One aspect of the greats in our coaching world is their ability to deconstruct a movement and then teach it to anyone who wants to learn, no matter the student’s level of ability.
Many years ago, I had my third opportunity to assist at a Certification, a role I took not only seriously but also as an honor. I remember working with my team and spotting Pavel Tsatsouline as he came through the room. For me, I might as well have seen one of my childhood heroes, like De Niro, right there in the gym. I vividly remember Pavel heading through each group, discussing with the other instructors the cues that would fix the issues he was seeing. Each cue worked. I was in awe. I wanted to be able to do that.
Ten years later, I’m still working on it. Like strength, it’s a lifelong pursuit.
If Strength Is a Skill, Then So Is Coaching
You will notice as you progress as a coach that in reverse engineering a student’s movement, you can often find a kink in the chain. This is the insight that offers you and your student the ability to identify what’s off, meaning what’s keeping the expected progress from happening. Once unraveled, it unlocks the movement. When this new information quickly redirects your student into feeling the right pattern, allowing him or her to accomplish the movement, it feels like magic. This was the magic I saw Pavel accomplish in that Cert many years ago.
The magic is not a trick. It, too, is a skill. It’s the eye, it’s practice, and it’s intuition based on what you as a coach have learned prior. The magic is the ability to cue from what the eye has seen. This takes practice. Sometimes, we’ve learned these cues from our mentors and predecessors. Other times, we find them in the moment. These aha moments are the gems in what we do as instructors. Each is a benchmark in our coaching path, each strengthens our practice.
My Aha Moment Coaching the One-arm Push-up
About a year ago, a student come to me for help accomplishing the one-arm push-up (OAP). She was strong enough to do the movement, but she was not able to make the necessary connections from her brain to her muscles to improve the movement pattern.
One thing I see frequently during the OAP is the student putting most of their focus and energy on the working arm—the arm that is on the ground. This makes the movement harder by shifting the student’s weight to that arm, essentially making them feel heavier. When performing the OAP or the one-arm one-leg push-up, we tend to forget about the legs and the feet. But in the SFG Level I manual, Pavel talks about the professional application of tension, where we learn to proportionately spread our tension throughout our body. This is a must-do to execute a solid OAP.
So while working with this student, I started to think about the contralateral movement pattern that automatically happens during the OAP, the point at which the body wants to dig the left leg into the ground while your right arm is planted. First, spreading your strength equally throughout your body will make accomplishing the movement easier. I needed a drill that would make my student not only understand that, but feel it and then apply it. I needed my student to feel what it was like to root the left foot into the ground while also asking the opposite arm to work as well—and then it hit me.
The single leg deadlift.
This was my aha moment. The single leg deadlift (SLD) would teach my student to root her left foot, while at the same time demanding a solid grip and a packed shoulder from the right hand and arm—this looks like an OAP. It came to me while we were still in her first session, so I had her do an SLD ladder from 1–5 on the left leg very slowly, shake it out, and then retest her OAP. She was immediately able to feel the connection, and it was clear her progression toward the OAP had immediately and dramatically changed. Magic, but not magic.
She was no stronger. She was just more capable of what was already in there. She was better tuned in to her own ability.
I sent her home with a positive attitude and something she could actually feel work after all of her frustration in going for the OAP. I asked her to perform the same ladder of 1–5, focusing on technique and rooting, three times per week, with the goal of testing her OAP when she felt she was ready. Not more than a couple of weeks later, she sent me a video of herself nailing her OAP. I was proud of this student for committing to finding a better way and not quitting her struggle. Plus, my aha moment of “will this work” actually had an answer.
The Solution Is in the Basics
I have since used this approach with many students trying to accomplish their OAP or OAOLP. The main feedback I receive from students after performing this drill is an immediate and powerful connection from hand to feet, which in turn has created more stability throughout the body. Not only is the connection strong, but they are also able to understand spreading their strength throughout the body instead of focusing on only one aspect of the movement.
I have introduced this in large group instruction as well, including Certifications as appropriate. While we in the StrongFirst community have already been using this drill for things like rooting, some of my private as well as Cert students have recently used it with their students, specifically for the OAP, with great success. In each case, the practice of this SLD drill made the OAP feel easier, and it gave the students the confidence they needed to eventually execute it. It’s a new tool for the OAP, but it’s not a new tool in and of itself—it’s basic. I find truth in always going back to the basics for insight on how to accomplish the sexier movements. I hope that you do as well.
Mastering the fundamentals and looking back to them for guidance is something I learned from Pavel. I follow and pass on his example of this path to strength knowledge with a great amount of respect. To this day, Pavel still beats De Niro for me, something a ten-year-old Phil Scarito would never understand. It will always be an honor to have learned in this lineage and from the other mentors I have gained in association.
If you try this SLD drill to work on your OAP or OAOLP, send me some feedback regarding if and how it worked for you. I hope more can experience the benefit, and we as a community can add some traction to making skills in bodyweight training more accessible to everyone. To learn more about bodyweight training, consider the SFB Course or SFB Certification.
As always, make it a strong day.