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  • Jim Wendler 7:59 pm on November 18, 2014 Permalink | Reply  

    Attitude Adjustment and Enablers 

    Note: I dont remember when I wrote this but apparently I did. My wife and I dream about running a camp that includes literature, art and hard, basic physical training. A little bit of hard work and some squats, Prowler and doing some hours at a Children’s Hospital would cure a lot of attitude problems. [...]
     
  • Nikki Shlosser 2:45 pm on October 9, 2014 Permalink | Reply  

    How to Make Your Snatch Test Easier 

    By Aleks Salkin, SFG II, SFB

     

     

    Wailing.  Gnashing of teeth.  Rending of clothing and sitting in sack cloth and ashes.

    Nothing about the SFG certification weekend, it seems, causes as much internal drama, strife, worry, fear, and nervousness (not to mention all 5 stages of grief) as the oft-maligned and inexplicably feared snatch test.

    Well, knock it off.  And for goodness sake, pull yourself together.  It’s only 5 minutes, and your cert weekend is nearly 24 hours in total.  You can do this — and make it easier on yourself.  I’ll show you how.
     

    Betsy Collie, Senior SFG, snatching with ease

    Master SFG David Whitley said something to me at the SFG II in Italy recently that probably serves as the ultimate summary of what this article strives to be: “I’m all about making hard stuff easier.”  And why not?  When hard stuff is easier, are you not stronger?  Is that not the point of this cert — indeed, this whole system?

    Tempting as it may seem to simply snatch a whole lot, there are a lot better and less-exhausting options to go from chump to champ in your snatching.  You will have to snatch, yes, but it doesn’t have to become a part-time job.  In fact, it shouldn’t.  If you are preparing for the SFG weekend you have a lot more important stuff to focus on.

    This program is one that can fit into your current training without interrupting or bogging it down unnecessarily.
     

    Before we get into the program itself, let’s first go over the preliminaries.

    1) You must be able to lock your hand out overhead safely.  This means elbow locked and bicep near the ear while standing at attention.   “Chicken-necking” is forbidden, as it’s dangerous and will do nothing to help your performance.  Also, because chicken makes you weak.

    Proper lockout — bicep by the ear, shoulder packed, and everything stacked one on top of the other.

    Chicken-necking, plus unpacked shoulder and bent elbow. Not. Even. Once.

    2) You should be familiar with the SFG Big Six as a whole — swings, get ups, clean, military press, and front squat in addition to the snatch.  All of these moves build one upon the other, so the better and more familiar you are with them as a whole, the better off you’ll be in preparing for your snatch test.  They all bring something helpful to the table, from building monster hip drive with the swing, learning to tame the arc with the clean, building powerful, never-say-die legs with the front squat, and getting familiar and confident with overhead strength and stability in the Turkish Get Up and military press, all of the Big Six play a big role.  Don’t neglect them.

     
    Once you’ve got these in place, you’re ready to go into the specifics.  It’s mercifully simple, just not especially easy.
     

    1. Get stronger

    I’d be remiss if I didn’t include this one first.  It really is that simple — the stronger you are in your snatches, the easier it all becomes.  Think about it: Ladies, what is 16kg if you can snatch 20kg or 24kg per arm for several reps?  And gentlemen, what is 24kg if you can snatch 32 or even 40kg on either arm?  24kg is child’s play.  Even very fatigued you’ll have little issue putting it up over your head repeatedly.  All too often I meet or talk with an SFG candidate who rhapsodizes about how often he or she snatches with his or her snatch test weight or less and how “killer” it is or some such silliness, but when I bring up the suggestion “Why not try snatching with a weight a size or two above your snatch weight?” Well, you know the routine.  Wailing, gnashing of teeth, frenzied crying to the heavens, and other assorted histrionics.  Be not afraid of snatching heavier for fewer reps.  Remember:  It’s ALWAYS easier to do less if you can already do more.
     

    2. Make sure your technique is dialed-in 

    The quickest way I know of to do this (if you’re already snatching) is pretty basic.

    a) Keep your eyes forward. NOT down.  A lot of people like to look down for some reason.  Stop it.  Stop it right now.

    b) Make sure the kettlebell travels down the midline of your body, not off to the side.  When you’re snatching lighter it doesn’t matter as much, but the moment it gets heavy, this will become much harder — and not productively so.  When you’re in the hinge-to-hip-pop segment of your snatch, imagine there’s a line between your groin and your chest.  Make the kettlebell travel through that line.  By the time it’s in its final stage (the “float”) it’ll go to its proper place above your head, and far, far easier, too.

