Forge New Footprints: Consistency, Variability, and the FMS

I train on my own in my office at home. Some floor space, a kettlebell or two, a bit of music, maybe a timer to keep me on track and I am good to go. Pavel originally referred to a kettlebell training area as a “courage corner.” Not a bad way to look at your training space.

My “courage corner” or training space is carpeted. This makes for comfy get-ups and leaves footprints. During a swing practice, there is no doubt as to where I have been standing. After resting in between sets, it is easy to step back into those footprints for the next set. This has a benefit of making the set-up position for each set consistent.

But it can also mean I don’t step out of that footprint, which can be a problem.

Barefoot Training StrongFirstFMS StrongFirst
To move forward, we need to step outside our regular footprints.

The Roles of Consistency and Variability

Consistency is key in training, but so is variability. They are two sides of the same coin – consistency enhances skill and variability maintains our ability to be adaptable. When consistency trumps variability, we can become what I call a “tugboat.”

Tugboats are essential, powerful maritime tools. In harbors, they are vital to safely moving huge ships into and out of the area. But take a tugboat out of a harbor and into an open water situation and it becomes clear the tugboat is good at one thing.

Contrast that with a modern sport utility vehicle (SUV) that can be used in many different situations. Comfy highway trips? Check. Hauling cargo? Check. Off-road fishing trip? Check. The SUV fills many roles and has great utility. While it may not fulfill some of those roles at an elite level like a vehicle specifically built for that purpose, the SUV’s variability has made it one of the most popular vehicles around.

What does this have to do with training and footprints?

While a consistent set-up position is key for performance in a lift like the swing or snatch, you want to step out of that footprint when not swinging and move in many different ways. This will help you avoid becoming a tugboat – powerful, but useful for one thing instead of many.

How to Use the FMS to Step Out of Your Footprints

1. Have a baseline for how you are moving so you can tell if that changes.

2. Have a system of movement that takes you into many different postures and positions.

In setting a movement baseline, I recommend an FMS screen. This simple and repeatable baseline allows you to know if your program is limiting or changing your movement. An FMS professional will take you through the seven screens and interpret the results to identify any areas that need assistance.

A common area that needs to be monitored is basic hip mobility. Within the FMS, we use the active straight leg raise (ASLR) screen to set a baseline for hip mobility. The ability to equally access the hips can set the foundation for hip hinging. As kettlebell athletes, we use the hip hinge in every swing, snatch, and more.

For an in-depth discussion of the hip hinge, listen to this podcast with NFL strength and conditioning coach Jon Torine.

First hit the play button, then click on the timeline at 01:13:19

This active straight leg raise drill is one of the mobility options Jon discusses (but, of course, you won’t know if you need it if you haven’t set the baseline with the ASLR screen).

  1. Using the strap, bring the leg up to the beginning of the stretch and hold for a few seconds while keeping the down leg straight and flat.
  2. Perform 10 leg raises by keeping the down leg straight but raising it up even with the up leg.
  3. If the up leg loosens a bit, then increase the stretch, but the down leg needs to return to the ground straight and flat (calf touching before heel without any turnout) on every rep.
Active Straight Leg Raise (ASLR) FMS
Raise the right leg up, then lower it down, keeping it straight and flat.

Go easy and take your time and this will really change your hip mobility. Once you have improved your hip mobility and worked on your half-kneeling position, you might want to take on learning the single leg deadlift (SLDL).

The SLDL will teach the hip hinge, strengthen the ankle, improve balance, and hit the glutes and hamstrings very effectively. To learn the SLDL:

  1. Take a broomstick and place it behind your back.
  2. If your right foot is staying on the ground (the working side), your left hand will be holding the stick (palm toward you) in the curve of your neck.
  3. Your right hand will be holding the stick (palm away) in the curve of your lower back.
  4. The stick will be touching the back of your head, your thoracic spine, and your tailbone.
  5. Now, bend the knee to about twenty degrees.
  6. Keep the knee there, and perform the single leg deadlift, keeping the stick in contact with all three points of the body.

The preset of the knee to twenty degrees and the stick in contact with the body will help you in hinging from the hip, maintaining the arch in your lower back and keeping proper form for the exercise. Make sure the knee does not bow or cave in but stays in alignment.

SLDL Brett Jones FMS StrongFirst
Note where the stick lifts from the tailbone in the third photo. Your goal is to keep the stick in contact throughout.

Weighted SLDL can be performed by holding a weight in the contralateral hand (right foot on ground, weight in left hand) or with weight in both hands. But, as you add weight, do not lose the form you learned using the broomstick!

SLDL Single Leg Deadlift FMS
If you add weight to your SLDL, do not lose your form.

How to Learn More About the FMS

You can look for an FMS professional in your area or get FMS Level 1 certified online. Then attend an FMS Level 2 workshop to go deeper into the system or attend the Foundational Strength event coming soon (you only need to be FMS Level 1 certified to attend).

Foundational Strength will review the screen, cover the FMS Level 2 corrective strategies, and teach unique kettlebell corrective exercises. It finishes with live case-study work to put the information into immediate application.

How to Add Variability to Your Training

To encourage great movement variation, I recommend Ground Force Method (GFM). Developed by Peter Lakatos, GFM is a system based on FMS principles that fits perfectly into maintaining great variation in movement.

GFM is a gym-friendly way to move through many postures and positions. Plus, it is fun and encourages play. It also ensures you experience the prone, supine, side-lying, quadruped, seated, kneeling, lunging, stepping, standing, inverted, and extended postures, as well as other foot positions and movement variations that keep you adaptable.

StrongFirst Was Never Just Kettlebells

I have been learning from Pavel since 2002 and teaching with him since 2003. His system has never been kettlebell only or “StrongOnly.” Pavel has always included everything from flexibility, to joint mobility, to bodyweight exercise along with the kettlebell. Movement variation was assumed.

But now that you’ve read this article, this concept is no longer an assumption, but a recommendation. We, StrongFirst, want you to step out of your footprints and move well in many different ways.

Brett Jones
Brett Jones is StrongFirst’s Director of Education. He is also a Certified Athletic Trainer and Strength and Conditioning Specialist based in Pittsburgh, PA. Mr. Jones holds a Bachelor of Science in Sports Medicine from High Point University, a Master of Science in Rehabilitative Sciences from Clarion University of Pennsylvania, and is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA).

With over twenty years of experience, Brett has been sought out to consult with professional teams and athletes, as well as present throughout the United States and internationally.

As an athletic trainer who has transitioned into the fitness industry, Brett has taught kettlebell techniques and principles since 2003. He has taught for Functional Movement Systems (FMS) since 2006, and has created multiple DVDs and manuals with world-renowned physical therapist Gray Cook, including the widely-praised “Secrets of…” series.

Brett continues to evolve his approach to training and teaching, and is passionate about improving the quality of education for the fitness industry. He is available for consultations and distance coaching—e-mail him for more info.

Brett is the author of Iron Cardio.

Follow him on Twitter at @BrettEJones.
Brett Jones on EmailBrett Jones on Twitter

2 thoughts on “Forge New Footprints: Consistency, Variability, and the FMS

  • Brilliant article, Brett, and a very useful analogy with the tug boat and SUV. We often encounter too much variability in our students’ programming, so our efforts go towards creating consistency. However, it is easy to get stuck in that mindset and a healthy dose of perspective is a good thing. Thank you for sharing!

  • Do you teach athletes to pull the bell off the ground on each rep? I note some coaches demonstrate the lift without the bell ever touching the floor during reps. Thanks

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