Wednesday, September 30, 2009

More reasons why I'm feeling good about the HKC experience

I'm not going to lie: if I'd passed I would be feeling even better. But that's just my neuroses talking.

You know how we all supposedly have an inner child? Mine is a fat kid with coke-bottle glasses who is picked last for every team and gets beaten up a lot for being "different." My inner child expects to fail. Every setback reinforces her low self-esteem ... or would if I allowed it.

Fortunately, I am not my inner child. As the parents among you are well aware, it's no kindness to let the little ones call the shots, because they don't know what's in their own best interests. If I allowed my inner child to dictate my actions I would never leave my house because every excursion outside would mean putting myself out there for someone to judge and reject me! Okay, that's maybe a slight exaggeration, but you get the idea.

(My apologies if this is too woo-woo for some of you!)

Anyway, my point here is that going to HKC was a huge step outside my comfort zone. But I took it, even though it was very hard for me. Everything that went wrong in the weeks, days, and hours leading up to the event—the ear infection, the food poisoning, the bits of worrying news from friends and family, the seemingly endless flight delays, and so on and so on—seemed like a sign from on high that this was Not Meant To Be.

But I persisted. So, credit where it’s due, and while this may not seem too impressive to most of you, for me it’s a big deal. Although of course it will be a bigger deal once I have earned that HKC designation :)

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Cut To The Chase: No, I Didn't Pass.

I got dinged for having my wrist bent back during the Turkish get-up portion of the testing. It's okay, though. More than okay, in fact, and here's why:

1. It demonstrates that the HKC is no rubber-stamp joke of a certification. The RKC is not in any way compromising its high standards in introducing this new certification. In fact, on my team I am aware of only 2 people out of 10 who passed. I'm hoping this gives much comfort to all my RKC friends who've worried about a dilution effect.

2. On a personal level it demonstrates that my hypermobile joints and unusual biomechanics are more of a problem than I thought. I've come a long way in improving my joint stability, but I have further to go if I want to reach my full potential as an athlete. I'm very glad to find this out now so I can get to work fixing the problem.

3. My failure to maintain a straight wrist is the only reason I didn't pass. Everything else was good enough. There were no problems with my swings and goblet squats, and everything else about my TGU passed muster as well. How many people out there can say that Geoff Neupert, Master RKC, thinks them competent in the swing and goblet squat?

4. This is only a temporary setback. To get my HKC I must send in a video of myself performing the TGU with a perfectly straight wrist, and I must do that within 3 months. I can do that ... and if for some reason that doesn't work out, I will go to another HKC. Dragon Door plans to offer 100 of them over the next year, and one of them is sure to be in San Francisco.

5. Attending the HKC has given me a much better understanding of what the RKC is all about, and for whom it is appropriate. I'm very glad to know that before committing myself to a grueling and, frankly, costly educational path that ultimately may not be the best choice for my clients. Or it may; I am very much on the fence here. More on that later.

Monday, September 28, 2009

A couple photos from the HKC workshop

Here I am doing halos with an 8 kg kettlebell. This is a shoulder mobility exercise and a great warmup drill. I can't quite explain the expression on my face, other than that it's hard not to look bemused when you're swinging an 18 pound chunk of iron around your head while John DuCane is taking your photograph. This is a spinal rotation drill. Note the angle of my wrist in this photo. It says a lot.

More on that later.
Also, anyone who wishes to tell me I don't look that bad for a 47 year old woman being photographed in direct sunlight, with no makeup on, after several hours of physical exertion and a rather nervewracking plane trip, may do so :)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Final kettlebell workouts and checklist for the HKC

I've been tapering my training a bit so as to be as fresh as possible for the HKC workshop on Saturday. Yesterday I did half an hour or so of mostly swings, with some get-ups, windmills and goblet squats thrown in, plus some pushups and jumping jacks just to keep it moving. I was working out to an audio track I downloaded from a while back, but mostly I ignored the cues and just used it as a way to keep track of my time. The audio workout, incidentally, is called "Easy Kettlebell Workout" or something like that, but frankly that's a stupid name for it because "easy" makes it sound like something for beginners, and any workout that calls for 2 straight minutes of kettlebell swings, the first minute 2-handed and the second minute 1-handed, is NOT for beginners. Considering that most people swing at a cadence of 35-50 swings per minute, that works out to being a 70-100 rep set, and that kind of volume is just not appropriate for a newbie.

This morning I kept it brief: a descending ladder of swings and goblet squats, 10 of each going all the way down to 1 of each, with no pauses, no setting down the kettlebell, no passing Go and no collecting $200. It was way more unpleasant than it sounds.

Then I went flitting off to ballet class. We're starting to rehearse "Waltz of the Flowers" for this year's Nutcracker. We're at a level now where we can pretty much do the full San Francisco Ballet pre-Helgi Thomasson choreography. Not well, necessarily, but we can do it. It's sort of cool if you're into ballet history at all, because the SFB was the first company in the United States to do the Nutcracker, and the choreography we're learning dates back to that first performance.

What else? I've also been doing lots of yoga this week to open up my hips and calm me. It's working better for the former than the latter.

And I have been cutting up socks.

Huh? Here's the deal: we are required to show up at the HKC with some sort of hand protection, I guess on the theory that the extraordinary volume of work we will be doing over the course of the day is going to shred our hands. I've never ripped a callus on my right hand EVER, and I've only ripped them on my left hand after heavy snatch workouts. But I've also never worked with kettlebells for 9 hours in a single day. Therefore, I am bringing protection with me in the form of "sock sleeves" a la Tracy Rifkind. A sock sleeve is simply a two inch portion cut from the top of a medium-weight crew sock, that you wear over the palm of your hand to protect the calluses that form at the base of the fingers, the ones that are most prone to tearing. I'm honestly not sure how I feel about it; like other kinds of protection that come to mind it seems to deaden sensation more than I would like. But the alternative--being in too much pain from ripped calluses to perform adequately--is even less appealing, so I'm bringing the sleeves. And tape. And Cornhuskers lotion, decanted into airline-approved 3-ounce bottles.

The weather forecast for Saturday calls for clouds and a chance of showers, with a high temperature in the low 70s. This is good, since the training will be outside and I don't deal well with strong sunshine or very warm temperatures. Living where I do, I am just not used to them. I plan to dress for comfort, in an old pair of Nike pants that are neither too tight nor too baggy, and a Polarfleece zip-neck sweatshirt over a baby t and sports bra. Everything is close-fitting enough to allow the instructors to see what I'm doing--one of my own pet peeves as a trainer is when clients wear attire that's so baggy I can't tell whether their glutes are firing or not!--but not so close-fitting as to make me feel self-conscious. Oh, and I will be wearing my obnoxious pink Chucks, although I plan to take them off and go barefoot unless the field where we're training is too wet for that to be an option.

What else? Lots of sunscreen, of course. After my skin cancer scare last winter I am more paranoid about that than ever. No sunglasses because I need my regular glasses to see. A bath towel, presumably to be used for the towel swing corrective drill and God only knows what other nefarious purposes. NSAIDS. Water. Some envelopes of recovery drink--enough to meet my own needs and also some extra in case there's anyone on my team who doesn't think to bring his or her own. I want to be successful myself, of course, but if I can help others succeed as well it'll be that much better an experience for me.

Above all I want to bring a good attitude and positive energy, because when you're working in a group it's important not to bring others down with a lot of whining and negativity. If at some point it becomes obvious that I'm in over my head I will be disappointed but I will deal with it gracefully and focus on making it a "failing forward" experience.

The world needs more good kettlebell instructors. I hope I have what it takes to be one of them, but if not it's better to find that out now so I can regroup and form a better plan of action that will allow me to succeed in the future.

Thank you, Jillian Michaels ...

for your genius demonstration of why you should not attempt to learn kettlebells from someone who is not a certified kettlebell instructor!

That photo of Jillian on the DVD kinda tells you everything you need to know about her "kettlebell" workout right there.

First, that thing she's holding in her hand is not a kettlebell. It's a handle with plates. With all the plates inserted it may indeed act like a kettlebell. I haven't played with it or even seen it in person, so I can't really give an informed opinion on that score. When not fully loaded, however, I don't see how it possibly could act like a kettlebell. The shape would be different, which would affect the center of gravity and hence the way the kettlebell moves through space. You might be able to do some safe and effective exercises with it Ior not!), but they wouldn't be kettlebell exercises per se.

Second, Jillian apparently still hasn't learned what a proper rack position looks like. Check out the way her wrist is bent backward. This is a common issue for kettlebellers, and something that must be overcome for safety's sake. I totally get that it's not easy, and I don't blame Jillian for struggling with it. I did and still do when I'm using anything heavier than 8 kg. It takes constant vigilance to keep my wrist straight, and when I can't do it any more that's when I need to end my session. Thing is, I'm not hawking DVDs on QVC, and Jillian is. She owes it to her fans to model perfect form, and if she can't do it she shouldn't be making kettlebell DVDs or using kettlebells with her victims on "The Biggest Loser."

The bent-back wrist is only part of what's wrong with Jillian's rack, but I'm not going to get into it because I don't have sufficient knowledge to presume to instruct anyone on the finer points of the rack position. Go to and you'll find plenty of articles on the subject, written by people who know more about it than I ever will.

I'd stop here, but as it happens I caught a clip of Jillian on QVC promoting her product, and, well, it was probably the scariest thing I've seen on TV since Dick Cheney last made the rounds of the Sunday morning talk shows. Jillian, it has been months since your original "Biggest Loser" kettlebell fiasco. If at this point you still think that a swing consists of a squat and a lift, there is absolutely no hope for you. You obviously are too arrogant to seek instruction from people who actually know what to do with a kettlebell. Too arrogant, or maybe you just don't care enough about the safety of the people who look to you for instruction. Either way, it sucks.

I can't even make fun of what I saw on QVC because it was too upsetting. People will get hurt doing "hero swings" (swings with a pivot or jump at the midpoint) and cleans ending in what Pavel calls "the broken arm position" instead of the rack position, with cushy crosstrainers on their feet instead of something flat that'll allow for proper recruitment of the posterior chain.

People will get hurt. I hate that.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Just to clarify:

I have been working out an average of 4-5 days per week, just not at my usual intensity. It's frustrating when I want to be working much harder, but I know it wouldn't be good for me in the long run. Just as an example, last week I did a circuit that included sets of kettlebell high pulls, 10 per side. I used 16 kg ... which was stupid of me, and my back hasn't felt quite right ever since. I should either have used 12 kg or done fewer high pulls per set.

The workout, incidentally, was from the new Turbulence Training Kettlebell Revolution program. The circuit consisted of the following:

10 squat jumps
10 jump lunges per side
5 kettlebell push presses per side
the aforementioned high pulls
20 mountain climbers
25 2-arm kettlebell swings

Lather rinse repeat 3-5 times. Since it was my first time doing the workout I went through the circuit only 3 times, and that was enough.

I'm still not sure what I think of the program as a whole. My initial impression is that the workouts are decent and the progression is sensible, but that the written instructional materials are woefully inadequate. I believe there are some videos on Youtube that are meant to supplement the instruction provided in the handbook, and I would hope they do a better job of explaining how to perform the various exercises. I mean, I'm sure they do. Even so, I think that anyone new to kettlebells who decides to invest in the program would be well advised to get some in-person instruction from an RKC or other certified kettlebell instructor, because even a terrific instructional video doesn't give feedback and provide form corrections.

My other impression is that while the workouts seem fine for general conditioning and fat loss, they probably aren't the best choice if your goal is genuine proficiency with kettlebells because even at the advanced levels there's nothing like the volume of kettlebell work you get on a program like "Enter The Kettlebell!" This is not a criticism, just an observation. Not everyone is an aspiring kettlebell instructor after all!

One of the things I like about the program is that at each level there's a "challenge" workout provided. You need to be able to complete the challenge workout within the prescribed period of time before you can move on to the next level. The challenge workout for Phase 1 of the Advanced program, for example, requires you to complete the following in under 12 minutes:

10 snatches per arm
40 pushups
20 chin-ups
40 prisoner squats
20 military presses per arm
40 swings

Exercises must be performed in the order in which they appear, and all repetitions of each exercise must be completed before you can move on to the next exercise. I like the concept because it tends to discourage people from getting ahead of themselves, although I'm not sure what I think about the actual substance of the challenge. For most women, at least, I think 10 chin-ups (or 20 jumping or band-assisted chins) would be a more appropriate number in this context.

Goddess help me, it's come to this...

I'm taking comfort and inspiration from the "Chicken Soup" guy, Mark Victor Hansen:

Don't wait until everything is just right. It will never be perfect. There will always be challenges, obstacles and less than perfect conditions. So what. Get started now. With each step you take, you will grow stronger and stronger, more and more skilled, more and more self-confident and more and more successful.

But you know what? I reallyreally like this quote. It speaks to me these days. Because right now I'm in a phase of my life that really kinda sucks on a variety of fronts. The older members of my family are dealing with the inevitable consequences of old age and (in some cases) unhealthy lifestyles, and the younger members are ... well, let's just say that they're no longer so young that the trouble they get into is inconsequential. Money is a worry. I have trouble sleeping. My migraines have become more frequent. I'm fighting off a couple of low-grade infections. In itself none of it is hugely troubling, but cumulatively it's a bit much.

But as Mr. Hansen says, so what? If I wait for things to get better, I may be waiting a long long time, because the fact is, things are about as good right now as they're likely to be for the next few years. The best-the only--course of action possible for me right now is simply to proceed as if conditions were optimal. I may not be able to achieve as much as I would if conditions actually were optimal, but I'm bound to get further than I would if I simply sat around waiting for the clouds to part and a rainbow to appear.

In terms of my workouts, this has meant trying to keep up with my conditioning as best I can without putting myself at risk of injury. I will do my best at the HKC workshop this Saturday, but if my best isn't good enough to earn me a certification right now, so be it. I will learn a lot regardless, and it will be a great experience to work with some of the finest instructors and most amazing athletes in the world.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Sunday workout

Turkish getup into windmill: singles x 12 kg, 5 per side working continuously. Shoulder girdle felt pretty solid throughout so I was happy.

Then intervals. I did 10 rounds of the following:

25 swings x 16 kg
10 squat thrusts

I gave myself 20 minutes to do the 10 rounds, starting at the top of the minute every other minute, for about a 1:1 ratio of work to rest. But it still sucked.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Workout du jour: Dave Whitley tried to kill me today ...

but I prevailed, sort of.

I heart Dave Whitley. He's a Senior RKC based in Nashville TN, and they call him "the Irontamer." Or maybe that's just what he calls himself, I don't know. But I pity the fool who dares challenge his right to do so! He's a barrel-chested bear of a guy with arms that look to be the size of most people's legs ... and a touch of Tennessee in his voice that reminds me of my in-laws. But I like him anyway :)

He's also got a sadistic streak, as evidenced by his 101 Kettlebell Workouts and his 102 Kettlebell Workouts. Nothing fancy here: just kettlebells, kettlebells and more kettlebells, along with the usual bodyweight suspects--burpees, pushups, pullups and such. There are workouts for general conditioning, size and strength, fat loss, endurance and so forth, using such principles as German Volume Training, escalating density training, interval training, circuits, ladders and more. All the workouts are time-efficient with a certain number specifically designated as workouts that can be completed in 30 minutes or less.

I did one of those today.

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

The format was simple: swings, goblet squats, clean & press, pushups, snatches. Do as many reps of each exercise as possible in 5 minutes, resting 1 minute between exercises.

Here's how I chose to do it: 20 swings x 16 kg at the top of each minute for 5 minutes for a total of 100; 10 goblet squats x16 kg at the top of each minute for 5 minutes for a total of 50; clean & press 4x5 per side x 12 kg for a total of 20 per side; 10 pushups every 30 seconds for a total of 100; 5/5, 6/6, 7/7, 8/8, 10/10 snatches per side x 12 kg beginning each set at the top of the minute for a total of 36 per side.

Oh, and I didn't take the minute of rest between exercises. I honestly didn't need it after the swings and squats because I found I wasn't working anywhere near capacity. The clean & press was more challenging. I probably could have gotten a few more reps but I didn't want to sacrifice quality for quantity. The pushups well and truly sucked. With the snatches, again I could have gotten more reps although probably not 100 without my form going all to heck and my hands getting ripped up.

Anyway, next time I do the workout I will definitely push harder during the swings and goblet squats, and I will take the minute of rest between exercises. I'll probably also be able to improve my performance on the clean and press and the snatches since my hands will be tougher and I won't be so out of practice. Don't know about the pushups. Did I already mention that they sucked?

Training for a multi-sport event

Last week a client came to me with an interesting request: to create a training program that will prepare him to compete in the World Police & Fire Games in 2010. The competition consists of 8 events:

  • a 3 mile run
  • a 100 yard sprint
  • a 100 yard freestyle swim
  • max rep pull-ups
  • a rope climb
  • bench press (max weight, 2 attempts)
  • an obstacle course
  • shot put with 12 lbs

What's interesting about the event is that it requires competitors to be strong in a number of areas, some of which are complimentary and some of which are very nearly mutually exclusive. Put it this way: I've never met an outstanding endurance athlete who also had a great bench press, and I've never met an outstanding powerlifter who could also run a really fast 5k. On the other hand, I've trained some very good freestyle sprinters who can also rock the pull-ups, throws and rope climbs because all these events require high levels of explosive strength and power in the upper body. This also tends to translate to a good level of strength in the bench press, although generally speaking the athletes who really excel at bodyweight drills don't have sufficient muscle mass in the upper body to be truly world class at bench-pressing. Put otherwise, they have a high level of relative strength, but not necessarily a high level of absolute strength.

Anyhoo, in designing a training program for a multi-sport event such as this, the first thing I do is consider the motor skills needed for outstanding performance in each sport, then build a training program that emphasizes skills used in multiple sports so that the program makes the best possible use of the athlete's time. Of course to some extent the athlete is going to be developing these skills simply by practicing the sport, but supplementary training is also critical because it allows you to break down complex movement patterns into their component parts and bring up any weak areas that may be limiting performance of the movement as a whole. Just as an example, sprinting is performed primarily in the sagittal (front to back) plane of motion, but it also requires a high level of frontal (side to side) and transverse (rotational) plane stabilization and action. This is why cariocas and side shuffles are great drills for track and field athletes!

Supplemental training also plays a crucial role in injury prevention. As an athlete's training volume increases, any muscle imbalances he may have (and we've all got a few!) are going to be exacerbated. Likewise he may develop new imbalances due to the demands of his sport. Swimmers, for example, often have tight lats, pecs, upper traps and anterior delts, and weak lower traps and rhomboids, resulting in a poor level of scapular control, a less powerful swim stroke, and possibly even shoulder injury. Therefore the swimmer's dryland training program must include appropriate corrective flexibility for the tight areas and specific strengthening for the weak, underdeveloped areas. This will allow his body to withstand the stresses of intense training while also improving neuromuscular efficiency and athletic performance. Quite simply, our bodies work best when everything is in balance!

I think this is why aesthetically the bodies we admire are those that have perfect symmetry. A body where everything is in proportion tends to be a healthy, well-functioning body, and of course from an evolutionary standpoint one wants one's mate to have those characteristics!

And, yes, I'm digressing ... but the fact is, most people, even those who are committed athletes, want bodies that look good as well as bodies that perform well. This is why as far as I am concerned corrective exercise and functional training are foundational for everyone from decathletes to bodybuilders. They are elements of every program I write, whatever the client's starting point and whatever his objectives. This is not to say that they aren't highly individualized--in fact, they are probably the single most individualized component of the program because our imbalances are as unique as we are, a function of our individual biomechanics in conjunction with everything we've been doing or not doing to ourselves since the day we were born. I could be training a whole team of people to compete in the same event, yet no two would have exactly the same program because no two would have exactly the same set of strengths and weaknesses.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Getting back on track slowly

I just haven't been feeling it lately, but I suppose that's to be expected given that I've only been back for a couple of days. I forced myself to stay up until 9:00 pm last night, so was able to sleep until 5:30 this morning. Another night or two and I should be pretty much back on west coast time.

I've increased my calories a bit in the hope that it'll give me more energy. We'll see how that goes. The first few pounds came off so easily that I'm not too worried about losing the rest when I'm ready to make that my focus.

In terms of my workouts, I've decided I'm just not ready to progress to the Rite of Passage with 16 kg. ETK! recommends that the clean & press ladders be performed with a weight you can press at least 5 times, and I can't do that with the 16 kg yet. It's okay, though. If I keep doing loaded cleans, get-ups and push presses with the 16 kg I will get there. I'm close. It'll happen.

For now, though, I'm choosing to focus on swings, get-ups and goblet squats--the three exercises that will be taught at the HKC, which is in three (!) weeks. I'm really trying not to be anxious about it. I will pass, or I won't, but either way I will have had an amazing learning experience that will make me stronger and better prepared for the next stage in my journey.

Anyhoo, here's what I did Wednesday:

3 TGU x 12 kg, 3 pullups, 30 swings x 16 kg
2 TGU x12 kg, 2 pullups, 20 swings x 16 kg
1 TGU x 12 kg, 1 pullup, 10 swings x 16 kg

That was all one circuit, which I repeated 3x.

Thursday was even simpler:

TGU x 16 kg, 10 per side, alternating sides every rep
1-arm swings x 16 kg, 5 x 10 per side

The plan for today is a variation on Thursday's workout:

30 swings x 16 kg
5 pullups
20 swings x 16 kg
5 goblet squats x 16 kg
10 swings
1 TGU x 16 kg

Lather, rinse, repeat 3-5x

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Home again ...

and feeling kinda wiped out after 8 days of traveling and caretaking.

A word to the wise: if you have an orthopedic problem of some sort that cannot be corrected nonsurgically, suck it up and have the operation sooner rather than later. The longer you wait, the more serious the problem will get, and the more prolonged your recovery time will be. My MIL was first told she needed foot surgery some 20 years ago, but it wasn't until her feet became deformed to the point that she could no longer wear shoes that she finally had the operation. She's 75 now, and a 75-year-old body simply doesn't recover as quickly as a 55-year-old body. Not to mention, if you've got problems in your feet you inevitably are going to develop compensatory movement patterns that over time are going to cause problems elsewhere in your body.

My MIL lives in the southwest corner of Virginia, in a little town called Marion. Marion is not without interest. When Nolan Ryan was in the minors, he played briefly for the Marion Mets. The first contestant voted off "Survivor: China" was a Marion man. Marion boasts one of only three Art Deco Mayan Revival Style movie theaters in the country, and very possibly the only one that contains murals of General Lee reviewing the Confederate troops and other scenes from local history.

They don't build 'em like that any more, and it's a shame, really, because if the movie sucks there's nothing else in the theatre to keep you amused.

As it happened I was only able to work out twice while I was away. Since I was mostly eating on other people's schedules I didn't have much success with getting in a meal every three hours, but I at least was able to keep my calories at an appropriate level. A few people did feel it necessary to comment on my food choices (mostly fruits and vegetables, nonfat dairy, small portions of fish and chicken when available, no bread, potatoes or desserts) which is always tiresome but I can handle it.

My last kettlebell workout was 8 days ago, and I kind of liked it. I did a reverse ladder thing: 3 get-ups R/L, 3 pullups, 30 swings, 2 get-ups R/L, 2 pullups, 20 swings, 1 get-up R/L, 1 pull-up, 10 swings, repeated 3x. I might repeat it again today. I've also got ballet class, which should be interesting. It's 8 am and I have already been up for 4 hours. Thank goodness I don't have any clients this evening!