Feeling Better and Looking Good Naked


So I’m just walking up the street the other day, and I only say up because it was both on a slight incline and north, and I’m thinking to myself, how do we define what we do at Ambition Athletics?  What is our training or how does it compare to other, stuff out there?  As a current/former athlete (hockey and Highland games) it’s easy to get caught up in still living the dream as a coach.  But, that path is not for everyone.  My job as a coach is to be responsible and make people happy by showing them the best, most efficient and safest way to reach their goals, not mine.

I love participating in the Highland Games.  It’s competitive and fun.  However, it’s a sport and not a great way to “get in shape”.  A great number of people, especially in Southern California participate in triathalons.  No doubt that for them it’s fun and certainly one can compete.  But, ultimately triathalon is a sport and not necessarily the best way to “get in shape”.  People love Cro$#Fit.  It’s different, intense, competitive and also a sport.  It’s not the best way to “get in shape.”  The average person, or normal people as I like to call them, don’t need to train any of these ways.  If your goal is in fact to be better at any of said sports then you are no longer in the scientifically named “normal person” category.  And, that is ok.  You are still a good person.  Sports are fun for various reasons.  That’s why they are so popular.

So, “What does “get in shape” even really mean?”,  I thought to myself while I headed up the street feverishly trying to type notes into my phone with my fat thumbs as I slowly strolled.  Well, I immediately starting thinking about the majority of people that come through our door, my friends, family, the people that go to gyms and even many that do participate in sports if only to sweat and “get a workout”.  What is it that they want?  The answer, generally speaking, is to feel better and look good naked. As a coach, how do we/I get them there?  By taking bits and pieces from various disciplines, training styles, the aforementioned sports, you name it and attempting to create the best, safest, most efficient and productive system.  Movement, Strength and Education is what it boils down to I figured out (clearly not something new as it is the title of this blog).


Movement is so important.  If people just moved more everyday it would solve a lot of problems.  However, if we are going to take this a step further, which is point of this post, not all movement is created equal.  I don’t believe running at a steady pace for an hour and half in a linear fashion with a short stride, or, hunched over another human, grappling with them, trying to twist and torque one another into submission is “the best” movement one can do.  Nor is trying to do 100 pull ups in as little time as possible, especially when the most you can do is 3 at a time.  Now, remember if the goal is to run further or faster, get your Jiu-Jitsu blackbelt or do more pull ups, fast, not necessarily feel better physically or look good naked, then these things are fine.  It’s supposed to be fun.  Go get it.  Just know the difference.

Strength, as I’ve written about many times is the next step after refining movement and really should be practiced in conjunction with it as they certainly compliment each other. What’s the best way to train strength? Practicing at about 80% effort with reps generally between 1 and 8. This ensures sustainability and long term progress, as the number one goal is not athletic performance but to feel better physically and look good naked.


Finally, education. Competing in the sports listed above is fun, hard work and certainly will make you sweaty and tired. But, if you’re a coach, or perhaps you are your own coach, ask yourself, are those the most effective and safe means to get your clients to their goals?  Probably not, so remember that in your programing.  I’m not discounting influence from any particular discipline, in fact, I think it’s rather important.  But perhaps more important is having an open mind and the willingness to change to refine your program so as to make it better everyday.  If you are a “normal person”, as I stated earlier, know the difference.

In the vast majority of situations training should do 1 of 2 things:  Either compliment your sport and it’s practice, or simply make you feel better and look good naked.  In either situation, movement, strength and education (or at least purpose) should drive how you approach these goals.  Participating in sports is fun for so many reasons but it’s not the safest, surest and most efficient path to option number 2.  Understand that as a coach, a “normal person” as I stated earlier, an athlete, then determine the goal and accomplish.

– Mike Baltren

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Female Marines and Pull Ups

Erin Pull Up

You may have heard around the first of the year that the Marines were delaying the requirement of female recruits to perform 3 pull ups.  This prompted quite a few articles and discussion. I found the situation rather interesting as a story like this is right in my proverbial “wheelhouse”.  As such, I searched around the web and read various articles as well as watched an interview on CNN.  Here is some of the information that I gathered and my thoughts.

