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.