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By Pavel Tsatsouline, Chairman
In the public mind the word “toughness” is associated with endurance. A marathoner gutting it out for hours. A professional boxer surviving a dozen rounds. Yet the never-give-up mindset is just as present in expressions of maximal strength. It is the ability to grind a crushing weight to the top. And to do it without compromising one’s technique.
A strength professional does not have a plan B. Only an amateur does. The latter suddenly has doubts about having enough strength to complete the lift as planned. He seeks the path of least resistance. To use the kettlebell military press as an example, he shrugs his shoulder and leans way back… This gives him a better leverage—at least for the moment. As with all panicked decisions, this one is very short sighted. It may be easier to move the kettlebell another inch or two with a shrug, but afterwards there is nowhere to go but shoulder impingement.
An experienced lifter, on the other hand, will keep grinding it out straight and narrow, no matter how hard it feels, without taking what seems like an easier detour. He has faith in his strength and stays in the groove, no matter how hard it is. This is the hallmark of a strength professional. And if the weight happens to be beyond his limit on that day, he will, as Marty Gallagher has put it, “fail with integrity”.
Several weeks ago StrongFirst posted a video of John Spezzano, SFG II military pressing a 97-pound kettlebell. A record it is not but it is a strong lift for a wiry 175-pound martial artist in his mid-forties. But it was the manner in which John performed that was especially impressive. No leg kicking, no hip checking, no belly bouncing. And an excruciating—yet quite safe—grind. The kettlebell stopped dead in its tracks when the girevik’s upper arm was not even parallel to the ground. At that point a lesser man would have quit, but not Spezzano.
Shrugging one’s shoulders involuntarily is a sign of fear. John showed the kettlebell no fear and no mercy: his shoulder stayed down. His torso tilted to the side, but no more than necessary not to topple when pressing heavy relative to one’s bodyweight. His back did not hyperextend. He fought the piece of metal for eternity and he won.
It goes without saying that one should not attempt such efforts every training session—or even every month. Even if you are able to stay injury free, you will fry your nervous system. There is an abyss between training and testing. In preparation for his PR John was following one of my experimental programs and never came close to failure. Most of his pressing was done with a 32kg kettlebell for sets of 2-4 reps and a 28kg kettlebell for sets of 3-6. That is 1/3-2/3 RM or even less.
(A lyrical detour. Next time you see “AMRAP” anywhere, leave that place and never come back. The proper term is “RM”, or “repetition maximum”. It was coined back in 1945 by respected strength researcher Captain Thomas DeLorme and it does not need to be reinvented or lengthened.)
To make sense of the above numbers, 32kg is 80% of John’s 40kg x 1RM at the start of the eight-week plan and 28kg is 70%. Considering that an athlete who is slightly on the fast twitch side typically can do 70% x 10RM and 80% x 6RM, John was doing only 1/3-2/3 of the maximal reps possible. And if his muscles were more slow twitch, then that percentage was even lower—much lower. For eight weeks John was not testing; he was practicing, “greasing the groove” in an organized manner. This is exactly how you should train.
As for maxing, for most athletes working up to what Russians call the “training max” and Master SFG Dan John calls the “sort of max” is more than enough. If you thought the purpose of this blog was to encourage you to test your 1RM in a no-holds-barred manner, it is not. Not at all. Such efforts are the domain of competitive lifters—and of rare athletes from other sports like John Spezzano with iron will and iron discipline.
No, my goal was to instill respect in a truly all-out strength effort as an act of mental toughness every bit in the league with an exhausting race. And to remind you the meaning of respect, period. When we posted the video of John’s press, people who knew the score were duly impressed. Of course, typical for our age when even the clueless get a voice, others wailed about what they perceived as a dangerous lift failing to appreciate the beautiful effort of which they are not capable.
By Danny Clark, SFG
This past November marked my greatest athletic accomplishment of my life:
Representing Team USA at the FILA World Grappling Championships in Krakow, Poland and taking home the bronze medal.
Afterwards, Pavel asked me to write an article on my approach to strength and conditioning for the sport of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. “Simple enough,” I thought to myself initially.
After some more thinking, I realized the scale of the task at hand and the complexity behind dissecting and analyzing the years of cross training schemes. I started to wonder if there really was a way to sum up my approach. It also brought up a critical question: “Should I attribute my success to the combination of the interdisciplinary skills I learned by spending time wrestling and studying judo, sombo, jiu jitsu and other related grappling arts over the course of 20 something years or was it my lifelong dedication to physical conditioning; specifically strength training?
Of course, both played a huge role in the accomplishment. But, personally, what really distinguished my abilities as an athlete has been my willingness to develop my physical abilities, namely my strength, hand in hand with my technical abilities. This combination has proven to be quite difficult or my adversaries to deal with even at the highest levels of competition.
As I began to analyze my tactics over the years for developing strength, I realized that the majority of my progress resulted from plenty of time mastering a few basic movements and principals. Every time I found a weakness over the years, either in terms of strength or range of motion, I worked on using intelligent and purposeful protocols to balance that weak link into proportion with the rest of my body. Likewise, every time I got an injury, I used the proper (simple) protocols and sufficient recovery time to allow myself to fully heal. Using these protocols increased my sustainable athletic ability, which then prolonged my career enough to make some significant achievements.
