Do Not Get a Turkey Neck this Thanksgiving

Flexible Steel Logo
Lately we have been seeing a lot of people mobilizing the necks by doing head rolls…moving their heads through a complete circle. At Flexible Steel we break these moves apart, in a more isolated fashion, for example, extension and flexion movements, rotations, and lateral tilts. I have asked Dr. Ricardo A. Nieves, M.D. and Flexible Steel Medical Advisor to briefly explain the benefit of practicing or training the neck in this manner as opposed to doing the full circles.

Hi Jon,

Excellent question! The head roll or moving the head through a complete circle is something we see frequently done as a warm up in martial arts.
Athletes are able to compensate and by doing the head roll or circle missed details on their cervical spine range of motion that can eventually create more dysfunction and manifest with pain.
As a trainer you want to find ways of training your clients safely and identify potential problems that might cause pain or injury.

When doing cervical spine or neck range of motion movements I recommend to evaluate and work on movements in a more isolated fashion initially for the following reasons:

– It allows you to identify restriction of range of motion in a particular direction
– It allows you to identify asymmetry on range of motion
– It allows you to identify and isolate a direction of movement that cause pain
– It allows you to identify when during the movement it causes pain (at the beginning, during or at the end of the movement)
– I allows you to avoid placing the neck in positions that cause pain while doing other movements or exercises
– Gives you a more clear and detail baseline movement picture and measurements to compare and re-evaluate after any intervention
– It allows you to communicate effectively and clearly with medical professionals treating you client

I hope this answer your question!

Ricardo Nieves Profile Photo Lab Coat

 

Ricardo A. Nieves, M.D.
Flexible Steel Medical Advisor

Join us for the Flexible Steel Level 1 and 2 Combo in NYC. Click here for more info and a complete schedule.

Events

 

 

Cossack Squat – Strength, Mobility and Flexibility all in one – PART 3

Angel Stretch with Kettle Bells

Flexible Steel Friends – I would like to introduce the 3rd in a 3 part series on the Cossack Squat. This is more than a few quick tips, rather it is an intensive and impressive premier on this very beneficial move designed to make you both Strong and Flexible at the same time. The author is Piort Kowalik, Flexible Steel Instructor Specialist (FSIS) from Poland. Follow Piort’s advice and you too will become like Flexible Steel!If you missed Part 1 and part 2  go here first http://flexiblesteel.com/blog/2017/07/13/cossack-squat-part-1/

Don’t train (load) an incorrect movement pattern

Before you decide to add the Cossack Squat to your training repertoire, make sure it’s good enough to grab a kettlebell and start the reinforcement process. Because movement is a little like working with clay, if you put unfinished, misshapen pot in the oven, you can be certain that only a harder version of this unfinished pot will come out. Such pot won’t be displayed anywhere, and will be of no use, and you will no longer be able to reshape it. You can only add it to the museum of bad pots.

If you try working a bad movement with weights it will not only be unsafe, but it will also be difficult to correct the bad movement strongly embedded in the nervous system. Give yourself time, take my advice and spend additional month working on the correct Cossack squat. You can use the framework I had tested on myself. Here it is:

Flexible Steel 4 weeks to Cossack Squat

Because I am not sure which of the problems in the Cossack squat that I’ve mentioned plagues you, I propose this solution. We have 6 items regarding mistakes and problems. Each contains 2-4 exercises, which should help. For each item choose only 2 exercises – Exercise A and Exercise B. 6 problems times 2 exercises each gives you 12 exercises and these exercises will accompany us for the next 4 weeks of work on a relatively correct Cossack Squat.

I’ve chosen mine, now you have to choose yours. You can choose the same, but remember that my problems may be different from yours, because every one of us has different experiences and different sport background, different rate of regeneration, etc. I give you mine so that you will see how it looks in practice.

The hip moves outside the heel on the bent leg side

Ex. A – STRADDLE

Ex. B – GROUND COSSACK

The heel of the bent leg does not touch the floor and you can’t press down on it.

Ex. A – ANKLE CIRCLES

Ex. B – NARROW SQUATS

Torso is not vertical.

Ex. A – KB GOBLET SQUAT

Ex. B – WALL COSSACK

The knee of the bent leg caves in.

Ex. A – BACK COSSACK

Ex. B – SPLIT SWITCH

5.(MA Cossack) The outer edge of the foot of the straight leg is not touching the ground.

Ex. A – SIDE CALF STRETCH

Ex. B – KUNG FU STANCE

  1. The height of the position is wrong – hips are higher than the knee on the bent leg side.

Ex. A – PINK PANTHER THE KNEE

Ex. B – LOADED COSSACK

Now that we have chosen our 12 exercises for the next 4 weeks, the next step is to arrange them in the template below. This template is a simple protocol I created for myself, which I use to train three times a week. The H, M and L letters stand for the difficulty level and are accordingly High, Medium and Low. The high difficulty version is 5 sets for 5-10 reps of a given exercise in total or per side, Medium is 3 sets for 5-7 reps and Low is 2 sets for 3-5 reps. Numbers from 1 to 6 mark the mistakes and problems we listed before. All this may seem a bit unclear at first, but once you put everything in order you’ll see it makes sense. So here’s the template. Here you should put the exercises that you’ve chosen.

