Friday, December 19, 2014

Like a tiny little brick wall

I ran a community 5K race last weekend. I had not run in 10 days prior, so my calves and feet were sore most of this week. Still, I underestimated the challenge this would present to my kettlebell lifting.

My heavy-bell sets this week were shorter than 2wks ago, some ending in no-counts. My knees were slow and sore, and my total volume was down about one third. I've been doing multiple 3' sets with 1' rest, not even feasible this week. Today, I traded the endurance sets for a few days of strength work and positive rep quality.

2x24kg LC multiple sets of 5-8 for volume
2x16kg LC 5' set
strength work: handstands, cable rows, 2x24kg squats, ab wheel rollouts
running 30-40' x2/wk

Today's work felt good. I didn't tear any blisters. Off the record, I even did a few reps of Jerk with 2x28kg. Tomorrow, I have calisthenics and a long run.

This isn't the usual plan for 7wks before a major competition, but it is the usual plan for someone who needs to heal and rejuvenate. In a few more days, I'll add more 24kg sets and move the 5' finisher up to 20kg. I'll post an update around New Year's. Have a wonderful holiday season, everyone.

Monday, December 15, 2014

2014 Huntersville Holiday 5K

Well, I did that. I'm "a runner", and I had a great time. The running community vibe reminds me of kettlebell sport, with the individual challenge of the sport and the enthusiastic, universal support. I was amazed at the number of running clubs, even marathon clubs, local to this area. And I was proud of my neighbor and friend, Jesi, for finishing with her head up and her family and newborn baby at the line.

I have nursed a bruise on my foot since early December, not running even once for ten days before the event. I foam rolled, I massaged, I rubbed menthol cream. The morning of, I had a great warmup, and my feet were bouncy and fresh. I pushed myself and cut more than 3:00 off my previous best 5K time. I'm the bumblebee at the 17:33 mark below.

For the record, I passed the little boy in yellow a quarter mile back. 10 of the top 20, including both M and F overall winners, were ages 16 and under. Two of them were 9... 'sigh' I couldn't get up out of a chair that evening, and it still affected my KB lifting this morning. But, I didn't blister anything or make my bruise any worse. This was a good run.

I also finished 3rd in Men 45-49, with an official time of 25:23. I read later that 4th place finished 3.9 seconds back, just some anonymous timing chip in the crowd that I never chased or even saw. I wanted to walk that hill at 2mi so bad, but I was still breathing 3-in/3-out through my nose. I had no motivation to push but the knowledge that I wasn't yet pushing. It was only in hindsight that I learned how all my choices added up to that slim 3.9 seconds. I'd have never forgiven myself if I hadn't run my best race.

Friday, November 21, 2014

2014 Mid-November Chill In The Air

Half my lifting friends are off to Hamburg for the IUKL World Championships. The other half are at home, scheduling their training around Thanksgiving to pay off gravy bills. I'm working on lifting volume and trying to run through the snotsicles in this year's early freezing temperatures.

I lifted in my shed all of last winter, but the sheer, bitter cold in the bells this season felt completely foreign. I did not remember them being this hard to deal with, until I remembered that I previously carried some of the bells in and out of the house in the worst weather. I bought a second programmable space heater and an electric blanket. It may seem a bit much, but it was totally worth it. The room was a cozy 60F, and the bells were a comfortable, neutral temp.

No, that's not me in there
I'm working basic volume right now in Long Cycle and Jerk. There was a time a few months ago when I reached this milestone volume of 100 reps per session. At the time, that was significant for me, as my rank number is around 50 and I didn't tolerate many reps on heavier bells. As of this week, I'm over 100 reps per session, a quarter of that with my heavy bells and half of it above competition pace. This will be a busy winter.

Friday, November 7, 2014

2014 November Notes, early

My set at the Great Bells Of Fire meet left a new tear in my palm that crossed one of the seams, so I've trained Jerk, swings (taped my hand), squats, and running since then, part of a 6wk program to reintroduce 24kg and raise my volume with the lighter bells. My palm is healed completely now, and I did today's 16kg finishers as Long Cycle instead of Jerk.

There has been a two-fold benefit from this focus on Jerk. First, I've never tolerated just Jerk before. LC relieves the pressure on my hands and wrists. I logged a dozen straight 2x24kg Jerk today, when my best LC score was a mere 25, and I had not lifted 24kg in weeks prior.

Second, this work emphasizes the part of the cycle that scores the point, the part that can't be forced with grip and biceps and terrible technique. Over the next 6wks, I'll gradually move LC practice up from light to heavier bells. Already, the 24 bells look good.