I think many athletes, and sometimes even coaches, wrongly believe there is a trade-off between strength and technical ability. I believe this fallacy stems from the “bodybuilders” who enter a random grappling or wrestling tournament and gas out after 30 seconds (it’s more common that you think). Or maybe it’s the grapplers who only show up to practice once or twice a week but spend 5 days a week in the weight room either pumping up their pecs and biceps or “building core strength.”
Another obstacle that keeps many athletes away from strength training is the false concept that building strength is too time consuming since 3-5 hours a week is supposedly needed to hit all the major muscle groups (ie chest and tri’s day, back and bi’s day etc). The reality is that a regularly practicing jiu jitsu fighter only needs 1-2 hours of additional strength work to see big improvements in their game.
The final common excuse I hear is the infamous fear of “getting too bulky.” If only people realized how much work (both in terms of very heavy weights and equally heavy food) is required to get “bulky” muscles, I think their anxieties would be put to rest.
True strength movements hit the entire body as a unit instead of focusing on “muscle groups” and drastically increase the strength of the hips, which power virtually every movement in BJJ.
The program below is a practical approach to strength training for someone who is interested in supplementing their BJJ game based on a formula that I have applied time and time again over the years to prepare myself and others for the toughest of martial arts competitions.
The program is designed around movements I consider “essential” and are listed below:
Hinge – Deadlifts, Romanian Deadlifts, Olympic Lifts (advanced only)
Squat – Barbell/Kettlebell Front Squat, Pistol
Press –Overhead Press, Handstand Pushup, Bench Press, Pushup
Pull – (Weighted) Pullup, Barbell/Kettlebell/Dumbell Row
Others (superset into strength work) – Turkish Get-Up, Grip-Specific Work, Abdominal-Specific Work, External Rotations, Jump Training
Finishers – KB Swings, KB Snatches, KB Goblet Squats
Improvement Season Program (No tournaments within 8 weeks):
Day 1 – Hinge, Pull, Finisher
Day 2 – Squat, Push, Finisher
A Great Warm Up: Joint Mobility, 15 Hip Hinges, 10 Halos per side, 10 Goblet Squats, 10 Pushups, 10 Explosive Sit-ups (mimicking a guard attack sit up), 15 Swings, 1 light TGU per side
Sets, Reps, Load: Complete 3-5 sets per movement, depending on time availability. You will be cycling your reps over the course of 4 weeks and adding progressively heavier loads. For squats/hinges start with 6 reps per set for week 1 and drop 1 rep each week until you are down to 3-5 sets of 3 on week 4. At week 5, start over at 6 reps.
For pushes/pulls, start with 3-5 sets of 10 reps per movement during week 1 and drop 2 reps each week until you are down to 3-5 sets of 4 during week 4.
Make sure the load is appropriate relative to the number of reps performed and, of course, never compromise technique. Never “max out” or reach failure.
Include variety with exercise choices, but stick with the same movement every week for at least 1-2 full cycles if you are a novice lifter or learning a new variation of one of the movements. Be smart and use proper progressions for the more challenging exercises such as pistols and handstand pushups.
Avoid overtraining. Personally, I take a week off every 12 weeks, but there are various other strategies to avoid overtraining and long plateaus.
Superset in some of my favorite “other” movements, listed below:
- Turkish Get-Ups – Great for shoulder health and active recovery.
- Abdominal-Specific Work – Hanging Leg Raises and Bar Rotations. That’s it.
Bar Rotations are performed by sticking the end of a barbell (usually wrapped in a cloth) into a corner. Hold the other end of the bar with a baseball bat grip. Your top hand should be at the top edge of the end of the barbell and your hips should be as square as possible to the corner. “Wind up” your hips away from the bar and aggressively bump the bar with your hips to set it in motion. Ride out the kinetic energy of the bar with almost straight arms until the bar is all the way on the other side of your hips. Centrifugal force will keep the bar far away from your body. You will rotate slightly on your feet as you perform this motion. When executed properly, the bar should move with speed and your mid-section should be exhausted at the end of each set; not your shoulders or arms. Never do more than 10 reps per side. Work up to adding a 25 pound plate to the bar.
- Grip-Specific Work – Bodyweight bar hangs, Front loaded barbell hangs, Farmers Walks, Pipe Rollers, etc.
- External Rotations – Scarecrows, Resistance band and cable external rotations. I always include these on push days.
- Jumps (advanced)– Vertical jump, broad jumps, lateral jumps, never more than 4 reps per set.
Rest: 3-5 minutes of active recovery between sets and supersets
Finishers: 10 minutes of classic kettlebell workouts with respectable bell sizes (swing/snatch/goblet squat ladders, pyramids, or intervals)
More Notes: The time commitment here is minimal while the benefits are tremendous. Start very light and have knowledgeable coaches provide constructive criticism to refine your technique to ensure you are actually building strength and not just getting better at cheating the movement. Focus on the bodyweight varieties if you do not have access to a gym. Re-access your progress every 2-3 months based on your training journal (and make sure you are thinking “wow, xxx lbs. used to feel kinda heavy”).
