7 Ways to Accomplish More with the Same Reps and Sets

The typical solution to making an exercise or given weight harder is to do more reps, run farther, workout longer, etc. The problem with this approach is that there comes a point where you can only spend so much time training per day, and the ‘more is better’ approach eventually leads to running out of time and or overtraining/injury.

There is an elegant solution that requires far less time while providing a higher return for your investment.
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Aside

Over the years as an instructor/coach/teacher I’ve noticed a particular phenomenon where some very experienced students begin to lose confidence in their skill sets although it’s clear that they’ve come along way and accomplished a great deal while novice students are typically over-confident despite their relative lack of skill.  I’ve seen it time and time again where people who are objectively much better than they have been in the past perceive they are no good or getting worse. The perception of getting worse or better at a skill is often a matter of choosing your perspective and  objectively tracking your progress.  If you’re not tracking your workouts and objectively measuring progress, then the only standard you are judging yourself against is perfection and you’ll never measure up.

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Is Your Training Negatively Affecting Your Mental Health?

SFG Kettlebell User Course 4/19/2015 Omaha, NE at Body Basics Fitness Equipment – with Omaha Elite Kettlebell

OUR NEXT USER COURSE: JULY 19th, 2015


Announcing our One Day SFG Kettlebell User Course hosted by Body Basics Fitness Equipment  Sunday, April 19th, 2015.  This course is officially sold out!

The 8-Hour Kettlebell Workshop – Perfected.

The most fundamental and thoroughly in-depth kettlebell instruction available within a single day. Developed by the founder of the modern kettlebell movement, Pavel Tsatsouline. WHAT IS THE COST? $299.00 WHAT WILL YOU LEARN IN THOSE 8 HOURS? Only the most necessary skills in order to ensure that you will understand the techniques and concepts, and be able to safely practice them on your own. Continue reading

Squeeze More out of Your Only Kettlebell

Squeeze More Out of Your Only Kettlebell: Omaha Elite Kettlebell - John Scott Stevens, SFGII

Keeping a kettlebell at the home or office is a great way to recharge during a 15-minute break from the computer.
Not everyone has a wide variety of bells to choose from and some people have only one bell, often a relatively light beginner bell and they quickly outgrow it… or so they think.

With a little creativity you will find plenty of ways to make a light bell seem heavier than it should and keep your strength gains coming.

Here are just a few examples of how to squeeze more out of a given size bell. Each list is arranged from easiest to hardest. Aside from doing more reps or taking less rest… when a particular version of a technique begins to feel easy,  start working on one of the versions further down the list.  Safety is always a priority and so is your dignity, for that reason you will never attempt any kettlebell exercise while standing on a bosu ball or standing on a kettlebell. [Note: If your idea of kettlebell training involves doing a single leg squat atop a kettlebell… you’re doing it wrong.]

This list is by no means exhaustive and with a little imagination I could easily double the variations shown below.
With variations like these I can keep a 16kg kettlebell challenging although I can readily swing, bent press, squat and do getups with a bell three times that size.  I’m not trying to brag, there are many stronger people in the world… but, my point is this:

Strength is a choice: If you have a kettlebell you think you’ve outgrown, you’re probably wrong.

Enjoy & Don’t forget to share this post if you do!

 

KETTLEBELL DEADLIFT

  1. Easiest: Sumo Kettlebell Deadlift
  2. Harder: Sumo Kettlebell Deadlift from an elevation
  3. Harder: Single arm suitcase deadlift
  4. Harder: Single Leg Kettlebell Deadlift

KETTLEBELL HIP HINGE

  1. Easiest: Two Hand Swing
  2. Harder: Hand to Hand Swing
  3. Harder: One Hand Swing
  4. Harder: High Pulls
  5. Harder: Snatches

KETTLEBELL PRESS

  1. Easiest: Push Press
  2. Harder: Military Press
  3. Harder: Bent Press
  4. Harder: Military Press Blind Folded, Standing on one leg… or both.
  5. Harder: Tall Kneeling Military Press (Blind folded too)
  6. Harder: Press Up, 1/4 the way down & back up, 1/2 the way down & back up, 3/4 down then up.
  7. Harder: Seated On The Floor Press
  8. Harder: Press from the bottom of the squat
  9. Harder: Press while seated in the splits

KETTLEBELL GETUP

  1. Easiest: Partial Getups
  2. Harder: Full Getups
  3. Harder: Full Getups with several presses on the way to standing.
  4. Harder: Slow Motion Getups: 1 minute + per repetition.
  5. Harder: Continuous getups for up to 5 reps without setting the bell down before switching hands.

