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  • Kenton Boutwell 9:00 am on July 19, 2016 Permalink | Reply  

    The Keys to Executing a Successful Weighted Tactical Pull-Up 

    By Kenton Boutwell, SFG II

    The chain rattled as he looped it through the kettlebell, securing it to his belt. He gripped the pull-up bar and lowered himself into a full hanging position. In a valiant effort, he pulled with all of his might, just managing to clear his chin over the bar. Sadly, the attempt was deemed unsuccessful, as he was unable to touch his neck to the bar.

    This has been the disappointing tale of many Beast Tamer candidates.

    If you watch my video below, you should be able to tell that the pull-up was by far my easiest lift, but this is because of my training history and this experience is not typical. The pull-up is the hardest movement for most people, especially the bigger guys and gals since they have even more mass to move.

     

    So what are some technical keys to the weighted pull-up? In this article, I’m going to focus on the technical setup and execution of the pull-up, specifically the importance of mental imagery, strength, tension, hand placement, and respiration patterns. Perhaps these tips can help you have a better experience at the Beast Tamer or Iron Maiden Challenge.

    The Proper Setup to Perform a Successful Pull-up

    Begin by doing a few mental replays of yourself successfully completing the pull-up. Visualize the entire movement from start to finish. Getting stronger is about maximizing neural recruitment and contraction/tension patterns. By maximizing these patterns, you will improve your proficiency at overcoming external resistances. Mental imagery comes in handy when priming the neural system for motor unit recruitment.

    Once the weight is hooked to you, place your hands on the bar. I recommend a near shoulder-width grip for maximal attempts. Too wide or too narrow of a grip may cause an uneven distribution of the load on the body. Try to be as symmetrical as possible. And don’t forget that a thumbless grip is mandatory.

    Prior to training for the Beast Tamer Challenge, all of my pull-ups were performed non-tactically, including the thumb and excluding neck-to-bar contact. However, after training using the tactical pull-up requirements, I believe training tactically allows for the greatest muscle recruitment and engagement.

    weighted tactical pull-up
    It’s up to you to be ready for the big day.

    Once your grip is set, drop into a full hang position with your elbows locked out, bringing your legs together and crossing your feet. I like to place one foot in front of the bell and pull it back a bit before crossing the top leg over as a way to secure the kettlebell. The last thing you want is a kettlebell swinging back and forth while you are trying to finish your pull-up.

    Many candidates perform weighted pull-ups with their feet and legs apart. In my opinion, this decreases the maximal tension you can produce. Your entire body should be tight and connected in order to perform optimally as a unit, and that’s more difficult when your feet and legs are not together.

    Once you have stabilized the kettlebell, begin priming yourself for the big pull by slightly tensing your entire body. Next, inhale deeply through the nose and into the diaphragm while simultaneously giving yourself a quick body scan. Make sure everything feels stabilized and try to focus on the latissimus dorsi, core, and scapular regions as they are the key muscles involved in this movement. The biceps brachii are also involved, but I’ve intentionally excluded them here since most individuals are already overly focused on this muscle group. The breath, as always, is essential.

    At this point, you should be ready to pull.

    Execution of the Pull-up

    In one explosive pulling motion, begin a tempo-based exhale through the mouth, while simultaneously pulling yourself toward the bar. Try to generate as much tension as possible throughout the body, starting in the lats and moving to the core region. Begin forcefully tensing the core musculature in an attempt to stabilize your body and optimize your position to touch your neck to the bar. Stabilization of the body is going to help keep you in a solid upright, vertical position and decrease the distance between you and the bar. The farther away from the bar you are, the harder it will be to successfully complete this lift.

    You should strive to move your body in a straight line.

    The latissimus dorsi activation coupled with core stabilization should get your chin just over the bar. As soon as your chin passes the bar, immediately shift your awareness to the scapula in order to close the distance between the bar and your neck. Think of squeezing your shoulder blades together as you begin forcefully retracting the scapula.

    You should be exhaling (tempo-based) throughout your ascent, ideally finishing as your neck makes contact with the bar and shoulder blades are pinched together.

    You can view a technical video breakdown of the pull-up here:

    How to Progress Your Weighted Tactical Pull-up

    At this point some of you may be thinking, “Well, that’s great info about the pull-up, but how do I progress to the 48/24kg bell?” As I stated in the opening paragraph, the purpose of this article was to focus on the finer technical points of the movement. True progression relies on having both great technique and great programming.

    In terms of programming, my advice would be to build up to multiple sets of ten repetitions using your own bodyweight with perfect technique and form prior to loading the lift. The best way to learn this technique is to attend an SFB Course or SFB Certification. Once you are ready to start adding weight, factor in both higher volume bodyweight-only days (performing a higher number of total reps) and lower volume-loaded days (lower total reps).

    Once you get within a bell size or two of the 48/24kg, then you will need to begin refining your programming and technical strategies, since fine-tuning will begin to make the most difference in the final stages of training. Good luck!

    Kenton Boutwell AvatarKenton Boutwell is co-founder and CEO of GymCloud and co-owner of Evolve Fitness Nashville. He holds an M.S. in Exercise Physiology and Kinesiology, and is a StrongFirst Kettlebell Level II Instructor, American College of Sports Medicine certified Personal Trainer, USA Weightlifting Sports Performance Coach, CrossFit Level 1 Trainer, USA Powerlifting Club Coach, Precision Nutrition Level 1, and Functional Movement Screen certified fitness professional. He is also a USAF Veteran. He can be reached at kenton@gymcloud.com.

    The post The Keys to Executing a Successful Weighted Tactical Pull-Up appeared first on StrongFirst.

     
  • Craig Marker 9:00 am on July 14, 2016 Permalink | Reply  

    How to Get the Benefit of Depth Jumps Without Jumping 

    By Dr. Craig Marker, Research Director, SFG II, SFL, SFB, and COO of StrongFirst

    Although the current Russian Track and Field team is in the news for other reasons, the Soviet teams have long been dominant in the Olympics. One reason is the work of sport scientist Yuri Verkhoshansky. He was obsessive about measuring the effects of each new training method he tried. His obsessiveness paid off in creating one of the most successful training protocols—one based around jumping drills.

    While jumping drills are not appropriate for all athletes, by understanding the science behind them, we can then take those concepts and find ways to apply them using the kettlebell—and without even needing to leave the ground.

    Overspeed Eccentric Kettlebell Swings and Depth Jumps

    The Science Behind Soviet Plyometrics

    Verkhoshansky’s depth jumps eventually became known as plyometrics. But modern day “plyometrics” are quite different from his original work. In Verkhoshansky’s depth jump, an athlete drops off a box, lands briefly absorbing the shock, and then immediately jumps as high as possible. The landing period (or amortization phase) is usually less than 0.2 seconds.

    Verkhoshansky originally called this method shock training. This type of training primes the neurological system for strength changes and explosiveness. In 1989, Verkhoshansky found that highly trained volleyball players undertaking a depth jump program gained 14% in their maximal strength.

    Overspeed Eccentric Kettlebell Swings and Depth Jumps

    There are three main reasons why depth jumps build explosiveness and strength:

    1. Greater Central Nervous System Stimulation: The shock of the depth jump leads to greater muscular excitation. The more frequent the muscle nerve fires, the more strength we have. This strengthens the neural to muscle circuitry.
    2. Myotatic Reflex: As the muscle lengthens, the myotatic reflex (also called the Liddell-Sherrington reflex) causes the muscle to contract. The more our muscles contract reflexively or through neural commands, the stronger we are. Andy Bolton utilizes this reflex right before he deadlifts. He performs three hamstring stretches and on the third stretch he begins his lift.
    3. Neurogenic Effects: Simply put, neurogenic effects occur when the time between stretching the muscle and the subsequent shortening decreases as the pre-motor cortex anticipates the shock. Over time, the firing rates increase in the myotatic reflex. This means, our reflexes get faster as our body anticipates the shock.

    Practical Application of Depth Jumps in Training

    Depth jumps should never be done for high volume and should only be performed one to two times per week. Fewer than ten repetitions is a good standard as the jumps are taxing on the neurological system. These are a speed-strength tool and not an endurance tool.

    Research indicates that dropping from around thirty inches leads to the greatest explosive strength and reactive abilities. Thus, a running back or a soccer player would benefit the most from these heights. Dropping from around 42 inches leads to the greatest maximal strength development. One common training strategy is to start around a person’s maximum vertical jump height.

    Dropping from higher heights is not recommended until an athlete can squat at least 1.5 times his or her bodyweight as the shock from the drop can be three to four times the person’s bodyweight. In addition, any time a person is landing and absorbing shock from great heights, he or she must have good body position. I would not recommend them for most athletes unless they have great squat form and strength. There is a safer alternative.

    Robert Griffin III's form at the 2012 NFL Combine. He has a long history of injuries.

    Robert Griffin III’s jumping form at the 2012 NFL Combine. He has a long history of injuries. This is not recommended form.

    Overspeed Eccentric Kettlebell Swings

    We can activate the same beneficial mechanisms found in the depth jump with Russian kettlebell swings by placing an emphasis on the downward (eccentric) portion of the swing. Instead of absorbing the weight of our own body, as we do in depth jumps, we absorb the shock of the kettlebell when it switches directions. The more we force the kettlebell down, the greater the plyometric effect. In the lab, experienced kettlebell instructors like Pavel Tsatsouline and Brett Jones can make a 24kg kettlebell come back down with the force equivalent to three times their bodyweight.

    Movement expert and physical therapist Kelly Starrett categorizes movements according to their demands on the body. “Category 3” movements are when the body changes position, but must quickly return to a stable position. Verkhoshansky’s depth jumps are a good example of this. As the person absorbs the shock of landing, he or she must quickly get into proper position. Category 3 movements are much more demanding than when the body is already in a stable position. Kettlebell swings have the advantage of allowing us to have good foot position and ankle and knee stability before we absorb the shock of the kettlebell switching directions.

    I might speculate that much of the “what the heck” effects of kettlebell swings come from when we reverse force. The more force there is to reverse, then the more strength we will gain. Additionally, as we build the reflex system, we build an explosive hair trigger that we can fire very quickly with a lot of force. There are multiple stories of advanced powerlifters adding strength to their deadlifts by doing these types of kettlebell swings.

    Kettlebell swing overspeed eccentrics can be accomplished in three ways, which are all demonstrated in the video below:

    1. Accentuate the Eccentric: Generally, we let the kettlebell float into position and let gravity take it back down into our next swing. However, we can actively accelerate it downward by throwing it down and between our legs.
    2. Partner Assisted Downward Throw: Have a person stand on the side and push down on the kettlebell when it reaches the top.
    3. Band Assisted Eccentric: Wrap a band around the kettlebell and stand on the band. Once the kettlebell hits the top of the swing, the band will accelerate the kettlebell back down.

    How to Add Overspeed Eccentric Swings to Your Training

    Similar to the recommendations above for depth jumps, I would not recommend doing overspeed eccentric swings frequently or with higher reps. The neurologic system is taxed much more than in regular swings and will not make gains with high-rep schemes. Ten or fewer reps is a good rule of thumb with at least a few minutes of rest in between sets. Don’t do these more than a few days a week. Brett Jones might call overspeed eccentric swings a “spice” and not the main course.

