Friday, July 31, 2009

The F!@#-Me Forty Seven, and a birthday present for my readers

You may remember that a couple weeks ago I decided it would be a good idea to celebrate my birthday by doing the following workout for time:

47 box jumps (18" box)
47 pull-ups
47 kettlebell swings (16 kg)
47 Bulgarian split squats on each leg (94 total)
47 dumbbell push presses (15's)
47 hanging leg raises
47 stability ball rollouts
47 burpees
47 tuck jumps

So, that's what I did. Except I didn't go all out the way I might've done if I hadn't just about killed myself yesterday, and if I wasn't planning to do my final (for now) ETK Rite of Passage heavy day workout tomorrow. I took about 37 minutes to get through it. The hanging leg raises were really hard after the pullups, and the tuck jumps were really hard after the burpees. I mean, I knew they would be and I planned it that way ... but all the same it was hard. Anyway, not a stellar performance but I really needed a lighter day today, not that this was lighter exactly.

And now for the present:

Let the vulgar comments ensue!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

200 Kettlebell Snatches in 10 Minutes: Mission Accomplished

And not in the USS Abraham Lincoln sense. I actually did it this morning.

The Enter the Kettlebell! program suggests conducting a test of pressing strength and snatching ability every four weeks. The parameters for the snatch test are simple: as many reps as possible in 10 minutes. The goal is to be able to complete 200 reps in that time.

When I first attempted it four weeks ago, I made it to 170 reps and was quite pleased. Since then I've managed to pick up my cadence a bit and increase my efficiency by doing a better job of controlling my backswing. I still have considerable room for improvement, but that's actually good because it means that on my next test day I will be able to get more reps in the 10 minute period. This is why test days are important: they show you more clearly than anything else where you've made improvements, and where you still have room to grow and get even better. (Note the phrasing of that last sentence: I have declared a moratorium on negative self-talk. My Inner Coach and Inner Ballet Mistress are no longer allowed to tell me I suck, only how I can improve.)

Anyhoo, the big takeaway message for me from my last test day was: the first 120 snatches aren't so awful, but after that it gets tough, particularly on my left side where my shoulder is weaker. As I fatigue it becomes very hard for me to maintain control on that side, resulting in a less efficient snatch and even greater fatigue due to wasted effort. I've also got a wee bit of tendinitis in the left elbow, and my grip on that side is weaker, both of which problems stem from the dysfunction in the shoulder. These are very minor concerns, but when you're attempting something like a 10 minute snatch test there IS no such thing as a minor concern. The good news is, as long as I stop short of complete fatigue, those stabilizing muscles in my left shoulder recover fast. So, the key to me getting more reps in the last few minutes, when I'm tired, is to switch hands more frequently.

Here's what I actually did: I used a continuous 30 second interval track from Workout Muse to keep track of my time, and I set a goal for myself of doing 10 snatches every 30 seconds. For the first six minutes it was no problem to do all 10 snatches on the same side. In minute 7 fatigue started to set in early on the left side, so in minutes 8 and 9 I allowed myself one hand switch every 30 seconds, performing 5 reps on each side instead of doing all 10 on one side. That kept me from ever going to failure on the left. Then in minute 10 I went back to doing 10 reps per side because I was almost done and if I hit failure on my last rep it wouldn't matter. It wouldn't be desirable, because going to failure is not part of the RKC system. But it wouldn't be a disaster either.

As it happened, I didn't hit failure. I could have kept going all the way to eleven (if you'll forgive a Spinal Tap reference :) if I'd had to. But I must say, I'm glad I didn't have to.

Make no mistake: this was hard. If you've ever done Tabata intervals, it was kind of like that. Times 2.5. Think about it for a sec: my cadence for snatches is about 10 every 20 seconds, leaving 10 seconds to rest every 30 seconds. So by the end of minute 4 I'd completed one full Tabata cycle. If people are following the Tabata protocol they take a break at that point. I didn't. I kept going for another 6 minutes.

I do Tabatas a lot. I include them in my spin classes to the point where they're practically my signature drill. I've never done them for more than 4 minutes, though.

But I'm going to start. I could see it being great cross training for something like the 10 minute snatch test ... which I encourage all of you to attempt, at least if it fits with your personal goals and/or you are insane.

Seriously, if I could do it anyone can. I am 47 years old, or close enough that it doesn't matter. I weigh all of 117 pounds. I work in the fitness industry now, but that's a relatively recent development; for years I never lifted anything heavier than a volume of Corpus Juris Secundum. A year ago I didn't even know what a kettlebell was. I'm not what you'd call genetically gifted above the norm; like most people I'm good at some things and not so good at others. I don't mind pushing myself, but neither do you or you wouldn't be reading this blog.

If you have the desire, you can do it.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Goal Setting: A Powerful Tool

Right now I'm in the process of rereading Tom Venuto's Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle. Not surprisingly it has elements in common with The Body Fat Solution, not least of which is the emphasis on goal setting as the key to compliance. According to Mr Venuto goal setting, done properly, has the effect of reprogramming the unconscious mind in ways that are conducive to fat loss.

In both Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle and The Body Fat Solution Mr. Venuto recommends setting long-term goals, 12-month goals, 12-week goals, weekly goals, and daily goals. These goals are supposed to be written out and reviewed on a daily basis --several times a day, if possible. Indeed, in Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle readers are advised to write out their 12-week goals on an index card that they can carry with them and reread throughout the day.

These goals are to be written as affirmations, in the present tense. For example, instead of "I am going to lose 20 pounds and 6% body fat by October 31, and I will look hot in my slutty Halloween costume," you might say, "I am reaching my goal weight of 112 pounds and my goal body fat of 12% by October 31, and I am looking hot in my slutty Halloween costume." Particularly if you are a guy, this is a good affirmation. For more process-oriented goals, instead of saying "I am going to get up every morning at 5:00 am so I have time to go for a run and eat a healthy breakfast before I have to get ready for work," you might say "I am getting up every morning at 5:00 am for a run and a healthy breakfast before work."

By writing your goals as affirmations, and by keeping those affirmations always in front of you,

you are giving your subconscious mind instructions that will cause you to automatically begin acting in a way consistent with your mental image. You'll go into automatic pilot mode. There will be less struggle and willpower involved. When you're in a situation that used to tempt you, you'll notice you are no longer tempted. If you used to dread going to the gym, you'll start looking forward to it. If the idea of eating healthy used to seem like hard work, you'll actually begin to enjoy it. Everything will seem to get easier and your workouts will become better than ever.

Of course the key to making this work is that not only must you read your affirmations faithfully, you must do so with faith. If you read them over while simultaneously doubting you can achieve them, you are cancelling out the affirmation before it ever has a chance to become embedded in your subconscious.

I admit I am challenged in this area. I am the queen of negative self-talk. But I'm really going to give this affirmation thing my best shot

Oops, let me rephrase: I am giving this affirmation thing my best shot.

And I am succeeding :)

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Cankles? Really? Oh for heaven's sake!

One of the really fun things about becoming a cranky old woman is getting to have pet peeves. At last count I was up to 237.

One that is high on my list, and has been for a while, is the female obsession with making over body parts so as to look good in certain fashions. How many times have you heard a woman say her fitness goal is "tank top arms" or a "bikini belly" or a "boy short bottom"? It's not that I have a problem with esthetic goals, but to me it's just silly to focus too much on looking good in particular styles of clothing. Physique transformation takes weeks, months, or even years depending on where you're starting and what you're trying to achieve. Fashion, on the other hand, changes seemingly overnight. Why make yourself crazy trying to hit a moving target?

