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

    Training the Endurance Athlete 

    By Peter Park

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

    Strength Training

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


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

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

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

    Warm up: 2 x

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

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

    1. Deadlifts
    2. One arm kettlebell press

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

    1. Zecher squats
    2. Pull-ups

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

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

    Core: 2 x

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

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

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

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

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


    A typical strength workout in this peaking phase:

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

    Short reactive work:

    1. Hill Bounds
    2. Eccentric swings or snatches

    Circuit 1:  2-3 sets

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

    Circuit 2:

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

    Core work:

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

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

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

    About the Author

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

  • Craig Marker 1:16 pm on March 24, 2015 Permalink | Reply  

    The Top Five Ab Training Mistakes 

    By Pavel Tsatsouline, Chairman

    The full contact twist.
    Photo courtesy Prof. Stuart McGill’s Spine Biomechanics Lab at the University of Waterloo, Canada

    By now proper abdominal training should not be a mystery.  The body of experience and scientific knowledge serve up powerful methods on a platter—yet they get lost in the Internet noise…

    Perhaps a fashionable “list article” will catch your attention?  With apologies to Rob Lawrence, who rightfully despises list articles as “snack food for the mind”, here is my list of ab dont’s:

    Mistake #1: Chasing the “burn”

    The “burn” is just a manifestation of mounting acidity produced when one is in the glycolytic energy pathway, the choice pathway for amateur coaches more interested in “smoking” their victims than in making them strong.  Dr. Fred Hatfield famously quipped, “You like burn?—Light a match.”

    High levels of tension are prerequisite for making a muscle stronger and the highest levels of it are available for less than 30sec—before the burn kicks in.

    Mistake #2: Not focusing on the contraction

    Your muscle can contract in response to the load (feed-back) or to a command from your brain even in the absence of resistance (feed-forward).  Examples of the former are the farmer’s carry and the double kettlebell front squat.  Examples of the latter are, the double kettlebell clean, the hard style sit-up, and power breathing.  For maximal strength development both types of training are a must.

    Bodybuilders got the feed-forward ab work figured out.  They focus on the contraction rather than the reps—and have the abs to show for it.  First Mr. Olympia Larry Scott, a master of “mind-muscle connection”, showed me some of his ab contraction techniques.  His attention to detail and understanding of anatomy were impressive and his focus was extraordinary.  Mr. Scott was the exact opposite of the clowns glued to their phones while doing crunches.

    Pavel’s patented abdominal training device has clocked over 175% of maximal voluntary isometric contraction at Prof. McGill’s lab. In other words, if you purposefully tense your abs as hard as possible, the Ab Pavelizer™ will make them tense almost twice as hard!
    Photo courtesy Prof. Stuart McGill’s Spine Biomechanics Lab at the University of Waterloo, Canada

    Mistake #3: Not using enough resistance

    Feed-back training demands high external resistance.  It can be a heavy weight or poor leverage.

    Examples of the former include the full contact twist and the one-arm farmer carry.  I am not including a weighted sit-up because it is a pain logistically.  Getting a stack of 45s in place and then holding on to them is not something you want to do more than once…  Examples of the latter are the dragon flag and the hanging leg raise.

    Mistake #4: Exclusively isometric training

    Isometrics are very valuable and the role of planks, L-seats, and heavy lifts demanding a strong brace cannot be underestimated.  However, experience has taught me that people who have not trained their abs dynamically, a stretch followed by a peak contraction, are not fully aware how to engage them 100% statically. (Of course, such training is not for the flexion intolerant.)

    Mistake #5: Not making every exercise an abdominal exercise

    An expertly performed heavy deadlift is an exercise in both feed-forward and feed-back tension.  Engaging a solid brace before the pull is the former.  Staying tight under a moving load is the latter.

    Former Mr. Olympia Dr. Franco Columbu told me that because he hated direct abdominal work all he did for his abs was keeping them tight in all lifts.  He ended up winning the “Best Abs” award and, more importantly, deadlifting over 700 pounds at a bodyweight of around 180.

    The call to action

    There are many exercises to choose from for effective ab training.  The key is to practice both feed-forward and feed-back tension and to say farewell to the “burn”.  All of the StrongFirst curricula—kettlebell, bodyweight, and barbell—are obsessive about building strong abs.  Consider the Total Tension Kettlebell Complex as an example.

