Phil Ross demonstrates the health of his spine and shoulder by pressing Cathy Raimonda

Phil Ross demonstrates the health of his spine and shoulder by pressing Cathy Raimonda

I don’t know how many of you know much of history, but in September of 2011, I suffered a spinal cord injury and sustained permanent damage. In December of 2011, four levels of my neck were operated on. I underwent framenectamy, lamanectamy as well as other procedures to alleviate my spinal stenosis and remove the osteophyte that created my spinal edema (scar on my spinal cord). Needless to say, I couldn’t even hold a piece of paper in my hand until after the operation. Immediately after the surgery, I could not even bottoms up press a 10KG! (Now I can do the 28KG).
My son Spencer is 17 and one of the top ranked high school aged throwers in the country. He’s an RKC and is quite strong. I wanted to put a little more size on him, so I started incorporating some barbell training into his routine. We started doing dead lifts. I used to be able to rip 505 lbs of of the ground, but no more. Once I got over 305, my right hand (the side most adversely effected by the injury) would simply give out. I was getting very frustrated. During one training session, he suggested that I try to single leg barbell deadlifts. What a great suggestion! I’d been doing the Dual Bell Kettlebell Deadlifts for years, but it never dawned on me to do them with a barbell. At this point, I’m doing 185 max for my sets of 6 and my hand has no issue holding bar.
The point of the story is to simply talk about my deadlift numbers, but to listen to others and look outside o the box – especially when it comes to your own training. I’ve never had an issue coming up with solutions for others, but solving my own issue took listening to my kid!

Master RKC Phil Ross Performs a Pistol Squat

Master RKC Phil Ross Performs a Pistol Squat

The Pistol (Single Leg Squat): The most difficult and beneficial leg exercise – period. The training enroute a butt to heel Pistol develops balance, trunk stability and incredible leg strength. There are weight lifters that can full squat 500 to 600 pounds, yet they collapse and fall over when attempting the Pistol.

 Let me relay a little story to you. I was cornering at a UFC Event in Houston in 2011 and went out for a bit of R & R before the fight, once my fighter was in bed. As a typical occurrence, the supporting fight team trainers and coaches usually run into each other and discuss their “Trade Secrets” and training methods. As it happened, I ran into a couple of other trainers in a local watering hole (that’s another name for a bar incase the younger crowd is wondering what I’m talking about.) So I’m talking to a couple of the other trainers and we strike up a conversation about strength training, what works best, how we train, etc… Our conversation moves onto squats. Now both of these guys were around 30 years old and are built like brick outhouses. They could both squat in excess of 600 lbs, but were not overweight or disproportionate. We started talking about the one-legged squat (Pistol) and I proceeded to demonstrate a few of them. They, of course, had to try and promptly fell over – on every attempt. Not a clean pistol performed between the both of them. I now had their attention. 
The balance, core strength and overall athletic development gained from performing the Pistol are incomparable. In most athletic events (even in walking!) you are placing all of your weight on one foot and then the other.  When you make a “cut” on the field, quickly hop from one side to the other or have to scale a deep incline, your stabilizers, tendons and and core are continuously firing. Pistols, much more than machines or bilateral, two legged exercises, increase your strength more efficiently.
 As far as injury prevention, the development of the synergy with these muscles of the leg – all at once – is incredible. I experienced a trilateral break o my left leg which resulted in 10 screws and a 5″ plate being installed.  I used Pistols as part of the rehabilitation process. I realize that whole industries have been built and billions spent on leg muscle “isolation” machines. However, when you walk, perform a task or athletic event – do you ever isolate your gastrocs, quads or hammys? The answer is a resounding “No”. Unless you’ve experienced some type of injury to a specific area, you will be creating asymmetries by muscle isolation. If you have a leg extension/hamstring machine, do yourself favor and sell it for scrap metal and practice your Pistols! 
 
