Brilliance in the Basics

Table of Contents
Table of Contents
Community Article

by Chris Key @2ndQuadrantActions

    Brilliance in the Basics
    (Responders and our incessant need to overcomplicate things) 

    What does that even mean? I heard that a lot in the military, specifically in my job specialty. It would generally be followed by some statement that as things get more complicated, the harder you fall back on the basics will result in you rebounding through the difficult situation. Sometimes there is a need for complex answers and being able to navigate through very dense situations, but I don’t think that should be in the weight room or on a running trail unless you are a nationally competitive athlete. In that case, this article is not for you.

    Our jobs as tacticians, cops, nurses, EMT’s, and firefighters is complex enough. What I believe we need is to focus on the basics in the weight room without convoluting it with whatever bullshit some social media influencer is peddling that day. I’ve said it a million times, and I’ll say it again. I think the Westside Barbell Conjugate System is the most reliable, simple, and thorough plan we can follow. Especially if we are prone to injuries and “flare ups”. The system is autoregulatory, meaning it adjusts to whatever your weaknesses or danger areas are. I’ll give you an example. I have recurring knee pain in my left knee recently due to some mistreatment during my time in the military. This injury flares up when I go squat to full flexion and touch my hamstring to my calf. Looking at this closer and analyzing cardio movements that require repetitions of this motion, I understand that I must be extremely careful when using the RowERG from Concept 2. So if I want to use the rower, I now understand that during this inflammatory or sensitive period I have to be conscious of my “joint angle”. Otherwise it will cause me pain for several days. It doesn’t mean I can’t use the machine, it means I have to simply think through the exercise.

    It’s that simple. I find something that exacerbates symptoms, and I adjust the exercises accordingly to fit MY needs. Ask me the same thing 5 years ago and I would have told myself to stop being a wimp and power right through it. Hammer it until you can’t feel it or the pain becomes numb because your body has adapted to it. Back then I also followed structured programming that was cut to a “one size fits all” generalization. These programs can be awesome and yield significant gains to various people but I don’t believe that each person should be following programs like this *forever*. I believe cookie cutter programs are a tool to be used temporarily as they can be an awesome tool to help you learn yourself and your current weaknesses. They can help someone understand that they respond well to high repetition volume work. They can help another person understand that they respond poorly to repetition volume work. They can help someone find a movement that triggers pain which is arguably one of the most important things to find. 

    Once you’ve learned how you respond to specific exercises and rep schemes, it’s game on. 

    This is where I think the fun begins for us as responders. We’ve all made it through our respective schooling requirements and have the capability to critically think through a problem. Now the problem is our body’s weaknesses, and we have to understand how to address and attack those weaknesses through exercise. I have a weak core and weak hamstrings. Both of these weaknesses combined cause me excruciating back pain when I end up in a compromised position lifting load. How do I know these are my weak points? These are analyzed through compound (meaning several joints and muscle groups) lifts such as the Bench, Squat, Deadlift, Overhead Press, and Clean and Jerk.. In respect to brevity of this article, I will refer you to Movement Tiers for Squat and Deadlift Weakness – Elite FTS | EliteFTS // Movement Tiers for Bench Press Weakness – Elite FTS | EliteFTS . You can use these blueprints to attack where you are failing, or feel weakest in these lifts and use the listed exercises to attack those vulnerabilities. Once you have a general idea of where your weak points are, you hammer these weaknesses as hard as you can recover from (meaning you’re not debilitatingly sore, resting heart rate isnt sky rocketing, HRV isn’t in the gutter, you don’t feel like a hot pile of trash, a bunch of other measurables arent out of wack etc…) Why is it important to attack these weakpoints? Because weak points cause injuries, plain and simple. If you’re a police officer and your load bearing capability in your lower back is 350 pounds and someone attempts to wrestle you to the ground, you need to be able to exert and exceed that individuals power which may be greater than 350 pounds of force everywhere in your response. If your back can’t handle that force, your body will compensate with other forces to get the job done cuasing injuries to your tissues or ligaments. 