    You can always keep it Kettlebell Simple & Sinister.  On the given plan the efforts are brief and intense—10 reps per set in the swing and 1 in the get-up.  The get-up has a dynamic spine flexion component that cramps your abbies the way the sit-up never could.  Feed-forward tension is addressed through bracing and power breathing.  Feed-back tension is taken care of once you persevere to reach at least the “simple” goal.  When you wrestle a heavy kettlebell in a single arm exercise, everything in your midsection cannot help lighting up like a Christmas tree.

    Power to your abs!

    The StrongFirst Courses and Certifications are great ways to learn the feed forward and feed backward methods in this article.


  • Craig Marker 4:48 pm on March 20, 2015 Permalink | Reply  

    Tactical Strength Challenge – It is Approaching 

    By Brett Jones, Chief SFG Instructor

    Group Camaraderie
    It is approaching. The event you have been preparing for is drawing near.

    Does it approach with the sound of the Jaws theme (da) or the Rocky theme?

    I’ll let you think about it for a moment…

    You may have put months of training, sweat and focus into this event. And for the purposes of this article we will assume that that event is the April TSC. Pull-ups, deadlifts and snatches – oh my… Will “the plan come together” as they used to say on the A-Team?

    Hopefully you began your training plan with the end in mind. Working backwards from a competition date and goals for that day is the best way to lay out the plan. There are many paths you could have been on to get to the event but now the time is here. So how do you arrive on “game day” ready to perform?

    Snatch Test

    I don’t know who said it (maybe Dan John) but the saying to keep in mind here is:

    “You cannot win an event in the last week or so of training — but you CAN lose it.” click to tweet

    In other words, the work has been put in and in the short-term leading up to the event, there is little to be gained but a lot to be lost if you try to “cram” for the event. Let’s boil this down to the last two weeks before the TSC.

    In general I am a huge fan of replicating the event day as a training day, in the last few weeks of training, especially. If your TSC is on Saturday at 3 pm I would try to get as close as possible to that timeframe for a main training day on Saturdays. You do not want to be in the routine of an evening exercise session and all of the sudden have to get up at 6 am to compete (or vice versa). Teach your body that it needs to be ready at a certain day and time; don’t just hope that it will rise to the challenge.

    The training for this day should basically mimic the event. If you have never had to perform an intense set of snatches after pulling a max deadlift and pull-ups you might be in for a surprise. And competition days are not the days for surprises. This does not mean that every Saturday is a day where you try to max out the three events. It means you should structure your training in the format of the event. If deadlifts are first in the order, then deadlifts are your first lift of that day, etc. This is applying a “grease the groove” type of mentality to your competition. When you have “lived” the competition for the last few Saturdays, you can roll into the event with a calm focus.

    Your last heavy or intense sessions should be about 2 weeks prior so that the week before the event is just easy recovery and prep work. April 11 is the day so April 4 should be an easy run through of the event. But March 28 could have been your last intense session. Between the 28th and the 4th is up to you and your knowledge of how you recover. Some people will be able to have some specific work on the events during that week while others need to glide in with easier work. For example, an individual with good recovery might hit the last intense pull-up work on the 30th and a good snatch practice on April 1st but the last heavy deadlift will likely have been pulled on the 28th of March or before. All of this is adjusted to you the individual. If this is your first time peaking for an event, you will learn a great deal and be better able to create your plan for future events.


    Snatch Test

    Snatch Test

    To succeed in a competition, a long-term build-up in training is required. Shortly before an event, not much more can be gained – but fatal mistakes can be made. I really like these tips for tapering from 2Peak:

    1. Don’t make any experiments just before (or during) an event.
    2. Remain calm and collected. Remember that long term training brings results.
    3. Don’t try to make good any training deficit shortly before an event.

    So it is approaching. Hopefully these tips will help you plan accordingly as you complete your training plan and compete at the TSC.

    Further Reading:

    About the Author:
    Brett Jones is the Chief Instructor for SFG and 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 20 years of experience, Brett is an Advisory Board member and presenter for Functional Movement Systems. He 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: @BrettEJones.

    Sign up for the  Tactical Strength Challenge.


  • Craig Marker 12:41 pm on March 17, 2015 Permalink | Reply  

    StrongFirst after Pregnancy 

    By Abby Clark, SFG

    In September, 2014 I had the opportunity to assist a StrongFirst level 1 certification course in Philadelphia. I was a little nervous because I just had my first baby in May, 2014 and I wasn’t confident I could pass the technique and snatch test to recertify. Happily, I can say I did, and I did it well. I even did a TGU with a 20kg size bell! Since that victorious day I have hit multiple PR’s with my lifts and am currently training for the Iron Maiden.

