Category Archives: Circular Weight Training

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Filed under Alternative Strength Training, Ambidexterity, Circular Weight Training, Exercise Science, Functional Fitness

Specific Physical Preparedness for Combat Sports


Scott Sonnon

Specific Physical Preparedness for Combat SportsBy Coach Scott Sonnon, Co-Founder of RMAX Athletic Performance Enhancement Solutions, former USA National Sambo Coach, Distinguished Master of |

As supreme action guy guru Mike Gillette once told me, “you can’t take someone where you haven’t been and you can’t give someone something you don’t have.” As a result, I have concentrated my focus on fighting efficiency and training effectiveness for combat sports.

I didn’t invent club swinging. It’s been done for centuries by various cultures. I developed clubbells as a natural progression of wanting to make specific conditioning gains for combat sports, in particular grappling. As a former international champ and US Coach of SAMBO (the 2nd style of international submission fighting), I had vested interest in tweaking performance through any and all means possible. When you read my story, you’ll understand Roger von Oech’s comment that, “necessity may be the mother of invention, but play is certainly the father.”

The model of training towards which I have naturally gravitated can be understood as a pyramid (which I call the Training Hierarchy Pyramid) with GPP on the bottom, SPP next upwards, Physical Skills (PS) next, with Mental and Emotional Skills (MES) on the top. GPP holds priority as the BASE of all solid programming because without this level of readiness the mind and body cannot effectively absorb specificity. My theory is much like Maslow’s Pyramid: meaning one cannot effectively address higher levels of training without the lower level’s fulfillment. One can practice MES, but without GPP, it’s a house on quicksand. Furthermore, without fulfilling the SPP level, PS and MES lay on a shaky foundation and have limited potential.

Three notable quotes influenced me over the years and my concentration upon sport-specific conditioning:

  • “Conditioning is the greatest hold.” Karl Gotch
  • “Fatigue makes cowards of us all.” Vince Lombardi
  • “Progression is the law of growth. Whoever accedes to that law will succeed.” George Jowett

I see in new clients continually from various pro and amateur sports I call over-practice. Over-practice is the notion of combining skill acquisition and physical conditioning. People try to get a work-out by practicing the skills of their respective sports as if the skill practice developed GENERAL attributes. Remember, everything you do competes for development and growth. There are many good coaches in the GPP methodology, but basically you can go Dino (simple, compound, abbreviated, heavy, and intense) for strength and go HIIT for endurance.

After GPP on the bottom of the pyramid comes SPP. Sport-specific exercises to develop attributes as further refined platform for skills. The Soviets were genius at this and developed an array of exercises and apparati to augment attributes within the contexts of the specific sport.

The development of clubbells was a just a result of my intention of utilizing exercises and methods of SPP for combat sports, in particular grappling. As a respected friend of mine once told me, “you can’t take someone where you haven’t been and you can’t give someone something you don’t have.” As a result, I have concentrated my focus on fighting efficiency and training effectiveness for combat sports. As a Distinguished Master of Sport (international champ) and US Coach of SAMBO, I intended on intensifying grooved-in development of my clients in the shortest time possible. But I always experiment on myself first, so…

I began with conventional equipment such as barbells and dumbbells in odd exercises most closely approximating the range, scope and depth of motion for the activities of fighting. When I determined that these apparati were too bulky and awkward, not suited to dynamic motion, I moved on to kettlebells having first been exposed to this manner of training in Russia and then later from my friend Pavel Tsatsouline, Master of Sport in Kettlebell Lifting.

I began to make modifications to equipment, understanding I did so at my own risk and did not ask any of my clients to follow suit. I cut-and-pasted, grafting whatever I could until my Frankenstein inventions were more readily crafted from junkyard reconnoitering. Old church curtain weights equipped with karabiners to load plates, to lead shot filled aluminum baseball bats, to sledgehammer heads on steel poles, to axes (don’t try that at home or anywhere else, please. I still shudder at some of the property damage that could have been flesh.)

Walt Disney said, “It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.” Slowly, this impossible design evolved with a lot of “play-time” spent in between the beginning of the journey and the final prototype. To understand how it evolved, I’ll share the thought-process of the investigation. I had two intentions that needed to be fulfilled. These intentions molded the design rather than some prefabricated mental blueprint.

Firstly, I intended to maximize the physical ability to resist, stop and overcome the application of submission holds in fighting. I intended to create equipment that would allow me to build combat specific strength under what I named the Yield-Halt-Overcome™ protocol. In other words, ballistic motion needed to be slowed (eccentrically), stopped (isometrically), and reversed (concentrically) when the arm was taken out of the normal functional range. The equipment needed to be able to address this Yield-Halt-Overcome™ protocol in dynamic ranges of motion.

So, I began to utilize my devices in ranges of motion most closely approximating the range, scope and depth of various submission holds. I would add inertia to the pendulum, slow the device as rapidly as possible, stop it “on a dime” and instantly reverse the motion or send it to an angle that countered the submission attempt.

The equipment needed to function even at extreme ranges of motion where submission holds are typically final. I gained in sight from the sport science of the former Soviet Union in their concept of “dynamic flexibility.” Their Olympic Coaches would have their athletes train slightly outside the range, scope and depth of the ranges of motion “expected” to be found in their sport. They did so because WHEN the movements of the athletes deviated from the expected ranges of motion, they would effectively possess a “safety valve” to prevent injury.

