Strength Training with Bodyweight ONLY Squats

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First of all, I am not a bodyweight fitness guru.

I post A LOT about bodyweight fitness, mostly because it’s been incredibly eye opening to see how far a person can go using nothing but body against the earth’s gravitational pull.

The purpose of this article is to share information about how to go about using bodyweight ONLY squats to build strength and movement capacity.

Progressive bodyweight training is one of the most overlooked methods in fitness.

Exercises like squats, lunges and step-up variations are all INCREDIBLE for improving leg strength.

This article is focused on strengthening the legs using bodyweight ONLY squats.

The problem with a large majority of the information being shared about bodyweight fitness, is that the exercise variations do not contribute to gaining strength. 

It’s hard to know if the authors don’t own advanced bodyweight exercises (therefore avoid sharing tips) or if they simply don’t know the progressions.

Either way.

Here’s a classic example of a difficult bodyweight squat challenge that is MEDIOCRE (at best) for improving leg strength… 

300 reps bodyweight air squats

Performing 300 continuous bodyweight air squats (a basic 2 legged bodyweight squat) is definitely challenging, but it does little to improve strength.

100 reps in, you’ll wonder why you’re doing it.

By definition, “strength” is the extent to which muscles can exert force by contracting against resistance.  

The more you resistance your muscles can contract and overcome, the stronger you are.  

To gain strength and expand movement capacity, it’s important to consider leverage progressive strategies:  

  • Increase the load being applied to an exercise.
  • Decrease the base of support (bilateral to unilateral).
  • Increase the range of motion of an exercise.
  • Drill mobility: train active range of motion, articulate joints, expand control over end range, etc.
  • Increase the complexity of an exercise (example below: pistol squat to dragon squat)

Fixation on Strength

It’s nauseating for me to read hyper-focused blogs or websites dedicated to sharing content on building strength, with zero mention of anything else.  

A lot of these articles are written by gym rats who can lift big weight, but often neglect other important qualities such as active mobility and endurance.  

It’s less than appealing to deadlift 700lbs, yet blow out your back while putting on your socks.

That being said, the average person needs to know how to go about improving strength.   

Gain in strength make a huge difference with movement capacity, carrying over into real world tasks, boosting aesthetics (assuming diet is decent) and contribute to overall health.  

Strength is a good thing to pursue.  

Bodyweight Only Exercise Progressions

Paying attention to exercise progression while training is similar to following a road map to a destination.  

An exercise progression increases the demand of any give exercise, somehow, someway.

Refer to the list in the opening paragraphs that describes ways to increase the demand of an exercise. 

By progressively challenging an exercise with incremental load, body positions and range of motion, we can make quality progress while staying safe.  

Move from bilateral to unilateral exercises

Without question, single leg exercises are super important when it comes to strengthening the legs using only the body as weight.  

If you’re subscribed to a exercise professional, program, book, blog or website that’s center around bodyweight training, and they aren’t talking about the value of unilateral exercises, run away.  

By transitioning from two legs to a one leg, you are decreasing the base of support, which increases the stability, balance, and coordination demands of the exercise.

The game changes when you start moving on one leg.

The ability perform well on a single leg is crucial for life and athletics.  

Assisted Single Leg Squats

When you do make the transition from bilateral to unilateral exercises, do not be surprised if you need assistance to complete the exercise. 

There’s zero shame here.  Embrace it.  

Assistance can be provided in many forms, but a simple approach is to place your hands on a steady object to help guide yourself up and down.

Suspension trainers work well here. 

Limited Range of Motion

Limiting the range of motion makes a big difference when you’re attempting to learn these exercises.

The skater squat video above is a great example of what progressive range of motion looks like.

The yoga blocks are roughly 3 inches thick, so every time I remove a yoga block the range of motion increases by 3 inches.

You can feel this change in depth immediately.

I’m always amazed by what a few inches can do when it comes to a successful repetition versus a failed repetition.

Ok, unilateral squats are great for building strength.  Which exercise is best?

It doesn’t work like that, ALL of the single leg squat variations are good.  

Don’t make the mistake of ranking exercises.  

Select a variation that is appropriate to your current fitness level, and work at it.

Practice them all for best results.  

Developing efficiency, strength and control over a bunch of different movements is a good thing.

Expanding movement capacity.

Here’s a list of single leg squat exercises organized in descending order of difficulty:

Rear Foot Elevated Split Squats

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Skater Squats with limited ROM Squats with limited ROM

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Full ROM Skater Squat

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Pistol Squat with limited ROM

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Full ROM Pistol Squat

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Shrimp Squat with limited ROM

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Full ROM Shrimp Squat

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Assisted Dragon Squats (partial ROM, less load)

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Full ROM Dragon Squat

This is not the LAW, simply a suggestion of how to attack single leg squats.

I tweaked the order by including limited range of motion and full range of motion options, leading up to the mother of all single leg squats, the Dragon Squat.

Dragon squats require an insane amount of hip mobility and control over a really foreign pattern and body position.  

As you descend, the non-working leg moves behind and out the front of the workin leg. There is timing involved in making this happen. This is not a simple maneuver.

Shrimp Squats are HEAVILY quad dominant, requiring plenty of ankle and hip mobility.  

The final few inches right before, during and after touching the knee cap to the floor is intense.

Don’t be surprised if you can’t stand up after lowering down.      

Where do we go from here?  

Add weight. 

Look, I know this is a bodyweight focused article, but the legs need progressive loading. 

You need to add additional weight to these exercises to continue making progress.

The good news is you don’t have to have own an entire set of dumbbells, kettlebells or the nicest kevlar sandbag to add a loading challenge to any of these exercises.

You can add weight with common household items, children, pets, etc.

Weight is weight.  

Your body does not know, nor does it care, if you’re progressively loading using a fancy piece of gym equipment, or a gallon of milk. Use whatever you have available.

Adding weight to an exercise/movement is simple and effective.  

I’ve played around with ultra slow eccentrics for each of these movements. 

Eccentric training has its place, but in my opinion adding weight to the exercises listed is the most effective path to building strength.

Rear foot elevated split squats are PRIMED for adding weight. You get the stability of the back leg on a bench, box or chair, while loading the front leg aggressively and safely. The rear foot elevated split squat is back friendly.

It’s an incredible exercise.

Reps, Sets and Tempo

3-5 sets of 5 challenging reps provides a great training stimulus.

Certainly, you have the option to lower the reps further and perform either singles or 2-3 reps with more weight.

Bang out one grinding rep, rest for a while, then attack another rep.  

These exercises can also be adjusted for an endurance-like training effect.  12-15 reps or so. In this scenario, the load must decrease (compared to strength-focused training) and you might be using assisted pistol squats or bodyweight ONLY loaded pistol squats.  

For a strength focused, lower to 3 reps and train strength. 

If you’re training for strength, each rep should be a grind.

In order to make the reps difficult, consider slowing down the tempo of the movement or adding load.  

My preference is to add load. 

A weight vest, kettlebell, weight plate or sandbag.  Anything that adds weight to the exercise and can be handled without risk of dropping on your toes is perfect.  

The final few reps should be CHALLENGING.  

I like to walk the line between technically great form and using the most load possible. When technique takes a sh*t and I start making odd shapes to complete a rep, I pull the plug on the work set.

Finishing a set of pistol squats, you should feel like doing another 1-2 reps was probably not going to happen, regardless if you’re training higher rep endurance or lower rep strength.  

Some might disagree with this oversimplification, but I believe a GREAT training stimulus is achieved when you’re busting your ass in the work set (versus going through the motions).  

The thing is, this approach to a work set applies to all methods of improving fitness.  Strength, endurance, mobility, etc.  

When you’re working, WORK!  

The effort should be hard.  

Tempo-wise, I really like the 30X0 approach.

3 seconds of eccentric

0 pause at end range

X explode up

0 pause at the top before starting the next rep

Anywhere Workouts

I love writing about bodyweight fitness because bodyweight training is incredibly resourceful.

If you understand how to make an exercise more difficult/challenging using nothing more than gravity, body positions, tempo, varying rep ranges and the weight of your body, you’re literally never without the opportunity for a workout.

Eliminating the need for a gym membership crushes a few of the common excuses people use for not exercising.

Money, equipment and time.

If I remove those barriers, what reasons are left?

Again, I am not asserting myself as a bodyweight fitness guru, I simply want to share how simple getting strong can be, if you’re willing to stay consistent and explore.

If you’d like to learn more about effective bodyweight training, I highly suggest checking the bodyweight based training program from Global Bodyweight Training.

Skater Squats

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Skater squats are a less frequently explored single leg squat variation, yet very challenging and worth anyone’s time.

Pavel Psatsouline ruined it for all of us, as Pistol Squats tend to get the lion share attention.

Unilateral squat training is a resourceful way to increase the demands of traditional bilateral squats, build strong legs, improve balance, stability and coordination.

Single leg squats are no joke.

Skater squats fall under the single leg squat category, and to the extent that you don’t add external loading, also can be categorized as a bodyweight based exercise.

In this article you’ll find: 

  • Technique for Skater Squats
  • Common technique flaws and how to correct them
  • Benefits of skater squatsBeginner skater squat variations
  • Skater squat progression ideas
  • How to organize skater squats in workouts 

Skater Squat Technique

Skater Squat coaching cues are:

1)  Lowering into the squat with control, raise arms as you descend

2)  Keep the chest up, spine straight and avoid hunching 

3)  Allow the working leg knee to track over the toes 

4)  Lightly “kiss” the airborne kneecap to the floor

5) Stand up

Counterbalance. Raising the arms with weight during skater squat creates a counterbalance to help distribute wait, remain stable and balanced. 

Be mindful to avoid excessive hunching or rounding of your back.

The upper body will lean forward slightly for balance.

Most Common Technical Difficulty

By far, the most common technique mistake with skater squats is overly rounding (hunching) the back.

The fix is simple.

Decrease the demands of the exercise and try again. If you’re struggling to maintain ideal shape during a movement, the movement is too aggressive (somewhere) for you.

Options to decrease the demands:   

  • Increase the height of the surface behind you to decrease the range of motion of the knee touch.
  • Use a door, couch, suspension trainer or resistance bands to help stabilize, keep balance and reduce the load.
  • Or, both.  

When the demands of an exercise exceed a person’s current ability to meet those demands, exercise technique suffers.

Practicing a regression of an exercise is helpful, but including dedicated mobility training in addition to the attacking the exercise can speed up the process significantly.

I’m said it before, but mobility training is a game changer.

Learn more about effective joint mobility training here if you want.

Benefits of Skater Squats

Skater squats are a unilateral lower body exercise. 

Unilateral exercises, or in this instance single leg squats, have many benefits, including (but not limited to): 

  • Effective strength builder for the legs
  • Improving balance 
  • Avoiding overuse of a dominant side
  • Injury mitigation
  • Improving movement capacity
  • Cross-education training effect
  • Resourceful strategy to add load and demand to the squat pattern

Cross Education Effect

The cross-education benefits of unilateral training are fascinating.    

Simplified, the cross education effect is when you train one side of the body, but the other side is also stimulated.  

A person with a lower leg injury might still be able to practice skater squats (and other unilateral strength exercises) with the healthy leg, indirectly receiving strength benefits via cross-education.  

Assisted Skater Squat Variations for Beginners

Beginners to unilateral training need to consider the increased balance, stability and load demands of such exercises.  

To help ease into single leg squats, it can be helpful to hold onto something.

A chair, door or a suspension trainer can be used to assist with each repetition, allowing the body a chance to familiarize and adapt to the demands.  

Here are few ideas on how beginners can dive into skater squats using assistance.

Couch assisted:

Door assisted:

Baseline Skater Squat

This a run of the mill, baseline skater squat.

I’m using 5lb weight plates as counterbalance, lowering my trailing knee to the floor, kissing the knee cap, standing back up.

Again, the weight plates keep me steady from front to back while I perform the movement.

Advanced Skater Squats

Progressing the skater squat into the “advanced” realm can be achieved by adding more weight or increasing the range of motion.  

There’s no secret sauce here, either add weight or lower down further (increase range of motion).

I recommend exploring both options to see how you do.

If you don’t have access to a weight vest, heavier dumbbells or kettlebells, play around with skater squats from a deficit like you see in this video.  

The only real change here is the range of motion.  I’m standing on a 45lb bumper plate, which elevates my position 4-5 inches above the floor, yet, makes a HUGE difference with difficulty.  

