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Training and confused realities

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Where there is money to be made, the confusion mongers will flock. The training, or dare I say it, “fitness industry”, is no exception. These marketing vultures are “skilled” however, in their tactics and sadly, as is commonplace in the age of hyperconsumption and hedonism, people are easily suckered in to the cauldron of sugar syrup and bouncy blue balls. Let´s take a look at 5 common fallacies, many of which are becoming so mainstream, that a fish finger is in danger of being accepted as a fish. It´s time to get aware and swim against the current.

1. Functional Fitness

Whoa, baby! a world full of function, imagine that! The “idea” that seems to becoming mandatory fodder for anyone “serious” about their “workouts” is corporate corn syrup. Suddenly, an entire industry has been formed full of rubber-coated tires, pink balls, adjustable rope and expensive tape. To be really “functional”, a pair of shoes, pitch-fork and strong will power just will not do! No! you have to join an expensive gym, buy the entire kit to say you have joined the expensive gym and kit your home out with expensive rubber shit that comes with a DVD! Functional fitness, they say, means buying into so much confusion, that by the time you decide which pair of florescent shoes your next workout demands, you´re so exhausted that you decide it´s more optimal to suck on the recommended zone recovery shake, with its “active” ingredients for progressive performance.

What it ought to mean: You see, to really “function”, we need to be mobile, strong and “antifragile“, to borrow from Nassim Taleb, and know what gets in the way of being this way. Complexity may have enabled us to put a man on the moon and replace hearts, but its also made us lose sight of the actual simplicity (not ease) of training; hard work and thoughtful utilization of all your energy systems. Functional does not mean being completely overwhelmed with needless “choice”. What is “new”, is usually just rebranded “old”. If you want a living incarnation of what to do, for you, check out rosstraining.com

2. “This amazing (insert any hyped product here) takes the guesswork out of your workout, bringing your performance to new and improved levels!”

What utter garbage. Salesmanship 101. Making people “believe” that their results have stagnated, or cannot be achieved unless they buy into the “latest and greatest” tool. You see, marketing folk prey on people´s gullibility, and their propensity to want to believe. Yes, it´s a legacy of the gospel of doom. Your life will not be any “better” with your new DVD set.

What it ought to mean: Look, performance, or “results”, whether it be fat loss, strength gain, hypertrophy or even the elusive “condition”, are predicated on people working hard on following a dedicated regime of energizing their mind and body through work and recovery. Many factors play into optimal performance naturally, but stripping away the unessential, the sugar-coated packaged commercial “must-haves”, lays out a manageable, tried and tested platform to work from. No single tool you´ve been duped into signing up for is going to take the place of diligent curiosity and hard fall-down-get-back-up work. On the contrary, the more clutter you surround yourself with, the greater the odds you´ll fall back into the chair and biscuit jar.

3. By strutting about in the same multi-coloured trainers, tights and runner tops as everyone else on the Instagram #awesome, I´ll give off the vibe that I am so committed to the “fitness” lifestyle

Well, I may be cynical, but there´s an ocean of difference between those that “workout” and those that train. For the commercial interests however, they´d rather the blurred lines, and lump everything into the category “fit is fun!”. In fact, they would rather you spend more time actually kitted out in their brands and letting social media know all about it, than actually doing the work. No pair of tights will make you lift those weights, and no thought of others thinking you actually lift those weights, will make you lift those weights.

What it ought to mean: Ok, I understand the allure of a new pair of shoes, and once had a pair of tights. But at the end of the day, surely your training should be about how you feel and perform both in and out of the gym? (aesthetics usually follow if you´ve got things in order) Ironically, if your image is so important, you´d benefit more by setting aside time to get your ducks in line, and then actually reaping the benefits from your #awesome IG selfies.

4. Training should be “fun” yo!

Well, let´s step back a little here. Is life a box of roses or does it continually throw sand in your face? Sure, you can find fun times in your training (heck, you should!), but with hard work, comes tough times and a fair bit of soul searching. It´s a process, like life itself. It´s a test and a mighty big paradox. Don´t let anyone tell you otherwise. Fun is the commercial sugarline to hedonism. If it isn´t providing an instantaneous flow of gratification, dish it and try something else. Your well-being isn´t a priority here sunshine. I have actually seen players in the “industry” selling their product as providing “all the benefits of traditional training, but only fun, without the hard work”. Don´t mix things up.

What it ought to mean: Once you manage to reappraise the way your training becomes a part of your everyday existence, the fun can by all means be an integral side effect (or, you can just gauge this by your hormones). Pull up your socks and chug some RedBull, then get back to the farmers walks. There are even ways of making them fun. Do them naked.

5. But remember, “moderation” is the key to success!

Aaggghhh. Can´t stand that M word. Firstly, because it´s used as an excuse for avoiding hard, consistent, thoughtful work and secondly, it´s the darling of the corporate world who thrive on a confused, apathetic, restless, hands-in-the-sugar-bowl public. To the commercial world (gyms included) M means avoiding the gym, as the ideal GloboGym membership scenario and losing focus on consistent programs by adding in external distractions. This M word needs some serious shake-up. It implies your training lifestyle is a burden. It is not. Distraction is.

What it ought to mean: Once you work out that a healthy training lifestyle is to be enjoyed and implemented each and every day, you will reconsider what moderation means for you. It could mean, for example, spending the day after a hard metabolic session, or an 8hr mountain walk, practicing some yoga and breathing sequences, some joint mobility, some journal updates, some squats, some gardening… whatever it is! anything but the slump in the chair with a bowl of sugar-pops kind of moderation. Where did that come from, and why do people associate this with moderation? Surely, a reassessment of the M word could result in something like 2 eggs instead of 4 not 2 steps forward, 4 steps back.

Summary

What´s the key takeout here? Question any claim that tells you how to take your training to “new levels”. The problem is, most of these claims are carefully crafted to tap into the inabilities modern society has to understand the difference between the quick consumer fix and years of diligent, persistent, experimental, reflexive work. Who do people think they are! Suddenly, centuries of empiricism becomes irrelevant and a can of sugar takes its place! Aristotle would have been aghast. A successful and progressive training lifestyle need not only be a solitary affair spent out in the rain lifting items you´ve found at the dump, day after day after year after year. Well… No, it can actually be a communal endeavor, with events, actions and innovations (and Facebook groups) to make your experience even more fulfilling. Each to their own. What I´m saying, is that training, like life itself, ought to be a constant learning experience you yourself ultimately have the final say in developing. Seek out people with real life experience and see what your take out can be. Maybe nothing, maybe some small aspect you can incorporate. But be vigilant and don´t let commercial interests steal not only your hard earned cash, but the most essential asset you have: your time and health.

Think. Eliminate. Move. Practice. Enjoy.

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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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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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