    Summary

    The more we do plyometrics, the more our body responds and builds explosive power. This explosive power can help our absolute strength (e.g., deadlift), speed strength (e.g., clean), and pure speed (e.g., sprinting). Basically, we are learning to load our muscles with potential energy for later release. While depth jumps are effective, the overspeed eccentric swing is a safer and more practical alternative.

    References:
    1. Cook, Christian J., C. Martyn Beaven, and Liam P. Kilduff. 2013. “Three Weeks of Eccentric Training Combined With Overspeed Exercises Enhances Power and Running Speed Performance Gains in Trained Athletes:” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 27 (5): 1280–86. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e3182679278.
    2. Isner-Horobeti, Marie-Eve, Stéphane Pascal Dufour, Philippe Vautravers, Bernard Geny, Emmanuel Coudeyre, and Ruddy Richard. “Eccentric Exercise Training: Modalities, Applications and Perspectives.Sports Medicine (Auckland, N.Z.) 43, no. 6 (June 2013): 483–512. doi:10.1007/s40279-013-0052-y.
    3. Santello, M. 2005. “Review of Motor Control Mechanisms Underlying Impact Absorption from Falls.” Gait & Posture 21 (1): 85–94. doi:10.1016/j.gaitpost.2004.01.005.
    4. Turner, Anthony N, and Ian Jeffreys. “The Stretch-Shortening Cycle: Proposed Mechanisms and Methods for Enhancement. Strength and Conditioning Journal 32, no. 4 (August 2010): 87–99. doi:10.1519/SSC.0b013e3181e928f9.
    5. Verkhoshansky, YV., “Are Depth Jumps Useful.” Track and Field 1967 12 (9).
    6. Verkhoshansky, Yuri V., and V. V. Lazarev. 1989. “Principles of Planning Speed and Strength/speed Endurance Training in Sports.” Strength & Conditioning Journal 11 (2): 58–61.
    7. Yessis, M., “Kinesiological Research in the Soviet Union.” Journal of Health, Physical Education, Recreation 1972 43 (1): 93–98.

    Craig Marker StrongFirstCraig Marker, Ph.D., COO, SFB, SFGII, CSCS, is a fitness enthusiast who has spent his life trying to help people improve their lives. As a professor, he works with students on how best to understand research and place it into context. He has published over fifty articles, chapters, and textbooks on psychology and research methods. As a researcher, he understands the cutting edge of strength, sports performance, body composition, and nutrition. As a psychologist, he has focused on research and treatment of anxiety disorders, which positions him to understand motivation and the fear of making life changes.

    Craig’s upcoming book, the AntiFragile Self, takes on the topic of building a stronger person in the mental and physical domains. As a certified StrongFirst Kettlebell Instructor, Craig views kettlebells as one tool in the trade of forging a better person. He uses the Functional Movement Screen and multiple corrective movements to make sure his students are performing at their best for the rest of their lives. Visit his intentional community in Atlanta at Armour Building.

    The post How to Get the Benefit of Depth Jumps Without Jumping appeared first on StrongFirst.

     
  • Craig Marker 9:00 am on July 14, 2016 Permalink | Reply  

    How to Get the Benefit of Depth Jumps Without Jumping 

    By Dr. Craig Marker, Research Director, SFG II, SFL, SFB, and COO of StrongFirst

    Although the current Russian Track and Field team is in the news for other reasons, the Soviet teams have long been dominant in the Olympics. One reason is the work of sport scientist Yuri Verkhoshansky. He was obsessive about measuring the effects of each new training method he tried. His obsessiveness paid off in creating one of the most successful training protocols—one based around jumping drills.

    While jumping drills are not appropriate for all athletes, by understanding the science behind them, we can then take those concepts and find ways to apply them using the kettlebell—and without even needing to leave the ground.

    Overspeed Eccentric Kettlebell Swings and Depth Jumps

    The Science Behind Soviet Plyometrics

    Verkhoshansky’s depth jumps eventually became known as plyometrics. But modern day “plyometrics” are quite different from his original work. In Verkhoshansky’s depth jump, an athlete drops off a box, lands briefly absorbing the shock, and then immediately jumps as high as possible. The landing period (or amortization phase) is usually less than 0.2 seconds.

    Verkhoshansky originally called this method shock training. This type of training primes the neurological system for strength changes and explosiveness. In 1989, Verkhoshansky found that highly trained volleyball players undertaking a depth jump program gained 14% in their maximal strength.

    Overspeed Eccentric Kettlebell Swings and Depth Jumps

    There are three main reasons why depth jumps build explosiveness and strength:

    1. Greater Central Nervous System Stimulation: The shock of the depth jump leads to greater muscular excitation. The more frequent the muscle nerve fires, the more strength we have. This strengthens the neural to muscle circuitry.
    2. Myotatic Reflex: As the muscle lengthens, the myotatic reflex (also called the Liddell-Sherrington reflex) causes the muscle to contract. The more our muscles contract reflexively or through neural commands, the stronger we are. Andy Bolton utilizes this reflex right before he deadlifts. He performs three hamstring stretches and on the third stretch he begins his lift.
    3. Neurogenic Effects: Simply put, neurogenic effects occur when the time between stretching the muscle and the subsequent shortening decreases as the pre-motor cortex anticipates the shock. Over time, the firing rates increase in the myotatic reflex. This means, our reflexes get faster as our body anticipates the shock.

    Practical Application of Depth Jumps in Training

    Depth jumps should never be done for high volume and should only be performed one to two times per week. Fewer than ten repetitions is a good standard as the jumps are taxing on the neurological system. These are a speed-strength tool and not an endurance tool.

    Research indicates that dropping from around thirty inches leads to the greatest explosive strength and reactive abilities. Thus, a running back or a soccer player would benefit the most from these heights. Dropping from around 42 inches leads to the greatest maximal strength development. One common training strategy is to start around a person’s maximum vertical jump height.

    Dropping from higher heights is not recommended until an athlete can squat at least 1.5 times his or her bodyweight as the shock from the drop can be three to four times the person’s bodyweight. In addition, any time a person is landing and absorbing shock from great heights, he or she must have good body position. I would not recommend them for most athletes unless they have great squat form and strength. There is a safer alternative.

    Robert Griffin III's form at the 2012 NFL Combine. He has a long history of injuries.

    Robert Griffin III’s jumping form at the 2012 NFL Combine. He has a long history of injuries. This is not recommended form.

    Overspeed Eccentric Kettlebell Swings

    We can activate the same beneficial mechanisms found in the depth jump with Russian kettlebell swings by placing an emphasis on the downward (eccentric) portion of the swing. Instead of absorbing the weight of our own body, as we do in depth jumps, we absorb the shock of the kettlebell when it switches directions. The more we force the kettlebell down, the greater the plyometric effect. In the lab, experienced kettlebell instructors like Pavel Tsatsouline and Brett Jones can make a 24kg kettlebell come back down with the force equivalent to three times their bodyweight.

    Movement expert and physical therapist Kelly Starrett categorizes movements according to their demands on the body. “Category 3” movements are when the body changes position, but must quickly return to a stable position. Verkhoshansky’s depth jumps are a good example of this. As the person absorbs the shock of landing, he or she must quickly get into proper position. Category 3 movements are much more demanding than when the body is already in a stable position. Kettlebell swings have the advantage of allowing us to have good foot position and ankle and knee stability before we absorb the shock of the kettlebell switching directions.

    I might speculate that much of the “what the heck” effects of kettlebell swings come from when we reverse force. The more force there is to reverse, then the more strength we will gain. Additionally, as we build the reflex system, we build an explosive hair trigger that we can fire very quickly with a lot of force. There are multiple stories of advanced powerlifters adding strength to their deadlifts by doing these types of kettlebell swings.

    Kettlebell swing overspeed eccentrics can be accomplished in three ways, which are all demonstrated in the video below:

    1. Accentuate the Eccentric: Generally, we let the kettlebell float into position and let gravity take it back down into our next swing. However, we can actively accelerate it downward by throwing it down and between our legs.
    2. Partner Assisted Downward Throw: Have a person stand on the side and push down on the kettlebell when it reaches the top.
    3. Band Assisted Eccentric: Wrap a band around the kettlebell and stand on the band. Once the kettlebell hits the top of the swing, the band will accelerate the kettlebell back down.

    How to Add Overspeed Eccentric Swings to Your Training

    Similar to the recommendations above for depth jumps, I would not recommend doing overspeed eccentric swings frequently or with higher reps. The neurologic system is taxed much more than in regular swings and will not make gains with high-rep schemes. Ten or fewer reps is a good rule of thumb with at least a few minutes of rest in between sets. Don’t do these more than a few days a week. Brett Jones might call overspeed eccentric swings a “spice” and not the main course.

    Summary

    The more we do plyometrics, the more our body responds and builds explosive power. This explosive power can help our absolute strength (e.g., deadlift), speed strength (e.g., clean), and pure speed (e.g., sprinting). Basically, we are learning to load our muscles with potential energy for later release. While depth jumps are effective, the overspeed eccentric swing is a safer and more practical alternative.

    References:
    1. Cook, Christian J., C. Martyn Beaven, and Liam P. Kilduff. 2013. “Three Weeks of Eccentric Training Combined With Overspeed Exercises Enhances Power and Running Speed Performance Gains in Trained Athletes:” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 27 (5): 1280–86. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e3182679278.
    2. Isner-Horobeti, Marie-Eve, Stéphane Pascal Dufour, Philippe Vautravers, Bernard Geny, Emmanuel Coudeyre, and Ruddy Richard. “Eccentric Exercise Training: Modalities, Applications and Perspectives.Sports Medicine (Auckland, N.Z.) 43, no. 6 (June 2013): 483–512. doi:10.1007/s40279-013-0052-y.
    3. Santello, M. 2005. “Review of Motor Control Mechanisms Underlying Impact Absorption from Falls.” Gait & Posture 21 (1): 85–94. doi:10.1016/j.gaitpost.2004.01.005.
    4. Turner, Anthony N, and Ian Jeffreys. “The Stretch-Shortening Cycle: Proposed Mechanisms and Methods for Enhancement. Strength and Conditioning Journal 32, no. 4 (August 2010): 87–99. doi:10.1519/SSC.0b013e3181e928f9.
    5. Verkhoshansky, YV., “Are Depth Jumps Useful.” Track and Field 1967 12 (9).
    6. Verkhoshansky, Yuri V., and V. V. Lazarev. 1989. “Principles of Planning Speed and Strength/speed Endurance Training in Sports.” Strength & Conditioning Journal 11 (2): 58–61.
    7. Yessis, M., “Kinesiological Research in the Soviet Union.” Journal of Health, Physical Education, Recreation 1972 43 (1): 93–98.

    Craig Marker StrongFirstCraig Marker, Ph.D., COO, SFB, SFGII, CSCS, is a fitness enthusiast who has spent his life trying to help people improve their lives. As a professor, he works with students on how best to understand research and place it into context. He has published over fifty articles, chapters, and textbooks on psychology and research methods. As a researcher, he understands the cutting edge of strength, sports performance, body composition, and nutrition. As a psychologist, he has focused on research and treatment of anxiety disorders, which positions him to understand motivation and the fear of making life changes.

