Thursday, August 29, 2013

Kettlebell Accessories and My Brand

Kettlebell sport requires very little in specialized equipment. In fact, most kettlebell sport equipment is adopted from weightlifting, except for wrist protection. I've only become aware of armored wrist bands for kettlebell sport over the last 3 years; several brand names, two major designs. This summer's aggressive advertising in this unusual niche market prompted me to share why I came to Kettleguard as my gear of choice.

Team Kettleguard in Atlanta, 2013
DISCLAIMER: I am sponsored by Kettleguard and use and endorse their products, but this article does not speak for the company. All dates stated or implied are gleaned from public record and personal experience. All photos are publicly available on the internet, with due credit given to the fine artists who created them. Mine are labeled as such. All are included to imply "public knowledge" where applicable.

History and Design

I first became aware of Kettleguard in the winter of 2009-2010, and of other competing brands in the years following. Kettleguard was trademarked in 2009 and is popularly associated with the Ice Chamber Kettlebell Girls team, some of whom own the company. While there has been some new advertising by other brands since June of 2013, Kettleguard has long stood on its own merits and the testimonials of its satisfied customers. "The original and the best", so to speak.

The Kettleguard design (patent pending) uses removable, flexible plastic splints that flex to absorb the contour of the bell. The bell rests securely between the bones of the wrist and the parallel plastic splints. The splints are easily removable for a slimmer, sweatband-only fit if desired, and the entire assembly can be machine washed and air dried easily. Honestly, this could only really be improved with a beaded construction like one of those taxicab seat covers, but that would hardly be competition-legal.
IUKL-legal Compact Kettleguards with removable inserts

Some competing brands share a one-piece design with a rigid plastic half-pipe that surrounds the wrist. While arguably a harder protective surface (suitable for small-arms combat), this convex shape allows the bell to roll around and occupies more space in the handle insertion. One-piece construction has also proven brittle under normal use for a number of customers. If a Kettleguard splint breaks, you rotate the wristband an inch around your arm and keep lifting. You're likely to run out of cloth before you run out of splints.

Competition Support

Most international governing bodies define limits on protective and supportive gear like joint sleeves, belts, and wrist protection. In the broadest sense, this is considered a "raw" lifting sport; that is to say, it is expected that you can compete in a singlet and shoes. This excerpt from ISKFA regulations describes their requirements.
ISKFA Clothing Regulations:
Competitor must perform in clean, neat uniform. The uniform must meet the following requirements:
- Competitor outfit may consist of one or two parts, tight fitting shorts or weightlifting tights, T-shirt or weightlifting singlet;
- sleeves of the T-shirt must not cover elbows;
- it is allowable to use a standard weightlifting belt no wider than 12 cm and wraps no longer than 1.5 m. If a competitor uses wrist wraps, its width must be no more than 10 cm, for knees it must be no more than 25 cm. It is allowable to use knee braces.
Kettleguard athletes and customers compete under a number of major international governing bodies, including but not limited to IKSFA, IKFF, IUKL, and IUKL's US affiliate AKA. Kettleguard addressed the upcoming 2013 AKA US Nationals by releasing a 3.7-inch Compact Version, fully approved by the organization. Kettleguard is now a proud supporter of AKA, IUKL, and (just announced) the 2013 IKFF Northwest Kettlebell Championships.

Kettleguard Compact (mine)


Fitness vs. Sport

Whether you are a competitor or a fitness enthusiast, there are reasons to train with minimal or no wrist protection on a regular basis. Wrist protection is most needed for long-set training, common to sport instead of fitness. Traditionally, kettlebell sport governing bodies have permitted only ACE wraps of a certain length and 4 inches coverage. Most champions compete bare-handed. Even some stars of Team Kettleguard wear their gear in high-volume training but not in competion because wristbands change their handle insertion. Only bare hands will reveal imperfections in technique, rack, and alignment; and no supportive equipment should completely cover up the fact that you're doing it wrong. Kettleguards are designed to supplement good technique, not replace it.

The Larger Market

The accessories market for kettlebell sport in general reflects the infancy of kettlebell sport in the US. "Raw" sport or not, we Americans do love to accessorize. Some athletes use neoprene weightlifting knee sleeves by Rheband or Tommy Kono. Others use elastic therapeutic knee warmers available from most pharmacies. Every exercise shirt on the market today is slick, dry-weave blend, but kettlebell sport is best suited to the texture and friction of thick cotton. Most belts one sees at local meets would be disqualified at the national or world level.

