Getting Fitter and Stronger the Easy Way

IMG_8186I don’t always lead the way in our strength programs. Giving clients the option to choose their strength movements gives ownership to that move, to making it their move.

In our latest program we chose two main lifts, an upper body strength move and a lower body movement.

We developed these over 8 weeks without straining and stressing and supported the program with other exercises. We simply expanded our comfort zones – no maxing out, crying or vomiting!

‘This was perhaps one of the most relaxed, chilled out programs we’ve ever done.’

Below I’ll demonstrate some of our key chosen movements (not instructional) and then talk briefly about how they were trained and how they tested out this week.

Swing

Elevated Rock

Kettlebell Press

Rocking Push Up

 

The key component of each target movement and indeed, the other movements employed in a training sessions was NOT to max out, not to strain, stress and grind out the reps. This was perhaps one of the most relaxed, chilled out programs we’ve ever done. We put faith in a fresh understanding of high intensity training that I talked about here.

At the start of the program, session one was used to identify baselines for the two main movements. What weights were considered light, medium and heavy for the swing, how many push ups / elevated rocks were considered moderate and what was considered a medium weight to press.

This was all based on trialling sets with progressive intensity until medium was felt. I’ll not go into details about how we conducted this as it’s not the purpose of the post but needless to say, we identified medium.

From here we backed off to 70-75% of medium on the pressing movements and gradually waved the volume of the sets from just 1 rep to ladder of 1,2,3,4,5 over the 6 weeks and the swings and elevated rocks we kept at 10 seconds per minute for 10 minutes per session. We gradually used heavier kettlebells in the swings. Really quite simple stuff.

Anyway, the good stuff – the results.

The Swing was tested with the 100 swings test – the goal, to swing 100 times in under 5 minutes. Even though we never encountered 100 swings in that kind of intensity (the most we would do over 5 minutes was 35 swings) everyone has tested out with 100 swings in well under 5 minutes and interestedly, finished fresh and not huffing and puffing! We have carried out swing tests like this in the past, but for everyone, they used much bigger weights.

The elevated rock goal was maximum reps in 5 minutes. Probably tougher than the swing 100.

The elevated rock tested out with a total of 70 in 5 minutes. This is quite a feat – I dare you to try this one!

Pressing. On testing the single arm press, everyone finished with a personal record weight for reps.

The overarching goal of the program was to demonstrate how we can indeed increase our work capacity or fitness if you want to call it that and increase strength too but without ever working ‘hard’. Maybe it also demonstrates that you could still accomplish training goals when feeling kind of tired some days. If all you have to do is turn up, do the stuff and go home.

Turn Up, do the ‘Stuff’, go home, repeat. Simple!

12 Week Challenge

Are you one of those people who just plod along regardless in your training? I’m often a fan of just turning up to the gym, doing what’s on the plan and moving onto my next to-do item. Other time however, I love to charge forward with a challenge.

If you are this way inclined and love the occasional challenge, our 12 Week Kettlebell Challenge will tickle your fancy.

This 12 Week program addresses essential components over 4 week blocks with plenty of opportunities to hone and fine tune your kettlebell skills as the intensity gradually increases. Best suited to the trainee with experience with kettlebells but, tutorials are provided throughout.

The online program is easy to follow … why not check out more information here.

click here

 

What’s included:

  • Detailed program with video demonstrations and teachings
  • Ongoing support for any of your questions at the click of a button
  • Downloadable content for easy access a the gym
  • Access to other valuable online content

Got any questions? Ask below.

The ‘Priority’ Kettlebell Complex

Did you know it’s totally ok to have only a short amount of time to train and to have training priorities and to expect results?

Usually time constraints mean you have to sacrifice moving forward towards gaining results in strength and fitness and have to instead make do with maintaining, or practicing. These latter two are of course vital aspects of continuing training but it’s commonly accepted that moving forward is only possible with detailed and lengthy training sessions. While this is true for big goals, you can still up your press, squat, cleans and swing strength with this simple Priority Stacked Complex.

A complex if unfamiliar, is a set of more than 2 exercises carried out back to back without resting the weight on the floor. An example would be performing cleans, moving straight to push presses and moving straight onto to performing front squats.

You can of course organise the sequence of the individual exercises to prioritise one exercise over the others. An example here would be performing more of the push press whilst carrying out fewer of the other movements.

A stacked complex is what I call a complex that grows per set by adding on a new additional exercise. I stack on a new exercise to practice after the first and prioritised exercise. In essence, the first exercise performed is the priority, the second is second priority and the final is least. All based on the total volume you’ll amount over the rounds.

