The New Anatomy of Ninja Essentials

Ninja Essentials is the most refined class we offer at Mark Fisher Fitness.  When I say refined, I’m as literal as the dictionary definition:

re·fined

adjective:

  1. with impurities or unwanted elements having been removed by processing.
  2. elegant and cultured in appearance, manner, or taste.
  3. developed or improved so as to be precise or subtle.

Ninja Essentials focuses on the essential exercises that we use at Mark Fisher Fitness. We strip out the complicated variations and complex choreography to focus on the exercises that are the essential building blocks of every worthwhile exercise routine. We practice these exercises, constantly rehearsing and improving, until we demonstrate mastery of the movement. Then, we do it again. And again. We repeat over and over, with the intention of improving 1% every rep, every set, and every workout. Here’s why.

At MFF we practice kaizen, a Japanese phrase used to describe continual improvement. We’re the best at getting better when our focus is narrow, like a spotlight, rather than wide, like a floodlight.

Getting better at a focused goal is far more achievable than getting better with a wide, loose focus. By choosing several exercise categories, our narrow focus becomes more clear, and our goals can focus on the process of excellence.

In her article on Easy Bake Strength, my Scissor Sister of Strength, Amanda Wheeler, noted that when we narrow down our focus on movement, there are five essential movements we can use. In the tradition of honorary Ninja Master Dan John, these movements are:

  • Squat
  • Hinge
  • Push
  • Pull
  • Core Stabilization

When it comes to exercise selection, these are the biggest five buckets that our program designers use to write workouts, from our Ninja Baptism for those who are brand-new to exercising at the Clubhouse, to our most advanced Snatched: Project X strength and conditioning program. If it’s your first workout, or your last, your workout includes exercises that fit into these five categories.

One of our goals in Ninja Baptism is to focus on the simplest exercises that fit into these movement categories. By focusing on these specific origin exercises, we see relative improvements in every exercise in the category. This method of refinement is as much about investing in our movement practice as it is simplicity and precision.

Consider the following exercises which fit into the aforementioned movement categories:

  • Squat: Goblet Squat, Split Squat
  • Hinge: Deadlift, Swing
  • Push: Push-Up
  • Pull: Bent Over Row
  • Core Stabilization: Plank, Bear Crawl, Farmer’s Carry

Those nine exercises are the essentials of our Ninja Essentials class. Excellence at those nine can lead to excellence in almost every other exercise that we’ll use in our other classes and semi-private training. After all, it’s called Ninja Essentials, for a reason, right?

At the beginning of December, we began our newest version of Ninja Essentials, designed by Coach Fury. Ninja Essentials has always focused on these integral movement patterns, and in our newest version of class, Fury sought a fresh approach to a class that’s the epitome of our kaizen culture. I sat down with Coach Fury and asked him a few questions…

HG: Why the redesign?

CF: When most people think about class at Mark Fisher Fitness, they think about kettlebells. When most people think about kettlebells, they think about kettlebell swings. Kettlebell swings are definitely one of the best exercises out there, but they also require loads of practice over time. Over the last #5YearsOfGlory, we’ve learned that our swings can improve even more when we focus on the movement pattern rather than the swing itself.

When we practice the deadlift, we practice creating tension. The slower-paced deadlift gives us a better opportunity to really tighten up our bodies on every rep. As we improve our ability to create tension, the swing will only get better from the start.  If we don’t invest that quality time, that swing will only improve at a much slower pace.

This is also a way to instill in the Ninjas the idea that complexity does not always equal better.  It simply means more complex. In turn, that gives them permission to “run their own race” both physically and emotionally during class.

As the programming in our Kick-Ass Conditioning and Superhero Strength classes advanced, we learned more and more about pacing and intensity. We realized that our old Ninja Essentials class had actually became the most physically demanding class. We know that practicing movement is important, and that it becomes more difficult to move with precision when we’re working at the edge of our abilities. In redesigning Ninja Essentials, class is spaced out more evenly to ensure there’s more time to recover and really nail those essentials.

