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.dragondor http://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.
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.
The Kettlebell Front Squat is a key movement directly applicable to virtually every sport and to ALL sports requiring explosive power and strength positions. The squat is also essential to everyday life. Picking up our child, carrying suitcases, getting up out a chair – to name a few. Many people believe that they can’t squat. However after one short lesson they realize that they can. In most cases, if you can sit on a toilet you are able to squat. We utilize an active negative method of pulling the hips into the squat position. Barring any severe deficiencies or physical limitations, this method has remarkable results – usually the first time it is applied!
Why is the Kettlebell Front Squat such an essential movement? The strength gains from the Kettlebell Front Squat experienced in the legs, hips and especially the core are greater and with a significantly lighter load than required with the back squat. When considering Sports Performance and General Fitness, there is a breakpoint where the training required and the muscle size created actually hinders your performance. For example, if squatting 400 lbs. helps you reach a 10.4 second mark in the 100 meter dash, squatting 450 lbs may not necessarily bring your sprint down to 10.2; you may actually become slower! Yes, your squat will increase, but your hamstrings and hips will become tighter thus slowing your movement. The aforementioned numbers are arbitrary. There are far too many variables in individuals and sports to effectively assign exact numbers. In order to provide accurate assessments, experimentation needs to be conducted on a case by case basis. However, I will add one caveat; if your goal to have an extremely heavy back squat and you are a powerlfter, you need to perform heavy sets of traditional, back squats. Even though the Kettlebell Front Squat (KFS) will help boost your back squat numbers, you still need to perform the actual movement that you are competing in.
The Kettlebell is placed in front of you, whether bottoms up, racked or bottoms down. Compression and core activation is required to stabilize your truck and and your spine. Compression, tension and an active negative are all employed as you inhale and pull yourself deep into your squat. The spine is kept long and strong with no “tail tuck” as you get to the bottom. A quick, short and forceful exhale shoots you upward to the fully locked position. The strength of your upper torso is also required/developed to hold the Kettlebell(s) in place as you perform your KFS. Proper power breathing and expansion of your intercostals and serratus, not to mention the development of your pectorals, forearms, biceps and triceps. The muscles that comprise latissimus dorsi are recruited to keep your back straight and strong to handle the load in front.
As far as actual weight is concerned, you have to use considerably less weight with a KFS than for a back squat with better results and less chance of injury. On the back squat, the object is to break parallel with the greatest amount of weight possible on your back and then stand back up into the upright position. One’s back is compromised from having to bend forward to get lower and the hips are also overloaded due to the wide stance. This position does not aide you in developing the strength and proper neural pattern for strength development. On the other hand, the proper execution of the KFS lends itself to activating the Central Nervous System to develop incredible strength the legs as well as in the core/stabilizers. By keeping the spine long and strong, you develop a “Tower of Power” enabling you to move resistive loads and push with your whole body.
I could go on and on about the Kettlebell Front Squat, but I’m sure that you only have a limited time to read! You need to get in there and start practicing your KFS! Substantial gains in your leg strength, increased your cardiovascular capacity and explosive power development, while creating a healthy spine and a pair knees, are all benefits of the Kettlebell Front Squat.
Get Strong and Stay Strong!
Coach Phil Ross, Master RKC
For more information of Strength, Conditioning or Kettlebells visit www.kettlebellking.com or call 201-612-1429.
The Bridge, what an incredible exercise! There is no single exercise for developing two steel cable like spinal erectors supporting and protecting your spine than the Bridge. Being a former wrestler, I had the fortune of being introduced to the Bridge at an early age and while training in Greco-Roman Wrestling, I was taught how to go belly to belly with another wrestler, pop my hips and bridge all the way backward, landing my opponent on his back (or head!) behind me. This required a great deal of practice bridging backward from a standing position. We would also “reverse bridge” from that position, coming up to fully upright and regain the standing position once again and repeat. Little did I realize at the time that I was equipping myself with an incredible foundation of strength that would help me with all of my other physical and athletic activities for the rest of my life. Other than gymnastics, very few high school sports develop the spinal erectors and utilize the bridge to the extent of wrestling and gymnastics.The muscles in the back at the most important group of muscles in the body. The Bridge is exactly what the name connotes, the exercise “bridges” the upper and lower sections of your body together. Your back is also the support structure for your whole body. How many times have you seen (or experienced) throwing your back out and being completely helpless? One can have “biceps like mountain peaks”, they tweak their back and they are as helpless as a newborn lamb! The importance of the Bridge is second to none. Your central nervous system is housed in your spine and the spinal erectors and other support muscles protect and control the the spine and it’s movement. Why would anyone ignore the single exercise that develops the most important muscle group in the body? The Ancient Greeks knew the importance of a strong back. Look at the depictions of the god Atlas. His exceptionally prominent back muscles rippling under the stress of his eternal task of holding up the world!