    Left: standard one-arm swing. Right: swing aimed a bit closer to midline.
    An almost imperceptible difference visually, but physically noticeable. Try this next time you snatch and you’ll find the kettlebell floats significantly easier.

    c) Keep your face relaxed and impassive.  Too many people get these grimaces and stressed-out looks on themselves from the outset, and it sets the mood (a bad one) for the rest of the set.  This is just a personal observation and not critical for your snatching per se, but from my experience, it’s made my snatching easier and smoother.

     

    3. Double breathing

    THIS is the cue that, in my correct opinion, will do more for your snatch work capacity than anything else, and I owe David Whitley big-time for it.  Back in 2012 I was assisting Master SFG Jon Engum for the flexibility portion of the first-ever Flexible Steel workshop, and David Whitley taught on day one about how to make various kettlebell lifts easier and stronger, much of it by mastering and improving on the basics (imagine that).  When it came to snatches, he introduced double breathing and my mind essentially blew right out of every side of my head right then and there.
     
     

     
    “The snatch takes twice as much time as the swing, right?  So why not breathe twice as much?”

    I’m paraphrasing, but the sentiment was the same, and the impact was deep and immediate.  This might be the only thing that rivals simply snatching heavier in making your snatch test a piece of cake.  It’s that important.

    How do you do it?  Simple: on the backswing you sniff in.  On the hip pop, you breathe out.  Old hat.  Now, as the kettlebell is making its final ascent into the lockout, you simply sniff in and breathe out again, but faster.  The beauty behind the effectiveness of this technique is that it allows you to catch your breath a little bit and maintain the hardstyle nature of the snatch so it doesn’t degenerate into sloppy breathing or unintentional anatomical breathing as you get fatigued.  As Master Whitley has said “The suck levels are the same, but you can manage it better.”

    Just how effective is this technique?  With this technique alone I went from being able to do 20 snatches in a row per arm with a 24kg bell — with a several-minute break between arms — to being able to do 30 per arm before setting it down.  3 times the work capacity because of one technique.  Yes, it’s that good.  This video will show you the rhythm and cadence needed to make it work properly.  Take some time to get the technique on this down, but be warned: once you breathe twice in the snatch, you’ll never go back. click to tweet


     

    4. Programming

    In the spirit of StrongFirst, the program is mercifully simple and relatively open-ended.  Looking back at Pavel’s landmark work Enter The Kettlebell, you’ll notice that he has you snatching only one day of the week — your light day.  The other days you’re expected to swing.

    If you’re training for your SFG cert (or re-cert) and not just general strength training, you may want to train 4 or even 5 days a week.  Whichever you choose, you’ll still only have to snatch once a week. Here is how you will program your snatches.

    Find the heaviest kettlebell that will allow for what Master SFG Fabio Zonin calls the “technical rep max”, i.e. the rep max you can achieve while maintaining picture-perfect technique.  A weight that will net you 5-7 reps is what you should be shooting for.  This will be your working weight for the next few weeks.  You will be using a template that I picked up off of my coach, mentor, and friend Scott Stevens, SFG II.

    2 minutes: snatch on the minute
    1 minute: rest
    2 minutes: snatch on the minute

    It’s very easy to fill in that extra minute when the time comes, and it takes the mental pressure off a bit throughout the program.

    With your 5-7 technical rep max bell, you will do your on-the-minute snatches thusly on your snatch day.  You will snatch on both hands before setting it down according to the 2 on, 1 off, 2 on template.  Be sure to do fast and loose each time you set the bell down.

    Week 1: 3/3
    Week 2: 4/4
    Week 3: 5/5
    Week 4: 4/4
    Week 5: 5/5
    Week 6: 6/6
    Week 7: 5/5
    Week 8: 6/6
    Week 9: 7/7
    Week 10: 6/6
    Week 11: 7/7
    Week 12: 8/8
    Week 13: REST

    For me personally, I found that once I could do 7/7 using the above format, I was far beyond ready.  Doing 56 snatches with 32 kg in 5 minutes was more than enough to prep me to bang out the easiest snatch test of my life.  No stress, and no sweat (literally).  Within minutes the only place that was still feeling it was my pumped-up forearms.

    For your other days, swing.  Heavy and often.  Again, I would not use any kettlebell under your snatch test weight.  Between 10-20 reps is good for single bell work, and 5-10 is good for doubles.  These swing days may look like this:

    Monday: Double swing (snatch test weight or one size above): 5 on the minute for 10 minutes
    Tuesday: One-arm swing (a size or two above snatch test weight): 10 on the minute for 20 minutes
    Wednesday: off
    Thursday: Double swing (snatch test weight or one size above): 5 on the minute for 15 minutes
    Friday: Snatch day
    Saturday/Sunday: off

    As the weeks go by, you’ll strive to put a few more reps on in each session until you’re doing 20 per minute with 1 bell and 10 per minute with two.  Then go up a bell size and start over.