Of course nobody ever made a buck encouraging people to behave rationally. Hence the decision of Gold's Gym to declare July "Cankles Awareness Month" and offer a special "cankle-busting" workout at their facilities.

A "cankle," in case you're not familiar with the term, is a thick ankle that does not taper as the calf meets the foot. It first entered the lexicon via the film "Shallow Hal," which pretty much tells you all you need to know right there. Apparently if you've got cankles you can't wear gladiator sandals or cropped leggings, both of which are popular right now. Personally I think gladiator sandals are hideous on almost everyone, but lots of women seem to want to wear them, and are trying to slim down their ankles via diet, exercise and even surgery.

These strategies work, but only for women who are so significantly overweight that they have excess fat around their ankles. If it's a matter of bone structure, there is nothing that can be done to reduce the diameter of the joint. Even liposuction of the ankle--and, yes, there are doctors who perform that service--only works if there is fat to be suctioned away. If there isn't, about all a woman can do to create the look of slimmer ankles is bulk up her calves so that the ankle appears smaller by contrast. And that's not as easy as it sounds. Ask a male bodybuilder about his "lagging bodyparts" and 8 times out of 10 his calves will be the first thing he mentions. The size and shape of the calf muscle can be changed, but to expect results in time for sandal season is not realistic.

Water retention can be an issue too, and if that's the case a low-sodium diet and ample hydration may help. According to an article that appeared in the Wall Street Journal, trainer Anthony Prieschel recommends smearing ankles with hemorrhoid cream and wrapping them in ACE bandages as a temporary fix to take down swelling and edema in the area. Achilles tendinitis can cause chronic swelling as well, and if that's the issue it's worth addressing for health as well as esthetic reasons.

For the most part, though, cankles are not worth worrying about. If you've got so much extra body fat that there are rolls of it obscuring your ankles, you need a program that will get rid of it everywhere. One that targets your lower legs is a waste of your valuable time. Likewise it's a waste of time if you've got no fat in that area to lose. And if the problem is that your calf muscles are too small, you can change them but probably not in time for this summer's fashions. So, really, find something else to worry about. And if there is nothing else, get out to the beach and revel in the fabulosity you've already achieved!

In fact, do that anyway.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Tom Venuto's Body Fat Solution: Will It Be Mine?

Too soon to say, as I only recently acquired The Body Fat Solution, and still have a few pages more to read. So far so good, though.

I like Tom Venuto a lot. For those who've not heard of him, he's a lifetime natural bodybuilder, motivational coach and freelance writer with about 20 years’ experience in the fitness industry. His articles have appeared in major fitness magazines and on countless websites, and he is the author of the popular fat-loss e-book, Burn The Fat, Feed The Muscle: Fat Burning Secrets Of The World’s Best Bodybuilders And Fitness Models, a copy of which I have on my computer somewhere.

His new book, The Body Fat Solution, is aimed at those of us who are not bodybuilders or fitness models, who need to lose body fat, but for whom the strict by-the-numbers approach of Burn The Fat, Feed The Muscle is overkill. According to Mr. Venuto most people don’t need to hit their macros with precision or worry overmuch about the timing of their meals in order to lose fat. A handful of behavioral changes will do it. Sounds simple, right? Well, it is … but as any diehard Enter the Kettlebell! fan can tell you, simple doesn’t mean easy!

Citing Einstein Mr. Venuto states that a problem cannot be solved at the same level of thinking that created it. To solve the problem of excess body fat, therefore, people must change their way of thinking about food, dieting, exercise, and so forth. They must learn to distinguish fact from belief, and replace the beliefs and thoughts that are holding them back with other ways of thinking that will help them reach their fat loss goals.

Refreshingly, Mr. Venuto acknowledges that lack of willpower is not the problem for most dieters. Rather, it’s that willpower involves the exercise of the conscious mind … and up to 95 percent of human behavior is unconscious. The solution, therefore, is to reprogram the unconscious mind using affirmations and positive visualization. He calls this “mental training” and recommends that it be done morning and night until healthy habits become ingrained.

Although the “mental training” component is what sets The Body Fat Solution apart from most other fat loss books on the market, Mr. Venuto also gives due attention to nutrition and exercise. There’s nothing in the chapters on diet and exercise that will not be familiar to anyone who has ever picked up a copy of Men’s Health or Oxygen; not that that’s a bad thing necessarily, but readers who are looking for something new may be disappointed.

The chapter on resistance training in particular seems to be written with novice lifters in mind. The recommendations are very similar to those set forth in The New Rules of Lifting: supersets for maximum efficiency and a secondary cardio boost, total body workouts for maximum calorie burn, free weights instead of machines, and so forth. The only possible criticism I might make is that I don’t believe dumbbell deadlifts, which are included in one of the introductory workouts, are appropriate for most beginners.

People who’ve had good luck on Atkins and similar regimens will not care for Mr. Venuto’s nutrition solution. (Of course people who’ve had good luck on those regimens presumably don’t have a body fat problem and therefore will not be reading the book. But whatever.) Mr. Venuto is adamant that it’s all about the calories, and that the reason diets like Atkins work is that they put their followers into a negative energy balance due to the high satiety value of protein-rich and fatty foods.

If you accept the premise that a calorie deficit is the key to fat loss, Mr. Venuto has lots of useful suggestions for achieving that all-important deficit relatively painlessly. He does not promise you will never feel hunger on his program; indeed, he acknowledges that at times you probably will. But he suggests that hunger pangs can be minimized by choosing foods that have high nutritional value and high satiety value. Since fruits and leafy green vegetables, nuts and nut oils, vegetable oils, poultry, fish, nonfat dairy, and lean cuts of meat satisfy on both counts, he recommends that dieters make these foods their mainstays, with whole grains and starchy vegetables such as potatoes added in as needed in order to achieve the desired energy balance. He acknowledges that as long as a calorie deficit is achieved, a dieter can lose fat even if he or she eats nothing but crap (he phrases it more elegantly than that), but that for health quality is paramount.

Of course the flip side is that no matter how well a person eats, he or she will not lose weight if he or she does not achieve a negative energy balance. Even organic, locally produced, sustainably farmed, free-range, nutrient-laden foods are fattening if eaten in excessive quantities. If you’re stuffing yourself at Chez Panisse you will probably be somewhat healthier than if you’re doing it at Mickey D.’s, but you’ll still be overfat and not as healthy as you could be.

One of The Body Fat Solution’s strengths is that it acknowledges that excess fat is a problem with multiple causes. It’s not just processed food that’s to blame. Nor is the problem caused solely by excess carbs, excess fat, emotional eating, malfunctioning hormones, sedentary lifestyles, or any other single thing. Instead it’s all those factors working together synergistically that are responsible for America’s weight problem.

People like easy answers and quick fixes, and The Body Fat Solution is neither. Just as it doesn’t oversimplify the problem, it doesn’t oversimplify the solution. Attitude adjustment, nutrition, cardio, strength training, and social support: all five are important, though the first, attitude adjustment, is perhaps the sine qua non. It’s easy to imagine a reader putting down the book and deciding that maybe he or she would rather just eat Jenny Craig food after all. But that would be a mistake. Nothing against Jenny Craig, which I don’t believe is any worse than any other quick-fix program out there. I just don’t like to see people waste their time on such things when there are better alternatives, such as The Body Fat Solution.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

"Naturally Thin" Thoughts

Bethenny Frankel's Naturally Thin is not the sort of book I normally would read.

