Category Archives: Functional Fitness

The farmer burns stomach flattener


The original farmer burns course is available online at

The farmer burns stomach flattener is described on this page:
Look at page 2 and the section entitled “Breathing for internal exercise” and that is the farmer burns stomach flattener.



Filed under Alternative Strength Training, Functional Fitness, Health and Wellness

Strength training for Parkour


Filed under Alternative Strength Training, Body Weight Training, Functional Fitness

parkour tutorial


Filed under Alternative Strength Training, Body Weight Training, Functional Fitness, Health and Wellness

Drop Zone Workout 1

1 Comment

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

Stable-to-Unstable Strength Training Highlights Functionality


  Use this platform with clients that have multiple goals by Dale Huff (This article originally appeared in the December 2000/January 2001 issue of ACE Certified News , an American Council on Exercise publication.)As a fitness model, functional strength training is surging in popularity. Thanks to the writings of numerous fitness educators, many personal trainers have been able to incorporate the basics of functional training in their programs, helping clients reach their goals in and out of the gym.

Functional training focuses less on appearance and more on improving one’s quality of life and ability to perform daily activities. Just because an individual can bench press an impressive amount of weight at the gym doesn’t necessarily mean he or she can translate that same force to a completely different, “real-life” movement outside the gym.

C.C. Cunningham, owner, PerformENHANCE, Evanston, Ill., defines functional strength as “training that carries over outside the gym to improve performance in movements during sport, work or daily activity.” Transferring strength to other activities is the complicated part of functional training. Successful functional strength exercises can’t just “look” like the goal exercise; similarity in body coordination is only one part of the puzzle.

“Strength exercises that will transfer require the brain to produce a movement program with similar coordination, range of motion, type of muscle contraction (eccentric, isometric, concentric) and speed of movement,” Cunningham continues. “Matching these components teaches the brain how to use improved strength during the movement.” In this manner, functional exercise provides a base from which to improve goal movements from sport, work or daily life.

Meeting GoalsThere is no set formula for creating a program that is truly functional for a typical personal training client. This is because many clients have multiple goals. For example, you may want to incorporate functional exercises into your program, but a more pressing goal for the client might be burning a lot of calories or increasing lean body mass. For this reason, strategically building unstable exercises into the program is optimal to keep the client moving toward multiple goals. This takes a little creativity on your part, but the outcome is worth the extra effort.

Stable-to-unstable training is a relatively new concept and many personal trainers may already be utilizing a similar format. Incorporating traditional “stable” exercises such as bench or machine presses, seated pull downs, smith machine squats and leg presses, followed by more functional strength exercises such as unilateral cable chest press on the stability ball, single leg squats and balance one-arm rows, serves to prefatigue the prime movers while resting the stabilizing core musculature. This allows the prime movers to be more challenged by an unstable exercise that typically requires a lighter load. The abdominal region and other stabilizing muscle groups are fresh and better able to stabilize the client during the unstable exercise.

Moderate to advanced exercisers in need of functional strength, core stability, increased lean body mass and weight management will benefit from this program. Even an advanced exerciser may view this platform as a new challenge as the variety may promote increased enjoyment and adherence. It also gives you an opportunity to showcase your skills in creating unique and individualized programs.

A very important note: This platform prefatigues the primary movers, therefore, it should not be utilized with a novice strength trainer, or with individuals with poor postural awareness and/or balance. Because of the increased need for a trained eye to correct posture, cue technique and check range of motion, this platform should not be utilized by an internet-based personal training company. Please remember that it is most important to do no harm.

Where Does It Fit?
There is no magic formula, as the Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands (SAID) and General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS) theories have taught us (see glossary). The exercise selection, order and repetition range must all be varied within a four- to eight-week window.

The stable to unstable platform is only part of a well-designed, individualized, periodized program. Depending on your client’s goals, this program could be included in a preseason power phase where the more stable exercise is completed at a repetition range of six to 10, and the unstable exercise completed at a lower weight immediately following at a similar repetition range. Here are some additional points to keep in mind:

  • The weight load should be challenging within the desired repetition range for the prefatigued prime movers.
  • The stabilizing muscle groups should be able to control the body and weight load (especially the spinal stabilizers) throughout the range of motion.
  • All the exercises chosen during this time should carry over (specificity) to the sport or Activity of Daily Living (ADL) you are training your client to complete.
  • This platform could fit into many other micro-cycle schemes.

