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Monthly Archives: April 2011

The Honey Badger: Icon of stoic action

“People come – they stay for a while, they flourish, they build – and they go. It is their way. But we remain. There were badgers here, I’ve been told, long before that same city ever came to be. And now there are badgers here again. We are an enduring lot, and we may move out for a time, but we wait, and are patient, and back we come. And so it will ever be.” The Wind in the Willows Chapter 4

Remember The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame as a child?. Just as enjoyable now as it was when I recall hearing my father read it to me as a child, the tale gives us interesting insights into human motives and relationships through the eyes of a rat, mole, badger, toad, some hedgehogs and an otter to name but a few. Having recently read the Letters from a Stoic, I dwelled upon the different characters and picked out badger for further appraisal. Not only does he represent certain stoic traits, his anthropomorphized nature reveals to us qualities we should aspire to in our quest for holistic integration of mind-body awareness as primal movers. I´ll explain.

The honey badger is undoubtedly fearless. He goes hard for his goals, and pushes on through awkward or disadvantageous circumstances. Tenacity and bravery, and the desire to eat, climb, run, fight when needed and relax. And Mr. Badger from the classic 1908 fable displays the wisdom and simplistic approach to living that rubs off on some of his more boastful and frivolous friends. Mr. Badger overlooks the faults of rat, mole, toad and weasel to show compassion, forgiving, generosity and hospitality in often testing times. Throughout the tale, Mr. Badger quietly displays his physical strength and mental wisdom, not seeking the limelight, but always there to guide others should they need his assistance. A bit of a loner, or perhaps just appreciating his own company, he always opens his burrow to visitors and has food at the ready. He is a conciseness planner as well, and seems to display sound judgment. He is even feared by the weasels, and his qualities make him the obvious leader.

“In order for man to succeed in life, God provided him with two means, education and physical activity. Not separately, one for the soul and the other for the body, but for the two together. With these two means, man can attain perfection.” Plato

Mr. Badger and his fearless honey badger relative optimize the integration of a strong and stoic mind/body unity that needs to be aspired to in today’s modern society. Think well, be alert to your surrounds, work hard to achieve your basic necessities, strive to overcome adversity, be humble and respect your close friendships and personal relationships, learn to feel comfortable in your OWN company, relax and feel alive from being strong and healthy, challenge rules and regulations even if the odds seem stacked against you, plan well yet be spontaneous and sometimes mysterious and finally be aware of your place as a unique primal being, not just a building block of someone else’s manifestation of power.

For these reasons, I choose the mighty badger, as Hufflepuff have done at Hogwarts, as the official PrimalMovers animal icon. Showing pride, loyalty, love and wisdom, the badger is unsurprisingly the only animal to have its own Act of Parliament in Britain. Oh, and apparently the British army released some honey badgers in Basra to conduct some reconnaissance during the occupation of Iraq. Hard core.

 
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Posted by on April 28, 2011 in Philosophy, Thinking

 

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Supplements for training and nutrition: No shortcuts

I´m often asked questions about nutritional supplementation in regards to both general health and performance matters, and have experimented over the years with varying degrees of success. Here I will share some of my experiences and try to simplify what is often made out to be a complex field. As I often allude to, much of the complexity surrounding training and nutrition advice is intended as a smokescreen by individual companies to make money selling needless products.

Before I start, there isn’t much need to consider supplements for training and performance purposes if you haven’t got your house in order with regards to a proper diet, adequate sleep, and sensible exercise. There are NO shortcuts to good health and fitness through over the counter supplements. It is that simple. Eat crap, live a stressed out and sleep deprived life, and struggle down to the gym for an aerobic session or run 3 times a week will not allow ANY fancy supplement to improve your life other than burning a bigger hole in your wallet.

Ok, got that out of the way. I will not go into detail about the need to eat natural, whole, fresh, nutrient dense foods here. I will not go into detail about how important getting 8-9hrs of GOOD sleep every night is. Read this if you wonder why. I will not mention the dangers of eating processed, man-made “foodstuffs”, concentrated sources of fructose, gluten containing grains and refined vegetable oils. Kurt Harris will tell you so in both a legit and serious way. And I will not go into the importance of eating animals as your most important source of nutrient rich protein and fat. Read this if you want to geek out a bit.

So, assuming you have your ship steered in the right direction, give or take the usual bumps and grinds that come with living a modern life of course, then what about some optional extras that can lift your performance a notch or two, and help in your path to achieving certain goals?. Here are a few supplements I have kept using over the years, remembering that personal experimentation is just that: a personal endeavour. What makes one gal laugh might make the other cry. One shoe doesn’t fit all.

  1. Sunshine

Winter depression, or seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is common here in the dark north of Scandinavia. Physiologically, it has been proposed that lack of light during the winter causes, among other things, a drop in serotonin levels, which is a neurotransmitter involved in various processes of “well being”. Sunlight triggers the brain to produce the hormone melatonin, which again, helps our cyclical rhythms stay in order and has been found to strengthen our immune system. All good things for our body and mind.  Sufficient Vitamin D synthesis can occur with only a few minutes of exposure to light a few times per week. That cannot be hard for most non-closet dwellers. Wait before applying sunscreen, just don’t get burnt. Again, far too much false press about the need to cover up from the “harmful rays of the sun”.

