Monday, November 19, 2012

Blog is Moving...

Hey Friends.-

     I decided to move my blog over to the All About Kettlebells site.  You can find it at

See you there!

Train Hard but Train Smart,


Monday, October 8, 2012

Should I Snatch Heavy?

Back in May, I wrote a blog about whether we should go heavy or light in a Turkish Get-up.  The answer is "yes."  The same holds true of the kettlebell snatch.

When Kenneth Jay's book, Viking Warrior Conditioning, came out a few years ago many people in the RKC family just stopped snatching heavy.  Now, I am a fan of the Viking Warrior Conditioning protocol of 15:15 secs work: rest ratios of relatively light snatching for 20-40 minutes.  I did this program 2-3 times a week for about a month and was very lean as a result.  I'm all for VWC if done with proper form (there were many instances of short changed snatches that didn't finish at the top in an effort to get more in quicker but that is a different point) and if paired with heavy snatch days.

The heavy snatch is the yin to the light snatch yang - a phrase I also used to describe the relationship between the light and heavy get up.  They both have benefits and they both are important.  While you can get your heart rate up and get lean with both (If you want the science behind VWC, grab the book.  Kenneth explains it much better than I could) the heavy snatch will give you more power production. You won't get as many reps in, but you won't need to. Efficiency is a good thing!

How does this fit into a training program?  If you are designing a snatch intensive program, I would make one day a week more VWC style and do a whole bunch of light snatches (8 or 12kg for women, 16 or 20kg for men) for a long period of time (20-40 minutes with a 15:15 secs work:rest ratio) and then on another day, I would do 10 minutes of heavy snatching with the same work:rest ratio, but with a heavier bell.

Do your snatch practice AFTER your grinds.  This way you are not only safe, but you can go all out without worrying about saving energy for the slower strength exercises.

Should you snatch heavy?  Absolutely.  There is a place in your training for both light and heavy snatching and if one is left out, an important piece of a well rounded program is missing.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

My Whole30 Experience

I've written about going grain and dairy-free before and spoken about how much better I feel without them.  I've also talked about how I discovered dairy breaks out my face and gluten makes my stomach hurt.  I was slowly stripping away the inflammatory foods but had never done a full Whole30 before July.

The Whole30 is not about fat loss, although you probably will experience fat loss if you do a Whole30.  It's about healing your gut, getting your hormones in balance and making yourself healthier by fueling yourself with the right foods.  The biggest change for me was the best sleep I have had since high school when I played two sports and more energy than I knew what to do with (seriously, I was ANNOYED at how much energy I had.)  The combination of energy and good sleep caused me to have better weight training sessions than I've had in a long time which led to muscle growth.  Over the course of my Whole30 I went from 16.3% body fat to 13.8% and I only exercised 9 times in those 30 days.

When I started the Whole30, I was already grain, legume and dairy-free.  I would indulge in dark chocolate almond sea salt bars and occasionally gluten-free cupcakes on the weekends but I thought I was in a good position.  All I had left to give up was added sugars, seed oils, and alcohol.  And wow, what a difference that made.

Let me back track a second and say I also like coffee.  I like coffee but I have the personality type where coffee doesn't really affect me.  I like the taste of coffee. You might say that is BS - and I thought it was too - until I did was Dallas and Melissa suggest and self-experimented.  I gave up my beloved coffee for 30 days.  What sparked this coffee quitting was the fact that I was having serious sleep problems.  I would fall asleep easily but would wake up around 3AM and not be able to fall back asleep before I was up at 530AM.  It was awful.  An interesting thing happened when I gave up coffee.  I had ZERO withdrawal symptoms, the same sleep issues, and 30 days later when I added coffee back in, I couldn't tell any difference.  It wasn't the coffee.  I think it was denial that kept me from experimenting with giving up wine, but after the Whole30, I KNOW that wine was the culprit.

When Condition Kettlebell Gym decided to do this as a group, I decided that I wanted to participate instead of just moderate.  I knew it was time that I got out of the habit of going to the pub next door and doing my accounting with a glass or two of wine... that would into a glass or two at a networking event later.  I knew I needed this challenge to break myself of the wine.

The transition was not too difficult - again, it was just a matter of preparing my own food and not drinking. But the energy was insane.  That may sound like a good thing, but it was extremely annoying to me.  All I wanted was a glass of wine to calm myself down.  It made me revisit hobbies, it forced me try new ones, I got back on track with things that are important to me like getting to Bible Study and organizing my apartment.  And by Day 29 - I was waking up after 8 hours of sleep without and alarm clock... just like I heard was possible.

The Whole30 has seriously changed my life.  The only things I have added in in the last 3 weeks are local, pastured bacon/sausage that has a small amount of sugar in the curing process and wine.  And I realize exactly what the wine is doing.  I'm not talking a lot of wine! I had ONE GLASS on Monday night and woke up at 3AM... ONE GLASS.  Now, instead of casually drinking it throughout the week and being sluggish and not sleeping - which affects EVERYTHING, I only drink it on the weekend... because I LIKE it and poor sleep on a Friday when I can sleep late on a Saturday is not the end of the world. At least I know it's side effects and can make a decision as to whether it's worth it.

