Sunday, May 31, 2009

Overhead Squats with Kettlebells

Overhead squats with kettlebells are an interesting challenge if you are searching for a squat variation to pick up.

The double kettlebell overhead squat is DIFFICULT. It requires a lot of thoracic flexibility and, because of the upright upper body positioning, knees and ankles will experience some stress as well. Not all stress is bad, mind you, but if you have pre-existing knee issues, this might not be the squat for you.

There is risk with this exercise. For a barbell overhead squat, it is generally a pretty simple affair to drop the bar and get out of the way. With two kettlebells moving independently, avoiding them if they fall will be more complicated. If you feel yourself getting into trouble, dump the bell(s) and get out of the way! As Pavel says, "Quick feet are happy feet." - words to live by.

Here are some exercises and drills you could include in progressions to build into a double kettlebell overhead squat:

*Lying shoulder girdle stretches

*Dislocates with a dowel or PVC - with time, move the grip closer


*Cross-Bench Dumbbell/Barbell Pullovers with a moderate weight focusing on improving range of motion without loss of shoulder stability

*Barbell Overhead Squats, gradually moving the grip closer with moderate loads

*One-Arm Kettlebell Overhead Squats, without excessive torso rotation

Friday, May 29, 2009

Wear Sunscreen by Mary Schmich

Ladies and gentlemen of the class of '97:
Wear sunscreen.

If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it. The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists, whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience. I will dispense this advice now.

Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth. Oh, never mind. You will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they've faded. But trust me, in 20 years, you'll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can't grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked. You are not as fat as you imagine. Don't worry about the future. Or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum.

The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blind side you at 4pm on some idle Tuesday.

Do one thing every day that scares you.


Don't be reckless with other people's hearts. Don't put up with people who are reckless with yours.


Don't waste your time on jealousy. Sometimes you're ahead, sometimes you're behind. The race is long and, in the end, it's only with yourself.

Remember compliments you receive. Forget the insults. If you succeed in doing this, tell me how.

Keep your old love letters. Throw your old bank statements.


Don't feel guilty if you don't know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn't know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40 year olds I know still don't know.

Get plenty of calcium. Be kind to your knees. You'll miss them when they're gone.

Maybe you'll marry, maybe you won't. Maybe you'll have children, maybe you won't. Maybe you'll divorce at 40, maybe you'll dance the funky chicken on your 75th anniversary. Whatever you do, don't congratulate yourself too much, or berate yourself either. Your choices are half chance. So are everybody else's.

Enjoy your body. Use it every way you can. Don't be afraid of it or of what other people think of it. It's the greatest instrument you'll ever own.

Dance, even if you have nowhere to do it but your living room.

Read the directions, even if you don't follow them.

Do not read beauty magazines. They will only make you feel ugly.

Get to know your parents. You never know when they'll be gone for good.

Be nice to your siblings. They're your best link to your past and the people most likely to stick with you in the future.

Understand that friends come and go, but with a precious few you should hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle, because the older you get, the more you need the people who knew you when you were young.

Live in New York City once, but leave it before it makes you hard. Live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft.


Accept certain inalienable truths: Prices will rise. Politicians will philander. You, too, will get old. And when you do, you'll fantasize that when you were young, prices were reasonable, politicians were noble, and children respected their elders.

Respect your elders.

Don't expect anyone else to support you. Maybe you have a trust fund. Maybe you'll have a wealthy spouse. But you never know when either one might run out.

Don't mess around too much with your hair or by the time you're 40 it will look 85.

Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it's worth.

But trust me on the sunscreen.

-Mary Schimch

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Remember This Movie?

Before Snake Plisken and Jack Burton, there was Kurt Russell - "The Strongest Man in The World".

Anyone besides me remember this gem?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Cause or Symptom?

Frequently (at least once a week), I get an email or private message asking a question like "I have pain in my XYZ when I squat. What should I do to correct that?"
If I was irresponsible, I'd just prescribe some extra form work and an arbitrary exercise or two and send them on their way. Although I'm pretty good at guessing what a cause(such as a mobility or strength deficiency) may be for a given symptom (like form breakdown), it requires time and observation, and sometimes an MD's expertise and resources, to be sure. In order to effectively deal with a symptom (in this case, pain in XYZ), we have to find the root cause and deal with it... quickly.