The below routine demonstrates this idea.

The Priority Stacked Complex

Note: the 3 sets = 1 round.

Day 1.

  • Swing,
  • Swing, clean and press
  • Swing, clean and press, squat
  • Rest as needed before repeating

Day 2.

  • Clean and press
  • Clean and press, swing
  • Clean and press, swing, squat
  • Rest as needed before repeating

Day 3.

  • Squat
  • Squat, clean and press
  • Squat, clean and press, swing
  • Rest as needed before repeating

You can see how over the three sets you will perform the same movements but per day you prioritise either the Swing, Clean and Press or Squat.

In a program you could repeat the above round of the stacked complex for a total of 2 to 4 rounds, depending on repetitions. You could decide on working with a single arm / 1 kettlebell or double / 2 kettlebells, dependant on your ability and skill level.

So, let’s look at the repetitions with consideration to goals.

General Work Capacity:

6 to 8 reps of each movement.

This would amount quite a number of total reps on the final set of each round, 24 to 32 repetitions in fact. You would choose a weight that’s not close to your top strength 3 to 5 rep weight – maybe a kettlebell you could perform the weakest exercise of the complex for 10 reps.

General Strength:

5 repetitions of each movement. A conservative number for general strength development. Use a kettlebell you can perform the weakest movement in the complex for 7 reps.

Focussed Strength:

3 to 5 reps for the first / prioritised movement then just 1 for the following. You get to focus on that prioritised lift whilst performing simple practice of the others. Some may say to not bother with the following exercises and instead just perform the focussed exercise. But look, if you are stuck for time, getting any practice of the other moves is time well spent. Specialised programs are fine for a small percentage of the annual schedule and if this isn’t one of those times, keep up whatever practice you can, whenever you can. Use a weight that is 5 to 6 rep max (technical max).

There are lots of ways to build the numbers. I’m not writing this to argue a point but simply to demonstrate one solution. You could even just do singles for each movement in the complex to form a chain of heavy lifts.

Over a 4 week cycle, you could start with general work capacity, then move to general strength, to focussed strength before finishing the cycle with just heavy singles. Just an idea.

The Video below simply demonstrates the sequences listed for Day 1 with 5 reps per movement.

Got any feedback, questions or suggestions? Pop them on the contact form below.

How to Press a 40kg Kettlebell

This is a story of how one FitStrong client progressed from pressing a 28kg kettlebell well, a 32kg okay to pressing a 40kg overhead on each arm with one simple program.

Pressing or placing heavy stuff overhead has been a feat of strength favoured by many a strongman of yesteryear. Oddly enough it’s not just the twirly moustached gent that thrives off of pressing big bars and kettlebells and other odd objects. I see lots of every day people who love the feeling of pressing things over their head in what you could call a press of victory over gravity and iron kilograms.

This year so far we’ve had many ladies move up to larger kettlebells in their programs whilst others simply got more comfortable with their current presses – another valuable note of progress – but one chap started the year with a notable goal in particular.

TO PRESS THE 40KG KETTLEBELL!

IMG_5517

I like to stay on top of peoples goals and whilst most don’t have any movement specific goals, I occasionally get interesting requests, like this one. “I want to press the 40kg kettlebell by the end of the year Jamie”.

I’ve never been great at pressing. A combination of long, skinny arms, former injuries from bike crashes holding me back and a natural propensity for endurance over max strength has left me with a humbling 32kg kettlebell press. Not terrible but, meh!

Anyhoo, I was stuck at pressing the 24kg for a very long time until I came across a program concept (that I have since run with on many other strength programs) that allowed me to finally press the 28kg with comfort and the 32kg with a bit of a grind.

The concept: TO EXPAND THE COMFORT ZONE GRADUALLY

Now, I’ve written about this concept before but because it keep delivering for not just me, but for other people with totally different make ups, it’s validity keeps growing stronger.

The key to making this program successful is in creeping up volume very, very slightly over the training cycle.

