Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Coaches & Instruction

Could Become A Great Coach

"Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach."
- Some Worthless Teat Who Probably Couldn't Do and Couldn't Teach

Sherman Chavoor, famed swimming coach of Mark Spitz and numerous Olympic champions and world record holders, was not a good swimmer, nor a poor swimmer. I'm sure he would have looked great in a Speedo, but the fact was that "Sherm" Chavoor could not swim AT ALL. Although many great coaches are former athletes, many of them were, at best, mediocre performers. Why is it that many great coaches were not even close to great performers? And why is that many great former athletes make crummy coaches?

Often, great coaches are people that found out how to perform (and instruct) better through experimentation and close observation. Conversely, many great athletes have had, comparatively, few roadblocks to their success - their efforts, for whatever reason, directly netted them gains and their progress was relatively linear. A coach or athlete that has had to dig and scrape and search for his or her successes may be better able to offer constructive advice for a struggling athlete. A "natural", on the other hand, may flippantly say "What's wrong with you? Just do it!" - and, for them, it makes perfect sense.

Recently, I read a message board thread taking a noted Strength & Conditioning coach to task for his poor execution of lifting technique. Watching the video, I agreed 100% with the criticisms of the coach's less than stellar form. The lesson to be learned here is that a great coach does not have to be (nor should they try to be) the model player. Many of my best coaches relied heavily on video (or film) of great athletes to show proper technique - in fact, aside from the martial arts, I don't remember a single coach ever "chalking up" or "suiting up".

Monday, April 28, 2008

Jerk Practice

Working on my jerks - need to slow down the pace and up the volume, but tonight's work was okay for being a little out of practice.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

You Don't Need Permission!

How often do you hear from someone questions like the following?

I'm thinking about doing the 5x5 program - you think that'd be ok?
Would it be better to do routine/split/scheme A, B, or C?
I'm buying[insert supplement, tool, or equipment here] - what do you think?

Here's the deal; You don't need anyone's permission! Yes, it's a good idea to seek input from knowledgeable sources, but no one knows your needs and available resources better than you. It is always going to be better to start by doing something, ANYTHING, than to sit around indefinately, waiting for someone to tell you the best plan of action. So get started!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Friday, April 25, 2008

"Knowledge" vs. "Knowing"

The minds of American children are now so stressed and crippled by Tiggerish wham-bam Video games, Television Shows, and Instant Left-Brain Computer Activities that many of them are unable to concentrate on anything for more than five minutes. As an ever-growing number of teachers are finding out, educating such minds is impossible. If something can't be immediately grasped, they won't understand it. And if it can be immediately grasped, they won't understand it either because Instant Information Accumulation is not understanding.
- Benjamin Hoff, The Te of Piglet

The willingness to do whatever it takes is infinately more important than knowing everything there is to know about how to do it.
- Dan Kennedy, No B.S. Business Success

The internet has certainly changed the face of strength and conditioning, and lifting weights in general. Prior to the 80s, the only people that went to gyms were a few very progressive thinking athletes and coaches, bodybuilders, and olympic weightlifters and powerlifters. By the mid-80s, most people that went to gyms were either going to an aerobics class or they were putzing around doing a lot of bench press and their knowledge was limited, more or less, to what they gleaned from "Flex" or "Muscle and Fitness", if that. Today, popular magazines like Men's Health can be found in waiting rooms and homes throughout the U.S., and thousands of young people on internet forums and in gyms can quote research abstracts, paraphrase Zatsiorsky, rattle off the percentages and band tensions necessary to implement a circa-maximal phase, and tell you the ins-and-outs of every supplement known to man... but does that help them? Are they training any more intelligently now than they were 20 years ago?

Despite the apparent abundance of information, I still see young people following ridiculous routines of 20+ sets and eight different exercises per bodypart, taking many of them to absolute failure and beyond, and training 5x/week with horrific technique. So what we have here is a world of knowledge at their fingertips but not enough experience to know how to apply it in any kind of practical manner. Similarly, some armchair strength athletes can cite muscle recruitment percentages for a myriad of exercises, but rarely recruit motor units themselves for much besides keyboard based events.

It's important to remember the crucial role that time and experience play in physical and mental development. Beginners don't need to take sets to absolute failure or work at intensities of 90% of their one repetition maximum. Most beginners don't need "phases" or "periodization" either, more importantly they need consistency and attention to form.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


Did you learn how to stand properly by monitoring yourself in a mirror? Did you learn how to walk that way? run? jump? punch? In almost no athletic endeavor do you monitor your technique in a mirror. It is a distraction - very rarely is it helpful. To develop kinesthetic awareness, you need to practice it and visual feedback will make it even harder to focus on that.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

CrossFit Kettlebell Workshop

I've been pretty busy over the past couple of months giving kettlebell instruction to groups of students here and there, and last weekend I gave a kettlebell workshop at CrossFit Iowa. We had a solid group in attendance, including members of CrossFit Ames. Exercises covered were a review of the kettlebell swing and Turkish Get-Up, and introduction and drills covering the clean, push-press, jerk, snatch, as well as a very brief intro to windmills and the pistol. As always, there are things to be improved and tweaked but, overall, I was very happy with the breadth and depth of content covered and acquired in a relatively short amount of time.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The RKC Experience

Last September, I made the largest single monetary investment of my life in my own education as a coach and trainer - I participated in Pavel Tsatsouline's Russian Kettlebell Challenge Instructor Certification Course. It did not disappoint.

The RKC was, far and away, the best teacher/coaching training I have ever gone through (and, as a teacher and coach, I've been through PLENTY of training, trust me). There was great instruction in basic skills, amazing modeling of effective teaching, and plenty of practice instructing and giving feedback to others. Think about how many PT certifications require ZERO time under the barbell - there are more than you might think. Think about how many coaching certifications actually require that you be able instruct a real live person - they are few and far between. Think about how many require nothing more than paying a fee and taking a paper test - most of them, actually. Consider these things and you might begin to appreciate how far ahead of the curve the RKC program truly is.

I wrote the following training log entry the day after completing the course - I hope you enjoy it and please post your thoughts and reactions.


This past weekend, I took part in the RKC (Russian Kettlebell Challenge) Instructor certification course held in St. Paul, Minnesota and run by Pavel Tsatsouline, the man responsible for popularizing kettlebell training in the U.S., and John DuCane of DragonDoor Publications.

I’d like to say that I wowed Pavel and the others with my performance, but that would be lying.

I started out the certification on Day 1 with a weigh-in and (of the 64 with one-arm switch required for my weight class) only getting 54 reps with the 53lb kettlebell. My excuse for the sub-par performance was a horrible cold that lingered ALL weekend and no warm-up.

Following the snatch test were Qigong exercises, an overview and practice of swings, a lecture on sport-specific training, get-ups, cleans, presses, snatches, and squats, a ladder workout with total of 200 swings, lunch, the “Beast Challenge” (for volunteers), more swings and troubleshooting potential form issues, the get-up and RKC arm-bar and troubleshooting, a lecture on tension, and a workout of continuous swings and get-ups for 10:00.

The day started at 8:30 sharp and ended at about 7pm. Pavel was actually not there at all on Day 1 – he was tied up in jury duty! Brett Jones, Sr. RKC, was head instructor for the day and I enjoyed it thoroughly even though I couldn’t wait to meet Pavel.

Day 2 started much like Day 1 – 61 snatches in another attempt to pass my snatch test. I had warmed-up this time, but when the grip goes, it goes fast – I felt totally fine until about two reps from dropping it.

At 8:45am, we had another Qigong exercise, followed by the clean and troubleshooting, a lecture/demonstration/practice of/on mastery of tension and relaxation, the press and troubleshooting, a lecture on deconditioned clientele, a press workout, group photo, lunch, snatch and troubleshooting, a snatch and “wheelbarrow” workout (“CrossFit Philly-style”), the front squat and troubleshooting, a lecture on the RKC community, team practice of drills and corrections, a workout combining all six exercises.

One guy, I named "Big John" (about 6'3", 330 and solid) was in back spasms on the field from the wheelbarrows... good times. Day 2, overall, was a little less demanding than Day 1 - there were just less reps. The day ended at about 7pm.

Day 3 started with a lecture on marketing from 8-10am. Prior to the lecture, I had a chance to talk to Pavel briefly and tell him that my father liked his books and thanked him for that.

At 10:30, I took the snatch test again - 63 snatches… My team leader said, if I wanted, I could make a fourth attempt – of course I would.

At 10:45, Qigong exercise, followed by technique testing and evaluations in our teams – no problems there.

At 11:30, a technique competition with representatives from each team, followed by participant evaluations, and then a short lecture on working with first-time clients and another attempt at my snatch test – 60 reps.

From 1300 to 1400, 100 members of the St. Paul community came to the recreation center for a free session with the RKCs-in-training. I worked with two - Dan, a chiropractor in his late 40s who was also a personal trainer, practiced with kettlebells, and had read all of Pavel’s books, and Pam, an out-of-shape, overweight mother of 4, with borderline hypertension… I was very proud of myself with this – I was able to give Dan some tips on his swings and get-ups and Pam was able to do a half-up by the end of the session. A 10-minute workout at the end left them both feeling tired but successful.

At 1420, we had our “graduation workout” – a 100+ yards of :30 swings (w. one 53lb kb) and :30 walking see-saw presses (one step – one press). I knew I was going to be in trouble as we farmers walked the distance – my grip was already shot from the 120 extra snatches… I started not looking at anything but the kettlebells – I didn’t want to see the distance. At about the 15 yard mark, I didn’t know if I would finish. By 30 yards, I was wheezing, trying to swallow just made me gag, and my swings were lucky if they hit navel height. At 60 yards, I was well towards the back of the pack. I recall seeing, through a haze of sweat and delirium, Pavel darting in and out of the graduates monitoring their form and probably offering "encouragment", but I couldn't hear much - everything sounded like it was far away. By 75 yards, I could tell just about everyone else had finished because there were a lot of people around me cheering me on – I could barely see or hear them, everything was a blur. By this point I was kiai-ing on every clean and every press. At about 85 yards, I knew I was going to finish and the kiai-ing was helping me breathe. I finished feeling stronger than I started. Flow is a funny thing.

At the end, I was given a “Certificate of Attendance” – of course, I expected that. My team leader, Jason Brown, and assistants, Pete Diaz, and Bill Makowski, were complimentary and said that everything was excellent, but the snatch test would still have to be completed before the RKC Instructor’s Certificate would be awarded and I’d have it no other way (well, maybe).

Things finished at about 4pm – there was a Systema demonstration afterwards that I really wanted to see, but I needed to get back on the road and back to the wife and son. All in all, I’m proud of my performance – disappointed, but I learned a lot and met some great people. I bought some kettlebells, including a 88lb kettlebell, I’ve affectionately named “Belle”. “Belle” rode in the passenger seat with me all the way home – seatbelt fastened of course.

I’ll be taking the snatch test again, probably next weekend. I’ll let you guys know how it goes.

Other impressions:

*Jason Brown of kettlebellathletics.com doesn’t look big in his youtube videos, but he is a big, solid summabiyotch.

*The course is run military-style and I actually preferred it that way – there’s no question about what is expected and there are consequences if you take things less than seriously. Participation is a choice, but you are either in or you are out. Like Brett Jones said, “If you leave here and are working with a client and they hurt themselves or end up hating kettlebells because you screw up, you don’t just lose a client, you take away money from me, you take away money from my family, you take away money from Rif (a team leader), you take money away from Pavel, you take away money from people I love and care about.” It’s not all about money, of course and that wasn’t his point at all - it was good to hear SERIOUS commitment to the kettlebell as a community rather than just a tool for personal gain.