Sample Template Cossak

Remember that week 1 and 2 differ from week 3 and 4 when it comes to the order of the exercises – A – B for 1 and 2; B – A for 3 and 4. To show how this may look I’ve put my exercises into week 1 with the values corresponding to high, medium and low versions. This what is looks like now:

Cossack Squat templete 2

Remember to match the number of reps to the difficulty level. The range between 5 to 10 gives you a lot of space to maneuver, so that depending on the exercise or your current condition you can choose a lower or greater number. Just choose what feels easy and what feels hard for you. Don’t rush it, and don’t beat yourself up, give yourself enough time to rest and treat each exercise as practice not training for exhaustion. Also try not to exceed the pain barrier, but rather gently approach it by working very close to your discomfort zone. Remember – it should be challenging, but not a struggle. Follow this simple program for 4 weeks to the letter and you will not be disappointed! I’m rooting for you. I hope that when I come back with a proposal on how to build strength using the Cossack squat you’ll be ready for it! And remember… Be Both Strong And Flexible – Become Flexible Steel.

PIOTR KOWALIK

The founder and manager of the Sports Centre and School of Martial Arts “IRBIS” in Krakow. The coach and trainer of gold medalists in the Polish Wushu Championships.

The instructor of StrongFirst SFG1 and Flexible Steel Instructor Specialist, who can share his expertise with passion during training sessions in the Kettlebell Centre Krakow and during all the other trainings in Krakow and all around Poland.

Apart from teaching how to build strength and flexibility based on such tools as kettlebells, he teaches Chinese Martial Arts – Kung Fu that he has been practicing since a child.

He started the training of Chinese martial arts in 1991. For years he has been one of the most title-winning Kung Fu (Wushu) competitors in Poland. He teaches both traditional and sports varieties. He holds the title of the World Champion won at the World Championships in 2004 in Chile and in 2006 in China.

He was awarded with the Prize of the Minister of Sports and Tourism of the Republic of Poland for winning gold and silver medals at the World Traditional Wushu Competitions in China in 2010. He was awarded with a prestigious title of the “Best Competitor of 2006” by the American Federation of Chinese Kuoshu in Baltimore, USA.

 

Check out our new DVD Flexible Steel Fundamentals. Get your copy here today and say goodbye to stiff creaky joints and an inflexible body.

FlexSteel-on-Location Photo

Cossack Squat – Strength, Mobility and Flexibility all in one – PART 2

Flexible Steel Friends – I would like to introduce the 2nd in a 3 part series on the Cossack Squat. This is more than a few quick tips, rather it is an intensive and impressive premier on this very beneficial move designed to make you both Strong and Flexible at the same time. The author is Piort Kowalik, Flexible Steel Instructor Specialist (FSIS) from Poland. Follow Piort’s advice and you too will become like Flexible Steel!If you missed Part 1 go here first http://flexiblesteel.com/blog/2017/07/13/cossack-squat-part-1/

Jon Engum

COSSACK SQUAT –

PART 2 More Troubleshooting Tips

Common Problems and Solutions:

Torso is not vertical.

As long as we train the Cossack squat without any weights, there’s no problem with having a rounded back. In martial arts training I teach the position to beginners where they have their hands resting comfortably on the floor. We need this because in order for the  leg sweep to the back we need the MA Cossack squat position. During this attack hands touch the floor. However, martial arts follow their own specific rules and it does not mean that martial artists should not learn other versions.

Each position or movement pattern should be taught correctly first, and then loaded as part of the training. But if we want to load the Cossack squat we need to be sure that our back is safe. That is why the correct version, just like the normal squat, requires vertical or near vertical back so that the center of gravity is more less in the middle of the foot. Before you load the Cossack squat you need to be capable of reaching and maintaining vertical torso without any additional weight. Learn this position and train it correctly from the beginning.

If any problems occur, try this:

KETTLEBELL GOBLET SQUAT

The bell held during the squat will give you the correct feeling of maintaining Kettle bell goblet squatvertical body. Retracted and packed shoulders and an open proud chest in the squat will transfer directly onto the Cossack squat. Learn how to keep stable core and back in this exercise before you move on to the Cossack squat. Every Flexible Steel instructor will teach you how to perform this awesome squat variant correctly. You can find this exercise in the “Untying the Four Knots” program by Jon Engum – for the instructions on how to do the Goblet Squat go to http://flexiblesteel.com/blog/2016/12/27/four-week-program-to-flexible-steel/

PARTNER COSSACK or hold on tight

You can find a very detailed description of this version in the Certified Flexible Steel Instructor’s manual. Find an instructor or join us. To put things simply – grab a partner and sit comfortably in the correct position to teach the nervous system the correct position and to “stretch” everything our body is lacking and to keep the vertical alignment.

Trust your partner. They’re there to allow you to “lean back” to achieve the vertical position. Remember that buttocks should be close to the heel/floor. Performing a partner cossack I’ve seen many people who, even when they were being held by their hand, pushed their butt back trying to get the hip hinge pattern. But what you’re looking for is the squat pattern. Lack of trust also means locked body, which resists its owner. Such body will not yield satisfying results. You should relax and trust your partner. This drill really works, for poor ankle mobility as well – just relax and let your own weight work the joint.

A couple of hints: The arm on the bent knee side should be free. Use it to push your knee out and open the hips. Instead of a partner you can use TRX or even the door (grab the handle) – BE CREATIVE.

COSSACK GOBLET HOLD – mix kettlebell squat with the Cossack when you don’t have a partner around.

Grab the bell like in the Goblet Squat, but instead go down to the Cossack squat position. When you feel you’re falling back push the weight away from your body. BE CAREFUL – holding the weight tightly to your chest can easily make you lean forward and you want to avoid that. Elbows supported on your ribcage will help you hold the bell without the arms getting to tired. Think about keeping your back straight, staying vertical, holding a proud chest and pushing your knees out – it has to be perfect!

