Another year has rolled around. Our clients and students are impressing me more than ever. Form is Function’s most high level athlete, Evan Strong continues to win medals in the most challenging snowboard races worldwide. A silver in the Europa Cup and a bronze in the World Cup, in a brand new snowboard discipline: Banked Slalom, are his latest. Closer to home, students who exercise mainly for health and quality of life are making similar progress. They are getting stronger, more confident, and more adept in diverse activities such as heavy stonework, yoga, Argentine Tango, and Ecstatic dance. Our recreational athletes are excelling in Aikido, Karate, basketball, road bike racing, and more. Our people are looking more and more amazing in private sessions and group classes it is true, but the important part is the transfer of capacity and movement skill that makes life better. Form is Function instructors have been especially diligent in the area of safety, injury proofing, restorative exercise, and post re-hab. This is the secret to the great progress our students make. They don’t get injured, they don’t miss training, or practice, and the results pile up over time without interruption.
The Lean Berets will be joining Form Is Function again in NorCal for a Restorative Arts Workshop on the classical use of “Exercise Wands.” This will be an outdoor natural workshop that covers some basics on the history of both Eastern and Western philosophies of use plus lots of hands-on practice with individual drills, short combined flows, and one longer historical Chinese routine.
Exercise Wands have a rich history in restorative arts fitness. Wands have been used for thousands of years to help optimize shoulder and spinal movements plus build overall health. The upper body wand exercises will also be combined with some lower body stepping patterns with some of the drills making this simple tool a complete mind AND body activity.
- Date: Saturday, June 21st
- Time: 5:00-7:00 PM
- Place: Pioneer Park, 421 Nimrod Street, Nevada City, CA 95959 (Near Bandshell Area)
- Cost: $35.00 (Includes Course & Exercise Wand)
Here is a video that Camen Hodges shot last summer at the Pioneer Park classes. Enjoy! – EK
My athlete Evan Strong just won gold in snowboard racing at the Paralympics in Sochi Russia. I spoke to Evan soon after his event, and he is even more emphatic that our strength and conditioning training has improved his racing immensely. You can see video of Evan’s last run here:
Here is a radio interview with Evan Strong and I, with my colleague Ron Jones of the Lean Berets: http://www.theleanberets.com/podcast/evan-strong-eric-kenyon/
Here is a link to the FIF Facebook page. We have several photo albums featuring Evan and I conducting his training.
Form is Function
FIF are teaching 6 classes per week at the new Dynamic Movement center in Grass Valley, 3 basic and 3 advanced. See the class schedule page.
The Dynamic Movement Center is brand new, and directors Spencer Ozmun and Jonathan Collier are very eager for us to present more group exercise classes. So if you or people you know want a certain type of class at a certain time, contact me and we will run it! This is your chance to design your own gym!
Stay tuned, things are changing fast around here. For info on individual training, organizing special workshops, etc… call Eric Kenyon at 510-393-2568, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Be in touch! – Eric
Here is a very illuminating conversation from the Facebook event page for the Beginner’s Dynamic Strength class. The events described show the way complex movements are built on a foundation of simple or fundamental movement. The learning curve of a complex movement can be very short for someone who has competence in the fundamentals. The learning process can be needlessly long, difficult or even endless or injurious for those who are dysfunctional in the foundational or “root” movement patterns. This is the essence of why FIF students are so shockingly strong for their compact size: fast, flexible, tireless and resilient. They also stand out as mastering complex movement such as dance, acrobatics, juggling, martial arts, yoga, acro-yoga and other activities much faster than their peers. They regularly surpass their instructors in these activities within a very short time. They often arrive at these classes more adept than their nominal instructors. Enjoy. – EK
Eric Kenyon Sfg- Cassidy is traveling, so it’s Libby and I teaching tonight. Libby has the advanced, I’m taking the beginners.
Libby- Push-ups: if you think you can’t do them, I will show you that you can. If push-ups are easy for you, I will give you some challenging variations.
Eric Kenyon Sfg- Libby was talking about one-leg deadlifts and other balance challenges last night. Heavies, be ready for that
Gabe Cuppet- The one leg dead lift is perfect for Aikido, it’s the fundamentals for taking a front roll correct. Strength, balance, and form are all incorporated in this lift to produce a higher level of ukemi.