It's not that I am a book snob, Lord knows. For reasons that remain somewhat mysterious even to me, I will read just about any piece of crap set in Tudor England, even if I know better. Even if it is by Philippa Gregory. I think I have read all her books, and if that's not the triumph of optimism over experience I don't know what is.

Of course it helps that I am interested in Tudor England. I am not interested in "Unleash[ing] [my] Skinnygirl," which is what Ms. Frankel promises to help me do. I'm pretty sure I haven't got a Skinnygirl. I hope I don't, anyway. It's bad enough that I have an Inner Coach and an Inner Ballet Mistress. If my interior life gets any busier I'll have to hire a caterer. Which is what Ms. Frankel is, actually. Coincidence? I think not.

Anyway, even if I had an Skinnygirl I don't think I would want to unleash her. Words like "thin" and "skinny" have incredibly negative connotations to me. "Lean" sounds pretty good, but "skinny" just sounds ... weak. Put it this way: if I had a Skinnygirl my inclination would be to sit her down with a big platter of protein pancakes, then send her off to the gym to do NROL4W Break-In Workout A. I truly do not understand why so many women seem to be obsessed with taking up as little space as possible. Think about it for a second--does this mean they consider themselves a waste of space? I hope not! As a gender we deserve better.

On the other hand ... while I may not want to be thin per se I do need to keep my weight under control. which I haven't been doing a great job of lately. Excess weight means I'm at greater risk of developing diabetes as my mother and two of my father's siblings have done. It means even more stress on my feet when I'm en pointe, and it makes pull-ups harder. It means having to use a heavier kettlebell when I go to RKC. It means fewer clients, because who wants to work out with a chubby trainer?

I could go on a diet, of course. Excuse me, I could follow an eating plan. Or adopt a new way of eating. In fitness circles we no longer diet, apparently.

There are endless possibilities, and I've dabbled in most of them. I've carbed up, I've carbed down, I've counted calories and Points, I've eaten 8 times a day and I've fasted. I've BFLed, I've Zoned out, and I've been to South Beach and back. I'm actually pretty good at following eating plans.

Problem is, I hate it. I get tired of the weighing and measuring and obsessing over my macros, and I just want to eat like a normal person. You know, like someone who can have, say, an apple if she wants one, without falling down some kind of slippery slope toward binge eating and obesity because she didn't have some protein with it. When you find yourself at the farmer's market wondering like J. Alfred Prufrock whether you dare to eat a peach, it's hard not to question your own sanity.

Hence the appeal of Naturally Thin. Bethenny Frankel claims that anyone can become "naturally thin" by learning, as she did, "how to think about food, how to balance diet with the rest of life, and how to stop torturing myself about every mouthful." She claims that after a lifetime of dieting she now eats whatever she wants, yet maintains a consistent, healthy weight without suffering, deprivation, or pain. Sounds good. I’ll have what she’s having.

Naturally Thin is divided into two parts. The first part sets forth Ms. Frankel’s ten rules for thinking about food like a “naturally thin” person. (From here on I will use “naturally thin” as a shorthand way of saying “able to maintain a consistent healthy weight without dieting.”) The second part walks readers through a week of eating. It’s not meant to be a diet prescription because Ms. Frankel doesn’t believe in them, but it’s meant to give readers some ideas for how to put her ten rules into practice, and also how to deal with situations that may arise during the week.

The ten rules basically come down to balance, portion control, self-knowledge, self-care, portion control, portion control and portion control. I’m not kidding. Ms. Frankel is big on portion control. Her advice for eating out is: order exactly what you want, but only eat a few bites. Share the rest with your dining companions, or take it home in a doggie bag, or leave it. Balance your high-calorie “splurges”—prime rib, cocktails, desserts, etc.--with low-calorie “bargains” such as vegetables. Use smaller plates, bowls and glasses. Pay attention to your body’s response to food, avoid foods to which you are sensitive, and become aware of foods and situations that may trigger episodes of binge eating. Eat real food whenever possible.

So far so good. There’s quite a lot of repetition in the chapters setting forth the ten rules, but that’s okay. When you’re trying to replace one thought pattern with another, it doesn’t hurt to have the new pattern drilled into you. Ms. Frankel does a good job of setting forth her ideas in a way that resonates. I particularly like her diet-as-bank-account analogy. You really can have just about any food you really want as long as you budget for it by eating lightly the rest of the day. Mind you, I’m not convinced this is the way naturally thin people really think—or maybe it is, only they’ve got budgets like Paris Hilton’s so they don’t really need to worry about overspending. But even so, it’s sensible advice.

Where the book really starts to fall apart for me is in the second part. In fairness to Ms. Frankel, she doesn’t actually tell readers they must follow her Daily Naturally Thin Program Account Balancing Guidelines; she just includes them for those readers who feel they need more guidance. Of course this does sort of contradict what she says about knowing yourself and not surrendering control of what you eat to a diet program. But whatever. As I said, the guidelines aren’t mandatory.

If you’re wondering, here’s what Ms. Frankel suggests:

1 carb based meal per day
1 protein based meal per day
1 carb or protein based meal per day, or a meal with a balance of each
1 sweet snack (under 225 calories)
1 savory snack (under 225 calories)
up to 2 exceptions per day, which might include 2 bites of dessert, 2 bites of a rich entrée or side dish, 1 small alcoholic beverage, or half a piece of bread with olive oil and butter.
unlimited vegetables
1 or 2 fruits, one of which can be your sweet snack
2 sweets, including your sweet snack, and any desserts or alcohol you may have as part of your two exceptions.

The guidelines don’t look terrible, but then I’m not a dietician. Of course, neither is Ms. Frankel as far as I know. For that reason alone I have trouble recommending that anyone follow them. If you’re going to go on a diet—and make no mistake, anything that tells you your fruit intake is limited to two servings per day is a diet--go on one created by an R.D. or nutritionist.

Or better yet, read part one of the book, absorb it, and come up with your own guidelines that are consistent with the ten rules, yet suited to your unique personality and lifestyle. That’s what I plan to do.

Once I finish my Skinnygirl Margarita :)

I Am Laura's Uterus

Did I scare off my male readers? Good! I hate you all, and will continue to do so for about 36 more hours.

I am only kidding, of course.

(What, are you still here? Go away and do some burpees or something. I hate you. Nothing personal.)

In all seriousness, if you are a woman or acquainted with one it's not exactly news that as women go through the phases of their menstrual cycle they tend to experience emotional peaks and valleys. What's less well understood is the effect these monthly hormonal fluctuations can have on a woman's athletic performance. Not every woman is affected to the same extent, of course, but generally speaking a woman is strongest right around the time of ovulation (Day 14 of her cycle if she is blessed with metronome-like regularity) and weakest immediately before menstruation (Days 22-28). This is because a woman's testosterone level peaks at the midpoint of her menstrual cycle and after that begin to drop, reaching its low point at the end of the cycle. When her testosterone levels are at their lowest a woman may notice she fatigues more easily, is less agile, has slower reaction times and higher levels of perceived exertion. She may also experience greater joint laxity. She may not be able to focus as well. Her ability to draw on her body's stored fat for fuel increases but her ability to burn glycogen decreases, meaning she is at least as capable as usual of moderate-intensity exercise but will likely struggle with high-intensity exercise.

It's important to bear in mind that not every woman is affected to the same extent. Just as some women do not experience PMS, some will notice no difference in their ability to train hard as they go through the phases of their monthly cycle. I encourage all my premenopausal female clients to keep a diary for at least a month or two so they can become aware of the extent to which their athletic performance is affected by where they are in the menstrual cycle. If appropriate we will plan her training schedule around her cycle, taking advantage of the two midpoint weeks when she is at her strongest to really push the envelope and train hard, and then scheduling a "deload week" of less volume and intensity for the end of the cycle when she is weakest and most prone to fatigue and even injury.