Key notes:

  1. Progress takes a forward, forward, back waved approach. We add a rep, add a rep then back step to a previously completed stage – it’ll make sense below but in essence we sneak the volume up a little and before it gets noticed as a stress, we back off to a comfortable level we’ve completed before.
  2. The program is very specialised and didn’t leave much room for progressing other lifts but the goal was to improve the press, nothing else.
  3. We train three times a week, with active rest days in between to work on mobility and other maintain other qualities.
  4. The programs progression can be overridden by biofeedback. If the body felt a bit battered or tight, we back off to a simpler days training. (You’ll see that below when we cut volume down to 24 total reps a couple of times)

Program rules:

  • Start the program with a weight that can be pressed for 5 reps, or 70% of your max. 1 rep press.
  • Always warm up each session with a thorough mobility routine like Original Strength, some crawling, farmers carries and a few swings.
  • Ensure that each clean before your press is great. The better the clean, the better the press.
  • Perform up to 20 sets.
  • Rest 1 minute between sets or longer once the sets get longer.

The progression we used exactly is copy and pasted below.

Screen Shot 2018-11-08 at 7.19.45 am

To be clear about what the above means, let’s take session #5, 2223 x 5. This means, press x 2, rest, 2, rest, 2, rest, 3, rest, repeat the cycle again for another 4 cycles for a total of 20 sets, equalling 45 presses.  Got it?

I’m not saying this exact layout will work for everyone, but I believe in the concept, the waviness of volume and expanding the comfort zone to achieve new layers of strength.

At the end of this program, the client rested a few days with active recovery before retesting his weights. The 40kg pressed up smoothly.

If you’re interested in furthering your strength with bespoke and interesting programs, please do get in touch below or check out our Online Membership that currently contains over 42 months worth of training programs!!!

click here

 

December 2018 Update:

Here’s what an online client had to say about the program after a few weeks of following the above layout.

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12 Week Challenges

Many trainers will agree that a training year has seasons. There’s a season for pushing forward towards a specific goal and other periods where training kind of takes a back seat, when just the basics get maintained. Both are vital actually. For physical and emotional / mental recovery, down periods of just turning up, ticking boxes and heading home, are just what the doctor ordered.

Our 12 Week Challenges are designed for those other periods where you’ve got fire in your belly and target in sight.

The two challenges I have laid out last 12 weeks each but can in actuality, last much longer. Both are built with blocks of specific outcomes, from basic skills of strength and endurance to more advanced levels. Each block may be repeated until the trainee feels properly armed to move on.

The challenges

The Bodyweight Challenge is a simple and great fun program that allows you to explore a variety of bodyweight strengths, motor skills, mobility and dexterity – in other words, get awesome ownership of your own body.  This program is suitable for trainees with a basic understanding and experience of moving their body on the floor. If you can squat yourself down and up and hold the plank position – this will suit you.

Minimalism is a key component of the challenge. You’ll need very little time and just a comfortable space to move around. On that note, you’ll not really need too much space, just a safe space to crawl a little and allow your arms and legs to move freely without knocking over ornaments or the TV!

The 12 week program is built with 4 blocks of 3 weeks each.

Each week you’ll ‘play’ with three different movements only. I don’t want you to get overwhelmed by too many exercises. The aim is to get really immersed in the minimal necessities of the challenge and push yourself.

Each week will see you progress the movements with an optional time progression should you want to intensify the sessions.

Each block too will progress your skills and strengths until we get to the final block where we really get to have fun. In this block everything you’ve covered and learned will be tested with each session being a flow of 3 or more movements. Flows are a superb way to exercise in a non-restricted manner. No restraints – just moving through the movements you’ve practiced over the weeks.

The challenge will be presented via a downloadable PDF that you can either print out or refer to on your smartphone or wifi connected device. There will be video links with demonstrations to highlight the key forms and techniques.

Should you opt to carry out some of the sessions during your PT, you will be guided through the steps.

Throughout the challenge, email support will be unlimited. Any questions about regressions, progressions or substitute moves will be dealt with swiftly.

12 Weeks DONE FOR YOU Bodyweight Training Program

For just $20 this 12 week program is yours – interested? 

 


The Kettlebell Challenge is magnificent Strength, Power and Muscle program that allows you to develop a deeper array of motor skills, strengths and mobility – in other words, an awesome functioning body.

This kettlebell challenge is designed for experienced kettlebell users. Although reference will be made to good techniques, specific tutorials are not part of this challenge. If you need guidance please get in touch.

Minimalism is a key component of the challenge. You’ll need little time commitment and just one, two or maybe three Kettlebells to play with – don’t worry if you only have one kettlebell, this whole program can in fact be carried out with great affect with just one kettlebell. More variety would be better, but not essential.

The 12 week program is built with 3 blocks of 4 weeks each.

Block one

Builds a foundation of functional hypertrophy with the important strength moves. During this phase we also build a strong midsection and lower back.

Block two

The focus is on starting to master the skill of strength. The principle goal is not to get out of breath but get stronger.