BJJ practice and the finishers following each strength workout should be sufficient to maintain baseline conditioning. Run at a slow pace for at least ½ hour no more than 1 x per week to maintain aerobic conditioning if not getting enough conditioning during your BJJ practice.
Bonus: Flexibility Work
BJJ rewards a degree of flexibility beyond the average grappling art. Take away the guesswork behind adding substantial flexibility and hop into a yoga class at least once a week. My favorite styles are Ashtanga (a structured series of postures) and Vinyasa (a more varied, free flowing style). You will be amazed with your progress within a few short weeks given you don’t crank yourself into an injured state by rushing and forcing. If you don’t have time for a class, pop in a beginner DVD and practice for at least ½ hour at home. An added bonus of taking yoga is the additional breath control you gain by practicing the “ujjayi” breathing. I find this method helps me remember to breathe deep enough during competitions.
Competition Season Program (within 8 weeks of a tournament or series of tournaments):
Day 1 – Hinge, Pull, Finisher
Day 2 – Squat, Push, Finisher
Sets, Reps, Load: After warming up, I recommend doing 2 sets of 6-8 reps for each squat/hinge movement with a relatively light to moderate load. For pushes/pulls, I recommend 2 sets of 8-10 with a light/moderate load. Include ample variety in exercise choices, but do not try anything brand new within 4 weeks of a big competition.
Rest: 1 minute between sets/supersets
More Notes: Yes, the training split is still exactly the same. There is no need to complicate things. Since the focus of the last 8 weeks during this phase will be more on conditioning, strength workouts should be much briefer (as indicated by only 2 sets per movement). I would recommend including plenty of grip oriented varieties of common strength movements such as towel or Gi grip pullups, thick bar deadlifts, and superset in plenty of static holds such as bar hangs and farmers walks. Additionally, superset in some “squeezing strength” drills during your strength workouts or BJJ practices.
Squeezing Strength Drills:
30 seconds squeezing a foam roller as hard as you can:
1) Rear Naked Choke Squeeze (left and right side)
2) Triangle Squeeze (2 foam rollers, left and right side)
3) Guillotine/Ankle Lock Squeeze (left and right side)
4) Guard Squeeze (2 foam rollers)
Finisher: Same, occasionally including some higher intensity protocols such as tabatas and breathing ladders
On top of more “live” sparring during BJJ practice and some additional road work, be sure to include at least 2 short sessions per week that are designed to push your mental toughness and anaerobic conditioning. This can be accomplished in a multitude of settings and designs but make sure someone else is there to push you beyond your “comfort zone.” Don’t injure yourself by being reckless.
So, there you have it: A nice formula for approaching strength and conditioning with the purpose of enhancing your BJJ game. The biggest question is… “Will you let your ego get in the way of your training?” 99% of athletes do. Be the 1% that is willing to do what’s needed to succeed and continue to push the evolution of the sport.
Danny Clark, SFG
By Geoff Neupert, Master SFG, CSCS
We just had our second child – a daughter. She’s amazing as is the pure lack of sleep we are experiencing. It is not uncommon for me to get around four hours a sleep a night. This makes training very challenging. It makes making progress in my training even more so. The purely sane and rational thing to do during this period of time would be to go on a “maintenance” program.
I am neither sane nor rational and I expect my body to make the progress I demand from it, or close to it, regardless of what my daughter or the rest of my life is doing.
In order to keep from hurting myself (again like I did routinely in my 30s), I am now working with my old weightlifting coach. I tell him what’s going on in my life, what I think I can handle, and he writes my programs, with some guidelines of course.
If you have a lot going on in your life and lack the ability to fully recover from your workouts like you once did, you have zero business training the way you used to – or the way others do.
What I want to share with you is what is routinely working for me to push my strength levels back to where they were 15+ years ago, without having to work as hard as I did back then.
It’s very simple, it’s called –
The Top Set Method
This has been used for time in memorium by some of the strongest guys in the world. Very simply, you work up to one top set in your training and call it a day.
Traditionally, you would go “all out” on that set. But for guys (and girls) who’s recovery ability is challenged, that would be a mistake.
Instead, you should grade your exertion on an RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion) scale of 1 to 10 and keep your RPEs between 7 and 8. Sometimes, 6’s are good too – usually when you think a weight is going to be a 7 and it feels really light. Save the 9’s for the end of your strength cycle – one, two workouts at the most.
Here’s how I suggest you set up your training:
- Use either 5×5 or 5×3 for your workouts. Or for better results, alternate between workouts of the two.
- Start your cycle light – around 60-65% to give yourself some momentum and train the skill of strength.
- Train 3 times a week using an “A-B Split” – that is, where you alternate between an “A” training session and a “B” training session.
Also, turn your warm ups into –
Group sets, are a little trick I learned from my weightlifting coach. You simply perform your warm up sets back-to-back, adding load each set, with as little rest as possible between them.
