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  • Nikki Shlosser 1:42 am on April 15, 2014 Permalink | Reply  

    “Things Are Going So Well, Help Me Screw It Up!” 

    By Dan John, Master SFG and Mike Warren Brown, SFG

    The other day on the SFG forum, one of our regulars made an excellent post about his improvement. His goals of a double bodyweight deadlift and 15 reps on the pull-up were closing in and, from my window seat, things looked pretty good. He then asked the usual question: “what can I do better?” Although we always hear “Best is the enemy of better,” sometimes I change this to:

    “Things are going so well, help me screw it up!”

    I know that as we approach any goal, due date, top-level competition or wedding day, the pressure increases to make things perfect. “Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue” soon leads to a discussion about the perfect temperature for Champagne from the best wineries of France.

    Sometimes, you simply just have to let the process happen. Moreover, you need to finish what you started.  Then, seek perfection.   Click to Tweet

    Working with Mike Warren Brown, SFG, we have dissected the basic training templates of the SFG and Pavel’s body of work. Our attempt is to show the connections between programs, the levels of progress, the equipment needs and, at some level, the need for commitment to attain the basic standards of each program. Dan’s writings will appear in italics.

    I was fortunate to work under Dan John, Master SFG when he was coaching hundreds of athletes at Juan Diego Catholic High School in Draper, Utah. I still remember the first class I witnessed. It was full of seniors from a variety of sports ranging from swimming to football. I was amazed at the confidence and lifting proficiency that the students displayed as they plowed through a grueling hour-long training session that most adults would struggle to finish. Every squat was beautifully taken to full depth; power cleans were explosively pulled to perfectly positioned racks. There is nothing quite like standing in the middle of a room full of athletes demonstrating powerful technique in the big lifts.

    All of those athletes started with zero training experience. How did Dan take them from weak, pimple-faced freshmen to what I saw four years later? Dan told me the answer is systematic education. Think about how you learned to read (I’m still learning). You began with the alphabet and then start forming words. Grammar is taught and sentences take shape. Reading is a high-level skill that requires a systematic approach to teach. Learning to lift does as well.

    Watching a group of StrongFirst leaders train has the same effect as that class of seniors. Mastery is apparent as heavy bells are swung with powerful crispness. Tension is channeled into awesome strength while big presses are locked out. The beauty of the StrongFirst school of strength is in its systematic approach.

    There is one overreaching principle in a systematic approach:

    Performance standards dictate complexity in training.

    The road to mastery is, and should be, a long one. It would be a mistake to skip steps in search of novelty and entertainment. The first tenet of the StrongFirst system is Continuity of the Training Process. The following is a systematic approach to mastery using programs created by Pavel.

    There is no better way to learn the StrongFirst system of training than to fully immerse yourself in a single-minded journey down the time-tested path that Pavel has laid out. Set your performance standards high and follow through. The best way to understand the nuances of the techniques and programming principles of StrongFirst is to take the long route. Becoming the quality coach that your students deserve takes time and patience.

    Lead from the front.

    That’s it in four words: Lead from the front.

    Our goal is to outline a long-term plan to mastering the SFG Six. First a solid foundation must be set. It is time to learn your ABC’s. The snatch, clean, press, and double front squat are extremely effective when taught on a strong foundation, but first master the basics.

    The foundational moves are swings, goblet squats, and getups. The first step in our systematic approach is laying a technical foundation for these three basics. These three are also the key lifts in any and all programming no matter the goals of the athlete or client.

    At a recent SFG, Dan explained his approach to programming like this:

    “We need to get back to the basics of getting people to move more and move better so they can move more and move better. And, I have a solution for you and it’s Mexican food. Jim Gaffigan is one of my favorite comedians and he has a funny joke about Mexican food in his home state of Indiana where he used to be a waiter:

    “Mexican food’s great, but it’s essentially all the same ingredients, so there’s a way you’d have to deal with all these stupid questions. “What is nachos?” “…Nachos? It’s tortilla with cheese, meat, and vegetables.” “Oh, well then what is a burrito?” “Tortilla with cheese, meat, and vegetables.” “Well then what is a tostada?” “Tortilla with cheese, meat, and vegetables.” “Well then what i-” “Look, it’s all the same s–t! Why don’t you say a Spanish word and I’ll bring you something.”

    You see, I see training people the same way. You want to play in the NFL? Good, then we have to do:
    Swing, Goblet Squat and Turkish Get Ups.

    Swing, Goblet Squat and Turkish Get Ups.

    Fat Loss?
    Swing, Goblet Squat and Turkish Get Ups.

    Basically, Swing, Goblet Squat and Turkish Get Ups are going to be what we are going to serve you first.”