WALL COSSACK – facing the wall

Our body is looking for a way out and it usually finds one. The problem is that our body prioritizes ways to save energy over ways to spend it. It’s lazy, and you’re trying to kill it. Play a trick on your body and place it as close as possible to a wall. Now go down to a Cossack squat. There’s no room to lean forward and an empty space behind you. You have to hold on. This position reveals all weak spots in mobility. The brain will simply end the downward motion once our limitations come in to play. At least now you can see all those weak spots – Work on your mobility especially since now you know what the problem is.

The knee of the bent leg caves in.

This mistake will haunt people who also have problems squatting. Of course the problem may also result from incorrect squat pattern and in this case contacting a FS instructor wouldn’t hurt. However, in most cases problems with squats and Cossack squats are a result of short range of motion in the hips. It may result in the knees caving in, which makes working on squats and Cossack squat more difficult and dangerous. Loading such pattern is not advised. Before we add weight we need to improve the movement. I propose

PRYING GOBLET SQUAT

The way to improve vertical position described above should become one of your favorite exercises, but if you put your elbows on the inside of your knees and let the bell spread its weight equally between your legs prying the knees out, you get a great way to work on opening your hips. In the lowest point of the squat add slow but strong rotations with your entire body to the right and the left also make figure 8s with your knees.

TACTICAL FROG – basic version

I know of no better way to open the hips in the deep squat and the Cossack. It’s one of the most important elements of the “Untying the Four Knots” program by Jon Engum – go to http://flexiblesteel.com/blog/2016/12/27/four-week-program-to-flexible-steel/

BACK COSSACK STRETCH SERIES

A great exercise which has recently been introduced to the Level I Flexible Steel Certification which will help your straddle, mobilize and open your hips and since it looks like a Cossack squat with your back on the ground it is a fantastic way to improve it. Even though you’re lying down, it’s far from relaxing. More flexible people will probably try to load the leg, but even the basic version is quite challenging. Do 5 rounds where 1 round is 10-20 forceful reps where you enter/exit the deep ROM with a one second hold at the lowest point and 10-20 seconds of waiting and pushing into the deepest range of motion. A bonus variation is a full circle with the straight leg – down over the ground then up to the vertical position and again to the side just over the ground deep into the maximal ROM. Remember that at no point the leg should drop below the belt level (except for the circles) and if it does simply pull it up above the belt level. Good news and bad news – don’t forget the other leg, unless you want to walk crooked. 🙂

SPLIT SWITCH

Great movement drill that will get you closed to do the full split. However, without the knowledge of certified FS instructors you are more likely to risk an injury that is why I implore you to find an instructor near you. You can also read the short description of the Three S rule that Jon described on his blog here: http://www.flexiblesteel.com/blog/2017/03/14/grow-the-points-of-your-triangle and avoid any injuries while pursuing the split. But to get a beautiful Cossack squat a much higher version will be just fine. It’s about mobilizing the hips – lift yourself up on your arms placed on e.g. chairs. Imagine that your hips are like headlights in a car that are illuminating the road ahead. Assume high front split position and shine the headlight on the leg in front (rotate the body and the back leg). Now without moving your legs rotate completely to the back leg shining the headlight straight to the foot. Each time support yourself on your arms for safety. This exercise resembles another one dubbed “the Egyptian.” However the Egyptian is an exercise for shoulder mobility not the hips, right? Yep, that is why this is called the Split Switch.

DOWEL PARTY or playing with a stick

When I was doing this exercise for the first time it instantly reminded me of a party game you play with your friends at house parties. You definitely know which, the one where you have to walk below a bar or a stick placed at a certain height. Facing it upfront you have to walk below arching like Neo in the Matrix. Each successful pass means the bar is going lower and lower. Of course the version in the game is great and can help us to master the gymnastic bridge or its progression, but the Flexible Steel exercise, which you can see in the video below, will help you in the Cossack squat thus improving your squat and few elements of your get up.

Our task here is not about arching back – stand sideways to the stick that is located at your shoulder height to your right. Then slide your right leg to the side under the stick, put your feet with your toes pointed outward and push your knees out, so they point to the same direction as your toes. Use your strength to keep pushing your knees out. Now without moving your fingers back or forth lower yourself and slowly shift your weight to the right below the stick. Go up once you’re on the other side. Easy right? Repeat couple of times, to make sure you’re doing it right. Another step behind you. New one just ahead. And then another one. I prefer to start from an easy height and in 3-4 rounds lower the stick to the middle of my arm, then my elbow until I reach my hip. Of course the lower it is the harder it gets. In the lowest variant you’re performing a beautiful Cossack with your feet glued to the ground transferring your bodyweight so low that without proper “greasing” of the hips on the previous levels it’s easy to fail. At this level it’s simple, but far from easy.

(MA Cossack) The outer edge of the foot of the straight leg is not touching the ground.

 Remember when I talked about the Cossack in martial arts – both feet planted on the floor. You should be able to do that! But there’s one catch. The outer edge of the foot of the straight leg is not touching the ground. Some will say that’s unimportant because you should maintain neutral ankle position, but it’s not an excuse for me. If you don’t have sufficiently stretched outside part of your calf, you’ll look for any theory to justify your lack of flexibility. It’s like the idea that mastery in martial arts does not require any leg flexibility – hands hit the head and legs kick below the stomach. This is kind of a stretch for me. If you want to be better in whatever you do, work on your weak points until they become your strengths.