First off, of all the talk I heard and read everyone uses the terminology “pull up”, which is slightly misleading.  To me pull up means palms facing away, or a double overhand grip.  This is a significantly more difficult way to pull oneself over the bar than with the palms facing you.  I have exclusively seen the old standard known as the flexed arm hang, which is temporarily being reinstated in the place of the 3 rep test, performed with what be called a chin up grip or both palm facing the athlete. From the various video and pictures in the articles that I saw it would appear that the recruit is able to choose the preferred grip, typically that of a chin up.  I’m sure the Marines themselves have this all figured out but it’s certainly confusing to the rest of us as to what the actual standard is.


As an experienced coach I know that 3 pull ups/chin ups is no easy task for women but it can, without a doubt, be accomplished.  I’ve seen it and I’ve helped many women get there.  In fact just today a woman in one of our classes set a new personal record by performing 6 chin ups.  All of that being said, probably the biggest difficulty is determining one’s current strength in the chin up when you’re starting from 0. Anything less than very close to completing 1 rep is nowhere near the same as other strength tests. For example, if the requirement were to deadlift 300 lbs. it’s rather easy to determine if someone currently has the strength to lift 100, 175, 250 lbs, etc. With the pull/chin up all we know is that the person is at 0 and determining how much more strength, practice or time it will take to merely get that first one, never mind third, is possibly an equally arduous task.

Another important consideration is the amount of time one has to work with.  I saw in the CNN interview that boot camp lasts 10 weeks.  Assuming that’s accurate, if a recruit comes to camp unable to 1 pull up, can she get to 3 in just a 10 week span? It’s possible but unlikely based on all of the other important qualities a recruit needs to develop.  Not only that, but as the interviewee stated, many of the women coming into boot camp are young.   Maybe 18-20 years old.  Again I’ve worked with a fair amount of women this age (and older).  Most are unable to perform 3 chin ups.  I have no doubt they can eventually get strong enough but just 10 weeks isn’t going to cut it.

So what can be done?  As with any other strength task you need to get in some practice and I believe there are a couple of ways to do that if we can agree that just hammering away at zero and practicing an all out effort that ultimately results in an unsuccessful rep is not the most effective way to go.  I find the progressions in the video below to be helpful.  The other method we use at Ambition Athletics is spotting or giving assistance from the lower lats.  An example of this can seen in the video at the bottom of the page.  We believe that is a superior method to using a band.

So, here is how I see it at this point: I believe a 3 rep chin up requirement for women Marines is a great way to test strength.  It’s not easy but sure as hell means a woman is strong.  I believe those in charge need to decide how important this test is to them as compared to other qualities.  And, if it’s a high priority (which I believe it should be) there needs to be a plan in place.  Women are 100% capable of doing this but if they are working in a 10 week span it’s not long enough and the path to point B has to be outlined. Use a spotter? Progress using the TRX? How often? What is the volume? Everyday or just a few times a week? There should be progressions across the board as to how they are going to make these women stronger, within a reasonable amount of time and then maintain it.  How does one answer all of those questions as they relate to the many, many other requirements of a recruit or current Marine?  I’m not saying I have the answers but someone needs to figure it out.  Currently THIS training template is offered to help one prepare for boot camp.  Looking at it I’m quite sure they can improve on that to help someone prepare for camp and ultimately perform 3 chin ups.  In other words, it’s junk.  I certainly understand the difficulty in trying to suggest exercises, reps, sets, to someone that could be living thousands of miles away but in my expertise these workouts are not as conducive to strength gains as they could be, especially in meeting a 3 chin up standard.   

– Mike Baltren

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Is Running Best For Weight Loss? (Part 2)

Hopefully you read last week’s Part 1.