So, how do we achieve the proper execution of this Ultimate Leg Exercise? You need to employ progressions and at times, regressions. This exercise, up to a certain weight, is more easily achieved with a kettlebell. The counter weight aides your downward momentum.  One of the best books on the subject is Coach Paul Wade’s Convict Conditioning:  http://www.dragondohttp://www.dragondoor.com/?apid=4640 visit products/books. The progressions enroute achieving the Pistol are the best available. 
To start your Pistol Training, you must first be able to perform narrow stance squats. Once you are able to do 20 or so, you are ready to attempt shifting the weight from two legs to one. I believe the best methods to improve your Pistol is with both Top Down and Bottom Up motions. Maintaining tension throughout the full range of the movement is tantamount, especially at the bottom of the Pistol. That is the point where most people lose their tension and collapse. Go down into a full narrow stance squat and thrust one foot forward and then go up. Be sure to stomp your Pistol foot into the ground and drive your power through the heel of the unweighted leg. Grunting and focused hissing, especially when you are first learning, is very helpful.  Again, creating and maintaining the tension throughout the whole movement is essential. For the Top Down training – employ the use of a bench and once your buttocks touches the bench, EXPLODE Upward. When practicing the Bottom Up training, use a rope or band thrown over a high bar. While you improve, you’ll have to use your arms less and less to help you come out of the bottom position. There are also a variety of steps explained thoroughly in Coach Paul Wades Convict Conditioning book. Once you start to develop the ability to perform the Pistol, do it from a raised platform so that your unweighted leg does not have to be held so high. When you can perform 5 or more on a raised platform, you are ready to try a Pistol from the floor. The actual amount of repetitions before you are ready to move to the next step may vary from individual to individual. However, the numbers listed are good guidelines. 
There are more advanced levels of the pistol as well. One or two hands raised in the air adds an element of difficulty and makes the Pistol a truly Elite Movement. You may add weight. It is true that a smaller kettlebell makes performing the movement a bit easier, but once you start increasing the weight or use two kettlebells or a barbell, then you have significantly increased the difficulty of the movement.
As Always, Train Hard & Train Often!
Coach Phil
www.kettlebellking.com

Dirty Dozen Move # 5: The Kettlebell Press

There are not too many many things cooler than pressing heavy weight over your head. The Kettlebell press is one of the best methods available to enable you to achieve these great feats of strength.

You may say that I can press dumbbells and barbells and get the same effect. Yes, you can press dumbbells and barbells – and there is nothing wrong with it. However for the “Best Bang for your Buck”, maximum shoulder load with reduced shoulder stress and a greater recruitment of stabilizers, the Kettlebell Press can’t be beat.

The Kettlebell Press differs from the dumbbell press and the barbell press in several ways. Dumbbells and barbells have a unilateral weight distribution, so there is a less of a need for the body make adjustments. Due to the shape of the Kettlebell, with it’s offset Center of Gravity (COG), the position of the weight constantly changes during the movement of the press. This requires more involvement of the core, stabilizers and lats to complete the movement. The pressing motion starts in a racked position with a tensioning of the body ends with the full lockout and the arm pressing the Kettlebell in line with or slighting behind the ear. This motion upward is accomplished with a “J” pattern of travel. The degree of the “J” may vary from practitioner to practitioner.

When pressing, you not only want to focus on pressing the bell skyward, but think about pressing your body away from the bell as well. This will also aid you in rooting with the floor and employing total body tension. We also need to pay particular attention to the width of your stance. Experiment with the wider then more narrow stance. You will discover that you are able to create more tension with a less than shoulder width stance.

As with many Kettlebell exercises, root with the floor, bring your coccyx to your naval, contract your glutes and abs, pack your shoulders and engage your lats. Focus on an exhale with the eccentric movement of the press and an inhale with the concentric portion, all accomplished while maintaining tension and compression.

When pressing heavier Kettlebells, you may employ a slight hip hitch to the opposite side of your pressing hand. This will help you recruit more of your lats. However, be certain no to go so far as to turn the press into a side press. In addition to the Military or Kettlebell Press and the Heavy Press there are many other presses with Kettlebells. Push Press, Jerk Press, Bottoms-up Press, Waiters Press, Side Press and the Bent Press, to name a few. There are also dual bell versions of most of the aforementioned.

Good luck with discovering or enhancing your Kettlebell Pressing Skills! If you have any any questions or comments on this introduction to the Kettlebell Press or any of the other Dirty Dozen Exercises, do not hesitate to contact me.