Adding a few inches of motion to an exercise can change A LOT.

Worst case, if you’re struggling to stand back up from an elevated position, use a SLOW eccentric ONLY skater squat variation.

For a painful 8-10 second count, resist gravity down to the floor.

Place a focus on the last 4-5 inches of the exercise and really fight off gravity’s pull.

If you do have access to heavier weights or a weight vest, check out these loaded variations.

Minutiae: Other Names for Skater Squats

“Skater squats” have been referred to as airborne lunges or shrimp squats.  

Shrimp squats, in my opinion, are quite different compared to skater squats, but I’ve seen the terminology used interchangeably.  

Shrimp Squats:

I’m sharing this with you to avoid confusion.  

At the end of the day, single leg squats are single leg squats.  

It’s just a matter of body position, where the arms/legs are positioned and the path of motion.  

Both Skater Squats and Shrimp Squats will put your ankle mobility to the test. You’ll find out pretty quickly if the ankle is the weak link.

Don’t get hung up on exercise name semantics. 

20 Minute Movement Flow Warm Up

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Here is a 20 minute movement flow that I used as a warm up, before more aggressive resistance training.

Movement flow training has become a big part of my workout regimen. I enjoy moving from one exercise to the next without a plan. I find that it challenges my mind and body to communicate at a level that isolated resistance training simply doesn’t.

Movement Flow Breakdown

I begin the movement flow in the 90/90 position working forward leans on each side.

The 90/90 position is a staple base position for a lot of my mobility work. The angles are difficult, and the exercises can be easily scaled based on my progress.

Forward leans, heel clicks and other movements out of this position have proven to be brutally effective for hip flexibility.

Half way through my 90/90 sequence, I spend a few minutes working in the bear position. I’m squeezing essentially squeezing my legs inward against the resistance of my arms, followed reverse the motion outward.

Just after this, comes the most torturous exercise known to man: straddle hip circles. 🤮

Few other exercises make me cringe like straddle hip circles. Great drill, lots of pain.

After a quick change of the music, assisted sissy squats (using a dowel) make their appearance, followed by prone swimmers, an awesome drill for shoulder conditioning. I’ve filmed prone swimmers as part of a larger movement flow, but never in isolation. I’ll have to do that soon.

Sissy squats make a lot of people nervous, but holding onto the dowel makes this exercise much more palatable.

Using the dowel as a guide, lowering your knees down to the floor becomes more manageable due to the added stability and slight decrease in load.

Next in the flow came Cossack squats.

Cossack squats have been a staple movement for me for a number of years.

I’ve experienced consistent progress with this movement, and seen my mobility increase pretty significantly from practicing Cossack squats on a regular basis.

Animal Flow’s Crab Reach has played in both my warm ups and as a filler exercise during strength training for quite some time. It’s one of those exercises that delivers a ton of value and can help to unwind a body that sits for prolonged periods of time.

Hip extension + spinal rotation/extension + active stretch through the quads/hip flexors/anterior body = AWESOME.

Crab Reach is fantastic to incorporate into flow sequences.

This 2 exercise flow sequence is a prime example:

Of course, I’m crawling. Always crawling. Forward, backward, lateral, and with plenty of transition work in between each variation.

Around the 1:45min/sec mark, I inject a little bit of creativity with a few ground based patterns.

I don’t have names for these movements, but I really value the slow tempo, focus on range of motion, control and overall difficulty.

In the last few seconds of this 20 minute flow, I shift my focus to a few natural movement exercises.

Inline lunges are best performed using a 2×4 piece of wood, but you can mimic the inline challenge using your imagination.

Wide stance, stable base of support movements might be preferred, but as we all know, are not always realistic in real world scenarios.

Sometimes you’ve got to demonstrate strength and balance all in one shot.

3 Best Crawling Exercises for Every Fitness Level

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Crawling exercises can be rehabilitative, restorative or performance-enhancing, which is pretty cool.  

I say again, crawling on the floor, without any equipment, like a baby, can serve to heal and make you stronger.  

Wild.  

Crawling exercises deliver a plethora of benefits, including:

  • Improving reflexive strength
  • Brain stimulation (activate and stimulate)
  • Integrating: 
    • Vestibular system (balance system)
    • Proprioceptive system (self awareness in space system)
    • Visual system 
  • Connects shoulders and hips using contra-lateral movement (opposite limb movement)
  • Central nervous system reset (lower stress, recovery, etc)
  • Great carry over to real world tasks
  • Interesting, fun, challenging, a breath of fresh air

Obviously, I’m a fan of crawling during workouts and I think you’ll find a ton of value in it too.  

Plus, it’s interesting, fun, challenging.  

Bear Walk, Forward/Backward Crawl, Lizard Crawl

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This article was created to share 3 of the best crawling exercises for any fitness level:

1) Bear Walk

2) Forward/Backward Crawl

3) Lizard Crawl 

As you scroll through each of these exercises, take notice of the change in body position during each exercise.   

In particular, the shoulders/chest/hips in relation to the floor.

Body position changes a lot with these exercises. 

Bear Walk

The Bear Walk is a sem-inverted position that will challenge hand and foot coordination, hip flexibility, and shoulder strength. 

During the Bear Walk, your body is working to control twisting and bending forces from your arms and legs.  

Practiced regularly, bear walks can improve rotator cuff, scapular and spinal strength, along with positively impacting hamstring and calf flexibility.

Notice, this variation of the Bear Walk involves keeping the hips high and the arm/knees straight.  

Wait, why is this referred to as a “walk” and not a “crawl”.  

No clue.  

Exercise names can be confusing.  

If I were to name it, I’d call it “Downward Walking Dog”.  

From a difficulty standpoint, Bear Walks are the most forgiving exercise to learn on this list.

Forward/Backward Crawl

Forward and backward crawling is awesome for challenging the arms/shoulders, core and hips.  

This crawling variation is excellent for improving reflexive strength.

My self-coaching cues for this exercise are simple… keep the spine parallel to the floor, avoid excessive movement through the torso while moving, quiet hand/foot contacts.

Another great cue is to “Imagine balancing a glass of water on your back. Don’t spill a drop”.

Better yet, place a shoe or a yoga block on your backside and balance that sucker for the duration of the crawl. That’ll keep you honest.

Or a wood dowel if you’re looking for insane honesty with this crawl.