This excites your nervous system and allows you to put more force into each rep of that top set. And they work like a charm. (You might feel a little winded after doing them, but don’t worry about that – the metabolic effects don’t have a negative neurological transfer.)
Here’s how I recommend you perform this:
Sets 1-3: As little rest as possible between them and then rest 2-3 minutes after set 3.
Set 4: First work set. Rest 3-5 minutes after.
Set 5: Top set.
However, if you’re really hurting in the sleep department or using some highly technical lifts, you may want to do it the following way (which is what I do):
Set 1: Rest long enough to add load or around 30 to 60s, depending on the exercise or how I’m feeling on that exercise
Set 2: Rest long enough to add load OR about 60-120s, depending…
Set 3: Rest 2-3 minutes
Set 4: Rest 3-5 minutes, usually more toward 5 minutes the heavier the load
Set 5: Top set.
When I was younger, I used to love the high volume, multiple “70 Percent for five by five” type routines. Now, I just don’t have the time, energy, or desire to perform them. I’ve found I can make great, steady, measurable progress using the “Top Set Method.”
If you’ve stalled or burnt out, you should give it a shot – It’s the most “stress-free” strength training method I’ve found.
Geoff Neupert: StrongFirst Bio
Geoff Neupert, Master SFG, CSCS, has been training both himself and others with kettlebells since 2002. He’s been in the fitness/strength & conditioning industries since 1993 and has worked as a personal trainer, Division 1 strength and conditioning coach (Rutgers University), and a personal training business owner. He has over 22,000 hours of one-on-one personal training since he started counting in 2002.
He currently writes a daily strength and conditioning report called “Kettlebell Secrets,” in which he dishes out no-nonsense advice to get as strong, lean, and well conditioned as possible using kettlebells; he also consults with clients online. Geoff has authored multiple books and training programs, including, Kettlebell Muscle, Kettlebell Burn 2.0, Kettlebell Burn EXTREME!, Kettlebell Express!, Kettlebell Express! ULTRA, and Kettlebell STRONG!, The Olympic Rapid Fat Loss Program, Six Pack Abs 365, and The Permanent Weight Loss Solution. He has also co-author the ground-breaking training books: Original Strength and Original Strength: Performance.
Geoff is a former state champion and nationally qualified Olympic lifter. He is married to a wonderful woman and has two young kids, who keep him on his toes, which coincidentally, is pretty good for hamstring development.
Geoff is also the CEO of Original Strength Systems, a movement restoration system who’s mission is to set people free through movement.
By Jon Engum, Master SFG
Several years ago I designed a practice based on an idea I got from Maxwell’s omelet workout—the difference being, where the omelet served up a bit of everything, my Deep 6 focused on only the 6 core lifts in the SFG level I curriculum. My purpose was threefold— first, I wanted to get conditioning benefits without messing with high reps or light weights; second, I wanted a deep skill practice on all 6 Basics; third, I wanted to really stress-proof my Getups. The Deep 6 delivers all of this and more…but as I worked with students, I quickly realized the ones who where strong enough to finish the Deep 6 really did not need the Deep 6, and the ones who really could benefit from it…failed to complete. The short answer to this problem was, be strong first! Easily said, a little more complex in reality.
So what follows is a practice/plan to take your group class on a guided tour of the Deep 6 , ensuring that they have and keep stellar technique as well as stay together as a unit. Before I reveal the guided session plan let us have a look at the original plan in case you are not familiar with it. Remember this is for someone who has a firm grip, pun intended, on the Basic 6. Be warned, the Deep 6 looks easy on paper but it is a whole other beast in reality.
The plan goes like this:
All lifts are done right-handed without setting the bell down between moves.
- 5 Swings
- 5 Snatches
- 5 Clean and Presses
- 5 Front Squats
- 1 Get up * from the top down ala Shawn Cairnes “the Get down”
- After the last Squat, Press the bell to lockout and do the down phase of the Getup until you are at the firing range position and then get back up.
- Now switch hands and repeat the sequence on the left. Try for 5 rounds.
Beginners: Rest 30 seconds after every hand switch, rest 1 minute between rounds.
Intermediate Level: Rest after you have competed both right and left. 30 seconds to 1 minute
Advanced Level: No rest, go through all 5 cycles.
Suggested weight: 24k for men and 12K for women. For people with masochistic tendencies use a 32k or 16k respectively.
Now that you have seen the original Deep 6 let’s look at the plan to progressively implement it into a group setting.
Let’s start with weight selection. Have your students grab a kettlebell that they can strictly press for about 8 reps, we want this to be heavy but they need to get 5 presses with that weight. I use the press to determine the kettlebell selection because if they can press it five times they should be able to do the other lifts no problem…if not they are not ready for this practice. One more word about weight selection, choose your “sport weight” not your “game weight.” What does that mean? One humorist said if you can do an activity while chewing tobacco, it is a game not a sport. Choose a sport weight!
Have the students form a big circle. You are standing in the center of the circle. Make certain the students have plenty of room between each other; they will need to be able to have enough room to do a Getup safely.