KETTLEBELL SQUAT

  1. Easiest: Goblet Squat
  2. Harder: Reactive Goblet Squats  (Engum)
  3. Harder: Goblet squat with the bell held upside down (bottom up)
  4. Harder: Goblet Squat with a 10 second pause in the bottom while shaking the bell vigorously. (Dan John)
  5. Harder: Front Squat
  6. Harder: Cossack Squat
  7. Harder: Bottom Up Front Squat
  8. Harder: Goblet Squat with the bell held overhead
  9. Harder: Single Arm Overhead Squat (hold the bell overhead with one arm locked out and squat)
  10. Harder: Pistol (a.k.a. Single Leg Squat)
  11. Harder: Racked Pistol
  12. Harder: Botom Up Racked Pistol
  13. Harder: Overhead Pistol

KETTLEBELL CLEAN

  1. Easiest: Cheat Clean with both hands
  2. Harder: Clean (standard)
  3. Harder: Dead Clean with no backward hike pass between reps.
  4. Harder: Bottom Up Clean
  5. Harder: Add a 15 seconds hold/pause in the rack position between reps.

Kettlebell Juggling: Omaha Elite Kettlebell - John Scott Stevens SFGII

KETTLEBELL JUGGLING
Kettlebell juggling sounds scary, but it’s not nearly as hard as it sounds.  You will need to perform these outside of course where the bells won’t bounce.

  1. Easiest: Two Hand Release & Catch at the top of the swing
  2. Harder: Hand to Hand Release & Catch
  3. Harder: One Hand Release & Catch
  4. Harder: Hand to  Hand Release into a flip & catch
  5. Harder: One Hand Release into a flip & catch
  6. Harder: One Hand release into a helicopter spin & catch
    (For a greater list of kettlebell juggling techniques and progressions I recommend the works of Jeff Martone and Gus Peterson)

WANT MORE?
For even more kettlebell lifting variations check out “More Russian Kettlebell Challenges” from Pavel Tsatsouline.
More Russian Kettlebell Challenges

Ketlebell Snatch to Lunge: An Uncommon Killer Kettlebell Combo

Kettlebell Snatch/Jumping Lunge: Omaha Elite Kettlebell

Allow me to introduce you to one of my all-time favorite killer kettlebell combinations: The Kettlebell Snatch + Lunge.

The kettlebell snatch by itself is an awesome technique that works everything from head to toe, but by combining lunges with snatches I get to keep things interesting while drilling the basics. Additionally,  it’s a whole lotta fun.
Other benefits include:
  • The addition of the overhead lunge is great way to slow someone down who tends to cut their snatches short of a true vertical lockout.
  • The snatch and lunge are a great way of pairing one explosive movement and one grind.
  • The lunge adds an increased balance challenge.
  • Because the overhead lunge is a component of the getup, this combo is a great way to drill part of the getup or use as a seamless transition into the getup.
  • This combination can be progressed in various ways by changing the timing, adding a jumping lunge or even using two bells at once.

VARIATIONS

Here are several variations of the Snatch to Lunge combination that I like to use in my own training that range from simple to advanced.

LEVEL I: Snatch then lunge

Snatch the kettlebell overhead, pause motionless in the lockout, then perform either a forward or reverse lunge. Return to standing and repeat.  This is the obvious starting point for individuals who have demonstrated competence in both the snatch and the lunge separately.Q: “Which knee goes in front?” 
A: It doesn’t matter, just get good at both. When performing multiple reps per arm I sometime alternate legs with each lunge. The only exception to this rule is when you use the lunge to transition into a getup you must have the same leg in front as the overhead arm.
Snatch then Overhead Lunge

LEVEL II: Snatch as you drop into a lunge

As you perform the snatch, step forward and time it so that you catch the bell in the overhead lockout either just before or at the exact moment you reach the bottom of the lunge. Obviously, this is a more advanced variation that allows you to move at a faster pace and requires a slightly higher degree of timing and coordination.   The knee should touch the floor softly and quietly. Crashing the knee into the floor is forbidden and a definite sign that you’re not ready for this exercise.
Kettlebell Snatch as You Lunge

LEVEL III: Snatch as you jump into a lunge

Kettlebell Snatch into a jumping lunge

That’s right, jump! Ok… more of a hop really.
Start the snatch and as the kettlebell floats immediately jump into a lunge and catch the bell as you reach the bottom of the lunge.  Once again… no knee crashing allowed! The trick here is to not use as much power as you would to snatch while standing or the bell can go out of control. Since you are dropping under the bell, you only need to snatch with as much power as would be required to perform a  “clean” or make it float to shoulder height. From the kneeling position, I like to jump back up as  the bell drops into the hike phase of the next snatch.