2. Garlic

Ah, great stuff. Forget the capsules that promise to be odourless and triple strength.  Fresh garlic is a cheap and versatile wonder drug. New research has shown that it boosts natural supplies of hydrogen sulfide, which is an antioxidant that helps fend off cancers, and protects the heart. The Greek´s used it before competition centuries ago, and it is the key element in most of my dinners. In the Solomon Islands, garlic is used to fend off malaria, help heal cuts and abrasions, and prevent acne. Just don’t use it in drinks. Not nice.

3. Fish Oil

Amazingly, the introduction of processed foods and vegetable oils into modern diets has contributed to ruining our optimal omega 3/ omega 6 ratios. Prior to the agricultural revolution, our ratios were roughly 1:1, but now we see ratios in the average modern Western population of up to 1:10-15. The side effects of this imbalance have been linked to body inflammation, autoimmune disease, and higher incidences of cancer and heart conditions to name but a few. Naturally occurring omega 3 is found in wild fish and meats, whereas processed fats (remember, these are the ones we are told by “authorities” to consume, not animal fats) are high in omega 6 fats, which leads to all sorts of health problems. Try to eat grass fed meat, wild fish, some walnuts and quality extra virgin olive oil. Learn more about the importance of long-chain n-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) here.  How much fish oil to supplement is dependent on a number of factors, but generally a higher dosage is required for people out of shape, coming off a poor diet or with inflammation and autoimmune disorders. Check out Robb Wolf´s fish oil calculator here to find out more. Look carefully at the EPA/DHA ratios when buying oil. I usually get mine from Holland & Barrett in the UK, although I recently found a good one here in Norway.

4. Zinc

I take zinc supplements during periods of higher than normal training exertion, due to its beneficial effect on growth and recovery, immune boosting capabilities and its good for skin condition. Supplies can become depleted from prolonged and intense training and inadequate meat intake/high carbohydrate intake. Also I find it beneficial for sleeping, in which case I take a great product called ZMA, usually before bedtime.  Coach Poliquin also notes the lower levels of testosterone and sperm count caused by zinc deficiency, which as we should all know, is not good news. Zinc is found in oysters, beef, lamb, dark chocolate, liver and some dairy products.

5. Magnesium

Studies have proven that magnesium deficiency can be related to insulin insensitivity and disrupted sleep. Both bad news for anyone, especially if you are training hard as well. A common supplement in the bodybuilding world due to its essential role in many metabolic processes including protein synthesis. You´ll find lots of magnesium in green vegetables like spinach and broccoli and white fish as well. Eat heaps of these foods, and be strong like Popeye. ZMA also comes in different qualities, usually the more expensive the brand the better, I get mine here.

6. Spirulina

Thanks to my mum. Spirulina is one of nature’s true super foods and is a great supplement to many dishes, as well as in shakes. It is super green, smells and tastes strange, probably because it is an algae but it contains all the essential amino acids as well as high concentrations of other nutrients and enzymes that are beneficial to the stomach, and general vibrancy of skin and hair. Super expensive in tablet form, cheaper in powdered form, but great in post workout shake with eggs and banana. I get mine from New Zealand in bulk from Healthpost.

7. Caffeine

Ahhh, the morning double espresso macchiato with heavy cream (50/50) freshly brewed by the La Pavoni. Sometimes I go to bed thinking of how nice it will be in the morning. Conflicting studies are everywhere as to the pros and cons of caffeine and the effect on training and general health. Some swear by it, others warn of danger!.  There is no doubt it has ergogenic effects, and there is something to the fact that even elite athletes are seen sneaking in caffeine up to the allowed measures before and during intense competition. A lot of the studies I read are based on a huge intake of caffeine (400mg +), which I think is unwise. Who wants headaches, the shakes, bad stomach and nausea?.  I find a coffee (about 100mg caffeine) pre-training is effective. It gets the buzz on and that alertness alone is worth it. Plus, there is the great taste and social side of coffee. Just don´t drink the cans of sugar with caffeine like Red Bull. Disaster.

8. Probiotics

Most people have the unfortunate task of taking antibiotics occasionally when all else has failed. Some even take them before all else has failed. Either way, they are bad news for the system killing useful flora and pathogenic bacteria and taking a form of probiotic when on a cure is very wise. As is eating probiotic rich foods like kefir, sauerkraut, yoghurt and some cheese. There are many and varied forms of probiotic, and much debate about their usage. I am a believer in the importance of gut bacteria and the need for the party inside to keep skipping to the grooviest beat imaginable. If you pump yourself full of toxins, the party will turn into a massive hangover. Not good.

9. Lime

Ok, barman speaking. Lime juice from fresh, juicy limes is THE essential ingredient in the bar. That is good enough reason for it to be included as an essential supplement: it makes cocktails go from decent to awesome. Plus it helped Captain Cook keep his men from dying form scurvy during his epic voyages across the Pacific in the 18th Century. Lime is the solution to most problems. It makes you and your cooking and drinks feel, taste and smell good. And the oils are great when you happen to have a bath. First make a jug of sugar-free Mojitos, squeeze some lime oil into the bath, get in and party on.