    All too often we see well-meaning instructors fresh out of a cert and excited to teach progress way to quickly to snatches and cleans before a true foundation has been put in place. What you see is double cleans being performed with weights that are way too light, sometimes I think you may as well just do Heavy Hands.

    Instead, use performance standards to dictate when new skills are introduced. Follow the path laid out by Pavel and other top instructors.

    **Continued next week, as part 2**


    Dan John, Master SFG


    Daniel John

    “Never Let Go” 

    My Movement Lectures are available HERE.

    My Amazon Page has links to both my books and my blog.

    My website.

    Most questions have been answered already HERE at my Q and A Forum.



  • Nikki Shlosser 3:07 pm on April 8, 2014 Permalink | Reply  

    Moving Target Kettlebell Complex, Part II 

    By Pavel Tsatsouline, Chairman

    Several months ago, StrongFirst published Moving Target Kettlebell Complex, a workout we sometimes put the students through at SFG I instructor certification.  I asked the readers with program design experience to build a four- to six-week training plan around it.  Following is one of your solutions.

    Before I present it, I want to stress that one must organize a plan of such a length in a way that enables one to progress at a sustainable manner to reach the limit on the last week.  One must use some form of cycling: linear, step, or wave.  Light and/or medium days are indispensable with linear cycles; optional with the other two types.

    With that in mind, take a look at one of the solutions offered by Dave T.:

    “For this progression use bells closer to the 8RM.  6RM may be too heavy to progress.  Do the workout three times a week.  Add a rep to the top set of each 2, 3, 5 movement every week.  Week two it would be 2, 3, 6.  After five more weeks you should be at 2, 3, 10.  Take a deload week doing 2, 3, 5 again.  Start your next week at 2, 3, 5 with heavier kettlebells.”

    A smart move to start light, with 8RM, to gain momentum.

    A three times a week frequency will work for most.

    Adding a rep once a week means Dave chose a step cycle with no light days.  Very well.

    Let us take a look at the rate of progression.

    Is it realistic for one to press his old 8RM ten times after six weeks of such training?—A piece of cake for any intermediate.

    Even on the third rung of a ladder?—Yes, because Dave has kept the bottom rungs low: 2, 3, 10.  They will only make your top set stronger instead of pre-exhausting you, as a taller ladder like 2, 3, 5, 7, 8, 10 would.  The 1:1 work to rest ratio might be a problem, so take extra rest between rungs the last couple of weeks.

    Well done, Dave!

    The author did not specify whether you are supposed to do one or two series.  If it is one, you are looking at 50 presses per week.  Complexes do give an extra anabolic stimulus that enable one to reduce the press volume—but not that much.  So let us agree on two series, about 100 weekly reps.  If you run into trouble on the top rung of the press ladder in the second series towards the end of the cycle, simply finish the set in a rest/pause fashion.  E.g, you did 1 clean + 9 presses + 1 squat in the first series.  In the second you are running out of gas after 6.  Do not push to failure but park the bells, shake off the tension for about a minute, then reclean the weights, do three more presses and one squat.  You already made your target in the first series; in the second all you need to do is get the volume in.

    If you are an experienced girevik who has met the SFG II military press standard, you are likely to find a step cycle without light or medium days too tough to handle.  You will need sharper load changes and regular deloading.  That means either a wave cycle or an introduction of light and or medium days.  Following is a simple implementation of the second option.

    Make Monday your heavy day, Wednesday your light day, and Friday your medium day.  There are many ways to make that play out.  Since we do not have much room to maneuver with the already low volume, intensity or density will have to give.  Try this: on Wednesday reduce the intensity, while keeping the 1:1 work to rest ratio.  In other words, if you were pressing a pair of 24s, drop down to 20s.  On Friday maintain the intensity (stay with the 24s) but lower your work to rest ratio to 1:2.  In practical terms it means three gireviks going through the training, rather than two, with the bells never resting.

    After five weeks the author has suggested: “Take a deload week doing 2, 3, 5 again.  Start your next week at 2, 3, 5 with heavier kettlebells.”  That I would not do.  Your body and your mind would appreciate switching to a low rep, long rest pure strength program.  Deload with a week or two of Kettlebell Simple & Sinister.  Then scale S&S back to twice a week and “grease the groove” with military presses, single or double, and double kettlebell squats for three weeks.

    In the near future I will analyze other effective programming solutions to this complex offered by our readers.  Meanwhile, you have something to keep yourself busy with for six weeks.


  • Nikki Shlosser 3:50 pm on April 1, 2014 Permalink | Reply  

    The Forgotten Benefits of the Turkish Get-Up 

    By Brandon Hetzler, SFG Team Leader

    “As above, so below.”

