An Effective Bullshit Filter

Over the years I’ve been heard to give out the following advice when it comes to training, motivation, exercise selection, even dietary choices.

It goes a follows:

Find the “WHY” and the “HOW” will star to become clear.

If you stop and think about that it gives a powerful filter to look through.

And if you properly applied, that filter will save you from having to endure a whole load of meaningless bullshit.

Here’s a simple one to get you started:

If you understand WHY progressive overload works,then the how is to gradually do more work. Simple eh?

If you understand WHY mobility is important, then how to implement it into your day become clearer.

If you understand WHY coffee stops you hurting other people, you’ll figure out how to keep yourself topped up…..

Ok, that was three.

And the last one may not have been true.

But you get the basic idea.

So now to the inspiration behind today’s post.

Next month I’m running the 1 Day Self Defence Skills workshop, but you knew that, I mentioned it in yesterdays blog post.

Someone who’d read the post asked me about the course content, which is fair enough.
But when I explained that the course is only a toe in the water, it’s a springboard for you to go out and start training by yourself or with friends. That the emphasis on the course is on not getting into trouble in the first place but to utilise heavy impact if you do.

This seemed to put the person off.

Their argument seemed to be based on what they’ve experienced at other workshops.

ie: Faux hard man, special forces, super black belt ninja tactics.


We’re talking:

  • Eye gouges
  • Arm bars
  • Wrist locks
  • Kicks to the groin
  • Pressure points
  • improvised weapons
  • and so on and so on….

I’m going to use a strength training analogy here.

That list you’ve just read is like going to a strength & conditioning workshop and learning about tricep kickbacks, pec flyes and grapevines.

Yes, these things have their place, but not in the real world of performance.

And lets face it, if you or a member of your family is being attacked you want to fucking perform!

So performance based training is based on the “big rocks” of training.

ie: multi joint exercise performed at a high intensity. Think Squat, Deadlift, Clean, Swing, Pull Up, Press, Jerk, Turkish Get Up, Lunge Variations.

So how does this relate to self defence?

Well, the “WHY” of self defence should be easy.

Why? – To get home safe and sound to have dinner with my family.

So, HOW?

  • Avoid getting into trouble in the first place, after all, if you never have to fight, you’ll never lose a fight
  • If I do end up in a fight, end it as fast as possible, best achieved through impact.
  • Do what is necessary to end the conflict, no more, no less.
    This is where things get fuzzy for most. The most efficient way to stop someone is to knock them out, the most efficient way to do this is heavy impact to the head. It’s not sexy, or tactical, or fancy. But it works and it fits our WHY

So for those of you who want to wear combat pants and boot, carry a tactical flashlight, never sit with your back to a door and learn 372 ways to hit someone in the nuts, this isn’t the course for you.

If you want a common sense, systematic approach to self defence, click here.


Dave Hedges

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Building a Workout part 1 – Movements

hands upI’ve been fielding a few questions of late regarding the topic of how to construct a workout.

This is quite a big question. But one well worth answering.

To be honest, there’s no one simple answer as there are as many workouts as there are people training.
But as with all things, there are basic principles which can be applied almost universally.

I’m going to start with a quote I stole from reading Dan John’s work, but seeing as he stole it from Dan Gable, I’m sure he won’t mind!

“If it’s important, do it every day. If it’s not important, don’t do it all.”

So there, you go.

Everything you need to know about training, life and love in one simple sentence.

Dan John

Dan John

But lets look at it from a training perspective.

1 – Movements.

Like many strength and performance coaches I view the body as a series of movement patterns rather than individual muscles.
This view isn’t idea if you’re a body builder but for athletic and even pure fatloss, it’s a winner.

The basic movement patterns are:

Upper Body:
Vertical Push – Military Press and the like
Vertical Pull – Pull Ups, Pull Downs
Horizontal Push – Push ups, Bench Press
Horizontal Pull – Rows

Lower Body:
Hip Hinge or Lower Body Pull – Deadlifts, Swing, Clean
Squat or Lower Body Push – erm, Squat. And lunge etc

Yes, it’s a simplistic model, but it honestly works a charm as long as each box gets ticked on a regular basis.