10. Cinnamon

The humble spice that is hitting the headlines. My mum always told me to add cinnamon to cooking and sprinkle on salads, but I never listened, as I thought it was just to add to a Café Latte. No, no, no.  Cinnamon helps maintain blood sugar levels, reduce triglycerides, prevents insulin resistance, contains dietary fiber, calcium and zinc, helps maintain your hair and nice skin and increases sex drive.  Woohoo.  We all know that too many bicep curls decreases sex drive because you become so awesome you forget about the opposite sex. Keep some cinnamon in your gym bag as a reminder. Now, adding cinnamon to everything is not so advisable, but keep a few sticks on the kitchen bench, and if you feel in the mood, knock up this great little cocktail I have trailed to immediate success:

Primal Apple Cake Cocktail

6cl Havana Club

Juice of 1-2 limes

1 spoon of runny honey

10 mint leaves

Half a Granny Smith apple chopped up

Half a cinnamon stick

Place all ingredients in shaker with cubed ice, shake hard, double strain into chilled cocktail glass. ENJOY.

That’s my top 10 for now. Just to add to your general wellness really, socially as well as physiologically. Supplement away, just get healthy on natural life first.

 

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Awareness as new paradigm for modern health

The way we move, think and eat is not detached, in a Cartesian sense, from who we are and how we experience our place in this world. We cannot be disconnected from our natural environment for it is that which literally keeps us alive. This interaction is a primordially intrinsic necessity that shapes our thoughts, movements and proprioceptive context in nature. To lose this interactive sense or become disconnected with our body is immediately endangering this crucial mind-body-nature equilibrium. The most important disruptive factor in society today I believe is our sense (or lack of) awareness.

This post is intended to dwell upon the need for a paradigm shift in modern thought practicalities through ideas about reinstalling a sense of awareness of our connection with nature through diet and physical movement, and the way our evolutionary path has almost perfectly laid before us a schema for health, happiness and longevity. This needn’t be a lofty concept beyond the realms of the common citizen, for it is based on integral components of our past that have sadly been usurped by corrupting interests and the subsequent watering down of common awareness.

Accepting the status quo

We need to (re) learn and (re) live our connection with our natural environment and we need to do this through a deeper awareness of the factors that both enable and contradict this linkage. Let me begin with some of the most encompassing contradictions in modern Western societies today. For many people, a cursory reflection upon their ideas of independent or collective choice in life will reveal tendencies to ´accept the status quo´ with regards to many seemingly self-directed scenarios. I´m thinking here of our choice of career, choice or meals, choice or activities, partners, dwellings and so on.

We are natural social animals and this is revealed through our desires to seek the company of fellow citizens, dwell, interact and procreate together with members of similar ethnic groups and secure identities that are framed within certain social and cultural norms and values. This, in order to feel secure about ourselves as individuals and as members of a certain society. From an evolutionary perspective, this is nothing new, but dangers are inherent in this pattern as well.

Practices of ´flock mentality´ have always made me cringe slightly, even if I have readily partaken in many, as it has always revealed a sense of vulnerability in the way people accept what others do or say as being either correct, or most sensible. Certain norms, practices and ´knowledges´ are usually appropriated by members of society for political, economic or other subversive gain. A quick glance at any number of corrupt or dictatorial regimes around the world reveals clearly how individual and collective choice and freedom is subjugated in coercive ways.  What about the way we are told in so-called democratic Western societies to eat?. This is indeed a great example.

20th Century dietary catastrophe

The nutritional guidelines presented in the latter half of the 20th Century by state health authorities are perhaps the most crass and damaging examples of how people are made to bare the cost of the influx of modern western diseases through being told it is down to the false choices we make when eating, moving or thinking.  Successive ´democratic´ regimes, or guardians of the health and welfare of millions of people, are now in an impossible position of having to cover up for generations of false claims about disease and illness and its relation to activity and nutrition. Let me explain some more.

We are told that we are obese because we are inactive.  Or that we eat too much. Or that we have bad genes.  We are told to practice moderate activity every now and then, preferably in the ´fat burning aerobic zone´. Intense activity is bad for us we are told. Even dangerous. We are told to fuel our bodies with 4-6 servings of sugar (carbohydrate) each day. We must avoid animal fat, and instead go for processed low-fat variants. We should eat wheat they say, and copious amounts of fruit. This list goes on.

The human body is an incredible organism of adaptive capability, but is not metabolically adapted to the foodstuffs that it eats today based upon high carbohydrate/sugar intake, gluten and processed plant oils. We don´t get fat because we sit and don´t exercise, we get fat and develop diabetes and heart disease because the food we are told to eat, and don´t question, has deranged our metabolic pathways by confusing the appetite mechanisms that allow our bodies to regulate energy expenditure. This is not to mention the chaos caused by derailed insulin production and inflammation and stomach frailty exacerbated by excess linoleic acid.

Alternative ways of thinking

Ok, the point I am trying to illuminate here is that despite our options not to abide by social norms and the ´standard way of living´, the very guardians of our own welfare (politicians, teachers, doctors, scientists etc) have got so much wrong, and are indeed so far beyond the point where they can back track and admit that their advice has been responsibility for so much illness and death, that society needs to find its own health paradigm through new awareness of the factors behind what has gone wrong.