Frank Bloksberg- Yes, we’ve been using one legged deadlifts to get people strong and balanced enough to take extremely easy and safe front rolls. So, bring ‘em on!
Gabe Cuppet- After doing some research I have found that the military press is the complimentary workout with the 1 leg dead lift. As we roll we create what is known as ” the ring of iron” with the arms. This creates a rounding effect that allows one to smoothly roll starting on the arm and curving across the back. The millitary press strengthens the arms and shoulder in a way that helps protect this part of the body in these dynamic movements, also making the back strong to protect the spine during a roll or throw.
Eric Kenyon Sfg- Beautiful Gabe! Sensei Frank made a short and brilliant demo of the relationship of one leg deadlift and ukemi, today at the advanced class. He had us all try it, twelve people with almost no martial arts experience, but solid mastery of the 1LDL. We all nailed the ukemi after about 3 minutes of instruction. Frank shot some video, I’m looking forward to seeing it. I would like to see more Aikido fusion demos in that advanced class.
Gabe Cuppet- Wow! I’m speechless.
Frank Bloksberg- That was an incredible experience. I thought the experiment would work, but I was shocked at how well. It was really something. I’ll get the video completely as soon as I can.
Gabe Cuppet- Boom! After even more research if found that the dead lift in general is the most efficient way to protect the lower back form impact, this is super important for Judoka and Aikidoka! Protecting the spine during impact is a important key to ukemi. the glutes actually support the lower back, so as we roll or fall the glutes, quads and calfs are fully engaged to protect the spine and lower back. This is where the impact of front roll is absorbed, lower back and spine. Strong dead lifts activate all these stabilization muscles, totally protecting the spine in general and allowing fluid to enter the spine for flexibility. Wow! What were are doing is armoring the entire body with one movement.
Eric Kenyon Sfg- That’s right Gabe. The deadlift is the primitive, foundational, “root” movement that supports all other movement, and static strength as well. It is a simple hip extension, the most powerful movement a human can do. The feet are on the ground and the weight is in the hands, so everything in between exerts high force. There is not one human activity which is not improved in quality and capacity by correct practice of the deadlift. That is why every one of our student’s education starts with the deadlift, and why all of our athletes do MANY. My son started with deadlifts at 6 months old, and so has every human that ever existed. I didn’t teach him, he taught me. My student, pro snowboarder Evan strong does deadlifts. That’s what we did at his first session. That’s what he is doing on the front of the sports section in the Union last month. So now everyone knows my secret, LOL! I’ve been in this business for 14 years and I find extremely few people have the courage, intelligence, or work ethic to apply the deadlift correctly. So ironically, I predict my “secret” will remain essentially mine alone for decades to come.
January once again, and many people are re-starting or re-examining their physical exercise practice. It is easy to get lost pondering all the different exercise methods available to us in Gold Country this new year of 2013. You could spend a lot of time studying this or that exercise method, yoga, Pilates, spinning, “cross training,” Zumba, there are many more. There are endless volumes of information detailing the techniques of , and theories behind each of the myriad of choices. There are countless arguments and counter arguments concerning the effectiveness of each philosophy.
Luckily there is a quick and simple way to accurately compare and contrast the different exercise modes: look at results. Beautiful or impressively technical language in ad copy do not transfer into results for you in the real world. Neither will the mere presence of complex and expensive, equipment. However if you see people achieving consistent outcomes that you want for yourself, there is the place you should be. Trying to make an informed choice from ad copy written by people who are selling you something, will not lead to an informed choice. Listening to the opinions of persons with no knowldege or experience of which they speak, can only lead to wasted time and disappointment. Instead of wondering, or laboriously researching to find out if what you are reading or hearing is truth or BS, just observe the results.
Want do we mean by results? Results should match your goals. Believe it or not people really struggle with this. Working up a good sweat is not a result. It is a side effect. An example of a result is: an increase in strength. Here is a list of typical goals which we hope become results:
- Increase strength
- Lose fat
- Improved heart health
- Increased stamina
- Increased speed for athletics
- Improved flexibility
- Injury proofing
- Improved balance
- Improved quality of life
- Winning more often in sport.
The side effects and incidental events listed below are not meaningful results or goals:
- Muscle soreness
- Absence of muscle soreness
- Being exhausted
- Collapsing or failing during exercise
- Doing “intense cardio.”
- Feeling really “worked.”
- Working the “core.”
- Really focusing on “form.”
- Being really good at Zumba-lates or Five Step Salamander Kung-fu.
Number ten is a reference to sometimes very popular exercise classes that may sound good on paper, and maybe even look pretty impressive in action, but neither the students or the instructor seem to accomplish anything outside the class. In other words the practitioners are uniformly weak, slow and physically inept at every other activity that is not the class. They have become good at the class, but little true results have occurred.
The instructor and students in an exercise class may truly feel really “worked,” and really focus on “form.” However that is no guarantee that any true result named in the upper table will follow. This is why it is difficult for most people to evaluate an exercise program in one session. You must either do a number of weeks of work and evaluate your own results, or closely observe and question long time students, if there are no long time students in the program or class you are attending, well, that is an issue.
It is important to compare programs by results per hour of work, and per dollar spent. When comparing a program that takes 6 hours a week out of your life to a program that only takes 3, an adjustment must be made. If the 3 hour program yields half the results of the 6 hour, the programs are equal in value. If the 3 hour program yields 80% of what the 6 hour does, the 3 hour is superior. Same when comparing two programs that both cost the same, but the cost may represent different amounts of instruction. Don’t make the mistake of choosing your exercise program the way most people choose a babysitter. A cardio kickboxing class may cost only 5 dollars an hour, and you will be present, in a certain room for one hour. Instruction in real martial arts may cost four times as much, and the result may be ten times more significant and satisfying in your life, even though we are comparing the same amount of money spent. In other words going to a real, quality martial arts class 4 hours a month will achieve ten times more benefit than going to cardio kickboxing sixteen hours a month.
It is interesting to note that people who lead the group exercise classes typically seen in large gyms or health clubs, usually get paid the same hourly rate as babysitters,. Expecting something beyond a warm, present body is perhaps wishful thinking.
I invite everyone in Gold Country to come to our group classes this month. Form is Function are offering a 2 for 1 deal. You are invited to talk with our students and instructors about their results. We also do private training if the group classes are not your scene. Many of our students and all of our instructors are competitive athletes, some are even professionals. Most likely you have seen them in action and been truly impressed. That is an example of a meaningful result. Our people are not merely good at liftng kettlebells. They have true, comprehensive strength which they carry with them into every arena with confidence. Join them, join us. – EK
A transcendent session in the park tonight. 12 people, not a large class, and not small. Again we did the HKC group of lifts, but first I brought out an old torture device from my early years of training with my teacher, Pavel Tsatsouline. People enjoyed it immensely. Maybe I’ll bring it out again on Friday.
Everyone did heavy and excellent goblet squats. Many of The ladies went VERY heavy, with rock solid technique. Libby, Danielle, Kate and Nolita did squats with the 53 and 62 pound kettlebell, and alternated with double 30’s. Britt used the 80 pound kettlebell. Lindsey usually uses the 80, but scaled back to the 62 on this evening.
Those weights are impressive. But I have seen heavy lifting before. The really satisfying thing for me was the calm and confident manner in which these ladies went about their work in the greenhouse heat. No words of doubt, no scared faces, only a quiet, intense focus. The women helped each other get into position, and moved with perfect form.
These are the marks of people who have developed the habit of extreme strength. Fear and hesitation are long gone, all that remains is pure power.
Next were Turkish get-ups. People continued their excellent focus and all improved substantially. Last was 30/30 swings. This was where people really started to sweat, and disrobe. I have to say there are some incredible physiques in this class. We ended the session with 5 minutes of power swings. These are explosive single swings done in this case, one every 30 seconds. This is a good way to slowly bring down the heart rate of the class while doing the most powerful movement possible. By then the flow of sweat was a deluge. Everyone was smiling, we had short discussion about the work we did, bowed to each other in the Japanese fashion, and ended an outstanding training session. I look forward to many more. Domo. – EK
Uniquely satisfying kettlebell session in the park this evening, full of exploration and discovery. A small group consisting of true mutants: Jeff Dupra, Juice, and Jon B, with soon-to-be mutants: Brettin, Nolita and Jenn. After a short session of progressive deadlifts I took requests. Jeff requested armor building, which is a whole, advanced training concept. Juice requested a combination strength and flexibility exercise called the RKC shoulder rotator. Jenn requested splits, but I “knew” she meant kettlebell split presses.