Other programs could include doing exactly the opposite of the stable-to-unstable method. Unilateral to bilateral, tempo-specific or a split routine utilizing a stable push and an unstable pull and reversing the pattern on day two are all viable options. As a personal trainer your ultimate goal is to use these new platforms wisely with your client’s goals and safety in mind at all times. Ask yourself what the risk versus the benefit is, view the source and then decide if it may fit into a specific client’s exercise regimen.


  • Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands (SAID) – A training principle that states the body will adapt in a highly specific way. Training must be specific and it is counterproductive to training for anything other than a specific sports skill.
  • The General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS) – A training principle that concludes there are three main stages in physical stress:
  • The Alarm Phase – The body will not like the overload stress placed upon it and begins to take drastic measures to combat it.
  • The Resistance Phase – The body will try to resist the stress.
  • The Exhaustion Phase – The body will become exhausted if it doesn’t receive rest from the stress. This principle leads to the belief that there must be periods of low or no intensity between overloaded stresses that work the body.
  • TVA – Transverse Abdominus

To follow is a generic sampling of unstable exercises included solely to provide the reader with a further description of specific exercises that will enhance functionality.

Single Arm Press on Stability Ball
Balancing on one leg, tighten the TVA to create interabdominal pressure, and press the cable handle overhead. Place the opposite hand on the abdominal region to monitor TVA tightness. The adjustable cable is in its lowest position on the column.

Single Leg Squat
Adjust the cable to its lowest position. Holding the cable at shoulder height lift your opposite foot off the ground. Perform a single leg squat initiating the movement with hip and knee flexion. Stabilize the core region via TVA activation.

Sitting Cable Press
Adjust the cable to shoulder height when sitting on the ball. Tighten the abdominal region (TVA) and lift the foot opposite the pressing arm off the ground. Press the cable handle to the midline of the body.

Alternating Cable Pullover
Lying on the stability ball with head and shoulders resting on the ball and scapula retracted, grasp the handles with the cables in their lowest position on the cable. Perform an alternating cable pullover with a slight bend in the knees and a neutral grip.

Balance Triceps Kickback
Maintaining a neutral lumbar curvature lean forward with one foot off the ground and a 45-degree bend in the planted leg. Stabilize your upper arm into the posterior plane and perform elbow extension. Maintain cervical and lumbar alignment and cue for TVA.

Supine Cable Torso Rotation
Set the cable three holes up from the bottom of the column. Position yourself on the stability ball with head and shoulders resting on ball. Lift and tighten abdominal and gluteal region. Perform trunk rotation initiating action with spinal rotators, core and hips. Arms are simply along for the ride.

### Dale Huff, R.D., C.S.C.S. is co-owner of NutriFormance Personal Training and Sports Nutrition based in St. Louis, MO. He is an ACE FitnessMatters Editorial Advisor, ACE spokesperson, ACE-certified Personal Trainer, NSCA certified strength and conditioning specialist, registered dietitian, Life Fitness Academy member and frequent writer and lecturer for IDEA. Huff can be reached at

1 Comment

Filed under Alternative Strength Training, Body Weight Training, Exercise Science, Functional Fitness, Health and Wellness, proprioception and kinesthetic awareness

Grease the Groove for Strength

Pavel Tsatsouline Copyright 1999 Advanced Fitness Solutions, Inc.
This article was first published in MILO: A Journal for Serious Strength Athletes under the heading “Chain Yourself to the Squat Rack and Call Me in a Year.” Back issues and subscriptions are available from

Grease the Groove for Strength

by Pavel Tsatsouline, Master of Sports

Our communist enemies, who are trying to bury us, have exercise breaks instead of coffee breaks.
-Bob Hoffman, York Barbell Club

Your grandmother used to tell you: to get good at something, you must do it often, do it a lot, and do it to the exclusion of other things. Yet you never listened, why you little..! If you did, how would you ever get the bright idea of deadlifting once every two weeks and doing ten assistance exercises for the bench press?