Back in the age of antiquities, it was the philosophers who held the hand of wisdom and to whom citizens turned to for advice and ´truths´ on general matters, including aggressors with insubordinate aims towards power, conquest and domination. Where does this leave us today, if the hand of wisdom coming from minority movements is labelled ´alternative´ simply because it questions the wisdom of those in control?.

We become trapped paradigmatically in a thought process that has alienated alternative ways of thinking that question the status quo and our place as members of a collective sociality.  Maintaining this, and quickly moving towards quelling any sign of incoherence to socio-political thought has been, and still is, a principle tactic of oppressive regimes in maintaining order and control over its citizens. Scary thought.

Movement and awareness

So back to movement and awareness, and how this paradigm shift needs to be enacted. Society needs to be reminded of processes of evolution and our place today as a condition of context and adaption, both towards and away from our natural tendencies. We eat, we procreate, we sleep and we fight in different ways to achieve these things. The way we eat has included hunting, collecting, fighting, starving, sharing and learning what is and isn’t toxic for our survival. This is basic evolutionary theory, although we are now being offered a get out of jail free card. We can manage to be locked up in life like battery chickens, and still live a linear path to longevity we are told.

Science and artificial production has enabled us to survive on non-natural and harmful foodstuffs like wheat, sugars and plant oils and take drugs that prolong survival rates of diseases such eating causes (heart disease, diabetes, cancers etc). Modern society has led us away from nature, from hunting and subsisting as our basis of survival, to an abundance of artificial ´foodstuffs´, and we are told to accumulate capital wealth and surround ourselves with material ´stuff´ that has little or no causal effect on our survival or happiness. The great outdoors, or natural experiences, have become seen as éscapes´ from daily life, a place where we can gain energy to fulfil our needs in ´reality´. Who is in charge of this reality?. When exactly did we decide that physical activity and a connection with nature should become a pastime?.

This is not to say that we should, as a true stoic would advocate, ditch modernity and crawl out from under a rock to eat sea birds and berries. We are part of the great evolutionary path which we should embrace, its just that we have lost touch with the realization that we are not yet adapted genetically or proprioceptively to being out of our natural surrounds, which is nature untouched by processed forms of modernity. Yes, I contend that we are ill adapted to modern ways, despite our best intentions. We need to adhere more closely to our primal tendencies in the way we think, eat and move and stop trying to rush the evolutionary process.

Embrace modernity….slowly

By being reacquainted with natural movement (literally smelling the flowers and getting down on the ground and dirty, all in gracefully efficient ways) we re-establish an AWARENESS of the past that allows us to take full advantage of our place in modern history and the benefits it provides. Think about cause and effect in an independent manner, and if something makes no sense, then don’t accept it, challenge that process. We can be happy, healthy, relaxed and feel a sense of ´being alive´, all whilst working away at our various professions, learning new skills, appreciating food, company, relationships and imported Brazilian espresso beans.

Illness, idleness, stress, depression, conflict, political ignorance and so on, all can be avoided to a large extent through awareness and being able to take action to break cycles of decay and stagnation. There is a super fine line between complexity and simplicity in the way we live, eat, move and think. Too often, people that make things appear complex have hidden agendas. Learn to be aware of what contributing factors lie behind your choices, don’t hide behind the mask of ignorance and let society become swamped by normality. Sleep well, get outside into the sun, rain and fresh air, think differently, move smoothly, learn to balance, love one another, eat natural food and start to enjoy your place in the great evolutionary trail.

 

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Guide to Kettlebell resources online

Kettlebells are relatively new to the Western world, having been strangely ‘hidden’ away in the Eastern bloc for far too long. now though, we are witness to an explosion of interest in this wonderful way of training, but resources are quite thin. Like any ‘new’ product, there are those who jump in too deep, too early trying to make a quick buck. Be weary of sites that sell you ‘The definitive guide’, costing only 3 payments of 19.99. Much of the deeper understanding still lies in the Eastern bloc countries, and few have been able to make the transition over to the English speaking WWW world. This is a shame, because we need that knowledge. Some, like Pavel, and Federenko have started, and that is a good thing.

Below are some of the resources I have found useful and inspiring. It is a rapidly changing world of course, and I find the ‘blogosphere’ THE place to turn to for the most up to date stuff, mostly because the filter system (i.e. Wikipedia-style updating) tends to keep the good blogs running, whereas the others fall by the wayside. This seems true in the Paleo world as well. To keep up to date, one needs to be critical, and read a lot. Of course, deep in the archives, lie 1000 secrets, and a lot of these sites are driven by afficianados who are constantly on the look out for such gems of info from our past, all to share with the online world. High 5’s for them!. The list is just a start, I am always looking out for new ideas, and sources of info, so do add to it!

www.ikff.net/

Home of the International Kettlebell and Fitness Federation and founder Steve Cotter. Very professional and an industry leader in kettlebell training and its incorporation into the fitness world. Great video resources, reader forum and details of how to find/become a certified trainer.

www.kettlebell-fitness.dk

A goldmine resource this. Seemingly a lifetime work from Denmark’s most experienced kettlebell trainer and competitor, Thierry Sanchez. Candidate to Master of Sport, 2010 World Champion in biathlon jerk, Danish representative for the IUKL and IKSA. The site, and the blog especially is full of articles relating not just to kettlebells, but to strength training and fitness in general. Material can be readily downloaded, links are provided to many great lifters and technical pointers to improve your lifts, and Sanchez is one of the leading experts in the technical side of GS. Regularly updated and willing to share great knowledge, a site with positive vibe.

