Tuesday, July 29, 2008

IKFF/NAKF Nationals

Just got back yesterday from Flint, Michigan - site of the IKFF/NAKF National Kettlebell Competition. It was a great experience. I managed to hit numbers adequate enough not to embarrass myself, while learning a few things and meeting some very nice people.

The meet weigh-ins started promptly at 8:00 am and competition got started at about 10:30. Events held were:
*short cycle clean & jerk
*long cycle clean & jerk
*chair press
*ultimate clean & jerk (10:00 w. 53lb kettlebell for women, 88lb kettlebell for men)

It was a huge event and many of the stars of American kettlebell sport turned out to watch or compete - Valery Federenko, Catherine Imes, Ken Blackburn, Marty Farrell, Scott Helsley, and Andrew Durniat among many others. There were a lot of young people competing and that bodes well for the future of the sport. I was tremendously impressed with how tough the competitors were. One team, the Ice Chamber, led by gym-owner/coaches Steve and Maya, had a team of young beauties that lasted 10 minutes in their events. I, on the other hand, used about 1:00 to finish my jerks, and 4:00 for the snatches - lots of room to grow, I guess.

My training for the competition was reasonable. I spent a lot of time working on technique and (although it didn't show) conditioning. For future competitions, I'll continue to work on these and holding the bells in the rack positions (at the chest and overhead). Right now though, I'm looking forward to returning to the power rack and doing some plain old lower rep barbell work. As I build my strength back up, I'll continue to use the beep test from time to time to maintain conditioning.

One of the things at a kettlebell competition that might strike people who come from a powerlifting background was the absence of blaring heavy metal, screaming, ammonia, supportive equipment, and pre-lift slapping. Sure, there was grunting and a combination of kiai+pained yelps as people strained to eek out a few more reps, but for the most part it was QUIET and I liked it.

Prizes were simple medals and plaques. No swords, axes, or 3 foot tall trophies that eventually end up being sold for a couple bucks at a garage sale. I was very impressed that prizes, including a photoshopped picture of Scott Helsley and hundreds of dollars in DVDs were raffled off for the contestants.

Looking at the amount of time and money invested in meet preparation, I think it would be tough to make any kind of a profit - with that, it's clear that directing a meet like this is a labor of love. Many kudos to Ken Blackburn for putting it all together and all the people that volunteered their time and resources to make it possible.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Sweat The Details

Details matter. The difference between a mediocre experience and an outstanding one can often be found in the details. Have you ever eaten at a restaurant with excellent food but a mediocre waiting staff? The service makes the food less delicious. Have you ever gone to a place of business where the receptionist was in a bad mood and didn't mind sharing their mood with customers? No matter how good the service is after that, the experience as a whole is likely going to be a negative one. Details matter. If you are watching a great movie in the theater, but the man next to you has gas... again, details.

In Japan, they GET details. They get it. They pay great attention to it. They understand it. The tea ceremony is nothing but details. Martial arts kata - details. If you eat at a McDonald's in Japan, your food actually looks like the pictures on the menu. Buy something that doesn't work and send it back? You'll probably get a written apology with your refund and you might even get a small gift for your trouble! It's the details that can tip the balance from average to bad and from good to great.

For the muscle-heads in the audience, what does this mean?

Details in exercise technique and tension can mean the difference between an effective exercise and an injury-causing one.

Details in stretching can mean, for example, the difference between lengthening the hamstrings and putting undue stress on the lumbars.

Details in the design of a kettlebell can mean the difference between a good workout and carpal tunnel syndrome.

Details in programming can mean the difference between PRs and overtraining.

Sweat the small stuff.

"Do the big stuff, but master the small. People look at the small as telling evidence of your ability to do the big - and anything else." - Harry Beckwith

Monday, July 21, 2008

Hot & Humid?

If you're feeling hot and humid, this might help.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

No Glutes Equals No Results by Kelly Baggett


Kelly Baggett has an article at his site "Higher-Faster-Sports.Com" entitled "No Glutes Equals No Results" .

It's pretty insightful and there's a Squat Rx plug!!

Check it out: "No Glutes Equals No Results"

More glutes baby!

How To Become A God Of The Iron

After all that stressing the need for proper citation, I'm going to post something I can't give a sure source for. I think I found this on Tommy Fannon's "Outlaw (Powerlifting) Forum" years ago, but can't remember for sure. I don't know who the original author is, however, this site claims it as their own: The Iron Dungeon.


Have you always wanted to be one of those feared monsters in the gym, but never knew the secret? Have people covered their eyes in fear when you walk past? Do you see little scrawny guys scurry away from the fountain when you grunt, or have an entourage follow you around to watch your every lift, in absolute awe? Well, you've got to get noticed, and do the stylin' squat. Here's the guide for doing squats to ensure the fastest growth in your gym prowess: (meatheads need not apply)

Step 1: Preparation
For your "initiation day" at the gym (the one that will set you well on your way to monsterhood), you should have the following ready:

- Chalk (find some that makes the biggest cloud that hangs in the air for the longest time after you clap your hands with it). Store it in a tupperware container, important for the veteran look.

- Powerlifting belt. 4-6 inches on the back. Essential. The biggest prongs and buckle you can find. It must be leather, too. Remember to remove the price tag.

- Knee wraps. If you can find them, get ones that take about 5 minutes to wrap. Any less just won't do.

- Get a crew cut. Everybody knows a short haircut makes you look bigger.

- Cheap water bottle.

- Practice the ILS strut -- walk around like you've got barrels under your arms, the bigger the better.

Step 2: The Walk
Go to the squat rack, and nothing but the squat rack. You must find the most direct line, even if that means walking over a benchpress or through a conversation between monster- heads. Don't be intimidated. You're going to earn their respect today. If anyone talks to you on your way, you must ignore them, with your eyes fixed on the rack. You mustn't talk, as this takes away from your intense look. During the walk, you musn't trip over anything, as this doesn't look good either. If necessary, practice the direct-route walk when the gym is empty, so you know where the difficult areas are.

Step 3: Taking the Rack
When you arrive at the rack, if there's a skinny guy doing curls, then push him over, and say, "get outta here, rat!" Make sure he gets hurt when he falls. Clench your jaw together when you're doing this, for additional effect. If there's a big guy, then hang off for a while, standing near the rack, but make sure your lats are flexed 'til they cramp, and in complete view of the rest of the gym -- it helps if you tuck in your tank top. It's much better if you time your entrance (beginning of step 2) so that there's no big guy at the rack by the time you've finished your Walk.

Step 4: The Setup
Now that you have your own rack (or cage), it's important to get some attention. Drop your gear near the rack as loudly as possible, preferably so that the prongs of the belt hit something metallic.

Look in the mirror in front of you to see if anybody heard, if not, then make sure the supports in the cage are strong by hitting them loudly with the side of your hand as hard as you can without getting a bruise.

Now, pick up your belt and cinch it up as tight as you can manage. Tighten until your waist is 20 inches. Contrasting your 40 inch chest, you now have an impressive v-taper, just like the pros.

Walk up to the bar, hit it with both hands (again, forcefully enough) grunt at it, and then turn around to check out your audience. The more people near the rack, the more impressive your lift will seem.

Throw on a pair of 45s. Make sure that you throw them on as hard as you can manage without losing your balance. This is an excellent way to cultivate your audience. Next, put on your wraps and double-check your belt. Pick up your water bottle, take a swig, then throw it across the gym. For best effect, it should rocket through the other guy's squat cage, narrowly miss the guy doing 100lb dumbbell presses and hit a far wall.

Now, toss on another pair. You should have 225. This isn't enough for them? Time to throw on another pair. Now we're getting a couple looks, aren't we? Ahh... now's not the time to stop -- you're on a roll, and you're starting to get some respect, so fling on another 90. When the clamor of the weights begins to die, tell somebody nearby, "Hey you... fetch me a couple more plates." 495 on the bar... look who's talking now! You will probably even see the biggest guys in the gym looking out of the corners of their eyes, suppressing their awe. If only Yates could see you now.

Step 5: The Burn
This is a crucial step. Pick some skinny kid nearby and walk up to him, ask him quietly "can I borrow you for a moment?" Walk back to the bar, and wait for him to come near. If all goes as planned, he'll say, "Do you need a spot?" Bingo. Make sure you yell the rest of this loud enough so that everyone around you could hear: "You... spot me? HAHAHAHAHAH Muahahaha.. You couldn't spot a fly if it hit you in the eye." Immediately, pick one of the big guys and say, "Hey bro, got a sec for a quick spot?" You have boosted his ego, so chances are he'll do it. If not, then come up with a good joke about his clothing and pick somebody else (preferably not the deepsquatter).

Reach into your tupperware container of chalk, and rub it across your palms, back of shoulders and neck. Grunt every now and then and mutter some things under your breath. Occasionally say, "piece of cake", "what a joke", or "now we're cookin'". Finally, smash your hands together, but make sure there's a hefty quantity of chalk in the cup of your hands before they hit. This will make sure that all of it explodes into the air. You want the POW camp extras in the aerobics area to be struck with fear by the A-bomb cloud of chalk dust rising over the squat area. This is usually enough to bring over a couple more spectators.

Step 6: The Lift
Now that you're wrapped, chalked, belted and have an enough people watching, it's time to get on with your lift -- if you wait too long, you'll lose people's interest. Walk back up to the bar, again, slap your hands on the bar, and very quickly duck under the bar and smash your shoulders into the bar. This should make the cage rattle with all the weight. You're in position for your Lift.

Make sure your spotter is close behind you, because it's mportant that he obscures you from the crowd watching from behind. You want them to hear your lift, not see it.

When ready, stand, walk out and grunt. You will probably need about 5 grunts to keep people's interest while you're getting ready. Now, start to bend your knees, and go down a couple inches. As soon as you think you've gone far enough, start yelling. Try to roar from the bottom of your stomach, with as much force as possible. Before you start your roar, be sure to get as big a breath as possible. This will allow you to keep a sustained roar for much longer; hyperventilate if you have to. But it's not the length that counts, it's the number of times the roar changes pitch, making it sound like you're going through a series of different levels of agony. Your last note should be unpleasantly loud and should crescendo with you throwing the bar back on the pins. Assuming your yell was long enough, most people will think you came up from parallel, and the spotter should make it difficult to see.

Step 7: The Exit
Step out of the rack, and look around to see what sort of audience you managed to summon. If you've injured yourself, don't cry until you've left the gym. Leave the weight on the bar so that the next person to use it has to take it all off and realize how strong you really are. Ignore your spotter. If he starts to say something about depth, yell over the top of him, "what kind of LOUSY spot was that?" To anything he says after that, just laugh him off immediately. Exit the gym by the same route you took to get in. Do not remove your belt and remember those barrels.

With careful application of these secrets, don't be surprised if you become the new talk of the gym. If the gym tells you they don't want you back (they're usually worried about letting superstrong guys like you make others insecure), find another one. Preferably one of those hardcore ones like Jane Fonda or Bally's.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Consumerism in the Strength & Conditioning World

Spend any amount of time at message boards and you're bound to see someone handing out training advice who, 3 months ago, was a complete newb asking "Exactly how much does a barbell weigh?". With the knowlege gained from their insular forum existence, they have revamped their online persona from the 99lb weakling in the old Charles Atlas ads into a warrior of the iron. Do they mention Zatsiorsky as they type out answers tackling the issue of motor unit recruitment? Of course not - how could they? They have not read his work - it is second, third, or fourth-hand information.

In the strength and conditioning community, very rarely do you hear people credit sources. Read most articles and almost never is there a bibliography of any sort listed at the end of it. How often do you get done with an article and say to yourself "Wow, I really am going to have to check out that article/abstract the author mentioned."...? Yeah, same here.

Soon after I started putting the "Squat Rx" videos on YouTube, I noticed a lot more articles online with an emphasis on squat form. Apparently, other authors decided to take a break from their supplement reviews and the latest and greatest hypertrophy inducing workout of the week and get back to the fundamental basics. Things got worse when I started a blog. Plagiarism? Maybe not. Influence? Probably. Deserving of a mention? I think so.

But outright plagiarism IS rampant. Lyle McDonald, author of training and diet books, in his Body Recomposition Blog, posted allegations against very well-known and respected authors in the strength and conditioning field and, from what he writes, the evidence is pretty damning.

You might be saying to yourself "Who cares? As long as I get the information I need, I'm happy." and if so, then you are part of the problem. The problem is, as I see it, that we have become, largely, a nation of consumers - buying, selling, renting, eating, drinking, enjoying, partying, watching, listening, and reading. Yes, there is a volunteerism and green movement - people want to make a difference, but most of us wish there was less on our plates. We wish we could do less, when we could so much more, think more, produce more, engage more, reach out more, create more.

Perhaps part of the problem is the proliferation of self-publishing, blogs, message boards and a growing assumed level of background knowlege... Perhaps part of it is the ease of copying and paste that the internet age has afforded us... No, I don't think so. The problem comes back to greed - people who care more about fame and $$$ than actually producing anything new and unique.

Dave Tate once said in a Westside Barbell seminar (and I'm paraphrasing here), "One thing I hate to see is a new kid go up to some powerlifter and ask for advice on how to improve his lifts and the guy says 'Yeah, I'll help you... for $50 an hour.' How did that guy get started? I'd bet any amount of money that somewhere along the way, someone helped him out and showed him how to lift properly just because it was the right thing to do. You have to stop looking to get something and ask YOURSELF 'What can I give back to powerlifting, to the sport, to the community as a whole?" Great words from a great man. When I was working towards my Master's degree, a college professor said something similar "At some point, you have to stop being consumers of knowledge and research, and become producers and contributors in the field."

It doesn't take much to make that step. It really doesn't. Let's do better.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Squats & Lower Back Pain (Part II)

Disclaimer: This post is NOT medical advice, but simply what I have done to help my rehabilitation after back injuries. Always seek a proper medical professional's advice and approval before attempting self-rehabilitation or any of the ideas presented here.

I've been training for quite a while now - off and on since I was old enough to walk, starting with bodyweight exercises like push-ups, sit-ups and pull-ups outside the college weightroom while my dad and older brother pushed the metal. Eventually though, as a teen, I started squatting and have been ever since.

I've had a few injuries, aches, and pains along the way as well - some of them could be blamed on bad luck. There was the time one New Year's Eve when I almost drove right past a woman burning out her tires trying to get up an icy hill in a blizzard. My wife felt sorry for her and, next thing I know, there I was pushing her car up a hill in a blizzard as she continues to burn rubber, spitting up exhaust-ridden slush on my Dockers... I felt pretty good about myself until I followed that up by going to the gym to do a New Year's Eve countdown high-rep squat session and ended up straining my vastus medialis which later brought on a back issue.

There was also the time I pulled a hammy scooting out of bed to check on my then one year-old son who woke up screaming in the middle of the night. I then ended up with a lower back injury deadlifting a month later -no doubt because it was compensating for the injured hamstring.

Other problems were just from poor planning - too much too soon or for too long. Or, in some cases, no planning at all - an impromptu 315 deadlift for reps contest did me in one fine late Thursday night in November... Anywho, each and every one of those was a painful learning opportunity and not something I'd wish on any sensical weight-training fan. But, if you do find yourself in a bad situation, perhaps you can learn from some of the things I have done to help my returns to the squat racks. Again, this is no perscription, not advice - simply sharing my own experiences and hoping someone may find it useful. SEE A DOCTOR BEFORE ATTEMPTING TO SELF-REHABILATE YOUR BACK - if your injuries are severe, skeletal, or have damaged nerves, you will likely make things worse by waiting to seek professional care.