As a secondary component, we do introduce more power movements in this 4 week period too to optimally recruit every muscle – so your fitness won’t leave you.

Block three

We take all the skills and strength we’ve developed over the past 8 weeks and let them shine in this 4 week block. Sessions will be a little shorter but you’ll be using the time wisely with explosive routines accompanied by secondary conditioning elements.

The challenge will be presented via a downloadable PDF that you can either print out or refer to on your smartphone or wifi connected device. There will be video links with demonstrations to highlight the key forms and techniques.

Should you opt to carry out some of the sessions during your FitStrong Brisbane PT sessions, you will be guided through the steps.

Throughout the challenge, email support will be unlimited. Any questions about regressions, progressions or substitute moves will be dealt with swiftly.

12 Weeks DONE FOR YOU Kettlebell Training Program

For just $20 this 12 week kettlebell program is yours – want to start?

 

Is the Kettlebell the Optimal Tool for Minimalism?

Training, practice, working out, getting exercise or whatever you call it can take oh so many shapes.

cartoon network tgu 1Compared to 50 years ago when the choice of health and strength came down to gymnastic endeavours, calisthenics or barbell routines, today we have bodyweight calisthenics, parkour, dumbbells, barbells, machines galore, kettlebells, bands, straps, balls, shake-weights (!?!?!) and I’m sure I’ve forgotten a few but you get the picture. There are so many choices today.

One area that has taken the health, strength and fitness arena by storm (if I may say so myself) is that of training minimalism.

Championed by the likes of Pavel Tsatsouline, Pat Flynn and Tim Ferriss to mention but a few, the premise that you should spend your training time on the activities that yield the majority of the results is the way to go. Using a minimum affective dose approach is similar in concept to the Pareto principle or what some refer to as Paretos Law. The principle also known as the 80/20 rule states that 80% of the outcomes derive from 20% of the causes. In other words, 80% of your training results comes from 20% of what you put into it.

Think of it; how much of a standard 1 hour gym session is actually worth the time and effort? All the fiddling around with one body part movements take up valuable time instead of just completing one big compound exercise. You might think that more is better in regards to calorie expenditure, however, if you whittle away your energy on the small ‘stuff’, that have little impact on the metabolism, how much energy do you have to commit to the big ‘stuff’ that has the potential to really impact the metabolism.

Majoring in the minors is one sure way to fail at most things in life.

Talking of minimalism, let’s jump in and look at the Kettlebell and other tools. Is it really the optimal tool for exercise minimalism?

Let’s first consider the important ‘majors’ of any good training session.

  • We need to move those big body parts with compound movements like Squatting, Hinging aka the Deadlift, Pushing, Pulling, Bracing that aids in developing strength and maintaining muscle mass.
  • We should nearly always include power moves or quick lifts.
  • Time efficient.
  • Should relate to your human function – you want to move better for a long time, yeah?
  • Should develop movement skills – related in ways to function.
  • Influence the bodies metabolism favourably.

These are the majors, the important stuff that training is used for.

To address these important qualities you could go to a gym hugely populated with barbells, dumbbells, strength machines for every body part, treadmills, cycles, stepping, thrusting, vibrating gadgets galore…. I said you could, but how much time is that going to take, never mind figuring out what does what.

What we’re looking for in a minimal training mindset is lack of fluff, no hassle, just get in, get the work done and go home to recover, spend time with family or get back to work.

How about the good ol’ dumbbell?dumbbells

While a dumbbell can be used for pretty much all the compound moves it is pretty much limited to just doing the strength moves. Try doing an explosive move with a dumbbell and you’ll figure our how hard it is to manhandle and hold onto. Maybe not the optimal tool to get everything done hassle free but a close contender.

 

What about a barbell, you can do near everything with a barbell?

barbellI spent many years with a barbell and truely love the feeling of training with a barbell. It’s best suited for developing maximum strength in all the big moves and it can be used for quick lifts. With over 20 years of training people I don’t often get to work with someone who is comfortable with a barbell for every big movement. Why? They lack the movement skills to use the bar. They can’t hold the bar on their shoulders to squat. Pressing with both hands often doesn’t work due to shoulder limitations and the same goes for the bench press. Deadlifting is the most common go-to that works fine but as for most other movements, most people, most of the time struggle to use the barbell affectively. Whilst mobility training can address the deficits in some occasions, the very strict linear and bilateral (two limbed) nature of barbell training often causes niggles, tweaks and injury. I love the barbell, but for minimal training it isn’t the best tool for most of the people (in my opinion anyway).

