Experiments done on athletes long ago (Nawrocka 1967) determined the optimal sequence for teaching a new sports technique:

1. Name the technique and give a brief description, including the key whys (yes, before a demonstration).

2. Demonstrate the whole technique at full speed.

3. Ask the athlete to give a verbal description of the technique.

4. The athlete attempts to perform the technique.

To find out why the above teaching sequence is the optimal one, see “How to Learn Skills Faster and Better—Through Verbalization.”

Science of Sports Training, 2nd edition, by Thomas Kurz

Flexibility Express DVD by Thomas Kurz

The Unbreakable® Umbrella — A peculiar mix of genteel elegance and chilling weaponry...


Recently I was asked, “How much strength training is necessary to become a proficient fighter?” I answered with a list of five most important concepts and principles one should keep in mind when designing and conducting strength training for any sport, not just fighting. The list is split into three articles, the first of which is posted at stadion.com/strength-training-for-martial-arts-what-to-keep-in-mind-part-i/

Science of Sports Training, 2nd edition, by Thomas Kurz

Flexibility Express DVD by Thomas Kurz

The Unbreakable® Umbrella — A peculiar mix of genteel elegance and chilling weaponry...

Fighting techniques, and techniques of any sport where you face an opponent, require an external focus of attention, i.e., on the opponent and the environment. While learning fighting techniques initially you may have an internal focus, i.e., on how you move and what you feel, but when fighting, the opponent is outside of you–so as soon as you can do techniques correctly, you should focus externally, on your opponent, not on yourself.

An example of internal focus:

Apart from the internal focus in this demo, I also don’t like the short grip–which is great for twirling but not for power with accuracy at a long distance.

In a demo below the focus is external because the demonstrator is an experienced street fighter. Even though he doesn’t always look directly at the imaginary target, his focus is constantly on it and he has it in his peripheral vision.

An example of external focus:

The demonstrator still doesn’t take the advantage of the nunchaku’s full mechanical potential, he grips it too short, but being a competent fighter he has skills to fall back on.

More info on on nunchaku as a weapon, not a twirling toy, is in Self-Defense Tip #84 — Using Flexible Weapons: Nunchaku.

For more info on directing your focus of attention see Gold Medal Mental Workout for Combat Sports: A Step-by-Step Program of Mental Exercises to Make You a Winner Every Time.

Gold Medal Mental Workout for Combat Sports by Dariusz Nowicki

Think, if a method works for an old man, then for someone younger it will work double-quick . . . or much better.

Would you like to know what to expect of your flexibility as you get near 60? Perhaps my experience will give you an idea, so here it is:

Now, that I am way past 59, my flexibility training has changed. It is harder to stay flexible and to do quick, no-warm-up splits than when I was 50. Instead of doing two sets of isometric stretches (each set three hard tensions) twice per week at the end of my 30-minute weightlifting workout, now I often (but not always) need to do three such sets, plus on other days I need to do a few reps of my style of Cossack squats and lunges (the same ones I show between the 7th and 9th minutes of the section “Cool-Down” on Flexibility Express DVD).

Now I will share my answers to questions on flexibility from martial artists in their 50s and 60s. Keep in mind that as people get older, their “tolerance for nonsense” diminishes, and only the best methods deliver desired results. Then think, if a method works for an old man, then for someone younger it will work double-quick . . . or much better.

Question 1:

I know you can’t give specific advice as to what I should do, but I was wondering if you think I am doing too much for my age (I just turned 60). I train in ITF taekwondo three times a week, and I try to do my workouts another three times a week, if I have the energy. I am a red belt training for black, and I have trained for about 4 1/2 years.

Here is my flexibility workout:

I warm up with core exercises, then joint rolls and easy dynamic kicks.

Then I do the exercises in your video (the warm-up exercise with a dumbbell, squats against the wall with a kettlebell, five-step kettlebell deep squats — I cannot fully achieve the seven-step version — and then isometric exercises shown on the video trying to extend the deep squat). I am careful to tilt my hips and to flex my knees when I do the isometrics.

I also combine the above with these exercises: weighted adductor flys (7.5 pounds per leg), hip flexor flys (weighted leg lift while flat on back with each leg), weighted leg flys, lunges, and Belgian lunges.

I do not do a lot of sets, but I try to run through the workout with rest in between. The workout usually takes about one hour twenty minutes.

I end with some relaxed stretches.

