Ab Wheel Roll Outs, core strength without the back strain

abwheelgoodA couple of days ago I was watching our Thai Boxers train.

They’d set up a pretty cool circuit with various stations, some just conditioning exercises, other pad or bag work.
It was fairly intense and a pleasure to watch.

Until I spotted them using the Ab Wheel.

The Ab Wheel is probably the best bit of fitness kit ever to appear in an infomercial. They’re cheap and damn do they build serious core strength.

If done right that is

And I wasn’t seeing much done right the other day.

Truth be told, almost everyone I see does them wrong. Maybe thats why so many credit the wheel with giving them back pain

.And yes, I agree poor form on this exercise can do your back in pretty quick. Mostly because people focus on rolling out and back and forget to focus on HOW they roll out and back.

Poor form, notice the arched back and the arms are extended before the hip. There's no loading on the rectus abdominis here, just crushing force for the lumbar

Poor form, notice the arched back and the arms are extended before the hip.
There’s no loading on the rectus abdominis here, just crushing force for the lumbar

Just as you wouldn’t (I hope) just bend over and lift a barbell off the floor, or swing a heavy kettle with no thought for body mechanics, alignment and form, I am surprised at how many just grab the wheel and go for it. Maybe it’s because it’s not a weight, it’s not a lift, but that doesn’t mean it’s without its risk.

So how should be roll?

Watch this to find out:

So key points:

  • Tuck the hip under, ie posterior tilt
  • Engage the abs and glutes before you even start the lift
  • Keep the arms vertical until the hip is extended
  • Roll only as far as you can maintain control, if you by pass this point, simply face plant
  • Try to snap the handle to externally rotate the shoulders and get the rotator cuffs involved.

Keep all this in mind and go for it.
Few exercises are better for developing that anterior core strength.


Dave Hedges



The tag line on this site is “improving human efficiency” a thought that’s been central to my own reasons for training since I was first introduced to a barbell.

Working on specific mobility & postural imbalances

Working on specific mobility & postural imbalances

Efficiency has been a fascination of mine, especially because I am at heart, a lazy bastard.

So lazy in fact that I managed to develop a training philosophy around being lazy, I call it “The Art of Applied Laziness”
And at the core of that is the ability to move well in order to perform well, to identify and eliminate the weak links.

A lifetime involvement in the martial arts has ingrained in me the belief that excess action is wasted in the application of strength and power. But also that shit happens and if we can only work in narrow bands of strength and power, we leave ourselves open to having our arses kicked.

So supplementary training is key.

Supplementary training must be efficient in nature and the best way to ensure this is by taking an honest look at what our weaknesses are.

A look at what our needs are.

A look at what our betters are doing.

And then a good hard look at where we are right now, at this moment.

Sounds like a lot of work, but believe me, it saves a lot of wasted time and effort later.

Are we strong enough?
Mobile enough?
Too strong?
Too mobile?

Is the gym training helping or hurting our athletic performance?
Are we addressing imbalances, or cementing them in deeper?

What about posture?
Hows your breathing?

Thinking along these lines will do more for your performance and health than anything else.
Stepping outside your box, looking at yourself dispassionately and seeing the holes in your armour are the keys to moving forwards.

Join me this Sunday where I’ll be discussing this in detail with a view to helping Create a Better Cyclist.


Dave Hedges

The Best Coaching Cue in the World, Ever!

funny-teacher-blackboard-finalsBeing a coach can be rough.

I was first put in front of a class as an assistant Karate instructor as a wet behind the ears 16 yr old Purple belt.

From that moment until I left town at 19 as a Black Belt I taught with some frequency, and a lot of the time, I was pretty shit at it.

A few years later I was working in the hotel industry and very soon was made the training officer for my department. I still taught martial arts on and off and helped a few guys out with fitness.

I still struggled with the most important part of the whole coaching profession.

You see, like most new to the job depth of knowledge may not be the limiting factor, it’s usually the ability to communicate that is the failing.

Or at least it was in my case.

That was until many years later when I moved to Ireland and actually made a career out of coaching. By now I was in my late 20′s and starting to mature (slightly).
I was also developing my own style of teaching rather than trying to emulate my own instructors.

I also figured out that fancy language and big words don’t impress clients whatsoever.
It’s all about simplifying everything into soundbites, or as I like to tell prospective instructors that come to learn from me, try and use words of one syllable or less.

