Peaking and Assessment for SFG Preparation

Editor’s Note: Mike’s voice is in italics. Mike has been in the strength and conditioning for over a decade splitting time between coaching on the field and in the weight room. Mike feels he was lucky to have an internship with Dan as he had to pass the rigorous test of actually “showing up.”

One of the things I like to tell the SFG participants on Day Three is simply this: “It’s not where you start, it’s where you finish.” The hard travel to the facility, the rough nights in a strange hotel, twelve-hour days, and ruined hands are part of the past now. Now, it is time to finish this.

My approach to prepping participants is straightforward and simple: follow the Rite of Passage. But, as we reviewed our last successful SFG Level I Certification, my group here that meets with me up to five to seven times a week began noting the small, but important additions that put them over the top. Mike Brown’s extensive notes provided the “black and white” of our journey and it was my job to flesh out the thinking behind this approach. Many roads might get you there, but this is our road.

Principles of Training for the SFG Preparation Program

  1. This is a peaking program. There is an expectation at the end to pass the SFG.
  2. The broader the base, the higher the peak. Both in terms of time and density of training, a lot of work needs to be done.
  3. Don’t try to add more; let it flow (“Start with the end in mind,” as Steve Covey says)  It’s not where you start; it is where you finish.
  4. This road has been walked before—use the Rite of Passage as the primary tool.
  5. The SFG Level I Certification is a three-day intensive, technical practice. During the months of preparation focus on preparing the body, mind, and spirit not just the nuances of every technical movement.

Mike: I arrived at the first day of the Cert with an abundance of energy. I had put in seven weeks of focused training and knew I had built up enough physical and emotional momentum to drive me through the weekend. My mind was at ease because I trusted my training. My thoughts were clear because I had a checklist of what I needed to do to overcome each test. I didn’t feel a sense of nervous apprehension but rather a joyful urge to strain and learn.

I have had the great honor for the past few years to welcome a number of interns into my gym, training halls, and home. I do ask one thing: I want you to become SFG Certified. As we don’t always have a perfect schedule in terms of sports schedules and certification weekends, we have had to trust the process of accumulating the qualities needed to pass the SFG, the “quick” process of intensifying the training for the weekend and the ability to transform that base of training into a ready athlete and student.

As I review the plan, I am reminded of the dozen or so trainees that have marched through this strategy and I have learned from each one. A couple of issues stand out:

  • The snatch test is the bugaboo. It sits out there in the minds of every applicant. For men who weigh between 132 and around 180 or so, the bell’s weight is an issue. For bigger men, the pull-up becomes an issue. The same issue arises on the women’s side, too.
  • There are six kettlebell movements learned during the weekend. I feel if the candidate passes the strength tests and has any kind of good attitude, then it is my fault if they fail on the technical aspects of the six moves.
  • There is going to be a lot of swings. There are going to be some hard workouts. You must be in good enough shape to complete the workouts and stay mentally focused during the teaching sessions.
  • The written test can’t be crammed. You must take a few months to know the basics of the six moves, the standards, and the reasons behind everything.

So, let’s start with “the end in mind.” Let’s start with the “Peak Week.” I suggest that for any event you have on your horizon, count back the weeks and plan well. If you are getting married in June, use those popular monthly and weekly checklists to plan all those details. Taking care of something early almost always trumps tardiness.

Week 7: Peak Week

All the work has been done, the arrow has been released so let it fly.

Saturday—Light Program Minimum

  • Original Strength rolling and correctives to warm up
  • 100 swings (2 hands) 5 x 20
  • 10 get-ups (1/1×5) 

Sunday—Program Minimum

  • 1/1×5 get-ups, vary the load up from water glass to snatch bell
  • 100 swings (any set and rep scheme)

Monday and Tuesday—Rest/Recovery

  • Go to the gym, and do correctives and foam rolling to keep mentally prepared

Wednesday—Program Minimum

  • 100 swings, 10×10 wave the load but complete a few heavy (48kg) sets
  • 1/1×5 get-ups, keep the loads light and focus on smooth transitions

Thursday—Rest

Friday—SFG Day 1

A quick point: If you have read my work, you will note I generally don’t believe in peaking. Actually, I believe most people throw away success in the week or two leading up to an event by not trusting the program. We add a little here, we do something stupid there, and before you know it there goes the chance to excel.