    So what enabled me to regain the strength to complete the test and to perform better than I ever had prior to pregnancy? The starting point was reconnecting to my “core.”
    You have probably heard trainers talk about strengthening your core. Right? I mean, what the heck is your “core” anyway?

    Recently, I was at the dentist office I chatted with the dental hygienist about strength training. She said her trainer told her to “find your core.” She said she looked everywhere, even in the car, and couldn’t find it.

    So where exactly is your core?

    I discussed the core with my friend and colleague, Dr. Sarah Hnath, a physical therapist and CSCS trainer who specializes in pregnancy and postpartum training. She said that the “core” is actually a group of 4 muscles that believe it or not, does NOT include “the abs”, or at least the typical “6 pack abs” that most people refer to. The muscles that comprise the core are:

    • The Diaphragm
    • The Transverse Abdominis
    • The Multifidus Muscle
    • The Pelvic Floor Muscles

    Dr. Hnath refers to these 4 muscles as “the building blocks” of all movement.

    “Without proper use of ALL core muscles and good strength & coordination with activity, people are setting themselves up for injuries and conditions such as low back pain and incontinence as well as missing the key component to better movement and performance.”

    No matter your pre-pregnancy fitness level every woman should spend a good amount of time re-strengthening their pelvic floor and abdominal wall before advancing on to weighted exercises.

    The first 6-10 weeks after giving birth are typically spent taking care of your newborn while allowing your body to heal from the trauma of childbirth. The length of recovery can vary depending on a number of things like whether or not you had a vaginal delivery or a cesarean.

    Once the doctor gives the okay to start exercising many women are determined to jump right into their old training routine or start a new one because they want to shed off their pregnancy weight and get their bodies back.

    Even if you are cleared to begin exercising again, it is advised to wait at least 12 weeks after giving birth before you do any exercises that specifically target the rectus abdominis like sit-ups, crunches, and planks because they increase intra-abdominal pressure which puts added stress on the pelvic floor, low back, etc.

    According to Dr. Hnath, doing exercises that directly target the rectus abdominis as opposed to the transverse abdominis too early can cause diastasis recti (DRA) since the layer of connective tissue that separates the rectus abdominis (the linea alba) is still under the effect of relaxin and other hormones from pregnancy. And since the integrity of many areas, including the joints of your hips and spine, can still be destabilized by the hormone relaxin, putting your body under the stress of any heavy loaded exercises is not advised.

    This long period of waiting to strength train again and increase the intensity in your workouts can be frustrating, but it is a great time to work on consciously rebuilding your core muscles before advancing on.

    The following postpartum strength training exercises helped me to reconnect to the key core muscles, begin rebuilding my overall strength and improve my movement patterns while embracing my new “strong mom” body.

    Phase I

    TVA activation drill- The Transverse Abdominis (TVA) is the deepest layer in your abdominal wall and can be very difficult to connect to. You can find your TVA by lying down on your back with your knees bent, place your hands on your hip bones and slide your hands down approximately 1 inch. Cough. You will feel a muscle tighten up…that is your transverse abdominis.

    Pelvic Floor Activation- You can do this in any position. It’s the same action as trying stop yourself from peeing your pants.

    Diaphragm breathing- Lay on your back and place one hand below your rib cage and the other one on your chest. Breathe into the hand resting below your ribcage and allow the breath to travel up to your hand that is resting on your chest. Exhale out of your mouth and allow your breath to empty out of your chest first then your belly. Repeat.

    You know you are breathing properly when you can breathe into your hand on your belly first as opposed to breathing from your chest which is unfortunately how we tend to breathe.

    Pallof standing cable presses

    Lateral cable chops

    Phase 2

    After the 12 week mark (and with your doctor’s approval), the following exercises will help strengthen your rectus abdominis and prepare you for heavier lifting:

    TRX or ring ab roll outs (partial reps) on your knees

    Front load carries (e.g., overhead, rack, and farmer walks)

    StrongFirst planks

    Phase 3

    After you’ve regained strength and stability in your entire mid-section, you can reintroduce compound strength exercises like swings, Turkish get-ups, and deadlifts.