Train Hard and Train Often – Coach Phil

www.kettlebellking.com

 

The “Dirty Dozen” Exercises:

More often than not, I get asked “Coach, what are the best exercises to do?” Or “If you were to choose “X” amount of exercise, what would they be?”. There are a plethora of great exercises and variations that my students and I truly love to do. However if I were to boil it down to several movements that are essential to any strength and conditioning regiment, I would choose 6 Kettlebell exercises and 6 Bodyweight movements.

 

I’m not saying that these are the ONLY exercises you should do but they all should be included in your workout regiment, no matter what your focus is. These exercises will increase strength, endurance, coordination, flexibility and durability like no others. These exercises will even improve your performance with your bench press, deadlift and bar squats.

 

Over the next year, I’ll be putting forth write ups accompanied by videos on the “Dirty Dozen”. We’ll discuss variations and progressions, especially when considering bodyweight. I’ll discuss each movement in depth and give my reasoning for the selection of each movement.

 

OK- here’s the list.

 

Kettlebells: 

The Kettlebell Swing: This movement is the root of all Kettlebell Training and the great differentiator between Kettlebell based training and all other strength developing exercise systems. The Kettlebell Swing “reverse engineers” the practitioner’s hips by developing hip hinge through the pop and lock required to execute the movement properly.

The Front Squat: Single Rack or Bottoms up. Squatting is the most important movement for lower body and core strength. The Front Squat, by virtue of the position of the Kettlebell, this exercise requires the complete linkage of the upper and lower body. Tensioning of the trunk (core – tho I’m not a fan of the word) and maintaining the bell in the prescribed position requires considerable upper body engagement in addition to the tension in the trunk.

The Kettlebell Press: Pressing heavy weight above your head is very cool and extremely useful. The Kettlebell Press employs full range of motion, full body tension and active negative (downward) motion of the bell.

The Get-up: There is not a single movement that incorporates more muscles of the body than the Get up, also known as the Turkish Get Up or TGU. This incredible exercise is a signature movement of Kettlebell Training. Dynamic tension, balance, flexibility and body alignment are all developed with the TGU. The Clean: The Kettlebell Clean is used in a great deal of Kettlebell complexes, racking the kettlebell for Squats and Presses, but it’s an incredibly beneficial stand alone movement. A single arm clean taxes the stabilizers in the trunk as well as reinforcing the tensioning and relaxation.

The Kettlebell Snatch: This is my favorite of all Kettlebell movements. The Kettlebell Snatch is a ballistic movement that develops strength, endurance, speed, coordination and there is no question why this movement is used in both competitions and testing as a fitness barometer. The Kettlebell Snatch V02 Max workout is unmatched in maximizing one’s volume of oxygen uptake.

 

Bodyweight:

The Bridge: An ignored movement in American physical fitness. Very few athletes, except for wrestlers and gymnasts, utilize this crucial movement. The Bridge is exactly what it’s name connotes. The development of a strong, flexible spine linking together the upper torso with the trunk and lower limbs. Strong spinal erectors are essential to a healthy spine and unhindered movement. Key to athletics, active living and certain vocations – not to mention every day living!

Hanging Abdominals: One can do thousands of crunches and buy every gimmicky ab machine on the TV at 2:00am, nothing will develop your abdominals better than the Hanging the Abdominals. Lifting your legs up to your chest or your feet above your head develops and requires significant abdominal strength.

The Pistol (Single Leg Squat): The most difficult and beneficial leg exercise – period. The training enroute a butt to heel Pistol develops balance, trunk stability and incredible leg strength. There are weight lifters that can full squat 600 pounds, yet they collapse and fall over when attempting the Pistol.

The Hand Stand: This is the coolest of all bodyweight exercises. Nothing demonstrates full body control and balance than being able to invert yourself in the middle of a room and hold it there. The progressions building up to the Handstand develop incredible shoulder and trunk strength.

The Pull-up: There is no single exercise that demonstrates and develops upper body strength like the Pull-up. If you can do 20 pull-ups, you are in great shape. I challenge you to show me a person who can do 20 pull-ups and doesn’t have a 6-pack.

The Push-up: The Push-up is my favorite for several reasons. There are fun and challenging variations, the movement works not only your upper body but conditions your abdominals and reinforces the total body tensioning. The best thing about Push-ups is that you can do them virtually anywhere that there is a floor. Your bedroom, basement or office – anywhere. There is no good reason for you not to do them. Get started now!