LEVEL “M”: Double Kettlebell Jumping Snatch into a Lunge

Double Kettlebell Snatch to Jumping Lunge: Omaha Elite Kettlebell

Yes, I went there.
This is the same as Level III with one additional bell.
Since both snatches and lunges lend themselves to double kettlebells… I figured “Why not?” and I immediately fell in love with these.  I have never had a client perform these, but they are something I feel safe to use in my own training.
Safety is always first and foremost so I recommend only using bells that you can safely drop from the overhead lockout into the next snatch. For this reason I personally prefer to use 16kg or 20kg bells.  If I felt the need to go heavier (and I don’t) I would recommend lowering the bells to the shoulders between snatches.

There are quite a few levels of difficulty between this move and the last.. so hopefully, naming it “Level M” (the Roman numeral for 1000) gets the point across.  Again, obviously not for everyone… but if you have the necessary skills it’s about as ninja-like as a kettlebell move gets.

SAMPLES ROUTINES

Some examples of how to integrate the Snatch/Lunge combo into your workouts.
  • 5-10 Snatches + 5-10 Lunges, switch arms, repeat x 3 to 5 rounds.
  • (1 snatch + 1 lunge) per arm,  (snatch + lunge)x2 per arm, (1 snatch + 1 lunge) x 3 per arm… climb as high as you want, then start over at 1 & repeat for 5, 10 or 15 minutes.
  • 1 snatch, 1 lunge, 2 snatches, 2 lunges, 3 snatches, 3 lunges…etc, switch arms & repeat. Climb as high as you want, then start over at 1 & repeat for 5, 10 or 15 minutes.
  • (1 snatch + 1 lunge) x 6, switch arms & repeat. ( goal = 50 to 100 total reps)
  • 1 snatch + 1 lunge repeat for 30 seconds, rest 30 seconds, repeat with the other arm. x 3 to 5 rounds per arm.
  • 1 snatch + 1 forward lunge. Step forward as you stand up & repeat across the floor. Switch arms & come back. Repeat for rounds, reps or time.
  • 5 snatches + 5 lunges into a reverse getup. Switch hands when you return to standing and repeat for reps or time.

CONSIDERATIONS

SNATCH + OVERHEAD LUNGE PRE-REQUISITES
Before you consider adding this movement to your routine understand that this movement is uncommon for a reason.
It’s only recommended for for individuals who meet the following criteria:
  • No pain, and symmetrical 2s or 3s on the following components of the Functional Movement Screen
    • FMS Active Straight Leg Raise
    • FMS Shoulder Mobility
    • FMS Trunk Stability Pushup
    • FMS Rotary Stability test
    • FMS In Line Lunge
  • No Pain on the following clearance tests”
    • Spinal Extension Clearance Test
    • Shoulder Clearance Test
    • Spinal Flexion Clearance Test
  • Technical Competence in the following movements
    • the kettlebell deadlift
    • the kettlebell swing
    • the kettlebell getup
    • the one hand kettlebell swing
    • the kettlebell snatch
Before you jump into any advanced kettlebell technique… consider this: 
If the answer to any of the following is either “No” or “I’m not sure”, then this combination is not for you.
Does this exercise support your goals?  
Have you mastered the fundamentals first?

Don’t even think about combining snatches and lunges until you rock at lunges and snatches. This should seem obvious.

With the help of a competent instructor you can regress one or both movements to get the same benefits in a safe and appropriately challenge manner.

Is the risk to reward ratio acceptable?
Can you accomplish the same thing in a simpler or safer way?
Tight rope walking between two skyscrapers will teach you balance, and juggling live chainsaws on fire will build great hand eye coordination, but there are simpler and safer ways to get the same benefits without the risk.

Are Kettlebells Better for Strength, Cardio or Toning?

Double Kettlebell Renegade Row Omaha Elite Kettlebell

“Are kettlebells better for strength, cardio or toning?” – The short answer: “YES”.  

The following post is a response to a question posted by Laura Spencer
“Anyone have any insight as far as kettlebell goes? Is it more cardio based than most yoga or barre? Does it compare in the toning you see from barre? I’d like to hear some input from people personally before doing a listless web search.”