    I am confident that I was successful in passing the technique and snatch test only 4 months postpartum because I took the time to rebuild my “building blocks’ in a way that was progressive and respectful to my body.

    Remember to always talk to your doctor before starting any new program. Keep in mind that you might be motivated more than ever to get back to your old routine, but you are in a NEW body that went through a process that needs a lot of recovery. Be patient, take baby steps, and listen to your body. If you train with intention you will avoid injury related pitfalls and you will continue to move towards your goal.

    About the Author

    Abby ClarkAbby Clark SFG, RYT, PN-1
    Abby strives to help others attain that elusive balance between fitness, nutrition, health, and happiness. She specializes in strength training and nutrition for women who wish to improve their confidence, health, and lifestyle. She is a mom and co-owner of a personal training gym with her husband, Danny Clark. For more information, go to http://www.thebikinicompetitor.com/.


    To learn more, Find an Instructor.


  • Craig Marker 5:24 pm on March 10, 2015 Permalink | Reply  

    How to Build Your Slow Fibers Part III 

    By Pavel Tsatsouline, Chairman

    Master SFG Jon Engum teaching an SFB bodyweight certification in South Korea.

    To put this article in context read Should You Build Your Slow Fibers?, How to Build Your Slow Fibers, Part I, and How to Build Your Slow Fibers, Part II.

    Adding a triceps ST hypertrophy protocol to your pressing regimen is not too much of a burden. Not too complex, not too draining. Ditto for pumping up your forearms. Attempting to combine FT and ST training for all major muscle groups is an altogether different ball game. Before you jump in head first, here is what you need to consider.

    One of the flaws of the “everything works” and “change is good” bodybuilding mentality is a lack of traction. Say, you have built up your squats and quads with a classic FT protocol like 5×5. Lured by Prof. Selouyanov’s promise of adding 25% to your squat in 6-8 weeks, you drop heavy squats and start burning your thighs out with light weights. Now even if you realize such gains, your hard earned fast fibers will shrink. You have robbed Peter to pay Paul. And when you go back to heavy fives you will repeat the process, only now it is Paul who will be robbed to pay Peter… So either keep training your slow fibers for the rest of your training life—or do not do it at all.

    If you do decide to take on hypertrophy of both FT and ST—good luck!—you will need to train both fiber types concurrently, which is very demanding on your endocrine system, your time, and your programming skills. Or use block periodization that allows you to build one while maintaining the other and then reverse. Easier on the schedule and the glands; just as hard on the brain when it comes to planning.

    Here is one template to consider. Alternate blocks of: 1) FT hypertrophy and ST maintenance; 2) ST hypertrophy and FT maintenance. “Maintenance” means doing as little work as necessary not to go backward. Maintenance loads are individual but 2-3 sets to failure once a week is a good starting point for your slow fibers. Based on Prof. Selouyanov’s research, even for maintenance ST fibers demand hard sets. Your fast fibers’ size, on the other hand, can be easily maintained without pushing to RM. Once a week remains the standard frequency; something along the lines of 2-3 easy sets of 5 with around 10RM should do the trick.

    Start with 4-week blocks. After several months experiment with 2-week blocks and see which option works better for you. I must stress that block periodization is an advanced planning tool. Do not use it until you are strong at least by gym standards: say multiple tactical pullups for a lady or half bodyweight strict one-arm military press for a gent. Otherwise, as I wrote before introducing another block periodization plan in Return of the Kettlebell, “burn before reading”.

    Do neural training every week at low volume and varying intensity. If you need to peak your strength for an event, follow up several building blocks with a 4-week peaking cycle in which you focus on heavy neural training while doing a minimal amount of maintenance work for both types of fibers.

    Onto the weekly schedule. Train each muscle group 2-3 times a week. During the FT block there will be one heavy FT day and one light FT day plus a light ST session either on the same day as the light FT session or on a separate day.

    Figure out the rest on your own. A tripwire: if you need any more information than that to plan out your FT+ST training, you should not be doing it.

    After his extraordinary powerlifting career Dr. Judd Biasiotto,
    the author of Psych, became a successful bodybuilder who favored the “burn”

    Although ongoing FT+ST hypertrophy training can and has been done, I am convinced that training the entire body in this manner it is too much commitment for everyone but professional bodybuilders.  Most athletes should select one of the following simpler strategies:

    1)     Only FT hypertrophy;

    2)     Only ST hypertrophy;

    3)     Only FT hypertrophy for some muscle groups and only ST hypertrophy for others;

    4)     Any of the above—plus both FT and ST hypertrophy for a select muscle group or two.