    Naturally, you’ll still be practicing your pullups/flexed arm hangs, cleans, presses, squats, and Get Ups according to whatever program you’re following as well as any necessary correctives/restorative exercise, which means the above program should fit into anything else that you’re doing.

    There you have it.  A simple and — dare I say it — borderline EASY way of taking your snatching from chump to champ.  Give it a shot, let me know what you think, and once you’ve done it, drop me a line.  I’d love to hear about it.

     

    Aleks Salkin is a Level 2 StrongFirst-certified kettlebell instructor (SFG II), StrongFirst-certified bodyweight Instructor (SFB), and an Original Strength Certified Coach. He grew up scrawny, unathletic, weak, and goofy until he was exposed to kettlebells and the teachings and methodology of Pavel in his early 20s. He is currently based out of Jerusalem, Israel and spends his time teaching clients both in person and online as well as spreading the word of StrongFirst and calisthenics.  He regularly writes about strength and health both on his website and as a guest author on other websites. Find him online at http://www.alekssalkin.com and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/alekssalkintraining
     
     

     
  • Nikki Shlosser 2:45 pm on October 9, 2014 Permalink | Reply  

    How to Make Your Snatch Test Easier 

    By Aleks Salkin, SFG II, SFB

     

     

    Wailing.  Gnashing of teeth.  Rending of clothing and sitting in sack cloth and ashes.

    Nothing about the SFG certification weekend, it seems, causes as much internal drama, strife, worry, fear, and nervousness (not to mention all 5 stages of grief) as the oft-maligned and inexplicably feared snatch test.

    Well, knock it off.  And for goodness sake, pull yourself together.  It’s only 5 minutes, and your cert weekend is nearly 24 hours in total.  You can do this — and make it easier on yourself.  I’ll show you how.
     

    Betsy Collie, Senior SFG, snatching with ease

    Master SFG David Whitley said something to me at the SFG II in Italy recently that probably serves as the ultimate summary of what this article strives to be: “I’m all about making hard stuff easier.”  And why not?  When hard stuff is easier, are you not stronger?  Is that not the point of this cert — indeed, this whole system?

    Tempting as it may seem to simply snatch a whole lot, there are a lot better and less-exhausting options to go from chump to champ in your snatching.  You will have to snatch, yes, but it doesn’t have to become a part-time job.  In fact, it shouldn’t.  If you are preparing for the SFG weekend you have a lot more important stuff to focus on.

    This program is one that can fit into your current training without interrupting or bogging it down unnecessarily.
     

    Before we get into the program itself, let’s first go over the preliminaries.

    1) You must be able to lock your hand out overhead safely.  This means elbow locked and bicep near the ear while standing at attention.   “Chicken-necking” is forbidden, as it’s dangerous and will do nothing to help your performance.  Also, because chicken makes you weak.

    Proper lockout — bicep by the ear, shoulder packed, and everything stacked one on top of the other.

    Chicken-necking, plus unpacked shoulder and bent elbow. Not. Even. Once.

    2) You should be familiar with the SFG Big Six as a whole — swings, get ups, clean, military press, and front squat in addition to the snatch.  All of these moves build one upon the other, so the better and more familiar you are with them as a whole, the better off you’ll be in preparing for your snatch test.  They all bring something helpful to the table, from building monster hip drive with the swing, learning to tame the arc with the clean, building powerful, never-say-die legs with the front squat, and getting familiar and confident with overhead strength and stability in the Turkish Get Up and military press, all of the Big Six play a big role.  Don’t neglect them.

     
    Once you’ve got these in place, you’re ready to go into the specifics.  It’s mercifully simple, just not especially easy.
     

    1. Get stronger

    I’d be remiss if I didn’t include this one first.  It really is that simple — the stronger you are in your snatches, the easier it all becomes.  Think about it: Ladies, what is 16kg if you can snatch 20kg or 24kg per arm for several reps?  And gentlemen, what is 24kg if you can snatch 32 or even 40kg on either arm?  24kg is child’s play.  Even very fatigued you’ll have little issue putting it up over your head repeatedly.  All too often I meet or talk with an SFG candidate who rhapsodizes about how often he or she snatches with his or her snatch test weight or less and how “killer” it is or some such silliness, but when I bring up the suggestion “Why not try snatching with a weight a size or two above your snatch weight?” Well, you know the routine.  Wailing, gnashing of teeth, frenzied crying to the heavens, and other assorted histrionics.  Be not afraid of snatching heavier for fewer reps.  Remember:  It’s ALWAYS easier to do less if you can already do more.
     

