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Category Archives: Kettlebells

(Grip) strength training with kettlebells – the 48kg Beast

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Kettlebells are not usually associated with pure strength training, but are so versatile that they can be used in conjunction with more traditional methods using heavy barbells, for example. Here, I list a few of my favorite exercises that can provide strength benefits when using heavier kettlebells, such as the 48kg “Beast”. Note that these relatively common and simple movements are useful for higher volume, lower weight training as well, and it’s advisable to build up a solid work capacity with lighter weights, before attempting to pick up heavier bells and focussing on strength. Start off with the 12kg or 16kg and work in a higher rep range (10-20) and gradually move up (20kg, 24kg etc) when you can complete these reps with the same form, on both hands. Don’t jump the gun with strength training, be patient, it’s a lifetime endeavor. Oh, and don’t attempt these with the 48kg until you’re completing at least 6-8 reps with the 32kg. The 48 is a wonderful tool, but doesn’t allow for any error, so be careful!

1. The 2-hand swing

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This has to be the kettlebell movement número uno and for good reason. It’s the first movement you should master, and the movement you should not let slip from you training routine. With heavier weight, really focus on holding your shoulders down and squeezed into your lats throughout the movement. Hinge at the hips, don’t dip down into a squat. Keep your spine enlongated and contract your hamstrings, glutes, abs and lower back at the bottom of the swing as you drive through with the hips. Remember, the arms should be relaxed, not locked out, as this can initiate anterior rotation of the shoulders, which isn’t good! As with any exercise using weights, the head should follow the alignment of the torso, in a neutral position, throughout the full range of movement. Never arch the chin up or dip it down. I use the 48 in sets of 10-12 reps as part of my grip strength training. Usually 5 sets. The sequence of movements is extremely important here, you need to familiarize yourself with the swing to know precisely when to incorporate tension, and when to relax. One arm heavy swings or hand to hand swings with the heavy KBs are great too, just make sure you chalk up and have strong fingers!

2. The suitcase deadlift

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Stand with feet about hip width apart and the kettlebell beside one foot. Keeping your back straight lower down with your hips and bend the knees grasping the handle. Keep the feet flat and shift your weight to the opposing foot as you drive up with your glutes and quads in one fluid move. Don’t let the lower back round. With heavy weights, you’ll need to adjust your alignment slightly to maintain balance, but aim to keep hips level. Single leg, offset strength movements are super beneficial, and very much underutilized. Remember that the body is never always following linear movements, so learn to strengthen not just your body, but your motor patterns which react to offset alignment.

3. One arm deadlift with 1-2 kettlebells

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Place both kettlebells between your legs and wrap your hand around both handles, which overlap. Squeeze tightly as you drive up using your quads and hips to a straight leg position. Keep your shoulder packed in, not allowing it to fall forward. Exhale as you come up. I find it easier to place the heaviest kettlebell underneath, in this case it’s the 48 with younger sibling, the 44. Of course this movement can be done with one kettlebell, with one or two hands.

4. One leg deadlift – contralatereal with 1-2 kettlebells

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Place the kettlebell(s) in front of your right foot with your left leg lifted off the ground behind you as a counter balance. Grip the kettlebells with your left hand and keeping your back straight, lift straight up. You may choose to lightly touch your left leg on the ground if you need the balance. But no weight is placed on the opposite leg. Note that there’s a slight knee bend but not excessive. Another version is the ipsilateral deadlift where you are standing on the right foot, and gripping with the right hand. Slightly harder, with similar challenges as the suitcase version. These single leg movements are great diagnostic indicators for imbalances, especially in the hips and ankles.

5. Racked squat

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Everyone should be squatting, not just for strength training purposes. Learn to get comfortable in a deep, rested squat by squatting in a deep rested squat position EVERY DAY!! The squat is a fundamental and natural human position that has been severely compromised by the sitting culture. Don’t contemplate, just squat! With heavy weight, ensure your back is kept straight with hips low and feel flat. Your knees should be tracking over your feet throughout the movement. You’ll need a fair bit of strength to hold the KB in one hand, so you may choose to use your opposing hand to stabilize the KB. Staying in the squat for time, is another great isometric position that will blast your grip, shoulders and thighs. Using two kettlebells in the double rack is a further progression with the squat. I like to use the weighted vest for squats, but found it tough holding the 48 in the rack!

6. Bottoms up clean

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One of my favorites. Handle facing forward, you line up like a normal one arm swing. The key here is to quickly engage your elbow with your lats and squeeze virtually the entire body at the top of the movement. Don’t let your arm disengage from your body, either in front or to the side. The forearm and wrist must be straight up and down and really tensed maximally. Try to hold for 2-3 seconds, then relax and let the KB drop down into the normal swing. This is a fantastic movement, really incorporating so many elements of strength, balance, timing, tension and coordination. Get used to completing 6-8 stable reps with light weight before attempting heavier. Once you’re proficient, you may want to try with two KBs, swinging either inside or outside your legs. Take your time, and learn how to bail out if you lose your grip at the top!  Another progression would be the bottoms up press. Obviously not with the 48! Or… anyone?

7. Figure 8

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With this exercise, you crouch slightly with wide stance, keeping back straight and trying to maintain a stable and solid grounding, so that the body takes the tension as it is transferred throughout the body. A great full body challenge this one, and another favorite for grip strength. You’ll note that I grip the handle in the corner, so as to make it easier in the transition behind the opposing leg. With the heavier weight, you’ll need to work hard at getting a flow on, nothing jerky. I aim for 6-8 rounds here each set. This one is surprisingly taxing on the back. So perhaps not straight after deadlifts! Great for dynamic finger strength, so major carry overs for pulling, hand balancing etc

8. Half get ups

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Ensure you have a strong overhead lockout with the kettlebell in a standing position before trying in a lying position. Bend the leg on the same side as the KB. Assist the KB up whilst lying on your back with the opposing hand. Don’t try and wrestle it into position unassisted. Not good. Once it’s stable, really engage your stomach and back and attempt to drive the KB skywards keeping your eyes locked on the KB. First come up onto elbow then hand trying to extend the distance between both hands. Hold 2-3 secs then controlled lowering back to elbow and to lying. Please use the opposite hand to lower the KB to chest, then roll to your side letting the KB to the ground. Do not lie flat and let the KB fall to the ground. Because this is a slow and controlled movement, use only 3-5 reps each arm. The locked position is maintained throughout the entire set. Once you are comfortable you can progress to the full Turkish get up.

9. Farmers walk

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Nothing more simple and more effective for strength and hypertrophy than lifting something(s) heavy and walking. Kettlebells are relatively convenient as they have nice uniform handles. I walk around the house, here with the 48/44, sometimes with a weight vest, sometimes up stairs, or just static holds for time. Sandbags, tires, barbells – use your imagination and get walking!

10. Extended range straight leg deadlifts

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I like to improvise with the stuff I have at home. Either with wide-stance straight leg deadlifts with the KB  or tire deadlifts standing on a block with reverse grip, again for extended range of movement.

Summary

These are merely a selected few staple exercises that I utilize heavier Kettlebells for strength training. There are of course many, many more, and no reason you can’t make up your own set of movements. As I mentioned at the start, work your way up to heavier weight training movements and get some help constructing a plan from someone experienced before you set out. Don’t just troll YouTube. For the majority out there, these movements can be utilized as part of a general strength and conditioning plan. For those already experienced with strength training, heavy kettlebells can be a great supplement to barbells. Personally, one of the noticeable benefits has been grip strength. Rarely does grip fail first when I lift barbells, climb trees, move tires, sandbags etc. I normally choose 3-4 of these exercises and perform 3-6 reps for 3-6 sets (per hand/leg). With the swings 10-15 reps for 5 sets and the farmers walk around the house, about 100m or 45 secs. Again, this is what works for me and my program. Your context will most likely be different. The 48kg will work for you, but treat it right. If you need a session or two with the 32 or a 24, no problem, the 48 won’t take offence. Like Bruce Lee said, take what’s useful, dish what’s not and come up with your own mojo.

This rep/exercise scenario with the KBs I combine with more explosive exercises such as sledgehammer strikes on the tire, tire flips, sandbag cleans, push-up variations etc. You may notice the weighted vest. This can be used for pretty much all the exercises as well as hill sprints, pull-ups, push-ups etc and for resting in the squat when reading, writing. Build up your strength and stamina before strapping one of these on, but when you’re ready, they are a great addition to your training arsenal. The one I have is a 30kg adjustable from Ompu, Sweden. High quality, with 30 separate pockets each holding a 1kg block so you can harden up over time.

With so many variables involved in strength training it’s important to know that no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach exists. Many programs have consistently worked, but all share a commonality in that you must work hard and quit with excuses. I like to keep things simple, and be consistent year after year. Most fall by the wayside however, and the so-called ‘fitness industry’ is there waiting with supple, moisturized hands to sooth the tears of apathy and offer a quick fix for 3 payments of $19:99. Start with an open mind, build resilience and a steely mindset and commit for the long haul. It’s advisable to proceed slowly, gain confidence with the movements, starting off with NO WEIGHT at all, then moving up. Progressions take time, strength is a lifetime investment. Let me know what you think.

Be patient. Be smart. Be curious. Be strong.

 

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Alexander Dale Oen 1985-2012

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Alexander Dale Oen jokingly told me that he´d happily have my calf muscles to improve his starts, even though they may cause some drag in the water. I was telling him how his physique would suit kettlebell sport, more specifically the snatch, with his long arms and explosive hips. After the Olympics in London, he said, I could teach him more about kettlebells, but until then his coaches wouldn´t be too happy. I explained some of the movements and could tell he was genuinely interested.

Dale Oen had recently returned from Shanghai where he was crowned 100m breaststroke world champion. We occasionally met at my local gym, shared stories, joked and had a mutual appreciation of the science behind training. When I last spoke to Oen, we briefly mentioned London 2012, where he offered to try and sort me out tickets to the aquatic centre. I´d followed his progress from a shoulder injury and he seemed quietly confident he would be back in top shape come July. Sadly, just last week on April 30th, Alex suffered a suspected cardiac arrest whilst at a national team training camp in the US, and died, aged 26.

For a small nation like Norway, Oen´s death came as a massive shock. Few athletes have made it to the top of genuine world sports, and his humility and humble roots made for an extra outpouring of grief. He had, the nation well remembers, dedicated his world title last year to the victims and families of the terrible tragedies tat struck Oslo and Utøya on 22 July. In Bergen, the town he was born in and raised close by, the feeling was one of losing its most illustrious son.

As one who has dabbled in sports psychology, I had a particular fascination with the mindset of those elite athletes who seemed to handle the enormous pressures of training and competition to make it to the very top. I once shared a coffee with Alex after training, having recently returned from Solomon Islands where I had been working with elite footballers. There were many ways those players handled pressures, and I was interested in finding common threads, using previous studies of elite rugby league players in New Zealand as further comparison.

Dale Oen spoke of his continuous search for movement patterns that could make him swim faster. Training hard was something he had always been used to, and enjoyed. But his recent rise to the top of world swimming was due to new discoveries which he was sure put him at an advantage over his competitors. I had heard elite athletes talking about “that something extra” before, and even though few had given me a clear definition of what that was, I assumed it was connected to an unconscious pattern of moving beyond conscious and habitual performance. The skills elite athletes posses are often expressed in effortless ways, almost as a transcendence of the self. I had pondered a lot on this so-called “zone”, and never wanted to bore or confuse the athletes I´d spent time with all the literature. I was simply interested in what the “feel” was like.

With slight, but continual changes in his training and technique, Oen told me that on certain occasions (usually in training) he felt so effortlessly fast. This wasn´t the case when he won the world title surprisingly. “Not the perfect race by any means”, he said. I asked him what was unique about world champions, and I sensed his typical modesty when he explained that some athletes simply had a better capacity to eliminate inhibiting movement and interference that would slow them down, at the same time as they had found an optimal balance of training technique, volume and ability to fire at a very important moment. Hard work, he added, was a necessity even for those with supreme natural abilities.

ImageWe spoke about other sports and joked about my experiences in Norway, and my lack of swimming ability. Could I become a world class swimmer without shaving my body, I asked?. “I know a good waxer in Oslo”, Alex replied. But what about my chunky legs?, I said. “Just enter the 50m, jump from the blocks so hard that you reach the end in one breath!”.

I sensed Dale Oen had reached the top not only because of his natural talent, work ethic, and top coaching apparatus, but also his open mind when it came to learning how to possibly go faster. “I´ve met swimmers from all over the world, and listened to the way they talk about training and preparation. There is no single way to train, or do anything well. You just have to keep thinking, keep doing things, and learn when things go wrong”.

Dale Oen was optimistic and excited about London 2012, just as he was about getting some food after our chat, and finding out about my ´secret´calf-training methods. We parted ways, and said we´d keep in touch. Sadly, it was the last I saw of Alex. I will remember him as a champion not just of the swimming pool, but of the human spirt. He possessed qualities of warmth, humor, humbleness and humility and was fiercely proud of his birthplace and nation. He will be sorely missed by all who were lucky enough to be touched by his presence, but whose legacy will last for generations to come.

 

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Contrasting measures of movement and performance

I often wonder what the point is of aiming to quantify athletic performance through sole adherence to numbers/time, if you are totally unaware of how your movement patterns and technique are progressing. It makes little sense, for the 99.9% of the population not involved in elite-level performance, to quantify performance in a numerical fashion, if the qualitative indicators of what drives mobility, strength and overall movement health are left to somehow take care of themselves. I´ll explain further what I mean, not so much as a criticism to people going hard with their training, or setting high benchmarks in their performance, but for people to think about performance and health longevity and how this relates to much of the totally wasted and often dangerous activity I see in the gym these days.

For gymnasts, martial artists, olympic weight lifters and those of us involved with girevoy sport – technique comes first. It´s mastery takes up the majority of training time, and attention to detail can seem hard to grasp for most not so well versed in the respective disciplines. The attention on harnessing tension and relaxation requires a complex combination of speed, power, timing and extraordinary mobility. Those who achieve greatness in these disciplines have a unique ability to control muscle tension through strength and power and to relax sufficiently (in the case of girevoy sport in particular) to allow speed, flexibility and endurance to be sustained whilst competing. 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 we see with 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 or in rehabilitation:

How to teach quality of movement as a performative aspiration before quantifying results through numerical benchmarks?

You see it everyday at training facilities, on the boards, on the web forums; ways to achieve quantifiable results in the quickest possible time: “My goal is a 400lb deadlift”, “I wish to run a sub-3hr marathon”, “I want to complete FRAN in under 4 minutes” etc etc. Most would not care so much how they got there, however ugly it looked. They would simply take the time and add the weight. Professional athletes are usually exceptions to this rule, as their livelihood is based around clearcut objective results. But then again, at the elite level, movement is usually of the highest level as well. But does less that 1% of the population really want to achieve  certain objective standards of performance to the detriment of movement quality or efficiency?. Do we actually think in these terms and concepts when training?. Probably not.

This is where trainers and fitness professionals (or whatever the name you choose to use) need to step up the mark and wise up. Most average people exercising for enjoyment and other health benefits it provides should be encouraged to work within parameters of proven programs that gradually increase performance through smart periodization and measurable feedback. It is simply too much to ask the amateur gym-goer to be able to adjust their training each day based on multiple variables affecting 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 on with pushing rep counts, loading the bar or holding the clock in your face.

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 long term benefits by stacking plates on a bar until these essential areas of mobility are trained back to their intended function. To do this, especially if you have been hurt, poorly trained or very inactive, takes time for many, and to reinforce bad habits and certain asymmetries by loading weight only leads to certain unspecific injuries caused by inadequate foundational movement conditioning.

What happens when poor mobility is overlooked for objective gains in the weight room?. Compensatory form takes place, often unilaterally, which reinforces already bad mobility. Commonly seen in the squat, push up or press, shoulder and hip weakness makes for awful looking movement patterns, especially on those with heavily weighted bars on their backs. One overlooked solution is to teach control of movement through bodyweight training. Teach the integrative form of each movement and reinforce this until weaknesses are ironed out, strength is gained, and a platform is laid out for more specific functional progressions.

Instead of looking at your strengths, look at your weaknesses, and build upon them to integrate your body and mind into a strong unit. Isolating body parts or movements, because you are strong at them, is simply nonsensical. Kettlebells, in this regard, are outstanding aids not only for screening poor movement but for strengthening symmetrical and proprioceptive awareness throughout the entire body. Foundational movements such as the swing, Turkish get up, press and snatch cannot be performed without this “core” awareness, and balance, or you will simply fall over in a heap.

I firmly believe in the kettlebell being of huge benefit to the future of mobility awareness and injury rehabilitation for the huge proportion of the modern population who struggle to perform basic movements with ease and efficiency. Spinal shortening is all too common with the aging process and the cumulative effects of compensatory measures to counter back and hip immobility has disastrous consequences. Remember also, that our body works are an integrated unit, so structural and muscular pain, as well as a struggling metabolic state due to stress and poor nutrition has carry over effects to our mental health – an oft-overlooked causation.

The way we move and interact with our environment are fundamental parts of our integration into all forms human 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 wellbeing; physically, mentally and emotionally. Movement patterns were given to us at birth and are a primordial part of the cosmologies of us all. We owe it to ourselves to avoid dysfunctional limits that come about by lethargic modern lifestyles as well as looking too readily for quantifiable objective results that bypass fundamental movement patterns that are at the essence of true qualitative health and fitness and performance standards.

Some of the most progressive and open thinkers in the movement/health/performance industry:

www.maxwellsc.com 

www.rosstraining.com

www.8weeksout.com 

www.graycook.com

www.cathletics.com

www.ikff.com

www.mikemahler.com

www.movnat.com

 

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Kettlebell Pentathlon: Strength and Conditioning Test

Recently, whilst attending the WKC Sport Camp in Rome, I was introduced to the World Kettlebell Club Strength and Conditioning Quotient. This is an interesting test which, as it says, tests S&C, but allows for ANYONE to participate and gain a score. From there, and with a little experience with the actual test and the lifts involved, one can gain a decent appraisal of further improvements. I´ll explain how the test functions, and hope that it encourages you to give it a go. So far I´ve had 5 attempts, which I´ll tell you about later. I´ll also touch on the limitations of the test, and some suggestions for improvements.

From Valery Fedorenko, Head Coach WKC

“The philosophy of the WKC S&C test evaluates not just the general physical capacity of the athletes or personnel, but is also a test of all fitness components and a wide range of athleticism. It may be used to assess base strength and conditioning levels and then further used to test progress and other forms of strength and conditioning training”

How the test works

The test consists of 5 different batteries of exercises. Each is a 6 minute set followed by a 5 minute recovery period. Total time is 50 minutes (30 minutes lifting/20 minutes rest period). Each set has a MAXIMUM reps per minute (RPM) which cannot be exceeded (or if exceeded, will not factor in your score). Each set allows the lifter to select the weight s/he feels capable of completing the set. The lifter cannot set the kettlebell down during the set, or else the score is 0. Multiple hand shifts are allowed. So the idea is to choose a weight for each set that you feel capable of scoring the maximum points with. This is the strategy you need to use based on your condition. For some of the lifts, you may want a heavier kettlebell, or a lighter one if the lift is not your strongest.

Scoring

Each kettlebell has a quotient score which you multiple with your total number of lifts to get a final score. All 5 sets are added together for your final score. Here are the quotients:

8kg: 1

12kg: 1.5

16kg: 2

20kg: 2.5

24kg: 3

28kg: 3.5

32kg: 4

36kg: 4.5

40kg: 5

44kg: 5.5

48kg: 6

The Exercises

1. One arm clean (max. 20rpm)

2. One arm long cycle press (max. 10rpm)

3. One arm jerk (max. 20rpm)

4. One arm half snatch (max. 18rpm)

5. One arm push press (max. 20rpm)

Here is a nice video explaining the lifts with Fedorenko and the legendary Ivan Denisov, who has the world record score of an incredible 2500! (After you try this you´ll realize getting half this is some achievement!).

My first attempt, during the training camp in Rome, was rather on the conservative side, but I was mostly concerned with selecting weights which would give me the maximum score. I didn´t see the point of not aiming for the maximum number of reps, albeit with a heavier kettlebell. You can do the sums and see how this equates (higher weight=higher quotient but lower reps) or (lower weight= lower quotient but higher reps).

My first attempt: July 2011

1. Clean 20kg 121 reps (Q2.5)

2. LC Press 16kg 60 reps (Q2)

3. Jerk 20kg 112 reps (Q2.5)

4. Half snatch 16kg 112 reps (Q2)

5. Push press 24kg 110 reps (Q3)

Total score: 1246

3 further “training” attempts in August 2011, but just using a 16kg and only 1 minute rest between sets. Maximum total reps achieved each time. More pure conditioning, that S&C.

In September 2011, I tried the test with a 20kg, and again managed to gain the maximum score with that quotient, with 3 minutes rest between sets. Score 1310. Still felt like more conditioning, not really needing the full 5 minutes of rest.

Then last week, October 2011, I tried with the 24kg in lifts 1 & 5, and the 20kg in lifts 2, 3 & 4. I decided to use the full 5 minutes rest between sets as I wanted to simulate the test properly for harder things to come. I managed reasonably well, with maximum reps, albeit a few ugly left arm push presses at the end. Total score of 1430.

Having seen a few others do this test, and also on the interweb, some similar speed tests using kettlebells, I notice a lot of crappy reps and techniques, all for the sake of getting a high score. I have always been competitive, and extremely determined to improve on my performance no matter what activity I engage in, but one thing I find rather meaningless, is letting form go out the window just to hit a score, or beat the clock. Some may disagree, but that´s the way I guess things roll when you get older and performance and style seem more interesting that “busting a gut” to impress. So, I try to be sincere to my technique at least that way I have my OWN benchmark, and I guess that is what counts at the end of the day.

I have only done the test a few times, but see from the grading system that I must be doing something right, and indeed part of the fun of the test is deciding how far to push yourself before you are unable to get the max reps. I may try for a higher weight with, say, an aim of getting 80% of the reps. Maybe I can reach 1450+?

UPDATE: February 2013 Managed 1455, whilst aiming for 1550. Basically, I set a goal to complete ALL reps with respectively 28kg, 20kg, 20kg, 20kg, 28kg. I missed the first set by 10 reps, stopping at 110 reps, moved easily through the 20s but decided to take the 24kg on the last push presses. 28kg seemed an unlikely proposition about then, especially as my aim is usually to take the maximum reps.