This doesn't mean that dealing with symptoms is not important however. Never listen to advice that starts out saying "WELL, THAT'S JUST A BAND-AID! DON'T WORRY ABOUT SYMPTOMS - YOU HAVE TO DEAL WITH THE ROOT CAUSE!". This is, of course, rubbish. That's like saying "Well, you have pneumonia, but we aren't going to treat your fever or poor lung function because those are just symptoms. We really need to get rid of the viral/bacterial infection FIRST."

Symptoms can kill you.

Over time, ignoring symptoms often creates a variety of referred pain and further symptoms that can both obscure and feed the original problem. Given enough time to ferment, it can be pretty hard to separate causes and symptoms, because untended symptoms can have very concrete consequences. What starts out as a breakdown in the chain, becomes a deeply rooted system feeding the problem.

So, what's the answer? Well, it's not easy, but aggressively tackling the symptoms with an eye toward correcting the underlying issues as we uncover them is a good place to start.

Take a look at this pic:

I don't know the gentleman in the green t-shirt, but his kettlebell swing form is pretty atrocious and it's a bad back waiting to happen. In fact, I'd be willing to bet his squat form is similar and the bad back has already happened. The lower back flexion is a SYMPTOM. The cause is, very likely, inattention to proper form, weak and inactive glutes and hamstrings, and tight and inflexible hip flexors and hamstrings. If I am right about the underlying causes, which would be pretty easy to check, you would start by working on his swing form while improving his posterior chain strength and flexibility. Simple... but not easy.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Allow Me A Parental Moment...

My son isn't exactly what I'd call a natural athlete, but he's getting to be a pretty confident little climber.

I love team sports too but, unfortunately it seems, many American kids and adults learn to exclude weaker players at an age as early as 5. I see this in academics just as often as in athletics by the way - teachers and fellow students dismissing an underachiever or low-performer in their beginning years of study.

The good news is that time and effort truly are the great equalizers in most things. I remember seeing on Chris Doyle's weight room door a sign that read "Hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard.", and it's true. "Talent" will only take you so far and, for many young athletic "prodigies", puberty doesn't propel them into the next level. How many "playground studs" turn into "high school duds"? I've known many. In fact, at every major stepping stone of competition, there are always those who fail to advance despite great expectations. And there are always the dark horses and late bloomers waiting and training patiently for their chance...

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Dan John's New Book

I normally wouldn't recommend anyone to buy a book before reading it myself - this is the exception: Never Let Go by Dan John.

If you have any interest in sensible fitness training and strength and conditioning for both athletes and average joes, then YOU WILL LOVE THIS BOOK. I pre-ordered a copy and word is that it will begin shipping this week. I will write a proper review after I receive it, but I can tell your right now that it will be excellent, with reprints of many of his older articles and new material as well.

Don't wait - buy it. I wouldn't steer you wrong.

Recent Article by Dan John: The 40 Day Program

Monday, May 18, 2009

Commencement 2009

Every year, I try to prepare some thoughts for the graduating seniors. Some years there are tears, and other years there are unreserved sighs of relief. I would probably rewrite it if I had a chance to deliver it again, but here is the 5 minute classroom "commencement speech" I gave to my 2009 graduates:

In your life there is one choice you will make moment to moment. Many times it will not seem like much of a choice, but it is… The choice to be “present”, or not. Woody Allen said, “80% of life is showing up” and it’s true – just ‘being there’ is huge. Life is a game and you can’t play it virtually or by proxy. You can’t play it well with one eye on the game and one eye always checking what’s on the other side of the fence.
Your circumstances in life will always change and may or may not be under your control, but you can, to large extent, decide how you will respond to them. This is why, in any given situation, you will see a wide range of reactions. In a given class, there might be 5 or 6 students who are all very tired, yet some are “into it” and some have checked out. In line at the grocery store, one person will be angry at having to wait, and another will be totally fine about it – BOTH may be equally busy, equally stressed, equally inconvenienced, but one chose to be bothered and one chose not to.
YOU decide which way to go – it is your right to make a decision and your responsibility to manage consequences of the decisions you make. And just so it’s clear, NOT making a decision is a decision.

My other bit of advice is “have a purpose”. I can’t sit here and tell you this (or that) is your purpose now arise, go forth and conquer” – I can only tell you that you must find a higher purpose or you will very quickly find yourself in Dr. Seuss’ waiting place. Find something you enjoy and that is meaningful and then share it with the world. The world may or may not reward you for your efforts but, if you are good at sharing, you’ll get what you need and the process of sharing will be its own reward.

