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  • Craig Marker 4:28 pm on May 26, 2015 Permalink | Reply  

    The Turkish Get-Up — A Clinician’s Perspective 

    By Travis Jewett, DC



    I am a self-described kettlebell nerd. One of the ongoing jokes when I teach seminars is if you come to me with an orthopedic issue, I will tell you to do TGU’s. There is truth behind every joke however. Why I continuously return to the TGU when evaluating an athlete is I can slow them down and put them in the positions I want them to be in and see what is truly going on. It is nearly impossible to see what is happening with an athlete at speed. You need to have consistent and effective ways to break down movement patterns and see the underlying problem. The main emphasis in this article is evaluating the mechanics of the shoulder.

    The TGU is a very elegant exercise that combines almost every shape your body needs to move through and every motor pattern necessary for human development and function. There is a reason this exercise has been around for such a long time. In fact, I believe in the old strongman days when a physical culture was valued, this was the first exercise taught to aspiring strongmen and nothing else was taught until competency with respectable weights was achieved with each hand.


    Part 1

    The evaluation process when looking at the shoulder begins with pressing the kettlebell into the start position. I am looking to see if in a stable mid-range pressing position you create a strong externally rotated (your hand is in a position like you would swing a hammer) shoulder with the lat contracted and the shoulder packed. Errors here tell me you do not have a fundamental understanding of creating a stable shoulder position in mid-range flexion. We must first teach you the stable position for the shoulder in this shape before we begin to roll and move. Your ability to create this externally rotated position in flexion is paramount to shoulder health and proper mechanics.

    See this video clip from a recent SFG Certification discussing the shoulder position.


    Part 2

    Pressurizing and creating a stable trunk to keep your shoulders and pelvis connected as you roll to your elbow is the second part of the evaluation. Faults in the initial roll, either the leg coming off the ground or you allowing the kettlebell to change position in your hand are the next things I am looking for. An issue with either tells me there is a fundamental problem with your ability to stabilize your spine and trunk. If you have a fault in primary stability of your spine, we will never fix the problem with your shoulder. There is a reason why when I deal with an athlete with shoulder dysfunction we spend so much time on these first two pieces of the TGU. It allows them to get the feel for creating a stable shoulder and trunk without making them take the KB all the way overhead and without making the move too complicated.

    Part 3

    The next step, posting to the hand from the elbow, is a critical step; and often overlooked. This shows me your ability to create rotation off a fixed object (the ground) and off a non-fixed object (the KB) simultaneously. Due to the angle of your torso, that arm is actually in flexion so an external rotation force needs to be created to stabilize the shoulder. You also have to push down into the ground, contract the lat hard and depress the shoulder blade. A big fault here is allowing the shoulder to drift towards the ear, creating an unstable and impinged shoulder position. This is another place you will see the position of the KB start to drift if the athlete is not concentrating on keeping proper shoulder position.


    Part 4

    As we move to the bridge, we are starting to combine shapes of the hip with shapes of the shoulder. This is why I will stop the TGU halfway for a lot of athletes until they smooth it out and have proper shoulder engagement with both arms. This is our first look at the ability to fully extend the hip. If full hip extension cannot be achieved while maintaining active stable shoulders, sweeping the leg under to transition to the lunge position will be difficult. As you are well aware, athletes do more sitting today then pretty much any other time in human history. This leaves many of your athletes with chronically tight hip flexors and anterior hip capsules and underactive glutes, a recipe for disaster. I’m not going to detail how to remedy these problems with lots of different mobilizations and soft tissue work. I will tell you time spent repeatedly taking people into and out of the hip bridge is not time wasted. These transitions where we start adding the hip demand is where people tend to “dump the KB” so practice, practice!

    Part 5

    The leg sweep to the lunge position is where a lot of people start to show their true colors as far as shoulder stability. If they are not actively creating rotation in the shoulder, they will be exposed immediately as they drastically change positions from the bridge to the lunge. It also shows me if they are loading the hip to drive themselves into the overhead lunge position from the kneeling “windmill” position. You will see a lot of people try to move to the upright torso by pulling themselves up with their back instead of using hip extension. This is also where you will begin to see a loss of connection between the rib cage and pelvis. If they do not keep the glutes active, the back will default into hyperextension. If they do not keep the abdominals tight, the rib cage will flare up. Both destabilize the spine which leads to a loss of power transfer and stability in the shoulders and hips. You will see this as they stand, either the lead knee will cave in or the KB will start to turn forward.


    Part 6

    When they finally hit that standing position, do they keep their ribcage down and locked over top of the pelvis with glutes tight and arm still in external rotation and full overhead position? Of course you have to return to the floor for it to be a total repetition, but I have usually seen what I need to see by this point.


    It is such a long technical move but it gives me so much information as a clinician. I can slow the athlete way down and get a look at their tendencies. If they cannot maintain proper shoulder, hip and spinal mechanics during the TGU, I have a pretty clear idea where they are failing at speed. The tempo at which athletes perform the TGU also tells me a lot about their ability to be patient and understand the importance of grinding and building a proper foundation. I have found that athletes, who just try to rush through the move, even if they have decent positions, tend to rush other things and not pay attention to the details and what the move is trying to teach them.

