You Don't Need Fancy Stuff: 3 Creative Ways to Use a Stick
One of my favorite things about the world of movement, exercise, fitness or whatever you want to call it is the sheer variety of training methods. There are fancy methods with fancy tools and barebones methods relying on nothing but your bodyweight and a floor.
This article is for the fan of methods unconventional, but practical, engaging, and fun. In other words - weirdoes like me who like playing with toys masquerading as household objects.
Mom said not to play with sticks, but we're adults now.
No Need for Special Equipment
Erwan LeCorre has been using non-traditional items to train what Erwan calls environmental complexity since he began teaching MovNat in the U.S. Like Erwan, I believe we can train with anything: a stick, a tennis ball, an old microwave, a cat. The possibilities are endless.
Our training is never limited by the stuff we have ("I can't get strong unless I have a barbell set"), but by the ways we use what is available and how we think about those things. Almost everyone has access to a stick of some kind, so I thought it might be useful to start there. While there is an amazing amount we can develop by using a stick in a variety of ways, for the sake of brevity, I'll whittle it down to three exercises.
A word of caution: Don't use a heavy stick. A PVC pipe or a light broomstick will work fine, and (just trust me on this one) heavy sticks hurt when they land on your face.
1. Limbo Stick Challenge
Depending on how you orient the stick, you can develop different qualities. Physical problem solving, mobility, body control, craswling patterns, squatting patterns, and the ability to carry things under, over, and around an obstacle are all things we can work on.
The idea, like the classic game of Limbo, is to maneuver your body around an obstacle of various heights and angles. In this video, the stick is mostly horizontal, which caters to going over or under it in various ways, but you can just as easily place the stick vertically and find ways to maneuver around it.
"Our training is never limited by the stuff we have ('I can't get strong unless I have a barbell set'), but by the ways we use what is available and how we think about those things."
When placed low, my personal challenge is to crawl under the stick without letting anything besides my hands and feet touch the floor. When placed slightly higher, the challenge is reduced to feet or feet and knees only. The trick is to set the challenge to something you can accomplish, but just barely.
From a practical perspective, I have used all of these skills while reaching around under my sink to fix a pipe, carrying furniture (I used to work for a moving company), crawling around under porches or in basement crawl spaces, and every day in my Brazilian jiu jitsu practice.
2. Stick Rolls
One of the most important and difficult concepts in my life as a Brazilian jiu jitsu teacher is teaching my students how to manipulate an opponent with their legs. I call this process "educating the legs" and it takes a while to develop. The benefit of this, from a practical perspective in grappling, is being able to keep your head far away from someone trying to hit, choke, or pin you. Without developed leg dexterity, most people will have a hard time accomplishing this task in any intelligent way.
A side, but no less important benefit of developing leg dexterity is cultivating incredible control and mobility in the spine, torso, and joints of the lower body. Without being too biased, I have not seen many activities outside of BJJ that develop this lower-body dexterity to the same degree.
Once when I was at a movement workshop, the instructors explained a concept they called a "kinetic koan" or "movement riddle" - meaning a specific physical challenge or task posed which you must find various ways to solve. The meat of the task isn't the solution, but what is developed and discovered while you actively look for different solutions.
"This is the perfect drill to help me "educate" my students’ legs for BJJ practice, but it's also valuable for the myriad ways in which torso and lower-limb dexterity is required in sport, martial arts, or simply as a means to open up possibilities for new movement in our daily lives."
In this specific example, we were asked to start with the stick on the soles of our feet as we lay on our backs facing upward and then find different ways to end up on our bellies, facing down with the stick still on the soles of our feet.
In searching out solutions, you quickly discover you cannot move too quickly. This forces you to have total focus on controlling your whole body in as smooth a manner as possible. You will find you have to make micro adjustments to manipulate the stick while maintaining awareness of your balance and base of support. You will also find your end ranges of spine, hip, knee, and ankle motions challenged as again you must remain in complete control at all times.
This drill is an excellent way to train the legs for BJJ.
This is the perfect drill to help me "educate" my students’ legs for BJJ practice, but it's also valuable for the myriad ways in which torso and lower-limb dexterity is required in sport, martial arts, or simply as a means to open up possibilities for new movement in our daily lives.
"The trick is to do these drills slowly and mindfully with a strong focus on feeling everything you possibly can inside your body."
An additional feature to these drills is how I use them regularly as a body check. As an athlete, I am constantly dealing with minor injuries of varying degrees of severity. I'm also constantly on the lookout for warning signs of major injuries headed my way. These stick drills are a couple of the tools I use to check my body for pain, discomfort, weird sensations and other things I might not normally notice until it's too late.
Based on what I discover (for example, today my left knee is particularly tender), I will modify my training to accommodate this and protect it. This is particularly important in sports like grappling, boxing, or basketball where unpredictability and chaos are par for the course.
The trick is to do these drills slowly and mindfully with a strong focus on feeling everything you possibly can inside your body. If I were reading my own article right now, I would probably say to myself, “Yeah, yeah, mindfulness, I get it,” and focus more on the juicy stuff. But trust me when I say this is the keystone to avoiding at least some of the injuries you might otherwise suffer.
3. Stick Combatives
For this drill, you will need a stick and a surly sibling. The true benefits here are not found in the stick work, but in the anaerobic benefits of the sprinting you will be doing afterward.
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Photo 1 courtesy of Shutterstock.
Photo 2 courtesy of Breaking Muscle.