In October of 2015, some of my students and I traveled to Systema HQ in Toronto for a week of training. As always, it was a powerful, humbling and enlightening experience.
During one of the training sessions taught by Vladimir, he instructed us to perform some very challenging exercises. Two of these exercises were rotational variations of the pushup that I had never seen before:
Variation 1: Assume the pushup position. Without moving your fists from the starting position, walk your feet in a complete circle around them.
Variation 2: Assume the pushup position. Without moving your feet from their starting position, walk your hands in a complete circle around them.
In addition to these pushup rotations, he also gave us two wall exercises to perform:
Wall Exercise 1: Sit facing the wall. Place your feet on the wall and your hands on the floor on either side of your body. Lift your body off of the ground. Now walk your feet on the wall and rotate your body so that you are facing down, towards the floor. Continue to rotate for one full revolution until you are facing up again. Your body should remain suspended during this rotation.
Wall Exercise 2: Lay on your back with your legs bent at the knees, your feet on the floor, and your toes touching the wall. Stand up without removing your feet from their position.
The exercises sounded simple enough.... until I attempted to perform them. What a struggle that was! Though we worked on these exercises for some time, it was to no avail. I simply could not complete them at that time.
After arriving home in Minnesota, I determined that I would learn these exercises. I am glad to say that in the months following my trip to Toronto, I have made progress and I am now able to complete these movements. Here is a short video of my work:
1. These movements revealed to me that I was lacking in strength and control in both my shoulders and core. To gain more strength and control, I spent a lot of time performing loaded, rotational exercises with breathing. Here are some examples:
- Perform pushups by rotating your shoulders forward during descent, and rotating your shoulders backwards during ascension.
- Perform pull-ups while rotating your shoulders forward during ascension, and backwards during descent.
- Perform dips while rotating your shoulders forward during descent and backwards during ascension.
- Hold the reverse pushup or "bridge position" and slowly rotate your shoulders and core.
- Perform reverse"bridge" pushups slowly. Move your hands to a new position between each pushup.
- Practice body raises or hold the plank position while slowly rotating your core. Start with small circles and work towards larger and larger rotations.
- There are many more powerful, rotational exercises and variations in the Systema Strength and Flexibility DVD that I also highly recommend.
- Be creative and invent your own.
3. The third and final phase is combining the various components by performing the transitions between them. This was by far the most challenging part for me. Do not rush through the transitions, but instead, work to find the most controlled, efficient way to move through them. For the rotational exercises, I find that initiating and leading your transitional movement with a hand or foot will help to give you more control. Also, do not hold your breath. Learn to rely on your breathing to power you through these difficult transitions.
4. As a side note, I have found that many of these rotational movements have improved my striking ability by making me more aware of my fists and giving me more control over my shoulders and posture. I encourage you to try them for yourself and see if you come to similar conclusions.
Have fun learning these challenging exercises! I have no doubts that there will soon be many more videos of other Systema practitioners showcasing their mastery of them. I wish you all the best, my friends.