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  • John Heinz 9:00 am on June 30, 2016 Permalink | Reply

    Easy Strength Is Antifragility Training 

    “Everything in excess is opposed to nature”—Hippocrates

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

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

    First, What Is “Easy Strength”?

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

    Antifragile Kettlebell Swing

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

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

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

    Second, What Is “Antifragile”?

    AntifragileTo quote Nassim Nicholas Taleb:

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

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

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

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

    Easy Strength Is Antifragility Training

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

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

    Easy Strength Is Antifragility Training

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

    Easy Strength Is Antifragility Training

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

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

    ESQ1 and AFQ1

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

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

    ESQ2 and AFQ4

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

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

    Football is not for longevity

    ESQ4 and AFQ2

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

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

    ESQ3 and AFQ3

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

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

    Train Kettlebells for Antifragility

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

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

    The Application of This to Your Training

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

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

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

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

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

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

    The post Easy Strength Is Antifragility Training appeared first on StrongFirst.

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

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

    By Fabio Zonin, Master SFG, SFB, and SFL

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

    Considerations Before You Begin The 1TRM EV PS Program

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

    StrongFirst Back Squat

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

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

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

    The 1TRM EV PS Program: Overview and Analysis

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

    1TRM EV PS Program

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

    Weekly Volume Trend

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

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

    Monthly Volume Trend

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

    The Relationship Between Weekly and Monthly Volumes

    Month 1:

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

    Month 2:

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

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

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

    The 4 “Magic Numbers” and the Volume Variants

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

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

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

    Waving Volume: A Cornerstone of Soviet Strength Programs

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

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

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

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

    StrongFirst Bench Press

    Change in Volume Within a Week

    The weekly volume is divided among three training sessions:

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

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

    Breakdown of Session Volume Into Sets and Reps

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

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

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

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

    What to Do on Week 9

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

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

    The Results from Athletes Who Have Completed This Program

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

    I look forward to reading about your results!

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

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

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

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

  • John Spezzano 10:00 am on May 12, 2016 Permalink | Reply  

    Use “Time Under Load” to Solve the Group Class Time Crunch 

    By John Spezzano, SFG Team Leader

    Group classes require an instructor be a combination of entertainer, drill sergeant, and life guard. You have to keep people engaged, doing the work, and doing it safely—all at the same time. And if that wasn’t enough, people have schedules. If your class is supposed to go from 8:00pm to 9:00pm, your students rightly expect the class to be done on time so they can get to their family or night shift or whatever.

    A challenge for me and my strength coaches at 5 Star Martial Arts has been time management. Specifically, how to consistently run a class comprised of students with various skill levels smoothly and seamlessly and not encounter the all-too-common issue of running out of time. With the number of back-to-back classes we teach, this became a regular nuisance and has likely been an issue for all of you as coaches and instructors at some point, too.

    Luckily, problems have solutions. It’s just a matter of finding the solution. With a bit of research, I found a great one that has worked perfectly for us and I’m sure will do the same for you.

    Using Time Under Load for Time Management

    Beyond Technique Comes the Study of Programming

    After spending a number of years working on technique with the kettlebell and barbell, my more recent studies have focused on programming. There is a correct way to move the bell and the bar, and every good instructor needs to know how to impart this essential information. But once the technical execution of a movement is understood, the art of programming comes to the fore. This is also where an instructor’s creativity comes into play.

    I have attended the SFG Level I, SFG Level II (twice), SFL, SFB, and Plan Strong. In addition, I have read books on programming in my efforts to improve my knowledge. After deciding to study programming in a one-on-one format, I contacted Geoff Neupert. Geoff is an experienced coach and programmer and after assisting him in Denmark a number of years ago I was confident he could help me tap into new ideas.

    Our conversations started off pretty straight forward with focus on work-to-rest ratios, percentage of 1RM, etc. Early on, Geoff mentioned “time under load” as a template for group classes and I knew immediately we’d hit on something my staff and I really needed. All of my previous programming study was invaluable, but none of it addressed the logistical problem we were running into.

    Standard vs. Time Under Load Programming

    For the purposes of this piece, let’s grossly oversimplify programming into two groups:

    1. Standard
    2. Time Under Load

    Standard programming would consist of X number of reps done at X percentage of 1RM with appropriate rest between sets. This is an undeniably powerful way to program. I have used this method with the kettlebell and the barbell, producing impressive results for myself and my students. It’s likely you have, too.

    But standard programming has a flaw, and that flaw is time. How long it takes person A to do 5 reps at 80% is often different enough from how long it takes person B that the flow of a group class gets thrown off. It could be due to them taking their time to get the bar off the rack or because their breathing slows them down or speeds them up. Either way, when you’re dealing with a strict sixty-minute class, this approach to programming can easily lead to time issues.

    The time under load approach, on the other hand, is still built around the idea of X number of reps at various percentages coupled with appropriate rest between sets, but the time is the guiding principle, not the rep count.

    Let’s take the press, for example. If I have my students press a “medium” weight bell (a bell they can press seven or eight times without reaching failure) for ten seconds, the specific number of reps they complete will vary from student to student, but when the work interval is done, it’s done. This approach allows me to know exactly how much time to allot for the training, which makes keeping the initial warm-up, corrective exercise, and technical instruction portions of class to the proper length. Everyone works together, everyone rests together, and class stays on track.

    Using Time Under Load for Time Management

    How We Use Time Under Load to Program Our Classes

    We follow a pull/push/squat format pretty much year round in all our programs (with some variation in application). This is how it looks in the kettlebell program:

    • Pulls are swings, cleans, or snatches with one or two bells, but lately we have also included pull-ups and renegade rows.
    • Pushes are presses (single or double bells), push-ups (on the floor or the rings), and a variety of handstand push-up progressions.
    • Squats are single bell goblet squats, double bell front squats, and sometimes bottoms up front squats for specialized variety.

    I generally allow ten minutes per section, or thirty minutes total for the training, so I know when I need to start the session in order to leave enough time for people to work on their mobility.

    So the schedule for the class looks like this:

    1. Warm Up: ~5:00
    2. Corrective: ~5:00
    3. Technical instruction: ~20:00
    4. Training: ~30:00

    Waving the load is essential in any approach. The percentages we work off are in the neighborhood of 50%, 70%, and 90% for light, medium, and heavy respectively. Some months we do heavy, medium, or light on a specific day of the week. Some months we wave the load throughout the training. So the swings might be heavy, but the presses will be medium and the squats will be light.

    To illustrate, I’ll use an example from our Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday kettlebell classes. In the program outlined below, Tuesday was the light day (@50%), Thursday was heavy (@90%) and Saturday was medium (@70%). We used the swing (one- or two-handed) for the “pull,” the press for the “push,” and the goblet squat or double bell front squat for the “squat.”

    My shorthand below should be read as follows:

    • “3x” is the number of rounds
    • (:30/2:30) is work/rest interval for each round
    • (1:5) is the work:rest ratio

    I don’t write that last one up on the board, but I like to have a snapshot in my head of the rest ratios for the day. Unless we’re in a dedicated Simple & Sinister or Program Minimum month, the light ratios will typically be 1:3 or 1:4, the medium will be 1:5, 6, or 7 and heavy will be 1:8, 9, or 10. I tend to favor longer rest to ensure better quality movement during the work interval, but will sometimes switch it up as you will see below.

    Using Time Under Load for Time Management

    In the end, the weight of the bell dictates the quality and amount of work. As with any lift, poor execution is not allowed. If a student is getting too tired to do the movement properly, they rest longer or go down in weight. It’s always better to have a student leave a session knowing they could have lifted more than having hurt themselves doing too much.