On that note, who are most of the people? 

Most trainers start off with aspirations of working with elites, athletes, hot, toned specimens of human evolution. The reality is that most trainers spend most of their time working with mums, dads, grandparents, people who work 40+ hours a week at work, then supporting their families, they’ve household chores to get sorted, grass to cut and meals to prepare. Most of them want to feel stronger, less tired and achey and probably want some sense of achievement as they escape to their training.

Do you think training minimalism is suited to them? Hell yeah!

 

Enter the Kettlebell. 

rkc bell

Look, I am biased as I start to talk about kettlebell training. Funnily enough, when I first signed up to a kettlebell certification back in 2009, I did so with a sense of disbelief regarding all the hype. It’s a ball with handle on it – ‘what’s the big deal’?

I learned very quickly however, what a gem the kettlebell is.

When I start working with a new client I make it clear that we train movements. When it’s time to load those movements we do so. We still train movements though. The load is just added to keep progressing.

The dealio with the kettlebell is with it’s shape. Plain and simple. There is no magic woowoo Russian secret, it’s just an old agricultural weight that found its way into the training world – because it gets a job done.

The handle, the compact size, the ability to do all the compound lifts, the ease at which you can transition from a compound grind lift to an explosive lift, just makes the kettlebell a good all-round tool to use. Having a kettlebell in one hand at a time or a kettlebell in each hand allows users to do a range of movements without the restriction of a straight bar or a wobbly dumbbell.

To save time and hit all the requisites of an effective training plan, the kettlebell can be used in a complex. A complex is simply a number of movements strung together and carried out non-stop. Training is this manor allows for training strength, explosiveness and metabolic improvements, oh, and a session can be done in under 15 minutes if you like.

You can use a bar or a dumbbell or even bodyweight moves for a complex, but for ease of use, the kettlebell wins. And yes, you can mix in bodyweight movements – no hassle is the game at foot, so less is fluff is more win!

Here’s an example of a very simple kettlebell and bodyweight complex that even an exercise newbie can learn to do in a number of sessions:

  1. Push Ups x 5
  2. Goblet Squat x 5
  3. Swing x 10

Do 5 rounds with adequate rest between rounds.

That’s it. Short, sweet and done in no time at all. The majority of the moves we need are there.

An alternative could be:

  1. Clean and Press
  2. Squat
  3. Row

5 rounds or fit in what you can in 10 – 15 mins. Be your own chef!

Use any rep range specific to your goals. Heavy and short reps for strength. Medium and longer reps for muscle building.

Complexes can be built for many areas and sure, you can still do circuits or pair off movements. The complex is just one way to tick that minimalism box.

Of course technique is vital like in using any piece of equipment, but there are good kettlebell trainers available via StrongFirst, the RKC and other reputable training organisations.

My point here today is this. If you want to pursue training minimalism, I whole-heartily recommend getting to grip with using the kettlebell.

Got any questions? Shoot them my way.

Carry On to Get Real World STRONG

Training must always have a purpose. It’s that simple.

You turn up and you conduct movements with an overarching purpose. That may be to elicit a calorie burn, to add muscle or to get stronger, faster or to develop a skill. Whatever the purpose or purposes, you should ideally choose purposeful movements. Think I’ve made that clear… next point.

The word functional gets a fair amount of use and misuse in the training world. Maybe it’s me, but when I consider function, I immediately visualise movements that relate to our daily lives and occupations. Movements like lifting things up and putting them back down again, pushing, pulling, pressing and of course bracing ourselves to handle those activities.

Just for a moment, reflect on your day-to-day physical activities outside of the gym and then consider how they fit into the above range.

Go on… I’ll wait for you.

These movements above are what I think of when talking about functional training. One more activity that we can’t ignore is carrying ‘stuff’.

How often do you carry armfuls of shopping, maybe gardening activities, carrying those 25s to the bench to press them and a myriad of other carrying? You might find these chores challenging too, exposing your weaknesses. The carry has a much great purpose than just incidental transportation of things, it transforms your weakness to a strength.

The action of successfully carrying heavy implements has a multitude of physical benefits that’ll be sure to toughen you up and give you some real-world ‘strong’.

So what do carries do?

If carries had a sales pitch:

Putting carries into your life will tighten up your posture as good as granny making you walk around with books on your head. Your upper back will get strong like ox whilst your shoulders will boast some impressive wolverine shadows (the hair is a different story though!). Expect your grip to take on a vice like quality… everyone likes a firm handshake. Talking of firm, your backside will develop mighty fine hardware to go along with a torso only the Gods of Mount Olympus could forge. “Holly abs of Zeus”!

