In the beginning…
I remember when I was just getting started with kettlebell training, I did what any American would do: lifted indiscriminately with as many exercises as I could fit into a session and with no real plan in mind. It never would have occurred to me to do the same thing the same way for weeks and months at a time and work toward lifting a heavier weight, because 1) that would be boring, and 2) my muscles will get used to it and I will stop gettin’ ripped and lookin’ fly for the honies! Then, after I read Enter the Kettlebell a little more carefully, I realized 1) if you’re bored, read a book, and 2) the honies weren’t really looking at me anyway (not covered in the book, but still an observation). Oh, and that Pavel was pretty smart and I didn’t know what I was doing anyway, so I should at least listen to his plan. Well, sure enough I went through the Rite of Passage, put more weight over my head than any of my bodybuilder friends (at about 150 lbs of manly fury!) and saw some results. Note to self: always listen to Pavel.
Better flexibility: it’s more than skin deep.
Because I trusted Pavel and am basically just used to obeying any authority I trust, I bought “Super Joints” and “Relax Into Stretch” and started making joint mobility and flexibility a part of my daily routine from age 21 ‘til now. The good news was it was going great for me, because by now I had a pretty solid handle on the need to take care of my joints and soft tissues and put it into my own routine. The bad news was I have a big, fat mouth, talk a lot about the things I love from dawn to dusk, and then get asked a lot of questions from my friends that I can’t answer, such as “Well, how do I do this?” or “Can you show me a routine that will work for me?” This usually just led to lots of over-explaining and philosophizing on my part with lots of good mobility and flexibility exercises strewn between thoughts. After I was done with my scene-chewing monologue, I was met with head nods and the polite “well, I should probably be going.” It was pretty much official: I just confused them and they know no more than they did previously. Dammit.
Fast forward to 2011. My coach and mentor Scott Stevens was hosting an HKC workshop followed by what was then known as “Extreme Flexibility Workshop”. The teacher was Jon Engum. I was blown away by his teaching at the HKC, particularly watching people go from next to zero to borderline hero within 8 hours of kettlebell practice. This guy was the real deal, but that should go without saying since he was one of Pavel’s top instructors, and again, Pavel knows what he’s doing. I wasn’t sure what to expect from his ExtremeFlexibility workshop, particularly since, well, I was already pretty mobile and flexible and I (arrogantly) didn’t think I would learn much more than a new trick or two to use on myself or my clients. Turns out, I had to invest in a whole new toolbox. Many of the tools were the same, but shinier and they came with play-by-play instructions to work on specifics, such as working on particular flexibility issues by following a certain order of stretches infused with the three principles of stretching. I saw people’s shoulder flexibility go from Nazi salute to full on victory pose by stretching their ankles (I’m not kidding). I saw people whose flexibility may as well have made their toes a distant star on the horizon become instantly toe-touch limber in minutes by using strength and a 2×4 (not to hit them), undoing years of neglect. I even saw my own flexibility improve – I hit a side split for the first time ever! (wailing and gnashing of teeth not withstanding).
The secret of Flexible Steel is…
I then realized then what I was doing: a scattershot approach to flexibility and mobility in the hopes that it would fix a range of things (kinda like what I did with kettlebells until I discovered the Rite of Passage). Jon, on the other hand, was a sniper against stiffness with his approach: calculated and able to hit what people needed. Plus, he could hit all the areas I hit with scatter shot, only with precision, a plan, and much, much less time.
I kicked myself for not taking notes at that workshop!!!
Fast forward again, this time to September. Jon asked me to assist him at the FlexibleSteel workshop in Minneapolis. Saying “I learned even more” is akin to saying “the ocean is damp.” It’s an understatement at best. By now Jon had refined and added not just exercises, but even more PROGRAMS to fix specific issues. Some of my favorite programs are the Frog Series for opening up locked-down hips (particularly in my desk-bound clients), the Escape Your Fighting Stance for improved posture (which works, by the way, whether your fight is as a martial artist or as a desk jockey shuffling papers all day), Stem Your Way To The Splits, and Front Splits for Back Health.
The good news? It’s all in Jon’s book Flexible Steel!
The great news? It’s Pavel’s favorite stretching book.
“Flexible Steel is my favorite stretching book.”
– Pavel Tsatsouline
I mean, c’mon, do you REALLY need to hear anything more from The Man himself? Get serious. But if you do, he did also offer this: “Jon Engum reached his forties before he reached his first split. Follow his remarkable journey and achieve the flexibility you never thought possible.” No small praise coming from the man who’s revolutionized strength and conditioning, flexibility training, AND still found time to show the world the Russian Kettlebell as well as how to unlock its power.
I trust Pavel. I trust Jon Engum. And you will love this book.