Natural Strength and Fitness

Let’s kick this off by stating that all movement is good, so long as it doesn’t hurt. No, pain is not weakness leaving the body. It’s a signal to stop doing what you’re doing. The fitness world is a packed arena full of good movement from yoga, pilates, barbells, kettlebells, calisthenics, walking, running etc etc. It’s all good. Moving is good. Feeling good is good.

But here’s a question, is what you are doing now going to serve you when you are both out of your exercise modality and when you will be old(er)?

It’s great to be flexible, but are you strong? It’s awesome to be strong, but can you get to the floor and play with the kids or grandkids?

It’s mighty fine to have an exercise habit but are you useful?

This is something I’ve been acknowledging for a while now after the realisation that some people are great in the gym but, well, kind of suck at life usefulness. A bold and cheeky statement, but a truism all the same. It is oh so very important to go to the gym, develop strength, mobility and to go for a good walk or run, but I believe we are missing the boat somewhat by not using our exercise time for a higher purpose. Life.

Life is not just going to the gym (#gymislife) as many will propose. Life is living well, with great function until the day we die. Doing the housework without getting out of breath. Tidying up the garden without putting your back out. Playing with the kids without limitations. Having the confidence to go for a good bush walk, climbing over boulders and jumping over creeks. And as we age, still being able to do all of this as well as dress ourselves and climb the stairs with an armful of groceries.

Note, I made no reference to doomsday preparation or the zombie apocalypse. I’m talking about real-world, purposeful exercise.

Believe me when I say I love kettlebell swings and presses. Like as much as Thor loves Beer, I love Kettlebell training. But while the kettlebell swing does develop strong, snappy hips, it’s not the best preparation for jumping over things. It’ll help a lot, but will not develop the ankles and feet for take off and landing as well as propulsing the body through space. The kettlebell press teaches great pressing mechanics but not necessarily the pressing ability to push over the top of a wall, branch or throwing a heavy object. Pressing a weight will help, but it’s not complete.

Yes, strength training with weights from kettlebells to barbells is fantastic but maybe they lack some reality or context to the real world.

Here’s a fun challenge to contextualise your training

If you train 3 times a week for example, how about taking one of the sessions and adding context. By that I mean converting each exercise or movement on your list and making them real world applications of that movement. This session wouldn’t mean a max out type session, but the execution of purpose behind each movement.

To demonstrate, here are some ideas.

The Deadlift, or Lifting & Carrying or Forward Jumps?
Bench Press, or Crawls or Vertical Presses?
Barbell Squats, or Step ups or Balancing Walking Split Squats?
Good ‘ol Rows, or Hangs or Traversing?
Planking, or loaded carries. Perhaps tripod balancing & vaults!
Burpees, or the Prone Get Up, or maybe crawls to a hang & foot pinch?

There are no reasons ‘not’ to practice traditional strength movements. They are great at develop specific strengths. What I would love to see more of is the practice of using these traditional lifts with a flare of real-world applications.

A greater use of our time spent in the gym would be in helping others. Be that assisting the elderly, disabled, volunteering to help maintain our green spaces putting your hand up when people ask for help on social media. We’ve almost gotten to a stage when meeting new people is fearful. Eye contact is dwindling or shielded behind our smart devices.

As the Irish poet William Butler Yeats put it, ‘There are no strangers here; Only friends you haven’t yet met’.

Train to be strong, useful to yourself, your family and community.

I would love to hear from you if you already train / exercise / workout this way. Likewise, if you’d be interested in learning more and how to apply this concept to your own training, just get in touch.

Jamie

How to Get Up!

Recently I wrote about how important it is to practice the skills of getting to the ground and up again and shared a video with demonstrations of some variations. Here’s a link to that post. 

As much as I would like to provide a tutorial for the Turkish Get Up right now, that would be hasty. Assuming you drive a car, you didn’t have your first experience driving hard and fast around country roads in a race car. You spent time getting familiar with the controls and skills, maybe manoeuvring and navigating an empty car park.

The Get Up like other strength movements requires the same. Get familiar with what’s what.

In this part, let me just introduce the positions and transitions of the strength get up, minus any added weights. I like to teach the get up these days with a scenario, like you’ve got a broken arm and need to get carefully off the floor.

Check out this quick ‘follow-along’ video.

 

Let me just list the steps of the get up, from the ground up.

  1. Lie on floor with left leg bent, roughly at 90 degrees. Keep this leg out to the side a little.
  2. Place the left arm across the chest.
  3. The straight leg and arm are roughly 45 degrees to the side (from your midline)
  4. Brace your torso.
  5. Push the left foot and the right elbow into the ground to lift the left butt cheek from the floor and continue to roll onto the right forearm.
  6. Brace the torso and push onto the right hand – keep your shoulder packed (pulled into the socket)
  7. Pressing the right hand and left foot into the floor, you can now pull the right leg under you. The right knee replaces the right butt cheek. In this position you should have the right foot, right knee and right hand in alignment.
  8. Pull up into a tall torso position.
  9. At this point rotate the right leg (through the hip) so both feet are facing the same direction. You can alternatively rotate yourself clockwise to position your left leg / foot in the same direction as the right.
  10. Press both feet into the ground to lunge up and stand.
  11. Return to the floor in the reverse and same manner.

That’s 11 points with lots of words! The video does a fine job at demonstrating too.

If and only IF this movement sequence comes naturally to you, maybe try holding a medicine ball or sandbag as in the video below.

 

Next time I’ll run through a different style of get up that offers heaps of benefits to the legs.

In the mean time, keep strong and move every day.

Got any feedback or questions? Drop me a message below.

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!