How to do carries?

The rules of the carry are simple. Pick up your weight and carry it for a set time or distance. Vague I know, but committing to the carry is vital. Yeah, it might suck a little as every muscle on your frame gives you feedback that time is up. Rule two then is this… don’t let go, don’t give up. Rule three, maintain your postural integrity. We don’t want to see any hunch-backing, bending over sideways or other ugly positions. Stay tight, stay upright, stick with it.

What kind of weights or implements depends on what you have. I like kettlebells because they’re compact and often heavy. Specialised bars can be used as well as dumbbells, barbells, heavy bags, a wheelbarrow full of rocks, rocks by themselves. An adventurous mind will be helpful.

Carrying isn’t just limited to carrying by your side. Here’s a list of options:

  • Farmers walk with two weights by your sides
  • One arm carry by your side 
  • Racked on your shoulder, one or two arms 
  • Overhead carry, one or two arms (depending on shoulder mobility this might or might not work) 
  • Sled pull and carry anything, anyhow, any way
  • Sled pull with a harness, a weighted vest whilst pushing a wheelbarrow – I have never done this one, but wowsers, it sounds pretty cool.

Here are a few videos:

Coach Dan John calls carries the Game Changer. Read what he has to say – just in case you don’t believe me!

An adventurous mind will be helpful but stick to the rules and really do try to include some kind of carries into your training week.

I challenge you to experiment over the next month with carries. You’ll not be disappointed.

Stay strong and mobile,

Jamie

What is it with kettlebells anyway?

I’ll soon be teaching a kettlebell user workshop (June 2017) with a friend and fellow kettlebell lover. We totally see the curiosity in some people who want to learn how to use these odd-looking handle-embellished cannon balls. But, as I promote the workshop I want to prepare myself for the usual eyebrow raisers who question the kettlebell. Let me share with you some of my feelings and those of the superstar coaches involved with kettlebell coaching.

What is it with kettlebells anyway?

People ask me all the time, “Why kettlebells? Is this type of training really any different from a dumbbell, barbell or other gym exercises?” Every time I’m asked that question, I start to feel the passion build and I have to contain myself. Kettlebell training is radically different from any other form of training I’ve personally experienced in my many years of weight training.

Surprisingly often, many people just have ONE kettlebell to start with and you know what, one kettlebell is all you need for a surprisingly good training program. Because of its shape, the kettlebell lends itself for fast, propulsive movements like the swing, clean and the snatch. These torch calories and turn the power muscles of the body into overdrive.

The kettlebell proves a great tool for pressing, squatting, hip hinging movements and rowing. It’s a take anywhere gym.

Without wasting time fluffing around all the other things you could be doing in a gym, a minimalist approach with a kettlebell encourages you to do what needs to be done, without distraction. Swing, squat, press, pull and carry.

Here’s what other have to say.

There is a real need in this industry for “One Kettlebell Workouts”, and I love them. I enjoy driving to a park, meeting with friends, walking a bit with my kettlebell, training, and then enjoying a nice picnic. I keep this tradition alive every weekday morning when people join me to workout at 9:30. – Dan John

Primarily because of its offset handle, a kettlebell, makes your body work harder by recruiting more musculature and increasing ranges of motion.

In the first example, holding a kettlebell over your head is a much different feeling than holding the same sized dumbbell over your head. A dumbbell will pitch side-to-side since the weight is evenly balanced in the hand. A kettlebell will pull your arm backward, because the majority of the weight is below the handle,  and in doing so, will force your shoulder musculature to work harder.

In the second example, increasing ranges of motion, we can take a look at the Swing, an exercise where the weight is passed between and underneath the legs. The offset handle increases the lever arm pushing the hips further back, and stretching their muscles to a greater degree than with a dumbbell. And you can’t even do that with a barbell. – Geoff Neupert

 

The kettlebell swing is a perfect example of the uniqueness of kettlebell training. Why? As Tracy Reifkind, RKC and author of the great book The Swing puts it, it’s a two-for-one exercise. It combines the benefits of resistance training and cardiovascular conditioning in one very powerful exercise. There isn’t an exercise that addresses so many things at once as does the kettlebell swing. – Scott Iardella

In Russia, the kettlebell traditionally has been a training tool for tough people. When I started teaching kettlebells to Americans, I saw the same pattern; my early students were military operators, fighters, and other hard men.

