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!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Paleo Diet: Not Just for Fat Loss

For almost a year now, I have been recommending the Paleo Diet to my students for fat loss and have slowly become stricter and stricter myself. It always made sense for fat loss because, simply put, it works, and the science behind it makes sense. But after eliminating foods and then adding them back in on cheat days I began to realize what they were doing to me systemically. It has caused me to really think twice before deciding what I put into my body. I would like to share my Paleo journey thus far and why I think we truly should eat the way we have for millions years of years instead of the last 2000 – and especially in the last 50 years where you can’t’ deny that health in America has been on a steady decline.

The basis of the Paleo Diet is to eat the way our primal caveman ancestors ate because that is how we evolved to eat, and a few thousand years isn’t enough time to adapt to be able to properly digest processed foods. I’m not going to rehash the science and the technicalities of this way of life. There are plenty of resources for that. I want to tell you about my personal Paleo journey and I how I have realized that dieting is not only about fat loss, but overall health and well-being.

During Condition’s first fat loss challenge last July, we suggested the participants adopt the Paleo Diet for the competition. It is very effective for fat loss and because there is no calorie restriction is easy to get compliance once over the first couple of weeks of sugar withdrawal. To simplify the Paleo Diet, it just consists of eating meats, vegetables, good fats, some fruit and some nuts. That means no grains, no legumes, no dairy, no sugar, and minimize alcohol (and ideally only wine and tequila.) This diet is inconvenient, but it doesn’t suck: steak and eggs for breakfast, fatty coconut milk in your coffee… Real food is very tasty!

Giving Up Grains

The first thing I did was cut out grains completely – and almost accidentally. I cut out grains and sugar but was allowing a cheat day. I ordered Meal Movement food to give me a jumpstart but kind of by accident, my cheats had a lot of sugar but no grains. I was cheating with Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream, not with cookies. One Sunday cheat day, I decided to get my old brunch favorite: an Atkin’s Park Fried Chicken Biscuit. As I ate it, it dawned on me that I hadn’t eaten a grain in about 4 weeks. On the drive home, I started to feel AWFUL. It was almost like I had a hangover without drinking. I immediately went home and took a nap and I got a big belly for a few hours. At that moment I knew that grains are not something good for me. Before, I would think “I shouldn’t have that because it will not help my fat loss goals” but now I have to think again and realize that if I eat grains not only will it not help my goals but I will feel sick and bloated. Is it worth it? 95% of the time, it hasn’t been.

Giving Up Dairy

The next step was to cut out dairy completely. I wasn’t eating a whole lot of dairy to begin with – just organic creamer in my coffee and the occasional slice of cheese on a bun-less burger. I used to have dry, itchy patches under my chin and on my neck. Two weeks into being dairy-free these patches disappeared completely. On a cheat day a month later I ate some cheese and not only did the patches come back, but my face broke out like a middle schooler. Those symptoms took days to go away. So far, 100% of the time I have said no to dairy because not only is it unnatural to drink the milk of another species but the effects can be seen and felt for days -And no piece of cheese has been worth that.

Giving Up Legumes

I cut out legumes when I cut out dairy. So far, no pea has been tempting enough to make me want to cheat with it, so there’s no verdict on that one yet!

Giving Up Coffee (temporarily)

The next thing I did was cut out coffee for 30 days. Jason and Neely over at The Paleo Plan suggested that we do this for 30 days to see how coffee affects our sleep patterns. I have had some problems sleeping so I decided to test it. After 30 days, I added it back in and nothing changed. That let me know that I can keep coffee in my diet, although I try to rotate one day decaf, one day regular.

Limiting Wine

The lastest thing I have been experimenting with is wine. I tried the eliminating coffee experiment to see if my sleep patterns were affected by it but it seemed that they weren’t. I still had the same sleep issues without it. I am currently testing to see if the issues were being caused by wine. I LOVE wine. I would usually drink a glass (or two) with dinner and go to bed at a reasonable hour, only to wake up at 3:45AM and not be able to fall back to sleep. Last week, I made the possible connection. Starting this past Sunday, I eliminated wine on “school nights.” My quality of sleep has improved DRAMATICALLY. It was so hard to give up wine solely based on it’s sugar content, but when it started affecting my productivity I no longer had a choice but to test if that is the cause of my sleeping problems.

Where I Struggle Most

The last two things I have to give up are Chocolove’s Dark Chocolate Almond and Sea Salt bars (no dairy) and polyunsaturated fats (PUFA) when dining out. That candy bar is so delicious, and dark chocolate is allowed on many versions of Paleo, but as Dallas and Melissa Hartwig of the Whole 9 say, we shouldn’t have an unhealthy psychological addiction to any food, and I believe that my driving to 8 health food stores over a span of 10 miles the day after Valentine’s Day when there was a shortage to find this bar is slightly unhealthy. PUFA’s are probably already rancid on the shelves and if not, can oxidize in our system, which is a very bad thing. Eating PUFA’s is just a convenience problem that can be solved with better planning (smoked wings at The Albert, anyone?)

How I Cheat

So I said that I never eat dairy and rarely eat grains. What do I do for my cheats? I’ve found that although white rice is a shot of sugar, it doesn’t make me feel bad when I eat it (probably because there is no wheat or gluten) so I will down a plate of Thai food with rice on a Sunday afternoon. Mellow Mushroom in Midtown also has a (ridiculously expensive, but delicious) pizza with a gluten-free crust. They also have Daiya vegan cheese (no soy and no dairy) that is not allowed (mainly because of the canola oil in it,) but tastes like melted mozzarella and passes for the real deal. The goal is to never have these cravings but let’s be honest… that will take a while.

Paleo: Not Just for Fat Loss

“Diets” used to be about losing fat, but after eliminating foods that I don’t believe we have evolved to eat, adding them back in and seeing what they do systemically has made me think twice about what I put in my body. Sure if I eat this piece of pizza I’ll need some extra time in the gym and a stricter eating plan over the next few days, but I’ll also feel like garbage, be bloated for a few hours and have a broken out face this week. It really has changed how I view food and the choices I make on a daily basis. In my book – just like kettlebell training – the Paleo Diet is not a fad and is here to stay.