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Athletic development specialists dedicated to the art and science of excellence in movement

The Strength Retreat 2016 Review

The Strength Retreat, Year Two was another smashing success. This unique gathering of strength, led by Master SFG Karen Smith and Senior SFG’s Betsy Collie and Delaine Ross and hosted by SFG Team Leader Hector Gutierrez at his Hardstyle KBJJ, offered a weekend of enjoyment and camaraderie packed with content. Because this was mostly a “learning by doing” course, these notes will merely sample the information from the weekend.  

(For last year's recap, see Strength Retreat 2015)

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First up was Doc Hartle (Masters SFG and Chief SFL), the keynote guest speaker. Doc unfortunately was unable to attend in person but instead taught remotely, yet still in real time, thanks to the wonders of technology (aka, Skype). Doc’s block of instruction focused on the barbell. Much of the discussion centered on setup, specifically for the deadlift.

  • The same principles underlying the barbell setup are the same for bodyweight and the kettlebell (and by extension the mindset is the same….)
  • Setup is the first step of an exercise. The setup does not come before the lift…it is part of the lift.
  • In a kettlebell deadlift, the weight should feel almost weightless if you set up properly.
  • Kettlebell deadlift and goblet squat are both ideal introductions to their barbell equivalents
  • In the deadlift, because there is no eccentric component (as in the squat and bench), your setup functions as the eccentric component.
  • Probably the highlight of this segment was having Doc evaluate each of our deadlift setups, and noticing how keen his eye was to make corrections within seconds
  • Favorite analogy for the plank..Tuck pelvis + tighten abs = “locking the door.” Squeezing the glutes = “tightening the deadbolt.”

Betsy led the next segment, which focused on the lunge as an exercise and an assessment.

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  • Continually assess your students to offer them the right exercise for their needs, even within a large group. The focus here was the lunge, but the general point is universal
  • Within a class you can write a single group workout that includes a lunge, but having many variations available, you can tailor the variation to the student and create a manageable structure to the course, that not only progresses the student effectively, but also maintains class unity
  • Consistent point of emphasis both years…good programming and coaching can equal good business and customer satisfaction. You don’t have to sacrifice the former (programming and coaching) to achieve the latter (business and satisfaction). If you do it right, these domains can enhance each other
  • In this context, business does not simply mean the exchange of money. The same principles apply to other situations (i.e. sports team strength and conditioning) in which your “currency” is buy-in, not payment by customers

The day also included a sample Ground Force Method session, led by Hector, who in addition to being an SFG Team Leader is a lead instructor for GFM (one of the few in the world who can teach certifications). (Also see, Primal Move Recap and Review)

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  • Reminded the power of vision and mimicry as the class leader demonstrates the movements without verbal cues 
  • While the sometimes these primal/developmental/animal based systems get focused on the exercises themselves, what is perhaps more important are the principles underlying them, most notably the integration of all senses as critical elements of the practice
  • There is a time and place for rigidity in training but there is also a time from freedom and expression
  • Ground Force Method can serve many roles in a training system. Warm up, recovery, event specific for ground based sports, and also an introduction to plyometrics
  • Ground Force Method games never fail to put a smile on people’s faces!
  • We were also very fortunate to have an expansive martial arts gym in which to practice. Another common sense business lesson there – do your resources suit your programming?

Some of the best times at these events occur outside the gym/classroom. Yet again, the nighttime gathering offered another opportunity for sharing ideas with other practitioners of strength with a similar philosophy of training, and to some extent, life itself. One special thing about both years of the strength retreat is how it attracts a group of people for whom strength is truly a lifestyle. That’s not to say certifications are any less so (especially given the cost), but when people pay good money to travel and show up for an event with no certification at stake and no CEU’s awarded, you know their passion runs especially deep. (But remember…"What happens in Corpus stays in Corpus"…or something like that…)

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On Sunday morning we learned that you really don’t need many bricks and mortar resources to create an effective practice session. Stripped of nearly all possible equipment, we traveled to the beach for Karen’s bodyweight section of the course. On the beach, we were able to do a complete bodyweight practice session without the equipment we normally use in the gym. Need an elevation to regress your one arm pushup? Grab a partner! Since most people tend to rush through their sessions, utilizing a partner for stability forces you to slow down (“You go, I go” format).

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Without walls, a ceiling, or any equipment, you can create an effective bodyweight session to include warmup/mobility, both upper and lower body strength, and even a finisher set (which is normally not part of the SFB curriculum but illustrated the versatility available in an open venue of the beach)

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Back at the gym we dove into programming and kettlebell progressions with Delaine. Program design can be very complicated but it doesn’t have to be. Delaine offered a very simple yet effective template for group training based on a few basic movements: Push, pull, squat, hinge, loaded carry, and rotation/counter rotation. Programming in this fashion is not only effective, it is also an efficient way to run operations in making programming relatively simple, thereby freeing up resources to devote in other areas. In addition, structuring the class around basic movements allows for multiple options within each movement (“specialized variety”).

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In Hector’s programming lecture we were given a taste of the very sophisticated methodology behind Plan Strong, specifically for the military press and the deadlift. What I found most valuable was how these newer programs have made allowances for different “types” of lifters (endurance or strength) rather than a uniform set and rep scheme for all. This is something I found in prepping for the military press requirement in the SFG Level II. (more on that in my upcoming Level II recap…)

In sum, The Strength Retreat is a rare and special event that gets better each year. Any opportunity to work with StrongFirst leadership while surrounded by high level colleagues is an extraordinary valuable experience. Though the level of strength was especially high in this group, there truly is something for everyone at the event, from beginner to advanced. Can't wait to see what next year offers!