The program ends the day before a Holiday 5K in December. I've run through the C(ouch)25K program up to session 8.1, but I've already completed 5K or 30min a couple times now. Over the next 5wks, I'll be stretching my 5K/25min to 7K/40min or beyond, and I'm excited about the prospect. Running at the break of dawn is cathartic, even if it's dark and cold.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

2014 Great Bells of Fire meet results

The 2014 Great Bells of Fire meet at Pride Conditioning was a rousing success. Douglas and Lindsay Seamans do know how to throw a party. Congrats on the new-fangled accommodations; your hard work was much appreciated. Yuri and Alex ran a tight schedule throughout the day, and it would be rude of me not to thank them for organizing and conducting the event so efficiently.

This was my set, scoring 62 reps over the full 10 minutes. That was an overall PR for me and a comp PR by 8 reps. It was great to see so many of my fellow NC lifters in action. The other two gentlemen lifting 20kg Long Cycle each finished 10:00 for their first or second time and (IIRC) scored PRs.

This concludes my 2014 competition season. I wish my comrades all the best at the Georgia Open next month, but I can't bring myself to make this one. This trip's not particularly costly, but I just have nothing left to prove with 20kg that deserves the cost of travel anymore. It's time for me either to focus on 24kg or to treat this as a social hobby. I am phenomenally lucky to have a company in the SF Bay that flies me out every February for a week, coinciding with the West Coast Classic, and they let me schedule my visits around it. Monday morning, I start training to lift 24kg at the Chamber. Happy Holidays, and good luck.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Reps, racks, and runs

We've just passed three weeks out from the meet at Pride Conditioning. Last week, I was below my target weight and working on conditioning. This is a sample of training from last week.

BW 66.5kg (68kg class)
3-5min sets of 20kg Long Cycle
50rep sets of 16kg skills work
One-armed 24kg work and regular physical therapy
Running Couch to 5k program, wk 5, 2.5mi/30min in intervals

Sometime late in the week, the loose disc in my lower back moved. I've had radiating pains around belt-level since the weekend. There's been no lifting, no running since Saturday, and no unbroken sleep this week. I'm going to try lifting short intervals tomorrow, followed by a run. I would like to say I'm predicting so many reps at the meets in Charlotte and Georgia, but that would be premature. What I'm planning right now is a recovery and a respectable performance.

Edit: I had a sketchy night's sleep, but I lifted Black Jerk pyramid sets from 16kg up to 24kg and had a 2.4mi/20' run. My back is coming along.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

New 20kg PR: 60/10'

I have been working toward a 20kg Long Cycle test, with a goal of 60 reps in mind. That would be a +6 PR with a drop in weight class. The planning included a little 24kg work, a lot of 20kg sets, and a lot of running and mobility work. I was coached to make a change in technique over the summer, phasing out side-racking and resting in general due to my higher pace. I haven't yet seen how this will translate into 24kg work, but I'm excited about the prospect.

It's interesting to me that I'm cleaning high and noisy like I used to. It was effortless and unintentional. My backswing floated to a stop, and the bells naturally came in high. I actually breathe better with a higher rack, but the 24s will beat me to death coming in this way. I have some work to do. At least I can say I didn't rest in a side rack, and I got my legs into the launch around minute 8.

Below is a video from June of this year, lifting twelves in front of a coach. I intentionally dipped a little slow because I have a tendency to twitch off my toes. But the cleans... the cleans were so quiet. I need to get back to this work. This will be my 16kg work for the next month. I will be lifting at the North Carolina Kettlebell Rx next month. I've not yet determined which bell, but probably 20kg.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Making use of the time

About 6wks out from the October 25 North Carolina Kettlebell Rx Weekend, I decided to take a little bump of strength training. I may not be able to compete with 24kg yet, but I can incorporate them for adaptation purposes. The jerks are passable, but the heavier cleans cracked a couple of my calluses, so I've had to grow some skin and manage my activities. This was a sample from today.

Warmup: Indian clubs, rope jumping, elbow and shoulder mobility
one-arm 16kg drills, a few reps double 16kg long cycle
double 24kg Jerk 5x5/1'rest
double 20kg Long Cycle 24/4'
24kg swings 3x50, switching hands every 5 reps
Ab work, squats, and physical therapy

That is a lot of "things" for my taste and available time, but it's a good 2-week bump to preserve strength and muscle. So I'm lifting 3/wk and running 2/wk, both lifting and running on Saturday mornings a couple times. That sounded brutal in my head at first, but it works out better than I ever expected.

