Holding Up The Heavens

by Tom Furman

Hercules held up the heavens for Atlas. That was his benchmark.

In the realm of physical activity we have a period where we are competitive with others. I’m not speaking of a friendly tennis game, but really competitive. Then there are vast periods where we are competitive with ourselves. For the former, there is an expiration date. For the latter, it is forever. This article deals with the latter. It’s a method to set standards that are flexible throughout life. Moving targets. Benchmarks.

What is a Benchmark?

A benchmark is a point of reference by which something can be measured.

A point of reference. Not a PR, but moving target. For many it’s the powerlifting big 3. For others it’s Olympic lifts. For still others it’s running, biking or rucking for distance.

I propose the idea that perhaps the loss of function in the mature, active, adult is a good place for a flexible benchmark workout. There can be many, but this is the one I’m outlining. It’s more systemic than specific and highly modular as opposed to, “keeping the goal, the goal”. It’s foundation is familiar and well tested.

Fifty percent of very strong is strong. Fifty percent of weak is irrelevant. ~ Pavel Tsatsouline

By cruising through some fitness forums, I found an idea that was most intriguing. It was a solution to the problem and put together simply. However what is sophisticated about it is how modular it is. It’s like you have removable parts to replace with movements that may benefit your particular condition or avoid irritation of old injuries. It only has three main parts. The gentleman referred to it as the, “Alternative Base Build”.

It’s the Simple & Sinister program, Fighter’s Pull Up program and Long Slow Distance running. That’s it. Many would say that such minimal programs are limited, but let us look at the results first.

  • Simple & Sinister lifts started with 24 K and ended with 32 K.
  • Body fat moved from 16% down to 10–11%.
  • Best results were doing all three segments every day for 6 days per week.
  • Alternating the days made “getting started” harder, but manageable.

This program was used by a former military and current law enforcement officer. No overthinking. Just show up and do the work. Add in some record keeping and a manageable diet and you get a potent mix.

But what would be the benefits of such a program for someone with a full life, the far side of age 40 or more and wanting not to be feeble? Plenty.

The loss of function with aging is sad to see and even worse to go through. What was easy one day, becomes hard today and impossible tomorrow. Most studies regarding aging have revealed that maintaining a robust grip, a healthy percentage of lean body mass, ability to balance on one leg and finally, to get off of the ground are paramount to resisting aging. Practicing any one of these skills in isolation probably won’t budge the needle on longevity. A systemic strategy that is employed consistently and progressively is the idea. It should be more of a habit and less of a task.

One third of the training program mentioned above is the Simple & Sinister workout. Here is the format:

  • Kettlebell Swing, 10 sets of 10 repetitions.
  • Turkish Get Up, 5 sets of 1L/1R
  • Warm Down: 3 rounds of 90/90 and Straddle stretches.

While it seems to be bare or incomplete, when combined with consistency, it is quite potent. Here is the example of Pavel Macek, an athlete, author and Strongfirst instructor. He weighs roughly 150 lbs.

Photo: Pavel Macek, Strongfirst

-3x5 goblet squat with 56 kg/123 lbs.
-10x10 two-arm swing with 56 kg/123 lbs.
-10x1 get-up with 48 kg/106 lbs.

To lend perspective, if you are semi retired strength athlete who weighs 250 lbs, you’d have to use 205 lb and 175 lb kettlebells respectively to match this workout. One could argue about these weights, but as far as I know, the “gravity knob”, has not been turned up.

The second part of the workout is the Fighters Pull Up Program. This is a low repetition, high frequency program. The best explanation of this program is HERE.

The last part of the, “Alternative Base Build Workout” is Long, Slow, Distance running. A popular and easy set of guidelines is the Maffetone Method. Go to this website for all you need to get started. Realize too, running is not for everyone and there are caveats.

There is really not a lot to analyze there. This method provides a strong stimulus to the hip hinge, ample cardiovascular training, grip stimulus and a resistive way to load the body as it gets up and down from the ground. There are many, many, methods to train, but for those with time constraints, hectic schedules and perhaps other sportive activities, this is efficient. It provides benchmarks. You know where you are at with pull ups, get ups, swings and running. You know when you are at the cutting edge of your ability and hopefully you will avoid the bloody edge.