Points of Emphasis for SFG Preparation Week

  1. Hand care: this is the week we can not have tears and rips. The swing load is light, so do whatever things you need to do on a daily basis to address hand issues.
  2. Begin using sugar-free orange-flavored Metamucil every evening. Under the stress of the weekend, digestion and elimination issues become increasingly important. Chuckle away at this advice, but you won’t be if you ignore it.
  3. Don’t get cute on your diet. Don’t experiment with new foods or eat at the vendor with a discounted price on “day old sushi.” More than one candidate has failed over poor food choices.
  4. If you are flying in, drink a lot of water and spend some time moving around when you land. Be sure to have two alarms to wake up and bring eye shades and ear plugs if you get lucky enough to room on the same floor as a high school basketball team.
  5. It’s time to let the arrow fly. Don’t add anything. Don’t get a deep tissue massage or spend twelve hours in a sauna, if you don’t usually do it. Trust the process. You can not get better in 48 hours.
  6. Stick with your plan. If you have decided to do the snatch test with the 20-20-15-15-10-10-5-5 and hear your partner is doing 10-10, rest, repeat—well, good for your partner. Stick with your plan. That plan, the one you have been doing for a few months is pretty good. Even if it isn’t.

Now, let’s talk about little details that will make the weekend easier:

  • Wake up earlier during this last week. Mike would wake up and do just one pull-up upon rising to practice getting set to go.
  • Build a checklist: chalk, tape, band aids, first aid stuff, cash, towel, protein shaker and protein, several pens, food, snacks, water bottle, extra shirt (trust us on this one), and coffee drinks in a can. Anything that will make you a little more comfortable. This list and checking it will make your mind a bit more at ease. Set this up on Wednesday or Thursday.
  • Some recovery stuff as you approach the weekend. Hot-tubbing might be fine if you usually do it, but remind yourself as you tub to be looking forward to the training.
  • Have this posted on the front of your brain: “Trust the process.” Trust your training, trust your approach, trust all the work you have done. When something challenges you—and it will—trust the process.

You have to let go of the bowstring to let the arrow fly.

The Lead-up Week in Detail

Saturday—Light Program Minimum

  • Original Strength rolling and correctives to warm up
  • 100 swings (2 hands) 5 x 20
  • 10 get-ups (1/1×5)

Sunday—Program Minimum

  • 1/1×5 get-ups, vary the load up from water glass to snatch bell
  • 100 swings (any set and rep scheme)

We approached the last weekend before the SFG Certification as a time to let all the work of the past six weeks “settle” for our group. Saturday and Sunday were opportunities to come into the gym, do two of the most important movements and get a sense of easing off. It was a time to focus on easing up. That’s an easy thing to talk about, but most people try to gear up more and more. You must ease off and let the performance happen.

Monday and Tuesday—Rest/ Recovery

  • Go to the gym, and do correctives and foam rolling to keep mentally prepared

These were basically two “off” days. These two days insured complete recovery from the training of the past months. We are looking ahead to the three-day weekend, certainly, but we are also attempting to begin to ramp up, too.

Wednesday—Program Minimum

  • 100 swings, 10×10 wave the load but complete a few heavy (48kg) sets
  • 1/1×5 get-ups, keep the loads light and focus on smooth transitions

This is the last “heavy” day. The “hay is in the barn” and now we are ramping up the students for the weekend.

Thursday—Rest

The SFG Level I Certification is three days, so we added an additional rest day. This is from Coach Ralph Maughan’s “Two Day Lag Rule” and we decided to toss in an additional off day to allow the load of work from Friday and Saturday not to be encumbered by any exhaustion for Thursday. It also gives the traveling person a free day, so you can apply this idea no matter what your situation is for the Certification.

Friday

  • Show up. Don’t Quit. Ask Questions.

Back to the Future

So, this was the last week. I agree with the great Tommy Kono that it is best to be a touch undertrained than overtrained at all. If you just look at the last week, you might get the impression that we don’t train very hard. That is not true.

The key to thriving, not just surviving, the SFG is to train for a few years and have all your qualities at a high level. I strive to teach a lot of things from the Olympic lifts and powerlifts to the kettlebell moves and planks throughout the year. Our general approach to training is “Easy Strength” where we pick movements we wish to improve and do them.

The simplicity and logic of that statement frightens me as it is the truest thing I can write. So, I expect all my students to be in solid general shape throughout the year.  If you can remember this little axiom, it might save you: “Always try to be three to six weeks from top condition.”

Again, this is the Tommy Kono approach. The key is to always be within striking distance of peak condition. Now, this is vague and obviously students of Marty Gallagher use twelve-week cycles and some sports need more time to peak, but the concept is to maintain and retain good solid condition most of the time. When it is time to “go for it,” like during SFG preparation, we are not that far off.

So, lift. Train. Practice. Learn new things. When you get the email that the SFG is coming around, realize that now is the time to raise the bar.

6-Week SFG Preparation Training Program Overview

Five days per week—Monday through Friday, rest and recover on the weekend.
Six full training weeks with one peaking (transformation) week.

Weeks 1-6

  • Monday: Rite of Passage Light
  • Tuesday: Variety 1
  • Wednesday: Rite of Passage Medium
  • Thursday: Variety 2
  • Friday: Rite of Passage Heavy

Week 7

  • Saturday: Program Minimum
  • Sunday: Program Minimum
  • Monday/Tuesday: Rest or Correctives
  • Wednesday: Heavy Program Minimum
  • Thursday: Off (create your checklist for the weekend)
  • Friday: SFG Day 1

Weeks 1-3

Monday—Test Day Week 1

  • Easy press/pull-up and snatch other two weeks. 5x (2 rungs lower than heavy day) (Today, before doing the Rite of Passage, we tested the pull-up, snatch test, and press bell size test)
  • Max strict pull-up
  • Snatch Test As many as possible in 5 minutes with the 24kg. Dan recommends 20L/20R 15/15 10/10 5/5 trying not to put the bell down.
  • Clean and Press test. Find a bell you can clean and press (clean between each press) for about 8. This will be your training weight for presses.
  • Then: 3x (1,2,3) Clean and press + pull-ups

Tuesday—Grad Workout Day

  • Double Bells. 2 clean/1 press/3 front squat shake out tension repeat, week 1-20 minutes
  • Week 2: 25 minutes
  • Week 3: 30 minutes
  • If you have enough equipment alternate between 16kgs, 20kgs, 24kgs, and 28kgs. Actual grad workout will be double 24s

Wednesday—Medium Press/Pull-up and Swings

  • 5x (1 rung lower than heavy day)

Thursday

  • Week 1: 2 sets of 100 snatches using any bell (really light 12kg, for example)
  • Week 2: 1 set of 100. Try to use a heavier bell (20 or 24kg)
  • Week 3: 3 sets of 100
  • Then: Eagles8 double front squats + farmers walk repeated eight times without putting the bells down. (Here is the goal: 8×8 with 24kgs)

Friday—Heavy Presses/Pull-ups and Swings

  • Goal is 5x (1-5)

Reassess after your first three-week block of this training.

Weeks 4-6

Monday–Easy Snatches (Snatch Bell), Easy Presses and Pulls

  • Week 4: Roll dice for snatches. Press and Pull (1,2,3) x5
  • Week 5:
    • 5 minutes snatches at 50-60% effort. (This is an assessment. I had the goal of 60 and easily made 80. I knew after this that I would pass the snatch test.)
    • Get-ups and pull-ups. 1/1×5 varying the load on get-up. (1,2,3)x5 on pull-ups. (We felt we needed a refresh day so get-ups were subbed for presses.)
  • Week 6: 5 minute snatch 50-60%. Presses and pull-ups

Tuesday

Week 4: 500 Swings and Pull-ups

  1. 10 Swings 1 Pull-up
  2. 15 Swings 2 Pull-ups
  3. 25 Swings 3 Pull-ups
  4. 50 Swings
    Five Rounds

Week 5: Swings and Grad Workout

  1. 10
  2. 15
  3. 25
  4. 50
    Three rounds
  5. Then: 6 rounds Grad Workout

Week 6

  • 500 swings. Go heavy on 10, 15, and 25.

Wednesday—Medium Press/Pull-up and Swings

  • 5 ladders one rung lower than heavy day.

Thursday—Snatch only

Week 4

  • 2×100 (20/20 15/15 10/10 5/5 as fast as possible)
  • Light! x 100
  • Light! x 100 (10-16kg, I mostly used the 12kg)
  • Time these two sets. Then: 20/20 20/20 15/15 15/15 10/10 10/10 5/5 5/5. Use 20 Kg through the tens, then switch to 28kg or 32kg for fives. This portion is not timed. Take breaks and practice fast and loose.

Week 5

  • Repeat week 4.

Week 6

  • Light! x 100 (10 kg)
  • Lightish x 100 (20 kg)
  • Light! x 100 (12 kg)
  • Record time on sets then: 20/20 20/20 5/5 5/5. Use the 16kg on the 20s and the 28kg on the 5s. This must be completed under five minutes. (Shoot for close to four minutes)

Friday—Heavy Press and Pull-ups/Swings to Limit

Goal is Five ladders of five rungs.

  • Week 4: Wave the load each ladder. Example 20kg, 24kg, 28kg, 20kg, 28kg. Light, medium, heavy, medium, judgment call on last set.
  • Week 5: Heavy weight on all ladders.
  • Week 6: Wave the load on each ladder
  • Week 7: Peak week! See above.

SFG Preparation: Specifically, the Snatch Test

Mike: This is the exact program we followed. There is nothing new or revolutionary; just five days a week of hard, focused training. The magic is in assessing and course corrections. Treat each training session as an opportunity to assess.

