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2018-01-23T13:56:49.156Z
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Last year, I suggested this approach to planning out your training for the upcoming year. Now at the start of 2018, that idea along with a couple philosophies are guiding my own plan for the next 12 months.

“Occam’s Razor,” when boiled down to its simplest level, states: “All things being equal, the simplest explanation is the best one.” The base of Occam’s Razor is—or should be—a decision between two equal theories, and deciding that the simplest is the best (but not necessarily perfect) explanation. As Dr. Suess said: “Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple.”

Please keep in mind that there are “anti-razor” philosophies. Karl Menger (an anti-razor scientist) stated: “Entities must not be reduced to the point of inadequacy.” I think Karl would like specialized variety in programming.

Thomas Aquinas, a 13th century philosopher, stated: “If a thing can be done adequately by means of one, it is superfluous to do it by means of several, for we observe that nature does not employ two instruments where one suffices.” Another nod to Occam’s Razor and recognizing carryover in training.

Putting this philosophical “stuff” into practice: that is the question or thought running through your head at the moment, yes? Let’s break it down by goals and timeframes.

My goals for the year
  • Sinister
  • SFL in May (see requirements here)
  • GFM in May
  • SFB in October
  • Survive my traveling and teaching schedule, including teaching SFG Level II in February and SFG Level...

The StrongFirst school of strength offers several programs to structure your training and develop your athletic qualities. Simple & Sinister, of course, our staple and the theme for multiple articles on this blog. But also, Rite of Passage, Total Tension Complex, and a number of more specialized programs authored by our instructors.

And let’s not forget numerous templates from Plan Strong and Strong Endurance. Tested on the battlefield, they all bring outstanding results.

All these programs have one point in common: each of them is focused on a limited number of exercises. That is necessary as we only have so much physical and mental energy. If we spread ourselves too thin, we would hardly be able to produce any noticeable result. And if we decided to push harder, we might end up with an injury or a systemic failure.

There are times, though, when “spreading ourselves thin”—within reason—might be a good idea, if not a necessity.

Programs and Practice

Maybe you’ve signed up for our upcoming, first-ever French edition of the SFG Level I Certification. You already have the necessary level of strength and stamina to pass the tests. You need to be sure, though, that your technique is up to par, so you need to practice the six SFG skills.

Or maybe, you’re already an SFG. You teach classes and workshops and assist at StrongFirst...

My name is Ilaria Scopece, and I am the “skinny boxer.” It has not always been this way. I was a gymnast before I put on boxing gloves. For eighteen years, I practiced artistic and acrobatic gymnastics, successfully competing in national and international events. My bigger dream was to bring my acrobatic gymnastics to the Olympic level.

Since I was a child, my vision regarding gymnastics was clear: training, competing, studying, training, and building my own team. I enrolled in sports science in college, to lay the first brick toward the dream I was building. But after I earned my bachelor’s degree, I discovered my goal was not such a simple thing.

Due to some internal issues in my company, I was forced to quit gymnastics and train my current teammates. For a while, this worked for me. After all, the gym was my home and my teammates a family extension, but my disappointment at the cessation of my own training turned my outlet into a prison.

I decided I needed a new way to continue physical activity, not only to maintain a decent state of shape, but also to relieve my stress and find a new sport—one without age limits. So, I went to a boxing gym.

Learning new techniques and different training methods, being flooded with adrenaline, and facing confrontation with myself and others—and all this on a daily basis—allowed me...

As 2017 moves rapidly into 2018, I want to update you on some changes and suggestions for the coming year.

StrongFirst has passed the five-year mark, so where are we headed moving forward?

If any of you have picked up the book Legacy, then you have had the chance to read one chapter in particular: Be a Good Ancestor. Be a Good Ancestor is all about a team or organization having a mindset of leaving a better “place” for those who follow. Meaning, my actions not only impact us in this moment, but they also have a lasting impact on our StrongFirst Team and Community.

There is an old Chinese proverb: “If you are planning for a year, sow rice; if you are planning for a decade, plant trees; if you are planning for a lifetime, educate people.”

We at StrongFirst are planning for a lifetime—educating people that strength has a greater purpose.

Since you are likely looking ahead to 2018 and beginning to lay out your training year (seriously, you are—aren’t you?), I want to update you on some changes and/or clarifications to the Simple & Sinister standards and the Beast Tamer/Iron Maiden Challenge.