One lad I said that to really didn’t get it. I could actually see him try to work out a word that had less than one syllable, which we all know isn’t possible.

This act of simplifying things has led me to develop several unique teaching cues that fit me, my teaching style and the clientèle that I work with.

Possibly the toughest thing to get people to do well is to hinge at the hip while maintaining good spinal alignment. Such as needed in the swing, the deadlift or the squat.

After all, you can say “Chest up”, “Shoulders back and down” “Push the hips out”, “Maintain the arch” and all that jazz or you can simply use a simple, single phrase.

A phrase that will stick in their head, it’s simple, has no long words or fancy descriptions.

A phrase that everyone just gets.

“Tits out, Arse out!”

See, she can do it

See, she can do it

Everyone gets it.

You don’t need a degree in kinesiology to under stand this, hell even a prepubescent knows how to assume that posture.

It’s one of the most effective and efficient cues in my arsenal, and I just gave it to you for free.

You’re welcome.


Dave Hedges

Next Workshop:
Building a Better Cyclist – 27th July, 1000 – 1600, details HERE



I’m Back, and Gearing up for………

Wow, what a week!

If you hadn’t noticed, I’ve been away.

It was my annual summer holiday. Well, I say annual, it’s the second year in a row, so I guess that counts right?
Truth be told, I’m a bit of a workaholic, something my wife constantly chastises me about, so last year I doubled my holiday allowance, being self employed, I had a hard time clearing that with the boss. But instead of just taking a week at Xmas, I also took a week in the summer.

The family and I visited Donegal where my wife spent most of her childhood holidaying.
Now she’s bringing her kids there for their holidays.
It’s great, a whole week with my missus, the two brats and the dog in a part of the world that has shitty mobile phone signals and shittier WiFi coverage but has stunning beaches and gorgeous mountains.

And I’d rather be on a mountainside with the kids and dog looking over the ocean than sat staring at computer screen.

But I’m back.

Today is my first day back in the gym, back to my regular job of shouting at people for a living.

And a return to the blog.

Today’s blog is really a heads up.

In a few weeks I’ll be running the inaugural “Becoming a Better Cyclist” workshop.
An event that I was asked to create as several of my regulars either ride or have friends who ride.


I myself have never ridden competitively, unless you count the group of us that lived together in the English Lake District when we went out mountain biking together…
But I have cycled as my main mode of transport since my early teens.

So I understand the effect the bike has on the body.

I understand the postural havoc the bike can wreak.

And I know how to fix it.

Truth be told, most people when they enter a sport either do so because they enjoy it or because they want a hobby that will help them stay fit.
Few realise that sport and health are divergent goals.

All athletes, in fact everyone who trains in a one dimensional manner, be they a tennis player, BJJ fighter, cyclist or weight lifter will develop specific attributes that correspond with the needs of their sport.
They will also develop specific weaknesses.

For a cyclist we are talking about Quad dominance, terrible hip flexors, weakness in the glutes and abs and shoulders that are crying for mercy.


So it stands to reason that doing some off the bike work is absolutely necessary for keeping the body in check.

Two exercises I strongly advocate for any cyclist are the Bulgarian Split Squat and the Inverted Row.

Regulars of mine will recognise these as two central drills in most training programs I create. But for a cyclist, they’re a near perfect fit.

The Split Squat allows you to strengthen the leg in a closed chain manner without overloading the spine.

The Inverted Row allows you to focus in on reversing the effects of the forward flexed, rounded shoulder position you hold for so long in the saddle.

Both exercises also ask a lot from the core in order to keep the body stable as the exercises are performed.


These are just two of the techniques I’ll be teaching on the workshop.
I’ll also be going over the following headings:

  • Joint Mobility
  • Dynamic Warm Ups that are specific to the individuals needs
  • Postural Realignment techniques for common cycling ailments
  • Breathing & Breath control
  • Identifying weak areas and specific interventions
  • Stretching and whether to use it or not

It’ll be a packed day.
For more details and booking info, please follow THIS LINK

And I’ll see you there.


Dave Hedges


Learning Through Observation

When Dave asked me to guest write for his website I was honored and humbled.
I have admired Dave’s incredible work as a coach for a while now and just two weeks ago spent several days with him.