    The ability to create rotational force to stabilize the shoulder is not only important in maintaining the health of the joint under load but also maintaining a stable and strong spinal position. A loss of rotational force in the shoulder under load will cause a loss in spinal stability and vice versa. This is why I call dumbbells, kettlebells and gymnastics rings lie detector tests for shoulder and spine stability. Athletes can hide some dysfunction when using a fixed object (barbell, the floor for push-ups, bar dips, etc.) but if you take away the connection, you can quickly see underlying issues with joint stability.

    About the Author

    Dr. Travis Jewett is a Chiropractor, MobilityWOD Team Member and CrossFit Level 1 Trainer. He travels and teaches the CrossFit Mobility Certification as part of the seminar staff. He has been involved in weight training, powerlifting, teaching and coaching for 22 years. He works with a wide range of people at his clinic in Northwest Iowa. Currently on hiatus from competing, he always goes back to picking up his kettlebells. He can be reached at travis@mobilitywod.com.

    Incorporate get-ups into your daily routine:
    Kettlebell Simple & Sinister, by Pavel
  • Craig Marker 1:28 pm on May 19, 2015 Permalink | Reply  

    What is “Work Capacity”? [Part II] 

    By Pavel Tsatsouline, Chairman



    The original Russian term, rabotosposobnost, literally translates into “work ability”. A better translation would be “potential productivity”.

    But someone creatively translated it into English as “work capacity”, which instantly changed its meaning. The word “capacity” implies the size of a tank, as in “alactic capacity” or “aerobic capacity”. The Russian term, while including capacity, means a lot more.

    Even in the USSR there was vagueness and many conflicting definitions of potential productivity. I will spare you the esoteric discussions and present you with a definition that many Russian experts would agree with—or at least could live with:

    Potential productivity is one’s ability to fulfill the given work with the lowest biological cost and the highest results. (1)

    “Potential productivity is a complex process which depends on integration and interaction of different systems and organs on different levels of organization: from biochemical to genetic to social.” (2) PP is determined by a host of physiological and psychological factors: genetics, gender, body mass, age, the state of health, energy systems’ power, capacity, and efficiency, the state of the neuromuscular apparatus, the psychological state, motivation, the climate, the season, work conditions, etc. (2)

    As you can see, the energy systems are only one of the many variables determining the PP.

    PP should be assessed according to the criteria of one’s job or sport. (3) Indirect criteria of PP include various biological markers such as the heart rate and the blood pressure that describe the organism’s reaction to the load and the cost it incurred doing the work. (3)

    PP has three phases: rising productivity, stable high productivity, and rising fatigue. The first phase can be thought of as a warm-up. Depending on the individual and the nature of the effort, it may last from several minutes to 90min. You are “cruising” in the second phase. As for the third phase, fatigue is the organism’s defense reaction that aims to lower various systems’ output to prevent negative consequences to one’s health.

    If you look at the productivity dynamics during the workday, you will see that after lunch the first phase is shorter than in the morning—but the second phase does not reach as high and does not last as long. The third phase is predictably more pronounced in the end of the day. This applies to both physical and mental work.


    Biorhythms affect the PP and should be considered in planning. (4) The highest productivity is exhibited when one’s work or training rhythm is in sync with his biological rhythms. 41% of people are most productive in the morning, 30% in the evening and even at night, and 29% are equally productive at any time when they are awake. (5) If you want to learn more, Dr. Craig Marker, SFG II recommends an interesting paper in English. (13)



    Here are most typical PP dynamics over a 24-hour period:


    Strength is down by 20-30% after sleep and it takes 3-5 hours to reach its peak. It decreases again by 1300. (6) A first peak is around 0900 (based on 0600 waking up), the second peak is reached around 1800. (7)

    Yet you can retrain yourself to have high potential productivity at unfavorable times. (8) “Maximal potential productivity is a dynamic stereotype and dynamic stereotypes can change if you make them. That means that if the most convenient time for your training falls outside [the optimal times of the day], the organism will gradually, say over a month, will move its potential productivity peak to that time. The most important thing is not to change that time too often, otherwise the dynamic stereotype will not be reinforced and you will be constantly feeling discomfort.” (9)

    Many cyclical phenomena are fractal, i.e. they repeat themselves at periods of time of different length, like Russian nesting dolls. When it comes to a weekly cycle, Soviet weightlifting experts figured out decades ago that the peak of work capacity falls not on Monday but on Wednesday. (10)



    Russians also distinguish between monthly, annual, and multiannual potential productivity.

    PP peaks in the end of summer-early fall and bottoms out in the winter. (11) Note the climate’s influence: in moderate—by Russian standards—climates the winter drop-off is 4-8%; in Siberia it is 17%. Soviet researchers established that a several weeks’ long vacation is a must once a year as nights and weekends off do not erase the cumulative fatigue from months of work. What you might see as European laziness is in fact a prerequisite for maximizing your work capacity throughout the year.

