"Houses are built to live in, and not to look on: therefore let use be preferred before uniformity." -Francis Bacon firefighters-in-front-of-house-fireMy job as a strength coach is not terribly fancy (despite the fact that I am). I teach people The Five Basic Human Movements (plus that other one) and help them get stronger. When I give a workshop, I teach people how to progress those movements from the positions, to the movements, to the asymmetries, to the grinds, to the more complex versions, if need be. This week, I have taught a lot of people how to squat using same progression that Dan John developed (why would I reinvent the wheel?) which uses kettlebells to teach the positions of the squat (aka, “planks” of the squat), the movement of the squat (moving between the two positions of the squat), and the grind of squat (how to add load to the movement). It’s a great way to teach people one of the fundamental human movements, and the progression is pretty obvious.

0 heavy things -> 1 heavy thing -> 2 heavy things.

I won’t have someone do the movement of the squat until they can get into the positions of the squat. I won’t load a squat more than a small weight in the goblet position for balance until a client can do 15-25 great squats over the course of a little workout. And as long as they are working with me, I will keep progressing that load until they can move some pretty serious weight. That is, until they reach my standard for “strong enough.”

Standards, Gaps, and the Building Inspector

Every great coach has standards, but more importantly every great coach has ways to assess where people are at and a way to get them to where they need to be. Dan calls these, “Standards & Gaps.” His entire career, summarized in Intervention is to find Point A, find Point B, and get you moving in that direction. The progression for teaching the squat is just that, but the problems start when people start thinking about progressions and standards as grades on a test or measure of their self-worth. They’re not for the simple reason that no one ever “graduates” from the Five Human Movements. You still have to practice the patterns and stay confident in the positions.

I know that the more time a client spends on the positions and patterns of a squat, then then better they are going to get at squatting. In fact, if they can Double Kettlebell Front Squat 12kg in each hand for 2-3 reps, then doing a bunch of goblet squats as well as a sprinkling of DKBFS will get them stronger faster and more safely than just trying to squeeze out more DKBFS. The foundation must be laid, and any further work on top of that foundation will be rewarded by yet more work on that foundation. The DKBFS is not “better” than the Goblet Squat just because they require more strength and touch more skill, and just because you can do DKBFS does not mean you are done with Goblet Squats.

Let’s continue with this example of a house. When a building inspector comes into a house, he’s only there to see if it is up to code. He’s not there to do anything fancy and he likely doesn’t even care what kind of crazy Home Theater System you want to install. He just wants to make sure that there’s four walls, a roof, and the wiring won’t kill you or set the place on fire. It’s not very exciting work and you can probably get a lot done on that house without a building inspector, but properly grounded electrical systems are funny: you don’t really worry about them until you try to use the toaster and the hair dryer at the same time and your fancy house burns to the ground. Or do that 50th kipping pull up and hear a ‘pop.’

The Fancy Stuff

A good strength coach is a lot like a building inspector. We just want to make sure you’re up to code before you go off trying to do a bunch of crazy crap with your body. If you tell me you want to learn to Squat Snatch, great that sure is fancy. Can you squat? No? Well, we’re gonna be doing lots of Goblet Squats. If you tell me the same thing and you can overhead squat your bodyweight, sweet. Go get ‘em tiger, but any sane O-lifting coach is still going to make sure you’re doing a lot of volume in the more simple variations of the squat (Fronts Squats and Back Squats) so you’re still getting strong in the squat movement and you’re still confident in the positions of Olympic Weightlifting. The best are the best at the basics. And if your house needs more amps for your fancy stereo, you better make sure your wiring is well grounded.

So if the Five Basic Human Movements are the basics of strength, what is the fancy stuff? Complex skills that combine load and speed. The Kettlebell Snatch. Kettlebell and Barbell Jerks and Push Presses. The Olympic lifts. Most gymnastics moves like muscle ups, kipping pull ups, kipping dips, kipping handstand push ups, or kipping anything really.

My Boring Standards

Dan John has a list of standards. Mike Boyle has a list of standards. If you just want to be fit and control body fat, then I like Josh Hillis’ standards. One of my basic standards for “expected” is “The Stevo” with a 24kg for men and 16kg for ladies, with “The Super Stevo” being a game changer with 32kg for men and 24kg for ladies.

“The Stevo”

5 Goatbags 5 Goblet Squats 5 Push Ups Suitcase Carry Left Hand to Pull Up Bar One Pull Up Suitcase Carry Right Hand back.

Drop one of each per round for 5 rounds.


 “The Super Stevo”

10 Goatbags 10 Goblet Squats 10 Push Ups Suitcase Carry Left Hand to Pull Up Bar One Pull Up Suitcase Carry Right Hand back.

Drop one of each per round for 10 rounds.

These workouts also test work capacity a bit, even though I don't care about time. If you train to do "The Super Stevo" in under 10 minutes you should really find another hobby. However, I do things a little differently when people wanna do fancy things and think “goal first, then standards.” My standards for “strong enough” are a little different depending on fancy stuff people want to do with their bodies. Tell me about your crazy stereo and then I’ll figure out how many amps you need and if everything is properly grounded.

Here are some common things people want to learn and what I think they need to do with me first before they go off and get specialized training (and every movement on this list assumes full ROM and control throughout).

Kettlebell Snatches: Can you use bell you wanna snatch and do 20 One Arm Swings and 10 strict One Arm presses with it?

Kettlebell Push Presses and Jerks: Gents should be able to Double Kettlebell Press 24kgs and ladies 16kg for 5 reps before they start cheating more weight overhead.

O lifts: Gentlemen, can you front squat bodyweight? Can you overhead squat 75% of bodyweight? Ladies can you do the same with 135lb and 95lbs for a few reps?

Kipping Pull ups: Gents should be able to do 20 strict pull ups, and/or a pull up with an extra 24kg attached to you. Ladies should be able to do 3-5 strict pull ups, and/or a pull up with 16kg attached to you.

Kipping Dips: Gents, can you dip a few times with 24kg on you? 16kg, ladies?

Muscle Ups: Standards for Kipping pull ups + standards for kipping dips.

Kipping Hand Stands: Why the hell would anyone kip those? Go home, gymnast wannabe, you’re drunk.