Do 5 one arm Swings with your right arm. Put the bell down and do fast and loose until everyone finishes.
Do 5 Snatches with your right arm. Put the bell down and do fast and loose until everyone finishes.
Do 5 Clean and Presses with your right arm. Put the bell down and do fast and loose until everyone finishes.
Clean the bell with your right arm, keep the bell in the rack and do 5 Front Squats. Put the bell down and do fast and loose until everyone finishes.
Press or Pushpress the bell to the overhead lockout position and perform one Reverse Getup. Put the bell down and do fast and loose until everyone finishes.
Have the class walk around the outside of the circle twice for recovery.
Repeat the above sequence on the left side.
Have the class walk another 2 laps around the circle for recovery.
Round 1 is very easy; it has plenty of recovery built in. It gives you a chance to make adjustments in techniques or weight of the bell. It also gives the students a chance to learn the sequence of moves…it is a great start of the Deep 6 Tour.
Do 5 one arm Swings on the right and without setting the bell down immediately do 5 Snatches on the right. Set the bell down and perform fast and loose shakeouts until everyone is done.
Do 5 Clean and Presses on the right, leave the bell in the rack when finished and immediately do 5 Front Squats. Put the bell down and perform fast and loose shakeouts until everyone is finished.
Get the bell overhead in any safe manner and do one Reverse Getup. Set the bell down and do fast and loose until everyone is finished.
Jog 2 laps slowly around the outside of the circle doing shakeouts as you go for recovery.
Repeat the above sequence on your left side.
Round 2 takes up the intensity a bit by pairing the exercises and cutting down the rest period. It is a good intermediate step.
Do the whole Deep 6 on the right side without putting the bell down. After you finish the Reverse Getup, set the bell down and do fast and loose until everyone is done. Jog one lap around the outside of the circle for recovery.
Repeat on the left.
Round 3 is a good stopping point for most students. It is hard and they may need to spend some quality time at this level which is fine.
Do the full Deep 6 on your right side, swing switch and do the full Deep 6 on your left side, set the bell down and do shakeouts until the group finishes. Jog around the outside of the circle for 3 laps, progressively getting slower with each lap until they are finally just walking and things have simmered down to normal.
It will take about 45 minutes or so to get a large group through the whole lesson plan. It progressively gets more challenging with each round and of course, you can always stop at whatever round you deem appropriate. This is tried and true and I hope your classes will enjoy it. Drop me a line at email@example.com or ping me on the StrongFirst forum and let me know how it goes.
Jon Engum is a 7th Dan Kukkiwon Certified Taekwondo Grandmaster and in addition holds Master rank in Hapkido and Kumdo. He is the author of Flexible Steel, owner of Jon Engum’s Extreme Training and a StrongFirst Master Instructor who teaches Workshops, Courses and Certifications worldwide.
By Pavel Tsatsouline, Chairman
Kettlebell complexes rock. A few months ago StrongFirst published the “Total Tension” Kettlebell Complex in this blog. Those of you who followed the plan as written saw excellent results. Senior SFG Tommy Blom, for instance, gained 3,8kg or 8.4 pounds of lean body mass in six weeks.
Following is another StrongFirst complex. We put SFG I students through it at the last two certs, in South Africa and Australia.
You need a pair of kettlebells you can strictly press 6-8 times.
1 clean + 2 presses + 1 squat
1 clean + 3 presses + 1 squat
1 clean + 5 presses + 1 squat
Then repeat the process with squats, using the same bells:
1 clean + 1 press + 2 squats
1 clean + 1 press + 3 squats
1 clean + 1 press + 5 squats
And finally with cleans:
2 cleans + 1 press + 1 squats
3 cleans + 1 press + 1 squats
5 cleans + 1 press + 1 squats
The pattern is clear: a single rep of two of the component drills and a (2, 3, 5) ladder of the third. Systemically, you are getting tired, but the muscular stress target keeps shifting and you can keep going without compromising your technique.
If you do the math, you will see that the above totals 16 reps of each exercise. That is not a lot, but the 1:1 work to rest ratio (“I go, you go”) will make sure this brief session will get your attention. If it has not, repeat the whole series once more after 10min of rest. Rest actively: walk around, do a couple of brettzels, hip flexor stretches, etc.
There are many ways to build a four to six week training plan around this workout. If you are experienced in program design, give it a shot and post your solution in the comments section. I will select the best ones and include them in a future blog.
Enjoy the pain!
# # #
Accept the challenge:
By Pavel Tsatsouline, Chairman
Last week we posted an outstanding article on training for the TSC by Jason Marshall, Senior SFG. Jason referenced the “Fighter Pullup Program”, an plan by an unknown Russian author I wrote about a decade ago. The FPP is remarkable; you may have read how Amanda Perry, SFG progressed from 6 to 13 strict pullups in one month. We are reprinting the program by popular demand.
One look at Mike Tyson’s back when he punched should make it obvious how important the lats are to a fighter. The lat provides a connection between your arm and the rest of your body at the moment of the punch’s impact. If the “armpit muscle” is not activated you cannot put your mass behind the punch and your shoulder is asking for trouble.
