How Blu Tack Helps Us To Understand Stretching

Blu tack.

You know, that sticky stuff you use to stick a poster on the wall.

Or making funky sculptures with:


It also helps me to explain why I rarely advocate static stretching to build flexibility and especially, mobility.

But first, some context.

The other day I had a lad in for an AiM session.
He’s a competitive mountain biker in final preparation for an upcoming race.

As you’d expect from someone who races a bicycle down the side of a mountain and hurtling over terrain you’d be nervous to walk over at breakneck speeds.


He came in on recommendation from his girlfriend who trains with me.when.she gets chance.
She has 10 years of Karate training behind her prior to her now riding mountain bikes.
In her whole life she’d never been able to touch her toes. Ever.
Usually getting stuck around mid shin.

So when she was in with me and telling me about a bit of back pain, I had a look, gave her some fairly generic Anatomy in Motion style stretches and in about 10 minutes she touched her toes for the first time ever.
Since then she’s shown everybody she knows, amazed not only that she can do this but that it has held. She can still touch her toes today.

So she sent in her fella who is struggling with tightness.

He’s constantly tight, even if he stretches to the point where he’s happy with the movement, within an hour it’s gone again.

This is largely down to the body holding tightness as a protective mechanism. A compensation for a movement it feels unsafe with.

You can stretch the tightness out, but the nervous system gets , well, nervous and puts it straight back in again.

So we need to dig. To scrape away layers of compensation to try to reveal where the real problem lies so that the nervous system gets a whole lot less nervous.

So what’s blue tack got to do with all this?

Well what happens when you get that old bit of blue tack and try to stretch it?

It just snaps doesn’t it.

So we roll it about, put some warmth into it, kneading it, stretching it a tiny bit then letting the stretch go untill it allows us to stretch and stretch.

You’re nervous system likes that same approach.
Gently go into and out of a stretch, feel the muscle load and release, feel the blood flow it bringing warmth. Feel as it allows a little bit more and little bit more movement.
Within a few reps, may 10-15 reps, you should notice a significant increase in range of motion.

This is a better way to open up the body, to release tightness and improve mobility than simply pulling on a muscle.

Instead of forcing the muscle to a new length and scaring the nervous system into pulling it even tighter, we instead warm it, knead it and activate it until it feels safe enough to go through its full range.

But the real art comes from knowing which muscles to stretch.

Our mountain biker had to stretch his left calf & peroneals to get the tightness out of his right outer quad (vastus lateralis).
And for that, you need an assessment.

Get yours here:



Dave Hedges


Talking Windmills

This post has been a long time coming.


I meant to write it some time ago but the video clip didn’t film right.

And then I forgot.

But Danish Kettlebell expert, Thierry Sanchez, posted up a great post on the Windmill exercise on his blog which reminded me to pull my finger out.

Here’s a link to Thierry’s post (it’ll open in a new tab) —> CLICK ME!

Read it?


Pay particular attention to the bit where he talks about whether the legs should be straight or bent.


What I want to do is look a little deeper into some of the mechanics of the movement.

Specifically at the shoulder and hip joints. As in my mind this is where the magic happens.

Most people will sell you the windmill exercise as a core training drill.

Most of those same people will also offer a less than satisfactory explanation of:

1: What the “core” is
2: Why the Windmill is good for it.

In my mind, the “core” gets little enough stimulus from the movement.
Ok, the spine is resisting forces in multiple planes as it moves through the lift, which requires all the muscles that control it (ie, your core. And THAT’s a definition!) to work hard to keep it from collapsing.
But there are other drills that load it in these planes better. Unless you are already strong and well able to load the lift up.

Cue picture of me and 108kg of kettlebells:

triple windmill

So what really happens in the windmill?

Take a look at that picture again, specifically the hip joint.

When we do the lift, our weight should be predominantly in the rearmost leg, in the picture above, that’s my right leg.
Our pelvis should shift right over that load bearing leg.