    Since PP is a lot more than the energy systems, you can and should do a lot more to improve yours. Russians undertake various measures for maintaining, increasing, and restoring PP: (3)

    • Pedagogical means encompass an intelligently designed training and recovery process: selecting the right loads and their variability, optimizing the work/rest schedule, intelligently combining general and specific training means, etc.
    • Psychological means include autogenic training, muscle relaxation and breathing exercises, increasing positive emotions and decreasing negative emotions in one’s life, organizing recreation, etc.
    • Medical means include pharmacy, physiotherapy, massage, etc.
    • The physiological category is further subdivided into two groups:
      1. The first group of means is meant to be used in an ongoing manner over the length of one’s professional or athletic career: balanced nutrition, nutritional supplementation, measures aimed at increase of the body’s non-specific resistance, GPP, sauna, etc. A key to developing stable PP is improving of the body’s non-specific resistance to stressors: various adaptations in the metabolism, immune system, endocrine system, especially the sympathetico-adrenal system and adrenal cortex, etc. (2)
      2. The second category is short term, for a quick pick-me-up before or during a competition and extra restoration immediately after. These means includes acupuncture and acupressure, hypobaric and hypoxic training, pharmacy, etc. E.g., cold shower and application of a cold compress to the stomach between sets improves results in weightlifting, especially for trained athletes. Rubbing one’s face with cold water during competition also helps because cold is a stressor that activates the cortico-adrenal system. (12) Of course, there is espresso and Iron Maiden…

    In summary, to maximize your potential productivity you need to, in addition to training right, do whatever it takes to become happy and healthy.

    • Train right.
    • Rest enough.
    • Eat well. Supplement right—or not at all.
    • Get your head in the right place.
    • Take up autogenic training or meditation.
    • Study your body’s natural rhythms and live and train in sync with them.
    • Engage in natural health practices: outdoor activities, tempering, sauna, massage, etc.
    • Learn moderation.



    1. Shipilina & Samokhin (2004)
    2. Ushakov (2007)
    3. Solodkov et al. (2007)
    4. Agajanyan & Shabatura (1989)
    5. Doskin & Lavrentyeva
    6. Vasiliev (1953)
    7. Cited by Hettinger (1966)
    8. Smirnov (1955)
    9. Sheyko (2005)
    10. Rodionov (1967)
    11. Zagryadsky (1972)
    12. Vorobyev (1981)
    13. Kudielka et. al (2006)

    Get higher results for a lower biological cost.
  • Craig Marker 2:15 pm on May 12, 2015 Permalink | Reply  

    The Psychological Complexities of Becoming Strong 

    By Hannah Fons, SFG II, SFB



    I’m relatively new to strength coaching (just under three years so far), so when I was asked to contribute a column to StrongFirst.com, I was really flattered…for about five minutes. Then the intimidation set in. What could I possibly say that hasn’t been said before — and far better — by my senior colleagues?

    I was kind of at a loss, so I procrastinated (and I do mean procrastinated — it’s been about 9 months since the invitation to contribute was extended to me) and I went about my work, teaching group strength and conditioning classes at Five Points Academy here in NYC and working with a few private training clients. As I’ve worked, and observed the broad range of personalities and athleticism at my academy, I’ve come to view strength training as something like an iceberg; there’s the part you see above the surface — the sweat, the occasional cussing — and then there’s eeeeeverything else. And it was ruminating on the ‘everything else’ that led me to writing this column. What comes next is probably old news to anyone with a sports psychology background, but it was kind of a revelation to me, and I think it may have some value to those of us who are StrongFirst, as we strive to distinguish ourselves from the hordes of ‘trainers’ littering the landscape of our industry.

    The brute practice of strength is only the most obvious, visible part of the ‘iceberg.’ There is also a philosophical component to strength work, and a psychological one as well. We get some of the philosophy in the StrongFirst instructor literature. We aren’t just trainers — we are ‘students of strength,’ ‘brought together by the conviction that strength has a greater purpose,’ because ‘it is strength that makes all other values possible.’ That’s pretty hard to argue with (it’s also kinda beautiful), and it’s a big part of why StrongFirst instructors are so good at what we do. In keeping with that ‘greater purpose’ mindset, it’s also important for us to recognize that the obstacles our students may encounter on the path toward strength aren’t always physical. That’s where the psychological part of the equation comes in. It’s the underside of the iceberg, and it encompasses a lot more than someone dreading the SFG snatch test, or feeling their heart sink when they contemplate grind-pressing the Beast.


    Consider this: Weakness is simple. It’s like being broke; if you’re weak — or broke — no matter what the question is, the answer is probably No. Strength — like wealth — is more complicated, because having more strength (or money) than other people means that things are now expected of you. Because you’re capable. And you’re visible.

    On the surface that might all seem positive — and it is, mostly — but it’s not necessarily comforting. Being invisible is hard — crushingly hard — but being visible can be tough as well. In 2013, I worked closely and at length with a female student whose goal was basically to do a gut-renovation of her body; 50+-pound weight loss with composition overhaul, strength and mobility work, endurance — the whole bit. She was fed up with the status quo, and at 40, the time had come. Thanks to her own truly fierce spirit, some powerful career-related motivation, and a little StrongFirst iron dharma, she achieved her goal and then some. She looks incredible, moves with grace, and is strong as hell — which is good, because now she’s out here in the jungle, face-to-face with all the animals whose eyes passed right over her in her former incarnation. After several years of mostly self-imposed singledom, she’s using some of her newly-accessed fortitude to date again — and also to cope with an almost-daily splatter of comments and catcalls from random dudes on the street. Now that she’s back in the fight, she’s finding that, well…she has to fight. My friend is a badass, and she’s definitely game for it — but not everyone is.

