Monday, October 26, 2009

Went running again this morning ....

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

Anyway, we'll see.

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

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Sunday mixed-modality back-focused workout

Just playing around here with some different ideas:

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

Rest 2 minutes

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

Giant set:

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


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

Saturday, October 24, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

Thinking and rethinking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Probably once Nutcracker is over for the year :)

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Post-HKC Training: Enter the Dumbbell!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But everything else is negotiable, at least for now.

Friday, October 16, 2009

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

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

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

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

Hence the following:

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

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

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

Consternation ensued.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Warning: digression coming up.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More later.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Woo-hoo, I passed!

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

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

So it would seem that I am an HKC.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Another take on the Turkish get-up

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

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

The Turkish Get-Up

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

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

The HKC: The Play By Play (Part One)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More later.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

But wait, there's more!

More reasons why I'm feeling good about my HKC experience, that is.

1. I got to train with the incredible Geoff Neupert, Senior RKC, and Andrea U-Shi Chang, CK-FMS. I can't say enough good things about them. Not every gifted athlete is a gifted teacher, but Andrea and Geoff clearly are both. Exacting but never condescending, strict but never harsh or unkind, they were the ideal instructors and great role models for all of us who intend one day to work with clients. If you live in the Durham, North Carolina, area and are looking for an amazing kettlebell trainer, go see Geoff Neupert. If you live in the Seattle area and are looking for an amazing kettlebell trainer, go see Andrea U-Shi Chang. You won't be sorry!

2. I got to train with the wonderful ladies and gentlemen on Team Neupert. We were a diverse group. There were three women and seven men, ranging in age from early 20s to early 60s. A couple of the young men were in the military, while one was a retired Air Force pilot. We also had a doctor in our group, and of course we had a few fitness professionals. They were wonderful, hardworking, enthusiastic, and never lost their good humor except maybe during the burpees :) I want to give a special shout-out to the lovely Gen Ovalle of Palo Alto, who was my training partner for much of the day. She was one of the two who passed, and deservedly so. Her technique is pretty much perfect, and so is she. If you live in the Palo Alto area and want an introduction to kettlebells, consider hiring her as your instructor.

3. I got to experience Pavel. And believe me, it is an experience! It's hard to know where to start. I have no idea how he acquired his knowledge, but it's obvious he has a profound understanding of exercise science. He is also an excellent communicator and educator.

He's also a great showman. This is not a criticism. When you're teaching an audience of 120 people, all of whom are strangers to you, inevitably you're going to adopt a persona. Any of you who teach group exercise know what I'm talking about. If you're teaching to a small group of people who are pretty well known to you, you can more or less be yourself, but if the group is large and mostly strangers you have to switch gears. If you're a people person at all -- and most good trainers are -- you learn pretty quickly what works for most of the people most of the time, and that becomes your persona. I'm not naturally a super-caffeinated, high-energy, perky cheerleader type at all, but that's what seems to get the best performance out of my cycling classes, so that's who I am when I teach cycling. I suspect Pavel is doing the same sort of thing when he teaches. He's figured out that his students want and need him to play the "evil Russian," so that's who he is at these events. Again, this is not a criticism. Quite the contrary. "Being yourself" is overrated IMO :)

4. I got to meet "Strong Sarah" Hill Jones!!! She is as lovely in person as she is online, and I'm thrilled she is now an HKC. If you live in her area and have an interest in getting started with kettlebells, you couldn't ask for a more wonderful person to train with. I just wish we could have spent more time together.

5. I got to meet kettlebell enthusiasts from all around the country. Kettlebellers are some of the nicest, friendliest people you'll ever meet. It's either the endorphins or the confidence that comes from training with what in essence is a cannonball with a handle attached. You can speak softly when you swing a heavy bell!