Over the course of my visit in Dublin we conversed about many things.
We covered topics of fitness, family, our youth, history, science, whiskey, music, and just plain ol’ shootin’ the shit.
Out of dialogue, thoughts and ponderings are born. So when I asked Dave, “What do you want me to write about?” and he replied, “Whatever you want?” the wheels began spinning.
You see, like most writers, I prefer to be given a topic (hopefully something I know well) then go from there but an open platform can be tough.

I remember in one conversation we had we were discussing our kids, Dave has two sons a 3 year old and a 5 year old (nearly 6) and I have one son a 1 year old (just turned).
Of course we talked about the cute and funny things they do. The joys of parenting etcetera, but beyond that we got into the essence of human movement. Movement patterns that begin and develop when we are kids reaching masterful levels in just the first several years of our existence then something happens.

We lose it.

While in Dublin, Dave and I attended a Movement X workshop with Ido Portal. If you are unfamiliar with this great teacher and mover I encourage you to Google him.
To my surprise the workshop was less about movement and more about being a better teacher. I really liked this approach as I have always fancied myself more of a teacher than a trainer and my customers students more than clients. Part of being a good teacher is being a good student.
I have really committed myself to becoming a full time student of movement in the last year and a half or so.

As I dove into this methodology and approach to exercise I have to find teachers and inspiration abound.

Movement is not something you can simply learn from a book or a YouTube lecture series.
Its odd because we are born knowing movement.
No really, it is a very frustrating paradox for me and something I wrestle with constantly (perhaps another article for another day).
The title of this article is “Learning Through Observation” and that is why movement becomes a frustrating paradox, because I watch how effortless it is for kids.
Earlier I mentioned discussing child rearing with Coach Dave.

I watch my son with a keen eye daily. He watches me too.
We learn from each other. When I do a handstand in our living room he stares at me and grins ear to ear. He then tries it himself and does something similar to downward facing dog.
Now that’s about all he has learned from me so far. Everything else he just DOES.
Mind you I am a Movement and Strength Coach, people pay me pretty fair wages to teach them how to move. Yet I can barely teach my 1 year old son anything because he is already wired to do so much. So I watch him. I learn.
We actually have a very difficult locomotion at Asylum Fitness called the Ronan Crawl (Ronan is his name). Seriously its tough, but it came from when he was learning to crawl and would go from carpet to hardwood floor and would lift a leg out to the side because his knees weren’t toughened yet.
He climbs stairs, has since 6 months, he dances, he climbs on and off the couch, he squats for everything. Yet no one has taught him any of this.

As a teacher I have to have a keen eye for movement patterns. I watch my students move, some better than others but all patterns tell a story. Learning through observation isn’t a one way street, it isn’t even a two way street. It’s more like a clusterf*!% of an intersection with loads to gain from many different avenues.
In fact if M.C. Escher was a highway commissioner that is what the junction of movement learning would look like. The first way of learning through movement, and by no means is this list limited or exclusive this is just a bit of perspective, is the pattern itself. In some ways this might be the easiest. In this situation you are observing what the pattern is telling you.
Non verbal communication is the key to observing movement as Ido said, “Shut up and let the movement speak.”

What dysfunctions, asymmetries, or glitches are there in the pattern? Are there any?
Or is the movement beautiful, controlled and fluid?
The reason I think this is the easiest is because you more than likely have an idea of what the pattern should look like and therefore if it is off, even a little it will be blatant.

For example, Dave and I partnered up at the workshop for a little brachiation drill, he immediately noticed my right hip was high.
Not very high but high enough for his eye to notice it and his brain to say, “that’s not right.” The pattern told a story, in this case the dysfunction was due to a brutal 24+ hours of traveling the day before. All that sitting and cramped travel had my hip all banjaxed (had to use that word it was my favorite from the trip). So the first aspect of learning through observation is just knowing what’s off about a pattern, person when they are moving. I use this daily with my students as a sort of constant assess and reassessing of the session.