    We like what is new. Look at how well Apple has benefitted every time they release the latest iPhone, iPad, or Mac. The followers of Apple are fiercely loyal. The nice thing about Apple and this craze over their products is that they are continuously pushing the technology forward. The downfall is the marketing craze they generate surrounding the release of their latest and greatest product. Is the need to push the industry forward generating their drive, or is it the all mighty dollar?? I would like to think it is mostly an internal drive to be better than they were yesterday, but in reality they are a for profit business that is selling products that no one else on the planet can create. If we look at the technology that Apple has popularized, they weren’t the first to actually come up with some of their most popular products – Sony had MP3 players on the market well before the iPod exploded. What Apple did was popularize and market it in a manner that the public had to have it. Big mistake for Sony.

    When Pavel introduced kettlebells to the West several years ago, the Turkish get up was reintroduced. Pavel didn’t “create” the get up, he just dusted it off and pulled it out of obscurity. Brett Jones and Gray Cook shed new light on the get up as a wonderful mini-assessment and corrective drill with the CK-FMS, Kalos Thenos, and Kalos Thenos 2. Dr. Mark Cheng added the high bridge to promote hip extension and the get up was forever changed – and controversial. To high bridge or to low sweep, that is the question. The answer is always going to be: it depends on your goals. The popularity of the get up soared! The get up was a rock star – everyone was doing get ups, get up variations, get up breakdowns, and heavy get ups. YouTube loved it! The pendulum had swung to the overexposure side of the board. But like it has been said before, after every peak is a valley – we are in that get up valley.

    Let’s take a deeper look at why the get up is so powerful and so diverse in its application. Before we do that, let’s look at crawling. Crawling, much like the get up has been around for a while – no one invented it and no one entity owns it. It is a powerful but small part of the entire neurodevelopmental sequence (the progressive development of movement patterns and strength that begins at birth and continues until we are vertical).

    The earliest I can find that it was used clinically was in the early 1970′s by Mosh Feldenkrais. I watched Gray Cook drop the IQ of an entire room several years ago when he asked people to crawl. Why is it so beneficial? Here is a list of the reasons:

    1. Promotes cross lateralization (getting right brain to work with left side)
    2. Promotes upper body stability
    3. Promotes lower body stability
    4. Promotes reflexive stability of the trunk and extremities
    5. Ties the right arm to the left leg, and left arm to the right leg
    6. Gets the upper extremities working reciprocally (legs too)
    7. Stimulates the vestibular system (1 of the 3 senses that contribute to balance)
    8. Stimulates the visual system (the second of 3 senses that contribute to balance)
    9. Stimulates the proprioception system (3rd oft he 3 systems that contribute to balance)
    10. Promotes spatial awareness
    11. Develops a front/back weight shift
    12. Develops upper body strength, trunks strength, and hip strength

    Quite a few things, that essentially make crawling kind of awesome. But, it’s biggest limitation is that the orientation of the body never changes (crawling is always done on all 4′s with the he trunk parallel to the ground) and loading it (volume, resistance, etc) defeats the purpose of crawling. Crawling’s biggest gift to the world of movement is the neurologic adaptations it promotes. That is pretty much it. During the NDS once an infant is proficient at crawling and has developed adequate strength and stability, they move up the sequence to walking. Being vertical is a much better posture to develop strength, power, metabolic loading, etc. Developmentally that is where a majority of those attributes are developed. All that being said, every person I see is likely to crawl. Once they have nailed it, we only revisit it as a quick assessment. I also recommend everyone brush their teeth – this gives you a shiny grill and is good for cardiovascular health (huh?). After meals for about 2 minutes at a time is adequate. I don’t recommend they brush for 10 minutes, or with a heavier brush, or brush too hard.

    Back to the get up. Why is it so beneficial? Here is a list of reasons:

    1. Promotes cross lateralization (getting right brain to work with left side)
    2. Promotes upper body stability
    3. Promotes lower body stability
    4. Promotes reflexive stability of the trunk and extremities
    5. Ties the right arm to the left leg, and left arm to the rightleg
    6. Gets the upper extremities working reciprocally (legs too)
    7. Stimulates the vestibular system (1 of the 3 senses thatcontribute to balance)
    8. Stimulates the visual system (the second of 3 senses thatcontribute to balance)
    9. Stimulates the proprioception system (3rd of the 3 systemsthat contribute to balance)
    10. Promotes spatial awareness
    11. Develops a front/back weight shift
    12. Develops upper body strength, trunks strength, and hip strength

    Does that list look familiar? Unlike the limitation of crawling (only occurring in one posture) the get up works thru several postures of the NDS – Supine, Rolling, Crawling, Asymmetrical stance, Single leg stance, and Symmetrical stance. Additionally, as a lift you can proceed to adding substantial load to the get up to magnify the strength and stability components. So, even though we are in The Valley of get up popularity, the get up is just like crawling – only much better.

