QA With Coach Staley

Question: A trend seems to be developing using weights in a swinging motion: kettle bells, Indian clubs, Thor hammers, etc. Would you comment, with suggestions for best results in martial arts and other sports?

Thank you.

Steve Condry Knoxville, TN

Answer: Whenever you need to evaluate the effectiveness of a particular training method, there are a few different questions you need to consider:

1) Will the method in question develop a quality, skill, trait, or ability that will enhance your sport performance?

2) If the answer to the above question is yes, the next question that must be considered is "is there a better (meaning faster, cheaper, more time-efficient, safer, etc.) way to develop the desired quality, skill, trait, or ability?

In the case of kettlebells, Indian clubs, etc., the answer to the above questions will vary from case to case. You'll need to evaluate your strengths and weaknesses as an athlete: if, for example, you conclude that flexibility is your weakest trait, and you're considering the use of a particular method such as kettlebells, you need to determine to what degree kettlebell training will enhance your flexibility as compared to other methods. In other words, find your weaknesses as an athlete, and then find the best way to develop that weakness.

I'm not saying that kettlebells and other devices/methods don't have merit, but rather, the effectiveness of any device, paradigm, or method is directly correlated to the degree to which it improves your weakest link as an athlete.

This may or may not be what you want to hear, but in the overwhelming majority of cases, improving maximal strength will give the most "bang for your buck" for the time and energy expended. This is because maximal strength is easy to develop and is foundational to almost every other motor quality. Also, for most athletes (powerlifters excepted) practicing your sport does not provide an opportunity to develop maximal strength.

With the above established, it's hard to escape the fact that plain 'ol boring barbells and dumbbells are almost the best way to develop maximal strength.

Often, people confuse novelty with effectiveness.. .people don't get results with what they're doing, and then begin to assume that maybe there's a better program (or method, or device, etc) out there that they've overlooked. In most cases however, it probably isn't the method that's at fault, but the implementation of the method. In other words, lots of people get great results from piss-poor methods because they're dedicated, consistent, and make smart decisions when unexpected setbacks occur. Thanks for your question and I hope this gets you started in the right direction.

Question: Greetings Charles:

My question relates to rotator cuff exercises. Currently in my forties, I sustained a significant rotator cuff injury many years ago (never required surgery). I have no problem with pain while doing any upper body movements including overhead dumbbell presses, benching, etc. However, there is a definite lack of strength and stability with my (dominant) right arm and shoulder and progress is very slow on that side. As I plan to once again compete in the sport which I have long been involved in, and thus would greatly benefit by correcting this imbalance as much as possible, what do you recommend as the most effective way to strengthen and stabilize the rotator cuff and/or adjacent muscle groups? Your help will be greatly appreciated. Thanks.


Mark A. Turner, Stonington, CT

Answer: Hi Mark, I can empathize with your situation— often it's these nagging, nondescript joint symptoms that really throw a wrench into your training progress. I'm going to STRONGLY recommend that you get a qualified diagnosis for your shoulder symptoms by a skilled orthopedist, chiropractor, or other related professional. You may need to go to several specialists in order to get an accurate picture of what's going on. The first step is to determine if you have normal pain-free range of motion in your shoulder. If not, you have to determine what's preventing normal ROM. If you do have normal pain-free ROM, then it's a strength and/or coordination issue. In your training diary, keep notes regarding the types of movements and/or situations that cause the symptoms— this will be very handy information for whoever you end up seeing on a professional basis. There really are no absolutely ideal ratios between various muscles— it's highly individual and situation-dependant. Point your browser to the S.W.I S (Society of Weight Training Injury Specialists) website at: Next click the "directory" link to find a qualified specialist in your area. Best of luck and please keep me apprised of your progress.

Question: Hello Charles:

I'm a Paramedic/Firefighter by profession, and I practice martial arts & regular fitness and weight training. I'm 39.

I'm very interested in your opinion re. Training to develop "coordination" in the torsal area. I know many who've injured their backs through crummy lifting techniques. I also know those who've injured themselves in circumstances beyond their reasonable control, e.g. when a gurney tips or a patient lurches while being carried. In an attempt to try and minimize my chances for injury, I've begun a program along these lines:

1) Bent over rows using dumbbells, one arm at a time, but with no support of my opposite knee or hand. I use tensioning of my torso, carefully incremented weight increases (from light weights), and I don't allow my back/abs to get tired to where my form would begin to risk failing.

2) Single-arm deadlift & press (using a Cuban-press style of lift to work the external rotators as well). I use the same format as #1.

3) Single-arm pull downs & bench pressing.

I reasoning is that if you're always training the body to use balanced weights, the torsal muscles' ability to react to imbalances will be dampened or inadequate. If you carefully train your body to lift weights using both bilateral and unilateral lifts, then you would develop the intramuscular coordination for both isometric (torsal tightening) and isokinetic (the other "lifting" muscles) purposes.

To date I've never hurt myself, and I use these types of lifting 3 out of 4 sessions. I'm intent on pursuing a more organized training system as per your books, and I've really enjoyed learning from your publications and online sources relating your knowledge, ideas, and experience.

Tony Ricci Menifee, CA

Answer: I like the split you've put together, and in fact, I often use similar programs with unilateral emphasis with my own clients and coaching group members as a way of identifying bilateral asymmetries before moving on to more aggressive bilateral work. My only suggestion is that I would not use a microcycle that employed unilateral drills exclusively— in the same cycle, also include the more traditional bilateral multi-joint exercises (chins, bench presses, squats, etc). Athletes should generally use both forms of training year-round, albeit in different proportions.

Thanks for your question— it's always fun and interesting to see creative approaches like this.

Thanks for your questions everyone— if you've got one of your own with my name on it, just send me an e-mail to [email protected], and I'll do my level best to answer it in an upcoming newsletter.

- Charles

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