This causes quite a significant internal rotation of the femur in the hip socket.

And this is a GOOD thing!

Very often I work with people who really struggle with hip rotation.
They’re either stuck in internal rotation, which often couples with an anterior pelvic tilt and difficulty in firing the glutes and abdominals.
They may be stuck in external rotation and having difficulty accessing that internally rotated space. These folk often have hip flexors that are like concrete blocks, unable to move.

Learning to perform the windmill exercise correctly, using a weight that is manageable and a range of motion that is safe, is sometimes a really nice way to help people open up the rotation of the hip. Flexing it into internal rotation and then extending back out to external rotation.
The little bit of load often pushes them a little bit further than they could go without the weight, which loads the muscles up a little further than usual and can slowly bring them back to life.
If done gently and progressively.

If they can windmill equally well on both sides, there’s a damn good chance their hip hinge ability is going to be pretty spot on. And that will carry over to Squats, Deadlifts and all manner of other cool shit.

So what about the shoulder?


The shoulder is, or should be, taken into external rotation as it goes from overhead to to out to the side (relative to the spine)

This is where the magic of the windmill really lies.

If we have our hand down by our side and turn our hands inwards so the palms face backwards, like an ape, that takes out shoulder into internal rotation. Lift the hand overhead and the palm is now forwards.
In internal rotation our pecs are pulling, especially that annoying little bugger, the pec minor.


External rotation then is the opposite. Hand by the side, palm facing front like in Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man

vitruvian homer

Now we are asking the pec minor to lengthen while contracting through the upper back and rotator cuff muscles.

Take that arm overhead and it gets pretty uncomfortable, so let it relax until the thumb is pointing either in the same plane as the shoulders (palm forwards) or slightly backwards.
This slightly backwards angle is where you really want to be, with the shoulder relaxed and down.

In this position the weight of the bell should be felt in the back muscles as it’s directed down to the ground, not just on the shoulder. This over head position is essential if you want to succeed in either kettlebell sport, heavy pressing or simply to keep the shoulders strong and healthy.

Look how relaxed she is under a bell that's approx 1/3 her bodyweight

Look how relaxed she is under a bell that’s approx 1/3 her bodyweight

Now as we break at the hip and start to shift under the bell, the angle at the shoulder will start to change.
It’s kind of an open chain/closed chain combination type of action, as the weight is relatively still as the body moves around underneath it.

As we move the shoulder must externally rotate in order to keep the hand in the same plane it started.
Those people with bound up pec minors, winged scapula, kyphotic thoracic spine or just weak rotator cuffs are going to really struggle to stop the hand rotating, the thumb moving to point forwards and will struggle to keep the bell stable.

But like we said with the hip, if we go slow and steady, limiting range of motion to the space they can work well, arresting the movement just before quality fails, then we can start to expose them to a huge rotator cuff stimulus.

Most rotator cuff drills move only the shoulder and are limited in the amount of weight can be used. The windmill can (eventually) be loaded up significantly, which puts a real challenge into the muscles that control the scapula.

And these are usually the weak link, NOT the core!

Does this mean drop all your rotator cuff drills and just do heavy windmills?


Still do them, they’re necessary and usually non taxing enough that they can be part of a warm up, cool down and workout dependant done as active rest.

Windmills also fit well into a warm up, especially if done light with the aim of increasing range of motion.

Throw heavy windmills in after your presses or deadlifts as assistance work. Or from time to time do them instead of heavy presses or deadlifts.

Now here’s an 8 minute video explaining pretty much all that:

So, go get your windmill on…


Dave Hedges

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An Effective Bullshit Filter

Over the years I’ve been heard to give out the following advice when it comes to training, motivation, exercise selection, even dietary choices.

It goes a follows:

Find the “WHY” and the “HOW” will star to become clear.

If you stop and think about that it gives a powerful filter to look through.

