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

    Training the Endurance Athlete 

    By Peter Park

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

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

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


     

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

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

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

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

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

    Nutrition

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

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

    Cardio

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

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

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

    Strength Training

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


     

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

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

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

    Warm up: 2 x

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

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

    1. Deadlifts
    2. One arm kettlebell press

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

    1. Zecher squats
    2. Pull-ups

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

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

    Core: 2 x

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

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

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

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

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


     

    A typical strength workout in this peaking phase:

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

    Short reactive work:

    1. Hill Bounds
    2. Eccentric swings or snatches

    Circuit 1:  2-3 sets

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

    Circuit 2:

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

    Core work:

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

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

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

    About the Author

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

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

    How to Build Your Slow Fibers, Part II 

    By Pavel Tsatsouline, Chairman

     

    Karen Smith, Master SFG demonstrating the diamond pushup


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

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

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

    How to Build Your Slow Fibers, Part I 

    By Pavel Tsatsouline, Chairman

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Stand by for a training plan.

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

    Wearing Plaid Skirts and Throwing Objects (Video) 

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

    Kettlebells and Powerlifting: A Match Made in Heaven? 

    By ‘The King of The Deadlift’ Andy Bolton

     


     

    Kettlebells are a waste of time!

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

    Like many Powerlifters, I dismissed kettlebells outright, because…

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

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

    THE HISTORY

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

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

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

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

    However, in 2009 things changed.

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

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

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

    THE QUESTION, AND THE SOLUTION

    So now the question became:

    How Do I Deadlift BIG Without Squatting Heavy?

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

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

    The perfect assistance exercise?

    Er, yeah!

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

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

    This has given me 3 huge benefits:

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

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

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

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

    SIMPLE PROGRAMS FOR THE BEST RESULTS

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

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

    I prefer the first option.
     

    MY KETTLEBELL SWING PROGRAM

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

    Simple? Yes.

    Effective? Very.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Attitude Adjustment and Enablers 

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

    How to Make Your Snatch Test Easier 

    By Aleks Salkin, SFG II, SFB

     

     

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

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

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

    Betsy Collie, Senior SFG, snatching with ease

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    1. Get stronger

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

    2. Make sure your technique is dialed-in 

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

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

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

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

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

     

    3. Double breathing

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

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

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

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

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


     

    4. Programming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

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

    How to Make Your Snatch Test Easier 

    By Aleks Salkin, SFG II, SFB

     

     

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

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

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

    Betsy Collie, Senior SFG, snatching with ease

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    1. Get stronger

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

    2. Make sure your technique is dialed-in 

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

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

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

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

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

     

    3. Double breathing

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

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

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

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

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


     

    4. Programming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

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

    Henry Rollins 

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

    Boring But Strong Challenge 

    Boring But Strong – 13 Cycle Challenge  [NOTE: This is from the Jim Wendler Forum.] How this all came about is a long, long story so I’ll edit it down to the bare minimum: I am currently at the tail end of this challenge and I love it.  This, like the majority of training ideas [...]
     
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