Keeping up a movement practice is no easy thing during the holiday season. It's almost as challenging as working on your squat against context of chair livin'. So, this December, we're doing something about both: Announcing Gymnasia's 2017 Holiday Squat Challenge!
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Bracing is strength and a skill. It might well be the fundamental strengthskill — no movement can happen without it. Think of Bracing as the ability to knit the body together in stillness (static) or movement (dynamic). Functionally, to feel strength extend between segments of the body and from the center outward. The more you build and become aware of this, the more you will feel your center as the nexus of movement.
It’s not about squeezing your abs and glutes all day. Constant tension inhibits good movement. Rather, learn to know when to contract and when to relax, and how to feel that across many contexts, and how to draw from and connect with all contact points (e.g., feet on the floor, hand on a handle or bar). Putting strength into useful patterns when it’s needed — that’s where mastery is.
Many Brace exercises are what might be categorized as “core” work. This is true, but bracing happens throughout the body. You’ll see us use a lot of variants of hollowbody (torso and hip flexion), skydiver (torso and hip extension), positions of side flexion, Supports and Supends variants, and a lot of neutral posture braces (e.g., static / slow squats and single leg work). And when you throw KBs or MBs around, there’s oodles of bracing through different parts of the movements.
Bracing will make you sore in all those “didn’t know you had ‘em” nooks and crannies. What’s better: it will give you more strength and awareness to move easier (yourself and things), posture up, and align more naturally through the many odd angles encountered in an experience-led life.
The Hinge describes the body’s most central, powerful, and (arguably) important movement pattern: hip and leg flexion and extension.
The goal with Swings is to learn how to load and unload the hips like powerful springs (primarily butt and hammies), and how to align and brace the rest of the body around this nexus of power.
The Swing is a singular means of mastering how to move from the center outward. With the KB discipline, lifting and lowering becomes accelerating and decelerating or: throwing and catching. This means not just strength, but power. This is why some people refer to throwing KBs rather than just lifting them.
Most bodies–even some highly capable ones–move primarily from the limbs, the core /center is an afterthought — like something a fitness instructor throws in at the end of a workout. But once you learn to direct power from your center, your limbs will become conduits of effortless awesome, a posterior “wave” of power. What’s more, because you accelerate and decelerate the weight at speed, effectively throwing and catching in every rep, you build ninja dexterity and therapeutic armor to boot.
Swings can also be used as a soreness flush or for building Endurance (this author has swung a 16kg for over two hours). The Swing will build Stamina, Power and Strength.
We are of the growing camp that believes the KB Swing is not just the king of hinges, but the King of all exercises. It’s the answer to the “one exercise” question. The value of mastering this movement is hard to overstate. No other exercise can do so much, simultaneously.
- Bang-for-buck: Improves strength, power, and stamina. At once. Burns more calories than just about anything else you can do including cross-country skiing uphill according to one study. Plus, the caloric expenditure continues long after the session is over (some studies show up to 3 days).
- Transformation: There are countless stories of folks making amazing body transformations just by swinging and it’s hard to imagine a better thing for lean muscle and joint healthy cardio
- Ability: They help you run faster, jump higher, and lift heavier things easier.
- Movement: They teach you how to perform the body’s most powerful, fundamental, and under-practiced movement pattern
- Therapy: Active eccentric contraction through deceleration though this Pattern programs proper posture and alignment, fixes broken backs (including the author’s), wipes out future back injuries (12 years of injury-free ninja go-time!).
- A cure all: If you could take a single pill to combat Modern Body Syndrome, it would have a handle and you would swing it
- Mastery: the more you swing, the more you learn about your body, movement, and yourself. It can be a fury of power and strength; it can be a quiet and therapeutic meditation; it can be fun and playful.
All the dots connect. And they draw a KB. Just waiting for you to swing it.
Squatting is so important for health, ability, and ass-tetics at this point it feels silly to even have to still say it. It’s in every exercise and movement tradition and part of every day of life (sit down on anything lately?).
The full pattern is where the goodness is. It’s a critical measurement of and builder of lower body range and strength. But squatting affects the entire body: legs, hips, core, and upper body, especially when performed under an additional load. Increasing your squatting depth and strength will increase your movement ability in every other context. The numbers are clear on this: people who can squat with weight through a full range of movement perform better and have fewer injuries than those who can’t.
At a training with the family lineage holder of the Chen Tai Chi style (the family that invented tai chi no less), the master spoke little English. But after a joint-focused warm up, he said “Work legs first” and then dropped into a squat. Sounds a lot like every modern Strength & Conditioning guru out there, doesn’t it?