The intent of submission holds in fighting is to bring a joint to extreme range of motion until either the athlete receives so much pain that he concedes the win to the opponent, or his joint breaks and he loses the match. The notion of dynamic flexibility exhibiting both the characteristics of strength and flexibility enhancing properties became an invaluable standard influencing the design evolution of what would become the Clubbell.

Simultaneous to the intention of thwarting submission hold attempts through superior physical conditioning, I held another agenda. I intended to cultivate EXPLOSIVE throws in SAMBO, which in addition to being the 2nd style of international submission fighting, was also the 3rd style of international wrestling and 2nd style of international jacket grappling.

Throwing or taking an opponent to the ground requires a special combination of three characteristics:

  1. kinesthetic sensitivity to balance and tension,
  2. specialized skills and tactics,
  3. and most importantly – physical attributes.

I say that physical attributes are most important, because at elite levels, superior GPP conditioning becomes the measuring stick of success. Furthermore, SPP is the EDGE over the competition. SPP is the gap between GPP and Physical, Mental and Emotional Skills: a gap that’s too large in most sports training.

I intended to research and develop equipment that could most closely approximate the range, scope and depth of motion in throws. Most throws occur at extreme ranges of motion; the strength required must explode over a fulcrum, like one’s shoulder or hip, and happens at the earliest portion in the range of motion, such as depicted in a “shoulder throw” or a “hip toss.” For instance, in the shoulder throw the power generation requires forward explosion from one arm in the position of hand behind one’s head and elbow pointed skyward. The other arm begins across one’s body fully extended gripping the opponent’s sleeve, and must explosively rip the jacket around in front circularly.

More importantly, not only did I require explosion from “fit-in” positions, I needed the strength to continue to ACCELERATE throughout the movements of each throwing technique.

I concocted various devices such as ropes on pulleys with nets containing various amounts of stones, rubber strands attached to dumbbells, and medicine balls attached to ropes and belts. These devices slighted improved performance that my client athletes specifically required, so I continued with the R&D in this direction.

Honestly, I had no idea that these two intentions, to firstly thwart submission holds through superior physical conditioning and to secondly create explosive, speed strength for grappling throw and takedown techniques, would evolve into a singular piece of equipment – the Clubbell.

Experience with fighters from other cultures and training with Olympic and National Team coaches from different countries allowed me to discover a rarely known aspect of old-time strongman physical culture: club swinging exercise.

The most ancient weapon, the club, evolved over millennia into devastatingly effective martial arts worldwide. Many cultural martial traditions across the planet utilized the club not just for combat, but for restorative health and developed strength: Indian Kalaripayatu, Iranian Varzesh-e Pahlavani, Burmese Thaing and Bando, Philippino Kali, Russian Sambo and ROSS.

Club Swinging can be traced to the to strongman competitions in Ancient Persia. “They created a definitive edge in strength and endurance training. During these times, the weight-lifter, wrestler or fighter was called a Pahlavan, or club swinging strongman.”

The most popularized international form of Club Swinging originated in India, though originally deriving from Persia and ultimately from Ancient Greece. Regardless of the method, whether with the Philippino, Burmese, Indian karela, ekka, jori and gada, Iranian meel, Russian bulava, Club designs and exercises can be dangerous if not rigorously tested and trained.

Sim D. Kehoe brought “Indian Clubs” to USA from Britain. In 1862, he opened a New York shop to manufacture clubs. To spread the word, he sent free samples of his clubs to prominent individuals in the hope of securing positive endorsements.

The famous Civil War era boxer, John Heenan, wrote him that, “as an assistant for training purposes, and imparting strength to the muscles of the arms, wrists, and hands, together in fact with the whole muscular system, I do not know of their equal. They will become one of the institutions in America.” USA President Grant wrote to thank Kehoe for the clubs, “Please accept my thanks for your thus remembering me, and particularly my boys, who I know will take great delight as well as receive benefit from using them.”

Bornstein stated that Clubs were, “the most universal method of developing the muscular anatomy of the human body. Schools, colleges and even theological seminaries have adopted their use in their respective institutions with the most beneficial results. For keeping the body in a healthy and vigorous condition there has as yet been nothing invented, which for its simplicity and gracefulness can be favorably compared with club exercises.”

In 1866, Kehoe published Indian Club Exercise, A beautifully illustrated book which showing the benefits of HEAVY club training, with two aspects of significance. Firstly, he distinguished between the short, light-weight “bat” – a one to four pound club used in the popular Don Walker’s and Dio Lewis’ callisthenic drills. Secondly, Kehoe distinguished the “long Club.”

Light-weight bats became the Ivy-league vogue in popular Victorian culture, and heavy club swinging was eventually phased out through social pressure – ironically simultaneous to the eventual phasing out of Catch as Catch Can wrestling and general Strongman enthusiasm.

Despite distasteful comments for club swinging by Arthur Saxon, many turn of the century and modern strongmen such as George Jowett, Joe Nordquest, George Hackenschmidt, Paul Von Boeckmann, John Grimek, Steve Gardner, and “Slim the Hammerman” Farman, and of course, Ghulum “the Great Gama” Mohammed used many different types of clubs (and club variations , such as the Weaver Stick, Thor’s Hammer, the Fulcrum Bar and even store-bought sledgehammers as substitutes.) These exercises allowed them to pulverize stone into pasty-cakes!

