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King T.U.T.

September 28, 2009 11:11 AM

When it comes to generating strength, tension is king. Your muscles don't know whether you are lifting iron, rocks or sand, or if you are using isometric contractions, ala Charles Atlas. The implement you chose is simply a stimulus to generate and measure tension. Your muscles know that tension makes them stronger. Tense them hard, and they learn to tense harder. More strength.

If you are looking for economy in your workout time, or want to gain strength without adding bulk, or if your kettlebells are feeling light but you are not ready to upgrade, you need to meet King T.U.T.—Time Under Tension. The idea is: the longer you hold a contraction, the stronger you get. The more of your body under tension, the stronger you get.

The Turkish Get Up is known as a great shoulder strengthener because the lifter is required to support the weight overhead for the long duration of the exercise. Additionally, the weight is supported while moving the shoulder through various ranges of motion. With the TGU, there is more time under tension than with a standard military press.

You can take this principle to the next level with a complex I call King T.U.T., because it takes whole body tension to a new level. Like the mummy king of old, it is a treasure waiting to be opened. It is a complex of six lifts: a clean and press (bent, side, or military), a curl or clean, a windmill, a military press, a gladiator press, and an overhead squat. You can even work in a swing or snatch for a ballistic finisher.
  • Clean and press a kettlebell overhead. You can bent press or side press, in which case you will already be bending over and ready to receive the second kettlebell. If you military press the weight, lower yourself into a windmill. Alternately, you can snatch the kettlebell to get it overhead, then drop into the windmill.

  • While bending over, find the second kettlebell and curl it to your shoulder. If it is too heavy to curl, you can stand up with it and clean it. Beware: cleaning a kettlebell while supporting another overhead is tricky!

  • Stand up, windmill style, and military press the second kettlebell. Hold this overhead position for 10 seconds. Your entire body is tight, breathe behind the shield.

  • Lower the second kettlebell you just pressed. Take it to the rack, then slowly reverse the curl, and set the weight down. Place your hand on the ball of the kettlebell. Make sure your head is directly over the bell.

  • Carefully extend your legs to the side, so you are supporting yourself in a gladiator press. Hold this position for 10 seconds. Breathe tight and shallow. Want to make it harder? Raise the top leg, or drop the hips to the deck and perform a full gladiator press.

  • Bring your feet under you as follows: the top (non-supporting) foot steps over the other foot, and the other follows it. You are in the bottom position of an overhead squat. Want to make it harder? Lower the bell and perform a Sots press.

  • Stand up in an overhead squat. Not hard enough? Make it a pistol, it's your lift! Hold the bell overhead for as long as you like, and then lower it. That's one rep. Want to add some fun? Drop it from the overhead position and snatch it a few times. Combine the grinding lift you have just completed with a ballistic exercise. Your shoulders will thank you for the stimulation after the long overhead work they have been doing.
Rest a minute then do it on the other side. "Repeat until strong."

This complex places the stabilizing muscles of the trunk under tension for a good thirty seconds. The pectorals and lats act like wires on a tent pole, supporting the arm. The deltoids bear the brunt of the work, while the biceps, triceps, and forearms do their share as well. The abdominals and obliques support the weight in both the overhead and gladiator positions- in both vertical and horizontal planes of motion. The upper and lower back are tense throughout the complex, and the legs contract hard to root the body during most of the lift, then finish with an overhead squat. I dare you to find a muscle that is not working hard during this complex, even with a moderate weight!

For safety, keep your abs tight to protect your back. Practice Pavel's high tension techniques: squeeze the bell, contract your tailbone and navel, and breathe behind the shield. Like the Turkish Get Up, switch sides each rep. Time is the key factor here- slow down and savor every rep!

How does King Tut fit into your program? You can use it on your Enter the Kettlebell! ROP variety days. If you are doing Power to the People!, you can substitute five King Tut singles in place of the side presses, after the deadlifts. Follow it with swings for conditioning.

There you have it: one lift to rule them all. Strong, stable shoulders, a rock-solid midsection, a vice grip, the torso of a Greek statue, and legs that root you to the ground like tree trunks. Give it a try!

Dr. Steve Mathews is a North Carolina state champion in Taekwondo forms, and head instructor of the Master's Taekwondo School. He is a second Dan black belt.