Monday, April 11, 2011

50 Rep Squats - They'll Make You A Believer! Endurance Athletes You Need To Do These Now

Recently I have been following Dan John's Mass Made Simple Program, available here.

Not so much to build mass but to maintain mass and strength while I up my running in preparation for an ultra run. The mass made simple program basically covers all your bases - upper body, lower body, strength, complexes and endurance reps - all in one workout.

The workout normally finishes with some high rep back squats with a barbell. This is after you've done all your upper body strength work and complexes.

I haven't tried high rep squats for a long time, not since I did the super squats 20 rep squats program, rest pause reps,  also favoured by DC Training, where you do (and I did) 20 reps with a 10 rep max weight, with some heavy breathing in-between every few reps after number 10.

Second most popular squat picture on the Internet

The squats can be in the 25-30 rep range, and today I did a set in the 50 rep range. That's right 50 reps in one go, after a couple of warm up sets.

This is the only weight training that comes close to the feeling you get running up a long hill on trail with a rucksack on, a hill that takes at least 45-60 seconds, and sometimes takes 5-10 minutes.

The high rep squats make you push into that same zone. Your legs are screaming, you are breathing hard, trying to recover, keep form and get some oxygen in. You fight through the fatigue and keep going. It has the same mental feeling as endurance hill running, where you have to push through the pain and your body's saying 'stop you idiot, just stop and sit down'.

Although the research for strength training for endurance athletes tends to focus on the lower rep ranges, less than 5, and Olympic lifts, and plyometrics, and also the standard 8-12 reps; I can't helps but feel that these high rep squats have the same mental training effect and the same fatigue effect. There must be some carry over in my opinion, even if its 'just' mental toughness.

Yes, low rep squats are still valid for all the usual reasons we should strength train. However, I would say these high reps must have some glycogen depletion effect, and possibly localised capillarization and increase mitochondria. And even if none of this is true, you should still do them, as nothing else quite gives you that ultrarun feeling of an elephant standing on your chest while your legs are both painful and numb at the same time.

Alli McKee squatting should make you a believer ladies

So give it a go, finish your workout with 2 x 25 reps of squats, and build from there, maybe 2 x 30, and then 1 x50. Start with just the Olympic bar, 20kg, or light kettlebell goblet squat., and increase the weight from there.

Also, for all you trainers and coaches out there. High reps squats are something you can get your female clients to do. If you ever tried to get a woman to do a set of squats that are at her 5 rep max, only to find that in reality they could 10 reps with that exact same weight, this is the method for you. Using just the bar means some women trainees will be lulled into a false sense of security, happily thinking they are in their 'toning range', then make them do 30-50 reps, and they'll realise that light weights with proper depth squats (parallel or below) are hard - psychologically and physically. Their legs will be somewhere between painful and numb, and their heart rate will be way beyond the normal 'I'm watching the cardio theatre range'. Once you get them hooked on squatting, you can increase the weight and lower the rep range.

Third most popular squat picture on the Internet: Pauline Nordin

Try it. High rep squats will make you a believer. And in my opinion, carry over into endurance training as well.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Club Swinging Essentials DVD - A Review

This is a review of the Club Swinging Essentials DVD featuring Brett Jones, Gray Cook and Dr Ed Thomas. I purchased this DVD from

It looks like this

Cost and what you get for your money

The DVD costs $79.00. International delivery was not cheap and cost another $20 to ship to the UK. On the plus side Fed Ex delivered the DVD a mere 4 days after it was shipped from Dallas Texas, which is quick, on the minus side British customs charged me VAT on top! Which means delivery and VAT cost me almost as much as the product itself.

The DVD is approximately 1 hour and 27 minutes long and also comes with a 72 page colour spiral bound manual. The manual is particularly useful when you are teaching yourself the moves without the DVD in front of you, at the gym or in the garden. The manual covers many of the discussion points from the DVD, as well as photos of the movements, there are also some extra points about  functional movement screening and  historical material about clubs in the manual.

A small point, the word movment (sic) is spelt wrong on the front of the DVD cover, some proof reading may have helped here.

Content in brief

The DVD starts with an introduction discussion with Gray Cook, Brett Jones and the humble Indian Club Master Ed Thomas. It then moves on to Brett Jones discussing safety and grip, then the five movements are explained and demonstrated by Ed Thomas standing and then Gray Cook in tall kneeling and open half kneeling postures. After these five essential moves, three more advanced moves are demonstrated by Ed Thomas. We then move onto a demonstration of club swing by Ed Thomas and finally a discussion about the history of clubs, fitness and the philosophy of fitness.

You must grow a moustache before you start swinging clubs

Paradigm Shift

In the introductory section Gray Cook explains that he sees Indian Clubs as the upper body equivalent of the jump rope, expanding on his idea of self limiting exercise. Both skipping and club swinging demand technical proficiency, unlike running for example, which is easy to do badly with poor posture.

Ed Thomas then explains his background and where he learnt Indian Clubs, after his explanation of clubs as both a healing and martial tool, his time spent in Burma and elsewhere learning the clubs, and his self effacing attitude you are in no doubt that Dr Thomas is the real deal.

The idea of neural training is introduced and then Ed lists the three concepts that are needed to move well
  1. Joint Integrity
  2. Mobility
  3. Efficiency
Dr Thomas them covers some more profound ground. Making the point that every time you do a movement you do it differently, you are a different person and

"every breath you take, you're a different person"
He then covers the concept of rational training, every movement you do either makes you better or worse off.

The dynamic between Gray Cook and Brett Jones is great, as it is on all the DVDs they have done together that I've seen, and Dr Thomas complements this nicely. At this point, you know you are getting much more than a list of Indian Club exercises or a fitness DVD. The fundamentals of exercise are being addressed.