More recently, club swinging was implemented in the military physical training programs for both the USA and Britain. Posse (1894) stated that clubs were “the oldest known implement for military gymnastics.” In 1914, the US Army Manual of Physical Training explained that these exercises, “supple the muscles and articulations of shoulders, upper-arms, forearms and wrist. They are indicated in cases where there is a tendency toward what is known as ‘muscle bound.’” (There are opposing opinions regarding this statement in the physical culture industry.)

Club Swinging became an Olympic Sport in 1904 (St. Louis, USA) which Americans won in all divisions. It endured until 1932 (Los Angeles, USA) which Americans swept again, and is still considered Olympic in Russia, used by various Olympic and National sports teams for strength and endurance conditioning.

This method forged a long history of success in physical conditioning for combat specific strength, speed, endurance, agility, coordination and flexibility. My research and experiences with club swinging exercises evolved the final genesis of clubbells.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that clubbells resulted from the singular intent of gaining superior physical advantage over opponents in hand to hand combat. I believe that clubbells and what I have named the standard of Circular Strength Training™ IDEALLY suit performance enhancement in combat sports and all forms of human fighting. I believe so simply because I journeyed through this evolution arriving at the final, functional design, rather than thinking of a hypothesis, creating some invention and hoping to “test” its merit.

Birthed in ancient Greece from filling the hollow inside of a musical bell to use for strength conditioning, Clubbells offer unique advantages over barbells (BBs), dumbbells (DBs) and kettlebells (KBs). Lifting BBs, DBs and KBs adds weight to the end of the lever equaling linear strength, whereas Clubbells (and to a lesser degree – KB exercises) increase momentum of the pendulum.

The unique benefits of leverage challenge progresses increasingly greater from BB to DB, then KB, to finally the greatest leverage challenge with clubbells. Consider that Clubbells are 2 feet in length with a center of gravity 6 inches from the base, and you have incredible leverage! Decreased leverage translates force more effectively to develop superior grip strength, as well as lower arm, upper arm and shoulder girdle synergy, stabilization and dynamic flexibility. NO other apparatus translates this amount of leveraged force!

Understanding the evolution of this equipment should give you insight into my intentions behind clubbells and Circular Strength Training™. I am blessed to make “enough” of a living training my clients to have the financial and creative freedom to develop training programs and equipment that advance people to their greatest potential in the most expedient and safest manner possible.

I’m not out to aggressively market clubbells and Circular Strength Training™ and I have no intention of doing so. Honestly, I developed it for myself and my client athletes alone. My partner thought the equipment coincided with our company credo of making clients “tougher, stronger, healthier, more prepared than the challenges they’ll face!” He convinced me that we should make the equipment available to the public after several clients having observed my prototype equipment and private training. I thought to myself, “Why not?” Businesses are not create to hemorrhage for financial altruism, so don’t expect to get the equipment or programs for free. It costs money to make these things available and to insist on the highest training caliber in preparing certified Circular Strength Trainers (CST). And in my opinion, if stranded on a desert island with only two pieces of equipment from which to choose, I’d take a kettlebell and a clubbell! So why not make them available to everyone?

So, RMAX Productions resurrected HEAVY club swinging, with a first release model hitting the scales at a burly 15 pounds each, now used by strength coaches, collegiate football teams, world martial art champions, US Secret Service, US Army Rangers, and SWAT Team personnel. The debut program Olympic Clubbell Swinging™ would have made John Henry and Paul Bunyan squeamish.

Do you NEED clubbells? No more than you need KBs; you can reproduce KB exercises with DBs, though not with the same amount of benefit due to design function and emphasis. Do you need DBs? You can reproduce the same exercises with a rock, but…

Can you make homemade versions of clubbells? You can with the same sacrifice of design specificity, functional safety and commercial grade quality.

How much of your training should you dedicate to clubbells? The answer lay with how much you dedicate to specific physical preparedness in utilizing these exercises, and in how much you emphasize grip strength, forearm and upper-arm synergy in speed-strength and muscular endurance, and shoulder girdle strength and dynamic flexibility.

To understand how I design program for my clients realize that every person and team has SPECIFIC individual needs, and as a result I make them undergo an assessment interview and examination in order to:

1. Determine their entry GPP level. A basic physical examination something like the Soviet GTO helps both me and the client understand his or her current conditioning level.

2. Determine their entry SPP methods. This typically is not a factor since most client’s have never done any SPP methods.

3. Determine their entry Physical Skill level in their sport’s respective skills. Specificity determines all program design.

4. Determine their entry level Mental and Emotional Threshold. One’s threshold of performance equals their threshold of mental toughness and emotional control. Assessing where a client begins helps me understand his or her current potential ceiling of potential, and where the bar can be raised.

5. Determine their goals, expectations and commitment to accomplishing those goals. It’s important here to state that some people are more willing to work more intensely than others. Understanding a client’s commitment helps me create a program that neither bores them (under-motivates) nor overwhelms them (over-motivates). Furthermore, some people are willing to invest more of their hard earned money than others. Understanding how much a person is willing to invest determines frequency of personalized training sessions, equipment, gear, and facilities. Finally, understanding how much time a client allots for achieving their goals determines the nature of the program design.

As you can see it’s all relative. However, one thing is common and that is the Training Hierarchy Pyramid: GPP firstly, SPP secondly, PS thirdly and MES finally.

