The Courage to Do Less

Musashi Screen

The other day I was testing some of my lifts in preparation for attending an upcoming StrongFirst Barbell certification. Despite having limited experience with a barbell I was pleased to find I met all of the strength requirements for the barbell testing despite only really training with kettlebells and bodyweight.  During the previous week I had also received some friendly challenges from friends to perform Dragon Flags and Superman Pushups which I discovered I was also able to perform on the first attempt.

It wasn’t always this way for me and I can remember back to 6 years ago before I discovered Pavel’s teachings when so many things that I can do now seemed nearly impossible.  With little to no barbell training, it seems that several years of applying the Hardstyle/StrongFirst principles to a handful of techniques plus the One Mind any Weapon approach have prepared me well.

Ever since getups from the program minimum healed an injured shoulder, single leg deadlifts from the Rite of Passage variety days rehabbed a chronically sprained ankle I’ve been believer in Pavel’s less is more approach. Several years later I’m even more of a believer that when it comes to strength less truly is more.  This is what sets StrongFirst apart.

When it comes to StrongFirst we have the courage to consistently do less in order to accomplish more.

While others use workouts of the day devised to entertain, we forge ahead with programs like the Rite of Passage.

Where others have fallen for “muscle-confusion” we follow the “same-but-different” principle to train the same skill in subtly different ways.

While others do hundreds of reps to failure, we have the courage to “Grease the Groove” or follow programs like Easy Strength performing as little as 10 reps or less without fatigue and become stronger for it.

While most “programs” found in popular fitness magazines contain dozens of techniques we choose programs like “Power to the People” and “the Program Minimum” that use only two techniques to perfection.

When others are at globo-gyms with millions of dollars of equipment, and computerized machines that allow them to train while seated we deliver superior results in our courage corners that typically contain little more than a few kettlebells, a barbell, a piece of floor and a pull-up bar.

While others are in a rush to take a photo of the biggest sweat puddle,  create the latest exercise variation or post a video of their own personal best we work quietly and professionally drilling the basics and filling in the gaps.

A great StrongFirst approved training session is as simple as it needs to be, a work of art where the rest achieves just as much as the work done.

I imagine if the StrongFirst methods could be applied to a form of painting it would be Sumi-e painting. In Sumi-e the artist typically uses black ink only and as few brush strokes as possible.  The use of empty space is just as important if not more so than the ink. Mastering the art of Sumi-e requires great discipline, concentration and daily practice.  In many ways sumi-e is has been used as a metaphor for the way a warrior must live his life or fight a battle where the courage and discipline to release a single brush stroke without regret is compared to delivering a decisive blow in battle.  Taken another direction I believe sumi-e painting can be a metaphor for the StrongFirst methods.

A favorite story of mine that illustrates the point goes something like this…

In feudal Japan a master artist was commissioned by his lord to create a particular sumi-e painting. The artist would receive a sum of money every day until the painting was completed. The lord waited impatiently for many months and finally journeyed to the artist’s  home to see what the delay was all about. When the artist insisted that the painting was not ready and he could not commit to a delivery date the lord demanded his painting be produced immediately under penalty of death.  The artist sat down with his tools and within minutes created a masterful sumi-painting with a mere handful of brilliant brush strokes. The painting was wonderful and exactly what the lord wanted.  At first the lord was pleased, but then he grew furious as he realized he had been forced to wait months for something that only took the master artist a few minutes to produce.  When the lord demanded the artist to explain why he made the lord wait , the artist simply said the he was not ready.  This made the lord even more furious.  At that the artist showed the lord a room full of cabinets. The artist opened a cabinet and out fell hundreds of versions of the exact same painting. Then he continued to open every cabinet and one after another each cabinet contained hundreds upon hundreds more of the same painting totaling in the thousands. As the lord looked on in amazement he began to realize that while each painting was a masterpiece each consecutive painting was usually just a little better than the last and the version that he witnessed the artist produce this very day was the best to date.  At that moment it became obvious to that what had only taken a few minutes to complete had actually taken a life time to prepare for.

The lord apologized to the artist and begged him to continue working on the commissioned painting until it was ready.


Training with the StrongFirst methods is a lot like a masterful Sumi-e painting.

We get the job done with a few strokes and limited equipment.

There are times of urgency when training goals and deadlines must be met and then there is the majority of the time when we must simply be consistent and practice.  Instead of constantly racing toward a result, we have faith in the process while pursuing improvement and looking forward to the day when we will have hundreds or thousands of masterful training sessions under our belt.

Follow the StrongFirst methods and in the end your strength, your skill and your body will be your own work of art.

John Scott Stevens, SFGII, SFBW, CKFMS  is a Omaha’s longest standing certified Kettlebell instructor and chief instructor at Omaha Elite Kettlebell.

