Saturday, March 28, 2009

Surrogate Parenting


I just got back from one of my son's activities and was appalled by parents who were more interested in their cell phones than their children's lessons, or their other small children running around the facility unsupervised. One parent, engrossed in her cell phone conversation, handed a Mt. Dew to her one year old to polish off... Later, when she wasn't on the phone, her parenting discourse, in the course of 10 minutes, ranged from playful, giggling banter to hysterics.

Is it any wonder that we have obesity and mental health epidemics in this country when parents substitute television, video games, sugary caffeinated beverages, and junk food for attention, conversation, and interaction with their children? Our problems run deep and it's not something that physical education and/or health classes can be expected to solve or even make a dent in without a wider support system.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Pace Ladders

"Ladders" are a way of organizing the reps of your work sets so that some sets are easy and others may be gut-wrenchingly hard. The reps will generally ramp up from a relatively easy effort, to a peak, and then start over again. So, for example, suppose you were doing bench press work sets with 225lbs, instead of doing five sets of five, you might do ladders and your rep scheme might be: x2, x4, x6, x2, x4, x6, etc. The number of "rungs" on the ladder, or how many trips up the ladder may vary. Pavel Tsatsouline's description of ladders can be found at Clarence Bass' site - Pavel's Ladder

I've been experimenting with the use of ladders within a girevoy sport timed-set protocol and I think it will be a good way to break up the mental monotony of long timed sets. I don't know if it is a new idea for GS, but the "pace ladders" I have been experimenting with are ladders of different rep tempos within a given set. So, for example, if you were doing a 5:00 set of jerks, you might start out at a slow pace, move to a medium pace, then a fast pace, and back to a slow pace and begin the process again - all without setting down the weight or switching hands.

Last night, I did a pace ladder with kettlebell snatches, changing rep tempo every 30 seconds. I used the following three-rung ladder:

:30 = 3 reps (first rung)
:30 = 6 reps (second rung)
:30 = 10 reps (third rung)
:30 = 3 reps
:30 = 6 reps
:30 = 9 reps
(switch hands and repeat)

In successive training sessions, the goal may be to gradually add ladders, add rungs (like 12 reps, for example), or add weight. You may decide to change the tempo scheme as well. For a change of pace (pun intended), give pace ladders a try.

Related Article: How To Make CMS Rank in the Long Cycle by David Whitley

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Colorful Kettlebells

Sharpie "Paint" Markers + Kettlebells =
Fun For A Dad and His Five Year Old Son

colorful kettlebell 2

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

My Training (Lately)

My training has almost always consisted of, relatively, very few exercises. I've never been one to go to the gym and do five to 10 exercises. I've always been partial to training sessions like squats, followed by... more squats, or presses followed by... you guessed it, more presses. I like many different exercises mind you, but, for better or for worse, I can't multi-task in the gym.

Here's what I've been doing so far this year in my training:

*kettlebell snatches (one arm)
*kettlebell jerks (one & two arm)

...and THAT'S IT. Once in a while, I'll do kettlebell swings, Turkish get-ups, kettlebell clean & jerks, and (snatch-grip) Romanian deadlifts, but you'd have to look closely to find them in my training logs.

Before this year, I had to clearly divide my training into kettlebell work at home, and other work at the gym - I no longer have to split my training that way because we have moved into a larger home and I now have a squat rack and pull-up bar in the basement. This frees up the Squats/Pull-Ups/KB Snatch/KB Jerks Template I posted in December to be a little more flexible in terms of exercise order/combinations.

Results? Good. My squat strength and flexibility is returning after a long layoff and my kettlebell snatch and jerk numbers are decent. Conditioning is as good as it has been in years and I'm training 4-7x/week. Most importantly, I feel good and (aside from occasional aches and pains) I am injury free.

Nothing outstanding, but here's a video of yesterday's training session which consisted of:

Kettlebell Snatch: 53lbs x 3:30/hand
Squat: 135 x 10, 205 x 6, 255 x 6, 275 x 6

A short and sweet training session. Look for the kettlebell launch at about 7:00 in...

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Second Noble Truth

The cause of suffering is desire.

The Second Noble Truth reveals that the cause of suffering is desire. The easiest way to demonstrate this to yourself is to go out on a frigid day and endure the cold. If you shiver, cower, and curse the cold, you will suffer much more than if you were to embrace the cold with a mind towards "experiencing" it in a new way. As I often tell my students, if you are constantly looking at the clock during class, you are not making time go any faster - you are, in fact, increasing your suffering by wishing you were in a place that you are not. Time-space dissonance is an insidious poison that has gotten exponentially worse as we embrace an ever-increasingly multi-tasking lifestyle with cellphone and iPod in hand. Rarely do we truly embrace what we are doing right now.

The desire-suffering connection manifests itself in our daily lives in both mundane and central life events - an obese person, struggling to lose weight, eats to fill an emotional void; an adult, battling depression, still wishes for parental acknowledgement and approval; a teenager insecure with his social circle, turns to illegal drugs to anesthesize themselves; a father, stressed about his job, ignores his children's pleas for attention; a store clerk, angry about a rude customer, greets their next customer coldly... and so it goes.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Since developing an interest in girevoy sport ("GS"), where the athlete performs snatches and jerks with one or two kettlebells, each weighing 70lbs, for 10 minutes straight, I've struggled with the ability to sustain sets longer than three to five minutes. I've known for some time now (about a year actually) that to properly train for GS, the general protocol is to do long, slower-paced, timed sets with lighter weights if necessary. But, this fundamental paradigm shift took an embarrasingly long time for me to grasp.