We can also add in spinal actions, especially rotary motions as well as flexion and extension.
But the big guns are in the list above.

So to put together a solid workout or program we may choose:

Military Press, Bent Over Row and Squat.
1 arm clean & press, Inverted Row and Double Kettlebell Front Squat

All the other movements can be ticked in the warm up, but we focus on the three main movements with vigour.

Next time we train it may be:

Bench, Pull Up and Deadlift.
Push Ups, Pull Ups and Kettlebell Swings.

Simple eh?

You can expand on this anyway you wish according to your individual training wants and need, but the basic principle will never change. Tick all the boxes, but emphasise certain ones more as your actual training focus for that day / week / month.

Right now, my own training at the moment looks like this:

Every day:
Empty Barbell – Deadlift, RDL & Bent Over Row, High Pull, Clean, Front Squat, Press, Overhead squat. All for 5-10 reps depending on the day.
Barbell Power Clean to Front Squat, work up to my daily minimum then see where I go. I usually aim for around 10 reps at this weight or more with whatever rep range suits ( 1 x 10, 10 x 1, 2 x 5, 5 x 2, 3x 3 etc….)
Then I’ll do a few other movements to plug the gaps. My current choice is from:
Day 1: Kettlebell Snatch
Day 2: Dips & Chins
Day 3: Ab Wheel Kettlebell Long Cycle

You’ll see how each box gets ticked. Obviously the emphasis is the lower body with the clean & squat every day, but each other movement gets hit during the warm up and at least one other time in the week.

Of course, this is just my training at the moment.
But it does serve as an example of how I build training programs.

I’ll cover a different aspect of developing a workout next week.


Dave Hedges

Stretching, When and How to Implement It

stretchingI don’t know if you noticed, but on the Facebook page where I post links to articles I like, there were four posts all about flexibility, mobility and the value of stretching.

This wasn’t on purpose, maybe my own tightness’ were annoying me so I was attuned to articles popping up about stretching. I know I’ve had a few of my guys in the gym that I’ve been giving specific stretching advice to over the last week. Especially when it comes to internal rotation at the hip and thoracic extension in the spine. But that’s for another day.

Today then I want to offer some of my own thinking on some of the points raised in these articles. In doing so I hope to answer a few questions that have been thrown at me in response to the articles.

Now, I’m not saying I’m smarter than the authors, I just have my own opinions. Much of my opinions on the topic are based on me growing up immersed in the martial arts. Even now a huge proportion of my clientèle are involved in some form of martial art. So as much as I always disliked stretching, it is embroiled in me, it is part of my culture.

So what are these articles?

No 1: EFS Classic: Flexibility/Mobility: An elitefts™ Roundtable Discussion

First of all, check the list of names contributing to this discussion, that’s a proper who’s who.
It is Alwyn Cosgrove though that is closest to my own viewpoint, but he’s also a martial arts black belt, so that probably explains that. Jason Ferruggia also talks along similar lines to my own thinking. But reading other opinions, sometimes opposing opinions is extremely valuable.

No 2: Dispelling the Stretching Myths

Truth be told, upon rereading this it doesn’t tell me much new, it certainly doesn’t “dispel” any myths. What it does do is go some way to explain the science behind stretching, more in this in a while….

No 3: Gray Cook and the Toe-Touch Discussion

Now, I’m definitely not as smart as Grey Cook. I’m currently working through his “Movement” book and it’s seriously opening my mind.

No 4: This is 60 year old BJJ Black Belt and former world champion turned strength coach, Steve Maxwell. It’s not really an article, but it’s a video that asks a few questions of the viewer…

Now, there’s a stack of info there.

So what’s it all about? Are the scientists right? What about the anecdotal evidence? And did you see how strong, fluid and mobile Mr Maxwell is, even though he’s old enough to be your Dad? Can you move as freely as that?

Stretching works.

A lot of research carried out recently says it doesn’t (check Pubmed), but a few thousand generations of Yogi’s and Martial Artists say it does.