Is this too much? Is it the wrong order? Should I separate the weighted deep squat work from the isometric work and do them on different days?

I am converted totally to your methods, and I suffer from the fact that the taekwondo instructors use the old stretching methods in class.

Answer 1:

I understand you want to obtain a range of motion allowing splits. If so, then first see if you can pass the tests of flexibility potential for those splits. The simplest test for the side split (the test of outside rotation of the thigh) is shown in the book Stretching Scientifically and on the DVD Flexibility Express. Other tests are shown in articles at www.stadion.com/flexibility-training-for-sports-and-martial-arts.

The order in which you do your exercises looks OK. The deep squat work should fit very well with the isometric leg stretches, so I don’t advise doing separate workouts for the squats and the stretches. (Of course, in a workout the squats should precede the stretches.)

As for doing too much or too little:

You are doing too little if during your strength and flexibility workout your muscles don’t feel hot and pliable.

You are doing too much if you are often sore, from one to three days after the workout. For more info on exercise prescriptions, see “Rules of Thumb for Conditioning” and “How to Prevent Insufficient Recovery in High-Intensity Training.”

Question 2:

I am now close to my 55th birthday and less than 10 cm from the side split with your method. I am still experimenting with a proper balance of the load and rest time to be not as stiff the day after stretching. It’s a really nice coincidence that I also do Cossack squats and lunges on the other days. I do them with a weighted vest of 10 kg (my weight is 62 kg). Just two series per leg is enough for me. I think your method is the best and fastest, especially for high kicks without warm-up, because it develops flexibility and strength at the same time.

Answer 2:

Try the Cossack squats without any weights, but keep your chest up (no hunching), and stick in the low positions for at least 15 seconds. See if this gets your splits lower.

I make this suggestion because good posture of the upper body helps increase range of motion in the hips (actually, in all joints). Not wearing the weighted vest may help you maintain good posture as you reach your current maximal range of motion in the hips and stay in that range for 15 seconds or longer, thereby helping you increase it.

Flexibility Express DVD by Thomas Kurz

Stretching Scientifically

The Unbreakable® Umbrella — A peculiar mix of genteel elegance and chilling weaponry...

Squat jump is both an exercise for improving jumping ability and a test of it. You can see it used as a test in a contest between a dancer and a weightlifter in the video posted at stadion.com/confidence-and-jumping-ability-dancer-vs-weightlifter/

After viewing the video answer this question: What instructions would you give the dancer so that she doesn’t develop the mental block that kept her from jumping at the top of her potential? I mean, how would you let her safely check whether she can jump at a given height of the platform or not, so she would not make needless attempts that only create and strengthen a fear-based block? (And in the shown setup her fear is well-justified.) If you know, please share your knowledge by commenting on the post.

Science of Sports Training, 2nd edition, by Thomas Kurz

Flexibility Express DVD by Thomas Kurz

The Unbreakable® Umbrella — A peculiar mix of genteel elegance and chilling weaponry...

It occurred to me that goal-oriented people should ask “what for?” (and then “how?”) rather than “why?” It happened like this:

An acquaintance has rheumatoid arthritis. Her joints–fingers, wrists, and knees–are swollen, deformed, and painful. She complained about the ineffectiveness of various treatments she had undergone. (In case you didn’t know, rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease made worse, if not caused, by chronic inflammation.) I asked her then whether her diet was anti-inflammatory (most calories from fat, with little to no grains) or pro-inflammatory (most calories from carbohydrates, with lots of grain products). As was to be expected, her diet was pro-inflammatory–mostly bread, pasta, pastry, sugar. I advised her to try eliminating at least the grains and sweets to see if that helped.

More than a week later we met again at her sister’s home. She (the woman with arthritis) told us that she did eliminate the grains and sweets, and after a few days her joints hurt much less and she could walk easier. She asked me, “Why is that?” Before I could reply, her sister served her coffee (I had tea) and asked her, “Do you want sugar with it?”

“Yes” (she looked at me sheepishly).

“How about a slice of cake?”

“Sure” (the same look again).

And thus she broke the good streak.

This made me think: Had she asked herself “what for?” after each of her sister’s offers, wouldn’t she stick to what was working? Take a look:

“Do you want sugar with it?”

“What for, to be hurting again?”

“How about a slice of cake?”

“What for, to be hurting again?”

I think “what for” questions are more action-oriented and forward-looking than “why” questions, such as “Why does the body work the way it does?” “Why do some foods promote inflammation?” “Why is her sister doing this to her?” (Also, “what for?” feels more assertive than “why?”)

