Thursday, January 31, 2008

Be The Squirrel...

"When you stand fifty feet in the air at the top of a telephone pole and look at the infintesimally thin wire you're trying to cross, a million thoughts are likely to race through your head: I'll never make it; it's too far; it's too high; the wire's too small, too unsteady; I can't balance on this thing; I'll kill myself; this is crazy; it has nothing to do with 'real courage'; and so on. The squirrel on the other hand, just scurries across the wire without thinking. Of course, that's because squirrels cannot think. Their sensory system receives sights, sounds, tastes, smells, and touches. Their brains are able to process this information, act accordingly, and execute skillful patterns of behavior. The human brain can do all of this, but it can also complicate matters: We can evaluate the sensory information and the situation, analyzing all the angles, and then intentionally train ourselves to improve our performance - all qualities of the Training Mindset. This ability to reason, evaluate, and make rational calculations is what separates us from other animals, and surely such rationality is a blessing in life - except when you are performing under pressure. Then you want to put aside the Training Mindset and respond to the stimuli bombarding you as much like a squirrel as is humanly possible."

- From Overachievement by John Eliot, Ph.D.

In Japanese, there is a word, 無心 (mushin), which means "no mind" and, in the martial arts, it is the surrender of ego and self-consciousness that often hinders performance. It is a concept that we understand instinctively from birth and gradually lose as we fine tune our all-important "critical thinking skills". Develop your 無心. Be the squirrel.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Words of Wisdom from Benjamin Hoff (again)

"Sensitivity and skill develop together - as one of them increases in the process of learning something, so does the other. A skilled ballet dancer is aware of his muscles as they stretch and contract, tighten and relax, through exercise, practice, and performance. Applying that sensitivity, he leaps, twirls and lands without apparent effort. A skilled athlete of any sort is aware of just how to move, how to hit or throw a ball in the right way at the right time, how to do this or that in order to score a point.

...The word for Taoist sensitivity is Cooperate. As Lao-tse wrote, "The skilled walker leaves no tracks" - he is sensitive to (and therefore respectful toward) his surroundings and works with the natural laws that govern them. Like a chameleon, he blends in with What's There. As he does this through the awareness that comes from reducing the Ego to nothing.

- Benjamin Hoff (The Te of Piglet)

High Rep Work

Maidenfan2 posted the following to one of my kettlebell snatch videos:

"Nice job brother - the only suck thing about high rep one arm exercises is you still gotta do the other arm!"

This is very true, of course. Sometimes, I liken unilateral work to ocean swims (something I used to have some experience with). The farther out you go, the farther you have to swim back. If you go too far, you might not make it back to shore. If you aren't focused on very challenging sets of high-rep kettlebell snatches, it's easy to lose your nerve and switch hands early. I won't be grandiose and say they require "courage", but it does require concentration and a measure of confidence.

On Christmas Eve, I managed a PR in my kettlebell snatches (53lb kettlebell for 80 continuous repetitions with one hand switch) - nothing spectacular, but I was pleased.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

My Current Training Schedule

Ever since the birth of my son, I've been doing very abbreviated training. I would like to have the luxury of larger slots of time to devote to training, but it just doesn't happen consistently. Success with "minimalist training" has varied, but currently I'm following the weekly training schedule below and it has yielded good gains with my kettlebell work and maintained a reasonable level of "gym strength". The sessions are numbered, but the order is not fixed and adjusted when necessary. Some weeks, I do more, and some weeks I do less, however I try to get in at least three sessions/week.

Training Session #1: Kettlebell Snatch
Training Session #2: Double Kettlebell Clean & Press
Training Session #3: Front Squats or Squats, Pull-Ups
Training Session #4: Kettlebell Snatch, Double Kettlebell Clean & Press

Each session is generally structured in an EDT-style format, but I will do straight sets and reps with more generous rest periods if I am tired. Kettlebell sessions are generally done in less than 30 minutes and the squat/pull-up session is no longer than an hour.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Kettlebell Workshop @ CrossFit Iowa

Last weekend, I gave a short workshop with CrossFit Iowa. Topics covered included warm-up drills, kettlebell safety, the swing and remedial drills, and the Turkish get-up and remedial drills. Great turnout (about 20 attendees), no one was hurt, and everyone gave positive feedback, so I was very pleased. It's always easier when you have a group of dedicated, relatively coordinated, and in-shape trainees! A great experience and it is amazing to work with a community like CrossFit.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Some Lunacy + Good Judgement = A Pretty Good Training Plan

Here are some words of wisdom from GE CEO, Jack Welch, that are very appropriate for many of us striving to maximize our potential. We'll call this the "Law of Lunacy". To this, let's add the "Corollary of Common Sense" from our comrade and Party Leader, Pavel Tsatsouline, and I think we'll have the makings of a decent training program. ...and I'm serious.


"You can't behave in a calm, rational manner. You've got to be out there on the lunatic fringe."
- Jack Welch


"You must always exercise good judgement. And if you don't have good judgement, why don't you stay on the machines you big sissy?"
- Pavel Tsatsouline

Monday, January 21, 2008

Sunday's Workout

Some snatches w. the 2 pood, clean and presses with the 1.5 poods and the 2 pood, and windmills with the 1.5 pood.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Exercise Selection

"If you are doing curls and bench presses,
some other guy is doing squats and powercleans,
and when you get on the field,
he is going to f***ing kill you!

- A Wise Football Coach

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Understanding EDT (Escalating Density Training)

"Escalating Density Training" is a training method devised by strength coach, Charles Stanley. What distinguishes EDT from other methods is its emphasis on training 'density' which is defined as the work-to-rest ratio of a specified period of time.

EDT protocol is surprisingly easy to program and implement. Workouts are structured around 15 minute "PR Zones" in which the trainee will alternate between two exercises, usually antagonist or distantly located muscle groups (such as curls and tricep extensions, or squats and chins). Initially, weights used will be more or less equal to the trainee's 10 rep maximum. The trainee will start a stopwatch and then begin his sets; performing a set with exercise A, take a short rest, perform a set with exercise B, take a short rest, and then start again with exercise A - this is continued until the 15 minutes has expired. Total reps for each exercise are recorded and when that "PR Zone" is performed again, the trainee will try to break his/her record.

A sample "PR Zone" might look something like the following (based on a sample given in Charles Staley's book, Muscle Logic: Escalating Density Training):

Set 1: Squats - 225lbs x 5
Set 2: Chins - x 5
Set 3: Squats - 225lbs x 5
Set 4: Chins - x 5
Set 5: Squats - 225lbs x 5
Set 6: Chins - x 5
Set 7: Squats - 225lbs x 5
Set 8: Chins - x 5
Set 9: Squats - 225lbs x 5
Set 10: Chins - x 5
Set 11: Squats - 225lbs x 4
Set 12: Chins - x 4
Set 13: Squats - 225lbs x 4
Set 14: Chins - x 4
Set 15: Squats - 225lbs x 3
Set 16: Chins - x 4

Total Time: 15 mins
Total Sets/Exercise: 8 sets
Total Sets: 16 sets
Total Reps (i.e., your "PR"): 73

The number of sets, the number of reps/set, and the rest intervals are determined by the trainee as the workout progresses. Often, the initial sets may seem easy and the later sets will become increasingly difficult. Form should never be compromised and later sets should generally be stopped short of failure although they make require herculean efforts to complete.

EDT sessions are typically 3x/week, each session lasting 15, 30, or 45 minutes in length, depending on the training experience, work capacity, and goals of the trainee. Individual sessions may be whole-body workouts, or split according to bodypart or chosen exercises. Beginners would probably do best to start with lighter weights and one "PR Zone" per workout. As strength and work capacity increase, more training volume can be added and more advanced trainees may have as many as three PR Zones in a single training session.

For more information on EDT, I highly recommend you pick up a copy of Charles Staley's book, Muscle Logic: Escalating Density Training. It is available online and at many bookstores. The following links are also good resources:

Escalating Density Training by Charles Staley

Escalating Density Training, Phase 2

The EDT Arm Specialization Mesocycle: One Inch in One Month (Oh, and Yes, It WILL Hurt!)

End Your Strength Plateaus NOW - EDT for Maximal Strength Breakthroughs!

Compound EDT: New Applications For An Old Favorite!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Words of Wisdom: Scott Adams on Predicting Success

"The reason that a product 'everyone likes' will fail is because no one 'loves' it. The only thing that predicts success is passion, even if only 10 percent of the consumers have it. For example, I'm willing to bet that when the TV show Baywatch was tested, 90 percent of the people rolled their eyes and gave it a thumbs-down. But I'll bet 10 percent of the test audience had tents in their pants. Bingo."

- Scott Adams (Stick to Drawing Comics, Monkey Brain!)

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Kettlebell Snatch Form

Working on my kettlebell snatch. My form has undergone some changes and I've gotten some great advice from Tom Corrigan, RKC about how to implement some girevoy sport techniques into it.

I also got this from Petr via YouTube. He was kind enough to use these tools to create it. It shows the forces generated during my snatch - the first peak generated is as I pull the kettlebell from the bottom and the second peak is the bell as it falls. The valleys at the beginning and end of the graph are the bell at the bottom and the valleys in the middle (I think) are the bell at the top.

As a comparison, Petr also sent me a graph mapping the forces generated by a girevoy sport champion, Vasily Ginko.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

三日坊主 (mikka bouzu)

In Japanese, there is an expression "三日坊主" (mikka bouzu), which means "three-day monk". It is used to describe people who start things with big promises and great enthusiasm, but never see them through to the end. A person who decides to get in shape, buys a $1000 membership to a health club and a new training wardrobe, and ends up training like gangbusters only to quit three weeks later would be a 三日坊主. Let's all strive to NOT be 三日坊主 in 2008!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Words of Wisdom From Benjamin Hoff

"The honey doesn't taste so good once it is being eaten; the goal doesn't mean so much once it is reached; the reward is not so rewarding once it has been given. If we add up all the rewards in our lives, we won't have very much. But if we add up the spaces between the rewards, we'll come up with quite a bit. And if we add up the rewards and the spaces, then we'll have everything - every minute of the time we spent. What if we could enjoy it?

The Christmas presents once opened are Not So Much Fun as they were while we were in the process of examining, lifting, shaking, thinking about, and opening them. Three hundred sixty-five days later, we try again and find that the same thing has happened. Each time the goal is reached, it becomes Not So Much Fun, and we're off to reach the next one, then the next one, then the next.

That doesn't mean that the goals we have don't count. They do, mostly because they cause us to go through the process, and it's the process that makes us wise, happy, or whatever. If we do things in the wrong sort of way, it makes us miserable, angry, confused, and things like that. The goal has to be right for us, and it has to be beneficial, in order to ensure a beneficial process. But aside from that, it's realy the process that's important. Enjoyment of the process is the secret that erases the myths of the Great Reward and Saving Time."

- From The Tao Of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff

Friday, January 11, 2008

Timing is NEVER Perfect

"Do not wait; the time will never be 'just right.' Start where you stand, and work with whatever tools you may have at your command, and better tools will be found as you go along."

- Napolean Hill

I know it sounds ridiculous, but I've had many kids tell me that they were waiting to start lifting until they were able to afford protein supplements. TRUE STORY! I can't help but laugh when I think about that, but it is really very sad...

Unless you are waiting for a doctor's clearance, don't hesitate to get started on your strength and conditioning goals - start today. You don't need a reverse-hyper machine, or BCAAs, or the membership to XYZ's Gym to make amazing progress. Get creative if necessary, but get busy getting better NOW!