P.S. This has been a good training season. Ten months ago, I followed a program to raise my weight from 152 to 164 for strength purposes. Half that fell off when I ended the actual program. I made a recent low-carb/high-fat change that stripped me down to 147, the lightest I've been in 3 years. My old clothes are tighter here and looser there. I press heavier. My 16kg and 20kg scores are up. And, I'm running now. Regardless whether I compete again, whether I lift 24kg or make rank, it's been a successful training season by every measure.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Peer Pressure

Ed. note: I'm going to drop a lot of names, some ages, some scores and ranks. All of this info is publicly available on the web if you Google any meet I've ever attended. There is no suggestion of superiority or inferiority, no invasion of privacy intended, just some thoughts that have recently come to me. Enjoy.

The recent build-up to US Nationals in New York was exciting to follow. All these friends of mine -- some virtual, some actual -- griping about their shoulder and running off the last pound in Central Park before weigh-in. There were Juniors who won medals in the Adult brackets. There was a tiebreaker decided by weigh-in. There were newly-minted Masters of Sport. I wish I could have been there, but there really wasn't any reason for me to compete at Nationals. I knew that, and I was okay with it.

I have watched with pride as my young countrymen climbed the ranks. Jason Sanchez, Josh Dunn, Douglas Seamans, and Steve Mathews have moved up 3 bell sizes in the time I've known them. The Ice Chamber KB Girls rose to the challenge of 24kg Snatch, when the rest of the world said the idea was crazy, posting several scores in the eighties and led by Melissa Swanson's 120 for Master of Sport.

As for myself, I've spoken plainly and at length: my entire 2014 season has been a reboot, and a painful one at times. However, I've added 10% to my 16kg LC record, and I was on pace to add 10% to my 20kg LC record when my palm tore at the 7:00 mark. My foundations are better. I may or may not make 24kg before the Autumn competitions, and I've accepted that. But, this condition reminds me of a some other lifters I know.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Targeted Keto Diet experiment

My menu is pretty clean and "whole-food", and my weight is not a problem. When I diet, it's for either adding lean mass or cutting to a weight class. I added 14lb over the winter, and as an experiment in getting lean, I started a ketogenic diet this month. In ketosis since Aug 07, I'm 6lbs lighter and down 1in off my belt.

Ketotic metabolism tends to benefit endurance work more than high-intensity work. Runners may train well in keto but need sugar gels during a long race for steep terrain. (see this blog) There are even subgroups of the keto community dedicated to the challenge of building strength and mass on either the Targeted Ketogenic Diet (TKD) or the Cyclical Ketogenic Diet (CKD).

I had strength work scheduled yesterday, so I had a banana (27g carbs) and some caffeine before the 6am workout. A protein shake (10g carbs) and some almond bread (~20g carbs, 4x that in fats) for breakfast, and I was testing trace ketones at 10am, 0-5mg/dL. I ate carb-free the rest of the day
and tested 40mg/dL after dinner, a successful recovery.

The TKD plan generally carb-loads 5-6 hours before strength work, easy for 5pm at Planet Fitness like the rest of the world. My 30min lead time is a bare minimum, so I will experiment with a bedtime snack a couple nights a week. I may be able to tune this to wake up in trace keto, full of glycogen and water, and burn it off by 10:00. That would be awesome.

P.S. CKD works well for weight lifters in need of blood sugar control or fat reduction. 5 days in keto, ending with a depletion workout, and 1-2 days hi-carb/low-fat for glycogen recovery. I love the idea as a long-term meal plan, but that's not exactly my training focus. I would be better served by the ability to strip and reload glycogen and get back into aerobic keto on demand, like between weigh-in and flight at a weekend meet. I will have to test my 10' scores a few times with and without a carb load the night before. I'm not sure whether just remaining in keto would be better.

Friday, August 15, 2014

The Hardest Thing

The hardest thing about pushing 45 in a few days is that I don't heal and rest like I used to. My training is going pretty well, by most measures. I'm even dieting, 2 weeks in keto now and visibly leaner. But my dial is simply out of spare numbers. I don't sleep regularly enough to even just swing clubs and run a mile on my "off" mornings. I actually miss running. That was a hard-fought victory, years of work, lost to a stupid bruise.

There are two principles I've been unable to get away from over these years. First, I do really well training 4 days a week. Any more scheduled 6am work, regardless how trivial, tends to cost me elsewhere. I managed 5 days for a period of about a month, and it ran me ragged.

Second, something Dan John writes about athletes for whom training is supplementary to a sport: train strength in the gym, train conditioning in the sport. I do really well doing strength and mobility twice a week and KB sport twice a week. It's not ideal competition prep, but it keeps me healthy.