What pleased and surprised me over the years is how this hardcore tool went on to appeal to people from all walks of life. My teaching goals used to be narrow: Make the tough even tougher. Today they are broader: Enable regular folks to join the tough. Finally become the man or woman you used to want to be. – Pavel Tsatsouline

If you would like to learn more about kettlebell training, please get in touch now.

Climb Ladders to get STRONG!

What I’d really like to talk to you about today is making your coffee a super-drink. Yeah, I know, you may already consider coffee a super, awesome drink but how about making it better, healthier and much more beneficial. Coffee, caffeinated of course (don’t do decaf… yuck!) offers a great morning wake up smack as well as having antioxidant properties and has been shown to provide other health benefits.

However, a cup of coffee also increases insulin resistance and spikes blood sugar. Now, if you like you coffee before exercise, this is great but if not, and your plans include driving to work to sit behind a desk for the day, meh, it’s lost some of its health points.

However, spicing up your Joe can counter these negative affects. In recent studies half a teaspoon of cinnamon a day reduced blood sugar levels, LDL cholesterol, and total cholesterol levels in people with type 2 diabetes. Even if not diabetic and not too concerned about insulin levels, cinnamon has other benefits:

  • it enhances antioxidant properties of other ingested foods
  • it aids in reducing inflammation in joints and muscles
  • it helps to control appetite by slowing down gastric emptying and thus blood sugar levels / spikes

So, maybe mix in a little cinnamon to your morning coffee to boost your day… just not before exercise though, you want black coffee for that job.

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Yep, that’s my cinnamon laced coffee right in front of this post getting written!

 


Now, back to the main topic of the post. Today I am going to talk about an exercise programming concept that is sadly not used enough…

…Welcome to the Jedi magic of getting stronger the easy way!

LADDERS

… did you fall off your seat with excitement?

You’ll most likely have heard of sets, reps or repetitions and if you do train you’ll have used them as a way to accumulate your training volume for the session. The most commonly used structures are 3x 5 or 6 for strength, 3x 10 for muscle growth and 2-3x 15-20 for muscular endurance. Throw these at any newbie or young trainee and they’ll get results – for a while anyway.

Whilst these work to a point, say up to the first year or so of training, they do come with baggage, the kind of baggage that can slow down your progress, get you hurt or bore you to tears!

Fatigue in the gym is what a lot of people seek. They associate fatigue with results and of course soreness the next day along with the accompanied inability to do much else that day (that sucks doesn’t it?). Soreness isn’t an indicator of progress. Lifting more weight, better muscular development and lifting more volume is indicative of progress. Being unable to move without discomfort the day (or two) after training is just plain dumb. If you’ve a career, a family, a set of stairs – what use is it to be miserable and sore?

Back to fatigue. Maybe, just maybe, fatigue isn’t a good measurement of when to stop a training session. It’ll sure stop you and it will stop you making potential in a gym session. We’re mostly concerned with gaining muscle strength. Exercising a muscle to fatigue is a common route to muscle strength gain but it’s tainted, rarely successful not the only method.

In most training programs, total training load or volume is a variable that we aim for and want to increase. Let’s basically define volume as the total reps x the load moved. There are lots of ways to express this but, essentially volume is going to increase over the term of a program lasting 4 to 6 weeks. Either the load (kg or lbs) is going to creep up or if you’re a minimalist, the weight remains the same while the amount of ‘accumulated’ repetitions goes up. Simple, yeah? The latter is my preferred method.

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With a standard 3 x [enter desired rep range] each set will typically be taken to the point of fatigue and in most cases, muscular failure. This is an absolute waste of energy. Okay, let’s examine that too.

If you are completing 3 x 10 to fatigue in each set, how easy will it be to add more fatigue? You could push harder, take a hit of caffeine or other mega stimulant, risk tweaking that old injury or lose form and create a new injury.

Maybe not?!

When operating at high levels of exertion all the time it becomes increasingly harder to find progress. Is this motivating? If you are a ‘three times a week exerciser for health’ is this going to encourage you to keep turning up to the gym? Hell no my friend.

So how do you add progression, this added volume?

BRING IN THE LADDER

What the heck is the deal with ladders in a training program?

In publications written by Pavel Tsatsouline in and around 1999 or 2000, he wrote of a structure of strength training that avoided fatigue yet allowed trainees to build ‘strength’ and ‘strength and endurance’. The program discussed was primarily used for building pull ups in Special Forces for the Spetsnaz requirement of 18 dead hang pull ups wearing a 10kg bullet-proof vest. This program method has proven to work with most other strength movements.

