• Lawrence Trousdale-Smith

Building or demonstrating strength-the 70% guideline

If you had to describe calisthenics with one move, chances are you’re going to pick the muscle up or the planche. Worlds apart in terms of difficulty, yet both are renowned symbols of bodyweight strength and give you access to a particular club. You can either get above the bar or you cant, you can either hold the straight line or you cant. Membership to these clubs are highly desirable. 5 years ago you may not have known they existed, but now you know what’s out there you are willing to chase your goals with a newly heated passion. Getting above the bar is a victory, no matter how long it takes to muscle through the transition phase. Getting the feet off the floor for a tuck planche is a win, no matter if the shoulders collapse and the wrists feel like they’re trapped in a vice.

We’ve all been at this point

I was that person, three years later I started to pay the price with those small niggling pains that most of my peers have in their elbows in shoulders. My approach to training has changed dramatically, the pains are disappearing and my progress is steady and sustainable. Let’s talk about training with longevity in mind.

Pick something you can do 70% of the time

To train for a movement, you need a decent degree of success when attempting a repetition. Imagine repeatedly trying to kick up to handstand when you aren’t yet able to hold your body in a straight line against the wall. You’re looking at extremely minimal time in the desired position and a very low success rate. If however, you can hold for a minute on the wall and begin to understand the nuances of balance as you bring your feet off, kicking up to a freestanding handstand can become a part of your regular practice. This is in the context of a relatively low risk movement, but imagine if we apply the same practice to the muscle up.

Eg, the practitioner can perform 5 pull-ups, with the 5th one being a struggle, and 10 dips, but struggles dipping below the elbows at 90 degrees. They attempt a muscle up, and are able to get one elbow above the bar in the chicken wing position. They now find themselves holding their bodyweight in the weakest point of their dip, without one side of their body on top of the bar to support their weight.

They have to options

  1. Let go and accept the repetition as failed. Work on building strength in fundamental movements before attempting again.

  2. Try to get the other arm above the bar no matter what it takes, claim a victory and proceed to urinate on their enemies.


At times we’re all at the mercy of our ego, but try to remember which option is more productive. Pick a progression of an exercise that challenges you but also allows you to complete a rep. Remember that training is about building strength, not demonstrating it. This will be a reality check for those always looking to unlock the next progression of an exercise rather than improving what they already have.

To pick a movement they can do 70% of the time, the practitioner might pick band assisted muscle ups, jumping muscle ups or explosive pull ups. Each of these exercise is specific to the skill they’re trying to achieve but has a relatively low risk of injury compared to the full movement if a repetition is failed.

Evaluate your goals and exercises accordingly, keep your ego in check when training and reap the benefits of smart training.


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