Corrective Work: Still Focus on the Fundamental Human Movements!


In the past decade, corrective work has exploded in the health and fitness industry. As always, and this is true about most things in life, we went way too far in one direction and now we are seeing the pendulum swing back to the point that some are saying it is “all” a waste of time. If you don’t know, corrective work can be anything to “hands on” work like chiropractor adjustments and massage to rolling on a lacrosse ball. Of course, it can also simply be basic stretches as old as the yoga tradition or simple gliding mobility moves.


Let me be candid: I think that doing mobility work is important for everyone. Now, telling me that your special brand of mobility work is going to cure cancer or disease is a bit suspicious, if not downright idiotic. So, yes, I want to know how to better move my neck, but closing one eye and moving my wrist is not going to cure a necrotic hip, no matter how much you spent on that cert last weekend.



So, with corrective work, the best coaches and trainers are doing it. And, generally, they are doing it very well. The problem is with “enough is enough.”


Corrective work can go too far with bands, sticks, bells, wheels and whistles. If the fundamental human movements are key, then demanding them will start the process for many towards the goal of moving better and moving longer. The key to correction is to have a toolkit of regressive movements that allow one to deload and destress the person so that can move comfortably and pain free.


As a young football player, I was shown to use my helmet as a weapon. This “face tackle” was considered “better” as it would hurt the opponent. And, unreasonably, I could break my neck. The funny thing is this: it wasn’t a good way to tackle a runner as it was difficult to “wrap and roll” with your head in the way.


The old stand-by, the shoulder tackle, is not only safer but it is better. Safety is part of performance. Over time, putting a weight correctly back on the ground is going to do more for your back health than all of the correctives I can teach you after you haphazardly lower the load and hurt your lower back. Performance in the weight room should be like gymnastics: you should be striving for perfection the moment you begin until the moment you finish.


The first step to correcting problems is to avoid them. Proper coaching and proper techniques are much less expensive than surgeries.


It’s pretty simple, statistically:


  • Don’t smoke.
  • Wear your seat belt.
  • Learn to fall and recover.
  • Eat colorful veggies.
  • Exercise about half an hour a day.
  • Don’t let your weight get over 300 pounds.


And…that’s it. That’s all valuable and good and correct. Grandma knew/knows this.


When it comes to correctives and corrective work, we must first make sure we are dealing with the basics of risk. After that, we have to get a bit smarter. As I always tell people: “sure, YOU can do this and that and this and that, but what about the rest of us with these things called “lives?” So, before you spend two hours a day with your magic tape and magic wand, try the basics.


Strive for balance in terms of volume in your push and pull work. Learn to squat deep and master the movement. Be reasonable when you deadlift. Find softer paths for your running workouts when you can. If you bicycle, wear appropriate protective gear. If you decide to do water sports, learn to swim and wear gear that floats. And Grandma probably knows this, too. Let’s start the new year with a focus on less injuries and more success.




The Five Pillars of Training

I always joke that the coach who trains himself has an idiot for a client. I was self-coached for years. So, if you studied math or logic, I fully admit I am an idiot. The problem with self-coaching is that it is so hard to study the person in the mirror and see the whole picture. Sure, you can look over your shoulder, but the reflection is going to be twisted.


Friends can help. John Price used to remind me daily that “you are only as strong as your weakest link” and we would search and seek them out. Every preseason, I would chart out my weak points and note them. Then, I would ignore them.


Hiring a personal trainer gave me the great insight: I simply don’t have enough energy or free will to work on my weak points in favor of not only what I like to do, but what I am good at doing.


I’m not alone.


As I saw my own success improve under the guiding hands of others, I came to these simple conclusions about success in training.


The Five Pillars of Successful Training


Proactive, not reactive


As important as movement is in embracing fitness, a few minutes of planning each meal for the upcoming days is just as valuable. Therefore, we will take a few minutes each workout to “X” out those upcoming parties, festivities and general dietary disasters that await us each week. Our goal will be to face these events with a body full of clear water and clean food. “Thou shalt not go to a all you can eat dessert bar with a hungry belly!”


Also, a review of the food journal of the past week will give some clues about how to deal with upcoming events. Remember, the more honest you are in your food journal, the more success you have on your journey towards your goals. It is tempting to write “Small Salad with an apple” versus “Two pizzas,” but, long term, success rises with honesty.


Master my movements


There are basic human movements (Push, Pull, Hinge, Squat, Loaded Carries, and “Floor” work) and life demands that we use these daily and, hopefully, more often than that, too! All the terms tossed around in the fitness community from flexibility and mobility to cardio and core spin around the basic concept of “movement.” Mastery of movements brings back the spring and joy of youthful play.


