Wednesday, November 24, 2010

What Exactly is Yoga and What is its Place in CST

Updated 2 May 2013


Yoga is a word which means "yoke" or "union". What are we uniting in yoga? In most yoga schools it is defined as union of mind, body and spirit or something to that extend.

However in CST it is defined as the union of breath, structure and movement.

Therefore in the broader sense of the word, it can refer to any physical activity: weight lifting and swinging, running, jumping etc. As long as you need to coordinate breath, structure and movement you are doing yoga.

General Practice

In the narrower sense of the word, it refers to the specific physical practice of improving your quality of motor skills through the balance strength and surrender, usually using only the bodyweight (in poses and transitions) as a tool. Quality must be emphasized here as yoga practice (not yoga training) differs from bodyweight exercise or bodyweight strength & conditioning in that we do yoga not to do more, but to do better in our motor abilities.

We are seeking to improve our health, mobility and function, rather than attributes in yoga practice.

How often have you heard that doing yoga can help to improve strength and help with fat loss? And then how about those that say that yoga is "just stretching"?

Indeed you can use yoga for improving strength as there are poses that require a great deal of strength to perform.
Wheel pose (aka hand bridge)

However to separate strength from surrender is a physical impossibility. In the example of the bridge above, while everything on the back side of the body must exert strength to perform the pose, everything on the front must surrender to allow the strength from the back side to be expressed.

How about fat loss? The common practice of yoga with the emphasis on static poses has a limited use in terms of fat loss. Remember that there must be a middle point between resistance and velocity to produce the maximum amount of power. To elicit a fat burning effect, you also need to focus on the movement (aka transitions).

Specific Practice: Compensatory Movement

In CST, there is a specific practice under the second ring of Prasara Yoga for compensatory movement. The basic idea is that any kind of physical conditioning produces specific adaptations. These adaptations can be classified as the good (training effect) and the bad (residual tension).

Training effect refers to better strength, endurance or a combination of the two.

Residual tension refers to tension that lingers after training. If this tension is not released, it is going to cause a more chronic adaptation called myofascial density. The body recognizes the chronic tension and tells itself rather than and instead of maintaining muscular tension which requires energy, it would save the energy for the contraction by shortening the involved muscles and lay more fascial fibres to maintain the contraction.

Isn't it a very common observation (and warning) that doing "too much" crunches would cause shortening of the rectus abdominis and doing "too much" bench presses would cause tightening of the pecs.

And sooner or later (most likely later, over a long time, but it is a very real thing) you get sensory-motor amnesia, which is just the fancy name of forgetting how to move. Since the shortened tissues have been contracted for so long, the body forgets how to surrender them to lengthen.

This would happen if you do not release the residual tension through specific poses* to restore normal length to the soft tissues involved in your training.

*You can call these exercises "stretches" for all i care but they are not stretching in the traditional sense of lengthening isolated muscles past their normal length. You are also putting a stretch in the fascia (the connective tissues) and many other muscles. Isolation is a myth. The whole body works as a whole.

Sooner or later you are going to develop fear reactivity, which means that the body would tense up when you are called upon to perform unfamiliar movements. This is characterized by reflexively bracing upon perceived effort. This kind of sudden muscular contraction in soft tissue which are already tight from their limited range of motion is what causes a great deal of injuries to sedentary people. Heard of people injuring themselves lifting furnitures or other "heavy" weights?

As a general rule, after training always do poses that are opposite to what you trained for. Even if you don't do physical training, you also need compensatory movement. Do you know people who sit on a chair 8 hours a day, 5-6 days a week? I do. Don't you think it is going to cause a training effect of making you more and more chair-shaped?

If this describes you, do a lot of the upward dog pose and/or pigeon pose to open the hips and the front of the body.
Upward Dog Pose

Pigeon Pose

Further, in CST there is at least one day in a microcycle, the Low Intensity Day, which is dedicated to compensatory movement.

Transitions Between the Poses

The majority of the yoga world focuses on the poses. But an overlooked aspect of yoga practice is the transitions between the poses.

The transitions are as important as the poses or maybe more important. Each pose has an entry and exit. The ability to entry and exit to and from different poses gives an indication of the overall motor quality a person has. Being good in poses doesn't guarantee you good movement between the poses. Movement is also a balance of strength and surrender.

Take a look at this video of Tumbleweed Flow from Prasara A Flows. The poses are classic yoga poses which any decent yoga athlete should be able to do. Putting them in a flow using different transitions make so much of a richer practice.

Furthermore, practicing challenging (mobility wise or strength wise) poses also prevents fear reactivity by practicing the skill of the movements and making them more easily accessible during activities.