And if you properly applied, that filter will save you from having to endure a whole load of meaningless bullshit.

Here’s a simple one to get you started:

If you understand WHY progressive overload works,then the how is to gradually do more work. Simple eh?

If you understand WHY mobility is important, then how to implement it into your day become clearer.

If you understand WHY coffee stops you hurting other people, you’ll figure out how to keep yourself topped up…..

Ok, that was three.

And the last one may not have been true.

But you get the basic idea.

So now to the inspiration behind today’s post.

Next month I’m running the 1 Day Self Defence Skills workshop, but you knew that, I mentioned it in yesterdays blog post.

Someone who’d read the post asked me about the course content, which is fair enough.
But when I explained that the course is only a toe in the water, it’s a springboard for you to go out and start training by yourself or with friends. That the emphasis on the course is on not getting into trouble in the first place but to utilise heavy impact if you do.

This seemed to put the person off.

Their argument seemed to be based on what they’ve experienced at other workshops.

ie: Faux hard man, special forces, super black belt ninja tactics.


We’re talking:

  • Eye gouges
  • Arm bars
  • Wrist locks
  • Kicks to the groin
  • Pressure points
  • improvised weapons
  • and so on and so on….

I’m going to use a strength training analogy here.

That list you’ve just read is like going to a strength & conditioning workshop and learning about tricep kickbacks, pec flyes and grapevines.

Yes, these things have their place, but not in the real world of performance.

And lets face it, if you or a member of your family is being attacked you want to fucking perform!

So performance based training is based on the “big rocks” of training.

ie: multi joint exercise performed at a high intensity. Think Squat, Deadlift, Clean, Swing, Pull Up, Press, Jerk, Turkish Get Up, Lunge Variations.

So how does this relate to self defence?

Well, the “WHY” of self defence should be easy.

Why? – To get home safe and sound to have dinner with my family.

So, HOW?

  • Avoid getting into trouble in the first place, after all, if you never have to fight, you’ll never lose a fight
  • If I do end up in a fight, end it as fast as possible, best achieved through impact.
  • Do what is necessary to end the conflict, no more, no less.
    This is where things get fuzzy for most. The most efficient way to stop someone is to knock them out, the most efficient way to do this is heavy impact to the head. It’s not sexy, or tactical, or fancy. But it works and it fits our WHY

So for those of you who want to wear combat pants and boot, carry a tactical flashlight, never sit with your back to a door and learn 372 ways to hit someone in the nuts, this isn’t the course for you.

If you want a common sense, systematic approach to self defence, click here.


Dave Hedges

More Upcoming Events:

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2 Dates to Put in Your Diary

We’re howling through the year, burning up the days like there’s an endless supply of them!

It’s hard to fathom how we are now looking at the arse end of March when it seems like only a few days ago my kids were ripping the wrapping paper off their presents!

So I’d better let you know what’s going on over the next month or two.

I have two dates that should be in your diary.

The first is for my 1-Day Self Defence Workshop on April 19th
The second is for the ever awesome Mr Steve Cotter returning to Ireland.

Self Defence Skills:

I run this a few times per year, and will continue to do so for many years.
As much as I may have transitioned from full time martial artist earning a living working nightclub security to full time s&c coach, I still hold the concept of being able to defend ones self and ones family in the highest of regards.

My training always revolved around this, I took martial arts in the first place, not to be cool, or to get a black belt or to win medals, but because I’d just had my arse kicked from one end of the playground to the other and back and really didn’t want it to happen again.

In the lifetime that has followed I’ve had the opportunity to train under some of the best around in a variety of martial art and combatives methods, and as a “bouncer” I got to witness and participate in many real life encounters.

Does this make me an expert?

No, not when compared to some of the people I train under. But compared to the “average” person, yes.

So in the 1 Day Workshop, I aim to teach what I consider to be the mist fundamental, core topics and skills that a person needs in order to give themselves the best chance of protecting themselves.