I harbor strong opinions regarding Clubbells. I believe they belong in their rightful place next to barbells, dumbbells, and kettlebells – hence their name Club-BELLS. I do not believe that they should be shrouded in mysticism and antiquity. It’s STRENGTH training – it doesn’t matter if it’s circular or linear.

Specific Physical Preparedness has rapidly become the highest dollar training addition to fitness gyms and sports teams, and Clubbells is the ONLY device specifically designed for the task of designing SPP programs for teams and athletes.

The following suggestions derive from the OLYMPIC CLUBBELL SWINGING BOOK, which shall be available very soon.

A. “Cardio Clubbell” Progressive cardio-endurance protocol:

Choose an exercise (technically easy for you) so that you can complete with perfect form 8-12 repetitions in 8-10 seconds. Perform 5-6 sets, with 60 second rest periods. Over time the sets may be increased to 10-12 and the rest period compressed to 10-30 seconds.

B. “Cardio Clubbell” program based on Indian Club program of Dr. Paul Phillips, MD:

1. Right Lunge with a left backward pendulum, return to standing in order. Repeat 8X.
2. Park and Rest 10 seconds
3. Left Lunge with a right backward pendulum, return to standing in order. Repeat 8X.
4. Park and Rest 10 seconds
5. Right Lunge with a right backward pendulum, return to standing in order. Repeat 8X.
6. Park and Rest 10 seconds
7. Left Lunge with a left backward pendulum, return to standing in order. Repeat 8X.
8. Park Rest 30 seconds
9. Right Side-step with a right outward pendulum, return to standing in order. Repeat 8X.
10. Park and Rest 10 seconds
11. Right Side-step with a right inward pendulum, return to standing in order. Repeat 8X.
12. Park and Rest 10 seconds
13. Left Side-step with a left outward pendulum, return to standing in order. Repeat 8X.
14. Park and Rest 10 seconds
15. Left Side-step with a left inward pendulum, return to standing in order. Repeat 8X.
16. Park and Rest 30 seconds
17. Shoulder Park Clubbells and squat 16X
18. Drumming 16X

C. Here are some additional Endurance exercises from which to choose:

1. Hops: Forward Pendulum with a forward jump squat, landing with knees bent and clubbells in “order”.

2. Jumping Jacks: From Order slide clubbells laterally to 45 degree angle when legs go wide, then back to Order when legs come together. Park them. Clean to Order and repeat.

D. Heavy Hands Fartlek – an additional beast to the Cardio Clubbell!
With clubbells parked on your shoulders, sprint 10 yards. Stop and do 30 basic arm swings. Sprint 10 yards and stop. Do 20 BAS’s. 10 yards. 10 BAS’s. Start over. Do this until one rep before your grip begins to fade.

Always take care that sweat and hand oils do not deteriorate your grip cohesion.

Coach Sonnon


Filed under Ambidexterity, Body Weight Training, Circular Weight Training, Functional Fitness, Health and Wellness, proprioception and kinesthetic awareness

Old School Training

Old School Training

The Prisoner

I recently watched a documentary about the most-feared inmates in the prison system. One of these inmates was truly a freak of nature.

He was locked up in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day. The camera peaked through the small hole in the steel door and you saw this man churning out squats with a makeshift sandbag on his upper back. His abs were heavily muscled and shredded. His upper body looked like it was carved from stone. Veins ran all over him and each muscle was chiseled.

As the camera filmed, he dropped down with his squats at high speed and exploded back up, rep after rep. Then he’d do straight leg sit-ups with his ankles secured on top of a bench in his cell. This man did sit-ups old school: hands clasped behind the head, legs straight, up and down quickly. His body went below parallel until his head almost touched the ground.

The guards feared this man because he’d break out of his handcuffs every single time they’d put a pair on him. In addition, he ripped through his straightjacket, which was supposed to be made of indestructible material!

I’m sure the rest of his workout included more sandbag training such as military presses, cheat curls, rows, and shouldering. With his upper body so developed, it was a given he was doing handstand push-ups throughout the day. Do you think he ever thought about overtraining or overstressing his CNS? I doubt it!

Gladiator Training

After watching the documentary, I was reminded of the training I did in Israel as a teen. I arrived two weeks prior to the Mr. Israel bodybuilding show and luckily there were two crazy SOB’s just waiting for some insane training. One of these crazy bastards was Joe, a Miami native who had plenty of screws loose and was busting his ass in an effort to become part of Israel’s elite Navy Seal team, the Shayetet.

After every workout, no matter how nauseating and brutal, Joe did his five sets of barbell curls with 135 pounds. Before every workout, Joe arrived early and did 100 sit-ups with his feet locked under a pair of dumbbells. Three times a week Joe got to the gym early to do five sets of heavy benching.

When I told him that he’d overtrain he replied, “Shit dude, you think the boys in the pen think about overtraining? They do their curls and benching every day.” (I was used to reading about Mike Mentzer and Dorian training for low sets, low reps, and low frequency. I never thought about breaking the rules!)

Joe spent his “off days” swimming for thirty minutes and running ten kilometers. He never worried about what the body could or couldn’t handle. His mind dictated what the body could handle and he didn’t back down from any challenge.

Training with Joe was nauseating. I knew that each workout meant we were going to war. As much as Joe supported and encouraged me during our workouts, he was still out to beat me on every set of every exercise.