The pullup is the logical choice of an exercise to strengthen your lats. If you ask an experienced bodybuilder how to work the latissimus most thoroughly he will tell you to look up, force your chest open, and draw your shoulder blades together on the top of the pullup. This may be okay for bodybuilders, but what does this have to do with fighting? You move in the ring in what gymnasts call “the hollow position”—the scapulae flared and the chest caved in. This is the way you should finish your pullups. Look straight ahead and hunch over the bar. Touch your neck or upper chest to the bar to make sure there is no question that you have completed the rep. Lower yourself under complete control and pause momentarily with your arms fully straight before going for another rep.
Here is a powerful Russian pullup program adaptable to any level of ability.
The 5RM Fighter Pullup Program
Day 1 5, 4, 3, 2, 1
Day 2 5, 4, 3, 2, 2
Day 3 5, 4, 3, 3, 2
Day 4 5, 4, 4, 3, 2
Day 5 5, 5, 4, 3, 2
Day 6 off
Day 7 6, 5, 4, 3, 2
Day 8 6, 5, 4, 3, 3
Day 9 6, 5, 4, 4, 3
Day 10 6, 5, 5, 4, 3
Day 11 6, 6, 5, 4, 3
Day 12 off
Day 13 7, 6, 5, 4, 3
Day 14 7, 6, 5, 4, 4
Day 15 7, 6, 5, 5, 4
Day 16 7, 6, 6, 5, 4
Day 17 7, 7, 6, 5, 4
Day 18 off
Day 19 8, 7, 6, 5, 4
Day 20 8, 7, 6, 5, 5
Day 21 8, 7, 6, 6, 5
Day 22 8, 7, 7, 6, 5
Day 23 8, 8, 7, 6, 5
Day 24 off
Day 25 9, 8, 7, 6, 5
Day 26 9, 8, 7, 6, 6
Day 27 9, 8, 7, 7, 6
Day 28 9, 8, 8, 7, 6
Day 29 9, 9, 8, 7, 6
Day 30 off
You start with an all-out set and then cut a rep in each consecutive set for a total of five sets. The next day add a rep to the last set. Then a rep to the set before that, etc. The system is intended to be used for four weeks. In the end of the month take two or three days off and then test yourself. It is not unusual to up the reps 2.5-3 times. In other words, you are likely to end up cranking out 12-15 reps if you started with 5. If you can already do between 6 and 12 reps start the program with the first day your PR shows up. For instance, if your max is 6 pullups start with Day 7; if your max is 8 start with Day 19.
If you run into a snag with this routine, back off a week and build up again. If you hit the wall again switch to another routine.
Here is how the program applies to those who currently max at three pullups. The below is also excellent for anyone whose goal is pure strength rather than reps; just hang a kettlebell or a barbell plate on your waist to bring the reps down to three.
The 3RM Fighter Pullup Program
Day 1 3, 2, 1, 1
Day 2 3, 2, 1, 1
Day 3 3, 2, 2, 1
Day 4 3, 3, 2, 1
Day 5 4, 3, 2, 1
Day 6 off
Day 7 4, 3, 2, 1, 1
Day 8 4, 3, 2, 2, 1
Day 9 4, 3, 3, 2, 1
Day 10 4, 4, 3, 2, 1
Day 11 5, 4, 3, 2, 1
Day 12 off
Now you are ready to move up to the 5RM program.
For a fighter capable of 15 pullups the routine would look like this:
The15RM Fighter Pullup Program
Day 1 15RMx12, 10, 8, 6, 4
Day 2 15RMx12, 10, 8, 6, 6
Day 3 15RMx12, 10, 8, 8, 6
Day 4 15RMx12, 10, 10, 8, 6
Day 5 15RMx12, 12, 10, 8, 6
Day 6 off
Day 7 15RMx14, etc.
A stud with a 25-pullup max would do it slightly differently:
The 25RM Fighter Pullup Program
Day 1 25RMx20, 16, 12, 8, 4
Day 2 25RMx20, 16, 12, 8, 8
Day 3 25RMx20, 16, 12, 12, 8
Day 4 25RMx20, 16, 16, 12, 8
Day 5 25RMx20, 20, 16, 12, 8
Day 6 off
Day 7 25RMx22, etc.
You can see that the higher the RM, the quicker the reps drop off. The reason is simple. You should have no problem doing four reps a few minutes after 5RMx5. But x24 is not going to happen after an all-out set of 25. The higher the reps, the greater the fatigue. Therefore you need to start more reps down from your rep-max and cut the reps more between sets. Experiment. An extra day of rest here and there is also in order; the recovery from sets of fifteen or twenty is not nearly as quick as from fives and triples.
Yakov Zobnin from Siberia, the Heavyweight World Champion in Kyokushinkai, “the world’s strongest karate”, stands over 6’6” and tops the scale at 220 pounds. In spite of his basketball height and exhausting full contact training, the karateka maxes out at twenty-five strict pullups. What is your excuse?
Bodyweight power to you!
# # #
TURN YOUR WHOLE BODY INTO A DEVASTATING CLENCHED FIST.