www.cathletics.com/

Cutting edge Californian strength and conditioning gym specializing in olympic weightlifting and cross training. Head trainer Greg Everett is one of the top coaches in the US, and this professional site really is full of great information, videos on most of the classic OL and kettlbell lifts. Hard to leave once you start browsing.

www.mikemahler.com/

Super experienced and respected coach, athlete, writer with years of kettlebell training and teaching behine him. No nonsense approach, lots of straight forward tips and good videos. A real resource for strength and conditioning training information and inspiration.

www.americankettlebellclub.com

Home to Honored Master of Sport Valery Fedorenko, one of the greatest kettlebell lifters in history and now has a presence in the US, where he is a sought after coach and advisor. Prolific lifter even today, regularly updates his facebook site under the same name, and although his teaching style is a little monotonous, hidden away is years of experience, so it’s well worth watching his videos. Such a smooth style lifter.

www.dragondoor.com/

Home page of Pavel and the ‘hardstyle’ RKC philosophy. Flashy and full of stuff to buy, but look beyond this, and you’ll find a lot of ideas, clips, articles etc to contrast and compare to other ‘styles’.

www.girevoysport.ru

Home page of Andrey Kuzmin, one of the few Eastern bloc lifters to share information about kettlebell sport online in English. Simple, but some good info and videos here.

www.myomytv.com/

Here is a great site made by an Irish lady called Marianne. She is a kettlebell trainer and has made a rich resource full of videos mostly aimed at beginners, but also useful for advanced lifters. Workouts are given along with step by step guides to the various lifts and bodyweight exercises. All done with an Irish smile.

www.fullkontact.com/

For the best DVDs and books, look no further than Steve Cotter’s Encyclopedia series going from basic, up to advanced lifts, how to master the pistol squat, bodyweight training, extreme kettlebell workouts. Hours of great viewing, and a lifetime of challenges!. Outstanding resource, well worth the money. The best available, forget the crap coming onto the market now.

www.kettlebellnorway.no

Quite a new site for Norwegian kettlebell enthusiasts. As the sport is still in its infancy here, this is a great initiative that seems to aim to spread the good word, provide information on the where/how/why/when etc.

www.youtube.com/

Ok, the best and worst comes last, from the University of Youtube. Here you will find any Dick and Joe posting their versions of how to use kettlebells in the most ‘effective’ way. Undoubtedly, youtube is a great source of inspiration, especially if you aspire to achieve a lift that is seemingly impossible, a quick search and ‘walaaa’, some hairy dude from the MidWest has posted a grainy video making it look simple. I use Youtube a lot, but like anything in life, be critical and be sensible to information out there. In the training world, there is no gospel that dispells any other method. As Bruce Lee once famously said:

“Adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own.”

This mantra is so true to most aspects of life of course. Listen to advice, try things out, see how you feel with different methods, be safe, be curious, and do what works for you. Be weary of any training ‘guru’ who tells you that his/her method is ‘right/better’ than others. Typically this is bulls#it. Unless you are Jillian Michaels….

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pSxxzluPri8

 
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Posted by on April 19, 2011 in Kettlebells, Resources, Thinking, Training

 

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Return of the Kettlebell and bodily synergy

Kettlebell training has luckily been rediscovered and is slowly finding its way into mainstream strength and conditioning programmes worldwide. As a proponent of simple and effective training and health related solutions, and someone who has always looked at efficiency and versatility as a prerequisite for a good fitness tool or programme, kettlebells are outstanding. Over the next while, I´ll be posting more about these great balls of joy, and how they can be integrated into my wider philosophies about training and health. This, more of an appetizer, like sneaking into the oven and cutting that juicy piece of fat off the roast, before its quite ready.

In this post I´ll trace the history and uniqueness of these old tools as they moved from being used for feats of strength and novelty purposes through to their increased presence in the mixed martial arts scene and today in the mainstream fitness world today. Hopefully, as people become more aware of how kettlebells can be utilized in so many ways, and produce amazing results for anyone, regardless of what specific health related goals you may have, then old school cool will be here to stay. Health and nutrition secrets you´ll remember come from our past, not from those phony folk seeking commercial gain from pseudo-science, as we see today.

Various different opinions exist regarding the origin of kettlebells, even some who say the Celts made them from stone, but they were commonplace in Eastern Europe in the 1800s where strongman shows were often held during circus performances. Feats of strength were particularly admired in the old Soviet Union, and as such, kettlebells were not used for competitive or conditioning purposes, more so for entertainment. Some interesting photos and reading from the good old days here. I like the way Russians admired, and still do today, pure and simple strength.

Strongman shows continued into the 20th Century, and kettlebells were still seen as purely tools for feats of strength and endurance, with little or no formal rules or competitions attached until the 1980s. Olympic weightlifting took centre stage post-WWII in Eastern Europe and the USA, with all its formality and prestige.  Not until 1985 did official rules and regulations become formalized and the first USSR Championships take place.