You know, just in case those may be in your 2018 training plan.

2018 StrongFirst Updates: Simple & Sinister

I will go ahead and put myself out there in announcing that achieving the Sinister...

When I first started training Simple & Sinister in 2014, I never planned on reaching the Sinister goal. The thought of one-arm swings with the 32kg kettlebell was crazy to me.

I started kettlebell training to supplement my distance running, and I had no desire to be that strong. My plan was to reach Simple before I started training for the SFG Level I Certification. I accomplished the Simple standard, but throughout my Certification prep training, on busy days where I only had thirty minutes to train, I often returned to the Simple swing and get-up standards—100 one-arm swings in five minutes with the 24kg kettlebell followed by 10 get-ups with the 16kg kettlebell in ten minutes. This was a quick and simple way to practice technique and get in some conditioning.

Throughout this process, I realized I owned those swings with the 24kg. On any given day I could complete 100 one-arm swings with the 24kg in five minutes, and I started to think maybe the Sinister standard wasn’t so crazy after all.

I remembered an article and program that Pavel had written, From Simple to Sinister, and decided to follow this program in pursuit of the Sinister goal. My original idea was to follow Pavel’s program exactly. I did the best I could, but as I...

Do you visualize? Is your visualization mindset positive? Can you see success?

Visualization is not only something I personally practice, but I also coach my students to practice it as part of their training. Visualization may sound “woo-woo” to some people, but not to those who have their sights set on meaningful goals and believe in quality training. Because I strongly believe if your mindset isn’t right, then your training will suffer.

The Power of Positive Mindset

Positive mindset is key to success, and visualization in one of the quickest ways to change your mindset. I will touch on a few other uses for visualization, but first let’s dive deeper into using it to help with positivity.

If your mind is negative and you cannot “see” yourself as successful in your training, in reaching a personal goal, or winning in a competition, then you are not fully ready to achieve those objectives. First, you must be able to picture in your mind that a skill, goal, or competition can be 100% successful and then you can achieve it.

True some goals will take longer, of course, but until you can see each goal in your mind and truly believe it, then and only then will you achieve it. Doubt will always hold you back.

The Skill of Visualization

Visualization is a skill that can and should be practiced with the same dedication we practice the...

“I learned no detail was too small. It was all about the details.”—Brad Gray

As an Instructor, I walk the line between seeing all the details and knowing which details to draw attention to for my student. If we draw attention to every detail, then we can overwhelm the student and create “paralysis by analysis.” If details are ignored, then the student may not get the full benefit from the drill. So, we walk the line to provide just the right amount of information.

In this article, I will provide some details on how to grip the kettlebell for swings and how to execute the kettlebell halo that can make a difference in your results.

Details on Gripping the Kettlebell for Swings

“Grip it and rip it” might be a common saying for golf, deadlifts, and other activities, but in the kettlebell swing it can set you up for issues with calluses and blisters. With its thick handle and offset center of gravity, the kettlebell provides grip benefits not found in more traditional implements. This also means a bit of attention to detail is needed.

As you can see in the video, the proper grip for the kettlebell swing is not a full grip where the handle is in the palm of the hand. This may feel like a...

During the StrongFirst SFL Certification, I might mention the word “lats” one or two times. Once you understand the anatomy and the kinesiology of this wonderful and powerful muscle, you will know why I do.

Seriously, I do mention it at least a hundred times with a very strong mention of it during the front squat evolution. Whether you are doing the bodybuilding, weightlifting, or powerlifting rack while front squatting, using your lats to the maximum is key to providing an adequate shelf for the barbell to rest on while your body goes from the vertical plank position down to the hole and back up to the vertical plank for a rep.

The Latissimus Dorsi: An Important Muscle?

Why is the latissimus dorsi  such an important muscle to utilize during the front squat whereas the muscles “doing the work” during the front squat are located south of the lats? Let’s put it this way: if you don’t actively contract your lats and do it properly, you will not be able to lift as much weight and perform the front squat with safe technique as you would if you maximally contract them.

Before the motor units and the muscles that are “doing the work” are allowed to fire, your lats are already firing very strongly. They do this by creating...