As with any crawling pattern, move slow for greater benefit. 

Slow movement requires more fine motor skill and the time under tension will creep up on you.  

Animal Flow 2.0 refers to this pattern as “Beast”, and is where I first learned my technique cues.

Lizard Crawl

The lizard crawl is a low-to-ground locomotion pattern that seriously challenge scapular mobility and stabilization, core control and hip mobility.  

Lizard Crawl is a SUPER challenging patterns for the muscles. It takes your breath away when you’re first adapting to the demands.

Notice the how low my shoulders, torso and hips stay in relation to the ground.  

I’m hovering 1-2 inches above the floor as I move forward.  

Staying low makes this exercise extremely demanding for the muscles since you’re in a disadvantaged position. 

First timers to lizard crawling will feel this in the days after.  You’ll be sore. 

This pattern is more similar to true resistance training compared to the Bear Walk and Forward/Backward Crawl described above.  

Over the years I’ve substituted the lizard crawl in place of push-ups and other pressing exercises in workouts.

12 to 15 feet is all you will need to get a great stimulus.  Practice each work set with focus, soft hand and foot contacts, moving the limbs with control.  

Be sure to rest plenty in between effort, as this crawling pattern is more like resistance training.

Movement20XX (Vahva Fitness) does an excellent job describing lead-in exercises to the Bear Walk and the Lizard Crawl, leading up to mastery.  The progressive design of Movement20XX program was a real draw for me.  

“How to organize crawling in workouts?”

You cannot screw this up. Seriously. There is no right or wrong way to practice crawling in a workout.

If you’re a beginner, I would suggest practicing each of these crawling patterns while you are fresh.

Either as part of the warm-up or just after the warm-up, but get your crawling in before any resistance training or higher intensity exercise.

Practicing new exercises is best done FRESH, not fatigued.  You can test yourself while under fatigue down the road.  

Once you’re at the intermediate or advanced stage, you can get a little bit more creative with where you place crawling exercises in the workout.  

Personally, I like to use crawling as an element of movement sequences, long duration movement flow, or as part of a conditioning circuit. 

Try this simple combination:

Because crawling is bodyweight-based, it pairs up extremely well with equipment such as kettlebells and barbell work.

Crawling for Time or Distance

Each of these crawls can be performed for a set distance or time. 

I’ve tried both options, and they both work really well.

For distance, 15-20 feet of slow tempo, technique focused crawling is plenty for a beginner.  

I’m talking about a single set of 15-20 feet, then taking rest.  Usually, rest periods should last 1.5-2x the time spent crawling.  

Personally, I like to set a timer and crawl until it sounds.  This way I can stay focused on my movement, instead of speculating how far I’ve crawled.  

For a beginner, 3-5 sets of 30-40 seconds of continuous crawling is enough time to elicit a great training effect.

Intermediate/advanced trainees will likely need to increase the time and play around with slowing down the tempo, toying with other variations, etc.

Crawl for 5 minutes straight. 🤷‍♂️

New to ground based movement exercises?

Start adding ground based movements to your workouts, immediately.  

Don’t wait.  

Most folks simply aren’t used to doing movements like these on a regular basis. 

In fact, crawling and other ground-based movements are a rarity in most workout routines.

To improve your coordination, mechanics and skill with anyone of these crawling patterns, it’s often a matter of practice and consistency.

20 Minute Home Gym Workout

20 Minute Workout| Skierg, Kettlebell Swings and Landmine Grapplers

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20 minutes is all you need to get a hell of a workout.

This 20 minute workout combines the SkiErg, kettlebell swings and landmine grapplers to create one hell of a training stimulus using just 3 exercises.

The SkiErg and kettlebell swing combination is one of my favorite gym combinations of all time.

Yes, they are both somewhat linear, but the opposite actions is what I love.

Kettlebell swings are mostly hip extension focused. (Yes, I know the eccentric loading is great with kettlebell swings).

SkiErg is a flexion heavy exercise. The pull downward requires a lot of lat and core contribution. The hips hinge as you finish the stroke, followed by moving back up into extension to reload for the next pull. One of the great features of the SkiErg machine is being able to walk up to it and walk away from it quickly. It’s awesome.

Landmine grapplers, well, read below about why I think landmine grapplers are badass.

Both are completed in the standing position, feet firmly fixed to the floor. In a world where machines are taking over, standing up like human during a beat down is refreshing.

The Workout

Set a timer for 20 minutes.

Complete the following exercises in cyclical fashion:

Kettlebell Swings x8

Landmine Grapplers x8

SkiErg x150meters

Choose your kettlebell weight and throw a plate on the barbell for the landmine grapplers, and you’re ready to move.

I used a 32kg kettlebell and a 25lb plate on the landmine apparatus.

The beauty of this circuit is how little space you need. I’m clearly training in a larger home gym space, but I could be getting after it inside a bedroom closet and still get the same training effect.

Maybe I’ll shoot another video doing the same workout inside of super tight space to make my point.

The best training spaces are IMPERFECT.

The rest periods are designed to be INCOMPLETE. You won’t want to start into the next exercise, but do it anyways.

The idea is to start the next exercise BEFORE you’re completely ready to do so, yet be mindful of when it’s inappropriate to start the next bout of work to avoid injury (technical failure, etc).

You have to be an adult in the gym, make adult decisions, and know thyself.

If the next round is going to involve crappy reps, stop. Rest. When you’re ready, get back to it.

It’s a fine line… and only you know when you’re toeing that line.

Landmine Training is Sexy

There’s no other way to say it.

Landmine training is sexy and I love my landmine set up. It was a small investment for the vast amount of training options I gained.

For anyone who owns a barbell and plates, but doesn’t own a landmine, SHAME ON YOU.

Kidding.

Adding landmine trainer to your home gym can change a lot about how you workout, including more pressing, pulling, squatting options. As it relates to this workout, more rotational training.

My favorite landmine exercises involve rotation.

Grapplers are a classic rotational exercise that can be tweaked for rotational power work, grinding strength or cardio conditioning.

Every swipe through the middle feels like this movement has application beyond the gym setting. And no, not all exercises give me that same warm and fuzzy feeling.

Landmine Grapplers bring joy to my soul.

They aren’t a cheesy isolated core twist. Grapplers are full body exercise that begin on the floor, traveling up the body, through the hips/torso and out the hands.