Girevoy is the name that we associate today with kettlebell sport, or simply GS. Here, athletes compete in weight classes to perform the highest number or repetitions in 10 minutes in the single snatch and jerk, with 2 kettlebells. Weights used are 24kg (or 1.5 units referred to as a pood) or 32kg (2 poods). Women compete with one 24kg bell in both snatch and jerk. Whilst the best lifters still come from the former Eastern block countries, GS has become increasingly popular in the USA and now in Western Europe. The overall athletic qualities required to compete at the highest levels and achieve the highest rankings in GS, place these gireviks among the most elite sportspeople on earth, closely behind in my opinion, MMA fighters (I intend posting later about the training styles and nutritional requirements needed to achieve elite level performance).

Ivan Denisov - World Champion

Kettlebells take many different guises, but for our purposes, I´ll talk about ProGrade bells which are used by top competitors and have the advantage of being a uniform shape and design, regardless of size. These are far superior to some of the cheaper so-called fitness bells that are anatomically unsuited to the body and handgrip and make for harder transition to heavier bells. A good explanation of the differences by IKFF mentor Steve Cotter is found here. ProGrade bells are not easy to come by and are costly, but should you see them in a gym, you can be sure they take kettlebell training seriously. Learning the basics of course can be achieved with fitness bells, but you´ll soon see the need to work with the best bells if you wish to take your fitness to the next level.

Kettlebells have one mass of weight centred under the handle, as opposed to an even distribution of two weight masses with dumbells. This makes ballistic clean, snatch and swing exercises much more effective, and full-body orientated. The ability to control and offset the load of kettlebells utilizing different areas of the body makes certain exercises easier and more efficient, than with traditional bar and dumbells. Just to note that I do not advocate kettlebells being superior to the aforementioned, as they have each their role in physical training, it´s just that certain mobility hindrances can be overcome using kettlebells due to their unique shape and range of motion.

That said, kettlebells recreate, with proper technique and use, the everyday movements the human body has been designed to use. Swinging, jerking, pressing, pulling and twisting one or two kettlebells from a standing, seated or lying position allows us to access a full range of motion, integrating your whole body across the three anatomical planes, as opposed to machine weights which dictate your range of motion and anatomical position. In other words, using kettlebells forces you to control the weight throughout the full motion, in a synergistic manner, until you set the bell down. Machines only allow you to dictate a small range of motion, which is counter productive to the integrated physiological and kinetic nature of the human body. What does body synergy and anatomical positioning mean?.

The three planes of the human body in the anatomical position are the sagittal, transverse or axial, and coronal planes. Movement through these planes promote forces that team up and both stabilize and support the body during movement, whilst at the same time generate the power to move the kettlebell(s) through a chosen path of motion. Typical structural exercises such as the clean, the swing and the snatch are extremely valuable for stimulating and strengthening the most important musculature components of the body. It is the coordination that is required to correctly execute kettlebell exercises that are directly transferrable to the way we move in real life situations. We sit, we run, we crawl (yes, this is another seemingly forgotten movement that we should return to), we lift, we turn, we bend etc.

All these movements require acceleration and deceleration from various parts of the body, which is part of ALL natural movement. Is it not strange that we are told to lock ourselves into a machine and pattern a movement that it has been engineered to provide?!. Weight machine type training may suit those into something weird and unnatural like bodybuilding who are not interested in learning how to be mobile, flexible, coordinated and agile enough to train standing up. Or for people who are scared of lifting weights, and prefer to go to the gym to sit down after a long day of sitting down, before they go home and sit some more, before lying down in bed. You get the point.

Training is an integration of full body, natural movements, tweaked for certain performance orientated tasks. Still, whether you are looking to specialize in a particular sport, bulk up, lean out, or just generally look and feel well, then diet and lifestyle choices need to be addressed first, but that is another post. Kettlebell training can also be tweaked to satisfy even the most stubborn person in the gym, with his/her religious affection to a certain style of lift, or favourite programme. Next time, I´ll talk more specifically about some basic kettlebell movements, and how to integrate them into your training, and what results to expect.

Effectivity in its simplicity

Personally, my training has evolved throughout the years, from trail and error, reading an enormous amount of literature, trying various programmes from those common in the mainstream strength and conditioning community, to specialized goal orientated protocols for strength gain and for cycling and rugby. I have hit peaks, achieved goals, lost form, become demoralized, hit a plateau and then discovered the kettlebell.

I love the way these tools place themselves alongside my evolving methodologies of strength, power and mobility training and give such precise feedback. They are a challenging, safe, practical, fun and tremendously rewarding part of my exercise routine. Along with that, more understanding of the essential role diet and stress management plays in health and performance, together with an appreciation of how the body has evolved to become suited to what it does today, I have become at least more relaxed about unlocking the ´key´ to optimal performance I spent 20 years searching for. There is no key, just a need to be aware of the conditions surrounding us that influence our health and training related choices. Filter out as much bullshit and stress from your lives as you can, eat natural foodstuffs, read, question conformity, train compound, full synergy movements, whether it be with a bar, a kettlebell, a log or a rock. Run fast sometimes, smile at people, chill out more, then maybe you´ll smile within yourself too.

 
 

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Essential reads: Food and Western Disease by Prof. Staffan Lindeberg

“A book that represents a paradigm shift in how modern medicine is beginning to understand the link between diet and disease”

Professor Loren Cordain

I discovered this book in rather odd circumstances. Being a Melanesianist, I was searching for references in Papua New Guinea on sporting practice and, as you often do when at a loss, you scour the bibliography of any text that remotely resembles your thematic or regional topic. I came across reference to the Kitavan study, an investigation into the health of a small island population in the Trobriands, famous in anthropological circles as the so-called birthplace of modern fieldwork practices in the early 1900s.

Staffan Lindeberg, a Swedish physician and professor of family medicine at Lund University is one of the absolute leading authorities in the world of nutritional science, and has finally translated to English his original work in Swedish (2003 Maten och folksjukdomanar: ett evolutionsmedicinskt perspektiv, revised 2008). The new 2010 edition Food and Western Disease: Health and Nutrition from an Evolutionary Perspective is a lifelong journey of research in evolutionary medicine that ought to be read by anyone interested not only in medicine and nutrition, but also those who wonder how to optimize their health based on real evolutionary science. This is a life changer.

Lindeberg traces all the major diseases of modern civilization, giving each a chapter of its own and discussing how the Western diet is responsible for practically all diseases that afflict the human population. Each condition, including coronary heart disease, diabetes, obesity, hypertension, cancer, osteoporosis, insulin resistance and autoimmune disease to name but a few, is linked through scientific evidence to our nutritional practices. This is what many suspect, and the whole Paleo/Primal blogosphere is full of various takes on how to articulate this, often sensationalising the issue in order to gain a following. Not so with Lindeberg.

An incredible 2034 references are included in a 93 page bibliography, making this masterpiece an essential textbook for future research on disease and diet. His writing style is both sceptical and humble, without any elaborate or unnecessary hyperbole you´ll commonly find in less scientifically orientated works. Not to say that this is too daunting a read for the layman. I have no background in medicine apart from an old girlfriend who went to med school and snuck me into anatomy class one day to help dissect a sheep’s brain.  But I still managed to read it with great interest and develop a thirst for more knowledge about this fascinating subject.

The Kitavan study showed that only 0.2% of the caloric intake of the population came from Western food, such as edible fats, dairy products, refined sugar, cereals and alcohol. Subsisting exclusively on root vegetables, tropical fruits, fish and coconuts (in other words extremely high saturated fat – lauric acid as opposed to palmitic acid in Western countries), the Kitavans did not suffer sudden cardiac death. In fact, the Kitavans showed little or no signs of common Western diseases, being at the time (1980s) almost totally isolated from the poisoning foodstuffs. More can be read on this fascinating study here.

From an evolutionary point of view, Lindeberg makes no claim to romanticize the ideal of the all-encompassing “original paleo diet” espoused in essentialized ways by many in the Paleo blog world. Our “ancestors”, as it were, were spread out over vast areas, occupied diverse environments, were subjected to drastic changes in available foodstuffs, and importantly, developed a metabolic and digestive system long before they became human-like and bipedal, some 6 million years ago. Some periods would have preferenced a more vegetarian-like diet says Lindeberg, and others would have been adapted to a high meat intake, ´neither position excludes the other…we may be adapted to any kind of food without necessarily being dependent on it for high reproductive success´(p. 30).

Early humans certainly ate the food that was available and provided the energy required to survive such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, insects, larvae, wild game meat, fish, shellfish and root vegetables. The relative proportions consumed of each of these however, is methodologically hard to determine and have been highly variable depending on habitat, yet Lindeberg reminds us that crucially

“The discussion about human´s ancient diets is often misdirected to a debate on meat verses plant foods. Thereby, the main point is missed: most of the calories in Western countries are provided by foods that were practically unavailable during human evolution” (p. 34).

Lindeberg sees very few risks with a Paleolithic diet, which he suggests consists of the following foods:

Lean meat, fish, vegetables, fruit, root vegetables, tap water and nuts

Vary your meals and allow for the odd compromise meal, but not if you suffer illness such as autoimmunity, bowel disorder, type 2 diabetes, myocardial infarction etc.

“The optimal human diet is more than just a diet of our ancestors; it appears to have the potential to prevent many of the common health problems of the West” p. 224

Overall, this is an amazing book. It isn´t cheap though, costing $80 at Amazon, but I managed to score a copy on loan at the library here. I will get a copy at some stage though. It is full of useful facts and reminders, and ought to be widely read.

 

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Physical health and holism: Solomon Islands perspective

Sport in nature, Solomon style. Easy.

As anthropologists, we are continually searching for new or revised understandings of the present human complex by comparing and contrasting people, groups, cultures and patterns of interaction and adaptation. To do this we need to appreciate and account for the historical record in terms of evolutionary change as well as searching for clues that can help us locate and analyze the particular complex taking place today. We do this to enable a broader sense of understanding and respect for changes that are contextual and multifaceted. Let me give an example from my field in Solomon Islands and show how this relates to the need for more nuanced understandings of health and fitness today.

