Thursday, October 28, 2010

What Are the 5 Levels of Breath

Updated 2 May 2013

There are many ways to breathe. Some better some worse. Some good some bad. Some safe some dangerous. In this article we'll introduce some of the common types and arrange them in order.

We'll also answer once and for all the question of "how to breathe during (weight training) exercises?"

Why is this so important? Breathing properly during your exercises can make or break you. It is one of the components of proper technique (remember the 7 Key Components of Structure). Done properly, your breath can maximize your performance. Done improperly your breath can kill you.

The 5 levels of breath are summarized in the Breath Mastery Scale (adapted from Prasara Yoga by Scott Sonnon):

1) Fear Level Breath: passively (reflexively) inhale and brace on perceived effort

2) Anger or Force Level Breath: actively inhale and brace on perceived effort

3) Discipline Level Breath: actively exhale on perceived effort/discomfort; passively inhale on cessation of effort/discomfort

4) Flow Level Breath: passively exhale on compression; passively inhale on expansion

5) Mastery Level Breath: control pause after exhalation on activity
For all intents and purposes, i'll only cover what is important to you, ie the layman, and not give exhaustive explanation of the hows and whys.

The breathing techniques highlighted in red are not to be used at any exercise. The reason being the breath holding would increase your blood pressure. And if the pressure increases to very high, it can cause stroke or heart attacks. It can be argued that for maximal efforts such as powerlifting you need to hold your breath, but remember that we are a health first fitness system. Performance at the expense of health is not real health.

As an aside, even when you encounter fear or anger, you should not inhale and brace either. As prolonged exposure to this type of breathing would increase your overall muscle tension (read upper thoracic breathing, tight upper traps, forward head posture etc.), which would lead to poorer health and performance. You should instead exhale and do some exercises to release the tension (ala RESET, included in the FREE Recuperat8 package).
Discipline Level Breath is the one that you should employ in most of your strength & conditioning exercises. The exhalation causes activation of the core muscles that serves to stabilize the body and in that manner you tie the body into one unit to create linkage for force transfer from limb to limb or one part of the body to another.

Flow Level Breath is the one you should employ when the effort level is low enough that you do not need the exhale to create sufficient stiffness in your core. An example of this is during joint mobility exercises in Intu-Flow. Another example would be in endurance efforts where energy conservation is a primary concern, like marathon running.

Your breath would evolve from Discipline to Flow as you get better in a particular exercise. The evolution from Discipline to Flow cannot be forced. It happens subconsciously as your nervous system gets more efficient in a particular skill. As you make the exercise more difficult through increased resistance, volume, sophistication etc, you may need to go down to Discipline again, going back and forth as needed.

Sounds complicated? If you can't remember anything, just remember these:

1) Exhale on effort

2) Exhale on compression

3) Exhale on impact/contact (with the floor, punching bag, your opponent etc.)

Why did i not give instructions on when to inhale? Because the body already knows how to inhale. People already have a tendency to inhale forcefully and therefore we shall not promote that kind of breathing technique and decrease their health and performance.

Monday, October 25, 2010

TACFIT Mass Assault Video Compilation

My blog post TACFIT Mass Assault Review is the top viewed post in my blog. For those of you who have read the review, here are some more goodies for you: excerpts of the program with Clubbells.


Thursday, October 21, 2010

TACFIT Rope Review

What is suspension training

Simply put, suspension training is using a suspension system to create instability in bodyweight exercises to challenge the body even more than if the body is supported on a solid surface.

What is normally easily done on the floor (eg. push ups) would be harder done if the hands or feet are suspended on a rope.

My background and rings
My first exposure to suspension training was when i was in artistic gymnastics. The high school teams in Singapore did not compete the rings so it was just a novelty training equipment at our gym. Sometimes we would try some movements on the rings and find out how extremely difficult just to swing on them.

Fast forward a few years to National Service. My unit did not have a gym, so i made do with bodyweight exercises.

So after a few years of not having regular access to gyms, i have grown accustomed to training bodyweight only or with minimal equipment.

Then i discovered that there are people selling rings out there. I recalled the good old days in gymnastics team when we would play with the rings. So i bought myself a set and an instructional DVD for the rings.

Great exercises for building extreme strength and stability in the shoulders. However, the rings are somewhat bulky and heavy (mine are the original Power Rings, made of steel). And the training methodology is not that portable. I mean would you train max strength most of the time, with a high degree of instability and narrow margin for error. Not practical to be trained often especially in highly fatigued state. So they stayed in my closet for a few years.

