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Monthly Archives: September 2011

Movement patterns as qualitative performance indicators

For gymnasts, martial artists, olympic weightlifters and kettlebell lifters, technique and movement comes first. The mastery of which takes up the large majority of training time and attention to detail can seem hard to grasp for most not well versed in the respective disciplines. The attention on harnessing tension and relaxation requires a complex combination of speed, power, timing and extraordinary bodily awareness and mobility.

However, for most people looking at athletic performance, whether it be for competitive sports or general fitness, movement quality is overlooked in favour of quantifiable results adhering to numbers and time. This post is a reflection on the limitations of this approach to physical performance and the role fitness professionals have in insuring movement patterns are integrated back into training programmes.

Those who achieve greatness through physical performance more often than not have the ability to control muscle tension through strength and power and to relax sufficiently to allow speed, flexibility and endurance to be sustained whilst competing under pressure. None of this is achieved without proper training and understanding of fundamental movement patterns.

Movement however, in this modern world of instant gratification and impatience for change-driven objective results, is not a quantifiable measure of performance as time and numbers. Movement is a qualitative measure of health which cannot be reduced to a competitive exercise. Herein lies the challenge for fitness professionals working with the mainstream public or within the rehabilitation field: How to teach quality of movement as a performative aspiration before quantifying results through numerical benchmarks?.

You see it everyday at training facilities, on internet forums and magazines; ways to achieve quantifiable results in the shortest period of time. “My goal is to deadliftlift 400lb before Xmas”, or “I want to run a marathon under 3 hours”, or “Improve my FRAN time under 4 minutes”, and so on. Most would not care how they look getting to these results, as it´s all about the result which can be objectively stated. Professional athletes are usually exceptions to this rule, as they depend on results to make a living, but they have usually achieved a high level of movement competency along the way.

For 99% of the population however, the question could be whether achieving objective ´performance´ results in favour of long-term quality movement habits is really a question that arises on a day-to-day basis?. This is where the professionals need to step up to the mark. Most average people exercising for health benefits and enjoyment should be encouraged to work within the parameters of proven programmes that gradually increase performance through sensible periodization and measurable feedback. It is simply too much to ask the amateur gym-goer to be able to adjust their training each and every time they feel the effects of multiple variables effecting their daily performance. But it must be the prerogative of trainers and gym owners to ensure a baseline of movement quality is instilled into members before starting rep. counting, loading or time factors.

We are all born with amazing flexibility and mobility, but reinforce bad habits and patterns of movement as we age. The common ankle, knee, hip and shoulder mobility issues are all too plain to see, as is poor core stability and spinal weakness. No one has a place, or will gain any significant longterm benefits by stacking plates on barbells until these essential areas of mobility are trained back to their intended function. To do this takes time for most, and to reinforce bad habits by loading weight and forcing advanced movement patterns only leads to unspecific injury caused by inadequate foundational conditioning.

What happens when poor mobility is overlooked for objective gains in the weight room, or when exercise is turned into a competitive venture?. Compensatory form (as an adaptive function of our evolutionary makeup) takes place, often unilaterally, which reinforces already poor mobility. Commonly seen in the squat, push-up or shoulder press, hip weakness and shoulder collapse makes for awful looking movement.

The solution is to get back to basics and teach control of movement through bodyweight training and quadrupedal walking. Teach the integrative form of different fundamental movements and breathing techniques and reinforce this until weaknesses are ironed out, strength is gained, and a platform is laid out for more specific functional progress. Instead of looking at your strengths, look at your weaknesses, and build upon them to integrate your body and mind into a strong and stable performing unit. Isolating body parts or movements because you are strong at them, or forcing movements the body is not prepared for is simple nonsensical.

Kettlebells are one outstanding aid not only for screening poor movement but for strengthening symmetrical and proprioceptive awareness throughout the body. Foundational movements such as the swing, Turkish Get Up, press and snatch cannot be performed without this “core” awareness, or you will simply fall over. And maybe get a bell landing on your head. I firmly believe in the kettlebell being of huge benefit to the future of mobility training in the huge proportion of the modern population who struggle to perform basic movements such as the squat with ease and efficiency. Spinal shortening is all to common with the aging process, and the cumulative effects of compensatory measures to counter hip immobility has disastrous consequences.