The Solomon Islands has a population of about 550 000 made up of some 900 sparsely populated islands in the south west Pacific. It’s an isolated place, gets few visitors and is utterly fascinating and beautiful in terms of its inhabitants and natural environment. Ideal then for an anthropologist to get involved in sports ethnography in a region traditionally looked at from more mainstream thematic perspectives of kinship, ecology, gender, nationalism, religion etc. The locals are sports mad, especially for soccer, and have flown the national flag at successive FIFA beach soccer and futsal world cups. (More on these amazing players and Solomon Islands in later posts)

I’ve spent months living in Solomon Islands on and off for the past few years in conjunction with my doctoral work at the University of Bergen, and have been able to gain access to, and participate in most aspects of the local society in order to understand and appreciate the pervasive nature of sporting practice there. I have lived, played, coached, travelled abroad with and shared day to day routines with young soccer players, interviewed prominent officials and government representatives as well as spending extensive time searching through archival records from the colonial past. In other words, my methodologies have been primed through academic training in more classical British anthropology, but also with my own form of experiential ethnographic approach that has seen me literally do what I study.

Natural, naked play...as we should

Where does this get us, and how does it relate to modern practical and theoretical comprehension of the human body in relation to physiological health and its adjustments to the social issues facing us today?. Well, a number of things stand out from my work that I’ll endeavour to incorporate more generally into the framework of Primal Movers.

  • Confirmation of the fact that a lot of what we know today regarding sporting performance and the factors compounding its expression, have long been with us, yet not adequately extrapolated in terms of the logic of newer ‘scientific reasoning’ that assumes an essentialized cut with the past.
  • Knowledge, as we know it in terms of Western-based empirical systems of understanding performance, is often inadequately imparted on non-Western nation states, stemming from an ethnocentric view of development and/or ‘progress’.
  • ‘More’ is certainly not victorious over ‘less’ in terms of the vast majority of training methodologies I have both used myself and with others. This logic only makes sense on the scoreboard of a match. Training more can produce some short term results, but inevitably has longer term negative consequences if pushed upon a body that is not hormonally or holistically in balance with its optimized engineered condition. (I’ll talk about this concept in another post)
  • Cordain, Linderberg, Eaton, Harris, Wolf et al may have certain disagreements over the implementation of the Paleo/primal framework as a workable modus operandi for the general public, but they all DO agree upon the fact that Western foodstuffs have had a devastating effect on populations who have until recently subsisted on local produce as the mainstay of their diet. This is shockingly apparent in Solomon Islands, and other Pacific Island nations. (for more see the excellent Kitava study)
  • Periodization, as the less than ideal umbrella term for change in routine, is essential not only for goal orientated results, but for health optimization over the long term. From observing Solomon Islanders working and eating from the land and sea, subsisting on the natural resources, observing the cyclic rhythms of time, and getting plenty of rest, I am convinced that our ideal balance IS true to our optimized engineered condition.
  • Incorporating natural movement as part of your way of being develops both a strong musculoskeletal system as well as enhanced cardiovascular and respiratory capacities. This, combined with proper rest and periodic changes in movement intensity certainly forestalls injury occurrence and burnout, as it is naturally less severe on your glycolic pathway. (I’ll write about my ideas behind overtraining and its effects on insulin release, cortisol and adrenal production and suppression issues in a later post)

    National Bilikiki team...4 world cup appearances

Ok, so participation combined with observation and analysis of historical records is the sine qua non of an anthropological study, and produces qualitative data that can be further interrogated and is hopefully beneficial to both researcher and local population. Compared to (what many have said before me) the less rigorous social, and indeed natural sciences, anthropology lays no claim to a bound up notion of universal truths. What I refer to is the fact that cultural relativism, the raison d’être of what it is that we attempt to do in the field, is questioning the practical and conceptual logics of systems of being, based on a holistic understanding of the diverse human condition.

And for the primal mover?. Solomon Island athleticism, their logic for training, playing, winning, sharing and a whole host of other factors bound up in sporting practice contributes to our ongoing attempt to formulate more accurate, boundary-busting and simplistic understanding of who we are and how we are evolved to function.

My work is not a philosophical pontification of what might have been and may be, in a far off land where the majority of the population still lives a subsistence lifestyle. It is not even an attempt to romanticize what existence is like in a world less tarnished by Western intrusion, in a sort of “us verses them” dichotomy. My aim here is to give a brief introduction to the way the discipline seeks answers from the past, to situate the present, and to unmask what needs to be focused upon in the future.

I used myself as a methodological tool to help investigate how sport is played, perceived and affects the people of a small island state. I learnt how they trained, ate, relaxed, theorized and lived out their passion for the game. I taught them some things I knew, like training principles for different physical purposes, the effects of the Tabata protocol, CrossFit style training, some of the science behind the natural nutritional opportunities of the islands vis-à-vis the Chinese imported carbohydrate and artificial sweetener calamity. They taught me how to properly climb coconut trees and dive deep down for barracuda. They broadened my understanding of physical health and wellbeing, more specifically, how Western notions are so incomplete and fraught with hidden agendas that continually derail logical fitness and nutritional programs.

If I was not sure before that we have much to learn when it comes to a holistic integration of social, physical, nutritional and evolutionary forms of bodily function, then the Solomon Islands has ingrained this in me. Stop wasting time waiting for someone else to debunk someone else’s idea on optimal performance, and for heavens sake, don’t take as gospel what you read in the traditional media. Eat fresh, natural foods, rest lots, exercise and move naturally and energetically daily, smile and enjoy your world around you. Solomon style.

 

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