    So the process of getting strong isn’t always a purely physical project, and it isn’t always a straightforward, joyful experience. Sometimes, stuff comes up. Especially with a modality as fast and effective as kettlebell training, I think it’s possible for a person’s physical development to outrun their ability to anticipate the personal and social ramifications of it. Like being seen after years of invisibility, suddenly being regarded as capable can be downright alarming. It can force an unexpected reassessment of boundaries and priorities, and cause friction in personal relationships. Disappearing back into weakness and low expectations may seem safer and more comfortable by comparison. Certainly they’re more familiar — and the familiar is powerfully attractive.

    Sometimes, the lure of safety and familiarity has the potential to stop a whole program dead in its tracks. I think everyone has that one student or client who comes in week after week, and always grabs the same weight, despite our best efforts to encourage them to take the next step. It’s tempting to write this off as laziness, or to blame the person for having a hamster-wheel ‘workout’ mentality, and not understanding that training by definition involves progression. And true, it may very well be laziness, or the person just wanting to put in their 45 minutes or whatever so they can go home and watch Netflix without guilt. But there’s another possibility a smart coach who truly cares should consider, and that’s the possibility that this student is in some way invested in weakness. (If ‘weakness’ seems too judgmental a term, we might say ‘invested in non-strength.’) This may not seem to have much of anything to do with the work that’s happening in the gym — at least not at first. But again, that’s the iceberg.

    I think we all agree that serious strength work can transform your life. But transformation is by its nature a violent act. In order to be rebuilt, things get torn down — and that’s a big deal, whether you’re talking about a nation, a building, or a person. When you get some weird, semi-passive pushback from a student or client, perhaps ask yourself what comfort they take in being not-strong — however counterintuitive the idea may seem to you as strong person. Put yourself in their shoes; pay attention to the things they share with you. If they’re coming from a place of personal inertia and weakness, as they start getting stronger, tension may be generated — and not just in their anterior chain; maybe at home too. Consider the sad fact that some guys aren’t keen on the idea of their wife or girlfriend being as strong as they are (or stronger!) — and that plenty of women sabotage their training in deference to that. Or, if a student knows for a fact that he can now lift x-number of kilos, the notion may arise that maybe he can do other stuff he never considered before. Maybe he could ask that girl out — finally — or demand a raise, or take control of his diet and quit eating whole pizzas at midnight. Strength opens doors — which is pretty great…but also maybe a little scary, depending what’s behind them. Maybe so scary that a student decides they’re not sure about this whole training thing after all. Maybe they’ll stick to swinging that lousy 20k bell forever instead of grabbing the 24k, or the 28. Or maybe they’ll skip tomorrow’s session entirely, and spend the money they were going to pay you on something else. Something easier.

    As coaches, we need to acknowledge this potential side-effect of strength work and be ready for it. As our students train, they’re gonna feel stuff — and it’s not necessarily going to be all shiny-happy Oprah-moments. As progress is made, maybe a student will be angry, even furious, with themselves for wasting so many years on the sofa. It’s a wonderful thing to crush a PR, but right behind that rush of pride may come a sudden, bitter aftertaste; ‘Why the hell didn’t I do this sooner?’ ‘Ugh, I still have so far to go!’ When we encounter these reactions, we don’t have to all of a sudden become therapists — and we shouldn’t attempt to, any more than we should attempt to diagnose our students’ hypertension or prescribe them medications — it’s not our function. But what we can do, and should do, is acknowledge what our student is experiencing, and validate it. That means caring enough to consider whether what looks to us like ‘laziness’ might in fact be something more complex. It means taking into account the pressures that might come to bear in a student’s life, and being mindful of the impact your work together might have on them outside of the gym. Basically, it means striving to be more than just a stopwatch with a pulse, counting reps in between Instagram updates.

    Admittedly, coaching usually isn’t quite this complicated. Most folks don’t get an attack of the feels every time they step inside the gym. They don’t execute a gorgeous TGU and burst into tears. They just want to look better naked, or be able to chase their kids around without getting winded, simple as that. Nevertheless, I think it pays to be aware that gaining mastery over one’s body has powerful implications — even if they’re not consciously realized — and a smart, tuned-in coach will consider that as they’re working to motivate and encourage their students toward that ‘greater purpose.’


    Hannah Fons comes from a long line of strong people. She’s an SFG Level II and SFB Instructor, Certified Personal Trainer (NASM) and Level II DVRT/sandbag Instructor, as well as an experienced Brazilian jiu-jitsu player, nak muay, and aspiring capoeirista. She trains and teaches at Five Points Academy in New York City, and can be reached at info@AcademyFivePoints.com

  • Craig Marker 1:56 pm on May 5, 2015 Permalink | Reply  

    What is Work Capacity, Part I 

    By Pavel Tsatsouline, Chairman

    The words “work capacity” have joined the fashionable jargon of the industry.  What exactly do they mean?

    Some folks envision a sweaty multi-minute effort that makes the muscles burn and the heart pump, like a wrestling match or an 800m sprint.  This is glycolysis.

    Others lean towards manual labor, brief exertions interspersed with low intensity activity going on for hours.  In science talk this is “high power/low tempo” work.  Alactic bursts with aerobic recovery.  “A+A”, as Al Ciampa, SFG has snappily abbreviated it.

    For some reason, predominantly aerobic exercise is rarely thought of when “work capacity” is mentioned.

    The tag “work capacity” goes back to post-war Sweden.  In 1947 Swedish clinical physiologist T. Sjöstrand evaluated the “physical work capacity” (PWC) of ore smelting workers.  He measured the amount of physical work they could do on a bicycle ergometer at a heart rate of 170 in a period of several minutes.

    As all tests, this one is biased.  A bicycle racer would leave a blue-collar worker in the dust.  Then the latter would invite the former to hang with him for a shift at the steel mill…  We have our own test, the SFG 5min snatch test, that can be praised and criticized in the same manner.

    The problem is, PWC is not only skill dependent—racing a bicycle or snatching a kettlebell—it is also energy system specific.  When we talk about energy systems, “capacity” has a very straightforward meaning—the size of one’s fuel tank.  And alactic, glycolytic, and aerobic “tanks” are all filled and emptied differently.  You cannot test all three with one test.  To complicate the matters further, all three systems work at the same time, albeit changing the ratios of their contribution to the total energy needs.  So the “capacity” tested by the 5min snatch test is not the same as the one tested by the 10min test.

    The bicycle racer in our above example—a real racer, not a “mamil”—has a huge aerobic tank that enables him to sustain a moderate effort for a long time.  The steel mill worker, on the other hand, has high alactic capacity—plus efficient aerobic recovery.  In other words, he manhandles heavy objects without going into glycolytic burn, then quickly recovers.  It is the only way.  If the worker stayed totally aerobic, he would not have had the strength to pick up the heavy metal.  If he went “WOD” glycolytic, he would have collapsed into a worthless pile of sweat just minutes into the hours long shift.

    So when you utter the words “work capacity”, be ready to qualify the dominant energy system: alactic, glycolytic, or aerobic.  Or, alternatively, specify the physical load parameters: power, tempo, and duration.  If you do not, you are just spewing meaningless jargon.

    There are proven training protocols for training all three energy systems.  For the aerobic one refer to the book Peter Park recommends, The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing by Dr. Phil Maffetone.

    For glycolytic training stick to the guidelines outlined in the Long Rests blog: 20-50sec all-outbursts with super long rest periods and 1-5min 50% efforts. More about this in a near future.

    An example of alactic training plus aerobic recovery is a Russian weightlifter’s or powerlifter’s training.  He will do many sets of low reps far from failure, with adequate recovery and no pump or burn.  “Work capacity” is not his goal but a nice side effect of his system of strength training.  Did you know that Olympic weightlifting champions Plyukfelder and Rigert would put in a full shift of work down in a mine before heading to the gym?

    Legendary Rudolph Plyukfelder

    Maximov, Selouyanov & Tabakov (2011) explain: “One can perform strength exercises not to failure.  E.g., the athlete lifts a 16RM weight 4-8 times.  In this case, local fatigue does not develop, there is no high acidification of muscles…  A situation arises that stimulates the development of the mitochondrial network in glycolytic and intermediate muscle fibers.  Therefore, a nearmaximal [70-90% intensity—P.T.] exercise with rest pauses develops the muscles aerobically.”

    Gray Cook has pointed out that my ETK Rite of Passage military press plan is a work capacity protocol.  Inspired by the Soviet weightlifting methodology, it has to be.  Even though strength remains its #1 goal and alactic plus aerobic endurance is just a “WTHE”…

    Kettlebell Simple and Sinister is another cutting edge A+A protocol.

    You might ask, is there such a thing as “general work capacity” that covers all of the above?

    Yes—but it has a different name.  The term accepted by Soviet sports scientists decades ago is “general endurance”.

    In Russian sports science and coaching practice, every quality is subdivided into general and special“General” refers to “…the ability… to perform any physical work more or less successfully.” (Ozolin, 2006)  “Special” is the same thing as “sport-specific”.

    “General endurance is the ability to perform for an extended period of time any work involving many muscle groups and placing high demands on the cardiovascular, respiratory, and central nervous systems.” (Ozolin, 2006)

    Today’s takeaways are:

    • When you have the urge to say “work capacity”, wait till it passes—or be ready to specify the dominant energy system or the power, tempo, and duration of the exercise.
    • If you are unwilling or unable to specify or have something broader in mind, say “general endurance”.

    Next time you will learn that the Russian meaning of the words “work capacity” is altogether different…

    Visit the StrongFirst Research page to sign up for an upcoming protocol on these methods


  • Craig Marker 3:24 pm on April 28, 2015 Permalink | Reply  

    Simple and Sinister in a Rehabilitation Setting 

    By Travis Jewett, DC


    In December 2013, I was a very fit and spry 32 years old. I had decided to volunteer with our local high school and youth wrestling programs. I wrestled for many years and thought I might have a nugget of wisdom or two to pass along to the younger generation. At the third practice I attended, I found I may have not been as resilient as I thought.