Enter the TRX

Since the TRX was released several years ago, it has become synonymous with suspension training.

My first exposure with TRX was at an SnC gym in Singapore. I didn't give it much attention since i am not a fan of foam padded handles. And if unconditioned people like it, it must not be hardcore enough.

What can be harder than exercises on the rings? Hardcore gyms use rings, not TRX.

Only after the release of TACFIT R.O.P.E. did i pay more attention to TRX.

After looking at it in more details, the marketing of TRX says something to this effect:
-You don't want to train for hours at the gym.
-You can have a great workout anytime, anywhere.
-There are hundreds of exercises that you can do with it.
-Of course the usual stuff on attributes like strength, endurance, cardio etc.
-You can lose weight, gain muscle and the usual physique stuff.

Why i am not sold on TRX

Well, i have no doubt on the effectiveness of the program. What is holding me back is everybody seems to be saying the same things on their fitness programs. Everybody says their program and tools can help you save time, do hundreds of exercises, lose fat, build muscle, build strength etc. You could effectively substitute the name of their product or program with another and it won't make a difference.

I have had enough of the marketing of attributes and physique. Even the most simple program (eg, Pavel's PTP, ETK etc.) can achieve these things. Nothing special. Btw, i am not saying that simple is bad. These simple programs are much better than a complicated program made of ten variations of isolation exercises. But what i am looking for is complex skill development.

I don't train for hours at the gym. If you do, that is the problem of your program design. You need to rethink how to design your training program. The solution is not changing the tool to TRX.

I don't need TRX to have a great workout anytime anywhere. I have this through bodyweight exercises. I already had kettlebells and clubbells so i can have a great workout using them anytime, though not fully anywhere (if you don't have a car).

I don't need hundreds of exercises. Yes you can know many exercises, but how many are you going to do in a workout? The magic of program design is in knowing when to do what and how much.

If you don't know, kettlebell sport, International Clubbell Sport, Trial By Fire, has only two to three exercises and practicing them in exclusion to other movements can make you stronger than a lot of people who do more than a dozen ineffective exercises.

And lastly the TRX cost almost 3x as much as a set of rings. Crazy pricing. I have no doubt about their quality, but i am not going to spend my cash on them.


What got me sold on TACFIT R.O.P.E is this:

"Suspension training gives us the ability to use gravity in new dimensions. The suspension aspect of ROPE builds strength in all 6 Degrees of Freedom."

That simple. The unique thing about CST is the movements. We are taught and encouraged to train more complex movements. To become more neurologically efficient. Because in real life, movements are never only one dimensional.

You can keep your movements simple and basic, increasing the difficulty and intensity through resistance, time, reps etc. But it is boring. To keep progressing you need more complex movement patterns that covers more than one or two dimensions, ie in the 6 Degrees of Freedom.

If you haven't known TACFIT yet, you should get acquainted with it and CST. It's not the tool that does the magic, although good tools definitely make things easier to do, but it is the program design. Everything from the protocol, exercises and tools play a part in creating the perfect program.

Alright, i think i have said enough on how good this program is. Click here to get your own copy now:

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

What Are the 7 Key Components of Structure?

Updated 2 May 2013

The 7 Key Components of Structure refers to the configuration of 7 major joints/joint complexes and their surrounding musculature in any exercise.

These are:

1) Grip Confirmation
2) Elbow Lock
3) Shoulder Pack
4) Crown to Coccyx Alignment
5) Core Activation
6) Hip Recruitment
7) Leg Drive

What's so special about these? Nothing really. We know these (or some of these) Components at the back of our minds and are taught them in fitness school, but not in the explicit manner presented in CST.

In CST it is made very explicit what these are and you can describe the technique of any exercise easily using the 7 Components.

These Components are absolutely essential for good Technique (RPT). All of them are important but there are some Components that people tend to lose structure in and we remind them over and over.

Different exercises requires different configurations of the Components but the idea for all of them is to create a stable structure for the body so that it can utilize the most strength to produce a safe and powerful movement.

Take note that all of the Components' structure must be in place otherwise the movement produced would not be efficient, effective or safe. Isolation is a myth. All the body must work together in unison. Every exercise is a core exercise.

Let's take the example of the Push Up to demonstrate what these are.