    One of the overlooked benefits of the get up is a misconception that the name presents. The “up”. How does an infant rise to standing from either a seated, quadruped, or kneeling posture? I’ll bet you answered with “they pull up”. You, my friend, are wrong. It appears that they pull themselves up – but they are infants and lack the upper body strength to physically pull themselves up. What appears as pulling up, is them placing their hands above shoulder level and pressing down. This pushing down activates several trunk stabilizers which allows them to push their feet into the ground to rise up. So, in essence what they are doing is pushing down to get up. The get up is the PERFECT representative of this overlooked developmental feat – one that crawling neglects. The only way to initiate the roll to elbow is by pressing into the giant globe beneath us. This pressing into the ground is what generates the needed stability to move into a vertical position.

    The point of this? Everyone who has read Simple and Sinister or has the initials SFG behind their name have the tools to apply the greatest (until someone can emphatically disprove it) neurological movement ever. Can you crawl? By all means, go for it. But my question to you is just like my question about Apple – are you crawling to get better or are you crawling because you have been convinced you can’t get stronger without it? The benefits of mastering the get up have been swallowed up by the recent craze in popularity of crawling and other movement based systems. If it is good enough to balance out the swings in the Simple and Sinister program, there is probably a good reason why.

  • Nikki Shlosser 4:08 pm on March 25, 2014 Permalink | Reply  

    “I’m Possible” 

    By Pavel Tsatsouline, Chairman and Eric Kenyon, SFG


    At the 2014 Winter Paralympics closing ceremony an enormous sign hung above the stage proclaiming: “IMPOSSIBLE”.  Paralympian Alexey Chuvashev rolled onto the stage in a wheel chair.  A vet who lost his legs eight years ago in a combat operation, he went on to win a bronze medal in rowing at the London 2012 Summer Paralympics.

    A 50-foot rope hung from the sign.  The athlete got off his wheel chair and started climbing.  A burly guy, even without legs he carried a lot more weight than a gymnast.

    Watch the climb on video; fast-forward to 14:10.

    Once Chuvashev reached the top, he forcefully pushed over one of the Tetris blocks forming the sign.  The block inserted itself as an apostrophe into the sign.  And now it said:


    You do not need comic book movies to find inspiration for your training.  Paralympians, StrongFirst salutes you!

  • Nikki Shlosser 2:26 pm on March 18, 2014 Permalink | Reply  

    The Stress-Free Strength Routine 

    By Geoff Neupert, Master SFG, CSCS

    We just had our second child – a daughter. She’s amazing as is the pure lack of sleep we are experiencing. It is not uncommon for me to get around four hours a sleep a night. This makes training very challenging. It makes making progress in my training even more so. The purely sane and rational thing to do during this period of time would be to go on a “maintenance” program.

    I am neither sane nor rational and I expect my body to make the progress I demand from it, or close to it, regardless of what my daughter or the rest of my life is doing.

    In order to keep from hurting myself (again like I did routinely in my 30s), I am now working with my old weightlifting coach. I tell him what’s going on in my life, what I think I can handle, and he writes my programs, with some guidelines of course.

    If you have a lot going on in your life and lack the ability to fully recover from your workouts like you once did, you have zero business training the way you used to – or the way others do.

    What I want to share with you is what is routinely working for me to push my strength levels back to where they were 15+ years ago, without having to work as hard as I did back then.

    It’s very simple, it’s called –

    The Top Set Method

    This has been used for time in memorium by some of the strongest guys in the world. Very simply, you work up to one top set in your training and call it a day.

    Traditionally, you would go “all out” on that set. But for guys (and girls) who’s recovery ability is challenged, that would be a mistake.

    Instead, you should grade your exertion on an RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion) scale of 1 to 10 and keep your RPEs between 7 and 8. Sometimes, 6’s are good too – usually when you think a weight is going to be a 7 and it feels really light. Save the 9’s for the end of your strength cycle – one, two workouts at the most.

    Here’s how I suggest you set up your training:

    1. Use either 5×5 or 5×3 for your workouts. Or for better results, alternate between workouts of the two.
    2. Start your cycle light – around 60-65% to give yourself some momentum and train the skill of strength.
    3. Train 3 times a week using an “A-B Split” – that is, where you alternate between an “A” training session and a “B” training session.

