Monday, April 27, 2009

Refining Upon the Burpee

There are many ways to strengthen and condition the human body and, to one extent or the other, all of them work. You can get varying results from any number of activities such as Olympic lifting, power lifting, barbell and machine training, odd-object lifting, gymnastics training, body weight exercise, clubbells and kettlebells, etc. It's only a matter of choosing the modality that best suits you, boiling down to what you like and what you're going to stick with. In the last ten years I've predominantly trained with kettlebells, clubbells (including mace swinging) and body weight training. Within the realm of body weight training alone, there are many discrete systems, everything from body building-style movements to yoga postures. I enjoy the freedom of using just my body as the primary tool in training and, because I travel, I can perform my routines anywhere at any time. As much as I enjoy kettlebells and clubbells, they are not conveniently dragged along when traveling.

In my body weight training system I've included exercises for absolute strength (akin to power lifting); strength-endurance; explosive strength; power-endurance; mobility training; static strength and cardio.

One exercise in my arsenal synthesizes many of the above attributes; I have previously written about it, the eponymous Maxercist. There exist many variations on this movement but my latest incarnation is the most satisfying yet.

I specifically created the Maxercist to simulate the rigors of grappling. It was my desire to include all elements of human movement encountered in a grappling match: pushing; pulling; static strength; strong core activation; grip; hip, spine and shoulder mobility; level change...all while under a high cardio stress.

To incorporate a plyometric element, I've introduced the Lifeline Heavy Speed Rope. The rope is heavy enough to provide significant upper body load while simultaneously working ankles, feet and calves, so often neglected in sports training. Jumping rope at high speed intervals provides a tremendous cardio workout, prepping the body for the Maxercist.

In begetting the Maxercist, one concept I used was even placement of stress upon the entire body while under a high systemic load. The idea is not to produce muscular fatigue (although that does happen in the latter rounds) but systemic fatigue (from high level systemic effort) while keeping the muscles as fresh as possible. In this way, you smoke not the muscles, but the system, and by "system" I mean heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, hormonal pathways, etc.

Another important aspect is the full range of motion cultivated in the various articulations used. I want to train my body in the extreme positions encountered in a grappling match. I want my joints strong in sudden, unanticipated leverages.

The high-repetition of the Maxercist movements also develop tendon strength. Many body weight exercise programs are rote, basic movements--which is fine--but I wanted to refine the Maxercist into an elegant kinetic chain, so as to develop other attributes in addition to conditioning. These attributes include:

  • agility
  • coordination
  • balance
  • grace

A good question to ask at this point is, Well, what is conditioning if it doesn't include these elements? Yet most exercise programs don't mention, much less include, these all-important elements. You've heard the acronym KISS (i.e. keep it simple, stupid) and I believe KISS is a step in the wrong direction. Athletes should refine upon their movement.

Then there is the mental factor: you must focus on what you're doing and concentrate on connecting the movements together into a super-flowing kinetic chain. This requires a filtering out of external stimulus--that is, you must be here, now--an excellent practice for high-level athleticism.

While excess cardio (exceedingly commonly practiced) results in a loss of range of motion as well as loss of your hard-gained muscle and strength, the Maxercist is a melding of cardio conditioning and joint mobility with a strength emphasis. Unlike typical zone-out cardio, you get the benefits of cardio conditioning as a bonus with everything else you need.

Here is where I break down the Maxercist step-by-step and include a video performance for your entertainment.

Equipment needed:
a pull-up bar, tree limb or Lifeline Jungle Gym, basically something to pull youself up on.

  1. Facing the bar, drop into a flat-foot squat
  2. Roll back into a bent-leg shoulder stand
  3. Exhale, lowering the legs overhead into plow position
  4. suddenly reversing direction, roll back up into a flat-foot squat, then into an immediate forearm balance (Crane position)
  5. Hold the arm balance for 3-5seconds then,
  6. Explosively donkey kick the legs back, extending into the Upward-Facing Dog position then
  7. lift the hips back into Downward-Facing Dog, then
  8. Sit into a Bear squat
  9. Dive through into a Low Plank Position, continuing smoothly back to
  10. Upward-Facing Dog, then return to Low Plank and finally push up to
  11. Upper Plank position
  12. Sit back to Bear squat, then
  13. Extend the legs into Downward-Facing Dog
  14. Leap forward into Frog position
  15. Stand, or jump, up to the pull-up bar in front of you
  16. Perform a smooth Chin-Up or Pull-Up (your choice)
  17. Hold 3-5 seconds in the top position, throat against the bar
  18. Slowly lower down to full arm's length
  19. Rinse and repeat. Wipe hands on pants.