This week we continue down the same road (pun intended) and address the same author’s article “Why I Love Shortcuts and Why They Don’t Work” as it relates long distance running and its alleged superiority to interval training.  In it the author argues that there are no shortcuts to weight loss or training.  I happen to agree with that.  Quick fixes are bullshit.  If it seems too good to be true it just may be.  This is not a rant against running specifically.  Just an argument for using the right tool for the job.

fuck this

For the vast majority of people, training time, or in this case time dedicated to weight loss other than through diet, is finite meaning that training intelligently is of the utmost importance.  Highest bang for your buck you might say is a priority.  I believe through my own work, and there is certainly plenty of research out there to support this, that running for long periods of time, say longer than 5 minutes* (that was a joke, kinda) is not an efficient way to lose weight, especially without a change in diet, which is exactly the opposite of what the author is suggesting.  For some example to support this notion check HERE especially, but also HERE, and HERE.  At no time does the author suggest running further, which would consume more time, or running faster within a specific amount of time.  In other words, no planned progression.  This just happens to be a large problem with aerobic training.  Adaptation happens, and then what?  There needs to be a way to progress and make the exercise more inefficient to elicit change.  If the ultimate goal is simply to be a better runner and enjoy it, there is nothing wrong with that.  Just understand that there are smarter more efficient ways to train for weight loss.  Clearly the author is not familiar with short duration HIGH INTENSITY Airdyne bike intervals.


Another way to be efficient and progress is strength training.  The author quickly breezes over this stating that 7-Minute Workout will probably give you stronger quads, “if that turns you on.”  Personally I don’t think any of this is about turning anything on.  Just taking the most direct path towards the goal which includes strength.  Something most avid runners in my experience lack.  Again the goal here is not to be the best runner, just weight loss.

I do see where the author is coming from in regard to the 7 minute workout.  What’s next?  6 minutes and then so on?  There is obviously a point where you can get carried away as he jokingly tries to argue a 60-second workout.  And I’m not convinced that The 7-Minute Workout he’s specifically referring to, although appropriate in certain situations, is intense enough as a stand alone to elicit weight loss.  That however is for another day.  Anyone remember this?

Ultimately it’s up to the coach and/or the person training to try and find the Minimal Effective Dose.  That’s your sweet spot.  More is not always better.  Just because the duration of something, such as running in this case, is longer does not mean it’s better.  Always consider this:

Performance Curve

Weight and Interval training done at a moderate to high intensity (generally speaking reps are low and/or speed is high) are superior to distance running for weight loss in regards to both results and time investment.  It’s not a short cut.  It’s just training intelligently to accomplish a specific goal.  I realize that I am a biased coach of strength and movement but the research shows it.  Not to mention that lost in all of this is that changing your eating habits is paramount to all of this other talk. That’s step one.  Strength and interval work come 2 and 3.

– Mike Baltren

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Is Running Best For Weight Loss? (Part 1)


I try to read a lot.  Articles, blogs and books on a regular basis.  I even picked up a copy of Oxygen magazine for women on Sunday to learn “5 Steps to Great Glutes”.  A few weeks ago I came across an article on Yahoo entitled “4 Reasons Running is Best for Weight Loss”.  Oddly enough it came from Runners World.  Now if only I could get hired by Lifters of Heavy Things World then all would be right.  Anyway, let me break down the 4 reasons and I’ll tell you what I think.

#1 Running Works Even When You Are Rest

No argument here really.  How one calculates the “afterburn effect”, or calories burned post exercise, I’m not sure but I’m buying it.  The author states that because running is more high-intensity than walking it can lead to greater weight loss.  He doesn’t mention greater intensity running like sprinting which I would argue is potentially safer because there is less total impact stress or reps on the body.  Nor does the author mention sprinting’s brother, resistance training.  Perhaps that higher intensity would make for an even greater calorie expenditure post workout?  Are we to assume that as the author states “High-intensity exercise like running stimulates more “afterburn” than low-intensity exercise”, and that’s that?  No other forms of exercise are more effective for weight loss?  Just run?  Or, as I see it, all he is really saying is that running, because more high intensity than walking, is better.  Great.  (More on this later)

#2 Running Is Time Efficient

Again the author compares running to walking.  Again I agree here.  However he goes on to argue that the allegedly super intense but short workouts like the “The Scientific 7-Minute Workout”, or my own 7-minute bodyweight version don’t burn as many total calories as running because they’re so short.  I understand that there are extremes at either end of the spectrum but this does seem to contradict point #1 at least a little.  Again, are we to believe that running at a moderate pace for an undisclosed amount of time (at least in this article) is the most time efficient when it comes to weight loss and anything else is inferior?


#3 Running Is Convenient

Agreed. Running is in fact convenient. As soon as we start adding weights and gym memberships to the equation things potentially become more difficult. However, I believe bodyweight training is equally convenient when it comes to movement or, exercise, as the author says. And purchasing a few weights in conjunction with your bodyweight training isn’t that difficult. The only inconvenience is the whole learning thing. You know, the part where you have to pay attention to what you are doing and why. Especially when it comes to understanding that more does not necessarily equal better.

#4 Runners High

I get it. If it’s not fun don’t do it. People enjoy running just as much and in the same way I enjoy lifting heavy things. Just because some people enjoy it doesn’t mean it’s best for weight loss though.

There is a multitude of research available, HERE and HERE are just a couple of examples, that conclude such things as “moderate aerobic exercise training during a 12-week period has no discernible effects on body composition but does improve cardiorespiratory fitness in dieting obese women” and “the majority (60%) of women in the diet + exercise intervention achieved ≥10%, while only 42% of those in diet alone, and 3% in exercise alone achieved that target”.

If you clicked on the link at the top and read the original article you may have also noticed the authors article “Why I Love Shortcuts…. And Why They Don’t Work”, that refers to the aforementioned 7-Minute Workout. In it he argues you can’t get the same calorie burn from a 7 minute workout that you can from a 6 mile or roughly 60 minute run.  I will address this “shortcut” argument in Part 2 next week.

– Mike Baltren

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Training On The Road

Recently I took a trip to Cancun to attend the wedding of one of my best friends.  All inclusive resorts sure are fun, and gluttonous.  But to avoid the trap of not moving enough and feeling terrible because of it, which I have fallen into before while on vacation, I made sure that I visited the gym on two different days for a brief training session.  I could have made excuses, and believe me I wanted to, but because of these movement sessions I felt significantly better physically and mentally.  As I continue to preach, it doesn’t necessarily matter that I moved (relatively) small weights, the important thing is that I moved.  By that I mean in different planes of motion and through a full range of motion in many joints.  This is the key to minimizing pain and better health on a regular basis.  Below are the two quick workouts I was able accomplish without my regular training equipment but what was still more than enough.

Day #1

Warm up = Circles through various joints, wrists, elbows, hips, ankles, etc.

A. Goblet Squat:  50 lbs x 12 reps x 3 sets

B. Chest Supported Row:  50 lbs x 12 reps x 3 sets

C. Hip Flexor Stretch

A. Tall Kneeling Curl and Press:  30 lbs x 10 x 3 sets

B. Cook Hip Lift: x10 reps x 3 sets

C. Deep Lunge w/ T-Spine Rotation

A. Farmer Carry: 45 kg plates x 2 laps x 3 sets

B. Deadbug

Day #2

Warm up = Same as Day 1

A. Goblet Reverse Lunge:  50 x 8 ea. x 3 sets

B. Lat Pulldown: x 12 reps x 3 sets (just like the old days)

C. Thoracic Bridge

A. Push Up: x 10 reps x 3 sets

B. Single Leg Deadlift: 35 lbs x 5 reps x 3 sets (so sore!!)

C. Deep Lunge w/ T-Spine Rotation

Suitcase Carry: Multiple Sets

I’m A Hell of A Cook

I recently moved, which entailed purchasing a new frying pan.  The first one I bought I hated.  Then I made trip #2,129 to Target, give or take, to buy some more stuff and I bought a GreenPan.  It’s got a ceramic coat and allegedly it’s a healthier option but I’ll tell ya what, nothing sticks so far.  To the point I have to be careful my food doesn’t go flying out when I’m trying to cook all that bacon and sausage.  I haven’t seen great reviews for this product on Amazon but I’m happy so far so I thought I would share.  The fact is I’m not a great cook and I don’t care about purchasing exceptional cooking ware from a high end store but I like GreenPan so far.


