Friday, December 18, 2009

More Warped Workouts

Yesterday I did 3 sets of 8 reps of the following:

superset: 1-leg squats & pullups

superset: incline db press x30s & db bulgarian ss x20's

superset: 1-leg RDL x 12 kg kettlebell; plank with arms on SB and feet elevated, 45 sec.

metabolic thingy 6x: mini circuit (2 tuck jumps, 2 star jumps, 2 rocket jumps) repeated for 30 sec./shuttle jog for 90 seconds.

Today I did intervals followed by a bodyweight circuit:

3x: power step-ups in all three planes of motion for 60 sec.; shuttle jog/lateral shuffle/carioca for 120 sec. (9 min. total)

4x: 1 min. y-squats; 1 min alt-leg step-ups; 1 min. inchworms; 1 min. alt leg. crossover lunges; 1 min. mountain climbers (20 min. total)

I want to incorporate more SAQ and plyometric training in my workouts, and it seems to me that the Warp Speed Fat Loss template can easily be tweaked to accommodate that.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Warped Monday Workout

Superset: BB deadlift, 2x12x115; DB flat bench press, 2x12x40's

Superset: DB 1-arm row, 2x12x35; DB step-up knee up, 2x12x15's

Superset: BB overhead squat, 2x12x40; DB side plank rear delt raise, 2x12x5

Metabolic thingy 3x: KB 1-arm swings, 2 min (30 sec. R/L 2x)/alternating front lunges, 2 min.

I probably should have gone heavier on everything but the DB presses and the 1-arm swings. I was working out at the gym so had to make do with the horrible, horrible 30 lb Power Systems kettlebells that some idiot in management decided to buy in order to save a little money. I know I've said it a million times but I'll say it again: don't cheap out when it comes to kettlebells! Don't spend more than you must, but be sure you're getting something that you can grip properly, that moves nicely around your hand on cleans and snatches, and is as close to spherical as possible.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Warped Fat Loss Cardio: Bodyweight Intervals

3x: 1 minute of in-and-out jump squats, 2 minutes of alternating cross-under lunges (9 minutes total)

4x: 1 minute prisoner squats, 1 minute sun salutations, 1 minute elbow to instep lunges, 1 minute sun salutations, 1 minute jog in place (20 minutes total)

Kind of fun, and no equipment required!

Speedy Fat Loss For The Warped

Having spent a fair bit of yesterday ruminating on Warp Speed Fat Loss, I naturally had to try my hand at writing a version of the program for my own use. It looks something like this:

Days 1, 3, and 5: Alternate Resistance Workouts A & B. On Day 1 perform 4-6 sets of 4-6 reps. On Day 2 perform 2-3 sets of 12-15 reps. On Day 3 perform 3-4 sets of 8-10 reps.

After completing Resistance Workout A perform 30 seconds of very high intensity plyometric or ballistic kettlebell work, followed by 90 seconds of low intensity "bodyweight cardio" for your active recovery. Perform 6 total rounds.

After completing Resistance Workout B, perform 120 seconds of moderately high intensity plyometric or ballistic kettlebell work, followed by 120 seconds of low intensity "bodyweight cardio" for your active recovery. Perform 3 total rounds.

Days 2, 4, and 6: After your warm-up, perform 60 seconds of high intensity cardio (kettlebell and/or plyometric drills may be substituted) followed by 120 seconds of active recovery (again, bodyweight exercises may be substituted). Perform 3 rounds in Week 1, 4 rounds in Week 2, and so forth. After you complete the designated number of intervals perform 20-30 minutes of steady-state cardio maintaining your heart rate in the 65-75% range (RPE 3-5).

For Resistance Workout A, here's what I came up with:

superset: 1-leg squats/pull-ups
superset: incline dumbbell press/Bulgarian split squats
superset: 1-leg RDL/plank, arms on SB and feet elevated

For Resistance Workout B:

superset: barbell deadlift/barbell bench press
superset: 1-arm dumbbell row/step-up
superset: overhead squat/side plank rear delt raise

If non-linear periodization annoys you there are plenty of other ways you could structure the resistance training. You could do escalating density, or you could simply opt to do all your resistance training in the 3-4 set/ 8-10 rep range, with the idea being to use the same weights but add a little volume each week.

There's also no reason why you'd have to use the same exercises as me. Just be sure you include a push, a pull, a squat(hip flexion), a deadlift (hip extension), a lunge (locomotion), and a rotation/anti-rotation movement in each workout.

For the metabolic/energy systems training what you do really doesn't matter as long as it's at the appropriate intensity level. A 30 second work period calls for a very high level of intensity, while a 120-second work period calls for something a little mellower but still very challenging. Your active recovery again depends on your fitness level, with the idea being to keep moving but recover sufficiently that you're ready for the next work set. If your work sets involve a lot of explosive muscle contraction (think tuck jumps!) dynamic flexibility drills are an especially good choice for your active recovery.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Warp Speed Fat Loss

I need a(nother) fat loss program like I need a(nother) hole in my head. First of all, fat loss isn't a personal priority at the moment. I'm not exactly sure what my body fat percentage is at the moment, but I do know that it's well within the healthy range for a woman my age, and since I'm not looking to do a photo shoot or physique competition any time soon I really don't feel the need to be leaner than I already am.


Second, I already have access to any number of excellent fat loss programs. I've Burned The Fat, Fed The Muscle, I've Turbulence Trained, I've felt the Afterburn, and I've had the life sucked out of me by the Cabo Vampire Workout. They all work, which is probably why I don't feel desperate to lose fat right now.

So, anyway when the new Warp Speed Fat Loss program was released earlier this month I didn't feel as though it was a purchase I could justify making. Still, I was curious about it, as I am about any new Alwyn Cosgrove program.

But is Warp Speed Fat Loss really new? Obviously I can't tell you since I haven't purchased the program. But the general idea seems to be as follows: Resistance training 3x per week, followed by metabolic circuits. Metabolic Circuit A consists of 30 seconds of very high intensity effort followed by 90 seconds of active recovery, repeated 6x. Metabolic Circuit B consists of 120 seconds of high intensity effort followed by 120 seconds of active recovery, repeated 3x. On the days you don't do resistance training you perform interval cardio, alternating 60 seconds of high-intensity effort with 120 seconds of active recovery, repeated 3-6x depending on what week of the program you're in. Then, once you've done your intervals you finish with 20 minutes or so of low-intensity steady state cardio to burn off all the free fatty acids you released into your bloodstream during the HIIT. The low-intensity steady state cardio isn't something I've seen in a Cosgrove program before now, but it's something Christian Thibodaux has been recommending for a while now although he generally tacks it onto weight training sessions, which also release triglycerides into the bloodstream.


I have no clue what the resistance training looks like, but since Alwyn Cosgrove is involved I'm guessing there's a total-body Workout A and a total-body Workout B, both involving supersets and/or giant sets. Since it's only a 4 week program I am guessing the exercise selection stays pretty constant but I would imagine there's some variation in volume and rest periods from week to week. If anyone out there has actually sprung for the program feel free to let me know whether I've guessed right or not!

I imagine the nutritional guidelines involve mini-meals, a fairly aggressive calorie deficit, and minimal starch intake, with most calories coming from lean protein and veggies. Not quite a strict cutting diet but close. Again, this is a 4 week program, not something you're meant to follow for months at a time. When it's only for 4 weeks you can be pretty aggressive without sending your body into starvation mode.

Anyway, that's the Warp Speed Fat Loss program I would write, if I were to write such a thing. Not so new, but it works. In all honesty if it were too new I wouldn't trust it. The fact is, most of us don't need "new" fat loss strategies, what we need is motivation to stick to the ones that have been around forever, that people have been successfully using for decades.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Not Endurance-Oriented :), Plus A Public Service Announcement

After the spin-a-thon on Sunday the last thing I felt like doing yesterday was any kind of drawn-out workout. So I did a little tabata-ish thing incorporating some TRX exercises:

TRX 1-leg squats, 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off, switching legs each round 8x

rest 1 min

TRX rows and pushups, 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off, switching exercises each round 8x

rest 1 min

TRX balance lunges, 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off, switching legs each round 8x

rest 1 min

Upper body russian twists and cobras, 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off, switching exercises each round

Today I did one of Dave Whitley's 101 Kettlebell Workouts. It was a 3-exercise mini-circuit:

pistol squats, 1 R/L
clean & press, 5 R/L
25 swings

1 min rest

Lather rinse repeat 5x.

In the interests of full disclosure, pistols are very much a work in progress for me. The learning progression I am using is the one where you do the pistol over a bench or step, gradually lowering the height of same as your strength increases. Right now I'm using a 10 inch step. I can actually just about do a full pistol on the right leg, but the left leg has a little catching up to do. No big surprise there. I'm much weaker, wobblier, and more loose-jointed on the left side than on the right. which is a big reason why I love and adore unilateral training. If all I ever used was machines or even barbells, I'd just be letting a bad situation get worse. Sure, I'd be able to use lots of weight and impress myself, but in the long run it wouldn't be good for me.

(Note: I plan to be cremated not buried, but if I were going to be buried the words, " but in the long run it wouldn't be good for me" would probably be what I would want on my tombstone.)

Now I have to shower off and go get my mammogram. My doctor is still recommending these annually for her patients who're over 40, and, well, that would be me in spades. Thankfully I don't need regular colonoscopies yet, but soon I will, and when that day comes you can bet I will be getting them.

The sad truth is, a healthy lifestyle is no guarantee of longevity. If you have breast or colon cancer in your family you can certainly minimize your chances of getting either disease by exercising, not smoking, avoiding excessive saturated fat in your diet, and so forth, but you can't eliminate your risk altogether. I know the subject of routine diagnostic testing is a bit controversial these days, so my best advice is to read up on the risks and benefits and make an informed decision whether or not annual screening is right for you, keeping in mind genetic as well as lifestyle factors. And if testing is what makes sense for you, get it done :)

Endurance training, with and without kettlebells

Usually I like my workouts quick. For those of you who've been following this blog for a while, you know that my basic workout philosophy is that unless you're training for an endurance event such as a marathon, it's unnecessary and even counter-productive to spend more than seven percent of your waking hours working out. For basic fitness and fat loss, 30-60 minutes a day, 3-5 times a week, combined with good nutrition, will give most people excellent results.