How do we achieve this? Who does the Bridge work for?
There are many variations of the Bridge. You will find a variation or modification that may be used by virtually anyone at any age. Even people who have physical deficiencies will benefit from doing bridges. I have students that have suffered severe injuries or were born disabled and they have developed great strength in their backs and abdominals through employing bridging techniques. Not only does the Bridge develop the spinal erectors and other back support muscles but it has a profound positive effect on the abdominals, gluteus, hamstrings and in higher level movements, the shoulders and arms as well. The Tall Kneeling Bridge also develops great strength and flexibility in the quads.
The regenerative and restorative properties of the Bridge are unmatched by any other single exercise group. The Bridge develops stability, flexibility and durability like no other. Implement the Bridge into your workout regiment and develop a “Bullet Proof Back”!
S.W.A.T. Kettlebell based classes as instructed by Master RKC Phil Ross
S.W.A.T. Kettlebell Based Boot Camps:
Learn from one of the country’s top Kettlebell Authorities - Right here in Ho-Ho-Kus! Master RKC Phil Ross, Star of the Advanced Russian Kettlebell Workout Video and trainer to many fighters, athletes, celebrities and physicians designed and conducts these classes. Included with the membership is guide to learning kettlebells, a manual on the Basics of Kettlebell Based Training.
The system employs body-weight exercises, flexibility, plyometrics and the most revolutionary fitness tool in the world – The Kettlebell. The kettlebell exercises as presented are from the teachings of the Father of Modern Kettlebell Training, Pavel Tsatsouline’s Hard Style Kettlebell System. Phil Ross is a Master RKC and part of the RKC Leadership.
I’ve been asked “Is it possible to gain size with Bodyweight only exercise?” The short answer is “Yes”. It’s easier to accomplish upper body size gains with bodyweight training than with lower. Without meeting you personally or at least getting to know you better, it would be impossible to adequately provide you direct program recommendations. However, I will provide some guidelines and concepts.
First, a few “Don’ts”. Do not treat your calisthenics as a quasi-aerobic or simple warm up. Find challenging movements and utilize progressions, as employed in Coach Paul Wade’s book Convict Conditioning. Or view the video version with Max Shank.
Let’s address push-up, for example. I chose those to address, because you can do push-ups, even at the most difficult levels, anywhere and with no equipment. Remember to use progressions and be certain not to skip any levels in your progression. You may form “holes” on your training and hinder your ability to achieve your highest levels. Here are a couple of YouTube clips of me performing push-up variations.
Please make certain that you employ strict technique and do not rush through the movements. The combination of 10 second push-ups and spiderman push-ups have yielded some particularly favorable results.
As far as your legs and lower body are concerned. It is difficult reaching great size with simple bodyweight exercises. Squats and Pistol Squats (Single Leg) movements with result in a great deal of strength, but not a supper amount of size. Why is this so? You are on your legs all of the time and you need to substantially increase the resistive load to stimulate muscle hypertrophy. It’s most easily accomplished with adding weight to your exercises. I prefer kettlebells, because you can use much less weight for attain results than you would have to with barbells or machines. If you don’t have access to kettlebells or if you are adverse to using weights, employ a regiment of plyometric exercise. There is a great deal of plyometric literature and exercise programs available.
There will be Neckademic in this country and maybe worldwide as well. I’m on my way to train with one of the world’s premiere experts on physical fitness and strength this weekend. I am taking the train to the plane and I see a great deal of people hunched over their PDA’s, laptops and other devices. Their eyes down, necks bent forward as their slumped shoulders end in fingers rapidly sliding on screens or pounding on keyboards. Their postures are horrible as they tune out the rest of the world while immersed in their little cyber world. Does anyone else see this?
I’m not espousing the elimination of electronic devises by any means whatsoever. However, use them responsibly. Just like you should not text while driving, take care of your neck and spine as well. Every inch that your head protrudes past your median point doubles the amount of weight placed upon your neck. If you have your head jutting out a few inches past your chest, you could have up to 40 pounds or more hanging off of your neck! That’s quite a bit of stress on your cervical spine.
How do we combat this?
1) Be conscious of your neck and alignment and where your head is positioned.
2) Avoid the “hunched over” position or at least do not stay in it too long.
3) Develop neck strength through exercise and stretching.
4) Activate your rhomboids through scapular contraction. This will help keep your shoulders back and your thoracic region in line which will also help your cervical spine keep alignment.
5) I have included a link to a youtube video that I put together with some neck exercises. These exercises are a good place to start.
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