The rest of the "stuff"?? I don't care if I ever eat grains or dairy again, and I haven't had a "dessert" in almost 2 months. I'm too afraid that I will get addicted to sugar again, that the dessert - even if it's "compliant" isn't psychologically worth it.

I highly recommend doing a Whole30 to learn how the foods you eat affect you - not just for fat loss...

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

How Heavy Should I Go in a Turkish Get-up?

One thing that I have noticed over the last few months is that there is some confusion on how heavy to do Turkish get-ups.  We TEACH get-ups very light.  We do that because students are moving around for the very first time with a weight overhead.  The newbie is not confident and there is a danger of dropping a weight on his head until he understands the movement.  Once a student owns the movement and learns to use his body as one unit - the way it is meant to be used - a much heavier bell can be used.  I believe that in our class, it's an instructor problem.  We haven't communicated that the get-up is not just a light warmup mobility exercise (although there are definite benefits there,) but that it should also be a serious strength exercise once the student owns the movement and has confidence.

"Naked" get-ups, shoe get-ups, very light get-ups are all great teaching tools as well as good practice and mobility work.  I think that when the awesome book and DVD set, Kalos Thenos came out people gave up heavy get-ups almost completely and replaced them with the light get-ups with neck/shoulder rotations and the high hip bridge - much like when people gave up heavy snatching altogether when Viking Warrior Conditioning came out.  I am not saying the Kalos Thenos get-up is bad - on the contrary, I think it is a great drill for both newbies and advanced lifters as well as an instructor tool to screen movement problems, asymmetries, spot tight hip flexors, and the list goes on... But it's when a whole type of get-up is taken out that some of the picture is missing.

The yin to the Kalos Thenos Get-up yang is the heavy get-up.  The RKC is first and foremost a "School of Strength" and we should get moving with some heavy weights overhead.  As MRKC Brett Jones said last weekend as we were getting ready for the Level II cert, you should have the ability to own different kinds of get-ups.  You should be able to high hip bridge and to low sweep - as well as many other kinds of get-ups.  It's all about body control and strength.  

Note: the heavy get-up will look a little different.  You will probably have to sit more into your hip to under the weight for more leverage when coming up into the kneeling position.  Your breathing will be more of a power breathing style.  The high hip bridge is more than likely out if the question if you are maxing out.  It looks very different from the highly regarded Kalos Thenos get up - and that's ok...

So how do you start working on getting up with a heavier weight?  You do some drills to make sure you know how to use your body as a unit.  In class today, we did the workout in the picture below.  I adapted it from a training that RKC TL Andrew Read came up with when we were teaching a workshop in Minnesota last Fall.

The press drills take out some "cheating" and force you to lock into place using your body.  You may feel your abs working extra hard on the opposite side (The body is set up like an "X" but that is a whole different story... Let Tim Andersen tell it here.)  After you do these drills, try something heavy.  In the 4 classes that I was around for today, we set 11 PR's... and some of those PR's were newbies (who are expected to move up relatively quickly) but some of those students had been with us for YEARS!  Elaine Wade, for example, has been coming since 2008 and did her first TGU with a 16kg - and made it look easy!

The bottom line is the Kalos Thenos get-up is a fantastic way to perform the exercise, but it's not the only way to train Get-ups.  Just like you can use MRKC Dan John's Easy Strength program to pattern movements with lighter weights in order to train for a personal record, you can increase your mobility and stability with the Kalos Thenos get-up in order to get-up with some substantial weight above head, and it will help increase your other lifts as well.  
Homework:  If you are trying to press a certain weight, get-up with that weight or even one bell heavier.  Getting used to moving around with that weight overhead and using your whole body to connect to support it will get you your gains faster.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Kettlebell Burn Classes

Just a quick note to let you guys in on what we have been doing lately.  Here is an example of our short and sweet Kettlebell Burn! classes inspired by Geoff Neupert.

Joint Mobility Warm-up (on own)

3 TGU's: 1 light, 1 medium, 1 heavy (I used 12kg, 16kg, 24kg)
3x3 presses per side (16kg)
3x3 deadlifts (two 32kg's)

12 minutes: 20 swings on top of each minute (6 minutes 24kg, 6 minutes 16kg)

Stretch on own

We were in and out in 30 minutes!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Grinds vs. Ballistics

One of the questions that always comes up in the monthly Kettlebell Fundamentals workshops is "How many reps should I do?"  The answer to that question is "It depends." Sr RKC Doug Nepodal likes to say "5 or less or 20 or more" - but what does that really mean?  It means if you are doing a grind, the general rule is do 5 reps or less and if you are doing a ballistic, the general rule is 20 reps or more.

