The missing link in your Original Strength
Dec 09, 2019
Back in a weird and wild world known as November of 2012, I was officially introduced to a system that would change my training, my teaching, and really my entire life.
That system was Original Strength.
Now, I had been tooling around with the movements as far back as 2011 after having read Tim Anderson and Mike McNiff’s book “Becoming Bulletproof” at the behest of master kettlebell instructor Geoff Neupert. And right from the get-go I knew these weird guys advocating even weirder stuff like crawling, rocking, rolling, and just lying on the ground breathing were really onto something.
In fact, when I started to implement it in my own training, the strength gains were almost unbelievable.
For example, in a 2-month period after the November 2012 Becoming Bulletproof workshop I stopped squatting entirely and instead started crawling every day.
And wouldn’t you know it? My front squat – the movement that was toughest for me – went from a measly-for-me 10 reps with two 53 kg kettlebells to a whopping…
The concept of Original Strength is a revolutionary one in my opinion: “move the way you were made so you can free your body to do whatever you want, whenever you want”.
THAT, my friends, is true strength (not to mention unparalleled freedom).
And one of the things that makes OS so powerful is how it so masterfully “opens the gates to gains” by reviving the dormant reflexes within us that make us strong in the first place.
All but one, that is.
Because OS is focused on the human developmental sequence – that is, the movements babies go through to develop into walking, talking toddlers and eventually full-fledged athletic adolescents – some of the reflexes we have built right into us that are easily accessed within our first year of life AREN’T trained by The Big 5 OS resets (breathing, head control, rolling, rocking, & crawling).
One such reflex is the palmar grasp reflex.
This is an automatic response that gives babies a tremendously powerful grip. So much so that they can even support their entire bodyweight through their hands by hanging – and in some instances, like you’ll see in the pic below, just by one hand!
Fun fact: a researcher tested this with 60 different babies back in 1891. Most babies hung for at least 10 seconds. One baby hung for 2 minutes and 35 seconds. How long could YOU hold on?
In my humble (and correct) opinion, to get truly back in touch with your Original Strength, you have to recapture your original GRIP strength as well. And what better way to do that than with one of the most fundamental movement skills around: hanging!
Hanging has loads of health benefits, including:
An international study conducted by researchers at McMaster University that included 140,000participants from around the world found something shocking:
Grip strength (or lack thereof) is a highly accurate predictor of your chance of death from all causes, including pneumonia, cancer, and cardiovascular disease.
In fact, it is a better predictor of death than physical activity and even systolic blood pressure – two of the most reliable measures of predicting death from heart disease!
On the performance side of things, a strong grip is positively associated with greater levels of upper body strength, as your hands have the highest concentration of nerve endings of anywhere in your body. A strong nervous system = a strong body. So if getting stronger as you age is on your list of to-dos, grip strength is a must.
Unless you’re a chess champ, I don’t recommend this method of defeating the Grim Reaper
While you won’t find it in many (or any) fitness books, the act of brachiation, i.e. hanging, is one of the most foundational movement skills humans possess.
While we may not have much of a need to hang nowadays, our lives and livelihoods relied on our ability to hang, climb, and scale mountains, trees, and loads of other things since time immemorial. And because the human body is uniquely capable of hanging, just like crawling and walking, getting in even just a small amount of it on a regular basis can help you reclaim the natural strength in your upper back– not to mention gently getting your shoulders “unstuck”.
We spend an average of 6.4 hours seated every day – often with sub-par posture which adds boatloads of steady, unrelenting pressure on our spine (particularly the low back).
Top that off with our favorite exercises like squats, deadlifts, presses, carries, and a variety of other moves and you have a slow-cooking recipe for a spine that is not only under constant pressure, but one that is likely to start causing you problems in other parts of your body.
Add a little much-needed decompression with some routine hanging and your spine will thank you.
So how do you do it?
Just like everything else in OS, it’s simple!
First, find a sturdy overhead unit, such as a pullup bar, a set of rings, or even a door jamb pullup unit (which is what I usually use).
Next, grab onto it tightly, keeping your shoulders pulled down and back. This is called “active hanging”, because you are activating the muscles surrounding your shoulders to help you keep your arms in place.
You can also hang while letting your shoulders rise up toward your ears – what’s known as “passive hanging” – which relies more on the passive structures, like the connective tissues, to hold you in place. These are great if your shoulders are ready for them. However, if you’re just getting started on hanging, I’d recommend active hanging.
“This is great, but I can only hang for a few seconds before my grip/shoulders give out. Maybe hanging’s not for me?”
Have no fear, my dear. You can gently but effectively work your way up to longer and stronger hangs by simply changing the angle.
Using a set of gymnastics rings or a TRX unit, simply grab on tight, keep your arms straight, and slowly walk your legs forward until you’re at a challenging but sustainable angle to hold on to. As time goes on, you can walk your legs further and further forward to increase the difficulty (note: you may want to find something to rest your feet on to prevent yourself from slipping. Ask me how I know this).
When you’re feeling strong and confident, aim to hang from a sturdy overhead unit again and see how much longer you can hold. If you’ve put in the time and the work, the odds are ever in your favor that you’ll double or even triple the amount of time you can now hang.
Plus, you’ll have a stronger grip, a stronger back, and happier shoulders and spine than when you started.
In the words of George and Ira Gershwin, “who could ask for anything more?”
You’ve got the tips, you’ve got the technique – now all that’s left is to go do it! Try it out and connect the missing link in your Original Strength. You’ll be glad you did.
Have fun and happy training!
Aleks “The Hebrew Hammer” Salkin is a level 2 StrongFirst certified kettlebell instructor (SFG II) and was hand-picked to be among the first-ever group of Original Strength Instructors.
He grew up scrawny, unathletic, weak, and goofy until he was exposed to kettlebells and the teaching and methodology of Pavel in his early 20s, and took his training and movement skills to the next level upon discovering Original Strength in his mid-20s.
He is the author of The 8-Week Kettlebell & Bodyweight Challenge, and has a popular daily email list where he dishes out his best tips, tactics, techniques, and strategies for getting stronger, fitter, and healthier with kettlebells, calisthenics, and Original Strength. To join (and get a free copy of the 8 Week Kettlebell & Bodyweight Challenge) click here => https://alekssalkin.leadpages.co/8weekchallenge/