Laugh, Cry, Think

I used to sit and watch movies with more frequency but for some reason the last few years I don’t have the patience.  The only exception to that are the 30 for 30 documentaries on ESPN.  Sunday night I sat down and watched the latest 30 for 30 installment called “Youngstown Boys”.  Say what you will about college football and various institutions, rules violations, etc. but in this story coach Jim Tressel comes off as a guy who legitimately cares about his athletes and making them better people.  I respect that and am considering picking up Tressel’s book.  I can’t recommend the 30 for 30 documentaries enough and many of them are now on Netflix.  The wide ranging stories are amazing and many of them have made me, in the words of Jimmy Valvano, “Laugh, cry and think”.  You don’t have to like Jim Tressel or Maurice Clarrett but in this story, like many of the others, you will likely experience these range of emotions.

– Mike Baltren

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Why Bodyweight Exercise


Having owned a gym for years and instructed certifications worldwide, I have a pretty good idea of what works when it comes to exercise. I have seen the benefits of different types of exercise many times over, and one thing I always come back to, is bodyweight training.

There is an odd stigma associated with bodyweight exercise by the stereotypical “strong dude” that it is too foofy or “yoga.” Yoga, by the way, with the proper instructor can be an awesome display of physical ability and a really great method for promoting longevity.

Many girls will look at bodyweight exercise as being “too hard,” or “manly.”

I think this stems largely from the fact that you ladies couldn’t do a pullup in P.E. when you were in elementary school.

Now you probably won’t be able to do a pullup at first, but it is a worthwhile goal because it develops relative strength.

Relative strength is the relationship between your weight and your strength, or your strength to weight ratio (also called pound-for-pound strength). I believe this to be the most important indicator when determining a person’s fitness level.

Bodyweight exercises–like handstands, pushups, pull-ups, cartwheels, etc—promote coordination, and enhanced proprioception. Proprioception is just your brain’s awareness of your body; the better it is, the better you move—the better you feel.

One other thing that bodyweight training promotes is freedom. Freedom to train anywhere, anytime. I traveled over 11 times last year and I can safely say that without bodyweight exercise, it would have seriously hindered my health, and my training progress.


Flexibility is a key component in advancing your bodyweight exercise, many of the movements and progressions demand that you get more flexible. Take the L-Sit and the handstand for example:

In the L-Sit you need to have the hip flexibility and strength to keep your legs above parallel. In the handstand you need the shoulder strength and flexibility to support your bodyweight with arms completely locked out overhead.

Bodyweight exercise can take you as far as you want to go. For some, this might mean getting your first pushup on the floor or holding an L-Sit. For others it may be a journey toward a front lever or a planche. For everyone though, it is really about the journey rather than the destination. As long as you are moving your body through space, and having fun, you are making yourself better every day.

Some basic bodyweight strength goals to consider:

L-Sit on Parallettes

Handstand against the wall

Pull Up



Just working on the progressions for the above movements can yield you unbelievable results in your strength, flexibility, and overall training satisfaction.

If you’re interested in learning more about bodyweight training, contact us at Ambition Athletics or sign up for our Full Day Total Bodyweight Strength Workshop.

Better Every Day.

– Max Shank

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A Blast From The Past

This past weekend I paid a visit to a commercial gym for the first time in, well, it’s been so long I don’t remember.  Which is funny to think about since I work in the training industry and obviously our local gyms are where the vast majority of those who choose to “work out” go.

Those couple of hours spent in the old stomping grounds so to speak really got the gears turning.  Ever the optimist I took various things away from this experience.  First off, I’ve got it made at Ambition Athletics.  Virtually all of the equipment and open space I need to train members and myself is available.  This also means that I don’t have to train in a crowded gym, although if it is crowded while I’m training it probably means the place is full of my friends, which I like.


Secondly, I was reacquainted with reason why gyms can be so intimidating and especially for women.  This place I trained was vast, dare I say overwhelming, as it was filled with a ton of equipment.  So much that I hardly would know what to do with it all (mostly just sit and collect dust).  Fill that room with some more people and I’m telling you, unless a person literally, knows exactly what they want to do as far as training that day, and how to do it, it would be a nightmare. Like, this is scary, please get me out of this place.  And not only would you have to know exactly what you’re doing, aka game plan, but you better have a plan B just in case what you want to be doing is currently occupied. Otherwise you’re going to be there for a few extra hours.  I can’t say I’ve ever judged someone for being intimidated at the gym but I certainly have a better perspective on the situation.