Of course, this is all very well in theory, but not every woman is lucky (?) enough to have a predictable cycle. Mine has never been anything you could set a clock by, and in the last few years it has gone completely haywire. My period may go missing for three months, or it may show up a week and a half before it's due. Having lived in my body for almost 47 years I generally can tell what's going on with it pretty well, but even so, I'm caught by surprise sometimes. It happened this week, actually. My period began yesterday, a little more than a week early. Which completely explains why I didn't make it to 200 snatches in 12 minutes when I attempted it on Monday. Had I known my period was about to start, I would not have made the attempt because, while I am the first to admit I don't always have good judgment, I'm not a complete idiot.

Anyhoo, if you are female and thinking of doing ETK or attempting the Secret Service Snatch Test or anything of that sort, and you happen to have a nice regular 4-week cycle, may I suggest you try to work it so that your test days more or less coincide with the midpoint of your cycle? Also, while I know that volume is supposed to be determined by a roll of the dice when you're doing the ETK Rite of Passage, it might not be a horrible idea to use loaded dice during the last week just to make sure your volume is appropriately low. Or it might be ... I don't know. I realize I'm sort of contradicting what I said the other day about doing ETK exactly as written, but the bottom line is that you never want to adhere to a program--even a genius program--so slavishly that you end up risking an injury.

Monday, July 20, 2009

How To Have A Crappy ETK Practice

I know this blog has kinda become All Kettlebells All The Time, and therefore of limited interest to those who are not RKC hopefuls or otherwise obsessed with flinging around chunks of metal in a controlled and purposeful manner. And I promise that will change soon. I've got some other topics I want to address that hopefully will be of more general interest. So watch this space for my thoughts on the July Turbulence Training Reconstruction Workout program, Bethanny Frankel's Naturally Thin, Jon LeTocq's Fat Loss Action Blueprint, cake and zombies. Actually, I won't be talking about zombies, but only because my friend Josh Hanagarne aka The World's Strongest Librarian has already ably addressed the topic: (Actually, I would really love to know which classic books you'd like to see get the Pride and Prejudice and Zombies treatment. I don't necessarily disagree with Josh's selection of The Great Gatsby, except that if you've suffered through the 1974 film version you'd realize it has already been done. I mean, hello, Lois Chiles as Jordan Baker???)

For now, though, I'm sticking with the kettlebell theme because I have a point to make, which is that if you are on a program that was created by an expert, that has worked for hundreds of people, that is working for you, you should stick with it. Enter the Kettlebell! is such a program. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of men and women have gotten unbelievably strong unbelievably fast using ETK. I am one of them. A week ago I could not press 16 kg. Now I can.

One week, people. It's like being on steroids without the acne and hair loss and liver tumors and homicidal tendencies. (Not that I'm not homicidal about one week out of every month, but what woman in her late 40s isn't, if you get my drift? It's not Pavel Tsatsouline's fault except in the sense that he is male. If you are reading this and you yourself are male, ask your wife to explain. If you are female no explanation is required.)

At this point, you're probably wondering: if ETK is really so effective for building strength, why aren't there more people doing it? It's not particularly time-consuming, after all, and Lord knows it's not equipment-intensive. The workouts can all be done in about half an hour, usually much less, and the only tools you need are a kettlebell and a pull-up bar. And even the pull-up bar isn't an absolute requirement. So what's the catch?

IT'S HARD!!! Not necessarily hard in the "say hello to Pukey the Clown" sense--not most of the time, anyway--but hard in that it requires humility, patience, focus, concentration, and a very, very high tolerance for repetitive tasks.

There are only five exercises in the entire program: the swing, the Turkish get-up, the clean, the press, and the snatch. Five exercises. Twelve weeks. Not only that, but for the first four weeks of the program you only do two of them, the swing and the get-up. If you're a yogi who begins every day with the same sequence of sun salutations or a dancer who does the same set of warm-up exercises at the barre every class, that may not give you pause. But if you're like most of the exercisers I know, you'd rather stick a fork in your eye than do the same five movements over and over for weeks on end.

Of course, that's assuming you're even capable of performing those five movements safely and correctly. This is where humility comes into it. Even if you are a seasoned gym rat--in fact, especially if you are a seasoned gym rat--you very likely do not have the hip and shoulder mobility required for proper execution of the swing, get-up, clean, press and snatch.

Try this if you don't believe me: stand facing a wall, with your toes against the wall, and perform a full range of motion squat. How'd you do? Be honest. Did you manage to get your butt pretty much to the floor? If so, did your knees collapse inward? How about your feet? Were you able to keep your shoulders back and maintain a nice arch in your back? Unless you are a dancer, gymnast, yogi or martial artist, I'm guessing the answer is no. I mean, why would you? Most conventional weight training does not involve taking the joints through their full range of motion.

Does this mean you're not a good candidate for ETK? Absolutely not! All it means is, you've got some prep work to do before you're ready to pick up your first kettlebell. If you are highly motivated to learn how to use kettlebells, you will not be put off. But if you're like most of the people I train, you're probably thinking that kettlebells are for contortionists and you'd rather just stick with free weights.

But maybe you've got the necessary joint mobility already, or are willing to acquire it. Great! How do you feel about bruised forearms and ripped-up hands? Let me clarify: performed correctly, kettlebell exercises will not leave you bruised and bleeding. But when you are first learning cleans and snatches in particular, you will not perform them correctly. The kettlebell will swing wild and smack you on the wrist until you learn to control it. You will develop the necessary control with practice, and the bruises will help you do it. Think of it as aversion therapy. You could wear wrist guards, of course, but I personally believe you'll progress faster if you don't. The bruises are powerful negative feedback, and when they finally go away that's when you know you're starting to get the hang of it.

Or not. Which brings me to the subject of today's post. Right now I've got a lovely reddish purple mark on my left forearm that absolutely should not be there. What's good, I guess, is that I know exactly how, when, and why it happened, which means that as long as I am able to keep myself from repeating the same act of stupidity it should not happen again.

Here's what I did: yesterday was my ETK "light" day, meaning that I was to perform 5 clean & press/pull-up ladders, 3 rungs to the ladder, followed by 12 minutes of snatches at an "easy" pace. The ladders went well enough, except that on my final ladder I decided to test the waters by attempting to perform the 3 rungs with my 16 kg kettlebell. I failed on the second rung, but that's okay. I may not be strong enough yet, but I will be.

As if that wasn't enough, I then got it into my head that I wanted to complete 200 snatches in the 12 minutes, 100 in the first 5 minutes and 100 in the remaining 7. I didn't think it would be too bad. I mean, I've gotten to 170 in 10 minutes, so surely with another 2 minutes to work I could manage another 30, right?


The first five minutes or so actually went okay. I got to 100 snatches in actually a little less time than I needed on my previous attempt, which I think is because I've been working on controlling the backswing. But after that I was pretty gassed, and I could tell my control was starting to go. But because I wanted to get another 100 reps I didn't take the rest I knew I needed, with dire consequences for my technique. Because I practice in front of a mirror I could see I was screwing up, but I was too tired to keep it from happening. When I see that sort of thing happening with a client I call a halt to the session, and that's what I should have done yesterday, and what's more I knew it at the time. But did I do it? No, although I did at least have the sense to give up on my goal of 200 reps. There's no glory in getting to a particular number if the technique sucks. That's always the case, but it's especially true on a practice day as opposed to a test day. Test too much and practice too little, and your performance on test day will never improve.