It feels like you are watching the development of a paradigm shift in exercise, away from the mindless treadmill running and 'we must smash our clients into pieces because that's what they expect' attitude towards what Dr Thomas calls 'Mindful Movement'.

Having the brain and the body in the same place at the same time. This is very much in the martial arts tradition, as well as Yoga and Tai Chi Chuan schools.

It gets better, with Dr Thomas explaining that people need to learn to move, when they come to the gym we need to teach them something. People need to

"go to the gymnasium to learn to workout"

With this point I think he hits the nail on the head, this is something I've been trying to evolve towards in the way I coach people.

 Ed Thomas cover his training principles of progression, variety and precision.

Gray Cook adds that much of the exercise variety we have is for entertainment purposes, not for the purpose of exploring how our bodies can move and that the

"solution is not moving more, it's moving well."

For me, this introductory section alone is worth watching over and over again. I don't know if they script this stuff before hand, but the discussion and banter looks natural and spontaneous.

Safety section

Brett Jones then covers safety, just in case you don't know that swinging a club in you house might result in you breaking some stuff. He then goes through the grip, wrist position, elbow and neutral pelvis. This attention to the precision of movement wasn't covered on the power club course I recently attended (see review here).

The five movements

In the next section the five movements are covered, helpfully numbered 1,2,3,4,5. The complexity builds with each new movement.

First Dr Thomas demonstrates the movements in the classic standing posture. A posture I've seen used for classic military pressing and in the original Pilates exercises. Then Gray Cook demonstrates them in tall kneeling and open half kneeling.

Gray points out that these kneeling postures allow for a more reflexive stability, they mimic the developmental sequence (see Pavel Kolar & Vladimir Janda) and help to break bad patterns. They also allow the trainer to see mistakes more easily, as the lower body is taken out of the equation.

The movements are done with what Brett Jones describes as 'Tai Chi slowness' to begin with, and Ed Thomas breaks down the movements as well. Again the details matter. Dr Thomas then comes out with another gold nugget quote

"Do it well before you do it fast."
 There are five movements in total, done in three positions, so that's 15 movements, not counting having to do some with both arms

Gray Cook takes a back seat in this section as he demonstrates the kneeling moves and Brett Jones coaches and talks.

These movements are a lot more complex to learn that the powerclub moves. I personally wouldn't be confident to coach these moves without a lot more practice, as in hours and a few thousand reps! Whereas, powerclubs does have some complex moves, it also has some simple moves that can be coached immediately.

Advanced moves

After the five essential moves, three advanced moves are covered 1) Side stepping lunge 2) Deep knee bend and 3) Wrist Pattern.

It'll be a while before you attempt these moves, but it's worth watching this section for the discussion of the deep knee bend, as Gray Cook says

"people can't squat because they don't squat."
The presenters point out that these are the essential moves, there are an infinite number of patterns after this.

Bonus section - return to the source

Next is a section showing Ed Thomas swinging the clubs, so you can see what can be done. Then there is a discussion between Ed, Gray and Brett.

This is a really interesting section, Ed talks more about the history of clubs, the Turner gymnasiums that originated in Germany, the martial and restorative aspects of clubs and how they can be a weapon or healing device. Ed Thomas then covers off the ground training, and how this is essential as gravity is constantly moulding the human body, so we need to adopt uncommon postures (more on this can be found on the internet). But to give you an idea, we all used to climb ropes in school, I remember there being a ropes in the school gymnasium, but gradually they fell out of favour, no one knew how to teach it properly anymore, safety became an issue and they stopped being used.

One good reason to start rope climbing again!

The point about going to the gym to learn and not workout is re-iterated, you will get a workout in the process. This is a fundamental point that is worth repeating.

Gray Cook then attacks the bootcamp mentality, where everything has to be a full on balls to the wall (my words not his) workout, which is okay if you are 20 and fit but not if your 30 or 40 and overweight and sedentary. You should come out of your workout feeling better than when you started, and then occasionally you test your limits.

The clubs used in the video are only 1 pound (approx 0.5kg), Dr Thomas states that boxers always used lighter clubs, and wrestlers used heavier ones, this is situational correctness, does the club remain therapeutic and restorative, no one begins with a heavier club. Unlike Power clubs, where you start with a minimum of 2.5kg and are using weights in the 4-8kg range quite quickly. Ed Thomas finishes by demonstrating with some 8 pound clubs, which are considered light in the world of power clubs, but the movements are different.


Some fundamental questions are asked by Dr Thomas.
Why do we go to the gym?
What is the purpose?

These questions have got me thinking.

And Gray Cook inadvertently quotes British comedian Harry Hill 'You gotta have a system'! Yes you have.


As you can see from this review, the discussion of fitness, the philosophy and its antecedents interested me as much as the Indian club techniques.

I can recommend this DVD, though the best place to start with Gray Cook and Brett Jones would be Secrets Of The Shoulder or Secrets Of The Hip and Knee. I intend watching Kalos Sthenos next.

There is a definite difference between power clubs and the Indian clubs presented in this DVD. Ideally take the middle way, you can do both. The therapeutic Indian clubs and the more strength basic powerclubs.

If you are doing this at home, I would buy the Indian club DVD . If you are going to be personal training clients then do the powerclub course. I'm somewhat sad to say that the variety of power clubs holds more of an attraction for the average client and putting the time and effort in on a five key moves may be beyond most clients, and the power clubs have some technically easier moves. But you don't have to be that guy or gal! You can teach your clients and they can get a workout as part of the process.

Personally I'm going to use the lighter Indian clubs, and the power clubs, and kettlebells, and Olympic bars, and dumbbells, and bands, and run etc etc etc....................