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!)