A young athlete trains old school with a heavy log.

Joe had the attitude of a warrior and he was tough as hell. It takes a special type of person to have this “old school” mentality. If you don’t have it, then training old school is going to toughen your ass up physically and mentally! Either that or you’ll quit and go back to your “regular” training program.

It’s time to bring out the gladiator within. You’ve been training modern-style too long. Just like when Apollo took Rocky back to “Tough Gym” in Rocky III and the way he trained in Rocky IV, you’re gonna do the same! The eye of the tiger – it’s time to get it back!

Rocky runs with the log through knee deep snow.

A police officer goes through some early winter training using a log.

Old School Tools

Here are some tools you’ll need for old school training.

Sled or tire
Keg filled with water
Tractor tire

The sandbags will give you the most versatility, allowing you to do endless different exercises. Sleds or moderate-sized tires will offer great versatility as well, so they should also be a priority. I use sandbags for almost every exercise imaginable, including basic moves such as carries, rows, squats, rotations, lunges, and military presses.

We also do combos and complexes using other movements such as Turkish get-ups, shouldering into squatting, burpees into snatches, clean, squat and press, and thrusters.

We also combine walking with movements. This way we work on conditioning, static strength, strength, and power, simultaneously. Try walking with a sandbag and every ten steps perform three to five reps of an exercise. Walk and squat, walk and bent-over row, walk and shouldering, walk and then clean and press. The possibilities are endless!

Two variations when using two sandbags at the same time.

Wanna work on power? You can throw your sandbag: squat and push throw, scoop toss, or rotational throw. You can throw the bag by starting from the ground to work on starting strength and power, or you can pre-swing the bag before throwing it to gain some momentum.

For the combat athletes I train, we often focus on time-under-tension and keep cranking out sandbag exercises for up to six minutes straight without putting it down. This trains the body and mind in a variety of ways and allows us to mimic much of what the body endures during an actual grappling or wrestling match. The carryover this has on the athletes’ conditioning is phenomenal.

Sleds and Tires

Sleds have become a staple in our athletic programs as well. We go beyond the basic forward, backward, and lateral drags. We sprint with the sled for starting power and power endurance. We also perform rows using two hands or one hand, one-handed rows with rotation, high pulls (two-handed and one-handed), chest presses, sumo walks and bear crawls.

Yes, I know. The experts say not to sprint with a sled because it’ll screw up your running mechanics. Forget the experts; you’re taking a trip back in time and you’re going old school. Jim Wendler said it best when he said, “When you’re running with the ball and a 250 pound lineman is on your back, your running mechanics aren’t exactly perfect.” Enough said!

Rocky attacks the snow sleigh on all fours out in the elements.

If you don’t have a sled, use a heavy tire for dragging. Plug it with an eye hook, attach two tow straps, and you’re all set to go. Plus, these tires are free! Just ask for one at any tire yard. This is great for coaches who don’t have a budget to purchase a lot of sleds for a team. This training doesn’t look pretty, but the results sure are!

The point here is to eliminate any limits and make due with what you have. My dad was in the military in Israel, and he was stationed in the mountains where the snow would come down hard. He and his buddies dragged all types of heavy equipment through the snow, so when he brought us to the States he used his kids for weight on the snow sleigh! We didn’t own those fancy sleds, but Dad found a way to stay fit while giving his crazy kids a hell of a good time!

A sled awaits abuse at Joe DeFranco’s facility.

Chest pressing a tire.

Working on some pulling with the tire.

Be a Swinger

Need to let loose some frustrations? Incorporate wood chopping or sledgehammer swings into your training! If you’re going to use a sledgehammer, I prefer using a tire to swing on. If you like chopping wood, more power to you; save yourself some dinero and give the tree service guys a break.

We primarily use two-handed swings but some coaches have had great success with one-handed swings. We perform sledgehammer swings in a variety of directions:

Overhead (left hand on top and then right hand on top)

Across right shoulder and across left shoulder

Side swings from left and right (like swinging a baseball bat)

Rocky trains old school chopping down some trees.

Get ready to bust your ass here, my friend. Using the hammer or axe is best left for the end of the workout. Use reps or time, or create your own pattern for sets, reps, or time under tension. Old school training means less rules and more creativity.

Put your entire body into each swing, not just the arms. Get your legs, hips, core, and back into it here, and be ready for a kickass hands and grip workout. Start with a ten pound sledgehammer and progress to a twenty. You can always go heavier, but make sure technique doesn’t suffer.

Just Push It

Pushing trucks or cars goes beyond training the lower body. You develop trunk stability, and the shoulders, triceps, and upper back get a lot of work during the pushing. This will kick your ass any which way you decide to incorporate it into your workout.

We sometimes push trucks with two athletes at the same time, or they might alternate every ten to fifteen seconds for a few sets. Another option is to push for a specified distance while working to beat your best time in that distance.

Caption: The start of some truck pushing!

Lock your arms, hands on the bumper, and drive with the legs. If you’ve invested in a heavy duty shoulder harness, you can do forward or backward walking as well. But the hands-on-the-truck version allows you to attack the upper body, so I favor this method over using a harness.

Steve Bodanis and Larry Jusdanis of SST get some Jeep pulling done using a shoulder harness. These guys have all their athletes training with old school and strongman exercises!

