Thursday, May 30, 2013

The assistance work, it burns!

5/3/1 Barbell Training

I've used Jim Wendler's 5/3/1 program before. Good program, especially in a minimal configuration alongside sport training. I won't quote the program out of respect for Jim, but there is an emphasis on using the assistance work for volume and recovery. I've also had good results historically with bodyweight drills, so I'm following a bodyweight assistance template that recommends 75+ reps of everything (clearly a generalized metaphor for "a lot") but is well-suited for 5x10 as shown.
  • 531 Press, 5x10 cable rows, 5x10 deadlift speed work
  • 531 Squat (front squats for sport reasons), 5x10 glute ham raises, 5x10 press speed work
  • WKC Pentathlon, half-length, 3:00 work/2:30 rest
  • 531 Dead lift, 5x10 hanging leg raises, 5x10 squat speed work
  • PT every session: Indian club drills before, 3 sets of Peterson step-ups after
All my "speed work" is bodyweight or ballistic in nature, as my strength work tends to be slow. I've also moved the same-direction assistance work to the next session, as shown by color highlights. I need frequent practice more than I need to pump and bulk up. That being said...

Holy smokes, am I sore! My shoulders and triceps are just beat. My legs are a little stiff, not bad, and my knees are actually great. Two days later, I'm recovering okay and performing well. Let's hope that trend continues. Note that, with my shoulder fatigue, I did hit the rep limit on 20kg clean and press. The sets were 2, 3, 5, 2, 3, per hand. I'd have struggled beyond 5 straight at this pace not long ago.

Kettlebell Pentathlon

One day each week is devoted to a short-set version of WKC Pentathlon. I'm currently hitting the rep cap with 20kg or 16kg each lift. Even this half-pentathlon is not trivial for me, 25 minutes interval work at pace. This was a good idea, and it's a good intermission between squat and dead lift.

By the way, I created a multi-stage timer in KB Timer Pro (love it, iOS screenshots below) with 3:00 work, 2:30 rest, and the next lift's name previewed during the rest.  This is one of the few iOS apps I've actually bought, and I use it all the time.

Last 15sec of Cleans

Rest before Clean and Press

So that's what I'm up to. Some strength work, some speed work, some physical therapy. The knee is making progress faster than it did 4 years ago. That would be a happy bonus, if I managed to upgrade my knee a couple of levels.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Kettlebell Sport schedules, and why I have a mid-season postseason

Kettlebell sport (or GS from the Russian "Girevoy" sport) doesn't have a predictable schedule like NFL football. Lifters at the higher ranks may tour and compete in several federations eight or ten times a year, with a short break before World's in the Autumn. Then there's the rest of us.

Given that different federations do not coordinate, there's no single published calendar for most of the iron sports. (How soccer and rugby pull this off is beyond me.) For example, there were three separate meets on Feb 09 under different organizations. The more primarily American organizations tend to schedule with social media sites first and a central calendar second. Some of the larger, older organizations in Europe don't use social media at all and may not even list the meets of national affiliates. These are just a few current resources for finding GS meets.
Most federations only allow men to use 16kg, 24kg, or 32kg kettlebells. Were I a little older or a lot younger, I could lift 16s, but I'm not ready to compete 24s. There's even a 24kg meet in 10 days in my home state, and I'm not going. The WKC uses every 4kg increment from 12kg through 48kg, providing brackets for intermediate lifters. Men lifting 16-20kg have precious few chances to compete and longer breaks mid-season. That's my situation today.

Go to meets, and cheer hard!
So, I mentioned before that this is my Stage 5.  That's a phrase I learned from John Wild Buckley's blog some time ago, derived from this list.
  1. Preseason
  2. Regular season
  3. Postseason
  4. Championship game
  5. Disneyland/offseason
I worked through illness and into some mild injury between these two meets, so I need some restorative time. Honestly, I could probably use six months off, but my next scheduled meets are August 18 in Atlanta, then World Championships in October. The last 4 days and 14,000 calories have been Stage 5. I'll be in Stage 1 until my back and knee don't hurt under 24s. Physical therapy first, then strength and speed for 4-6 weeks. Hopefully once I move up to 24s, I won't need so much preseason every year.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

ATC Throwdown II - 2013 edition

I've linked a few pictures posted by others to Facebook, credit due mostly to Steve Burroughs, and to a grainy self-video of my set from the meet.

Cyrus Peterson and Advanced Training Concepts hosted the ATC Throwdown II on Saturday, a successful meet by many measures. It was well-attended and festive. There were attempts made at CMS, MS, and MSWC by several men and women, as well as first-timers and veterans putting up respectable scores. Most of these higher rank attempts actually failed.  Several people aborted sets early due to illness or injury. It was not an easy competition, even for this sport, as reflected in these few stories below.

