Three Basic Decrees

Over the past 3 and half years I have been trekking the path of strength, primarily following the principles expounded by Strong First. It has at times been unsatisfying not being able to lift what I thought I should be lifting, trying to meet certain ‘standards of strength’, always eyeing heavier bells and failing to hear what the current weight was saying. At times the dialogue between the iron and I have been frustrating, to say the least, as one of us wasn’t listening to what the other had to say.

It wasn’t until recently when some underlying truths rose to the surface and provided me with a lot of comfort with regards to my abilities laid.  This comfort allowed me to enjoy the process of obtaining new levels of strength at a pace that is my own. Three basic decrees now permit me to challenge my ability from a different angle:

1. Practice movement

2. Follow the program

3. Own your bell

At QKB, one program had ended and another was about to commence. Everybody was testing their five and one rep maxes to ascertain what bell they would use for the duration of the program. Some new students had signed up and were introducing themselves to the ‘beginner’ bells (8-12kg for a female, 16-20kg for a male). Watching them was like looking into the past as they struggled to move in unison with this funny tool we call a kettlebell.

I had only to cast my eyes to the other side of the room to glimpse their future. The members who have been practicing regularly for the past two years were all putting up bells they certainly couldn’t hoist or thrust in the preceding years. The double presses were bigger, the squats were smoother, and the swings were heavy, explosive and sharp with one member toying with the 40kg for reps. This same individual carried with him a cumbersome shoulder injury in the middle of 2013. Yet through consistent practice, and taking the time rehabilitating his shoulder, he came back stronger than before. I doubt he will break again: Why? Because when you practice strength as a skill, and follow the principles of Strong First, you shouldn’t break, but thrive.

At this point I wager a guess to probe your thoughts, ‘of course you will get stronger if for the past two years you have been ‘working out’.  Maybe, but I have a feeling everybody at some stage has visited, ‘the plateau’. If it were a place on Earth it would be similar to the prairie lands of Canada, the tundra of the Artic or the deserts of Australia. To sketch some scenery to the landscape, this is where those three basic decrees come as a hallucinogenic vision to aimless wondering where clouds form to deliver a message that will help to guide you.

Practice Movement

Not matter what numbers you are hunting in any Press, Squat, Pull-up Etc. it’s all about how you execute the movement. You can either perform the movement in a way that is beautiful, fluid and connected. Or ugly, static and disjointed. The decision is totally up to you and the effort you put in to solidifying your relationship with the movement/s you have chosen to pursue.

There are many variables that come into play when perfecting movement. Some would say you never really perfect it as you can always improve performance one way or another. Regardless, locating the gaps in your performance is what is going to take you to the next level. A great way to plug these holes is by performing a daily ritual of Original Strength resets. This system allows you to explore movement in a way that is non-threating to your physical well-being. Speaking from experience, if I have been remiss in performing these rituals I feel like my entire body is shackled and locked in chains. The OS system is elegant in its simplicity. The various resets do not take long to learn and provide swift feedback helping the user to quickly figure out what resets will help them perform the lift they are trying to execute.

Follow the Program

A pet peeve of mine is asking somebody what program they are following and they respond with ‘yeah, I alternate between Back and Bi’s, and Chest and Tri’s’. What the heck does that even mean? How can you look at the ground you have covered if you don’t know what your point A was, and where your point B is. When that question is asked as a follow up, usually the response is void of conviction.

Most people have the attention span of a newt. They think they can improve upon the program they have chosen a couple weeks into following the prescribed protocol. Chances are, if you are following a professionally written program, there is absolutely no reason to change a set or rep (not the first time round anyway). And you most certainly have no business adding or subtracting the primary movements involved. You should be thankful that you don’t have to think about what to do as the program has outlined exactly what to do for you. Your day is already busy enough, so relinquish control, record your progress and enjoy the process.

Own the Bell

Some freaks of nature seem to be able to pick up any weight and throw it round any way they please. However there comes that time where the limit is hit and a fork in the road appears that lead in two directions, keep going back to that One rep weight and hemorrhaging through, or dialing the intensity back and playing within a reasonable percentage of the 1RM.

Owning the bell ties directly into ‘Practicing Movement’ and ‘Follow the program’. You cannot own a bell without having spent sufficient time mastering the movements, and following a deliberate program (even if it is just deliberately “greasing the groove”). I am sure there are more ways to measure and understand whether the bell is owned but I am going to briefly talk about one, Density.

Density means that the rest period between sets keeps getting reduced*. For example, Pavel recommends in the book, ‘Return of the Kettlebell’ that one should add sets when no more time can be deducted from one ladder to the next. Ie. When 1,2,3 x 5 is succinct and technique perfect, then you may add 4 reps to the equation. This requires the individual to have patience and discipline. If you don’t have such virtues then injury and failed reps will result latter down the track.

Following the three basic decrees has helped me take an informed and measured approach to training. Paying your dues is necessary to fortifying your muscles by helping your ligaments and joints grow. You can always get stronger, just don’t make it at the expense of your health by incurring an injury. Enjoy the process.


*Density (Load over time) vs volume (total load) vs intensity (bell size or weight lifted)

Here's a video of Jeremy Somerville's 56kg Bent Press