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

Thoughts from the StrongFirst Bodyweight Certification with Chief SFB Karen Smith (October 2015)

Some thoughts from last month's StrongFirst Bodyweight Certification where I had the honor of assisting Chief SFB Karen Smith

Before getting started...For additional recaps of prior SFB events see:

*Let's start with the strength tests....one arm one leg push up (OAOLPUfor males, one arm push up (OAPUfor females. First, you don't need to show up ready to pass! I know this is a sensitive point for many people...Yet in reality, no one will think any less of you for not passing the push up test on site 

*...That doesn't mean don't fully prepare. But it does mean the chances of passing the test should not be a determining factor for attendance. It would be a shame for fear of "failure" to be the reason for not taking this certification. 

*Remember, no one "fails"...not earning the certification means you simply haven't passed yet. You have SIX months from the certification to submit a passing video and earn the SFB title  

*The nerves of the bodyweight strength tests are different than the nerves of the snatch test or any other strength test in StrongFirst. A silent arena can be more intimidating than a loud stadium, though there is really no need for intimidation, especially if you have done the test before on your own. So what to do about the nerves?...

*Minimize wasted energy in the setup. Though we teach a very deliberate checklist approach to the setup, ideally this process should only require enough tension to accomplish the task. No more no less. Use your max tension but don't burn it where you don't need it.  Most people who show up (especially current SFG's) have more than enough strength to "get out of the hole" at the bottom of the push up, but the real challenge for many people is learning to groove an efficient descent

*Many different ways to practice OAOLPU and OAPU ("rowing" to bottom without pushing up, full movement at elevation, assistance with bands or furniture sliders, isometric holds at sticking point, etc).

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*Never forget high tension basics. We love to talk progression and programming, but there's always a lot to be gained simply from working on tension

*If you are a proficient at one arm military pressing, the push up tests are no different than a max military press. No need to get psyched out, especially those with the SFG level II standard of a 1/2 bodyweight kettlebell military press!  

*It is possible to give people what they want AND what they need. Most students are surprised how the simplest looking drills can be extremely difficult when done with high tension and strict technique

*....However, not all students need to meet instructor standards. Keep them safe and challenge those that want to be held to high standards. But don't whip out your badge from the Technique Police and make every training session at home like a certification. I think all of us instructors have made that mistake at some point

*Leverage the bodyweight curriculum to improve business offerings without deviating from sound training principles...monthly pull up challenge, one arm push up challenge, etc. Everyone can participate at their own level by using proper regressions and progressions. Improvements in these areas transfer to other areas, so offering these challenges is not a form of random entertainment. Far from it.

*For female students, a pull up challenge may be one of the most empowering challenges you can deliver. When females can do pull ups, almost everything improves. Motivation to achieve pull up can help also with body composition goals. Obsession with numbers of pull ups in a far more enriching objective than obsessing with numbers on the scale (and builds a deeper connection with the student for a longer term business relationship)   

*Setting up for the pull up with a kettlebell on the foot (or feet) can be magic to break a barrier, even if you can't move from that position. Similar concept to practicing the rack position for the kettlebell press with a weight heavier than what you can press

*So many transferrable cues from the OAOLPU and OAPU to the military press, especially with the lower body

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*Just as ankle limitations can affect the squat, wrist limitations can affect the one arm push up. But note that bony anatomy is often unique to each student. Learn to troubleshoot the setup position to accommodate each person's wrist and hand capabilities. This is the type of information that truly makes this an instructor event...and not just a weekend to mess around with gymnastics!

*There is a difference between bodyweight strength lifts and bodyweight calisthenics - a big difference. Remember the spirit of the Naked Warrior.  Two key exercises - one arm one leg push up and the pistol (with some attention also to pull up). There's nothing wrong with throwing a bunch of exercises into a circuit or with playful bodyweight movement. Just realize there is a difference from training strength. Bodyweight describes the implement, not the philosophy.

*When you pick the right exercises, you really don't need that many...

*...with a minor exception for pullups.  Grip variations do transfer well to each other and can help prevent repetitive use injuries while allowing for higher training volume 

*Single leg deadlift is often a more effective way to train pistols than by training pistols

*You learn tons of new cool and awesome stuff at the cert. Yet don't throw too much new stuff into your students' programming or your own programming all at once. Just because we learn handstand progressions doesn't mean students need to do handstands. In fact, you might not to change anything you do at all.  But the foundational principles make you better at what you already do whether it is kettlebells, barbells, strongman, yoga, and even therapy

*No excuse to unnecessarily coddle patients in therapy if you understand bodyweight strength principles. Many options to get people very strong in a clinically safe manner without picking up a weight

*Improved body awareness often is key to preventing injury (and lack of body awareness often related to injury onset). Bodyweight training forces everyone to look inward and learn their bodies more deeply without distraction of weights

*Bodyweight also provides options so that you are never limited by space or equipment. Never again worry about pathetic hotel gyms or homestays lacking weights! (Coach Karen on How to Stay Strong)

*The better you can maintain your fitness on the road, during busy times, etc, the more consistent your progress will be long term. The ability to not lose fitness is often more important than heroic efforts to gain fitness. Having a highly portable skillset of bodyweight training helps serve that goal. It is all part of the bigger picture, not just learning new moves for the sake of learning new moves...

*Bring a performer's mindset to training. See Master SFG Dave Whitley's recent post on StrongFirst about the life of a professional strongman. Imagine your employment depends on your ability to deliver each and every day. For bodyweight, think of the circus artist or dancer. No perform = no work = no pay. Would you still train yourself to soreness every time you hit the gym if your paycheck depended on your ability to show up for work?  

*Just because many high level athletes and military tough guys do stupid things doesn't mean that's the right way to train...remember professional sports and combat occupations are not lines of work well known for longevity... Soreness is inevitable if you are training hard, but should never be a measure of training success  

*Grease the groove programming is perfectly aligned with the performer's mindset

*More support for grease the groove...Like many certifications, people are stronger at the end of the weekend despite the accumulated fatigue. A lot of practice but appropriate dosages of intensity (hardstyle), density (work per units of time), and volume (total workload) to ensure high quality movement

*Long warmups are great...but not always realistic. We warm up a lot at the cert because we can. We also teach many different warmup options to bring home to students. But like a performer, do you own your movement so well that you can deliver on demand with no warm up?

*More on the performer's mindset...Make strength look good. Harness the artistic qualities of movement. Strength is not a style contest, but do strive to carry your strength with the most appealing aesthetic

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*Keeping tension out of your face is one of the most underrated cues invented

*Difference between a gymnastics handstand and "hardstyle" handstand in terms of transferability to overhead pressing. Gymnastics handstand - often arched low back, extended neck, hands potentially wider. Poor setup for overhead pressing. "Hardstyle" handstand - hands oriented similarly to setup for double kb press, minimal back arch (tuck the pelvis under, point belly to face), neutral neck and gaze. For those experienced in handstand, the "hardstyle" handstand may be a humbling regression

*On that note, avoid looking up at the bar during pull up during most pull up training. OK for "bodybuilder style" pull ups if numbers are the goal or if you need to work your back at a different angle. Do whatever you need within the rules if you are in max rep test/contest. But for regular strength training, aim for neutral neck and back.

*Learning to troubleshoot...is a strength leak truly a strength leak?...or is it the body's way of exposing a mobility limitation?  

*Mobility matters. A lot. Many exercises get much easier if getting into position is easy

*The more energy you burn getting into position, the more you have chipped away at your ability to recover from the workout 

*That said, we can all improve high tension strategies. Strength fixes many things. Common example: pike during OAPU or OAOLPU and during pull ups...increased tension in grip/abs/glutes often solves problem without being overly technical 

*The simpler you can make fixes with the basic exercises, the easier it becomes to explore (and play!) with harder exercises. Be patient.

*Spotting is not only about assistance or being a safety net if something goes wrong. Optimal positioning as a spotter instills confidence in the lifter. There's a reason spotting is covered in detail in this course not only for handstands but also for bar work. Performance and safety are synergistic, not antagonistic.  

*Regress to progress...going to an easier progression may be harder by exposing weak links. This is also great for getting student "buy in." ("Wow, that looks so easy and I should be able to do it.") In fact, the one arm push up is one of the best "buy in" exercises around

*Specificity versus general strength? Emphasize the progressions or improve general strength? The formula is different for everyone.  The higher your general strength foundation, the fewer reps you need to master the bodyweight lifts. But at some point you do need to practice the specifics of the exercise. Likewise, no matter how diligent you are with progressions, a lack of strength may halt your progress (particularly for harder exercises like levers and handstands).  

A big thanks to Hector Gutierrez and his team at Hardstyle KBJJ for hosting! 

Visit the StrongFirst website for upcoming StrongFirst Bodyweight certifications and courses in 2016!