I apply this thinking to all activities (e.g., “What do I do this exercise for?”). This question, in the case of an exercise, makes me think hard about “whether, when, and how” to do this exercise, and what I am going to get out of doing it. In other words, asking “what for?” tells me what effect or outcome I seek to achieve by following a particular course of action, while asking “why?” focuses on the causes. Would you like sugar with your coffee? Why – because you like your coffee sweet. What for – to make your joints hurt again. What do you think?

Optimal Nutrition by Dr. Jan Kwasniewski

Flexibility Express DVD by Thomas Kurz

The Unbreakable® Umbrella — A peculiar mix of genteel elegance and chilling weaponry...

This article is similar to the one on squats and back problems because the issues are similar. So here we go:

Backs are ruined by defective execution of deadlifts, and the deadlifts are blamed instead of the incompetent instruction. In correctly performed deadlifts, the spine keeps its natural curves just as when standing upright, and the pelvis and lower back are like one solid body, with movement occurring mainly in the hip joints (see instruction of the deadlift on the DVD Flexibility Express).

The chief mechanical cause of back injury while doing deadlifts is similar to that causing back injuries in weighted squats, namely flexing (bending forward) of the lifter’s lumbar spine. That flexing happens when the lifter either leans forward beyond the point up to which the pelvis can rotate forward (any further leaning beyond this point can be done only by flexing the spine), or when the lifter begins the lift by posterior rotation of the pelvis (tilting the pelvis backward). In either case, instead of moving the whole trunk as one solid object rotating at the hip joints, the lumbar flexion is combined with posterior tilting of the lifter’s pelvis, the same as in defective squats. Just like in squats, this error can be prevented by correct teaching of the deadlift–that is, beginning with forms in which it is easy to instill the habit of keeping the whole trunk solid. Here is a guide for teaching progression of deadlifts:

–The more elevated the weight, the less one has to lean forward to lift it and the easier it is to keep the trunk straight and solid.

–The lighter the weight, the easier it is to keep the trunk straight and solid.

–The wider the stance, the further one can lean forward without blocking the pelvis from rotating forward.

So here is such a progression:

sumo deadlift => powerlifting (conventional) deadlift => stiff-legged deadlift

Begin with the widest-stance form, the sumo deadlift, with a light weight, lifting it from the stands if needed. Practice forms of the deadlift in the above sequence, the first two forms each until you do it flawlessly, then move on to the stiff-legged deadlift and then to other forms, such as Romanian deadlift and straight-leg deadlift, if they suit your needs. As you get comfortable with each form, first lower the supports (the height you lift the weight from), and then add weight while keeping the natural spinal curves. In each form it is a good idea to add the glute squeeze at the top of the lift, as is done in the American deadlift, demonstrated by coach Bret Contreras in one of the videos embedded at the end of this article.

Each step of the progression is to be done until the habit of keeping the natural lumbar lordosis under the weight is firmly ingrained.

Note: Weights that can be placed between the feet, such as kettlebells or dumbbells, make it easier to keep the trunk straight during deadlifting than weights that must be moved in front of the shins, such as barbells.

Hunching the upper back (increasing thoracic kyphosis) at any point of the deadlift is not a good idea because doing so under load increases the lower back’s backward bend (lumbar lordosis)–and the safest alignment of the spine is when all its curves are just like they are when standing upright in good posture.

Demos of Deadlifts

Sumo deadlift

Powerlifting (conventional) deadlift

Romanian deadlift, American deadlift, stiff-legged deadlift, and straight-leg deadlift

Stiff-legged deadlift and Romanian deadlift

Perfect deadlift technique for powerlifting (over 30 minutes of thorough instruction on powerlifting deadlifts, both conventional and sumo)

There are many forms of deadlifts, just like there are many forms of squats, presses, push-ups, pull-ups, etc. Which forms you should do depend on peculiarities of your physique and demands of the activity you train for. My form of deadlift is described in my article “Advanced Strength Exercises for Lower Back–Your Best Insurance against Back Pain” and shown on Flexibility Express DVD.

Flexibility Express DVD by Thomas Kurz

Explosive Power and Jumping Ability for All Sports: Essential Strength and Jumping Ability Exercises for All Sports

Science of Sports Training, 2nd edition, by Thomas Kurz

The Unbreakable® Umbrella — A peculiar mix of genteel elegance and chilling weaponry...