Legend has it that Kung Fu started around 500 A.D. when a monk from India named Bodhidharma wandered the plains in search of enlightenment. He wandered into China and came across a Shaolin Temple where he began to teach martial arts to the monks. Hence Kung Fu was born and became the progenitor of all Asian martial arts.
People like to reduce history into a linear narrative, a simple story of cause and effect. We like to think that one man created a movement.
But most movements are crowdsourced. They are cobbled together by many people who never get credit.
Combat arts existed long before Bodhidarma ever set foot at the Shaolin Temple. The monks practiced combat techniques, because many of them were ex-soldiers. Soldiers who were AWOL. Soldiers who retired from the military. Ex-soldiers who wanted inner peace and to atone for a lifetime of killing.
These ex-soldiers ended up practicing their combat techniques in the monasteries. They taught each other what they had learned in the military and out in the battlefield. They began modifying some of their techniques to be more in line with their Buddhist philosophy.
One man did not give birth to Shaolin Kung Fu. It was the result of the emergent behavior of many people.
It is the same way with the history of exercise. Joe Weider didn’t create The Weider Principles. These were training principles and techniques practiced by bodybuilders in gyms all over the US. What Joe did was compile these techniques and principles and presented them in an articulated, codified form. The Weider Principles were the result of many people contributing.
With exercise there are many training modalities and philosophies. You have the kettlebell modality, bodybuilding philosophy, powerlifting, weightlifting, gymnastics, calisthenics, yoga, martial arts, sports, running, etc.
But ultimately, these different exercise philosophies are parts of a whole. If you stuck solely to one training modality, then you would be optimal in one aspect of your physical being and performance but weak and lacking in other aspects.
Exercise fractured into different camps, but eventually the different camps evolved and began assimilating techniques from other camps, other training philosophies. Hybrid training is far better than a pure training modality, because it tends to a create a more complete athlete.
It would be silly to do just calisthenics and expect to develop your full strength potential. It would be silly to think that kettlebells are a complete training system when it is only a training tool. And it would also be silly to think that being strong in the weight room would overcome lack of skill on the field.
Hybrid training is when you use multiple exercise tools to achieve your goals, whether they be cosmetic, athletic or just plain ego stroking. So if you’re goal is to look good naked, then you may stick to primarily bodybuilding training, but also incorporate other methods and tools to assist you in getting big, muscular and ripped. You may use powerlifting to help you gain muscle mass. You may use the Olympic lifts to tap into the high growth potential of your fast-twitch muscle fibers. You may use high rep calisthenics to facilitate recovery, burn fat and get ripped.
As far as my own hybrid training, I like to use the following training modalities to accomplish my physique goals:
Calisthenics for the Chest and Back
When it comes to upper body development, nothing really beats dips and pull-ups, provided that you’re going through a full range of motion. The problem for beginners is that there is a very steep learning curve for these exercises. But once you build up your strength on dips and pull-ups, then your chest and back will respond with massive growth. When you can do a lot of reps, then you can attach some weight and perform weighted dips and pull-ups.
Kettlebells for the Shoulders and Arms
As far as building big biceps and shoulders, nothing comes close to kettlebell clean and presses. Everything about the kettlebell itself forces your biceps, forearms, back, and shoulders to grow. The handle is thicker, so it engages your forearms more than dumbbells. The weight is off centered, so it is much demanding to hold and lift a kettlebell than it is to hold and lift a dumbbell of the same poundage.
When I first grabbed a kettlebell, I was shocked at how much more heavier it felt. It actually to hurt to hold it and lift it at first. But as I trained with kettlebells, my arms, back and shoulders just felt pumped all the time, even outside the gym. I got lean and muscular at the same time.
For newbies, the kettlebell is an intimidating piece of equipment. The black cast iron kettlebells have a rough grainy feel, making it look like it came from a dungeon gym. Kettlebell companies wanted to market to female lifters, so they started making smaller weights and making them colorful and smooth.
I don’t mind color coded kettlebells, but if you want to get big and strong off of kettlebells, then you should tackle the heavier weights and more basic exercises: cleans, presses, swings. Kettlebell lifting has taken on a more high rep/strength endurance approach in the 21st century. But I get more benefit from lower reps on heavier kettlebells, the way early 20th century strongman used to train.
Just like with old school calisthenics, there is a steep learning curve with kettlebells. So if you’re new to kettlebells, then start off with the lighter weights and learn proper form. My favorite kettlebell exercises are:
KB clean and press
One arm KB swing
KB Turkish get-up
Squats and Deadlifts for the Legs
There is something very empowering about lifting a very heavy barbell off the floor. Heavy squats and heavy deadlifts activate and invigorate your entire nervous system. I feel a lot more awake and aggressive after squats and deadlifts. The only other exercises that wake me up that much are the Olympic lift variations: barbell clean and press, barbell clean and jerk.
As with the previous modalities, there is a steep learning curve with squats and deadlifts. Most people squat halfway and cannot break past parallel. Some people just can’t squat ass to the grass. And that’s fine. Some people just aren’t made to squat that far with a weight on their back. Such people should stick to leg presses and Bulgarian squats.
But boy, are those folks missing out. The hamstrings are engaged when you squat all the way down. Full squats allow you kill 2 birds with one stone.
Check out the Strength and Physique E-books
“This book is terrific. It distills years of experience and research into short sections laying out specific, creative programs for the major body parts, using the best science and advanced training techniques. Some of them created by the great ‘masters’ of bodybuilding like Larry Scott. Almost every section has a ‘eureka’ idea that I’m craving to try, like the back trifecta! The book is much more useful than subscriptions to all the muscle mags. I only wish I had it when I was a kid.”
– Bob Vastine, world record holder in powerlifting
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