Identifying the kink in the chain
(this time, the OAP)
To me, 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 him heading through each group, discussing with the other instructors the cues that would fix what he was seeing. Each cue worked, and I was in awe. I wanted to be able to do that someday.
Ten years later and I’m still working on it. Like strength, it’s a lifelong pursuit.
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. Once unlocked, it will offer you and your student insight into identifying what’s off. By off, I mean what’s keeping the expected progress from happening. When this new information allows the student to accomplish the movement, it feels like magic to them. 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 from 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 (to this day I still give credit to that person without exception, whether I watched a video, learned in person, or read it). Other times we, as coaches, 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.
UNLOCKING THE OAP
About a year ago, a student come to me for help accomplishing the One Arm Pushup. She was strong enough to do the movement, but she was not able to make the necessary connections from the brain to the muscles in order to improve the movement pattern.
One thing that 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. What this does is make 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 Pushup, we tend to forget about the legs and the feet. In the Level I SFG manual, Pavel talks about the professional application of tension, where we learn to proportionately spread our tension throughout our body equally. This is a must-do, in my opinion, 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 it, 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 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/arm … this looks like an OAP. It came to me while we were still in her first session, so I had her do a ladder of SLD from 1–5 on the left leg very slow, shake it out, and then test it. She was immediately able to feel the connection that I was looking for her to feel, 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, 3x’s a 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 with the OAP. Plus, my aha moment of “will this work” actually had an answer.
I have since used this 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 certs as appropriate. While we in the SF community have already been using this drill for things like rooting, I have heard recently that some of my private as well as cert students have used it with their students since, specifically for the OAP, with great success. I led an SFB User Course outside of Philadelphia this week, which reminded me of the work with this OAP student awhile back and those who’ve followed. With Pavel having asked me to write more for years now, I decided this was a good topic and good timing, so that more can experience the benefit, and so we as a community can add some traction to making skills in bodyweight training more accessible to everyone.
The bottom line is that in each case, the practice of this SLD drill made the OAP feel easier, and it gave 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, at all—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 that 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 on if and how it worked for you.
As always, make it a strong day.