The Turkish Get Up

Any strength den off the beaten path knows about this move. Gyms that subscribe to strength and performance first, where Kettlebells and bumper plates are ubiquitous but searching for a machine of any sort would prove fruitless. Where iron trumps fluff and the ‘smoothie bar’ is a water cooler hiding in the corner, these gyms know about the Turkish Get Up.

It was staple amongst the Physical Culture in counties a bit more to the East of ours, particularly amongst wrestlers and hand balancers about a century ago. But it proved to be hard work, and so, like a collection of great lifts that lost popularity, they all but disappeared in the commercial fitness market because they’re hard to sell.

“Well what body part does it work?”

Pick one.. It’s in there. Not only is this an extremely effective spine exercise, but it is particularly impressive for posture and shoulder rehab, not to mention those legs that play a big role.

So, how does one get up?

The Turkish Getup turns what looks like a simple task into a fun challenge. It is a deceptively difficult lift that keeps us young. The inner 7-year-old in all of us has to get involved. Don’t think, just do. Just grab a weight, lie down, and get up. Everyone has individual techniques on this one, and that is fine.

Important Notes:

  • Any tool will do (we’ve used everything from buckets of rocks to small children, and I’m not kidding)
  • Start light, get used to it and then have some fun.

The Classic Turkish Get Up

  1. Start from the ground with the weight straight out in front of you. Keep looking up at the weight throughout the exercise.
  2. With the leg on the same side as the weight, drive up onto the opposite hip (yep, you can use your free arm to help out)
  3. Tuck the opposite foot under the hips (notice the twist of the trunk, not unlike a windmill. This is important, or the weight will fall forward)
  4. Come up onto the opposite knee
  5. Stand up
  6. Reverse on the way down, still looking up at the weight (you know where the ground is, you don’t have to look at it).

Classic Turkish Get Up Visuals

The Squat Turkish Get Up

Squat Turkish Get Ups are easier for certain body types, particularly those who can naturally deep squat.

  1. Starts the same
  2. Drive straight up onto both feet, or drive onto the opposite hip and then get both feet under you.
  3. Stand
  4. Reverse

If the weight plummets forward, this version isn’t for you.  This is also a tough version for really heavy TGUs.  Good for reps, if you can do them, but for max effort Getups. Even the squatters might want to consider switching to the single leg version.

Speaking of Max Effort Get Ups, if you love a good Max Effort lift, the TGU has so many angle changes and position shifts that this might be the single hardest Max Effort lift there is.

The Squat Turkish Get Up Visuals


Video – The Turkish Get Up

Written by Chip Conrad

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – The Turkish Get Up discussion thread!.

Mastering the Deadlift

Any exercise with the word ‘dead’ in its title is bound to have a bad reputation. The Deadlift exists as an irony. Those who treat it like a sin most dire are often the ones who need it the most. If your back or knees are a mess, you’d better learn to pick things up correctly, and that is all a deadlift really is, proper lifting technique for anything.

The medical community denounces it strongly while its street credibility grows through word of mouth and proven results. Although the common perception of this lift is of a giant bar being handled by some monster with no neck, let’s borrow the technique for the next time you pick up a book from the bottom shelf, or lift your child, or grab weight to put on your barbell. More often than not a freaky loaded bar isn’t what hurts a back. It is the mundane stuff of life, because we don’t pick it up properly.

C’mon folks. What are you scared of? Stop fearing this basic technique for lifting anything from the ground. A deadlift should be a part of anyone’s Basic Lifting 101. Now for those with a bend for something more extreme, the deadlift is also frequently used as a bench mark of will and muscle, as it is one of the three lifts that make up powerlifting competitions and is the basic building block from which many strongman lifts are built upon.

For the folks who just want pretty muscles, yes, the deadlift is still an essential tool. Beyond the important practical reasons, and the intense athletic reasons, our friend the deadlift utilizes quite a collection of muscles, more at once then most other exercises, and that should be enough to placate even the seekers of sheer aesthetics. The only confusion now, for the average gym rat that follows archaic body part splits, is to ask what day the deadlift should fall on, leg day or back day?

Bring it On

Unlike the Squat, which, as we mentioned in another article, can be taught from bottom up (potty training we called it), the deadlift can be taught from top to bottom. The mechanics are very similar to a squat; in fact they’re identical until we grab a bar.

So if you’re new to deadlifting, grab the bar from a rack and start from the top, in a locked standing position. It really helps to have a second pair of eyes available (no looking in a mirror, it will screw you up) to check a few elements of your posture while you lower the bar.

The T&A Principle

How about an obscure reference to the musical A Chorus Line to master deadlift technique? Despite listening to HateBreed while writing this, this will prove that a working knowledge of Broadway musicals comes in handy for something. There is a song in the show called Dance 10, Looks 3, which has a chorus that repeats the words ‘Tits and Ass’ quite a few times. That can be a humorous working mantra for a deadlift. Chest out, butt out, which translates to retracted, ‘proud’ shoulder blades and a tight arch in the back. Combine this with bearing down hard on the belly, as if you are trying to pass a watermelon, as one of my clients put it, and I hope he wasn’t talking from experience.

So our little T and A show will be put into serious practice as we start to lower the bar. Let’s adapt a comfortable foot and hand position. Place your feet where they feel most solid. Forget anything you might have heard about ‘shoulder width’ or any given distance, like 10-20’’ apart. I’ve never known anyone to actually measure his or her stance, have you? Just put your feet where you feel solid and secure. If they’re particularly wide (what we call ‘sumo’ stance), we’ll grab the bar with our hands on the inside of the legs, opposite if the feet are in a more moderate, or ‘traditional’ stance. Now let’s start to lower the bar.

We’re not sitting down; we’re sitting back, with that ‘butt out, chest out’ mantra we’ve adopted. Here is where that additional set of eyes can help. If you’re not used to the feeling of a tight arched back, you may not feel when it rounds and tucks under. If it does, we need you back up in an arched position. That ‘tucking point’ as we’ll call it, is just beyond the depth we’ll aim for currently. If you aren’t lowering the bar to the ground yet, who cares? We’ll get there, but for now something along your chain of motion either needs some strengthening or some stretching, and we’ll practice increasing our range of motion slowly, sans stress or ego.

So the small checklist of thing you are trying to be aware of, and your second pair of eyes can help you check for, are:

  • Are you keeping your shoulder blades back (chest out)?
  • Is your head up (helps with the shoulder retraction)?
  • Is your arch nice and tight (butt out)?
  • Can someone punch you in the stomach (attempting to pass that watermelon will keep your midsection solid)?

Before we go onto more advanced techniques, let’s discuss what a big deal the shoulder blades are.

Don’t do this

Shoulder Blades

The importance of shoulder blade retraction (pinching them back so the chest is out) is not only overlooked, it is sometimes completely ignored by competitive powerlifters. It was a bit disheartening to hear, at a recent powerlifting workshop, one of today’s top powerlifting coaches say that bringing the shoulder blades back isn’t as important as some of us think it is. Let’s keep in mind that this particular lifter hated deadlifts, in part because of the millennium it took him to pull his inflexible body down into proper position. Meanwhile I’ll argue for the importance of shoulder blades and the training of the upper back to make a safer and stronger deadlift.

If the shoulder blades round forward, there is an automatic signal sent to the hips to round (tuck under) as well, making the lower back lose all arch and your whole spine look like the letter C. Keeping a tight arch with rounded shoulders is fighting a natural spine response, and can also put the bar further in front of the body, creating more force directed at the lower back. The opposite of that spine response holds true as well. Try it. Stand up and pinch your blades back like you’re trying to squish an orange between them. Chances are your butt went out and you arched your back. C might be for ‘cookie,’ but not for deadlifts. Arch that back and get that booty out.