Specificity + frequent practice = success. It is so obvious, most people don’t get it. Once I came across a question posted on a popular powerlifting website by a young Marine: how should he train to be able to do more chin-ups? I was amused when I read the arcane and non-specific advice the trooper had received: straight-arm pull-downs, reverse curls, avoiding the negative part of the chin-up every third workout… I had a radical thought: if you want to get good at chin-ups, why not try to do… a lot of chin-ups? Just a couple of months earlier I had put my father-in-law Roger Antonson, incidentally an ex-Marine, on a program which required him to do an easy five chins every time he went down to his basement. Each day he would total between twenty-five and a hundred chin-ups hardly breaking a sweat. Every month or so Roger would take a few days off and then test himself. Before you knew it, the old leatherneck could knock off twenty consecutive chins, more than he could do forty years ago during his service with the few good men!

A few months later Roger sold his house and moved to an apartment. A paranoid Stalinist that I am, I suspected that he plotted to work around the ‘chin every time you go to the basement’ clause. By the degree of the Politbureau Comrade Antonson was issued one of those ‘Door Gym’ pull-up bars. Roger wisely conceded to the will of the Party and carried on with his ‘grease the chin-up groove’ program. Roger Ivanovich’s next objective is a one-arm chin. He just does not know it yet.

My father, a Soviet Army officer, had me follow an identical routine in my early testosterone years. My parents’ apartment had a built in storage space above the kitchen door (it is a Russian design, you wouldn’t understand). Every time I left the kitchen I would hang on to the ledge and crank out as many fingertip pull-ups as I could without struggle. Consequently, high school pull-up tests were a breeze.

Both Roger and I got stronger through the process of synaptic facilitation. Neurogeeks never got around to telling iron heads that repetitive and reasonably intense stimulation of a motoneuron increases the strength of its synaptic connections and may even form new synapses. Translated in English it means that multiple repetitions of a bench press will ‘grease up’ this powerlift’s groove. More ‘juice’ will reach the muscle when you are benching your max. The muscle will contract harder and you will have a new PR to brag about. Four times powerlifting world record holder Dr. Judd Biasiotto set up a bench in his kitchen, got in the habit of hitting it every time he was in the area and put up a 319BP @ 132!

Obviously, you do not have to be a Commie weightlifter with Rocky IV pharmacy to benefit from high volume heavy training. Here is how you can to set up a ‘grease the groove’ program for one rep max strength or for strength endurance in your dungeon:

1. Intensity

The science of motor learning explains that an extreme, all out movement is operated by a program different from that used for the identical task performed at a moderate intensity. As far as your nervous system is concerned, throwing a football for maximum distance is a totally different ball game than passing it ten yards, no pun intended. According to Russian scientist Matveyev (yeah, the chap who invented periodization), you must train with at least 80% 1RM weights if you intend to make a noticeable impact on your max. According to Prof. Verkhoshansky, another mad scientist from the Empire of Evil, for elite athletes this minimal load is even higher -85% 1RM. Yet many comrades will be very successful greasing the groove with 60-80% weights as long they emphasize the competitive technique -high tension, Power Breathing, etc.

Naturally, if you are training for strength endurance rather than absolute strength, you should train with lighter loads. To meet the Soviet Special Forces pull-up standard of eighteen consecutive dead hang reps stick to your bodyweight plus heavy regulation boots.

It is critical for the program’s success that you avoid muscle failure as aerobic classes and rice cakes. Do not come even close to failure, whether you train for max or repetitions! A triple with a five-rep max or ten pull-ups if twenty is your PR will do the trick. The secret to this workout is performing a lot of work with reasonably heavy weights. Pushing to exhaustion will burn out your neuromuscular system and force you to cut back on the weights or tonnage.

2. Repetitions

According to former world weight lifting champion Prof. Arkady Vorobyev, one to six reps are optimal for training of high caliber weightlifters and increasing this number hinders strength development. Or, as Luke Iams put it, “Anything over six reps is bodybuilding.”