Third, and perhaps most important, I hope that we at Ambition can continue to provide a more welcoming setting that fosters learning and a comfortable situation for those that can feel lost in the vastness of a big, crowded gym.  I hope that we are doing something right as the majority of our members are women.

Now don’t get me wrong, this was not a bad place.  I happy to take in the atmosphere change and get out of my own little bubble.  As I said it had a ton of equipment.  Something for everyone no matter what style of training turns you on.  That being said here are a few other observations that I made.

Things that I saw:  Lots of bench pressing, some curls and tricep work, several people doing rows.  Some squatting, although done poorly, and lots of dumbbell raises (sometimes with a spotter!!).  Oh, and something done with a kettlebell.  I think it was supposed to be a swing but I’m not 100%.

A few things I wish I saw:  A pull up, a push up, a well executed squat or swing, perhaps an overhead press from a standing position.  Also, a TRX or some rings.  I think using those are perhaps the most efficient and effective way to do rows.  Rows are important  for everyone and anyone can do them in this style.

Spotter 2

Final thoughts:  This was a great experience really.  I got to get out in the wild and still do my thing and it reminded me how much training has changed in some aspects and in other ways hardly at all.  Most people that haven’t studied training or gone to what I consider a legitimate training facility still train like a bodybuilder.  It’s very easy to see.  Now, there is nothing inherently wrong with training like a bodybuilder.  Problem is, no one wants to look like one or has the time available even if they did.  In creating the optimal training program as well as gym design, less is more.  The training industry is certainly making progress but it’s still got a way to go.  If you are a person looking to learn about how to train smart and meet your goals, a large public gym is likely not the place.  Experts are likely churning out happy, healthy and strong people in a smaller space focused on coaching and teaching while avoiding the vastness of a chain type gym.

– Mike Baltren

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Cookie Cutter Programming

Cookie Cutter

Cookie-cutter programming tends to carry a negative connotation when it comes to training.  The other buzz phrase is “one size fits all”, meaning that as a coach you just have everyone do the same thing without much regard for each individual.  Think assembly line.  And, I get it.  Not everyone is built or wired to train the same way and from a business perspective it certainly sounds a lot better when you say everyone gets an individualized program.  But, lets get a few things straight.  First off, cookies are generally delicious.  Second, do people still use cookie cutters?  I don’t even like to bake cookies.  No need to get all fancy, just eat the dough straight out of the package or bowl.  Finally, and perhaps more important, a cookie cutter is really just an outline, is it not?  What goes between those lines can be mixed, matched, tweaked and could potentially change from cookie to cookie if one were willing to put in the work.

When I first begin working with someone I already have an outline in my head of how to approach his or her training.  This involves an assessment of movement but also progressions and regressions that are easy to apply to many different people.  As I stated earlier not every person that walks into a training facility is wired or built the same so there is no need to force certain movements on people.  What works great for one may be less optimal or perhaps inappropriate for another.  But, these are still human beings.  Basic fundamentals still apply.  It seems generally accepted, at least among quality coaches that women don’t need to train dramatically different than men.  Human beings, regardless of gender, age, or shape are still going to use the same outline or cookie cutter to guide their training.  Abilities may change the ingredients but the guidelines remain the same.  However, everyone is going to squat, hinge,  push and pull.

barbell cookie

At Ambition Athletics we are focused on movement, strength and education.  Everyone needs to move and the goal is to move well.  As I’ve discussed before, strength, which should be worked on simultaneously, can take a person a long way in reaching all of their goals, whether physical, performance based, etc.  Education can be what separates a “one size fits all” program.  If people take responsibility in learning what will make them better as opposed to the mindless physical activity that merely initiates sweating and an elevated heart rate then they can take their training to the next level by working on their wants and needs on a regular basis.  In this case it’s up to the coach to teach and compliance from the student.

Finally, when working with another person a coach needs to work within a certain set of parameters.  This includes the scope of their own abilities, access to different tools, and consideration of the clients wants, needs and goals.  These parameters, which will change slightly from time to time, are kind of like the cookie cutter meaning that maybe cookie cutter programming isn’t so bad after all.  It just depends on how you look at it.