    Tuesday (Light):

    • Swing: 3x (:30/2:30) (1:5)
    • Press: 3x (:20 press Right + :20 press Left / 2:00) (1:3)
    • Goblet Squat: 4x (:30/2:00) (1:4)

    Thursday (Heavy):

    • Swing: (one-handed swing) 4x (:15/1:00 Right + :15/1:00 Left) (1:4)
    • Press: (double bell press) 10x (:05/:50) (1:10)
    • Squat: (double bell front squat) 4x (:15/2:30) (1:10)

    Saturday (Medium):

    • Swing: 5x (:30/1:30) (1:3)
    • Press: 4x (:10 press Right + :10 press Left / 2:00 rest) (1:6)
    • Squat: 10x (:15/:45) (1:3)

    Time Under Load Has Solved Our Time Crunch

    Following this time under load programming method has been incredibly easy to implement. It has solved our time management issues and continued to deliver incredible results. Plus, our students love the consistency of the training and the schedule. I’m certain if you give it a shot you will be blown away as well. Try it out!

    John Spezzano StrongFirst Team LeaderLocated in Los Angeles, CA, John Spezzano has over thirty-five years of martial arts training and has been an instructor in six different systems since 1995: Filipino Martial Arts, Jun Fan Gung Fu / JKD Concepts, and Maphilindo Silat all under Guro Dan Inosanto, Muay Thai under Ajarn Chai Sirisute, Wing Chun under Sifu Francis Fong, and Savate under Nicolas Saignac. John is also a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu under Prof. Shawn Williams. John earned his SFG Level II in 2012 and the SFB in 2013 and is also a Level 2 CrossFit coach. John’s thirst for knowledge is unquenchable and he is constantly searching for more ways to improve his training and that of his clients. Please visit 5 Star Martial Arts for more information.

    The post Use “Time Under Load” to Solve the Group Class Time Crunch appeared first on StrongFirst.

  • Fabio Zonin 10:00 am on April 14, 2016 Permalink | Reply  

    How to Intelligently Define, Determine, and Test Your 1RM 

    By Fabio Zonin, Master SFG, SFB, and SFL

    After the publication of my article The 5TRM Back Squat Program, I received many comments and emails with questions about the real necessity for an athlete to test his 1RM. Many argue there’s no need to attempt a 1RM in order to determine your maximal strength or if it has improved after a program. And you know what? They are right!

    Unless you are a competitive weightlifter or powerlifter, you can assess your maximal strength and/or the effectiveness of a strength program without testing your 1RM. That said, even professional weightlifters and powerlifters are very cautious when it comes to testing their 1RM. In fact, most of them test their 1RM and try for a new PR (personal record) only in competition. And not even at any competition, but only at the most important one(s) of the year. That’s right: a professional lifter usually tests his 1RM and/or attempts a PR only once or twice a year.

    1RM Strength Training

    There are also some cases in which it is impossible to determine a real 1RM due to the large jumps between the sizes of a training tool—the kettlebell, for example. A girevik may be able to press a kettlebell for multiple reps, but not be able to complete even one rep with the closest heavier bell. In this case, the athlete must presume how far he is from being able to press the heavier bell according to the number of reps performed with the lighter one.

    So let’s take a moment to examine two facets of this discussion:

    1. How you can determine your 1RM based on your training with a lighter weight.
    2. What a “1RM” really is, as well as when and how is best to test it.

    Determining Your 1RM Based on Your 2RM, 3RM, or 5RM

    If your goal is to improve your maximal strength but you are not a competitive lifter, why should you test your 1RM? Once you know your 2RM, 3RM, or 5RM, you can predict your 1RM with decent accuracy:

    • Your 5RM is roughly equivalent to 85-87.5% of your 1RM
    • Your 3RM to 87.5-90%
    • Your 2RM to 90-92.5%

    Easy! There are plenty of other formulas out there that predict your 1RM according to a certain RM, though I have to say I’m not too fond of most of them. And the higher the RM that you are using, the less accurate your predictions will be. For instance, if you base your calculations on your 10RM, which should roughly correspond to 70-75% of 1RM, you can’t be sure that your 1RM prediction will turn out to be real. The margin of error increases as the reps increase.

    There are some constraints to this method, though. As soon as you have assessed that your 2RM, 3RM, or 5RM has improved, you can comfortably say your hypothetical 1RM has also improved. Again, this reasoning works pretty well as long as the RM you have tested isn’t too high. Let’s say you were able to perform 3RM with a certain weight on a certain lift, and after an eight-week program you are now able to perform 5RM with the same weight. Your 1RM has, of course, improved. But, let’s say your RM with a certain weight on a certain lift has improved from 15 to 20 reps. Are you sure your 1RM has also improved? No. You are sure you have improved your strength-endurance, but your 1RM could have stayed the same.

    The fact is you don’t know. The relationship between 1RM and a high RM is not reciprocal. If you improve your 1RM, then you can be confident your 15RM has also improved, but you cannot be confident in the opposite relationship. This is another good reason to be Strong…First! I personally wouldn’t rely too much on an RM higher than 5-6 to predict my 1RM, or to assess if my 1RM has improved.

    1RM Kettlebell Training

    What If You Still Want to Test Your 1RM?

    Per all of the above, unless you are a competitive lifter, you don’t really need to test your 1RM. But here’s the fact: most likely, sooner or later, you will want to test it. If you are a strength athlete, one day you will feel the strong desire to test your real maximal strength, as much as a person passionate for conditioning will feel the desire to perform an all-out snatch test and an endurance athlete will want to run a 10K in the shortest time possible. In addition, many of the most effective strength programs are based on the 1RM, so if you want to begin one of them, you will need to test yourself.

    But as much as going all-out all the time is counterproductive for strength-endurance and endurance athletes, testing your 1RM too often is counterproductive for you, as well. In the best of cases, your strength will decrease. In the worst, you will get injured.

    Do not allow your ego to drive your actions. A 1RM test must be planned in advance and you need a well-designed program that leads you gradually to the test. There are many safe and effective programs that can lead you there. Some of them are based on the Western methodology, others on the former Soviet Union’s methodology. Needless to say, I am fond of these latter, about which you can learn so much by attending one of Pavel’s Plan Strong seminars.

    One thing these methodologies have in common is that they both lead you to your test day through a more-or-less gradual reduction of the training volume (NL or “number of lifts”) in the weeks prior to the test. This allows you to face the test in the best possible physical and psychological conditions.

    Pavel Tsatsouline and Fabio Zonin at Plan Strong

    Learning from Pavel at the Plan Strong seminar.

    My Classifications: PR, 1RM, 1TRM

    Let’s now go a little deeper into the concept of the 1RM. There is actually more than one way to look at a “1RM” and I’m going to share my definitions with you. My personal classifications include the PR, the 1RM, and the 1TRM. They all refer to the weight that you can lift for one rep with maximal effort—but in different conditions. These classifications also provide some clues as to how often they should be tested:

    • PR refers to the weight you lifted once in your life, and you don’t know when or if you’ll be able to lift it again. Probably your form wasn’t perfect, but the lift was legal (meaning, in a powerlifting meet you would have received at least two white lights out of three). It was a very special day, you felt incredibly strong physically, and you were psychologically ready to conquer the world. You did the lift once, but you don’t own it.
    • 1RM refers to the weight you lifted after following to the letter a strength cycle in all of its phases. You planned ahead and it took several weeks of consistent training to prepare you for that lift. On the day you attempted this lift, you were in perfect physical and psychological condition, and you were psyched up before attempting it. The lift was legal and the form was good. Again, you did it, but still you can’t say you own it.
    • 1TRM refers to the “technical” one-rep max, which is the heaviest weight you can lift for a single rep with perfect form, without having followed a strength cycle for several weeks, and without the need to psych up for it. Basically, it’s the weight you can lift on any good day at the gym after a few “preparation” lifts with lighter weights. You own it. It usually settles around 95-97.5% of your 1RM.

    It goes without saying that attempting your PR is something you shouldn’t do more than once or twice a year or, if you are a competitive lifter, only during a main competition. And when you do attempt your PR, you must be in extremely favorable physical and psychological condition.

    You should only test your 1RM after having followed a specifically designed strength program, and these programs usually last eight to twelve weeks. And since not all strength cycles include a final 1RM test, my personal suggestion it that you test your 1RM no more than two or three times a year. And again, on the testing day you must be in optimal physical and psychological condition.

