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on Body, Weight, and strength-training progressions

February 22, 2010

One coaching tip I picked up from Coach “Matty” Tsang at the UPA Coaching Cert was the simple “rule of three”. That is, people at many different levels often need three reps of a drill or routine to “get it”.

Following this, we did 3 reps each (as handler) of a trapped-sideline dump-set. After this drill, Matty had planned a progression built on this simple dump-set, where the on/first-cut/dump handler would get points based on where they received the disc (upline, next to the thrower, back, and back & centering). Finally, the scrimmage (to time, rather than points) would have focused on enacting what we supposedly learned from the drill.

Basic drill, drill progression, and the technique-focused scrimmage. Another rule of 3? =)

But back to training, as this is after all. A while ago we talked about progressions? of mobility and stability, and in this blog post we’re going to talk a bit about body, weight progressions.

Before you attempt that 175 lb overhead squat or get your reps in with a 175 g Ultrastar, an athlete should master the fundamentals of athletic movement. We’ve talked about running well before (earlier today actually…), but one could instead look at running as simply an advanced form one of what Paul Chek calls the seven primal movement patterns, squat, lunge, push / pull, bend / twist, gait.

Okay, so we know a little about mobility/stability, a bit about primal movement patterns, when do we start lifting? (loading). It’s worth pointing out that the minimum ACSM / AHA recommendations for healthy adults (American College of Sports Medicine / American Heart Association), besides [moderate cardio 30min, 5x/wk or vigorous cardio 20 min, 3x/wk], which I assume many Ultimate players will meet, is the additional minimum requirement of

do 8-10 strength-training (resistance) exercises, 8-12 reps, at least 2x/wk

…so whether you are first-year undergrad or a professional in your fifties, male or female, you should incorporate strength training into your life, actually whether or not you play Ultimate.

Since the theme of this post is proper progressions, how should we progress strength-training? Note that the recommendation says merely strength-training, and not weight lifting, as the two are not exactly the same–you can strength-train without added weights (bodyweight), and you can lift weights quickly without building much functional strength.

So, how do we progress in our strength-training?

I’m going to suggest the following progression.

Bodyweight => “Unstable” / Offset center-of-mass free weights => “Stable” free weights

then if you like,

Cables => Barbells => (non-cable) Machines.

What do I mean by “unstable” free weight? I’m talking specifically about upper-body unstable or offset center-of-mass free weight work. For example, here is a simple unilateral, offset center-of-mass Military Press (20kg) demonstrated by one of my stronger female athletes ^_^:

This particular 20kg unilateral, offset center-of-mass Military Press is done similar in fashion to the Kettlebell press (see Yoana’s 24kg KB military press here, and watch dv8fitness’s getting started with the k’bell press), and pressing a 20.4kg Olympic plate is only a bit harder than pressing a 20kg K’bell.

So why demonstrate the Olympic plate lift? First, to drill in this idea of offset center-of-mass training which I think can be a useful training modality, especially for throwing athletes that need strong and resilient shoulders. While this has been done for centuries with Russian Kettlebells and perhaps for longer? with Chinese stone locks, offset center-of-mass training wasn’t too popular in the late 20th century, perhaps because it’s a lot “easier” to take, well, the easy way out.

If you look at this suggested strength-training progression, you’ll notice perhaps something interesting. Folks in the late 20th century would often train from the right-to-left, starting with machines such as the leg press, and then work their way up to cables or barbells, maybe toy with free weights, and then not do much of any bodyweight / kallos thenos (beautiful strength) work besides gait / running.

strength-training progressions

On the other hands, one could argue that if you start from the left and move right, with bodyweight movements (themselves done with a progression, from [wall] push-ups to single-arm pushups, shoulderstand squats to bilateral squats to single-leg squats, and so on) later followed by “unstable”, or rather “offset center-of-mass” lifts such as sandbag, Kettlebell, or the demonstrated Olympic plate press.

But wait, why does it matter if the center-of-mass is offset? You’ll notice if you try to press an Olympic plate or Kettlebell overhead, that it seems quite a bit harder than you think it should be. The idea is that you have less kinematic leverage on the weight. If you remember the ol’ “give me a lever long enough and I can lift the world” trick, then think about what happens if you’re on the other side of that equation–if you are the world and the lifter is on the other end. What this means is that the relatively light weight (Archimedes let’s call ’em), can resist a fairly large weight (you). Or in weight-lifting terms, the Olympic plate / K’bell feels heavier than it merely “weighs”.

The other point is that just as you need added stability and strength to do a single-leg squat, you need added stability and strength to press or do Turkish get-ups with weights whose center-of-mass / centroid are not directly in the palm of your hand (close to where you have the greatest leverage). These smaller stabilizer muscles don’t often get a work out if you just do big presses with what some call your “prime movers”, to paraphrase Gray Cook.

More simply, do this kind of pressing and lifting, and it’s a bit more likely you’ll develop functional strength for athletic situations. After all, it’s rare that you have the center-of-mass of some object in the palm of your hand (or the centroid in between your palms as in a barbell lift) in Real Life, so why train this way?

Do I necessarily recommend the unilateral military press for Ultimate athletes? I’m still trying to figure this out. I would recommend K’bell swings and get-ups, and agree with those who discourage throwing athletes from bench presses as a staple move. For more on why throwing athletes (more specifically baseball players, but let’s extrapolate shall we), see this article on why throwing athletes may not want to bench press, according to shoulder-expert Eric Cressey. Some (okay, Mr. EC again) would also say you don’t want throwing athletes to do [bilateral barbell] overhead presses, but unilateral offset center-of-mass presses overhead are somewhat of a different beast.

What’s nice about a proper Turkish get-up is that the horizontal static press (supine) becomes a lateral static press (t-stance in split squat form, half-way), to an overhead static press. That said, folks are discouraged from trying to max-out get-up weights, whereas you can more easily progress military press weights for max-strength or strength-endurance. It’s also a lot easier to teach a unilateral military press (MP) than a k’bell snatch, and many athletes don’t have access to high-quality non-light-weight k’bells…

Which brings us back to the video above. Many more athletes will have access to Olympic plates, which might have the holes in them used for gripping the plate. Most will probably start with a lighter weight (25 lbs), and dial in on keeping your wrist straight rather than “goosenecked”, straight as if you are going to punch that fella’ in the face (but of course not ahem). You don’t need to artificially bring your elbow out to the side as in a bench press-type flare, simple let the weight start from the “racked” position and let it “spiral” up and out slightly. Bring back the weight under control.

[Just a note, the video was taken only a few days after the athlete in question first did a 20.4kg Oly plate MP, so the form is not exemplary. Check out the other videos mentioned for slightly more “correct” unilateral offset center-of-mass (k’bell) pressing form.]

If you’d like to learn more about bodyweight progressions, you can check out Ross Enamait’s writings,, or the new Convict Conditioning volume.

Have fun, press strong… and throw far!

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