    With my lower back injury history, my requirements for pain management is a significant amount of core work and loading the hamstrings as frequently as I can recover from. Through a ton of trial and error I’ve found that the best exercises for me (for now) to attack these weaknesses are Planks, Side Bends, Planks with feet in Blast Straps, Standing Abs, Kneeling abs, Ab wheel roll outs, leg raises, Hamstring floor roller curls, Band Assisted Russian Leg Curls, Banded standing leg curls,  GHR’s, and Farmers Carry’s. For more ideas for core specific training, I’ll refer you to   A Core Training Blueprint for the Athlete – Elite FTS | EliteFTS. This brings up my next point, for this to work you need to read. That’s right, you need to study what has worked in the past. One thing to consider in particular, is if you have an actual injury, not just a minor injury. If this is the case for you, I strongly recommend looking into Seth Albersworth. Heres a taste of his quality material; The Mentality of Overcoming Injury – Elite FTS | EliteFTS

    Almost nothing we do is new. This is what separates the athletes in it for the long game and those chasing a “quick fix”. We as responders must focus on the long game in order to maintain our profession throughout the career, and more importantly to have a higher quality of life when we are done. That is why I advocate so strongly for looking for and listening to those who had gone before us and learning as much as humanly possible from those people. If we only listen to those who have a significant platform on social media due to six pack abs and eating bull testicles then we are missing the professional athletes in their 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s who are still living a wonderful quality of life. Why wouldn’t we want to listen to those who’s shoes we want to be in?
    Conversely, we have those we want to listen to because they know what NOT to do. This includes the legend Louie Simmons and innumerable members of Westside Barbell such as Dave Tate. In several interviews available wherever you listen to podcasts Louie mentions that he knows “what not to do” because of all the stuff he messed up. This includes using incredible amounts of band tension several times a week. We know what not to do because these guys tried it and couldn’t recover from it. I am very careful who I take advice from on exercise. I typically adhere to people who have experience in the topic (either coaching these individuals or being the athlete themselves). Another useful tool or reference is Dave Tates point system for ranking coaches. Alter some of the questions in your head to fit our needs such as “what have they done in the sport” should be “what have they done in the tactical community / Responder community”. For us, this is absolutely imperative. If someone is an elite level powerlifter but has no experience in the responder community, should they be the sole source of your training information?

    Listening to those who came before us can tell us what to, and what not to do. You will have to gauge this yourself and apply it to your own department, agency, and career specifics. If you are sitting in a staged ambulance in a very busy city, your needs will be different than a nurse who is on their feet bouncing from room to room. Likewise, if you are in an urban area as a police officer your training needs will be much different than a firefighter in the same area. You’ve got to analyze your work and try things out. 

    For a general starting point, once you’ve learned what your weaknesses are and how you can work on them, I believe that the majority of responders would benefit from an autoregulatory training system such as The Conjugate Method made famous by Westside Barbell. Training cannot be made any simpler or basic than this.

    • Lift heavy two days a week (one upper body, one lower body)
    • lift light but fast two days a week (one upper body, one lower body)
    • Fill in the blanks with whatever will help you get in better general shape.
      • For me this is 1x Long Cardio Session (45-90 mins)
      • 1x Interval session followed by SPP (specific physical preparedness)

    There is another method of training worth mentioning here, and that is 5/3/1 from Jim Wendler. I’m not as well versed in 5/3/1 but I have a general experience with it. In his books, Jim advocates for autoregulation and avoiding things that make you feel like shit. That’s something I can get along with. His methods are simple and they get people f*cking STRONG. You won’t be breaking any national powerlifting records, but that isn’t the point of 5/3/1 and I’m sure Mr. Wendler would say the same exact thing though I’ve never met the man. For brevity, I’ll refer you to his books 531 Training | EliteFTS or an article that I’ve enjoyed; 5/3/1 and Run – Elite FTS | EliteFTS

    Look, what I’m trying to get to here is you don’t need a bunch of fancy equipment or mental gymnastic methods to get strong enough to maintain job capability and live a life worth living. Please consider the methods above the next time you find yourself in a training lul and need some stimulation or a change of pace. Sometimes things will be boring, but we can alter the lifts to make them fun (pin squats, banded deadlifts, board presses, wearing supportive gear, limit the range of motion, increase the range of motion, etc…)

    In Closing, the basics work for our purposes as responders if we use them correctly. I’ve enclosed a reference list or good starting points. I recommend reading some of the following articles instead of scrolling instagram and watching what some 140# guy whos never picked up a patient or been in a fight in their life tell you what you need to do to be stronger in your job.



    Chris Key
    Chris Key @2ndQuadrantActions is a husband, father of two and veteran who uses his military experience, injury history, and lifelong commitment to learning to support other military and first responders through education. Contact Chris by email at [email protected] or on Instagram @2ndQuadrantActions