The Stoney Press: An Experiment
by Steven M. Ledbetter
7 minute read
In January of 2011, I went to Boston because I wanted to see what Dan John and Mike Boyle, two people who’s training styles could not differ more on paper, had in common enough to present together. I was drowning in all the options available to me as a coach and sick of all the cults that had popped up around those options. It was in Boston that I realized Dan and Mike had well over 80% in common. And it was there that I got to meet Dan John, the man who would become my friend and mentor. In his presentation, Dan dropped a knowledge bomb on me that clarified a lot of the things I’d seen to that point: Everything Works. All the options, all the cults, they all work. Mike nodded his head, but I think this point sailed over most of the other heads in the room. Everything works, people. Until it doesn’t.
Later that month, I went to the taping of Dan’s Intervention DVD. In it, Dan clearly takes the viewer through his process of swimming through the sea of options and determining what is going to be best to get his athlete from Point A to Point B. This is even more impressive because Dan has been accumulating options for 35 years. He’s been around long enough to see every fad twice and even to have flirted with a cult or two. It’d be foolish to recreate that process here, especially since Dan’s upcoming book of the same name is going to do that better than anything. But there is one part of that process that reminds me why I follow Dan around all the damn time: His process of experimentation. Coaches like Dan and Mike don’t have dogma, they have a working model. They are constantly trying things out and seeking better, more direct paths to fitness goals. But in a sea of options that all “work,” Dan has created an elegant system of trying things out and seeing if they will work for him and his clients that is clearly embodied in the Coyote Point (and now Crosspointe) Kettlebell Club.
The Coyote Point Kettlebell Club is a collection of fitness nerds from all kinds of different backgrounds that meet every week to play around with kettlebells in a park, then eat diner food. Dan started it when he moved to San Francisco as a way to ensure he would get outside and train, but also to help his friend Dan Martin do the same. During these workouts, participants try out new stuff Dan is working on and give feedback over lunch. Sometimes we bring stuff to try out. We talk about training, diet, sports, you can even try out a new political argument or two. I am usually the only professional fitness nerd, which means the feedback is even more valuable. When Dan moved back to Utah, he started a new CPKC and invited anyone who wanted to to come train outside in his front yard (just to review: this is a world-class strength coach offering to coach anyone who shows up for free). When I was living with him, one of the young men who showed up was one of Dan’s former students named Stoney. Stoney is about 100lbs overweight but is making serious life changes to take that weight off under Dan’s supervision.
At the moment, Dan is very interested in Stoney’s heart rate. He is using a heart rate monitor to help answer two questions every workout: Is it working? Is it fun? So every training session Dan is trying something new. He’s experimenting. One day we did a standard CPKC workout called “The Hangover.” It looks like this (and yes, it’s named after me):
PUP twist left
PUP twist right
Rest, Repeat 5x, dropping 1 rep of the squat each round.
That workout brought Stoney’s heart rate way up. Too up. He was lightheaded and struggling to make it back to his feet between rounds. And if you don’t think that’s a hard workout remember that Stoney is doing all that with an extra 100lbs. A workout that a smaller man could easily do every day and might even find fun was the equivalent of the same fit guy doing an Eagle or a Big 55. So what’d we do the next day? We played catch. Heart rate? 170bpm. More fun? Definitely.
Dan’s model for training is simple: Movement, volume, load. And Stoney still has major movement quality issues because he sits all day for his job. His hip flexors are basically welded shut. So one day we were trying to help Stoney pry them open. We tried all the variations we knew with the ground, a tree, a TRX, kettlebells, and 38 years of combined fitness nerding (granted the experience math is a little weighted in Dan’s direction). Stoney just couldn’t get a handle on the stretch. So Dan had a thought: presses light up the hip flexors. Split stance lights up the hip flexors. So he handed Stoney two little bells and had him do the following movement:
He did 3 presses, going deeper into the split stance each time, switched and repeated on the other leg. We recorded his heart rate and the amount of time it took for his heart rate to come back down. We did this for 8 sets. Stoney felt his hip open up for the first time. The improvement in movement quality from the first set to the 8th was staggering. And Stoney had fun! He was killing two birds with one stone and could see himself improving over the course of a workout. The Stoney Press was born in this cauldron of experimentation at CPKC, and I wanted to take it back to my CPKC to see what else I could learn.
Back in California, I assembled the fitness nerd team. The test? Cross-crawls. Then Stoney Presses of every conceivable variation in load, volume and movement. Then cross-crawls again. Here are some of those tests.
The results were conclusive: the Stoney Press “does something.” Hey, in fitness, that’s all you can hope for people. If anyone tells you more than that he or she is overstating their conclusions based on the available evidence. Stoney Presses made cross-crawling way easier (our legs were jumping off the deck to meet our elbows) and we could feel our hip flexors activating and settling where they were supposed to be. Our belt lines were parallel to the deck after just a few sets. And the results were even better with older, more locked up trainees. I have caught more than one of the members of CPKC banging out a few behind my back in subsequent weeks. One CPKC member, Patrick, called it “Hip Magic.” It also seemed like the best results were triples with light weight, just like Dan had done with Stoney originally. And Heavy Stoney Presses were a recipe for hip disaster.
This process of experimentation may seem haphazard; like a bunch of nerds playing around with heavy things. But look at the progression: There was a specific need, there was a tool, there were questions we were trying to answer, and we tested that tool with lots of other people with slightly different needs. The Stoney Press did not answer all those questions and all those needs (I haven’t done one since these videos were taken), but it was spot on for a few people. The point is, we had a point. We introduced a new tool from the sea of options and used our own model to evaluate it. We didn’t just do burpees for 8 minutes to “see what would happen.” Consistency is king. Add variation when it’s necessary, not when it’s possible. And have a system in place for finding out if it works.