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Steve Cotter. Some training insight.

Hi Steve,

I hear nothing but good things from you. Could you outline the theme of your training that relates to some of the incredible feats (80 pistols) that you do?? There is obviously massive hard work and mental focus, but do you think your neurological efficiency is off the charts? Or would you attribute your high level of effectiveness a product of a specific theme of high volume, low volume, high intensity, interval work, circuit work, etc. etc?

The numbers that you and Brett Jones put up for the Maxercise Challenge
(clean and press, windmill, overhead squat, snatch) are incredible. Is this type of anaerobic density training common or do you just focus on the TSC trio of exercises??

Thanks in advance for your input. I am always looking for new challenges.

Tom Furman RKCwww.physicalstrategies.com
Re: Steve Cotter. Some training insight. (long)

Hi Tom,

Thanks for your compliments and for your interest in my approach. I don't think I can answer your questions without giving you some background, so here goes:

Much of what I have been able to achieve in terms of extreme strength/endurance/flexibility is due to time and place. My situation in life when I was first exposed to Chinese internal MA was such that I became an instant devotee and had nothing other in life to devote myself to passionately. I was 12 years old when I began training (I am 33 now)and I was naive, and thus easily shaped. Combined with whatever genetic material I inherited (dad was a high level swimmer in the 1940s--there was Johnny Weismuller-Tarzan- and then there was everybody else-he was one of the everybody else; mom was not an athlete, but had a ferocious warrior spirit), I was a gifted mimic, and so learned the forms easily and well.
The senior student when I was a newbie, was an excellent leader and was into lots of pushups and high rep, high intensity conditioning, as was also the custom of the Taiwanese flavor of the hsing-i I learned. So my initial exposure was one of hard work (which, BTW, I have always taken to heart as the literal translation of kung fu (kung-time + fu- energy. Time + energy = a skillful ability. In other words, hard work). Over the years of training I became the leader and took the concept of high rep high and intensity to another level. Students knew when they came to my classes that they would be doing hundreds of pushups, tiger stretch (Hindu pushups) and ab variations as well as pistols (crane dips) horse stance and dynamic stretches as part of warmup. Then full speed vibration drills. Follow this with jumping kicks, duck walks and hop, sweeps, tumbling, mat work. Then the two man training: banging, hand drills, technique, and push hands. Mixed in would be root training and various chi gong/standing meditation (this could be viewed as an IMA version of active rest). Finally several matches of lively sparring. This is a typical class I led, and that is my initial background in training.

Regarding specifically my feats of high rep crane dips/pistols. My highest ever tested was eighty consecutive per leg. The specific context of this "test" was in the spirit of friendly rivalry among school brothers. As I was the #1 student at the time (I was 19), the #2 student and I were at an age and position to be competitive with one another. This resulted in many such contests and made for great training in general. One night, Will and I (he is now my brother in law, wouldn't you know it)were comparing one skill or another and the subject came up about our teacher, and how he had said that he used to do 50 reps per leg when he was training for contact tournaments in Taiwan. Will said, "how many do you think you can do?" "I think you can do more than 50". I said "I don't know" and before you know it, I was cranking out crane dips. The real tough part of it wasn't doing 80 crane dips. It was doing 80 again on the other leg. Frankly, I have never tried to see if I could surpass 80, as I can get easily bored with routines. It is only since discovering pistols w/ KBs that I started working on them again. Doing 5 or 10 w/ a really heavy weight is a lot easier that cranking out high reps. Now, w/ all the curiosity about my pistol capabilities, I am starting to train them again, as I am not one who is a proponent of living off of what I used to be able to do. So, back to reps. 100 reps seems like a nice round number. I'll let everyone know when I am ready to test that--it might be worth recording as an archive.
How did I achieve the level where I could get up to so many reps? Well, an interesting story. When I was 13, I fracured my wrist playing catch on the blacktop w/ a football. I didn't know it was broken for the first 6 months after the injury, as I never went to a doctor (I lived w/ my 2 oldest brothers at the time, no insurance, hardly any money), but it sure hurt like heck. Chinese herbs can be great, but when your bone is fractured, it has to be immobilized in order to heal properly. When I finally did get an x-ray 6 months later, I stopped using my hand completing, no pushups, no striking, no banging, sparring and push hands with my injured hand behind my back. When others did pushups, I did pistols. When they did hand whipping drills, I did pisols. It got to a point where when the class was doing a set of pushups, I was matching them 1 for 1, with pistols. So it was kind by mistake, and through training around an injury, that it warranted doing enough practice of the exercise to get really effortless and comfortable with it. The leg strength came with just being really good at pistols. I found that the skill I developed through just this one exercise has really transferred into just about everything physical I have done.
As far as having a high work capacity in general, that just comes because I approach training very intensely and have for most of my life. When I trained for kuoshu fighting, I trained like an animal. No one would match my conditioning.
At 26 when I left the teacher that first exposed me to the arts, my training, in terms of volume and consistency, took a sharp turn downward. I entered college full time and instead of teaching and training 40-50 hours per week, I replaced that with study and school. Then my wife and I began having children (we now have 3 under 5 years of age), which as you either know, or can imagine, must become a huge committment of time and energy for any responsible parent.
So enter KBs. Even though I had a tremendous foundation to rest on, and I was not past my prime by any means, when I turned 30 I really did some hard questioning. I knew that I would never be afforded the opportunity again, nor would I choose, to train 8 hours a day like I had grown accustomed to. So I had to figure out a more EFFICIENT way to keep the strong fit body that took years to cultivate. I thought, I can't train as long, but I can train smarter, and just as intensely. At this point, the kettlebells and myself kind of just found eachother. As the saying goes, "when the student is ready, the master will appear".

So, now my training has evolved. I do not follow any one protocal, or even really have a protocal. I just do what I like, when I like. This usually works out to doing some training everyday. Sometimes a lot, sometimes a little. Some very hard, some soft. I look at all of it as skill training now. Currently, I want to become very good at weighted pullups. Why? Well, because I think pullups train and represent a very useful skill and type of strength. There is beauty in its simplicity and I never spent a lot of time working on them before. Now, they have become important to me(also, meeting a guy like John Pullups Allstadt will make anyone want to mix in a little more lat training!)
If I were to outline one thing above all else. It really is breathing and focus. By focus I mean not only concentration and intensity, but also crystal clear imagery, imagination if you will. There really is no reason why more people can't do 80 or more pistols. It's just that most don't and never will want to bad enough to make it happen. What do you think?

Thanks again for your inquiry. My upcoming video, Full Contact Kettlebells, will outline much of my training approach, and will provide plenty of challenge and education. I will let everyone know when it is ready for release.
Keep up the Spirit,
Steve Cotter


New member
Very interesting, and a couple of qu's....?

I found your story to be very interesting.
Regarding your pistol and pullups:
What are your:

What sort of reps and sets do you use in your training?

I do a lot of weighted pullups and pistols myself, so I'd like to see what number I am chasing.

what's your body weight?
do your thigh chaff? LOL
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