“There are some techniques good for fighting, some techniques good for movies and some techniques are good for nothing.” ~ Bruce Lee

While the first thing a fitness reader does after reading a clearly formatted workout does is try to change it, (“..you can change that, but it’s NOT the workout!”), altering the modules around your equipment, abilities and injuries is a good thing. One size does not fit all. Sometimes those who teach or write fitness programs take things for granted.

“You know, some people take things for granted, like the ability to chew solid food.” ~ James Caan, Eraser

Let’s consider viable and sometimes more potent substitutions.

  • Instead of Prying Goblet Squats. Weighted Carries, Bulgarian Split Squat or Kettlebell Hack Squats.
  • Instead of Hip Bridge. Hyperextensions, Windmills, “Table” Position.
  • Alternative Swings. Add bands or Swing Outside the Legs.
  • Alternative Get Ups. Heavier Half Get Ups with a Bridge or Arm Bar, Getup, Windmill combo.
  • Instead of Running. Walking, Rowing, Rucking, Swimming, Biking or Cardiovascular Machine work.
  • Variations in Fighter Pull Ups. Gironda Chins, Weighted Pull Ups or Gorilla Pull Ups.
  • Variations to Stretches. Jump Stretch resistive stretching, yoga or isometric stretching.

Let’s set up a few scenarios. Athlete “A” is a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practitioner. Not a beginner, he is trying to pump some iron and ruck a bit between his 2–3 times per week Jits sessions. One way to balance this is-

  • BJJ days do pull ups after class to spare the grip for technique work and traction the body a bit. Then do resistive stretching to keep joints healthy.

Athlete “B” is a family man and athletic. He is a passionate mountain biker-

  • S&S and Fighters Pullup.

Athlete “C” is a Physician. Early days and a rugged schedule. Time is precious-

  • Rowing Machine and Jump Stretch Flexibility 2X per week.

To get body composition changes while doing this workout for 3 months, increase LEAN protein consumption to 1 gram of protein to 1 pound of target body weight. Reduce overall calories by 10%. Eat less processed food. Add one hour of sleep per night.

Resisting unhealthy aging and loss of ability is a daily choice. It should be like an appetite. It’s always there in the background to keep us thriving and alive. Training is not only an outlet and purpose, but an appetite. It keeps us alive. It helps healthspan match lifespan.

“A man’s strength can be measured by his appetites. Indeed, a man’s strength flows from his appetites.” ~ Roper, Enter The Dragon

This methodology checks the boxes for several things-

  • Aerobics are aerobics and not, “lifting weights fast”.
  • Range of motion or flexibility is a critical component and not afterthought.
  • Power to weight ratio is gauged by pull ups. It’s an ability that fades with age when not addressed.
  • Aging markers related to physical robustness are addressed such as grip, leg strength, balance and core stiffness.

For you, this training program provides some Benchmarks. For Hercules, it was to Hold Up The Heavens.

The End.

If you need private coaching or a phone consultation, please email me at physicalstrategies@gmail.com #trainforlife

Tom Furman has been involved in martial arts and conditioning since 1972. With an early background in wrestling and a student of the methods of the York Barbell Club, Tom immediately separated fact from fiction growing up outside Pittsburgh. Eleven members of his family were combat veterans, the most famous one being “Uncle Charlie” (Charles Bronson) His down to earth training methods are derived from his decades long practice of martial arts and his study of exercise science. The application of force, improvement of movement and durability rank high on his list of priorities when training. He gives credit to hundreds of hours of seminars, training sessions, and ‘backyard’ workouts, including training time with many martial arts legends. He also credits his incredibly gifted training partners who came from varied backgrounds such as Exercise Physiologists, Airborne Rangers, Bounty Hunters, Boxing Trainers and Coast Guard Rescue Divers. His best selling ebooks, are available HERE.

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Tom Furman

Tom Furman

Tom Furman has been involved in martial arts and fitness most of his life. He’s currently a fitness coach and been blogging since 2005. www.tomfurman.com