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Basic breathing and tension exercises

This article describes variations on the basic exercises such as push-ups, squats, etc. Great for warm-ups and setting the right working mood for your class.


Principles of push-ups, sit-ups, squats, leg raises - 1

This article describes some basic principles of push-ups, squats, sit-ups, and leg raises which are basic Systema exercises for power (which is not to be confused with muscle strength).

First off, as with any exercise, you have to focus on what you are doing. It does not matter how many push-ups you can do in a row. To make it worthwhile, i.e., to use your workout time efficiently, give up the counting and focus on your body. I still can't see how people expect to benefit from a workout with headphones in their ears. There are several basic rules in Systema on how to do this:

  • Make sure you only move when you breathe. If you stop breathing, stop the movement and conversely, start moving when you start breathing.
  • Go slowly and pay attention to the state of your body - is there tension, discomfort, desire to speed up? Analyze these and try to free yourself from them. When you feel any tension, slow down your movement; try to remove the tension with fast breathing (nose in, mouth out) or by shifting your body (or parts of the body). The objective is to move the tension from the tense area and dissipate it over the entire body.
  • It is best to do push-ups standing on your fists (this forms the hand for proper punching, strengthens joints and makes tendons work). The fist has to be formed softly (i.e., do not tense it up) and stay flat on the floor at 90 degrees. Also, to keep your body straight, it helps to put one leg on top of the other so only one foot touches the floor (or rather, the ball of the foot). Pay attention to any tensions in your pelvis.
  • When your hands, legs or body tense up, their muscles get tired a lot quicker - and muscle tiredness has an immobilizing effect. Instead, you need to make your tendons work - tendons are a lot stronger and faster than muscles. Focus on keeping your body light (this feeling comes from the relaxation) and do the push-up by simply straightening and bending your arms in the elbows - this is the key to the exercise because it allows to relax the shoulders. Also, this engages your tendons and relieves muscles. For me, it helps to visualize how the tension from the shoulders goes down into the floor through the arms and wrists.
  • As you progress, finish the push-up 1/2 an inch above the floor and check that your body is straight while pelvis, shoulders and chest are relaxed.

Same principles apply to sit-ups and leg raises. For the sit-ups, the key is to keep your body straight when you go down and make your stomach muscles work. Usually, people start with lifting their head, which creates tension in the chest and stalls the upward movement of the body. To avoid that, keep your body and neck on one straight line when you go up while relaxing your legs and pelvis. Again, patience is crucial here - the objective is not to just sit up but rather sit up properly, and the slower you can do it, the better.

With squats, it's important to "slide" your body down without engaging the knees. Two key points here are to keep your body straight (you can actually start with the back leaning against a wall) and to slowly go all the way down until your but nearly sits on the floor.

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