The way I work the sequence is as follows:

A1) Heavy speed rope x 120 skips
A2) Maxercist x 5
A3) slow, smooth stability ball crunch x 10

That's one round, which should take about 5 min, depending on speed and fluidity. Perform 5-10 rounds according to your strength and ability.

Your goal is smoothness, flow, and full articulation. Do not rush.
This is a phenomenal routine combining the best elements of joint mobility and conditioning and I hope you'll enjoy it as much as I do!

The Maxercist is one example of many tools I carry in my kit bag. You can learn more about the Maxercist and much, much more at my upcoming Body Weight Trainer's certification 3 May in Philadelphia. Or, join me and my teen aide-de-camp in Frankfurt, Germany 14 June or Kevin Buckley's great new gym, Dynamic Strength & Conditioning in Nashua NH 12 & 13 September or later on in Reykjavik.

I'm looking forward to it!

In Strength & Health,


Q:I am a 41 year old trainer living in the Highlands of Scotland... I bought a 24kg bell...In short, 3 weeks ago, on the 2nd rep of a set of kettlebell snatches, I broke my forearm, clean break of the radius, which required surgery and implantation of a steel plate and 6 screws. I had no idea... that such an injury was possible...I had sustained not even a bruise in... 9 months of kettlebell training. I have written to the people whose books and dvds I had used, and they tell me I am the first person in the world to have done this...I would be grateful for your opinion on what has happened to me. Perhaps I had some sort of blind spot for this ballistic training, which was new to me. In the 23 years of uninjured training I enjoyed previously, there had been no ballistic swinging exercises, and no tools like the kettlebell which could hit me, even if I had it fully gripped ...I have always been very careful and risk-adverse (until this anomaly...), so I would never have taken up snatching the kettlebell if I had heard it could break an arm.

P.S. you know of anyone who has recovered full strength after a radius fracture and steel plate in forearm? My doctor advises leaving the plate in permanently, have you heard of anyone getting back to full strength in that case?

A: A 24kg is a very big KB to start with, even for strong guys and I always advise even strong guys to start out with a 16kg or even a 12kg. It's EVEN MORE IMPORTANT to seek out proper, professional instruction.

Be that as it may, I myself did neither and, in retrospect, started out with too heavy a KB at a time when there was no KB instruction available and they were entirely new to the US.

I only mention this so you don't feel criticized. My theory is this: You were likely using bad form for quite some time and your forearm suffered repeated insults that were just below the radar.

You're probably a tough guy with a high pain threshold and the cumulative damage wasn't registering. Add to this possibly not allowing adequate recovery between those bouts of physical insult. Systemically and energetically you may have felt recovered, but my sense is that the limb hadn't recovered locally from the trauma of sudden loading inflicted upon it.

I believe there was probably an underlying chronic condition of which you were unaware, possibly weakened at some previous time. Kind of like smoking cigarettes for years, seemingly fine, then suddenly diagnosed with cancer or whatnot.

This is utter conjecture on my part, and I may be off base, but I'm attempting to make some sense of this terrible injury for you.

Sometimes even the safest of things can still result in mishaps and injury, especially when you're pushing physical limits--I mean, something's got to give.

For example, I used to be involved in the Super Slow training movement, done on Nautilus and Hammer Strength machines, and also static contraction training, which was at the time considered the safest of all training methodologies because of the lack of momentum and force on the muscle. While using the protocol on a Hammer seated leg curl, on my last rep, where I reached a momentary failure (which supposedly was the safest part of the set because the muscles are in such a weakened state they can't contract hard enough to produce an injury) I began the static part of the rep after reaching positive failure.

My left upper hamstring, where it attaches to the hip bone completely pulled in such a way that my entire hip tilted and was skewed. it was a very bad hamstring pull which left me in terrible pain for months. It just goes to show there are no guarantees in anything, even something supposedly as safe as Super Slow training and static contraction. There was simply some structural weakness in there which may have been exacerbated by my other physical activities and sports and was just ripe and ready to give out.

I've been teaching KBs in the US longer than anyone else. I've taught thousands of people how to use these productive tools. I have seen a few injuries but far fewer injuries than I ever saw with machine training at the height of Nautilus and Hammer Strength. This runs counter to what you might think and I can only explain it that the people with whom I worked received excellent instruction and training. There were, however, a few people with tweaked shoulders, elbows (and most notably, lower backs) but these can always be traced to over reaching, over training and a breakdown in form. I don't believe there needs to be any more warning for using KBs than there needs be for riding a bicycle. Countless people are injured on bikes every year but you don't see a warning on them other than using proper safety and common sense.

I have long been a proponent as the KB Swing as the primary movement, and for the very reasons you describe. I am not at all enamored with the Snatch. In my experience, all the benefits of KBs can be had with the Swing and for most people it's totally unnecessary to do the Snatch at all. In my corporate/mainstream fitness classes, I've always avoided the Snatch unless it was a group of extra-athletic folks.

I don't see any reason to subject the body to the the additional stress of Snatches.

I have a friend who was badly wounded in the military service by a land mine. His arm was fractured in multiple places and is now held together with plates and screws. Even though he's in his sixties, he's in impeccable shape and lifts his KBs and does his BW conditioning exercises as well as martial arts training virtually every day. He's a true inspiration.

So it is possible to come back from even a setback as this. Much of this has to do with your mind and its assumptions. Rather than assuming a negative outcome to this thing, assume the best outcome as a possiblity and use this as a way to correct any negative inclinations. Visualize your arm whole and strong and perfectly functional. If you see this clearly you'll be amazed how the body will respond.


gereeves said...

Very athletic, will take me a little while to get that down. Question: did you do the 120 skips as fast as possible?

Rick Vittum said...

I noticed that you were coming to Massachusetts for a workshop. I went to register but did not see a date listed. Do you know when and where you would be coming to MA?

Rick Vittum

Peter said...

Awesome, again. And the previous Maxercist stills don't do the moves justice -- controlled, relaxed, precise, even.

Mich said...

So your reply to Ask Coach and I have a follow up question:
Are you saying the KB swing is just as effective and safer than the KB snatch? So unless you have some overiding reason--like KB competitions--avoid the stress of the snatch and stick with the Swing?

Deanmc said...

Hey Coach, I did it! Five rounds of the Maxercist. This morning in my backyard gym. I was totally feeling like a caveman with the early morning sun, birds chirping and all the other little creatures in my backyard scurrying about. You should compile all these workouts you post onto your blog into some sort of DVD. I'd definitely purchase one!

Steve Maxwell said...

First of all, try doing the Maxercist in slow motion, just one step at a time until you get a feel for it. I did the 120 skips as fast as possible, akin to a sprint. I used the green rope, and it got pretty taxing by the later rounds! The idea is to add in what yoga asana workouts are missing ie a dynamic cardio element and pulling. - Steve

Steve Maxwell said...

Hi Rick, The workshops are in Nashua NH. 12 & 13 September at the new and fun Dynamic Strength & Conditioning Gym. The registration page will be up any minute. It's going to be a great time and I'll see you there! - Steve

Steve Maxwell said...

Hey Peter! Teresa didn't have a video camera for the original Maxercist clip. You're right, this recent version is more like what I wanted to get across. Nice to hear from you! I hope to see you again, soon. - Steve

Steve Maxwell said...

That's exactly what I'm saying, Mich. There's simply not much added benefit to the Snatch and, for many people, it's a problematic move. If you've been doing Snatches all along, pain-free and with no problem, then you do what you want to do. The guy who wrote in had been doing them for 9 mos, of course, but he'd received no prior KB instruction, so only he and his God know what his form looked like. Thus I can't make a blanket statement--it's case by case--still, all the health-giving and performance benefits can be had in the Swing. - Steve

Steve Maxwell said...

That's a beautiful vision, Deanmc! My absolutely favorite workouts have been as you've described: outdoors in a natural setting. Returns the mind to a more innocent time. - Steve

dragonmamma/naomi said...

I like that Maxercist, but definitely need to work on my forearm balance!

To the guy who broke his forearm: can we assume that the doc checked you out for osteoporosis? Most people think it only occurs in little old ladies, but not true.

Robert Troch said...

Got to agree about the snatch. I try to get everyone to swing. Snatches? The time and effort required when compared to the benefits are no really there for many people. At least in my experience. There are lots of fun different swing variations one can do anyway.

Anonymous said...

Hey Steve, I was wondering if you had any suggestions for hurting wrists during push-ups or power wheel walks. Like the website, keep up the good work!


p.s. I ran into you in December in Marin and you recommended a BJJ school to check out while I was up there, thanks!

Deanmc said...

Hey Coach, check out my version of your phenomenal workout creation