    Laura Chamorro pulling 310 at The Phoenix Gym in Salt Lake City

    A program might lead you up to testing your 1RM at the TSC.

    What you can test more often is your 1TRM. On a training day in which you feel particularly strong, you can challenge yourself with a couple of heavy singles, and sometimes try to go even heavier, up to a 1TRM. When you do, never overestimate your strength, always use good judgment, and always be very cautious—injuries are always around the corner.

    I personally wouldn’t push myself to a 1TRM more than once every month or two. Keep in mind that you want to avoid failing at a lift. Every time you fail, you take several steps back in your journey toward strength. We improve in what we practice, so if you practice success, you improve your capability at succeeding. If you practice failure, you improve your capability at failing. It’s as simple as that.

    For the Best Results: Work Off Your 1TRM, Not Your 1RM

    Finally, when you undertake a strength program based on percentages of your 1RM, never calculate your training weights according to your PR. Since you don’t own your PR, you could end up overestimating your training weights. You can, of course, base your calculations on your 1RM, but I personally believe it is often much wiser to base them on your 1TRM—and I have experimented with this on myself.

    Trust me, the difference in terms of the weight that you will load on the bar in a regular training day is minimal, but it can make a huge difference in terms of safety and results. Let’s say your 1RM in the back squat is 200kg and your 1TRM is 195kg (95%1RM). This means that 75%1RM is 150kg and 75%1TRM is 142.5kg. 7.5kg may seem like such a small difference between the two training weights, but the difference is enough to ensure that you will always perform all of your reps with perfect form and that you will avoid failure. Maybe your ego won’t be as happy at the beginning of the program, but it will be at the end of it when the time will come to test your new 1RM.

    In the next article of this series, I will offer a more advanced variation of the The 5TRM Back Squat Program, this time based on your 1TRM and with a volume progression that recalls that of the Plan Strong methodology.

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

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

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

    The post How to Intelligently Define, Determine, and Test Your 1RM appeared first on StrongFirst.

  • Pavel Macek 10:00 am on April 5, 2016 Permalink | Reply  

    A Comprehensive 3-Month Plan for Beginner Group Lessons 

    By Pavel Macek, Senior SFG

    “Begin at the beginning,” the King said. I would like to add, “And then don’t stop.” The following article gives a blueprint of how we do exactly that for our beginners’ group lessons in our StrongFirst-powered chain of seven gyms in Czechia, Europe.

    Mission Objectives

    • Move well, move often, move strong—build the foundation for subsequent successful strength training
    • Untie the chair—restore necessary mobility, deal with asymmetries/imbalances, and restore movement
    • Restore diaphragmatic breathing and learn power breathing
    • Strengthen the grip
    • Strengthen the midsection

    Lesson Flow

    In exactly the same way the program at large requires progression from one element/exercise/weight to another in a logical order, so does each individual lesson. Each sixty-minute lesson is a reflection of the structure of the program as a whole, only in miniature.

    A session consists of:

    1. Group greeting
    2. Warm-up, correctives, and movement prep
    3. Strength program
    4. Conditioning program
    5. End of the lessons, evaluation, homework assignment

    StrongFirst Beginner Group Lessons1. Group Greeting

    The instructor begins by shouting, “zdar a sílu!” This is an old Czech sport greeting, meaning something like “success and strength” or “health and strength.” The group replies “KB5!” This is the name of our gym. The instructor then says, “Powered by…” and the group answers “StrongFirst!”

    Through this greeting, everybody is awakened and energized for the practice to come. The students love it, and it helps build a sense of purpose and community while setting the tone. Last but not least, it pays respect to our Alma Mater, StrongFirst.

    If a student comes late, he or she will get a special motivational work-in—if the student doesn‘t swing yet, they are assigned ten minutes of crawling. If he or she can swing, then the work-in is 10×10 two-handed swings with 16+kg (or 12+kg for women). If the student can swing and do the goblet squat then the assignment is: 10 swings and 10 goblet squats, 10 swings and 9 goblet squats, 10 swings and 8 goblet squats…up to 10 swings, 1 goblet squat.

    If students don‘t like this, then we gently suggest they join a mirror-and-fern-laden health spa where the instructor apologizes to them if they come late.

    And what if the instructor comes late? Same thing—swings, only with a heavier bell. We are egalitarian that way.

    StrongFirst Beginner Group Lessons2. Warm-up, Correctives, and Movement Prep

    The warm-up serves not really as a “warm-up” per se, but rather as an undoing of the chair-like posture so many of us are heir to from sitting at our computers all day. This is done through some intelligent and focused movement-prep consisting of foam rolling, corrective stretching, Original Strength resets, and kettlebell movement prep.

    After around one month of training with us, once the students have learned all the drills above correctly and remember them, their warm-up consists only of Original Strength resets and/or kettlebell movement prep. Foam rolling, stretching, and mobility work becomes their homework.

    If needed, students can foam roll a problematic part or do corrective stretches during the rest time on the training lesson. As the old saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Most students just do Original Strength resets or Fast & Loose drills during the rest periods to keep fresh, moving well, and ready to attack the next set.

    Here is our exact sequence and the respective drills:

    a) Foam Rolling: 5 minutes at the lesson, or done as homework

    • Posterior sequence: calves, hamstrings, glutes, T-spine, lats
    • Anterior sequence: thighs, hip flexors, inner thighs, pecs

    b) Corrective Stretching: Taught, then practiced as homework

    • Towel hamstring stretch—for better hinge
    • Kneeling hip flexor stretch—for better lockout
    • Rib pull or Brettzel 1.0—for better T-spine mobility and overhead lockout
    • Brettzel 2.0 and 90:90 stretch—compensation of heavy unilateral work
    • Gymnastic bridge and progressions leading to it—all-in-one drill, strengthening the posterior chain, stretching the anterior chain

    Note: After the students learn this sequence, this too becomes their homework. They don’t stretch at the beginning of a class—they stretch after the lesson or at home.

    c) Original Strength Resets: 5-10 minutes

    • Breathing, head nods, rolling, rocking, crawling, marching. Move!

    d) Kettlebell Movement-Prep: 5 minutes

    • Halo
    • Prying goblet squat and later kettlebell Cossack
    • SFG armbar, bent armbar

    StrongFirst Beginner Group Lessons3. Strength Training

    Finally we reach the core of the rendezvous with the iron. After all, this is why the students attend. Chosen drills for the students include:

    • Deadlift, suitcase deadlift, single-leg deadlift: Mainly as progressions leading to swing, two-hand swing, and one-hand swing, which are the main hinge/lower pull goal. Foundation for cleans, snatches, barbell deadlifts, etc. Sets of 5-10.
    • Naked get-up, half get-up and finally the full get-up and its variations: A loaded reset that deals with asymmetries and serves as the foundation for all overhead lifts. 5 singles each side.
    • Hollow position progressions to hollow hang: As taught at the SFB Course and Cert.
    • Goblet squat: We teach prying goblet squat right in the beginning, but save the actual squatting for later weeks so the students don’t confuse hinge and squat. We are not concerned that much with the weight in the early stages, but on emphasizing the correct movement pattern. As Pavel said at our SFB Cert, “Not everybody needs to squat heavy, but everybody needs to squat. Goblet squat is the squat for everybody.” After demonstrating competence in the two-hand swing, the students start to squat as well, ordinarily for sets of 5.
    • Push-ups: SFB plank to push-up progressions. We don’t go over 15 push-ups. When the student can perform 15 push-ups, we put him on heavy floor presses instead. In floor presses, students work on 3-5 sets of 3-5 reps short of their max.

    An Eagle’s Eye View of the Strength Lesson

    Now that we’ve detailed each individual part of the lesson, it’s time to take an eagle’s eye view of the layout of the skills and how they are paired together.