Another way of learning, and this one is big for me is drawing inspiration. As I mentioned before my son seems to have a strong grasp on motor control and development. I can’t tell you how many drills and patterns I have watched him do then taken to my students to experiment with and practice. Go somewhere that has a bunch of kids playing and without looking like a total creeper watch. Free your mind and watch.
Then duplicate.
Then eventually create.
There is nothing more hilarious than taking a group of adults to a playground.
However after a while the self image insecurities wear off and the magic begins.
Then the adults move like kids (sorta) but if they observe kids playing before they try it themselves the results are much different. Mimicry is a great teacher.
I don’t just draw on kids for inspiration though. I look for movement in everything I don’t discriminate. I watch dancers, I watch martial artists, I watch traucers (people who practice parkour), I watch gymnasts, I watch pets especially cats, other animals such as primates, Ninja Warriors and then I try what they are doing. Really anything in motion can be your teacher if you just allow your mind to be free and truly observe the movement. Then give it a try!

Honestly that is my biggest secret for movement, just try different patterns.
Its no million dollar tip, but it will change your life and the way you feel and move if you are constantly trying new patterns and exploring movement.

The final method of learning through observation that I will give you is observing yourself.
Often I have an idea in my head of what I look like doing a movement. On film it usually looks way different, most of the time for the worse but sometimes better.
Too often we are so concerned with criticism and we just want to be told good job.
It is really hard to critique yourself because this takes a certain level of integrity and honesty.
My movements started getting much better and much cleaner when I stopped patting myself on the back for sucking and was able to comfortable look at a video of myself and say it was complete shit and practice some more. Seriously, you have to be ok telling yourself that a pattern is shit or else you will perpetually exist in a cloud of delusion.

The end game as a coach/teacher is to make someone better, however I can’t make someone better if they don’t think they need work.  
Beyond just the quality of the movement you should also be able to learn more about creating movement and expression through movement through watching yourself.  Often when I watch myself I see moments where I can add this or connect that. The possibilities are endless and the result is freedom. Move more and you will be free.

Mark Smith
Asylum Fitness

Putting Quality before Quantity

I’ve yet another pearl of wisdom inspired by the Ido Portal the other week.
I know I’ve been like a broken record with “Ido said this…” and “Ido said that…” like some star struck fan boy.
But when you spend time with someone who has made an art of his work and talks such sense, it’s hard not to be impressed.

But today I want to talk about quality.

In the strength world the deadlift is considered the truest test of strength. This is largely because there is no real way to cheat it. You take a weight that is sat on the floor and you either lock it out or you don’t.
There’s no question on depth like there is in the squat, there’s no question on bouncing the weight like in the bench press. It either goes up or it doesn’t, in this respect it is pure.

This is why all strength sports have rules in place. An Olympic lifter can wobble and step as much as he wants at the top of the lift, but the judge wont accept it until he is rock still and unmoving until all three white lights are on.
A power lifter must get the hip crease level with the knee to have his squat counted (at least that’s the official story….)
A kettlebell sports athlete must wait for the rep to be counted before releasing the bell from its lockout.


These are standards that are in place to ensure a fair competition.

But in the world of the Ido Portal method, they have standards for their bodyweight drills. And as they were explained to me, little lights went on in my head. And one of them was, “I’m actually a little soft with my guys sometimes”

The story starts when Ido and his crew took us through their upper body strength protocols which revolve around the Chin Up and the Dip.
I joined the beginner section so I could learn their progressions and regressions on the basic exercises, while my buddy went into the more advanced section so we could have a complete set of notes between us.

The first thing Odelia did when discussing the Chin Up was ask for a definition of the lift.
Where does it start?
Where does it end?
If neither of these points are met, can we call it a rep?

Odelia Goldschmidt just hanging about

Odelia Goldschmidt just hanging about

Much like the deadlift, it starts on the floor, it ends when the hips and knee are fully extended, anything else, and it’s a no count.

For Ido’s guys the chin starts in a dead hang and ends when the elbow joint is completely closed and the body is touching the bar.
And that’s final!

If you don’t have the strength to touch the bar at the top, then this is isolated and worked on until you can. Much like a power lifter will do lockout work or speed work.

This thought process and discipline is the key to progression and success.
If the rep doesn’t meet the predetermined standards, than it’s a no count. If it’s a no count, you need to work at it until it gets counted.
When enough reps can be strung together, each one identical, each meeting the predetermined standards, only then can you progress by adding weight or complexity.

So to this end, I ask you to reconsider your 50 rep sets of push ups or your 100 burpees or that max effort squat. Ask your self, did every rep look the same? Did every rep start and end in the same place?
Did every rep count or were some of them no counts?