    2. Make sure your technique is dialed-in 

    The quickest way I know of to do this (if you’re already snatching) is pretty basic.

    a) Keep your eyes forward. NOT down.  A lot of people like to look down for some reason.  Stop it.  Stop it right now.

    b) Make sure the kettlebell travels down the midline of your body, not off to the side.  When you’re snatching lighter it doesn’t matter as much, but the moment it gets heavy, this will become much harder — and not productively so.  When you’re in the hinge-to-hip-pop segment of your snatch, imagine there’s a line between your groin and your chest.  Make the kettlebell travel through that line.  By the time it’s in its final stage (the “float”) it’ll go to its proper place above your head, and far, far easier, too.

    Left: standard one-arm swing. Right: swing aimed a bit closer to midline.
    An almost imperceptible difference visually, but physically noticeable. Try this next time you snatch and you’ll find the kettlebell floats significantly easier.

    c) Keep your face relaxed and impassive.  Too many people get these grimaces and stressed-out looks on themselves from the outset, and it sets the mood (a bad one) for the rest of the set.  This is just a personal observation and not critical for your snatching per se, but from my experience, it’s made my snatching easier and smoother.

     

    3. Double breathing

    THIS is the cue that, in my correct opinion, will do more for your snatch work capacity than anything else, and I owe David Whitley big-time for it.  Back in 2012 I was assisting Master SFG Jon Engum for the flexibility portion of the first-ever Flexible Steel workshop, and David Whitley taught on day one about how to make various kettlebell lifts easier and stronger, much of it by mastering and improving on the basics (imagine that).  When it came to snatches, he introduced double breathing and my mind essentially blew right out of every side of my head right then and there.
     
     

     
    “The snatch takes twice as much time as the swing, right?  So why not breathe twice as much?”

    I’m paraphrasing, but the sentiment was the same, and the impact was deep and immediate.  This might be the only thing that rivals simply snatching heavier in making your snatch test a piece of cake.  It’s that important.

    How do you do it?  Simple: on the backswing you sniff in.  On the hip pop, you breathe out.  Old hat.  Now, as the kettlebell is making its final ascent into the lockout, you simply sniff in and breathe out again, but faster.  The beauty behind the effectiveness of this technique is that it allows you to catch your breath a little bit and maintain the hardstyle nature of the snatch so it doesn’t degenerate into sloppy breathing or unintentional anatomical breathing as you get fatigued.  As Master Whitley has said “The suck levels are the same, but you can manage it better.”

    Just how effective is this technique?  With this technique alone I went from being able to do 20 snatches in a row per arm with a 24kg bell — with a several-minute break between arms — to being able to do 30 per arm before setting it down.  3 times the work capacity because of one technique.  Yes, it’s that good.  This video will show you the rhythm and cadence needed to make it work properly.  Take some time to get the technique on this down, but be warned: once you breathe twice in the snatch, you’ll never go back. click to tweet


     

    4. Programming

    In the spirit of StrongFirst, the program is mercifully simple and relatively open-ended.  Looking back at Pavel’s landmark work Enter The Kettlebell, you’ll notice that he has you snatching only one day of the week — your light day.  The other days you’re expected to swing.

    If you’re training for your SFG cert (or re-cert) and not just general strength training, you may want to train 4 or even 5 days a week.  Whichever you choose, you’ll still only have to snatch once a week. Here is how you will program your snatches.

    Find the heaviest kettlebell that will allow for what Master SFG Fabio Zonin calls the “technical rep max”, i.e. the rep max you can achieve while maintaining picture-perfect technique.  A weight that will net you 5-7 reps is what you should be shooting for.  This will be your working weight for the next few weeks.  You will be using a template that I picked up off of my coach, mentor, and friend Scott Stevens, SFG II.

    2 minutes: snatch on the minute
    1 minute: rest
    2 minutes: snatch on the minute

    It’s very easy to fill in that extra minute when the time comes, and it takes the mental pressure off a bit throughout the program.

    With your 5-7 technical rep max bell, you will do your on-the-minute snatches thusly on your snatch day.  You will snatch on both hands before setting it down according to the 2 on, 1 off, 2 on template.  Be sure to do fast and loose each time you set the bell down.

    Week 1: 3/3
    Week 2: 4/4
    Week 3: 5/5
    Week 4: 4/4
    Week 5: 5/5
    Week 6: 6/6
    Week 7: 5/5
    Week 8: 6/6
    Week 9: 7/7
    Week 10: 6/6
    Week 11: 7/7
    Week 12: 8/8
    Week 13: REST

    For me personally, I found that once I could do 7/7 using the above format, I was far beyond ready.  Doing 56 snatches with 32 kg in 5 minutes was more than enough to prep me to bang out the easiest snatch test of my life.  No stress, and no sweat (literally).  Within minutes the only place that was still feeling it was my pumped-up forearms.