There are many variations on squats (front loaded, back loaded, single leg, lunge, RLESS, etc.) and they all provide value. Our anchor, however, is the Front Squat, with the load in the front of the torso. It works posture, lower body range, lower body strength, core/torso strength, arm strength, and mental focus and fortitude. It’s also a common means of picking up and carrying a load. You can progress it across the entire range of ability from therapeutic to aesthetic and athletic.
This is an Everybody Wins exercise! Whether you have never squatted before (gasp!), are a competition powerlifter (you go girl!), or a yogi (you om boy!), or just want to finally do a fitness thing that actually does something, practicing a front squat will make you better at your everything.
Many see jumping as a thing for young bodies and athletes, not a therapeutic or long-road oriented practice. But that’s exactly what jumping is. A spring in your step means every step will land softer, and that you’ll have a lot more steps in the bank. A pained shuffle doesn’t lead anywhere good, unless it’s to our doors.
Science is getting ever clearer about what builds bone strength. Nutrition helps of course, but is not the final answer (of course). Exercise is the thing, but as always, not just anything will do. Some research suggests that over-specialization in sports like swimming and cycling can develop more brittle bones than those of the general population. Then other forms of exercise can be too harsh, like pounding out runs over the years while the body’s shock-absorbing strength dwindles. These kinds of findings have long made sense to thinking coaches, who are everyday seeing and tweaking from the front lines of fitness. We’ve coached many long-time runners, cyclists, and swimmers on the verge of giving up their outlets to actually feel and perform better in their endurance work (and actual life to boot). Patterns like jumping are a big part of this. We have a rule of thumb: if you can’t jump, don’t run.
A growing body of research points to jumping as being a unique balance of both gravitational deceleration and muscular acceleration — affecting not just muscle and tissue, but structural strength. That is, jumping grows stronger bones. No other movement pattern seems to provide this perfect balance.
Our anchor is a KB Jump. It’s actually the movement that many people use to swing a KB, but is in fact what KB lifters call “squatting the swing” (i.e., deep knee flexion and bell swinging more up and down, beneath the body). While we don’t teach it for swinging, we love it for the jump pattern that it better practices. And the KB overload allows for plenty of incremental progression. Plus, unlike a box jump, it practices both sides of the jump (up= athletic value, down=therapeutic value) and makes for ready down-scaling for bodies who aren’t yet ready to jump. Wrap it all up with the beautiful DOMS the first session of a cycle give you, there’s much to love
Lastly, a pair of lean, muscular jumpers’ legs are the perfect picture of both aesthetic form and athletic capacity. As always, we want to see all the dots connect: from therapeutic to aesthetic to athletic. Bottom line: everyone should jump, and at G every one does!
Carries are among the most unassuming tools in the strength toolbox. But the capacity to move different loads around is one of the most useful expressions of ability. Kids, pets, suitcases, buckets, storage bins, briefcases, and shopping bags, furniture, shovelfuls, yard bags, trash cans, the list goes on. Picking up, holding and moving a load is something we do nearly everyday of our life. Yes, the virtues of standing in place and picking things up and putting them down are many. They are the underpinnings of strength work. But in life, you usually pick things up to move them around.
Carries stimulate every inch of the body. They demand quality of alignment and structure. Good carry patterns are among of the best natural posture strengtheners (along with front squats and KB swings). We mix in overhead carries, body carries (think over the shoulder), neutral arm carries (think bucket), bent arm carries (think forklift), and others.
Our focus exercise for carry patterns is the Get Up. Often called the Turkish Get Up, we remove the Turkish. There are many variations of getting up with or without a weight, most of which don’t hail from Turkey. But more importantly, why the Get Up?
- It’s a carry, a push, a lunge, a squat, a bridge, a support, a brace, and odd angle lift, a sit up, and a ground transition. It’s a whole mess of good movement wrapped up into a glorious exercise.
- It teaches you to brace your torso through in flexion, extension, & rotation.
- It passes through all 3 planes of movement: sagittal, frontal, and transverse.
- It’s a corrective tool and an ability building one.
- The ability to smoothly get down to and up from the ground is one of the most significant patterns for life. The science is clear: those who can get up live longer than those who can’t. The real world experience is clear, too: those who can’t are also more miserable in all movement.
- It’s a core strength exercise in the first degree: it bridges the entire body between, feet to fingers.
- It’s a perfect blend of strength and movement. It’s yoga or dance with a weight, a demonstration that balances supreme strength and movement mastery.
Unlike the performance videos of people carrying people and extreme weights, the get up is more of a inner strength practice than an all out, 1 rep max to shoulder failure. We also perform them in an unusual way: starting from a stand. We like that someone can’t just meatball up a too heavy weight, but rather must control it all the way down first. It then gives it gives them a safer place to bail at the halfway point. A Get Up is a high complexity lift and we like to keep the focus there, asking movers to think more about the process than the load. Lastly, it puts the mover in more time under tension for better inner strength work. From feet to fingers, it’s core to the core!