“Practice will make you good at anything you do. And…we are practicing all the time.” George Leonard


Strength is the glass


When in doubt, get stronger. Absolute strength is the master quality. Imagine a large glass and a small glass, like a shot glass. Absolute strength is the glass and every other quality (mobility, flexibility, cardio and all the glorious rest) is the liquid. The bigger the glass the more liquid you can hold.


If you or your client has a tiny glass, you need to keep an eye on every calorie, every nibble. But, If you have a pitcher, you can enjoy an occasional good time and know that the large load that you have will have to deal with in the gym is going to strangle those extra calories. If there is a truth in training it is this: the stronger you are the easier it is to achieve all your other goals.





Not now, later


Never say never. Cookies, cake, beer and bagels are not “off” your low carb diet. It’s just “not now” time. Experience teaches us this: if I tell you that all your dreams will come true if you simply stop eating rutabagas, I promise you I know what is going to happen next. I’m not a prophet; I am a coach. You may have never eaten a rutabaga in your life, but from now on, you are going to crave, demand and insist upon rutabagas. Change rutabagas to anything you like but know this truth about human nature: not now, later.


Whatever it is that you need to put off in terms of diet, time or short-term pain and discomfort, you need to remind yourself that “soon and very soon,” you can submit yourself to a virtual orgy of feasting. The funny thing is this: that day may never come as you realize that this temptress has long been forgotten.


Celebrate Success


If there is a forgotten art in the fitness industry, it is taking a moment to enjoy achieving any and all goals. Now, I am the biggest sinner of all when it comes to this point, but please learn from my mistakes here: celebrate any and all successes. Now, it is true that in some elementary schools we tend to go far overboard with any and all achievements. Simple goals need at least a moment of congratulations or a small ceremony of ritual. If I could do it all again, I would have celebrated every minor victory and every tiny win.


Dance and sing with every success as you go through the arduous challenge of training yourself to and from health and fitness. Enjoy!

The Eagle


I enjoy an “Intentional Community” of like-minded trainers. Each morning, we agree to gather at 9:30 and train together. Often, we eat meals after the session but every session is encouraging and educational.

Recently, one of the guys who frequents our sessions had a client do a very difficult workout, “The Eagle.” The problem was this: he had NEVER done it. We all called him out and insisted that he finish it before he ever considers this to be a workout for a middle-aged client again. There are many lessons to this story: don’t eat before doing an Eagle and never listen to someone who tells you “I know how this feels” unless they know how this feels!

A few years ago, I discovered the combination I call The Eagle. The school mascot where I was teaching at the time was the Soaring Eagle, so the name was a natural. It combined the simplest of the loaded carries—the patterning movement of the farmer walk—with the basic grinding squat, the double-kettlebell front squat.

I am going to say ‘simply’ here, but the workload is incredible. Simply, the athletes do eight double-kettlebell front squats, then drop the weight to their sides and farmer walk for 20 meters, then do another eight squats and repeat until completing eight circuits.

That goal was often not met.

There are some hidden benefits to this combo. The athlete needs two kettlebells and never puts them down. The metabolic hit is accelerated by the grip work, the wrestling with the kettlebells and the sheer volume of carrying the load. It was this Eagle that made me think about the ideal combos.

There is nothing magical in the choice of exercises; it is the patterning movement of loaded carries mixed with the grinding movement of squats. For whatever reason, those two kettlebells are also a sign from heaven that this is going to be a hard workout.

If two bells are an issue, you can do a simpler version of this with the Suitcase Carry and the Goblet Squat. This will take only one bell; in this workout, you can use Kettlebells or dumbbells or whatever you have with a handle.

The Goblet Squat became famous in an article I wrote for MH a decade ago. Hold the bell with both hands, descend until you can push your knees out with your elbows, squeeze and stand up. The Suitcase Carry (it’s funny to think that this was the third article I published in MH after the Deadlfit and the Goblet Squat) is simply walking with a bell in one hand, like a piece of luggage.

Strive for eight squats again and keep switching hands on every walk. This workout is about a third as hard as the actual Eagle. It can be used anywhere and I have done it on beaches and parks without any problem. If you have a bell, you can do the workout. This variation, let’s call it the Goshawk for fun, is much more appropriate for a typical fitness client.

The Eagle is a great prep program for a football player or fighter. Keep that in mind when you attempt the challenge.