    1. 5th Element: Get-up, 5 each side. The students add the weight following the Simple & Sinister sandwich method.
    2. Squat + upper body pull: Alternate goblet squat (5 reps) and hollow position drills/hang (max rep minus 2-3, but not more than 15 reps), plus some hip flexor or cobra stretches
    3. Hinge + upper body push: Alternate deadlift and its variations (5-10 reps) and push-ups (max rep minus 2-3, i.e. not to failure, but not more than 15 reps) or floor presses (sets of 3-5).

    Note: Don’t be obsessed with doing everything. The most important part are the get-ups. If the student doesn’t know some of the drills, it‘s not a problem. Have them do what they know. If you don’t go through all the movement patterns, this is similarly no problem at all. Like a Chinese herbal recipe—you need just the main ingredients—if a few of the minor ones are missing, it still works.

    Beginning students don‘t need to go heavy early on. Let them concentrate on proper movement, good technique, and active rest (Fast & Loose, Original Strength resets). Heavy will come with time. Whatever you do, don’t allow the class to degenerate into circuit training.

    StrongFirst Beginner Group Lessons4. Conditioning

    We have finally arrived at the last ten minutes of class. As you can imagine, this is where the students “go ballistic,” particularly with the help of the swing.

    What do we do if the student can’t yet swing? We used to do burpees and similar things, but not anymore (at the early stages the student probably can’t squat and do a push-up well anyway). Instead, we employ:

    • Crawling regressions and progressions, like baby crawl and leopard crawl.
    • When the students already know suitcase deadlift, they practice suitcase carry or farmer’s carry, or alternate crawling and carries.
    • When they can finally swing—they swing! First they focus on two-hand swings, and later, when their two-hand swings are perfect, they do the one-hand swing and occasionally other variations (power swing, hand-to-hand swing). Do 10 swings every minute for 10 minutes. The aim of the beginner’s swing protocol is excellent technical precision and maximum explosiveness, not blood-and-guts high-rep sets.

    Standards for Beginner Group Lessons

    Everyone needs a goal to shoot for. While individual strength and athletic goals may vary, these are the benchmarks we set for our students to help support any other long-term goals they may have. All are achievable with time, patience, and perseverance.

    • 5 get-ups each side—ladies with 16 kg, gentlemen with 32 kg – in 10 minutes.
    • One-hand swings 10×10, in 10 minutes—ladies with 16 kg, gentlemen with 24.
    • Push-ups—ladies 10+, gentlemen 15+.
    • Hollow chin-up/pull-up hang—ladies 30 seconds, gentlemen 45 seconds.
    • Perfect goblet and bodyweight squats—we don‘t care about the reps or weight, just the movement. As Gray Cook says, “Maintain the squat, train the deadlift.”

    We are a school of strength and conditioning, not an amusement park. If the students are strong and in shape, we all do our job well—hence the standards.

    Note: There is no need to wait until the student fulfills all the requirements before teaching new drills, e.g. when they can do a good hollow hang, they start to work on their chin-ups/pull-ups. If the student can perform one-hand swings well, he or she can start to learn the clean and different swing protocols (first building up the reps, and later restarting with lower reps again but heavier weight). If the student‘s goblet squat is good, he or she can start to work on the front squats together with clean practice. If the students can perform 5 get-ups per side with 32kg (or 16kg for ladies) and 15 push-ups (10 for ladies), they can start to work on the military press.

    StrongFirst Beginner Group Lessons

    The Beginner Group Program for the First Few Months

    First Lesson

    Encourage the newbie to join in the group, and try to follow what they see during the warm-up. Let them know not to worry, that later you will work with them individually.

    After the warm-up, give orders to the group, and take the newbie to the side. Explain what the aims and benefits are in the lesson. Show them the first stretch and let them practice it. Later, show them the second stretch and have them practice both stretches one and two. Later, show them the third stretch and let them practice all three together. You can leave stretches four and five for the next lesson. There’s little chance they will remember all five stretches. Moreover, no one is going to get excited about stretching for a whole hour.

    Explain the basic resets—especially the diaphragmatic breathing, head nods, and rolling, as well as their importance in building a base for their future success. Teach them Fast & Loose drills. During the last ten minutes of class, have them do the baby crawl and/or leopard crawl.

    This is a win-win approach because the students get what they need (correctives and restorative exercises) and what they want (“exercise“ in the form of 10 minutes of crawling, which is humbling for everybody). Most important of all—no harm was done!

    There are a few important things to remember when dealing with any newbie:

    • They need to have a clear overview of the game plan for next few lessons, weeks, or months.
    • They need an overview of the game plan for the first lesson. “We will do few correctives because of X, Y, and Z reasons, movement prep, and some crawling in the end.”
    • They need to feel they got in a workout, i.e. the student didn’t just do boring correctives – hence the crawling.
    • They need close attention, but not babysitting.
    • They require clear commands of what to do in an exercise—”Alternate left and right leg until I come back to you in few minutes”—and what to do in the rest periods—Fast & Loose drills.

    First Month

    • Foam rolling, corrective stretching, Original Strength resets
    • Halo, prying goblet squat, SFG armbar, bent armbar; deadlift prep (hinge, SFG hip bridge, hard style plank)
    • Deadlift, suitcase deadlift, single-leg deadlift, suitcase and farmer carries, hollow position floor intro progressions, naked half get-up
    • Half get-up with the weight

    Second Month

    • Full get-up—with the shoe first, then with weight
    • Hollow hang
    • Two-hand swing
    • Goblet squat, push-ups

    Third Month

    • One hand swing, floor press.
    • Progress them forward according to their progress shown in the previous two months

    After they fulfill all the requirements listed above, most of our students move on to our SFG Course program (press 1–swing+goblet squat–press 2), Rite of Passage program, or basic kettlebell plus barbell program (Kettlebell + Deadlifts Part I).

    Parting Notes

    • Safety first. Have standard operating procedures, i.e. enough space around when doing get-ups, nobody in front when swinging, one man-one bell only (unless the student is doing a double bell program), etc. Ensure each student knows and understands.
    • Do no harm, don’t hurry, and have a progression/regression for everything.
    • Students must have a training log and carry it with them to class—this is non-negotiable.
    • Train to success, not failure.
    • Technique, technique, technique.
    • Change the mindset. You are not a personal trainer with clients—you are StrongFirst instructor with students.
    • Make sure they do their homework! “What if I don’t have any kettlebell or pull-up bar?” they will ask. The answer? “Get them.” Meanwhile, they can still do get-ups with a shoe, mobility squats, hollow position floor progressions, crawling, and stretches.
    • Assign the following homework for overweight student: 3-5 sets of steak and vegetables, daily. Cut wheat products, soft drinks, sweets, and alcohol (for the time being, anyway)
    • Something both you and the students should practice.

    Don’t be afraid to be StrongFirst. All the equipment we have is kettlebells, pull-up bars, power racks, and barbells. We completely ignore all fitness trends, and do what we have learned from our StrongFirst teachers—and we are very successful. No trial, no error—just a system, a plan, and results.

    Pavel Macek StrongFirstPavel Macek, Senior SFG, SFB, SFL, teaches strength and conditioning at KB5 Gym, Chinese combatives (Practical Hung Kyun) and MMA. Please visit his blog Simplex Strength.

    Special thanks to Aleks Salkin, SFG II, SFB for help and proofreading the article.

    The post A Comprehensive 3-Month Plan for Beginner Group Lessons appeared first on StrongFirst.

  • Brett Jones 10:00 am on March 29, 2016 Permalink | Reply  

    The 3 Pillars: How to Build Skill While Being Real 

    By Brett Jones, Chief SFG

    “I never went to the gym to workout. I went to the gym to learn and the workout was a byproduct.”—Dr. Ed Thomas

    In my work with Dr. Thomas, Doctor of Physical Education and Physical Culture historian and expert, I have gained an appreciation for many “old school” principles and techniques. Perhaps the most powerful of these is his mindset on skill development. Approaching training as a learning opportunity is a massive shift from the idea of working out. And it is in line with what Pavel has been advocating for years—“Treat your training as a practice not a workout.”