Body By You: A Challenge for Life

Get The Body You Want
Through Supplements, Bootcamps and Six Week Programs???

When it comes to transforming bodies most people are looking for a quick fix. It’s a sort of sad irony that the very people who are out of shape or obese are the same people that have absolutely no idea what it takes to achieve a strong healthy body or they would have it already. In other words, they make the perfect victims for snake oil salesmen. You’ll find no shortage of fitness charlatans preying upon these people and selling them some quick fix in the form of new diets, six-week bootcamps, 90-day programs or poisonous supplements.

Body By Supplements???
One such popular option today is a product known as Visalus or Body by Vi. It is a meal replacement shake that contains Sucralose sold as a line of supplements. This is being pushed as health way to quickly transform you body and lose fat. Here’s an interesting article that exposes the health risk of taking supplements: Sucralose: Dangerous Sugar Substitute.

Before deciding which 90-day program, 6-week challenge, vitamin supplement or meal replacement shake you’re going to spend your hard earned money on consider the following:

  • Does the person pimping the product actually care about you? If the product injures you, doesn’t work out gives you cancer will it bother them in the least?
  • Do you actually know people first hand that have achieved and maintained the body or level of health you want from using the product?
  • Can you continue using the “product” for the rest of you life?
  • What are you going to do during the days, weeks, months and years that follow the end of the program?
  • What will you do when the manufacture or company of your product goes out of business or moves?

Success Leaves Clues
If you know someone that has the body you want or admire and has maintained it for some time chances are they didn’t get it through supplements or any other quick fix. Chances are it is a direct result of the way they have lived day in and day out for years. Any athletic body that I admire is the product of … an active & athletic lifestyle and eating in a manner that uses food a source of fuel rather than a source of happiness. I think it’s no coincidence that these bodies are owned by individuals that are intelligent, always seeking new challenges and growing. I’m talking about those individuals who once they conquer a challenge or reach a certain level of excellence set out in search of the next challenge that pushes them outside of their comfort zone. Those that compete regularly, constantly setting out to achieve personal bests and learn.

One such physique I admire is owned by a 66 year old Vietnam Veteran. I had the honor of meeting Jan when he enrolled in my kettlebell class at the age of 64. Jan performs some sort of intense training nearly every day and his workouts would humble most men in their twenties. He is approximately 5’9″ tall about 160lbs and boasts a low body fat percentage in the single digits. I once witnessed Jan perform 66 chin-ups; one for each year he’s been alive. When I asked him about his impressive chin-ups he told me that ever since he was a teenager he’s made it a goal to be able to do one chin-up for each year he’s been alive. Adding one rep a year was a reasonable goal and one that he’s been able to achieve each year so far. He loves to run and has participated in dozens of marathons. At the gym he performs L-Sits for minutes at time, hanging leg raises, a lot of ab-wheel, uses heavy barbell training performing things like cleans and standing military presses. He also enjoys hardstyle kettlebell training, particularly five or ten minute sets of snatches with a 53lb or 70lb kettlebell. His workouts are typically short, around 30 minutes or so. Sometime he’ll workout two to three times in one day. Sometimes he won’t train at all and take a few days or a week off. When I asked him how he eats he tells me he typically eats one very large meal a day in the evening with raw veggies and protein as the featured ingredient. He snacks on things like fruit veggies or nuts throughout the day. He never concerns himself with the scale. He very much loves things thing like burgers and beer but for the most part he simply eats for energy so that he can keep up with his grand kids, his full time job and his workouts.

A Challenge for Life
Starting now, for the rest of your life perform a reasonable amount of enjoyable exercise 5 to 6 days a week. Learn how to perform your exercises safely and effectively. Read about nutrition. Make better food choices. Eliminate unnecessary stress and get plenty of sleep. On average your exercise should be medium intensity, finish every workout feeling fantastic, once every week or so push yourself much harder. Your body will change for the better little by little in a way that is easily sustainable.

When that 6-week bootcamp is over, the 90-day program is up, the meal replacement shakes and supplements are taken off the market for causing cancer or the manufacturer goes out of business you’ll be enjoying your daily exercise, eating healthy and spending your hard earned money of things that make you happy.

Here’s a photo of Kelly Rushlow, she’s lost over 100 lbs and kept if off. Her transformation was achieved gradually over a few years through sensible diet and regularly training with Kettlebells and Hardstyle methods three days and one FMS session per week. She also enjoys regularly trying new exercise classes such as martial arts and most recently Zumba. She recommends losing no more than one pound of fat per week. Kelly is currently an HKC certified kettlebell instructor.


Give Omaha Elite Kettlebell a try. Choose one of our group classes offered six days a week or schedule a private session. We’ll teach you techniques for achieving a stronger healthier you that can be sustained for a lifetime.