The Swing is the Center of the Universe
If you have been to a StrongFirst kettlebell certification or course, chances are that you have heard this statement. It doesn’t mean that we only do swings, or that we always do swings. But the swing is at the core of the kettlebell quick lifts: one- and two-arm swings, cleans, and snatches. Pretty obvious, right? A clean is a swing that finishes in the rack. A snatch is a swing that finishes overhead. Everything is built on the foundation of a swing, which is built on the foundation of a deadlift/hip hinge.
The principle driven method of developing the skill of strength within the StrongFirst curriculum is incredible. But, how about this: your one-arm pushup is the top of your swing. Maybe just a little bit wider. Maybe the width stance you would use to swing two snatch test size kettlebells. Or maybe the stance you would use for a Sumo-style barbell deadlift. The principles that you would apply to a swing or deadlift apply to the one-arm pushup (OAPU) or one-arm/one-leg pushup (OAOLPU).
A Solid Lockout is Key
What qualities do you need to possess to have a good lockout at the top of your swing? Hip extension, right? To have great hip extension your hip flexing muscles have to be extensible, so you can fully extend your hips and squeeze your glutes to finish nice and tall at the top, so you can enjoy that momentary float of the kettlebell. To produce a great OAOLPU or OAPU you need to be able to create that same hip extension and glute activation.
Next week we are launching the StrongFirst Bodyweight
Fundamentals video course. We will extend a special introductory offer to our newsletter subscribers on Tuesday, September 15. If you have not yet, SUBSCRIBE TO STRONGFIRST NEWSLETTER today.
Contracting the glutes, lats, abs, and grip (G.L.A.G.) is a principle that can be applied to most lifts. Just add G.L.A.G. and you will be stronger. Try it you’ll see. But it is that first “G” that has my attention in the OAOLPU. Why? Why are the glutes super important in this bodyweight movement? Now I am absolutely not saying that your abs are less important, or your setup shouldn’t be methodical. And I am not saying that you don’t need to spend time developing your pressing and pushing strength. However, I think focusing on really engaging your glutes especially on the working side (but, yes use both) can bring a trainee’s OAOLPU to a higher level of tightness. A OAOLPU looks beautiful when the body stays level, the working shoulder stays down, and there is little rotation. The glutes might not be where you would expect to put your focus, but think about it. Your glutes are one of the strongest and largest muscles in the human body. Give them a job, pay attention to how you are using them, and you will likely find that you can do OAOLPUs more easily because they will provide a solid foundation from which to press. Be a plank. Move your body in one piece.
Stretch the Hip Flexors
What is the most common activity that we all do? Sit. Yes, even if you are on your feet most of the day. With our emphasis here being on the glutes we naturally have to talk about the hip flexing muscles that counter glute activation. Stretching your hip flexing muscles between sets is the secret sauce to creating more tension in your OAOLPU. If your hip flexing muscles are tight, they will naturally encourage your lumbar spine (lower back) to be extended (arched). I’m not going to discuss Lower Crossed Syndrome here. You can do your own research. I also don’t think you need to have LCS to benefit from stretching your hip flexing muscles. My point is that when your hip flexing muscles are tight, they make it more difficult to get your glutes really engaged. Tight hip flexors will also affect your ability to position your pelvis. If your hip flexing musculature is encouraging your lumbar spine to be extended that disengages your abdominal muscles, and your rib cage will flare. Without your abs and glutes there is no G.L.A.G. The OAOLPU forces you to resist rotation and produce high levels of trunk stability. It is that breakdown of the abs and the arching of the lower back that is a dead giveaway that you are outside of your ability.
The half-kneeling hip flexor stretch is a very effective hip opener that also provides glute activation. If you have been to a StrongFirst certification or course you may have done the experiment where you stretch your “hip flexor” on one side and then take a walk around. If you have done this, you felt that bizarre sensation of feeling like you’ve got a flat tire on one side. Just a little love to your hips flexing muscles can really help to unlock your hip so you can get stronger glute activation and more abdominal bracing, which will lead to a tighter more connected OAOLPU or OAPU. Here is a quick half-kneeling hip flexor stretch video. The biggest mistake made with this drill is the positioning of the pelvis. It is essential to set your pelvis in a level position, so you can get some great glute activation and find some awesome stretch in the front of your hip. Don’t tuck your pelvis into your rib or arch your lower back. Think of your pelvis as a bowl of soup. You want to keep all of the soup in the bowl as you stretch. Tilting it forward or backward will spill the soup. Find a level pelvis position, see the video, it will make this concept clear.
Next week we are launching the StrongFirst Bodyweight Fundamentals video course. We will extend a special introductory offer to our newsletter subscribers on Tuesday, September 15. If you have not yet, SUBSCRIBE TO STRONGFIRST NEWSLETTER today.
How to Train
OAPUs respond very well to greasing the groove. Singles, doubles, and even 1-2-3 ladders can be effective training rep ranges depending on your current ability. If your current 1Rep Max is a single rep, use a yoga block to find a training depth. A yoga block has three sides 3”, 6”, and 9”. I’m talking about the “single-wide” block, not the “double-wide”. Align the yoga block under your chest to bring the floor closer to your body. Setup and test your OAOLPU. Find the side of the yoga block that allows you to get a strong 5RM. Use this depth to do 1-2-3 ladders or sets of 2 and 3. Or, find a depth that you can do a strong triple/3RM and use this depth to get your reps with singles and doubles. Generally speaking OAOLPU respond well to daily practice, although they can be trained 3 days a week too. Find a Certified StrongFirst Bodyweight Instructor to get some personalized support. How many total reps per session? If we approach the OAOLPU as a daily practice, you can make a ton of progress doing between 5-20 total reps per day, 5 days a week with two days off. Work in 2-3 week blocks and re-test your Rep Max at the end of each block, then either adjust the depth (if you are using a yoga block) or the rep ranges. If your RM to the middle side of the yoga block went from 3 to 5, you can test the shorter side and work from there; or solidify your strength at the middle-side and do sets of 3.
If your RM to the floor went from a good single on each side to a double or a triple, you could continue forward using daily practice of singles and an occasional double (when you are feeling extra strong).
The OAOLPU is a very high-tension lift, which makes rest important. During your rest between sets, do the half-kneeling hip flexor stretch. Just like it will open your hip flexors to give you great pop from your hips in the kettlebell swing, this stretch will take the brakes off of your OAPU/OAOLPU. You will be able to find more trunk stability when you open your hips and lock down your glute(s). You should feel like your lower body and trunk become one solid connected unit. And, when you get to your sticking point on the way up, stay with the glutes. Keep them braced tight. The difference it makes is impressive, even for an athlete/trainee who has relatively flexible hips.
Try it. You’ll like it!