KUNG FU STANCE

My students, whom I teach Choy Lee Fut Kung Fu, can do a pretty decent Cossack squat in a very short time from their first training. But we never stay there for more than just a few reps during warm up while doing basic mobility and flexibility block of our training. So where did this result came from. Positions used in Kung Fu. We have the two most basic positions – Sei Ping Ma (Horse Stance) and Den Jing Ma (Bow Stance). Both require strong and stable legs as well as hips that can open fully.

Kung fu stance bowingKung fu horse stance

On these pictures we can see how they look. Please disregard the hand position, we’re not praying here. Bow stance is a rotation of the entire torso either left or right while extending the back leg and pushing the heel on that leg back. The foot is glued to the floor and this actually translates wonderfully onto the MA Cossack squat. Perform several transfers from the Horse stance to the Bow stance in both directions. Make sure that your thighs are lateral to the floor and that while rotating to another position you’re pressing the outside edge of the foot into the ground like you should in the MA Cossack squat. You can also stand by the wall and push yourself away from it as you press on your heel into the ground in time elongating the position and thus changing the angle and making it more difficult. You have to experiment and see what works best. Approach this exercise with caution and you’ll see interesting results in a very short time.

SIDE CALF STRETCH

I really like this simple exercise. Sit on the floor with your arms behind you. Slightly lift your right leg and grab it with your left hand. with your left hand. Remember one thing – you want to grab the foot holding it from the planter side to the outside of the foot. The hand is holding the foot closer to the toes rather than the heel. Now slowly start extending your leg by delicately rotating the edge of the foot in dorsiflexion forward. Stay in this position for a few moments.

BENT LEG ELEVATED or MA Cossack with bent leg elevatedThis task is similar to the HEEL UP exercise described above. The difference is that the entire foot is elevated and you should press it down into the floor like in the MA Cossack. Give your body time to find the right position, work on the MA Cossack with slight elevation allowing you to do it as correctly as possible. With time lower the elevation. This method also allows you to easily track your progress.

The height of the position is wrong – hips are higher than the knee on the bent leg side.

If you remember Cossack squat is a squat where one leg is extended to the side and the toes are pointed up. If this is the case the standard for me is for the hip to be at or below parallel. Until we are able to go lower there’s no point in talking about correct or full Cossack squat. Work on a deep squat and the deep Cossack squat will just be a matter of time. I recommend you do the following:

PINK PANTHER THE KNEE or how to get your knee higher

During the instructor certification Jon Engum teaches this technique in the context of high kick for fighters. I started to apply this technique to achieve better, deeper and more relaxed squats. It can work wonders. I’ll quote the Flexible Steel Instructor’s manual.

“Stand with your back against a wall for balance. Lift your knee as high as you can and have your partner hold it there (.) Now your partner will place his right hand on top of your right knee and give you some downward resistance. As you try to lift your knee, without warning your partner removes the resistance and follows your knee up with the supporting left arm. Repeat until you can no longer make upward progress.”

This drill is not easy and requires skilled training or help from an FS instructor. I definitely recommend participating in the course.

Pink Panther knee drill

LOADED COSSACK – load the Cossack with a kettlebell

My hierarchy of methods for building flexibility looks as follows: relaxed stretching, power stretching (isometric tension-relaxation), loaded stretching. There’s no point in loading the split or the Cossack squat if there’s still a lot of elements requiring improvement, and definitely not if it’s not deep and far from perfect form. A person with such problems should work more on basic flexibility before moving to this version. But if you’re just an inch away from perfect and just holding the position won’t do much for you – grab a kettlebell. Why a kettlebell? Because it offers a couple interesting choices for holding it. You can grab it like in a goblet squat; you can hold one or two in the rack position like in the KB front squat. Flexible Steel is a system created by Master Instructor of StrongFirst strength training system – and it includes kettlebells, barbells and bodyweight training. So now you know why you should grab a kettlebell?

To be continued:  Check back next week for Part 3 of this 3 part series! How to program the Cossack.

PIOTR KOWALIK

The founder and manager of the Sports Centre and School of Martial Arts “IRBIS” in Krakow. The coach and trainer of gold medallists in the Polish Wushu Championships.

The instructor of StrongFirst SFG1 and Flexible Steel Instructor Specialist, who can share his expertise with passion during training sessions in the Kettlebell Centre Krakow and during all the other trainings in Krakow and all around Poland.

Apart from teaching how to build strength and flexibility based on such tools as kettlebells, he teaches Chinese Martial Arts – Kung Fu that he has been practising since a child.

He started the training of Chinese martial arts in 1991. For years he has been one of the most title-winning Kung Fu (Wushu) competitors in Poland. He teaches both traditional and sports varieties. He holds the title of the World Champion won at the World Championships in 2004 in Chile and in 2006 in China.

He was awarded with the Prize of the Minister of Sports and Tourism of the Republic of Poland for winning gold and silver medals at the World Traditional Wushu Competitions in China in 2010. He was awarded with a prestigious title of the “Best Competitor of 2006” by the American Federation of Chinese Kuoshu in Baltimore, USA.