    Also, turn your warm ups into –

    Group Sets

    Group sets, are a little trick I learned from my weightlifting coach. You simply perform your warm up sets back-to-back, adding load each set, with as little rest as possible between them.

    This excites your nervous system and allows you to put more force into each rep of that top set. And they work like a charm. (You might feel a little winded after doing them, but don’t worry about that – the metabolic effects don’t have a negative neurological transfer.)

    Here’s how I recommend you perform this:

    Sets 1-3: As little rest as possible between them and then rest 2-3 minutes after set 3.

    Set 4: First work set. Rest 3-5 minutes after.

    Set 5: Top set.

    However, if you’re really hurting in the sleep department or using some highly technical lifts, you may want to do it the following way (which is what I do):

    Set 1: Rest long enough to add load or around 30 to 60s, depending on the exercise or how I’m feeling on that exercise

    Set 2: Rest long enough to add load OR about 60-120s, depending…

    Set 3: Rest 2-3 minutes

    Set 4: Rest 3-5 minutes, usually more toward 5 minutes the heavier the load

    Set 5: Top set.

    When I was younger, I used to love the high volume, multiple “70 Percent for five by five” type routines. Now, I just don’t have the time, energy, or desire to perform them. I’ve found I can make great, steady, measurable progress using the “Top Set Method.”

    If you’ve stalled or burnt out, you should give it a shot – It’s the most “stress-free” strength training method I’ve found.


    Geoff Neupert: StrongFirst Bio

    Geoff Neupert, Master SFG, CSCS, has been training both himself and others with kettlebells since 2002. He’s been in the fitness/strength & conditioning industries since 1993 and has worked as a personal trainer, Division 1 strength and conditioning coach (Rutgers University), and a personal training business owner. He has over 22,000 hours of one-on-one personal training since he started counting in 2002.

    He currently writes a daily strength and conditioning report called “Kettlebell Secrets,” in which he dishes out no-nonsense advice to get as strong, lean, and well conditioned as possible using kettlebells; he also consults with clients online. Geoff has authored multiple books and training programs, including, Kettlebell Muscle, Kettlebell Burn 2.0, Kettlebell Burn EXTREME!, Kettlebell Express!, Kettlebell Express! ULTRA, and Kettlebell STRONG!, The Olympic Rapid Fat Loss Program, Six Pack Abs 365, and The Permanent Weight Loss Solution. He has also co-author the ground-breaking training books: Original Strength and Original Strength: Performance.

    Geoff is a former state champion and nationally qualified Olympic lifter. He is married to a wonderful woman and has two young kids, who keep him on his toes, which coincidentally, is pretty good for hamstring development.

    Geoff is also the CEO of Original Strength Systems, a movement restoration system who’s mission is to set people free through movement.

  • Nikki Shlosser 2:35 pm on March 11, 2014 Permalink | Reply  

    Strength At Any Age: A Woman’s Perspective 

    By Gabby Eborall, SFG II

    There comes a time in our lives, almost as if by surprise, when we realize we’re not as young as we used to be.

    Aging can be a difficult and uncomfortable topic of discussion. Especially for those of us who pride ourselves on being strong, healthy, and a positive example for our students, young and old. It’s true that more and more people are getting on board with the idea that strength training can reverse the signs of aging, but what does that look like? And to be more specific, what does that look like for a woman rapidly approaching her fifties and beyond?

    It has been my experience that as a woman’s body changes with age, she may fall into one of several categories: some may become frustrated with her training as it no longer yields the same results it once had. This can cause her to settle for less than she is capable of from a strength and conditioning perspective, or simply throw in the towel altogether. Conversely, she might beat herself down by taking an unrealistic approach to her training and recovery, upping the ante in an effort to remain at a fitness level that is becoming more and more difficult to maintain.

    I chose the latter for the first part of my 40’s and paid dearly. It took adrenal fatigue, insulin resistance, joint problems, and finally, hypothyroid for me to rethink my outlook on training.  I had to completely relinquish my preconceived idea of what a woman my age should aspire to be, aesthetically. It was through this process that I became kinder to myself. I stopped making demands on my body, which usually culminated in a self-imposed hostile environment within my own skin. Instinctively, and with patience, I was finally able to discover and accept where the sweet spot was, for me.

    So, how is it that at 49 years old I’m able to easily maintain a weight of 132 lbs. and 16% bodyfat? To do a full wheel backbend, one-hundred 40 kg swings or one-hundred 16kg snatches in 5 minutes? Dead hang pull-ups for sets of 3, head/handstands, splits, double 16kg presses, ten 24kg Turkish get-ups in under 10 minutes — all of which I couldn’t imagine accomplishing at this age?

    By doing less.

    Yes, kids — it’s true — less is more.

    Thanks to the StrongFirst principles and its diverse and complete programming, I’ve been able to dial in my strength, athleticism and mobility in a way that doesn’t compromise my wellness, but rather fosters continued improvement and gains. Allowing my body — exactly where it is — to guide me, has been the single most important change I’ve made.

    My programming is very simple, very basic, and it gets the job done:

    For the last 2 years or so I have alternated between a 4 to 8 week program based on Pavel & Dan John’s Easy Strength (changing the lifts as needed), and a scaled down version of Pavel’s Right of Passage as it applies to my goals at the time. Simple and Sinister has also made it into my rotation as of late.

    I have found that with ROP, keeping the ladder rungs maxed at 3 or 4 works best for me. Going beyond that in volume, things begin to get dicey with my shoulder.

    Pushing, pulling, hinging, squatting, moving in different planes of motion, with and without load, as well as getting in a fair amount of ballistics training are my staples. Most training days take less then 30 minutes to complete and I’ll spend a good 20 minutes in joint mobility pre and post workout. I’ll test my SFG lifts at the end of each 4 to 8 week plan, make any adjustments to the next program and take a complete week off in between.

    Twice a week I’ll attend a Yoga or YBR Restorative body rolling class and I’ll walk the beach trail with my much appreciative pup most days. Bi-weekly 90-minute sports or acupressure massage and a contrast ice bath/sauna session (Korean spas are the best) at least once a week, keeps everything humming along nicely.

    That’s it.

    How I stay in the game:

    1) Every rep should have a purpose. Click to Tweet
    Having a plan is non-negotiable for me at this stage and I prefer to leave my training sessions feeling energized and not like I have nothing left in the tank. Which brings me to #2…

    2) Removing the ego can be empowering. My mom has a saying, “Just because something fits, doesn’t mean you should wear it.” Click to Tweet
    I find that this applies to my practice as well. Maybe it’s not such a good idea to press or pull more than planned that day, just because I can.

    4) Less or no Alcohol = Better performance. Period. Sorry.

    5) If something hurts, find the source and take care of it. Being sidelined has served me well as a coach. Patience truly is a virtue.

    6) Don’t eat garbage. Focus on what you know is good for you and not on what you can’t have. But, if you’re going to eat cake, eat the cake, and move on.

    7) Do your best to manage stress and get adequate sleep.

    8) Keep a detailed training journal. Not just what you did, but how you felt while doing it.

    I wish I’d realized the importance of the above a few years sooner.

    Nevertheless,  strength can absolutely continue to grow and exist at any age. I am not impervious to the years as they pass. I welcome them and I get on with it.

    Gabby Eborall is a StrongFirst Level II Instructor and founder of North Beach Kettlebell in San Clemente, California. For more information about the studio and training with Gabby, please go to www.nbkettlebell.com.



  • Nikki Shlosser 4:01 pm on March 4, 2014 Permalink | Reply  

    Thumbs Up in Kettlebell Pulls? 

    By Pavel Tsatsouline, Chairman  

    Recently we have seen a number of students coming to SFG certs clean and swing with their thumbs up.  I am here to put an end to this fashion.


    Other kettlebell systems have been known to use a variety of fist positions and they often have good reasons in their own context.  For instance, keeping the thumbs up at all times is an efficient way to clean when you are going for 100 reps.  For StrongFirst this grip is unacceptable.  We are after power, not reps.  And when you attempt to move kettlebells fast with the hammer grip, you are risking injuring your elbows on the bottom of the backswing.  You could literally arm-bar yourself.

    At SFG we teach starting the clean with the thumb pointing slightly down, about 7 to 8 o’clock for the right arm.  For doubles we are looking at a very open “V”.  A “V” opens up more space between your legs when you clean heavy doubles.

    A “barbell” grip, with the handles in line and the palms facing straight down, is totally acceptable for a beginning girevik.  Once you get stronger though, you might find it difficult to pass a pair of heavy kettlebells between your legs.

    You may have seen Geoff Neupert, Master SFG employ yet another grip: keeping the thumbs turned up to 10 and 2 o’clock.  Like the classic “V”, an inverted “V” gives large kettlebells more space to pass between the legs.  An additional benefit, points out Geoff, is that this grip prevents some gireviks, especially big-chested ones, from rounding their upper backs and unpacking the shoulders on the bottom of a clean.  The inverted “V” is an individual choice of an advanced practitioner, not an SFG standard.  Because, like with a hammer grip, there is a risk of injuring your biceps.