Then there are those times when the plates accrue on the bar and the weight starts to make you consider if lifting it is the wisest of options. These are important moments to focus on form, when we’re attempting our one rep max, or even a heavy set for reps.

As the weight sticks stubbornly to the floor, we increase our effort. Often this means the hips shoot up faster than the chest, and suddenly our legs are much straighter and the load is being conquered through the back and hamstrings. This is so common in max effort lifting that, as much as people talk about how it shouldn’t happen, we might want to simply accept it will and attempt to minimize the danger.

Enter those shoulder blades. If the blades stay locked back, the chances of rounding the lower back decreases considerably, even if the legs completely lock out way before the hips do. Although in no way an ideal lifting situation, this is at least much safer than rounder back lifting, which occurs way too frequently during deadlifts.

Although rounded-back lifters often attempt to corrective the issue by strengthening their lower backs, I’ve seen the biggest culprit often being weak upper backs. If you have the strength to keep the blades back, you’ll have a much greater chance of nailing your deadlift.

Do This

From the Ground

If the T&A concept already makes perfect sense to you, then add some load to the movement and make it challenging. Let’s put something with some heft on the ground and pick it up. Now at most gyms, there is a caveat. Small plates mean lower deadlift, and this makes the move a little harder. So if the nice big 45 pound plates seem a little daunting right now, you will either have to drop lower to pick up the bar, since all other plates are smaller, or you can prop the bar up on pins, plates or boxes.

At many athletic training centers, and a growing number of public gyms, bumper plates are usually on hand. They’re all the same size regardless of weight.

But whatever the height of the bar, lower yourself with that tight arch and proud shoulders. Follow the same checklist we used earlier:

  • Are you keeping your shoulder blades back (chest out)?
  • Is your head up (helps with the shoulder retraction)?
  • Is your arch nice and tight (butt out)?
  • Can someone punch you in the stomach (attempting to pass that watermelon will keep your midsection solid)?

And that’s just to get you set up. Now, to get bar off the ground, lock the arch, so nothing changes the position of the spine and shoulder blades, and push with the legs. In other words, almost all movement in the deadlift happens at the hip joint (hip extension) and the knee joint (knee extension). If there is any movement happening along the spine, there is increased chance of unwanted force in the discs. The back had better be very actively holding position, not losing the arch, while the actual movement comes from the hips and legs.

A classic cue is to drive the legs through the ground. Some would even say drive the heels through the ground, since the weight and the force should be back on the heels. The problem here is that if you ‘drive the legs’ but the bar doesn’t fly up as fast as the legs do, then you have elevated hips, but not chest, just like we mentioned often happens at maximal or near maximal efforts.

Which brings us back to the shoulder blades and locking the spine in place. If the shoulder blades lead while the legs drive, coming up as one cohesive unit will probably be easier.

Remember that foot position can be a personal choice. The classic ‘traditional stance’ is commonly what you’ll see outside of power lifting gyms. Some folks prefer the feel of the Sumo stance, which is a very wide foot stance with the arms narrow. Play with them both. Different body types feel more comfortable in different positions. See what works for you.

Sumo Deadlift – bottom part of movement

Sumo Deadlift – middle part of movement 


 Sumo Deadlift – top part of movement

Then what?

You are now standing proud and completely locked out at the top of a successful deadlift. If it is a competition or max effort lift, don’t worry about babying the bar down to the ground. Put it down. Hard. Just don’t let go.

But if have some more reps to do, simply stick with the T and A Principle. Get the butt out, keep the chest proud and lower the bar. This is functional advice, since just as many folks hurt their backs lowering an object as raising it.

Bands, Chains and Pins, Oh My.

You’re addicted. The feel of the barbell in the hands is your twisted ecstasy. Defeating gravity by blasting it off the floor is now your favorite personal war. Good for you. But wait, there’s more.

Bands and chains, made famous by Westside Barbell Club, are no longer reserved for just powerlifters. Although your average ‘athletic club’ or corporate gym doesn’t have them, they’re portable (albeit heavy in the case of the chains) and having a sturdy gym bag (or canvas military bag) filled with such toys can make you the most interesting person in the gym. If the gym doesn’t allow it, they don’t need your business. If the management or staff just looks at you funny as you pull out a bag of what looks to be bondage gear, just smile and wink. They’ll probably leave you alone.

Strapping giant bands or iron chains around a deadlift bar will obviously increase the tension while you’re on your way to locking out. But if you haven’t done it before, waxing theoretical about it doesn’t do it justice. If your spine and shoulders aren’t locked into a good tight arch, form will crumble as you ascend, with the most common malfunction being a tucking of the pelvis. Not good. So remember the shoulder blade diatribe from earlier before attacking a deadlift with strange apparatus attached.

Chains are easy to use. Throw them over the bar. As the bar goes up it gets heavier. Simple.

Deadlifting with chains -1

Deadlifting with chains – 2

Bands are a little more complicated. Some cages have special hooks on them for bands, but another option is to simply hook the bands under the feet (a little less comfortable in sumo position). The concept is the same: go up=get heavier. But now the increase of the bands is exponential as opposed to steady, going from “0” to “REALLY HARD” within inches.

Oh, and the bands really want to yank you to the ground, faster than gravity alone can. Again, telling you this really can’t translate to actual practice until you’ve tried it yourself. Once you feel it, you’ll get it, but the first time with our latex friends is always a little strange.

Deadlifting with bands

Lifting from pins is a limited range of motion deadlift most often performed with a substantial amount beyond what your normal deadlift might be. By ‘pins’ we’re referring to the pins in a squat cage that can be set to any height above the ground. A personal favorite is just below lockout, performing what was called in the good ol’ days, a hand and thigh lift.

Execution is simple – put more weight on the bar and lift it. All the same rules apply, including the T& A principle (will Weider try to steal that one from me?). Keep that belly tight and full of air, or those tush cheeks will want to tuck under painfully. As a warning, this is brutal for the grip, and more than a few calluses have been ripped off during even successful attempts at this. Around these parts, that’s a right of passage.

These pin lifts are great for low reps, and sometimes, as in the case of the hand and thigh lift, simply seeing how long you can hold it. A good education for body to feel more weight than it’s used to.

Partial Deadlifts with rack/pins – 1

Partial Deadlifts with rack/pins – 2

Side Deadlifts

These are a great spine challenge, what infomercials like to call ‘core.’ Walk up to the bar like you’re about to deadlift it. Then turn 90 degrees. Pick it up. All normal rules apply.

On paper it really is that simple. But once that bar starts to struggle against your pull, your whole frame is going to want to twist. Don’t. Oh, and make sure you grab the bar in the center.

Side Deadlifts – 1

Side Deadlifts – 2

Stiff-Legged Deadlifts.

Stiff-Legged Deadlifts, Romanian Deadlifts, Straight Legged Deadlifts, or whatever name you know them as. Despite arguments about subtle differences among these, they’re the same lift: a deadlift without a large (if any) amount of knee flexion. If the T&A Principle is adhered to strictly, then these will go much easier. A note of safety, start from the top. Deadlift it up the old fashioned way, and then begin.

  • Butt out, pivoting only at the hips, not at any point along the spine.
  • Chest high
  • If at any point the spine position changes, you’ve gone too far.

Despite the overuse of little metal stands called ‘deadlifting platforms,’ most folks can barely go to ground depth without rounding their back. Just do these on the floor.

Stiff-Legged Deadlifts – 1

Stiff-Legged Deadlifts – 2

Trap Bar Deadlifts

If you have a trap bar (a diamond shaped bar that you step into the middle of, used for shrugging), many folks swear by these as a great deadlift tool. All deadlifting rules apply.