He explained, trainees would start with 1 pull up, brief rest, then 2 and so on 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. At this point the trainee would repeat the 1 – 10 rep ladder. This 1 – 10 progression carry out once would take less than 10 mins and build up to 55 reps!

‘High-volume plus specificity minus burnout’

This systematic approach to accumulating training volume in a specific movement creates the perfect stimulus to build strength endurance without burnout, fatigue or getting into the injury territory.

For most purposes of building strength we work with 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 ladders with a 8 rep (almost) max weight. This accumulates 15 reps. Programs generally start with 2 ladders (30 reps) and build up over a number of weeks to as many 5 ladders of 1-5. Yes, a total of 75 reps…. all acquired without burnout, fatigue or maxing out with hideous facial expressions (no-one cares to see your pain face really).

Imagine trying to do 70 reps with traditional 10 rep sets?

Proof is in the pudding!

A recent trainee at FitStrong followed this particular method which many before have followed. The original program had already been detailed out by coach Anthony Delugio in the ‘Rights of Passage’ program based on Pavels methods.

The program is built around the 1,2,3 ladder progressing to the 1,2,3,4,5 ladder with the kettlebell military press.

To be honest I rarely pursue the program through to the end with 5 ladders of 1 – 5. Why? Well, I’ve found over numerous occasions that waving up and down the 1 -3 and 1 – 5 ladders for no more than 3 ladders (scaling down when the body needs it and building up when the body is saying “hell yeah”) proves successful and it eliminates the risk of trainee boredom!

Our trainee started by testing out his pressing strength. He could successfully press the 24kg multiple times, 28kg a few times and get an ugly 32kg press and a pretty disgusting 36kg press x 1 right and nothing on the left.

The program commenced and finished with the 24kg kettlebell press with 1,2,3 ladders and over 4 weeks build up and down towards 1,2,3,4,5 ladders x 3, pressing 3 sessions per week.

Not a single set was taken to fatigue. Every rep was pursued for excellence, practicing good, better and best form.

By the end of the 4 weeks the trainee had had so much exposure to good, better and best pressing that his pressing looked seamless, effortless and smooth. Well practiced in other words.

Test day came along and to cut a long story short, he could press the 36kg perfectly with ease on each arm. “Bazinga”!

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So, why do I like Ladders so much?

I can sum this up very quickly with a couple of points.

Deliberate practice without the distraction of over exertion. If every set is taken to the fatigue, this becomes the objective, the outcome and the top of mind element. If your goal at the start of the ladder is to accomplish 1 really good rep, well then, it’s done. You repeat the same with 2 reps, then 3 and the sets of 4 and 5 are the sets where you simply put to practice what you’ve already done but with just a little bit more effort and repetition required.

While you work appropriately hard on the 5 rep sets the shorter sets provide you more volume. Now, you wouldn’t pyramid following ladders as in, after the 5 rep set, you wouldn’t go back to 5,4,3,2,1. The objective is steer clear of fatigue. So after the 5 comes 1 rep set; time to recap on what best form is in other words, before building back up to the 5 rep set.

You may be thinking of dropping all the 1,2,3,4 rep sets and just work with the harder 5 rep sets and indeed, some programs do call for multiple sets of 5 reps. If your goal is to get really good and proficient with a lift though, the added time dedicated to practicing the skill of strength is invaluable. Dropping the 1,2,3,4 three times and just doing 3 sets of 5 actually costs you 30 reps of practice whilst you only train with 15 reps!

Got you thinking?

Well, why not try this method on your favourite lift. Consider your squat, deadlift, bench press or military press, pulls or even use the concept for conditioning movements.

With a weight you can safely handle for a hard set of 8-10 reps, you start your journey.

Commence with 3 ladders of 1,2,3 until you can accomplish 4 – 5 rounds before moving to a 1,2,3,4 ladder for 3 rounds and again, build up to 4 – 5. At this point start the process with 1,2,3,4,5 ladders until again, 4 – 5 ladders are in the books.

You may feel that you have earned your best at 3 – 4 rounds however. Listen to your body.

Don’t be afraid to reduce ladders in any session you feel low on steam or off for some reason. The aim is to wave up and down the volume as you build up to the end.

In case you’re wondering, the original Rights of Passage program is available on different websites, google it if you like.

If you’ve any questions about this program concept or other unconventional, against the norm style methods, get in touch.

Good luck and stay strong,

Jamie