    The proponents of the hammer grip like to argue that it allows them to engage their lats more. You may have noticed the connection between the wrist and the shoulder rotation—the former tends to drive the latter.  This is why the hammer and the inverted “V” make it easier to screw your shoulders into their sockets.  The fist turns and turns the shoulder in turn.

    Jon Engum, Master SFG and a high level martial artist, is not impressed: “I can engage my lat in a punch with a horizontal fist just as well as a vertical fist.”  Neurologically you should be able to disassociate the movement of these two joints—turning one does not have to turn the other.  Following is a drill to teach you how.

    Stand up and straighten out one arm in front of you, its palm facing down.  Maximally rotate your shoulder (external rotation) and your wrist (supination) until your palm faces up.  Note the tight “screwed in” sensation in the shoulder.

    Repeat the above drill—turn your palm up and screw your shoulder into its socket.  Anti-shrug your shoulder with your lat.  Note the tight sensation in your armpit.  Without losing this sensation and without disturbing the shoulder alignment slowly turn your palm down.

    Power to your pulls!


  • Nikki Shlosser 5:03 pm on February 25, 2014 Permalink | Reply  

    How to Conquer the Dreaded Deep 6 

    Class Programming

    By Jon Engum, Master SFG

    Several years ago I designed a practice based on an idea I got from Maxwell’s omelet workout—the difference being, where the omelet served up a bit of everything, my Deep 6 focused on only the 6 core lifts in the SFG level I curriculum.  My purpose was threefold— first, I wanted to get conditioning benefits without messing with high reps or light weights; second, I wanted a deep skill practice on all 6 Basics; third, I wanted to really stress-proof my Getups.  The Deep 6 delivers all of this and more…but as I worked with students, I quickly realized the ones who where strong enough to finish the Deep 6 really did not need the Deep 6, and the ones who really could benefit from it…failed to complete.  The short answer to this problem was, be strong first!  Easily said, a little more complex in reality.

    So what follows is a practice/plan to take your group class on a guided tour of the Deep 6 , ensuring that they have and keep stellar technique as well as stay together as a unit.  Before I reveal the guided session plan let us have a look at the original plan in case you are not familiar with it. Remember this is for someone who has a firm grip, pun intended, on the Basic 6. Be warned, the Deep 6 looks easy on paper but it is a whole other beast in reality.

    The plan goes like this:

    All lifts are done right-handed without setting the bell down between moves.
    -       5 Swings
    -       5 Snatches
    -       5 Clean and Presses
    -       5 Front Squats
    -       1 Get up * from the top down ala Shawn Cairnes “the Get down”
    -       After the last Squat, Press the bell to lockout and do the down phase of the Getup until you are at the firing range position and then get back up.
    -       Now switch hands and repeat the sequence on the left.  Try for 5 rounds.

    Beginners:  Rest 30 seconds after every hand switch, rest 1 minute between rounds.
    Intermediate Level: Rest after you have competed both right and left. 30 seconds to 1 minute
    Advanced Level:  No rest, go through all 5 cycles.
    Suggested weight: 24k for men and 12K for women. For people with masochistic tendencies use a 32k or 16k respectively.

    Now that you have seen the original Deep 6 let’s look at the plan to progressively implement it into a group setting.

    Weight Selection

    Let’s start with weight selection. Have your students grab a kettlebell that they can strictly press for about 8 reps, we want this to be heavy but they need to get 5 presses with that weight. I use the press to determine the kettlebell selection because if they can press it five times they should be able to do the other lifts no problem…if not they are not ready for this practice.  One more word about weight selection, choose your “sport weight” not your “game weight.”  What does that mean?  One humorist said if you can do an activity while chewing tobacco, it is a game not a sport. Choose a sport weight!


    Have the students form a big circle. You are standing in the center of the circle. Make certain the students have plenty of room between each other; they will need to be able to have enough room to do a Getup safely.

    Round One:

    Do 5 one arm Swings with your right arm. Put the bell down and do fast and loose until everyone finishes.

    Do 5 Snatches with your right arm. Put the bell down and do fast and loose until everyone finishes.

    Do 5 Clean and Presses with your right arm. Put the bell down and do fast and loose until everyone finishes.

    Clean the bell with your right arm, keep the bell in the rack and do 5 Front Squats.  Put the bell down and do fast and loose until everyone finishes.

    Press or Pushpress the bell to the overhead lockout position and perform one Reverse Getup. Put the bell down and do fast and loose until everyone finishes.

    Have the class walk around the outside of the circle twice for recovery.

    Repeat the above sequence on the left side.

    Have the class walk another 2 laps around the circle for recovery.