The way we move and interact with our environment are fundamental parts of our integrative way of life. If we are forced to inhibit ourselves in any way from moving freely, it has a spinoff effect on our whole performative sense of being, both physically and emotionally.

Movement patterns were bestowed upon us at birth and are a primordial component of humanity. We owe it to ourselves to avoid dysfunctional limitations that come about by lethargic modern lifestyles as well as looking too readily for quantifiable objective results which bypass fundamental movement patterns that are at the essence of true qualitative fitness and performance standards.

For an immediate start on the road to proper mobility, I thoroughly recommend mobilitywod.com

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Nordic Kettlebell Cup 2011 – light review

Happy swingers club

In years to come, those of us who were lucky enough to attend the inaugural Nordic Cup in Copenhagen will certainly have fond memories. Whether the event will get bigger or not remains to be seen, but judging by the enthusiasm of the participants, it will remain an event where like-minded kettlebell lovers will convene to share great friendships.

Kettlebell or Girevoy Sport (GS) is in its infancy in Europe, although the popularity of group training with kettlebells for fitness is certainly on the rise. Most participants in Copenhagen were involved in different training facilities, where kettlebells were frequently used, but getting newcomers to train for the competition lifts is not easy.

Sharing this frustration with others, I found people were unsure of what this type of training would “do” to the body!. I get the feeling some women compare it with bodybuilding, and guys with strongman lifting. You´d expect we would look like a freak show gathered to eat and lift stones, but in fact we all looked very nice and healthy!. And everyone typified the humbleness and open nature that characterizes the kettlebell scene. There seems to be a vibe that welcomes anyone interested in learning, but non-judgemental to other sports or other people´s goals.

Go the snatch!

For me this openness is a great attraction of kettlebell sport. As it is technically extremely sport specific (with similar biomechanics to olympic weightlifting) and almost as anonymous, GS doesn´t have traditional burdens of expectation attached to it, and this is even more pronounced in Europe. Small events like the Nordic Cup reflect ways to nurture a passion for few who are as keen on spreading the word to the wider public, as they are sharing friendships with like-minded followers.

With the use of local connections and popular media forms, over 20 competitors descended upon Urban Fitness in Copenhagen to compete in four distinct disciplines; Snatch, Long Cycle, Triathlon Sprint and an outdoors Strongman. Whilst not strictly adhering to competition GS rules and regulations, the aim was to attract as many newcomers as possible, and for this purpose, the organizers are to be commended. It meant some could perform in 5 minute sets with less than a years training.

Despite having my 6am flight cancelled, and missing the opening session, I used all necessary measures to turn up at lunch time and start snatching immediately. Not the ideal preparation, but then again, this was a fun event to test out lifting in front of more than the just mirror and odd looks from gym goers at home. I´d been working on the snatch over the summer after training with Steve Cotter, Ivan Denisov and Valery Ferorenko and felt it had progressed quite well, but never felt comfortable at more than 20rmp, so had predicted 100 reps, plus a couple of ugly finishers in last 20 seconds!. Well, I was about right, finishing with 106 (21, 20, 21, 22, 22). My triathlon set can be viewed here. Managed 70 reps and enjoyed the event a lot, but must admit I don´t feel too comfortable breaking out of strict lockouts to get the numbers up!.

I like the aesthetics of the snatch. It is a huge challenge, with so many elements at play, but is so satisfying when a set is strung together with fluidity. I guess it is for the “special interest” crowd. Maybe like my friend who tells me how it is to surf in barrels. He just knows, but I´ll take his word for it. When I saw Denisov in Rome snatch the 32kg for 103 reps with one hand, I wondered for a moment how it would feel to be transplanted into that role, and feel such synergy. I missed out on seeing the others snatch, as I was so late arriving, but was glad to see so many different styles of lifting, all with good intentions, and lots of training no doubt.