    We were doing routine takedown drills and I was deep on a single leg. The kid sprawled hard. My left arm was trapped behind his knee and between his legs. As my left elbow reached hyperextension, I felt the snap. If any of you have ever experienced a complete tendon tear, you know exactly the feeling I am describing. It feels like ripping apart two pieces of Velcro at high velocity. The kid jumped back, looking at me standing there with my left arm dangling by my side. “You okay Doc?” he asked. My left biceps tendon had completely ruptured at the elbow. I slowly sat on the floor and told him to find a new partner. Then the worst part came. You sit there realizing you have to go home and explain this to your wife. As a person who makes a living with his arms, I am a chiropractor; I could imagine how this conversation was going to play out.

    After I got past my lovely wife, I called a friend, an orthopedic surgeon, and we scheduled surgery for later in the week. The second call was to a good friend and mentor, Kelly Starrett. He had a Marc Pro sent to me to control the swelling and promote proper healing of the tendon and reduce disuse atrophy. We then formulated a plan to get me back in action. As anyone who has been through this before knows, the first ten days after surgery are spent in a cast. The cast covers your arm from knuckles to armpit and locks you at 90 degrees of elbow flexion. As a self-employed chiropractor, I did not have the luxury of time off. I could have written a book describing one arm chiropractic by the end of those ten days!

    As our rehabilitation plan consisted mostly of holds and grip work and rewiring shoulder stability and mobility, I picked up my copy of Simple and Sinister and gave it another read. I have always seen an injury as your body demanding you return to the basics. There is something you were ignoring in your training and when your options for exercise and activity are limited you really learn a lot about yourself. I thought hard about how to make the necessary modifications given my current situation and went to work.

    With my left hand I took the lightest kettlebell I own, 12kg, and would just lay there on the ground in the position of the Turkish Get Up (TGU) before you press it (remember, I’m in a cast). With my right arm I would just do floor presses with a pause at the top. I was not able to roll to my left elbow yet.

    Anyone who has had surgery will tell you there is almost a loss of connection between your brain and the limb. I would switch between holding the kettlebell bottom down and bottom up with both hands. I realized I needed as much time under tension as I could handle. I would crush grip the kettlebell to help reengage my nervous system with the injured limb. This is where the value of the bottoms up kettlebell work is revealed. It would force me to engage the latissimus and reconnect my shoulder to my rib cage. I would follow it up with the 100 swings, 10 sets of 10, with a 24kg kettlebell. I would do all the swings with my right hand. This is not ideal, but I wanted to maintain some conditioning. Jumping rope and running outside were not an option. If you are familiar with Iowa winters, you know what I mean.

    I also own several Captains of Crush grippers by Ironmind. I would take the #1 and use the grease the groove technique we are all so familiar with; several times a day squeezing it as hard as I could for 2 or 3 repetitions. I truly believe the ten days I spent doing as much as I could with the cast on were pivotal in my overall recovery. I believe too many people are scared to do very much during this phase.

    Travis Jewett MobilityWOD


    At day ten I had my appointment to have my cast removed. The surgeon could not believe how well I had healed. The next phase involves a very cumbersome brace from wrist to shoulder that limits your flexion and extension at the elbow. Most importantly, I was able to roll onto my left elbow and begin to transmit force through my shoulder girdle. Many people forget the importance of the arm without the kettlebell. It needs to be in perfect position to handle the load of your body. It also allowed me, ever so slightly, begin to move the left arm under load.

    This phase of rehab became extremely tedious. You are allowed to open the brace 10 degrees in each direction every couple weeks until you have full range of motion. As I opened the brace, I would do more and more with the left hand, slowly working to a full floor press. In the world of rehab there are hundreds of different exercises that are given for “scapular stability” and “rotator cuff strengthening.” News flash, the brain works in patterns, not muscles. Most rehab fails to work the motor patterns.

    Following this simple progression, I was able to work mid-range flexion and overhead positions (flexion with external rotation) when I was holding the kettlebell in my left hand. When I had the kettlebell in my right hand, I was able to work on loading that shoulder in extension and internal rotation. The big one is rewiring your trunk stability. As I opened the brace more and more, it was so difficult to roll properly with my left hand holding the kettlebell. It was even difficult without any weight! I could bore you with more details but I think as the reader you can see where this is going. At my last appointment with my surgeon the first week of February, I was able to do a full Simple and Sinister routine using a 12 or 16 kg kettlebell with my left hand for TGU depending on how I felt.

    The TGUs were extremely valuable in my recovery but do not forget about the swings. As I could straighten my arm to an acceptable degree, I began doing two handed swings. While we all know the swing is a very elegant hip hinge exercise, we forget how important it is for practicing packing the shoulder in a dynamic environment; relearning to transition between stiffness and relaxation. It is crucial for patterning your breathing and creating a stiff torso; both are extremely important in developing a strong platform for your shoulder to work correctly. It also added time under tension for my grip. I also began adding in some jump rope work and several different carries (waiter’s walks, bottoms up, front rack, etc.). Creating a stable spine and shoulder and moving was another skill I found very helpful in recovery. There were several soft tissue and joint mobilization techniques I used, as well as the Marc Pro device, which are beyond the scope of this article. You are more than welcome to research Kelly’s work or attend one of our courses for more information.