Find an empty parking lot with plenty of free room for your truck work. I go to an empty school lot on weekends or weeknights. Get ready to work when pushing the truck! Your entire body will get taxed here. I often do these at the end of a training session, but who’s to say they can’t be done first or in the middle of a workout?

Old School Workout Ideas

A great way to introduce some old school training into your overall program is to supplement your current program with a different exercise each workout. When you train old school, the “rules” of program design aren’t the same. Get creative. Try sleds one day, sandbags the next, sledgehammer training another day, and trucks the next time.

Some strength coaches devote a full day to strongman events at the end of the week, after they’ve done their traditional training program. This training can kick the shit out of your nervous system at first, so start slowly and progress at your own pace.

Here’s a sample full day of old school training:

1) Warm up with calisthenics and joint mobility, 5-10 minutes

2) Sled training for 10-12 minutes, nonstop:

3) Sandbag clean and press, 3 x 6-8 reps

4) Sandbag shoulder and squat, 3 x 5 each shoulder (10 reps per set)

5) Truck push, 6 x 20 seconds each or 1 all-out set of 150 ft. nonstop

6) Sledgehammer circuit (start with one set and then progress to 3 sets total):

Enjoy the challenge!

About the Author

© 1998 — 2005 Testosterone, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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Filed under Body Weight Training, Circular Weight Training, Functional Fitness, Health and Wellness, proprioception and kinesthetic awareness

“SAID Principle”

Training in Accordance to the “SAID Principle”

Serious climbers would be wise to train and climb in accordance to the cornerstone principles of the field of Exercise Science. For example, knowledge of the “SAID Principle” (Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands) can be leveraged to maximize the effectiveness of your training for a specific climbing goal or dream climb. The SAID principle explains that a certain exercise or type of training produces adaptations specific to the activity performed and only in the muscles (and energy systems) that are stressed by the activity. For example, running produces favorable adaptations in the leg muscles and the cardio-vascular system. However, the muscles and systems not stressed show no adaptation; so even heroic amounts of running will produce no favorable changes in, say, the arms. Of course, the adaptations that result from running do transfer somewhat to other sports that depend on the same body parts and systems (e.g. mountain biking). Bottom line: the SAID Principle demands that effective training for climbing must target your body in ways very similar to climbing (e.g. in body position, muscles used, energy systems trained, etc).

Similarly, your body adapts in a specific fashion to the specific demands you place on it while climbing. If you boulder a lot, you will adapt to the specific skill and strength demands of bouldering. If you climb mostly one-pitch sport routes, you adapt to the unique demands of zipping up, say, 30 meters of rock before muscular failure. If you primarily climb multi-pitch routes or big walls, your body will adapt in accordance to the demands of these longer climbs. Or, if your outings are alpine in nature, your physiological response will be specific to the very unique demands of climbing in the mountains.

The vitally important distinction here is that while all these activities fall under the headline of “climbing,” they each have unique demands that produce very specific physical adaptations. Therefore, the training effect from regular bouldering will do nothing to enhance your physical ability for alpine climbing. As shown in the table below, the specific demands of sport climbing are much closer to those of bouldering. Consequently, the adaptations incurred from frequent bouldering will carry over well to sport climbing (especially short sport climbs) and vice versa.

Continuum of Climbing “Sub-Sports”
Bouldering Sport
Big Wall

Due to the SAID principle, your practice and training on the rocks should be spent mostly on the type of climbing in which you desire to excel. It is no mistake that the best boulderers in the world rarely tie into a rope. Likewise, the best alpine climbers spend little or no time working on 30-meter sport routes. Targeting your training on the specific demands of your preferred form of climbing is the essence of the SAID Principle.

In the end, you must make a philosophical choice whether you want to specialize–and, therefore, excel–in one of the climbing “sub-sports,” or become a moderately successful all-around climber. Certainly, there is equal merit and reward in both approaches.

(Andrea Pesca bouldering at Morrison, CO. Courtesy of


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7 Conditioning Secrets

The 7 Conditioning Secrets
…of Successful Combat Athletes 

Fighter or Runner?

It never ceases to amaze me that there are still combat athletes out there using outdated conditioning methods that have long been proven ineffective and useless. The methods I speak of include hours and hours of long distance running and other unproductive forms of aerobic activity.

Folks, please understand this: neither wrestling nor any form of mixed martial arts are aerobic sports. Therefore, aerobic training of any kind is a complete waste of your time.

Yet every single high school or college wrestler I’ve ever come across is still running each and every day like they’re training for a marathon instead of a six or seven minute bout of high intensity grappling. How is thirty to sixty minutes of low intensity jogging going to prepare you for six to seven minutes of absolute hellacious combat?

It isn’t. It makes about as much sense as trying to become a world champion skateboarder by practicing your golf swing for eight hours a day.

Well then, if that’s not the approach to take, then what is? To answer that question let’s briefly take a look at what occurs in a wrestling match. At the high school level, there are three periods consisting of two minutes each. At the collegiate level, there are three periods as well, the first consisting of three minutes and the final two consisting of two minutes each. At the Olympic level, there’s one five-minute period and a three minute overtime period, if needed.

During these two to five minute bouts you’ll find yourself squatting, pressing, pulling, lunging, twisting, and bridging. You’ll make explosive movements, slow grinding strength-based movements, and you’ll hold isometric contractions a lot longer than you can comfortably stand.