    However, there can be issues with the “learning not working out” approach. Specifically, the two classic mental traps of “paralysis by analysis” and “It’s not good enough.” So let’s dive into an old school approach to building skill while being real.

    Understanding the 3 Pillars

    Dr. Thomas refers to the Three Pillars of Progression, Variety, and Precision. You can filter learning almost any skill through the Three Pillars:

    1. Progression

    Progression is the journey and steps toward mastering a skill. It can be thought of as a “learning ramp.” This ramp can be gradual and long or steep and short. It can have plateaus and even dips or regressions, but as long as we have a goal targeted, we should be able to plot where a student is on their own individual ramp.

    Be mindful not to shove a student up the ramp before they are ready and, conversely, do not hold a student back. As long as a student has the prerequisite movement capabilities to perform the skill and is safe in performing the movement, then let them safely perform the skill.

    3 Pillars of Learning

    2. Variety

    Variety includes the tools used along the progression ramp to assist a student in overcoming a learning hurdle or refining an aspect of the skill to assist them in reaching the next step in the progression journey. In StrongFirst, we call this “specialized variety”—drills used to enhance the goal skill. For example, we may have a student struggling with the one-arm swing perform the hand-to-hand swing to enhance shoulder packing and positioning. Or we may return to the deadlift to allow a student to transfer the hip hinge of the deadlift to the swing. Or we could use the shoulder positioning of the get-up to allow a student to overcome the learning hurdle of packing the shoulder in the one-arm swing.

    Variety is not a random collection of things meant to entertain and it is not the periodization of skills to keep physical progress moving forward. Variety can include cues and drills used to assist in the progression of learning a skill.

    3. Precision

    Precision is perhaps the most lost and most misunderstood of the Three Pillars. Precision means asking for specific details and aspects of the skill to be met. It is a dancer being asked to point her toes more. It is a martial artist being asked to sink one inch deeper into a stance. It is an athlete being asked to turn his shoulder just one degree further toward the target.

    Precision is a blessing and a curse, and it is where the other issue of learning a skill, “paralysis by analysis,” can kick in. Pavel referred to it as “understanding is a delaying tactic.” Consider that a drowning person does not want to understand hydro-dynamics. He just wants to swim well enough to not drown. Golfers can get lost in trying to “feel” where the club face is during one aspect of the swing or in their breathing during the swing. Great golfers and athletes find the precision over time with a realistic expectation of becoming better with every practice. Accepting where they are now, but knowing where they are going in their skill development.

    We cannot stop at “good enough,” but we cannot become frozen in place because something isn’t precise enough. As a coach and trainer, I will never stop asking for precision, but I accept where the student is on their progression ramp and choose the right variety to assist them in achieving the precision needed to reach the next step in their journey.

    3 Pillars of Learning

    Into Action

    Progression toward a skill using variety to overcome obstacles while holding an expectation of realistic precision. As an instructor, this mindset should allow you to better plot a student’s course of learning. However, it all depends on the individual you are teaching. There will be students that progress from deadlift to swing in the first five to ten minutes of a session, and there will be students that will refine the deadlift for a week before progressing to the swing.

    Why? A great question! It could be a movement-related issue that prevents the student from achieving the correct position (although setting a movement baseline with the FMS would tell you that). It could be a strength issue where the movement is available but controlling that movement is difficult. So how do you know to move on from something like the kettlebell deadlift to the kettlebell swing?

    Well, the kettlebell deadlift is a skill that can be plotted on a progression ramp like this:

    1. Proper position at the bottom before the kettlebell is lifted. A proper hip hinge that includes having the shoulders above hips, and hips above knees with a neutral spine.
    2. Knowing how to brace and power breathe.
    3. Pushing through the ground to a great lockout, which means a straight line from the ear to the ankle with a strong stable body (and no back extension).
    4. Reversing those steps to safely place the kettlebell on the floor again.

    The lockout and the bottom position of the deadlift are static, so they are perfect for isometric drills and positioning work at each end of the movement. If the student cannot reach the bottom position with good form, then a variety drill of performing an isometric at the perfect bottom position for three to five seconds then releasing the kettlebell and returning to the top unloaded might help the student progress to a full deadlift in only a few reps. In doing this, you are asking the student to practice the precision of the bottom of the hip hinge position with a variety drill that progresses them toward refining the skill of the kettlebell deadlift.

    3 Pillars of LearningThe 3 Pillars Are for Practitioners and Teachers Alike

    If you are an individual practitioner and not an SFG, the Three Pillars can still assist you in refining and perfecting your skills while being real. Use video to film yourself and compare it to a body relative example (a person with similar body structure as yourself) of someone with high skill in that area. Plot where you are on a progression ramp and find a variety drill to assist you in one area of the skill you would like to improve. Apply the drill, and then go back to the goal skill to see how it impacts that. If the drill assists you in moving through an obstacle on your progression ramp, then use it until that obstacle is overcome. If it does not improve the goal skill, then move along to another variety drill until you find one that works.

    The reality is we are all learning and improving with every rep (at least, that is my goal), and thus we will perform a lot of “less than perfect” reps in that process. Enjoy the process and use the Three Pillars to assist you in that journey.

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

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

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

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

    The post The 3 Pillars: How to Build Skill While Being Real appeared first on StrongFirst.

  • Tony Gracia 11:00 am on February 23, 2016 Permalink | Reply  

    How Plan Strong Programming Empowers the Weightlifter 

    By Tony Gracia, SFGII, SFL, SFB

    When I saw the announcement of the Plan Strong workshop in 2014, I knew it was something I had to attend. I signed up immediately and was not disappointed. It was a weekend filled with more knowledge bombs than anything I have ever been a part of. Without exception, all of the attendees left the first day with a headache and were wondering if we would end up “getting it” by the end of the weekend. Upon arriving back home in Portland, I went to work practicing writing plans with the new methodology. It took a few tries, but after I got the hang of it, I began enjoying it.

    Soon after the event there were rumblings about the possibility for a second Plan Strong workshop, somewhere on the West Coast. I immediately reached out to HQ and inquired about bringing the event to my gym, Industrial Strength. I figured there was no better way to explain the material to my wife and friends than to have them see it for themselves. So, in March 2015, we hosted the second-ever Plan Strong event and have used its concepts and principles in our planning ever since.

    If you are unfamiliar with Plan Strong’s methodology, I will offer a brief overview, and then discuss how I used the methods to plan training for my wife, Mira, who is a competitive weightlifter.

    Plan Strong Programming for Weightlifters

    Mira Gracia, National-Level Weightlifter

    Plan Strong Programming and the Concept of Variability

    Essentially, Pavel took the principles of the Soviet weightlifting system, broke them down to their essence, and then structured them in a user-friendly way that is applicable not only to weightlifting, but also to the powerlifts, military pressing, weighted pull-ups, and other lifts.

    One of the key components of the Plan Strong method is the concept of variability—keeping your daily, weekly, and monthly reps, sets, total number of lifts, and intensities within a certain range of parameters while also having a certain amount of variance. A simple example would be that if you needed to accomplish 15 reps within a session, you could do 5 + 5 + 5 to make that 15 (no variability), or you could do 4 + 5 + 6 to still hit 15 but now with variability.

    This concept is fractal and is applicable across every parameter of your training. You see similar concepts in some of Pavel’s other programs such as the Right of Passage from Enter the Kettlebell. The ladder system of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 ends up being 15 reps and has more variability than simply doing 3 reps for 5 sets.

    You can use the same variability concept for reps within a week. For example, a popular plan is 5×5 Mon/Wed/Fri. As far as total number of lifts, this is 25 + 25 + 25 = 75 reps for the week with zero variability from session to session. You could add variability and still achieve exactly 75 lifts with 20 + 25 + 30 or 18 + 23 + 34, etc. The key is to use variability but to stay within a certain range of parameters that are clearly outlined in the Plan Strong manual and covered in depth at the course.

    Why Is Variability Important?