Cossack Squat – Strength, Mobility and Flexibility all in one – PART 1

Flexible Steel Friends – I would like to introduce the 1st in a 3 part series on the Cossack Squat. This is more than a few quick tips, rather it is an intensive and impressive premier on this very beneficial move designed to make you both Strong and Flexible at the same time. The author is Piort Kowalik, Flexible Steel Instructor Specialist (FSIS) from Poland. Follow Piort’s advice and you too will become like Flexible Steel! Jon Engum

COSSACK SQUAT – strength, mobility and flexibility all in one – PART 1

You should be fit, you should be strong, you should also be flexible and you should not have any problems achieving full or even greater than full range of motion in every joint of your body. Can you? Great. But can you maintain full control?  Can you maintain perfect harmony?

Angel Stretch with Kettle BellsNot everyone who is strong is also well coordinated and flexible. Just as not everyone who is flexible is well coordinated and strong. And definitely not everyone who is well coordinated will also be strong and flexible.

Each of these traits can work without the others, but their impact on one another cannot be overstated. Just look how strength increases with a fully controlled movement thanks to perfect coordination. Now see how a full range of motion will remove any obstacles from this well coordinated strength. This is the goal of one following the idea of Flexible Steel.

Let’s take a closer look at these traits. Flexibility without control and strength is simply unsafe, and coordination without strength and range of motion does not have space to maneuver.

You know you’re strong. Your movement is well coordinated and you can manage it however you want at a high level. Your flexibility is also a thing of envy. Now check if you can make use of all these things at once. This isn’t as easy as it may seem. There are people who are strong, but put them in an “awkward position” and they won’t be able to switch their strength on and use it. When performing complex movements, where each limb is doing a different thing or holds different position at the same time and where we are unable to control it by watching it, is another level for working on strength, flexibility and mobility. Work on this and be Flexible Steel.

Goals:

We want to aim high and reach far. When we undertake an activity we naturally want to get good at it. I mean, that’s what it’s all about. When beginning a new thing no one wants to be average at it and achieve nothing. And that’s great, however, there is one small problem at this stage – the fact is that many beginners (regardless of the discipline) as soon as they learn basic principles already aim for the highest peak. Many are not interested in the road that leads to it, and that road or path can be interesting – even though sometimes it may be uneventful it is still necessary to travel on it. On our road to the highest peak we often find many beautiful “viewpoints” which should also interest us.

One of the methods, which have helped me achieve my own difficult training goals, is the little step rule. Every distant dream can (and should) be made closer by setting a number of smaller goals that we will meet “on the way.” These goals can and often will have their own sets of smaller goals.

Here’s how I do it:

You take something you want to achieve, a very distant goal. You come up with 3 steps, which you have to achieve to get there.  Arrange them from the easiest to the hardest. Then you come up with 3 steps necessary to achieve each of those steps and you arrange them like before.

For example let’s assume your goal is the split. Sure, you can just start doing splits, even if there’s two feet between you and the ground, but it’ll look a little bit different according to the method that I use.  Because the split is not simply about flexibility but also hip mobility – my first step is an exercise, which mobilizes, lower half of the body – the squat. But I don’t want my split to be a position that I can’t get out off. I want to be able to almost jump to straight legs from it. I think I’d need a little bit of strength for that. What will strengthen my lower body and stomach?

The squat!

So I’ve chosen correctly – Step 1 is Squat training.

Since my last step is the split, what then will I need on the way? My choice for the Step 2 is the exercise by the name of Cossack Squat. Why? Because it is a squat with one leg straightened out to the side – getting us that much closer to the split. And since that is my ultimate goal and I already have the squat and the Cossack squat added to my road – two exercises where the first includes a lot of mobility and the other mobility and some flexibility, then the next logical step would be to add some flexibility. What exercises would add more of that? I’ll think about it when I’m dividing this step into 3 smaller ones. For now this plan will suffice.

Goal – The Split

Step 1 – Squat training

Step 2 – Cossack Squat training

Step 3 – Training for increased flexibility for the split

In this article I would like to write in more detail about the Cossack squat. If you’re at the level where your squat could still be improved or you’ve just started learning it, I suggest you find yourself a Flexible Steel Instructor, who will know what strategy to use in order to teach you this basic movement pattern (possibly anew), and then how to load it, in this correct pattern, using kettlebells or barbells. To set 3 (or possibly more) steps might too difficult for you that is why you should refer to a qualified instructor.

Learning the Cossack squat is similar and you should see this article as an encouragement, find a Flexible Steel instructor in your area  and work together to build a strong foundation for splits. This foundation should be the Cossack Squat.

How to perform a correct Cossack Squat. Piotr performing a Cossack squat

The Cossack squat is but a deep squat with one leg to the side. Because this position is asymmetrical you should practice it on both sides. The torso should be vertical with a proud open chest and packed and retracted shoulders. The top of the head should reach as high as possible towards the ceiling constantly “growing.” The knee of the bent leg is in a position similar to a normal squat – opening to the side, toes and knee face the same direction (don’t let the knee cave in!). The other leg is straight, knee locked, and the ankle is in dorsiflexion so that the toes are pointed upwards. In this position, the weight should be distributed on both heels.

Kung fu monk positionMy martial arts background lets me add one more position, which can serve as a step on the road to the split. It’s the Cossack Squat with two feet flat on the floor. Contrary to the toes up version the Martial Arts Cossack squat requires the whole foot to be flat with the outer edge of the foot pressing on the floor.

Cossack squat is not an easy position, although some will find it not to be too difficult. It demands stable and braced torso, full range of motion in the hips, knees and ankles, as well as enough flexibility in the adductor magnus muscles. During group Flexible Steel classes in my school, it is clear that people training martial arts on daily basis had little difficulty to get into this position. Most of them assumed correct position straight after hearing the instruction. The Martial Arts students had some difficulty with correct squats, but after a while it improved significantly. The students who just studied kettlebells  had problems to get into the Cossack Squat and maintaining correct movement patterns. Our kicking fighters have no problems with leg flexibility, but the kettlebell students required more attention.