It’s well known that the swing is the center of the kettlebell universe. All the basic ballistic kettlebell movements depend on a strong and powerful hip drive to swing the bell into a snatch, clean, or a heavy swing itself.

At the center of the swing is the hip hinge. A fundamental movement pattern, the hinge provides the most efficient way to pick things up or to jump. The key component is the hip moving to the rear while the lower back stays in neutral as the hip flexes.

The hip hinge is sometimes also called a pulling pattern or a bending pattern. Not only is it the safest way to bend, but also the strongest movement we can make. More weight can be lifted this way than in any other lift.

The hip hinge is how you pick up things from the floor. Or, more precisely, it’s how you should pick up things from the floor. Whether you’re picking up a kleenex or heavy barbell, the hinge is the best and safest way to bend over and stand up.

And, as basic as this movement is to our strength and health, it is still easy to mess up. Being able to keep the lower back in neutral while the hips do the moving is key to both the hinge and our back health.

The old adage told us to lift...

Tammy Baskett is a 61-year-old dedicated student of strength and a massage therapy client of mine, but it hasn’t always been this way.  

When Tammy was younger, she enjoyed a fairly active lifestyle outside of work. Her favorite pastime was dancing with her husband. But her profession as a dental hygienist was not active. Not only was it sedentary work, but she also leaned to one side and twisted for most of the day. Every day, without knowing it, she lost a little more mobility and became less body aware.  

This went on for 34 years.  

Her profession was cut short because of an accident that caused a serious concussion as well as neck and shoulder injuries. While rehabilitating, and being less active as a result of the injuries, Tammy started to gain weight. Her fear of injuring herself again was high, and she was no longer able to dance.

The Wave That Turned the Tide

Then, Tammy went on a Hawaiian cruise with her mother and daughter. They were on the last leg of the cruise, playing in the ocean, when a rogue wave dashed Tammy’s daughter straight into the side of her knee causing it to buckle. She made it home to Amarillo, and promptly went to see an orthopedic surgeon named Dr. Veazey.

Dr. Veazey did what he could to put everything...

I believe strength is the most valuable quality to develop in fitness. That said, my recreational pursuits often involve the need for endurance, as well. I’ve taken on endurance pursuits ranging from wilderness backpacking to touring the American West on a bicycle. I must admit I have an interest in the “long haul.” For me, it’s a deeply satisfying experience to live out of a bag and roll up miles in lonely places.

In the past, to make way for multiple training blocks of long slow distance (LSD) work, I reduced my strength training frequency, volume, and intensity. Training this way resulted in a slower, “softer” version of me. Not what I am looking for these days. I want to stay strong, and still build or maintain enough endurance to take a three-and-a-half day, forty-mile backpacking trip on a few weeks’ notice.

Is that too much to ask?

Oh, and I’m a dad and husband, work too much, and don’t have the time or ability to recover that I had in the past.

Sound familiar? If so, I’m here to tell you that you can develop respectable strength and outstanding endurance, too. Practicing fitness according to StrongFirst principles over the past five years has allowed me to be prepared for even more extreme conditions. To push the boundaries of my endurance and rise to a...

Ladies and gentlemen, the 2017 Fall TSC results are in!

First, thank you to everyone who participated in this unique worldwide event. With just over 1,100 competitors from around the globe, once again our women’s novice division was our biggest division.

It was great to see so many new faces and names embracing strength as a mother quality. But most importantly, it was great to see people face their fears head on.

As someone who has been a competitor in some form for many years, I know it’s not easy to stand in front of a crowd, be the highlight of the room even for a brief moment, and perform. Fear of failure can be our greatest adversary—if we let it be.

I have the highest respect for people who step up and face their fears, no matter how big or how small the challenge. So, to everyone from the first-time and tenth-time competitors, I salute you.

As usual, there were many personal records in each event with 35 of them coming out of Omaha Elite Kettlebell alone. In addition, Team TNT Fitness Results represented in six of the nine divisions. But the coolest thing I saw was gyms—like Game Changers Health, Hardstyle KBJJ, Prevail Strength, and Kettlebell 360 to...

One of the hallmarks of the strength training concepts taught through StrongFirst is the emphasis on controlling breath. In particular, there is emphasis on the use of the biomechanical breathing match to create the most effective force and tension during a given exercise, allowing for better production of power as well as increased endurance.

This breathing is taught with nearly every movement trained, and it is combined with maintaining the most effective position of the torso, typically holding it in a general neutral. From here, pulsed partial exhalations are taught to create sharp increases in intra-abdominal pressure, and maximize potential for strength in any movement performed. However, for this pulsed exhale to be effective the ribcage and diaphragm must “oppose” the pelvic floor.

Let’s take a moment to better understand the structure we are talking about. We could easily define the midsection as the area between our thorax and pelvis. The top boundary is the diaphragm, and the bottom is the pelvic floor. In matters of strength, endurance and even general comfort, we want the two ends to oppose each other and form a piston. This is needed to create a durable position for the spine, ideal length-tension of the surrounding musculature, and most notably to drive pressure down into the abdomen.

Strong individuals often find this alignment second nature, but some people do not have such an instinct and must work very hard at simply attaining the position. One of the more common compensations observed in this area is excessively arching...

Winter is fast approaching in the Northern Hemisphere. For many, that means ski and snowboard season is about to begin. But how do we apply kettlebell training to ski conditioning? How can we use our training in the gym to improve our endurance on the mountain?

I have been trying different programs and tracking the results over the last two years and have some insights to share with the StrongFirst community. I hope you find this helpful and I hope it improves your winter sports as much as it has mine.

As an avid splitboarder, I spend well over a hundred days each winter in the mountains, camping in them, climbing them, and snowboarding back down. Splitboarding is basically backcountry skiing, but for snowboarders. It is a great way to explore the mountains, is one heck of an intense cardio challenge, and gets you a lot of powder runs. (I wrote a book on it to explain it in more detail, which is free to my fellow StrongFirst brothers and sisters.)

My average “work” day goes like this:

  • 5:00-8:00am—Train students
  • 8:01am-2:00pm—Head into the Colorado Mountains, test out backcountry gear for brands such as Patagonia, North Face, Arcteryx, and others.
  • 2:01pm-6:00pm—Back to training students in the afternoon.

I love my days. And because of what I do, I am able to test different training protocols to...

“Skill consists of the ability to bring out some end result with maximum certainty and minimum outlay of energy.”—Guthrie, 1952

I am a trapeze artist. I’ve performed in circuses and cabarets worldwide for nearly fifteen years. In March 2017, I approached Fabio Zonin at StrongFirst to create a program for strength and endurance in preparation for an international competition at the Nikulin Circus in Moscow that I would participate in with my partner and wife, Adrienne.

First and foremost, Fabio’s program, combined with Pavel’s principles (hereafter referred to as “the program”) significantly increased our strength endurance and contributed to our success in the competition—but that is not the subject of this article.

The program also facilitated implicit motor learning elements that I believe were key to winning silver in Moscow. These elements led to reduced stress and helped us consistently deliver in a high-pressure performance setting on multiple occasions over a week-long period.

Although, as trapeze artists, we fall into a particular niche of skill development, we were able to improve techniques specific to our work by following fundamental principles hidden within StrongFirst programming. The principles of deliberate practice and desirable difficulties are widely researched and relevant to a range of sports and skills. I will demonstrate their applicability to the field of circus performance, by way of the StrongFirst program.

How StrongFirst Met Circus

An...

“Notice that the stiffest tree is most easily cracked, while the bamboo or willow survives by bending with the wind.”—Bruce Lee

“Obey the principles without being bound by them.” —Bruce Lee

When we begin learning something (anything), there is a tendency to adhere closely (sometimes too closely) to how we were introduced to that thing.

The quest to learn and “perfect” the thing we are learning can lead us to restrict our options and become rigid like the stiffest tree referenced by Bruce Lee. This becomes even more of an issue when you are progressing toward testing to show “mastery” of a skill. It is all too easy to become rigid and unyielding in your adherence to the “steps” under the pressure of testing to meet a standard.

What is important in learning are the principles behind the “thing” we are learning. These principles are there to guide us, not box us in to one way of doing something.

I am guilty of this rigid way of thinking, too. When Jason Marshall sent an email some years ago describing exactly what I am going to show you in this article and video about a nuance of the get-up, I rejected it outright. Instead of saying, “Jason, please, send me a video of what you are describing so I can understand it better,” I simply pushed aside his ideas.

Can you say “rigid”?