1 day will not make you a ninja, but it will give you the tools to take away and sharpen into real skills.

You can get more details here:

Next, it gives me great pleasure to be welcoming Steve Cotter back to Wild Geese.

It’s been a couple of years now since we last hosted him, but he’s been in touch and told me he’ll be in Ireland and would love to come to Dublin and run a workshop.

I hold Steve in the highest regard, he is the real deal.

His strength, flexibility and athleticism are only matched by his enthusiasm for passing it on to the people he trains.

He’s a wealth of knowledge, a constant student and a prolific teacher.

Recently he’s been working with BJJ legend Xande Ribiero preparing him for an upcoming competition. He’s also been working on a “flexibility for athletes” program. He’ll be showing elements of both these when he drops into us in May.

You can read more about it, and book your spot here:

Places must be booked for Steve, last time we ran a workshop like this we sold out in a heart beat, so I’ll not be taking walk ins. It’s a case of “If you’re names not down, you’re not coming in!”

So incase you missed it, here’s the link to the Steve Cotter Dublin workshop once more:


Dave Hedges


Can You Get A Solid Workout Done in Under 30minutes?

It seems yesterdays post on functional training ticked a few boxes, I’ve not had as many page views or shares on a post so quickly in a long time, so thanks to all who did share it.

For those of you who missed it, here’s the link.

And if you did miss, get on the email subscription list so that you never miss again!

I’ve some cool posts planned, a detailed breakdown of the kettlebell windmill, with detail I don’t think anyone’s ever gone into before and also a look at stretching as it’s been a bit of a hot topic around Wild Geese recently with me banning several folks from doing any stretching whatsoever!

Anyhow enough teasing about what’s coming up in the future, what about today?

Today I want to talk about time.

How long should a workout take?

I’ve had a few people drop into my lunchtime sessions where we aim to have people complete a full body workout in around 30 minutes, and leave feeling cheated.
Cheated by the fact that they weren’t there for over an hour, cheated because we use very little equipment and cheated because if they’re new in, I INSIST they go light enough that they can ensure form is as close to perfect as possible.

How can you get a good session in in so little time?

Here’s the answer.

Intensity trumps duration.

This is true in every case except for the training of specific endurance.

You have to make a deal with yourself if you’re going to get a good session done in a short space of time. You have to commit, no excuses, just balls out focussed effort.

Pick big bang exercises, ie the basics ( you know, the shit those “functional” guys like to diss because they’re too basic or just plain hard!)

Use moderate reps, multiple sets and be careful of the order you put them in.

For example, yesterday we had a nice workout that hit used a favourite pairing:

1A: Turkish Get Up x 1 L/R
1B: Pull Up x 5
x 10 minutes, increase weight each round.

2013-06-18 12.01.55

This was followed by a conditioning set, but more on that shortly.

The Turkish Get Up hits pretty much the entire body, it’s great for the shoulder, helps develop pressing strength and anterior core control.
The Pull Up is an upper body bent arm pull that also asks a lot from the core.

A good pairing. 10 minutes should see you get about 3 – 5 rounds in, depending on how heavy you go on the Get Up.

Follow this with:

2A: Split Squat x 5L/R
2B: Cleans x 6-8
2C: Mountain Climbers x 8-12L/R
15 minute AMRAP (as many rounds as possible)

Now we get the heart & lungs kicking while working the lower body.

As much as I like lower body strength training, I feel strength endurance is a better option than simple all out power. So the Split Squat is a hip & knee extension strength focus, the clean a hip extension power focus and the mountain climber opposes them in that it’s hip flexion based.

Simple workout, but not easy.
You can go flat out into this and really leave yourself wiped out should you choose to.
The lift selection and the order in which they’re placed leaves the entire body stimulated in pretty much all the key movement patterns (Push, Pull, Hinge, Squat & Core) and has lifts that can be loaded up enough (all but the mountain climber) to elicit a serious hormonal response, yet the whole thing has only 25 minutes of work.