The truth is, it’s a tool, like everything else. Yes, you need to develop strength, yes you need speed and power. And yes you need mobility and flexibility.
Steve Cotter talks about Strength and Flexibility as two sides of the same coin. In his mind they are complementary and should be trained in tandem.
I think he’s onto something.

To start your workout, or even your day, you need mobility work. Call it Dynamic Range of Motion (DROM) or Joint Mobility or whatever, just systematically move through each joint in the body. Make sure to take in some basic movement patterns, such as the hip hinge and squat as well as the movements you’ll be using in your workout/sport.

Here’s an example:

or maybe a more flowing yoga based set:

Stretching is to be held for later in the day. I liked Jason Ferruggia’s take on this, stretching is best used several hours after training, but do take some time to stretch directly after training.
Straight after a workout, I like my guys to get on the foam roller, usually we roll the areas just trained. Straight after rolling we stretch. Stretches are held for a minimum of 60 seconds. We may use contract-relax or PNF methods, but always hold statically for a period before releasing the stretch.

In the evenings, get on the floor in front of the TV and go through any problem areas. Hold stretches for longer, up to 5 mins per stretch. No, that’s not a typo, it actually reads five minutes, but two minutes and up is cool, as long as you register change.
These stretches must be uncomfortable but never painful. Only go deeper when they become comfortable.

Regardless of what the scientists will tell you, this works.
The static work I advocate was taught to me by Anne Dempsey, a very smart lady who teaches Yoga, Somatics and Pilates. Anne told me about Yin Yoga, a style fo yoga where poses are held between 2 to 5 minutes at a time. It;s very gentle and forgiving, yet incredibly effective at opening the body up.

So lets put this into a brief timeline:

AM and/or pre workout – Mobility

Post Workout – PNF / Contrast-Relax / Dynamic or Ballistic type stretching

Evening – Yin style static stretching

What stretches should you do?
Stretch where ever you need it most, for most people I come across, thats the Quads, Hip Flexors, Piriformis and Pecs. I doubt your much different. I’m not!



Ask Dave: Why is core strength so important?

Over the weekend I was over in Galway as a guest of the inimitable Sarah Smith, owner of Galway Kettlebells, where I taught my bodyweight training workshop.

The workshop is always a blast to teach, each time I run it I’m more than impressed by the level of questions that get asked.
On this one though I got a doozy.

A 17 yr old martial artist was on the course, a bright wee lad who is relatively new to the whole fitness / strength & conditioning world.
So often the best questions come from those with the least knowledge, and like I said, this was a corker.
He asked,

“So why exactly is core strength so important?”

Usually I am asked about developing core strength, this is the first time I’ve been asked one of the most important of all questions, “Why?”

To really answer, first of all we all need to be on the same page as to what exactly the “core” is, I personally use three definitions dependent on the context I’m working from.

Lets go over these three definitions:

1 – The Water Bottle Concept

This idea came to me while teaching seminar on Kettlebells to group one day. I asked the group, who were mainly young fitness instructors for their opinions on how to define the “core”
Needless to say I got a lot of blank looks followed by stumbling descriptions and a lot of pointing at the stomach.
At that moment I grabbed my water bottle and used it to illustrate a simple view of the core as a singular unit as opposed to a jumble of parts. Here’s a short version how the speech goes (for a full version, get the Level 1 Kettlebell Manual):

A plastic water bottle, even an empty one, can support a good portion of my bodyweight without any issue. Assuming I can balance on it, it can support my entire bodyweight with a degree of deformity occurring.
Now if put the tiniest hole in the bottle, or simply unseal the lid, it will collapse under a fraction of that weight.
How does the sealed bottle hold me up where an open one collapses? It is after all the same bottle made of the same thin plastic.

A sealed empty plastic bottle supporting a 10kg plate

A sealed empty plastic bottle supporting a 10kg plate

But if we remove the lid....

But if we remove the lid….