Biggest Problem with this Workout

Access to the SkiErg will be the biggest issue for people to give this exact workout a go.

If you have a few dollar laying around, the SkiErg is an incredible piece of equipment to own.

I have to admit I purchased my rowing machine first, but the SkiErg was a much more anticipated addition. It hasn’t disappointed one bit. Mine is well fixed to a wall.

Here are a few more ways the skierg can be used in workouts.

If you don’t have a SkiErg to play on, here are a few exercises that can get you close:

  • Medicine ball slams
  • Battling rope waves or slams
  • Explosive resistance band flexion moves
  • Macebell or sledgehammer slams into a tire.
  • Towel Snaps (say what?)

Give this workout a shot and let me know how it went.

Cheers.

Old Man Exercises with a Kettlebell for the Ultimate Purpose in This Tear Jerking Holiday Christmas Commercial

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This brilliant commercial combines the power of fitness and with the spirit of Christmas, as an older gentleman embarks on a journey to rebuild his fitness using a kettlebell, for the ultimate purpose.

It’s an amazing message, perfect for the holidays, wrapped inside of 3 minutes.

Being a Dad, this brought tears to my eyes.

Fitness, with an end goal in mind, is extremely powerful.

Enjoy.

Bodyweight Push Up

How to Make Bodyweight Push-Ups HARDER (and less boring)

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Here’s simple guide on how to making bodyweight push-ups harder, and less boring.  

Boredom in the gym is a tragedy because there’s SO MUCH you can do. Boredom often leads to an unraveling of discipline and in extreme cases, an eventual abandoning of physical exercise altogether.

A few of the push-up variations listed below require the use of a resistance band, a towel, and something to elevate the feet.  

Other than few simple gym props, you shouldn’t need much to attack these exercises.  

Push-ups are a time-tested upper body pushing pattern. They’ve played a role in building strong bodies for centuries and will continue to be one of the main components of building fit bodies for centuries to come.

Push-ups are about as resourceful they come (bodyweight-based) and ALWAYS there for you.  

Some of the best workouts I’ve participated in involve little to no equipment, which is funny because I’ve invested quite a few dollars assembling a nice home gym.

Attacking progressively difficult bodyweight progressions can be a humbling experience and a lesson in how simple training can be.

At the very least, exploring new exercise variations can breathe new life into a workout regimen. It’s really easy to fall into the trap of doing the same thing over and over, and over and over.

Push up, squat, lunge, pull and core.  Like a square meal, the structure of this workout is as simple as it get, yet delivers results.  The only other thing I’d add is a quick jolt of cardio to finish off the workout. 

But, we humans gravitate toward the fancy stuff, don’t we?  😉 

Anyways, push-ups if practiced on a regular basis and with a progressive mindset, can be deadly effective for improving upper body strength and building lean muscle.  

There are hundreds of bodyweight-based push-up variations.  A subtle tweak here and there, a little shift of body position, and you’ve got yourself a new push-up variation.  

The curated list of push-up variations below was created to give you ideas on how to upgrade your current push-up to the next level of difficulty, or, simply inject some creativity if you’ve worn out traditional variations. 

All exercises demonstrated by yours truly. 

If I can’t do it, I shouldn’t be sharing it.  

Basic Bodyweight Push-Up

The basic bodyweight push-up is ground zero for this time-tested exercise. Get tunnel vision with push ups (off-setting with plenty of pulling exercises) and chase improvement here.

If you’re struggling to maintain form with a basic bodyweight push-up, elevate the hands onto a chair, couch or stairs.  Raising the reduces the weight being pushed on each rep and makes holding body position (from hips to shoulders) easier.  

Don’t be afraid to take a step back, do the exercise right, then move forward.  

Feet Elevated Push-Up

It’s amazing how different an exercise feels when you change height of the hand or foot position.

Raising the feet above the hands not only changes the angle of the push, but also increases the load on each repetition. 

It’s a really simple way to vary body position and increase loading, which is key to continuous progress.  

Trunk Twisted Push-Up

Put yourself in a trunk twisted position with feet staggered…. and push up.

*** Be careful with the lower back here. You’ll know exactly what I’m talking about once you getting the starting position.

Band Assisted Plyo Push-Ups

Power training. 

The band decreases the amount of weight you’re pushing, which means you have an opportunity to get off the floor faster.

I love this exercise for upper body power development.  

Owning the “landing” phase of this exercise is key. Pay attention to landing quietly and with control.

Hands hit the floor and you’re right into the next repetition. This happens quickly.

The band assisted plyo push-up is basically plyometrics for the horizontal push pattern.

A great alternative to traditional medicine ball power training.  

Slow Eccentric Push-Up

Embrace the suck.

Lowering your body super slow to the floor places emphasis on the eccentric phase of the exercise.  

Try lowering down for 60 seconds.  3 sets of 5 reps will be humbling.  

Do you have full ownership over the two arm eccentric variation?  Great! 

Time for assisted single-arm push-up or full single-arm push-up.  

Slow Concentric Push-Up

Slow down the upward phase of the movement. 

Do the opposite of the eccentric push up described previously.

This is a sick twist to a simple exercise. 

Most people get hyper-focused on slowing down the eccentric phase of exercises, but the concentric can be slowed to create a new challenge. 

Carpet Slide 1-Arm Push Ups

Grab a towel, carpet slide or dolly to perform this push-up variation.  

In this clip, I’m on a sticky rubber gym floor.  Because of this, nothing slides across the surface.  So, adapt the exercise and lightly slide the non-working hand over the floor.  TOUGH.  

This is the most under-utilized push-up variation and one of my all-time favorites.  I love carpet slide push-ups as a stepping stone into the world of single arm push-ups.  The working arm is faced with pushing more weight, the core is introduced to a limited base of support, and it’s a right/left side exercise.  

Nothing wrong with bilateral exercises (where you’re using both limbs to complete the movement equally), but moving your training toward unilateral (or right and left side only) exercises is beneficial.  

This variation also serves as a great strengthener and and lead-in to low-to-ground dynamic crawling patterns. 

When the arm reaches full extension and you’re at the bottom of the rep, it’s resembles the infamous Lizard Crawl (king of crawling exercises).   

Band Assisted 1-Arm Push-Ups

Anchor a resistance band overhead, wrap it around your chest and perform these assisted single arm push-ups. 