HG: How do you think new Ninjas can benefit from this version of Ninja Essentials?

CF: New Ninjas are truly going to have the chance to hone their movement craft and sharpen their essential skills towards mastery with the simpler class. By creating a better investment in their movement quality, they’ll be even more prepared and able as they learn more advanced kettlebell skills.

Week Four Ninja Essentials was such a drastic increase from a physical intensity standpoint, that it sometimes felt like it was too hard for Ninjas to practice these exercises. Rather than continuing that long-term practice and refinement, sometimes you were holding on for dear life! Aggressive, I’m-about-to-shit-blood workouts are fun for some people, but they’re definitely not essential for hotness, and sometimes training too hard can actually interfere with your health!

The new Ninja Essentials still follows the four-week class cycle, but does so in a more subtle way. It’s a safe space to practice great technique while still getting a great workout that’s appropriate for everyone, from Week One to Week Four.

HG: How will veteran Ninjas benefit from this version of Ninja Essentials?

CF: Ninja Essentials has always given Ninjas the ability return to their roots and refine the movement skills that are the foundation of everything else.  In this version, we’re even more focused on that. Ninja Essentials has traditionally included a B Track of exercises, alternatives to the nine essential movements that we’ve pulled from Kickass Conditioning and Superhero Strength in the last class phase. This time around, we’re not doing that. The B Track is closer to the A track, and we’re going to keep it steady for several rounds at a time.

By focusing on that consistent B Track, we’re allowing our veteran Ninjas to be even more precise in the exercises that they’re practicing, so that precision has a better chance of carrying over to more complex exercises. It may sound counter-intuitive that practicing less exercises can make you better at more exercises, but that’s exactly what happens.

Ninja Essentials is the time to be single-mindedly focused on being the best that you can be on these essential exercises. During other classes we add other variations, and sometimes they become really complex. That complexity almost always works better when we’ve established a solid foundation of the basics. This is like a singer practicing their arpeggios, a dancer practicing at the barre, or a martial artist reviewing their grappling drills.

HG: Now that we have a new version of class, specifically without alternative exercises, what do you hope the Ninjas experience?

CF: I hope that Ninjas experience more freedom in the confines of class to truly run their own race by reading themselves in the moment on any given day, and adjust their pace accordingly. This will let them focus on the weight that they’re lifting, the tempo that they’re moving at, and how much tension that they’re creating. By focusing on that, they’re truly set up to #crush.

HG: Does that mean they should take this class every day? Once a week? How would this fit into a Ninja’s schedule?

CF: I think that Ninjas should take this class as often as they’d like! Really, it depends on what you want. For newer Ninjas, it’s going to be a great place to build confidence in your movement skills before check out the other classes. If you practice and improve your essential movements, you’ll be more prepared to learn the other variations we explore in Kick-Ass Conditioning, Superhero Strength, and Circuit Party.

Veteran Ninjas can use Ninja Essentials to really hone the basics, especially if they haven’t focused on them in a while. Don’t worry about the spices, and get after the meat and potatoes of good, quality exercise. That’s what Ninja Essentials is all about, being brilliant at the basics.

If you’re taking Ninja Essentials once or twice a week, checking in with your movement and then applying that practice to your other classes or semi-privates, you’re setting yourself up for success in every other workout that you do. Kaizen, baby!

HG: Fury, thanks for sharing your wisdom with us today!

CF: ::High-Fives::

There you have it, Ninjas, the insights and intellect, the weight-room wisdom and wizardry of Coach Fury! I’ve been excited all week about teaching this new version of Ninja Essentials, and it holds up to everything Fury’s just shared with us. We’re more clear than ever in our emphasis on being brilliant at the basics, and the artistic choices for this revival give a better workout for everyone across all four weeks of the class cycle. Just like Hogwarts, Ninja Essentials will always be there to welcome you home!

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