    First and foremost, variability helps avoid stagnation—both mental and physical. A training plan that is engaging is more likely to be completed than one that is mundane. Since consistency is undeniably critical to the successful pursuit of any goal, having a plan you will stick to needs to be a top priority. The Plan Strong programming approach offers enough variability to keep things interesting, while also being more foolproof to follow compared to some other variety-based systems like Westside.

    Second, experience has shown us a certain amount of variability is important for long-term training success. Rather than being repeatedly exposed to exactly the same stimulus, it can be beneficial to wave the stimuli in terms of both volume and intensity. Many traditional periodization models take advantage of this. For example, they use heavy, medium, and light days within a week, and also use either a linear ramping cycle or a wave model to organize training in longer increments—often anywhere from two to thirteen weeks.

    Typically, both the linear and wave models use an inverse relationship between volume and intensity. Where Plan Strong is unique is that volume and intensity are completely independent variables. Treating volume and intensity independently allows for more diversity in programming while staying within the confines of the system and working toward the primary goal.

    Case Study: Mira Gracia

    Planning squat cycles (both front and back squat) for a weightlifter is a challenging and important task. Leg strength is one of most critical factors to success in weightlifting, so it needs to be developed as much as possible without fatiguing the lifter to the point of compromising the training of their competition lifts (snatch and clean and jerk).

    Prior to attending Plan Strong, Mira and I had used more traditional approaches like the cycles described above. While she made some progress, we were running into a few problems such as what to do if a session was missed, the best ratio of back squats versus front squats and how hard to push each of them, and general boredom with the same old programs. To be clear, Mira was no slouch of a lifter. She held over a half-dozen state records for her weight and age categories, but we knew she needed something else to take her to the next level.

    Plan Strong Programming for Weightlifting

    Mira in competition

    After getting back from the first Plan Strong, I created her next four-week cycle using this new method. She loved it. It was more fun than the previous programs and she felt stronger by the end of it. We decided to keep going with it, and haven’t looked back since.

    In the span of just six months, Mira broke through a year-long plateau and increased both her front and back squat by over 10%. Keep in mind, this is not a 10% gain on a rookie lifter—she is a veteran and progress is hard to come by. The new strength gave her the edge she needed to win a silver medal at the USAW Masters Nationals Weightlifting Championships—and she was only 1kg away from winning gold!

    Frequency for Increased Mental and Physical Strength

    In Mira’s case, the biggest factor was the increased frequency with which she handled heavy lifts (above 90% 1RM). The more frequent exposure allowed her to develop more comfort with heavy loads, and she started to approach them as “just another weight” or “something she does all the time,” rather than something she needed to psych up for.

    This change was not exclusive to her squats, but carried over into the competition lifts, as well. For example, before the new programming, her front squat and clean weights were fairly close, but just because she racked a weight on a clean did not guarantee she would be able to stand up with it. Once she got stronger on the front squat and more confident at those 90%-and-above loads, her cleans improved in terms of both consistency and results. Additionally, since her cleans were completed more easily, she had more strength remaining for her jerks.

    Busy People Will Benefit From Plan Strong Programming

    In addition to the more frequent exposure to heavy loads, she benefited from other aspects of the programming, as well. One of the big challenges we face as small business owners is blocking off enough uninterrupted time to train. That may sound counter-intuitive, but with unexpected walk-ins, package deliveries, and students coming in early or staying late wanting to chat, it can be hard to block off our own time to train.

    The Plan Strong method offers enough flexibility that if Mira can’t get a full session done on the designated day, she can shuffle things within the week and still get the desired result. This is a major benefit over programs we had done previously that did not offer that flex component. No program will ever be successful if you are not consistent, and this combination of flexibility with consistency has been paramount to Mira’s success.

    Variability Allows for Great Customization

    Lastly, the variability of the number of lifts and the average relative intensity of each week allowed us to schedule harder and lighter weeks to coordinate with other events more successfully than any plan we have used before. For example, if we were hosting an event at our gym on a given weekend, we knew our stress levels would be high that week and we also might not have as much time to train. So, we simply planned her training to make that her lightest week of the month so as not to fry her, and she would pick up with the more challenging weeks before and after that time period.

    The Benefits of Plan Strong Programming

    In summary, Mira would not be where she is with her lifting if not for the Plan Strong methodology. The benefits we found for her as a weightlifter and gym owner are:

    • Increased frequency of heavy attempts, which has developed confidence and consistency.
    • Better flexibility of training sessions within a week, and weeks within a month.
    • More variety of rep ranges at a given load helped remove psychological barriers associated with those weights.
    • Staying farther away from RM at given weights has left her more fresh and focused to practice her competition lifts.
    • By constantly introducing novel stimuli that is congruent with her training goals, Mira has made steady progress for a longer period than ever before.
    • Mira has had fewer overuse and nagging injuries or other setbacks while on this program than previous ones.

    If you are interested in learning how to use this type of programming, I strongly encourage you to attend a Plan Strong workshop as soon as possible. It has made a huge difference in Mira’s training and I am confident you will find success with it, as well.

    Tony Gracia StrongFirstTony Gracia, SFGII, SFL, SFB, along with his wife Mira, founded Industrial Strength in Portland, Oregon in 2013. He is the head coach of both the strength training and martial arts programs, where they offer classes and private lessons for kettlebells, barbell strength and conditioning, Olympic-style weightlifting, Brazilian jiu jitsu, and kickboxing. 

    The post How Plan Strong Programming Empowers the Weightlifter appeared first on StrongFirst.

  • Zsolt Derzsi 11:00 am on February 2, 2016 Permalink | Reply

    The Big Bell Theory: Plans for Pressing Bigger Kettlebells 

    By Zsolt Derzsi, SFG II, SFL

    With each year comes new opportunities and new plans. There is much we can accomplish within the length of one year. One of my students pressed the Beast after training for one year — and he started with 16kg. It’s an outstanding accomplishment, and I hope my article detailing his journey will help you to increase your strength and press the 48kg Beast.

    The Secrets to Pressing Bigger Kettlebells

    The journey from the beginning to a perfect military press with 48kg is a heavy and long one. Even if you are not chasing the Beast, you may still have a half-bodyweight press in your sites as you train to earn your SFG II Certification. I have earned the SFG II myself and have helped many students with their press. There are a few things you need to do before and during you press training:

    1. Get an SFG Trainer to Help You

    If you want to successfully complete a military press plan, the most important thing is to perform all presses with the best possible form. If you have the opportunity, get an SFG instructor to correct your technique. If you are an SFG instructor, then have another SFG instructor assist in your press plan, correct your faults, and give you advice.

    Get a bigger military press

    2. Do Not Hurry

    Although we follow the same program, my students need more time to complete their daily military press training than me. My students take about an hour, while I need only about twenty minutes to complete the same program. Building strength takes time, not just over the course of a year, but also within your sessions. You must feel you are ready to press all the repetitions of your next set. If you need more time, be patient. Don’t clean the bell, yet!

    3. Be Patient

    I will mention a few different press plans below. Don’t try to rush through them all. If you have completed one plan successfully, give yourself time before starting the next one. My experience is if you don’t rest between two press plans for one to two weeks, then you will have serious shoulder pain. During this time, you can do easy presses. Try 5 sets of 5 at 60-67% of your 1RM along with heavy and slow get-ups.

    4. Attain Your Perfect 1RM

    Before you choose your military press plan, you must press a perfect 1RM on both sides. You have to fulfill all SFG military press requirements!

    Technique Tips That Will Change Your Military Press

    As a current instructor, I was invited to assist at the SFG I Certification in Croatia by StrongFirst Team Leader Sasa Rajnovic. Being there as an assistant helped me to improve my press technique, as did the advice of Master SFG Fabio Zonin. My 1RM was 48kg, at that time. But only an hour after taking his advice, my press increased and 48kg became my 4RM. Here are some quick technique reminders for you:

    • Grip: Before you clean the bell, make sure your hand is positioned correctly on the kettlebell handle.
    • Arm Wrestling: If you have a straight wrist, the stronger one will win – either you or the bell. If you arm wrestle with the kettlebell, you will dominate and you will be the winner.
    • Perfect Timing: When you start the press, clench your free palm. This will activate the antagonist muscles in the pressing arm.
    • Precision: During the press, follow the bell with your eyes – but not with your head!