Just as I began my first workouts, an interesting exercise was slowly slipping from the gyms, weightrooms and spas of the world: the swing. As the era of Universal and then Nautilus machines pushed kettlebells, fixed barbells and gymnastics equipment from the floor, one of the best overall “fat burning athlete builders” also disappeared. Many European and Australian coaches continued using this in their training programs, but basically the movement went the way of Nehru Jackets (this is the 1960s).


Then something amazing happened: Pavel Tsatsouline brought kettlebells and kettlebell training back in the late 1990s. If you have seen a KB, you have Pavel to thank for it. If you know someone certified to teach KBs, they owe Pavel a letter of thanks. The swing is so popular now that monthly 10,000 swing challenges appear on social media as often as memes with sarcastic Willie Wonka.


Sadly, swings are very easy to do wrong. Let’s go through a short list here to make you swing better and not look like an idiot…or worse.


  1. The Swing is a hip hinge snapping into a plank. Nearly every problem comes from missing this point. When you hinge, your hips bend maximally, but your knees only bend minimally. In other words, don’t squat your swing! (The squat is both hips and knees bending maximally).


  1. After a swing workout, you should feel sore in your hamstrings, although I will allow your butt to be sore, too. If you feel it in your lower back, you are doing it wrong! Wrong. Generally, people who swing into a sore back are not hinging. The weight should be aimed at your zipper and you should wisely let it miss. In the hinge, reach deeply straight back with your arms like you are deep snapping to a punter.


  1. The top of a swing brings you to a vertical plank. Your shoulders should be packed down (no shrugging at all), your butt cheeks and quads should be squeezing, your lats should be tight and your feet should be pushing straight down. The bell doesn’t have to come very high (it is okay to “float” a bit) so with a heavy bell it might not get up to your belt height. The crown of your head should stretch straight to Zenith and you should look like you are planking on the ground (except you are standing).


  1. Don’t TRY to be stupid on swings. Keep your eyes locked in one place and I recommend “eyes on horizon.” Find a spot on the wall that would basically be the horizon and keep looking at it throughout the move. NEVER look down or, worse, back, no matter how famous the person telling you to do this compromising position.


  1. The swing is all about generating a lot of power in the strokes. So, hinge and explode (like a tackle in football), snap into the plank and throw it back at your zipper. The swing is different from its cousin, the snatch, in one simple way: in the KB snatch you are thinking of throwing the bell upwards, like in the Highland Games Weight Over Bar. In the swing, it helps to think that you are throwing the bell forward (think it, don’t do it). I actually have people occasionally throw the bell in swings just to get the sense of this violent move.


  1. For most of us, the two handed swing is going to be enough. Moving to one handed swings has a great valued for grip strength and cardiovascular work, but all too often, people twist and sway with the one handed movement. Yes, I would love for you to do this right, but if you can’t get competent coaching, stick with the two-hand swing.


  1. Swings work very well with a variety of repetition schemes. Although we start each workout with five sets of fifteen swings (followed by goblet squats, marching in place then a flexibility move), rarely do we do the same rep scheme back to back. Two variations that work well and have been well tested by me and my group with 20,000 swings:


Variation One:

10 Swings

15 Swings

25 Swings

50 Swings


The 50s are tough, but the nice thing about this variation is that you have just done 100 swings. Do this five times and…well, you can do the math. The 50s are tough.


Variation Two:

15 Swings

35 Swings


We moved to this after realizing that 50 swings five times a day, five days a week for four weeks was really hard. So, this little compromise gives us an easier set followed by a harder set. It’s fifty quick reps and we like to mix in strength and flexibility movements between each round.


You can certainly do any combination you feel like doing, but we tested out lots of variations and these worked best.


  1. Do NOT do that swing style where the arms go above the head. Just snap the swing forward and somewhere between belt height and shoulder height (as long as the crown of the head is driving to Zenith), actively toss the bell back to the zipper. I just realized that “Zipper to Zenith” might be coaching cue to consider.


  1. Pick up the bell “like a professional” and finish the set in the same way. I spend time on every set getting my feet positioned and firm, hinge back, tighten the lats then find my point on the horizon to focus upon. Finishing, put the bell down maintain your back position and strive for a quiet landing on the ground. I like no sound at all, actually.


  1. Finally, I use the swing in warm ups, athletic prep, and general training for all populations. If you want to do them correctly, hire a RKC certified KB instructor. There are plenty of regressions and corrections that can be added to your program to clean up your movement, but no article or video is as good as hands on coaching. Obviously, I believe that about all training ideas, too.


Hopefully, the swing is here to stay. It remains dear to all of us who want a simple, effective training tool that addresses so many issues. Swing away.