    For your other days, swing.  Heavy and often.  Again, I would not use any kettlebell under your snatch test weight.  Between 10-20 reps is good for single bell work, and 5-10 is good for doubles.  These swing days may look like this:

    Monday: Double swing (snatch test weight or one size above): 5 on the minute for 10 minutes
    Tuesday: One-arm swing (a size or two above snatch test weight): 10 on the minute for 20 minutes
    Wednesday: off
    Thursday: Double swing (snatch test weight or one size above): 5 on the minute for 15 minutes
    Friday: Snatch day
    Saturday/Sunday: off

    As the weeks go by, you’ll strive to put a few more reps on in each session until you’re doing 20 per minute with 1 bell and 10 per minute with two.  Then go up a bell size and start over.

    Naturally, you’ll still be practicing your pullups/flexed arm hangs, cleans, presses, squats, and Get Ups according to whatever program you’re following as well as any necessary correctives/restorative exercise, which means the above program should fit into anything else that you’re doing.

    There you have it.  A simple and — dare I say it — borderline EASY way of taking your snatching from chump to champ.  Give it a shot, let me know what you think, and once you’ve done it, drop me a line.  I’d love to hear about it.

     

    Aleks Salkin is a Level 2 StrongFirst-certified kettlebell instructor (SFG II), StrongFirst-certified bodyweight Instructor (SFB), and an Original Strength Certified Coach. He grew up scrawny, unathletic, weak, and goofy until he was exposed to kettlebells and the teachings and methodology of Pavel in his early 20s. He is currently based out of Jerusalem, Israel and spends his time teaching clients both in person and online as well as spreading the word of StrongFirst and calisthenics.  He regularly writes about strength and health both on his website and as a guest author on other websites. Find him online at http://www.alekssalkin.com and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/alekssalkintraining
     
     

     
  • Jim Wendler 1:00 pm on July 23, 2014 Permalink | Reply  

    Henry Rollins 

    Like most people my age, Rollins is synonymous with Black Flag. Black Flag and those (IIII) bars are synonymous with anger, intensity and some serious angular/disjointed riffing. For others, Lollapalooza (I don’t know if I’m spelling that correctly – I’m not Googling that. I have my standards) was their introduction to Rollins Band or maybe [...]
     
  • Jim Wendler 12:17 pm on July 17, 2014 Permalink | Reply  

    Boring But Strong Challenge 

    Boring But Strong – 13 Cycle Challenge  [NOTE: This is from the Jim Wendler Forum.] How this all came about is a long, long story so I’ll edit it down to the bare minimum: I am currently at the tail end of this challenge and I love it.  This, like the majority of training ideas [...]
     
  • Nikki Shlosser 3:00 pm on July 1, 2014 Permalink | Reply  

    The Toughness of a Strength Athlete 

    By Pavel Tsatsouline, Chairman

     


     

    In the public mind the word “toughness” is associated with endurance. A marathoner gutting it out for hours. A professional boxer surviving a dozen rounds. Yet the never-give-up mindset is just as present in expressions of maximal strength. It is the ability to grind a crushing weight to the top. And to do it without compromising one’s technique.

    A strength professional does not have a plan B. Only an amateur does. The latter suddenly has doubts about having enough strength to complete the lift as planned. He seeks the path of least resistance. To use the kettlebell military press as an example, he shrugs his shoulder and leans way back… This gives him a better leverage—at least for the moment. As with all panicked decisions, this one is very short sighted. It may be easier to move the kettlebell another inch or two with a shrug, but afterwards there is nowhere to go but shoulder impingement.

    An experienced lifter, on the other hand, will keep grinding it out straight and narrow, no matter how hard it feels, without taking what seems like an easier detour. He has faith in his strength and stays in the groove, no matter how hard it is. This is the hallmark of a strength professional. And if the weight happens to be beyond his limit on that day, he will, as Marty Gallagher has put it, “fail with integrity”.

    Several weeks ago StrongFirst posted a video of John Spezzano, SFG II military pressing a 97-pound kettlebell. A record it is not but it is a strong lift for a wiry 175-pound martial artist in his mid-forties. But it was the manner in which John performed that was especially impressive. No leg kicking, no hip checking, no belly bouncing. And an excruciating—yet quite safe—grind. The kettlebell stopped dead in its tracks when the girevik’s upper arm was not even parallel to the ground. At that point a lesser man would have quit, but not Spezzano.