– Mike Baltren

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Kickstand Variations


Single leg work is an important component of training at Ambition Athletics.  Split Squats and reverse lunges typically progress to single leg squats when appropriate.  Kettlebell deadlifts before single leg deadlifts.  Anti rotation presses (much like chopping and lifting patterns) can progress from various kneeling positions, standing and with a staggered stance leading eventually to a single leg.  But what if there were an in between option?  Not only to help assist in progression but to also add variety and the potential for more load.  Enter the “kickstand” position.  Even as recently as a year ago I would have never even considered such a position nor had I even seen it before.  Well, times change.  Below are the “kickstand” style deadlift, squat and anti-rotation press.  In each movement the stance leg takes on the vast majority of the work while the other leg simply acts as a kickstand to assist.  So here you have a lower body pull and push as well as a core stabilization drill all emphasizing a single leg.

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Keep Calm and Train On

Drew Barrymore in Wes Craven's "Scream"

There are likely many things that have changed in the way I train myself and others over the years.  The one thing that stands out the most in my mind is training by The 80% Rule, or sub-maximally.  When Max first introduced the concept of The 80% Rule to me a few years ago I was skeptical.  It made sense but took some practice in application.  In the fitness world, far too often we are used to doing as many reps as we can in a given set, training to failure or perhaps training a movement for a period of time that is far beyond our capabilities (think 1 minute of push ups).  80% of the time we should be well within our limits.  This doesn’t mean working without intensity.  It’s just focused and done at a high quality.  Arguably that other 20% of the time is for picking your spots, training a little harder and pushing some limits.  After all it is progressive resistance that produces results.

As time goes by and I become wiser, two common themes among high level coaches have really stood out to me, especially in the past few months.  The first is grace and elegance.  At Ambition Athletics we often call it, making it look easy.  That strong, smooth, mastery of movement is what we should all be chasing and is constantly referred to in books about practice and by coaches like Wooden and Dan John (see last week’s post).  The second theme is basically approaching training, and sport for that matter, in a controlled and non-emotional manner, understanding that every training session/practice is not going to battle or “armageddon” as coach John likes to say.  In his book “Off The Floor” David Dellanave gives this sage advice,  “You’re not going to war, you’re not waging an epic battle, and you’re certainly not destroying anything.  You’re picking something up and setting it down……  You’re calm because you’re about to demonstrate the fact that you can pick the weight up without fanfare.” as well as,  “His contention (Matt Perryman), which I fully endorse, is that if you just show up to the gym and lift the weights, day after day, without arousal or excitement, you will literally grow accustomed to being able to do so.  The same exact concept applies to competition.  When you approach it with this mentality, you realize that competition day is just not all that different from training day.  If you are prepared to hit your weights, you will.”

Keep Me

Anyone that knows me well is aware of my affinity for the word stoic and more recently equanimity.  Now, I understand that emotion can be important and that some people respond better to that type of situation.  In fact, just a few nights ago Red Sox player David Ortiz gave a rousing speech to his teammates to light a fire.  But also note that at least one coach was quoted as saying, “He doesn’t say much.  But when he does, we all certainly stop what we’re doing and pay attention.”  Let’s not forgot this was during game 176 of this season.  Clearly Ortiz picks his spots and isn’t fiery at all times.  Only when he needs to be, which works best in terms of sustainability.  Now, I have less of a problem with this approach in the context of sport but whether you are an athlete preparing for sport or a person working 40 hours a week and providing for your family, your time spent in the gym does not need to be spent waging a ferocious battle.  In fact in his book “Wooden on Leadership” coach John Wooden has a chapter entitled Emotion Is Your Enemy.  Rest assured this is not about subduing empathy or love but what he calls “intensive effort or positive aggression, with the goal of producing ongoing improvement rather than trying to get everybody excited and fired up about some arbitrary peak in performance.”  Finally I can remember from coach Joe Ehrmann’s book “Inside Out Coaching, “… I got my first initial sense that sports could be as much about grace as the arts……  We give sports an elite status, but culturally we diminish them by commoditizing sports and hyping that funny thing called victory.  Entertainment, winning, war metaphors, and other malarkey taint sports’ dignity, integrity and grace.”

So, my advice to you, keep calm, make it look easy, enjoy the journey and train on.

– Mike Baltren

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