UPDATE: March 2013 Having had a year away from consistent girevoy sport training (mostly bodyweight and KB assistance work) I decided on testing some heavier sets, including the 32s on the cleans and long cycle press, and the 28s on the half snatch, jerk and push press. Surprisingly, they felt good, which I put down to consistent pull-up and grip work, but these were isolated sets, not strung together like the pentathlon test. That is the real challenge of this test, a real test of mental fortitude, as well as key physical attributes like speed from the floor and fast, strong fixations. I always like to look at Ivan´s videos to see how much concentration and correct breathing is needed to be so good, not to mention his super powers! I´d like to try the test again using just 24s and 28s, and maybe allow myself to miss a few reps, in order to bust through towards.. 1600 ?? more ??

UPDATE: May 2013 Ahead of a local event aimed at introducing this test to those interested in kettlebell sport and training, I managed a spontaneous set, due (oddly I know) to a fatigued wrist from all the towel pullups of late (my go2 exercise numero uno) which were scheduled for the day. The aim was 24s for the entire test, save either the half-snatch or pushpress, where I figured 20 would allow me to complete the reps. It went well. I maxed the rep count, wisely snatching 20kg to save some juice for the last set. Total: 1530 easily my best score without too much prep or difficulty. Some quick calculations taking 28 on the cleans and 24 for the other 4 rounds would give me 1644. The next marker. I’m not one for overt quantifiable markers as my training motivations, instead tracking how I feel at different stages of my training, and overall mind/body strength development. Move well, breathe well, feel strong, in control –  this test is a good one, it’s not easy, but who wants ease in life?

S&C Grading system

Men:

Less than 720 : Low

721-900 : Average

901-1080 : Good

1081-1260 : High

1261-1440 : Extreme

More than 1441 : Superhuman (Denisov et. al)

Women:

Less than 360 : Low

361-540 : Average

541-720 : Good

721-900 : High

901-1080 : Extreme

More than 1081 : Superhuman

Summary

For a start, the WKC has separate certification programs for both FITNESS and SPORT. This test is aimed at the general public who may have not had training and experience in traditional girevoy sport (GS). For the purists (yes, there are the odd few!), such components as multiple hand shifts, ability to choose non-competition weight kettlebells, the half snatch (where you come down from lockout to the rack position between each rep), and indeed the selection of lifts may cause the heart to bleed, but hold your horses!. GS is very specific as a sport, and not so accessible to most people mildly interested in using kettlebells as part of their training arsenal. Few GS hardliners would be interested in such a “test” of their prowess, as they would use 2 kettlebells for a specified timed set, with a RPM goal together with weight. The test involves measured strength and conditioning, with a certain degree of endurance and power needed to finish off each set strongly. There is no real way to hide weaknesses, should you aim for a high score. There are plenty of other tests available, such at the RKC Tactical Strength Challenge, but life is so intent on convincing us we need the “ultimate” measure of success, that we are too quick to criticize.

The WKC test is by no means perfect, but what is?. It may seem little complicated at first, and even a little easy for those more experienced with kettlebell training, especially with one arm lifts. But when I heard Denisov had completed the test using the 40kg, 48kg and even 56kg bell, I cannot understand why people have overlooked this as a great means of ascertaining S&C levels, for newcomers and old-timers. The test is for kettlebell fitness, and could be combined with certain bodyweight exercises such as the strict dead-hang pullup or push up. Maybe even throw in a couple of 1max-rep barbell compound lifts to make it more of an “all-round” test?. But hey, why get even more complicated?. Why the endless search for the “ultimate in everything” dude or dude-ess?. That was Superman or Captain Avenger, or Wonder Woman. They don´t exist anymore, we are all getting slightly softer in modern times and use these kinds of efforts to be “awesome all the time” which are just signs of a sad dispersal of cognitive dissonance which resonates all the way to the gym.

Enjoy improving your performance at whatever you are interested in. Do it with style and learn from those who have put in years of effort before you in dedicated training and thought to finding out just how to get good results using sensible methods. And your performance is only as good as your recovery. You can be a star in the gym, but it helps little if you´re crap in bed. If anyone wants to try this test, and lives near me, I´d be happy to keep score, and make sure your form is spot on!.

Good Luck!

 

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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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