    When choosing between the FT and the ST, in one muscle group or in all of them, ask yourself the following questions:

    “Psychologically, do I thrive on heavy fives or do I dig the “burn”?

    Some folks live for the heavy metal and an effort narrowly focused in time.  When I suggested ST hypertrophy to Master SFG Brett Jones, he politely declined.  As expected; Rob Lawrence once joked that when Brett and I had gotten together to train we did triples for “cardio”.

    Others’ hearts do not flutter at the thought about barbells bending under many wheels; they prefer the slow torture of reps.  If you choose the mode that does not suit your personality, the odds of you sticking to it for years and decades are slim.

    “How important to me is endurance?”

    If you can go either way, heavy or burn, and your sport demands endurance—any kind of endurance—make the ST choice.  Remember, slow fibers come pre-equipped with mitochondria, which means you get both strength and conditioning.

    “Do I have injuries preventing me from lifting heavy?”

    If you do, ST training is the obvious choice.

    If your medical condition allows you to safely do a low volume of heavy lifts, by all means do them at least once a week for a few comfortable singles, doubles, triples.  Otherwise, no matter how big your muscles get, your nervous system and connective tissues will not allow you to express their strength.  ST hypertrophy plus ultra low volume low rep practice of the competitive lifts is a solid training strategy for an injured powerlifter or weightlifter.

    If your doc does not allow heavy lifting at all, he might okay kettlebell swings plus ST goblet squats.  Swings enable one to generate and withstand high forces even with a light weight.  In the GSQ, once you hit failure, descend rock bottom, wedge your elbows between your knees, and pry.  Then park the bell and sit back on the deck…  A powerful method for hard living types with high mileage.

    To summarize the slow fiber hypertrophy articles’ series, new Russian research presents fascinating training opportunities for a variety of athletes and non-athletes.  It also adds even more choices to an already overwhelming menu the XXI century offers.  Keeping it Simple & Sinister is always an option.

  • Craig Marker 5:35 pm on March 6, 2015 Permalink | Reply  

    Success Comes in Many Different Forms 

    by Andrea U-Shi Chang, Senior SFG, TSC Coordinator

    Willard (Jim) Sloan with Seth Thomas, SFG-II, SFB

    Willard (Jim) Sloan entered to compete in the Strong First Tactical Strength Challenge (TSC) last October. People enter the TSC for a lot of different reasons, but Jim at age 56, entered for perhaps one of the best reasons of all – to celebrate his life.

    Celebrating a New Start

    Jim competed in powerlifting, arm-wrestling, karate, and judo since he was quite young, He ran in competitive events his whole life. Five days prior to competing in a Tough Mudder, Jim didn’t feel right, but being a tough guy, he went home instead of getting checked. His recent yearly physical had showed ‘perfect’ blood work. The following day he drove himself to the hospital and found out he had had a heart attack. After open heart surgery, Jim began the return to health with his physical therapist and doctors.

    He was told by many of his health care workers that he shouldn’t lift weights. However, his cardiologist told him that his strength training over the years had saved him and that he should continue.

    Jim credits a great deal of success to his training with kettlebells. In his words:

    “The best piece of training equipment in the world in my gym goes anywhere and can get both cardio and strength practice done in 30 minutes – for me, the simpler the better, Occam’s razor fits best. Pavel brought different protocols and implemented them in unique ways with modifications along the way to forestall stagnation – in my humble opinion I consider him the best coach/instructor in the world because he uses science not conjecture.”

    Jim at the TSC event at Albany Movement and Fitness

    Sign up now for the Tactical Strength Challenge


    October 4, 2014, was Jim’s 1 year anniversary of heart surgery and the date of the Fall Tactical Strength Challenge (TSC). Jim had begun his reborn life and was determined to compete. The Tactical Strength Challenge occurs in the spring and fall of each year. The exercises are the same at each event and the athlete can compare scores from one competition to the next. It consists of the following three events that challenge the athlete across multiple domains:

    • Strict Pull Ups or Flexed Arm Hang – Absolute upper body strength
    • Deadlift – Absolute lower body strength
    • Snatch Test – As many reps as possible of kettlebell snatches. A test of work capacity.

    In Jim’s words

    Without a doubt, the TSC was the best competition I have ever been in, and I have been in a lot! I have never been around so many good, decent, folks who are driven, but also so very supportive. Each had a goal – to beat the weights – not each other. No fancy power lifting suits here, just real strength and courage – these were people you want to get to know.

    My daughter Kelsey and I are training for the upcoming TSC three days a week with kettlebells and weights, using an 80/20 principle. Twenty percent of our exercises give us eighty percent of our results. The pull-ups, deadlift, and snatches with additional supportive exercises to reduce weak areas, and rotating them accordingly. At age twelve my daughter Kelsey pulled 185 at 99 pounds bodyweight. At her current age and weight she is on pace to pull 250 plus and she is the best training partner in the world!

    Jim’s numbers from last year

    The Spring 2014 Tactical Strength Challange is April 11, 2015 (Sign up by March 15, 2015 to get a t-shirt)

    What Are You Training For?

    Ready to host a TSC event? Contact us here to learn more: TSC@strongfirst.com

  • Craig Marker 2:05 pm on March 3, 2015 Permalink | Reply  

    StrongFirst for Golf 

    by Chris Hook, TPI-FP3, SFG2, SFL

    Tiger Woods in 2014

    You may not be a golfer or a fan of golf, but I am sure you have heard of Tiger Woods. He has been ranked the number one golfer in the world many times. However, in the last few years we have seen Tiger Woods withdraw from many tournaments due to pain or injury. Last year he underwent a microdiscectomy, which sidelined him for most of the season. In his first event of 2015 he withdrew due to back pain. In his second event of the season he withdrew after 11 holes. He was quoted as saying, “My glutes are shutting off, then they don’t activate and then, hence, it [pain] goes into my lower back. I tried to activate my glutes as best I could, in between, but they never stayed activated.”

    Glute Activation

    The public and media have made this statement into a bit of a butt joke. However, for those of us in the strength and conditioning community, we run into Gluteal Amnesia on a regular basis. Gluteal Amnesia is a real thing. It refers to an inhibition or delayed activation of the gluteal muscles, which can lead to weakness of the muscles over time and the recruitment of other muscle groups to perform the function of the glutes. The glutes play an important role in hip extension, stabilization of the pelvis, and positioning of the legs.

    The community of SFG certified professionals applies the kettlebell to very diverse populations; everyone from MMA fighters and Tactical Athletes, to people that want to get in better shape. I use the SFG principles along with kettlebells, barbells, and progressive body weight movements to increase performance for golfers. Kettlebells and training for golf performance are a perfect match. Turkish Getups, deadlifts, squats, presses, pull-ups, swings, snatches, bent presses, windmills, and all of the other standard Strong First movements are a fantastic recipe for improving golf performance.

    Kettlebells build strength for many sports

    Training for Golf does not have to be Complicated

    Golf fitness training has become more mainstream over the last decade due to the Titleist Performance Institute (TPI), which has a golf specific screening process. For those of you who don’t know, TPI combines the expertise of the medical professional, golf coach, and fitness professional. This provides the golf athlete with treatment for pain, concepts for swing and game development, and strength and conditioning to eliminate movement dysfunction, asymmetries, and limitations. Often times a biomechanical limitation prevents a golfer from efficiently performing the golf swing. Once limitations are removed a golfer will have a better chance of making changes to their golf swing and eliminating swing faults. The TPI certifications are very compatible with the FMS screen.

    We can all agree that golf is a rotational sport, but sometimes doing more rotation doesn’t provide your body with the adaptations it needs to make your swing better. Does it have to look like golf to improve your golf game? Of course not, but many of the exercises that are presented in the media to golfers are rotational movements because little explanation is needed to communicate their likely positive benefit to the golf swing. Squats may seem like a generic movement with little carryover, but their benefit to your swing and your daily movement patterns are numerous. Training for golf does not need to be over complicated with 26 different rotational movements tied up with stretchy bands.

    If you have a loss of posture in your golf swing, learning to squat could be the secret ingredient to being able to maintain your posture through impact. If you cannot maintain posture in your golf swing, working on hand position or creating more lag is just a waste of time. TPI has connected Early Extension (losing your posture toward the ball) to the inability to overhead deep squat. If you are an FMS practitioner, this should be a light bulb moment. The SFG/FMS professional might not realize that they already have all of the tools to work on golf performance, but just need to connect the dots.