We put all our lunchtime workouts on the WG-Fit facebook page, usually after the guys have done their training, so as not to spoil the surprise for them. So feel free to join us there (HERE)

Or better yet, if you’re in the Dublin 2 area, drop into us, details HERE


Dave Hedges



But, is it functional?

I’m on the functional training warpath again.

Over the last day or two, each time I’ve had a few minutes to waste on facebook I’ve been confronted with videos.

Video’s of people demonstrating “functional training”

Video’s of people doing stuff.

With words that sound like they mean something but are essentially bullshit.


Yesterday morning I had a client in who asked about one such video he’d seen, so we had a little fun with it.
While he performed an exercise I gave him, I explained it to him in the kind of terminology he had heard on the video.

He looked at me like I had two heads, yeah I sounded impressive, to the point where he wasn’t sure if I was serious or joking, but he also had no idea as to what I was talking about.

But it sounded good.

Yay! I'm being functional!

Yay! I’m being functional!

And this is my problem.

The good guys, the guys that know their shit. The guys that train actual people, maybe work with athletes, who get the results their clients want by applying tried and tested methods, usually backed up by some sort of scientific literature or at least by a stack of experience.

These guys who are well read, be it classically educated or have gone out on their own volition to read, learn, analyse and test.

These guys talk sense.

They talk plain English, they drop in big words and scientific language but usually also explain it in laymans terms so that the user can understand what they’re saying.
The reason they use the scientific or proper terms are so that the client can also learn, understand and if they go to another coach, they won’t be lost if these terms are thrown about.
It’s a way of getting everyone on the same page.

It’s not about sounding smarter than everyone else, it’s about raising people’s knowledge.

But I’m starting to digress here.

What makes training functional?


Ok, lets look at like this.

Two words.

First word:  Functional

Second word:  Training

  • The action of teaching a person or animal a particular skill or type of behaviour:
    in-service training for staff
  • The action of undertaking a course of exercise and diet in preparation for a sporting event
  • (see the Oxford Dictionaries full definition here, opens in new tab)

You can see the two words have a few cross over points. Functional a special purpose and Training denotes as particular skill or behaviour.

Both terms are quite specific.
Put them together and we have “Undertaking a course or exercise designed to impart a specific skill”

That’s not a bad definition, I could work on it and make it better, but I reckon that’s good enough.

One word sticks out.


And there, right there is the problem.

So few people can say what is so specific and magical about their training in a manner that the lay person will understand or the researchers will give a thumbs up to.

You can’t break down human movement into training protocols, it’s too vast.
Anatomy in Motion is far and away the leader there, and that is because it focusses around the gait cycle, the human animals most primary and basic of movements.

Mr Anatomy in Motion himself

Mr Anatomy in Motion himself

Everything else we do in the gym environment is just an exercise.

Each exercise should have its own function.

The function of a bicep curl is to train the elbow flexors, in most cases to stimulate hypertrophy. And for big arms, that’s as functional as you get.


The function of a bench press is to overload a horizontal pressing pattern. The problem with horizontal pressing is that gravity is uncooperative and only works vertically. So we have to lie on our backs to press weight out.
Or we go face down and perform a push up, we will need to load the body to bring the intensity high enough that we stimulate the central nervous system.

The squat is hugely functional. It trains the three main joints in the lower body (ankle, hip & knee) to flex and extend in a coordinated fashion through their full range of motion.
Do a stack of bodyweight squats and we stimulate a cardio-vascular effect, load up and we massively stimulate the central nervous system and elicit some real strength and hypertrophy through the entire structure of the body, primarily the legs and spinal extensors.

Is the pistol squat more functional than a front squat, is a front squat more functional than a back squat?
Define the function you are looking to fulfil and we may be able to answer that question, until that function is established, it’s nothing more than in internet flame war waiting to happen.