    The surgeon could not believe where I was from a recovery perspective at my last appointment. I was by no means totally healed, but I was cleared to start doing other things. Anyone who has experienced a complete tendon rupture knows the recovery process is really 12-18 months. Although I have introduced other activities to my routine, TGUs and swings remain a staple. I did not mention this earlier, but this was my fourth surgery (both shoulders, both elbows). Revisiting the basics of human movement is exceedingly important to me for long term health. I am at 13 months post-surgery and constantly return to the TGU when I feel something is not right with one arm or the other. I can usually trace it back to not bracing properly before the initial roll. There is a pearl of wisdom there and many of you may have missed it. If your spine is not stable and your trunk is not stiff and engaged, your shoulder will not work properly. There may be some joint restriction, but if you do not work on spine stability first, you will not get to the bottom of it.


    I will finish with a caveat. I am a healthcare professional with many good friends in the field of strength and conditioning and rehabilitation.  I also have many years of experience in weight training and injury care and prevention. If you have torn your distal biceps tendon, seek advice from physicians and physical therapists who understand basic weight training. If your doctor does not deadlift or gives you a funny look when you say Turkish Get Up, find a new doctor. With the current rehabilitation environment where I live, had I not understood how to use the principles of tension, grease the groove, and how to work on motor patterns and movements, I would not have been as far along at discharge.

    Contact organizations like StrongFirst or Functional Movement Screen or one of the staff members at our company, MobilityWOD. We may be able to put you in touch with providers in your area who understand the lifter. There is a gap between healthcare providers and the strength and conditioning communities that needs to be narrowed.


    About the Author

    Dr. Travis Jewett is a Chiropractor, MobilityWOD Team Member and CrossFit Level 1 Trainer. He travels and teaches the CrossFit Mobility Certification as part of the seminar staff. He has been involved in weight training, powerlifting, teaching and coaching for 22 years. He works with a wide range of people at his clinic in Northwest Iowa. Currently on hiatus from competing, he always goes back to picking up his kettlebells. He can be reached at travis@mobilitywod.com.

    The StrongFirst Courses and Certifications, as well as the book Simple and Sinister are great ways to learn the methods described in this article.

  • Craig Marker 4:13 pm on April 21, 2015 Permalink | Reply  

    Long Rests 

    By Pavel Tsatsouline, Chairman

    In the beginning he was Christopher Bellew.  By the time he was at college he had become Chris Bellew.  Later, in the Bohemian crowd of San Francisco, he was called Kit Bellew.  And in the end he was known by no other name than Smoke Bellew.  And this history of the evolution of his name is the history of his evolution…

    Not long ago my father and I were having a typical father and son conversation, about rest periods between sets.  He reminded me of Smoke Bellew, a classic story by one of our favorite writers, Jack London.  The protagonist, a city slicker, tries “high intensity interval training” in the wild:

    He fastened the straps to a ninety-five-pound sack of beans and started.  At the end of a hundred yards he felt that he must collapse.  He sat down and mopped his face.  “Short hauls and short rests,” he muttered.  ”That’s the trick.”

    Sometimes he did not make a hundred yards, and each time he struggled to his feet for another short haul the pack became undeniably heavier.  He panted for breath, and the sweat streamed from him.  Before he had covered a quarter of a mile he stripped off his woolen shirt and hung it on a tree.  A little later he discarded his hat.  At the end of half a mile he decided he was finished. He had never exerted himself so in his life, and he knew that he was finished. As he sat and panted, his gaze fell upon the big revolver and the heavy cartridge-belt.

    Eventually, as Chris evolves to Kit and Kit starts evolving into Smoke, he learns:

    Kit plodded along the trail with his Indian packers.  In recognition of the fact that it was to be a long pack, straight to the top of Chilcoot, his own load was only eighty pounds.  The Indians plodded under their loads, but it was a quicker gait than he had practiced.  Yet he felt no apprehension, and by now had come to deem himself almost the equal of an Indian.

    At the end of a quarter of a mile he desired to rest.  But the Indians kept on.  He stayed with them, and kept his place in the line.  At the half mile he was convinced that he was incapable of another step, yet he gritted his teeth, kept his place, and at the end of the mile was amazed that he was still alive.  Then, in some strange way, came the thing called second wind, and the next mile was almost easier than the first.  The third mile nearly killed him, and, though half delirious with pain and fatigue, he never whimpered.  And then, when he felt he must surely faint, came the rest.  Instead of sitting in the straps, as was the custom of the white packers, the Indians slipped out of the shoulder- and head-straps and lay at ease, talking and smoking.  A full half hour passed before they made another start.  To Kit’s surprise he found himself a fresh man, and ‘long hauls and long rests’ became his newest motto.

    Modern Russian sports science supports ‘long rests’ for your conditioning.

    Most coaches still base their endurance training on the XX century model of muscle cell energy supply.  They train the power and the capacity of each of the three energy systems, alactic, glycolytic, and aerobic.  Glycolytic capacity training or “HIIT”—the antithesis of ‘long rests’—is especially popular.

    Revolutionary research by Prof. Victor Selouyanov teaches us that instead we should be focusing on building aerobic power plants—mitochondria—in our muscles.  In slow twitch fibers it can be done by building the fibers themselves.  They grow with new mitochondria preinstalled at no extra charge. (I explained how in the Should You Train Your Slow Fibers? series of blogs.)

    In intermediate and fast fibers mitochondria are developed by pushing the fibers into light acidity (slight local fatigue), then backing off and recovering aerobically over and over. (Kettlebell Simple & Sinister does just that.)