I finished two good sets of Long Cycle today without tearing anything, followed by presses and squats and swings. It felt "right", the right mix of technique and strength and a good pump at the end. It wasn't an hour of dedicated sport work, but it also wasn't bleeding all over the platform. It was more like the Phase 1 GPP of most any KB sport training program, but Phase 1 suits me well. Especially in recovery - from injury, from sleep deprivation, from mental strain - GPP is for the athlete instead of the sport. It lets me sleep at night and get up from a chair without going "uhhhnnn". There must be an acceptance for Quadrant II performance and Phase 1 training.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Summer Milestones

This summer has been a reboot of sorts. In broad terms, I've been trying to add time and volume to all aspects of my training before intensity. I haven't lifted the 24s yet, but I have met a few milestones.

I walked and briefly jogged 45min yesterda, trying to commit to walking and Indian clubs on my off days for recovery. I'm reading a lot of reasons for long, aerobic training that sit lower in the foundation than raw performance, most prominently to promote actual recovery. The hard part is resisting the urge to push and cause more stuff to recover from.
My kettlebell clean and jerk technique was modified in late Spring, with new contact points on my hands. I am dealing with blisters where I've never had years of calluses before, but I've met a few of my scheduled goals along the way.
  • MSIC score with 2x16kg (before this change, but again since)
  • 1,000 reps with 2x16kg to ingrain the new technique
  • raised my 2x16kg PR by 6 reps (10%)
So, my lightweight numbers have gone up significantly. I've just resumed 2x20kg training, and I'm 1-2rpm faster than before in 2-3min intervals. I'm cutting the fat I put on over years of strength focus; hello, keto. My 20kg PR is only 3 reps below the MSIC score in the next lower weight class, should I cut a few pounds. I may reach that by month's end, and that number on my wall would be a sight for sore eyes.

P.S. There's an interesting dilemma about KB training and running. People who follow tradition and lift in the sport style do it alongside running for recovery and for cardio development. People who follow the more recent fitness styles often use KBs instead of running, calling running dangerous and decrying "the dishonor of cardio" in all its forms. It intrigues me that a self-professed hardcore, pseudo-military school of training would disavow running with such passion when the actual military does not.

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Unavoidable Response to the Inevitable Message

Valery Federenko posted this Kettlebell Sport Manifesto a few days ago. The community is responding with opinions ranging from earnest support to accusations of marketing ploy. I believe there are a few important points to be gleaned from this manifesto, and this will be the only time I respond to it. I believe Federenko raises a few good points and one dead horse for consideration.

The opening paragraph is largely about the inconsistency of the sport between countries, organizations, and genders. It decries low coaching standards (basically anywhere outside Russia) and makes a clear point made about the devaluation of the "Master of Sport" title by inconsistent judging, politics and favoritism, and variances in scoring requirements. The issuance of ranks is not unique to this sport in principle, but it has become overstated. Other strength sports require qualifying totals, with generic titles like "amateur" or "elite".

Qualifying scores/titles are not an end in themselves; they are permission to compete at the next level. This idea is well-implemented in some KB organizations, requiring a man to rank out of 16 and 20 before competing 24, but it is not used to qualify for tiered regional, national, and world competitions. In the Soviet system, Master of Sport affords certain funding and opportunities within the sporting organizations, infrastructures not found anywhere else in the world. The US has no such meaning for the title, so it has become a goal unto itself.

My eyes were opened, in a sense, when Advanced Training Concepts held a meet with only two bell sizes. There were no prequalifying scores, but athletes "competing up" had to take their efforts very seriously. The championships of American KB organizations are open to all. If our kettlebell community had regional qualifiers before US Nationals or Worlds, two changes would arise. First, the championships would be smaller and would use two bell weights. Second, regional qualifiers would be a sacred pilgrimage for lifters like myself. I'm excited to see the AKA Southeast developing a tour of its own: Punch, ATC, Georgia, and Pride.

Second, the Soviet tradition is holding women back, not the Soviet Union or the nation of Russia, but the tradition of the sports system from which we derive rules and ranks. The concern for the safety of breast tissue alongside a single racked bell has diverged kettlebell lifting into two completely different sports. Where women are allowed to compete the Jerk, we have women of every body type racking the bell comfortably enough to travel and pay money for the privilege. There are examples online of women performing the men's lifts with two bells and perfect form, which should have ended the argument a long time ago.

The question is no longer whether to let women compete the Jerk. The question is whether to let women compete doubles jerk or have men move to a heavier single Jerk to present a unified sport to the Olympics. Tradition will never abide Men's Single Jerk on the international stage, and the Olympics will never abide a segregated kettlebell sport with completely different scoring while women and men share barbells in the next auditorium. Without the support of the country of origin and the world champions in every weight class that call that country home, the Olympics are simply not what we need to worry about right now.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Summer Reboot

When I was last here, I was nursing a bruised heel and doing bodyweight work and heavy kettlebell swings. I took advantage of a promotion running at Ice Chamber Athletic Performance to meet with Steven Khuong. He was generous with his time, and our nearly identical dimensions gave him some insight into my technique that I wasn't expecting.

These were just 12kg bells, but I hadn't lifted long cycle in 3 weeks. This was smoother and quieter into the rack. This technique will require some acclimation before it becomes intuitive, so I'm doing hundreds of reps with 16kg before moving on. The roll around the wrists is almost too snug for any kind of wraps or guards. The points of contact on my hands are new, so I'm growing all new calluses.

This is obviously the reboot I've been hinting at for some time now. With a few weeks off from lifting, then a few weeks off from running, I don't have the capacity I once did. My foot's not healed enough to resume running, and I'm not sleeping. At this point, on the record, I'm not entirely sure I'll be competing this Autumn.

What I am sure of is that I'm doing more work outside the saggital plane, more work on my abdomen, and more work on basic KB skills. If I could stomach the notion of doing this for another 6 months, it might pay off in 2015. I never thought I would lose this much of a year to a running injury. I'll update this again when something changes.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Of all the people I know

I know kind of a lot of kettlebell lifters. I don't know everybody, but I know a lot of people. I know a few people who cross football conferences multiple times a year to compete, and I know whole gyms full of people that will cross a state line in team t-shirts and track suits. The regional camaraderie of this sport is one of its best attributes.

There are many of us who lift sort of "in our class", season after season, but we love the competition. There's another small subset of lifters who climb through new bells every so many months, like they're destined for some rank and haven't gotten there yet. Rookies do that, but rookies are not who I'm talking about. I'm talking about newly-minted Rank 1 and CMS lifters. Out of those people I know, specifically, I've seen a few patterns.
  • Nearly all of them are fitness professionals. The only non-fitness male I can think of is in his twenties with what Dan John calls a "QII collision occupation".
  • Most lifters climbing the ranks are women. There are many more women than men in this sport in the US, so it may be an effect of higher volume and not higher percentage.
  • The modal distribution of them are in their twenties. Only one or two 2013 CMS and a few Rk I that I can think of were older than me, and they were women.
  • Only two of these rising candidates that I personally know lift alone at home, and one of them is a fitness professional.
If I had better data, this would make for an interesting little study. With what I have, it just reinforces the need for a high level of baseline athleticism and rigorous training. In previous meets, I've eventually failed due to either cardio or grip. This Spring, it was my knee, which has good reason to lag behind. That's a good sign, but it highlights that I'm nearly out of easy improvements. Soon I'll have to train better.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

How to do instructional videos

My news feed this week showed me a group of videos released by one of the Kettlebell Experts in a fitness training group. There were 4 videos, each 7-10 minutes in length. I was affiliated with a kettlebell fitness group several years ago, and I felt a certain annoyance every time one of these experts released 10 minutes of instructional footage that began with 6 minutes of talk. This week's release was more of the same, and I feel obligated to share my frustration.

Since I also have a high school teaching background, I'm aware of things like verbal and non-verbal communication, visual information, and positive vs. negative reinforcement. I learned to recognize when students knew that I was in the minutia instead of the topic. The topic comes first, then the exceptions and minutia. To learn to do something right, you need to be taught how to do it right, not the list of ways you might do it wrong.

This is how you do an instructional video. Please, watch it through to the end. If you didn't have 3 minutes of free time, you wouldn't be here, so... humor me.

 One minute into this video, you have been shown how international KB sport rules allow belt placement, which is different than powerlifting and weightlifting. You have been shown how you're allowed to fit your hands and correctly rack the bells before starting your set. By the video's end, you have seen 16 reps, including incorrect reps that were announced in advance and marked with head shaking and visual clues, performed at different speeds and from two angles. Not a word of it was English.

There were more repetitions of the exercise being advertised in this video than in the 30min of Kettlebell Expert footage that hit my news feed this week. I have so much more to say, but it gets vindictive and petty. I think Coach Anasenko made the point for me. I'll leave this here, in case anyone wants to learn how to snatch. The video has a long competition set at the end; hence, it's length. You learn to snatch before the 1:00 mark.