So, that's where I went wrong. If you're doing ETK, or are interested in doing it, take my advice and do it properly instead of doing what I did. Your chances of success will be greater and your risk of injury will be less. Trust me on this.

I'm hoping I have learned my lesson and can go back to being a good example instead of a horrible warning.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

ETK Variety Day Plus A Couple of Art of Strength Reviews

A while back, Art of Strength was running a special for Father's Day whereby if you ordered one of their 16 kg Punch kettlebells they would throw in their popular "Providence" work-along DVD at a significant discount. I'm not normally very interested in kettlebell DVDs because I don't feel that kettlebells really lend themselves to a work-along format. But I was somewhat intrigued by "Providence" because it includes quite a few of the kettlebell drills described in ETK Special Report #2, so I figured it might be a good thing to use on my ETK variety days. And of course a 16 kg kettlebell is something I've been wanting for a while now, and the Punch kettlebells generally get good reviews. So I decided to bite the bullet and order.

Now that I've (finally) received both products I would say it was a pretty good decision ... with some reservations. First, while my DVD shipped the same day I placed my order (no complaints there!), it took quite a long time for AOS to send me my kettlebell. Apparently when I placed my order they were awaiting a shipment from their supplier, and had I known that I would be waiting several weeks to receive my kettlebell I might well have ordered from another source. I will say, however, that when I contacted AOS to check on the status of my order, they responded promptly and courteously. And once they received the shipment from their supplier they wasted no time in getting my order sent out.

Second, the handle of this baby is thick! It'll take some getting used to, but ultimately I don't think it will be a problem for me. It's also enough bigger than my 12kg kettlebell that I had to play with it a little to find a comfortable rack position, but I managed.

For those who'd rather not have to tweak their technique every time they transition to a heavier kettlebell, competition-style kettlebells are a great alternative. They don't change in size as they go up in weight, making it somewhat easier to transition from one size to the next. Although they are more expensive than regular kettlebells it's money well spent if it makes a difference to your comfort level and performance.

As far as the quality of the Punch kettlebell goes, it seems fine. The handle is smooth enough to move around my hand without tearing up my palms, and it's the rounder shape I'm used to as opposed to the more triangular shape that the Dragon Door kettlebells typically have. Except for the color (pale gray) and the Punch logo (a bulldog) it actually seems quite similar to my Perform Better kettlebells. Which is not surprising, since I believe Anthony DiLuglio had a hand in designing those.

I haven't used enough top-quality kettlebells to be able to say whether the Punch product is in that category. Certainly it's light years better than the Power Systems kettlebells at my gym, which are just plain nasty. I also think it's a better choice than the U-Fill-Its that AOS sells. I had an opportunity to check those out a while back and, well, they kinda reminded me of plastic milk jugs. To be fair I should point out that they were not filled, so I couldn't really test their performance. They might be a better choice than I'm thinking. But I sort of doubt it.

Anyway, I guess what I'm saying is that you could do a lot worse than the Punch kettlebells. They're not going to tear up your hands on a long set of snatches unless your technique is not so good, and the handle doesn't look like it's going to break off as can happen with lesser kettlebells. I think a woman with very small hands might have a hard time with the thicker handle, but for most people I don't think that'd be an issue.

My husband's first reaction to my new acquisition was, "Honey, this is too heavy for you. I don't think you'll be able to do anything with this."

He was wrong.

I used it for the first time yesterday morning. I did swings, sets of 20, followed by a minute of active recovery (jumping jacks, jogging in place, whatever came to mind), lather rinse repeat for 12 minutes. The RKC program minimum, in other words. I really enjoyed it. Well, "enjoyed" is perhaps not the right word, but I felt challenged and really had to think about my form every second since with a kettlebell of that size there's no question of me muscling the weight up. I felt as though my heart rate got much higher than it would have if I'd been using my 12 kg, which I suppose is not surprising since I was moving a lot more metal in the same time frame. Interestingly, my cadence for swings seems to be about the same whatever weight I use, probably because my arm length remains constant:)

I won't be doing "Providence" with 16 kg any time soon, however. "Providence" is a well-made DVD that features Anthony DiLuglio, working out solo somewhere in Providence RI. With no fancy set or DeMille-sized workout cast it's a little hard for me to understand why this DVD is so freaking expensive; it's not that it looks cheaply made, but I still don't think the production costs could have been so very high as to justify a purchase prise of almost $50. And while I like it I sure as heck don't like it $50 worth, if that makes sense.

Part of the problem with "Providence" for me is that the pace at which I do things is not necessarily the pace at which Anthony DiLuglio does things. This is not a huge issue since most of the intervals are simply 2 minute timed sets where the idea is to get as many reps as possible in the allotted time. It only becomes a problem when the designated exercise is something like clean and press ladders. I can't do a 5 rung clean and press ladder as quickly as Anthony DiLuglio can, and if I try to match him rep for rep my form ends up going all to heck which is not helpful. And unfortunately since I am one of those monkey-see-monkey-do people I have a very hard time ignoring what he's doing and working at my own pace. That might just be my problem, though.

Another issue for me is that there's almost no instruction given. Not a problem if the exercise is described in sufficient detail in ETK or the Special Reports and/or I've gone over it with a trainer, which actually is the case for most of the drills in "Providence." But there are a couple, such as the flip & squat, which continue to elude me.

And that brings me to my third problem with "Providence," which is that there is just too darned MUCH variety for my taste! I would rather pick a few drills and repeat them several times until I start to get them right than be jumping from one thing to the next without the opportunity to do any of it very well.

On the other hand, since Providence is very well chaptered it's entirely possible to do just that ... and no-repeat workouts definitely appeal to some people so what I see as a drawback others will view as a distinct advantage.

Honestly, I don't think I would be nearly so critical of "Providence" if it weren't so darned expensive. If it were priced at $14.95 or even $19.95 I'd probably be dwelling a lot more on the positive aspects of the DVD (a great workout, good form demo'ed by the instructor, good chaptering, an effective soundtrack, etc.). As it is ... I have a hard time recommending that anyone purchase even though "Providence" is good for what it is.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The F-Word Forty-Seven

I'm turning 47 on the 31st. And because I'm just that kind of a person, I'm going to celebrate by giving you all a little present. I call it the F-word Forty Seven Challenge Workout, and it's what I plan to do on the morning of the 31st. It's inspired by the infamous CrossFit Filthy Fifty workout, but with a few little tweaks to make it uniquely my own.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to do the following for time:

47 box jumps (I will be using an 18" box; guys or taller women may wish to use 24" and intermediates may wish to use 12")
47 pull-ups or chin-ups (these may be jumping or band-assisted if you like, or you can substitute inverted rows if you want to join in the fun but consider yourself more of an intermediate exerciser)
47 kettlebell swings (16 kg is recommended; some women may wish to use 12 kg)
47 Bulgarian split squats on each leg (94 total)
47 barbell or dumbbell or double kettlebell push presses (a 45 lb barbell is suggested for men; most women will want to use 30 or 35 if using a barbell. If doing double kettlebell presses I would think 8 kg for ladies would be reasonable, and 12 for men)
47 hanging leg raises (or knee raises, or reverse crunches performed on an incline)
47 stability ball rollouts
47 burpees (or squat thrusts, or mountain climbers if burpees are out of the question)
47 tuck jumps (or butt kicks or vertical jumps)

The usual rules apply: you must complete all your reps of one exercise before moving on to the next, but if you need to take mid-set breaks you may do so

What do you all think?