Anything else?

Pick up anything – a kettlebell or two, dumbbells, sandbags, pets, children, pumpkins, whatever. Just keep the form strong.

Program Ideas

Since, as mentioned in my recent Squat article, we like to cover a large spectrum of strength during our training, and heavy deadlifts only make up a portion of what we could do. Besides the powerlifting protocol of maximum force development training (low reps for high speed or weight), why not play with the deadlift as a training tool for other levels of preparedness as well?

Here are some combo ideas we’ve used with great success:

With the current trend of naming combos, I feel negligent for not coming up with a title for this one yet.

Let’s call it the Hate combo.

  • Heavy deadlift, pullups, sled drag: About 90% of your one rep max, immediately followed by a strenuous round of pullups, then followed by dragging a weighted sled for about 200 feet.
  • Repeat 4 times.

So this would be the Love combo:

Get creative here. The only rule to follow is the rep scheme, which will be 10,9,8,7 etc. down to 1, only resting if you have to. This type of challenge isn’t new and groups like Crossfit and Gym Jones have recently helped popularize it. You’re going to make it your own by choosing the exercises you’d like to use. Standard practice is 3 exercises but don’t limit yourself. Here’s an example of our version of the Love combo:

  • Deadlift (with your bodyweight on the bar)
  • Burpees (with or without weight, depending on your ability)
  • Sled Tugs (attaching a 30 foot rope to a weighted sled and tug it towards you)

The 10, 9, 8 rep scheme is only altered with the sled tugs, which will be halved (5,5,4,4,3,3, etc). Time it, because someday you’ll try to beat it.

Traditional set and rep schemes are growing stale fast. Lift like there are no rules. It becomes much more fun that way.

Written by Chip Conrad

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – Mastering the Deadlift discussion thread.


If I were King for a day, I’d alleviate so many issues, fears and apprehensions about training by simply replacing the word ‘exercise’ with the word ‘movement.’ The squat, feared, revered and misunderstood, might then be seen as an essential part of life instead of some evil force that causes bad backs, bad knees and destroyed egos. Whether intimidating or simply technically challenging, the squat is too often ignored, abused or badmouthed by folks who should consider them something special and essential for anyone’s toolbox. But let’s rethink the squat as a movement, not just a massive intimidating exercise. And we should never fear moving the body, right?

As a movement, the squat is simply bending at the knees and the hips simultaneously, and then standing back up, something we do all the time. As a training tool, the focus will be loading the body with extra force and performing the movement in the most effective way possible.

Effective for what? Since the chains of muscles involved in a squat are the same as so many sporting and daily movements, the squat becomes the kiss of death to any weakness within these chains, helping create maximum strength and power for sporting endeavors or simple overall body function.

The Squat is also a competitive life in the sport of Powerlifting (and sometimes Strongman competitions). The importance of this isn’t limited to the subculture of powerlifters. The benefit of maximum force development that powerlifters strive for will help any of us with just about any other physical endeavor you might think of (yes, probably even the naughty stuff).

Now here’s the super bonus that so many people flock to the gym for:

Squats make your legs look better too. Yep. It is true. Since so many muscles work in unison, nothing beats the basic squat for leg development of the aesthetic kind as well.

Squat Styles

From the basic body squat to overhead squats or the classic Jefferson Squat (a technique that would concern the average man), the list of possible squat variations is only limited to the imagination and the tools available. This program will cycle through a few of the better known varieties, with a large emphasis on box squats, which is discussed below:

Now thats a deep squat!

Box Squatting

The box can be a great learning tool for all levels of lifters. Why? Well, in trainer-speak, sitting into the box breaks the concentric/eccentric chain. In English, the box forces you to start from a ‘stopped’ position, making the lift harder and more focused. It also trains you to hit a consistent depth, which is key for competitors, and very helpful for non-competitors who are unsure about how low their butt is.

Powerlifting squat (notice the constant angle of the shins) on a box

In the above visual, notice that the stance is wide, the arch is tight, the belly is full of air and the hips are way back, so far that the toes curl up. Yes, I often lift barefoot!

Powerlifting squat (notice the constant angle of the shins) on a box. The stance is wide, the arch is tight, the belly is full of air and the hips are way back, so far that the toes curl up. Yes, I often lift barefoot!

The trick with the box is to avoid the ‘tappy-tappy.’ SIT ON IT! Don’t tap the box and then pop up liked it goosed you. A cue that may help is to ‘crush’ the box or to sit through the box, like you’re trying to squat deeper but that darn thing is in your way.

But by no means relax on it. Here’s a quick quiz:

Exhaling, rolling the hips under or rounding the back while on the box will:

a) Create a great opportunity to bounce up, executing an explosive and powerful squat by springing on a flexed spine.
b) Ruin most of the spinal stability you had and make getting up not only harder, but potentially dangerous to your spine
c) Get the chicks to notice you

If you answered A, spin around in a circle until you’re dizzy and then practice yoga until you can kiss your own ass goodbye. If you answered C, you may not be wrong, but you won’t get a date. B, of course, says it all. You are crushing the box with perfect squat form, not relaxing on it, and then, from that stopped but tight position, exploding off the box.

Program design: Building the Squat vs. The Squat Building You.

Powerlifters like to talk about ‘building the squat,’ meaning that they use other movements and workouts to help their bodies be able to squat better. Make the spine, hips and legs stronger and there will be an increase in the squat numbers. The end product is a monster squat.

Bodybuilders are the opposite. They ‘squat to build.’ their legs. Strength isn’t as relevant as much as aesthetic development. The end product being bigger, more developed, legs.

The philosophy at my training center, Bodytribe, is ‘let’s build the squat to build us.’ Even though many of us are competitive powerlifters, and our squat total is an indicator of our ability to generate maximum force, we aim to be well-rounded athletes and humans, so it doesn’t end at our squat total.

The total is just one of many indicators we have as to the overall performance progress of our machines. If our maximum force development goes up (along with our other indicators), we realize we are simply able to DO more as human beings (which, to again bring it full circle, would include squatting).

Our efforts are rarely specifically for aesthetic development, because we know what happens as a required byproduct of hard work. We like the legs looking better, but we don’t fret about it, because the simple equation of Lift Hard = Better Muscles is something even my small brain can understand and has been proven and tested with outstanding results. Our focus, therefore, becomes strength. All different types of strength. Strength for the purpose of DOING stuff. And, due to the magical equation above, our legs also look better. Cool, huh? Living for ability instead of aesthetics makes training much more fun.

The Spectrum of Strength

 If we define strength in the physical world as ‘force development’ and acknowledge all the different degrees of force development, then we have a giant spectrum of strength, from the archetypical Absolute Maximal Force Development (the legendary world where grandmothers lift cars off babies and what all ‘strength’ athletes are striving for) to extreme endurance events like century runs and multi-day challenges, and everything in between. It is all force development, from the body generating as much force as possible at once (powerlifting, Olympic lifting, throwing cars off pinned loved ones, etc.), to low-level force development over a long duration (what is called ‘endurance,’ and often treated as something different from ‘strength.’).

The Spectrum of Strength

With such a spectrum of possibility, why is it that the average weight trainer works within the very limited prison of 6-10, or 8-12 reps with moderate speed and weight? Training further in both directions will create a more capable, ‘stronger’ human. Thinking beyond ‘reps’ and ‘sets’ and ‘weight’ is the key to using the entire spectrum. What about speed? Duration? Distance? All of these are malleable factors that we can be creative with.

From the strict number crunching of athletic periodization, which often looks like someone threw a bunch of numbers into a computer to generate their strict workout (and they probably did) for the next 6 months, to the complete opposite world of random GPP workouts that seem to throw a bunch of ideas into a blender and try something different almost every day, there are some options out there.

Since most of what is seen in gyms is very limited in scope, not addressing the many possibilities of strength, we’re going to use several modalities at once to hit a wide section of the Spectrum. Having a greater ability on more levels of the spectrum will lead to greater potential to increase specific parts of the spectrum. For example, if your body has a higher level of general physical preparedness (GPP), you can handle a greater workload to train heavier for maximum strength. And a greater level of maximum strength will teach the body to push beyond obstacles that could hinder endurance activities.

But instead of increasing our workouts to undesirable lengths, we can consolidate them into mini-bombs of intensity.

Our template here is of absolute clay. Get your inner artist on and take this in new directions. This template addresses a much broader range on the spectrum of strength than most programs out there, and lets you manipulate variables to not only keep the body in a constant state of progress, but to also keep it interesting.

We’re building our squat (to ultimately build ourselves), so this workout will cover all aspects of the Spectrum using movements that create more ability through our hips, legs and spine.

The Basic Template Concepts:

These are the three main concepts the template design will consist of:

Max Force Development Lift

The MFD lift will be the centerpiece of a workout. The max force lift will either be a one-rep max or a speed lift (think max effort day versus dynamic effort day, if you’re familiar with Westside methods), since force development can come through either load or speed. And the squat can be of any nature and with any tool; front, back, overhead, Zercher, with chains, bands, box, kettlebell, one leg, whatever. Heck, other powerful hip movements, like good mornings, Olympic lifts, lunges, and plyometric work can all be utilized.

Repetition Lift

To build the squat we must build ability in other movements. To build a powerful squat, we also need support from other parts of the spectrum beyond just maximum force development. This range of the spectrum will increase skill, hypertrophy and joint integrity. The repetition exercise can be ANY supportive exercise. Another squat, glute/ham developers, reverse-hyper, pistol squats, farmer’s walk, even esoteric lifts like the hand and thigh lift or bent press.

General Physical Preparedness (GPP)

The term GPP has been used for years, and although convenient, it is also sounds very boring. But GPP training is both extremely important and often ignored, so avoiding it creates specialty athletes who have bodies that are very limited in ability. GPP has been shown repeatedly, without contention, to improve all levels of athletes, and it also builds some seriously conditioned muscles. Even bodybuilders could learn a thing or two from GPP training.

GPP training has the biggest possibility for artistic freedom. Take any malleable factor (distance, time, reps, sets, load, or exercise selection) and build something challenging. The exercises don’t all have to directly relate to the squat, so feel free to press, pull or even run. One recommended tip would be to always include some serious spine work, which we’ll talk about below.

For more information on GPP, see the article – Are You Down With GPP?

The Squat Workout

Here’s an example of a workout using the template concepts above.

Max effort squat

  • 8-10 sets of between 1-3 reps working up to a one-rep max – basic powerlifting protocol.

Good Mornings for reps

  • 2-4 sets of 6-20 reps. Yes, 6-20. Anyone who says reps higher then 10 build ‘endurance,’ not muscle, either have a very bad idea of what ‘endurance’ actually is (endure 100 reps, that’s more like it), or just don’t feel like working outside their comfortable rep range.

Lunges / Farmer’s Walks / Barbell Rollouts

  • Weighted lunges for 50-100 feet
  • Heavy farmer’s walks 100-200 feet
  • Barbell Rollouts for 1 minute

Complete the above workout as described below:

  • Easier: 2 times through
  • Harder 3 times through
  • Champion: 3 times through, no rest periods.

Customizing this Template

This limited description isn’t meant to leave you stuck, it is meant to make you think. There will be more examples below, but don’t hesitate to create your own. Disregard all ‘rules,’ as they are usually crap.

Challenge your creativity. Just see the Spectrum of Strength as an open door to possibilities that involves more than just sets and reps. Above all, have fun.

The Maximum Strength and Ability Program

This is a 9-week program using 3-week cycles. There will be two ‘squat days’ a week through the cycles, one day focused on heavy weight for the MFD, the other on speed, with at least 2 days between the two workouts. This is, of course, very similar to modern powerlifting protocols, but this template covers more range of the Spectrum while utilizing movements that haven’t had much fame since the Physical Culture era. If some of these movements seem too foreign, replace them with something more familiar.

Week 1-3

Day 1

  • MFD: Squat (see protocol in example above)
  • Repetition: Good Mornings
  • GPP: Lunges/farmer’s walks/rollouts

Day 2

  • MFD: Box squats with bands (10-12 sets, 55%-65% of 1RM, 30-second rest)
  • Repetition: Cleans (2-4 sets, 4-10 reps)
  • GPP: Bueler’s / Saxon bends / burpees (5 sets of 5 reps each, per side on the Bueler’s and Saxon bends)

Easier: short rest between each combo

Harder: Go for time, and see how fast you can blast through all five sets

Week 4-6

Day 1

  • MFD: Box squats with bands
  • Repetition: Overhead squats (2-4 sets, 4-8 reps)
  • Repetition: Stiff Leg Deadlifts (1-2 sets, try for 20 reps)
  • GPP: Turkish get-up/swing/windmill
  • Back to back. At the top of the t-get-up, swing the weight. At the top of the swing, do a windmill. Switch sides when you want as long as you balance out, but see how long it takes to do 20 each side.

Day 2

  • MFD: Cleans
  • Repetition: Farmer’s walk (go heavy and for distance. 2-3 sets)
  • GPP: Burpees / plank
  • 30 seconds of burpees followed by a 30 second plank for 5-10 minutes straight, non-stop)

Week 7-9

Day 1

  • MFD: Front squats
  • Repetition: Heavy walkouts/partials
  • Set the bar up as if you’re going to attempt to back squat 50-100 pounds more than you usually squat. Unrack, walkout, do 3-10 partials, barely breaking at the hips. Rack it and see if you can go heavier. Setting the pins in the squat rack really high is a good idea.
  • Repetition: Sandbag/barbell/dumbbell lunges
  • Lunge with something heavy in your hands or on your back. Go for distance, between 50-100 feet, if not more.
  • GPP: Hang clean / push press / good morning
  • With one bar, clean it, push press it, and lower it for a good morning. Use 3 sets, 5-10 reps.

Day 2

  • MFD: Deadlifts
  • GPP: Db/kb front squats/40-yard dash/swings/40-yard dash
  • This one works best outside. Front squat with a pair of dumbbells or kettlebells for 6-10 reps, then drop then and sprint as fast as you can for 40 yards. Then immediately grab a conveniently located DB or kettlebell at the end of the 40 yards, which you will now swing for 10-20 reps before sprinting back to the starting. 2-3 sets.
  • Repetition: Ball slams

What happens next?

After 9 weeks of this sort of intensity, we’d often cycle in two 3-week cycles focused more on Repetition lifts, less on the Maximum Force Development, with only one day a week dedicated to squatting. Another option would be to back off on the intensity of the GPP. For example:

  • Squats 5 sets of 5 reps
  • Good mornings 6-15 reps, 3 sets
  • Swings / farmer’s walk 10-20 reps / 100 foot walk
  • Saxon bends 2-3 sets, 10 reps.

And then, for your own good, take a week off. Use short, light workouts, where the intensity is almost insulting. You’ll come back stronger when it is time to cycle through the madness again.

Some important points


You’ll notice that sometimes there are deviations from the original template, using either more exercises or changing the order. The MFD might serve well as the first lift, but even that is just a suggestion. Also, the days can be swapped, like a more traditional Westside Barbell program, where the speed day always comes before the heavy day.

No Machines

Notice something important here: No machines. This is simple preference (I hate machines), but by no means law. It does simplify things and make you able to workout anywhere that has something heavy to lift.

Single leg movements

As great as squatting is, like any movement done exclusively, it can lead to imbalances. Use single leg movements often to keep the hips and legs balanced.

The Spine

The spine is considerably more complex than ‘abs.’ Spend as little time on the floor as possible. Use big movements, weighted movements, fast movement, and HARD movements to strengthen the spine.

No Rules

Like Bruce Lee wrote, “Use no way as way; use no limitation as limitation.”

Written by Chip Conrad

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10 Habits of Highly Effective Fitness Freaks

Freedom Scares You – Because it means responsibilityJello Biafra


We often busy ourselves with so much erroneous shuffling-about that we forget about the true responsibility of self. ‘Freedom’ is a very large banner being waved right now, but it starts from within. Instead of a giant blanket between ‘good’ and ‘evil,’ let’s focus on the individual, and the freedom we sometimes need for and from ourselves. Socio-political ideals be damned, let’s talk about fitness.

What happens in the gym isn’t our concern right now. Let’s assume there’s PLENTY of information about the training itself, but what happens between workouts? You eat well and get some rest, right? What separates gym success from gym redundancy has as much to do with the rituals we perform away from the gym as in the squat cage, spin class or weightroom. The gym, although an important part of the fitness lifestyle, should not be the sole totem of that fitness lifestyle. We should take the gym wherever we go but not like the proverbial albatross around our necks.

The inner Hulk that we channel for the toil and sweat within gym walls can come with us when we return to our ‘normal’ lives and help conquer the obstacles that block progress in any area of life.

Rituals are focused actions and thoughts designed for obtaining a desired outcome of actualization, transcendence, or improvement of some sort. Spiritual, yes, but not as a separation of mind and body. In fact, the two need each other for optimum performance. Some would say that Ritual is the difference between ‘being’ and ‘just existing.’ Unfortunately, it’s much easier to act busy than to truly Be, because that’s real responsibility (which, as we discussed, scares us).

In Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle, prophet/poet Bokonon calls beliefs and actions that suck up a great deal of our energy, but actually accomplish nothing, as Granfalloons. Granfalloons content us because they satisfy our need to seem really busy, but for all the work we look like we’re doing, they’re tasks or thoughts that actually require little effort. False rituals.

As Bokonon invites us to sing with him:
”If you wish to study a granfalloon,
just remove the skin of a toy balloon.”

That’s the difference of Obligatory Fitness and adopting a Fitness Lifestyle. By striving for a fitness lifestyle, we accept a greater appreciation, and responsibility, for increasing the quality of life. We’re not real busy trying to skin a balloon.

Getting to the gym is an overwhelming task for many. On the other hand, missing a workout is enough reason for many to drop a guilt bomb on themselves.

Perhaps beating up on yourself isn’t the best idea. It may be time to review why the rest of your day isn’t providing the increase in the quality of life that your workout does. The missed-workout-worry means that the gym has become an obligation, not a ritual.

Rumi wrote:
“Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground”

What we DO, not what we can’t do, or what workouts we miss. There are hundreds of ways to incorporate ritual into our lives, and if we’re obsessed with only one, say going to the gym as our only expression of fitness, then it lacks ritual and has become a burden. Fitness as an obligation never works. Rumi’s quatran could be written for the fitness fanatic as “there are hundreds of ways to appreciate the movement and function of the body.”

Ten Habits Outside the Gym

The repeated mantra among websites, magazines and gym science is:

  • Train Hard
  • Rest Hard
  • Eat Well

So this gym stuff is supposed to be good for me, huh? Like a magic drug, all this sweating and moving will eliminate a lifetime of image woes and internal scripts, right? Exercise is a celebration and appreciation of movement, not a dreaded but required key to happiness. Exercise is the love of the body, the intended purpose of the body, not an obligation to it. How we fuel our bodies is also an appreciation for it’s abilities, not just a reward for the taste buds, or worse yet, an emotional outburst of guilty pleasures. So…

One: Eat Like You Mean It

Two: Questions as below:

  • Can your health/performance/workouts benefit from increasing the quality of your eating habits?
  • Are you willing to take the steps necessary to eat better?

Working on nutrition is an obvious way to prove to your body that you’re serious, but the lack of proper nutrition and body fueling is also the most obvious symptom of a weaker mental game. Diet has become a bad word, thanks to infomercial overload and snake-oil propaganda, but the real reason we fear it is because it means two things that scare the swoosh off our Nikes: Organization and Will Power. It’s that scary responsibility again.

Most folks are pretty well versed in the basics: junk food=bad, veggies=good, don’t forget the protein. But how we apply our information is the oft forgotten step. The main website I write for,, and many others like it, have a bounty of information regarding what our machines require for optimum performance, fat loss or other aspects of increased fitness (just read Rosemary Vernon’s excellent series on nutrition).

The next step would be to believe in the importance of cultivating a productive eating lifestyle, and then apply the changes necessary. These changes, any Ritual of Change, should not be like defeating a frightening Habit Ogre in one mighty blow. Once again organization is the key to success. Every journey starts with a single step. Bronwyn Schweigerdt speaks of change in her book, The UnDiet.

Everyone who has ever attempted to change bad habits knows that “baby steps” are essential. Little by little, those incremental changes add up, and the goal is finally reached. In contrast, going “cold turkey” is not only traumatic and painful, but often downright impossible. Common knowledge, right? Wrong. At least that is when we’re talking about eating. Although we’ve made progress in changing many harmful behaviors, when it comes to diet, Americans are still in “cold turkey” mode.

The initial vigor, and subsequent failure, of the cold truly route substantiates the common granfalloon of “at least I tried.” How easy is it to duck a lifetime of responsibility by “at least trying” in such a way as to be doomed from the start? Two dangerous outcomes from the “at least I tried,” full-throttle attempts are

  1. The (often inevitable) failure also affirms (and in a twisted way, comforts) a self-esteem already plagued with doubt and unhealthy internal dialogue.
  2. The failure becomes unconsciously accepted, expected and anticipated as another excuse to give up future attempts, or worse yet, gives license to continue the bad behavior as a comfort for the failure.

Now ask yourself those two questions above. If #2 meant slow, easy steps that only required a little patience, organization and responsibility rather than a doom-ladened jump into the fire, would it be a bit more appealing?

Two: Rest and Reconnect

Another subject that seems ubiquitous in training articles and books is the dire need for proper restoration. While the muscles, tendons, joints and central nervous system enjoy a well deserved break, our brains need this time to learn to relax again. Allow yourself to enjoy your body in a state of rest as much as you hopefully enjoy the art of movement and challenge. Living life between workouts with the metaphorical stick you-know-where does not constitute rest. Anger, aggression, spite or any sort of emotional venom is the antithesis to rest. The gym can be a fine place to release these demons, but use the exorcism wisely. Leave the gym a calmer person. Resting often implies sleep. Excellent. Sleep perchance to dream. This isn’t a vindication for a late night in front of a TV, though. Rest refers to quality, and many studies have been done on the discontentment that TV can create in someone.

One tool that an athlete taught me many years ago was to take the process of visualization out of the gym and delve into the mind during times of rest. He meditated on the muscles and tissues themselves. He ‘saw’ the muscles busy with repair and growth, becoming stronger. He pictured himself within the muscles, watching the process happen. He knew the importance of giving them time to repair and he enjoyed becoming an actual observer of the process. This technique works like a charm when combined with the good ol’ classic relaxation technique of massage. Nothing like quality tissue manipulation the let go of stress.

Three: Be Active

Active? What about that whole ‘relaxation’ thing? That was by no means an invitation to avoid the rest of your life. Nor does relaxation have to mean a complete lack of motion, movement, thought or action. Since fitness is a perpetual celebration and appreciation of movement, continue the parade when away from the gym by dancing, hiking, playing music, even writing. Do you always feel in a rush? That’s not relaxing, is it? Organize your time wisely to not only feel relaxed but to include stairs instead of elevators, walking a couple blocks instead of parking as close as you can, maybe even eschewing the car entirely for a nice skate or ride to work. Later in the day, walk to the park, write a couple paragraphs, and then walk home.

Why do we keep talking about writing? Writing is fitness for the brain. Writing can have the intensity of the workout and the accomplishment of completion similar to the last rep of your last set. The cathartic properties are similar with the brutal challenges of exercise and the outcome of the increase of the quality of life can be the same.

Natalie Goldberg, author of Writing Down the Bones, wrote:

“Push yourself beyond when you think you are done with what you have to say. Go a little further. Sometimes when you think you are done, it is just the edge of the beginning, probably that’s why we decide we’re done. It’s getting too scary. We are touching down onto something real. It is beyond the point when you think you are done that often something strong comes out.”

Sounds like an intense workout, doesn’t it? This same approach applied to exercise can yield amazing results. In a previous article titled Routine vs. Ritual, I wrote:

“Fitness, then, is beyond physical. When our bodies, which house the ethereal essentials as well as the solid vitals, transcend the menial task of just holding everything together, in other words, when your body is fully alive, only then does the wall between flesh and spirit lower. Intensity, the quasi-tangible prerequisite for accomplishment, helps bridge the gap between body and soul. When we are pushed to the limits – intense pain, intense pleasure, intense terror, intense joy – concrete “goods” and “bads” fall on their foundations. Inner strength, sense of being, the obvious times when the spirit steps in to run the show, usually can be traced to a sensational intensity. We push our limits – physical, sexual, artistic, sensational – with a primal, subconscious desire to accomplish the incorporation of the spirit.”

Writing, therefore can be an essential component to fitness. It works along the same principles of challenges and rewards.

If there is any place where you should use stairs and not an escalator – it’s here!

Four: Productive Inner Dialog

Words effect change. Constant reminders of ‘I’m too fat’ or ‘why can’t I

__” reinforce the body’s belief, or disbelief, in itself. A body will manifest itself according to how it is perceived internally. This is a vicious circle. Many external and internal factors affect our own inner perception of ourselves, which will eventually manifest itself externally.
What words do you use to describe yourself? Is your inner dialog often a negative critique of yourself? Do you find words like ‘can’t’ or ‘won’t’ in your communications with yourself?

To create a noncritical, nonjudgmental self-talk, list all the self-negative comments you have with regard to your level of play. Then proceed to change them to their opposite. For example, change

  • “I don’t have enough talent” to “I have an abundance of talent.”
  • “I don’t deserve to be here.” to ” I deserve to be here.”
  • “I’m not good enough” to “I’m more than good enough.”

Thinking Body, Dancing Mind – by Chungliang Al Huang and Jerry Lynch

Affirm within yourself the worth you have and your ability to create and succeed. Every word you say in contrary to your worth will perpetuate itself into a negative belief. State want you want as an affirmation, as an event that has already happened. “I want to lose 10 pounds” will be heard better by the universe and yourself stated as “I’m 10 pounds lighter” or if you want to incorporate the spirit further, “my weight is optimum for my performance, ability and happiness!”

As Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “Speak your latent conviction and it shall be universal sense.”

Five: Productive External Support

Simply put, do you have positive feedback from those close to you? One common trait found among many people is that we surround ourselves with similar kin. We always feel more vindicated sharing ideas with like minded folks. It makes perfect sense. Some would say we even attract those people into our circles, maybe unconsciously. The caveat is if your clan happens to all share negative self images, or if hidden insecurity brings out sarcasm instead of support, or ridicule instead of praise, or, sometimes worse, complete apathy, progress through that quagmire maybe brutally slow.

Many fitness fanatics sing the praises of a workout partner. A good workout partner is someone who is fully supportive outside the gym as well as during your workout. Funny enough, that could be the definition of a good friend, family member or loved one as well.

Six: Workout Memories

The Tao Te Ching reminds us:
“Those who cultivate Power
Identify with Power.
Those who cultivate failure
Identify with failure.

Did you kick butt on your deadlift today? Was your cardio-kickboxing class particularly refreshing and inspiring? Well then reflect on them. Enjoy your workouts all day long. Why should the intensity and fulfillment of overcoming challenges be limited to your workout? Be proud of your workout.

Seven: Look and Touch

What’s the king of all reasons why people workout? What attribute does every infomercial, print ad and ‘fitness’ magazine cater too? The desire to look better. Despite that not being a true ‘fitness’ goal (see Ritual vs. Routine), at least it gets folks to the gym.

So if we can celebrate movement in the gym, then our non-exercising time should reflect and rejoice in what we are capable of and increase our self image through a sense of pride. Look in the mirror and see how the body moves. Remember the accomplishments that body achieves every time you exercise. Your body – you – is alive with possibilities. See that when looking in the mirror, when obsessing on the size and shape of body parts, when the potential to not love yourself is greatest. Go ahead, flex in the mirror. Enjoy it.

Too bad we instantly revert to kindergarten giggles when the subject of touch is brought up. Any recommendations for self-touch would be read as a license for something less than innocent, but there are plenty of other websites and books willing to deal with those issues. Meanwhile, get to know what your muscles feel like. Feel movement. Touch a muscle while it moves. Understand more about how movement occurs.

Eight: Read and Learn

Remember the thrill of reading about the dinosaurs, learning the names and actions of all the cool species, and then going to the museum and seeing them in person (sort of)? What about the impassioned banter amongst sports fans about stats, players, odds and last night’s game? Education creates passion and feeds the intimacy between knowledge and action. This works well with the body and all of it’s amazing possibilities.

Nine: Play Nice With Others

The previously quoted Jello Biafra, lead singer of the highly politically/socially satirical band, The Dead Kennedy’s, went on to answer the question “but what can just one of us do?”

We can start by not lying so much
And treating other people like dirt.
It’s so easy not to base our lives on how much we can scam,
And you know it feels good to get that monkey off your back.(1)

This Habit description was originally a long and tedious diatribe on the importance of being non-judgmental, kinder to others, and not letting the psychological mess that competition can promote take away our deeper reasons for the challenges we attack, blah, blah, blah. Thanks to Jello again for keeping things simple. Treat people well.

Ten: Be Nice to Yourself

This Habit could also be titled “Laugh.” Finding a truly fit person usually finds someone who can see the silliness in it, who can appreciate the humor in fitness and in life. Let’s face it, a room full of sweating, bouncing people jumping over a little step is pretty funny. What about the humor in lifting something really heavy, only to put it back down, and then do it again? Or the irony of Spinning. Aggressive stationary biking? C’mon, that’s funny.

Laughter is a direct result of happiness, and there’s no way to be nicer to yourself then being happy.

Don’t you owe it to yourself to treat yourself with love and respect? It’s not that hard, just don’t busy yourself with granfallons that don’t serve your true needs. Self judgment is as dangerous as judgment of others. Set realistic goals and give yourself a lifetime to achieve them. In fitness, the journey should be the fun part, so let’s not make it such an obligation. Laugh a little. Enjoy the ride. Grumpy people aren’t healthy, it’s that simple (and grumpy people in the gym are real killjoys).

I take my silliness far too seriously
To be bothered by your silly seriousness.

Written By Chip Conrad

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Exercises of a True Physical Culture

In my article Routine vs. Ritual, I mention that a workout should never be a routine. Routine meets base requirements so we can then get on with important stuff, while a ritual inspires and creates progress.

The modern workout routine is steeped in aesthetic conquest, gleaned from years of too many Muscle and Fitness magazines promoting workouts that zoom in on body parts for the main purpose of pageantry. Someone following these common ideas may look prettier but will have little function to their movements, since the body works as chains, not as parts. Larger movements involving multiple joints seem to confuse bodybuilders because they aren’t sure what day to include these motions.

Through emails, on forums and often in person the question has been asked ‘what day should I do deadlifts? Leg day or Back day?’ Well, 100 years ago, when the Saxons (Arthur, Kurt, Herman and Arno, not the dreaded crusaders from Northern Europe), Louis Cyr, George Hackenschmidt and Eugene Sandow were wowing the world with feats of strength (some of which, to this day, haven’t been duplicated) no one was asking what day a deadlift fell on. Or a Bent Press, or Saxon Bend or any of the common lifts of the day that are all but now forgotten.

By the way, these men were huge, sans drugs, and phenomenally strong. So what happened? Over the course of the last 70+ years, the quest for pretty muscles has dominated over the ability to actually move the body. Then the fitness world became a squishy, marshmallow industry promoting the ‘safest’ techniques possible, which actually has been leading to spineless, weaker clients and gym members who think they have a strong back because they can do 300 crunches.

Give some of these exercises a try and see where you stand. What day do you include them into? The day you decide to start getting stronger.

The Burpie

The Burpie is a holdover from gym class, the one exercises every kid hated doing. It involves placing the hands on the ground from a standing position, kicking the legs back and the returning them before standing again.

The versions here are a bit more advanced and include a pushup and jump. The goal of a Burpie is speed (I think I just heard a 24-Hour Fitness trainer pass out and the entire IHRSA convention groan in fear). Yes, speed. It’s not the evil hobgoblin of broken backs and ruined joints that everyone thinks it is. In fact, if you have any desire to play any sport or participate in any athletic activity, guess what you need?

To make a Burpie work, the speed, although important, is second to form. The ultimate goal being to be fast and functional.

Our advanced Burpie looks like this:

Once the hands hit the ground, the feet kick back quickly. Then drop into a pushup before yanking the feet back under you and then, from that position, jump as high as possible before landing right into the next one. There are no pauses from motion to motion, especially the jump. Too often the body wants to stand before jumping and then land in a standing position before moving into the next Burpie. To conquer this, as soon as the feet hit the ground from bringing them back from the kicked-out position, jump up, then as soon as they hit the ground again, absorb the landing right into the next Burpie.

Before the ego overrides the brain, yes they look silly, but they are quite challenging. Start with a small number before doing larger sets, based on either numbers or times (a thirty or sixty second set can be pretty brutal).

The second version involves a medicine ball, or, if you want to be truly DIY, a sand bag (or two, one in each hand). Place the ball on the floor instead of your hands, kick the legs out a little wider for the pushup (which will involve mostly triceps…don’t let those hips drop!), then, when jumping up, swing the ball up with you (an easier version is to press it up with the jump, but a swing, with straight arms, is more fun). Dumbbells or kettlebells work well too, as shown, although balancing on the kettlebell for the pushup takes some practice.

“But what does it work?” Your body, darn it. Enjoy.

Saxon Bend

Otto Hennig, under the stage name of Arthur Saxon, was part of the aforementioned group called ‘The Saxons, a Trio of Muscular Marvel.’ Although all were quite strong, Arthur gained the most notoriety by being the standout, eventually gaining fame with a 300+ pound Bent Press (which we will learn below). He was quite famous for being a wonderful ambassador for the iron game, visiting gyms in towns where he performed to demonstrate exercises and meet with the local physical culture. One of these exercises is making a come- back with strength athletes, though anyone who touches a weight should be familiar with it. Strengthening spinal muscles in a unique and wonderful, the Saxon Bend will be your new best friend, once you get over the ego-destroying sensation of using tiny dumbbells reserved for folks half your size.

These are done with an embarrassingly light weight since the length of your lever has become very long. The trick to this exercise is to focus on the hips. Their first reaction is to shoot out in the opposite direction of your bend, like some dance move (or the ‘model tilt,’ which we actually advocate later). That’s a dance you won’t forget, since the stress on the lower spine could be something to write home about, from the comfort of your couch while you recuperate. So keep the hips still, as you would for a standing overhead press. Squeeze the ground with your feet, tighten the tush and bear down on the other trunk muscles (don’t ‘suck in’) like someone’s going to punch you in the stomach (one of my clients colorfully said it is like trying to pass a watermelon).

So all you are really doing, outside of holding the hips tight, is “opening up the ribs” by leaning in one direction, then the other without the hips dancing. Let the arms move with the body, not as individual entities that can keep going after the spine has reached its limit.

Just think of waving lighters during your favorite hard rock ballad, except the lighters way several pounds and the song is really short. Want it a little harder? Get your stance narrower, but again, check those hips.

The Windmill

Now none of these exercises are unique, and although I occasionally add my own twist, they have old roots. The resurgence of these lifts is being brought to light through the efforts of a small group of folks; among them are Coach John Davies and his Renegade Training Crew, Coach Scott Sonnon of Clubbell fame, Mike Mahler and his Aggressive Training system, John Brookefield and the Iron Mind gang, and, of course, Pavel Tsatsouline, the crowned prince of the modern kettlebell movement. There are many more, the point being that the info exists. We just have to search for it.

The Windmill takes minimal practice but is a fun addition to any program. With feet comfortably wide and turned away from the weight at about 45 degrees, the weight, be it a dumbbell, kettlebell (pictured), clubbell, barbell (way fun), small child or woodland creature, is held in one hand straight up from the shoulder. Unlike the Saxon Bend, the hips get to move on this one, pushing back and out as the free arm crawls down the other leg. The body has to corkscrew under the weight a little as it bends. Then shoot back up. Loads o’ fun. Try to keep those legs straight, although bending the front leg is allowed if you have yet to feel comfortable with the movement.

The Windmill Kickback starts like a windmill, with the hand ending up on the ground on the inside of the leg. Then, like a Burpie, except for the weight straight up from the shoulder, the legs kick back and wide. Then they return and you stand back up, never letting that weight waiver. GO LIGHT, since this requires an element of coordination that some of us have forgotten from our childhood.

The Bent Press

Pick up a Weider publication or any number of the other muscle rags out there and you’ll see the same words on the cover month after month: Blah blah abs, blah blah chest, eat like a pro, etc.. 100 years ago you’d probably see something every month about the Bent Press and the benefits it can produce, from increasing your Weightlifting (in the traditional, clean and jerk sense of the word) to making your spine a solid piece of steel.

The Bent Press, called ‘the greatest lift in the sport of Weightlifting’ by George Sailor in an article from 1937, was originally scoffed at as a mere balance act. Then Arthur Saxon threw up over 300 pounds (his official record eventually being over 370) and the physical culture of the day quickly accepted the Bent Press as legitimate, soon being praised (at least by George Sailor) as being able to ‘make one better at all his lifts, and I will say any weight lifter should study and practice the Bent Press, which to my mind, is the King of all lifts.’

Advocates can get a little enthusiastic of what ‘proper’ form is. For instance, from a great website called Iowa Strong Man, the following is the intro to proper

Bent Press stance:

The placing of the feet is very important.
They should be spaced about 18 inches apart. If you are going to perform with the right arm then the toes of the right foot should be turned in slightly, (Fig. 1) the right leg should be perfectly straight with the hip thrown out to provide a formidable bolster and support for the weight. The left leg should be bent at the knee and the toes of the left foot should point straight forward. Practice getting the proper foot stand before doing anything else. This is very important. Most Bent Press enthusiasts fail through improper foot position.”