At the IKFF/NAKF Nationals in July, I met Chris Duffy - a big, strong man with a Boston accent. During the meet, he made a point of saying "We try to extend the time we can work first, and then add reps." I don't exactly know why he said that to me, but I'm guessing it had something to do with the fact that my jerks took about two minutes and my snatches about 4 minutes - in other words, of my alloted 20 minutes of opportunity, I used about one-fourth of it. My numbers were nothing to write home about, but they were acceptable and my technique was relatively solid, so I continued training as usual.

Many fast-paced training sessions later, I realized that they were not helping my cause by any substantial measure - a rep or two here and there on a very inconsistent basis was not (and is not) going to lead to breakthrough performances in GS. For me to get it, I had to look at it from a (Buddhist) perspective of acceptance. This lessened the suffering of long duration sets by eliminating choice.

The paradigm shift was a subtle, but profound, one for me. I can sum it up as follows: I went from a "density-focused" training approach ("I'll try to go five minutes continuously and see how many reps I can get.") to an "expansion-focused" training approach ("I'll go five minutes even if it's at a snail's pace and I get very few reps."). I use "expansion" here because the goal is to stretch your repetitions to fit the allotted time, rather than cram more reps in. Training density is later added as going the distance becomes less of a concern.

"Fighting through it" is not the right mind-set for GS training. If you are to get through it at all, an adversarial attitude will spike your heart rate and make breathing even more labored. It is NOT an "embrace the pain" mind-set either as a preoccupation with discomfort will only fan its flames. Rather, it is the acceptance that pain and discomfort are inevitable and a sense of detachment to the end result that allows one to not be consumed by them.

The cause of suffering is desire.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

"Stay-At-Home Dad Workout"

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Thank You Tracy Fober

I found this on Tracy Fober's Iron Maven Blog. Enjoy!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Terence Haynes

Ross Enamait has great stuff out. He has many articles, videos, a forum, and a blog at his site His e-books have a reputation that is top notch and I am certain that anyone interested in strength and conditioning would find them informative and entertaining.

Recently, he had a blog post about Terence Haynes - a man who lost 200 pounds and, at the age of 45, is competing in collegiate wrestling. A truly inspiring story. Thank you to Ross Enamait for bringing attention to it.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

"Rut" Versus "Plateau"

In the 90s, after over half a decade of poor to non-existent training, I returned to the squat racks. Quickly I found myself doing endless sets of 10 repetitions with 225 pounds. Why 225? I don't really know, but there I stayed for probably two years. Sometimes I did a little more weight and sometimes I bumped up the reps to 15 or even 20 but, for whatever reason, I kept coming back to 225 x 10. I was stuck in a rut.
When I finally pulled myself out, I made quick gains, but I was ready to take on more much, much sooner. The rut hurt me in more than just the two years lost in training limbo - rushing to make up the lost time, I had a string of lower back and hamstring problems.

Recognizing a rut for what it is and making the distinction between it and a "plateau" can, literally, save you years of frustration.

Plateaus, Peaks, and Valleys

A "plateau" is part of natural progress; a stepping stone to steady improvement.

A "streak", as I define it, is highly dependent on context and competition. A streak (winning or losing) may have little to do with your own performance. For example, you might have a losing streak racing against Michael Phelps or Lance Armstrong, even though you continue to get better and better.

A "rut", on the other hand, is not natural, it is the bad habit of doing the same thing over and over because that is what's comfortable. A plateau is a preparatory phase. A rut is stalling. A plateau is followed by peaks and valleys with a gradual upward slope. A rut may occasionally rise and fall, but remains static.

Ruts can be caused and exacerbated by a number of things such as fear, lack of commitment, and poor planning. Here are a few things to be cautious of and help you avoid long-term ruts:

Have you ever felt like you needed to hold back because you didn't want your training partner to feel bad or because they your training partner just wasn't "into" their training on that day? Breaks are nice, but if time with your training partner is always more social than it is business, you need a new training partner.

Come back from injury as intelligently as possible and be patient. However, don't let the fear of re-injury pull you into a rut. Proactively addressing issues, such as a lack of mobility and areas of weakness will help you avoid this.

For some exercises, you might be perfectly happy to do the same thing every time. The difference between a rut and satisfaction is that, in a rut, you are deluding yourself that you are progressing when you are not. If you have reached a stage in your development that you are happy with your numbers as they are, fine. But, don't try to convince yourself that your current fitness level is actually rising.

A 5 pound gain on a 10 rep max squat, over the course of several months is not noteworthy. 5 pounds is great, and a string of them IS significant, but there are times when we should be more aggressive in our pursuit. Relax and coast a bit after hitting something big. A lion that catches a hare won't be able to rest on his laurels unless they want to starve. You gotta catch something big every once in a while.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Sunday, March 1, 2009