So we started with heavy double kettlebell cleans, one of the best armor building drills. after a short break we moved to the RKC shoulder rotator: a slow, strength/flexibility exercise done with a light kettlebell. Juice and I were the only ones present who had trained the lift before. Juice nailed it perfectly, for others it was a challenging adventure in flexibility, balance and body awareness.
We continued the armor building theme with suitcase deadlifts and striker’s floor press. Finally we did the splits. We started with a comfortable straddle stretch. We employed a number of Russian techniques. There is no pain or fear allowed in Russian stretching because either is counterproductive. We started with correct alignment, waited out the tension, created space, used breath and tension, and pried our way into the splits. Everyone stretched a bit farther than they expected. Only juice and Jen really got to the splits. Then they did military press from the split position. This is very advanced lifting. We carefully backed out of our stretches and rolled out the tension.
Friday was an intense session, I believe setting the tone for the warm months. First I set up the kettlebells in pairs from heaviest down to the lightest. I had the students line up behind the ‘bells they wanted to do about 100 foot farmer walks with.
Off they went, with the options of switching to a heavier or lighter line, and taking a short or long rest in between walks. The heaviest combo was a 70 and a 62 lb ‘bell, 132 pounds total. The lightest was two 18 pounders, 36 pounds total. We did the farmer’s for about 20 minutes.
At the end we discussed the effects of the farmer’s walk, and I asked if anyone felt that their lower back felt brutalized at all by the practice. Two people out of the 14 students present answered in the affirmative, so I sent them with my assistant Leland to do spinal decompression on the nearby monkey bars. The remaining students did waiter walks for 10 minutes in the same interval as the farmer’s.
Next we set up a two station circuit. At station one we did 10 swings, kettlebell choice between 18 and 70 pounds. Then walk or run 50 feet to station two and do ten push-press, ‘bells ranged from 8 to 53 pounds.
This gives considerable freedom of choice to the student. Those who are training pure power can do the fast lifts with the heaviest kettlebells and walk slowly between stations. Those who have a fat burning goal use lighter ‘bells and run between stations. This kind of circuit is a lot of fun and you can get a lot of work done in a short time. However we did not do the circuit for a short time, we did it for a solid 32 minutes. People werre starting to slow down but there was no pain, no fear, and no sloppy lifting. Last we did about 10 minutes of restorative movement, well deserved.
Yet another beautiful evening in the park. We did the kind of exercise circuits that require a strong work ethic. It was a fast-lift/carry/slow-lift circuit. First station: 10 kettlebell swings, simple enough. Next take your kettlebell, or two, and farmer’s walk to the second station. There you do 5 military presses, rest briefly and do 5 with the other hand. Now pick up your ‘bells and walk back to station one. Then do swings again, and on it goes.
This kind of circuit both encourages and requires creativity in a group setting. There are a limited number of kettlebells, so lifters choose sizes according to their strength and goals. However they also trade with each other as they go. A strong lifter may choose a very heavy bell for swings, and a moderately heavy for military press, purposely not monopolizing the heaviest ‘bells. Farmer’s walk with mismatched kettlebells is especially good training for spine health and function, and indeed, the function of all stabilizers of the midsection. Some people chose only one kettlebell, sized for very fast explosive swings, a single handed farmers walk, and heavy military press. This was an extremely efficient and effective choice.
Students also took into account their long term goals, or reasons for taking the class in the first place. Those who wished to increase strength chose the heaviest kettlebells and took long rests between movements. Those wishing to burn fat took smaller ‘bells by necessity, as they took very short rests. These people were sweating and breathing heavy the whole time. This circuit went on for a solid 30 minutes.
Next we took a very short break to go over technique, and changed the exercises. Now it was cleans, single or double kettlebell. Then waiter’s walk. Then goblet squat or double kettlebell front squat. Juice demonstrated the clean with a 53 pound kettlebell. I am impressed that a good number of my students can do a double waiter’s walk with perfect alignment. Most people who were walking with two kettlebells held one overhead in the waiter’s position and the other in the farmer’s. Light ‘bell high, heavy down low. This combo farmer/waiter carry does amazing things to your balance and stabilization. If you are doing a dozen different kinds of weighted sit-ups and crunches on swiss balls, trx straps, inclined benches, bosu balls, and huge, complex machines, and you’re just not satisfied with the results of your “core” training, and I will bet you are not satisfied, come join us down at the park.
So what was the point of all this? Why did I choose the exercises I did? Not because I think they’re “cool,” not to “train every muscle in the body,” not because it was a “full body workout,” not to “get your heart rate up.” All those things are true or were accomplished very well, but those are not the important points. The reason sessions like last night’s are so effective has to do with learning the skill of powerful and efficient movement. I was following the guidance of one of my favorite teachers, Master RKC Dan John. Dan set up a subsystem for coaches and trainers, it is a list of movement types which all people must practice and reach a nominal level of competence, in order to be healthy and truly athletic:
Dan gave a long and illuminating lecture on this subject at the Easy Strength seminar in Reno earlier this month.
Hinge. Hinging is how humans produce movements with maximum speed and power. A correct vertical jump or broad jump is a hinge. It is the body hinging at the lower hip joint, first flexing to load the muscles of the glutes and hamstrings, then extending forward with force. For many athletes and non-athletes the hinge is inactive or under-active, and a few minutes of expert instruction can accomplish a huge increase in power. The kettlebell swing is a fast, pure hinge. The dead-lift is also a hinge, but slow. Visually the hips are moving horizontally.
Squat. Squatting is the second most powerful movement. It is a primitive movement pattern that effects many complex movements in our daily lives and in all sports. If you are unstable or inflexible in your squat, nothing works right. You are needlessly weak and restricted in almost all movement and prone to injury. In the squat power is coming more from the quadriceps muscle group, and visually the hips are moving vertically.
Pull. Pulling is best illustrated by pull-ups, or rowing. The Deadlift is also a form of pull, and so are the swing, the snatch, and the clean. There is a lot of useful power here, and for most people the movement pattern is underused. Pulling power comes mainly from the lattisimus and sometimes other muscles of the posterior chain, and also from the flexion muscles of the front midsection.
Push. The bench press. This movement tends to be overworked in mainstream gym culture. Pushing also includes the military press, the floor press, and any movement where you are pushing. Pushing power comes mainly from the relatively small muscles of the pectorals deltoids, and triceps, though a substantial amount of additional power can come from the latissimus and gluteus.
Carry. Carrying might not have been included if Dan had developed this list a hundred years ago. Back then people carried things all the time. Now the use of weighted carries is like a secret weapon in the strength and conditioning world. Carries connect the body’s strength and stability in motion. The farmer’s walk is illustrated by a farmer walking with two milk pails at his sides. Arms hang straight down from the shoulder. The waiter’s walk is done with a weight in one hand held above the head, arm vertical and straight. Carrying strength cannot be defined locally because it is global, truly full body power.
If a person is deficient in one or more of these patterns, complete health and maximized athleticism are not possible. Simply getting a person’s heart rate up does not insure effective exercise. Trainers and laymen wander lost for decades trying to “work every muscle.” or achieve a “full body workout.”
Let’s look at how our session from last night satisfied Dan John’s vision:
Hinge – Swings and cleans are fast hinges. 1/4th of our work.
Squat – Goblet squat and double front squat. 1/8th of our work.
Pull – Cleans are a powerful pull, swings a secondary. 1/4th.
Push – Military press. 1/8th
Carry – Half our work was carries.
Notice how even though we call these “movement patterns” the stabilization element is just as powerful and important. You could look at any of these as stability patterns or stabilization exercises. It is in this vital stabilizing requirement that exercise machines fail most completely.
I was very pleased with the creativity and cooperation displayed by all students during what amounted to one of our most challenging circuits ever. People offered to trade kettlebells with each other, gave technique tips, and helped fellow students into position for heavy double front squats. All lifters moved with excellent technique and focus the entire time. After an hour of circuits we did a short restoration session. This consisted of several versions of the RKC pump stretch.