I originally posted my response to her blog, but after further consideration I realize that there are probably MANY more people out there asking similar questions.


Laura,

Kettlebells are simply tools that can be programmed and utilized many ways.

Put simply, kettlebells can be used to improve both strength and endurance. Of course, “it depends” on how your workouts are programmed, using the appropriate weights, reps and sets, rest, and safe technique.

Caution: There are a lot of fitness classes out there utilizing kettlebells run by instructors who know next to nothing about how to perform or teach kettlebell techniques let alone how to program a kettlebell workout. To find what I consider to be the highest calibre of Kettlebell training visit www.StrongFirst.com

Kettlebells are a form of resistance training, and when you think about it… so are Barre and Yoga. In Yoga and Barre you use your bodyweight and manipulated leverages as the main source of resistance while kettlebell training relies on… kettlebells. Any form of training that builds strength improves muscle tone. The more resistance you can learn to overcome by either adding an external load or manipulating leverage the stronger you will become and you will improve the “tone” of the muscles being worked.

Tone = Tension. Tension = Strength. Therefore, Strength = Tone
Muscle tone is partly due to the amount of resting tension your muscles have throughout the day.
Tension is strength. When you flex you are temporarily increasing the amount of tension in the muscles involved. So, to lift a heavier weight you need the ability to “flex” harder or generate more tension, which when done with a sufficiently heavy enough weight to elicit an adaptation response builds a stronger muscle capable of generating even more tension. The stronger a muscle is, the more tension it can afford to have at rest (consider the rippling muscles of Bruce Lee, a tiger or even a chimpanzee at rest… THAT’s TONE!)

Additionally, there are many unique kettlebell lifts that develop flexibility like the Getup, Cossack Squats, Pistols, crooked press, arm bars, windmills and Bent presses that many people like to refer to as Yoga with Weights.

SAMPLE KETTLEBELL WORKOUTS

KETTLEBELL STRENGTH & CONDITIONING WORKOUTS
A Kettlebell Workout that does BOTH Strength/Tone & Conditioning can be viewed on my blog
here: https://omahaelitekettlebell.com/2014/09/11/15-minute-advanced-double-kettlebell-workout-no-gym-membership-required/

KETTLEBELL “CARDIO” WORKOUTS
Simple examples of Kettlebell “cardio” workouts that melt fat to reveal the underlying muscle tone could be something like

– Using a light kettlebell you can snatch overhead for 15 to 20 reps and doing sets of 10 per arm with a 1:1 work:rest ratio for 15 minutes. A similar workout was shown to burn more than 20 calories per minute by the average person (study:http://www.acefitness.org/getfit/studies/kettlebells012010.pdf)

– Alternating 20 seconds of kettlebell swings with 20 seconds of goblet squats.
(20 seconds of swings: 10 seconds rest: 20 seconds of goblet squats: 10 seconds rest) x 8
Shoot for 10+ swings and 8+ squats per round.
THEN
(20 seconds of double bell Clean & Push Presses: 10 seconds rest: 20 seconds of renegade rows: 10 seconds rest) x 8

KETTLEBELL “STRENGTH” WORKOUTS
Key features of a kettlebell STRENGTH workout is that the rest periods are longer, the reps are typically lower and the weights are much heavier.

Simple examples of HEAVY kettlebell STRENGTH workouts that increase muscle tone
– 1 getup per arm per minute for 10 minutes.
– A pair of bells you can lift & squat for 5 reps: 2 clean & press + 3 Squats, rest & repeat. 
– Two VERY heavy bells you can swing for 5-10 reps and perform sets of 5  

As you can see, there are many variables you can manipulate in your kettlebell training to target the results you seek. 

Hope that helps. ;]”

Life Liberty and the Pursuit of Strong(er)

Conquering The 5-Minute Kettlebell Snatch Test

In my opinion the Kettlebell snatch is the most powerful and beautiful movement one can perform with a kettlebell. Nothing looks as athletic or awesome as a girevik standing tall with perfect posture holding a kettlebell locked out overhead, victorious.