George Leonard wrote, “A human being is the kind of machine that wears out from lack of use. There are limits of course and we do need healthful rest and relaxation, but for the most part we gain energy by using energy. Often the best remedy for physical weariness is thirty minutes of aerobic exercise. In the same way, mental and spiritual lassitude is often cured by decisive action or the clear intention to act. We learn in high school that kinetic energy is measured in terms of motion. The same thing is true of human energy: it comes into existence through use. You can’t hoard it.” I know it's cliche to use football analogies, but no one gets good at football by sitting on the bench.

You have a choice to see reasons why something can’t be done; there will be many reasons to stop; many reasons to quit; many reasons why this or that won’t work. But, you ALSO have a choice to see what CAN be done; why you should continue; why it is all worthwhile; how you can make it work.

In school, in work, in relationships, we have the same choices. When confronted with uncomfortable circumstances, we can turn away or we can reach out. Choose to, as Captain Picard says to his crew “engage”, not disengage.

When you are sitting in your apartment, wondering if you should go to class and MAYBE learn something, or stay at home, order pizza, and play another game, choose to go to class.
When your significant other is nagging you AGAIN to make that phone call, or do this or that, you can choose to engage in the conversation and make it happen, or you can say “Yeah” and then go back to your television program. Choose to make things happen.
When you’ve had a long day at work and your “little guy” or “little girl” is tugging at your pant leg because they want to play. You can choose to not be bothered, or you can choose to be present. Choose to be there.

Choose complication in your life – it is what makes life challenging and rewarding. Do not choose boredom. Yes, that is a choice too. Choose to revel in your tasks. Choose.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Psychic Entropy

"We don't usually notice how little control we have over the mind, because habits channel psychic energy so well that thoughts seem to follow each other by themselves without a hitch. After sleeping we regain consciousness in the morning when the alarm rings, and then walk to the bathroom and brush our teeth. The social roles culture prescribes then take care of shaping our minds for us, and we generally place ourselves on automatic pilot till the end of the day, when it is time to again lose consciousness, in sleep. But when we are left alone, with no demands on attention, the basic disorder of the mind reveals itself. With nothing to do, it begins to follow random patterns, usually stopping to consider something painful or disturbing. Unless a person knows how to give order to his or her thoughts, attention will be attracted to whatever is most problematic at the moment: it will focus on some real or imaginary pain, on recent grudges or long-term frustrations. Entropy is the normal state of consciousness - a condition that is neither useful nor enjoyable."

- Flow (Mihaly Csikszentmihaly, 1990)

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Killer Squirrels

When I extolled readers to "Be The Squirrel", this isn't what I had in mind...

Anyone who's read Enter The Kettlebell will be familiar with this story:

Russian Squirrel Pack 'Kills Dog'


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

What's Your Super Hero Name?

Do you have an alter-ego when you train or compete? Do you change from a Dr. Jekyll into a Mr. Hyde? Playing a role can help you steel yourself before a difficult task. If we take our role seriously, whether it is "father", "husband", "mother", "wife", "teacher", "athlete", "coach", "manager", "soldier", or whatever it may be, then our actions may better reflect that label than if it didn't exist.

Some nicknames of famous athletes include:
George Gervin (basketball player) = "The Iceman"
Karl Malone (basketball player) = "The Mailman"
Reggie Jackson (baseball player) = "Mr. October"
Walter Payton (football player) = "Sweetness"
William Perry (football player) = "The Refrigerator"
Wayne Gretzky (hockey player) = "The Great One"
Mark Allen (triathlete) = "[The] Zen Master", "The Grip"
O.D. Wilson (powerlifter/strongman) = "Nightmare"
Kirk Karowski (powerlifter) = "Captain Kirk"

Westside Barbell's Dave Tate had an alter-ego, "Zippy", that he would slip into before challenging training sessions. Apparently, he eventually let Zippy go because he would find himself pushing to the point of injury, but the idea is a sound one. Giving/earning yourself a label can help push you through difficult periods. Imagine yourself as "The Technician" and, very likely, you will focus attention on your form and it will improve. Call yourself "The Zen Master" and you might find a greater sense of calm and pain tolerance.

Just for fun, Lee's Useless Super-Hero Generator can set you on the path to glory if you can't come up with ideas.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Kool-Aid (Part II)

About "GPP"

It seems that a current trend in strength and conditioning for athletes is to ignore "sport-specific" training all together in the weight room and lump it under the umbrella category of "GPP". This is a poor excuse on the part of trainers and coaches to ignore the needs of specific clientele.