     

     

    Shrugging one’s shoulders involuntarily is a sign of fear. John showed the kettlebell no fear and no mercy: his shoulder stayed down. His torso tilted to the side, but no more than necessary not to topple when pressing heavy relative to one’s bodyweight. His back did not hyperextend. He fought the piece of metal for eternity and he won.

    It goes without saying that one should not attempt such efforts every training session—or even every month. Even if you are able to stay injury free, you will fry your nervous system. There is an abyss between training and testing. In preparation for his PR John was following one of my experimental programs and never came close to failure. Most of his pressing was done with a 32kg kettlebell for sets of 2-4 reps and a 28kg kettlebell for sets of 3-6. That is 1/3-2/3 RM or even less.

    (A lyrical detour. Next time you see “AMRAP” anywhere, leave that place and never come back. The proper term is “RM”, or “repetition maximum”. It was coined back in 1945 by respected strength researcher Captain Thomas DeLorme and it does not need to be reinvented or lengthened.)

    To make sense of the above numbers, 32kg is 80% of John’s 40kg x 1RM at the start of the eight-week plan and 28kg is 70%. Considering that an athlete who is slightly on the fast twitch side typically can do 70% x 10RM and 80% x 6RM, John was doing only 1/3-2/3 of the maximal reps possible. And if his muscles were more slow twitch, then that percentage was even lower—much lower. For eight weeks John was not testing; he was practicing, “greasing the groove” in an organized manner. This is exactly how you should train.

    As for maxing, for most athletes working up to what Russians call the “training max” and Master SFG Dan John calls the “sort of max” is more than enough. If you thought the purpose of this blog was to encourage you to test your 1RM in a no-holds-barred manner, it is not. Not at all. Such efforts are the domain of competitive lifters—and of rare athletes from other sports like John Spezzano with iron will and iron discipline.

    No, my goal was to instill respect in a truly all-out strength effort as an act of mental toughness every bit in the league with an exhausting race. And to remind you the meaning of respect, period. When we posted the video of John’s press, people who knew the score were duly impressed. Of course, typical for our age when even the clueless get a voice, others wailed about what they perceived as a dangerous lift failing to appreciate the beautiful effort of which they are not capable.

    Respect.
     

     
  • Nikki Shlosser 3:23 pm on June 17, 2014 Permalink | Reply  

    Strength and Conditioning for BJJ Fighters 

    By Danny Clark, SFG

     
    This past November marked my greatest athletic accomplishment of my life:

    Representing Team USA at the FILA World Grappling Championships in Krakow, Poland and taking home the bronze medal.

    Afterwards, Pavel asked me to write an article on my approach to strength and conditioning for the sport of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.  “Simple enough,” I thought to myself initially.

     

    After some more thinking, I realized the scale of the task at hand and the complexity behind dissecting and analyzing the years of cross training schemes.  I started to wonder if there really was a way to sum up my approach.  It also brought up a critical question: “Should I attribute my success to the combination of the interdisciplinary skills I learned by spending time wrestling and studying judo, sombo, jiu jitsu and other related grappling arts over the course of 20 something years or was it my lifelong dedication to physical conditioning; specifically strength training?

    Of course, both played a huge role in the accomplishment.  But, personally, what really distinguished my abilities as an athlete has been my willingness to develop my physical abilities, namely my strength, hand in hand with my technical abilities.  This combination has proven to be quite difficult or my adversaries to deal with even at the highest levels of competition.

     

    As I began to analyze my tactics over the years for developing strength, I realized that the majority of my progress resulted from plenty of time mastering a few basic movements and principals.  Every time I found a weakness over the years, either in terms of strength or range of motion, I worked on using intelligent and purposeful protocols to balance that weak link into proportion with the rest of my body.  Likewise, every time I got an injury, I used the proper (simple) protocols and sufficient recovery time to allow myself to fully heal.  Using these protocols increased my sustainable athletic ability, which then prolonged my career enough to make some significant achievements.

    I think many athletes, and sometimes even coaches, wrongly believe there is a trade-off between strength and technical ability.  I believe this fallacy stems from the “bodybuilders” who enter a random grappling or wrestling tournament and gas out after 30 seconds (it’s more common that you think).  Or maybe it’s the grapplers who only show up to practice once or twice a week but spend 5 days a week in the weight room either pumping up their pecs and biceps or “building core strength.”

    Another obstacle that keeps many athletes away from strength training is the false concept that building strength is too time consuming since 3-5 hours a week is supposedly needed to hit all the major muscle groups (ie chest and tri’s day, back and bi’s day etc).  The reality is that a regularly practicing jiu jitsu fighter only needs 1-2 hours of additional strength work to see big improvements in their game.