Aside from just looking cool as all-get-out the kettlebell snatch is just hard work. So hard that the average person measured burns over 20 calories per minute performing them.  The kettlebell snatch uses muscles from your fingers to your toes, the bell travels twice the distance as the kettlebell swing yet uses only one arm and therefore takes nearly twice as much effort… if not more. It requires more mobility than a swing, as well as the finesse to not crash the bell against your forearm. Then you have to drop the bell from the overhead position and master the backswing before gravity and the kettlebell conspire to master you.  The kettlebell picks up speed accelerating down and back until the moment you brace, drive your heels through the earth and rip the bell overhead for another rep. The bell floats upward as you steer the weight to catch it, pausing in perfect stillness… a timeless victory pose the likes of which have been immortalized in statues and paintings for millennia. Very few workouts feel as exhilarating to me as a hard set of kettlebell snatches. Something about it is primal. High rep sets leave your chest pounding, lungs burning and forearms swollen. It is literally about as close as you’ll get to feeling like you’ve been in a fight without throwing a single punch. During extended sets it is often a combination of simple tenacity, fighting spirit and nerves of steel that separates the casual exerciser from the disciplined trainee.  The perfect exercise. Vicious poetry in motion.

In the world of today’s kettlebell enthusiast the minimum mark of competence for a would be kettlebell instructor is the five-minute snatch test.  Men and women typically use a 24kg(52.8lb) or 16kg(35.2lb) bell respectively and are required to perform 100 repetitions to standard without dropping the bell or allowing it to touch the shoulder.  Although not everyone who trains with kettlebells needs to nor should become a kettlebell instructor I believe everyone should strive to achieve and eventually exceed the work capacity required to pass this minimum standard on any given day.

 

THE “OEKB SNATCH TEST CONQUER” PROGRAM

There are many proven methods for passing the snatch test.
You’ll find mine below.

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SIMPLE SAMPLE KETTLEBELL WORKOUTS

Image

I usually avoid workouts of the day and I’m typically not one for posting them.  I believe that stringing together a random series of single workouts simply can’t deliver the kind of results that a well thought out program can.  Additionally, if someone tackles a “WOD” before they are ready for it, then the chance of injury is high.

Let me point out a few differences between workouts and programs:

  • Workouts are about being entertained and challenged right now, while programs are about long term results and preparing your for a challenge.
  • Workouts have a one size fits all mentality, while programs take the individual’s goals and limitations into consideration.
  • Workouts are there to kick your ass, while programs are designed to make you better.
  • A workout is simply something you do once then repeat rarely or never again, while a program often consists of the same workout repeated daily, for weeks on end with a few variables changing over time.

The Right Time and Place
While I’m clearly in favor of following a good program over working out… I do believe that there is a right time and place for a good workout every now and then.

The Right Time
The right time is when you need variety, need to test yourself after completing a program, or need to blow off some steam AND you don’t have any conflicting goals that the workout can interfere with such as needing to perform at a high level within the next day or three.

The Right Place
Your are in the right place in your training for these workouts when you have all of the featured techniques  dialed-in at such a high level that there is practically zero chance of you doing it incorrectly even under a high level of fatigue.

Here are a two sample kettlebell only workouts for your amusement. Be sure to use them only at the time and place.

WORKOUT #1: “GOING BALLISTIC”
The idea behind this workout is to start out with a relatively difficult movement then move on to progressively easier and easier ones as fatigue sets in. Every movement is ballistic and done with maximum hip drive.

Grab three different sized bells  small medium and large.
Men: 16kg, 24kg, 32kg, Women 8kg, 12kg, 16kg

Whatever technique you are using, perform an all out set per arm with the heaviest bell, then do the same with the medium bell and finally then smallest bell. When you are done, start over with the largest bell using a slightly less demanding lift.
Keep moving on to less and less demanding lifts until you are thoroughly “worked out”.

Example:
Using three single bells

  1. Snatches: Heavy x all out left & all out right, Medium x all out left & all out right, Light x all out left & all out right,
  2. High Pulls: Heavy x all out left & all out right, Medium x all out left & all out right, Light x all out left & all out right,
  3. Cleans: Heavy x all out left & all out right, Medium x all out left & all out right, Light x all out left & all out right,
  4. Swings: Heavy x all out left & all out right, Medium x all out left & all out right, Light x all out left & all out right,

Of course if  you’re advanced and have the means you can always Double the Pleasure by using three pairs of bells instead.
Example

  1. Double Snatches: heavy all out,  medium all out, light  all out
  2. Double High Pulls: heavy all out,  medium all out, light  all out
  3. Double Cleans: heavy all out,  medium all out, light  all out
  4. Double Swings: heavy all out,  medium all out, light  all out

Note: Using this double format I was able to perform a 15-minute workout that burned 26 calories per minute.  I never repeated it.

Workout #2: “MR. CLEAN’S LADDER”
This workout features the clean and reminds me of the telephone game we played in grade school.
Using one or two bells perform 1 rep of a clean, then one rep of a technique of your choice.
Remember this sequence and repeat it adding another clean and another technique, then repeat this new sequence adding again and again and again.

  1. 1 Double Clean + 1 Front Squat
  2. 1 Double Clean + 1 Front Squat + 1 Clean + 1 Military Press
  3. 1 Double Clean + 1 Front Squat + 1 Clean + 1 Military Press + 1 Clean + 1 Snatch
  4. 1 Double Clean + 1 Front Squat + 1 Clean + 1 Military Press + 1 Clean + 1 Snatch + 1 clean + 1 Push Press

Climb as high as you can then rest as little as necessary.
Repeat the same ladder with the chosen techniques stacked in reverse order

  1. 1 Double Clean + 1 Push Press
  2. 1 Double Clean + 1 Push Press + 1 clean + 1 Snatch
  3. 1 Double Clean + 1 Push Press + 1 clean + 1 Snatch + 1 clean + 1 Military Press
  4. 1 Double Clean + 1 Push Press + 1 clean + 1 Snatch + 1 clean + 1 Military Press + 1 clean + 1 Front Squat

The same workout can be performed with higher reps per ladder or a single bell so you’ll need to repeat each ladder twice (once with each side of your body).

 

 

 

IMPROVE YOUR PULL-UPS BY LEARNING TO RIDE WAVE

RIDING THE PULL-UP WAVE

The pull-up is possibly the king of bodyweight exercises. It encourages a healthy strength to bodyweight ratio, builds strong abs, lats and a mean grip. Most people think of the pull-up as an exercise in upper body strength, but when it comes to conquering a pull-up or adding more reps strong abs and timing of the breath are essential.

THE PULL-UP DEFINED

First, let’s be clear on what a pull-up is:
A pull-up begins with you hanging motionless from the bar in an overhand grip, with arms extended and your feet off of the ground.
From this motionless dead-hang, you will pull yourself up without swinging or kicking until your throat or chest touches the bar.
Consecutive pull-ups require you to lower yourself under control and start each rep anew from a motionless dead hang.
No kicking, swinging or kipping is allowed. Ever.

THE STICKING POINTS OF THE PULL-UP
During any lift there comes a point in the movement where you experience poor leverage or a transition between muscle groups that can cause your lift to slow down or grind to a halt.

Here are the three most common sticking points I’ve found in the pull-up.

  • The start: Overcoming the inertia of the dead-hang.
  • The Mid-Point: the point where your elbows approach shoulder level
  • 3/4 The Way Up: The point where the bar approaches eye level.

As with any lift there are a lot of little tricks of the trade to develop the strength to pull or push your way out of your sticking point such as partial reps, isometric holds and so on. But another way is to learn to shift gear and accelerate before you get stuck. I’ve found that hardstyle abdominal training and power breathing as taught in the StrongFirst School of Strength are two great ways to cruise through these sticking points.

HARDSTYLE ABS
To improve your pull-ups you’ll need stronger abs. You don’t need a visible six pack, but you will need a strong midsection. This can be accomplished through a variety of methods, but before your start cranking out worthless traditional crunches putting your spine into flexion I strongly recommend the methods found in Hardstyle Abs and the StrongFirst Bodyweight Instructor Course. The methods are vastly superior to traditional sit-ups and safer. With a qualified instructor these methods can produce dramatic results in a single session and life-changing results after 8-12 weeks. After learning these methods you’ll find ways to strengthen your abs anywhere with little to no equipment in a manner that will actually strengthen and protect your back instead of injuring it through commonly practiced methods.

During a pull-up strong abs can be used to knit the entire body into a solid and more manageable piece to be controlled in space.
This becomes evident with the following mental experiment: Imagine pulling a friend up over a wall who is holding still then another friend who is flailing about. The one who is holding still makes your job easier by allowing you to direct all of your effort into pulling, while a friend who flails about causes you to expend extra energy toward steadying or steering him as you pull.

The ability to both strongly and quickly contract and relax your abs means you relax at the proper time during a pull-up and quickly tighten in time to cruise through a sticking point.

Note: “Hardstyle Abs” is the title of a fantastic book on abdominal training by Pavel Tsatsouline. ALL of the abs drills I use and teach are derived from his methods contained in the “Hardstyle Abs” as well as what I’ve learned from attending his courses and bodyweight strength instructor certifications.  I recommend them because they are 1) Safe, 2) Simple and 3) Devestatingly Effective. One of the principles behind hardstyle ab training is learn to generate MORE tension with your abs and to do so faster. This ability to quickly contract your abs AND contract them harder is the equivalent of putting in a powerful engine so your car.

BREATHING
Athletes such a powerlifters, martial artists, boxers and volley ball players understand that breath control is the key to producing power, or relaxation. A long sigh can relax, while a short intense grunt produces maximal strength. Listen to a pro tennis player hit a ball with power and you’ll notice a sharp and loud exhalation similar to a grunt to produce power followed by longer drawn out sigh to promote quick relaxation. To learn power breathing, I recommend visiting a StrongFirst certified Instructor, preferably one who is certified as bodyweight instructor as well.

RIDING THE WAVE
One way to get better at pull-ups is to coordinate your abdominal contraction around your breathing.
Initiate the pull-up with a grunt, pushing the diaphragm down and zipping up the abs with the intention of shortening the distance between your sternum and belly button. If done properly, you will feel like you are braced for a punch to the midsection. By strongly and quickly contracting your abs in this manner while hanging from a pull-up bar your feet will pull up quickly and start a shockwave that travels upward within the body. When you can do this strongly it’s like getting a small push from below to start your pull-up.

Practice this combination by hanging, then tightening/grunting as you give an initial pull, do this repeatedly for several reps.
Notice sensation it creates as well how far it gets you into the pull-up. Also, take note of how quickly the tension from the initial explosive grunt dissipates. This is the initial “wave”. It will only get you so far, to your first sticking point to be exact, but it’s a great start.

Now that you have practiced this explosive take-off it’s time to learn to quickly change gears and keep accelerating.
Just before you hit your first sticking point where the upper arms are approaching parallel to the floor tighten up your abs and glutes again with a sharp powerful hiss and pull. This second contraction of the midsection momentarily increases the tension in your midsection and surrounding muscles to facilitate a stronger pull. The key is to time it perfectly so that you get tight-ER just before you hit the sticking point and you continue accelerating. When done properly you’ll practically glide right through your first sticking point. The next sticking point occurs just before you are about to clear the bar. By adding another strong contraction / sharp hiss just before this sticking point you improve your chances of cruising past it as well.

So the pull-up is initiated with a grunt, then quickly followed by a short hiss and increased tension when necessary before a sticking point.

NOTE: It’s important to point out that in both types of breathing an audible grunt and hiss are not the goal of the power breathing but the result of an incredibly forceful abdominal contraction. Simply making noise misses the point and will not give you the desired result. The grunt is the result of the initial contraction and the hiss is the result of breathing out while tightening the midsection further.

Like anything that requires timing, this skill will require practice.
To practice and get this down you will need a partner to help you through the sticking points at first. Your partner will place their hand on the center of your back. When you get stuck, your partner’s job is to give you just enough assistance to keep moving and finish the rep.The speed of the assisted rep should be as close as possible to the speed you intend to do an unassisted rep. As you practice your partner should give you feedback and communicate to you when he or she feels you are improving and requiring less assistance. Eventually your partner will need to push less and less or not at all.

Give this a shot and let me know how it helps your pull-up training.

Are You Pulling Your Weight? – Part 1

As a kettlebell instructor one of my favorite non-kettlebell exercises is the pull-up. The pull-up is an efficient way to simultaneously improve abdominal strength, upper body strength and flexibility, shoulder health, grip strength, overall body composition, and all around athleticism. The good news is that the pull-up is nothing to be intimidated by, it’s simply one point on a long continuum from planks to pull-ups and beyond.

If you have healthy and mobile shoulders, want a challenge and an honest assessment of your overall fitness, the pull-up may be just what the doctor ordered.

5 Ways Pull-Ups Can Help You Achieve Your Fitness Goals

1. Pull-Ups are an excellent predictor of athletic performance.
Individuals who can perform a high number of pull-ups also tend to  perform well in push-ups, sit-ups and even running, but the opposite is not true. It’s quite common to see someone who can do dozens of pushups or hundreds sit-ups perform poorly on the pull-up bar.
As a martial art instructor I used to test individuals on pushups, now I simply test pull-ups for the simple reason that if someone can perform well on pull-ups, then pushups are always a breeze.
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Watch a video of Master SFG Instructor Karen Smith performing a weighted pull-up with a 53lb. kettlebell and more.
Subscribe to our email list to get more information on our March 8th Ladies’ Strength Workshop with Master StrongFirst Instructor Karen Smith Hosted by Omaha Elite Kettlebell
2. Pull-Ups Encourage a healthy body composition and strength to bodyweight ratio
If fat-loss is your goal, then the pull-up is a perfect way to assess progress.
As you get stronger at pull-ups you tend to improve lean muscle mass, and as you lose non-functional body-fat your pull-ups will just keep getting easier.
Kelly loves chin-ups!

Kelly Rushlow pictured here has lost over 100 lbs and kept it off with the help of regular kettlebell training.

“When I started kettlebell training I had very little upper body strength. I think a lot of women like me see people hoisting these heavy weights overhead and probably say to themselves “I could never do that” or “I don’t want to get bulky”.  What they don’t realize is that it’s a journey and you don’t have to do it all at once.  Since training with Scott I’ve steadily progressed to strict push-ups, 5 chin-ups, 2 pull-ups a weighted pull-up and even pressing a 53lb kettlebell overhead. Bulking just doesn’t happen and now women actually compliment me on my arms.  As an added bonus the special abdominal techniques we learn in class have helped me really tighten up my midsection when other people that have lost as much weight as I have might need to resort to surgery to tighten loose skin.”-Kelly

Scott & Jean demonstrating pullups & chinups

Pictured: A thumbless weighted pull-up (palms out) with 53lb kettlebell and a Chin-up (palms facing).

3. Pull-Ups Build an athletic and youthful physique

Chiseled arms, strong shoulders, the athletic v-shape created by a strong back and a tight mid-section are all by-products of training the pull-up. A woman that can do 5 or more pull-ups or a man who can do 20 or more generally possesses a very athletic physique.
One of the most athletic men I’ve ever known is a Vietnam Vet named Jan. Jan is a former kettlebell client of mine who told me he had completed over 30 marathons. He runs like a gazelle, lifts heavy weights and possesses a lean, mean physique with approximately 5% body fat and washboard abs. When I met him I had just witnessed him perform 64 consecutive chin-ups without rest.  He was 64 years young at the time. When I asked him how he was able to maintain such an amazing level of strength at 64 he simply said that ever since he was 13 years old he insisted on doing one pull-up for every year he was alive.

4. Pull-Ups Can Improve Posture

Excelling at strict dead-hang pull-ups touching your chest to the bar stretches out tight chest muscles while strengthening the abs and muscles of the back. When performed the way we teach them they even strengthen the glutes.  Coincidentally a strong back, strong abs and strong glutes are essential for good posture.

5. Pull-ups Make you feel like a champ

Pull-ups improve athleticism, upper body strength, posture, ab strength, encourage a lean physique. This means you get to feel like a champ  PLUS  flying over the top of the pull-up bar is just plain fun and empowering. It’s like starring in your own “Rocky” training montage.
I once heard a wise man say the job of a good trainer is to find the thing you’re not good at and make you better at that. In other words if you’re like the majority of the current population, then pull-ups may be exactly what the doctor ordered.
The pull-up is nothing to be intimidated by, it is one point on a continuum from the plank to hanging from the bar for time to more advanced pull-up variations like weighted pull-ups, hanging leg raises, muscle-ups, front-levers and even the one arm chin-up. Whatever your current strength or skill level at pull-ups we can  find a safe and appropriately challenging progression for you then teach you the skills to conquer the pull-up and achieve your goals.
Raise the bar and give our Omaha Elite Kettlebell classes a try.
Enroll in Kettlebell classes before November 1st and receive a complimentary 30-minute Private Lesson, A Functional Movement Screen to keep you safe and a personalized corrective exercise progression.

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ARE PULL-UPS RIGHT FOR YOU?

Before getting started here’s a quick list of pre-requisites for safely training on the pull-up bar. 
Trunk Stability: Do you have sufficient core strength in your lats, abs and glutes to keep the body knitted together and stable as you raise and lower your body through space?
Shoulder Mobility: Do you have healthy mobile shoulders that are  capable of safely attaining the overhead lockout or start position?
Shoulder Stability: Are all the muscles surrounding the shoulders including the lats strong enough and coordinated enough to keep the shoulders held tightly and safely in their sockets while supporting your weight?
Grip Strength: Do you have the grip strength and endurance to hang on to the bar long enough to get the job done?
As a Functional Movement Screen Specialist and StrongFirst Bodyweight Instructor I will use a quick series of object assessments to determine the appropriate starting point for you.
The Author:
John Scott Stevens is a Level II StrongFirst Certified Kettlebell Instructor, StrongFirst Certified Bodyweight Strength Instructor and CK-FMS Functional Movement Specialist.
He can be reached at
Scott.Stevens@OmahaEliteTraining.com
(402) 403-3975
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