It was especially nice was to meet Thierry Sanchez, a guy with immense passion and knowledge about GS, world champion, and driving force behind the sport in Denmark. Like many others, I´ve read much of the advice Thierry has given on training methods and watched his videos, knowing that so much thought and preparation lies behind his progress. Many I spoke to over the course of the weekend acknowledged the inspirational role he has provided in their own personal development and that of the community in Denmark. I appreciated chatting to a very clued up and interesting guy, with a similar passion for GS and n=1 experimentation for performance and longevity!.

The long cycle and triathlon sprint events made way for the strongman event outside. By this time there were some tired bodies, but most were used to short intense metcon-style workouts and strength was certainly shown by all who took part!. Lasse took line honors almost cracking the 5 minute barrier!. After the prize giving ceremony (full results can be viewed here) and thorough cleanup leaving no evidence whatsoever of that weird bunch swinging those bells about (move those machines back in place!) we enjoyed some recuperation before convening in town for some catchup and (some would say) weekend highlights. Lars was the MC, leading the crew well through dinner to the Francis Pony, before things became blurred……and some of these things were attempted to varying success….


Lars Nielsen was another instrumental figure in the organizational side of the weekend, including housing myself and the Swedish contingent with such style and providing many laughs. Sif, Lene, Ole and others involved in making the weekend such a great experience are great ambassadors for the sport and community in Danmark, and all round nice people!. A big High5 to all the cool people I met, shared stories with and laughed with, and also to all those girls on bikes…

So the good people of Denmark have succeeded not only in the logistics of organizing a great event, with equal measure of challenge and fun, but also in showing their convivial and warm welcome to us newcomers and visitors. I like the fact that I have a new place to plan my weekend training getaways (as long as I make my flight). Plus, there is always the girl in the cafe by the Tivoli who insisted that I should try one of the special Danish pastries together with my 4th sunday coffee. I happily took the gluten hit, and would´ve found an excuse to head back and take another, except I saw a girl riding barefoot a fixed gear bike, and having it´s origin explained, I was sure I´d need to come back to enjoy meeting Copenhagen´s finest soon!.

Niklas the strong Swede!

Thierry Sanchez, Sif Skov Hansen, Lene Olsen

 
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Posted by on September 7, 2011 in Exercise, Kettlebells, Paleo, Thinking, Training

 

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Steve Cotter – How coaching ought to be

Steve Cotter is a busy coach. But one that has time. Time to observe, time to learn, time to build upon an already impressive capacity to impart knowledge about the human body, its mechanics, its shortcomings and ultimately its huge potential. You see, Cotter isn’t just your average coach who has had a decent career, picked up a few skills along the way and found a way to impart some of that experience to others. Most coaches follow that line, some are succesful, some less so, yet most find a niche where they stick to what works, and take few chances. Sound familiar? Well, that’s generally the way most cats rock in the health business.

Cotter on the other hand, seeks to push the boundaries of sports science in an ever reaching search for new and unexposed knowledge about not only human physical performance, but ways in which we can improve our game by adopting a holistic perspective of the human body and mind. You see, we are an integrated species. We are immersed in an evolving connection with our environment, and our mental, physiological, spiritual and athletic makeup cannot be seen in any other way as a performative organism which requires constant nourishment in order to reach its potential. Few dwell upon this connectivity, and live lives of compartmentalized units wondering why they suffer from stress, illness, boredom or dwindling mobility and performance. Cotter sees this link, and luckily for those who have had the privilege of being coached by him, many other will as well.

I first met Steve in London during an IKFF Kettlebell certification. Being an amateur scholar of all things physical, I knew Steve through his exploits posted on Youtube and various reviews in the kettlebell world who recommended him as one of the most innovative trainers around. The 2 days spent in London were the start of my passion for Girevoy sport, but also for the search for ways to integrate different methods into my coaching game, in order to give others an advantage. Steve had time for everyone, and had the ability to impart knowledege in various ways, given the diversity of people’s cognition levels. As I’ve learn in the academic game, people respond in varying ways to knowledge acquisition, and it takes a certain level of skill and spontaneity to be able to get your points across. Some like to be shown, some like to hear, some like to watch. A good teacher understands this and usually acquires new knowledge in all three ways.