Good push up (Source)

Correct Components
Component Top Position Down Movement Bottom Position Up Movement
Grip About shoulder width, fingers forward, weight on the palm heels
Elbow Locked,
elbow pits turned to face forward
Pull yourself down, pinch your elbows to your ribs Elbows back, pinched tight to ribs Press from the armpits, through the elbows, corkscrew the arms outward
Shoulder Lats tight, pull the shoulders away from the ears, toward the feet
Crown to Coccyx Straight line from head to heels, look between your hands
Core Abs tight (brace) Exhale on effort (high resistance)
or inhale on cessation of effort (low resistance)
Abs tight (brace) Exhale on effort
Hips Tuck your tail under, butts tight, lock your anal sphincter
Legs Quads tight, knees locked, on the balls of the feet, pull the toes toward your shins

It seems that the push up is an exercise common and simple enough that everybody should be able to do it properly, but no. Doing a Google Image search, the first picture that comes up in the results is a bad push up.

Bad push up (source)

Another bad push up (source)

Bad Components
Component Top Position Down Movement Bottom Position Up Movement
Grip Too wide a grip width, fingers pointing in directions other than forward
Elbow Not locking the elbows Flaring the elbows
Shoulder Sagging the chest, not engaging the lats and letting the shoulders shrugged
Crown to Coccyx Sagging at the waist, looking up (forward), pushing the head downward
Core Not bracing Inhaling on effort (high resistance) Losing the brace Holding the breath on effort
Hips Sagging at the hips, lifting the hips in lordosis, not keeping the glutes tight
Legs Not locking the knees, relaxing the quads

If you can't maintain structure throughout all the 7 Key Components, it is very likely that the version of exercise that you selected is too difficult for you. Either decrease the resistance or sophistication to ensure that you have correct structure before resuming your exercise.

Also take note that tight does not mean maximal tension. It means selective tension.

If the resistance encountered is high, you need to be tighter. The tighter the lighter. In maximal efforts, maximal tension is likely to be required.

If the resistance is lower, you don't have to use maximal tension. Only use as much tension as necessary (tight-loose-tight) to maintain proper structure. For endurance efforts, controlling the amount of tension is crucial to prevent premature fatigue.

Check out TACFIT Mass Assault to see how to apply the 7 Key Components on dumbbell-based exercises:

Or TACFIT 26 for a variety of bodyweight and weighted exercises:

Friday, October 15, 2010

Exclusive Interview with Jeffry Larson

We are very honoured to have with us here Jeffry Larson, Chief Warrant Officer Four of the US Army for an interview. He is also one of a few people who have made it to be a Circular Strength Training Head Coach and TACFIT Team Leader.

Herman Chauw: Hi Jeffry, could you tell us about your fitness background?

Jeffry Larson: “Fit” is not a word that I would use to describe myself growing up. While I was tall for my age and was doing martial arts I was also overweight and a poor performer athletically. This continued to be the case all the way through college and even after I got married. It was not until after I joined the military that I became serious about fitness and my quest to find the best system to reach my goals. Unsatisfied with the limitations of military physical training and the mainstream fitness world I finally discovered CST and never looked back. Since then I have gone one to become a CST Head Coach and one of the first TACFIT Team Leaders.

TACFIT Team Leader "Q" - The Qualification Exam from Scott Sonnon on Vimeo.

HC: How long have you served in the Army? What do you do in the Army?

JL: I have been in the U.S. Army for over 16 years. I am a Chief Warrant Officer in the Army Band field currently serving as the commander of the 113th Army Band “Dragoons” at Fort Knox, KY. My duty as a warrant officer is to train my unit to be both technically and tactically proficient so that they are capable of performing their mission to a high standard in any environment including a combat zone. Along these lines some of my experiences have included engaging with the Afghan National Army Band in a mentoring relationship and performing for the President of the United States in high-visibility ceremonies.

HC: What does a typical week look like in the Army?

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Revisiting Program Design - Part 2 - the Four Ts

So have you gotten yourself confused by the FITT? I certainly had. Even after three years in physiotherapy school i hadn't had the slighted idea of a working formula for program design. It was still very arbitrary and too many variables.

Let's enter CST again into the picture and how it can fit in the FITT principles.

F and I has been covered over and over again in the 4x7. So there is nothing new to add here.

The two Ts in FITT can be expanded in more detail into four Ts. These are:


You have to define whether you are going for 1RM strength, 3RM, 5RM, strength endurance (define the rep range, eg 100 reps, 500 reps, 1000 reps etc.), cardiovascular endurance etc.