Do more reps, and your body will think that you are practicing a totally different lift. Dr. Biasiotto who once squatted an unreal 605 @ 130 has switched to bodybuilding and knocks off 325×25 these days. His legs are no longer ‘a pair of pliers in shorts’ as they used to be in his days of heavy triples and world records, but he would be the first one to tell you that there is no way he could put up a massive single training this way.

Of course, for bodyweight pull-ups, push-ups, and other commando feats of staying power you will need to bump up the reps to satisfy the law of specificity. Roger Antonson worked up to training sets of nine by the time he set a personal record of twenty chin-ups.

3. Volume

Vitaly Regulyan, one of the top Russian benchers, does fifty to seventy heavy sets per lift! What are YOU waiting for? A permission from Mike Mentzer? Up the volume!

‘High volume’ does NOT mean a lot of reps with Barbie weights. Such training is good or nothing but a muscle pumper’s virtual muscle. Do I sound like Anthony Dittillo? -Good, the man is right, give him a cigar! ‘High volume’ on the synaptic facilitation power plan means maximizing your weekly tonnage with heavy weights.

‘Tonnage’ -or ‘poundage’ if you are not up on the metric system -refers to the total weight lifted in a given period of time, for example a day, a week, a mesocycle. Say your best deadlift is 500×1 and last week you did the following pulls: 400×5/20, 450×2/50. Here is how to calculate your weekly deadlift poundage: (400x5x20) + (450x2x50) = 85,000. As this number grows, so will your strength, at least up to a point.

Make sure that volume does not come at the expense of intensity. Average intensity is calculated by dividing the poundage by the total number of lifts: 85,000 : 200 = 425 pounds. Intensity can be expressed in pounds or % 1RM. In the above example 425 pounds is 82,5% of 500 pounds one rep max; the intensity is on the money.

The strong man must make an effort to gradually build up both the volume and the intensity while making sure his body can handle the load and does not overtrain. Trite as it sounds, listen to your body.

4. Frequency

Prof. Vladimir Zatsiorsky, a Soviet strength expert who jump shipped from the Dark Side of the Force to America, summed up effective strength building as training as often as possible while being as fresh as possible. An eighties study by Gillam found that increasing training frequency up to five days a week improved the results in the bench press, something big Jim Williams knew a decade earlier when he benched in the neighbourhood of 700. Ditto for Dr. Judd. Before Biasiotto took up benching in the midst of his kitchen appliances, he had worked out in his training partner’s spider web insulated and rat infested garage where he benched five times a week for fifteen heavy sets within an hour. That brutally efficient routine boosted skinny Judd’s bench from 140 to 295 pounds in nine months!

Russian strength researchers discovered that fragmentation of the training volume into smaller units is very effective for promoting strength adaptation, especially in the nervous system. In other words, one set of five every day is better than five sets of five every five days.

It is even better if you chop up your daily workload into multiple sessions. Motor learning comrades know that while the total number of trials is important, the frequency of practice is even more critical than the total volume. Paul Anderson had it all figured out when he supersetted heavy triples in the squat with gallons of milk throughout the day. If you can swing it -all the power to you, people!

5. Exercise selection

Concentrate your gains on the snatch and the C&J, SQ-BP-DL, or any other few select lifts and forget assistance work! The synaptic facilitation approach is very powerful because it greases the specific groove of your pet feat. Additional exercises will just distract you from your purpose. I plan to expand on the cloudy issue of specificity of strength in a future article. For now, be a good Communist and show some blind faith!

The synaptic facilitation power plan can be summed up as lifting heavy weights as often as possible while staying ‘fresh as a cucumber’ (Russkies have a thing against daisies, you wouldn’t understand). Contrary to what some snobby pantywaists believe, this heavy, high volume approach is not an iron fossil but one of the most scientific approaches to strength training there is. “Chain yourself to the squat rack and call me in a year.” Words to live by.

# # #

Read about Clarence ‘Ripped’ Bass’ experiment with the above method on Learn more cutting edge strength building techniques in Pavel’s books Power to the People!, The Russian Kettlebell Challenge, and Bullet-Proof Abs.