Despite of your sport background and whether the Cossack position is hard for you or not, always make sure you’re not making any of the following mistakes:

  1. The hip moves outside the heel on the bent leg side
  2. The heel of the bent leg does not touch the floor and you can’t press down on it.
  3. Torso is not vertical.
  4. The knee of the bent leg caves in.
  5. (MA Cossack) The outer edge of the foot of the straight leg is not touching the ground.
  6. The height of the position is wrong – hips are higher than the knee on the bent leg side.

On the road to get a good Cossack squat you may find few challenges and based on them create new “steps” achieving which will not only help you find correct position, but will also allow you to build strength in this position, not to mention that it will get you shockingly close to achieving the split. Build strength based on training using your own bodyweight. This will allow you to load the position with a kettlebell and enter a new level of building total body strength by doing squats, switches and presses. But… first things first.

Troubleshooting the Cossack Squat.

1.The hip moves outside the heel on the bent leg side

This happens often when the range of our straddle is small. Poor flexibility of the adductors will limit our progress. Let’s deal with it first.

STRADDLE

The straddle includes many moves each of them works our muscles a bit differently stretching them for a wider straddle. Reach forward or to both your feet, remembering the Three S principle (you’ll learn more about it on Flexible Steel Instructor Certification Level 1 and 2 or by working with a certified FS instructor).

Remember whenever your legs seem to get used to a stretch  try doing it a bit further and wider. The wider you go the easier it will become to reach forward and to the sides. Always try to maintain a neutral spine.

The video below presents a method to gradually reach forward, which I often use in my classes (P.S. For beginners it will be enough to just sit in the straddle position and try to relax.)

SIDE SPLIT

A logical consequence of a straddle taken far enough is its vertical variant where gravity aids us in the stretch. By the split we don’t necessarily mean its final version where we’re sitting flat on the ground. Especially since our main problem is poor adductor flexibility.

However this position of the body will bring us additional benefits. When we limit our range of motion by tensing the muscles to prevent sliding apart into the split, we learn how to control entering and exiting this range of motion. Use different versions of hand support, holding on to an object in front of you, hanging by something fixed above your head or by just holding the position while tightly flexing the muscles.

Always exercise common sense and never act thoughtlessly, because any potential injury can delay any progress for weeks or even months. Work smart and preferably with the assistance of a Flexible Steel instructor.

GROUND COSSACK or a Tactical Frog with your leg straight

Tactical Frog is a great exercise which can work wonders. You can learn about it’s potential during the Flexible Steel Certification. This exercise “attacks” our weak points and depending on what we need the frog gets the job done. It looks inconspicuous and at a first glance even funny, but spend a couple of minutes in this position and you’ll stop laughing, and after several more sets like that you’ll be shocked just how much the frog improved your squat, your straddle and your Cossack squat.

In the frog position just straighten out one leg to the side and all of a sudden you are in the Cossack squat position, but in a slightly different relation to the floor. By moving back and forth you enter the ROM that builds the flexibility of the entire back of our legs. When the toes are pointed to the front you will feel a deep stretch on the inside of your thighs, and when you point the toes up at the same time touching your buttocks to the floor and lifting the torso to a vertical position you will feel that pleasant sensation of your muscles being stretched on the bottom part of your thigh. Don’t be afraid to reach your torso towards the straight leg in this position, if you want.

PARTNER HIP BLOCK or blocking the hip from going to the side

This corrective exercise is perfect for people who have no clue what I mean when I say that the hip should not go to the side in the Cossack position. I’ve noticed in my students that many beginners compensate lack of flexibility in the adductors by this maneuver. Explaining wasn’t enough. Even though I did my best to come up with the most imaginative descriptions my adepts simply did not catch my vibe. Moreover, they were convinced that their position was correct. Only when I blocked their hip from going to the side (by simply blocking it with my leg) it hit them – the range of motion down ended at the knee, and the strong pull of non-flexible legs made it impossible to go deeper/wider.

This drill is useful when you need to re-teach the movement pattern. You can do it with another partner who holds your hand preventing you from falling back.

  1. The heel of the bent leg does not touch the floor and you can’t press down on it.

If your range of motion in the ankle is clearly limited it will significantly affect your squat and its different versions like the pistol or the Cossack squat. In this situation the body has two ways out: either fall over on the back or find some other way to maintain vertical torso. The two most common compensation are toe abduction to the outside with simultaneous loading of the inside of the foot leading to flattening of the medial arch of the foot. Such compensation is hazardous and leads to problems with your knee and hip. Another compensation is more popular with the Cossack squat – heel leaving the floor resulting in decreased dorsiflexion of the ankle.

If you don’t want to have any movement restrictions in your ankle just move it in many different ways as often as possible. Working your ankle doesn’t require a gym. You can make circles with your foot in your full ROM throughout the entire day. Myself, I often stand on a stair so that the heel drops below the step and just hold it. It might be worth checking whether we’re not being held back by our calves, plantar muscles or shin muscles, if we massage them the right way it will improve our movement.

We have many great mobility drills in stock for that. Not all of them are equally effective for all people, that is why you always have to check, test, practice and test again. For example, you can do the following exercises:

 STRANGE WALKING – mobility drill for the ankle presented by Master SFG Fabio Zonin during a remarkable StrongFirst Bodyweight seminar.