My Slowest Quickest Snatch Test

Time is a curious thing, set in stone in terms of actual rate of passing but, at times seemingly controllable at a mental level anyway.

The RKC / SFG snatch test is 5 minutes in length, in which time you must snatch a 24kg (for men) 100 times with great technique. Failing to lock out the arm, failing to reach a vertical arm position or demonstrating unsafe practice will result in a no count, of which you will only receive three!

Prior to the RKC certification weekend, snatch training had been a planned process, one snatch at a time and mostly for less than 10 at a time per arm before taking a planned rest.

Every snatch training session followed a planned, laid out progression to ready me for my assessment and the weekend training itself.

overhead kettlebell

Initially I trained a humble 5 L/R per minute for 5 minutes, then progressed up from there for a maximum of only 8 minutes of snatching at 10 L/R per minute.

In the 10 weeks prior to the RKC weekend, every snatch training session I snatched the kettlebell. Read that again, I ‘snatched’ the Kettlebell! That’s all I did in training on snatch day, snatch the kettlebell. I thought only of snatching the kettlebell. “Cool”, you say, “that is the objective, stop repeating it”.

In most learning circumstances we start with a cognitive approach, with focus and attention to the detail, to mistakes and fixing them, before the learned skill becomes automatic and habitual. This is much like jumping into your car and just driving to your destination without thought for how to drive, you still drive. Naturally I assume you are a competent driver! But, whilst in the learning stage of an exercise or activity, cognition is of utmost importance. If you end up practicing sub-perfect reps you are only getting better than practicing sub-perfect reps.

By the time the RKC weekend was upon me I had accumulated many, many hours of snatching. Apart from the prior 10 weeks plan I had of course spent time snatching during other routines for a couple of years. I had earned the right to just snatch automatically, without much thought as it was pretty simple… not always easy, but a simple move I felt competent at.

But, here’s the thing (that I’ve been winding myself towards in this post), a somewhat weird thing that happened on test day that deludes me today, a year later and an experience that I’ve not since experienced. The tests for those who don’t know, start off with all of the candidates lined up in teams with our assessors, and each of us takes our turn at the test Turkish Get Up, Swing, Clean, Squat, Press and finally the 5 minute Snatch test.

My Snatch test started off rather cool. In fact I snatched out a comfortable 20 L/R to get rolling then I found myself in an odd place. As I started to get comfortable with the discomfort of snatching I began to spend time on every snatch planning each movement component of the snatch. From the top as I inhaled sharply I simultaneously goosenecked my wrist, pulled the bell down, hinging my hips, reaching far behind me before recoiling, extending my knees and hips with a simultaneous sharp exhale, seeing the bell float up in front of me before punching out the lock out and all with a seemingly slow progression, like time was going slowly enough for me comprehend and focus on each and every movement.

This might all read rather silly… unless you’ve ever experienced such focus that time does indeed seem to pass more slowly. The big picture of this particular event is of course to always think about what you are doing in an exercise, to focus intently and not to become complacent or automatic. Oh, and I passed my 100 snatch test in under 4:20!

Concentrate all your thoughts upon the work at hand. The sun’s rays do not burn until brought to a focus.

Alexander Graham Bell

Peace Y’all

Jamie

StrongFirst

Why I moved to StrongFirst from the RKC

A lot of my clients and friends know from my incessant chatter, that I discovered kettlebells 4 years ago for shoulder rehab only to find they had much, much more to offer. After moving to Australia in 2011 I committed myself to RKC certification after appreciating the books and teachings of Pavel and all the other trainers that made up the RKC community. In this bunch of strength and conditioning legends and practitioners I really found myself, much like I had with the powerlifting crew in Northern Ireland, but more so… I really felt comfortable sharing and discussing the things that we work for, train for and share with our clients and friends.
Generally speaking, I feel very out of place and often misunderstood in the general fitness world and not just because of my northern irish accent! Whilst most continue to do what they’ve always done, most continue to fail themselves…. Been there, done that and threw away the t-shirt many years ago.

I dearly aspire to continue to teach what I teach, to a larger community to help share that there are other very smart ways to train compared to the standard in the industry. To do this successfully I feel I need to work with other like-minded trainers, in a strong community where we can do this together.

Last year many in the RKC were devastated, a little confused and torn by the split in the RKC leadership which saw Pavel and many of the for mentioned trainers sever from the RKC to form StrongFirst.

Similar to a divorce, many were initially torn between mum and dad splitting up and who to support and live with.
Ultimately, the RKC and StrongFirst is Hardstyle. The training remains the same perhaps with a slight shift on the emphasis on certain training qualities.

I have finally chosen to move onto the StrongFirst school of strength for a variety of reasons that I will go onto in a moment, but these in part do include to continue to follow those I have always followed and looked to for inspiration and education over the years and to work locally with like minded people. The new school is the old school just with a new name. The game remains the same.

I have always chosen to make moves and to join professional groups based on my feelings, what I want to experience and the paths they may lead to.
In 2011 we upped and left Northern Ireland to start a new life in Australia.
We didn’t do it to make money, we didn’t do it for the sun, we didn’t do it for cheaper wine, we didn’t do to leave family and friends.

***We moved our lives 16000km away to improve our quality of life and that of our daughter and because we had a gut feeling it was the right thing to do and in a corny way, that it was meant to be.***

I am not going to enter into discussion with anyone over my decision to move to StrongFirst, just accept it.

I still respect the RKC and people who remain happily with the RKC and I respectfully honour it’s masters, leaders and trainers with the credit they deserve for the great training they provide.

My move; it’s just a personal decision based largely on my deeper thoughts, a feeling in my gut and a close attachment to my former and present principles.

End of story.

strong first certified instructor