It’s the internal air pressure that supports my weight. The walls of plastic merely present the air escaping so that there is sufficient pressure to support me. As soon as the air finds a way out, through a weak spot in the plastic, the bottle collapses.
This is almost exactly how our abdomen works when we are generating high levels of force. The air pressure in the torso stiffens the body so that the hips and shoulders can use it as a platform to push from.
The water bottle even helps us with the anatomy.
The front side is our Rectus Abdominis, or “6 pack.” Directly opposite this on the back of the body is the Erector Spinea. The sides represent our obliques.
The label illustrates the Transverse Abdominis nicely as it goes around the bottle, albeit on the outside rather than the inside.
The base of the bottle is the Pelvic Floor and the lid represents the Diaphragm.When all of these elements are working together, we are strong. Individually they are pretty much useless.

How does this help us?
It shows us how the core works as a unit, stiffening to both protect the body ans also to transfer force from one end of the body to another.
For our martial artist, that means when his fist lands, the core stiffness so that the force is transferred not just into, but through his opponent with minimal recoil reverberating back through himself.


2 – From the Hips to the Shoulders

I don’t use this one as much as the water bottle idea, but I find it useful for getting the contact athletes and fighters to reconsider their training needs.
It’s a simplified version of the next definition that follows this.
The way I like to illustrate this is with 2 pens and an elastic band.
Put a pen through the band and hold it steady, now put the other pen through it and start twisting. After a few twists hold that pen steady and release the bottom one. What happens?

That’s right, the bottom pen spins as the band unwinds. That’s exactly how a Thai boxer throws a kick, wind the top so that the bottom whips around.



Now if the bottom pen is out hip and the top pen is our shoulder, then the band is our core. What connects the hip to the shoulder? A whole host of muscles, including everything talked about in the Water Bottle idea and adding in the Glutes, Lats, Rhomboids, Traps and so on and so forth.
Look at thrower, be it shot put or baseball, doesn’t matter. See how the et their hip all the way around so the torso is twisted like our elastic band visual. Then, as the torso teaches its maximal stretch it snaps the shoulder through, whipping th arm out and propelling the
ball at rocket speed towards the target.
Every muscle that was involved in that stretch can be construed as the core. It’s not just your abs, it’s the entire connection between the hips and shoulders.

3 – The Spine

This is the real core.
It is a series of 33 bones, 24 of which are able to articulate against the bone above and below it. The spine can flex, extend and rotate, essentially moving in each and every plane. It also protects our spinal cord and acts as an anchor point for a huge amount of muscle.

If we really want to talk about our core, we have to talk about the spine.
In the world of power generation and athletic movement, the spine is a BIG player. Let’s use throwing a punch as an example:
A punch starts in the ground, we extend our rearmost ankle and knee which pushes our rear side hip forwards. This all happens fairly fast with each joint accelerating the next.
Now assuming our abdominal muscles have enough elasticity and strength, the hip turning while the shoulder is stationary will torque the midsection, the spine will become twisted and many the muscles the attach to the spine will either become lengthened (stretched).
The spine then will unwind, releasing that stretch and literally slingshotting the shoulder forward throwing out the arm and knocking out the person opposite you.

If you get nothing from that other than the word “slingshotting” I’m cool with that, just as long as you use that word at something today in conversation. Drop me a comment letting me know how you get on….

Cue one of my favorite self defence coaches, Mick Coup, talking about the punch:

The flexion / extension of the spine in the saggital plane is used by strongman and Kettlebell lifters during presses and jerks to propel weight efficiently overhead with a whip or wave like action.
Combine the forward flexion with rotation and you have a tennis serve, reverse it and you have a suplex throw.

Really, the spine is the core. Muscles are designed to move joints and the spine has 24 articulating vertebrae, as well as the sacroilliac, the atlas and others. That’s a lot of joints, all of which needs to be controlled by muscular contraction.

Now, does the core need to be strong?


It also needs to be mobile, or “elastic” as I prefer to think of it.
So don’t just do your strength work, be sure to do some mobilisation work too.

I hope this offers some food for thought, I’d be fascinated to hear your opinions on the topic.
I’ll talk about strengthening the core in another post.