This past weekend marks one year since I completed the Action Strength Level 1 Certification workshop in Boca Raton Florida. The details of that weekend were described in another post; needless to say, it was an amazing experience that has transformed my notions of fitness and strength. When I got back home and started to integrate the Action Strength training into my regular workouts I made a commitment to myself. I would, for the next year abandon my previous strength training routine and adopt an exclusive Action Strength training program. This week marks the one year anniversary of that commitment and I wanted to take a few minutes to detail out the results of this experiment.

Just to provide some background, I have been strength training consistently since the late ‘80s. My focus was largely on traditional weight training and cardio. As a skinny kid with a fast metabolism, my intention was mostly to gain weight and build muscle bulk as opposed to getting stronger. I was mostly self-taught (with the help of some good books) and would weight train 3 days a week and pick up a little cardio here and there, but I stayed away from overly intense aerobic activity for fear that it would eat up the muscle mass I was trying to build. I followed this formula largely unchanged for the last 20 years or so. It seemed to work for the most part. I was healthy, I felt good, looked pretty good, and felt reasonably strong. Or so I thought.

Upon taking up Action Strength full time, I committed to training only with Kettlebells, Gada, Malavidya, and Tia Chi exercised taught by Harinder Singh Sabharwal. No more barbells, dumbbells, curl bars, machines, or exercise bike. I would train 3-4 times a week, start out slow and easy with the progressions that Singh taught us and test it out. This was the opportunity to see what this system could do over the long haul. I had watched Singh, Gavin, Brian, and Nick demonstrate some serious strength during the Level 1 Certification and as an Action Strength newbie, I wanted to see how my strength would improved if I dug in gave it my best.

So what have I learned? Simply put, a lot. Drastically changing up a long held training plan can be a little unsettling as your nervous system adapts to change. But that’s ok, because after all, that’s part of the whole Action Strength (and Jeet Kune Do) mentality – constant adaptation. Overall, it’s been a great year of training and learning. Since I currently train alone, I’ve only had my notes and my own experience to build upon, but this has been a great test of how well I understood the material as well as my relationship to my body, my beliefs, and my perceived limitations. To summarize the past year, I’ve broken down some of the specific lessons I learned below.

• Strength is a skill. Just like a martial art, strength can be taught and developed through regular practice and training. The Action Strength exercises, like martial arts techniques, can be complex movements with intricate and nuanced details that take time to learn and master. As opposed to isolated weight training exercises, Action Strength exercises recruit the whole body for a synergistic movement as a unit. To master these techniques takes hundreds of mindful repetitions. One does not snatch a kettlebell perfectly on the first attempt. It takes months (or much longer) of dedicated practice to hone the form until a technique can be performed impeccably. Over the last year, I’ve experienced a continual refinement of each technique I perform, and with it came increased ability to perform more repetitions and manage my breath and energy more efficiently. In hindsight, I can see the learning curve for each technique I use and can recognize a significant increase in my overall ability. There will always be room for improvement, but regular training can certainly build the skill of strength.

• I can honestly say that without a doubt, I have never been stronger. These exercises and the way they require dedicated attention to posture, breathing, and intent can build incredible levels of strength and endurance. After years of traditional weight training, I can see a HUGE difference in my total level of strength. In addition, although I don’t follow a set cardio routine, thanks to high intensity swings, Dands, Bhetaks, Gada swings, and snatches, I have a greatly increased level of endurance and aerobic conditioning than prior to adopting this training. I’ve also been able to recognize (through my own experience) that endurance in the human species was designed for short, intense bursts rather than long and sustained drives to a finish line. Action Strength cultivates this ability to a very high degree.

• I look and feel better than I have in a long time. Keep in mind, I didn’t think I was out of shape when I first learned Action Strength. Nevertheless, I feel like this is the way you should feel when you work out – energized, not depleted. Flexible and limber, not stiff and sore. Strength that is fluid, functional, and adaptive, not isolated or restricted to a specific movement. Lean, fit, and muscular, not bulky and muscle bound.

• Action Strength workouts take less time. High intensity exercises that recruit the maximum amount of muscle allow for a training session to be much shorter than a typical workout. Before Action Strength, I would train for 60 to 75 minutes for a full body workout (not including aerobic training). With Action Strength, I spend no more than 40 minutes for a workout (including warm-up) that is several orders of magnitude more intense and effective than the way I was formerly training. Considering what can be accomplished with these exercises, even 40 minutes is on the long side. If pressed for time, I can easily get a powerful training session in as little as 20 minutes.

• I was much stronger than I realized (and so are you). Our minds are very quick to set limits that become the boundaries of what we believe we can experience. But those limits can be transcended with understanding (and the right training). With the correct progressions, I have witnessed my strength increase to the point where goals that I once believed were unachievable became possible. Plateaus can be overcome, fears can fade away, and a new level of possibility can open up to us. This type of training helps us to truly unleash the potential that lies hidden within.

• Fewer Injuries. Despite the fact that I am training with more intensity and regularly hurling a 35lb – 44lb Kettlebell over my head, I have experienced fewer training – related injuries that with my previous program. I attribute this to a couple factors: First, the whole body activation of Action Strength exercises helps to stabilize, counterbalance, and reinforce the body’s structure during intense movements, thereby supporting weaker areas and preventing injury. Second, specific exercises such as Dands, Push-Planks, and Push-turns help to lubricate and strengthen the posterior chain in the lower back, protecting it from strains and overextension. Third, the synchronization of posture, breathing, and intent help to maintain proper alignment, support to the abdominal walls, and keep our attention locked on impeccably performing the required number of repetitions. Lastly, as the Action Strength exercises are performed with a great deal of attention to form and technical precision aligned with the breath, the tendency to favor speed over form is minimized. With the exception of testing requirements, we move mindfully from ballistics to grinds and back again, using breathing awareness to manage our energy and our emotional state, always remembering to never to sacrifice correct form for the number of reps.

• Focused Mind. Thanks to the skill and focus required to perform these exercises, it becomes essential to maintain present moment awareness. Despite the intensity of the training, I often find my mind settling into a quiet and steady resolve, my attention riding along with the breath. This relative stillness is a departure from my previous training in that rather than having to fight off the constant distractions that might try to pull me away from my training, the rhythmic pulse of my breath helps to keep my awareness grounded and calm, like the eye of a storm. Better still, this focus often stays with me, post workout. Along with the muscle pump and endorphin dump that comes with an intense workout, my mind typically feels much more steady and grounded following and Action Strength workout than with typical weight training, and we can all use a little bit more of that, right?

Well, I think these points pretty much sum up the results of my year-long Action Strength experiment. Will I return to traditional weight training? Not likely. I’ll probably give myself the flexibility to use some of the old traditional weight training exercises from time to time, but I plan to stick with Action Strength as my primary program for strength and conditioning. It made it through a year of scrutiny and if you ask me, it definitely delivers as an incredibly effective functional fitness program. Plus, I’m excited to see what’s to come. If I’ve seen the benefits I mentioned above over a year’s time, how much more can I expect 2 or 5 years from now? There’s most certainly a trip to the Action Strength Level 2 Certification somewhere down the line for me.

If you’re on the fence about trying Action Strength (especially if you’re a JKDAA member), take my word for it and dive in. You won’t be disappointed in the result you see in just a short amount of time. If you’re wondering why you should train in a functional fitness program specifically geared towards building the strength attributes necessary for martial arts training, consider this: few activities are as physically, mentally, and emotionally demanding as being in a fight. If you can train your body, mind, and emotions to not only survive, but thrive under such intense conditions, how much more fit and able will you be when it comes to a specific sport or activity?

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In Strength,