I had a personal goal to lift 24kg Long Cycle, but was not able to meet that. I've referred to this May as my worst training month of the last 2 years. There's been 3 weeks of fever in my house and a band of pain across my T-spine that radiated into my abdomen and caused stomach cramps. That stayed with me until warmups at ATC, then followed me home for the weekend.

Ed. note: It was ironic that one ATC lifter aborted his set with stomach cramps, another with nausea, and neither one was me.

I am so tired of purple.
Several other lifters I know have posted their own thoughts online. One wrote this meet's entry in grey (instead of the template's white) on black, concluding shortly with "Disappointment is an understatement". Another ended with, "Lessons learned: guts, technique, and consistency leads to great kettlebell lifting, and I need a lot more of each." This is a tough sport, as much physically as emotionally, and I hesitate to say "emotionally" in the iron game.

Pure determination.
One young rookie had tears on her cheeks as the clock reached 10:00. That is to say, she finished 10:00 in both events of her first meet, despite the crushing frustration of it all. I had the privilege to share some tips with her between jerk and snatch, from which she immediately felt improvement. Once on the platform, she wavered between her unrehearsed new information and her weeks of training for this event, finishing on pure determination. Her applause was the loudest of the awards ceremony, and I expect to see her on the platform again.

I came to a reluctant peace with my results. I raised my personal record. I outranked another 70kg lifter and outscored a heavier lifter with 20s. I got light-headed and blurry around 7:30, surviving only on the cheers of my brothers in arms. I believe that was the first time I ever heard my own name shouted back at me on the platform. I'd have to call this meet a success for myself, regardless how bad I felt, regardless that I didn't lift 24s... again.


Next up, a few days off, and we start the cycle again. This is what John Wild Buckley calls "Stage 5", and it will be a brief one.  See you in the next post.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Gap analysis, pt 2

It meant the world to me that other athletes and coaches complemented me on my technique at last month's meet. As I am self-coached, that feedback tells me that I am "displaying good form at this load". But what I understand privately is exactly how I am compensating to achieve that good form. This conversation's entitled "Gap analysis" for a reason. For only two brief examples,
  • I've been coached previously to deepen my first dip in the Jerk. Last week, I felt a shooting pain in my knee under the 24s. I shook it out and finished the set with a shallower dip and zero pain. That is a gap, a structural flaw related to a known injury. (Note: I duly noted that I was no longer doing any isolateral physical therapy on that knee and have resume it as part of normal training.) The dip I need for that weight is at the limit of my current tolerance.
  • I needed better cardio. I used a Concept 2 rowing machine with great results in pure stamina, but I found that long sets with the bells made my feet hurt. While running is less suited to my anatomy (pathology?) than rowing, running does acclimate my feet to the pounding of the sport. I never saw that coming, never heard it said by a coach. So, I have to compromise.  Running's hard on my hamstrings, but great for my feet.
I trimmed that list twice in draft, so it's not nearly complete. The leg is a widely-known story. It will never be quite normal, but it no longer interferes with my margin of error or causes me pain at this level of performance. Now then, I could retain a sport coach forever to train around a structural pathology, or I could work on my elasticity until I'm capable of dipping deeper and faster, then retain a coach again when I have implemented their last instructions. Fortunately, I have a coach willing to see me once or twice a year, and I still make progress from our meetings.

Medical problems are not always repairable, and coaches are expensive. What I've spent on exercise gear would only cover a few weeks of personal training at the level I require, and I have the time for the self-discovery. I'm working Indian clubs daily and in all warm-ups and doing PT drills on my knee. I need some speed work, both upper body and lower body; my jerk is pretty but slow. The plan is to include front squats and presses, and I've made good progress on 5/3/1 programming.

P.S. I'll close with a link out to Mark Reifkind's blog. Mark has had catastrophic injuries, and he understands that rehab is training. He finally digested that phrase in 2011 or 2012, if I recall. The man was a gymnast and a powerlifter, and he had to retrain himself to do pushups. His shoulder could press overhead, but not forward. That is the kind of self-study I'm talking about, the focus to recognize and fill in one's own gaps.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Gap analysis, pt 1

My last post actually prompted some discussion, particularly the notions of strength training for kettlebell sport and self-coaching. I'm not accustomed to anyone but myself reading my blog, so this certainly warrants a response. I'm wondering if I can concisely sum up the last 4 years of thought into 2 or 3 articles.

First, I got into KB sport kind of diagonally. My first year-plus of fitness training... exercise got stalled and boring. I was aware of KBs and found KB sport was an activity that I could focus my training around. To keep up with a sport, steady progress would periodically guide improvements in strength or cardio or joint mobility, whatever was my current weakest gap. I came into this around age 40 (3 years ago) after nearly 15 years of inactivity and some injury, so there were definitely gaps.

Second, I've come to value the training mindset of Dan John (www.danjohn.net) more than anyone else in my athletic life. To steal a term of his with no explanation whatsoever, I was a very active Quadrant I teenager, but in a school with no organized team sports. I never took real impacts or lifted weights, then I grew up sedentary and fat behind a desk. I dropped the fat around age 37, but not the sedentary. Now, I'm 43 and doing repetitive ballistic weight lifting. If you've read DJ much, then you're already taking notes.

Lastly, there's a Dan John quote I have to paraphrase at this moment: "If you're 37 or older, then you're automatically a Quadrant III athlete again". My top priority is now lean body mass, joint mobility, and physical therapy. Therefore, I have a membership in a barbell gym, where I train all winter and about 50% of the time throughout KB season.

KB sport, on the other hand, has repeated heavy impacts, explosive movements done under fatigue, everything one ordinarily sprinkles on top of their 9-layer dip of fitness. It's like the world's heaviest version of carpal tunnel syndrome. By any reasonable measure, this should be a small fraction of my own fitness life, as detailed in my next post.


P.S. There are people who use primarily KB drills for fitness, including the overweight and the elderly in group classes. I don't question the positive results, but that is a different activity, more exercise than training. When you are sedentary and deconditioned, moving a single 16kg for sets of 8, switching hands, taking breaks, is good for you in many ways. Sport training is a different activity and not for the faint of heart or delicate of frame. As said so often before me, sport begins where fitness leaves off.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Intermission, and a study on training programs

So the Punch Kettlebell Sport Championship was an enormous success. The facility was festive. The host members were warm and enthusiastic and sporting team colors. The Facebook event is full of pictures and stories, which I won't fully replicate here. Jessica DiBiase from the Ice Chamber scored MS numbers in 20kg biathlon, and with style and grace. Scott and I both posted good sets in Mens' 20kg Long Cycle: 67 reps at 85kg for Scott, 50 reps at 70kg for myself, both in excess of rank requirements for our new weight classes.

"No count."

Personally, I have been trying to move up to 24kg Long Cycle for over a year now. In 2012, I was nowhere near ready. I've publicly committed to compete 24s in 2013, but have not yet been able to overcome the sheer weight. I have made three organized attempts to move up, with differing results.


Summer 2012 - KB volume at 65kg. In traditional fashion, I trained high volume KB work and running. It got me nowhere. My autumn score with 20s was exactly the same as my Spring score, to the last rep. I recognized something written frequently by Dan John, that I needed a higher level of general fitness instead of specializing in sport training. I'm 43, and I've been at this all of 3 years. I will not thrive on sport alone.

Winter 2012 - strength training. I did limited LC work alongside a Wendler 5/3/1 program. In December, I recorded 3 sets of 2x24kg LC at 6/1:00, 1:00 rest. To this day, that remains my best timed 24kg work. That winter, I put 100lb on my powerlifting total and 11lb on my body that remained with me through the Spring. Here in the 70kg class, it is a Big Deal that I'm no longer cutting weight before meets.

Spring 2013 - KB volume at 70kg. Since the peaking cycle for the Punch meet in April, I've spent the intermission on a more traditional GS program.
  • M,Th - Jerk at 2x24 and single 28, pushups, pullups
  • Tu - Cleans at 2x24 and single 28, front squats, 1mi run in the hills
  • F - LC at 2x20 for long, timed sets, back squats at high volume
  • Daily Indian club work for shoulders and elbows
Only 3 weeks into this Spring plan, my assistance work is thriving, but my KB results are mixed. Last week's LC sets (of 5) were better than this week's (with misses), indicating that I am operating at my limit, without any real margin for error. This may work itself out by August, but it will not prepare me for May, and it is not guaranteed to work by August if I don't include more strength work.

And so, I will probably lift 20s at the ATC Throwdown, again, while the rest of my peers move up a bell, and that grates on me. I have to remind myself that I do this first for my health. I will probably resume powerlifting twice a week as early as Monday, despite the May 18 meet. That meet is probably more social than competitive for me now. It will be interesting to see if less KB work and more strength work improves my KB scores in another 6 weeks, and an intriguing story to tell.