This is a pretty classic technique, one that works well, but I’ve found that a little liberty in foot placement, depending on upper leg length and hip flexibility, can be slightly altered per person. Perhaps I’m not a true-ist, but set rules always scare me a little. Other opinions of stance differ, as in the following from Alan Calvert:

‘The lifters stands with the heels 18 or 20 inches apart, and the toes turned out, so that the feet are at right angles to each other.’

I personally find that the foot under the weight points straight ahead or turned in slightly and that leg is straight, while the other leg is turned out and slightly bent. I like to play with foot width, anywhere from 18 to 26 inches apart (roughly, who the heck measures foot distance?) and then the fun begins.

Here I do it with both a dumbbell, although, as with the other lifts, anything can be used. Really. Grab a vacuum cleaner, try it with a file cabinet, whatever is at your disposal.

  • Take the object up over one shoulder with your elbow at your side, under the weight.
  • Position those feet in the desired distance and angle (after the above mentioned ideas, you have many options)
  • Do what I call a ‘model tilt,’ which is jutting the hip out and back slightly under the weight, like a runway model shifting her weight and posing.
  • Line the hip, elbow and ankle up with each other
  • “Squeeze the KB handle, and flex the lat on the lifting side
  • Imagine trying to tightly hold a newspaper under the armpit, this is the idea. Keep it tight. You should feel the KB float upward about 1″ if this is done properly.”

Now, with the model hip-tilt and the dumbbell in place, start leaning towards the outside foot (the one not under the weight) by pushing the hips back and bending. Although called ‘press,’ the weight will be forced up on it’s own, by letting the lat push it up. Quite a unique feeling. Chris, again, puts it best:

“Do this slowly, and try to feel the lifting arm naturally straightening. Think of doing a negative-only one arm chin here. The body moves away, the arm straightens. The KB rides on the flexed lat throughout. Very, very important. You should feel the KB floating up, effortlessly.”

It’s true. You are not actually pressing the weight as much as the weight is being pushed up by the downward movement of the body. The arm will eventually straighten out if you lower your body enough. Then stand up, either by bending both knees and squatting up, or simply raising your torso, proud with the weight still high. Lower it, and start again.

“The “bent-press” is a combination of bodily strength and acquired skill. It is not a lift which a man will do instinctively – he has to be taught. It is possible to lift so much more weight by this method than by any other, so the lift is well worth learning.

Any real expert at the bent-press can press aloft more weight with one arm than he can with two arms; and there are some men who can raise almost as much in the one-arm bent-press as in a two-arm jerk.”

Enough said.

DB Swing

This is called a DB Swing simply because that is what is pictured. Again, anything can be used for weight. Try this one with the cat. This was one of the original Olympic lifts about a century ago, along with a host of other one- and two-handed exercises, including the two that are still around today, the Clean and Jerk and the Snatch. This is one of my favorite exercises for explosive power of the posterior chain.

Start in a deep squatted position reaching between your legs for the weight behind your feet. Pictured is a one handed version, although two hands could be used.
Drive the feet into the ground and snap the hips forward in one explosive move, forcing the arm to swing the weight up.

Some versions of this, especially the kettlebell, will have you stop at chest level, but today, with the dumbbell, we’re going up over the head. Now the tricky part: as the weight swings back down (not lowered gently), you’ll beat gravity by trying to get the hips down even quicker. As the weight swings back through the legs, keep an extended back (the weight will want to round you, but fight it) as the momentum stretches the hips and hams nicely. As soon as the swing gets to its furthest position, change directions explosively and do it again.


Written by Chip Conrad

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – Exercises of a True Physical Culture discussion thread.

Short Topic: Functionally Correct Exercises

Traditional bodybuilding practices focus so much on parts and pieces, trying to work on muscles as isolated entities that magically grow only when picked on individually. There in lies an irony. This protocol backfires, since the muscles we usually try to pick on simply aren’t strong enough to move the weight we load them with, so the body, in it’s constant quest to be helpful, must call upon the bigger muscles to assist.

The classic cases of this would be the lateral raise and the bicep curl. If the lateral raise were to actually focus on that medial head of the deltoid (which, by the way, get plenty of abuse form any form of overhead pressing), most folks wouldn’t be using much more than a 10 or 15 pound dumbbell. Any more weight than that and the traps, posterior head, levator scapular and the obvious bouncing or swinging of the torso must play a role.

When is the last time you saw a bicep curl performed without any upper arm or torso movement or shoulder rotation? Only with lighter weight and strict focus can you even begin to attempt the erroneous isolation of a joint. So why do we kid ourselves that this is the way to improve the ability of muscles?

Movement is a series of chains and adding resistance to those chains increases our ability to move. Simple. As strength competitor Dan John says in his Ten Commandments of Training: Commandment 9: Put the bar on the ground and pick it up a bunch of different ways. Here’s two of those ways.

Both of these exercises require one end of the bar up against a wall or a super sturdy piece of equipment. Load the desired weight on the other end and watch the other folks in the gym look at you funny.


The First one is a modified version of something called a Full Contact Twist. We have since renamed it a Bueler (I had a naming contest through my online group and this was the winner). Start light on this because it’s deceptive in it’s ability to trash you.

Approach the bar as if you’re going to deadlift it, except you’ll be positioned close to the weighted end. Get the bar slightly off the ground so you have a tight arch and good deadlift position with the bar right below your knees. In one smooth movement you’ll stand up, rotate the torso and take a step to face the wall or equipment the bar is up against. Here’s the caveat: don’t bend the arms at any point through the movement. All the rotation is done with the hips and the torso, meaning the muscles of your trunk and hip chain have to deliver.

Lower the weight in the exact reverse of raising. Again the straight arm technique is tricky, and avoid the tendency to round the back on the return.

Through all of this, show the spine some love by keeping your midsection tight. Bare down on those belly muscles throughout the lift Once the bar feels easy, throw some weight on the end.

Bar Thrusts

There is an ongoing debate about the benefit of the bench press for sports specificity. I know, we only want big muscles, but frankly, I’m a fan of function, so this debate intrigued me. The cliff-noted version goes like this:

Talking Head 1: “The bench press is essential to athletic development because of the increased potential for strength in a horizontal pushing motion and the increase in shoulder stability and structural strength.”

Talking Head 2: “But what sporting movement involves anyone pushing with there back up against a wall? Without the support of a bench, the strength gained from benching is superfluous.”

And so on. To meet half way, new equipment was developed. Enter a wave of new machines meant to fix this problem. With a slew of cool names , these machines gave the body a chance to participate in the pressing motion. Since Dan John’s 9th commandment got me thinking, why can’t we use what we have in front of us for this task?

Using a modified Bueler technique (you can bend the arms now) get the weighted end of the bar up so you’re facing the bar, which is on end, with your arms locked in front of you straight out. Now brace you body (you know the drill, tush tight, belly tight, stay proud) and lower that the bar with one hand towards the shoulder and then press it away from you. If it’s light, make it heavier. If it’s heavy (now here’s the good part), use your body to help move the weight. That’s right, with tight belly, the hips and legs can play an essential role in this exercise. It’s a chest press with the power of the body to help. A great move for many sports, like football or wrestling, but also a perfect lesson in the function of the body. Your trunk will feel it, your usual pressing muscles will notice, and your body gets to work as a chain, not in isolated parts.

What fun. 


Written by Chip Conrad

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – Short Topic: Functionally Correct Exercises discussion thread.