    Craig’s upcoming book, the AntiFragile Self, takes on the topic of building a stronger person in the mental and physical domains. As a certified StrongFirst Kettlebell Instructor, Craig views kettlebells as one tool in the trade of forging a better person. He uses the Functional Movement Screen and multiple corrective movements to make sure his students are performing at their best for the rest of their lives. Visit his intentional community in Atlanta at Armour Building.

    The post How to Get the Benefit of Depth Jumps Without Jumping appeared first on StrongFirst.

     
  • Aleks Salkin 9:00 am on July 12, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags:   

    The Anytime, Anywhere Bodyweight-Only Strength Program 

    By Aleks Salkin, SFG II, SFB

    Odds are you have some fond memories of college. Odds are also that you remember doing something you’re not very proud of during that time. I know I do. In my junior year of college, I signed up to undergo one of those medical testing studies that seems to lure so many undergrads and other assorted weirdos into its sterile, scrubs-laden clutches with the promise of a quick $1,000+ in exchange for you to become a human guinea pig for a weekend.

    That in and of itself isn’t what I’m not proud of (at the time it was the fastest $1,000 I’d ever made; don’t judge). Far from it. What shamed me that weekend was the sad predicament I found myself in—nay, created for myself. After being told I couldn’t bring a kettlebell into the facility with me to workout and pass my time during the weekend—and yes, I asked—I thought to myself, “No problem, I’ll just figure out something else to do.” How wrong I was.

    At the time, I was familiar with bodyweight training, having read Pavel’s pedestal-worthy classic The Naked Warrior. I had done pistols before and had feasted on a face full of dirt more times than I could count after hurriedly attempting (and failing at) one-arm push-ups. I had no patience and was certainly lacking a hefty amount of foresight. Because I always had a kettlebell handy, I relegated calisthenics to the side, thinking I’d learn more about it “one of these days” when I had more time on my hands.

    That weekend, locked in that clinic, the time had come. And this naked warrior was completely unarmed and caught totally off guard. I lost a decisive and quick battle that weekend, and my punishment was to spend a long three days as a shiftless lay-about watching bad movies and avoiding the other walking medical experiments.

    Anytime, Anywhere Bodyweight-Only Strength Program

    What Would You Do Without Your Kettlebell?

    As with most early twenty-somethings, it took me a long time of making the same mistake over and over before I learned my lesson. But I’m proud to say I’ve learned it well and have since taken on calisthenics training as a serious discipline, and I’ve been reaping the rewards ever since—in terms of health, physical development, and, of course, strength.

    One of the major things I learned that weekend—and something it seems every strength fanatic learns the hard way at some point or another—is that lifting yourself into a very narrow corner will stunt your physical development on two fronts: first, in terms of your overall gains, and second, in terms of what you can get accomplished in less-than-favorable circumstances.

    The sad truth is most of us are still lost without our kettlebells. Most of us are lost without our barbells. But no matter how lost you get, you will never be without your body weight—and that means your strength doesn’t have to get lost along with you.

    So how do you work on continuing to get stronger when you are limited to next-to-no equipment, save for the ground, a wall, and something to hang on?

    The program contained later in this article will address just that—how to get freakishly strong on a carefully crafted and logically progressed skeleton crew of exercises: a push, a pull, and a squat. But in order to take advantage of this program, you must first realize two things:

    1. You are, in fact, unlimited in your options with that skeleton crew of “equipment” and exercise selection.
    2. Being “equipment-less” is a golden opportunity to take advantage of what calisthenics does best: forces you to be creative, fill your training gaps, and build a strong scaffold for future kettlebell and barbell success.

    Step 1: Perfect the Hollow Position

    “If I had two hours to cut down a tree, I’d spend an hour and a half sharpening my axe.”—Abraham Lincoln

    At StrongFirst, we place a premium on fine tuning the basics for the simple reason that everything else is built upon them. And what could be more basic than learning (or perhaps relearning) how to generate tension from nothing and how to maintain the proper body position for the techniques in question? (The answer is “nothing,” for those keeping track at home.)

    For the record, the photo below shows the hollow position: an open C-shape of the body, with the distance between the sternum and the navel shortened, and everything between the fingers and the toes held tight as possible. Because there are plenty of fine details that go into this otherwise simple position—details that are beyond the scope of this article—you’ll get only a crash course here (attend an SFB Course or SFB Certification to dive deeper into the details).

    The Hollow Position

    The Hollow Position

    To get into the hollow position:

    1. Lay on your back, lift your head to look at your belly button
    2. Point your legs toward the sky and lower your them until it feels like your legs are resting on your butt
    3. Extend your hands overhead.

    Holding this position alone will ratchet up the tension in your body, but a few simple drills, such as squeezing a towel between the legs, crushing a towel with the low back, and pressing your hands together will send the tension levels sky high. This will come in handy not only for the bodyweight exercises you’ll be practicing, but will have an unbeatable carryover into your favorite barbell and kettlebell exercises.

    The hollow position will apply in varying degrees to nearly all the major bodyweight strength exercises and you will need it to ensure the proper linkage, tension, and control in each move, so don’t gloss over it.

    Step 2: Learn the Moves

    In The Anytime, Anywhere Bodyweight-Only Strength Program, you’ll have three main days wherein you’ll work each of your three major movements—a push, a pull, and a squat—at varying intensities. You’ll also have two optional variety days to fill in the gaps and scaffold your success at your main movements.

    Anytime, Anywhere Bodyweight-Only Strength Program

    The Handstand Push-up (and Progressions)

    Anytime, Anywhere Bodyweight-Only Strength Program

    The Tactical Pull-up

    Anytime, Anywhere Bodyweight-Only Strength Program

    The Pistol Squat

    For the pistol, you can remain perfectly hollow throughout. With the pull-up and handstand push-up, for both performance and shoulder health reasons, I would recommend you open your chest a bit. Your abs, glutes, and legs, however, should stay locked down for strength, tension, and control.

    The pistol and the pull-up make perfect sense as the go-to squat and pull exercises in a bodyweight-only program for a variety of reasons so blindingly obvious they don’t even bear repeating in this short article, but you might want to know why I’d go with handstand push-ups over one-arm push-ups in a program like this.

    The answer is simple: from my experience, one-arm push-ups respond best to lower volume, plenty of rest between sets, and a grease-the-groove or Easy Strength schedule. Trying to cram a move that requires the level of tension, precision, and technical skill as the one-arm push-up does into a higher volume program is a recipe for disappointment.

    What’s more, your stabilizer muscles such as your quadratus lumborum and hip rotators probably won’t appreciate the double shot of demands placed on them by both higher volume pistols and one-arm push-ups in a single program. If you’re really proficient at them, by all means, give it a shot, but in my correct opinion, you’ll be better off with handstand push-ups.

    Step 3: Understand the Rep Scheme

    A rep scheme I like and that allows you to get a lot of volume in a relatively short amount of time while still focusing on strength is the following (all listed as sets x reps)

    • 15×1
    • 12×2
    • 10×3

    For the 15×1, use your 3TRM, for the 12×2 use your 6TRM, and for 10×3 use your 10TRM. TRM, for those not familiar with it, is your technical rep max (see Master SFG Fabio Zonin’s fantastic article The 5TRM Back Squat Program for further details). Your TRM is the rep max you can do while making each rep look exactly the same—no loss in rep speed, no loss in technical soundness, and no loss in quality. If you can do six reps of a given exercise, but the sixth rep looks like a struggle, it’s not your 6TRM. In order to qualify, each rep must look really solid. This may require you to get your ego in check, but you can only train one thing at a time: your body or your ego. Pick one.

    As for how to get to your 3-, 6-, and 10TRM, the method is different for each move:

    • For starters, with the pull-up and pistol you should simply add weight. Do not complicate things with fancy variations; stick to the tried-and-true standard variations of both for this program and play with more complex variations later. If you cannot get at least ten reps with your bodyweight with both the pistol and pull-up, I suggest you work on that before beginning this program.
    • For the handstand push-up (HSPU), I recommend manipulating the range of motion. Since most people only ever do them from head to ground on up, they miss out on all the strength benefits there are to be wrought from increasing the range of motion (ROM). An increase in ROM with HSPUs, however, is kind of a tall order. So how do you get stronger through the full range of motion when you’re struggling to add even a little to this movement? Enter the souped-up pike push-up. I started doing these many moons ago to bump up my regular handstand push-ups and sure enough, I went from five to nine in a single week’s worth of practice, so these are not to be ignored.

    The strength benefits of a farmer’s tan are almost universally underestimated.

    The Anytime, Anywhere Bodyweight-Only Strength Program

    With many strength programs, you have dedicated hard, medium, and light days. On this program, you will work different moves hard/medium/light each main day. It makes for a surprisingly tough, but effective, program. The layout will look something like this:

    Monday:

    • HSPU: 15×1
    • Pistol: 12×2
    • Pull-up: 10×3

    Wednesday:

    • Pistol: 15×1
    • Pull-up: 12×2
    • HSPU: 10×3

    Friday:

    • Pull-up: 15×1
    • HSPU: 12×2
    • Pistol: 10×3

    And on your variety days? Well, they’re perfectly optional. You might find the above is enough to warrant more rest days, and that’s fine. If you’ve still got some energy in the tank on your variety days to do more than stretch, relax, and watch your favorite cat videos on YouTube, I’d recommend the following:

    Variety days:

    • Hanging leg raise: 1-3 reps x 3-5 sets
    • Back bridge progression: submaximal holds

    And if you must get some conditioning or power work in, your variety days are the days to do it. In those categories, my vote goes to hill sprints for your power work and crawling, Original Strength-style, for your conditioning. Keep your eyes up and move contralaterally. No plodding along like a pachyderm. And yes, I know, I know, “Crawling’s for babies.” And making passive-aggressive attacks from the safety of your computer is for juveniles, but only one of them will make you stronger, leaner, better conditioned, and a better mover—so take your pick, tough guy.

    The Method: How to Progress

    The above set and rep demands can be tough the first time around, so look at them as the benchmark, not the requirement. Work your way toward them if you must, but don’t bother going beyond (yet).

    One thing each rep scheme has in common is they all revolve around a roughly 30% effort of your max reps in the given TRM. The way you will progress through time is by increasing the percentage effort of your TRM in each set. For example:

    Week 1:

    Monday:

    • HSPU: 15×1
    • Pistol: 12×2
    • Pull-up: 10×3

    Wednesday:

    • Pistol: 15×1
    • Pull-up: 12×2
    • HSPU: 10×3

    Friday:

    • Pull-up: 15×1
    • HSPU: 12×2
    • Pistol: 10×3

    Week 2:

    Monday:

    • HSPU: (1, 2) x 5 (3TRM)
    • Pistol: (2, 3) x 4 + 2×2 (6TRM)
    • Pull-up: (3, 4) x 3 + 3×3 (10TRM)

    Wednesday:

    • Pistol: (1, 2) x 5 (3TRM)
    • Pull-up: (2, 3) x 4 + 2×2 (6TRM)
    • HSPU: (3, 4) x 3 + 3×3 (10TRM)

    Friday:

    • Pull-up: (1, 2) x 5 (3TRM)
    • HSPU: (2, 3) x 4 + 2×2 (6TRM)
    • Pistol: (3, 4) x 3 + 3×3 (10TRM)

    Week 3:

    Monday:

    • HSPU: 8×2
    • Pistol: 8×3
    • Pull-up: 8×4

    Wednesday:

    • Pistol: 8×2
    • Pull-up: 8×3
    • HSPU: 8×4

    Friday:

    • Pull-up: 8×2
    • HSPU: 8×3
    • Pistol: 8×4

    Week 4:

    Deload – Repeat Week 1

    Week 5:

    Monday:

    • HSPU: 8×2
    • Pistol: 8×3
    • Pull-up: 8×4

    Wednesday:

    • Pistol: 8×2
    • Pull-up: 8×3
    • HSPU: 8×4

    Friday:

    • Pull-up: 8×2
    • HSPU: 8×3
    • Pistol: 8×4

    Week 6:

    Monday:

    • HSPU: (2, 3) x 3
    • Pistol: (3, 4) x 3 + 1×3
    • Pull-up: (4, 5) x 3 + 1×3

    Wednesday:

    • Pistol: (2, 3) x 3
    • Pull-up: (3, 4) x 3 + 1×3
    • HSPU: (4, 5) x 3 + 1×3

    Friday:

    • Pull-up: (2, 3) x 3
    • HSPU: (3, 4) x 3 + 1×3
    • Pistol: (4, 5) x 3 + 1×3

    Week 7

    Monday:

    • HSPU: 5×3
    • Pistol: 6×4
    • Pull-up: 6×5

    Wednesday:

    • Pistol: 5×3
    • Pull-up: 6×4
    • HSPU: 6×5

    Friday:

    • Pull-up: 5×3
    • HSPU: 6×4
    • Pistol: 6×5

    Week 8:

    Deload – repeat week 5

    Week 9:

    Here you have two options:

    • Retest 3-, 6-, and 10TRMs of each exercise at your leisure and start the program over or move on to a different program.
    • Start adding a set or two per workout and begin increasing the volume. If you keep the added volume somewhat moderate, you can likely maintain the same schedule, but if you aim to increase volume significantly, then you will want to break things up to no more than two moves per workout (ex: pull-up and HSPU on one day, pistols the next, etc.). Once you’ve reached a satisfactory amount of added volume (between 7-10 sets), you can then start increasing the density by “racing the clock” to complete your sessions more quickly. Once you can no longer do this, take a few days off and test your maxes.

    Never Miss Out on Training Ever Again

    After several weeks on a program like this, you’ll likely be pleasantly surprised. This was the program that led me to my first legit full-ROM handstand push-up, not to mention helped me reclaim my weighted pull-up and pistol strength that I had lost through time and disuse.

    Of course, you can also choose to practice just one of the above techniques and insert it into your existing program following the same rep scheme, or do it on a grease the groove-styled schedule. The choice is yours, but no matter what, you’ll gain a lot of readily applicable brute strength as well as some mental toughness to boot.

    As the saying goes, the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. Life is guaranteed to throw you a curveball and whisk you off of your carefully plotted course when you least expect it. But your path to greater strength and muscularity can stay right on track when you learn to capitalize on one of the greatest and most under-utilized strength training tools in existence: your own fair flesh.

    So go ahead: take the road less traveled, get a little lost, and along your way, find your strength—any time, anywhere.

    To learn more about bodyweight training, consider the SFB Course or SFB Certification.

    Aleks Salkin StrongFirstAleks Salkin is a Level II StrongFirst Certified kettlebell instructor (SFG II) and an Original Strength Instructor. He grew up scrawny, unathletic, weak, and goofy until he was exposed in his early twenties to kettlebells and the teachings and methodology of Pavel. He is currently based out of Jerusalem, Israel and spends his time teaching clients both in person and online, as well as spreading the word of StrongFirst and calisthenics. He is the author of The 8-Week Kettlebell and Bodyweight Challenge. Find him online at Aleks Salkin and on Facebook.

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  • Brett Jones 9:00 am on July 5, 2016 Permalink | Reply  

    How to Exercise the Vital Muscle of Patience 

    By Brett Jones, Chief SFG

    There are too many quotations and clichés about time. Philosophers ponder the subject and we all watch the seconds, minutes, hours, and days tick by. One of my favorite sayings about time comes from the Star Trek movie Generations: “Time is the fire in which we all burn.”

    What does that line conjure in your mind? Is it a positive or negative? Or are you wondering what on earth the Chief SFG is thinking by quoting Star Trek?

    Let’s start first with the concept of “fire.” Fire can reduce some things to ashes or provide light and heat for survival. Iron is melted by the heat of a flame, but the same iron is tempered by heat. So, “time is a fire.” These words are asking us to consider that time will consume us in the end, but before then will we be melted by it or tempered by it? And how do we determine whether we will be melted or tempered?

    Patience in training

    Time, Training, and Patience

    I believe that we can apply the practices of training and patience to the time we are given to determine our path. First, let me define time, training, and patience:

    • Time is a construct of how we measure our experience of life. Seconds, minutes, hours, and days have meaning because we put a construct on them. We schedule our lives and our training within certain measures of time. Eight to twelve weeks would be a familiar mesocycle in periodization terms. A year could make up a macrocycle and so on.
    • Training is what we do to accomplish a goal. That goal may be a half-bodyweight military press or successfully completing an SFG Certification or participating in a powerlifting meet or ______ (fill in the blank, even if it just to “be healthy”).
    • Patience can be the glue that helps you transition from the early “easy” progress to the sustained march of training and accomplishments over time. Patience is defined as an ability or willingness to suppress restlessness or annoyance when confronted with delay. Strength requires patience. Power requires patience. Raising a teenager requires patience. Years ago, I came across the saying: “An overnight success takes ten years.” Do you have the patience to sustain the work to have that “overnight success”?

    So, time, training, and patience—are we using them to our advantage? Let’s break this down into some components, concepts, and steps that allow us to build some patience into accomplishing our goals. Here are the basic steps, then keep reading for further detail and instructions on each:

    • Pick a goal.
    • Work backward from the date you’ve set for your goal to set your training time-frame.
    • Do a needs analysis. Where are you now and what do you need to accomplish?
    • Define your weak links.
    • Re-evaluate your stated goal with your time-frame and needs analysis in mind.
    • Program your training accordingly.
    • Plan for detours.

    Pick a Goal

    This is up to you. Running a 5K, competing in your first powerlifting meet, or achieving the SFG Level I or II could be a great goal to focus on. You must also consider what you “need” to accomplish versus what you “want” to accomplish. An individual may want to lift in a powerlifting meet, but she needs to achieve an SFG Certification for her business.

    Work Backward to Set Your Time-frame

    If your goal provides you with a set date, like the day of a race or meet, then this is an easy step. An SFG Certification will also certainly provide a specific date, but some goals do not come with a deadline. Achieving the Simple standard from Simple & Sinister does not come with a date to be completed by, but you can set a date for yourself. Setting your own date must be done with some care and bit of realism, but once you set a goal and a date you simply count backward to set the number of training weeks/days.

    Patience in Programming

    Do a Needs Analysis

    “If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else.”—Yogi Berra

    And that is why we set a goal/destination. But at the same time, if you don’t know where you are starting from, then any route can get you lost. Once your goal is determined, you still need to know where you are now in reference to that goal.

    Want to run a 5K? How far can you run now and how long does it take you? If the answer is something like, “I walk a 5K, but have never run a 5K,” then you should plan for there to be a few intermediate goals between the initial needs analysis and the event. For example, an intermediate goal may be running the first half mile of the 5K walk. This may be the first two weeks of the programming with the next intermediate goal being running the first half mile of the first and second miles for two weeks and so on until the main goal of running a 5K is accomplished.

    Want to press a half-bodyweight kettlebell? What is your 1RM now? If your half-bodyweight goal is the 44kg kettlebell and you are currently at a 1RM of a 28kg kettlebell, then we can begin to look at programming percentages, volume, frequency, and intensity to create training cycles designed to increase that 1RM and narrow the gap.

    It is always better to build from success and not try to take on the whole goal at once but rather address it in “pieces.” But that is only part of the needs analysis, in my mind. Other aspects include:

    • Movement Ability and Screening—I recommend an FMS screen to look for painful patterns or patterns that you have difficulty accessing.
    • Lifestyle—As the old saying goes, “You can’t hoot with the owls at night and soar with the eagles in the morning.” Your lifestyle must support your goals, rest, and recovery.
    • Time Constraints and Commitments—Scheduling yourself for two hours of training a day when you work ten hours, sleep eight hours, eat two hours, and have four hours of school work because you’ve gone back to earn an online MBA means you have to create two hours that don’t exist. Or you have to adjust the schedule to allow for an hour of training out of the four hours of school work.
    • Family—Accomplishing a goal should not hurt your family and relationships. In an ideal situation, it should improve them. Scheduling yourself for two hours of training during family dinner time is a sure way to cause stress and strife.
    • Nutrition—It is hard to optimize performance when the fuel you’re putting into your body doesn’t support it. Jet engines require jet fuel.
    • Coaching—You may need a running coach to help you with the skill of running. Or you need an SFG to assist you in learning the skill of swinging a kettlebell.

    Once you do a proper needs analysis, it may turn out that the roadblock to your goal is related to a lack of sleep and recovery, not a technical flaw or programming issue. Needs analysis should include many aspects of life, training, and recovery.

    Define the Weak Links

    What did your needs analysis tell you? Do you want to run a 5K but a movement analysis discovered you have an ankle restriction? Do you want to press a half-bodyweight kettlebell but an assessment has shown your shoulder mobility is lacking? If a movement issue is found, then take the time and get the proper help in addressing it before launching into a training program. This will be time well spent and can make a tremendous difference in succeeding in the longer term (remember the whole “patience” thing?)

    Weak links can happen outside your movement, too. Are you grabbing fast food for breakfast and lunch and going out for drinks in the evening, but trying to support five days a week of training for an SFG Level I Certification? How do you think that’s going to work out? If the SFG Level I is your goal, then your nutrition will need to be priority.

    Are you only sleeping four or five hours a night but trying to prep for that 5K? Sleep needs to become a priority for you. Recovery is important to making forward progress and preventing injury.

    What did your needs analysis tell you and what weak link needs to be addressed?

    Patience in Programming

    Re-evaluate the Goal and Time-frame

    If after your needs analysis and examination of your weak links you realize you need three months of work to get ready to begin the running for a 5K training program, then you’ll need to bump your race date back three months. Find another race and sign up for that one instead.

    If the needs analysis and weak links sent you down the path of needing to achieve the Simple goals with a 20kg kettlebell before moving on to the 24kg kettlebell, then you need to accept that and work toward each intermediate goal along the way to your ultimate goal.

    Patience is needed. Exercising patience and mapping out your intermediate goals actually shows commitment to the big goal and wise planning for what is more likely to be a successful program. You just cannot allow this to become a delaying tactic by continually finding a reason to push back a goal or time-frame on a whim.

    Plan Accordingly

    Fit the plan to your life and plan accordingly. If you do shift work, like three twelves, then on those days your training may only include soft tissue and mobility work. You’ll be better off using other days for your training time.

    Do you prefer to work out in the afternoon or evening, but work and family obligations regularly occur during those times? Then you need to adapt to a morning exercise routine so nothing can’t prevent it. This may also mean deleting an exercise or adapting a part of your program that doesn’t fit into a morning routine. So, plan ahead and plan accordingly.

    Plan for Detours

    As military strategist Helmuth von Moltke stated in the mid-nineteenth century, “No operation extends with any certainty beyond the first encounter with the main body of the enemy.” Which has been shortened over the years to: “No plan survives contact with the enemy.” Or as Mike Tyson said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” The “enemies” for you are the potential roadblocks, detours, and life events that will “punch you in the mouth.”

    Patience in Programming

    Headed for a snatch test goal, but your shoulder starts to hurt? Working toward a 5K but your knees are getting painful? Does a shift change at work mean you have to completely revamp your program? Welcome to this thing we call “life.” Go head and set a date for your goal, but be aware that any number of events may force a recalculation of your timeframe. Being in denial and failing to adjust to the realities of life can result in problems achieving your goal or an increase in your risk of an injury.

    Because pain is not to be ignored. Period. It is not to be ignored and you should seek a medical professional you trust to work with to address the acute issue as well as any underlying issues. At this point, you should also have your plan re-evaluated by a fitness professional who can help you refine your plan based on your new circumstances. Sometimes it is as simple as deleting a couple of exercises or rotating the intensity or volume in a different manner. Or it could be as simple as changing your running path to avoid repeating the same slope of the road or turn directions. Sometimes it is something you wouldn’t think matters and having the insight of a professional can make that difference.

    Conclusion

    “Patience is a virtue” might be one of the most famous quotations on patience. Patience applies to everything—from the timing of a swing or push press to being able to accept a detour due to injury that adds months to your program.

    Patience.

    Brett Jones StrongFirstBrett Jones, Chief SFG, is a Certified Athletic Trainer and Strength and Conditioning Specialist based in Pittsburgh, PA. Mr. Jones holds a Bachelor of Science in Sports Medicine from High Point University, a Master of Science in Rehabilitative Sciences from Clarion University of Pennsylvania, and is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA).

    With over twenty years of experience, Brett has been sought out to consult with professional teams and athletes, as well as present throughout the United States and internationally.

    As an athletic trainer who has transitioned into the fitness industry, Brett has taught kettlebell techniques and principles since 2003. He has taught for Functional Movement Systems (FMS) since 2006, and has created multiple DVDs and manuals with world-renowned physical therapist Gray Cook, including the widely-praised “Secrets of…” series.

    Brett continues to evolve his approach to training and teaching, and is passionate about improving the quality of education for the fitness industry. He is available for consultations and distance coaching by e-mailing him at appliedstrength@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BrettEJones

    The post How to Exercise the Vital Muscle of Patience appeared first on StrongFirst.

     
  • John Heinz 9:00 am on June 30, 2016 Permalink | Reply
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    Easy Strength Is Antifragility Training 

    “Everything in excess is opposed to nature”—Hippocrates

    Perhaps you, the reader, are familiar with Easy Strength by Pavel and Dan John, but you are probably not so familiar with the book Antifragile, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Even if both these books are unknown to you, don’t fear and keep reading—I am about to explain what a strength training book and an economics book have in common.

    Though not immediately self-evident, the authors’ hypotheses should be important to you whether you are a coach, trainer, teacher, or athlete. In both books, the reader is presented with commensurate philosophies, and hopefully, by the end of this article (if I have done my job) you will find a beneficial paradigm to apply to your program design.

    First, What Is “Easy Strength”?

    In their book, Pavel and Dan John demonstrate with anecdotal and scientific examples that there is more than a “one size fits all” approach to strength training. More specifically, depending on the kind of athlete and where they are in their life-cycle, there should be different intentions in their programming. A novice athlete would not train in the same fashion as a professional athlete.

    Antifragile Kettlebell Swing

    To give you an example of what Easy Strength does not espouse, let me use my daughter’s experience as a novice javelin thrower for her high school (Go Pirates!). Her throwing coach has her in the weight room four to five days per week, after several hours of daily field training. I will not sadden you with details, but it suffices to say that every lift (and there are a lot of them, including deadlift and hanging cleans without much hands-on instruction) is to be performed in the 3 sets of 10-12 rep range.

    The programming couldn’t even be considered GPP, never mind that it is being done in season, not during the off-season. It is more of a bodybuilding split routine, and regardless of the skill of the athlete, they are supposed to use the same programming. Therefore, a freshman/novice thrower, like my daughter, is following the same programming as the senior/advanced thrower. Do you think the needs of both athletes are the same? I would suggest not.

    I know the above example is anecdote, but I have talked with handfuls of SFG leadership and instructors, and they too have had similar experiences with their children. This is not to be a polemic on the state of high school athletics, but to offer an example you might also be familiar with. Therefore, to return to the example of my daughter’s experience, the weight room training she receives in no way relates to Easy Strength. In fact, it could be considered the exact opposite due to the volume and number of lifts. As will become clearer later on, the Easy Strength approach provides a philosophical and literal template for strength training that allows you to more mindfully develop an athlete’s strength attributes over his or her life-cycle/career.

    Second, What Is “Antifragile”?

    AntifragileTo quote Nassim Nicholas Taleb:

    [A]ntifragility is defined as a convex response to a stressor or source of harm (for some range of variation), leading to a positive sensitivity to increase in volatility (or variability, stress, dispersion of outcomes, or uncertainty, what is grouped under the designation “disorder cluster”).

    Or more simply, for our purposes: that which gains from stress.

    It is also helpful to define what antifragility is not. Obviously, it is the opposite of fragility. But it is not resilience or robustness. These qualities are beneficial, but inherently do not increase their own qualities when subjected to stress. Examples of resilience or robustness might be bamboo or a thick stone wall. An example of something antifragile might be your femur.

    If your bone breaks, it should knit back together and become stronger at the fracture line. Likewise, this is why weight training is recommended to help decrease the risk of osteoporosis; the incurred stress of lifting weight can help to increase bone density. But if a stone wall is pushed, eventually it will fail and collapse. I have a friend who works on demolitions who saw a 200-year-old, thirty-foot-high stone barn gable end flex over two feet from center and back to plumb, before it gave way—talk about resilient! But not particularly antifragile given that the stress of breaking does not gain that gable anything, whereas our bone can become stronger.

    Easy Strength Is Antifragility Training

    The concept of antifragility can be applied to almost anything. Indeed, Taleb, as a Professor of Risk Engineering, has primarily applied this to the economic realm, though not exclusively. So what does this have to do with Easy Strength? My contention is that the methodology in Easy Strength is inherently an application of the antifragile concept to strength training.

    I am a simple person and a visual learner. I like images. Therefore, I found a diagram on page three in Pavel and Dan’s book to be helpful. It is the premise of the whole first chapter, that is to say, the quadrant. The Y axis represents the relative absolute quality of maximum (meaning, how good you are at something) and the X axis represents the number of qualities (meaning, how many things you are good at). Pavel and Dan’s hypothesis was that most of us should be “living” in ESQ3 for a majority of our training.

    Easy Strength Is Antifragility Training

    Again, I like diagrams. So, in Antifragile (which contains a lot of words and not many pictures), I was pleased to find another quadrant. It is found in the appendix section on page 437. To simplify Taleb’s quadrant, we can represent the Y axis as exposure to risk and the X axis as potential gain.

    Easy Strength Is Antifragility Training

    So as you can easily surmise from Taleb’s quadrant, in general you should seek to maximize gain and minimize risk, that is to say, “live” in AFQ3.

    Two pretty graphs do not an argument make. Likewise, these quadrants do not perfectly overlay one another. That said, you can (and I do) make the argument there is a general correlation between them.

    ESQ1 and AFQ1

    I would argue Easy Strength’s Q1 is similar to Taleb’s Q1, low levels of risk and gain, but beneficial. Remember, in ESQ1 we are developing the potential athlete, learning a whole host of movements but there is not any great skill.

    In my mind, this relates to Taleb’s flaneur, traditionally defined as a lounger or idler. The flaneur in the antifragile context is someone purposefully experiencing a whole host of different things, developing a palate, as it were, and intentionally not specializing in anything. In the AFQ1 quadrant, being exposed to multiple and varied experiences sets the stage for developing antifragility. Likewise, training in ESQ1 prepares the athlete for more rigorous and specialized training, in the future.

    ESQ2 and AFQ4

    ESQ2 would relate to Taleb’s AFQ4 in that the rewards and risks are increased. In ESQ2, we are developing many qualities (speed, power, and explosiveness in multiple skills, etc.) and high levels of their maximums. This works for a period of time, but is inherently unsustainable over the long run.

    Professional athletes such as football players have careers that span maybe two decades. Certainly, active professional athletes, especially in collision sports, near the forty-year-old mark are an outlier. Similarly, with AFQ4 there are potentials for large positive outcomes, but it is the potential for large negative ones that make it unsustainable and hence tends more toward fragility.

    Football is not for longevity

    ESQ4 and AFQ2

    ESQ4, the rare air of having few qualities but of a very high level of maximum correlates to AFQ2, having a large improbable downside and small upside. Think of this as it relates to powerlifting, Olympic lifting, or girevoy sport. The lifts themselves become the goal in competition, so maximum volume or tonnage determines the event winner. Reaching sub-five seconds in the forty-yard dash is not relevant to a professional heavyweight powerlifter, or for many other people for that matter. Likewise, these technical lifts themselves may become heavily specialized. Too, performing a max attempt, by definition, contains a greater degree of risk.

    That said, I must reiterate there is nothing inherently “wrong” or “bad” about any of this. The quadrant is not a moral judge; it just offers insight into potential outcomes. Any time you heavily specialize, other non-relative skills have to be put to the side.

    ESQ3 and AFQ3

    Lastly, we come to ESQ3, the developing of fewer qualities at low or moderate levels of relative maximum. This in my mind, correlates to AFQ3—a large upside with small downside.

    If you read Easy Strength pages 33-38, there are listed eight strength attributes. These attributes are generally and specifically beneficial to anyone, an athlete or desk jockey. To be proficient in these attributes does not require massive specialization, hundreds of different lifts, tons of equipment, or tens of hours per week in the gym (large upside). Overtraining and risk of injury are decreased (small downside). Likewise, achieving them with an Easy Strength approach does not leave you mentally or physically spent. You have the energy and/or ability to pursue other skills if desired, allowing for a more balanced athletic development. This methodology then, tends toward antifragility.

    Train Kettlebells for Antifragility

    So for ESQ3, let us coin a “new” term for now—antifragile training. I think longevity is a part of it. Not just longevity as it pertains to overall lifespan, but to the athlete in their given sport or the continued quality of a person’s physical actions. That said, maintaining and then increasing our strength (becoming more robust) over the long run is not an original idea. Sports periodization, with its macro, meso, and micro cycles, is a part of this. Outside of our Easy Strength system, Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 comes to mind.

    This antifragile training concept applies to you and me, but it is important to note these quadrants are not mutually exclusive all the time. They are sort of like fractals, being self-similar across different scales. Remember, our overall philosophy in training is to tend toward antifragility. Therefore, we should always start from ESQ3. For example, as a non-professional athlete, perhaps I have a certain skill I want to get better at, e.g. I want to improve my deadlift for the TSC (don’t we all?). I can focus on that goal and move into a heavily specialized series of mesocycles. Meanwhile, using ES tenets as my baseline, I can maintain and/or improve my lifting in my squat and bench without detracting from my short-term goal. Therefore, “living” in ESQ3 does not preclude me from visiting other quadrants.

    The Application of This to Your Training

    In this article I have made several assumptions: that the Easy Strength principles are a beneficial and practical way to increase strength, and that antifragility is a desirable outcome. That said, based on the comparison of the quadrants between the two books, it seems the practice of developing moderate levels of relative maximum strength with fewer qualities contains large upsides and small downsides.

    Therefore, when planning out your next three or six months of training for reaching whatever goal you have set, perform an analysis of your training template, not solely based on the outcome of any one lifting event, but on whether or not your whole plan tends toward you becoming more or less fragile.

    What quadrant are you spending most of your time in? You are investing in your body and your health. Short-term exposure to high risk/high reward can be profitable, but over the long term probably not so much. Only you are accountable for the choices you make so do your own cost/benefit analysis.

    John Heinz StrongFirstJohn Heinz, Senior SFG, FMS, has been teaching with kettlebells since 2003. He has had the good fortune to teach people from all walks of life, from youth to the elderly, amateur to professional athletes, LEO to Tier One. He runs weekly group classes and privates out of his barn: usually with kettlebells, sometimes throwing hay bales.

    John has studied various martial arts over three decades, Tae Kwon Do in his youth, Shotokan (on his college team), Shim Gum Do, and most recently, Machado BJJ.

    John is also has worked as a blacksmith and bladesmith since 1992 and farming and raising goats for cheese making over the last decade. He may be contacted at dosoo@epix.net. If you are in interested in cutting tools, please visit www.herugrim.com.

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  • Karen Smith 9:00 am on June 28, 2016 Permalink | Reply  

    One Good Rep: How to Perform the Perfect Pull-up 

    By Karen Smith, Chief SFB, Master SFG

    Pull-ups were a skill that always seemed impossible to me. I honestly felt I would never be able to achieve this “coveted” movement. Like many women, I once believed pull-ups were something only men could do.

    But we at StrongFirst are breaking this myth down and proving to women all over the world that not only can they do pull-ups, but they can get really strong at them. This fact is evident to anyone who has been following the StrongFirst website and our events—this has been the year of the Iron Maiden. We have had more women claim the title this year than in any previous—and we are only six months in.

    Kristina Forest

    Kristina Forest performing a successful weighted tactical pull-up.

    But before we can achieve a heavy weighted rep like that required for the Iron Maiden or Beast Tamer, we need to be able to do one good rep—and that’s what I’m going to teach you today. If you have one perfect pull-up, then you have the ability to train a high volume of quality pull-ups, but more on that toward the end of this article.

    You’ve probably seen many types of pull-ups at your gym or via the social webs, but at StrongFirst, we teach the tactical pull-up. We believe this pull-up is not only the safest for your joints, but also has the best carryover to other strength skills.

    How to Perform the Perfect Pull-up

    Note: The pull-up is performed slowly in this video so you can see a demonstration of proper technique in detail, but you should train your pull-ups at regular speed.

    Instructions:

    • Your bar should be at a height where you can hang from it without your feet touching the floor.
    • Without looking at the bar, grip the bar at about shoulder width with a thumbless overhand grip.
    • Contract your lats and pull your shoulders into your sockets.
    • Pause momentarily in a hollow hang position.
    • Squeeze your legs and feet together.
    • Point your belly button toward your face so you are in a posterior pelvic tilt position.
    • Squeeze your glutes tight.
    • Inhale as you pull yourself above the bar.
    • Keep your gaze forward for the duration of the rep.
    • As the bar is passing your face, drive your elbows down and back to reach chest to bar height.
    • Pause at the top momentarily.
    • Slowly lower in an active negative back down to the hollow hang position.

    Common Mistakes in the Pull-up

    Some of the most common mistakes I see with pull-ups involve eye position, hand position, and loss of tension. Each of these issues will make it more difficult to master the StrongFirst technique. Watch the video for a detailed explanation of these mistakes and how to correct them:

    Training the Pull-up

    To progress in the pull-up, you must spend time on the bar, and for the majority of us that means lots of time on the bar. And we must practice quality over quantity—always.

    As discussed in the previous articles in this series (how to do the perfect push-up and how to do the perfect pistol), the grease the groove (GTG) approach is one of the best ways to train higher volume and make massive strides in your strength gains. We do not believe in training to failure, but rather treating our training as a practice—a practice of frequent high-quality singles.

    The GTG approach allows you to get in a higher volume of quality reps without the fatigue factor by doing “sets” of one good rep throughout your day. Be sure to allow at least fifteen minutes of rest between each rep, and for best results, do your GTG work a minimum of three days per week.

    Once you can maintain form and you gain the strength to get a chest-to-bar tactical thumbless-grip pull-up, then do not feel the need to maintain the purity of bodyweight-only singles. You can advance to quality weighted singles, and by working weighted single reps in a grease-the-groove practice, you will automatically increase the number of pull-ups you can do at just bodyweight. But do not jump too heavy too quickly or you will lose the technique you worked so hard to master.

    Pull-ups Are for Everyone

    For far too long there has been a huge gap in the record board numbers between the Beast Tamers and Iron Maidens, but the women of StrongFirst are making great strides and beginning to close this gap. Ladies and gentlemen, we are determined to break down the pull-up myth once and for all.

    And for you gentlemen out there who may not have a pull-up yet, we are rooting for you, too. If for some reason you think you “can’t do a pull-up,” consider there is another possibility if you set your mind to it.

    Pull-ups—quality tactical pull-ups—are for anyone! You must set your mind on your goal, put blinders on, and stay steadfast in your grease-the-groove training and you might just surprise yourself.

    Lay a foundation for impeccable technique by attending an SFB Course or SFB Certification.

    Karen Smith StrongFirstKaren Smith is Chief SFB instructor, a Master SFG instructor, and the fourth female to claim the Iron Maiden title. She has been personal training students of all fitness levels from beginners to elite US military forces since 2000. Karen specializes in kettlebell and bodyweight strength training. She is a certified SFG, SFB, FMS, and Battling Ropes instructor. Karen resides in Dallas where she is available for private and group sessions. She is also available worldwide for distance coaching and program design. She travels regularly instructing workshops and SF courses/certifications. She can be reached at karensmithmsfg@gmail.com or at her blog, Coach Karen Smith.

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  • Greg Woods 9:00 am on June 21, 2016 Permalink | Reply  

    I Failed the SFG Level II Strength Test 

    By Greg Woods, SFG II

    I failed the SFG Level II strength test. That’s how my Level II Certification weekend started, so I might as well start this article that way, too. For those who are unfamiliar, the Level II strength test is a one-arm press with a half-bodyweight kettlebell. For me, that was the 48kg bell.

    On my first attempt, I barely made it up halfway. The Master Instructor who was running the Level II, told me, “Go get your head right.” I stalked around for a bit, tried again—and failed again.

    SFG Level II Strength Test

    Close only counts in horseshoes.

    I’d come to Level II to pick up the Beast and put it over my head. I came to demonstrate what I’d learned and practiced and get that coveted Level II Certificate. I came to show that I was technically sound and deserving of the title I sought.

    These were the wrong reasons.

    I had succeeded at the press previously, and my training had been on point all the way up until the Certification in Chicago. What was going on? What was I missing?

    It wasn’t my training. It wasn’t even my mindset. I was strong, capable, determined, and confident. Some nerves, maybe, but no more than caused by the excitement of any StrongFirst event.

    What I was missing was a sincere and deeply personal reason—a worthy why. Technical know-how and strength are not enough. Nor is mindset, even. What I was to learn was that I needed to give my training a little space to breathe, and more than likely so do you.

    Experiencing the SFG Level II as a Student

    Over the course of the weekend, I made seven total press attempts. Each one got further than the last. Number seven was as close to lockout as a person can get without actually getting it. I held the bell there for close to thirty seconds, and then failed again. I knew I would succeed on number eight. But then we did a deliciously awful ten-minute clean and jerk workout, and after that there was no gas left in the tank. All other skills and tests went fine, but the press was not to be.

    All weekend, I had been listening intently, trying to find the trick—that “magic bullet”—that would help me get this press. It never came. I was listening too closely. I was caught up in the details of technicality and couldn’t see the forest for the trees.

    At Level I, I was made dizzy by the detail of so many movements. In contrast, at Level II, I kept hearing, “It depends.” Especially in regards to the bent press. Which, although it has become one of my favorite movements to perform, can be a rascal to coach. Obviously I’m not saying that Level II is without technical merit. Instead, I would say it is plenty technical, but with smoother edges.

    I couldn’t reconcile what that meant while I was actually immersed in the Level II Certification weekend. There was something more nuanced about the coaching. Something creative. Our Master Instructor would go on to tell us, “I am so not a science person. If I assert anything scientific, it’s only as a way to express an art form.”

    Indeed, SFG II was all about taking coaching to the next level—rendering it into an art form. And this is a way harder thing than the technical stuff.

    Experiencing the SFG Level I as an Assistant Coach

    A few weeks after my Level II experience, I got my first opportunity to assist at an SFG Level I Certification. This was as amazing, if not more so, than actually attending as a student. There’s simply nothing like being surrounded by so many strong, intelligent, and talented people. It raises you higher just sharing the same space. Not to mention that your fellow coaches and the students are of course looking to you to be better, stronger, sharper than you were the last time.

    SFG Level I

    Guiding candidates through the get-up at the SFG Level I Certification.

    Of my StrongFirst experiences thus far, assisting was by far the most cerebral. Lots of good questions came from the candidates, and all my hard work up to that point paid off in my confidence that I belonged there to answer them. But one thing in particular really stood out: the obsessive level of detail in many of those questions from the candidates.

    Generally speaking, I’m a big fan of detail. But my Level II experience was still nagging me—that there’s something more to all this than technical detail or strength. And it wasn’t until the end of my weekend of assisting that I figured out what it was.

    The students who performed the best on the Level I tests were not necessarily the strongest. Nor were they the most technical. Sure, they had some of both of those things. But the main thing was that they were automatic. They had practiced relentlessly. Mindset didn’t even seem to matter anymore, because it was already a done deal in their heads. There was no question. No chance to worry.

    The most successful students knew why they had come, and it was not to pass the Level I snatch test. It was something more. Something that made the snatch test and skill tests cake for them. This was an added nuance to the positive attitude I’m always preaching. Even if you have a clear endpoint and a positive attitude during your journey, you still need to know where you are starting from and what your core motivation really is. Success begins with a purpose. And a question. “Why am I here?”

    So, Why Are You Here?

    I entered my Level I with no particular expectations. StrongFirst was entirely new to me, and though I practiced hard, I did not know the organization well enough to be deeply invested in it. I knew I wanted to be there, and I knew I wanted to learn. I was prepared and open minded, and so it went well.

    At my Level II, I was mostly prepared. But I was anxious. I was overthinking everything. Checking my phone on breaks and fussing over the weird rubber turf of the venue. Wondering if I was going to look tough in any of the photos they took (not so much). And my unstated but definite goal was to pass that press test.

    It was a poorly chosen goal. I should have come in with something loftier. Specifically, to learn to coach like the masters who were all over the place at this event. I should have slowed down enough to ask why I was there, and made sure the answer I gave myself was the right reason.

    At Level I, they told us we would be practicing and refining the basics for the rest of our career, but the truth of it is that I and many others had approached it looking for the step-by-step instructions that made us worthy of the title “Coach.” We came for our checklists and expected to leave with a certificate. But it doesn’t work like that. Because no amount of technical know-how can substitute for a seasoned coach’s eye. That’s what I was missing at my Level II: I was aiming too low.

    The details of it all—the technicality and the positioning and everything—this stuff is all in your manual. It’s a treasure trove like no other document or book out there. The StrongFirst manuals are as straightforward, clean, and concise as it gets. If you want details, they’re there.

    But you do not attend StrongFirst events primarily to pass the tests. You’re there to build yourself into a better athlete and better coach. Ask all the questions you want, but the answers that will help you in the long term, as both a coach and athlete, are not the testing standards.

    SFG Level II Certification

    That’s me in the bottom left, enjoying the company of strong, intelligent, and talented people.

    Finally…

    In case you missed the byline on this article, I did end up getting the press only three days after I returned from assisting. I hadn’t really pressed much in the weeks since attending my Level II. I hadn’t become significantly stronger. Standing around in a black shirt and long pants in the San Diego sun while assisting at the Level I had not imbued me with super powers.

    All that changed was that I got out of my own way. I felt more confident from coaching at the Level I. And something I had heard at every single StrongFirst event finally clicked. You’re not picking up the kettlebell and running through a checklist. “Shoulders even, eyes fixed, glutes tight…” Even if your attitude is on point, you’re not going to analyze a 48kg bell over your head.

    In my case, that press was not going up if I was inspecting every aspect of my position before starting. It was not going up if I was thinking of passing my SFG Level II or what that certificate would look like on my wall. And it most definitely wasn’t going up if I was trying to look good while doing it.

    It only went up because I stepped up and said, “Time to press this here weight.” The weight never mattered. What mattered was what was on the other side.

    Check our schedule for an SFG Level I or SFG Level II in your area.

    Greg Woods SFGGreg Woods is a strength and movement-focused personal trainer and endurance coach. He believes all humans should be knowledgeable about and train in as many modalities as they can, as evidenced by his many and varied certifications including: SFG II, MovNat, Z-Health, CrossFit (with specialty courses in endurance and gymnastics), USAW, and NASM. His special interests include mobilization for heavy lifters, corrective exercise, neurological training, run form, and convincing people they can do more than they thought possible.

    After 2000+ hours coaching CrossFit, Greg has been broadening his horizons with ever more kettlebell training, gymnastics, and natural movement – specifically focusing on these principles in his own personal training company started in 2015: Structure Strength and Conditioning. In his spare time, Greg Woods writes fiction and loves to travel. He is based in Durham, NC.

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  • Lore McSpadden 9:00 am on June 16, 2016 Permalink | Reply  

    The Difference a Body Positive Approach Can Make 

    By Lore McSpadden, SFL

    If you are particularly fortunate, you know that being as healthy and strong as possible is extremely important and are ready to do something with this knowledge. On the other hand, you have likely seen some trends on your run-of-the-mill fitness blogs: demolishing excuses, blasting weakness and burning fat, gittin’ ’er done, and being tough—which, all too often, is described as “being a man.”

    These topics are all assumed to be good things, aren’t they?

    It’s true there are people who flourish within such a context. But what if it’s not for you?

    What if you’re fat and don’t want to focus on changing your weight or shape? (“Fat,” incidentally, isn’t a bad word—it’s just a descriptor, and it’s okay to reclaim it.) What if you want to move well, but have no interest in working at ultimate intensity or performing maximal feats of strength? Does this mean you should be denied access to top-notch training? Or that you must resign yourself to working with a coach who makes assumptions about what you can and cannot do based on your size?

    My answer to that is a resounding “no.” And, increasingly, coaches are learning about body positive approaches that make high-quality training available and accessible to more people.

    Taking a body positive approach

    My Own Path to Strength

    It was several years ago when I became ready and willing to change my unhealthy, sedentary ways. I had been a moderately successful high school athlete, but in the years since had fallen away from regular activity. Thankfully, my father had begun training with Dr. Mike Hartle, so when I told him I was thinking about exercising again he advised me to get an FMS screen before I did anything too intense. I am grateful I followed this advice because once I was given the go-ahead, intense is exactly what I went for.

    I joined a CrossFit box, where I pushed myself to the edge in every workout—and was still barely a blip on the whiteboard. I also wasn’t given the same level of detail-oriented attention as the star athletes at that gym, but I figured the solution was to train harder—often to the point of vomiting, almost always to the point of form breakdown. After all, this is what I was told was the “right” way if I was serious about fitness and strength.

    Until Dr. Mike reentered the picture.

    I wound up spending a whole summer back in the state of my birth, Indiana. This gave me the opportunity to have regular sessions with Dr. Mike. I learned more about the StrongFirst methods of training, and began to question my assumptions about exercise. That was the summer I took the SFG User Course and, soon after, the SFL Barbell Instructor Certification. Nothing has been the same since.

    The Lessons That Followed

    I learned that intensity at the bar and kindness to myself are not mutually exclusive.

    I learned the freedom of setting aside aesthetic goals, loving my body, and improving my performance rather than my image.

    I learned that improving performance has as much to do (scratch that—even more to do) with polishing my form as it does with picking up more weight or doing more reps.

    I learned the gentler side of strength.

    Having learned these lessons, I set out to share them. I earned my personal training certification and studied the coaching styles of others to learn what I did and did not want to incorporate into my own style. I am grateful to say I have since built a base of strong clients of different ages, sizes, and interests. They each have their own goals and motivations, but they all take joy in movement. They are all students of strength, not prosecutors of their bodies’ worth. They laugh, sweat, and learn—in a way that is safe and empowering.

    And this is available to all of you.

    Taking a body positive approach

    On Finding a Good Fit (or Making One if You Have To)

    More coaches than ever are recognizing the importance of allowing steady, sustainable progress; prioritizing performance-related goals over aesthetic changes; and recognizing that all people can benefit from getting stronger. This is especially true for those who have received StrongFirst Certifications. StrongFirst coaches provide top-quality instruction to all of our clients in a way that meets them where they’re at while helping them toward their unique goals.

    However, not all coaches are there yet. As a trainee, you may find yourself in a situation where you have to advocate for yourself. It may be that your coach or trainer has never been called to task on some of their assumptions—or it may be this person is not a good fit for you.

    If you’re still searching for a coach or trainer who is a good fit, here are some questions to consider:

    1. To what degree does the coach emphasize weight and aesthetic changes?

    This is something many coaches do in their advertising. Still, it’s one thing if a coach mentions they have experience in helping clients with weight loss, and quite another if that is the thing they emphasize. If their website has an overabundance of before-and-after pictures, weight-loss challenges, and pictures of well-shaved bodies of the same general size, shape, and aesthetic, consider that a red flag.

    Reach out to the coach directly via email or phone. Ask them whether they’re familiar with body positivity, and if so, ask what it means to them. And—this one’s important, because their answer will tell you a lot—ask what they do to make their facility inclusive to more people.

    2. What is their intake paperwork like?

    Once you find a coach you’d like to work with, they’re going to have you fill out paperwork. Chances are that paperwork is going to ask for your weight. If you feel comfortable sharing it, do so—and if you’re not, don’t.

    Instead of asking for their weight, I ask my clients “Have you experienced significant weight gain or loss within the last six months?” and “Are either you or your medical doctor concerned about your current weight?” These questions are more likely to reveal relevant health and wellness concerns than a static weight measurement while also avoiding triggering anyone with body shame and/or an eating disorder.

    So, if a trainer’s intake form requests your weight, it’s okay to decline to offer it and to let them know why. You will be able to tell a lot about the coach by how they respond.

    Taking a body positive approach

    3. Do you suspect they are equating your size or weight with either your health or capabilities?

    These are all separate things. When trainers make assumptions about someone’s capabilities and health based on their size, they are likely to preemptively get in the way of larger-bodied, healthy athletes’ opportunities to discover their potential.

    If you feel your trainer is holding you back for a reason you don’t understand, ask them about their programming decisions. It may be they’re seeing something you’re unaware of, and having this conversation will help you develop a greater understanding of their process. Alternatively, your feedback may be an important step in getting programming that is better suited to you. Advocate for yourself! After all, what is strength without empowerment?

    4. Are they stuck in the “faster-heavier-more” mindset?

    If you have any reason—whether medical or preferential—that you are hesitant to take on high-intensity training or to be lifting heavier and heavier weights, communicate that directly to your trainer (either current or prospective). Ask what their experience is in training people with circumstances similar to yours. Tell them why you’re interested in the tools they use, and ask how they adapt workouts to fit the unique needs and goals of their clients.

    This isn’t to say your trainer shouldn’t push you or that you’ll always be comfortable—but it does mean they should listen to and respect your goals. If your goals are about rediscovering joy in movement or giving yourself some healthy “me time” and they’re training you in a way that is consistently unpleasant, let them know. If they’re responsive to your feedback, that’s wonderful. If they’re not, then they’re not a good fit for you and it’s time to move on.

    5. And finally, a question for you: what are the goals hiding beneath your goals?

    During our first session, one of my clients listed weight loss as her primary goal. This is not unusual; what was perhaps more unusual was my response. I asked her, “What do you hope will be different for you after weight loss?”

    She said she’d like to be able to move better, have more energy, and feel comfortable with herself. A-ha! Now there were some goals entirely independent of the scale. When I asked her how she felt about focusing on those goals instead of on her weight, she got excited and curious—no one had ever presented that option to her. Several months later, she is indeed moving better, feeling more energetic, and experiencing greater comfort with herself—and we have a blast working together, too!

    If your current motivation for training is to change the way you look, see if you can dig deeper. What is it you’d like to do or accomplish? How would you like to feel? What would it be like to rediscover the natural joy we can experience from moving well? Wouldn’t that be wonderful?

    Taking a body positive approach

    The Difference a Different Approach Can Make

    I see every day what can happen from a more body positive approach to strength training. I see what happens when people discover the ways that movement is a celebration of life and uncover interests and capabilities they never would have imagined. Enthusiasm for activity returns to those who lost it. And inevitably, intensity increases naturally as health, strength, and comfort with training are developed.

    And it all happens in a way that honors the person for who they are, in that moment. This was the gift that Dr. Mike gave to me when he taught me how to simplify my training to focus on what would move me toward my goals. At no point was he skeptical when I told him what my goals were, and at no point did he judge my potential based on my body shape or sedentary past.

    Before working with him, I hadn’t known it was possible for a coach to be so respectful. After working with him, I knew I had to share the gifts I learned from him with others.

    If you are interested in learning more about becoming a student of strength and discovering the joy that comes from moving well, seek out a StrongFirst coach with whom you feel an affinity. You might be amazed at how kind this process can be.

    Lore McSpaddenLore McSpadden is a certified personal trainer through the NSCA and a StrongFirst Certified Barbell Instructor (SFL) who has been honored to assist at StrongFirst Barbell Instructor Certifications. While she does hold state, national, and world powerlifting records in the WNPF and continues to enjoy competing in powerlifting meets, nothing is more exciting to her than watching others meet and exceed their goals.

    Lore works at the Charles River YMCA in Needham, MA. In addition to personal training, she also leads small-group sessions for people on the autism spectrum and is a coach in the Y’s Livestrong program, which is designed to help cancer survivors improve their strength and quality of life. She strongly believes that strength and fitness are for everyone and that focusing on performance-related goals is healthier and more sustainable than a primarily aesthetic focus. She empowers clients to manifest their full potential while moving safely and having fun.

    Lore is also a published poet, freelance editor, and experienced baker. You can learn more about Lore at her blog, Positive Force Strength Training, and contact her at positiveforcestrength@gmail.com.

    The post The Difference a Body Positive Approach Can Make appeared first on StrongFirst.

     
  • Fabio Zonin 9:00 am on June 14, 2016 Permalink | Reply  

    The 1TRM EV PS Program: Escalating Volume in the Plan Strong Style 

    By Fabio Zonin, Master SFG, SFB, and SFL

    Note: In my last article, How to Intelligently Define, Determine, and Test Your 1RM, I promised to follow up with a more advanced variation of The 5TRM Back Squat Program, based on the 1TRM and with a volume progression that recalls that of the Plan Strong methodology. Well, here it is.

    Considerations Before You Begin The 1TRM EV PS Program

    Although it has been designed for the back squat, the following program is suitable to most of the squat and press variations (front squat, Zercher squat, barbell military press, bench press). You can also use it for pull-ups, as long as your 75%1TRM is equal to or more than your bodyweight.

    StrongFirst Back Squat

    With regards to the kettlebell military press, this program is suitable if you have at your disposal kettlebells of sizes that match 75%1TRM±5%, 85%1TRM± 5%, and, of course, your 1TRM. For instance, let’s say your 1TRM in the military press is 36kg. You will need a 28kg, 32kg, and 36kg. 28kg equates to 79%1TRM and 32kg to 89%1TRM. When the program calls for a set with 75%1TRM, you will use the 28kg bell, and when it calls for sets with 85%1TRM and 90%1TRM, you will use the 32kg bell. Finally, when the program calls for a set with 95%1TRM, you will use a 36kg bell.

    Deadlifts are usually trained with lower volume and a lower number of sessions per week compared to those prescribed by this program. I will therefore suggest you apply this plan to your deadlift only if you are used to training it three times a week and with a monthly volume of at least 180-220NL. (“NL” means “number of lifts.”)

    In order to begin the plan, you need to know your 1TRM on the lift you are targeting and calculate its 75%, 85%, 90%, and 95%. Once you’ve done that, you are ready to go.

    The 1TRM EV PS Program: Overview and Analysis

    Now that all the guidelines have been laid out, it’s time to take a look at the program.

    1TRM EV PS Program

    First of all, let’s analyze the parameter volume (NL or “number of lifts.”) and its progression.

    Weekly Volume Trend

    If you take a look at the weekly NL column in Table #1, you will see the volume gradually increases for the first three weeks, and drops on week 4. It increases again on weeks 5 and 6, and then gradually decreases in weeks 7 and 8. So the volume peaks on week 6 and tapers on the following weeks, as you approach the new 1RM test on week 9.

    Note that on week 9 you will test you 1RM, not your 1TRM (please refer to my classification of PR, 1RM, and 1TRM in my article How to Intelligently Define, Determine, and Test Your 1RM).

    Monthly Volume Trend

    The total monthly volume is 200NL (30+56+70+44) in month one (weeks 1-4) and 240NL (67+84+53+36) in month two (weeks 5-8). So the volume increases by 20% from month one to month two.

    The Relationship Between Weekly and Monthly Volumes

    Month 1:

    • On week 1, the NL is 15% of the total volume (15% of 200 = 30)
    • On week 2, the NL is 28% of the total volume (28% of 200 = 56)
    • On week 3, the NL is 35% of the total volume (35% of 200 = 70)
    • On week 4, the NL is 22% of the total volume (22% of 200 = 44)

    Month 2:

    • On week 5, the NL is roughly 28% of the total volume (28% of 240 ≅ 67)
    • On week 6, the NL is 35% of the total volume (35% of 240 = 84)
    • On week 7, the NL is roughly 22% of the total volume (22% of 240 ≅ 53)
    • On week 8, the NL is 15% of the total volume (15% of 240 = 36)

    In looking at the above, a couple of things should stick out to you:

    • The volume, whether it is increasing or decreasing, changes by at least 20% from week to week.
    • The weekly percentages of total volume are recurrent in both months, although they occur in a different order: 15%, 22%, 28%, 35%.

    The 4 “Magic Numbers” and the Volume Variants

    15, 22, 28, and 35 are “magic numbers” that are used in several different combinations and are a staple of many winning Soviet strength programs. They are used to ensure one of the main components in the effectiveness of these Soviet programs: variability.

    No matter in which order these four numbers are aligned, there’s always a difference of at least 20% between adjacent numbers. Therefore, when used to calculate the weekly share of the monthly volume, they guarantee a volume variability of at least 20% from week to week.

    The different combinations of these numbers are called variants. There are 24 possible variants, even if only sixteen are generally used for waving volume. If you want to learn more about the four magic numbers, volume variants, and how both are used in Soviet strength programming, the best way to do so is to attend a Plan Strong Seminar with Pavel.

    Waving Volume: A Cornerstone of Soviet Strength Programs

    Most Western strength programs are characterized by a linear progression of volume and intensity, and these parameters are usually tied together by an inverse relationship. This means, Western programs typically start with a fairly high volume and low intensity, and progress through a decrease of volume accompanied by an increase of intensity. For example, an athlete one week does a total of 25NL with 75%1RM and the following week does 10NL with 80%1RM.

    One of the key differences between Western and Soviet programs is that the inverse relationship between volume and intensity doesn’t happen in the Soviet programs. In fact, in Soviet programs, the average intensity generally fluctuates around 70%1RM±3% of 1RM throughout the entire cycle. This doesn’t mean heavy lifts are never prescribed, but simply that most of the lifts are performed in the 65-85%1RM range. When heavy lifts (>90%1RM) are planned, they don’t necessarily have an obvious relationship to the change in volume. Sometimes the volume drops down when intensity goes up, and sometimes it does the opposite.

    Another key difference between the two methodologies is that in Soviet programs the change in volume is not linear, but waves from week to week. This is because Soviet scientists discovered that waving both volume and intensity leads to better recovery and greater strength gains. In Soviet cycles, the difference in the NL between two adjacent weeks is usually ≥20%, and here is where the previously mentioned four magic numbers come into play.

    To discover more about this topic, I suggest that you read this excellent article by Craig Marker, SFG II, SFL, SFB, and COO of StrongFirst.

    StrongFirst Bench Press

    Change in Volume Within a Week

    The weekly volume is divided among three training sessions:

    • Day #1 is the medium volume day, and accounts for roughly 33% of the weekly NL (e.g. on day #1 of week 1 NL=10, which is ≈33% of NL=30)
    • Day #2 is the low volume day, and accounts for roughly 25% of the weekly NL (e.g. on day #2 of week 1 NL=7, which is ≈25% of NL=30)
    • Day #3 is the high volume day, and accounts for roughly 42% of the weekly NL (e.g. on day #1 of week 1 NL=13, which is ≈42% of NL=30)

    As it was with the four magic numbers and the volume variability from week to week, the above percentages ensure there is enough variability of volume among the sessions within a week. Remember: volume variability is one of the keys to the success of the Soviet strength programming methodology.

    Breakdown of Session Volume Into Sets and Reps

    In the tables below you’ll find the breakdown of the program into weeks, sessions, sets, and reps. Once you know your training weights, you can use the tables as your training journal. To do so, just perform the number of reps prescribed in the cells related to the week and session at which you are, and then mark them as done. Easy!

    As it was in the 5TRM Back Squat Program, the daily NL is broken down into rep ladders of 2, 3, and 5 reps. For instance, if the daily NL is 10, it is broken down into the following three sets: 2, 3, 5. If the daily NL cannot be reached with the 2, 3, 5 rep ladder scheme, the number of reps of the last set(s) will vary from 2 to 5 in order to total the planned NL. For example, on week 2-day 1 of the chart below, the NL is 18, so it is broken up into the following six sets: 2, 3, 5, 2, 3, 3.

    All sets are to be executed with 75%1TRM, except on low volume days, where some singles with a heavier weight (85%-95%1TRM) are inserted between sets of the rep ladder. This means that on day #2 of any week, whenever you encounter the instructions 1@85%, 1@90%, or 1@95%, you will perform, respectively, a single with 85%, 90%, or 95% of 1TRM.

    1TRM EV PS Program Day 11TRM EV PS Program Day 21TRM EV PS Program Day 3

    What to Do on Week 9

    Practice only twice, let’s say Monday and Wednesday or Tuesday and Thursday.

    • Day #1: Perform 3 sets of 3 reps with 75%1TRM. Rest at least three minutes between sets.
    • Day #2: Perform 3 reps with 75%1TRM. Then a single with 85%1TRM. Then a single with 95%1TRM. Rest at least three minutes between each set. After the single with 95%1TRM rest for at least five minutes, and then test your 1RM.

    The Results from Athletes Who Have Completed This Program

    • Arianna Zaccagnini, SFG II, Iron Maiden, added 11kg to her back squat, taking it from 94 to 105kg, for an increase of over 12%.
    • Matteo Brunetti, SFG II, added 12.5kg to his back squat, taking it from 160 to 172.5kg (+8%) and added 10kg to his bench press, going from 100 to 110kg (+10%).
    • Serena Fabi, SFG I, was able to perform two reps of kettlebell military press with a 24kg bell, which was her previous PR.

    I look forward to reading about your results!

    Fabio Zonin StrongFirstFabio Zonin is a Master SFG, SFB, and SFL. He is a former powerlifter, natural bodybuilder, and owner of fitness centers. He was the first Italian to accomplish the Beast Tamer Challenge and has been a Master Teacher for FIF (Italian Federation of Fitness) for almost two decades (1994-2012). He is also the Ground Force Method National Director for Italy.

    He is the Former vice president of the AINBB (Italian Association of Natural Bodybuilding), and has trained many athletes at national and international level in natural bodybuilding, powerlifting and other sports.

    He has authored numerous articles for Italian popular magazines and websites dedicated to fitness, bodybuilding, and strength training, and has worked with to leading Italian companies in the field of sports equipment, body composition evaluation software, and nutritional supplements.

    The post The 1TRM EV PS Program: Escalating Volume in the Plan Strong Style appeared first on StrongFirst.

     
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