But, hey, every now and then it's not the worst thing in the world to mix things up a little with some endurance training, especially if you participate in sports or activities such as hiking or mountain biking that require sustained effort. If the weather permits, of course, you can simply do your sport, gradually increasing the length and/or intensity of your sessions until you're where you want to be. But if that's not possible there are alternatives, and this weekend I explored two of them.

The first involved kettlebells, and consisted of a 1-arm swing/breathing ladder, following a protocol of 2 swings to 1 breath. So my first set consisted of 1 swing per arm, followed by a single breath. Then I did 2 swings per arm followed by 2 breaths, and so on. The idea here is to draw the workout out for as long as possible by controlling your breathing. Deep breaths and deeper exhalations are key. I laddered up to 21 swings per arm, followed by 21 breaths, and then worked my way back down the ladder, without ever feeling smoked. Really, it was about as relaxing and zen-like as a kettlebell training session can ever be.

The second involved a spinning bike. Normally I would not spend 3 hours on a spinning bike, and I certainly wouldn't recommend that anyone else do so. But it was a fundraiser for the YMCA where I do much of my training, so I sucked it up and cycled for 3 hours, pacing myself and again using breath control to keep myself from ever getting smoked. Honestly, the biggest challenges for me were (1) insufficient padding in my bike shorts; and (2) the music choices of my fellow instructors, which ranged from "And So This Is Christmas" to "Cum On Feel The Noize."

If you want to use cardio machines for your endurance training I recommend cross training on a few different machines, varying your intensity and maybe throwing in some timed sets of bodyweight exercises as well, but never going all out the way you would during HIIT training. Remember: your goal is sustained effort, not maximal effort. Here's an example of something I might do:

5 minutes on the treadmill
20 bodyweight squats
5 minutes on the treadmill
20 pushups
5 minutes on the treadmill
20 lunges
5 minutes on the treadmill
20 mountain climbers

Repeat 2 more times, substituting the ARC trainer and the stationary bike for the treadmill.

Of course it's not necessary to break it up like this, but I find that when I do I am less likely to want to stick a fork in my eye 20 minutes in.

Have I mentioned that machine cardio is not my thing?

Monday, December 7, 2009

As requested ...

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Sunday, December 6, 2009

A Day In The Life

Here's what my Saturday workout looked like:

-30 min. pointe practice, mostly focusing on my solo in Waltz of the Flowers. We have a performance on Friday and a couple of dancers down with the swine flu, so we've had to rechoreograph a bit but I think we'll be okay. It's an easy audience :)

-kettlebell practice, focusing on strength. It's been my perception that my pressing strength has improved--I can do get-ups with the 16 kg for 2-3 reps before having to switch sides, which is something I certainly couldn't have done a couple of months ago. So, I decided to put it to the test with an ETK style clean & press/pullup workout. I did three three-rung ladders, two of which went okay. On the third ladder I ran into problems on rung 3, so finished out with loaded cleans and then did singles for a few reps. Still, I think this represents a modest improvement.

I also attempted some snatches with the 16 kg. They went well on the right side, not so well on the left. I don't think it's anything that proper hand care won't fix, but we'll see. The good news is that I had no difficulty performing 5 snatches on the right side. In fact, on my fourth (or was it my fifth?) set I performed 8 just to test myself.

It wasn't until the end of the workout, when I set the 16 kg kettlebell down next to my pointe shoes, that the incongruity of the whole thing struck me.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

I Bit.

In case it has somehow escaped your attention, Precision Nutrition is running a special whereby you get 10 guidebooks, the Gourmet Nutrition cookbook, and a 1-year membership to the Precision Nutrition site that gives you access to the member forums, e-books, articles, workout plans and Much! Much! More! all for one Low! Low! Price! of $99 USD. Honestly I have no clue how much this particular package normally would run you, but the price seemed reasonable to me so I went for it.

While I haven't received my guidebooks and cookbook yet, I did get immediate access to the members-only areas of the PN site, and so far I am impressed. The workout programs are designed by top people in the fitness industry, including Christian Thibaudeax, Alwyn Cosgrove, Craig Ballantyne, and Dave Whitley, and there are options for all levels from novice to pro.

Since I'm a kettlebell girl the Dave Whitley workout was the first one I downloaded, and as usual Dave does not disappoint. The first four weeks of the program are all get-ups and swings. It's not quite the RKC program minimum, but the concept is the same. The second four weeks are non-competing supersets, sort of along the lines of Turbulence Training but with kettlebells. There's also some interval training, with timed sets of swings standing in for the usual treadmill or bike sprints. The final four weeks of the program introduce some double kettlebell drills that are too advanced for me right now, so I will either modify or switch to a different program altogether.

If bodybuilding is what intrigues you the Christian Thibaudeax program is outstanding. It kicks off with 12 weeks of off-season training, then segues into 12 weeks of contest prep. It's advanced and it's brutal and I frankly can't be bothered, but for those who enjoy this sport and have the motivation and discipline to train this way it's an incredible option.

(Note: I have nothing but respect for bodybuilders. They work as hard for their results as any other athlete, and when I say that bodybuilding is not my thing, all I mean is that it's one of the many, many sports in which I do not aspire to excel or even achieve competence. It seems to me that looking amazing in a posing suit is every bit as valid a goal as pressing The Beast for reps or running a four-minute mile or pulling off 32 consecutive fouette turns without falling on your ass. Whatever motivates you, right?)

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Holiday Eating Survival Tips

I am not a big fan of self-denial at any time, but especially not during the holidays. One of the lovely things about this time of year is the opportunity to enjoy foods that aren't readily available year-round. Often these foods aren't just delicious, they are family traditions that bring back happy childhood memories. Proust had his madeleines; I have my grandmother's Toll House cookies :)

So eat, bubbele! But be a bit sensible about it. Stop at the point of diminishing returns. Don't eat the whole thing if a bite or two is enough to satisfy you. As much as possible, try to serve yourself so you can control your portions more easily. Skip the dishes you don't especially enjoy. I personally don't care for candied yams or that Godawful green bean casserole that's made with canned cream of mushroom soup and Durkee crispy onion bits, I'm indifferent to mashed potatoes with gravy and most stuffings, and if I never have another Brussels sprout again it will be too soon. That's a bunch of calories saved right there!

If you're spending the holidays at someone else's house, offer to bring a dish and make it a healthful one. That way you'll be assured of having something you can fill up on without having to resort to the aforementioned candied yams and other things you'd just as soon not eat. You'll also find it a lot easier to control yourself around the foods you do love if you're not starving.

If you're the host it's even easier because you have complete control over what goes on the table. I usually canvas my guests beforehand to find out whether they've got food sensitivities I need to take into account, or dishes they absolutely must have to feel satisfied. My nieces, for instance, adore Stove Top stuffing. So if they're spending Thanksgiving with me I serve it. I don't eat it myself, but I serve it :) I also spend a lot of time looking through the November and December issues of Cooking Light for recipe ideas. What I like about Cooking Light is that the recipes almost never call for faux-food such as Splenda or margarine. Instead the holiday classics are lightened up via judicious reductions in the amount of sugar and/or fat, usually with no adverse effect on taste.

While I'm on the subject, here's another tip for holiday cooks: use the finest quality ingredients you can afford. If you're not willing to spring for real vanilla extract, make something else because the end result won't be worth the calories. Good ingredients mean good flavor, and good flavor means you'll probably be satisfied with less. Think about it: when was the last time you had a fat-free cheese that was worth bothering with?

While you're negotiating the holiday minefield, try to adhere to your usual diet as closely as you can on non-feast days. That'll do a lot to keep damage to a minimum. After all, the days when you're not sitting down to turkey and all the trimmings still greatly outnumber the days when you are! Unless you have an unusually large family and a ton of social obligations it should still be possible for you more or less to stick to the 90/10 rule during the 5 weeks between Thanksgiving and the New Year.

Finally, do yourself a favor and do not weigh yourself the morning after a splurge. If you've overdone the carbs and sodium your weight may be up by as much as five pounds due to water retention. But it's just water, and it will be gone in another day or two if you get back on plan and keep hydrated. It's nothing to freak out about, but people always do, and as their trainer I get very tired of having to talk them off the ledge the day after Thanksgiving! So, really, for both our sakes don't even go there!!

In fact, I'm going to be proactive this year. If you make the mistake of weighing yourself tomorrow morning I want you to do 100 kettlebell swings for every pound you think you gained overnight.

Enjoy!

Oh, and while you're at it, take a moment to be thankful this is even an issue for you. Worldwide there probably are going to be more people who go to bed hungry tonight than who don't, and not because they're dieting. We live in a culture of ridiculous, absurd, obscene, super-sized, Kentucky-Fried abundance, and while that's not necessarily good for us it's a problem millions of people worldwide would love to have.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Recap: Training 11/16-11/22 (plus the usual digressions, random ravings, etc)

Actually, I'm going to begin my recap with Sunday 11/15. I ran a little 5k in Golden Gate Park and was quite disappointed with my performance in some respects but pleased in others. My overall time was a fairly dreadful 29 minutes and change, meaning I was running slightly under 10 minute miles on average. That would be a reasonable pace for a longer race, but for a 5k I would have expected to be a bit faster.

Here's where I went wrong: I started way too fast. I ran the first half mile in slightly over 3 minutes, and was completely gassed. My heart rate was through the roof and I had to slow way down to bring it under control. Unfortunately that was right where the race course got a touch hilly, and I never really felt I got a good recovery.