Get started with Prasara Yoga with Prasara Primer:

Thursday, November 11, 2010


So i just got my hands on a TRX Basic Training DVD. And this post is a comparison review of TRX and TACFIT R.O.P.E. (TFR)

Before i go on, i must tell you that the goal of my comparing TRX and TFR is not to bring down TRX, rather to give it a fair trial from a customer's point of view. And such, share an unbiased view of the value of the products in question.

I mentioned that i was not sold on the TRX some time ago. However i did not have access to their DVD so i can't really comment fully on its value. Hopefully this time they can convince me.

That said, i admit that it is still a bit unfair for TRX as i am not comparing their Force Training DVD with TFR. So until i get my hands on it, i just have to make do with this one.

It would be organized according to the 4Ps of marketing, ie price, packaging, place, product. I'll not review the equipment for product, but only the training program.

Pros are highlighted in blue. Cons are highlighted in red. Arguable points are not highlighted and would be elaborated below.


  • SGD380.00
  • Not sure if the DVD is available separately
  • Force DVD USD54.95 + shipping
  • USD49.95
  • E-product, no shipping cost
  • Nice presentation in a nice studio
  • Very hip kind of style
  • Charismatic instructor conducts the follow-along
  • Nice looking models demo the exercises
  • Instructions are not detailed
  • Models are wearing athletic trainers
  • No fluff
  • No charisma
  • No hip
  • No studio
  • Shot outdoors in the woods/park, super low budget production
  • Detailed instructions
  • No pretty models, only Coach Sonnon
  • Needs a DVD player
  • Can be more portable since it can be uploaded to an ipod.
  • 40 minutes
  • No warm up program
  • It is not clear if the flexibility program included is the cool down program
  • Flexibility program is not specific to the training movements
  • Flexibility program requires the use of the TRX
  • No recovery protocol/techniques for the recovery periods
  • Not detailed biomechanics taught for all exercises, eg. push ups are taught with the elbows flared and it is not explained why
  • Manual is very brief
  • 30 minutes
  • Warm up program included specific for the training movements
  • Cool down program included specific for the training movements
  • Cool down program does not require any equipment
  • Detailed biomechanics for all exercises
  • A detailed manual outlining all you need to know to complete this program from the easiest to the hardest progressions


Price wise, TFR wins.

Packaging wise, depends on how you see it. If you like to see a nicer package and don't mind spending the cash, then go for TRX. On the other hand if you don't mind the austereness and therefore budget savings, then TFR got it.

Place wise, TFR is more portable as if you have an ipod, you can view the video anywhere. TRX needs a DVD player. But this problem is a minor one as you could always write down the program on a piece of paper to make it even more portable. Tie.

Product wise, for me it is a hands down win by TFR for all the reasons stated above. The only contention is the use of the TRX for the flexibility program. You can say that it is a good marketing tool for them to show you that you "need" the TRX for it. There is even a Flexibility DVD sold on their website. On the other hand, if you are like me, i am a minimalist. If i can use nothing except my bodyweight and the floor, i would prefer that, like what is presented in TFR.

Special Mention: Push ups

One glaring thing that caught my attention from TRX is that they teach the push ups with the elbows flared. Why it is taught this way not explained. We know that according to the 7 Components of Structure, the elbows should be tucked in to the ribs to engage the lats to protect the shoulders.

At least if a certain technique they teach deviates from the norm, they should explain why it is done that way.

Somebody please give me a convincing explanation why it is a good idea to flare the elbows for push ups.

More on tools

As an aside, it seems that most popular fitness systems are very attached to their tools. New tools are being produced and marketed and new hypes are being promoted every now and then of a whole array of programs using these tools.

Tools are not wrong by the way, but hey, if you have to spend so much money to get these tools, why? Why oh why? If you are just looking for functional fitness, it can be achieved using commonly available tools, like your bodyweight alone. Your bodyweight is the most readily accessible tool everybody has.

If your sport depends on a specific tool exclusively, like weightlifting/powerlifting or kettlebell sport, then sure, that tool should be the mainstay for your program. But for the rest of the population, isn't it a better idea to use tools that are more readily available? Or if you have a variety of tools, to have decent proficiency in using them instead of just a limited range?

As Coach Sonnon says: the protocol is more important the technique, the technique is more important than the tool.


I recommend TFR anytime over TRX. On the other hand, i cannot recommend TRX. Even if i get it for free, i wouldn't want it. Thanks but no thanks.