“Specificity + frequent practice = success” – Pavel Tsatsouline

A Small Experiment in Synaptic Facilitation

My friend Pavel Tsatsouline, the Russian trained Master of Sports who invented the Ab Pavelizer (see article No. 47), says the way to do more chin-ups is to “grease the groove” by doing lots of chins every day. According to Pavel, repetitive and reasonably intense stimulation strengthens the nerve impulse to the muscles involved, making them stronger and more enduring. The technical term, says Tsatsouline, is synaptic facilitation.

Constant Repetition Works

Being a low-volume, high-intensity guy, I would normally dismiss such advice as mindless overkill. But I know for a fact that the Eastern Europeans, who have dominated Olympic lifting for many years, train heavy two or three (or more) times a day. For example, Galabin Boevski, the 152-pound Bulgarian lifter who snatched a record 358 and clean & jerked 432 in winning the 1999 world championship, does three workouts a day, using maximum poundages and a limited number of exercises. In the morning, he works up to maximum singles in the snatch, clean and jerk and the front squat. In the afternoon, he does it again, sometimes lifting more than in the morning session. He finishes with an evening session, where he repeats snatches and front squats, again lifting maximum poundages. The next day he does it again! (For further details, see the March 2000 issue of Milo,

 Bulgarian lifter Galabin Boevski on the way to a world record Clean & Jerk
with a massive 432 pounds
. (Reproduced with permission from Milo)

I’m convinced this is true, because among other things, I have a copy of Milo publisher Randall Strossen’s 1998 Bulgarian-training-hall video, which shows Boevski in several back-to-back training sessions; in one session, he repeatedly attempts to snatch 353; he kept trying the weight until his coach, Ivan Abadjiev, made him stop. This is a huge weight for a man weighing only 152 pounds. As noted above, his snatch the next year with 358 was a new world record. The next morning, he was back in the training hall doing a clean and jerk with 419. Later in the day, he was shown doing a front squat with over 200 kilos or 441 pounds. So, yes, it’s true; these guys lift huge weights, several times a day, day after day.

Unappealing as such training may be to people who have a life outside the gym, it obviously works – at least for elite athletes such as Boevski, who are willing and able to spend the years necessary to develop the capacity to survive and benefit from this level of training.

Plus, Pavel persuaded his 60-year-old father-in-law, Roger Antonson, to do chins every time he went down into his basement; each day he would do between 25 and 100 chin-ups. After a few months of such training (and a few days of rest), Roger knocked off 20 chins, more than he had been able to do 40 years earlier in the Marine Corps. That did it. I decided to test Pavel’s formula: Specificity + frequent practice = success.

Stay Fresh

I limited the experiment to chin-ups, because I didn’t want to disrupt my normal training routine – which is both productive and enjoyable (see Challenge Yourself) – and I didn’t want to overshoot my recovery capacity. Pavel says the key to synaptic facilitation training is to gradually buildup both volume and intensity, but avoid overtraining. He recommends “training as often as possible while being as fresh as possible.”

Pavel says each set should be terminated well short of failure, because “pushing to exhaustion will burn out your neuromuscular system and force you to cut back” on volume. He recommends doing multiple sets of as many chins as you can without struggling, spaced out over the course of the day. That makes sense, of course, if the objective is to up the volume as much as possible without causing burnout.

As regular readers know, my heavy training days are Saturday and Sunday; I generally walk Monday through Friday. After a few weeks of adjustment where I tried doing chin-ups Monday through Thursday, I settled down to chins on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. I chose this schedule because it allowed me to rest the day before and the day after my main workouts. It worked surprisingly well. Frankly, I enjoyed the extra effort during the week; it was challenging, but not enough to wear me out. Except for a few aches and pains in my shoulders at first, it felt good.

Testing Myself

I usually did three sets of chins each day (morning, noon and late afternoon) and occasionally an additional set in the evening. I start out doing sets of 10 reps, and over the course of four weeks worked up to 12 chins per set. At the end of the fourth week, I rested on Friday, as usual, and tested myself during my regular Saturday workout: I did 16 chins. “No problem,” I wrote in my trading dairy.

I backed off a bit in week 5, doing three sets of 10, and 11 sets of 11 for a weekly total of 151 chins. I did the same routine in week 6, and then moved the reps per set back up to 12 in week 7. I tested myself again at the end of week 7: 18 chins this time. Dairy notation: “Good job. The best I’ve done in a long time. Seventeen chins is the best I can remember doing in recent years – and today was easier.” Synaptic facilitation seemed to be working.

In weeks 8, 9 and 10, most of the sets I did were 12 and 13, with a few sets of 14 chins in the third week. Then, I tested myself for the third time: 19 chins. “Good effort,” I recorded. “The best in a long time.”

I took a week off at that point, which didn’t seem to help. As Pavel probably would have predicted, I felt rusty when I started doing chin-ups again the next week. “I believe the week of rest hurt my performance,” I wrote in my dairy.

Blasting the Groove

When I got going again – it didn’t take long; only a few days – I added a new wrinkle to increase intensity: I  lowered myself very slowly on the last rep of each set. Pavel says emphasizing the negative “blasts the groove” or, technically speaking, it stimulates “synaptic potentiation.” Pretty fancy, huh? Whatever, there’s no doubt that doing a slow negative on the final chin produces a very intense contraction. Pavel warns against doing more than one negative-emphasis rep; doing more would unnecessarily extend recovery time and reduce the volume that can be done without overtraining. That’s why I kept the reps to 13 and 14 for the most part and only did 15 a few times in the final three weeks of the experiment. I thought doing a slow negative on the final rep of each set would be enough added stimulation to move me up to 20 chins, which would be the most I’ve done since I won the state pentathlon championship in high school.

 Success! I did 20 full-range chin-ups,
the best I’ve done in years. (Photo by Carol Bass)


It worked! I replicated the experience of Pavel’s father-in-law. The last couple of reps were hard, but I did 20 good chin-ups. The experiment was successful.

Take-Home Message

So, what’s to be learned here? What’s the take-away message? Personally, I found my little experiment quite instructive. As explained in Challenge Yourself, both volume and high-intensity training (HIT) work, but for different reasons. Synaptic facilitation is probably one of the mechanisms at work in the volume approach.

Does that mean I plan to pile on the volume in my own training? No way. In my view, training like the Bulgarians would be a big mistake, for me and for most people. It would take the joy out of training. If one could survive the volume (a very big if), you probably wouldn’t have the time or energy to do anything else. But the idea of narrowly-targeted synaptic facilitation training, using carefully selected individual exercises, has definite appeal. The key, it seems to me, is to derive the benefits without overwhelming your recovery capacity and turning your life topsy-turvy.

In addition to chin-ups, parallel-bar dips seem like a good candidate for synaptic facilitation training. Almost any exercise, of course, should work. For example, Paul Anderson years ago applied a form of synaptic facilitation training to the barbell squat – with spectacular results. (See article No. 38, “Paul Anderson, King of the Squat.”)

If you try it, be careful. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. 


Boevski update: I hope you saw Galabin Boevski lifting at the Sydney Olympics. It was on CNBC. It was great to actually see him lifting in competition. He’s not as heavily muscled as some of his Bulgarian teammates, but boy can he put up the big weights. He made all six of his attempts, tying his world record in the snatch with 162.5 kilos (358 pounds) and making 195 kilos (430 pounds) in the clean & jerk, for a gold-medal-winning the total of 357.5 kilos. His countrymen Georgi Markov broke Boetski’s world record with a snatch of 165 kilos or 364 pounds and took the silver medal with a total of 352.5 kilos. Remember that these guys only weigh 152 pounds!

You may have also noticed that two Bulgarian lifters, a woman and a man (not Boevski or Markov), tested positive for a banned diuretic and were ordered to return their medals. It was the second time in 12 years that Bulgarian weightlifters had been ejected from the Olympics for using furosemide, a diuretic known for masking steroid use. The last I heard, the entire Bulgarian weightlifting team was in danger of being thrown out of the Olympics and suspended from international competition for 12 months. That’s unfortunate because, drugs or no drugs, they are fantastic athletes. It takes a real lifting aficionado to appreciate just how good they are. The average man or woman on the street simply cannot comprehend the poundages they are able to put overhead.


Filed under Alternative Strength Training, Body Weight Training, Exercise Science, Functional Fitness, Health and Wellness, proprioception and kinesthetic awareness

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