By Pavel Tsatsouline, Chairman
At a recent SFG kettlebell cert Dan John and I were waxing poetic about the sheer perfection of a program of swings, goblet squats, and get-ups for anyone, from the proverbial “Edna” on Social Security to “GI Joe,” an Army Ranger barely old enough to buy a beer and brimming with testosterone. One of the students respectfully asked: “Could it be that if the only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail?”
Our answer was: every trainee IS a “nail.” Some are sturdier than others, but all undoubtedly are in the “nail” family. All members of our species share the same anatomy and physiology. What works for one, will work for another. The difference is in the degree: how hard you pound the “nail” and how heavy of a “hammer” you are going to select.
Edna and Joe may have different “sport-specific” goals. She wants to be able to pick up her grandkid and to get up from the floor with no help and no groaning, should she decide to get down there to play with that grandkid. She aspires to stand up from a chair spritely, to walk strongly, without fearing of falling and breaking her hip.
Joe’s goal is to be able to sprint with his 100-pound kit, quickly move in and out of different shooting positions, negotiate obstacles without blowing out an ankle or a hamstring, carry a wounded brother-in-arms.
Different as they appear, Edna’s and Joe’s goals rely on the same elements: mobile hips and knees, powerful legs, a stable trunk, a well “knit” body that moves as a unit, rather than a “collection of body parts.” Once these general demands are met, specific skill practice may be needed—the Ranger needs to be taught how to correctly pick up a wounded comrade—but that becomes a piece of cake once the fundamental movement patterns are there, along with mobility and general strength.
There are many ways to develop these fundamental qualities. For instance, one could take up yoga to get flexible (in spite of a decided lack of squat type poses), get strong with the powerlifts, and go to a physical therapist to attempt (in vain, unless his name is Gray Cook) to make everything fire the right way. Edna might get her arm twisted into yoga, but Joe would just as likely take up interior decorating. In turn, Edna would rather join a gun range than a powerlifting gym. Joe would not mind. Fortunately, many US military bases in most unfriendly places are equipped with barbells. Unfortunately, the stress of nightly missions in Afghan mountains does not leave much adrenaline for heavy squats. And when he tried it, Joe almost let his team down as he was hobbling at half speed with sore quads on a night raid. It would not occur to either Edna or Joe to seek out the services of a physical therapist or some “movement coach.”
There are other ways, but most of them are just as cumbersome and unrealistic. Enter the kettlebell. Edna can easily afford one or two and Joe has them in his deployment kit.
The Swing, the Get-Up, and the Goblet Squat are the three most beneficial exercises anyone could do—period. Some might need to add other moves, but they must be planted on the foundation of these three whales.
The Swing fills the hips with power and the back with vigor. The Get-Up makes the shoulders resilient and the abs bulletproof. The Goblet Squat unlocks the hips and puts a spring into one’s step. Muscles appear in all the right places while the fat beats retreat.
When done correctly, these exercises are exceptionally safe. They are beyond safe—they are “anti fragile,” to borrow a word from Nassim Taleb. The Program Minimum plus goblet squats is true health training. I can run out of fingers on both hands listing the various health benefits of swings alone.
“Customization” is just a euphemism for “differentiation” in the business world. The only “customization” you need is the size of the bell.
You are the nail; I rend you the hammer.
The “hammer”: Pavel’s new book Kettlebell Simple & Sinister
By Pavel Tsatsouline, Chairman
Ladies and gentlemen, I present you my new book, Kettlebell Simple & Sinister.
If you are new to kettlebells, S&S is your entry point. If you have been around the kettlebell block, S&S will deepen your understanding of the hard style system and introduce you to important subtleties of technique and programming.
Kettlebell Simple & Sinister starts with an accelerated sequence of learning the swing and the get-up, refined over the years of teaching. The goblet squat and several other key stretches are introduced to unlock your hips.
The programming is best described by the ad for the latest generation of the battle tested F-16 fighter jet: “Proven. Powerful. Perfected.”
I do not care how smart you are and how hard you try, you are not going to one-up the Program Minimum by Steve Baccari. No other kettlebell routine will deliver such extraordinary returns for such a minimal investment of time and energy. Period. Without touching this classic program’s DNA, I remastered it with research and experience of the last decade.
Our strength bias has gotten stronger than ever. You are not going to rush your rest periods—you are going to dominate the biggest, baddest kettlebell.
I am not going into the scientific nitty-gritty in the book—but the set duration, volume, and rest periods experimentally arrived at by StrongFirst’s most experienced instructors like Mark Reifkind, Michael Castrogiovanni, and others are eerily in line with cutting edge Russian research. Instead of killing yourself in the lactic acid zone, you will be training to exert your maximal power over and over—and rapidly recover aerobically. The mindset of the remastered PM is that of a predator, not prey.
The PM progression has become nearly foolproof. A special option with lighter overspeed eccentric swings and static-dynamic method get-ups has been introduced. It will enable you to train and keep making progress on the days when you are not at your best.