This drill always gets few laughs, because it looks really strange and some might not take it seriously. However the results can bring a different smile together with surprise.

TEST YOUR COSSACK

THEN:

Walk the distance of 60-90 feet this way:

Cossack foot postionA) on your toes; B) on your heels;      C) on the outside edges of your feet; D) on the inside edges of your feet;   E) with your toes completely abducted to the outside; F) with your toes completely adducted to the inside;

Retest.

While walking this way try to keep your knees locked, also try to forcefully press down on each of the feet positions while walking. And? Did it work?

ANKLE CIRCLES

It’s an exercise from FMS/GFM arsenal and is one of my personal favorites for ankle mobility. Just grab the top of your foot with your hand and hold the heel of the other foot so it doesn’t leave the floor. Push your knee forcefully towards the second toe. When you reach the end push further, but this time slightly to the outside towards the little toe and come back with a circular motion to the starting point. A dozen circles or so on both feet for couple sets and your ROM should be significantly increased.

Small hint: If I am holding my foot with my right arm from the top and pushing the heel down with left, my right hand is located on the inside of my right thigh. In this position I am not impeding my own movement and I am making sure that the knee does not cave in. Notice how your hips are positioned in relation to the entire foot. There’s no need to put them outside in a strange contortion.

NARROW SQUATS (SLOOOOOWLY)

This is an exercise that will not only test your ankle’s range of motion, but also load it and thus reinforce the new ROM. A very slow version will add the twist at the end of the punch and build strong core, hips, knees and ankles. You will find more details on this in Flexible Steel Instructor Mark Cheng’s articles and his training programs.

Remember to keep your ankles and knees together throughout the movement. Give yourself some time and do the exercise at a speed that will allow you to go to the very bottom after 30 seconds and take the same amount of time going up. Why do something fast, if you can’t do it slow?

HEEL UP – Cossack squat with elevated heel

Perhaps your ankle needs more time that is why you should be learning the Heel up photocorrect body position with perfectly straight and vertical back today. Put something under your heel, nothing big, just enough to make you stable so that you don’t feel like you’re going to fall back, at the same time low enough that you need to use force to pull your feet up.

Such work teaches you the position and allows the body and the nervous system to accept this set up as safe. And we know too well that when the nervous system is no longer getting the danger message, magic happens.

Using this method of correction we teach the student to maintain vertical torso, which is another item on our list – add this drill as another correction specifically for troubles to maintain vertical position in the Cossack squat.

To be continued:  Check back next week for Part 2 of this 3 part series!

 

PIOTR KOWALIK

The founder and manager of the Sports Centre and School of Martial Arts “IRBIS” in Krakow. The coach and trainer of gold medallists in the Polish Wushu Championships.

The instructor of StrongFirst SFG1 and Flexible Steel Instructor Specialist, who can share his expertise with passion during training sessions in the Kettlebell Centre Krakow and during all the other trainings in Krakow and all around Poland.

Apart from teaching how to build strength and flexibility based on such tools as kettlebells, he teaches Chinese Martial Arts – Kung Fu that he has been practising since a child.

He started the training of Chinese martial arts in 1991. For years he has been one of the most title-winning Kung Fu (Wushu) competitors in Poland. He teaches both traditional and sports varieties. He holds the title of the World Champion won at the World Championships in 2004 in Chile and in 2006 in China.

He was awarded with the Prize of the Minister of Sports and Tourism of the Republic of Poland for winning gold and silver medals at the World Traditional Wushu Competitions in China in 2010. He was awarded with a prestigious title of the “Best Competitor of 2006” by the American Federation of Chinese Kuoshu in Baltimore, USA.

 

Better Splits #1: Training Surface

There are many ways to work on achieving a front, side, or martial arts split, and most of us know how to train for these – we get into a position near our current limits, we tense our muscles, and then we relax into the stretch increasing our range of motion a little with each contract-relax cycle.  The frog series in Flexible Steel is a great example – you essentially work on your split one leg at a time, and those gains will transfer to your two-legged split.

Steve performing the splits

I want to introduce you to a new concept, and then to a different idea of how to train your splits. Continue reading “Better Splits #1: Training Surface”

Grow the Points of Your Triangle

Jon Gowining his triangle
Growing Your Triangle

At Flexible Steel we are constantly looking for better ways to teach stretching and strength. We believe that you cannot rightfully have one without the other. During the certification we make a big point about using the 3S of movement. The Ss’ are applied to enhance stances, stretches, or movements, loaded or unloaded. It does not matter if your are doing a heavy deadlift or a simple unloaded toe touch….applying the 3S will make your performance better. Better should be read as safer and more effective.

The second S stands for make “space” inside your body. When we apply this to a split we get instant results. The cue I normally use is “grow the points of your triangle away from each other.” What does that mean?  If you look at the above photo…my front foot is one point of a triangle, my back foot is another and finally in this case, where I am pressing,  my hand with the bell is the top point of the triangle.

Note: if you are not pressing…the top of your head becomes the 3rd point.

To get instant gains try to push all three points away from each other at the same time. Use some muscle to get the job done. What you will find is you move deeper into stretch without much discomfort. Try it, you will like it.