So, today, let’s be like the willow when it comes to our get-ups and learn how an adjustment to the windshield-wiper step can open...

Building total body strength and conditioning is no easy task. It takes time, effort, and consistency. Developing strong shoulders, hips, and knees can easily fill a twelve-month training program. Does that sound like a lot? It is. Enter the Get-up Ethos Program.

The get-up develops overall strength without you having to spend hours in the gym each day, moving from lift to lift, and completing varying loads and volumes. Making the get-up your primary lift, performing it daily, and sprinkling in a few other compound lifts for technique will see your numbers improve across the board.

I used this program to help me press my half-bodyweight press at my SFG Level II Certification. Two days later, I performed a personal record get-up of 52kg and hit a new max in my pull-ups. This was after two days of hard training and testing at the Cert, air travel, and long days of coaching.

In the pull-up, I was able to grip the bar harder, creating greater tension for my pulling power. In addition, I had the mobility and strength through my upper back to smoothly pull chest to bar. Both double-rack front squats and back squats felt tighter, with my ability to stay taller through my upper back and brace my abs harder being a noticeable difference. In short: everything felt...

We all love new personal records, especially when they are one-rep max or max-rep records—that first time deadlifting your bodyweight or ten pounds more than your last TSC, the first pull-up or when you finally get twenty. While testing absolute or relative strength is fun stuff, we also know not to just chase weights and that we should strive for consistent and constant progress.

How can we test ourselves without testing our 1RM or max reps?

The answer is testing mid-range personal records.

Like setting a new 3RM or turning your 5RM into an 8RM. When you can take your double press with the 16kg kettlebells from doubles to triples, that’s progress. When you take your 5RM front squat from double 24s to double 28s, that’s progress. Stronger is stronger.

The issue with absolute testing is we need to earn the right for an absolute test and this can’t be rushed. Unless of course you enjoy dealing with injuries and setbacks. For a newer student, this may take a while, but really the same goes for the advanced lifter. Any advanced student knows it can take months to bump that 1RM. Both groups of students need to work on their foundation—building or widening their base. A pyramid is only as high as its base. We want our house of strength to stand the test of time.

But why not give...

At StrongFirst, we recognize tension and relaxation as two sides of the same performance coin. But we often find it easy to focus exclusively on the former, since improving tension production equals demonstrable improvements in strength.

You’ll find many exceptional resources on this website that will help you maximize your ability to produce tension regardless of the tool—kettlebell, barbell, or your own body. That’s what it means to be StrongFirst: strong no matter the object or the situation. But when was the last time you tried to intentionally sharpen your ability to relax and recover quickly?

In a fitness world inundated with met-cons, high intensity, more reps, less rest, and heavier training loads, it is not uncommon for us to view rest periods (if they’re even included) as downtime in our training rather than an opportunity to improve our physical capacities.

Strength is a skill. As such, it must be practiced regularly and with focus in order to earn proficiency in its use. The ability to relax on command is no different. It’s time we boost our physical attributes by cultivating an approach to relaxation training that mirrors our dedicated pursuit of strength. Neglecting proficiency in relaxation techniques could leave you with untold amounts of unmined performance.

Rock Climbing’s Approach to Grip Recovery

“Fast and loose” drills popularized by Pavel fall under a general classification of active...

When you are training, one of the decisions you make before you start each session is whether you will be wearing training shoes. While training barefoot certainly has its advantages, both physically and neurologically, there will be certain times when wearing the proper shoe is paramount to your training success.

If a person is not training barefoot, then there are several shoe options to choose from. At the SFL Certification and SFG Certification, I frequently get asked what kind of training shoes to wear. Most of you know that I used to compete in the sport of powerlifting prior to playing American semi-pro football. As a result, over the years, I have gathered various shoes for training and each has its specific purpose, both for powerlifting and for general training.

In this article, I will discuss each of my training shoes in detail.

My Old Safe Squat Shoes

These shoes have been with me through thick and thin. Scott Safe, who used to make these shoes at his facility in Cannon Falls, Minnesota, sold the rights to these shoes to Titan Support Systems, located in Corpus Christi, Texas. Titan is a huge supporter of the sport of powerlifting, so if you need any powerlifting gear, from raw to fully equipped, they are the people to call.

Titan is currently making these shoes and they...