 

There you have it. 12 exercises that no training regiment should be without. If you want to achieve ultimate, applicable strength and conditioning, your program needs to include these core “Dirty Dozen” exercises.

Atlanta Falcon Training with Kettlebells

Dragon Door:   Given your extensive experience coaching strength and conditioning, what led you to try kettlebell training with your athletes?Jeff Fish:  I began researching the role of movement-based methodology in the early 2000′s and was fortunate to meet Pavel in 2005.  I learned a great deal from him—this was the first obtainable information I found for implementing kettlebells in a workout plan.  At the time, there was very little information available on safe, proper kettlebell techniques.  Now, I had the fundamentals of how to execute the exercises, and felt comfortable adding them to our plans.  Very quickly, I realized the power of the kettlebell as a training tool, and how it could expand and produce general and specific performance improvements that I could not achieve with other equipment.

Dragon Door:  What are the particular advantages with kettlebell training over a more traditional approach to strength and conditioning for professional football?

Jeff Fish:
  When I look at how to improve an athlete’s performance—no matter the skill level—I have many variables to assess: fundamental movement patterns, mobility, stability, restrictions, strength and power symmetry, core stability and dynamic coordination, prerequisite movement proficiency, just to name a few.  When I look at improving some of the key qualities for a professional football player—specific joint static and dynamic stability, functional strength and power output, metabolic training, efficient core function, transfer and application of force—the kettlebell is a tremendous choice to achieve results in a fast, safe manner while simultaneously improving overall movement.

Dragon Door:   What are your top kettlebell exercises for football players?

Jeff Fish:   I started implementing a program with kettlebells in 2005, using get-ups, different presses, squats, and single leg movements.  As an alternative to a barbell on the back, we train with them in the rack position, so the player maintains good torso posture when they’re working their lower body—subtle things like that go a long way.   I put together a complete teaching system addressing developmental stages, starting with new players who may have never even seen a kettlebell, up to a very advanced level—for players who have trained with kettlebells with me for a number of years.

We start with a base program of four exercises, and as the athletes become more proficient, we advance them into stage two movements.  Eventually they progress to where they’re doing everything imaginable.

Dragon Door:   Sounds like you’ve made this process very efficient!

Jeff Fish:   Yes, instead of spending an hour and a half in the weight room, we averaged only 45 minutes to an hour.  This was great for two reasons: first, the guys felt like they really did a good workout, second, they felt like they could still practice their sport afterwards.

Dragon Door:   Sounds like the idea of aiming to feel stronger after the workout, instead of exhausted…

Jeff Fish:  
Yes, that’s 100 percent true of our guys—no matter what position they play, they almost always leave feeling more energized than before the workout.  They feel better, they’re moving better, and they’re excited about practicing afterward, too.  Many players told me after this year’s first pre-season game that they feel different.

Dragon Door:   How else are you using kettlebells?  Is there specific sequence you’re using with swings?

Jeff Fish:    We teach the double-arm, single kettlebell swing, next the single-arm swings, and then two-arm, two kettlebell swings where we can load them up pretty good.  Once they get the mechanics of the swing, I transition them to cleans as long as they understand the hip hinge movement, how to finish their hips, tilt their hips, and get their quads tight so they can protect their back.  I try to teach them to clean as quickly as I can, because cleans can link circuits and combine lower-body and upper-body movements.   For example, a sequence of cleaning, pressing, cleaning, squatting, etc.

Dragon Door:   Are your guys training kettlebell cleans alone, or mainly using them as a link between other exercises?

Jeff Fish: 
We do both—training cleans by themselves, and in many different complexes—I like that about them.   Also, they’re a quick movement where guys really have to think about being quick with their hips, they have to absorb the weight quickly as compared to a swing.  The clean is really crisp and it’s impressive to see a group of athletes lined up, and almost synchronized doing cleans.  It’s pretty awesome to see.

Dragon Door:  Since implementing the FMS with your players, how has it affected game play and injury prevention/recovery?