    Military Press Plans

    There are a number of proven StrongFirst military press plans in existence to take you from wherever you are to whatever your goal is. The best way to learn about these plans is through the Plan Strong Course. Below I will mention a few of them and who they are most appropriate for, as well as outline a couple that I have used in more detail.

    Pavel Plan Strong

    Pavel teaching at Plan Strong.

    From 16kg to 28kg: StrongFirst Military Press Plan 410A

    This plan is for you if you have acceptable press technique and a training 1RM of 24kg. A training max is the maximal weight you can lift at any time with perfect technique and no psyching up. You should be able to do a series of singles with this weight.

    From 28kg to 32kg: StrongFirst Military Press Plan 410B

    This plan is at a higher volume and using 80-85% of your 1RM. At this point you should be able to comfortably press your former training max five or six times.

    From 32kg to 40kg: Zsolt Derzsi Plan

    Pressing Bigger Kettlebells for Military PressNote: On days when the volume is 40 reps or higher, divide the work into two series with 15 minutes of non-related and non-conflicting exercises in between.

    For the test:

    1. Warm up in the manner to which you are accustomed
    2. Press 24kg x 3/3
    3. Press 28kg x 2/2
    4. Press 32kg x 1
    5. Press 36kg x 1
    6. Get-up 24kg 2/2
    7. Loaded clean 40kg
    8. Rest of 10 min
    9. Press 40kg with good spotting

    From 40kg to 44kg: StrongFirst Military Press Plan 499

    This is a hypertrophy- and strength-maintenance plan for a girevik with a 40kg military press 1RM. The 501G plan is recommended right after this one.

    From 40kg to 44kg: StrongFirst Military Press Plan 501G

    This plan is for a girevik with a 40kg military press 1RM.

    From 44kg to 48kg: StrongFirst Military Press Plan 611

    For the girevik with a 44kg military press 1RM who has successfully completed the 501G plan – and thrives on very high volume and intensity. There are two versions of this plan, A and B. Below is the version B plan that I myself followed.

    Lifting Bigger Kettlebells for Military PressPressing Bigger Kettlebells for Military PressZsolt Derzsi StrongFirstZsolt Derzsi graduated from Sport Secondary Grammar School (Dunajská Strada, Slovakia) in 2013. That same year he successfully completed the StrongFirst SFG Level I Certification in Hungary, at only the age of nineteen. He earned his SFL the following year, and then became an SFG II in 2015.

    The post The Big Bell Theory: Plans for Pressing Bigger Kettlebells appeared first on StrongFirst.

  • Fabio Zonin 11:00 am on January 26, 2016 Permalink | Reply  

    The 5TRM Back Squat Program 

    A few months ago, one of my students expressed the desire to include the barbell back squat in her strength training protocols. She had been doing double kettlebell front squats for some time and had become pretty strong at them, but had never worked seriously with the back squat.

    She was able to perform the back squat with good form at medium weights, but she never challenged herself with heavy weights. At the time she expressed her desire to do more back squats, she was strong enough and her groove good enough to bypass beginner programs, but her confidence with the lift wasn’t yet to the point that I would dare have her test a 1RM.

    So, I drafted a program based on her 5TRM. T stands for technical, and therefore, 5TRM refers to five reps performed with perfect technique, with the last one looking as good as the first, if not better.

    5TRM Back Squat ProgramWhy It May Be Inappropriate to Test for 1RM

    I am fond of programs based on percentages of 1RM, but I also realize there are cases in which it’s not safe to test for 1RM, even if the athlete is an intermediate or advanced lifter. Those cases include:

    • Athletes who are currently or have recently been recovering from an injury
    • Athletes switching to a different variation of the same lift (e.g. from conventional to sumo deadlift or vice versa)
    • Athletes who decide to vary some aspects of a lift such as the stance or the positioning of the bar (e.g. from high bar to low bar squat or vice versa)

    In all those cases, I wouldn’t dare to test a 1RM at the beginning of a program with a new lift, not at least until the athlete has acquired mastery in that lift.

    Using a 5TRM to Solve the 1RM Dilemma

    One solution to the problem of not being able to measure a 1RM is to build a program around a weight with which the lifter is able to perform a certain number of perfect reps, in this case the 5TRM.

    Since the athlete needs to build strength and at the same time automate a perfect groove, a fairly high volume is required. From now on, I will refer to the parameter volume with the acronym NL, which stands for number of lifts. The NL should be built only of high-quality reps. In order to do so, the lifter should perform a high number of sets, each one composed of a moderate number of reps, always performed far away from failure. This means performing in each set a number of reps that varies from one-third to two-thirds of the total reps that could be completed with a given weight.

    Performing a lot of sets also means repeating the set-up for the lift, which helps to make it perfect. A perfect set-up is the foundation for perfect reps.

    The 5TRM Back Squat Program

    So, for my student in question, I drafted a program inspired by Phase One of the StrongFirst Military Press Plan 410, one of the numerous cycling programs included in the Plan Strong Manual that has proven its effectiveness on countless athletes. If you want to improve your strength programming skills, I strongly suggest you attend a Plan Strong Seminar with Pavel. Not only will you learn the secrets of the most successful Soviet programming methodologies, but you will also receive a detailed manual that includes countless field-tested programs that are incredibly effective.

    The 5TRM Back Squat Program builds up the NL gradually, week by week, while the athlete always lifts the same weight, with the exception of a few heavy singles performed once a week. The program I drafted differs by NL and intensity from Plan 410, but the progression is very similar.

    Here it is, and how it should be followed:

    • Practice your back squat three times a week.
    • Day one is comprised of a medium NL, day two a low NL, and day three a high NL.
    • You will practice mostly with 90% of your 5TRM.
    • On low NL days, you will also perform one or two singles with 105-110% of your 5TRM.

    Every week perform your NL according to the following table:

    5TRM Back Squat ProgramTo begin, you need to test your 5TRM. Again, T stands for technical, so I’m expecting you to test the weight with which you can perform five reps, each one with perfect technique. Please forget the idea of a 5RM performed in an all-out set where the technique falls down more and more at every rep.

    Next, calculate 90%, 105%, and 110% of your 5TRM and round up the results to the closest 2.5kg/5lbs. Now, you have your training weights.

    Break up your daily NL with 90% of your 5TRM in rep ladders of 2,3, and 5 reps. For instance, if your daily NL is 25, you will perform: 2,3,5,2,3,5,2,3. On low volume days, after every set of 5 reps with 90% of your 5TRM, perform a single with 105-110% of your 5TRM.

    5TRM Back Squat Program5TRM Back Squat ProgramNote:

    • Take long rest periods between sets, especially before the sets of 5.
    • The progression is flexible; if you feel you can’t add volume every week, stick to the same volume for two or three weeks before progressing.

    At week nine (or whenever you have reached the end of the progression), do the following:

    • Practice only twice, Tuesday and Friday.
    • On Tuesday, perform 3 sets of 3 reps with 90% of your 5TRM. Then two singles with 105% of your 5TRM.
    • On Friday, perform 3 sets of 3 with 90% of your 5TRM. Then two singles with 105% of your 5TRM and a single with 110% of your 5TRM. Rest for at least five minutes, and then test your 1RM.

    The Final Results and Further Application

    At the beginning of the program, my student weighed 48kg (@106lbs) and her 5TRM in the back squat was 70kg (@155lbs). So, she practiced with 62.5kg (@140lbs), 72.5kg (@160lbs), and 77.5kg (@170lbs). At the end of the program, she weighed 49kg and squatted 95kg (@210lbs) for 1RM. After testing her 1RM, she tested with her previous 5TRM and performed 11 perfect reps.

