Thursday, January 31, 2013

Post-Season and Pre-Season, part 2

In the long run, the very long run, I'd be better off taking a whole year off of kettlebell sport to just build the muscle and athleticism I should have built in college. But, I didn't, and I can't bring myself to. So, here we are, taking an honest, critical review of training logs and coaching programs I've bought into over the years.

First, I'm middle-aged (43). Dan John writes much about the differences in training young adulthood versus middle age. Around age 27 or 28, nature will demote you from specialist to generalist, from an elite NFL star to an NFL veteran training to extend his career. I got into fitness at age 38 to rehabilitate a massive injury. I'm asymmetrical, inexperienced, and I don't always sleep well. I wasn't healthy enough to take up a niche sport with a steep learning curve, but that's exactly what I did. And here we are, some 4 years of "weight training" later, and I can't bench my bodyweight or compete with KBs that high school seniors use in Russia.

By comparison, every KB coaching program advises more time under the bells, usually the majority of it below your competition bell size. I've been warned off of power lifting by other KB athletes, who had decades of continuous training and sports and years of KB lifting on me. Nonetheless, my scores only went up when I trained half my time on barbells instead of training exclusively in KB sport. I needed the general physical preparation more than I needed the sport training. I'm not starting from step 1; I'm starting from step 0 or even a deficit.

Second, I need to lift heavy occasionally to maintain familiarity with heavy weights. I have progressed better with something like Wendler's 5/3/1 or Horton's Squat Nemesis than with a typical high-volume, linear progression. These programs include both high-rep sets and heavy singles. It was this regular handling of heavy weights that raised my squat from 205 to 225 and my 24kg score from 3 to 10 in 90 days. Other programs that work long sets at medium weight, like Enter The Kettlebell and Starting Strength, built up my stamina but not my strength. Not that they didn't "work", but that they were missing something for my needs.

Third, I'll just have to get bigger. My walk-around size the last 4yrs has been 5'8", 147lb, cutting to 143lb (with great difficulty) for KB competitions. That I gained that 2x24kg capacity and lost it again within 90 days tells me that it was neurological adaptation, not muscular. I have to accept that I am training, not for my 20s or for 2013 World's, but for my 50s. What I need is dense bones, smooth joints, and a layer of muscle and fat that will survive a fall or a stomach flu or a hospital stay in my 60s. I lost 15lb over a 5-day hospital stay in my 30s, and I was small when I got there. It's not a matter of vanity at my age; it's a matter of quality of life.

As an aside, there is a distinctly American phenomenon of heavily muscled KB athletes. The Russian and Eastern European federations are full of tall, wiry athletes with 145lb coaches who still compete through their 50s. America is full of KB athletes built like American football players. Heavy muscle presents a demand for oxygen and blood flow not seen in the build of a skinny farm boy who carries things and wrestles at school. I just grew up skinny and got fat by age 30.

Lastly, I may rank at 24kg this year, or I may not. Aiming for 2014 would probably put me on a better-prepared track for the next 10 years, honestly. I need around 25 reps to make an amateur rank with 24kg in some organizations, which would mean the world to me. I wouldn't be in the youth bracket or the masters bracket or an American-only 20kg bracket anymore. I'd be in Men's Open Class, anywhere in the world. No offense to them intended, but I've watched 200lb men compete with 16kg bells, and it never sat right with me. I'm not ready to be in the senior circuit, not yet. Maybe in my 60s.

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