Get your copy of TACFIT R.O.P.E. here by clicking on the picture:

Monday, November 1, 2010

What is Sophistication

Updated 2 May 2013

Sophistication is simply defined as "increasing motor complexity". There are many exercises that can be done for strength & conditioning. Some easier some harder. Some simpler some more complex. In fact there can be an infinite number of variations of an exercise. The limit of the number would depend only on your imagination.

So what is a beginner to do when presented with an encyclopedia of strength training exercises? He gets confused. So many variations of squats: back squat, front squat, dumbbell squat, one legged squat, bulgarian squat ad nauseum. And then there are variations designed by the "functional training" community: squats on a swiss ball and the like.

And then there are people who say that you need to change your routine every now and then. The reason being your body would get stale from doing the same movements over and over. Who wouldn't get bored doing squats after squats after squats year in year out? The common recommendation ranges from 3-4 to 4-8 weeks. But what to change? How to change? How to determine when to change?

Let's look at how sophistication can answer all these questions and stop all those confusion.

Why sophisticate

In CST, our goal is not only to avoid staleness as defined above. But also a plan to increase our neuromuscular efficiency. The idea is that you don't want to be stuck doing the same basic exercises all the time. As you get proficient in the basic exercises, you need to add more stimulus to your nervous system to keep progressing.

A common progression used by most systems obviously is the protocol, ie time, reps, sets, rest periods etc. Another commonly used is the resistance. But these do not change the motor complexity of the exercises.

In the movement disciplines of gymnastics, dances and the martial arts, sophistication is a highly sought after progression. Beginners and veterans are easily recognizable by the grace they have (or lack thereof) in executing simple and complex skills.

In these disciplines, points are rewarded for more complex movements or combinations. The reward doesn't go to "who can do the most push ups" or "who can do the most handstand push ups", but "who can do the most complex skills and make it look easy".

And indeed when you master the more complex skills, the more basic and easier skills would feel...easier. Much more than if you only practice the basic skills.

Not only your motor skills improve, by training more sophisticated exercises, you get a greater training effect compared to training the simpler variations. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. You save time and effort while getting a greater stimulus.

How to sophisticate

I'll give you some examples first then give you the explanation. For simplicity sake, i'll use conventional exercises (and programs) as examples and separate them according to different sophistication needs.

Original exercises (if applicable) are highlighted in blue.

Pavel's Power to the People
Level 1 Level 2 Level 3 Level 4
2H BB Military Press 1H BB Military Press BB Side Press BB Bent Press
2H Deadlift 1H Deadlift Suitcase Deadlift 1L Suitcase Deadlift (opposite arm)

Weightlifting based a big push and a big pull
Level 1 Level 2 Level 3 Level 4
BB Military Press BB Push Press BB Jerk BB Clean & Jerk
BB Deadlift BB High Pull BB Clean BB Snatch

Pavel's Enter the Kettlebell Rite of Passage
Level 1 Level 2 Level 3 Level 4
Goblet Press Military Press Side Press Bent Press
DeadliftSwing Clean Snatch

Pavel's Enter the Kettlebell Program Minimum
Level 1 Level 2 Level 3 Level 4
Floor Press Get Up Sit Up Half Get Up Full Get Up
2H Deadlift 1H Deadlift 2H Swing 1H Swing

KB Sport based a big push and a big pull
Level 1 Level 2 Level 3 Level 4
Goblet Press Press Push Press Jerk
Deadlift Swing Clean Snatch

There are many ways of sophisticating exercises, some of these are:

Adding explosiveness, eg: squat -> squat jump

Adding/changing a different degree of freedom, eg: press -> side press

Adding *instability, eg: front squat -> overhead squat
*By adding instability, i don't mean doing everything on the swiss ball.

Adding range of motion, eg: box squat -> full squat

Increasing leverage, eg: push up on knees -> push up on feet

Combination movements, eg: clean + jerk = clean & jerk

This list is by no means exhaustive. As mentioned above, the limit is your imagination.

When to sophisticate

The general guideline is to increase the sophistication when RPE drops to =< 6 while keeping RPT => 8 and RPD =< 3.

Another guideline is to increase the sophistication every month. Go through a full 4x7 cycle with Level 1. The next time you come back to the same program, start over at a Level 2, and so on.

You need to spend time on the lower sophistication levels before moving up. So even though we are a big advocate on sophistication, the importance on the basic exercises cannot be overlooked. Sophistication is powerful medicine. Used improperly, like progressing too much too soon, can cause residual tension and injury. Used properly, after mastering the lower levels, can be one of the most powerful tools in your toolbox.

Check out TACFIT Mass Assault to see how to sophisticate conventional dumbbell-based exercises:
Or TACFIT 26 on how to sophisticate a variety of bodyweight and weighted exercises: