Monday, December 30, 2013

New Year's 2014

First, my wife is awesome.

Weight vest, emory tape, chalk and a chalk bag, Kettleguard inserts, and a pack of shammies. Beyond thoughtful. I'm suspicious she just wants me to spend more time with the chalk outside or running around the block, but it's still such a great gesture. Even some #kettleguardlove.

Second, I had food poisoning last weekend. I was barely 1 week off a bulking program that put on about 10lbs. I had reduced the creatine and the constant eating before getting sick, and I came out of the sick weekend only 2.5lbs lighter than the end of the bulk. I've settled 1.5lb over my weight class instead of 8lb deep inside it.

Third, I set some milestones before moving up to 24kg bells again. Moving to heavier bells after 6 weeks off would have torn my calluses and set me back, and the AKA now ranks at 4kg increments. I'm better off moving up over the season than trying to start at 24kg. I wouldn't have said that a few months ago.

I wanted to press double 24kg bells to compete with double 24kg bells. It makes sense to me to be able to launch them and support them with confidence first. I've chased that with no success for over 2 years, barely getting the bells off my shoulders a couple months ago. I finally got that during the winter bulk.

I also wanted to meet rank numbers (50 at my bodyweight) or greater with smaller bells before moving up. Considering I've been back on the bells exactly 1 week and was sick 2 days ago, I was pleased to score 50 reps in 9:00 this Monay. Even better, I did it with a 9:15 playlist instead of a clock. The split was 25/5:00 + 25/4:00, so I finished at pace.

Lastly, I'm maintaining a principle of training strength in the gym and conditioning in my sport. I want to squat my bodyweight for tens and press the 24s for sets throughout this season, strong enough not to fail on technique. I know all the articles and all the Russian champions who only lift bells and run. I'm not a champion yet; I can't go 50 if I can't go 5.

Have a safe New Year's, and I'll see you at West Coast Classic.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

MMS: The Final Countdown

The training journal that comes with Mass Made Simple advises at the end of week 5 to refocus and cover any neglected areas to finish strong. I did everything but that. I had a friend in the hospital and several nights sleep interrupted. The stress actually cost me a settled stomach, a few pounds off my frame, and a few reps off my training totals. I've managed to maintain 185lb back squats for 15 reps and 135lb back squats for 25 reps, but nowhere close to 50 straight. This was the first long set of Day 13, 135lb for 25 reps at 161lb BW, set to some YouTube stock music for your enjoyment.

Oh, and YouTube, thank you very much for protecting us all from the sounds of life going on around us. Now all my gym videos have to be mute-edited at home between camera and upload or be overdubbed with YouTube stock tracks. Heaven forbid my gym should play classic rock radio, and thank you for extorting me over a few cents royalties instead of allowing these oldies the exposure that may actually sell an album to a reader. I'm sure the artists' grandchildren will appreciate your vigilence.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Crashing through barriers

There's a quote common to the Iron Radio podcast that I like, "crashing through barriers". One of the show's regulars frequently greets skinny-weak new clients with instructions to gain 20lb immediately, by any means necessary, and maintain that weight while they get strong until further notice. It's radical, but it has worked again and again. Losing weight is just eating less and walking more. Anybody can lose weight, but building lean body mass is expensive and time-consuming and limited by things like age, genetics, and endocrinology.

My weight crept up and down for almost 3 weeks while I (only) slightly overate and my lifts went nowhere. I even spent the week of Thanksgiving with a family member in the hospital, running around, carrying stress, eating cafeteria food. It wasn't until after Thanksgiving that I finally broke the inertia.

March, 2013 - 151lb; 185lb back squats, low bar, 1 set 5 reps
Nov 10, 2013 - 154lb
Nov 17, 2013 - 159lb
Nov 28, 2013 - 157lb
Dec 02, 2013 - 161lb; 185lb back squat, high bar, 5 sets of 7
Dec 05, 2013 - 164lb; 185lb back squat, high bar, last set, 15 reps

Before various readers question why I'm doing full squats instead of half squats for KB jerk (because squats), why I'm outside my weight class (temporarily), why I'm not running (torn calf), or why I'm not following the Lupatin and Rudnev paper (blogged about it) on mass and max strength, just don't. You know who you are. Don't.

I couldn't launch the green bells overhead when my legs got tired. I couldn't straighten my spine and breath in the rack. I was 147lb, against my will, for 5 years. My L5/S1 disc was loose. Today, this session, this bodyweight, all that is drifting further behind me.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

I just knew what it was

I had never actually torn a muscle before, but I had seen the injury a few times. I saw WWE wrestler Triple H tear his quad (video below) in 2007 and read about his recovery work. That muscle curled up into a bulge fast enough to see it on slo-mo replay, so I had some notion of the symptoms. I have imagined that a woman pregnant with her first child doesn't really know what a contraction feels like until the phrase "Honey, I'm having contractions" leaves her mouth. There are things you just recognize when you see them. I knew what this was when I saw it.

Two weeks ago, I ran a few steps after Kilo and felt a sharp charley horse, coupled with a strong fibrillation of the muscle beneath my skin like an electric shock. It felt like a jack-in-the-box toy had gone off in my pants leg. My very first thought, my immediate, first impulse in English words was "I just tore my calf". I just... knew what it was.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The 2014 US Competition Schedule

Kettlebell sport has been sparse in the US these last few years, but 2014 promises to change that. The American Kettlebell Alliance (AKA), the US affiliate of the International Union of Kettlebell Lifting (IUKL), has taken root in a very American way. There are already some 17 AKA meets in the US and Canada, with a few more on the way. These are just the ones I'm personally considering.
  • Feb 08 - IUKL West Coast Classic KB Championships, Richmond, CA
  • April 05 - Punch KB Sport Championship, Sarasota, FL
  • May 17 - ATC ThrowDown III, Charlotte, NC
  • Aug 23 - AKA/IUKL USA Nationals, Brooklyn, NY (maybe)
  • Sep 19 - IUKL World Cup at Mr Olympia, Las Vegas, NV (maybe)
  • Oct 25 - AKA/IUKL NC KB Weekend RX, Charlotte, NC
  • Nov 15 - AKA/IUKL Georgia Open, Atlanta, GA
If, per chance, I don't go for the gold this year... if I finish May and don't feel that USA Nationals or World Cup are reasonable for me, then I have a gap from May to October. Personally, my health benefits from seasonal gaps in my sport training where I am free to do something else. I know exactly what I'd do with five months between meets.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Finally, The Rock Has Come Back To Long Cycle

This November 01, I resumed direct training in the kettlebell Long Cycle. I've had little emphasis on conditioning, so I never expected to finish 6 or 8 minutes. I did finish some warmup sets, some 2:00 sets at heavy and medium weights, and a 4:00 set at light weight with good form and pace. The strength and posture work hasn't quite made 2x24kg look easy yet, but it's made 2x16kg and 2x20kg a thing of beauty compared to last year.


 I also love Squat Day. Being of skinny build, middle age, and aftermarket components, I am the prototype candidate for high-volume squat training. I do it Olympic style, high bar, full depth, medium stance.

Nick Horton's Squat Nemesis has been a great fit for my daily variations in top-end performance, but I've never felt such a bodybuilding-style pump before. This has introduced a midweek recovery work session and moved Thursday squats to Friday. There's nothing wrong with recovery work and muscle growth and deeper stamina.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Almost time to run, almost

Ed. note: I want to give a brief shout out to the competitors in the WKC championships today. My comrade in long cycle, Josh, had a bout of food poisoning after making the trip to Chicago and could not meet his potential when healthy. It was gutsy to lift anyway, and I'm proud of his effort.
My last post detailed the trouble I've been having with sleep lately. That's a real issue, not to be taken lightly. However, I do still get in some good training most days and do still have a schedule for the winter. It is almost time to start conditioning work again, so I've made a little commitment.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Trade it all for a good night's sleep

Today, I missed Squat Day. It's the first Tuesday I haven't gone in to squat in longer than I can remember. I knew something was wrong when I missed Squat Day.

For years now, I have been able to train 4 days per week. This season, I trained a 21-straight-day squat cycle, with good results, in an effort to recalibrate my recovery capacity for 5 days per week. I usually get 5 days, but not always 5 consecutive days. Now, I'm struggling with even that.

The causes have varied. I have a damaged right MCL, and the knee's been sore and loose. My hips have been tight, almost chronically so. Those are nothing new, though. I have lost sleep. I'm waking sporadically during the night, sometimes losing an hour or two of rest. I have a hard line on sleep: I do not lift heavy or lift overhead if my mind is cloudy when I wake up. It's a symptom of other issues.

So, I'm struggling a little to get calibrated this season. I'm 6wks in since the 21-day Squat Challenge. My 2-min work looks good, and my lightweight 5min work looks good. My calluses and grip have benefited from regular heavy swings, and I'm beginning to pry open my overhead position with some therapy work. If I could just get some rest.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Winter is coming

As winter approaches, I'm working to change a seasonal pattern of mine. I usually train barbells in the winter and kettlebells and running in the summer, but there were meets held by three separate organizations in the US on Feb 09 this year. I was barely ready by March. So, I got a space heater for my shed (working name "Pood Pod"), and I'm planning to lift outdoors this autumn down to around 50F. So after a short offseason of this...

my Dec 2014 should look like this...

I love this, by the way. I love everything about it. I wish I was pretty enough to be included, but that is a blog for another day. This sport is, frankly, a brutal activity in and of itself. It is meditative, it is therapeutic, but it is brutal. Nobody should put up with the calluses and blisters, the cramps, the chalk, all this for a health benefit we could probably get from trail running with a pack. But we do. It's a unique mix of iron and power and stamina, not quite like anything else.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

My Shocking Weight Gain

Please, bear with me to the end. The end is the important part. I'm saving the punchline for later, but let me throw out some numbers in American pounds as points of references.
  • 160.6lb - AKA 73kg weight class limit
  • 149.6lb - IUKL 68kg weight class limit, if I go to US Nationals in the Fall and want to cut down to it
  • 148lb - my natural, effortless weight for the last 5 years. I'm heavier now, on purpose.

The Why of it all.

I have said for some time now that at the top of my health and sport priorities, I am training for my sixties. I have referenced Dan John's "Training for Middle Age and Beyond" many times, including this quote, "the older person also needs to address specific hypertrophy issues". Older people don't grow (back) like younger people. I lost 15 pounds in a 5-day hospital stay. Old people with no muscle mass may lose basic movement skills forever following an atrophy like this. It's time for me to add muscle and bone while I'm still able.

For reference, I was a wasteland through my twenties and thirties. I have never had any upper body mass, save this pooch of a belly that never went away. I played soccer and tennis and rode bicycles for miles when I was young. I've always had good legs, but my shoulders still don't work right.

My last Autumn offseason, I called myself training to get bigger and stronger. I put on like 3 pounds. This offseason, I've focused on upper body muscle and lower body speed, and I'm 6lb heavier in barely 60 days. Competing in the AKA even raised my weight limit from 154lb to 160lb, so I have had every real excuse to bulk up now and trim down for competitions. This is positively serendipitous. I wake up now at 155lb, happy and strong, and looking good in my shirts.

This is where the punchline comes in.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Judging KB Sport

I've been to a few meets, and I've had some mixed experiences with judging. I've had a Russian coach and IUKL judge approve every rep of a very difficult set at a new bell weight. I've also had an American judge give no-counts for confident, consistently-paced reps while I set a new PR and well exceeded a rank score. The rules are fairly clear, actually, so it does beg the question just how subjective this sport can be. The jerk, snatch, and long cycle have one point in common, the top and drop. Let's consider just that point for the sake of brevity.

The Rules

The traditional rules for the jerk are simple, and these points are common to all governing bodies in the sport. See WKC rules, AKA/IUKL rules, and IGSF rules.
  • a first dip of the knees and a ballistic launch of the bell from the chest to a catch overhead on fully-extended arms. The bell must reach the top in a continuous, uniform motion.
  • the lifter must dip a second time during the launch to get below the bell before catching it overhead. The legs must not lock out until after the arms.
  • the bell must come to a stop under control overhead before being dropped into the next rep.
There are common minor variations of these standards. Catching with the legs basically extended but not locked. Extending the knees but not the hips. Incomplete extension of the elbows, but with the bells under control. Widely varied time spent overhead. YouTube videos of champions and world record performances display a vast range of allowed but questionable technique. One organization explicitly allows push-presses in their rules for the jerk, contradicting both the continuous motion rule and the elbows first rule.

Mistakes that earn a no-count are simple and few due to the very sequential nature of the lift standards:
  • if the launch is not sufficient to get the bells above fully-extended arms, the lifter might catch the bell with bent arms and press it up. This non-continuous motion is a no-count in all organizations except the one that allows push-presses.
  • if the lifter lacks the flexibility or confidence to execute the second dip and catch the bells with bent knees, the lifter might lock the knees during the launch, before the arms catch the bell. This lack of a second dip is a no-count but varies tremendously in the depth required between different judges and organizations. If you bend your knees out and back in while standing straight up, some orgs will count it.

The Methods

In other weightlifting sports, one performer takes the platform at a time. Powerlifting is primarily about the final joint alignment and not hitching the lifts up. Weightlifting is primarily about the timing of joint extension and immobilizing the weight overhead, as in kettlebell sport. These barbell sports both have "three white lights", three separate judges evaluating each lift and requiring at least two for the rep to count. A kettlebell sport judge may evaluate 100 reps over a 10 minute span for each lifter. There are usually several platforms running simultaneously, each with a single judge. Scaling three white lights to, say, kettlebells in the Olympics would be a nightmare even I wouldn't watch on TV.

Virtually every international rules document allows for the judge to establish a pace with a confident, consistent lifter and anticipate the count to shave off fractions of a second. Good lifters get a few short reps, maybe with a verbal warning to correct the next rep. Champion lifters may never actually immobilize the bell overhead and get rep counts before their elbows lock. The snatch in particular can become a whirlwind of continuous movement.

The (virtually) only public conversation going on today about judging methods involves the WKC Fixometer, a motion sensor attached to the bell and tracked by a mobile device. The motion sensor itself is documented to have a 0.3sec latency (Facebook chat with Federenko), plus the latency for data transfer and processing before a light/beep is displayed to count the rep. This is advertised as a "0.3 second fixation" standard, but it is clearly observed here...

and here...

... to be far too long for the anticipation and pacing expressly allowed in the rules. So many world records have been established with faster but acceptable technique, judged in real time by a human eye, and without the time between reps for these technical delays. I'd admit this presents a valuable training tool, but I maintain it is not ideal for competition.

The Controversy

The question is not whether we need a mechanical standard; I believe we do. For KB sport to ever appear in the Olympics, this sport will have to facilitate a gym full of lifters without requiring three judges per platform and majority rep counting. The problem today is actually inconsistency.
The Fixometer may be an excellent idea, but requiring an overhead hold as long as a full second for technological reasons is a burden unique to lifters under this one organization. The online "Wayback Machine" records that the WKC rules in Feb 2013 read as follows, emphasis theirs:
"Fixation is the final factor in a Judge issuing a Count. It proves proficiency in the lift, keeps the Meet fair, and aids in safety for the Lifters in the short and long term. We define it as the moment when the kettlebell is motionless in all planes, after the body is aligned and still. The Lifter must control the kettlebell(s) in the overhead position. A noticeable pause, without wobble, drifting or bounce, must be displayed. The Judge may at their discretion anticipate the stable pause and give the qualified lifter a quick count, but at any time the Judge may give a No-Count if the Lifter fails to control the Kettlebell(s). Being fatigued later in the set is no excuse for poor fixation. Fixation is the end of the rep."
The current WKC rules below (emphasis theirs) reflect, not the concepts of immobilization and control of the bell, but the technological limits of their for-sale motion sensor scoring product.
"Fixation Definition:
The kettlebell maintains <= 0.08G acceleration for >= 0.3 seconds, after the body is aligned and still.

Fixation is the final factor in a Judge issuing a Count. It proves proficiency in the lift, keeps the Meet fair, and aids in safety for the Lifters in the short and long term. The Lifter must control the kettlebell(s) in the overhead position. A noticeable pause, without wobble, drifting or bounce, must be displayed. The Judge may at their discretion anticipate the stable pause and give the qualified lifter a quick count, but at any time the Judge may give a No-Count if the Lifter fails to control the Kettlebell(s). Being fatigued later in the set is no excuse for poor fixation. Fixation is the end of the rep."
The ultimate goal is a consistent scoring standard that could be applied to 50 platforms at once with only 50 judges, and this is a step in that direction. It suffers from being highly commercialized and proprietary, and has also become an preapproval method for users wishing to compete at a higher rank. That in itself is not a bad idea. Defining the rules of the sport around the performance of a proprietary virtual stopwatch, however, is a bad idea. If next year's hardware can resolve down to 0.1sec but the software still lags, what expectation will the rules advertise, and how will it be enforced?

Final Thoughts

I'm concerned that the minor variations between "under control" and "fixated" are being stretched from the letter of the law to well beyond the spirit of that law. Any given lifter may oscillate in a stable stance when they breathe deeply. The notion of absolute immobility is impractical, but the notion of stability and control is both practical and necessary. That judges are allowed to quick-count one lifter but delay another lifter due to technical difficulties represents a gross misapplication of the rules. This doesn't even account for different organizations' rules regarding qualities like "alignment" and the second dip and the push press.

I wonder whether the motion-capture system used in movie production might be a better solution. Painted dots on the bells could be monitored by an HD camera connected or even built into a notebook computer. These systems are known to resolve and compute well below 0.1 second, as evidenced in 40fps HD video production and 60fps HD computer gaming. It would also provide the video of record for archive and publishing.

Frankly, I would like to see the day when we have equipment to evaluate a full-stop for 0.1 seconds and keep score automatically. Judges would be free to evaluate joint alignment and press-outs instead of microscopic movements, with the timer serving as a veto instead of a prerequisite. I would also love to see the current world records renewed under those new standards. I believe issues like "alignment" will vary from lifter to lifter and are greatly dependent on style and weight class.  But, the movement of the bell is a simple matter of physics and deserves better attention than we currently give it.

    Monday, September 30, 2013

    Punching the clock, training some KB jerk

    I guess people who compete at the top levels already have most of their lifetime general physical prep done. I read things like "kettlebells one day, running the other day, 7 days a week". I'm not nearly good enough - not nearly healthy enough, frankly - to do just that.

    This season is working well for me because my goals are technical, not numeric. At a spring meet last year, I failed in a jerk. So, I worked on jerk. Over the next 12 months, I finished the 10:00 at three different meets. At a meet this autumn, in a heavier bell class, I failed in a clean. So, I need to build my hands. This training season is all about addressing weakest links and strength and basic skills.

    I've always hated doing just jerk without cleans. I hear that a lot in Long Cycle crowds. We also capitalize Long Cycle but not jerk. This was a jerk day. Heavy work with gear, several sets of 5-10. Light work without gear, feeling where the bells lay on my hands and in the rack. I still maintain that training time without protection is a valuable addition. Placement on the wrists and in the rack is too influential over the long set to overcompensate with wrist armor and belts.

    My jerk is currently limited by my lack of quickness. I'm also doing 2 days/wk of quick barbell squats and deadlifts, 50-80% of max, with box jumps and sprints as supersets. I'm getting quicker, and my legs are growing. I'm also doing step-ups to build my deficient hamstrings and reinforce my damaged leg.

    The last thing I'm doing this season is not setting hard numerical goals. I'm doing 5 or 6 sets of basically everything, but I'm working well within physical limits. Don't tear palms. Don't get shaky and negative overhead. Don't miss tomorrow's session due to today's mistakes. The volume and running and goals will come in a couple months.

    Friday, September 20, 2013

    Skills and Maintenance

    I have about 5 months before my next meet. That's easily 3 months of GPP and skills work before I have to start focusing on competition. The first thing I noticed when I resumed training kettlebells was that my grip endurance and skin durability had already degraded. The second thing was the extended load-bearing in the rack. General barbell training does not prepare you for this specific sort of discomfort.

    My list of priorities is basic: speed, mobility, armoring my hands, basic kettlebell movements in volume. I've had good results training cleans and jerks separately before; it prevents overall systemic failure from stopping you before skill-specific failure would. And, I've realized in previous posts that my legs are strong but slow, too slow to advance in this sport or to be generally athletic.

    M - KB jerks, swings, presses/pushups, upper back therapy
    Tu - Superset fast squats and box jumps, volume cable rows, leg therapy
    W - KB cleans, swings, presses/pushups, upper back therapy
    Th - Superset fast dead lifts and sprints, volume cable rows, leg therapy
    F - KB jerks, swings, presses/pushups, upper back therapy
    Sa and Su off
    Daily Indian clubs, frequent foam rolling

    The sets and reps are extremely free-form on the kettlebell work, stopping before failure and before tearing my hands. The barbell work is 5x5 with the speed work 2-3 reps after each set. This is my last two days as a sample.

    Th DL: 5x5@50-80%, box jumps or sprints, rows
    -DL warmup, test x5, alt short sprints
    135,155,155,175,175 x
    Cable rows: @100#, 10,15,15,10
    Stretch, notes: a few SLDL and step-ups. Right hip is shakier than left; probably needs therapy each session to keep up. Upper back icky late afternoons this week; add prone cobras.
    F KB Jerk sets, Presses, swings
    -Press 5@20,8@16
    -Jerk sets, get to 24s
    2x24: 4x5
    -Swings: 24kg 25,25
    -Push-ups 13,12
    -Prone cobras: 25,25
    Stretch, notes: some abdominal work, stretch hips
    Clearly, this will be pretty repetitive over time and won't always be online. I'll post when most of the work is 24kg and above.

    Tuesday, September 10, 2013

    21-day Squat Challenge Report, Fall of 2013

    I finished 21 straight days of squat on Sunday, 08 Sep. I posted an early introductory piece a couple weeks ago, and this will be a summary of how it went. While this idea of high frequency training, even daily near-maximal training, is common to the Olympic weightlifting paradigm, I have to credit Nick Horton for this particular challenge. (,


    First, I came into this fresh off a kettlebell sport season, only two days after a meet and a road trip. I had not lifted heavy in months, so I began with a 4-day warmup. I also had a multi-pronged need to maintain some upper body work, so the outline for the first 2 weeks follows.

    A - back squats Squat Nemesis, 50 dips, 50 cable rows
    B - front squats Squat Nemesis, 100 cable rows

    The last week only had one day of front squats, as I tried to emphasize the heavier movement. My triples and fives at the end were done until I lost bar speed, as I do tend to grind heavier weights.


    I hoped my 1RM numbers would increase more. I did see my volume shift toward heavier weights, even though my 1RM did not move.  The 21-day graphic below does not show my 4-day break-in or my front squat days. My front squat days were more therapeutic than heavy, and they were never heavy enough to include in the overall stats.

    Blue - total volume for the day, divided by 100 to fit within the scale. Varied between 4,000 and 6,700lbs.
    Red - volume expressed as multiple of that day's 1RM.  Increased from 20x to 33x by the end.
    Orange - percentage of each day's total volume in Zones 1 and 2 (>70% and >90% of each day's 1RM). Began around 62%, ended at 75% on highest-volume days.

    My overall volume fluctuated as expected. I quit hitting heavy weights entirely around day 10, both front and back. The last 5 peaks show my volume increasing, both in raw numbers and as a multiple of 1RM, indicating more work done heavy. I also just quit doing work sets in Zone 3 entirely. My warmup strategy changed drastically, and the last few days wasted very little time or volume.


    What I need is speed, and I think I know how to address that. I grind squats out of the hole, ever since my leg injury a few years ago. This may not be easy, but it will be worth it.

    My back has never felt better. You really cannot overtrain the upper back. This has changed my ideas about recovery and work capacity, and my press motion is still good. I will row every time I'm at Elite Fitness, at least twice per week.

    I'm resuming kettlebell training this week, with barbell work for assistance. I'd rather not bore the world with columns about how I did the same 4 workouts for the next five months, so I'll update at milestones. See you on the platform in February.