The problem was my training. I like to run on the beach. This is not a bad thing. When you run on sand you have to work a lot harder to push off, so you develop a lot of power in your legs. If you're a road racer it's overload training, which of course is quite useful. But if you do too much of it, you're going to use that same amount of power when you run on the road, meaning you're going to find yourself going very very fast. Not a bad thing if you can sustain it, but I couldn't.

So, if I were a serious runner what I would do in preparing for my next 5k is limit my beach runs to 1x per week, and do the rest of my running on the road, doing some longer runs to build endurance. But I'm not a serious runner, and if I'm on the road there's no chance of seeing dolphins during my workout so the heck with it ... at least until spring when the ducks in the park start having babies. I can run 4-5 miles in the park if I've got ducklings to look at :)

(I only do races that are fundraisers for causes I support. The race on 11/15, for instance, was a benefit for the San Francisco Food Bank. The amount of money I raise is the same however long it takes me to finish, which is the real reason I don't care that much about my time. It's mostly a matter of academic interest to me--as a trainer I like knowing what works and what doesn't, and why.)

I took Monday 11/16 as a rest day, then on Tuesday taught a 1-hour spinning class. It was endurance oriented, with 2 20 minute intervals at 75-85% MRH. I burned 501 calories over the course of the hour, which gives you an idea of the cumulative intensity. (That's a lot of calories for someone my age and size to burn in an hour!)

Wednesday I gave double kettlebell training a shot for the first time. It was ... interesting. I did 3 rounds of double kettlebell press 5x followed immediately by double kettlebell swings, 30x, using 12 kg kettlebells for both. After that I switched to double kettlebell press followed by regular 2-hand kettlebell swings with 18kg, and did another 3 rounds. Again, interesting.

The double kettlebell press was okay, but with the double swings I felt my form was way off. I can't for the life of me figure out how any person my size can do these properly. I felt I was initiating too low and not generating the power I needed, and it was just all wrong. So, no more of these until I can consult with an RKC.

I did, however, like the feel of swinging a heavier weight than 16 kg. But since I don't have anything heavier than that (are you listening, Santa Baby?), I tried affixing my "Kettlebell Buddy" to my 16 kg.

The Kettlebell Buddy is not a piece of equipment I recommend, and the only reason I own one is that I was new to kettlebell training when it first came on the market and was being heavily promoted by AOS/PerformBetter. For those who don't know, a Kettlebell Buddy is a 2-kg thingy that screws into the bottom of any AOS or PerformBetter kettlebell, and it's meant to make it easier to transition to a heavier kettlebell.

I certainly can't fault the theory--when you think about it, it's a bit ridiculous to go from, say, 4 kg to 8 kg, which is a 100% increase in weight, or even from 8 kg to 12 kg, which is a 50 percent increase. Even 12 kg to 16 kg--a 33% increase--is pushing it IMO. Intermediate sizes are very helpful but hard to come by ... and expensive. So the Kettlebell Buddy seemed to be a great solution, much like PlateMates which I do recommend.

The problem, of course, is that when you affix a 2 kg thingy to the bottom of a kettlebell of any size it suddenly stops acting like a kettlebell because you've completely altered the shape, changed the center of gravity, etc. You'd think this would be obvious, but as I said I knew nothing about kettlebells when I acquired my little 2 kg screw-in abomination.

So, anyway, don't make the mistake I did, not that any of you would. But if by some chance you did ... really I can't recommend using it for anything other than a paperweight. But if you want to try using it as intended, I suggest sticking with the squat and the get-up. These movements don't involve momentum, so the altered shape of the kettlebell is going to be less of a factor. I also didn't feel terrible using it for swings, which do involve momentum, because I didn't feel as though the altered shape of the kettlebell was forcing a change in form. I'm still not totally comfortable with it, though, and I don't really recommend it. Better to use a proper kettlebell and do more reps if going light or fewer if going heavy.

(The one good thing about my Kettlebell Buddy experience is that it's made me a somewhat better judge of kettlebells than I might otherwise be. Don't bother with anything that's not round or close to it, with no bumps, bulges, protuberances, flattened sides, or what have you. If you get such a thing it won't handle like a kettlebell, and your form will suffer as a result.)

Thursday I did one of Dave Whitley's 102 Kettlebell Workouts. This one involved 15 minutes of snatches, 12 R/L, taking rests as needed. I rested about a minute between rounds, and got 8 total rounds, so 192 snatches in 15 minutes using 12 kg. After that, 15 minutes of pushups (12) and pull-ups (5). I got 10 rounds. The pushups were no problem but the pull-ups were :)

Wednesday and Thursday were also ballet-intensive days: 90 minutes of class plus Nutcracker rehearsal. The show is a mess--we've had cast members dropping out in droves so we're going to have to rechoreograph Waltz of the Flowers and Party Scene. Goddess help us all, I'm probably going to end up being a Party Scene kid again this year, which will give the whole thing even more of a Trockadero touch than usual. Actually, "bratty teenager" is more like it. The cast is unusually short this year, and I can't pull off the illusion of being still in my Wonder Years if I'm taller than most of the "adult" party guests. But "gawky 15-year-old" I can just about manage :)

Then in Waltz--how to explain this?--the members of the corps are supposed to be lovely flower petals, while I am the messy pollen-shedding bit in the center :) That's how I think of it, at least.

Friday was another rest day--my arms were cooked from the pull-ups on Thursday!

Saturday I did a kettlebell workout intended to build upper body strength. I'm having a lot of trouble pressing and snatching 16 kg, so I did mostly assistance stuff aimed at helping with that. Lots of get-ups with the 16 kg, plus cleans, then windmills to help with my shoulder stability, followed by some high pulls and half snatches. I really think I'm close to making a breakthrough on the snatches at least. The heavy windmills really seem to help with arm and shoulder stability, which as always is my weak link.

Sunday I did 5 rounds of kettlebell snatches, 10 R/L; double kettlebell squats, 5; kettlebell clean & press 5 R/L, all with 12 kg. The idea was to do as many rounds as possible in 20 minutes, but since I didn't want to sacrifice form I opted for a somewhat leisurely pace. Basically, about 2.5 minutes of work to 1.5 minutes of rest.

And there you have it.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Horrifying!

Don't try this at home, or anyplace else!

http://community.fitnessanywhere.com/blogs/mfp_interviews/archive/2009/11/06/crazy-intense-trx-exercises.aspx

Don't misunderstand me: I am impressed as hell that the guy in the video was able to perform these moves without killing himself or anyone else in the process. But as a workout I think this is pretty dreadful, and here's why:

When I'm putting together a workout for a client of any level, the question I am always asking myself is: is this the least risky way to get the job done? In my opinion it's simply irresponsible for a trainer to choose unnecessarily unsafe exercises no matter how "cool" they are. If there's a safer way to get the same training effect, that's what the trainer should choose for his or her client whatever that person's level of fitness.

Mind you, I'm not saying the trainer must avoid all risk. That's simply not possible. A training program always involves some risks. About the only way to be sure of avoiding an exercise related injury is not to exercise, and that's a risky course in itself. We all know the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle! Exercise of some kind is pretty much always the safer option.

But beyond that, it's negotiable. When it comes to program design I have very few hard and fast rules. What's unacceptably risky for Client A may well be the safest alternative for Client B. Just as an example, say Client A is a hypertensive gentleman of 58 who hasn't seen the inside of a gym since his college days, and Client B is a twentysomething who's been involved in sports consistently since his high school days, and is prepping for his first powerlifting competition. Both gentlemen have a stated goal of getting stronger, but their programs and the techniques I use with them are going to be completely different. I'm not going to be having Client A using heavy loads right away, because his joints can't handle it. And I'm going to coach him not to hold his breath during the concentric phase of lifting, because he can't afford the temporary spike in blood pressure. For Client B, however, heavy loads are a must, and the additional spinal stability he will get from holding his breath makes that the less-risky alternative for him.

Always be suspicious of a trainer who speaks in terms of absolutes!

That being said, it's hard for me to envision any set of circumstances under which a combination move consisting of a TRX suspended lunge segueing into a kettlebell snatch would be the safest option. In such an unstable position I don't see how it would be possible to generate enough power at the hips to perform the snatch correctly. Maybe with a very light kettlebell ... but then wouldn't it be safer and better and equally as effective to superset TRX suspended power lunges with kettlebell snatches using a heavy enough weight to challenge an advanced athlete? It might not look as cool, but who cares? The point is to improve the athlete's conditioning, not to make him put on a show for the amusement of spectators and the greater glory of the trainer!

What do you think?

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Female Body Not-Such-A-Breakthrough-As-All-That

Don't get me wrong: there's a lot to like about Rachel Cosgrove's new book, The Female Body Breakthrough. If you're a twenty- or thirtysomething cardio queen who's tired of spending an hour a day on the elliptical with little to show for it, and you want to make some serious changes in your shape and body composition, you need this book. Rachel makes a great case for making a paradigm shift: giving up starvation diets and marathon cardio sessions in favor of weight training and frequent small meals.

Thing is, none of this is exactly a new paradigm. Some of it has been around so long that it has acquired its own set of critics and debunkers. In the chapter on nutrition, for instance, there's a reference to the thermic effect of food. This is something Tom Venuto talks about in Burn the Fat Feed The Muscle and The Body Fat Solution, and I think John Berardi discusses it as well in Precision Nutrition. Basically, it's the idea that every time you eat you force your body to expend energy digesting what you consume, thus stimulating your metabolism. Great if true ... but proponents of intermittent fasting such as Brad Pilon say it isn't.

Anyway, if you're a regular reader of this blog (or any other fitness blog for that matter) you probably already know most of what's in The Female Body Breakthrough. Metabolic resistance training. High intensity bodyweight conditioning sessions. No long slow boring steady state cardio. Meals every 3 hours or so, with protein at each meal. No processed foods. Et cetera et cetera et cetera, as the King of Siam would say.

What does set The Female Body Breakthrough apart from, say, The Body Fat Solution, The New Rules of Lifting For Women, and all the other excellent entry-level body transformation guides on the market, is that it's written by an actual woman with years of actual experience changing her own body as well as the bodies of her clients. Rachel Cosgrove is what I like to call a metamorph: someone who has gone back and forth from being a chunky aerobics instructor to an ultra-lean, muscular physique competitor, to a skinny-fat triathlete, and back again to the lean, toned look she currently sports. She's dealt with bulimia and post-competition binge eating, and she rides the hormone rollercoaster every month just like you do (at least if you're a premenopausal female.) She doesn't just know about this stuff, she's lived it in a way that Tom Venuto, Lou Schuler and the rest have not. To me that gives her some extra credibility. If you've got a skinny-fat cardio queen in your life who wants to make some changes, and you're looking for a fitness book to give her for Christmas, Rachel's just might be the one.

Don't bother, though, if your friend is indifferent to looking "hot." To me the biggest problem with The Female Body Breakthrough is that it presumes its readers are primarily interested in looking hot and sexy. A catch-phrase that's reiterated throughout the book is: Be A BITCH, "BITCH" being an acronym for Be Inspiring, Totally Confident, and Hot. The feminist in me finds this more than a little cringe-inducing. Not that I have a problem with women striving to Be Inspiring, Totally Confident and Hot, but I don't happen to believe that those qualities should be reserved to those who have attained a low bodyfat percentage. To me, being a BITCH--being confident, empowered and sexy--is all about what's happening between my ears. What my butt looks like in jeans has nothing to do with it..

Mind you, I don't really fault Rachel (I don't think she'd mind my calling her Rachel) for not fighting that particular battle in her book. Judging by what I see at the gym every day, she's got enough of a fight on her hands getting women off the treadmill and into the weight room. If she can succeed there, who knows--her readers may find they are so empowered by their strength gains and improved fitness that they stop worrying so much about what they look like to potential sex partners.

Now that's what I call a paradigm shift.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Metabolic Density Training With Kettlebells

Kettlebells and metabolic resistance training go together like peanut butter and chocolate. Like Fred and Ginger. Like vodka and ... more vodka :)

Of course I also love metabolic work on the TRX ... but sometimes the kettlebells just call to me.

Today was one of those days. I'd planned to do a metabolic resistance workout on the TRX, but for some reason the kettlebells were more alluring.

So, here's what I did:

12 minutes, as many rounds as possible:

TGU, 2 R/L x12 kg (I got 6 rounds--not bad!)

Rest 3:00

12 minutes, as many rounds as possible:

12 swings x 16 kg
5 pushups

(I got 15 rounds--again, not bad!)

In other news, I ordered Rachel Cosgrove's new book, The Female Body Breakthrough, from Amazon. I should be receiving it on Monday. In case it's not obvious, I reallyreally like the Cosgroves. I consider The New Rules of Lifting (Alwyn Cosgrove in collaboration with Lou Schuler) a must-read for fitness buffs of both genders, and my hope is that Rachel's new book will be similarly indispensable.

Once I've received the book and had a chance to read it, look for my review!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

More HKC photos


Here I am doing a goblet squat. I have no explanation for the expression on my face. Maybe I was wishing the kettlebell was a 12 kg coffee cup?


Here I am attempting a shoe get-up.

Here I am getting my arm and shoulder externally rotated by Geoff Neupert, Senior RKC. Thanks, Geoff!


Again, I have no explanation for this picture, but I like it. I take my training very seriously, but myself? Not so much!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Cosgrove Cabo Vampire Workout

Today, for reasons that presently escape me, I decided it would be a good idea to do the Cabo Vampire Workout. This sweaty little bit of unpleasantness is something that Alwyn and Rachel Cosgrove claim to have done on the beach in Cabo. Personally I don't believe a word of it. Maybe they think they did it, but that would be the mescal talking.

Seriously, this one was bad enough in San Francisco in November. I can't imagine doing it out in the tropical summer sun. I would end up in a puddle mourning my beautiful wickedness like the evil witch in the Wizard of Oz.

But then I'm not a Cosgrove.

Anyway, here's what it was:

Metabolic density training, 20 minutes:

10 TRX single leg squats R/L
10 TRX inverted rows
10 TRX suspended incline presses
10 TRX suspended lunges R/L

I got 7 rounds, although I wasn't keeping close watch over my time so I think I went a little more than 20 minutes.

superset, 3 rounds:

10 TRX swimmer's pulls
10 TRX sprinter's starts with power R/L (the original workout called for shuttle runs, but since I was training inside I substituted)

TRX suspended crunches, 2x12

Oh, and it's a vampire workout because it drains away all your energy. This is per the Cosgroves, not me, though I wouldn't disagree.

Also if by some chance the workout as written isn't miserable enough for you, you could always read New Moon during your rest periods. That'll suck out your will to live for sure.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Weird workout day, even for me

It began with a short run on the beach. No dolphins today, but I did see pelicans of all things. They're common in the Half Moon Bay area a little further down the coast, but I've never noticed them in the city before. Maybe they were hoping to see dolphins?

The run went pretty well considering I'd beaten myself up pretty thoroughly the day before in ballet class plus rehearsal plus cycling. The cycling class was an intense interval training session that got my heart rate up to 171 at one point. Bear in mind, I'm 47. My estimated maximum is 179 according to the usual charts, which of course reflect averages, meaning that for 50% of the population they overestimate and for 50% they underestimate. I am in the latter fifty percent. In fact, my actual maximum heart rate seems to be about 190. This is strictly a genetic thing and not an indicator of cardiorespiratory fitness or lack thereof. But anyway, after hitting a high of 171 I was able to lower my heart rate to 106 within only 2 minutes or so. That's pretty good. Generally speaking an athlete should be able to lower his or her heart rate by 40 beats within 3 minutes of ending a workout. The quicker you can bring your heart rate down, the fitter you are. This is another reason to wear a heart rate monitor during your workouts: so you can track your progress in this respect.

Anyway, because I'd gotten my heart rate so high in cycling class on Thursday I wasn't sure how much of an effort I'd be able to put forth during my run, but in fact it went pretty well except for not seeing any dolphins.

A little later in the morning I hit the weight room for a little squat/bench press/pull-up action. The pull-ups went surprisingly well but I was weak as a kitten on the other two exercises. When I'm doing a low-rep strength workout I always throw in a couple of light specific-warmup sets so I can gauge how much it's safe for me to push it during the actual work sets, and I could pretty much tell when my back started complaining after 8 reps with only a measly 95 pounds that it was not going to be a good strength day. So I played it safe, focused on form and range of motion, and still feel as though I got a lot out of the workout even though I never used more than 145 pounds for my heaviest set.

I'm actually not totally committed to making barbell back squats a regular part of my routine again. Mike Boyle says they're not the best for building leg strength because they put the low back in a functionally weak position, so that it tires long before the legs do. I suspect that in many cases he is absolutely correct. What I'm not so sure about is whether the alternative he suggests--the Bulgarian split squat--is a better choice. His theory is that the BSS puts the back in a functionally strong position and the legs in a functionally weak one, so that it's the legs that'll give out first. This makes some sense to me, but at the same time I wonder whether most athletes have the balance and flexibility required to get the most out of the BSS. I think it's an absolutely wonderful exercise but it would never have occurred to me to use it as a replacement for conventional squats.

On the other hand, I'm always happy to test out a theory :) And I do love single leg training. Bear in mind that there's a thin line between love and hate here.

Anyway, after I finished the strength portion of my workout I did a few sets of 1-arm swings, then headed upstairs to an empty studio for some pointe practice. This was when I noticed that things were seriously amiss. I couldn't find my center and I couldn't pull up. The connective tissue in my ankles felt weak and "loose" for want of a better word. And I couldn't remember my choreography to save my life.

Then I remembered what day it was in my cycle, and all became clear.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Yummy!

In the interest of upgrading my diet some, I've been on the lookout lately for new and interesting foods that will give me the nutrients I need without completely repulsing me from a sensory standpoint.

Not every experiment has been a success. The powdered wheatgrass ... well, let's just say that it must be an acquired taste. Still, I could see it being a useful thing to have with me when I'm traveling and can't count on getting my usual 37 servings of veggies.

The kombucha drinks from Synergy, however, have been a big hit for the most part. A few of the flavors are a bit disgusting but I really like the Gingerade and the Trilogy (ginger, raspberry juice, lemon juice). They're tart, fizzy and refreshing. At least, I like them. My husband thinks they're too sour to be drinkable but then he likes orange juice, which I find to be unacceptably sweet. I have no idea whether there's any evidence substantiating the claimed health benefits of kombucha, but I certainly don't think it's doing me any harm so I plan to continue drinking it.

I'm also really liking nonfat Greek yogurt from Fage. It's thick, creamy and delicious ... and has 25% of the recommended minimum daily calcium requirement as well as 20 grams of protein per 1-cup serving. That's a lot of nutrient value for 120 calories! I like to mix in berries and sprinkle walnuts on top for a ''sundae" that's packed with anti-oxidants and essential fatty acids as well as calcium and protein.

Interestingly I find it a lot easier to eat well when my workouts are going well. I think it's because when I'm performing well I'm inspired to want to do even better the next time and I know that eating the right stuff will help. Or something like that.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Workouts (plus a typically longwinded digression re: the relative merits of the tabata protocol and Viking Warrior Conditioning)

So far so good. I think my training plan is working in terms of including the variety I want/need without overtraining.

Here's how it has gone so far:

1. Sunday was my "Viking Warrior Conditioning" day, except that I can't really say for certain that I was following the protocol correctly because I haven't actually read Kenneth Jay's book. Hence the quotation marks. Whatever I did, though, seemed to hit the spot.

Cath, you asked whether I thought VWC was more effective than the tabata protocol. Honestly I can't say for certain since I'm not sure I've done either correctly. I certainly haven't done tabatas as per the study, i.e., 6 days a week for 6 weeks or whatever it was. And I tend to doubt that when I was doing them I was hitting 150 percent of my VO2 max, or whatever it was that the athletes in the study were doing, during the work periods. Elite athletes can do that, but most of us cannot. That's the thing about the athletes in the tabata study: they were all world-class speed skaters, not Joe or Jane Wellness Seeker. I don't think anyone has ever done a study to determine whether the tabata protocol's benefits extend to those of us who are just sort of your typical fitness buff. Anyway, I think Sandy's point was that VWC is more accessible to non-world class athletes (which of course is most of us) and therefore a better option for them.

I think there's a lot of anecdotal evidence that the tabata protocol as performed in gyms, bootcamps and CrossFit studios actually does yield considerable benefits. Certainly it's not a waste of time ... though possibly that time might be better spent doing VWC. But possibly not. Again, until someone does some studies determining the relative effectiveness of the two protocols as performed by athletes at the sub-Olympian level I really can't say which is a better choice for most of us. What I can say with some confidence, however, is that both protocols are good, useful, and well worth trying.

I think most of us have a tendency to overthink this stuff. If you're an elite athlete training for a specific goal it pays to worry about this sort of thing. For the rest of us what works best is just to pick something and do it.

2. On Monday I did a strength workout featuring deadlifts, incline bench press, and 1 armed rows. I was very conservative with my weights--too much so, really, because this is my first week on the program and I haven't been doing any of these exercises with any regularity for a while.

Also there were these idiot young men in the weight room who were also deadlifting, with too much weight on the bar and some of the worst form I've ever seen. My back hurt just looking at them! So I wanted to make a point of modeling perfect form in the hope they'd take the hint, but I'm not sure it sank in.

3. On Tuesday I did an unpleasant metabolic thing on the TRX:

1A: TRX suspended lunge
1B: TRX Suspended Incline Press

2A: TRX single leg squat (each leg)
2B: TRX Atomic Push up

3A: TRX Sprinters Start
3B: TRX Single Leg Chest press

4A: TRX Hamstring Curls
4B: TRX Inverted Row

5A: TRX Hip Press
5B: TRX Power pull

6A: TRX Hamstring Bicycle
6B: TRX Swimmers Pull

I performed each superset twice, 45 seconds per exercise (or 90 seconds in the case of the unilateral exercises, which sucked) with no rest between exercises and 45 sec. rest between sets. Then I finished with 1 set each TRX curls, tricep pressdowns, side planks, pendulums and suspended crunches My heart rate was a solid 75% of max for at least 30 minutes, and I burned over 300 calories in a little more than half an hour, which for someone my age and size is quite good.

3. Wednesday I went for a lovely run on the beach, and was rewarded with a glimpse of dolphins frolicking out in the bay. I think they were Pacific white-sided dolphins but they might possibly have been bottlenoses. There are about six species that frequent this area, but some are commoner than others.

I also had a great ballet class. I'm strong enough now that I can pull up on one leg into retire without assistance from the barre. I can only do it on one side, but that's okay. The other side will get there.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Random Thoughts On "Cardio"

1. Cardiovascular conditioning is a critical part of any fitness program. What's the use of having strong glutes. lats and the rest if your heart is weak? It's the most important muscle in your body, and it needs to be kept strong! Some loss of cardiovascular capacity is inevitable as we age but with proper training a lot of that loss is preventable .... reversible, even. So, be sure your training program includes some sort of cardiovascular conditioning.

With apologies to Craig Ballantyne, just say "Yes!" to cardio :)

2. "Cardio" is any workout that's structured in such a way as to compel the heart to work at a certain percentage of capacity for a certain period of time. Many, many modalities work. If you like to run, you can run. If you'd rather use a stationary bike or elliptical, that works fine too. If you're like me and really don't enjoy that sort of thing, you can use kettlebell drills or bodyweight exercises or circuit weight training. Anything works as long as it elevates your heart rate to the appropriate level.

3. Peddling away on a recumbent bike at 50 rpm as you turn the pages of Us magazine and chat with your neighbors is not cardio. Don't kid yourself. At the risk of repeating myself, cardio is not a modality, it's a training effect. Unless you're working hard enough to elevate your heart rate to at least 65% of max, you're not performing cardio. I'm not going to say you're wasting your time because I tend to think any activity is better than none ... but you could certainly be putting your valuable time to better use. Put away the damn magazine, put on your headphones, and sweat a little. Save your tabloid-reading and socializing for the nail salon.

4. Get a heart rate monitor.

5. Don't assume that an impressive VO2 max is necessarily going to translate into outstanding performance in every endurance sport. You may have a heart of elastic steel thanks to your Viking Warrior Conditioning but it doesn't mean you can go out and compete in a triathlon without training for it. It's not enough to have a strong heart; you also need to prepare your other muscles to meet the particular demands of the sport. Lance Armstrong may be the greatest endurance athlete of all time, but almost 900 people finished the New York Marathon before he did. What held him up, obviously, was not cardiovascular weakness but failure to make the specific adaptations a distance runner needs.

6. If you choose to do some sort of cardiovascular training every day, be sure you cycle low, medium and high intensity days. If you try to do HIIT every day it won't be long before you simply can't elevate your heart rate to where it needs to be.

7. If you're a novice exerciser don't launch into HIIT right away. Follow a sensible progression, just as you do with your other training. If you've never done a barbell back squat in your life you wouldn't load up the bar with twice your bodyweight for your first attempt, would you? (Lord, I hope not!) You can do intervals--in fact, you should--but I recommend keeping them aerobic (75%-85% MHR, with recovery at 65%-75% MHR) at first.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Viking Warrior Conditioning

If you're a kettlebell person you already know all about Viking Warrior Conditioning. It's a conditioning regimen created by Master RKC Kenneth Jay (aka "the Dane of Pain").

This is not Kenneth Jay. This is my husband Paul. He's not into kettlebells at all, but he totally rocks the Viking look, don't you think?

Anyhoo, Viking Warrior Conditioning calls for alternating 15 seconds of explosive work with 15 seconds of rest. Usually the explosive work consists of snatches. Actual Vikings probably swing maces or something, but since Dragon Door doesn't sell those (although I suspect it's only a matter of time) most people just use kettlebells (12 kg for ladies and 16 kg for gentlemen I believe).
Before you start you test yourself to figure out what your cadence is (usually 6-8 reps per work set for snatches) and you stick with that cadence for the duration of the workout, which can be anywhere from 25 to 40 minutes. Once you've worked your way up to 40 minutes you switch to a 36:36 protocol I believe, but since I haven't actually read the book don't take my word for it.


Anyway, I gave it a shot this morning, and it was interesting. Since I haven't been doing a lot of snatches lately I switched to 1-arm swings after nine minutes in the interest of not ripping up my hands. I probably should have switched to swings sooner, but the snatches felt really good and I didn't want to stop! Doing swings instead of snatches definitely lowers the intensity a notch since the kettlebell never comes overhead, but that's okay. The workout still felt plenty intense and challenging but never so much so that I felt I was losing control or using poor form. I went for 25 minutes, probably could have gone a little longer but I thought it would be better to stop before I reached a state of complete smokedness.
So, the grand total of reps for the workout was 108 snatches and 288 1-arm swings, all performed with 12 kg, or slightly over 10,000 pounds moved in 25 minutes if you like to think of it that way.

I think I've got my workout schedule figured out ...

with some help from Alwyn Cosgrove.

The general idea is lifted from a program he suggested on his blog a while ago. Day 1 is low volume lifting for strength. Day 2 is metabolic training on the TRX. Day 3 is HIIT. Days 4-6 are a repeat of days 1-3, except that you do different exercises on your heavy lifting day.

That's the Alwyn version, and I'm sure it works great, but since I'm also running 3x per week and cycling 2x per week I think that for me it would be better to substitute explosive kettlebell work for the HIIT. I'm thinking of following the infamous Viking Warrior Conditioning 15:15 protocol, but using mostly 1-arm swings instead of snatches for now. I've been mostly sticking with the HKC drills for the last couple of months, meaning that I haven't been doing much in the way of cleans or snatches, so my hands aren't as tough as they used to be. If I were to attempt a high-volume snatch workout right now I'd have ripped calluses before I was halfway through, and no one but myself to blame. So what I'm thinking is, I'll do snatches for as long as seems prudent, then switch over to swings, with a goal of adding a set of snatches every workout until my hands are toughened up again.

The suggested template for the heavy resistance training workouts is as follows:

Lower body: 1 set of 5 reps, 1 set of 3 reps, 1 set of 1 rep, then lighten the load and do 1 set of 10 reps. Rest periods not specified, but with volume this low I'm thinking around 3 minutes between work sets.

Push/pull superset: 2 sets of 5 reps, 1 set of 10 reps, 60 sec. rest between sets

Kettlebell swings, 2-3 sets of 10-20 reps, half recovery.

I might try double kettlebell swings just to make things interesting ... but we'll see.

Alwyn doesn't specify what exercises are to be used on the heavy lifting days, but pretty obviously you'd need to include a squat, a deadlift, a vertical push (such as a military press or high incline press), a vertical pull (such as a pullup or pulldown), a horizontal push (such as a bench press) and a horizontal pull (such as a row).

I need to clarify that the resistance training protocol is meant to develop strength not size. I'm not expecting it to cap my delts or give me the beautiful symmetry of a physique competitor. Those are not my goals at the moment.

If they were, my training would look very, very different. I'd be lifting a minimum of 4 days per week, I would be doing multiple exercises per muscle group, and I'd be lifting mostly in the 8-12 rep range, with relatively short rests to maximize time under tension. There would be single joint exercises as well as big compound movements, and the workouts would likely last close to an hour.

This style of training works very very well if your goal is to sculpt a beautiful body, but it doesn't do a lot in terms of maximizing performance. It's certainly not inconsistent with performing well as my friend Wendy could tell you, but by itself it won't get you there. You have to supplement with functional training and cardio ... and that means spending a LOT of time working out. If you've got a high level of commitment to your physical goals, that's not a problem--but I'm lazier than that so I need to prioritize. And for me, looking fabulous in a bikini is just not that much of a priority these days.

Looking fabulous in pink tights, however ... well, that's another story. But that's mostly addressed through diet, darn it!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Went running again this morning ....

I seem to be adjusting to the Frees very well. But the true test will be when I have my next pointe class. One of the reasons I've gotten out of the running habit is that running isn't great for dancers' feet. That's the conventional wisdom, anyway. But I think a lot of that is because traditional running shoes don't allow for a full range of motion in the foot --not if you've got flexible feet, at least. Even the Frees are not exactly like running barefoot ... but they're a lot better than the shoes I used to wear, which were like blocks of cement on my feet.

Anyway, we'll see.

My plan is to run Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays, since I cycle on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I probably won't lift on Wednesdays and Thursdays because those days are dance-heavy, but everything else is negotiable. A Friday-Saturday-Monday-Tuesday lifting schedule would make some sense if I were doing an upper/lower split but that doesn't seem to be what I'm into at the moment so we'll see. One of the nice things about kettlebell training is that since you're not lifting to failure the usual rules about recovery don't necessarily apply. I mean, for some people I expect they do, but the need for recovery tends to be a very individual thing, and I personally have never noticed any ill effects from doing, say, kettlebell swings, 5 days in a row. I don't believe it's fundamentally any different than running 5 days in a row, which plenty of people do. Obviously in both cases you want to build up to that level of frequency and also be sure to vary your intensity ... but as long as you do that, cardio is cardio, right?

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Sunday mixed-modality back-focused workout

Just playing around here with some different ideas:

Negative pull-ups to fatigue, as many as possible in 10 minutes

Rest 2 minutes

KB 1-arm rows, 4x8x16 kg, 45-60 sec rest between sets

Giant set:

DB 1-leg rear delt raises, 4 x 8-12 reps x 8-10 lbs
KB crush curls (to do these you drop down into the bottom of a goblet squat, park your elbows on your VMOs to pry open your hips, crush the bell between your palms, and do your reps, so they're sort of about your biceps but really they're more about hip mobility and using tension to create stability. Very cool exercise in any case.), 4 x 8-12 reps x 8-12 kg
TRX arm curls, 4x8
TRX arm extensions, 4 x 8-12

Finisher:

KB sumo burpee deadlifts (fun exercise I stole from from Josh Whatshisname who's always going on and on about "hot girls" and getting "rockstar lean"; he's actually got some great workout ideas on his site once you get past the nonsense about who's hot and who isn't), supersetted with swings, reverse ladder, 10-8-6-4-2 reps x 16 kg

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Good golly, has it really been 4 months since my last outdoor run?

Yep. Last time I went running outside, it was the day after my grandfather died. I just had to be outside in the fresh air where I could be alone with my thoughts, KWIM?

I didn't mean to take such a long break from running, but between cycling and practicing my swings I was getting plenty of cardiovascular conditioning so I didn't really feel I needed it. With limited time to exercise, strength training was more of a priority.

Frankly I probably would still be on hiatus from running but for the fact that I'm doing a 5k next month to raise money for the local food bank. Tis the season for such events, and if there happens to be one in your area you should think about participating. In a country as prosperous as the US no one should ever go hungry, especially at the holidays. Holiday weight gain sucks, but losing weight over the holidays because you can't afford to buy food sucks a whole lot more!!!!

Good golly, has it really been 4 months since my last outdoor run?

Thinking and rethinking

My personal and professional goals are a moving target these days, which isn't too surprising given that my body seems to be changing by the day as my estrogen levels drop and I move through the stages of menopause (denial, anger, peanut butter, acceptance?). Often I have difficulty sleeping, and when that happens my workouts suffer. I'm trying to be patient with myself and not get frustrated when I can't perform to my expectations, but it's a challenge!

Here's what the last week or so has looked like, workoutwise:

Sunday: Pull-ups & negative pullups to fatigue, 3 sets, supersetted with 1-arm KB presses, 8x12 kg; KB rows, 3x8x16 kg, supersetted with TGUs, 5 per side x 8 kg, then 3 per side x 12 kg, and finally 1 per side x 16 kg
Monday: rest day
Tuesday: 1 hour cycling class, and after that a mixed barbell & kettlebell workout that included deadlifts, planks, swings, walking lunges and bear crawls.
Wednesday: ballet class and Nutcracker rehearsal
Thursday: ballet class, Nutcracker rehearsal, cycling class
Friday: band assisted chin-ups, 4 sets of 12-15, supersetted with KB swings, 4x20x16 kg; pushups with knee-in, 4 sets of 12-15, supersetted with KB swings, 4x20x16 kg; 5 min. TGU singles, 12 kg.
Today I'm thinking heavy cleans & get-ups, and a 20-30 minute run. I have some Nike Frees that I'm anxious to test-drive.

In other news, I've taken on a couple of clients who are interested in learning the foundations of kettlebell training. So far it's going very well! I was so exhausted at the HKC that I was a little worried about how well I was absorbing the copious amounts of information presented, but I think I've actually retained most of it. I've been consulting the instructor handbook quite a bit, of course, and between that and my notes I think I've managed to remember most of the corrective drills. As I mentioned in a previous post, many of them have non-kettlebell applications so I've been using them where appropriate even with non-kettlebell clients who are struggling with such issues as spinal flexion and shoulder elevation and protraction.

This presents me with somewhat of a dilemma: if were to go to the RKC I imagine I would learn even more wonderful corrective stuff. But I would have to travel, and be away from my family, and be out in the elements for three days, and say "Yes, sir," and "Yes, ma'am" a lot. And do many, many burpees and other unpleasant things. So I need to think carefully.

But I don't need to think that carefully, not for now at least, because what I would need to do to prepare for the RKC is also what I want to do for my own personal development, i.e., perfect my form on the clean, press and snatch. For me the single biggest takeaway from the HKC was: if you show up at a Dragon Door certification event with seriously flawed technique you will learn how to fix it but you probably won't get certified, because by the time you get tested you will be so physically and mentally fatigued that you will almost certainly revert to your old incorrect way of doing things. That was what happened to me on the get-up: every bit of mental energy I had was focused on keeping my shoulder packed and not going into a high bridge, so I wasn't thinking about my wrist. Hence the slight bend backward and the initial failure to get certified.

So until I am sure of my technique, going to the RKC is a non-issue for me. But since I do plan to keep working on my form, I expect I will be revisiting the issue at some point.

Probably once Nutcracker is over for the year :)

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Post-HKC Training: Enter the Dumbbell!

Also the barbell and (gasp!) the cable machine. Did I just say "machine"? Yep, I sure did.

And the stability ball. And the TRX. And whatever the hell else I feel like using in addition to my beloved kettlebells.

Because here's the thing: when you're training for general fitness, your best results come from consistency. And for many of us, myself included, it's easiest to be consistent when our workouts include a variety of modalities. Kettlebells will always be my favorite strength and conditioning tool because they are so wonderfully versatile ... but just because I like kettlebells best it doesn't mean I can't enjoy other types of workouts from time to time.

Put it this way: ninety percent of the time when I do my nails I paint them pale pink (Essie Mademoiselle, one coat). But I have about 10 other colors of nail polish lurking under my bathroom sink, because sometimes I just feel like having nails that are red or coral or burgundy or fuschia. If I could only have one color I'd pick Mademoiselle, but since I don't have to choose why should I?

Besides, having options helps me enjoy my favorites even more. I had a great kettlebell workout today, my first one in over a week. And I'm sure the reason I enjoyed it so much is that my workout schedule actually called for me to do something else. But kettlebells were what I felt like using so I modified my plan, substituting biomechanically equivalent kettlebell drills for the barbell and dumbbell exercises I had been thinking I would do.

In all honesty, this eclectic approach isn't terribly effective for achieving specific performance goals. If you've got some of those, you really do kinda have to suck it up and do some workouts that may not be what you feel like doing on a given day. For instance, I have a 5k to run in about a month, so that means I need to start running again at least a couple of times a week. I have a high level of cardiovascular fitness but my joints aren't used to the repetitive stress of running outdoors for any distance so I need to work on that. I may not always feel like it, but I will do it because I know it's what I have to do.

I'm also going to be doing a lot of pointe prep work whether I feel like it or not because I need to get a lot stronger for Nutcracker in December.

But everything else is negotiable, at least for now.

Friday, October 16, 2009

We interrupt this blog to bring you the following public service announcement:

Unless you've been living under a rock, you know that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Maybe you have a mother or sister or aunt who has been diagnosed with the disease. Maybe you yourself are a breast cancer survivor. Or maybe you're simply one of the millions of women who will be diagnosed with it at some future date.



Maybe breast cancer is not the only form of this disease that has touched your life. I myself have lost two grandparents to cancers of the pancreas and stomach, and my father is living with a rare form of lymphoma. My father-in-law has been treated for cancers of the kidney and throat, and my mother-in-law lost her uterus to cancer nearly 50 years ago. The fiance of a dear friend was recently diagnosed with throat cancer, and the ex-wife of another dear friend is dying horribly from cancer of the bowel.



The worst thing for me about having a loved one diagnosed with cancer is the feeling there's nothing I can really do to help. Of course there ARE small things: rides to and from the hospital,; assistance with grocery shopping, housecleaning and other mundane tasks that may be too much for a person who's weak from chemo and/or radiation; and just being there as a source of support and comfort. But that doesn't always feel like enough.

Hence the following:






I made this lovely and tasteful sampler with my own two hands, using a pattern from www.subversivecrossstitch.com/ If you would like one for your very own, I will make it for you, free of charge, and all you have to do in exchange is make a donation to the cancer-fighting organization of your choice. You get the tax deduction, the sampler, and the satisfaction of knowing you've done something to help.

If you'd like your sampler to say something other than "FUCK CANCER" I am more than happy to do special requests. I can't think of any kettlebell studio that wouldn't be enhanced by a delightful hand-embroidered rendition of such popular Pavel-isms as "It's Your Fault!" "If You Don't Have Good Judgment, Go Take A Pilates Class," or my personal favorite, "Vodka, Pickle Juice and Kettlebells!" Let your imagination be your guide.

I am not kidding about any of this. If you're interested, let me know. Because cancer sucks.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

HKC The Play-by-Play Part 3: Oh How I Hate To Get-Up In The Morning

After our 15 minute break--which wasn't as much of a break as it could have been because we were required to carry our kettlebell with us every place except the bathroom--we reassembled in our teams for instruction in the Turkish get-up.

Consternation ensued.

Most people who do get-ups have something of a love-hate relationship with them. I first learned the Turkish get-up a couple of years ago from a fellow trainer who was into CrossFit and thought it would be a good idea to have me perform it holding a 25-lb dumbbell. I did it a few times, acknowledged its greatness, and vowed never to speak its name again. Which actually isn't such a bad thing, because the progression he taught me was rather different from the one the RKC favors, which is not to say that it was wrong or unsafe, but when you've got one movement pattern imprinted on your muscle memory it can be hard to unlearn it. More on that later.

Even within the RKC there are different ways to do a get-up. The beginning doesn't vary: fetal position, pick up the bell with two hands, roll over onto your back, bend your leg on the kettlebell side and plant the foot, extend the opposite leg, press up the bell, release one hand, maintain a locked elbow, straight wrist and retracted shoulder on the kettlebell side, pivot onto the opposite elbow, then come up onto the hand, keeping the hand as close to the body as possible without the shoulder shrugging up, eyes on the bell at all times.

Once you're there in your get-up sit-up, however, you have options. Basically, the idea is to get yourself into a lunge position safely, then stand up. The method I was taught was to raise my hips into a high bridge, with most of my weight on my kettlebell-side leg and my opposite-side hand, then tuck my extended leg under me, release the free hand and come up into a lunge. I like this version a lot because it gives you a wonderful stretch for the front of the body while at the same time strengthening the entire posterior chain. But it's not for everyone because it requires strength and flexibility that some people may not have in the beginning. A more acccessible version involves coming up to seated, then tucking the extended leg under the bent leg on the kettlebell side, then raising the hips just enough to allow that leg to do kind of a windshield-wiper motion around, at which point you're more or less in a lunge position from which point you come up to standing. I realize the description makes no sense at all, and I will try to post a video at some point that demonstrates what I mean.

I am extremely glad Pavel et al. made the decision to instruct and test us on this version of the get-up because there's no question but that it's the most appropriate for entry-level kettlebell students. But because I'd been learning and practicing the hip-bridge version for months, I had a lot of reprogramming to do and not much time in which to do it! This was an issue not just for me but for I would guess 80 percent of the people there, and I think it threw a lot of us.

It was at also at this point in the day that I discovered I'd not made as much progress as I had thought in learning to stabilize my shoulders. One of the most difficult aspects of the get-up for almost everyone is learning to keep the shoulder on the kettlebell side "packed," i.e., fully depressed and retracted. To do this you must engage the latissimus dorsi on the kettlebell side, which for most of us is easier said than done. I am actually pretty good at engaging my lats when my arms are extended out to the side a la seconde, but not so good at it when I bring the arms overhead. So, yikes, this was one more thing I knew I'd have to fix fast in order to get my HKC!

Fortunately Fearless Leader Geoff noticed I was having a hard time with this element of the get-up, and he showed me a great correction. He pressed down on my upper trap on the kettlebell side, while at the same time rotating my triceps and pushing my kettlebell arm toward my head. It was amazing--suddenly my shoulder was sitting right on top of my fully-engaged lat, solid as a rock!

(Note: I love this correction so much that I've been using it on all my clients whose shoulders won't stay down on pressing exercises. It's not just for kettlebellers; it's for anyone who wants a safer, stronger press. Actually, most of the corrective drills we learned at HKC have non-kettlebell applications, making this a very worthwhile workshop even for trainers who have no interest in using kettlebells with their clients.)

We learned some other great corrections as well, such as a seal walk variation for clients who can't straighten out their arms. This is something I see a lot in my male clients who love their biceps curls! I can see myself using this drill quite a bit since it will also be useful for teaching clients to maintain tension in their core musculature. We also learned halos--if you scroll down the page a bit you'll see a goofy picture of me doing one--which are great for shoulder mobility.

Even though we spent something on the order of two hours learning the get-up and associated corrective drills, I still didn't feel at all confident of my ability to perform them to RKC standards. With each repetition I felt as though there was some nuance I was missing. Also, fatigue was beginning to set in. It was getting on toward noon, the sun was high in the sky and beating down strongly, and I was really feeling the lack of caffeine and sleep. It was at this point in the day when the meaning of the RKC maxim ,"Under stress the body reverts to training," became clear to me. If you've trained well, no problem. But if like me you've unknowingly been reinforcing some faulty movement patterns during your training, you're going to revert to those patterns when you're tired even if your conscious mind knows better. This in a nutshell is why I failed to get certified on the day of the HKC.

At about 12:30 we were dismissed from our teams for picture-taking and lunch. We were required to keep our kettlebells with us during the lunch break, although we could put them down while serving ourselves at the buffet. We were also given a homework assignment: to review the section of the HKC instructor manual relating to program design. Excellent stuff, and I will be referring to it quite a bit when I put together training routines for my kettlebell clients.

More later. (Promise or threat, you be the judge!)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

HKC The Play-by-Play Part 2: Enter the Goblet Squat

Just to recap: after completing the pull-up/flexed arm hang test, we grabbed kettlebells (12 kg for the ladies, 16 kg for the gentlemen) and reported outside to the soccer/football field for instruction in the goblet squat, one of three exercises

Even though it had rained the day before, the field was aerated and surprisingly non-muddy. A little damp, yes, but no more so than you would expect considering it wasn't even 9:00 am yet (7:00 am Pacific time, not that I was thinking about that). We were given the option of bringing yoga mats out to the field for some protection, but as it happened no one on Team Neupert bothered, for which Geoff gave us due credit.

The 12 (I think) teams were instructed to distribute themselves in kind of a two-tier horseshoe shape, with all of us facing the open end of the horseshoe where Pavel was standing. Team Neupert was fortunate enough to be located toward the bottom of the horseshoe, in the first tier, meaning that we got a very good view of what Pavel was doing. Less fortunately, it also meant that we contributed seemingly more than our share of "victims" ... but more on that later.

First things first: we received the general lecture on Kettlebell Safety 101. Most of this is common sense: be aware of your surroundings; don't leave kettlebells lying around where others can trip over them; make sure you're not too close to anyone else; if you're outside be sure you're on flat terrain and not facing into the sun; if you're inside be sure you're working on a surface that won't be damaged if you drop the kettlebell; if you lose control of the kettlebell get out of the way; and so forth.

Pavel also touched briefly on the matter of kettlebell training preparedness. Basically, kettlebell training is intense and not for everyone. Clients undertaking a kettlebell training program are advised to check with their doctor first. All good stuff, but as someone who works with lots of "wellness seekers" as opposed to athletes I would have liked to hear more.

(Warning: digression coming up.)

Sad but true: in the "real world" most doctors don't know a whole heck of a lot about exercise and fitness. There's a good chance that if you send a client off to his doctor for medical clearance to begin a kettlebell training program, the doctor won't have a clue what that entails and may give clearance where it's not appropriate. For that reason I feel it's not enough for a trainer just to send the client off to his doctor. The trainer needs to ask some questions. At a minimum he or she should have the client fill out a PAR-Q form, and if the client answers "yes" to any of the questions the trainer should proceed with caution. By that I mean he or she should not only send the client off to his or her doctor for a signed medical clearance, but he or she should ask the client's permission to speak to the doctor just to make sure the doctor understands what's involved and what the potential issues are. Just as an example, if a client is hypertensive the Turkish get-up may not be appropriate for him or her since it involves taking a weight overhead, using a "crush grip," etc. The doctor likely won't know that, so in the real world it's on you, the trainer, to inform him or her, or at the very least to inform the client so he can inform the doctor.

This may strike many of you as going beyond the call of duty and maybe it is, but I don't think so. When it comes to keeping people safe, I don't think there is such a thing ... but then my views on the subject are shaped by the people I've been working with, many of whom are quite deconditioned and/or have physical limitations that raise red flags for me as a trainer.

Anyway, I would love to see more on this subject in future HKCs. I think it's especially important for the HKC trainers since my expectation is that many people are going to be getting their first taste of hardstyle kettlebell training from us. If we're the gatekeepers we need to be on top of our game here, or people will get injured. Maybe not as many as are going to be hurt working out to Jillian Michaels's execrable "kettlebell" DVD, but even one avoidable kettlebell injury is too many as far as I am concerned. Just my thoughts, for whatever they are worth.

Okay, back to our regularly scheduled programming. Pavel began by demonstrating what a goblet squat should look like, briefly touching on all technical requirements (neutral spine, depressed and retracted shoulders, heels and big toes planted, elbows pushing out on the VMO at the bottom of the squat, etc) as he went through the drill. Then he touched on the things that are likely to go wrong and how to fix them. The first corrective drill we learned was the facing-the-wall squat. This is good for fixing squat mechanics in people who have an excessive forward lean when they squat, or fail to initiate by taking their hips back. It's self-correcting, meaning that if you do it wrong your forehead or knees will hit the wall and stop your descent. It's also a good way of screening clients. If with practice someone can't get down to where their thighs are parallel to the ground it means they need to be referred to a corrective exercise specialist.

Another big thing that can go wrong with a goblet squat is rounding (flexion) of the low back. This is very bad news, especially for anyone with a history of low back problems. It's also incredibly common. In many cases it can be fixed by simply taking a somewhat wider squat stance. In others it can be fixed by a trainer or workout partner running his or her fingers along the squatter's spine until it flattens out and becomes longer. Again, if these drills don't work a referral to a corrective exercise specialist is probably in order.