What I would like to see is not just wristbands, but a line of legal, tradition-friendly KB sport accessories. I would like to see a ribbed or paneled t-shirt in heavy, almost terry cloth cotton, with a long tail for the belt. We don't need dry-weave polyesters for the jerk and long cycle; we spray ourselves down with water for traction. KB sport could use contoured lifting belts that sit low on the hips and meet international regulations. A simple colored logo would sell on headbands, dry-weave beanies, and single-layer sweatbands or athletic tape for bare-handed lifters. All these products offer support or protection befitting the name "-guard"; I haven't even gotten into fashion statements like hoodies and duffle bags and WOD socks.

I have always felt a personal reluctance for brand-name fanaticism, so it was a big deal for me to actually endorse Kettleguard. Simply put, the product speaks for itself. The advertising has always been positive and never disparaging of the competition. The team colors have graced the podium at numerous American world championships and the 2011 Open Cup of Europe, so the brand is well-represented. I'm eager to see what comes next, and I'm excited for the team's prospects at AKA US Nationals and IUKL Worlds.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

21 Day Squat Challenge, Fall of 2013

One of the more disruptive training ideas I've come across in the last few years is high-frequency training. I stumbled across Nick Horton and his 21 Day Squat Challenge some months ago, and the idea intrigued me. There are a few groups of athletes that train daily, and their recovery capacity is something I just completely lack. I have a few months before I compete again, so the time is ripe for change.

I started this on August 19 as a sort of jump-start for my offseason GPP.  I'll be using the author's "Volcano" ramp and "Classic Nemesis" intensifier (references), alternating back/front squats and dips/chins+cable rows daily. (I have never had enough upper body mobility or strength.) This program has a lot of sets and build-up, so my maxes are usually 205 back and 175 front by the time I get there.

Horton and others define 4 intensity zones as shown below:
  • Zone 1 – 90% of max to 100% of your 1 rep max (B185+, F160+)
  • Zone 2 – 70% to 89% of max (B145+, F125+)
  • Zone 3 – 50% to 69% of max (B105+, F90+)
  • Zone 4 – 49% and lower (B105-, F90-)
The first 4 days were all Zone 3, until I got my movements back under me. The goal is to have 70% of your total weight moved done above 70% of your day's max. I'm also observing that by the time I hit a 3RM, I probably can't add any more weight for 2RM and 1RM. That ends up being 3-2-1 at probably the same weight, then the intensifier sets. This week's work looks like this.

Tu: back squats, dips
3-2-1RM: 3@195, 2@195, 1@205
(zones start at 185, 145, 105)
3@Zone3: 145,155,165, 185
5@Zone2: 115,115
- Dips: 6,5,5.9,10,7x5 (70)
Notes: 6175 total, 31%/zone1, 38%/zone2, 31%/zone3
155 is my new "out of the hole" weight. Almost missed 3rd 195. Dips felt great, almost 2.5x my usual volume.
W: front, chins
-> goal: 5000lbs, posted on Facebook
3-2-1RM @175
(zones start at 160,125,90)
3@Zone2: 3@125,135,145,155
2x5@Zone3: 2x5@95
Chins: 5,3,5,3,4
Rows: 15,15,10,10
Notes: 6110 total, 25%/z1, 43%/z2, 32%/z3,
Maybe do 5k back w 20lb increments, 4k front w 15lb increments. This took a whole 1:15. Need to be fresher when I hit 1RM and not be here all day.

I have never squatted 6000 pounds in a day before, let alone by front squat. I've also never done this volume of full-bodyweight dips before, which should help my lockout. I've read that the upper body can take a tremendous volume. This will be interesting to monitor, as these exercises don't exactly degrade before they stop.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Fail in the rep, not in the rack

This was a good meet and a good end to a good season. That said, this was a seriously tough experience. The end of my set crept up from under a blister on one hand. I did not see that drop coming, and it took a moment to realize what had happened and why people were cheering.

Note: all three lifters this flight were named John, John, and Jonathan, so the video is 7 minutes of people screaming my name. I will never forget this gift from the meet coordinators.

