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  • Nikki Shlosser 3:11 pm on December 16, 2014 Permalink | Reply  

    What the Hell?! 

    By Eric Frohardt, CEO

     

    WTHE

    I remember it very clearly. Somewhere in central Iraq, during my first ‘OP’ in country, I stopped in my tracks. “What the hell?” I had read about this phenomenon many times but was not sure if I believed it. I did now.
     

    Before finding kettlebells and the ‘hard style’ methods, I trained like many others: cardio one day (running or swimming) and resistance training the other. On some days, I would do both. On paper, this program worked well and I had results to prove it. I always scored at the top of my age group on our PRT (Physical Readiness Test). At the time, the SEAL PRT* was push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups, a 3 mile run and a long swim. I’m not exactly sure, but I believe the swim distance was 1/2 mile. To score high for my age group, one needed to do 120 push-ups, 120 sit-ups, 25+ pull-ups, and roughly 18 minutes on the run.
     

    Yet, something was missing. When it came time to ‘work’, I just didn’t feel right. It felt like my body wasn’t working the way it was supposed to. I was in great ‘shape’ by Navy standards, but when it came time to operate, I just didn’t feel great. Spending hours and hours ‘under load’, as Gray Cook would say, really wore me out. Moving under load (wearing body armor and or carrying a heavy ruck) was even worse. Shooting and moving, jumping and climbing were difficult… and forget about ‘down-man-drills (buddy carries). We were also always moving gear, guns and ammo, and I always felt weak doing it.
     

    Not another cardio day

    Then, in 2005, I saw something that would change my life. I didn’t know him well yet, but John Faas was in the corner of the gym with a funny looking ‘implement’ (kettlebell) doing an exercise that I was certain would injure him (swings). He told me all about the kettlebell, his friend Pavel, and the website I could visit to learn more.
     

    That night at home, I spent about 5 hours reading EVERY article I could. Was it really possible to get in sufficient shape using this simple little tool and these basic movements? I decided to find out.
     

    A couple of weeks went by. My 16kg bell arrived along with a book. The delivery man commented: “What the hell? as he dropped it at my door step. That night I read and re-read the “The Russian Kettlebell Challenge.” The next day, I played around with my new 16kg bell.
     

    Like so many, I thought I could train myself just by using the book, the website, and a little coaching every now and then. My biggest mistake was NOT getting help from an instructor. That’s a topic for another day
     

    In short time, I was doing the movements well with the 16kg. I purchased the 24kg and started practicing with it. I had a deployment coming up and was interested to see how I’d do using this simple program: grinds 1 day, ballistics the next, recover the following day then repeat.
     

    Back to Iraq… and my first operation in country. The OP was nothing to write home about. It actually went as planned, mostly. I’m not going to go into details, but at some point during the OP a lightbulb went off. “What the hell? (Actually it was a Navy-approved version of the expression). “How is this possible?” I moved better ‘under load’ or otherwise. The ‘load’ didn’t hurt me when I was standing still. I could carry ‘things’ when called upon, jump over things, climb things and just physically ‘operate’ at a whole new level… all at a lower bodyweight — “What the hell?!?! I was a believer. To me, this was ‘strength with a greater purpose’ before I’d even heard the expression! I couldn’t think of a better reason to be strong!
     

    Fast forward: ‘Some time’ passed and I was deployed again. This time I went over with a new book, a new program and a new goal: I’d be following Pavel’s “Rite of Passage” program (or “ROP”). I had my trusty 24kg bell and a 32… just in case. All I did during that deployment was the ROP… that, and of course a few ‘walks under load.’ Some time passed and I was able to do 5 ladders to 5 with my 24kg bell. For quite some time, all I needed was that trusty 24kg bell. Then, I started adding some practice with my 32, all at a bodyweight of 185lbs. On that deployment, I felt even stronger. The ‘WTH effect’ was amplified. It was crazy to me how well I felt and moved. The really crazy part was yet to come
     

     

    Before ‘summering in the desert I devised a test and tested myself. The previous deployment had proven that the KB could get me in better operational shape, but could it really improve my ‘measurables?’ My test was simple: 5k run, bodyweight pull-ups, weighted pull-ups, bodyweight bench for reps, deadlift, and box jump for height. I would go on ‘vacation’ (deployment) and do NOTHING other than the ROP. Then, I’d come home and see where I stood on the things I tested earlier.
     

    Just weeks after coming home, I retested. ”WHAT THE ACTUAL HELL??How was that possible? My 5k time was unchanged. Bodyweight pull-ups held steady around 25 reps… not bad. Weighted pull-ups were a different story. I could put (2) 24kg bells on my homemade dip belt and still crank out a good rep. No one believed me… I didn’t believe it myself! This prompted me to try ‘muscle-ups.’ This movement/exercise fascinated me. I’d never been able to do one. I could now do 5. WTH?!?!? My bodyweight bench went up by a couple of reps… even without touching a bench during that whole trip. I could jump on top of the highest box in the gym (nearly as high as my solar plexus!). The deadlift progress impressed me the most. Before my trip, I could pull approximately 2x BW. This wasn’t that bad especially considering I have never been taught how to DL nor practiced it. When I retested, I was shocked. My new best DL was 2.5x BW! “WHAT THE #$%!!!!
     

    The kettlebell got me in great shape, and better operational shape. It took less time, was more fun, and didn’t interfere with my ability to operate (with the exception of the SSST — don’t do that at night before an operation — FYI). And I maintained — and even improved — some of the things I measured. I could not believe it. Later, I would go on to use the kettlebell to prepare myself for other ‘adventures.’ I loved the simplicity and the ‘max results with minimum effort’ aspect.

    *At the time, the PRT was different from the PST of today. The PST is the physical screening test that candidates take in order to earn a chance to try out.
     

    Have you also experienced this phenomenon? #WTHE
     
     

     
  • Jim Wendler 4:59 pm on December 9, 2014 Permalink | Reply  

    In the Company of Serpents 

      Rolling like a Panzer from Denver, In the Company of Serpents take the Neurosis mold and add a dash of Buried at Sea.  The result is enough to flatten your soul.  Most of the Neur-Isis clones took the beauty from these bands and ran with it.  The coiled fucks from Denver brought bigger amps [...]
     
  • Nikki Shlosser 4:14 pm on December 9, 2014 Permalink | Reply  

    Where Do You Go After Simple? 

    By Al Ciampa, SFG

     

    Over a year has passed, and you’ve reached the “simple” goal of Simple & Sinister.  You are a male, or female, who not just survived <16min of swings and get-ups with your 32kg, or 24kg &16kg, kettlebell, respectively, but thrived on it.  You have some training options now; you can:

    • go from simple to sinister
    • get barbell strong
    • get serious about your endurance

    S&S provided your trout without asking you to weave your own net; but if you were paying attention while waiting for supper, you may have picked up on the process.  Pavel is going to release a plan soon that maps out the first option: From Simple to Sinister.  It will teach you how to fish… an “easy endurance” approach toward owning the beast (or the 32 & 24 for females).

    There are many resources to get barbell strong, such as StrongFirst’s Barbell Course.

    In this article, I will offer you a road map toward option three: “serious endurance”.  It is based on the idea of improving one’s level of conditioning by using short but powerful bouts of work, coupled with sufficient recovery periods, for an extended overall duration.  Using Pavel’s easy to understand diagram (below), the idea is to target the small, supercharged fuel system to supply the gas for the actual swing sets; and to use the large, migratory fuel system to constantly “top off” the little tank between sets.

     

     

    It has been suggested both by science and clinical observation (the latter from the perspective of “health” in later life), that it is a good idea to avoid overusing the medium fuel system during training, saving it for the actual competition.  The glycolytic fuel system is the original cellular source of fuel for all life (single-celled creatures use it), and its output seems to be maintained with little-no training.  Without getting to far into the science of it, our tool is the kettlebell; our activity is the 1-hand swing.

    If you’re going to have an honest go at this routine, I ask that you do no other training, do not change your lifestyle or diet, and to please record your observations.  One caveat to the above is that you may do up to 10 total get-ups prior to only 3 of the conditioning sessions.  If you choose to do the get ups, please add them to your records and rest at least 10 min before you begin your swings.  Load your 3 get-up sessions as such: moderate / light / heavy.

    First, let’s establish a baseline: have an honest go at the 5 min snatch test, that is, don’t game it, push through.  Let me explain: find a balance between running all out when the gun fires, and conserving too much energy.  You know, “tricks” such as pausing too long after each rep, putting the bell down after a number of reps and starting again at the top of the minute, etc.  Do not try to recover during the event, but go with your known rep scheme and see where it takes you.  Put the bell down only when your accumulated workload truly forces you to.

    I will also ask for your 1.5 mile run.  I know it is cold now, but I don’t care for your treadmill performances.  If you can’t do the run outside on a track or the like, then simply forego it.  Rest 48 hrs between these two assessments.  If I had to choose between assessments, I would rather your run than your snatch test.  If you cannot do either, choose a 5-12 min event of your choosing that you can replicate at the end of the program.  Any data is better then a, “I feel the work is easier” type of report.

    Next, let’s find your working bell… do this either before or after your baseline assessments, but recover for 48 hrs on either side as well.  This may take a few sessions if you’re finding this without regularly performing 1-hand swings.

    Make sure that you are “fresh”, choose a bell, and do 10, 1-hand swings on the top of every minute for 10 min.  Do not try to conserve energy… perform 100 explosive swings.  Assess your fatigue… did you have to push through the later complete the 10 min?  Meaning, were you ready go when the clock said so, and, were all 10 swings powerful?  Was your 100th swing as explosive as your first?

    Yes?  Try again with the next heavier bell, and reassess.

    No?  Try again with the next lighter bell, and reassess.

    You are looking for the heaviest bell that allows you to complete this 10 min session feeling “ready to go” at the start of each minute.  Take no more than 3 sessions to figure this out, and recover for 48 hrs before you begin the program.  Do the best you can to avoid estimating your bell size for this program.  The assessments, exploratory sessions, and requested recovery should take you 8-10 days.  Plan this around your program start day.

    The program:

    • 4 sessions per week you will do sets of 10, 1-hand swings at the top of each minute
    • Alternate arms each minute
    • The set will take near 20s, so you will have 40s rest, on average
    • Do not try to “save” energy… each swing must be crisp, sharp, and explosive
    • Breathe and recover between sets
    • Warm-up however you like, but do no other work (aside from the optional get ups)
    • Take good care of your hands
    • The routine will play out like so:

    • Only perform 2 sessions on consecutive days per week.  Example: Mon, Wed, Fri, Sat… or, Mon, Tue, Thur, Sat.  It does not have to be the same two sessions that are consecutive each week, just no more than two in each week.
    • If your power fades during your session (especially the initial sessions), then quit for the day and rethink your choice of bell size; you likely chose too heavy.

    After at least 48 hrs following your last session, reassess using the same events you set your baseline with prior to the program.  Replicate them as closely as possible… i.e., do not increase the bell size in your snatch test, even if you feel stronger; do not run in heavy winds, etc.  Please send your records in powerpoint or word.doc to berto.ciampa@gmail.com with, “Swing Routine” typed into the subject line of the email.  I plan to produce a follow up based on our results.  Thank you.

    -Al

     

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

     

     
  • Nikki Shlosser 4:14 pm on December 9, 2014 Permalink | Reply  

    Where Do You Go After Simple? 

    By Al Ciampa, SFG

     

    Over a year has passed, and you’ve reached the “simple” goal of Simple & Sinister.  You are a male, or female, who not just survived <16min of swings and get-ups with your 32kg, or 24kg &16kg, kettlebell, respectively, but thrived on it.  You have some training options now; you can:

    • go from simple to sinister
    • get barbell strong
    • get serious about your endurance

    S&S provided your trout without asking you to weave your own net; but if you were paying attention while waiting for supper, you may have picked up on the process.  Pavel is going to release a plan soon that maps out the first option: From Simple to Sinister.  It will teach you how to fish… an “easy endurance” approach toward owning the beast (or the 32 & 24 for females).

    There are many resources to get barbell strong, such as StrongFirst’s Barbell Course.

    In this article, I will offer you a road map toward option three: “serious endurance”.  It is based on the idea of improving one’s level of conditioning by using short but powerful bouts of work, coupled with sufficient recovery periods, for an extended overall duration.  Using Pavel’s easy to understand diagram (below), the idea is to target the small, supercharged fuel system to supply the gas for the actual swing sets; and to use the large, migratory fuel system to constantly “top off” the little tank between sets.

     

     

    It has been suggested both by science and clinical observation (the latter from the perspective of “health” in later life), that it is a good idea to avoid overusing the medium fuel system during training, saving it for the actual competition.  The glycolytic fuel system is the original cellular source of fuel for all life (single-celled creatures use it), and its output seems to be maintained with little-no training.  Without getting to far into the science of it, our tool is the kettlebell; our activity is the 1-hand swing.

    If you’re going to have an honest go at this routine, I ask that you do no other training, do not change your lifestyle or diet, and to please record your observations.  One caveat to the above is that you may do up to 10 total get-ups prior to only 3 of the conditioning sessions.  If you choose to do the get ups, please add them to your records and rest at least 10 min before you begin your swings.  Load your 3 get-up sessions as such: moderate / light / heavy.

    First, let’s establish a baseline: have an honest go at the 5 min snatch test, that is, don’t game it, push through.  Let me explain: find a balance between running all out when the gun fires, and conserving too much energy.  You know, “tricks” such as pausing too long after each rep, putting the bell down after a number of reps and starting again at the top of the minute, etc.  Do not try to recover during the event, but go with your known rep scheme and see where it takes you.  Put the bell down only when your accumulated workload truly forces you to.

    I will also ask for your 1.5 mile run.  I know it is cold now, but I don’t care for your treadmill performances.  If you can’t do the run outside on a track or the like, then simply forego it.  Rest 48 hrs between these two assessments.  If I had to choose between assessments, I would rather your run than your snatch test.  If you cannot do either, choose a 5-12 min event of your choosing that you can replicate at the end of the program.  Any data is better then a, “I feel the work is easier” type of report.

    Next, let’s find your working bell… do this either before or after your baseline assessments, but recover for 48 hrs on either side as well.  This may take a few sessions if you’re finding this without regularly performing 1-hand swings.

    Make sure that you are “fresh”, choose a bell, and do 10, 1-hand swings on the top of every minute for 10 min.  Do not try to conserve energy… perform 100 explosive swings.  Assess your fatigue… did you have to push through the later complete the 10 min?  Meaning, were you ready go when the clock said so, and, were all 10 swings powerful?  Was your 100th swing as explosive as your first?

    Yes?  Try again with the next heavier bell, and reassess.

    No?  Try again with the next lighter bell, and reassess.

    You are looking for the heaviest bell that allows you to complete this 10 min session feeling “ready to go” at the start of each minute.  Take no more than 3 sessions to figure this out, and recover for 48 hrs before you begin the program.  Do the best you can to avoid estimating your bell size for this program.  The assessments, exploratory sessions, and requested recovery should take you 8-10 days.  Plan this around your program start day.

    The program:

    • 4 sessions per week you will do sets of 10, 1-hand swings at the top of each minute
    • Alternate arms each minute
    • The set will take near 20s, so you will have 40s rest, on average
    • Do not try to “save” energy… each swing must be crisp, sharp, and explosive
    • Breathe and recover between sets
    • Warm-up however you like, but do no other work (aside from the optional get ups)
    • Take good care of your hands
    • The routine will play out like so:

    • Only perform 2 sessions on consecutive days per week.  Example: Mon, Wed, Fri, Sat… or, Mon, Tue, Thur, Sat.  It does not have to be the same two sessions that are consecutive each week, just no more than two in each week.
    • If your power fades during your session (especially the initial sessions), then quit for the day and rethink your choice of bell size; you likely chose too heavy.

    After at least 48 hrs following your last session, reassess using the same events you set your baseline with prior to the program.  Replicate them as closely as possible… i.e., do not increase the bell size in your snatch test, even if you feel stronger; do not run in heavy winds, etc.  Please send your records in powerpoint or word.doc to berto.ciampa@gmail.com with, “Swing Routine” typed into the subject line of the email.  I plan to produce a follow up based on our results.  Thank you.

    -Al

     

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

     

     
  • Jim Wendler 7:56 pm on December 8, 2014 Permalink | Reply  

    Wearing Plaid Skirts and Throwing Objects (Video) 

    Matt Vincent is a champion in the Highland Games.  I’m not terribly familiar with the Highland Games other than attending a few and competing in one whilst I was completing my concentration in university.  If you ever go to a Highland Games festival wear earplugs.  The bagpipes sound great…for the first 15 minutes.  Then you [...]
     
  • Nikki Shlosser 4:10 pm on December 4, 2014 Permalink | Reply  

    Kettlebells and Powerlifting: A Match Made in Heaven? 

    By ‘The King of The Deadlift’ Andy Bolton

     


     

    Kettlebells are a waste of time!

    Or so I thought, until I became friends with Pavel.

    Like many Powerlifters, I dismissed kettlebells outright, because…

    “How can something that *only* weighs 48kg do anything for me?”

    Fortunately, I eventually decided to start experimenting with kettlebells, and the results have been pretty damn good.
     

    THE HISTORY

    When I deadlifted 1,003lbs, and then followed it up a few years later with a pull of 1,008lbs – I was squatting extremely heavy. Way over 500kg. (Feels like the weight of the Earth on your back in case you’re wondering)  ;]

    Squatting these kinds of weights built tremendous strength in my entire back, glutes, quads and hammies. Think that helped my deadlift? Of course it did!

    In fact, when I pulled 1,003lbs, I only went up to 770lbs in the gym on my competition-style deadlifts.

    Think about that for a second. It’s kinda weird.

    However, in 2009 things changed.

    I called 520kg on the squat at the WPC world powerlifting championships, but one side got loaded as if I’d called 560kg. (40kg heavier than it should have been).

    I went down about halfway with the bar, but I didn’t come back up.  (Unsurprising.)  The spotters had to help me.  I then benched 290kg and pulled 440kg.

    The next day, my left knee blew up like a balloon. Long story short – I had to have surgery. After surgery, the desire to squat HUGE weights – 500kg+ — had gone. I figured it too risky. And kind of a waste of time because squat records have been bastardized by slack judging. (Compare ALL the guys who’ve squatted over 1200lbs and you’ll see what I mean.)
     

    THE QUESTION, AND THE SOLUTION

    So now the question became:

    How Do I Deadlift BIG Without Squatting Heavy?

    Enter the kettlebell swing. The 2-handed version. The foundational exercise for all other kettlebell lifting.

    Pavel introduced me to this exercise several years ago. We both instantly realized that my body mechanics on the swing are virtually IDENTICAL to my deadlift mechanics.

    The perfect assistance exercise?

    Er, yeah!

    The great thing about the deadlift and the swing is that the amount of knee bend is significantly less than on a squat. Neither exercise causes my knee any bother.

    Right now I’m swinging the 92kg kettlebell for 10 sets of 10 reps, on the minute, every minute.

    This has given me 3 huge benefits:

    • Good work capacity
    • Stronger lower back, glutes and hamstrings
    • Better grip

    Needless to say – all good things if you’re chasing a bigger deadlift!

    While I haven’t pulled over 1,000lbs for quite a while – I’m getting close again. I recently deadlifted 380kg in the gym for a double. And it was fast. No big deal. To be honest – 400kg for a double felt like it was there. I’ve never touched those weights in the gym before.

    Things are once again looking good for the 1,000lbs-plus deadlift!
     

    SIMPLE PROGRAMS FOR THE BEST RESULTS

    I know there are many excellent exercises you can do with a kettlebell, But I have stuck to the 2-hand swing. As an assistance exercise for the deadlift it is AMAZING.

    And here’s the thing to remember: You can get VERY GOOD at a small number of things if you practice them regularly and stick to a proven plan. Or, you can do many things and become a ‘Jack of All Trades and a Master of none’

    I prefer the first option.
     

    MY KETTLEBELL SWING PROGRAM

      • Start with 48kg for 5 sets of 10 reps.
      • Increase work capacity until I was fit enough to do them ‘on the minute every minute’
      • Add a set whenever I could until I was up to 10 sets of 5 reps.
      • Then add a rep whenever I could until I hit 10 x 10.
      • Increase the ‘bell size and repeat.
      • And I’ve done that and worked all the way up to the 92kg kettlebell.

    Simple? Yes.

    Effective? Very.

    If you’re wondering how frequently you should do this workout – here’s your answer:

    — Do it at the end of your strength training sessions or on your ‘off’ days

    — Start off doing it once a week, then increase to 2 or 3 times a week on non-consecutive days. Do not worry about burning out. The explosive nature of the swing means that it’s pretty easy to recover from

    Give it a try (starting with a size of kettlebell appropriate to your strength level).

    Of course, the swing on its own won’t give you an outstanding deadlift. It’ll build your work capacity. It’ll make your ‘deadlift muscles’ strong. And it’ll give you a vice like grip.

    But, sooner or later – you have to do some deadlifts!

    In my new book – The Big 3 – I explain exactly how to perform your deadlifts, squats and bench presses correctly.

    You’ll also get a simple, yet highly effective program for ramping up your strength very quickly on those 3 lifts. Throw in some 2-hand swings and you have a program that’ll make you truly STRONG.
     
     

    Learn more about ‘The Big 3’ in Andy Bolton’s new book

     
  • Nikki Shlosser 5:59 pm on November 30, 2014 Permalink | Reply  

    Heads Up! 

    By Pavel Tsatsouline, Chairman

     

     
    A few years ago, a strange idea emerged from the clinical world: the insect head.  White coats started telling lifters to lock their heads onto their torsos during hip hinge lifts—deadlifts, swings, cleans, and snatches, barbell and kettlebell.

    I urge you not to get bogged down by the science and the pseudo-science of their arguments.  Instead, ask yourself these two questions.
     

    1. Is there an epidemic of neck problems from the traditional technique — the head up and the neck in extension — among powerlifters, weightlifters and hard style gireviks?

    The answer is: No. 

    Sure, some athletes from any sport have neck issues but good luck correlating them to neck extension in hinge lifts.  Some powerlifters have neck problems—mostly from driving the head hard into the bench on the bench press.  Some weightlifters and gireviks tweak their necks—usually by whipping them inappropriately.  But from a simple act of keeping their heads up, the way they have been doing it since they were crawling babies?  I do not think so.

    Brett Jones, Master SFG, has pointed out that some folks can have problems when their thoracic extension is limited.  The neck has to compensate to keep the eyes on the horizon and goes into hyperextension.  Indeed.  So what is the answer?—Fixing the lack of mobility with professionally applied corrective exercise.  Medical intervention, if there are medical issues.

    The answer is NOT dumbing down the classic technique to accommodate dysfunction.  That would be akin to our government lowering the PT standards for the military and firefighters when fewer recruits are able to pass the existing standards.

    Indeed, there may be a particular medical case when the doctor tells the patient that he or she must keep the neck neutral throughout a hip hinge exercise.  If that is your doctor’s order—follow it.  But if this is a prescription for another patient… don’t you understand the risks of taking someone else’s drugs?  Medical Rx for one patient ought to never be confused with the standard operating procedure for healthy people.

    Now to the second question:

    2. Has the new technique improved the performance of top lifters?

    The answer is: For some.  And the technique is far from being new. 

    Hugh Cassidy and Franco Columbu used it four decades ago.  A review of championship deadlift techniques reveals a remarkable variety of head positions.  Andy Bolton cracked the mystical 1,000-pound barrier with a neutral neck—he looks at a spot 6-10 feet in front of him at the start of the pull.  Lamar Gant, the first man to pull five times his bodyweight, 661 at 132 pounds of bodyweight, did it with an extremely hyperextended neck.

    Moving your body into one position or another is often a trade-off.  Extending the neck helps to activate the posterior chain—while weakening the abs and the quads.  A talented powerlifter, with the help of his coach or just through great body awareness, will eventually figure out the optimal amount of trade-off for himself.  (Only competitive powerlifters should do this.  Recreational lifters and athletes from other sports should follow the Olympic lifting and kettlebell lifting guidelines below.)
     


     
    Unlike the slow moving deadlift, quick “pulls” (barbell or kettlebell) tolerate no variety in neck alignment.  There is only one way—head up!

    If a champion weightlifter cleans 500 pounds, you know he can easily deadlift a couple of hundred pounds more.  That means his quads and abs are not greatly challenged by the first pull (the deadlift part of the clean or snatch).  So robbing Peter (the posterior chain) to pay Paul (the quads and the abs) would be wasteful as Peter is the one doing most of the work in quick pulls.
     


     
    The same applies to a hard style girevik.  He has no trouble breaking the kettlebell off the platform and his spine is not crushed by enormous loads.  His mission is to accelerate the relatively light kettlebell to 10G and it is the job of his posterior chain.  So he needs to maximally reinforce it, and neck extension does exactly that.  Lift your head up—extend, not hyperextend—on the bottom of your pull and your entire back side will immediately light up, vibrating with stored energy like a bow.

     

     
    From Supertraining, a fundamental text on strength:

    The position of the head has a powerful effect on overall posture…  As it is well known, in gymnastics a dropping of the head forward initiates the forward somersault, just as the backward throwing of the head initiates the back flip in gymnastics and diving…  It is vital to use a definitive extension of the neck to facilitate powerful contraction of the postural muscles of the trunk during all lifting movements from the ground.  This facilitating action of the head should not be done so as to cause a pronounced hollowing of the back…[but] in such a way as to maintain as closely as possible the neutral spinal disposition, with its three natural curvatures…  Correct positioning of the head will ensure that the back assumes the posture where trunk stabilization is shared between the erector muscles and the spinal ligaments…  Action of the eyes is closely related to the action of the head, so it is essential to facilitate correct…posture by using the eyes to guide the head into the position which is most appropriate for each stage of the given movement.  Generally, the neutral spine position is maintained most easily if the eyes are looking almost directly ahead and fixed on a distant object.

    We accept the above as the SFG standard.

     

     

    The only person I have ever seen manage a perfect hard style swing, powerful and graceful, while keeping his neck close to neutral is Master SFG Brett Jones.  He adds some nuances to the standard recommendation and offers an option for some:  “If you are getting yanked into extension during the eccentric catch of the kettlebell, then it is a bad thing.  If the arms are connected to the body and you choose to hold the extension, it can be a very good thing.  When I try to keep my eyes on the wall in front of me I feel like I am jerked into a bit of cervical extension and it doesn’t feel good.  For me it is much better having a focal point closer to me (4-6 feet in front of me).”  Brett adds that he does have a slight cervical extension, even though he is looking at the floor 4-6 feet in front of him.  He observes that most people who think they are neutral are actually in flexion.
     


     
    The Master SFG also warns against hyperextension.  It is easy to get into if you are doing your swings almost stiff-legged.  If your knees are almost straight on the bottom of the swing, your torso is bound to be almost parallel to the ground.  That means looking straight ahead will automatically hyperextend your neck.  Remember that the hard style swing is related to a jump and as such demands some knee flexion—not to the point of squatting, but enough to activate the glutes.
     

    In summary:

    1. The standard recommendation for swings is to keep your eyes on the horizon, which will place your neck into mild extension on the bottom of the swings—provided you have healthy thoracic extension and you are not stiff-legging your swings.  In the gym the “horizon” can be where the wall and the floor meet if you stand far from the wall, an electric outlet, etc.  Note that the “horizon” is lower than your eye level.
    2.  

    3. If your upper back is too immobile to allow you to look straight ahead on the bottom of the swing without hyperextending your neck, see a specialist to correct it before swinging kettlebells.
    4.  

    5. If you have the required mobility, are not stiff-legging your swings and your neck is still not comfortable on the bottom of the swing, first make sure that it is your lats and not your traps and neck that absorb the force of the kettlebell backswing.  If your technique is correct, you are healthy, and your neck is still not comfortable, experiment with a lower focal point on the bottom of the swing—typically 5-10 feet in front of you.
    6.  

    7. Never whip your neck into extension on the bottom and/or into the protracted “chicken” position on the top of the swing (the “bobble head”).

     

    Heads up and power to your swings, ladies and gentlemen!

     
     

     
  • Nikki Shlosser 4:36 pm on November 24, 2014 Permalink | Reply  

    3 + 6 = Excellence 

    By David A. Clancy, SFG, CSCS

     

     

    Three days, six exercises. Simple. That is what the StrongFirst SFG certification is.

    Sure, there are tests, both physical and written. There is downtime for practicing with other attendees. There are lectures.

    But it all boils down to six exercises:

    • Swing
    • Squat
    • Clean
    • Press
    • Snatch
    • Turkish Getup

    The beauty of StrongFirst is it doesn’t try and cram 20 exercises into a one- or two-day seminar. Rather than touch on the basics and move on to the next exercise, the instructors at a StrongFirst Certification dig deep into the movements to help you refine techniques that would be left substandard with less work.
     

     

    Is your clean not up-to snuff? All the better, as attendees learn many different cues and methods of correcting it. Trouble with the snatch? Rest assured, you are not alone, and you will learn ways to fix your clients who might be having the same problems.

    When training for the StongFirst certification, you will, of course, strive to be as perfect as possible. You will put in countless hours swinging, preparing for a snatch test, working on your pull-up strength, and training your cardiovascular system to handle the stress of the weekend. But eventually it all comes down to six exercises.

    One of the first things you will learn at a StrongFirst certification is the importance of the basics. The first six hours is spent teaching and reverse-engineering the kettlebell swing. Six hours on the most basic exercise!

    To an amateur it sounds like overkill.

    To the professional, it sounds smart.
     

     

    If you cannot swing a kettlebell properly, you cannot clean a kettlebell properly. And you most assuredly cannot snatch a kettlebell properly. So it makes no sense to move on to more advanced movements until the foundation of all movements is dialed in.

    Again.
    And again.
    And again.

    Even after the swing instruction is “complete”, attendees will continue to swing throughout the weekend. Because in truth, instruction is never complete. Candidates will swing to prep for cleans; swing to get blood moving after Turkish Getups; and swing to test their new-found strength techniques.

    Everything builds from the basics, and until those basics are solid, you will not be as effective a practitioner (or instructor) as you can be. And even after the certification, newly-minted instructors will spend hours upon hours refining their skills with further practice. It can be lonely, tiring, frustrating and very challenging.

    But it is also exhilarating, especially when your practice leads to improvements in yourself and your clients.

    Similar to a musician who practices scales, or a baseball player who revisits the batting tee, SFGs practice lifting as a skill until they get it right. And then they practice it some more.
     

     

    Notice how the word “Practitioner” is based off the word “Practice”? Doctors, Nurses and Lawyers practice. Why not strength coaches and fitness instructors?

    The SFG is not for everyone. Sure it is a great way to test your physical mettle. But it also will challenge you to step back and look at yourself, your skills, your strengths, and most importantly, your weaknesses.

    Be patient. Be disciplined. And understand that learning how to do six exercises safely and properly might initially seem boring, but in the long run it is better for you, and your clients.
     

     
     

    David Clancy SFG, CSCS*D is the owner of Buckeye Kettlebells in Columbus, Ohio. He has more than 15 years experience as a strength and conditioning coach. He earned his first kettlebell certification in 2008, and has coached more than 20 students who have gone on to earn a kettlebell certification.
     
     

     
  • Jim Wendler 2:00 pm on November 21, 2014 Permalink | Reply  

    Lord Mantis – Death Mask 

    So how does Lord Mantis follow up 2012′s Pervertor?  An album that’s contents are as sick, twisted and heavy as the cover art? By upping the ante on everything and creating Death Mask. Lord Mantis take things to an extreme with Death Mask – the drumming is tighter, the octave tunings are heavier and the [...]
     
  • Jim Wendler 2:00 pm on November 20, 2014 Permalink | Reply  

    Added Arm Work for 5/3/1? 

    Question: I did 5/3/1 previously and am considering starting it again soon. I had a couple questions that I could really use answering  First off, could I add an arm day as the 5th day to workout? When doing 531 the first time, I noticed a lack of arm definition and size. I rarely experience [...]
     
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