    Enter Turkish Get-ups

    Learning to squat properly is vital for golf posture

    Could there be a more golf specific exercise than the Turkish Getup that also restores functional movement qualities?

    A well done TGU should be deliberate and graceful. It incorporates reaching, rolling, separating the upper and lower body, scapular stability, cervical mobility, thoracic mobility, trunk stability, stepping pattern, hip hinging, and grip strength just to mention a few benefits. It is a movement that can help restore left and right symmetry to the body. This is an important benefit to golfers because the golf swing is a repetitive and violent asymmetrical movement. But what if you need mobility? The Turkish Getup does that.

    What if you have mobility and you need more stability? Well, you’re in luck, the TGU does that too. The TGU makes you strong and flexible. It will open your hips, improve rotator cuff function, enable a better hip hinge, and make you a cup of coffee while you are switching the bell to the other side (well maybe not, but it sure does provide many benefits.). The TGU is a contralateral pattern that involves tremendous proprioception, much like your golf swing. It is great movement prep prior to playing a round, and it provides a good bang for your buck when budgeting time for exercise. If you were to visit us here at Golf Fitness Los Angeles you will likely see someone doing a TGU or pieces of one in preparation for lifting, to address a limitation, and of course to build a heavier TGU. It is easy to see how the TGU has carryover into the golf swing. Any SFG certified kettlebell instructor can teach the subtleties of mastering this movement.

    Turkish Get-Ups at Golf Fitness Los Angeles

    The more grip strength an athlete is able to produce, the more activation he/she will get in the rotator cuff. Doing exercises that put a demand on the grip has a strength-building effect on the muscles of the cuff, which are important to golf because they stabilize the shoulder as it goes through flexion, extension, abduction, adduction and internal/external rotation. Many shoulder injuries happen due to scapular instability. You just can’t use a kettlebell properly without growing your grip strength. Improved grip strength will improve power output at impact and clubface control at the top of the back swing.

    Additionally, a limitation in T-spine mobility will force an athlete to compensate by destabilizing the cuff to rotate with it in place of the T-spine. T-spine functionality goes hand-in-hand with scapular stability. To get the cuff strong and stable, the T-spine it is connected to, needs to be able to do its job of extending, flexing, and rotating, which is how it is required to move in the golf swing. You can do stretchy band internal/external rotations all day (and there is a time and place for that according to some people), but real scapular stability comes with improving grip strength. Bottom’s-up kettlebell carries anyone? All of these important pieces to an efficient golf swing are woven into the many movements we use with kettlebells.

    These are just a few examples of how our Strong First methods and tools can be of benefit to the performance needs of the recreational and professional golfer. I am sure I don’t need to mention the value of the kettlebell swing as a powerful hip hinging movement that helps an athlete create greater ground force production. That one is obvious, right? Our tools are versatile across many populations, including golfers.

    According to Tiger, he is missing some glute activity. Tiger is doing us all a favor by bringing attention to a concept that is the corner stone of most of our lifting. My athletes now joke about their glutes being more active than Tiger’s. The kettlebell, the barbell, the pull-up bar, and body weight movements can be the best golf performance tools, you just need to be able to communicate to golfers what the connection is to their golf swing. Golfers quickly come around to our methods. They don’t have flimsy goals. Their goals are always clear, measureable, and generally the same: to hit the ball farther, have a better golf swing, play better golf, and prevent injury. Kettlebells do that.

    first photo courtesy of Wikipedia

    About the Author

    Golf Fitness Chris HookChris Hook, TPI-FP3, SFG2, SFL, FMS
    Chris uses the techniques he learned from the StrongFirst Kettlebell and Barbell courses to assist his vast knowledge of training golfers. His goal is to take golfers of any level to the next level. His goal is to help changing the way people move, make them feel better, and hit the ball further. For more information, go to Golffitnesslosangeles.com/.

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


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

    How to Build Your Slow Fibers, Part II 

    By Pavel Tsatsouline, Chairman


    Karen Smith, Master SFG demonstrating the diamond pushup

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

    Optimizing Back Health With The Kettlebell Swing 

    by Scott Iardella, SFG II SFL

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

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

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

    Brad Gillingham

    Brad Gillingham uses kettlebells to keep his back healthy

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

    About the Author

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

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

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

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

    How to Build Your Slow Fibers, Part I 

    By Pavel Tsatsouline, Chairman


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Stand by for a training plan.

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