Define everything.
Be disciplined.

It is only then will you see real progress in your performance while reducing the injury risk.


Dave Hedges

Next Workshop:
Building a Better Cyclist – 27th July, 1000 – 1600, details HERE


What can Metallica at Glastonbury teach us about Fitness?

So, Metallica played at Glastonbury and the world didn’t end!

I’ve been a huge fan of the Metallica boys since my youth and this song has always been one of my favourites, when this came on my walkman when I was cycling home from my mates house I’d go round the block an extra few times just to listen to the track play out.

I still play it to this day and it’s as fresh as it was 20 years ago.

Which gets me thinking about things that stand the test of time.

In the time I’ve been involved in the martial arts and fitness worlds, many things have come and gone, fads and failures, but other things have stood the test of time, never going away.

1 – Bodyweight Training
It’s as old as training itself and as much as people try to reinvent the wheel and sell you gadgets and gimmicks, all you need is a few square feet of floor space and something to hang from and you have everything you need to develop strength and fitness.

This was made exceptionally apparent at the recent Ido Portal seminar where he explained how the gymnastic rings were the only tool he used to develop his and his students impressive upper body strength.

2 – Lifting Shit of the Floor.
Be it a deadlift, a clean, a snatch, an atlas stone, a child or your elderly mother. There is never a time where being good at lifting stuff of the floor is a bad idea.

3 – Lifting Shit Overhead
The overhead press gets a bad wrap, but again, it’s essential. These days there are few enough reasons for us to raise are arms over head in day to day life. I’m “full size” ie over 6′ tall, so the overhead compartment in an aeroplane, the top shelf in the supermarket and most other things are all within easy reach for me, so when would I ever need that strength over head?
Truth is, I almost never need it, except for the times when something out of the ordinary happens and suddenly I’m thankful for it.
Now if you’re less than full size, you better get your press on!

Ok, sizeist jokes aside,  overhead pressing, especially with the kettlebell is great for the rotator cuff. As are turkish get ups and windmills, two old fashioned lifts brought back to life by the ole Kettle.

4 – Endurance.
“Cardio Kills” yelled out several recent article headlines.
Yeah? So does not doing cardio.
As an animal of the genus Homo Erectus, I find that I have an extremely efficient cooling system, long legs with these magic springs on the end called feet. These feet are fitted with arches that act like the leaf springs in a Landrover and the bungee cord that is my achillies tendon.
I can breathe independently of movement as I don’t need to severely compress and expand my abdomen to stride out.
Yet apparently, the wisdom touted by strength coaches (who might just be biased…) and the medical community (who’d have us sitting down taking medication if they had their way) seem to think we shouldn’t run.
Bollocks I say.

5 – Play
Play sports, play games, play with movement.
Fun is considered childs play and has largely been taken out of fitness.
Yet attend WG-Fit and there’s laughing. Yes there’s sweating and grunting, but in between there’s laughter as the guys tell dirty jokes and slag each other.
Go to the local Globo gym and it’s full of po-faced, oh-so-serious dicks getting no where fast with their training.
So play, tell jokes, muck about a bit during rest periods, do fun shit in your warm ups and cool downs, accept silly challenges and stop taking everything so seriously!

Do you notice something about that list?

It’s not easy to sell any of those things.
Bodyweight training means you can go anywhere and train anywhere, I can’t sell you anything (except my eBook that is…..) so gyms don’t encourage you to do body weight training.

Lifting shit off the floor and lifting shit overhead are both frowned on in gyms because yes they’re hard and yes, they carry an injury risk and yes, from time to time you might grunt, squeal, shout, yell, drop the weight and even pass out. But who said getting awesome was easy?

Running, well treadmills, treadmills, treadmills. I hate treadmills. There’s a whole outside for you to run in. There’s parks, beaches, mountains. But you can’t monetize these things, which makes running cheap. Get some shoes and learn to flow. You’re welcome.

And play.
Well, how far we’ve come as adults that we’ve forgotten something we did naturally as kids eh?
repeat after me:

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing”

I want you to repeat that every day. Then apply.

So thanks to Metallica being around for as long as I’ve had the option to pick my own music choices, and they’ve been a constant in that choice. As have all the other points listed above.

They’ve stood the test of time, not just for me but many, many others. And will for many generations to come.


Dave Hedges