    The final common excuse I hear is the infamous fear of “getting too bulky.”  If only people realized how much work (both in terms of very heavy weights and equally heavy food) is required to get “bulky” muscles, I think their anxieties would be put to rest.

    True strength movements hit the entire body as a unit instead of focusing on “muscle groups” and drastically increase the strength of the hips, which power virtually every movement in BJJ.

     

    The program below is a practical approach to strength training for someone who is interested in supplementing their BJJ game based on a formula that I have applied time and time again over the years to prepare myself and others for the toughest of martial arts competitions.

    The program is designed around movements I consider “essential” and are listed below:

    Hinge – Deadlifts, Romanian Deadlifts, Olympic Lifts (advanced only)

    Squat – Barbell/Kettlebell Front Squat, Pistol

    Press –Overhead Press, Handstand Pushup, Bench Press, Pushup

    Pull – (Weighted) Pullup, Barbell/Kettlebell/Dumbell Row

    Others (superset into strength work) – Turkish Get-Up, Grip-Specific Work, Abdominal-Specific Work, External Rotations, Jump Training

    Finishers – KB Swings, KB Snatches, KB Goblet Squats

     

    Improvement Season Program (No tournaments within 8 weeks):

    Strength Work

    Day 1 – Hinge, Pull, Finisher

    Day 2 – Squat, Push, Finisher

    A Great Warm Up:  Joint Mobility, 15 Hip Hinges, 10 Halos per side, 10 Goblet Squats, 10 Pushups, 10 Explosive Sit-ups (mimicking a guard attack sit up), 15 Swings, 1 light TGU per side

    Sets, Reps, Load:  Complete 3-5 sets per movement, depending on time availability.  You will be cycling your reps over the course of 4 weeks and adding progressively heavier loads.  For squats/hinges start with 6 reps per set for week 1 and drop 1 rep each week until you are down to 3-5 sets of 3 on week 4.  At week 5, start over at 6 reps.

    For pushes/pulls, start with 3-5 sets of 10 reps per movement during week 1 and drop 2 reps each week until you are down to 3-5 sets of 4 during week 4.

    Make sure the load is appropriate relative to the number of reps performed and, of course, never compromise technique.  Never “max out” or reach failure.

    Include variety with exercise choices, but stick with the same movement every week for at least 1-2 full cycles if you are a novice lifter or learning a new variation of one of the movements.  Be smart and use proper progressions for the more challenging exercises such as pistols and handstand pushups.

    Avoid overtraining.  Personally, I take a week off every 12 weeks, but there are various other strategies to avoid overtraining and long plateaus.

    Superset in some of my favorite “other” movements, listed below:

    • Turkish Get-Ups – Great for shoulder health and active recovery.
    • Abdominal-Specific Work – Hanging Leg Raises and Bar Rotations.  That’s it.

    Bar Rotations are performed by sticking the end of a barbell (usually wrapped in a cloth) into a corner.  Hold the other end of the bar with a baseball bat grip.  Your top hand should be at the top edge of the end of the barbell and your hips should be as square as possible to the corner.  “Wind up” your hips away from the bar and aggressively bump the bar with your hips to set it in motion.  Ride out the kinetic energy of the bar with almost straight arms until the bar is all the way on the other side of your hips.  Centrifugal force will keep the bar far away from your body.  You will rotate slightly on your feet as you perform this motion.  When executed properly, the bar should move with speed and your mid-section should be exhausted at the end of each set; not your shoulders or arms.  Never do more than 10 reps per side.  Work up to adding a 25 pound plate to the bar.

    • Grip-Specific Work – Bodyweight bar hangs, Front loaded barbell hangs, Farmers Walks, Pipe Rollers, etc.
    • External Rotations – Scarecrows, Resistance band and cable external rotations.  I always include these on push days.
    • Jumps (advanced)– Vertical jump, broad jumps, lateral jumps, never more than 4 reps per set.

     

    Rest:  3-5 minutes of active recovery between sets and supersets

    Finishers: 10 minutes of classic kettlebell workouts with respectable bell sizes (swing/snatch/goblet squat ladders, pyramids, or intervals)

    More Notes:  The time commitment here is minimal while the benefits are tremendous.  Start very light and have knowledgeable coaches provide constructive criticism to refine your technique to ensure you are actually building strength and not just getting better at cheating the movement.  Focus on the bodyweight varieties if you do not have access to a gym.  Re-access your progress every 2-3 months based on your training journal (and make sure you are thinking “wow, xxx lbs. used to feel kinda heavy”).

