Honing Your Chops

I first heard the phrase honing your chops when I first got into playing music. It means to practice your technique, or work on the fundamentals. In music, it might refer to scales or moving form one chord shape to another, but in fitness, what does it mean to you?

Most anyone who spends a lot of time lifting weights is probably guilty of always going for the bigger weights. If you can strict press “the Beast” (106lb KB), why bother with 12kg or 16kg presses?

In Martial Arts they say that a Black Belt is just someone who has mastered the basics, and is finally ready to really start learning. The same goes for professionals in any endeavor . . . the pros practice the basics; endlessly, tirelessly & ruthlessly.

As for the athletic specimens who walk in and snatch 48kg on their first try . . . they are fewer & farther in between than anyone of us might imagine. Even if they do exist, they likely honed their chops elsewhere, in some pursuit that has phenomenal carry-over.

Since we’ve mentioned the Strict Press, let’s roll with that one. Why would you work with a 12, 16, or even 24kg Kettlebell if you can press the Beast for reps? Are Strict Presses the only thing you can do to improve your, um, Strict Presses? 

Let’s back off the Beast for a minute . . . maybe you’re trying to make the jump from the 16 to the 20 or 24kg, or from the 12kg upwards . . . a high volume of strict presses will likely pay off, but there’s more going on than just the exercise under scrutiny.

A strong Press is a good indicator of healthy shoulders, but there’s a lot of work that goes into keeping your shoulders healthy. We might as well fast forward & acknowledge that a strong Press needs good stability, and good stability begins with your feet on the ground & works up through all the muscles, joints & ligaments in your body.

Your body is a chain, a band, if you liked the musician metaphor at the beginning of this post. No matter how good the singer is, she can’t do her job without a solid band behind & alongside her. Imagine if the bass player can’t do his runs, or the guitarist forgets his chords, or the drummer loses her rhythm . . . no one would think this was a very good band.

But we do think it is a very good band because you practice your speedwork, you practice Bottoms Up Presses, Overhead Squats, our handstands & pull-ups . . . you do whatever work it takes so that when the time comes, when you really want to Press & Press heavy, every necessary & contributing part of your body is ready & knows what to do.

Always practice the skills you want to improve. If you want to improve your Strict Press, practice it. Also practice the supplemental moves that lead to a stronger press. You’ll never meet someone who can press heavy, but has weak legs, a weak core, and a weak grip. If their Strict Press is strong, all of them is strong.

Practice doesn’t make perfect, but it does develop habits, and Strength is a habit . . . practice it to keep it sharp.

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