If you've got a bodybuilder or powerlifter background, you may be scratching your head wondering what the point of all this is. In all honesty, it's not going to give you a glorious quad sweep nor is it the sort of thing you will ever be able to do with 1,017x your bodyweight in added resistance. But what it will do is fix your squat mechanics to the point where you'll be able to do your body sculpting or strength-building routines more safely and effectively than ever before. If you've ever had to take a long break from training because of low back problems it's worth at least looking into.

All told we spent about 2 hours learning the goblet squat and related corrective drills. As we practiced, Geoff and Andrea circulated among us making corrections and providing further instruction as needed. Since we had a few people on our team who were quite inflexible or had a history of low back problems, these individuals got the bulk of the instructors' attention ... and it was pretty amazing to see their mobility improve just in the space of a couple of hours. Really, it was a beautiful thing to behold, and it's what I hope to bring to my clients.

What was not so beautiful was the set of 20 burpees we had to do just before our first break. Ostensibly the point of the burpees was to reinforce what we'd just learned. Not so sure it worked. Sort of like those fabulous, creative, expensive ads they air during the Super Bowl, where you remember every detail of the ad except the product it's meant to promote.

More later.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Woo-hoo, I passed!

I re-shot my TGU video about a week ago, and submitted it to Geoff Neupert for his consideration. I deliberately didn't post the re-shoot here, because I wanted to test my own ability to judge what a get-up should look like. I mean, if I can't spot my own mistakes, how can I expect to spot those of my clients? And if I can't do that I really have no business offering kettlebell instruction, right?

Anyway, it took Geoff a while to get around to looking at it--Senior RKCs evidently are busy people!--but eventually he found some time, and he thought it looked good.

So it would seem that I am an HKC.

I am very, very happy about this if for no other reason than that it allows me to speak with some authority when I tell people they should not seek kettlebell instruction from anyone who uses the words "squat" and lift" when teaching the kettlebell swing.

I'm also glad to get this resolved sooner rather than later, while the lessons learned at the HKC are still fresh in my mind. I've actually begun using some of the corrective drills with my personal training clients on the theory that the problems that they are meant to address--a rounded low back, an elevated and protracted shoulder, a lack of tension in the core, etc--are not unique to kettlebell training. But I have not wanted to put a kettlebell into anyone's hand until I got the go-ahead from Geoff.

Now that I do have the go-ahead, it will be interesting to see where this leads. I am always going to be a personal trainer first and a kettlebell instructor second, meaning that if someone wants to work with kettlebells I will be happy to teach them as much as I can, but I don't plan to force them on anyone. There is no magic to kettlebells; they are simply great tools. I'm happy I have the know-how to be able to introduce them to more people, but if in the end those people decide they'd rather do something else I'm always going to accommodate their preferences. Of course I'm hoping at least a few people fall in love with kettlebells and decide they want to delve deeper, and it will be my pleasure to refer those folks to an RKC who can instruct them in the clean, press and snatch.

As for my own training, I certainly plan to continue using kettlebells and honing my skills but more for my own satisfaction than anything else. I will have to see how things develop over the next few months, but at this point I don't believe it makes financial sense for me to pursue RKC certification. There's no point in doing it unless I plan to be teaching cleans, presses and snatches, and I just can't see there being a huge demand for that among my clientele. I have limited funds to spend on continuing education, and right now there are other certifications that I think would be more helpful.

No question, there's a part of me that would like to do it just to say I did it and lived, but that's more about my own insecurities than anything else. Anyway, I already know I'm tough enough, and anyone who thinks otherwise needs to bourree a mile in my pointe shoes and reassess :) (Okay, it's only like 15 feet from one side of the stage to the other but it feels like a mile!)

I'd also love to be able to train with amazing people like Geoff Neupert and Mark Cheng and Brett Jones and of course Pavel, but with Mark and Tracy Reifkind living only a little more than an hour away I don't need to travel far just to get a great learning experience. And, frankly, travel is an ordeal for me. I just hate it, though I can suck it up when I am strongly motivated.

So, anyway, that's the way my thinking is going at this point, although I have plenty of time for my thoughts to evolve ... and knowing me, I expect they will.

Next post I promise to get back to my HKC play-by-play!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Another take on the Turkish get-up

Okay, it's more of a bargain-basement "I Dream Of Jeannie" get-up, but you get the idea :)

I wore this a couple of Christmases ago when I danced the role of a Moorish wind-up doll in Act I of The Nutcracker. Hence the goofy arms and facial expression.

The Turkish Get-Up

What do we think? I have a small workout area, so not a lot of choice as far as camera angles go, but this seems like it works. The only thing that it doesn't really show is the lockout of the knees and lack of hyperextension in the low back in the top position, but since I wasn't told that these were issues for me I don't believe that will be a problem.

Also, just as a sociological experiment I plan to reshoot this video with me holding an imaginary kettlebell. This is called a "naked get-up." I am anticipating all sorts of blog traffic I would not normally get if I post a video of me doing a "Naked Get-Up".

The HKC: The Play By Play (Part One)

Here it is, the post you've been waiting for (or not!) If you go to an HKC it probably won't be exactly like this because future events are going to be much smaller, with only maybe 30-40 students in attendance. But in all likelihood it'll be similar enough that this post should give you a fair idea of what to expect if you go.

The event began at 8:30 am sharp (or 6:30 West Coast time, not that I was thinking of such things :)), with registration from 7:45 to 8:15. Since a great many of us were staying at the St. Paul-River Center Holiday Inn recommended by Dragon Door, there were shuttles to take us from the hotel to the Dayton's Bluff Recreation Center some two miles away. The shuttles ran at 7:00 am, 7:20 and 7:45. Miraculously I was actually down in the lobby at 7:00 am (5:00 am West coast time, not that I was thinking of such things), but I opted to take the second shuttle partly because I really needed to get some coffee into me--there was a Room Service screw-up and the coffee maker in my room wasn't functioning properly so I hadn't really had any yet--and partly because it looked like all the RKCs staying at the hotel were going over on the 7:00 bus and I sorta didn't want to be around them at that point.


With the exception of slender, gorgeous Sara Cheatham, Senior RKC (note: all kettlebell women seem to be named Sara/Sarah, except of course for the ones who are named Andrea), they all looked to be brawny young men--bear in mind that anyone under 40 looks young to me!--with veiny forearms, who consume sides of raw beef for breakfast and then pick their teeth with nails they've bent to the proper angle for use as dental instruments. To say that I found them intimidating is an understatement. I mean, I'm sure they put their pants on one leg at a time, but they're probably all doing pistol squats as they do so. (And wouldn't that make an awesome Youtube video?)


While I was waiting in the lobby I saw a very pretty blonde woman in athletic attire emerge from the restaurant. It was, of course, "Strong Sarah" Hill Jones, whom I recognized from her photographs. I introduced myself, and we chatted, mostly about footwear. We both were wearing bubblegum-pink Converse All-Stars (except I think Sarah's might have been Vans or some other brand, but you get the idea), which was sort of amusing given the emphatically non-pink nature of the crowd and the event. Sarah also had Vibrams in her backpack, which she planned to wear for the Turkish get-up portion of the event, although I think her plan was to stick with the Converse for the goblet squats and the swings because she was more used to them. My own plan was to train barefoot if at all possible because it's what I am most accustomed to, although I had the Converse with me in the event we found ourselves outside in a sea of mud.


Note: if you're training for an event, don't experiment with new footwear too close to the date of the event. Stick with what you've worn throughout your training. If you change things up it'll affect your stance, your gait, your distribution of weight, etc., and you may find yourself experiencing aches and pains that you won't be able to fix in time to perform well on the day of the event.)


Sarah and I caught the 7:20 shuttle. This gave us the opportunity to chat with some of our fellow HKC students. My seatmate was a lovely young woman named Dre (short for Andrea of course) from Chicago who was a fitness professional, obviously in great shape, and there to get her teaching credential, while Sarah's was a gentleman from Alaska who was there strictly for the experience. I think this was actually pretty typical. There were a surprising number of basically self-taught kettlebell enthusiasts who'd read about the event on the Dragon Door website and decided this was their chance to learn from the best. These people weren't necessarily interested in teaching so much as in getting good instruction for their own personal benefit. This might seem a bit unreasonable, but consider this: if you live in Alaska and want to train with an RKC, you pretty much are going to have to travel thousands of miles regardless, so why not go all the way to Minnesota when an opportunity like this comes along?

The Dayton's Bluff Rec Center, where the event was held was, well, a recreation center. There was a big indoor basketball court where we registered, as well as a lobby that was set up as a Dragon Door gift shop of sorts where one could buy books, DVDs, t-shirts and the like. I didn't spend much time looking at the merchandise, honestly, because I figured anything I wanted I could order just as easily from the Dragon Door website. Anyway, I was more interested in locating the ladies' room. Always know where the nearest bathroom is, that's my motto.

Registration went smoothly and quickly, which I think is typical of Dragon Door events. They seem to be very good about mailing out necessary paperwork (waivers of liability, publicity rights, etc.) in advance with the idea that you show up with everything already filled out and signed. At registration we were given t-shirts to wear, which were free as long as we agreed to wear them all day. The men's shirts were white, although they didn't stay that way for long, and the women's were red.

Promptly at 8:30 we were told to join our respective teams for pull-up testing. There were 12 teams in all, each under the supervision of a Master or Senior RKC and a Team Assistant (generally an RKC II or CK-FMS). As mentioned below, I had the good fortune to be on Team Neupert, with the fabulous Andrea U-Shi Chang assisting. There were two pull-up bars per team, a high bar for the men and a somewhat lower one for the women. The men's version of the test was 3 pull-ups from a dead hang, chin over the bar, no kipping allowed. The women's version was simply a 15 second flexed arm hang, with assistance if needed to get up to the starting position. Of the women, two of us passed; one did not although she certainly made a tremendous effort. To earn her HKC designation she will need to send in a video of herself performing the flexed arm hang within 3 months' time, which I have no doubt she will be able to do.

After that, we were instructed to grab kettlebells, 12 kg for the ladies and 16 kg for the men, and report to the soccer/football field for instruction in the goblet squat.

More later.