    Conditioning Work

    BJJ practice and the finishers following each strength workout should be sufficient to maintain baseline conditioning.  Run at a slow pace for at least ½ hour no more than 1 x per week to maintain aerobic conditioning if not getting enough conditioning during your BJJ practice.

    Bonus: Flexibility Work

    BJJ rewards a degree of flexibility beyond the average grappling art.  Take away the guesswork behind adding substantial flexibility and hop into a yoga class at least once a week.  My favorite styles are Ashtanga (a structured series of postures) and Vinyasa (a more varied, free flowing style).  You will be amazed with your progress within a few short weeks given you don’t crank yourself into an injured state by rushing and forcing.  If you don’t have time for a class, pop in a beginner DVD and practice for at least ½ hour at home.  An added bonus of taking yoga is the additional breath control you gain by practicing the “ujjayi” breathing.  I find this method helps me remember to breathe deep enough during competitions.

     

    Competition Season Program (within 8 weeks of a tournament or series of tournaments):

    Strength Work

    Day 1 – Hinge, Pull, Finisher

    Day 2 – Squat, Push, Finisher

    Sets, Reps, Load:  After warming up, I recommend doing 2 sets of 6-8 reps for each squat/hinge movement with a relatively light to moderate load.  For pushes/pulls, I recommend 2 sets of 8-10 with a light/moderate load.  Include ample variety in exercise choices, but do not try anything brand new within 4 weeks of a big competition.

    Rest:  1 minute between sets/supersets

    More Notes:  Yes, the training split is still exactly the same.  There is no need to complicate things.  Since the focus of the last 8 weeks during this phase will be more on conditioning, strength workouts should be much briefer (as indicated by only 2 sets per movement).  I would recommend including plenty of grip oriented varieties of common strength movements such as towel or Gi grip pullups, thick bar deadlifts, and superset in plenty of static holds such as bar hangs and farmers walks.  Additionally, superset in some “squeezing strength” drills during your strength workouts or BJJ practices.

    Squeezing Strength Drills:

    30 seconds squeezing a foam roller as hard as you can:

    1)     Rear Naked Choke Squeeze (left and right side)
    2)     Triangle Squeeze (2 foam rollers, left and right side)
    3)     Guillotine/Ankle Lock Squeeze (left and right side)
    4)     Guard Squeeze (2 foam rollers)

    Finisher:  Same, occasionally including some higher intensity protocols such as tabatas and breathing ladders

    Conditioning Work

    On top of more “live” sparring during BJJ practice and some additional road work, be sure to include at least 2 short sessions per week that are designed to push your mental toughness and anaerobic conditioning.  This can be accomplished in a multitude of settings and designs but make sure someone else is there to push you beyond your “comfort zone.”  Don’t injure yourself by being reckless.

     

    So, there you have it:  A nice formula for approaching strength and conditioning with the purpose of enhancing your BJJ game.  The biggest question is… “Will you let your ego get in the way of your training?”  99% of athletes do.  Be the 1% that is willing to do what’s needed to succeed and continue to push the evolution of the sport.

    Cheers!

    Danny Clark, SFG

     

    Do you still need to learn any of those lifts?
     
    A STRONGFIRST COURSE WILL TEACH YOU.
     
  • Nikki Shlosser 2:26 pm on March 18, 2014 Permalink | Reply  

    The Stress-Free Strength Routine 

    By Geoff Neupert, Master SFG, CSCS

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

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

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

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

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

    It’s very simple, it’s called –

    The Top Set Method

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

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

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

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

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

    Also, turn your warm ups into –

    Group Sets

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

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

    Here’s how I recommend you perform this:

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

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

    Set 5: Top set.

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

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

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

    Set 3: Rest 2-3 minutes

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

    Set 5: Top set.

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

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

     

    Geoff Neupert: StrongFirst Bio

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

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

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

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

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

    How to Conquer the Dreaded Deep 6 

    Class Programming

    By Jon Engum, Master SFG


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

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

    The plan goes like this:

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

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

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

    Weight Selection

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

    Formation

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

    Round One:

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Repeat the above sequence on the left side.

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

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

    Round 2

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

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

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

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

    Repeat the above sequence on your left side.

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

    Round 3

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

    Repeat on the left.

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

    Round 4

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

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

     

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

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

    (218) 828-7063

     
  • Nikki Shlosser 3:43 pm on February 18, 2014 Permalink | Reply  

    Moving Target Kettlebell Complex 

    By Pavel Tsatsouline, Chairman 

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

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

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

    Do:

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

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

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

    And finally with cleans:

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

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

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

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

    Enjoy the pain!

    # # #

    Accept the challenge:

    Sign up for StrongFirst Girya kettlebell instructor certification course

     
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