For your off-the-mat training to have any carryover whatsoever, you need to be sure you’re doing all of these things in your conditioning program. The exact same holds true for any kind of martial art or no-holds-barred fighting. While some of the time periods and rounds may be different from one organization or sport to the next, the same general principle applies.

So, let’s get right into my best conditioning methods for these athletes.

The Top 7 Conditioning Methods for Combat Athletes

1. Strongman Training

Strongman training incorporates the use of odd objects such as stones, logs, tractor tires, sandbags, kegs, sledgehammers, anvils and just about anything else you can think of. The basics of strongman training are to lift and carry or drag heavy shit; that’s the gist of it.

Strongman training can be used as a conditioning day all on its own or at the end of a regular resistance training workout. There are endless amounts of exercises and events to choose from when putting together a strongman workout.

Those who are new to strongman training will have extreme difficulty with many of the exercises and will be winded quite quickly. Eventually, after getting used to this type of training, the goal will be to lower your rest periods and do more work in a given time period.

If you opt to have an entire training day dedicated to strongman training, I recommend that you pick five or six exercises that offer as much variety as possible. Below is an example of a good sequence of exercises for a strongman workout:

A) Car push

B) Tire flip

C) Keg clean & press

D) Sledgehammer swing

E) Farmers walk

F) Hand-over-hand row with thick diameter rope

You can do the exercises for straight sets or in a circuit fashion. When your conditioning improves and you continue to try to get more “sport specific” with your training, you should aim for two to three straight minutes of work (or whatever length of time the rounds or periods last in your chosen combat sport) followed by a brief rest period.

For example, you could do one exercise for that long or you could do each exercise for 20-30 seconds and then move immediately to the next. While most matches don’t last nearly this long, the strongman workouts should take anywhere from 30-90 minutes.

If you choose to use strongman training as a finisher to your normal weight training workouts, you’d be best served to pick one or two exercises and perform them for ten to fifteen minutes straight with a brief rest period every 30-120 seconds.

2. Bodyweight Circuits

Using your own bodyweight in a way that will resemble what you do in a wrestling match or no-holds-barred fight is an outstanding way of improving your conditioning. I usually like to go outside in the fresh air to a park and perform these.

Grouping together four to six bodyweight exercises such as wheelbarrow walks, push-ups, single (or double) leg squats, squat thrusts, crab walks, inchworms, and mountain climbers and doing them in a circuit will get you in great shape in no time. Again, try to eventually work your way down to using work to rest ratios similar to that which you’ll face in competition.

The squat thrust, shown here with dumbbells, but very effective with just bodyweight!

3. Sled Combos

A dragging sled is one of the most valuable tools any hard training combat athlete could have in his arsenal. The possibilities are limitless with the sled.

To choose an effective sled combo, try to pick movements that will work the body from as many different angles and in as many different ways as possible. Here’s an example of a highly effective sled combo:

A) Forward sled drag: 30 seconds

B) Face pull: 30 seconds

C) Backward sled drag: 30 seconds

D) Chest press: 30 seconds

Repeat for two to three minutes straight followed by a brief rest period similar to what you’ll face in competition.

4. Sprints

While jogging is completely worthless, sprinting is tremendous for combat athletes looking to get in kick-ass shape. I like to use a variety of sprint workouts with combat athletes including hill sprints, stadium stair sprints, shuttle runs, sled sprints, and agility circuits.

Before commencing your sprint workouts, be sure to complete a full dynamic warm-up in order to reduce the possibility of injury. To further reduce the risk of injury and basically eliminate any concern of pulled hamstrings, stick with hill sprints or do most of your sprint work with an empty sled dragging behind you. Just the weight of the empty sled is enough to slow you down slightly which greatly decreases the risk of injury.

5. Medicine Ball Throw and Retrieve

This is a great way for the combat athlete to mix explosive movements in with his conditioning. You’ll need a medicine ball which is not so light that you can throw it fifty yards, but not so heavy that it only goes two feet when you release it. Find something in the middle. Most athletes will use a ball somewhere between twelve and twenty pounds for this drill.

I like to mix up the direction and kinds of throws when using this method. For example, we’ll start with a backward overhead scoop throw, sprint to the ball, do an overhead forward throw, sprint to the ball, side rotation throw, sprint, chest pass, sprint, forward scoop throw, side rotation throw in the opposite direction, sprint, etc.

This can be done for two to three minutes straight followed by a brief rest period and/or puking.

6. Barbell Complexes

For those of you who’ve never done complexes, get ready for a whole new in-the-gym experience. Barbell complexes consist of doing several exercises in a row without ever putting the bar down. This usually consists of six to ten exercises; each exercise is usually done for six reps.

The reps are performed as explosively as possible and you move from one exercise to the next without ever taking a break or letting go of the bar. Most athletes will begin with just a 45 pound Olympic bar.

Below is an example of a barbell complex:

Over time the goal is to be able to complete the entire complex faster than the previous workout. As I mentioned above, you should start with just the bar the first time you do complexes, but quickly work up to a more challenging weight in subsequent weeks. Ninety-five pounds will be absolute hell for even the strongest and most well conditioned of warriors!

7. The Whole Kit ‘N Caboodle

This method basically involves combining any two or all of the above methods into one conditioning session. These types of workouts can be grueling and are only for those with the heart of champion.

