Tuesday, August 25, 2009

I've gotten through all the prescribed ETK Program Minimum workouts with my 16 kg ...

but I'm not happy with where I am strength-wise. Probably this is because of my possibly ill-considered decision to cut calories in the interest of losing a bit of body fat. I'm down about 3 pounds since going "on plan" two weeks ago, which is good because it means my body is still responding to basically the same strategies that have always worked for me when I want to lose fat. On the other hand ... losing a pound and a half a week is fairly aggressive for someone my size, so it's not surprising I'm not performing as well during my workouts. I need to do some more strategic thinking while I am on the road, to make sure I am in as good condition as possible for the HKC in September.

In a way it kinda sucks that this is the very first one since it means I really have no idea what to expect. It's billed as an entry level workshop, with no previous kettlebell experience necessary, and to earn the HKC designation I will need to demonstrate competence but not necessarily perfection in three basic movement patterns: the swing, the goblet squat and the get-up. None of that sounds too terribly intimidating ... but I'd be a fool to take any of that at face value :) Not that I'm not a fool, but you know what I mean. I fully expect that it will be incredibly intense and I will probably find out I suck in all kinds of ways I know about, and some I don't.

I just hope they don't laugh at the tiny old lady in their midst, and tell me to go take a Pilates class instead.

(Note: I don't actually expect that to happen. I'm sure they will be very respectful when they tell me never to darken their door again.)

On the bright side my pointe work is looking really strong. I've finally found what are the perfect shoes for my feet, and it's making all the difference in the world. That, and all the kettlebell swings. I think I might be able to do an easy solo en pointe in December--say, the ballerina doll bit from Act 1 of the Nutcracker--and I haven't been that strong in, oh, 35 years or so :) It seems my body knows how to dance even when I'm in a calorie deficit. Well, duh. That's how most dancers do it.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Fitness role model du jour: Alicia Alonso

Alicia Alonso, the Cuban prima ballerina assoluta, was one of the great ballerinas of the 20th century, though she's not so well known in the US because after the revolution in Cuba she wasn't seen much in this country. Her most famous role was Giselle. Here are some clips of her dancing the same entrechat sequence from the second act.


In the first of the clips, filmed in the early 60s, she was 43. In the last she was in her 70s. Still en pointe, still able to keep up with the music, still exquisite. Whenever I think about hanging up my pointe shoes, I remember Alicia Alonso and her incredible career of 50-plus years.

From a fitness standpoint, I think one of the keys to her amazing longevity as a dancer is that for a ballerina she had a very muscular build and feet that were more notable for their strength than their flexibility. This was actually pretty standard in the dance world pre-Balanchine ... and guess what? Those ballerinas had longer careers. These days if a female dancer is still with a company at age 40 it's pretty unusual, but that didn't use to be the case and I'm convinced it's largely because of the current craze for ballerinas with long, thin limbs and hyperextended joints. That kind of body just can't take the repetitive stress of dancing the way a stronger, better aligned body can.

Oh, and did I mention that Alicia Alonso was very nearly blind? That part boggles my mind even more than her age because I am so dependent on my eyesight when I dance. Try balancing on one leg with your eyes closed, and you'll see what I mean. Most people can't do it for more than a few seconds. You can? Great! Now try it on releve, with your working leg in back coupe. And if that's a piece of cake, get out your pointes and knock yourself out. Seriously, I can't even imagine how she did it.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

This Week's Challenge

On Tuesday I will be leaving town, and won't be back until the following Tuesday. I expect my time to be pretty filled with family obligations, and I won't be able to bring any fitness equipment with me other than a resistance band. I don't think even TRX workouts will be feasible because we will be staying in some older houses that may not have sturdy enough doors to work as attachment points. Maintaining my conditioning will be difficult, and my hands won't thank me for spending so long away from my kettlebell, but I have no choice. Hopefully I'll be able to get my hands toughened up again before the HKC at the end of the month, and hopefully I won't gain back too much of the weight I've lost.

My plan is to try to get in as many bodyweight circuit workouts as I can. Here's an example using Craig Ballantyne's Depletion Workout as a template:

Jump squats, 30 sec
Pushups, 30 sec.
Prisoner lunges, 30 sec.
1-leg deadlifts, 30 sec.
Prone runners, 30 sec.

Repeat as many times as possible in 20 minutes.

For strength, I figure this will be a great time to work on pistols, 1-arm pushups, plyo pushups, pike holds, and the like.

I may have an opportunity to visit a Wellness Center or some such thing, but I will be there mostly to assist my MIL, who is recovering from foot surgery and wants some exercises she can do to maintain her strength and cardiovascular conditioning until she is well enough to get back to her usual routine. That should be interesting.

Blogs of note

You may have noticed that I've got links posted to about 25 blogs. Please check them out when you have a minute or 5,000. Not to blow my own horn or anything, but I have really good taste when it comes to blogs, and if I think someone's posts are worth reading it's likely you will agree. Not all my blogger peeps are health and/or fitness professionals, but all share a passion for fitness and a dedication to getting results, and they're all pretty cool and interesting individuals with great things to say on a variety of topics.

Just as an example, if you've got an interest in grain-free living you'll definitely want to check out Bob Garon's latest post at the Synergy Kettlebell Training site. He lists a whole slew of grain free, Primal-friendly alternatives to bread, muffins, pasta, mashed potatoes, and so forth. These are not necessarily low calorie foods, and they certainly aren't low fat, but enjoyed in moderation it's hard to see how they wouldn't be a worthy addition to just about any eating plan. Most of us get way more starch than we need, and especially as we get older it's not doing us or our waistlines any favors. So why not try replacing your whole wheat toast with a wedge of wheat-free, gluten-free, EFA-rich flax bread?

Here's a wonderful-looking recipe for Golden Flax Bread from The Medicine Woman's Roots (http://bearmedicineherbals.com/?p=394):


2/3 C flax meal
1/3 C almond meal (optional, but nice, other nut meals such as acorn can be substituted)
1 - 1.5 tsp Baking Powder
Salt to taste (I like more salt in my flax bread than I would in regular wheat bread)
appr 3 tsp olive oil or butter or unrefined coconut oil (depending on what kind of flavor you want)
2 eggs (1 egg will suffice, but 2 eggs holds together just a bit better)
water to texture desired (it makes a big difference, and the wetter it is, the harder it is to get it to cook all the way through, I go for minimal water needed to get things fluid enough to pour the batter)

Mix dry ingredients together well. Gently beat eggs together before adding (optional, but it blends better that way.

The recipe will work for a regular sized pie tin or small loaf pan. Double the recipe for a more normal sized bread loaf pan.Don’t forget to oil the pan well before pouring the batter in.

Get your oven nice and hot, about the temperature at which you would cook cornbread. Bake for appr. 20-25 minutes or until golden brown on top. Toothpick or butter knife should could out clean if you insert it into the center of the bread. Enjoy fresh out of the oven or at room temperature for a nice sandwich.


For an herbed bread: add small chunks of sharp chedder cheese, a TB of crushed thyme, a Tsp of crushed sage, a tsp of oregano or beebalm, small handful of fresh chopped Rosemary, fresh ground black pepper to taste and maybe some coarse salt on top. You can even add some green onion, broccoli or nettles for extra panache if you like.

Sweet Bread: add cinnamon, honey, cardamom, vanilla and even some fresh fruit like sliced strawberries.

Pancakes: just make the batter thin enough to spread on a hot cast iron pan or griddle. Unsweetened applesauce is nice in the pancakes instead of water.

This is only one of the great recipes linked at Bob's site. So check it out if you like to cook, or eat, or you know someone who does.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Weight is moving, weights are not.

Not so much anyway.

For hormonal reasons I decided to make this week kind of a back-off week, as much as I can given that I'm on week 4 of the ETK program minimum. I've been doing my 5 minutes of get-ups and 12 minutes of swings, but nothing extra other than the stuff I always do (cycling, ballet). I think I'm about to where I can safely kick things back up a notch or two, though. Today I'd like to add some high pulls and snatches to my get-up workout, and I think tomorrow some cleans and presses might be a good addition to my swings.

My first 50-rep swing workout with the 16 kg kettlebell was brutal. I really had to concentrate to keep my low back from rounding as I fatigued. It was extremely helpful that I was working out in front of a mirror, because my proprioception was a little off for reasons that will be obvious to my female readers.

I had an interesting insight while I was doing my warm-up, again in front of the mirror. When I come down into a rock-bottom squat my pelvis wants to tuck under and my lumbar spine wants to round. If I stop a couple inches higher my form stays perfect, so that's what I need to be doing until I get more flexibility in the hamstrings. I think it's my hammies that are the issue, anyway. Mine are actually a good bit more flexible than most people's, but they're not as flexible as they could be.

Even though I haven't been exercising as much, the scale has been moving in the right direction thanks to the changes in my diet. My house is cleaner also. Actually, at this point it's clean enough that it doesn't take too long to maintain it at its current level of not-quite-squalor. (Let's face it, people: when I say I am by nature messier than the average bear, I mean it quite literally.) So I've been doing lots of needlepoint and cross-stitch. My favorite cross-stitch designs are from www.subversivecrossstitch.com (warning: do not click on the link if strong language offends you) but I also do the normal kind. I've even been known to create my own designs.

I should come up with one that has a kettlebell on it.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Why Reading Time Magazine Won't Make You Well-Informed

The idea that exercise doesn't facilitate weight loss is not new. Remember Bob Greene, Oprah's "trainer" way back when? He discouraged Oprah from performing resistance training as part of her weight loss routine on the theory that people who lift weights tend to eat more and gain weight instead of losing it. Plainly he was right: just look at Oprah's success in losing weight and keeping it off. Um, yeah.

I'm not even going to say mean things about John Cloud and his article, "Why Exercise Won't Make You Thin." I'm just going to quote from it.

As I write this, tomorrow is Tuesday, which is a cardio day. I'll spend five minutes warming up on the VersaClimber, a towering machine that requires you to move your arms and legs simultaneously. Then I'll do 30 minutes on a stair mill. On Wednesday a personal trainer will work me like a farm animal for an hour, sometimes to the point that I am dizzy — an abuse for which I pay as much as I spend on groceries in a week. Thursday is "body wedge" class, which involves another exercise contraption, this one a large foam wedge from which I will push myself up in various hateful ways for an hour. Friday will bring a 5.5-mile run, the extra half-mile my grueling expiation of any gastronomical indulgences during the week.

I have exercised like this — obsessively, a bit grimly — for years, but recently I began to wonder: Why am I doing this? .... One of the most widely accepted, commonly repeated assumptions in our culture is that if you exercise, you will lose weight. But I exercise all the time, and ... I still have gut fat that hangs over my belt when I sit. Why isn't all the exercise wiping it out?

Right. If you read this blog regularly, you know that for fat loss resistance training is critical. Assuming that what Mr. Cloud does with his trainer on Wednesdays constitutes some form of resistance training, and assuming the same thing about his "body wedge class" on Thursdays, he evidently performs strength training twice a week. That's not terrible in itself, but Mr. Cloud is screwing up bigtime by doing his resistance training on consecutive days instead of putting a day in between so that his muscles have a chance to recover and get stronger. No wonder he's not seeing changes. If I were Mr Cloud's trainer I'd tell him to drop the Thursday class, do his run on that day instead, and give him a total body strength workout to perform on his own on Fridays if he didn't want to spring for a second weekly PT session.

I'd also point out to him that adding an extra half mile to his weekly run isn't going to expiate much in the way of gastronomical indulgence.

And, finally, I would ask him how long he's been on the same schedule, doing that same 30 minutes on the stairmill and that same 5.5 mile run. I would ask him when he last increased the resistance on the stairmill, or increased the speed and incline settings on the treadmill. Even a great fat loss routine, which Mr. Cloud's is not, is going to stop working after a while.

The problem is not that exercise won't make you thin. The problem is that the way Mr. Cloud exercises won't make him thin, particularly since by his own admission he's in the habit of rewarding himself with a blueberry bar after exercise. Not a great choice of post workout snack unless the blueberry bar happens to be low in fat, and have about a 4:1 ratio of good carbs to protein ... and somehow I don't think that's the kind of bar he's talking about. If it's the kind you buy at Starbucks it probably has at least as many calories as were burned during the workout, Not only that, but they're pretty much all empty calories with none of the nutrients needed for post workout recovery.

To support his argument that exercise is useless or even counterproductive for weight loss Mr. Cloud cites a study showing that women who exercised but did not diet lost no more weight over time than women who did not exercise. The reason the exercisers in the study did not lose more weight is that they were "compensators" who increased their calorie intake on days they exercised, either because they felt hungrier or believed they were entitled to a reward for their efforts.

Fine. But here's the thing: it's perfectly possible to exercise without eating more. Really, it is. People do it all the time. It may not always be easy, but if we're sufficiently motivated to lose weight we can manage to tolerate the mild hunger pangs we may sometimes feel when we're in a calorie deficit. If the goal of losing his gut fat were important to Mr. Cloud I have no doubt but that he could manage to suck it up and do his cardio without having a blueberry bar afterward.

If I can do it, so can he.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Hanging in there with the workouts ...

although I'm starting to notice I have a little less energy than usual. This could be due to where I am in my monthly cycle, or it could be because I'm eating less, or it could be a combination of the two.

I'm up to doing sets of 40 swings with the 16 kg kettlebell, with a minute of active recovery between sets. I can complete 6 sets in 12 minutes, so that's 240 swings total on the days I do swings. Terrifyingly, I think I am supposed to increase to 50 swings next time.

I usually combine my prescribed ETK workouts with a bit of something else. On Wednesday, for instance, I tried doing some clean & press ladders with the 16 kg. I actually made it through 2 3-rung ladders before I hit the wall on the press. That's significant, because a couple of weeks ago I couldn't press the 16 kg more than once on each side. After I hit my limit on the presses I switched to loaded cleans, sets of 5 on each side, 3 sets total. "Loading" a clean means creating as much tension and compression through your body as possible. Think of a tightly coiled spring--that's the feeling you want. Uncoil the spring and unbelievable energy is released, making the press possible. That's the theory, anyway.

On Thursday I just did my 5 minutes of Turkish get-ups. I also had 90 minutes of ballet to get through as well as a 45 minute cycling class.

On Friday I was feeling pretty wiped out, so took a complete rest day from exercise.

I didn't have a whole lot more energy today but wanted to get on with my kettlebell training anyway. As well as doing my 6 sets of 40 swings I did 5 sets of high pulls, 5 right and 5 left, and three sets of snatches, again 5 right and 5 left. The idea of doing sets of 10 per side boggles my mind, but if I do ladders I think I can work up to it pretty quickly.

My parents are visiting, and my dad wanted to know what Turkish get-ups and snatches are. So I demo'd. My dad immediately saw the usefulness of the get-up and wanted to give it a try, so I coached him through the stages with one of my flip-flops balanced on his knuckles. He did great on his right side but failed almost immediately on his left, which puzzled me until I remembered he has a massive scar on that side from when he had a cancerous kidney removed. The surgery was over 15 years ago but when your core musculature has sustained that kind of trauma you never recover from it fully. So actually it was pretty cool to figure that out, and I will give my dad some core exercises so he can get to work correcting the imbalance as much as possible.

This is why I am so excited that I will be attending the Dragon Door HKC certification workshop next month. I will come away with a much greater understanding of swings, TGUs and goblet squats, and a set of tools for teaching these powerful movements to my clients so they can get rid of their low back pain, their shoulder issues, and their achy knees once and for all. I just hope my own proficiency is adequate to earn me the certification! Oh well ... if it's not at least I will have had a tremendous learning experience and will know what I need to fix so I can do better the next time. And there will be a next time, and a next. My ultimate goal is the CK-FMS certification, which combines kettlebell training with Gray Cook's Functional Movement Screen, so that means becoming an RKC which I hope to do in 2010, ideally before I turn 48 :) Macho-man badass feats of strength and endurance are great fun, but they really are not what I am about. I mean, really, who cares that I can snatch a 12 kg kettlebell 200 times in 10 minutes? It's an accomplishment, but it's a sterile accomplishment. It doesn't do anything for anyone. It's not even particularly entertaining to watch. Nope, what motivates me is the prospect of being better able to help folks in their 60s and 70s get down on the floor so they can play with their grandkids.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

I'm all about the clean these days ....

No, not the kettlebell clean, though there has been some of that happening as well. More on that later.

I think I mentioned a couple posts down that I'm looking to lose some weight/body fat. Not a lot, just five pounds or so. Maybe not even that. I have roughly 100 pounds of lean mass, so my body fat percentage is already down in the teens. Plenty lean, but I'm used to myself a little leaner and a little lighter.

It has been some time since I've had to give much thought to my weight. When I was around 40 it finally clicked for me that starch is really not my friend, and once that piece fell into place it became easy for me to achieve and maintain a very lean (>15%) body composition.

Of course I pretty much knew that I couldn't count on that happy state of affairs continuing indefinitely and, sure enough, as my 47th birthday drew near it became obvious to me that my metabolic free ride was coming to a close. Even though I was working out hard and eating no more than usual, my weight was creeping inexorably upward. And it wasn't because I was building muscle. I've been lifting serious weights for long enough that I pretty much know I'm not going to be adding an appreciable amount of muscle unless someone slips me some steroids, and anyway I haven't been training for mass. Besides, my waist was getting thicker and my thighs were losing some of their definition ... and if those aren't signs of fat gain then I'm Jillian Michaels.

And I want it gone. I swear I don't mind getting older. I don't mind the gray hairs, at least when they confine themselves to my head, and I don't even mind the crows' feet and the splotches on my cheekbones that I tell myself are freckles but really aren't. All that is mostly genetic and I've got no real control over it. But I do want to control what I can, and my weight certainly falls into that category.

The last time I went on anything resembling an eating plan was 5 or 6 years ago when I did Body for Life. I did a modified version, sticking pretty closely to the recommended eating schedule, calorie allowance, and and macronutrient ratios (40/40/20), but consuming fewer grains and processed foods than allowed. Since it worked well then, I'm doing something similar now. I know that intermittent fasting and Warrior-Diet type plans are very popular alternatives, but since I tend to feel fairly awful if I go for too long without eating those plans hold little appeal for me. Actually, any eating plan that doesn't involve Absolut Citron and peanut butter by the tablespoon-ful holds very little appeal for me, but whatever.

As I've said before, I'm a great believer in not making myself crazier than I must, but at the same time I'm realistic about the fact that what I want to achieve won't be easy, particularly since I'm trying to get stronger as well as lose fat. I can't cut my calories too aggressively, and I need to be sure I'm getting enough protein and complex carbs to maintain my muscle mass. I chose a target of 1400-1700 clean, unprocessed calories per day, spread out over 5 meals, and about 100 grams of protein per day, again spread out over 5 meals. That's about as much as I can stand thinking about at one time, so my plan is to stay within that framework, then make adjustments as needed depending on how I do.

I've been on plan now for four days, and so far so good. Except that sometimes I want to eat more than the 300-400 calories I am allowed per meal. It's not a problem when I'm out, because once my food is gone it's gone. But when I am at home I need to distract myself.

So I have been cleaning. And cleaning. And cleaning some more.

Have I mentioned that I hate to clean, and am a terrible, terrible housekeeper?

In the process of cleaning my house I have made some interesting observations. For instance, I am fairly sure that women's shoes are the larvae of men's t-shirts. I am sure I am not the only female who has purchased an item of clothing secure in the knowledge that I already own the perfect shoes to complete the outfit, only to find when I get home that the shoes I remember are missing from my closet. Sure, I may own similar shoes, but not the ones I distinctly remember possessing. They must have gone somewhere, and I'm pretty sure my husband's t-shirt drawer is where they end up. That man owns dozens of t-shirts commemorating his participation in various athletic events he never competed in, promoting teams he does not support, advertising businesses he does not patronize, and commemorating visits to places he has never been. They must have come from somewhere, and the reasonable assumption is that they metamorphosed from my shoes.

Y'all know what I mean, right? Or do I need to go eat something?

Monday, August 10, 2009

Metabolic Density Training the Irontamer Way!

According to "Irontamer" Dave Whitley, Senior RKC, it IS possible to outsnatch a donut. That's good news if you're someone like me who likes to eat and isn't afraid of a little hard work. Okay, a LOT of hard work.

His formula for weight control involves a variation on what Charles Staley calls Escalating Density Training (EDT) and Alwyn Cosgrove refers to as Metabolic Density Training (MDT). Staley's version involves two exercises, performed as a superset for 15 minutes, while Cosgrove's involves three exercises performed as a tri-set for 10 minutes. In both cases, the idea is to get as many rounds as possible in the prescribed time period, using weights that are about 60% of your one rep max.

If you're not a kettlebell person you can put together great EDT/MDT fat loss workouts using free weight and bodyweight exercises. Cosgrove gives the following example:

dumbbell bench press (6-8 reps)
alternating lunge (6-8 reps)
Swiss ball crunch (6-8 reps)

You would pick a load that you could get 10-12 reps with, and you would try to perform the tri-set as many times as possible in 10 minutes.

But of course if you do happen to be into kettlebells, they work wonderfully for this type of workout because they allow you to get a tremendous amount of work done in relatively little time. Not only that, but most kettlebell workouts are quite simple, involving no more than two or three exercises for the entire workout.

Here's an example of MDT/EDT the Irontamer way:

Round 1: Snatches, 12R/12L, repeat as many times as possible in 15 minutes, using a kettlebell you could snatch 20 times

Rest: 3 minutes

Round 2: Superset: 12 pushups, 5 pullups, repeat as many times as possible in 15 minutes.

This was more or less my workout this morning I say "more or less" because I forgot to look at the directions before I began the workout, so I couldn't remember how many snatches I was supposed to do per work set. For some reason the number 5 was stuck in my head, so I did sets of 5 per side, completing 21 work sets (210 snatches) in 15 minutes. It was challenging but not horrible, although I started to get some nasty blisters toward the end of the workout that made the last couple of work sets more painful than I would have liked. My left hand always gets more ripped up than my right, probably because that's the side with the shoulder issues.

The three-minute rest rocked, and I took every second of it :)

For the pushups and pullups I think I got 16 work sets, so 192 pushups and 80 pullups total. It was definitely challenging but more because I think for me 5 pullups was too many for this type of workout. I can generally get a couple of good ones from a dead hang, and after that my range of motion steadily shrinks.

Stupidly I didn't wear my heart rate monitor so I have no idea how many calories I actually burned during this workout. But that's okay, because calories burned during the workout only tell part of the story. The real beauty of this type of workout is that it elevates the metabolism for hours following the workout, which is the real key to fat loss.

That, and being a little careful as regards donuts. Sure, you can probably outsnatch one Krispy Kreme? But a dozen? Not so much.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Sunday workout & thoughts on working hard: sometimes it's about getting 7 out of 10

Today was Turkish get-up day: singles with 16 kg for 5 minutes, working continuously, per the ETK Program Minimum. That works out to being only about 10 get-ups total because I like to move very slowly and deliberately through these. Well, maybe I should rephrase: I must move very slowly and deliberately through these, because otherwise I will end up losing control of the kettlebell and possibly putting a dent in the floor. Or my head.

After my Ordeal By Get-Up I decided it would be a good idea to start working on high pulls with the 16 kg. First I did a set of 1-hand swings, 10 to the right and 10 to the left, just to get in ballistic mode. Then I did sets of 5 high pulls to each side, beginning every minute on the minute for 6 minutes. Those felt pretty good, so much so that on minute 7 I decided to try doing a set of alternating high pulls and snatches. One high pull, one snatch, and that counts as one rep. I did 5 reps on each side, and felt challenged enough that I decided to stop there rather than pushing my luck and going for another set. Since I still had a little energy I did a few sets of swings for 20 reps, with 15 seconds rest between sets. I am definitely getting more comfortable with the heavier weight. I just wish the handle of the kettlebell wasn't quite so thick!

And now for my thoughts on working hard: I certainly am not opposed. I enjoy taking on physical challenges, and sometimes an all-out effort just feels right. But there's a time and a place for everything. If I'm competing in an event, that's the time to give it my all so I can get the best possible score. But if I'm taking a pass/fail test, my usual inclination is to do no more than necessary to get a passing score.

When I took the Washington State bar exam 22 years ago, each question on the test was worth 10 points, and to pass the test you needed an average score of 7 out of 10 points on every question. So instead of trying to get a 10 out of 10 on each question I tried for a 7. It was a pass-fail test, and there was no practical reason to try for more than a passing score. So I didn't. I answered each question in as much detail as I felt was necessary to get me a score of 7, but I didn't try to explore every nuance. I paced myself, saved my mental energy, and made sure I had enough time to answer all the questions. When I found myself with a little extra time at the end I went back and added more detail where I could, but only after I had answered every question.

It was a successful strategy. I passed. I have no idea what my actual score was, only that it was good enough. That's what I mean by there being no practical benefit to a high score.

I think of the RKC snatch test in much the same way. I need to be able to snatch the kettlebell closest in size to 1/4 my bodyweight 100 times in 5 minutes. I would prefer to take the test with 12 kg, which means I need to keep my weight down. Using 16 kg would be more badass for sure, but if I don't have to use that weight it would be stupid of me to do so because by all accounts the 5 minute snatch test is probably the easiest thing physically that I will do all weekend. It's not a competition and I'm not looking to set records or impress anyone. I'm just looking to pass.

I'm going for 7 out of 10.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Saturday workout & initial thoughts on Burn The Fat, Feed the Muscle

First, the workout. You will be shocked to learn there was a kettlebell involved. I began with cleans, 5 on each side, followed immediately by get-ups, 1 per side. Catch breath, repeat for 5 rounds. I used my 16 kg for all reps, and it went okay. My goal is to be strong enough in a few weeks to press the 16 kg for reps. We'll see how it goes.

Then it was on to two-hand swings, sets of 30 for 12 minutes, with a minute of active recovery between sets. For my active recovery I usually do something lame such as jog in place because I want to emphasize "recovery" as opposed to "active." The point here is to do perfect swings, not burn as many calories as possible in 12 minutes.

Now for my thoughts on BFFM, keeping in mind that I am still only about halfway through my review of the book:

1. This is pretty much a straightforward old-school bodybuilder cutting program. No real surprise there, as the book is subtitled "Fat Loss Secrets of the World's Best Bodybuilders and Fitness Models," or something like that. Tom Venuto is in fact a bodybuilder and fitness model, and I have no doubt that he actually follows a program very similar to this. For what it's worth, every physique competitor I know, not that I know all that many, follows a program similar to this.

2. I acquired my copy of BFFM in 2005. Very possibly there is an updated version that takes into account some of the research as to the benefits of intermittent fasting. I admit I don't know much about the benefits, other than that obviously it's useful in creating a calorie deficit as long as you eat no more than your maintenance calories on non-fast days. I think there's some research to the effect that intermittent fasting stimulates the release of growth hormone, which helps with fat loss, and I believe it's also supposed to be useful for detoxification or something like that. Those of you who've read Brad Pilon's Eat Stop Eat know a lot more about it than I do. And if you're following ESE and getting good results you will not be impressed by Tom Venuto's insistence that 5-6 meals a day is the absolute best way to eat for fat loss.

Mr. Venuto's main arguments in favor of frequent meals are (1) if you eat every 3 hours or so, you'll never get so hungry that you end up binging (2) if you're constantly supplying nutrients to your muscles you won't lose lean mass even though you are in calorie deficit mode (3) if you eat frequently you'll stimulate your metabolism, especially if you stick mostly to foods that require a lot of energy to digest, and (4) if you go for too long without eating you will trigger your body's "starvation response," resulting in a slowdown of your metabolism, a loss of lean mass, and difficulty in losing fat even if you're eating fewer calories than you need to maintain your weight.

Reason #4 in particular is a bit controversial these days, and Mr. Venuto himself has conceded on his Burn the Fat blog that missing a meal now and then, or even fasting for a day, isn't going to send your body into starvation mode. The starvation response is a real phenomenon, but there's no evidence it kicks in unless a person has been maintaining an extreme calorie deficit for a prolonged period of time. If a person who requires 1800 calories a day to maintain her weight decides she's going to eat less than half that, and does so for weeks on end in a misguided effort to lose fat, the starvation response is going to kick in defensively. She's going to lose muscle, her metabolism will slow way down, and the only thing that will get her body fat level moving in the right direction is a re-feed.

This is not a hypothetical example, by the way. "She" is me at age 18. I spent most of my college years subsisting on roughly 500 calories a day. If it wasn't for the starvation response I would be dead today.

3. As you will have gathered from the foregoing, Mr. Venuto does not approve of large calorie deficits. He recommends that people cut their calories by no more than 15-20%. In the case of our not-so-hypothetical female college student, this would mean cutting anywhere from 270 to 360 calories per day. Of course at that rate she'd be losing less than a pound of fat a week, but if she were to increase her activity level as Mr. Venuto recommends, she would speed things along. On Mr. Venuto's program one doesn't starve the fat off, one burns it off.

4. Mr. Venuto is a numbers guy. He believes in counting calories and weighing and measuring portions. None of this "the size of your fist" or "the size of your palm" nonsense (which I actually don't think is particularly nonsensical, at least for anyone who's not an aspiring physique competitor). He contends (and I agree with this) that it is absolutely vital to log food intake at least for a while, because if you don't you're likely to underestimate the number of calories you're consuming over the course of the week. Once you're at the point where you know off the top of your head how many calories are contained in 3 oz. chicken breast and how much space it takes up on your plate (hint: not much!) you can probably ease up a little on the weighing and measuring and writing everything down. Also, if you plan your meals in advance, all you need to do is stay on plan and you'll know how many calories you ate without having to actually lug a journal around with you.

5. I personally believe that a lot of this is overkill unless you are a physique competitor or want to look like one. If that happens to be your goal you probably do need to eat 6 times a day and strictly control calories and portion sizes for the best possible results. But keep in mind: your goal is to achieve a level of leanness that's not natural to most people. For that reason you're probably going to have to pull out all the stops. When you're 15 percent body fat and looking to get down to 12 percent, worrying about the thermic effect of food probably makes some sense. If you're 25 percent looking to get down to 22 percent, not so much. Take my advice and don't make yourself crazier than you must!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Enter The Kettlebell!: The Program Minimum

Last Sunday I restarted Enter The Kettlebell! using 16 kg as my default weight. Yikes! At the risk of stating the obvious, 16 kg is much heavier than 12 kg. Thirty-three percent heavier, in fact. That's a big jump in weight. Not only that, but the 16 kg kettlebell is much larger than what I'm used to, and the handle is much thicker. It's okay, though. I just need to work with the heavier weight a little at a time until I'm comfortable with it.

Fortunately the first four weeks of the Enter The Kettlebell! program are meant to provide exactly the type of initial conditioning I need. This phase of ETK! is called the Program Minimum, and consists of four prescribed workouts a week. After warming up with joint mobility work for the hips and shoulders, you do either swings for a prescribed number of repetitions, with a minute's active recovery between sets, for 12 minutes, or Turkish get-up singles for 5 minutes. It may not sound like much, but 5 minutes of TGUs gets very unpleasant very fast when you're holding 16kg overhead. I like the challenge of it, though. If the stabilizing muscles of my upper back are not fully engaged, I will fail. Therefore, I must be fully engaged. This is very good for me and will help me considerably when I'm ready to begin snatching the 16 kg for repetitions.

I'm not there yet, though. Not even close. I realized that the first time I tried doing some one-arm swings with the 16 kg. The bell pulled me forward onto the balls of my feet because I wasn't grounding sufficiently through my heels and I didn't have my shoulderblade fully retracted and depressed. I was letting the kettlebell control me instead of the other way around. Classic beginner stuff. Fortunately I knew what I needed to do to correct the problem, but even so it was disturbing to me that I let it happen even once. I think I've gotten lazy using the 12 kg for swings for so long. But hopefully four weeks on the ETK! Program Minimum will re-educate my muscles.

Because the prescribed workouts are so short, I'm going to have to supplement with other training in order to achieve my fat loss goals and maintain my overall level of conditioning. Today, for instance, I'm going to do a deck of cards drill. If you don't know the protocol for this, it's as follows:

Each suit in the deck represents a different exercise. I like to pick two upper-body-focused exercises (usually a push and a pull) and two lower-body focused exercises, but really it can be anything you like (or better yet, anything you don't like). Today, for instance, hearts are pushups, diamonds are pull-ups, spades are kettlebell goblet squats and clubs are kettlebell hand to hand swings. Each time you draw a card, the number on the card tells you how many reps to do. Today, for instance, if I draw a 4 of hearts it means I have to do 4 pushups. Face cards can be whatever number you want. Today, though, they're 10. When you've dealt out every card in the deck, you're done. It's kind of fun because you don't know in advance exactly what your workout is going to look like.

Edited to add: Good choice of workout! I've really been neglecting my pushups, and it shows. The goblet squats were great for practicing my "prys." Check out Dr. Mark Cheng's blog (http://kettlebellsla.blogspot.com) if you don't know what those are. Even if you're not into kettlebells they're great "preventive medicine" for knee, back and shoulder problems. I used my 16 kg kettlebell and it was hard to keep my shoulders back and chest up! I also used 16 kg for the hand to hand swings, and since I decided to count a swing with each arm as one rep I ended up doing 170 1-arm swings total. So it ended up being a 400-plus rep workout, although at the time it certainly seemed more like a 4000-rep workout and I was quite convinced I was using a marked deck with an abnormal number of 10s and face cards even though I do not own such a thing.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Motivational exercise music

Your playlist can make or break your workout. You always have a little more spring in your step when there's a great tune playing on your iPod. By the same token, anyone who has ever been trapped in a cycling class with an instructor who's got a penchant for the Crash Test Dummies knows just how challenging it can be to get your heart rate up when you're listening to music that's a complete downer.

Unless you are incredibly rhythm-challenged, you unconsciously are going to sync up your movements with the beat of the music. Therefore, it's important to pick music that has an appropriate tempo. For running, conventional wisdom is that 140-160 bpm is good. For cycling a little slower is recommended. For hill climbs I tend to pick something slower with a strong bass line, such as "Seven Nation Army" by the White Stripes. For sprints, Devo's "Whip It" is always a good choice.

Naturally, you also need to pick music you like. I personally am not a fan of the Black-Eyed Peas. For that reason, no matter how many times people tell me "Boom Boom Pow" is a great cardio song, you will never hear me play it in class. If a song makes you want to stick a fork in your eye it's demotivational even if the bpm is perfect.

Context can be everything. Normally I would never play Bruce Springsteen's "The River" during a cycling class even during the cool-down phase, because while it's a great song it's also depressing as heck. But I do trot it out every so often as part of my special "Wedding Reception From Hell" playlist that I use whenever I know someone in the class is planning a wedding or celebrating an anniversary :) (Also included on that playlist: "White Wedding" by Billy Idol (duh!), "Band of Gold" by Frieda Payne, "I Will Survive" by Gloria Gaynor, "I Kissed a Girl" by Jill Sobule, and more in that vein.)

If you're doing resistance training or flexibility work you can pretty much listen to anything you like. I've benched to Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture and Beethoven's Ninth, and both work great. Heavy metal and 80's hair bands seem to be a more typical choice among lifters, but I personally need to stay away from anything that reminds me of Spinal Tap because then I start to laugh and my form goes all to heck. That's just me, though.

I generally don't listen to music when I'm doing ballistic kettlebell work because I find I let the beat of the music rather than the laws of physics dictate my cadence. I'm in the minority here, though. Most kettlebellers prefer to listen to music during their workouts. I recommend trying it both ways to see which works better for you.

If you'd like a specific example of a cardio playlist on which I've gotten good feedback from my cycling classes, here you go:

The Killing Moon 5:50 Echo & The Bunnymen
December 4:45 Collective Soul
Blue Monday 7:24 New Order
The Boys of Summer 4:18 The Ataris
It's My Life 3:46 No Doubt
Shadowplay 4:07 The Killers
No You Girls 3:40 Franz Ferdinand
Rebel Rebel 4:32 David Bowie
I Predict A Riot 3:53 Kaiser Chiefs
Long Road to Ruin 3:45 Foo Fighters
Somebody Told Me 3:18 The Killers
Do You Want to 3:35 Franz Ferdinand
Last Nite 3:13 The Strokes
Dancing With Myself 4:50 Billy Idol
Under the Milky Way 4:58 The Church
Unchained Melody 4:54 U2

It's about an hour long, and gets progressively faster until the final two songs, which are good for cooling down and stretching. Although it's a spinning playlist it also works pretty well for running.

What music do you like for cardio? resistance training? Stretching? Let me know in the comments section, because I'm always looking for new ideas.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

So You Want To Be A Personal Trainer?

Awesome! (Yes, Mike, I'm talking to you :))

It's a noble calling, or it can be. We live in a society that's affluent in so many ways, yet impoverished in others. Because of labor-saving technology we move less than any previous generation, yet we consume more empty calories because of modern farming practices and food production methods that have stripped our food supply of much of its nutritional value. Because of our unhealthy lifestyle rates of obesity are skyrocketing across all age groups, but especially in the young. Obesity-related illnesses such as Type II diabetes, high blood pressure and coronary artery disease are reaching epidemic proportions, wiping out savings and ruining lives ... or ending them prematurely. The only solution is to get people moving again and eating better, and that's exactly what we trainers do. Let me tell you: it feels great to be part of the solution and not part of the problem!

But before you quit your day job, Mike (or anyone else who is considering a career change), there are some things you should consider. First, the money sucks. There's definitely money to be made in the fitness industry, but not by working as a trainer. You need to have your own business, with trainers working for you. That can happen, but first you need to get experience and a reputation for excellence, and the best way to do that is either by working for someone else (who will keep most of what you make in exchange for client referrals and/or the use of his or her facility) or by training people basically for free. Working with people one on one is definitely a losing proposition from a monetary standpoint simply because there are a limited number of hours in the day, so give some thought to how you can make group personal training work. Or consider whether you'd be willing to offer classes. Bootcamps are popular because they tend not to require a lot of equipment, so they're low overhead. If you live in an area where it's possible to exercise outdoors year round you might not even need studio space to run a bootcamp business. Anyway, definitely think in terms of multiple revenue streams to augment your income from personal training.

(I freely admit I don't think about this stuff much because it makes my head hurt, but if I had children who were human as opposed to feline I certainly would.)

And speaking of children ... it can be hard to have a normal family life if you work as a trainer because your busy times tend to be the crack of dawn, the late afternoon and evening, and the weekends. If you work for a facility that offers daycare, or if you train people in their homes, you can fill up some of the daytime hours with SAHM clients, and then of course there are retirees, restaurant industry workers, and strippers who will prefer to train during the day. But if you're serious about making money as a trainer you need to resign yourself to working odd hours and not getting to spend as much time with your family as you might like, at least until your business is established. Of course that's true of most jobs: the early years are the hardest.

Also, are you a patient person? If so, good, because your clients will drive you insane at times. They will have unrealistic expectations. They will have preconceptions they won't want to give up. They will be all for training with you until you quote them your rate, and then their interest will evaporate like the morning dew. If you work for a gym they will try to talk you into training them under the table so they don't have to pay as much. They will offer you services instead of payment. This can work out okay if you're in business for yourself and it's an equal trade, but often it's not. They may be disrespectful in a variety of ways. (Hint: wear your wedding band at all times. If you don't wear a band, get one.)

Basically, people are weird about their bodies, and as a trainer you are going to have to deal with the ramifications of that weirdness. Often they've got all kinds of shame and guilt keeping them from making rational decisions about self-care. If you can help just a few of them get rid of that burden of shame, it's a beautiful beautiful thing and makes it all 200% worthwhile. But there inevitably are going to be people you can't reach, and when that happens it can be depressing.

If you do decide to proceed, be aware that neither ACE nor NASM requires a college degree. In fact, I think the only certification that does require a degree is ACSM. ACSM is probably the most prestigious certification and it's the one I would have gone for except that my degree is in history, not exercise science or a related field. NASM is probably "best of the rest." ACE will give you a thorough grounding in anatomy and physiology but isn't so helpful when it comes to program design. Where NASM really shines is in teaching trainers to spot and correct dysfunctional movement patterns so clients can exercise and perform activities of daily living with less likelihood of injury. The whole area of corrective exercise and "prehabilitation" is huge, what with so many people leading sedentary lifestyles. Basically they need to be gotten in shape to exercise!

I could go on and on (big surprise there, huh?) but I've probably given you enough food for thought for now. I'm hoping some of my other trainer friends (you know who you are!) chime in with their perspective on personal training as a career.