Who's in? You might as well do it this year, because it's only gonna get worse with time. I mean, just so y'all know, my grandfather lived to be 104 :)

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Kettlebell 666 Challenge

As I mentioned a couple posts down, I'm fundamentally not all that bright. I mean, I have a large vocabulary and a certain aptitude for scoring well on standardized tests, but I've got no common sense whatsoever. Accordingly, when my friend Mike "Smoke The Blowfish" proposed the following challenge--200 kettlebell swings, 100 prisoner squats, 50 stability ball rollouts, 100 bodyweight squats, 105 pushups, for time--my initial reaction was, "Wow, what a great little workout, but it needs a pull. I know! I'll throw in some chins. How about 45, to make it a nice even 600-rep workout?"

So, that's what I did just now:

200 kettlebell swings with 12 kg (broken up into 4 sets of 50)
45 chins (broken up into sets of 7-8)
100 prisoner squats (70, then 30)
50 rollouts (2 sets of 25)
100 bodyweight squats (60, then 40)
105 pushups (2 sets of 21 and then whatever :))

And then at the end, because I'm just that kind of a person, I did a 66 second extended arm plank after completing my final pushup. Hence the 666.

If I were doing the challenge Mike-style I would finish with either a 2 mile run or a 9 mile bike ride for time, but since I 'm at home I haven't got access to cardio equipment. (My gym has no kettlebells worthy of the name, so on kettlebell days I have to work out at home, which is my preference anyway.

Oh, and my time was 31 min, 23 seconds. Not bad, but I can do better. I haven't been doing a lot of pushups lately, so am out of practice.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Now THIS is a strong foot!!!

Rudolph Nureyev circa 1967, photographed by Richard Avedon:


ETK Week Nine "Hard" Day: Taking My Own Advice

Today I had an ETK "hard" day scheduled ... but wouldn't you know it, I woke up yesterday with a tweaky back and it's still not feeling 100%. So I debated postponing my workout until tomorrow, but ended up deciding to proceed with caution. Thing is, Week Nine is sort of a "consolidate your gains" week, at least if you're following the Art of Strength ETK workbook. The clean & press/pull-up ladders are the same as in Week Eight, and the swing intervals are actually somewhat shorter than in previous weeks. Today's workout, for instance, called for only six minutes of swings, in sets of 50 with 10 seconds rest between sets. I figured I could probably manage it, and I was right although I admit it was harder than usual to maintain a tight core and an arch in my low back on the downswing. The last couple ladders were pretty fatiguing as well. Psychologically I find it much easier to do ladders in reverse, starting with five reps per side and working my way down to one, than to do them as prescribed in ETK. But I'm doing them the ETK way on the theory that if I hate it, it must be doing me good.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Fail Safe

Evidently I was so taken with that hilarious photo of Loserboy in the post below that I omitted a few important points about training to failure. So, here they are:

1. It's a higher-risk technique, so don't do it unless you have a reason. All lifting stresses the body. That's why it works: it gives your body a reason to get stronger. No stress means no adaptation. But lifting to failure is particularly stressful and involves a greater risk of injury. So don't do it unless you feel you're at a point in your program where the potential benefits outweigh the risks. If you're continuing to make progress without going to failure, stick with what you're doing.

And be aware that in some instances the potential risks are always too great to justify training to failure. If, for instance, you suffer from hypertension, lifting to failure is not for you. Likewise if you are a teen do not lift to failure unless your doctor has confirmed that you are done growing.

2. It's not appropriate for novice lifters. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, if you're just beginning a resistance training program your body isn't ready to withstand the stress of heavy loads. As a general rule you're best off keeping your weights light enough that you can complete anywhere from 12 to 20 repetitions with good form. In this phase of training your goal is not so much to gain size and strength as to build muscle endurance and strengthen the connective tissues within the joints, and the higher rep range is what works best to meet those objectives.

Second, if you're new to weight training, you probably don't have all that good a sense of what the lifts are supposed to feel like, and as a consequence you may not be able to tell when things are starting to go wrong. If you don't know to jettison the weights or ask for assistance from your spotter before you lose control, you may end up injuring yourself severely.

3. The risk is not just to yourself, so use some common sense. If you think there's a chance you may have to drop your weights, be sure there's no one in your immediate vicinity on whom said weights might fall. (I know, I know, it's tempting to let them land on the cardio bunny in the Bebe sweats who thinks the area in front of the squat rack is a good place to do Pilates exercises ... but please don't, unless she is wearing a lot of perfume. )

(I am, of course, only kidding. Sort of.)

4. Don't feel like you need to train to failure every workout. By all means try to break new ground every workout, but use a variety of techniques to challenge yourself.

5. Be aware that if you train to failure, you'll need more recovery time between workouts. I can't say it enough: working out doesn't make you stronger, recovery makes you stronger. So if you lift to failure make sure you take all the time you need for your body to repair itself, or you'll lose the benefit of the workout. For that reason, if you're the sort of person who has trouble taking rest days, training to failure might not be productive for you and you should do something else. There's no sense in doing something high-risk just for the sake of doing it, know what I mean?

6. If you're having a "weak day" don't lift to failure even if it's on your training schedule. There are days to push hard, and there are days for playing it safe. Know what day you're in before you attempt to break new ground. If you're getting over a cold, or you slept funny and have a weird twinge in your back, or you're female and getting ready to menstruate, don't push the envelope! Save it for when you're feeling 100 percent.

Sometimes we know even before we set foot in the weight room that we're not having a good strength day, More often, however, it's a subtle thing that you may not pick up on until you start in with your preparatory joint mobility work and your warm-up sets. I like to start most client sessions with a short set of unloaded overhead squats, because this fantastic total-body exercise allows me to see at a glance whether the client has muscle imbalances that may prevent her from performing optimally during the workout. If we can't get the imbalances fixed with a little foam rolling and stretching, I'll make it a less intense session with more of a focus on corrective training even if it means deviating from plan.

It really is okay to do that. The bottom line is: what you do for your workout on any given day doesn't really matter; what counts is what you do over weeks, months and years. So be smart, and save the ultra-intense stuff for the days when you're mentally and physically up for it.

7. If kettlebells are your chosen training modality, don't lift to failure. The risks are just too high. Do as much as you can with good form, then set the kettlebell down or drop it if you must. Don't teach your body wrong habits by trying to force reps with poor form at the end of a workout when you are fatigued. Check your ego at the door and do only what you can, even if it turns out to be a lot less than you think.

In all honesty this is a real struggle for me, but I'm working on it.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Flirting With Failure

If you happen to have the Enter the Kettlebell! workbook created by Anthony DiLuglio. RKC, of Art of Strength, the phrase "Do not flirt with failure" will be very familiar to you.

He's not talking about that sleazy guy who's been hanging around your daughter, though. You know, him:

Instead, what DiLuglio means is that if you can't complete all your reps with the weight you've chosen, you should put down (or drop!) your kettlebell rather than risk an injury.

This is very good advice. Even if you end up putting a ding in your floor, better a damaged floor than a damaged rotator cuff. Really. A damaged floor is pretty easy to fix, but a damaged rotator cuff may require surgery and months of rehabilitative work.

On the other hand ... if you want to grow as an athlete or as a person, sometimes you've got to push the envelope a little. You have to step outside your comfort zone and take some risks. Inevitably that means flirting with failure. If you pretty much know from the get-go that you can accomplish everything you undertake, you're not going to achieve as much in the long run as the person who sometimes bites off a little more than she can chew. In the context of getting stronger, that means imposing a demand on the body that it's not quite capable of meeting in its current state. If you dare to fail, you give your body a reason to get stronger.

