulation, by the way). Selouyanov’s research has demonstrated that while hydrogen ions are needed for a short period of time to unlock the muscle cell to anabolic hormones, they destroy the muscle if allowed to stick around too long. If you remember your chemistry, you will realize that an ion is a charged particle, ready to reach and damage. Hence the extreme 5-10min rest that makes all the difference.

    Professor states that active rest—walking around, “fast and loose” drills—is far superior to passively sitting around. Movement allows H+ to circulate and get cleared more rapidly by multiple muscle groups.

    But scientific theories are dime a dozen if they are not backed by practice. Whether Selouyanov’s is correct or not, his protocols have been used with extraordinary success by many elite Russian athletes from a variety of sports, and that is all that matters.

    Stand by for a training plan.

  • Nikki Shlosser 3:43 pm on February 3, 2015 Permalink | Reply  

    Bigger and Stronger with Chins and Dips 

    By Stefan Hedengren



    Training for mass without barbells is tricky business. I designed this program for just that purpose but before you write it off as just another bodybuilding routine you might be interested to know that it’s a very serious strength program for the upper body. What I’m about to present to you is a two week cycle that will add more weight to your weighted chins and dips than any other program I’ve ever encountered. During the time I did it I added 20 kg to my 3RM which lead me to 150% bodyweight chins and dips.

    You might be surprised by such low reps in a mass program but it actually makes sense when you think about it. To build mass, you need to be strong first. Imagine what an additional 20 kg in your 3RM would do for your 8RM – your previous weight will feel like child’s play! More weight = more gains. Furthermore, due to physiological reasons outside the scope of this article, you will never reach your full hypertrophy potential if you don’t train in low repetition ranges, i.e., with heavy weights. Pick up a text book on muscle if you’re interested in the scientific reasons.


    The basic outline

    The model I used was a block periodization design, alternating two 2-week blocks, one volume block and one intensity block. The strength increases gained in the intensity block allows you to lift more weight in the volume block. In this article, I will present the intensity block.

    I can’t take credit for the basic outline of this program. It came to my attention by StrongFirst Chairman Pavel Tsatsouline, but is from an unknown Russian author. You might know it as ”The fighter pull-up program” and it looks like this when applied to your 3RM:

    Day 1: 3,2,1,1

    Day 2: 3,2,1,1

    Day 3: 3,2,2,1

    Day 4: 3,3,2,1

    Day 5: 4,3,2,1

    Day 6: Rest

    This means that you do four sets each day starting with three repetitions (your maximum) and work your way to four. The program then continues by successively adding repetitions. But we want to add weight so here’s what we’ll do instead:

    1. Figure out the 3RM. Take a day and work up to it. Keep adding weight until you no longer can get three repetitions. This is your starting point and the weight you should use for all sets to begin with.

    2. When you’ve done the first six days, go back to day one but add 1,5-3 kg. You’re starting over with three repetitions.

    3. Once those two weeks are finished, you switch to the volume block for two weeks and then back to this block again. You should be 3-6 kg’s better when you come back. Keep alternating.

    Do this block with both chins and dips. The same progression works for both. They might not be at the same weight, that’s OK. Pick any chinning variation you want – pullups, chinups, neutral grip, etc., you can even change them every block, just make sure you keep it for the entire block. For dips I only suggest parallel bar dips, certainly not bench dips. I did my ”parallel bar” dips between two chairs.

    This is a 10-14 day block, depending on how well you can recover. Theoretically, you could do five days and then start over before changing the block. You could also do the program as listed above (a 12-day block). Eventually you might find that adding a rest day somewhere in the middle might be a good idea, therefore making it a 2-week block. It’s all good as long as you recover.


    What if you fail a repetition? 

    If you fail any set after the first one, you simply didn’t rest long enough. Take longer rest periods tomorrow. There’s no reason at all why you should fail after the first set. Rest periods are as long as needed.

    If you fail the first set you have a few options: 1) take a day off and try again after that, or 2) just try again tomorrow. Maybe you just had a bad day – it happens.

    Lower body work is up to you – pistols, swings, squats – just don’t kill yourself. Personally, I found it best to do it later in the day in a separate workout. Even if it’s just 7-10 reps of the two movements fatigue will build up, especially since you’ll be adding weight at a fast rate.


    The volume block

    When the 2-week intensity block is done you want to make use of your new strength in a higher volume, lower intensity block. Here are some guidelines:

    1. Focus on volume over intensity: more sets, more reps and more movements but lighter weights.

    2. Include chins and dips but for higher repetitions (i.e., 5-8 or even higher).

    3. Make use of a split routine, don’t do chins and dips daily.

    4. Eat and grow.

    This program added 20 kg to my 3RM chins and dips and got me to 150% bodyweight for reps in both movements while increasing significantly in mass. It can do the same for you. Good luck.


    About the author

    Stefan is a personal trainer residing in Lund, Sweden. He has previously specialized in training with little or no equipment but in recent years has turned to powerlifting. With or without the use of barbells and kettlebells, Stefan’s goal is making the world a stronger place one client at a time.

  • Nikki Shlosser 8:37 pm on January 31, 2015 Permalink | Reply  

    Message from the Chairman 

    By Pavel Tsatsouline, Chairman

    Ladies and gentlemen, I am proud to announce our new Chief SFG Instructor—Brett Jones!

    StrongFirst has lots of irons in the fire. I am writing new curricula for military and law enforcement, researching and developing alactic+aerobic kettlebell protocols (the cutting edge of endurance and work capacity today), refining Plan Strong and writing new books. This does not leave me enough time to devote to polishing the chrome of the SFG. I want to thank Brett for taking on this mission critical position.

    No one is more qualified to be the Chief SFG Instructor than Brett Jones. He has the deepest grasp of our training system, an encyclopedic knowledge of the human body and exceptional communication skills. An and friend and colleague who has been with me since the very beginning, Brett has my unconditional trust.

    My title at StrongFirst remains Chairman and Director. Adding Brett to HQ has just made us all stronger.

    More power to us all!



  • Nikki Shlosser 3:45 pm on January 27, 2015 Permalink | Reply  

    Should You Train Your Slow Fibers? 

    By Pavel Tsatsouline, Chairman


    Franz Snideman, Senior SFG, a 10.7sec 100m sprinter

    Slow twitch fibers got a bad rep in the power world.  Slower, weaker… what self-respecting lifter or wrestler would want to train them?  Yet cutting edge Russian research tells us that every type of athlete, from marathoner to powerlifter, has a lot to gain from it.

    First I will talk about the needs of PLers and others who pursue strength events in which the speed of contraction does not matter: Iron Maiden/Beast Tamer challenge, the front lever, the iron cross, etc.  Then we will deal with power athletes like Olympic lifters and sprinters, and finally with a wide spectrum of athletes needing endurance, from fighters to ultra-endurance runners.

    I. Slow fiber hypertrophy for absolute strength

    While it is true that slow twitch (ST) fibers do not get as thick as their fast twitch (FT) brothers, we have known since the sixties that per square inch of cross section, they are just as strong.  In other words, two finger-thick bunches of fibers, fast and slow, are equally strong.  Sure it takes a higher number of thinner fibers to make up that bunch, but why would that matter?

    Consider the study by Selouyanov in which experienced athletes did very light and slow squats* and increased their 1RM by 25.6% in six weeks.  Are you interested now?  Not surprisingly, there are elite Russian powerlifters such as Dmitry Kasatov and Alexander Grachev who use state of the art ST fiber hypertrophy protocols as an integral part of their training.

    Should you do it too?

    Perhaps.  There are two downsides.  First, something has got to give.  Your time is limited and so are the resources of your endocrine system.  You will have to introduce ST hypertrophy training at the expense of something else—and your programming will greatly increase in complexity*.  Second, many 1RM guys and gals simply despise slow, “go for the burn” reps (understandably).

    There are upsides too.  A high-mileage lifter is able to dramatically reduce his heavy training mostly to the practice of the competition lifts while taking care of hypertrophy with light ST exercises.  Reportedly, this is what great Vasily Alexeev did for his back.  His back problems prevented him from doing heavy deadlifts (snatch and clean pulls).  So he developed a secret variation of the back hyper* and kicked everyone out of the gym and locked the door when he did it.

    Another upside is maximizing one’s muscular development—if this is your goal.  You are a heavyweight lifter, a football lineman, a power bodybuilder.

    If you need to watch your weight, you still could use this tactic locally.  E.g., if your goal is to improve a press—kettlebell or barbell military press, bench press, handstand or one-arm pushup—adding a triceps ST hypertrophy protocol to your regimen is neither going to tip the scale, nor make your training too complex or draining.*  The same applies to a grip master pumping up his forearms.

    If you fancy yourself a “hard gainer” trying to bulk up, I anticipate your idea to do this type of training exclusively.  When it comes to your upper body, don’t even think about it!  An average person’s upper body muscles are 70% fast twitch.  Even if you are far the other way, you are still loaded with FT fibers and they have a much greater potential for growth.  Combine FT and ST hypertrophy training perhaps, but do not go exclusively ST.

    For the legs it may not be a bad idea.  They have a 50/50 average ST/FT ratio and you might be skewed far into the ST.  Your answer could be training like an injured lifter—moderately heavy singles, doubles, and triples to address the neural and psychological components of strength plus light ST hypertrophy work.

    II. Slow fiber hypertrophy for power athletes

    Since fast fibers contract faster than the slow ones, it does not seem to be a good idea on the surface.  Yet, according to maverick Russian professor Victor Selouyanov, you would be making a grave mistake: “[Although] maximal speed of ST and FT muscle fibers differs by 20-40%, the contraction speed in real athletic actions does not exceed 50% of the maximal contraction speed.  Thus an increase in strength of the ST fibers increases power and speed practically in all types of athletic activity.  Even in a sprint.”

    Selouyanov & Turaev established that 50% of the sprinting power comes from slow fibers!  Then they subjected a group of experienced sprinters to a leg ST hypertrophy regimen.  Their 100m times improved from 10.9sec to 10.7sec.  In other experiments Seluyanov increased the athletes’ standing jumps through ST hypertrophy.

    The pros and cons of introducing slow fiber hypertrophy training into your regimen are the same as for powerlifters and Iron Maidens.

    III. Slow fiber hypertrophy for athletes requiring any type of endurance

    A short answer is, absolutely!  One’s endurance, be it in an MMA fight or in a marathon run, is very dependent on the mitochondria that enable the muscle to use oxygen*.  And slow fibers, unlike fast ones, come pre-equipped with mitochondria.  It will be a game changer for your “conditioning”.  For instance, in another study by Selouyanov, eight weeks of ST squats upped the anaerobic threshold by 20%.

    * Stand by for a series of articles that will expand on the topics I have marked with an asterisk, as well as detailed training protocols.  A heads up: slow twitch fiber hypertrophy training is done very differently from what you might expect.  So do not rush for the “burn” until you read the directions.


  • Nikki Shlosser 3:08 pm on January 22, 2015 Permalink | Reply  

    Okinawan strength: Developing the “Iron Body” 

    By Stuart McGill, PhD


    Strength is context specific – to remain immovable, to be resilient to blows and forces, and to lift and handle large loads with low risk of injury require a specific type of strength. The body is stiffened to become unbreakable. The martial arts of the island of Okinawa, Japan have embodied these strength principles to develop the “Iron Body”. They involve muscular stiffening augmented with some breathing and breath holding techniques. We have investigated some of these techniques in the laboratory and in the training room. They enhance strength and injury resilience. Here are some thoughts on Okinawan strength and developing an iron body.

    Injury resilience

    The fundamental tenant of resilience to absorb blows and remain immovable is enhanced through drills to achieve total body stiffness. This arises from muscular contraction with breath holding, or controlled breathing techniques to create a rigid, unforgiving cylinder out of the torso. The spine is compressed with this muscle action while it is postured into a neutral position. This means that the normal curves associated with upright standing are maintained. This is corrective for some people who excessively elevate their rib cage during strengthening efforts. The lungs are filled to about 70% of full volume then the ribcage and abdomen are stiffened preparing them to bear tremendous load without any internal micro‐movement at the spine joints.

    One of the best drills to achieve a neutral spine while learning the forceful breathing is one we recently assessed, and published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research (Badiuk, Andersen and McGill, 2014), we named it the “Lewit” after Dr. Karel Lewit and his colleague Dr. Pavel Kolar of Prague, Czech Republic. Dr. Lewit has contributed a lifetime of creative assessment and corrective exercise approaches based on postural and breathing mechanics. His inspiration combined with great insight into several strength correctives refined by my good friend Dr. Clayton Skaggs of St. Louis, led to this particular exercise. While the masters of Okanowan karate describe “deep abdominal breathing” together with “muscular locks” which involve mindful focus, the “Lewit” forces this torso/abdominal compression with a neutral spine when practiced with the guidelines we published.

    The essence of the “Lewit” is to develop engrams of torso stiffness where the torso cylinder remains compressed without ribcage flair. This technique may be employed in pulses or for situations calling for isometric torso strength over longer durations. When the skills acquired during the “Lewit” are transferred to standing, the visual gaze is locked onto the horizontal.

    Very briefly (the interested reader is referred to our journal paper for a complete guide), the individual lays on the floor in a crook/lay position, while they teeter on the sacrum to achieve a neutral spine. Then the exercise really begins at the bottom of low tide breath, where the last remaining air is forced out of the thorax through tightly pursed lips creating a resistance.

    Once this ability to create an “iron torso” is mastered, techniques to “root into the earth” are practiced leading to the full deployment of Okinawan strength in daily strength training.

    “Root” Training

    Rooting into the ground begins with skilled development of the “big foot”. The foot is trained to grip the ground using the toes and the heels. This creates the largest base of support possible. “Stomping the foot” to achieve the muscular root is a common practice. A progression would begin with rooting both feet, then continue by standing and rooting with just one foot. These skills are tested by a partner pushing the stiffened and rooted trainee in pulses, and with slower forces to hone the ability to steer the line of drive through the linkage into the rooted feet. Pulses may be applied with a stick – essentially the partner is given full permission to “beat the trainee” looking for a “soft spot”. Any soft spot is indicated by pain. The trainee learns to stiffen the area, eliminating the tissue compliance and pain. The forces applied to challenge the “rooted posture” may be made more complex with the addition of twisting loads applied to the arm, leg and torso.

    Other progressions may include learning to wedge the body against immovable objects. Here the body is stiffened to apply isometric force to the object, and well rooted and wedged. Mindful focus is used to conduct a survey throughout the body, auditing for any feeling of weakness or compliance. This is then corrected with more regional stiffness.

    Putting the principles together to enhance performance and injury resilience

    Unfortunately, in my clinical practice consulting on back pain I see far too many patients created by trainers prescribing strength training without sufficient “Okinawan strength”. They mistakenly have clients perform exercises such as deadlifts thinking that preservation of a neutral spine is the primary coaching cue. Those practicing Okinawan strength would begin with:

    • Establishing a root to the floor.
    • The torso is stiffened with motion only at the hip and knee to allow descent to the bar.
    • As the grip is established on the bar the latissimus and torso muscles form an “anti‐shrug” effort adding more torso stiffness.
    • The breath is held and the bar is pushed downwards further compressing the torso.
    • The stiffened body becomes a wedge under the bar.
    • Then instead of “lifting the bar”, mindful thought is directed to “pulling the hips forward and through”.

    Of course this would be preceded by hip assessments to establish the safe depth of the squat ‐ whether the client is qualified to pull the bar from the floor or whether they should pull the bar elevated on blocks. It is important not to impinge the hips nor sacrifice the neutral position of the stiffened spine. If you are familiar with the coaching cues of my friend and elite coach Marty Gallagher, coaching superstars in the powerlifting world such as Karwoski and Gillingham, you will be familiar with Okinawan strength principles.

    Other athletic endeavors may require the ability to burst out from Okinawan stiffness into a speed task. Speed is only possible with muscle relaxation. Pavel Tsatsouline has promoted these ideas via kettlebell techniques where he hones cyclic stiffness and relaxation. There are several relaxation drills to create speed out of a base of Okinawan strength that enables faster limb motion, and higher strike force.

    Many techniques throughout the martial arts have been given traditional explanations and Okinawan techniques are no exception. For example, “pushing the tongue forcefully to the roof of the mouth behind the front teeth” traditionally has been explained as the connection of energies between body meridians. However, modern scientific investigation in our lab has confirmed that this engages the deep flexors of the neck, stiffening the neck and providing an anchor for the trapezius complex to begin the formation of the stiffened tower that will enhance lifting and pulling ability.

    There is a downside to some iron body “hardening exercises” from traditional Okinawan techniques of striking and being struck. Some old masters have damaged their hands from years of “strike hardening” that they are substantially disabled. However, those who have developed the skill of muscularly hardening with pristine technique and no joint damage build impressive durable athleticism into their later years. As a testament to good form, Marty Gallagher has just enjoyed his 45th year of pulling 500 pounds from the floor!
    More in‐depth analysis of creating injury resilience and performance enhancement is contained in my textbook “Ultimate back fitness and performance”. (see www.backfitpro.com)

    1. Badiuk, B.W.N., Andersen, J.T., McGill, S.M. (2014) Exercises to activate the deeper abdominal wall muscles: The Lewit. J. Strength Condit. Res., 28(3):856‐60. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3182aac3f3.

    2. McGill, S.M. Ultimate back fitness and performance, Fifth edition 2014, Backfitpro Inc., Waterloo, Canada, ISBN 0‐9736018‐0‐4 (www.backfitpro.com)

    The author thanks Dr. Craig Liebenson, Los Angeles Sport and Spine, who inspired this article.

  • Nikki Shlosser 3:03 pm on January 20, 2015 Permalink | Reply  

    The Raider Project 

    By Mike Connelly, SFG II



    Part 1

    The Marine Corps is the most feared and respected fighting force on the planet.  The storied history of the Corps is a seemingly endless report of instances of honor, courage, and commitment; the core values of the Marine Corps.  Having experienced this tradition firsthand, I can tell you that the reputation was earned through a training system that is second to none.  From bootcamp, to occupational schools, to continuing education, the Marine Corps knows how to assess a situation, form a plan, and execute it with extreme efficiency.  As instructors and practitioners of physical culture, we stand to learn a lot from an organization that has seen it all and continues to produce excellence.

    To list what the Marine Corps does well would be an endeavor that I just don’t have time for so for both my sake and yours, I will limit this conversation to a few, broad physical training aspects of the Corps’ culture.

    • Keeping it simple.  Without getting political, I will just say that the Marine Corps is not on the top of any “who needs new gear or facilities” lists sitting up in Washington.  That was always ok with us.  As a matter of fact, we took great pride in performing above and beyond expectations with less than desirable quality or quantity of supplies.  This mindset also rang true in our physical training.  Organized PT (Physical Training) sessions rarely included any equipment outside of a pull up bar and even that was not a constant.  Through a regimen that includes very basic exercises, the Marine Corps creates and maintains a fit and ready fighting force.  Outside of PT, we did a lot of loaded carries.  When it comes to keeping it simple in the exercise realm, it is hard to beat the loaded carry.  See weight, pick weight up, carry weight for a set distance, put weight down.  Congratulations!  You are now stronger than when you first laid eyes on that weight!

    • As Dan John says, “Keeping the goal the goal.”   If you want to be proficient with a movement or score well on a test, you must practice what is required of you often.  At least 3 times a week, Marines gather on the Platoon level and train.  We run, do calisthenics, pull ups, push ups, and maybe even go through the standard USMC obstacle course (that was always a special treat).  The intensity of training varied through distance of runs, volume of exercises, and duration of training.  One thing was always constant though, we are training movements that will be tested through the PFT or standard combat training drills.  There were no frills and no distractions from accomplishing what was expected of us and therefore very few had a hard time maintaining at least the minimum standards.

    • Chaos.  As I mentioned before, the Corps has a standard obstacle course that you will find duplicated on just about every Camp around the globe.  At first glance, it seems like there would be nothing to it for any physically competent individual.  Throw in people yelling at you (Not like when you get yelled at by your dad.  This yelling comes from what seems to be the depths of hell and is guaranteed to rattle your train of thought.), exhaustion from prior activity, and maybe even a loaded rucksack and some rain and you have yourself a training event that will test your ability to perform a task under stress.  You know what Marines have to do a lot of the time?  Perform tasks under stress.  So this is a fine tuned instrument for dialing Marines into the idea that no matter what we encounter, we have a job to do and we are going to do it.  Outside of that, Marines are also very, very good at handling things when they don’t go their way.  Plans are great but they rarely survive first contact so be prepared to adapt your strategy and stay in the fight!

    That is a very short and general glimpse at what is done very well in the physical culture created by the Marine Corps.  And while perfect does not exist in this world, my beloved Corps has done a stand up job of adapting to the demands of being a world class fighting force and overcoming the obstacles laid out by an often tumultuous world for 239 years.

    As outstanding as the Marine Corps’ training regimen is, as with anything else, there is always room for improvement.  My mindset on training has changed since my days of wearing PT belts as I have since dedicated my attention to studying better ways to train the human body.  My thought that the best way around a wall was through it has been replaced with more subtle and insightful strategies and because of that I feel I am more resilient than I have ever been.  Notice I kept that to “more resilient than I’ve ever been.”  I’m not going to throw out the obligatory “I’m stronger than I’ve ever been” because me-at-21 would rip me-at 38’s arms out of socket.  But I will say that I now see how I could have been even stronger as a twenty-one year old Marine.

    Here are a few ways that I would humbly suggest the Marine Corps adapt their training to address some gaps that were existent during my service.  My thoughts are that if the following movements were tested there would be fewer injuries in training and an even more effective fighting force would be in place.

    • Sprinting.  I was fortunate to never have been required to serve in combat.  Having said that, I can’t imagine that there are too many instances in combat where my pace in moving from one spot to the other would match that of a PT run.  In our organized PT, we never did any sprints which does not really reflect the demands that would be put on our body in combat training.  In assault drills, we were taught to time our advancements by saying, “I’m up.  They see me.  I’m down.”  This meant we would start saying that as soon as we showed ourselves from behind cover and would be down in the prone position or behind cover by the time we recited “I”m down.”  This was the optimal time spent exposed in order to increase your chances of not being recognized and “addressed” by the enemy.   It is my understanding that this is an issue that is starting to be addressed in Combat Fitness Testing.

    • Squatting/Hinging.  Marines do an awful lot of picking things up and putting them down.  Rucksacks, ammo cans, water containers, other Marines… you name it, we’ve picked it up off the ground and put it back down again.  The body squat or hinge were relatively under-practiced in our regimented PT, and it was never tested, yet a great portion of the work we did required us to constantly perform a squat or hinge of some sort.

    • Front Loaded Lifts.  I would recommend front loaded lifting not only for the enormous strength and “armor” building benefits but also as a balance to the large amounts of back loaded lifting Marines do.  A lot of our training was done with a rucksack of various weights on our back and our bodies slightly bent over.

    • Assessments/Instruction.  The last thing I would add is some form of assessing the individual Marine’s performance and guided instructions on how to address that assessment.  Most of us exercised on our own outside of regimented PT but really had no idea how to get better at what we may have needed to get better at in order to up our PT score or our performance in training.  Sometimes the issue lies outside of just performing the desired exercise a lot to get better and that was something that eluded me during my service days.

    There are a couple of takeaways that I would like to address here as I feel they will answer some popular questions with coaching; especially coaching groups.  Keep it simple.  More often than not, my answer to questions about how we do things at Rebell is, “Dial it back and stick to the basics.”  The manual that we are taught from as StrongFirst instructors has been written through years of experience from our lead instructors.  Stay the course that has been provided to you.  Establish goals and trim the fat off of your training.  I think that one of the largest factors in people not hitting their goals is over complicated or ambiguous programming.  Stick to the necessities with little to no fluff and you will reach your goal much quicker.  Have a plan but be ready for the inevitable detour.  If your programming hits a snag (in group training this is almost a guarantee) keep your cool, reassess, and move forward from there.  These simple yet effective guidelines have helped keep the Marine Corps the most effective fighting force on the planet for centuries!


    Part 2

    Having served in the Marine Corps, I have conversations from time to time with people who wonder what it was like to serve in the best fighting force on the planet.  “Strong people stand up for themselves.  Stronger people stand up for others.” That’s an old adage that was passed on to my nephew from his Papa.  To me, there are no other words that culminate the spirit of my beloved Corps.  We are a group of men and women that at some point decided that we wanted to put our lives on the line to help others that needed us.  There is plenty of evidence to support this view.  Just turn on the news and you are likely to see the Marines in the middle of someone else’s trouble.  Whether it be through humanitarian efforts or digging trenches and fighting persecuting forces around the globe.  We truly are the world’s 911 force.

    There is a side of our service men and women that we do not hear about too often, if at all.  For most of these young men and women the battle that started in a foreign land does not often end there.  It follows them home and erodes away at their everyday lives.  It consumes the people that they used to be and leaves an empty shell void of hope.  A very sad reality is that twenty-two of these heroes commit suicide each day.  That sounds like a number that is hard to believe, but I can assure you that it is very real and very well may be underestimated.  These men and women, who so selflessly toed the line to help others, now need our help to gain the lives that they deserve;  healthy, prosperous lives supported by those who love them and care enough to help them with the aftermath of their service

    In the middle of this silent battle there are some that have stood up and taken the initiative to fight.  These are men and women that have experienced the trauma and anguish that so many have fallen to over the years.  Their mission is stated clearly; “We take pride in supporting veterans and ensuring their success in life.”.  They do this through many ways, including matching veterans up with mentors, providing professional counselling, and educating the public on this epidemic.  As strong as these men are, they need our help.  This is not a battle that they can win on their own.

    For their years of service, Marines live a fast paced and active lifestyle.  Coming out of that lifestyle can prove to be a tough transition both mentally and physically.  As facility owners, we can help.  We have the means to provide a serviceman or woman an environment they have grown accustomed to and provide an outlet for some of the anxiety that comes with the transition to civilian life.  This sounds like a simple solution and it is in reality, but the impact it can have on a veterans life is a big positive.

    On October 26th, SFG Level 2 Paul Lyngso brought some of his students from Burr Ridge Kettlebell Club to Rebell Strength and Conditioning to engage in a small battle on behalf of our nation’s warriors.  We, along with hundreds of facilities nation wide, and even some overseas, participated in The Raider Project Challenge.  We put ourselves through a gruelling one hour workout to raise funds.  It was a huge success with thousands participating, but the fight is not over.

    Lifting twice your bodyweight off the floor is strong.  Reaching your hand out and lifting someone else’s body weight off the floor is stronger regardless of how much they weigh.  We can make an impact. There are many ways that we can get involved with this effort.  If you know someone that has served, reach out to them.  Let them know that you are there if they need help.  Let them know that you are there for them just as they were there for all of us.

    The Raider Project is just getting started with their mission and while it has been a strong start, it is a long road that they will be travelling.  They need our help!

    For more information on The Raider Project : http://www.raiderproject.org

    To make a monetary donation to The Raider Project : https://www.crowdrise.com/raiderproject

    I would like to thank my friend and much younger Marine brother, Matt Patruno, for helping me get this together.  A combat Marine, Matt has opened my eyes to so many ways that we can help our nation’s heroes.  I am very grateful for that.  And, as he has done at so many points of my career, Dan John who helped me get the many thoughts I had on this together.  Thanks for being a mentor that leaves nothing to be desired.

    Godspeed StrongFirst,

    Mike Connelly
    Co-Owner/Co-Founder Rebell Strength and Conditioning
    SFG Level 2 Instructor

    Mike Connelly might be the kindest scary man you’ll ever meet.  A large, impressive figure with a big beard and huge smile; people might sense his jovial humor and confuse him with a gentle giant- and they’d be accurate.  Just add tattoos, drive, and some of the most intense physical training in the world.  He served in the United States Marine Corps from 1997 – 2001.  Though his service never saw live combat, he provided security for weapons and prisoner transports and was an instructor of marksmanship.  Besides his military career, he has spent his entire life in Chicago, a name he pronounces with the true accent of a “Second City” son.  Through his years as a resident, he developed deep roots to his city which spread into the motto of the business he co-founded, Rebell Strength and Conditioning.  The true hearted strength gym promotes the altruism: Strength – Community – Education, raising over $45,000 for various causes in the little over three years they’ve been open.  Never forgetting his brothers in arms, his personal passion projects tend to involve supporting military veterans and their families.  His personal family is also expanding this February when he marries the love of his life, Jaime, and officially adopts their dog-child, Bowie.

    Mike believes in love, honor, and bacon.  And he is strength of character exemplified in a man doing great things for the people and community around him.

    In Strength,
    Kim Weston SFG/SFL


  • Nikki Shlosser 3:35 pm on January 12, 2015 Permalink | Reply  

    From Simple to Sinister 

    By Pavel Tsatsouline, Chairman



    A couple of weeks ago Al Ciampa, SFG wrote an excellent blog entitled Where Do You Go After Simple.  In it he outlined a “serious endurance” swing protocol.  I strongly recommend it to those who want to take their conditioning to the next level.

    If you choose to hold the course to the “Sinister” goal while sticking to “easy endurance” type training, here is another option.

    Albert Einstein famously quipped, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”  I pushed Kettlebell Simple & Sinister programming to the very edge of his statement, to the verge of being too simple.  I have done it on purpose, in order to eliminate any possible excuses that you might have for non-compliance.

    I intentionally removed load variability or “waviness”, as Russians call it.  Just bang out your 100 daily swings and 10 get-ups, like brushing your teeth.  All of your attention is on technique and power, and zero brain cells need to be involved in analyzing your workout, attempting to change it.

    Once you have put in your time and effort, and reached the “simple” goals—16kg for get-ups and 24kg for swings for ladies; and 32kg in both events for gents for the specified sets, reps, and times—you may carry on using the same simple template inspired by old-time strongmen.

    Or, you may start “waving” your volume in the manner of Soviet weightlifters.  Multiple studies have documented the greater effectiveness of “waved” training for experienced athletes.  Here is how:

    The first step is identifying your monthly volume.  Note that the “month” I am referring to is not a calendar month but a block of four weeks.

    S&S is intended to be practiced daily but most people end up doing it five days a week.  For swings, the numbers then add up to (5 days x 100 reps = 500 reps a week) x 4 weeks = 2,000 reps a month.

    When the training load is static, every week makes up 25% of the monthly total.  “Waviness” describes the pattern of making some weeks’ number of lifts (NL) greater than this average, and other weeks’ NL smaller.  Soviet weightlifting specialists proposed the following classification:

    Weekly volume as a percentage of the monthly volume

    (Roman, 1968; Chernyak, 1978)


    Many successful combinations of percentages have been arrived at through painstaking experimentation by the Soviets.  We shall go with 15, 20, 30, 35%.  These percentages are named, respectively, deloading, maintenance, developmental, and stress-developmental.

    With a 2,000 rep monthly total we arrive at 300, 400, 600, and 700 reps per week.  Again, waviness means making the volume of some training periods both greater than and less than the average, while maintaining the same average.

    Note that the weeks do not have to be arranged in the above order.  Experiments have demonstrated any order to be effective for different reasons.  300-700-400-600, 400-600-300-700, or any other combination of these four numbers, will make you stronger.  So just pick one, and make sure to use a different one next month.  Your choice can be random, or influenced by your plans.  For instance, if you are climbing a mountain on week two and want to do a bare minimum of swings, assign the lowest NL, 300, to that week…  Or, if you have a competition in your sport on week four, then taper the volume towards that week: 700-600-400-300…  Make the week after Thanksgiving the highest volume week of the month…  You get the idea.

    When you are planning two months back to back, make sure that you do not use the same NL in the last week of the first month and the first week of the second month.

    Due to the fractal nature of this type of planning, one must also vary the volume within a week.  Use the table below.  Note that the number of training sessions changes depending on the week’s volume.  This was a standard operating procedure for Soviet weightlifters on whose methodology the “From Simple to Sinister” program is based.



    As with weeks, any order of the above percentages is acceptable for different reasons, and should be varied.  Make sure that the NL on the last day of one week does not match that of the first day of the next week.

    To make your life easy I have written up the first three months of your “From Simple to Sinister” swing training:  




    For your training load on “From Simple to Sinister”, you will use the next bell up from the one that allows you to do 100 swings in 5min, on any day—the one that you “own”.  Go up 4kg for ladies and 4 or 8kg for gents.  E.g., a lady who has reached the “simple” goal with 24kg should swing 28kg.  A gent who has bagged 32kg should train with 36kg or 40kg. (Or both, but that would complicate the planning.)

    There is no need to time your rest periods, except on the test days appearing in the last week of every month.  Just rest long enough to maintain maximal power output.  Obviously, 180 reps will demand longer rest periods than 80.

    As in the original S&S template, on days when you are dragging your tail, do two-hand “shadow swings” with a kettlebell close to 30% of your bodyweight or lighter.  Soviet weightlifting specialists discovered that cutting back on weight and focusing on speed-strength “creates favorable conditions for recovery processes in the body.” (Chernyak, 1978)

    On the last Friday of each month, test yourself with a timer going off every 30sec.  If you feel your power about to drop off, switch to a lighter bell for the rest of the 100 reps.  If you are still going strong after 100 with the target weight, keep going as long as your power does not fade.

    If you have made 100 in 5min with confidence and power, increase the weight next month.  If you did not make it to 100, or, you did but it took a great effort, stay with the weight for another four weeks.

    There are no bimonthly two-handed swing tests on the “From Simple to Sinister” plan.

    This plan was designed for someone who does exclusively swings (and goblet squats at the beginning of each session) for the lower body.  If you want to figure out how to introduce another squat or hinge into the mix, you are on your own.

    You can continue training the get-up in the usual S&S manner: five singles per arm almost every day.  Or, if you feel up for it, add variability to your get-up training using the swing plan as a template.  Note that the volume dynamics for different lifts are independent.  In other words, a 30% week or day for swings can correspond to 15, 20, 30, or 35% for the get-up.  Do not try to introduce a pattern (e.g. making them go up in sync or at counterphases) where there should be none.  If you are interested in the logic and wisdom behind this type of Soviet weightlifting based programming and how to apply it to your strength lifts, the Plan Strong seminar is right down your alley.

    More power to you.

    Have you read and applied Kettlebell Simple & Sinister?

    Please review it on Amazon.  


  • Nikki Shlosser 3:44 pm on January 6, 2015 Permalink | Reply

    An NFL Strength Coach’s Kettlebell Journey 

    By Jeff Fish, professional sports consultant



    As we travel on our career paths, we will inevitably encounter events that can alter our course and lead us into direction we may never have seen coming. This evolution of a belief system, or philosophy, is sometimes presented to us when we least expect it.

    These events can make us wonder, “Is this what is best”? Have I been missing some key pieces that can make my skill set more effective? Can I blend this into my existing methodology? Now, when faced with some of these experiences that really make us take notice, the ones that are truly significant professionally: there are options.

    • Some of us will sit up for hours or weeks at a time and try to poke holes into what we have learned to test its validity and determine for ourselves if this information has relevance.
    • Some of us that will shoot it down immediately because it does not echo or support what I am doing today.
    • And some of us that are not aware that an amazing learning opportunity just passed us by.

    When I first met Pavel, he forced me to decide which of the three scenarios I would choose.

    It was a little over 10 years ago, and I had been in the performance business as a strength and conditioning coach for close to 15 years. I had great success learning and growing through the collegiate and professional ranks. I now was challenged with my first, and maybe only, opportunity to lead an NFL team as a Head Strength & Conditioning Coach.

    I had developed thousands of athletes during my career and felt confident to do it at the highest level of sports. However, there were always some questions in the back of my mind that I could not answer through the textbooks and historical reading I would flood myself with. The periodization books I had learned from did not always produce the results as promised with all my athletes – I could not figure this out, as some of these athletes were my hardest workers. I knew there were gaps in my system and it drove me crazy that I couldn’t figure it out. How do I manage this? How can I produce the results and shield the professional athlete from these gaps? It was like trying to hide the scratch you put on your parents’ car while on a date.

    That’s when two lights flashed for me. One was the FMS, and the other was the Kettlebell.

    For the purposes of this article, I will discuss the kettlebell and its role in my athlete development process. I was fortunate to be introduced to Pavel many years ago, at almost the same time I had implemented the FMS with a full team. I knew from my first conversations with Pavel that he and I shared many common beliefs. He had a toolbox that looked familiar to mine, but his contained something different. That different tool broadened my scope of athlete development.

    Enter the Kettlebell

    My introduction to the Kettlebell was challenging, humbling, and inspiring. As I obsessed with trying to learn the basic KB movements, I knew it was changing how my body felt.

    I had to master these movements before teaching it to any athletes. I also knew the athletes had to experience immediate success in order to keep their attention, and be able to add movements in the future. It had to be challenging and fun, I wanted them to realize after they sat at their locker following a workout that the KB had snuck up on them and crushed them – the Afterburn!!


    I began implementing a few movements that I thought many of the athletes could benefit from based on what our team deficiencies were, and what I felt comfortable teaching to 80 athletes by myself. So I began with KB Armbars, KB Front Squats, and Single/Double Arm KB Deadlifts. I prescribed these to the athletes with specific needs – basically trying to address shoulder, core, and lower body issues.

    What I saw was shocking.

    Elite caliber athletes were wrestling with a 16kg KB as they tried to stabilize an armbar. Some of these athletes where 400+ lbs Barbell Bench Pressers. The greatest element in this experience for the athlete was the feedback they were receiving from the KB – the KB became an assistant coach for me. The KB would reinforce my words that the athlete had a deficiency that they had to improve upon in order to reduce the risk of injury. Many athletes are competitive by nature, so now all I needed to do was supply the proper challenge to each athlete. This would lead to an increase in athlete interest in their own training, it elevated the amount of individualization they received, and this all led to a significant increase in athlete motivation.

    As I detailed each athlete with their technique, and followed each movement with loaded patterned movements, I began to realize something very exciting. I could see with my own eyes the movement abilities of the athletes improving. I could see increased mobility and greater control during heavy exercises – and with this greater strength and power outputs with less discomfort during and after workouts.

    I can’t tell you how many times I heard from other peers in the coaching world that focusing on movement was a waste of time and that it could not be implemented in team sports. Meanwhile, I was doing it on a daily basis and seeing the benefits. Now that does not mean my teams were not training with weights – some people believe that training is an either/or proposition. For example, either you train with weights or machines. If you train with weights, then you have to go heavy all the time. If you subscribe to Olympic lifts, then that’s all you use to train your athletes. If you mention the word “corrective exercise”, then you must only use bands to train with. Now these are generalizations, but back then these statements tended to lump strength and conditioning coaches into categories. So I had an identity crisis. I was training with barbells, doing Olympic lifts and explosive training, utilizing Kettlebells for many training objectives, and bouncing it all off movement assessments to hold myself accountable.


    I began to implement more exercises: Military Press, TGU, Swings, Single-Sided and Bottoms-Up variations of presses, squats, and single leg movements. Now we were using the KB as part of our corrective exercise, our strength training, and our conditioning. I started to refine my programming and set/rep/rest schemes accordingly. I used myself, my staff, and proper direction from Pavel always in advance before implementing. However, in the early years, I needed more information before team implementation of new concepts. I wanted to get a sense of the subjective elements the training was producing, and I wanted to see the influences of the training on different body types. I knew what I felt and experienced, but I wanted to get some unbiased observations thrown in as well.

    The NFL Practice Squad

    In the NFL you have a small group of athletes assigned to what is called the Practice Squad. The Practice Squad members are part of the team and have a valuable role. They do not play in the games, however they provide the team with a look at the upcoming opponents’ tendencies and tactics. They practice hard while running the plays that the coaching staff feels the opponent may try to use.

    I took the same approach with the practice squad. My passion is athlete development, and I wanted to develop each of them beyond what other teams where doing in order to help them reach their goals quickly, which is being a member of the active roster as soon as possible (a bigger paycheck for the athlete). I would implement new KB exercises and methods with the practice squad during the season as a preview to what methods I would utilize with the team in the following off-season training. If I found positive results with the Practice Squad in the Fall, I would feel great about inserting the new plan into the team in the Spring. This approach can also be used at the college level with the redshirt athletes.

    The Get-Up

    I mention this because during one season, another light flashed for me. While working with the Practice Squad, I noticed they all were moving exceptionally well over a short period of time. I had recently spent a few weeks detailing an exercise in a slow, painful way. I wanted the athletes to nail this highly-technical movement. These athletes had been through numerous movement assessments and I had a good idea of how each of them moved as they were with me for 14 weeks before the season, and some for multiple years. But this group started to look different in terms of their movement efficiency than the other athletes on the active roster who were also doing their corrective exercise program.


    The only difference within the workouts was one exercise: the Turkish Get-Up. I dedicated an entire session, one day a week, of this exercise with the Practice Squad. We began by getting rock solid at the ½ TGU, then progressed as each individual showed competency. The implementation of the TGU raised the average improvement on our movement assessment – the improvements were not achieved with more corrective exercises, as I once believed. I had just learned a valuable lesson that allowed me to take my program to a higher level of movement efficiency.

    The NFL Lockout

    That brings me to another significant event that also showed me how much I could truly influence movement. First, we have to track it with precision. I had compiled many years of data when the NFL lockout struck in 2011. That basically meant that all the athletes had to train on their own away from the team training facility and I was not able to have any contact with them until the lockout lifted. It lifted as the start of Training Camp was to begin, not giving me any time to prepare the athletes for the most demanding portion of the yearly schedule. The injury risk numbers had risen to a level that I had never witnessed before as the athletes had been away for up to 7 months. My plan was to go all-in on reducing these risk factors as quickly as possible.

    Another significant event was born from this lockout, in the following Off-Season Period, the amount of time I would be allowed with the athletes would be reduced significantly. I knew what I had done in the past to positively influence movement, but this would have to change completely. My challenge was clear: How to continue to improve movement and performance output with severely limited time.

    I remember having a coffee with Pavel discussing my plan and asking for his expertise on this. In his brilliant way, he helped me walk through the plan. There were a few obstacles to navigate in order to reach my goals. The obstacles included:

    • less time with the athletes
    • no interaction with the athletes for four full months prior to the Off-Season
    • I no longer had the ability to condition the athletes as part of my lifting and running plan as in previous years
    • they would be asked to be in competitive situations much sooner than in the past (injury risk factors now more in play)
    • and my training, although in the non-competitive time of the year, was taking a back seat to on-field practice.

    I knew I had a responsibility to prepare the team above our previous standards with less resources. The solution was to install a general preparation program that accomplished these goals fast. I needed to enhance strength, power, muscle mass, metabolic conditioning, flexibility, and reduce body fat and risk factors. An 8-week all-Kettlebell Collision Course was adopted.

    The Plan

    I spent many weeks teaching the exercises and progressions to my two-person staff before the athletes arrived to start the program. The first week was spent teaching the techniques of the base KB exercises and performing our battery of tests and assessments. Not surprisingly, after not having contact with our athletes for four months, their scores were below what we normally had seen in previous years. We used a four-day-a-week plan with single KB movements used on one day, double KB movements used another day, TGU and Windmills on another day, and numerous complexes and chains (metabolic) on another.

    I began to notice drastic changes after three to four weeks. I recognized our techniques improving, the KB weights began to increase to impressive amounts, the competitive energy in the weight room was electric, and many athletes were telling stories of the daily naps that hit them out of nowhere.

    Another amazing sight was watching the reduction in time spent returning the heart rate between sets of Swings, Cleans, and Snatches. We would monitor heart rate on our metabolic day and only allow an athlete to begin the next set when their HR returning to the assigned value. All HR were displayed on a screen and the athlete watched his numbers lower, then started the next set. By week eight, the team had achieved a conditioning level beyond expectations. To watch how quickly a team of 80 athletes could lower their heart rate was impressive – it was an accumulation of all the drills done during the week.

    Lessons Learned

    Then, I got another flash of light, a “what the hell effect” moment. After analyzing the data gathered at the end of the program, I realized we achieved a greater overall team improvement in movement efficiency than in any of the previous off-season programs. So now I realized, we were stronger, more explosive, more lean, could work all day and recover quickly, and our movement quality had increased dramatically.

    How did this happen? How could that happen in less time than in previous years? We did less corrective exercises than ever? I realized that even when we don’t see them at first glance, circumstances force us into the greatest learning lessons imaginable. I was worried about the challenge, the obstacles where enormous, but I gained a tremendous amount of insight into human movement and performance.

    I incorporate those lessons into each athlete/client/team I work with today. I have learned that less can be more in most situations, and knowing the key elements of movement can improve performance quickly. I’ve learned that filling in a gap in your overall methodology, or into an individual’s profile, will always be a benefit.

    There is a special feeling you get when you spend countless hours preparing your team/clients to the proper techniques of KB training. I remember seeing three of my athletes with completely different body types performing KB Front Squats and all three had identical postures and joint angles at the torso, hip, and knee. One of these athletes was 5’8”, the second was 6’1”, and the third was 6’7” and they all looked like the same body that had been photo-shopped at different sizes. Or the amazing sight when you have a line of athletes all doing KB Swings and as you stand to the side and that moment hits where they suddenly synchronize their movements and several athletes now move as one with perfect hinging mechanics. These are training memories that are magical in my opinion – these snapshots are reflections of the quality work you have put in to coaching.

    In this day and age of new technology and new exercise equipment, and specialization at a premium in youth sports, it is ironic how the oldest tool in training still lends the greatest number of benefits. Let’s all of us continue to be great teachers of technique and safety, and influence others to the world of benefits of this simple tool.


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