    Since then, I have tested the protocol on several other athletes, both male and female, and also with other lifts, and I have seen similar results: the 5TRM doubled or almost doubled after the eight-week progression.

    The program should work well for any form of squat or press, and also for pull-ups, provided that 90% of your 5TRM equals at least your bodyweight (unless you are willing to cut off one of your legs in order to follow the program). In order to apply this protocol to deadlifts, most people would need some downward adjustments of the NL.

    So, if you belong to the category of those who wish to become stronger in a lift, but do not feel it’s safe to test your 1RM, I invite you to give this simple program a shot. Please let me know your questions in the comments below, and if you try the program, let me know your results.

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

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

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

    The post The 5TRM Back Squat Program appeared first on StrongFirst.

  • Greg Woods 11:00 am on January 12, 2016 Permalink | Reply  

    Strength Is a Skill — Strength Is Liberating 

    By Greg Woods, SFG I

    When one of the athletes I’m training insists on using poor form to complete a movement, I ask him or her, “What are you practicing?”

    The excuses are plentiful:

    • “I’m not getting a hard enough workout if I practice double unders, so I switched to single unders.”
    • “I’m not good at fully extending my hips in the Olympic lifts, so I don’t.”
    • “But if I round just a little I can deadlift an extra ten pounds!”

    Strength is not a democracy. You don’t get to bargain your way into health. In the pursuit of strength, you only have two options:

    1. Strength as a skill.
    2. Pain as a skill.

    If you practice badly, pain will find you. Not in pain yet? Keep doing what you’re doing badly. It’s not if, but when pain will happen. If you do things right, and patiently, you will get stronger. You will feel better and move well. And you won’t be in pain.

    There are no other options. I did it all wrong for just over three decades. But StrongFirst set me straight with one of their central tenets: strength is a skill.

    My Previous Reality: Training Always Hurts

    In eighth grade, I was nearing six feet tall and 190lbs, on my way to six and a half feet and 260 by the time I topped out in high school. But my mind did not fit my frame. I was quiet and shy, not at all aggressive. I like to read and take things apart. I wrote poetry, rode my bike, and generally kept to myself. But due to my size, I received a lot of pressure to play sports. Football, basketball, and track mainly. I had some fun with the people I met in these activities, but I was never exceptional. I was barely average.

    Greg Woods Strength Is a Skill

    I was told to look tough in my football uniform, but I obviously look terrified.

    It wasn’t that I didn’t want to be strong. I did. Everyone does, in some vague way. We want it, but we don’t plan for it — much less work for it. Despite my size, I did not pursue strength. Because the most enduring thing I got from all that training I’d done was one simple reality: it hurt. All of it.

    For thirty years, I can’t recall enjoying a single rep of resistance training. After high school sports, I tried many things. Nautilus machines in isolation. Every variation of elliptical. Heavy-and-hard free weights. Jogging.

    Everything hurt.

    Painful Training and the Precipice of Burnout

    As a former fat kid, I was never going to stop exercising entirely. But my usual pattern was to fall in love with some form of training that hurt less than usual, then do it until that training started to hurt too much, too. I biked like crazy until my back stayed sore all the time. I ran until my knees, feet, and hips were creaky, inflamed, and giving out on me.

    Then I fell in love with CrossFit, thinking I’d found the magic bullet in such varied training. And yet, despite my focus on doing things well and right, I always had this terrifying feeling I was right on the edge of a precipice.

    “No pain, no gain,” the “inspirational” memes and t-shirts say. And when I told people I hurt, the response was always something akin to, “You think it’s bad now — just wait until you’re forty!”

    I did not want to be the kind of person who gave up and started thinking like that. That determination drove me to leave my former career and become a trainer at age thirty. It was the best career move I’ve ever made. Yet four years in, I was on the verge of burning out. I haven’t told anybody this before, but the StrongFirst Level I was supposed to be my last certification.

    I was filled with self-doubt. Tired. Sick of pain and discomfort and all the little nagging aches that come with training regularly for years. I was debating going back to a day job. But I’d already paid for this StrongFirst thing in Atlanta. Might as well go.

    Strength is a skill

    Second from the right, at the StrongFirst Level I Certification.

    A Life-Changing Eye-Opener from StrongFirst

    I am not exceptional when it comes to CrossFit. But, for a CrossFitter, I like to think I am exceptional when it comes to attention to detail and form. So I may have been over-confident going into the SFG Level I. Get-ups in particular are one of my favorite movements. So when we started discussing those, I’m pretty sure I smirked. Until we started.

    I did a get-up and got back to the bottom to discover four or five faces looking down at me. Disapprovingly. Several of the nearby coaches had come over during the course of my first get-up to discuss how badly I’d performed the movement. My poor ego lay in tatters at their feet by the time they were done with me.

    StrongFirst Get-Up Greg Woods

    I thought I had a great get-up, until I learned how to do one right.

    That wasn’t the only blow to my ego that weekend. When they described the Beast Tamer Challenge with a line of candidates nearby, I looked at Jody Beasley and my thinking went something like, “He looks fit enough, but he’s also kind of a slim guy. I wonder if he’ll actually be able to… oh, wait, he’s done already.” He made it look easy. And just because I am bigger and have more hair didn’t mean a thing. That guy’s stronger than me.

    There is competitiveness with a StrongFirst mindset, but it’s within the shared boundaries of quality. This is what I’d been searching for: the challenge of precision. Not mere physicality. Strength as a skill.

    Suddenly, I was there. I was back. All the way back to when I first fell in love with lifting and also later, when I fell in love with coaching. I was falling in love with StrongFirst. By the time my Team Leader, Delaine Ross, started to tell everyone how finding StrongFirst was exactly like her discovering her field full of bee people (ask her sometime), I’d come to understand, too. This was my tribe. These were my people.

    All this time I’d been hurting from strength training wasn’t because I wasn’t physically capable. But I’d been treating strength all wrong. I’d treated it like a commodity, a product you purchased with pain. StrongFirst made me see it with new eyes. Strength as a skill. Something you practice deliberately and for your whole life, like art.

    StrongFirst Empowers on Many Levels

    Something else stuck with me that weekend, too. I had never in my life been among people who so strongly advocated for those in attendance to start their own businesses. One of my new friends from that weekend, Jason Borden, asked a question about pursuing his own thing and was all but shook by the shoulders with enthusiasm to go off and start his own business. And you know what? He did. PJ Olsen, another attendee that weekend, started pushing her business, Music City Kettlebell. It was all so cool to see.

    On the drive home at the end of the weekend, I couldn’t get the idea out of my head. I had to do my own thing. I’d been on the verge of departing the industry, and suddenly as a newly minted SFG, here I was thinking of taking a bigger dive into fitness than I ever had. And the reason why would become my own personal motto: strength is liberating. That also became the slogan of my new business, Structure Strength and Conditioning.

    The Real Strength of StrongFirst

    In the months since my initial StrongFirst experience, I have completely overhauled my training. I’m enjoying not just every workout, but every rep. My swings and snatches have tightened up. Pull-ups, a movement I used to make excuses over all the time (“I weigh about 235 — not really built for pull-ups”), have become a pleasure and have improved into a controlled, deliberate, and strong movement.


    Best of all, no more pain. I love it all.

    Unless you are practicing strength as a skill, then you’re actually practicing pain as a skill. It’s possible to get fit and be in pain, but gaining strength at the expense of quality and stability is exchanging one prison for another. Instead, your pursuit should be total perfection of movement.

    That SFG Level I Certification weekend made me strong. It taught me to move slowly, deliberately, and with purpose. Now, one of the first things I tell each new client is that strength is a skill. So treat it like any other skill: with patience and practice. Reaching your goals doesn’t have to hurt.

    Oh, and one more thing: a considerable portion of my training has now been focused on attaining the Beast Tamer. I’m comin’ for you, Jody.

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

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

    The post Strength Is a Skill — Strength Is Liberating appeared first on StrongFirst.

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