For example, you may start your workout inside with a few rounds of barbell complexes. After that you may proceed outside and pick up the medicine ball for a few rounds of throw and retrieve. When you’ve completed the throws, you might grab the sled and perform a few combos followed immediately by a car push, a sprint, and a farmers walk until you drop.

There really are no rules as to how you structure this. You can intermix whatever method you like and do straight sets or circuits. The possibilities are only limited by your imagination.

Addition Info

There you have it: the best ways to get in ass-kicking shape and outlast any opponent you’ll ever face. As far as the work to rest ratios go, you’ll notice that for most methods I’ve suggested that over time you try to work toward matching these up with what you’ll actually face in competition. This is an eventual goal but isn’t of the utmost importance.

Believe me, flipping a 600 pound tire for two minutes straight is a lot different and more exhausting than wrestling for two minutes straight, in most cases. Do the best you can and keep that goal in mind, but don’t be overly concerned if you can’t achieve those numbers. Even if you can only flip the tire for 30 seconds straight, that’s completely fine. That’s more than most people can take, and it’ll do wonders for your conditioning levels.

One final note is that you must be careful not to overdo any of these methods. While most combat athletes have the attitude that more is better, that isn’t always the case. Too much of a good thing is actually a bad thing. Too much conditioning will lead to losses in strength, size, and speed — all of which will lead to a decrease in your overall performance.

A Bad Analogy (Sorry)

Remember in high school when you knew your parents were out of town and you had a really hot girl coming over? What did you do that afternoon? You cleared the pipes, of course… several times. If you didn’t, you knew that the mere brush of the young vixen’s thigh against yours would make for an early and unhappy ending. But what about the time you did your preparatory ritual a few too many times?
At 16, three times was fine; it was what you needed to feel “prepared for battle.” If it was an extremely smoking hot chick, you might have even opted for four just to be extra safe. But by senior year of college when your Testosterone levels started coming down just the tiniest bit and you had significantly more experience, four times was beyond overkill. But you went for it anyway because you still lived by the mantra that more is better and because the young female en route to your apartment bore a striking resemblance to Carmen Electra, from head to toe.

Finally, she showed up at your place and for some reason there wasn’t even a twitch when she hugged you hello. And when it came time for bumping uglies, you, my friend, were left with a limp noodle (come on, I’m not the only one). And as we all know, nobody likes a limp noodle.

The culprit? Too much “conditioning.” It happens to the best of us, but hopefully we can learn from our mistakes and find the cutoff point. The last thing you want to do is end up a limp noodle in the hands of your opponent. I mean, uh… wow, what a disturbingly bad analogy. But hopefully you get the point.

The key is to find the optimal level, the amount that gets you in the best condition possible, and do exactly that amount and no more. How much is that? No one can know for sure but you. My recommendation is four 30-60 minute sessions per week. On top of your classes, practices, and strength training workouts, this is usually more than enough to get most combat athletes in championship shape in no time.

Be sure to utilize all of the methods listed in this article. Bust your ass and make constant improvements. Victory will be yours.

About the Author

Jason Ferruggia is one of the most highly sought after professional fitness coaches in the industry. For over a decade he has provided hundreds of clients with cutting edge training programs that never fail to produce outstanding results in record time. Jason has trained over 500 athletes from nearly 20 different sports and is renowned for his ability to rapidly increase speed, strength, and overall performance. He has also mastered the art of physique enhancement and has helped countless clients ranging from business men to fashion models lose fat and build muscle at astounding rates. For more information on training for combat athletes, please visit

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DIY Chaos Training with a Couple Balls and Some Rope

Chaos Training

by Rocannon 

My training partner Tara joined me this morning nice and early. I decided we would do what I call Chaos Training. By using many different types of training in one brief (50 min.) Primal Playout I get my body raging with fresh energy from the bones outward. Today’s play included Power Ropes, medicine balls, kettlebells, Woody sandbags and stretch bands.

We kept moving between play stations with no more than a 10 second break between any individual move. After each complete circuit of the equipment I would ramp it up a bit by selecting a more challenging set of moves for the next circuit. In a matter of minutes the sweat was pouring, the smiles were exploding, and we both were laughing out loud as we swung the KBs, waved the ropes, slammed the bags, kicked the balls, and pulled the bands. It was non-stop fun from minute one.

With all the variation (chaos) my nervous, myofascial, and proprioceptive systems never had a chance of knowing what was coming next. The difference in how I feel now when I do Primal Moves compared to 20 years ago when I worked out in a gym is the difference between dreaming of having a girlfriend when I was 12 and having a life-companion at 57. There really is no comparison.

As we re-packed all the gear we were discussing how much more alive and vital we feel after these kinds of movement times. It really takes no discipline to do them everyday. They are so much fun, so creative, and so completely engaging that it would be harder not to do them than do them.

Be sure that your daily movement practice draws you in the same way. Don’t waste time trying to do something because it is good for you, but you hate it. Find some kind of movement that you WANT TO Do and do that every day. Celebrate it. Explore it. Expand it. Integrate it into your life.

To loosen up this afternoon we took a movement snack doing horizontal pullups with our feet on a Swiss ball. After a couple of rounds we shifted to one-leg medicine ball throws with a 15 lb ball. I finished the snack with High Swings with a kettlebell. Yummy. I feel refreshed. I feel satisfied. I feel good. Remember that movement snack doesn’t have to take long. Ten or fifteen minutes is plenty of time for a re-charge. Play in the chaos whenever you can.

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