P.S. That slow-motion stuff is HARD!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Reflections on competition: pt 3

The 2014 ATC Throwdown is in the books. Scores here, Facebook thread here. This is the last of a short series of impressions after the event

Preparation and Post-partum

My prep for this meet was different than usual. At 4wks out, I cut out the smaller bells. At 2wks out, I cut out everything but sport lifts and swings and running. Less volume than the usual peaking cycle, but it worked. I felt the need to reacclimate to just 24kg. It had this "opposite" feel to it, like I was supposed to cut out strength training and reduce running in the final days but did vice versa.

I had an ironic minor injury two weeks before meet day -- stepped on a rock while running -- that kept me from doing jerks or any roadwork for the last few days. I scored a PR by 1 rep 5 days out, then pretty much did physical therapy until meet day. I could actually run without impairment, then be sore later. Some 17 days later, I am still sore every time I walk.

I did not see this coming, but I was dead to the world last week. I had carried some personal stresses since before the meet. I did not sleep through the night or have even one workout until the following weekend. I'm genuinely pondering whether getting any better will involve starting over from scratch at 44 years of age with a coach on retainer, and some days I'd just rather do Tai Chi in the park with the other seniors. I need a break. I need to clear my head, and having no local competitions until October allows me the time to regroup and do that.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Reflections on competition: pt 2

The 2014 ATC Throwdown is in the books. Scores here, Facebook thread here. This is part of a short series of impressions after the event, and a potato-quality video of me coming in not-quite-last.

On having no real idea

Girevoy sport bears this odd set of attributes that are rare to any other sports but maybe Nordic skiing and rowing. It's weight lifting, by definition, but it's also not. "Power lifting" and "weightlifting" are unfortunate misnomers, completely mis-attributing the term "power". Kettlebell sport is technically a power endurance sport. You have to be not only strong, but quick under load, and you perform in a state of incomplete recovery.

For novices like myself, every offseason is a time to take steps backward and address whatever is most necessary in terms of power, recovery, and technique. At the ATC, my launch got slow and I began accommodating with posture. I'm addressing that with physical therapy, with good results in recent weeks. Regular running is improving my capacity for recovery. I was clear-headed and breathing well at the end of my PR set. I had confirmation that my technique looked much-improved. My overhead holds were longer, and there were zero no-counts. So what's on my radar this off-season?

There are 18-yr-old lifters in Russia scoring in the nineties in 24kg Long Cycle. Enjoy.

There's the question of work capacity. In many strength traditions, one trains power first, then strength, then assistance work, then cardio, in decreasing order of demand. But in many martial arts traditions, one runs first, then trains either skills or strength as the day requires. The idea is two-fold, that combat will come to you in a fatigued state, and that one must build a new work capacity even to do the actual training that will be necessary. Kettlebell sport favors this last idea, that you do not just walk in and lift for 10 minutes.

I am aware of this limitation. I've done 100 reps LC in a session, but never in one set. I've never done 100 Jerk in one set. I have finished lighter sets recently with good breathing and a clear head, but even they did not have this volume. In theory, a lifter should be able to go until they're bored with a lighter bell, and I cannot yet. I've been on the edge of burnout these last few weeks, and I may or may not have the free resources in my life to ever reach this level.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Reflections on competition: pt 1

The 2014 ATC Throwdown is in the books. Scores are posted here, and a Facebook thread for the event is listed here. I went in, hoping to meet 6 minutes and about 25 reps, and I achieved that. I felt my launch getting low and myself arching my back to get under the bells late in the set. #25 hurt a little, so I locked straight up for a few seconds and set them down. People told me they thought I had more reps in me, but I knew exactly which vertebrae I was gambling with, and I already had the score I came for.

Something about my personal preparation for this and the nature of the weekend's meet has given me pause to think. The next few letters will be a series of thoughts instead of a single rambling article. Enjoy.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014


I had energy and a beautiful day Saturday, so I lifted 16kg bells for a 10min set in the sun before my scheduled run. The bells were easy enough. The run was challenging, with the heat and prior fatigue, but not unmanageable. Aside from those elements, I made two little mistakes that may have cost me.

I changed shoes, but not socks. I usually run in a dry-wicking material, not the cotton tube socks that fit my lifting shoes. I blistered and tore one foot. I've been treating it aggressively, and I've actually had another run since then that was not really hindered because of where I land. It's just a nuisance.

I also absent-mindedly stepped on a rock with the other foot, right at the back of my arch. The heel is sore to the touch, and the plantar fascia is swollen and red to my forefoot. I run on my midfoot, which is actually not really impaired. It's just walking, standing, jumping, KB jerks, everything else that hurts like I'm being beaten on the sole of my foot.