Week after back strains:

*REST - There is no substitute for rest and time to heal.
*ICE - later you can follow w. contrast treatments alternating ice w. heat to shuttle blood through the area, but in the beginning stages of recovery ice is standard procedure.
*NSAIDs & FISH OIL If there is inflammation, ice and maybe take some anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen or aspirin (don't overdo them).

*TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation) - for spasm relief, it works wonders and forces the muscles to relax. Do NOT overdo it however. An inexpensive TENS unit can be purchased for under $100. I use it BEFORE icing, never after.

Second week following back strain:

*LIGHT STRETCHING OF THE HAMSTRINGS AND HIP FLEXORS - understand that most hamstring stretches (as people usually perform them) result in spinal flexion and if you do them as such, you're going to make things worse. Keep your back flat and if you are feeling the stretch in your back rather than the hamstrings, STOP DOING THEM.
*LIGHT MASSAGE - There are a myriad of devices out there if you can't hire a massage therapist. I have had varied success with foam rollers, but $10 battery-operated massagers can provide a lot of relief.

*VERY LIGHT SQUATS OR OVERHEAD SQUATS - Overhead squats are a staple for me when coming back from lower back strain. The exercise demands a level of attention and posture that other squat variations do not. It is one of the best proprioception exercises in the world. If you have never been able to do overhead squats, this is NOT the time to start however...
*CONTINUED ICE (AND PERHAPS HEAT) - Ice AFTER stretching, light exercise, etc.

3+ weeks following back strain:

*ICE as needed (again, AFTER training)
*WORK ON YOUR FORM on key exercises like squats and deadlifts so that you don't reinjure your lower back.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Russian Hockey Deadlifts

The "Russian Hockey Deadlift" is an exercise I got from Pavel Tsatsouline's DVD "Resilient" (an excellent DVD if you have aches and pains by the way). It is a very deceptively simple exercise that if you decide to try, I recommend you stay w. relatively light weights and move slowly. It is NOT a "load em up and rip it off the floor" exercise - control the weight and torso rotation at all times. If you can do it with good form and tension, I believe it to be a great exercise for building strength in rarely challenged ranges of motion.


Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Words of Wisdom (Steve Chandler)

"Progress towards your goals is never going to be a straight line. It will always be a bumpy line. You'll go up and then come down a little. Two steps forward and one step back.

There's a good rhythm in that. It is like a dance. There's no rhythm in a straight line upward.

However, people get discouraged when they slide a step back after two steps forward. They think they are failing, and that they've lost it. But they have not. They're simply in step with the natural rhythm of progress. Once you understand this rhythm, you can work with it instead of against it. You can plan the step back.

In The Power of Optimism, Alan Loy McGinnis identifies the characteristics of tough-minded optimists, and one of the most important is that optimists always plan for renewal. They know in advance that they are going to run out of energy. 'In physics,' says McGinnis, 'the law of entropy says that all systems, left unattended, will run down. Unless new energy is pumped in, the organism will disintegrate.'

Pessimists don't want to plan for renewal, because they don't think there should be any. Pessimists are all-or-nothing thinkers. They're always offended when the world is not perfect. They think taking a step backward means something negative about the whole project. 'If this were a good marriage, we wouldn't have to rekindle the romance,' a pessimist would say, dismissing the idea of taking a second honeymoon.

But an optimist knows there will be ups and downs. And an optimist isn't scared or discouraged by the downs. In fact, an optimist plans for the downs, and prepares creative ways to deal with them."

From "100 Ways to Motivate Yourself" by Steve Chandler

Thursday, July 3, 2008

"Beep Test" Work (Cont'd...)

Had a training session w. the Japanese version of the "beep test" and did around 100 reps with the 1.5 pood. Not very focused and ended up cranking my wrist on the third rep and just about lost the bell at 5:00 into the video. The whole thing took about 13 minutes.

My son drew a kettlebell yesterday.

"two hundred three hundred miles 76 hundred how heavy"