    Round 1 is very easy; it has plenty of recovery built in. It gives you a chance to make adjustments in techniques or weight of the bell. It also gives the students a chance to learn the sequence of moves…it is a great start of the Deep 6 Tour.

    Round 2

    Do 5 one arm Swings on the right and without setting the bell down immediately do 5 Snatches on the right. Set the bell down and perform fast and loose shakeouts until everyone is done.

    Do 5 Clean and Presses on the right, leave the bell in the rack when finished and immediately do 5 Front Squats. Put the bell down and perform fast and loose shakeouts until everyone is finished.

    Get the bell overhead in any safe manner and do one Reverse Getup. Set the bell down and do fast and loose until everyone is finished.

    Jog 2 laps slowly around the outside of the circle doing shakeouts as you go for recovery.

    Repeat the above sequence on your left side.

    Round 2 takes up the intensity a bit by pairing the exercises and cutting down the rest period. It is a good intermediate step. 

    Round 3

    Do the whole Deep 6 on the right side without putting the bell down. After you finish the Reverse Getup, set the bell down and do fast and loose until everyone is done. Jog one lap around the outside of the circle for recovery.

    Repeat on the left.

    Round 3 is a good stopping point for most students. It is hard and they may need to spend some quality time at this level which is fine.

    Round 4

    Do the full Deep 6 on your right side, swing switch and do the full Deep 6 on your left side, set the bell down and do shakeouts until the group finishes.  Jog around the outside of the circle for 3 laps, progressively getting slower with each lap until they are finally just walking and things have simmered down to normal.

    It will take about 45 minutes or so to get a large group through the whole lesson plan. It progressively gets more challenging with each round and of course, you can always stop at whatever round you deem appropriate.   This is tried and true and I hope your classes will enjoy it. Drop me a line at info@extremetraining.net or ping me on the StrongFirst forum and let me know how it goes.


    Jon Engum is a 7th Dan Kukkiwon Certified Taekwondo Grandmaster and in addition holds Master rank in Hapkido and Kumdo.  He is the author of Flexible Steel, owner of Jon Engum’s Extreme Training and a StrongFirst Master Instructor who teaches Workshops, Courses and Certifications worldwide.

    info@extremtraining.net         http://extremetraining.net

    (218) 828-7063

  • Jim Wendler 4:18 pm on February 24, 2014 Permalink | Reply  

    Cattlepress – Hordes to Abolish the Divine With one of the greatest album titles in history, Cattlepress delivered an unsung slab of riff-heavy metal/hardcore/sludge.  I bought this CD at a show in Tucson – Isis, Candiria and Dillinger Escape Plan were playing a small show (this was before Isis and DEP got “big” so it [...]
  • Nikki Shlosser 3:43 pm on February 18, 2014 Permalink | Reply  

    Moving Target Kettlebell Complex 

    By Pavel Tsatsouline, Chairman 

    Kettlebell complexes rock.  A few months ago StrongFirst published the “Total Tension” Kettlebell Complex in this blog.  Those of you who followed the plan as written saw excellent results.  Senior SFG Tommy Blom, for instance, gained 3,8kg or 8.4 pounds of lean body mass in six weeks. 

    Following is another StrongFirst complex.  We put SFG I students through it at the last two certs, in South Africa and Australia.

    You need a pair of kettlebells you can strictly press 6-8 times.


    1 clean + 2 presses + 1 squat
    1 clean + 3 presses + 1 squat
    1 clean + 5 presses + 1 squat

    Then repeat the process with squats, using the same bells:

    1 clean + 1 press + 2 squats
    1 clean + 1 press + 3 squats
    1 clean + 1 press + 5 squats

    And finally with cleans:

    2 cleans + 1 press + 1 squats
    3 cleans + 1 press + 1 squats
    5 cleans + 1 press + 1 squats

    The pattern is clear: a single rep of two of the component drills and a (2, 3, 5) ladder of the third.  Systemically, you are getting tired, but the muscular stress target keeps shifting and you can keep going without compromising your technique.

    If you do the math, you will see that the above totals 16 reps of each exercise.  That is not a lot, but the 1:1 work to rest ratio (“I go, you go”) will make sure this brief session will get your attention.  If it has not, repeat the whole series once more after 10min of rest.  Rest actively: walk around, do a couple of brettzels, hip flexor stretches, etc.

    There are many ways to build a four to six week training plan around this workout.  If you are experienced in program design, give it a shot and post your solution in the comments section.  I will select the best ones and include them in a future blog.

    Enjoy the pain!

    # # #

    Accept the challenge:

    Sign up for StrongFirst Girya kettlebell instructor certification course

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