You also need to define the speed of muscular contraction, eg. ballistic, plyometric, grind, isometric etc.

Training for one tension type eg 1RM may improve other strengths near the rep range but the further they are the less carry over there is so you need to be specific.


You need to define whether you are going to use bodyweight, kettlebell(s), Clubbell(s), barbell, dumbbell(s), sandbag etc. Some of these can be substituted with another but the effect would be different.

Proficiency in one tool does not guarantee carry over to another tool, eg being able to do a handstand on the floor does not guarantee you being able to do the same on the rings.


This is a very basic principle in any kind of skill acquisition. The skill practiced must reflect the skill desired.

To press a lot, one must press a lot. And then what kind of press needs to be defined too, eg two handed press, one handed press, standing press, seated press etc.

If you are training for a skill which you are not able to do yet, your training must reflect the component skills that you can do which leads to the skill desired.


This refers to the protocol. In the most simple terms, this refers to the reps and sets.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Revisiting Program Design - Part 1 - the FITT

We have been taught in fitness school that we should design our training program according to the FITT principles:


Here are some typical guidelines based on this.
FITT Principles, adapted from FIT Society - Winter 2007 - ACSM

Simple eh? Not so. There are still a lot of variables not touched in this guideline, which can be very arbitrary, especially for beginners. Resulting in ineffective program designs. At least for me there were still a lot of questions unanswered.

Let's just take a look at some of these unanswered questions and the ridiculous comments that can arise out of following this guideline.


So outside the 3-4 days of training, it means no activity at all? Or is it not defined? So if i put a high intensity soccer game on one of the non-training days, would it be okay? Would it interfere with my training? I could even put 3 high intensity soccer games on my 3 non-training days.

How do i schedule these 3-4 days? Can i put them back to back?

Do i put them mon-wed-fri or tue-thur-sat?


So 3 sets of 8-12 reps is the holy grail huh? What about singles, doubles, triples, and all the rep ranges up to hundreds or thousands?

What is the rest period between each set?

I want to tone my arms, so i'll stick to light weights. 12 reps not enough, i'll do twenty reps.

I'll train to failure every set, every exercise, every training session.

Are three sets enough? Is this too much?

So 65% MHR is the guideline. If i want to burn more fat, i should be doing the lower range, ie 65% right? I shouldn't be doing anything higher than this if i want to maximize my fat burn.

Exclusive Interview with Ryan Murdock

Ryan Murdock is an Rmax Faculty Coach and a travel writer. As one of the pioneers in Circular Strength Training, he has done more Double Density cycles than you care to count. In this exclusive interview, we'll get him to shed some light on his travelling lifestyle and how CST/TACFIT fits in.

Herman Chauw: Hi Coach Murdock, thank you for agreeing to have this interview. Could you tell us a bit about your background.

Ryan Murdock:

HC: How long have you been a travel writer and what interests you in this profession?

RM: I guess I started writing seriously in about 2000, while living in Tokyo. But I’ve always written, even as a kid. I like travel literature because it can be so many things — autobiography, memoir, anthropology, prose poetry, cultural critique, history, etc. And the best combines elements of each. Writing about travel suits me because I’m only really good at writing about myself.

HC: Other than being a travel writer and the Rmax seminars, what is your schedule like? Do you teach physical training to clients?

RM: I do have a few clients that I work with several times a year, but these days I’m mainly focused on ebooks and on building our Inside Access program at

HC: How many countries have you been to and how often do you travel? How many days a month are you away from home? And out of these how many days are spent actually travelling, ie on flights, transit, trains, buses etc.?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

What are the Intuitive Training Protocols

What is safe? What is unsafe?

How to determine how much you can push before you throw in the towel?

What is hardcore? What is plain stupid?

How to determine if you have done enough, too little or too much?

How to determine when to progress?

I am sure these are just some of the many questions beginners often ask. And actually, there is one answer than answers them all: "it depends". Depends on what? Depends on the Intuitive Training Protocols.

Let the Protocols come and answer these questions once and for all. These are your "form police", or rather your "guardian angels" that keep you within the safe zone.

1) Rate of Perceived Technique (RPT). This is the subjective evaluation of your technique on a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being the worst technique, 10 being the best technique that you can ever do in your current condition. Your technique must be 8 and above at all times to be safe and effective.

More on proper Technique would be expounded under the 7 Key Components of Structure.