Pistol Squat, lower body strength without the spinal compression or sheer from an external load

Pistol Squat, lower body strength without the spinal compression or sheer from an external load

If the goal is to move the most amount of weight, back squat.
If the goal is to train the lower body with an emphasis on the quads and/or anterior core, front squat
If the goal is to improve mobility, proprioception and hip/core stability, pistol squat.

Three differing squat movements, non of which are any more functional than the other. It’s a case of Rock, Paper, Scissors. Everything trumps everything else in the right context.

And that my dear readers is what functional training should be all about.

The exercises you use in the weight room don’t have to bear the slightest resemblance to any movement you will make in the outside world, but they do have to elicit some form of training response that will serve to increase the potential of the body to perform in the desired manner. Be that to look huge, to run fast, to hit hard, to jump high, whatever.

Getting stronger is almost universally functional. And you need to perform high intensity lifts in a stable environment to achieve this. Think Squat, Deadlift, Press, Pull and Carry.


Building Endurance is almost universally functional, who wouldn’t want to be able to train longer and recovery quicker? How you develop this can depend on your specific needs.

Mobility is almost universally functional as it allows us to move freely, to be strong at end range. And when is that ever a bad thing?

Bodyweight training usually functional as it helps develop proprioception, burns a stack of calories and builds coordination. But it’s limited when it comes to maximal strength.

Lisette Krol - demonstrating ridiculous body control & strength

Lisette Krol – demonstrating ridiculous body control & strength

Barbells are functional as they’re highly adjustable, from massive loads to build maximal strength to light loads for endurance.

Kettlebells are functional in their ability to develop power endurance particularly in the posterior chain and are great for challenging core and shoulder stability.

Heavy windmill with ketlebells, functional? You decide

Heavy windmill with ketlebells, functional? You decide

Is one more functional than the other, again it’s all down to context.

So next time you hear someone talk about some piece of kit that is so functional or some funky exercise that is “functional” ask them to define the function, to clearly and concisely explain the context in simple laymans terms.

Any fancy speak or unpronounceable science speak, walk. Just walk away.


Dave Hedges


A Question of Curls

Over in Facebook land there was a discussion on the Bicep Curl.


Now this was in one of the groups that I’m a member of specifically for the discussion of training amongst coaches and the like. If you aren’t an active coach, physio or nutritionist, you don’t get in the group.

So it’s not your usual bro-science fest of here-say.

The guys in the group are smart, if someone says something, it’s usually from a vantage point of real world experience training folk and very often backed up with some research references.

I don’t do the research references, I’m a bit on the thick side for that, but I have the experience.

And experience I have tells me that this polarising exercise is worth doing from time to time.

Just don’t make it a cornerstone of your training.#

I’ve written in the past, HERE and HERE about how we use the bicep curl, specifically the reverse curl as a way to keep fighters elbows healthy. Essentially we strengthen the brakes so that when their arm extends, straightening out with tremendous force, their elbow flexors (biceps) are able to arrest the movement and protect the joint.

Something I wish I’d understood years ago when my elbows used to kill me after some hard Karate sessions!

But what else are they good for?

Most people talk about the bicep curl as a single joint “isolation” lift for building big gunz.
But they also cross the shoulder and attach onto the shoulder blade.

Strict bicep curls with a dumbbell can assist in gaining control of the scapular and keeping the shoulder healthy.

Again, it’s not my go to option, but it once again shows that as an exercise the curl has more to offer than mere vanity.

So when should you put them into your training?

Simple answer, at the end, when all the big stuff is done. Simple as that.

So in answer to the question, “Are curls functional?”
The answer is yes. If you need to protect your elbow for combat sports, your shoulder for throwing or to fill out your sleeves for posing, yes there are reasons to put a couple of sets in at the end of your training.


Dave Hedges

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