So I can't really lift, 12 days out from a hometown meet. I'll look into some gel heel cups and continue treating the site. I can run and can keep my strength up, but this is frustrating and not the first time I've had to peak for a meet with something injured.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

One month out

One month out from the ACT Throwdown III, I'm making some peaking cycle tweaks to my training. I did experience a typical slump in top-end strength over the last 6 weeks, but my general endurance and middleweight bell work remains good. I'm expecting 5-7min, so I'm training toward that range from here out.
  • Running 3/wk, working toward a 30 minute 5K.
  • Lifting 2/wk: Long Cycle mostly with 24kg, squats, complexes, and swings.
  • Bodyweight exercises, including lateral movements and rotation.
  • Physical therapy: overhead mobility, spine mobility, and leg maintenance.
Running is becoming progressively more comfortable for me. I've got one ankle that gets tweaked if my alignment is off, but it hasn't bothered me in several sessions. The struggle after the first few minutes is more mental than respiratory or orthopedic, which shows improvement.

I'm also finding that  I'm capable of a faster pace with 24s that gets me winded sooner but is less stressful for my back. I'm hoping the assistance work will reinforce my rack and improve my recovery to make the jump up. I may be able to split the rack time before and after the clean, too. When you're a complete novice, it's never to late to improve on technique.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

To Sleep, To Dream

There's much written in the sporting world about poor sleep and overtraining and the injuries they lead to. People commonly measure their recuperated status with tests of pulse variability or finger-tapping reflexes or visual acuity. I have a tech career with on-call days, so I'm acclimated to waking to immediate mental demands. I'm generally clear the moment my alarm sounds and occasionally awake before it. But if I am cloudy and unfocused when I wake, then I will decline to lift heavy, quickly, or overhead that day. I have never had a fatigue/overtraining related sports injury, but I have learned to adapt to my sleep patterns. Maybe those are related points.

I spent 6 weeks training 5 days per week this quarter, more frequently than usual and something I historically only maintain for about a month. As recorded in my notes from weeks 4, 5, and 6, I missed one kettlebell day each week due to broken sleep. I was aware of 1 or 2, but not 3. My scores flattened off 2 weeks ago. Life happens, and life comes before trophies and numbers valued mostly by other people with numbers of their own. Exercise is health; sport is entertainment, and entertainment should never supersede one's health or peace of mind.

I ran well yesterday, and my ankle's fine. I lifted well this morning and stopped when I felt myself forcing it. It was shorter in volume and sorted toward heavy bells, plus some basic strength work and PT afterward. I'm already about 2 hours in sleep debt this week, but I have tomorrow off from lifting. Maybe I'll make time for pain, gain, and insanity when the summer rolls around.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

So I lost my mind in the gym today.

There's a well-documented set of guidelines for ordering exercises in a workout. NSCA guidelines here, BreakingMuscle here, and so on. The idea is that mental focus and available energy stores are in highest demand for speed and technical work, then for maximal strength, and least for low-intensity endurance work. My kettlebell seessions are all planned along these terms.
  • general warmup, then warmup from single bells to double and light bells to heavy
  • n minutes with heavy bells, 2 sets at competition pace. 1.5n minutes with medium bells at faster pace. 2n minutes with light bells at faster pace still.
  • single limbed work: swings, military presses, overhead holds.
  • physical therapy: 2-bell "first dips", mobility work as needed, stretching.
That's where this weekend comes in. This was a frustrating and expensive week for me, in terms of sleep, money, and peace. Saturday morning, I had been 5 days without handling bells or clearing my head properly. The only thing that worked well was Friday's run, which ironically left my calves tight. In my second set (the first one actually being good work), I launched a jerk that only made it as high as my nose. It was as if I dropped into my first dip, then completely lost my train of thought. Resuming with the heavy bells, then substituting with medium bells, proved to be fruitless. I had lost my mind in the gym.

I recorded my reps and time and comments in my training log, then breathed it all out. I took a short walk, then repeated my chalk ritual. I picked up my light-weight bells and did a 6:00 set at a relaxed pace. I had planned 6:00 at a fast pace, but it wasn't realistic. I wanted to set them down at 4:00, but I needed to prove something. I needed to finish some sort of quality work, so I finished a light set with only a time requirement. Then came single-limbed work and physical therapy to finish.

In the big scheme of things, one bad session does not mean the world. One bad week can set a competition prep significantly back, and I do have a meet in 5 weeks. Eventually, a day like this comes down to finishing a block of quality work, creating and meeting a single goal. It's not a personal best or a full ten minutes or even the heaviest weight on the schedule. It's about showing up, setting a realistic goal, and achieving a goal. I got that done today. I can find my mind next week.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Post-Punch Planning

I wish I could have attended the Punch Kettlebell Sport Championships last weekend. My local friends from Pride Conditioning and my friends from the Ice Chamber and Team Kettleguard were there and performed well. Punch Gym puts on a great show, with great lifters in-house and great enthusiasm and hospitality.