You may ask why we used such light weights on the Thursday snatch day? Well, the snatch test requires only 100 reps. By practicing those reps with a light bell, we are able to come up with the answer to the question: what is the issue? Is it a technique issue? Lungs? Pacing? For example, during the final weeks if you are able to make 100 reps with the 20kg in just under four minutes, then you know you have a full minute buffer for that extra four kilos. This builds confidence and momentum without taxing the system.

The Rite of Passage calls for snatches at 50% effort on Monday. During the first week test, I managed 80 hard reps in five minutes. By week five my goal was 60 reps in five minutes at 50% effort. To my surprise, I did 80 reps and it was laughably easy. The assessment we made that day was that I was more than ready for the snatch test without ever going to the limit in training.

The key here is to build momentum both physically and mentally. We take an easy strength approach to building up snatch performance. A problem I see often is people try to train to their limit each and every snatch practice. You would not do this with your deadlift so don’t do it with your snatches. Build confidence and smash your rep barrier on test day.

Two issues arise whenever I see or hear about preparation for the snatch test. First, this (the snatch test) isn’t a problem for a lot of people and I need to make that clear: for the men and women who show up with a “big engine” and years in the weight room, they tend to blow the test apart. They shrug, look over at me and seem to say: “What’s the big deal?” For many of them, the pull-up test might be the issue or something else. There is always something else.

The snatch test can make a person have a “speed barrier.” In throwing, there comes a time where you believe you gave it your all and the implement goes a certain distance. How do improve when you already gave it your all?

We use a drill called the Soviet Drill to attack the speed barrier. It is this built in problem that John Powell said best: “I can’t keep pushing my 100% up. So, I just prod my 80% a bit higher.” In throwing, we ask: “How easy can you throw 80% of your best?” I often put a garbage can out in the sector and let the athlete try to “sink one” at 80% of their best. Oddly, soon they are tossing beyond their best. The “speed barrier” has been shot down.

In the snatch test, it breaks my heart to hear people come up to me on Day One of the Certification and say: “My best is 81 reps in five minutes. I hope your coaching can get me to 100.” Yes, I’m a miracle worker, but give me something to work with here. In our method, I am asking you to discover whether or not your issue is lungs or guns. Do you see the Thin Veil Into the Next Life doing 100 reps with a half-weight bell? We need to work your system. If the set is easy as can be, we have a “guns” issue and that means more presses and more swings. The answer is always easy; the application is not.

The Key to SFG Preparation: Assess and Test

Mike: Another example of using assessment and using course corrections came during my press training. I was building up volume with the 28kg. I did 65 reps the first hard day and 70 the next week, so naturally I decided to move up to the 32kg for week three. I managed between 10 and 15 reps during the next three press days (light, medium, and heavy). I would have been just fine with this if I had been taking a longer term approach to building my press volume. The problem was the SFG weekend demands the ability to handle a ton of volume. We decided it would be wise to drop back down the lighter and bell and focus on the volume and density. This course correction was made with the goal of passing the certification in the forefront.

So, there is not good or bad decision here, but Mike was focused on passing the SFG, so he humbled himself and took care of the goal. Focus on what you want. Trust me, I want you to pass the SFG so choose wisely throughout the whole process.

This reminds me of something Dick Notmeyer used to tell me how he dealt with people who would go to camps or listen to other coaches: “That is fine what they taught you. That is great. But, in my gym, we do it this way.”

So, this is how we do things in my gym. We change things when our assessment tells us it is not working. We openly adapt and adopt anything that comes along. When Mike or Parker or Marc or Alice or Geoff or Adrian trail away from the goal, I can step up and repoint to where I think the goal should be here. And, in full candor, they often point me back in the right direction.

So, in your gym, in your situation, you might not be able to follow this program as outlined. Others have done very well at the SFG doing all kinds of other things. Here is the key: Assess it. Test it. Test yourself. Then, at the end, let the arrow fly.

Daniel John
Dan John, Master SFG has spent his life with one foot in the world of lifting and throwing, and the other foot in academia.

An All-American discus thrower, Dan has also competed at the highest levels of Olympic lifting, Highland Games and the Weight Pentathlon, an event in which he holds the American record.

Dan spends his work life blending weekly workshops and lectures with full-time writing, and is also an online religious studies instructor for Columbia College of Missouri. As a Fulbright Scholar, he toured the Middle East exploring the foundations of religious education systems.

His books, on weightlifting, include “Intervention,” “Never Let Go,” “Mass Made Simple,” and “Easy Strength,” written with Pavel Tsatsouline, as well as “From Dad, To Grad.”

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