2) Rate of Perceived Discomfort (RPD). This is the subjective evaluation of your discomfort or pain on a scale of 0 to 10, 0 being none, 1 being minimal discomfort, 10 being the worst pain you could ever imagine. Your discomfort must be 3 and below at all times to be safe.

3) Rate of Perceived Effort (RPE). This is the subjective evaluation of how hard you work on a scale of 0 to 10, 0 being none, 1 being minimal effort, 10 being the maximal effort that you gauge you can put out at your current condition.

Depending on your training schedule, you vary your effort as dictated by the intensity. More of this to be covered under 4x7.

So answering the questions as posted above:

Q: What is safe? What is unsafe?
A: Safe is RPT => 8 and RPD =< 3. Unsafe is when these two criteria are not satisfied.

Q: How to determine how much you can push before you throw in the towel?
A: As long as RPT => 8 and RPD =< 3, you can max out your RPE.

Q: What is hardcore? What is plain stupid?
A: Hardcore is doing one more rep despite your body telling you to quit. Of course the above conditions of RPT => 8 and RPD =< 3 must be satisfied. Stupidity is not paying attention to the technique and discomfort and keep going on despite poor technique and discomfort/pain. This can result in injury.

Q: How to determine if you have done enough, too little or too much?
A: No Intensity is RPE 1-2, Low Intensity is RPE 3-4, Moderate Intensity is RPE 5-7, High Intensity is RPE 8-10. Intensity can be adjusted by changing the number of sets/reps/rounds, exercise complexity, changing the rest periods, changing the density, changing the resistance etc.

Q: How to determine when to progress?
A: When RPE drops to =< 6 while keeping RPT => 8 and RPD =< 3 for a certain exercise or program, you can progress to the next level, this can mean adding more reps, adding more weight or progressing to a more complex movement.

What are the 6 Degrees of Freedom

We all have been taught in fitness school that the body moves in three planes of motion: sagittal, frontal and transverse.

Now, there is nothing wrong with this model, but limited. Because:
1) It does not describe the type of movement along these planes.
2) It can become very difficult to define these planes in positions other than the anatomical position.

In CST, and in aeronautics, we use the 6 Degrees of Freedom model to describe human movement.
This is a more complete model as:
1) It describes not only the planes of movements, but also the type of movement - translational or rotational.
2) You do not need to define the planes of motion, just the movement. Therefore it can be very easy to define a movement in other than anatomical position, eg from a very twisted pose in yoga.

Some examples of movements in each degree of freedom include:

Surge: walking forward/backward
Sway: sidestepping
Heave: jumping up and down

Pitch: forward/backward somersault
Roll: cartwheel
Yaw: turning left/right

Try defining the above exercise in the 3 planes of motion. I can't. Maybe i am just stupid or inexperienced. But i can easily define it in 6 Degrees of Freedom: pitch, yaw and sway.

For more info, check out these articles in Wikipedia:
Six Degrees of Freedom
Degrees of Freedom (mechanics)

To start training in 6 degrees of freedom, check out Flowfit:

Monday, October 4, 2010

What is Circular Strength Training

Circular Strength Training (CST) is a health-first fitness system.

A system can be defined as:
1) An organized set of interrelated ideas or principles.
2) An organized and coordinated method; a procedure.

Therefore it is not just a program, neither a collection of programs, but a way of looking at things, a different perspective and application of the science of physical performance and human movement as a whole.

CST is a movement art, as contra to sports science or exercise physiology.
Science defines, art applies.
Science is definitive, art is elusive.
Science defines, art challenges.
Science is black or white, art is colourful.
Science says "yes" or "no", art says "maybe".
Science asks "why", art asks "why not".
Science is easily understood, art is often misunderstood.

Our fitness hierarchy is:

1) Health - being pain-free.

2) Mobility - the ability to move freely in all directions and in complex patterns.

3) Function - the ability to do normal human movements efficiently and effectively, ie run, squat, jump, lift, throw etc.

4) Attributes - "fitness" qualities like strength, muscular endurance, cardiovascular endurance etc.

5) Physique - how the body looks.

CST consist of three integrated "rings" of:

1) Joint mobility - the ability of the joints to move freely in full range of motion in various patterns and  directions.

2) Bodyweight agility and coordination, aka Prasara Bodyflow Yoga - the ability of the body to move freely in full range of motion in various shapes, patterns and directions.

3) Athletic weight lifting and swinging, including Clubbell swinging - the ability to wield an external object in full range of motion in various patterns and directions.

Refer to for the full story of CST.

And a concise definition of the system here: