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.