Jeff Fish:
   The FMS is a starting point.  It’s a guide and an evaluator to our overall system.  We use it to evaluate every player before prescribing any exercise.  We will never just write up programs or give someone a program that was successful with another athlete.  The FMS gives us a look into an athlete’s current state of movement potential and limitation.  It also shows me where I can start an athlete in terms of strength training exercises. It allows me to give them the appropriate challenge without elevating the injury risk of an over-demanding plan.  We truly build the plans around each athlete.  We always use this “baseline” score to evaluate our system of prescription.  Basically, if we do a follow up FMS on an athlete in 6-8 weeks and they have improved their score by three points, then we know our corrective strategy prescription was accurate.  We also have a baseline to hold us accountable in our rehabilitation efforts.

In terms of game play, a more efficient athlete can perform at a high level for a longer time than a heavily restricted/asymmetrical athlete.  Also, by reducing the risk factors, we have a greater chance of our players not missing games due to injury.  In most high level sports, to lose your “stars” for extended periods of time usually spells disaster in terms of wins and losses.

Dragon Door:   Has it also helped to prevent injuries during training as well as during a game?

Jeff Fish:   Yes, I have used the data to prescribe movement-based drills at the appropriate levels and times during the off-season.  At that time of the year, athletes are…read complete interview

Never Say Die

You hear it all of the time “Never Say Die”. You see the athlete in competition, whether its MMA, a Grappling Match, a Track Meet or a Football game – the sport does not matter, only the actions that lead to the end result. The participant is behind and it seems as if all is lost and then the tide shifts and the athlete that appeared to be done for surges and emerges victorious.

Everyone wants to win. Wanting to win is not the hard part. Sacrificing everyday in your training, your eating habits and ignoring distractions; that is the difficult task. You need to make your training your priority – no room for excuses – make it to your workouts and push yourself to get better, stronger and faster. Excuses for failure are common, find a way to succeed.

How does this happen? How does one develop this “Never Say Die” attitude? Can it be developed? Or is it only in certain people?

There are certain people born with an innate inner toughness, but if it’s not cultivated, they burn out and lose it over time. Others seem to develop, grow tougher and more resilient over time. How is this done?

There is one sure fire way to develop this Never Say Die attitude, Train Hard. Yes, the more that you sacrifice and persevere, the more you become committed to succeed and less you are able to tolerate failure. There are many times when a combatant is in a scramble, they could easily give in and let their opponent win, yet they do not allow this to happen. The time, effort and pain endured in training comes through and they “dig deep” into their soul and put forth another effort. Training with purpose will not only harden your body, but your mind as well.

When you are training, think to yourself “What is my opponent doing? Is he training like I am? Is he sparring those extra rounds, running that additional mile and performing those few more reps? Is he pushing through the pain?” You will never be able to answer those questions, until after the contest. The best chance of success that you have is to train to your best ability and don’t make excuses for not training.

The more that you put in, the more that you will be prepared to win. Take the Samurai for example. They were in Life and Death Battles. If they lost, they were dead. In order to win, they needed to have supreme confidence. They developed this confidence through their daily training regiment and discipline. The tenants espoused by the Samurai are ones that we can base our training on to develop our Never Say Die attitude.

As Always – Train Hard & Train Often.

Muscle Confusion: Hype or Reality? 

Since the advent of the P90X video series, the notion of “Muscle Confusion” seems to be on everyone’s lips and has replaced conversations of Core Based Workouts as the main concern for fitness enthusiasts. We’ll tackle the notion of the elusive “Core” in another blog.

Muscle confusion has been a very popular training method for many, many years. Yes – the P90X does a good job at leading you through your daily routine, but the program does not take into consideration the varying degrees of fitness, athletic ability, age and other stressors that the potential customer base may possess. I am not here to bash the P90X series. On one hand it has inspired many people to lose weight, get in shape and improve their lives, on the other hand many people have become injured while using it. I have personally worked with several clients, of various ages, that came to me after doing the PX90 series and incurring injuries. People have injured their backs, knees, hips and shoulders.

If you read the book by Arnold Schwartzeneggar: The Education of A Bodybuilder. I read this book in 1978 and it had an incredible impact on me. While attending the University of Maryland I participated in a workout session with the Barbarian Brothers, Peter & David Paul. They were filming of the movie DC Cab with Mr. T & Gary Bussey. My friend’s dad owned the Gold’s Gym in Wheaton, Maryland and he invited a few of us guys down for the workout session. The book by Arnold, the workout session with the Barbarian Brothers and countless other strength and fitness athletes have always stressed “Varying the Workout”, “Shock the Muscles”, “Change your Routine”. That is the only true way to stimulate growth and achieve higher levels of fitness.

Why is it so important? Why can’t I just stick with my set of exercises? Why can’t I simply run the same amount and the same route every time? Why – because the body gets stale with the same routine. You need to “force” the body to respond to varied loads and/or movements. Soreness from your workout should be the norm. If you do not experience soreness on a regular basis, you are not developing. If you have hit platues with your strength or your times running or find that you are dreading training; you need to varying your routine. Not to mention the fact of repetitive stress injuries that the same routine breed.

When you do your roadwork, you need to vary the terrain, the distance and the level of intensity that you run. Example: If you run three times a week, session one, do a 3 mile mile run at 80 percent your capability. Next session, do interval training or what runners call the “Float”. Go to the track and run a 200 hard, then at 50%. Do this for several laps, in accordance to your fitness level and ability. The third session of the week, go for a long run at an easy pace, 65 to 70%. This is just an example for one week. I’ll address running programs in more detail in future blogs.

Kettlebell Training: Lends itself to Muscle Confusion better than any other method available. Personally, I know several hundred movement variations with the Kettlebell. There are also a plethora of workout delivery methods with a Kettlebell. Complexes, Chains, Powerdure, 4×8’s, Combined Kettlebell and Body weight routines, Scrambled eggs, Strength, Endurance, Flexibility, Explosive Power Focus. One of the differentiators  with Kettlebells, is that you have the ability to either focus on one of the phases of training or mix and match the methods in any combination that make sense or that keeps your workout interesting. You also need to employ the various levels of intensity to your workouts. You can’t go 100% every workout. This is another subject that I will cover in greater detail in a future blog. Hey – I have to keep you coming back for more!

Yes – Muscle Confusion is a reality and has great merit, but it’s not new or revolutionary – It’s just simply good.

Train Hard & Train Often!

Greasing the Grove: How to Dramatically Increase Strength

Strength, in certain movements eludes many of us. How do we harness this power? By Greasing the Grove – according to Pavel Tsatsouline, the father of modern day Kettlebell Training and Strength Development. It’s a very simple and pointed notion, yet requires great discipline. You have to re-tool your thinking from simply working out to practicing strength.

If you desire to get better at a specific exercise, you will need to practice it throughout the day. Do not do your sets to failure, rather focus on doing 50 to 60% of your maximum. For example, if you would like to increase your push-ups and you max out at 50, do sets of 25 or 30 reps 4 to 5 times throughout the day. You may want to vary the routine by performing 5 to 10 repetitions very slowly or a combination of the two.

Only focus on one to two exercises for 4 to 6 weeks. I recently underwent neck surgery and was unable to do much. I started doing 10 push-ups several times during the day. Within 6 weeks I was up to doing five, one armed push-ups! Now I am able to do pull-ups, so I am doing 5 pull-ups and 1 pistol (one legged squat) at a time. I’m doing this 5 to 6 times a day.

Why does this work? Shouldn’t we train to failure and then recover and get stronger that way? ABSOLUTELY NOT! You increase your strength due to synaptic facilitation. By utilizing a relatively intense stimulation repeated frequently at full strength, increases the strength of the synaptic connections. In other words, more boost will be given to the muscle when performing a given exercise and the muscle will have learned to make a harder contraction and yield more strength.

You may do the same with weights. If you are able to perform a maximum dead lift of 400, do sets of 3 to 6 reps of 250. Do it 4 to 6 times a day. I have a friend of mine who increased his already respectable bench press by more than 75 pounds in 4 weeks! He was bench pressing 425 and started “Greasing the Groove” by doing 3 repetitions of 315 4 to 6 times a day 4 days per week. His bench press went through the roof in 1 month & he broke the 500 pound mark!

Pick an exercise, do it frequently 4 to 6 times a day and keep it up for 6 weeks and see how you improve. You will be astonished. Let me know your results.

Good Luck!

Train Hard & Train Smart!

Coach Phil

 

www.kettlebellking.com