In kettlebell training, grinds are the slower exercises - you know, the ones you "grind through."  Presses, deadlifts, and even get-ups all fall into the grind category.  These are exercises you would do for lower reps at an appropriate weight.  I tell my students if they get 5 or more grinds in a 30 second interval then they can more than likely move up in weight.  I would rather see one repetition where someone had to connect and use their body as unit instead of 10 where he was repping out lighter weights using just one muscle group. And you can even get your one up with a heavy weight then drop down to a lighter bell, but if you can do ONE with good form then do it at least once a week. 
I like to say that presses are one of my favorite ab exercises because to get a heavy press above my head, I have to squeeze my abs very tightly.  As Pavel says, "Muscles are social creatures.  They work harder when they work together." The more muscles you use, the more weight you can move.  Simple as that.
 Once you understand the concept of full body connection and using your whole body as a unit, you can go back and play with lighter weights using the same connectivity and do a program such as Dan John's Easy Strength, but you must first grasp the concept of not isolating muscle groups and using your whole body to lift.

The grip in the grinds is a closed hand grip squeezing the handle.  When you close your grip and squeeze the handle tightly, you maintain greater tension and can move more weight because again, you are using more muscles.

Ballistics are the quick lifts - the ones where you have to maintain a balance of tension and relaxation.  The swing and snatch are the two most common kettlebell ballistics.  In these exercises, you want to do as many as you can until just before your form goes.  Because ballistics are explosive and dance back and forth across the line between tension and relaxation you can do more reps.  There is that split second at the top of the swing where you can "rest" before the next hike and snap and that moment of "relaxation" is important to keep you going. Swings that are all tension all the time are very ugly and make your neck ache afterward.  At the top of the swing and snatch, stand up tall, don't chicken neck and make sure your face is relaxed.  As MRKC Jeff O'Connor says, "Ugly faces don't make you stronger!"
There is a place for heavy ballistics and a place for light ballistics.  Make sure to make time for both.  For example, a whole bunch of light snatches such as in Kenneth Jay's Viking Warrior Conditioning protocol will shred you and make you lean, but unless you are going heavy at least once a week you probably will sacrifice some strength in that lift.
The grip in the ballistics is looser than in the grinds - you can even have an open grip at the top of the snatch!  When you crush grip the handle in the quick lifts, the handle rubs your hands as it turns and causes callouses.  The arms are more of a guide in the ballistics than a driving force so you don't have to squeeze the bell tightly.
**Note: for more information on the balance of tension in the kettlebell swing, check out an article I wrote for Dragon Door called How Hard is Hardstlye in the Kettlebell Swing.

So, how many reps should you do?  5 or less heavy reps for the grinds and a whole bunch of ballistics as long as form is not compromised.  Once you understand how the body works as a unit, play around with different bell sizes on different days - just know that you have the potential to lift a great amount of weight when you are connected and not isolating muscle groups.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Program Design for General Physical Preparedness

We often get asked, “How do I put together a program at home?” or “How do you put your classes together?”  The simple answer is we make sure to include both grinds and ballistics within the 7 basic human movement patterns.

Grinds in kettlebells are the slow exercises – the ones you want to perform for 3-5 sets of 3-5 reps, such as presses and deadlifts.  Ballistics are the quick lifts, such as swings and snatches, that are to be performed for as many reps until just before form starts to be compromised.

When I think of the 7 basic human movements, I combined lessons from MRKC’s Dan John and David Whitley.  Dan’s 5 movements are:
1.     Push
2.     Pull
3.     Hinge
4.     Squat
5.     Loaded Carry

After assisting an HKC with MRKC David Whitley, I added
1.     Rotation
2.     Counter-rotation (fighting against rotation.)

When training for general physical preparedness (without a certain goal in mind,) you start with some get-ups (which fall into many categories) and fill in the blanks.  Plenty of exercises fall into two categories. And you can use one bell or two.

By no means is this a comprehensive list, but here are some examples of each movement.

Push – you can do any of the numerous press variations (military press, floor press, etc… )You can even combine push and counter-rotation by doing a one-sided floor press. If you don’t want to use a bell, you can do pushups.

Pull – Any of the row variations (rows, renegade rows, single-leg rows, etc..) or pull-ups fall into the pull category. 

Hinge – Any sort of deadlift, swings, cleans, and snatches all are hinges.

Squat – Goblet or front squats are the most common.  If you feel advanced you can do pistols weighted or unweighted.

Loaded Carry – According to Dan John, this one’s a game changer.  Farmers carries, racked carries, waiter’s walk (overhead carries.)

Rotation – Russian twist, ribbons, overhead rotation (bell locked out overhead and rotate from your spine, not hips)

Counter-rotation – One sided suitcase deadlifts, one sided floor presses, renegade rows, alternating swings)

So here might be a simple class or an at-home total body training:

Joint Mobility
4 TGU’s each side
2 laps farmers carries, 2 laps racked carries

30 seconds work with 30 seconds rest for 3 rounds:

Alternating Swings (ballistic, hinge, counter-rotation)
Military Press Left (grind, push)
Military Press Right
Row Left (grind, pull)
Row Right
Snatch Left (ballistic, hinge, counter-rotation)
Snatch Right
Russian Twist (rotation)
Goblet Squat (squat)

That is the secret.  Every class is pretty much the same but different.  The trainings change day to day without “random acts of variety.”  There is a template that we follow that gets maximal strength, mobility, stability, and fat loss results!