    If you let the “burn” in the muscle rise too high, you literally destroy the mitochondria, the very thing you tried to build.  And, as new research suggests, being ‘acid’ could lead to worse problems than that, in addition.  Al Ciampa, SFG warns:

    Deep and frequent glycolytic training, the brand so common in fitness training today, that leaves you lying on your back sucking wind in its wake, causes an accumulation of cellular damage that will express itself on a systemic level as daily lethargy, a lack of energy, and eventually, adrenal exhaustion/shutdown which begins a cascade of endocrine problems that your doctor will not likely figure out.  Research suggests that frequent exposure to the free radicals and lactate produced by continued exercising above the cell’s ability to use oxygen (high-intensity anaerobic work) causes cellular organelle damage that accelerates aging and cause ill health.  You can see this cluster of symptoms manifest in a typical high-intensity junkie who walks around like a zombie, is only “awake” when it is time to train, and is in and out of the doc’s office for unexplained health issues.  Deep glycolytic training is a highly volatile form of rocket fuel that should only be minimally dosed by elite athletes preparing for an event that either grants them a million dollar paycheck, or an Olympic gold medal.

    Russian science to the rescue.

    Maximov, Selouyanov & Tabakov (2011) classify predominantly anaerobic work of different intensity as:

    1. Maximal power exercises (90-100% intensity contraction, <20sec duration)
    2. Nearmaximal power exercises (70-90% intensity contraction, 20-50sec duration)
    3. Submaximal power exercises (50-70% intensity contraction, 1-5min duration)

    To counter the side effects of acidosis Prof. Selouyanov insists on plenty of rest between sets.  A 1:2-6 work to rest ratio is recommended, but, unless you are very well conditioned aerobically, play it safe with 1:4-6.

    And when it comes to the submaximal power zone notorious for its crazy acidity, the scientist demands unimaginable to many 10-30min of rest!  In addition, he warns against any all-out efforts 1-5min in duration—except in competition.  Not only do you burn up your mitochondria, but great psychological and endocrine stress in this zone quickly leads to overtraining.

    In all zones the rest must be active—walk around and do “fast and loose” drills rather than plop on the deck and suck wind.

    Here is how the above “long rests” recommendations can be applied to the TSC 5min snatch event with a 24kg kettlebell:

    • On Monday deadlift and then do 10-20 sets (sum of both arms) of 7-10 one-arm kettlebell swings with 40kg on the minute every minute.
    • On Wednesday snatch 32kg hard with your left arm for as many perfect reps as you can.  Stop before your grip gives out or you compromise your explosiveness.  Park the bell and rest for 4-6 times the duration of your set before matching the reps with your right. (E.g., you got 10 reps in 30sec with your left, so you rested for 2-3min before hitting your right.)  Repeat for 4-6 sets (sum of both arms).
    • On Friday go for full 5min—with a 16kg.  While maintaining our trademark explosiveness dial the effort of each rep down to 50%.  And carefully maintain the pace you intend on using in competition.  Do 2-3 sets in this manner with 10-30min between them.  As an option, do a time ladder of 4, 5, and 6min.

    Let “long rests” become your new motto.

    Hector Gutierrez at Hardstyle KBJJ competing in the Elite division of the TSC

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

    How to Ruck 

    By Al Ciampa, SFG

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

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

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

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

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


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

    Your Pack

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

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

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

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


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

    Your Shoes

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


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

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

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


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


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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


    Basic Conditioning

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

    Basic program:

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


    Soldiering/Higher-End Recreation

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


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

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

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

    Fuel & Water

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

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

    Benefits of Rucking

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

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

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

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

    Other articles by this author:

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

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

    Come Visit the New StrongFirst 5.11 Store


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

    Preparing an MMA Fighter 

    By Pavel Macek, SFG Team Leader



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

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

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

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

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

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

    Movement Quality

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

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

    General Physical Preparation

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

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



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

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


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

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

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

    Specific Sport Preparation

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

    Neck Bridges: Russian Lion George Hackenschmidt


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

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

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


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

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


    Viktor’s Sample Program – A/B Training Sessions


    Morning Practice:

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

    Afternoon Practice

    • MMA


    Morning Practice:

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

    Afternoon Practice

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

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

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

    Keys to the Fight

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

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




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

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


    Pavel Macek

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

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


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

    The Patience of Strength 

    By Pavel Tsatsouline, Chairman

    David Rigert.

    David Rigert. The strong do not rush.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    80% 1RM x 5 reps/2 sets—2-3min

    75% 1RM x 5/5—4-5min

    90-95% 1RM x 1-2—5-7min

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

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

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

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


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

    Training the Endurance Athlete 

    By Peter Park

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

    Strength Training

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


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

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

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

    Warm up: 2 x

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

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

    1. Deadlifts
    2. One arm kettlebell press

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

    1. Zecher squats
    2. Pull-ups

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

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

    Core: 2 x

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

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

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

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

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


    A typical strength workout in this peaking phase:

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

    Short reactive work:

    1. Hill Bounds
    2. Eccentric swings or snatches

    Circuit 1:  2-3 sets

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

    Circuit 2:

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

    Core work:

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

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

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

    About the Author

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

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