I had the pleasure of bringing Steve to my home town of Bergen where he conducted a workshop at Crossfit Bergen and won many admirers. Following that, I attended the IKFF level 2 CKT in Frankfurt on the back of Steve’s time spend in St. Petersburg with the IKSFA. I was blown away by the new knowledge presented and the way Steve managed to integrate it into his coaching game so fast. The level was high, the intensity was higher. For 3 days, we immersed ourselves in GS and came away better athletes. Steve could, within all his rights, have stopped at the establishment of his own company, the IKFF, and continued a successful career holding seminars, certifying instructors and travelling the world spreading the word on kettlebells. But Steve, with a long background in martial arts, also views kettlebell sport as an art form. He sees his role as moving through developmental stages, acquiring new knowledge and understanding along the way, and applying it to his own game, and that of his students.

As an athlete, Steve certainly walks the walk. One only has to look on Youtube to see the jumping pistol , double get up  or 112kg windmill to see that his power is immense. This is often showcased by certain coaches who are perhaps less than confident in their own technical abilities, but for Steve, these are merely specific skills that can be learnt and performed, rather than benchmark features of a skilled athlete. Just as you can never trust a skinny cook or a fat coach, Steve’s info CAN be backed up!. In recent years however, and for me the most interesting aspect not only of kettlebell sport, but for my own philosophy of training, has been Steve’s transition to focussing more on movement quality and efficiency through simplicity. For Girevoy Sport, the Russians have proven that efficiency builds work capacity in a very different way than that of traditional resistance training. It requires breathing mastery, mental stability and a biomechanical awareness few sports take as seriously.

Training with kettlebells allows different energy systems to be worked in ways that have great carry over potential to other sports, especially martial arts and boxing where the winners are usually those who can sustain striking or takedown power over a long period. The ability to stay calm and focus whilst occupying your anerobic threshold is a key feature of elite athletes, as is the ability to manouver in efficient and powerful ways when in disadvantaged positions. Steve is of the humble nature, which I have found is a unique quality across the kettlebell environment, which champions their sport and the potentials it has, yet doesn’t waste time slagging off other disciplines or coaching philosophies. Again, many coaches seek refuge in their specialist ball of knowledge, fearing exposure of their lack of insight into alternative methods.

The kettlebell is perhaps the greatest complimentary training tool I have found. It compliments those who search for bodily mastery using their own weight, and it can add a platform and finishing edge to a specific skill base for many sports. It has given my own training a new lease of life in recent years by allowing me to discover my center of mass, and develop a base that has projected outwards in suprising ways. Martial artists have long known this, and being able to maintain power and control and stability is what gives one the advantage. The ballistic nature of the movements along with an emphasis on neutral wrist alignment leads to strength and stability in the spine and abdomen as well as the posterial structure often overlooked in convential training methods.

Those who slag off kettlebells are perhaps those who view sporting performance, health and longevity as a narrow pathway. Good on those though. Let them do their thing. Lets just hope they don’t make coaches. Steve Cotter is perhaps representative of a new breed of elite coaches who sees himself as a student as much as a teacher. Perhaps he is lucky to find himself outside mainstream sport, where the confines of tradition and skepticism to new methods reigns. It would be hard to see a coach with Steve’s mindset leading a Premier League football club or an NFL team.

Being a good coach, a leader or a teacher requires a large technical skillset or knowledge of the game or field. Many have this. Being a great coach or leader requires much more. One needs to have a compassion for the students and their individual needs and the ability to adjust their gameplan to suit changing circumstances. One needs to learn from mistakes, and adopt new strategies should things not go according to plan. Leading by example, a great coach must be disciplined on and off the field, in and out of the class room. Most of all, a great coach must be humble to the infinite capacity the world provides for new and inventive ways of combining the old knowledge with new. Steve Cotter ticks many boxes, and will no doubt improve his skillset during the next phase of his career, all in a chilled out and compassionate manner.

 

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