The training loads were carefully laid out to give you more energy for sports and other pursuits rather than to drain you. Because you have a life beyond kettlebells.
Following is a short excerpt from Kettlebell Simple & Sinister.
A Little Every Day Goes a Long Way
More is not better, it’s just more.
Would a higher volume be more effective? Would shorter rest periods?
Perhaps—but at what cost?
First, consider that StrongFirst puts a premium on strength and power.
It is tempting to write off the kettlebell as only an endurance tool, given its relative lightness. But do not forget the “virtual force” that multiplies the bell’s “heaviness” by as much as ten times in the hands of a skilled hard style girevik.
If you are told to do a higher volume or to compress the rest periods, you will unavoidably start holding back power, pacing yourself. Your goal would change from getting the desired training effect to just surviving. Remember Dr. Hatfield’s “cardio” training instructions to a power athlete: “an all-out effort… maximum contracture against submaximal resistance.”
Another issue is efficiency. Once you reach a certain volume, you hit the point of diminishing returns. The human body is a non-linear system. This means doubling your swings from 100 to 200 will not double the results—far from it. A decade ago Michael Castrogiovanni, today an SFG Team Leader, identified the swing workout that gives the most for the least: 100 swings total, three times a week.
Tim Ferriss, always dedicated to finding the minimum effective dose, discovered that as few as 150-300 weekly swings was the dose for him. A total of ten to twenty minutes of weekly swings got him a ripped six-pack and added over 100 pounds to his deadlift.
Finally, there is the big issue of leaving enough energy for other things—practicing sport skills, being ready to fulfill your duty on the battlefield, or just enjoying your day and not dragging your tail through it.
Bulgarian elite gymnastics coach Ivan Ivanov believes that the purpose of a training session is to store energy in the body rather than exhaust it. That is a powerful mindset. In Ivanov’s experience, 100 repetitions per movement hit the spot—and these must be done daily. I concur.
It may seem strange to recommend training without days off when the goal is storing energy, but moderate daily training will keep the muscles’ fuel tanks topped off, while making tissues resistant to microtrauma and almost soreness-proof. It is the ticket to being always ready.
Prof. Arkady Vorobyev explains that incomplete restoration training stimulates the recovery ability; your body literally has to learn how to recoup faster…or else. Those who have served in the military can relate. You got sore after your first day in basic training, but you persisted—as if you had a choice—and kept up with the daily grind of pushups and runs, and finally you could handle it. If you were given the unlikely choice of PT-ing only when you had totally recovered, you still would have been stiff, sore, and a sissy. This is why the S&S program, while tolerating a minimum of two workouts a week if you are in a pickle, prescribes near-daily training.
Think of the S&S regimen not as a workout but as a recharge.
One of the meanings of the verb “to work out” is “to exhaust by extraction.” Ponder that for a moment and ask yourself if that is your goal. In contrast, “recharge” is the name Russians gave to an invigorating morning exercise session. Out with a workout, in with a recharge!
A U.S. military special operator (you know him from Easy Strength as “Victor”) will tell you what Kettlebell Simple & Sinister has done for him and can do for you:
I have been training consistently for the past 20 years: cross-country, swimming, and lacrosse in high school; running, rock climbing, weight training throughout college. I have spent the past thirteen years serving on active duty in U.S. Special Operations. I have completed more than a few arduous military training courses that required a blend of strength, endurance, and durability. I do not have the luxury of being able to focus on only one or two aspects of physical fitness. I have to be well balanced across the entire spectrum of fitness. My workouts have to be efficient, and I do not want to risk getting injured in training, because I need to be totally healthy and injury-free in order to be effective in my job. Pavel’s training principles have been a huge influence in my training, and kettlebell training has not only increased my fitness and durability, but it has allowed my train anywhere, anytime. I have developed a personal training program that has been heavily influenced by the Program Minimum and Pavel and Dan John’s principles of “Easy Strength”. This program has allowed me to develop a blend of strength and endurance in the most efficient way possible. I have avoided major injuries, and I have made steady and consistent progress since high school.
In my opinion, Pavel’s Kettlebell Simple & Sinister is an ideal program for a military professional. The Swing and the Turkish Get-up are two exercises that produce maximal results in the most efficient way possible. S&S will allow for safe and progressive increases in strength and conditioning and it can be done anywhere, with minimal equipment. I have been training almost exclusively with the S&S principles for the past five years, and I can honestly say that it has been the foundation upon which I have built my operational and recreational fitness. The S&S principles, combined with consistent and progressive training, have given me the strength to accomplish a broad range of athletic feats in addition to maintaining my operational fitness requirements. I have been able to complete a 100-mile endurance run (with 23,000 feet of elevation gain/loss) in less than 25:00 hours and I have closed the Captains of Crush #3 gripper with my right hand (parallel set). Pavel’s lessons in relaxation, tension, and safe biomechanical movement have been critical to my athletic success.
The clarity and simplicity of S&S make this one of Pavel’s finest programs. I would recommend this program without hesitation to ANYONE in the military, or in jobs that require physical strength and durability.
Repeat until strong.
Order your copy of Kettlebell Simple & Sinister—