That disoriented moment was humbling for me. I was snapped back to reality by this little sweat angel in the cloud of chalk dust, the first I had ever seen from one of my sets. It was a quick reminder that I had gone higher and longer than ever before. I remember meets gone by when I got dizzy and frustrated in the rack and set the bells down without failing a rep or hearing the buzzer. Those decisions haunted me, because they were decisions. Today, I would leave it all on the platform. Today, I would fail in the rep, not in the rack.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Prepping for the 2013 GA State KB Sport Championship

So the Georgia State meet is this weekend, and my last blog post was about me treating a back injury. I restored prone cobras to my routine, with good results. I also found a way to take a nap with a light traction on my shoulders and upper back, and I woke up pain-free. I've had to do some maintenance to prevent a relapse in what was clearly a compromised system, but the results have been good.

See you all there on Saturday!

M LC Density
LC 3'/2'r amrap @24,20,16: 10,15,18
2x16kg J: 10/1' x2
KB SQ: 2x20kg 5,5
Prone cobras: 2x25
Stretch, notes: tried rest before clean instead of after; didn't help 24s as I expected it would. 
Tu body work and a WALK
Check. Feeling good.
W LC 5' Test
20/5': 29 or 30
1mi walk/jog and stretch: check.
Stretch, notes: not bad. Done without visible clock, 6rpm felt rushed or at least poorly regulated. Most people work without a clock to follow their breathing. I work with a clock to regulate my breathing.  Interesting.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Training Log 2013/08/03-09 A PR and some self-diagnosis

Began this week with a set in honor of the International Friendship Kettlebell Tournament. I wasn't registered, but I participated in spirit. It also fit into the schedule, opening the week with a density day. The set was A-OK, completely fine, but I've been unhealthy since. More on that below.

Su LC Int'l Friendship meet
2x16: 80/10:00 on video 
Stretch, notes: 80 reps! Stretch and mobilize, cold shower, Mg rub. Didn't tear hands. 13-rep PR.

M run, body work
Lifted Sa, Su, and M.

Tu body work and rest
Woke up Tu with a migraine and a catch in mid-back.

Th run/walk intervals
3:00 run/3:00 walk intervals x5, about 3mi
Stretch, cold shower, magnesium oil rub on feet and calves (works wonders). Still have catch in mid-back; couldn't lift.

I've been off my sleep since July 31, I've had recurring headaches (not entirely "new"), and I've experienced a catch in my mid-back that I've felt once before. It feels like I've been folded forehead to knees in an MMA match, and it radiates around my ribs. I get a little relief when I stand or slouch. Sleeping with a pillow is worse immediately; without a pillow, worse eventually. Overhead stretching gives me an odd little crunch in my upper back and temporary relief. I do not remember how I fixed this the first time.

I've made three changes in my training recently to reflect a transition from Volume phase to Peaking phase, all following the week of July 21.
  1. I reduced and eliminated prone cobras. I did 5 weeks x 4 days x 2x25 without fail. I'd like to think I either fixed myself or at least didn't cause a new injury.
  2. I reduced heavy squatting volume and frequency. I did squat 2 days during the week of July 21 and felt wonderful, but none since.
  3. I cut out cable rows and pullups.
So I made three back changes at the same time. My sleep became irregular 4 days after I quit squatting ( :-D ). I developed this grinding upper back pain a week later. The headache is a pre-existing condition, but it's worse. I am seeing a doctor today about that, but the back thing should be within my power to fix now.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Training Log - 2013/07/29-31

M LC Density sets
Indian clubs, stick work, and foam roller
LC 3'/3'rest: 12@24kg, 18@20kg, 24@16kg
KB SQ: 2x20kg, 5 front, 8 back
Stretch, notes: not bad. Didn't fail. 2x24kg was slow, but finished the 3:00. Good pace with 20s and 16s.

One more set

Squat Day was cancelled due to an extremely broken night of sleep. If there's one thing I've learned about myself, it's what risks I can safely take. It's not worth it to squat middling weights with poor form and hurt my back 3 weeks from a competition. I'd be better off with two days of body work and rest.

W LC Speed sets
Indian clubs, stick work, and foam roller
LC 2x20kg:30/5', 2x16kg:40/5', 2x16kg:10/1'
Stretch, notes: good pace, even if feeling winded at the end.

I did the 16kg work without the Kettleguards. Developed the slightest blister on one hand, a textbook little bubble of water. The same wrist had an unusual pressure spot where the handle hits the ulna. May have been because that's the bottom handle in my stack. May have been a distinctly different hand insertion. Something to look into.