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Matt Furey’s Royal Court of Bodyweight Exercises
After receiving quite a number of emails from people telling me about their positive experiences with Matt Furey’s system of bodyweight exercises, I decided to order his book and video and check it out for myself. Guess what? They’re right. I believe his calisthenics have value. His "Royal Court" of three bodyweight exercises is demanding – and fun. I’m not prepared to say that his system is better than a combination of weight training and high-intensity aerobics for producing functional strength and endurance, as he suggests, but it definitely deserves a place in a well rounded training program, at least occasionally. I can even see doing his bodyweight exercises exclusively when you need a change of pace, as we all do from time to time, or when traveling.
It only took two sessions with Furey’s Hindu Squats and the Hindu Pushups to convince me that he’s onto something worthwhile. I’m less certain about the third exercise, the Back Bridge, which he calls the KING of the Royal Court, but it probably has merit as well. I have an irregularity in my cervical spine due to an unfortunate accident when I was a child – my father backed out of the garage and ran over me – which causes me to approach neck bridging with extreme caution. More about that later.
I don’t know Matt Furey personally – I never heard of him until recently – but I like what I see. He strikes me as a regular guy who’s not trying to put anything over on anyone. He’s found a system that works for him – and his students – and wants to share it. Plus, he’s a collegiate national wrestling champion (NCAA 2, 1985) and world Kung Fu Shuai-Chiao champion (Beijing, 1997). (I wrestled in high school. It’s one of the hardest things I ever did. So, I respect wrestlers.)
Furey calls the Royal Court "the three most important exercises for developing the entire body." Let’s look at them one by one.
Hindu Squats, says Furey, "lay the foundation for strength and endurance." You’re not doing what he calls "Combat Conditioning" (the name of his book published in February 2000) without the Hindu Squat, says Furey. This high repetition, rhythmic version of bodyweight squats develops the hips, thighs, calves, and lower back – and lung power.
Like all of the Combat Conditioning exercises, photos are worth a 1000 words (see below), but the Hindu Squat is basically a deep, upright squat done on the toes with an assist from the arms; the arms come down and behind the body as you lower yourself, and then swing up as you rise. It feels wonderful once you get the groove and the rhythm.
Begin with your hands pulled in tight to the chest. (Photos by Carol Bass)
Bring your hands down and lower your body.
Keep hands behind your back for balance.
Come up on toes at the bottom. Keep your body upright and your arms down.
Swing the arms forward and push off your toes.
As you rise, the arms continue up to chest level.
When you’re upright, pull your hands in to the chest and begin again.
Matt recommends doing as many nonstop repetitions as possible. In the beginning, depending on your condition, he says, you’ll probably be able to do 25 to 50 – I did 60 with no problem in my second workout. Matt says 100 reps is good – and "when you can do 500 straight Hindu Squats, you’re on your way to greatness." Believe it or not, Furey’s mentor, Karl Gotch, once did 9001 nonstop Hindu Squats. It took him four and a half hours, according to Furey, whose personal record is 2000. I'm impressed.
Hindu Pushups follows the squats. Furey says Hindu Pushups, like Hindu Squats, have been used by Indian wrestlers for centuries to build upper body strength and endurance. The difference between this exercise and regular pushups is that it involves an arching movement -- Furey says it's like an ocean wave -- that stretches and strengthens the hips, shoulders and back.
The starting position is with legs spread wide and butt up in the air. From there, bend your elbows as in a regular pushup, bringing your back down in a circular arc, straighten your arms and end up with your chest up and your hips almost touching the ground. Like the Hindu Squat, the Hindu Pushup has a nice rhythm.
Start with your feet wide apart, butt up and head looking back at heels.
The legs remain straight throughout the exercise.
Lower your hips and bend your arms.
Finish with head up and back arched.
Your hips should almost touch the floor.
Now, keep your arms straight and push back to the starting position.
Again, do as many repetition as you can. "If you can bench press 400 pounds, I’ll bet dollars to donuts," says Furey, " that you’ll struggle with 25 straight Hindu Pushups." That seems like a bit of an exaggeration, because I did 25 without any trouble. But Furey tells me it isn’t so much a matter of strength as a lack of "strength/endurance or the necessary flexibility in the spine, shoulders and hips." In any event, it’s a challenging movement. I like it. It feels good. I was surprised to find myself sore the next morning, especially in the traps and upper back; my lower back also complained a little as a result of the arching motion. Not what you would expect from pushups.
The wrestler’s neck bridge, Furey calls it the Back Bridge, is controversial. Many people think it’s dangerous, that it compresses the cervical spine. Furey says the exact opposite is true, that the Back Bridge stretches the spine and strengthens the neck, back, thighs, hips and buttocks like nothing else. As I said, he calls it the KING of the Royal Court. The key, says Furey, is proper performance. He acknowledges, of course, that people who have a pre-existing neck injury or neck problems of any kind should consult their doctor and proceed with extreme caution.
If you try this exercise, be very careful. Take your time and feel your way along. If you experience discomfort, stop immediately.
Most people bridge on the top of the head. Furey says that’s wrong. "The proper method of doing a Back Bridge requires you to place all the weight on your forehead, not on the top of your head," says Furey. He says to arch your entire back and relax your shoulders and neck until your nose touches the mat. Ouch! Most people, of course, can’t do that at first. Take your time, he says. "Don’t force it. Eventually it’ll come." Before you start, be sure to study the pictures and read Furey’s instructions carefully. Furey's obviously very flexible and has a strong neck.
I tried the Bridge with Hand Support, as he suggests in the book. I found it helpful to grab the bottom of a cabinet to stabilize myself – my bad left shoulder wouldn’t go back otherwise. From this position I was able to arch my body and rock back on my head without difficulty – it actually felt pretty good – but I did not feel comfortable rotating back on my forehead or trying to touch my nose to the floor. Again, proceed with extreme caution. Take your time. Ease into the position.
Furey says to rock back and forth 10 or 20 times. I did 10 bridges to start and my neck felt okay the next day; it didn’t complain. Again, don’t force it. With practice, he says you should be able to hold a perfect bridge for three minutes or more. Matt says that Karl Gotch, his coach, once held a bridge for 47 minutes!
You’ll find many more details in his book Combat Conditioning. I urge you to read the book before you try these exercises; that’s what I did. The book also includes many interesting supplementary exercises and routines incorporating the Royal Court. Combat conditioning, Furey style, is definitely worth exploring. Like kettlebells, Furey's exercises offer a wonderful new challenge -- just what the doctor ordered to renew enthusiasm and keep your gains coming. Give it a try. As always, be careful.
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