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Kettlebell + Cowbell

Gotta have more cowbell!

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Interview @ RAWGRIP.COM

I was interviewed for the new website It looks like it could be a great site.

Being interviewed was very flattering and it gave me a chance to collect my thoughts on a few things that I hadn't reflected on lately.

Squat Rx Video Series Interview at

Monday, January 7, 2008

The Developmental Sequence and Patience

Franz Snideman, RKC recently had a baby and that got me to thinking back a few years to when I myself was a new dad. I don't know how most fathers process the whole experience, but one thing (of many, of course) I enjoyed was watching my son develop the prerequisite strength and coordination to stand up and eventually walk.

Seeing babies learn and do complex skills with very little direct teaching is inspiring to me. Before my son had stood on his own for the first time, or taken his first step, he had already done leg lifts, "superman drills", "sit ups" (of a sort), and elementary tumbling for repetitions numbering in the thousands, possibly tens of thousands. Would an adult have the patience to do this? How long would a grown-up perform elementary "drills" before trying to jump into "the meat and potatoes" not even close to being ready?

"Weakness training" is what most intermediate trainees need and avoid like the plague. Some of this is conscious and some of it is unintentional. The key to finding weaknesses is challenging ourselves to different stimuli often enough that we don't lose the functions we spent so much time (or didn't...) developing in our formative years. The trick from there then is improving those uncovered weaknesses without losing training focus.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

"Finicky Lifters"

You do not like them, so you say.
Try them! Try them and you may!
Try them and you may, I say!

Generally speaking, I don't trust people with very strong opinions on very complex issues. Every so often, I read or hear something online from a "harcore" lifter who eschews anything and everything except barbells, benches, plates, dumbells, and racks. They believe (and I agree) that you don't need anything else to get strong. But they usually take it much further than that; also believing that people who train with different modalities and methods are stupid suckers. Not surprisingly, it's pretty common to find that these are the types that won't listen to anyone who benches or squats less than they do themselves.

People are complex beings. Fitness and strength have many facets and can be trained in countless ways. What one person enjoys, another may hate. What brings fantastic results to one, may erode motivation to zero with another. Not everyone has an interest in running marathons (or running at all). Not everyone likes grinding out low reps with heavy squats, presses, and deadlifts. Not everyone enjoys swinging a kettlebell around either. There is room in the fitness industry for all of these approaches to peacefully coexist and even complement each other.

30 years ago... hell, even today, there were and still are purists in sport who believe that their athletes are the ones that don't need and may be harmed by strength training. That pendulum has, for the most part, swung, and most coaches today are on board with strength training. However, how often do you hear someone ask the question "I want a sport specific strength training routine. What should I do?", only to get responses like "Practice your sport - that's the most important thing and pretty much all you need." It is? Really? What if you are weak and prone to injury? Will the sport shore up those weaknesses? Is the sport a good developer of the strengths and skills necessary to excel at it, or is it simply a good test of them?

Thanks to Louie Simmons, Pavel, and Crossfit, the idea that strength athletes need general conditioning (otherwise known as "general physical preparedness" or "GPP") has caught on with most. Despite these forward thinkers and evidence to the contrary, it's still pretty frequent to hear people on the internet worried that 30 minutes of treadmill work will turn them into metrosexual waifs unable to lift big plates, let alone put them on a bar and press or squat them.

People should have goals and they should find training methods and modes that are enjoyable and sustainable. But, try to keep an open mind about other training options. Finicky lifters are, in my opinion, like picky eaters. Yes, you can probably still get a reasonably balanced diet from eating limited foods and supplements will help, but you might be missing out on micronutrients that you won't know you need until it's too late. People with a willingness to try new foods will never go hungry driving around a town filled with restaurants, searching for a Taco Bell. People with a willingness to try new training methods will never find themselves pounding on a locked gym door begging to be admitted to the altar of bench press - they'll pick up a sandbag, rock, kettlebell, or even a rope and go to town.

Just a thought.