Of course there's a smart way to do this, and there's also a stupid way. If you're a guy and you're looking to set a new PR on your bench press, by all means load on those plates ... just make sure you're working with a spotter so that if the lift doesn't go as planned, you don't end up getting crushed under that heavy bar. Minimize your chances of failure by doing some strategizing, or by hiring a trainer to figure out a plan of attack.

In other words, flirt with failure ... but use protection and for God's sake don't marry it!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

ETK practice: Week 9 "easy" day and "variety" day

"Easy" in this context means 5 clean & press/pullup ladders, 3 rungs to the ladder, followed by as many swings as possible in 10 minutes, working at about 50-60% effort. The suggested protocol in the Art of Strength ETK workbook is 10 snatches per arm, followed by a 1 minute rest, lather rinse repeat until 10 minutes is up. But because my heart rate tends to recover pretty quickly between work sets, I decided to shorten up my rest periods slightly, particularly in the beginning when I was fresh. By doing so I was able to complete 6 work sets in the 10 minutes, for a total of 120 snatches. Honestly, toward the end I felt like I was working a little harder than 60 percent effort, not because my heart rate was so stratospherically high, but simply because my grip and shoulders were starting to fatigue.

Given that that was the case, the snatch-intensive "breathing ladder" workout I chose to do this morning was probably not the best idea. But, hey, I never claimed to be smart :)

The point of doing "breathing ladders" is to build aerobic endurance using resistance training movements. The protocol is outlined on the Gym Jones website: . Basically, the idea is to pick a single total-body exercise that creates significant oxygen demand, and do reps laddered with breaths. For instance, if you were to choose kettlebell swings as your exercise, you would do one swing, then take one breath. Then you would do two swings followed by two breaths, then three swings followed by three breaths and so on.

There are a couple of different ways you can do it. One way is to choose an exercise and load that will induce a state of "panic breathing" during the work sets, in which case your workout will end when your oxygen demand overrruns supply. Usually that happens somewhere between 20-30 minutes out. The idea here is to teach breath control and efficient recovery in limited time.

The other option is to choose an exercise and load that'll result in less intensity during the work sets, so panic breathing never sets in. If you choose this option you (theoretically) will be able to perform a huge volume of work over a period lasting anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes without becoming excessively fatigued. This is great for endurance, obviously.

To get the desired training effect you have to choose the right exercise, the right load, and the right rep structure. Don't even think about making biceps curls your exercise--they don't use enough muscle to create the necessary oxygen demand. If you're dying to do a pull of some kind a hang clean would be a much better choice. Kettlebell lifts are ideal for this type of workout, but if you're not into kettlebells something like a barbell front squat to push press would work nicely too.

Anyway, I decided to give it a shot this morning using kettlebell snatches as my exercise. I probably would've picked swings except that my heaviest kettlebell at the moment is only 12 kg, and I didn't think that would be enough to get me gasping for air during the work sets. Of course I could have opted for a more endurance based, longer workout but I think what's most useful to me at this point is improving my breath control and rate of recovery. Besides, I like fast, intense workouts :)

So here's what I did, and here's how it went:

snatches, 1R/1L, 2 breaths
snatches 2R/2L, 4 breaths
snatches, 3R/3L, 6 breaths

and so on up to 15 snatches on each side followed by 30 breaths. It took me very slightly over 20 minutes, during which my heart rate averaged 144 and got up to 172 at the highest. It wasn't until the last few work sets that my heart rate really started climbing, which is pretty much par for the course given that if work sets are less than about a minute long, heart rate doesn't accurately reflect intensity of effort. Interestingly, even though my heart rate consistently got higher as the work sets got longer, I always ended my recovery periods with my heart rate in about the same place (low-mid 140s), reflecting the increased length of the recovery times.

Because I am an intensity junkie I didn't make as much of an effort to control and deepen my breath during the recovery periods as I probably could have. I've actually got decent breath control, probably because of my yoga practice in which movement is linked to breath. We also use the breath in ballet. And, of course, correct breathing during resistance training is critical for safety, especially if blood pressure is a concern. So, anyway, the concept of focusing on my breath and using it to slow my heart rate and induce a state of calm is not new to me, which I think helped.

What was more of an issue for me was the fact that I'm not used to doing sets of more than 10 consecutive snatches with a 12 kg kettlebell. The last 3 work sets, when I was doing 13, 14, and finally 15 reps on each side, were a real struggle toward the end and my form on the last reps of those sets was pretty tragic. I actually debated setting the kettlebell down, but I'm one of those people who, when I get it in my head that I'm going to do something, I do it ... even when I maybe shouldn't. In retrospect, though, it really would've been smarter to do something like two 10 rung ladders and get my volume that way instead of doing a single 15 rung ladder.

Speaking of volume, total for the workout was 240 snatches in just over 20 minutes. So, about 12 per minute on average, which is the same as yesterday's workout, which was only a 60 % effort. Interesting. I definitely felt like I was working at more than 60 % effort today, at least toward the end of the workout.

I definitely plan to experiment with breathing ladders some more, just for grins.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

ETK practice: Week 8 "hard" day

Per Enter The Kettlebell, "easy," "medium" and "hard" days differ only in terms of the volume of work performed during the strength portion of the workout (the clean & press/pull-up ladders) and the intensity of the work performed during the conditioning portions (snatches or swings for time).

Actually, that's a bit misleading because it's only in week 8 that the volume of work during the strength portion becomes variable. From week 8 on you do 5 3-rung ladders on "easy" day (same as week 7), while on "medium" day you do (or attempt) 5 4-rung ladders and on "hard" day you do (or attempt) 5 5-rung ladders. Before that, volume builds from week to week but stays the same during the week.

Anyhoo, since I'm just finishing Week 8 today was my first "hard" day of 5 5-rung ladders. It went okay. As in, I completed all reps and had enough energy at the end to attempt a test of my pressing strength using my 12 kg kettlebell. Instead of doing clean & presses I did strict military presses to failure, and got 7 reps on the right side and 8 on the left. Strict militaries are harder than clean & presses because if you've done the clean properly your body has stored energy that it can use to drive the weight overhead without doing anything funky like a push press.

(Don't get me wrong: I love push presses and have been doing them for years. They're a big part of why I am as strong as I am. But today's workout was not about my push press.)

With the conditioning part of the workout, the idea is just to work for a set period of time at a predetermined level of effort: about 60% on "easy" day, 80% on "medium" day, and 100% on "hard" day. You roll the dice to determine the length of the work period. Or, you buy the ETK workbook from Art of Strength and you let Anthony DiLuglio roll the dice for you. I have the workbook, so that's what I have been doing. Thankfully today called for only a 3 minute effort so instead of doing sets of 25 with a 5 second rest between sets I opted simply to work continuously for the entire 3 minutes. Had I felt it necessary to rest I would have, but I didn't, so I didn't :) I got 117 reps in the 3 minutes--about 39 per minute, which seems to be my cadence for swings.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

First Snatch Test

Enter The Kettlebell! recommends that every 4 weeks you test your strength by attempting to press a heavier kettlebell than the one you use for ladders, and by seeing how many snatches you can perform in 10 minutes. The goal is to be able to press the kettlebell that's closest to 1/2 your bodyweight if you are a man, 1/4 your bodyweight if you are a woman, and also to be able to perform 200 snatches in 10 minutes using a 24 kg kettlebell if you are a man, a 12 kg kettlebell if you are a woman.

The kettlebell that is closest to 1/4 of my bodyweight is the 12 kg bell, which is what I am using for ladders. I don't own anything heavier at the moment, although I have a 16 kg kettlebell on order. I think I will be able to press it once it arrives, but we'll see.

So, anyway, I couldn't feasibly test my pressing strength this week, but I did do the 10 minute snatch test. I got 100 snatches in the first 5 minutes, and another 70 in the second 5. I think they were decent quality too. At least, I'm not feeling pain anywhere and I don't see any marks on my wrists. I probably could have gotten another 10 or so but was starting to notice a bit of floppy wrist action and decided to slow things down in the last couple of minutes.

All things considered, I'm pleased.

The Emperor's New Crosstrainers

In my opinion the absolute best footwear for resistance training is, well, no footwear at all.

Thing is, for optimal performance you need optimal proprioception, which is basically personal trainer geekspeak for body awareness. Shoes, even good ones that fit correctly, can interfere with your ability to perceive subtle shifts in balance and centering of your bodyweight--and shifts that go unnoticed inevitably go uncorrected, resulting in compensations elsewhere in your body. If, for instance, you can't see your feet rolling inward because of your shoes, you won't think to pull up your arches, and voila! your ankles will likely wobble and your knees may bow inward when you squat or lunge.

But what about corrective shoes and orthotics? Won't they solve the problem by forcing your feet into good alignment? I would argue no ... but if by some chance a podiatrist happens upon this blog post I would totally welcome a dissenting view. My feeling is that orthotics can encourage the feet to get lazy. It's like wearing a belt or using straps: I believe it's better to develop a strong core and grip than rely on props. I do see where reasonable minds can differ on this issue, but I think it's better to strengthen one's arches than to use arch supports. Likewise I feel that, rather than running out and buying the latest "motion control" shoe from New Balance or Saucony, it's better to address the muscle imbalances that may be causing one to overpronate.

I also feel that it's just about impossible to use the pronoun "one" without sounding unbearably pretentious, but there you have it.

Of course, if you like to exercise outside or your gym prohibits barefoot exercising, some sort of footwear obviously is de rigueur. My preference is for something flat and minimally supportive, that will replicate the feeling of exercising barefoot as much as possible. My own personal choice is Chuck Converse All-Stars, but I have also heard very good things about Vibram Five Fingers, which are sort of a sinister hybrid of Aqua Socks and toe socks from the 70s. Problem is, I'm not sure they come in bubble-gum pink. Converse All-Stars do.

So, those are your good footwear choices for resistance training: barefoot, or something that replicates the feeling of being barefoot as much as possible:

Preferably something pink :)

Some bad choices are depicted below:

The shoes on the far left are motion control running shoes from Saucony, with orthotic inserts. Not only do these promote lazy feet, but they do not allow for proper grounding through the heel. Also, they are ugly and not pink.

The shoes in the center are my Suffolk Pointes. They're actually pretty great for ballet because I can totally tell whether I'm on the tip of my big toe when I'm wearing those babies. But since they do not allow for grounding through anything other than the big toe, they obviously are not a good choice for resistance training, and really I only included them for fun, and also because they are pink.

Ditto for the shoes on the right, which are pretty much useless you're doing the Zsa Zsa Gabor workout. (Look for it on eBay. It's a hoot.) Every woman should own a pair of pink marabou mules, and every woman should lift weights. But she should not wear the mules when she's lifting the weights. There's multitasking that works, and multitasking that doesn't, and this would be an example of the latter.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Getting off my "but," with some help from Rachel Cosgrove

Even fitness professionals have moments of self-doubt. Lately I've been having lots of them.

Partly I think it's been because I've been feeling a bit under the weather physically. I picked up a bug of some kind while I was traveling to Chicago for my grandfather's funeral, and I've been having trouble shaking it off. I've been trying to keep up with my workouts, but the energy and focus hasn't been there, and my performance has been lackluster as a result.

The other part of the problem-the real part-is mental. I've been wondering: is the RKC a realistic goal for me at my age, with my lack of a fitness background? My brilliant career (hah!) as a ballerina was cut short by a badly broken ankle at age 15, and after that the only exercise I got on a regular basis was the mental gymnastics required to come up with a convincing excuse for getting out of gym class. It wasn't until I was in my late 30s that I began anything remotely resembling a fitness program, and even then my goals we pretty much limited to fat loss, stress reduction, and avoidance of some of the health problems (diabetes, osteoporosis, high blood pressure) that run in my family. It never occurred to me that I might one day make fitness my career, or even that I might turn out to have an aptitude for strength training.

True, there are athletes in my family-- a cousin who danced professionally, a grandfather who boxed his way through graduate school--but my parents themselves have never valued physical accomplishments. My mother in particular has very poor balance and coordination due to a congenital inner ear problem, and has never liked to exercise because she is convinced she will hurt herself. Without meaning to she taught me to think of myself in the same way, as someone incapable of vigorous physical activity.

Of course that was then, this is now, and I'm pretty much over it. Pretty much. Until I start to struggle. Really struggle, as in not being able to follow through on the commands of my "inner coach," the one who's telling me to drive down through my heels (or big toes if I'm in ballet class), lock out my knees, contract my glutes, pack my shoulders, straighten my wrists, lock out my elbows, breathe, yadda yadda yadda. Way too soon, the inner coach walks away in disgust and all that's left is my inner playground bully telling me "You suck," and even worse, "You can't."

So what's a girl to do? (I bet Pavel asks himself that all the time :)) I wouldn't be posting about this if I couldn't end on at least somewhat of an upbeat note, although I frankly admit that this awful negative inner voice/self-doubt thing is probably always going to be an issue for me. So here are my strategies, imperfect as they are:

1. Recommit: This is where I remind myself of the reasons why failure is not an option for me. When it comes to kettlebells, I want to be able to share the physical benefits of Hardstyle kettlebell training with as many people as possible, and the RKC certification is what will best prepare me to do that. Therefore I must do what it takes to get myself in "elite athlete" condition so I can get RKC-certified.

2. Regroup: This is where I look at my training. If I'm not making the strength and endurance gains I feel I should be making, there probably is something about my program that's at fault. First I try to pinpoint the problems with my performance, and then I try to come up with the appropriate corrective strategies. If I can't figure it out on my own, I enlist the aid of another trainer.

3. Be real: This is where I look at everything else going on in my life that might be interfering with my accomplishment of my physical goals. These obstacles are genuine and nontrivial for the most part. But they are not insurmountable. This is where Rachel Cosgrove helped me. In a recent blog post, "No More 'Buts' To Get Your Butt In Gear," she demonstrates the power of changing "but" statements to "and" statements.

Note the difference between these two statements:

1. "I am preparing for RKC certification but I have a lot of bad workout days due to the hormonal fluctuations of perimenopause;" and

2. "I am preparing for RKC certification and I have a lot of bad workout days due to the hormonal fluctuations of perimenopause."

In the first sentence I'm essentially giving myself an out, whereas in the second I'm posing a problem to be solved. And let me tell you, it's astonishing how quickly your mind gets to work devising solutions once you start seeing your problems as soluble!

I guess the takeaway message here is: the mind is an incredibly powerful thing. It can be your biggest enemy or your greatest ally. I recommend the latter. It's more fun that way unless for some reason you like abuse, in which case call me. (No, don't. The "Mistress Laura" thing is a joke, except maybe to the people who take my Tuesday lunchtime cycling class. And maybe a few others. Maybe :))