The term GPP (general physical preparation) is used to describe preparatory training for a specific need or goal. GPP is a phase of training that is a pre/co-requisite of "SPP", or Special[ized] Physical Preparation. It is NOT the same thing as general fitness, although it could be a phase of training towards the goal of general fitness. GPP is only relevant when considered in the context of SPP. The inclusion of GPP (as I have defined it here) in a training plan indicates an awareness of the need for sequencing in the training process.

As Greg Everett writes in a recent article, entitled Plandomization, "Being prepared for any random task is not the same thing as preparing randomly for any task". Many people take the idea of being "ready for anything at anytime" too far, suggesting that adaptation is somehow a bad thing and that being "ready for anything" requires a large corpus of exercises and training modes. The reality is that most of us need to focus harder on less.

We are all familiar with the famous Friedrich Nietzsche quote, "That which does not kill me makes me stronger", and it's nice and motivational, but in reality (training-wise at least) it's a bunch of crap. Misplaced effort can and probably WILL make you weaker.

Everyone who's given the idea much thought at all knows that not all GPP is created equal, especially when the ultimate goal is (as it should be) to further SPP. Developing athletes can afford to be sloppy in their programming and will often show improvement no matter how foolish the training plan. Advanced athletes, on the other hand, still need GPP, but, in the big picture, they need much, much less than developing athletes... and the absolutely last thing they need is a lot of superfluous GPP work. I don't mean to pick a strawman argument here, but 100 ring push-ups and air squats for highly skilled football players are just misplaced effort in my humble, humble opinion.

It may also be relevant to curtail or eliminate standard types of GPP from the training programme of anyone who is an advanced athlete or has trained regularly for a prolonged period at increasing levels of proficiency. Similarly, the use of GPP-type exercises may be appropriate for brief periods during the SPP to facilitate recovery or prevent stagnation. Moreover, the methods of GPP training are unsuitable for adequately or timeously stimulating improvements in performance among advanced athletes, whose trainability has already waned considerably over years of competition and whose continued growth depends on more specific or demanding methods.
- Siff (Supertraining, p. 315)

In my last post about "Drinking Kool-Aid", I asked two questions:

"Is it necessary to 'drink the Kool-Aid' if you want to see how far a specific program can take you?"
The answer to this is maybe.

"If you 'drink the Kool-Aid' does that render you completely incapable of seeing a program’s possible limitations?"
The answer to this is obviously.

When I was 11 years old, in the Post-Bruce Lee and Pre-Karate Kid/Ninja-Boom era, I started Tae Kwon Do lessons. I had class everyday during summer vacations and three or four times a week during the rest of the year. I loved it. My teachers were my heroes (and still are btw). Tae Kwon Do was the best martial art in the world. I had arguments with students of other arts about which was best. Eventually, I learned that such arguments were silly at best and did absolutely nothing to better anyone - it took me years to realize this however.

"If the only tool you have is a hammer,
you will see every problem as a nail."

- Abraham Maslow

It really is about the right tool for the right job. NO tool is the best for everything. Let me repeat that NO TOOL IS THE BEST FOR EVERYTHING.

Needs and goals, and how effective and efficient the tool, method, or coach is in delivering the goods is all that is really worth considering. Disparate goals may require different training plans, but a divide and conquer approach, considering developmental sequence will almost always be more effective than a mix-mash training potpourri.

When considering a training approach you may be tempted by stories of others who attribute their achievements to a coach or school of thought. Success stories are helpful. We make decisions based on trusting these endorsements - as we should. But, success stories are NOT proof that the training method or mode is the best for any or every individual or goal at any given time. We all know examples of athletes who succeeded despite their training regimens and poor coaching, not because of them. Statistics have a way of becoming skewed when we listen to the zealots. "Research" in the S&C field, especially research comparing the relative effectiveness of specific programs, still has A LONG way to go.

Enthusiasm for a given school, approach, method, way, template, routine, diet, or tool is natural, and trust in your training is essential if you want to succeed. If your Kool-Aid du jour is helping you achieve your goals, great! More power to you and your Kool-Aid! But, please, please, please don't become the annoying Kool-Aid evangelist...

Kool-Aid Evangelist (kool eyd i-van-juh-list)
1. A person who sings the gospel of their chosen training/diet regimen and denounces all other forms of training/diet as less worthy.
2. A person who believes the answer to every training question is to follow the guidelines and principles stated (or unstated) by their chosen training/diet regimen.

Related Posts & Articles:
Adaptation Paranoia

Monday, May 4, 2009

VO2Max (:15 on/:15 off) x 32

Viking Warrior Conditioning is on the way, but I decided to give some sets a try with the 53lber.