Learn many more tips and tech at a Flexible Steel Cert near you. Check out our upcoming schedule and get to a cert today. Next one in the US is Texas.

http://flexiblesteel.com/events.html

At Flexible Steel we are constantly looking for better ways to teach stretching and strength. We believe that you cannot rightfully have one without the other. During the certification we make a big point about using the 3S of movement. The Ss’ are applied to enhance stances, stretches, or movements, loaded or unloaded. It does not matter if your are doing a heavy deadlift or a simple unloaded toe touch….applying the 3S will make your performance better. Better should be read as safer and more effective.

The second S stands for make “space” inside your body. When we apply this to a split we get instant results. The cue I normally use is “grow the points of your triangle away from each other.” What does that mean?  If you look at the above photo…my front foot is one point of a triangle, my back foot is another and finally in this case, where I am pressing,  my hand with the bell is the top point of the triangle.

Note: if you are not pressing…the top of your head becomes the 3rd point.

To get instant gains try to push all three points away from each other at the same time. Use some muscle to get the job done. What you will find is you move deeper into stretch without much discomfort. Try it, you will like it.

Learn many more tips and tech at a Flexible Steel Cert near you. Check out our upcoming schedule and get to a cert today. Next one in the US is Texas.

http://flexiblesteel.com/events.html

The Grand Prize Winner of the Flexible Steel Challenge is….

Flexible Steel Logo

While we think that everyone who participated in the Flexible Steel Challenge is a winner… I mean if you did the program as written we know you reaped the benefit of improved flexibility.  But there can only be one Grand Prize Winner and that is …..

Doo Seop Kim of South Korea

Mr. Kim was randomly selected from all the entries and is the winner of the $500 USD prize.  Congrats to Mr. Kim!!!  Please email info@extremetraining.net to collect your prize.

We hope you all enjoyed the challenge and want to see you at an upcoming Flexible Steel Event.  While you are here checkout and subscribe to the blog for more articles, tips, and videos.

Become Flexible Steel!

The Deep Six Drop Set

The Deep Six Drop Set:

If you do not know what the Deep Six is please go here first. Classic Deep Six.

Once you have spent some quality time with the classic Deep Six try this.

Grab a snatch test sized kettlebell – Most men that is a 24k and most women a 16k.

Jon Engum snatch test

With your right hand do 5 swings, 5 snatches, 5 clean and presses, 5 squats, after the 5th squat push press the bell into the overhead lockout position and do 1 reverse getup.

Next:

Perform a swing switch so the bell is in your left hand and repeat the 5s on that side. So far just like the classic but here is where we get truly evil.

After you finish the left reverse getup, swing switch so the bell is in your right hand again and do 4 reps of each movement.

Once you have completed 4s on both hands, swing switch and do 3 reps of each move .

Keep working your way down the ladder with 2s and finally 1s.

Try to complete without the bell ever touching the ground BUT

honor all the moves with stellar form…no ugly kettlebelling please.

 

Drop me a note and let me know what you think.

Jon Engum

Flexible Insights

Insights: noun

“The capacity to gain an accurate and deep intuitive understanding of a person or thing.” Oxford dictionary

Laura Flexible Steel Header

  • Strength without flexibility is incomplete at best. Flexibility without strength is also incomplete- You must strive to attain and maintain a balance of both.
  • Flexibility training means the systematic practice of moving through a full range with strength, control, and fluid grace. This training encompasses all aspects of stretching including but not limited to mobility drills, dynamic warmups, isometrics, passive stretching etc, etc. Everything has a time and place the trick is all about timing and programming.
  • Beware of experts that say stretching is bad. Most are simply marketing something else and when you look into the alternative they are promoting it turns out to just be another form of stretching as defined in the previous insight. Do not throw the baby out with the bath water.
  • Make good use of counter stretching.  Superset opposite movements. They will improve each other. Examples:  Side splits & windmils or Jefferson curls superset with Dr. Mark Cheng’s Sphinx.
  • Combined mini-contractions of the target muscles with longer static holds in series going deeper and deeper for a minimum of 3 cycles per set. Become strong in end ranges.
  • Program and cycle your flexibility training just as you would your strength training. Use sets and reps and rest periods between sets. Wave your load by putting in hard days, medium days and easy days. Use harder variations of the same stretch to vary intensity. If you just stretch as an after thought your results will reflect this.
  • This goes for all training: Seek challenge without struggle! Challenge means what you are doing is difficult enough to demand your full attention but you are able to complete the move without compromising form. Struggle means you have to resort to monkey business, bad form or other undesirable behavior to make the attempt.
  • If you owned a BMW chances are your would not or could not do mechanical work on this high performance machine yourself. But it is amazing how many people try to work on themselves …a much more expensive and complex machine. Do yourself a favor and hire an expert trainer. Checkout our Instructor Directory  to find an expert near you.

These are just some insights into our system at Flexible Steel. If you are interested and want to take your training and knowledge to the next level join us at an upcoming live cert. I will be in New York City March 11th 2017 and would love to see you.

To register now for New York or one of our other worldwide events go here  http://flexiblesteel.com/events.html

Become Flexible Steel Today.

People are Talking about Flexible Steel

I just finished up teaching the first Flexible Steel Instructor Certification in Taiwan. The students loved it and they were thrilled with the results they saw that day and excited about the potential they will have to change the lives of their students.

Flexible Steel Instructor Certification in Taiwan

Taiwan Flexible Steel

Flexible Steel is truly world wide with several more countries coming onboard in the near future so you will be able to find an instructor in any corner of the world.

Check out this recent interview from the Polish Cert to find out …what is Flexible Steel

For locations and dates of upcoming events check out the official web page of Flexible Steel http://www.flexiblesteel.com