Monday, March 29, 2010

Hanging Leg Raise: With Technique Anything is Possible?

Have you ever suddenly done something that seemed impossible, even just moments before, and then, seemingly, it just happened? You wonder if you really actually did it? This morning i did something that yesterday felt a million miles away and fettle or another incarnation. I speak of the Hanging Leg Raise.

In this move, one hangs (tho that's deceptive) from a pull up bar (or door jam in my case), and then raises one's outstretched legs all the way straight out and arc'ing up until they touch the bar with their toes.

The Hanging Leg Raise Proper: One hangs in an inverted U - the image of Will Williams (of the Master Class on Breathing in the  Front Squat) on the right is going above and beyond that toes-to-bar edge as he pushes his legs further up past his hands. Pavel Tsatsouline has a number of innovations on this theme as well, modelled in his freebie Hanging Leg Raise book (comes with a subscription to the power to the people mailing list - nice bonus (you can sign up here)). But while these gents get on with the business of Going Beyond, let's just chat for a moment about the humble to Boldly Go in the First Place.

Here's the deal: for me, i was introduced to this move/challenge about a month ago at the RKC II - we spent time going over drills to prep for doing an HLR and that focused on what one might only term "getting short" by compressing in the middle, sucking in the gut, sucking in the shoulders.

Let me say right now, that these instructions while percolating in my head did not connect the bits with me on the day. I am not generally a fast learner. On the other hand, when i get it, i get it. This was not going to be a Get It day.

Here's what i felt: struggle struggle struggle struggle - just to get my outstretched legs to parallel - barely. Struggle struggle struggle struggle. Puff puff puff puff.

I would try to do the HLR each day since my return that i've had access to a place from which i can hang. Struggle struggle struggle.

Rannoch of Simple Strength  suggested that i try doing the knee tuck (shown left, modelled by Pavel- knees to chest first, and then straighten legs. I have to say that that one just about made me cry: knees to chest, ok, but straighten the legs from there? oh ya. not happening. Thank you though, Rannoch, for trying to help.

And then a funny thing happened yesterday.

Floor Work. One of the challenges i'd been trying has been with lying on the floor pulling against jump stretch bands while doing the leg raise part (we learned this at the cert). Yesterday, this went from my previous experience of "i am ripping my arms out of my sockets and getting nowhere" to "my legs are going over awfully easily; i must be doing something wrong." I did try the HLR after that and got to a cleaner parallel, but not up all the way. So again i thought, hmm. must have done something wrong.

THis morning, without really thinking about it, i thought i'll give it a go, and kinda started doing a pull up, and found my legs going up. I did this a few times. Singles. I posted to the RKC forum to check with colleagues if this was indeed an HLR or if the starting pull up was not right. I didn't think it was; it's not: arms must be straight.

The gang there - Al (who's been featured on b2d), Jordan Vezina, Jon Engum and Max Shank, all gave me some terrific tips, to try. but the main point was arms have to be straight. So i tried everything again i'd done this morning except the elbows bent (arms straight did not work this morning), and it worked. repeatedly. Now why arms straight worked this afternoon and not this morning, i don't know. But it did. And here's the thing: it was pretty easy. The hard part is hanging on.

Technique Rules. We talk about technique all the time being so important. And i've definitely had technique tweaks improve something i've done, but i've never before had it help me go from barley there to prepped, cooked and served.  But if anything is an example of a proof of the "strength is a skill" concept that Pavel Tsatsouline has engendered in the RKC, i can't think of a better personal demonstration.

Much and all as i would like to believe i am suddenly that much stronger today than i was yesterday, the evidence is  everywhere before me that i am not (though i did just go try to press the 24 just in case). So the only difference is technique - getting the compression of the gut, the shoulder inhalation, the lat activation, et voila.

How to *get* the technique? Right now i don't know how to translate what i've learned about HLR technique into how to accelerate teaching "getting" the technique for someone in a similar position, but here are a few thoughts.
  • i thought i needed to work on ab strength to do this move - develop more strength rather than skill. How can i spot the difference in someone else to see that it's not about more muscle fiber firing but about technique?
  • I have been consciously thinking about applying the technique lessons - and trying to practice these - rather than thinking so much about brute strength - so maybe that's what sifted through and finally connected?
  • and maybe that's the best way to coach someone: help them focus on the technique, chew on the technique, and feel the technique applied - this was for me why the floor work with the bands was such a biggie - i think - it's where at the cert i could feel like different parts were connecting.

The above is still rather fuzzy. Perhaps folks who coach (including myself) are just saying "duh" because of course one teaches technique and focuses on that before adding load or at least concurrent to loaded work (as per the volume of the perfect rep quest). So why was this move different? I'm not entirely sure. But there are lessons to be learned from this about connecting with technique, patience with the technique, finding methods that make the technique accessible and achievable in another context if the actual context (like hanging from a bar) is a step too far. Whoever developed the floor work drills for teaching the feel of the leg raise - genius.

Related Story. All this must sound so basic as opposed to any new insight, so before i dig a further hole in trying to convey this, let me close with a related "ah ha".

A bit ago Asha Wagner, in an interview here about pistoling the 24 for the women's beast challenge, said that she had only used the 12 regularly, never a 24 before that on-the-day test. She'd done lots of volume, greasing the groove with the 12, but the most she'd ever pistoled prior to that test was the 16.

I own i was pretty amazed that technique/form work with a 12 would deliver such a result with the 24, but after today's experience, i'm more a believer in technique-as-strength, strength-as-a-skill than yesterday.

So, best takeaway perhaps? find whatever assisted variant will enable an athlete to experience the complete movement - and focus on the use of TECHNIQUE rather than strength to achieve that movement first and foremost - where there's just enough strength challenge to feel the technque - and then strength will come.

Again, that's plainly not a unique insight - but the clarity of just how critical that focus is has really come shining through - one might say finally.


Jera Adaire said...

Technique is the Kether of exercise. I used to worry about reps, and sets all the time. Since I have turned my focus to things such as postural alignment, breath, structural alignment....or technique, I train "less" but gain so much more. Check out Sonnon's new Tacfit commando, he's doing a free preview. Personally I think the preview is enought for someone, with beautiful technique to achieve a lot from. The series of techniques unlocked something for me in movement freedom. Your article on Bone Rhythm had a similar effect on my snatch technique, and man, its like every time I learn a new trick to add to my technique belt, the moves all get harder and I have to use the light weights. But the improvements in strength are killer, and visible. Top Notch MC!

Unknown said...

I've been really struggling to get anywhere with HLRs. I also had someone suggest to me that I work on hanging knee raises to build up the ab strength and the HLRs would naturally follow. But I can now do those with some chunky plates hanging from my toes and still I have no luck with HLRs so it seems my problem is technique rather than strength too.

I'm inspired by your post to go and try a few other things with HLRs now rather than continue my tedious journey of adding weight to my HKRs.

dr. m.c. said...

thank you both for sharing your experiences. Jera, glad that the bone r. is working for you. it's amazing when it turns on.

Anna-Maria, working on the floor with hands over your head, pulling into an anchored jump stretch band, working the legs up and over while focusing on getting short (sucking up the space between the hips and the ribs, pulling in the shoulders into the socket) i think is what worked for me.

In other words, everything about the pull up is being mimiced, except gravity pulling you down, so it's an assist in that way.

If you can give that a go, do, and let me know.

I find now before i even try the HLR i'm taking pavel's council to suck in one side at a time to shorten it (all these metaphors), and a tip form jon engum, tuck your chin into your chest - and i'd add, keep your eyes down to support flexion - see if that helps bring it together.



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