Category Archives: Physical Education and History

Le Code de la Force: The Strength Code

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Georges Hébert’s “Code de la Force” book was published in France by Vuibert in 1914.

In its foreword, the author wrote:

The purpose of this book is to define the question of physical strength, by precisely defining the elements that comprise it and to give it a practical means of measuring it.

Because of the lack of works where notions relative to strength are codified [at the time of his writing], errors and preconceived notions of all kinds were plentiful on this topic. Thus, many people believe that large biceps constitute a criteria for strength; others solely consider strong individuals that are capable of lifting heavy weights; others finally habitually apply the qualifier of “solid bloke” to anyone tall and big. However, it so happens many times that the individual with large biceps shows inferiority when it comes to running or simply quickly climbing a slightly steep hill, that the weight lifter is unable to jump over any obstacle, that the solid bloke cannot follow an individual of ordinary ability in a long walk, a hike, a hunting game etc. 

He later writes:

On the other hand, no method concretely defines the outcome of physical education or training, meaning the goals to achieve. The result is trainees and coaches having no clue what to do. One not only trains without ardor or enjoyment when training without a goal, but one wastes time inevitably by repeating certain exercises without benefit. This is why I believed indispensable the need to establish exactly what the “training load” of the trained or educated individual ought to be.

One of my favorite parts of this foreword is that Hébert recognizes the need for experimentation, course correction and adjustment, his work being far from definitive. Philosophically speaking, isn’t it the first step to acknowledge what one’s limitations are in order to improve upon them?

Break it down into small steps

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With the upcoming and long awaited release of my updated version of Georges Hébert’s training program book, with equipment that we can find at any gym, playground, and surroundings, I feel it is important to understand that while some moves may look cool, difficult and even out of realistic reach for some, the basics of a move still carry benefits and can still be attempted by anyone at any fitness level.

Before your look at a heavy barbell back squat and say “I can’t do this”, realize that:

  1. You don’t need to if you don’t have to, unless your job or life depends on it. Your fitness doesn’t. If you want to, however, the next point applies.
  2. You didn’t come out of the womb sprinting. You didn’t even crawl for months. On point: you sit down on a chair, you stand up from it, you squat. Remove the chair, or lower it. Then, start holding on to something that weighs a few pounds.

See where I’m going with this? You’re squatting, just doing a different version from it. As the saying goes, we overestimate what we can do in a day, but underestimate what we can do in a year.

Take a look at this first short videoclip of a client going through a simple progression of how to clear a low wall: using both hands for support and landing his feet on the wall, then using only one hand with feet landing, then with feet clearing the wall entirely. Or jumping over from the other side, landing low (depth jump landing and continuing his run).

Now, take a look at this short clip of me doing what is an easy wall-to-wall, edge-to-edge jump, clearing about 6 feet of distance, immediately followed by a shot of the same client being afraid of performing the same jump (which he didn’t do that day, not ready yet mentally), as well as assessing jumping over the same low wall he cleared easily in the previous clip above. You can also see him do a running jump and clipping his foot on the edge nearest to him right at the beginning of his jump.

Regardless, doing such a jump is still, for most, a risky, advanced skill. However, a jump is a jump is a jump. Its requirements from a musculoskeletal standpoint, as well as command from the central nervous system, require the individual the be springy (something we lose with age if not practiced), supple, agile, strong and powerful, at whatever that level of strength, agility or flexibility one may be. It’s not how far, how high or how hard you jump (or lift, or throw, or punch), it’s that you do those things that matters.

So, go out and do something. Look at this funny little clip of my younger son jumping. That’s a big deal to him, to be able to do that, at 2 years old. Start there!

 

Expanding The Natural Method to Equipment

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A conversation, or rather a question I frequently have seen in various groups I belong to, when it comes to natural movement patterns and not limiting the association to Hébert’s Natural Method, is: what makes a movement natural?

How is lifting a rock overhead any more natural than a barbell, for instance? Because a rock can be found out in nature, and a barbell is a man-made object, therefore it’s not natural?

Is squatting with a sandbag better than doing a double-kettlebell front squat?

The Natural Method is not about the tool, nor is it about the execution of a movement with a tool-specific technique or form. Additionally, this statement is also not about form-bashing or questioning one organization’s technique or approach. Quite the contrary, it’s surface level rather than digging deep, if I may say so.

Yes, essentials of good form require solid foundations in technique and form to ensure a safe execution, which leads to long term progress. There comes a point where you individualize, personalize and find your way. You can find your way by finding what you truly want and need, with trial and error, experience, education and observation. The guidelines set for any given tool serve as your launchpad to proper execution.

Martial Arts are a great example of this. At first, you teach a person how to adopt a good fighting stance that allows both offense and defense. You throw that jab or cross without dropping the non-punching hand cover that side’s cheek and ribs as the punch hits its intended target (air, mitt, bag or face). If there