The resistance band will assist your effort out of the toughest part of the exercise, the bottom of the push-up.

This is a fantastic way to introduce your body to the demands of a full single arm push up, yet decrease the load to make each repetition manageable.  

Progress this exercise by using a smaller band over time.  Eventually, eliminate the band and and opt for eccentric-only one arm push ups, or the full monty.  

Lateral Push-Ups

Get into a deep squat, rotate and lean to one side, allowing yourself to tip into a push up.  While this isn’t going to building world class strength, it’s a great variation to train pushing from a unique position.  

I generally include lateral push ups into flow sequences, but they can be practiced in isolation.  

High reps on these.  Anywhere from 8-15 reps alternating side to side.  

Push-Up Combinations 

Training should include several movement woven into a sequence, or a combination. Combining exercise and working to create seamless transitions between each. 

Push Up to Cross Body Knee-to-Elbow

Fitness experts love to blab about “making sure workouts having functional carry-over into the real world”, yet often forget to include combination movements that mimic real life.  

Push Up + Step Through + Pistol Squat + Skater Squat

Few real life situations involve just one isolated movement pattern.  

Push Up and Rolling Flow

Think about it. You’re laying on the floor. To stand up, you might perform a push-up, but then what? What’s the next move to stand up?

Push up + step through + hybrid lunge + stand and walk.

Combinations I tell you.

We can combine 2 exercises, or we can get wild and crazy and string together 3, 4 or 5+ exercises into a sequence.

Build strength using isolated exercises… but don’t be afraid to branch out and create combinations. 

Benefits of Crawling for Adults

Motion

You found this article because you’re curious about the benefits of crawling.

Good for you!… because crawling (and ground-based movement in general) is one of the most underutilized methods in fitness. And abused.

Abused? Huh? Yes, abused.

Lots of fitness professionals are infatuated with high-intensity approaches to EVERYTHING.

Rushing bear crawls for time has its place, but it lacks the true benefits earned from slowing down a crawl pattern to build movement coordination and build skill.

Crawling is not just for babies. Adults can get pretty significant benefits from practicing crawling patterns on a regular basis.

How to progress crawling patterns beyond the basics is lesser-known, and can completely change your outlook on the activity.

I’ll talk a little more about moving beyond the basics of this article further down.  

Notable benefits of crawling for adults:

  • Neural system development (brain-body connection to be able to do more stuff)
  • Improvement in coordination, learning, and behavior
  • Strengthen the shoulder complex
  • Increase proprioceptive feedback, hand strength, and dexterity
  • Core developer
  • Mobility training for the joints like hips and shoulders
  • Excellent transfer from the gym into real-world tasks and activities

A large majority of adults de-evolve with age. 

This is a sad reality.

When we are young, we move frequently. Somewhere along the way, usually, after college ends and careers start, daily movement nose dives.

Non-exercise activity drops, which is concerning because of the undeniable data being published related to daily step count and the relationship to all-cause mortality.

Movement, and our ability to move well, is a use it or lose it situation.  Wolff’s Law at it’s finest. Either keep moving or the ability to move gradually declines.  

So, before you listen to that fitness pro barking out orders to plow through a 60-minute high-intensity crawling workout, please consider taking a more sensible approach.  

Haven’t worked out consistently for a while? Guess what… biologically you’re different now.

Work back into slow, in manageable doses, with adequate rest and recovery separating work sets and workouts throughout the week.

Now, the positive news is that you can get back into fitness, movement, and more specific to this article, CRAWLING, right now. 

Below are some AMAZING introductory drills that’ll reveal how challenging bodyweight, the floor, and a few positional shifts can be.  

[FYI:  Consistency with physical practice is HUGE, one of the deciding factors if you achieve goals.  Not just with exercise, but with anything.  You must continue to practice these exercises to earn the benefits.  Fitness is not an instant gratification game… it’s the opposite.  People who continually show up and put in the work, get the reward. Play the LONG GAME]

If you’re already an avid lifter or engaged in some form of exercise most days of the week, great!  You’ll get plenty of benefit from these drills, and likely find them to be challenging beyond what you anticipated.

Here. We. Go.

Clear a small space.  You don’t need much.  A 6ft x 6ft space free of furniture and other obstructions will work.   

Crawling in small spaces gets the green light from me. You can get a ton of work done inside of an imperfect space.

Reach your arms out, spin around one time. Did you touch anything? No? You’re good… let’s get to work.

Start with Non-Moving Holds

Non-moving, or static, variations are a logical place to acclimate to the demands of crawling.  

The purpose of these drills is to get a feel for what a good body position feels like.  Take a mental note of what you’re feeling in the arms, shoulders, chest, core, and lower body.  Be in the moment, not somewhere else.  

Pro-tip:  Once you’ve locked in body position, imagine balancing a glass of water on your back.  Don’t spill a drop.  Or, place a shoe or other small object on your back for immediate feedback.  

Remain still, stable, and avoid jostling as much as possible!

To start, practice holding these two positions for 3 sets of 30-40 seconds:

Limit the Base of Support from 4-Points to 3-Points

Ok, now, let’s play around with the impact of limiting the base of support does to these exercises.  

Perform 3 sets of 8 shoulder taps (each arm):

During each shoulder tap, your body is doing it’s best to react and re-stabilize itself given the change of floor contacts.  The loaded arm takes on the weight of the upper body, working overdrive.  

Contralateral Lift Offs

Next, let’s play around with limiting the base of support from 3-points, down to 2-points of contact.  

This next series of drills are TOUGH.  

You’re going to lift the opposite arm and leg AT THE SAME TIME and hold that position for 10-15 seconds:

If you want, speed up the tempo.  Pause and hold the 2-point position for 2-3 seconds before moving to the other side.  Keep alternating for time (60 seconds) or for reps (12-15 reps).

Crawl

Set a timer and work each crawling pattern for 3 sets of 30-60 seconds PER EXERCISE.

Move slow, focused, and with control.  

Keep your mind’s eye on body position and make hand/foot contacts quiet.  Soft and quiet floor interactions are closely associated with control. 

Crawling has been an important part of my workouts for a long time.  It’s become an essential component of my warm-ups, workouts, and conditioning circuits.  

If you find any of the drills above to be overwhelming, you’re not alone.  To be honest, even short duration basic variations like the forward/backward crawl was soul-crushing for me in the beginning. 

Anything new generally is.  Your body doesn’t know how to be efficient yet.  Soreness will likely follow in the days ahead.

But, adaptation is a beautiful thing.  I made gradual progress from non-moving variations, to a limited base of support hold and into basic crawling patterns and beyond.  

Today, I’ll engage in more aggressive crawl workouts that last anywhere from 5, 10, 15 minutes without breaks.  But that didn’t happen overnight.  

What’s cool about crawling is that it can be progressed far beyond the basics described in this article.  

The lizard crawl is a prime example of an advanced, low position crawling pattern that’ll put your strength to the test.  A 15-foot lizard crawl can feel like 50 feet.  

Leveraging the principle of progressive loading and add weight to crawling exercises to further challenge your strength and coordination.  Again, this doesn’t happen overnight, but it’ll give you a glimpse into where you can take this stuff. 

Sometimes my workouts are purely ground-based movement sessions jam-packed with crawling and other unique movements. 

Benefits and results?  

Here’s what I get out of crawling work.  

1.  Skill transfer.  Transitioning from a standing position or walking to the floor is second nature now.  I don’t blink. The transition work is seamless. It’s amazing how often I use crawling in real-world situations with my kids, to complete a task or while in the woods hunting.  

2.  Lean muscle.  Nutrition is king for body composition, but the added time under tension crawling definitely added some muscle and definition to my frame.  I don’t chase aesthetics, but it’s a nice added bonus.  

3.  Gains in other lifts.  Pushing, squatting, deadlift, etc… all felt more organized.  Weight increased, volume increased (reps/sets per workout) and progress was made.  

4.  Fun.  If you’re stuck in a workout rut, it’s time to inject something different into the mix.  Doing the same thing over and over will drive you insane, and can fizzle out your interest in exercise.  Mix in some crawling, it’s both challenging and refreshing.  

Crawling is only the tip of the iceberg. There’s SO MUCH more to explore inside of the ground-based movement category.

Ground-based training is a fantastic supplement to traditional resistance training and mobility work.  

Want to go further down the rabbit hole?

If you want to dive into more ground-based work, I don’t blame you and quite frankly I highly recommend you continue to learn about this stuff.

Check out Animal Flow or Movement20XX.

These are the premier ground-based movement training systems. Both are comprehensive platforms with subtle differences in approach.

Animal Flow integrates different training methodologies: gymnastics, break dancing, Yoga, calisthenics, Capoeria, and various crawling and locomotion variations into movement sequences and flow.

Movement 20XX you to use this article as a stepping to investigate comprehensive training programs like Animal Flow and Vahva Fitness Movement20XX.

I’ve shared these programs with thousands of people and the feedback has been tremendous.

Which program is the best? Tough question to answer, both are great.

Lately, I’ve been guiding people to Movement20XX. Movement20XX creator, Eero Westerberg, shares a similar approach to training as me. Naturally, my compass points toward the Movement20XX curriculum.

At the end of the day, both programs deliver amazing content that’s clearly articulated. Skill level doesn’t matter.

Beginners will get the coaching they need, and so will advanced movers who are seeking mastery and next-level gains.

Movement Flow| Cossack Squats, Kick Throughs and Static Beast

Motion, Movement Flow

Flow training challenges movement capacity and ownership and are a great addition to any workout.

Organizing 2-5 different movements into a sequence gives you a chance to focus on smooth transitions, soft ground contacts and stability throughout the effort.

Flow sequences can be up-tempo, or slow and controlled.

Slow and controlled flow training can be humbling for any fitness level, beginner to advanced.

Today’s movement flow includes Cossack Squats, Kick Throughs and Static Beast. Each exercise is great in it’s own right.

The Cossack Squat is a unique squat variation. It’s a strength and hip mobility builder.

How to Perform this Flow

Lower your butt to the floor using a Cossack Squat.

What’s a Cossack Squat?

Bottoming out on the Cossack Squat (whatever depth that may be) find the floor with the same side hand.

Raise the extended leg, pulling it underneath your body as you turn into static beast.

Hold Static Beast for 5 seconds. Stay tight.

Release out of Static Beast, reversing the flow.

Slide the hovering leg through and out the other side where you’ll REACH and point the toes.

Extend the foot out as far as possible re the free arm pulls back in the opposite direction.

This picture should give context to the technique.

The Kick Through will be felt in the quads, hip flexors, core, up and out the opposite side shoulder.

Pulling back with the arm should resemble the draw of a bow, where the hand stops behind the ear.

Freeze the Kick Through posture and hold. This will be tough.

Re-initiate the Cossack Squat, sliding through the middle and repeating the sequence.

Quiet and Smooth Transitions

In a flow sequence, working toward quiet ground contacts and smooth transitions between exercises is the name of the game.

Quiet interactions with the floor is a good indicator of control over the movements.

With practice, ground contacts become softer as your body adapts to the demands of the movements.

Transitions are present in every day life.

We’re constantly moving from one posture, position or activity to the next.

One minute you’re lifting a heavy, awkward shaped object. The next minute you’re crawling underneath a table to play with your kids.

Static and dynamic movements show up every single day, and the in-between transitions are often overlooked.

Flow workouts are great for improving movement capacity.

conditioning the body to navigate various transitional moments, and move with greater confidence.

Where does Flow Training Fit in a Workout?

Using movement flows in pre-workout warm-ups is a great way to prime the body (and mind) before more aggressive training.

You can practice a flow for 4-5 minutes before lifting weights or performing cardio.

Flow + Resistance Training

Combining tried and true resistance training with movement flow is an effective way to maximize productivity in the gym.

1a) Chin-Up

1b) Squat

1c) Flow Sequence (give this one a try)

Perform the exercises from top to bottom for a target number of sets.

This structure leverages non-competing exercises. Using non-competing exercises, you can move from one exercise to the next relatively quickly because different muscle groups are used for each movement. Chin-ups are an upper body effort, while squats are a lower body effort. The flow might challenge the upper and lower body, but not at an intensity that would take away from the chin-up or squat.

Non-competing exercises organized into a tri-set allows for shorter rest periods, keeping the workout moving along.

People get fixated on lifting weights, adding weight to the bar, numbers, etc.

Put these people on the floor and ask them to execute the flow sequence shared today, and they look like stiff robots.

Flow work is a perfect addition to a resistance training program.

It gives you a chance to put those gains into practice with free flowing bodyweight movements.

Flow Sequences in Circuits

Mixing and matching flow sequences with resistance exercises, ballistic movements like kettlebell swings and a little core work is a great way to create a total body movement session.

1a) Kettlebell Swings x10

2a) Kettlebell Overhead Press x5 each arm

3a) Kettlebell Bent Over Row x8 each arm

4a) Hollow Body Rocks (core)

5a) Flow Sequence

Work through 1a-5a, rest for 45-60 seconds after the flow sequence. Perform 3-5 rounds.

Total body workout in less than 20 minutes.

Circuit training like this is are great for fat loss and performance.

Integration = Best Fitness and Health Results

It’s not any ONE thing that catapults health, performance and aesthetics.

You’ve got to pay a attention to all of the moving parts that contribute equally to a pain-free, athletic, lean and muscular body.

What are those moving parts?

  • Mobility Training
  • Resistance Exercise
  • Cardio
  • Ground-Based Movement (flow, etc)
  • NEAT (non-exercise activity, like walking)

Most people would be extremely happy with their results by organizing a workout regimen to include a steady mix of:

By including each element, you’re improving joint function and tissue health, performance, building strength and useful lean muscle, movement capacity in unique positions, and overall health.

Your body will have the look you want, free of ache and pains, and the movement performance.

If you’re ready to take your workouts to the next level with quality movement training, this is the program

5 Minute Kettlebell Flow Workout

Motion

Here’s a challenging 5-minute kettlebell flow workout.

I’ve used kettlebell flows off and on for years.

Workouts are generally highly organized, predictable and step by step.

Kettlebell flows are the opposite.

A truly improvised flow session is unpredictable with no real agenda for using any specific exercise, and no designated reps per exercise.

You flow with whatever comes to mind, for whatever amount of time, without stopping to rest or putting the kettlebell down.

Most flow workouts are performed in the same spot, so they are space-efficient.  

Keep the kettlebell moving.

Best Exercises for Kettlebell Flows

Familiarization of the exercises in a flow is essential.

Don’t make the mistake of dabbling with movements you don’t have an intimate familiarity with.  I can’t think of a better way to get hurt.

When I’m setting up for a flow session, I use the following exercises the most:

Swings

Snatches

Cleans

Overhead Pressing

Around the World Slingshot

Lunges

Squats 

Rows

Windmills

Swings have a ton of variations and are a mainstay in any flow session.

Fluid transitions between 2-hand swings, single-arm swings, and hand-to-hand swings keep the kettlebell moving.

All of the ballistic kettlebell exercises (swing, snatch, clean) have a rocking/pendulum-like motion that creates opportunity for quick transitions between exercises.

Ultimately, any exercise is can be used for a flow.  

I just prefer quick transitions and constant movement, versus stop and starts.  

Love the Flow or Hate the Flow

People either love or hate kettlebell flow workouts.

I sit somewhere in the middle and understand the love and the despise of both sides.

The problem most people have with kettlebell flow workouts the “did it for the gram” type portrayal, where the user is twirling paperweight size kettlebells.  

Playing hot potato with a 15lb kettlebell is mostly a waste of time.

People also tend to use kettlebell flows TOO OFTEN.

Kettlebell flows make up about 5% of my training time.

The other 95% of the time, the focus is on building strength and power, active mobility, movement capacity, and cardio.

24/7/365 kettlebell flow training often delivers mediocre results.  

Training with too light of weight for too long creates little to no long-lasting improvements in performance or aesthetics.  

Sure, you’ll break a sweat, but sweating doesn’t mean you’re making gains.  It means you’re sweating.

I have an unbroken sweat streak going while mowing the yard on my riding lawn mower or walking for 30 minutes in 90degree heat.

Sweat is a cooling mechanism for the body.

Now, I’m not here to fully bash kettlebell flows, because the fact is I do play around with flow work throughout a training week.

Benefits of Kettlebell Flow

The benefits of a kettlebell flow training are having to improvise, change shape and adjust posture, coordinate each movement, catch, power up, move beyond accumulating fatigue, stay focused, etc.

Kettlebell flow workouts are challenging, both for the mind and body.

And honestly, flow training is FUN.

The gym is a place where people are rewarded for effort, consistency, and discipline.

But it’s also a place that can become insanely boring and monotonous.  

Flow training breaks up the monotony.

A more sensible approach would be to sprinkle in a flow here and there.

After the warm-up or at the end of workout once the big stuff is completed.

Advice: Use a Heavier Kettlebell

I wrote an article about the benefits of kettlebell swings, where I touched on people making the mistake of “lifting” the kettlebell during the swing.

It’s not 100% always true, but overwhelmingly,  lifting the kettlebell happens because the kettlebell isn’t heavy enough.

You can’t lift a kettlebell that’s heavy enough to train the powerful posterior chain muscles.

Try lifting a 24kg kettlebell completely horizontal up to sternum height with straight arms.

Hip action is everything with ballistic kettlebell exercises.

What does this story have to do with kettlebell flow workouts?

Pick a weight that you cannot lift with ballistic exercises like swings and cleans.

In most flow workouts, the snatch is the weakest exercise with regard to weight.

Most people can swing and clean a lot more weight compared to the snatch.

If snatches will be part of a flow, I select my kettlebell with heaviest weight I can snatch with control.

I use the same approach with kettlebell complexes.

These exercises are valuable only because of the explosive hip action needed to move the kettlebell through space.

Exceptions to Using a Heavier Kettlebell

Kettlebell exercises that cross the midline of the body are the exception to the “use a heavier kettlebell” advice.

“Lighter” kettlebells are best for cross-body movements, especially single arm cross-body variations.  Control is the name of the game here.  

Cast iron colliding with bone doesn’t usually end well.

My advice with cross-body exercises is to practice in isolation.  

Slipping them into a flow tends to diminish the returns of the other exercises.

In general, there’s no greater waste of time than grossly underloading exercises on a regular basis.  

You’ll spin your wheels in a vortex of a maintenance phase, forever. 

Improved Circular Training Options

Clubbells and macebells are amazing for circular strength training.

 

Clubbells and macebells have a longer shaft with the bulk of weight located at the end, which creates a more torque.