*The RKC community is viewed as a kind of cult to some and I can see why (I don’t agree, but I understand), but again, to me, it’s about commitment…

*Pavel is as charismatic as you’d ever imagine him to be. I love the style of his books and videos, but he is more impressive in person.

*Many of the lectures were not earth-shattering for me, but there were A-HAs throughout and, even though I’ve been doing kettlebell work for a couple years now, I made a few “small” adjustments in technique that I would consider vital in the long term.

*Three days after the cert was finished, I successfully completed my snatch test and was awarded my instructor's certificate.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Search for the Holy Grail

"The quest for certainty blocks the search for meaning.
Uncertainty is the very condition to impel man to unfold his powers.

- Erich Fromm

How much time, effort, and money is wasted by trainees looking for the perfect training split, routine, supplement, exercise, or piece of training equipment? If only they could spend that time, effort, and money on actual training, competent coaching, and good food, imagine how much further they would progress...

From time to time, we all get taken in by the slick marketing and we all hope that maybe, just maybe, the promises of the latest "Add 50 Pounds to Your Bench Press in Five Days!" routine will come to pass. But, statistically speaking, they never do.

Train hard. Work your weaknesses. Build your strengths. Get rest. Eat well. Be consistent. Keep a training journal.These are the "secrets" to long-term gains. It is simple, but not easy. It requires a long-term commitment and gains will not always be apparent, but stay the course and you will reap the benefits.

"One doesn't discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time."

- Andre Gide

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Sh*t & Shinola - Thoughts on Quality

I recently had a "discussion" on a message board with a young man who was going to buy a questionable kettlebell... I wrote the following response to him:

"Look, I know there are a lot of people who think kettlebells are nothing more than a "cash grab" (to quote another at these boards), but there is a tremendous difference when you snatch a decent kettlebell vs. snatching a piece of crap. It is a balance/weight distribution issue and it is a craftmanship issue. If all you'll ever do are swings, then yeah it probably doesn't matter that much as long as it doesn't fall apart as you're swinging it, but if you ever plan on putting it above your head, or doing high-rep snatches or clean & jerks, then it definately does matter and you'll be very glad you invested a few extra $$ into a quality piece of equipment.

Have I tried brand X? No, I have not, but I don't need to. If someone asked me if they should buy a Costco barbell that came with a buttload of plates and collars vs. an Eleiko barbell of the same cost without the accoutrements, I'd say buy the Eleiko with NO HESITATION WHATSOEVER. I don't need to test out the other barbell to know that.

There's sh*t and there's shinola, people. Know the difference.

Friday, April 4, 2008

EDT - Getting the Led Out

Friday Night's Training - 10:00 Alternating Squats & Chins

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

"Fun" and "Happiness"

It's getting to that time of year again when many high school and college seniors, who have put in a lot of work to get where they are, start doing stupid things and leave those around shaking their heads wondering what the hell went wrong. Every year on the last day of class, I give my seniors the following speech before they run off for their keggers and hedonistic pursuits:

There is a difference between "happiness" and "fun". Fun is fleeting. Happiness is enduring. Fun is the moment and can leave you feeling empty when it ends. Happiness fills you and stays with you even after the moment is gone. Fun requires little or no effort. Happiness requires work to build and maintain, and no drug, car, or amount of money can make you happy. Money makes things easier, but happiness comes from pride, respect, and a sense of accomplishment.

*Keep yourself busy – boredom will foster self-contempt.
*Make yourself proud – be the kind of person you would like to be friends with.
*Be curious – sometimes it’s easy to sit back and be cynical but a curious mind will be an open and happier mind.

If you seek fun, you will NOT find happiness. If you seek happiness, very likely you will find fun along the way.