I lifted a long set Saturday in a PR attempt that didn't pan out. My usual competition pace with 20kg bells is 5rpm, plus a few reps over the course. I had been training 6rpm for medium sets, so I decided to try 6rpm for a timed set. I got to 40/6:30 before I completely ran out of air. I shouldn't have tried to bump my PR from 54 to 64 in one shot, but I did try.

What caught my attention was that some of my fellow athletes posting that they had the same experience at the competition. I read "worst set in two months". I read "aggravated with myself". Another scored almost exactly the same as last year.

I'm aware that a several of these lifters build their programming around many short sets. My midseason volume work is organized the same way, but my peaking cycles include longer sets. This made me revisit exactly what I'm doing.

I'll be cycling my volume less and stretching my sets for the next few weeks, testing a long set every other Saturday. I've been training bodyweight instead of barbells lately, with good results. My legs had gotten stiff, and what I'm doing now feels like physical therapy. I must be careful to keep my strength up over the long-term. I've started using the Couch 2 5K app to avoid reorganizing my running when I'm tired. My pace is up, and my capacity is up, and I can usually still run when my sleep is inadequate to lift bells.

I think my biggest shortfall right now is inadequate sleep. I finished all my reps this morning, but the 24s were heavy. Heavy's usually a sign I didn't rest enough, as these bells are fixed sizes that I handle every session. I don't know what kind of rest people got in Sarasota, but I know how squat days felt when I wasn't rested, and it's familiar.

I will see some of you at the ATC Throwdown in May. 24kg is alone on the menu, so this will be a real test for me. I'm excited.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

There Is No Score

So I've been sharing this conversation about the nature of competition with my friend in Atlanta, Scott Shetler. He has consulted powerlifters, swimmers, skinny endurance athletes putting on muscle, and overweight people putting on endurance, all based on mechanics and broad-based health improvement. Over the last few years, I've discovered (finally admitted) that the limiting factor in my kettlebell performance is not my time spent training bells, but my general fitness.

For me, personally, training just KB sport lifts and running leaves me with back pain and stagnant competition scores. So all this raises an interesting issue of how much of ourselves we devote to sport beyond the needs of health. If I were exercising to keep myself healthy, it would look much different than this. I'd have a pullup and dip station of some sort, maybe homemade. I'd have a weighted vest for running and hiking. I might have a single 24kg KB for goblet squats and odd handling. I'd exercise seriously 2 or 3 days a week, plus runs and daily walks with my dog, and I'd stretch and sleep a lot more. The rest of all this is for reasons other than health.

I have heard this phrased so many different ways. "Where good sport begins, good health ends", Dan John and others. "There are tremendously strong people who walk around every day in pain", Kenneth Jay. The term "Law of Diminishing Returns" has a medical analog called Minimum Effective Dose (MED), the dosage required to induce change and no more. There is progressively less benefit to overdosing on Tylenol, caffeine, running, bench press, crunches, or KB snatches, and every one of them can either help you or hurt you.

For those of us who train for our health, the sport is a convenient by-product. Someone else does what we do for health and may test themselves against us, or even participate alongside us for moral support while we test ourselves. That is a social experience, the practice of health instead of a goal to be pursued. For those happy few, there is no score.

2 sets 24kg LC @4rpm
2 sets 20kg LC @6rpm
2 sets 16kg LC @8rpm
Chalk the bells, sweep the room, stretch

Old man, old broom
Daily ritual, sweep the whole room
Shake the mats, dust the corners
Feng Shui, all things in order

Friday, March 14, 2014

When Gods Lift Among Men

While Girevoy Sport (GS) has a list of competition records and many unsanctioned records, performed with shorter times or heavier bells outside regular competition. When Denisov lifts 40kg Long Cycle for 5 minutes, the video may be called a "world record", and there's not really any public problem with that. However, if you or I or some average lifter posted a high-speed set with 12kg bells and called it a world record, no one would care. And they rightfully should not.

I have a problem with champions performing sprint sets with light bells at competitions. 26rpm snatch, 15rpm long cycle and the like don't have any of the form and stringency required when the rest of us attempt rank. That rank is a hard-won badge of honor for us, awarded for hard work. For a Pro to compete in the Amateur class in a regional event and win all the Amateur trophies lacks decorum, in my opinion. To do so under judging standards not consistent with the sport is a failure of integrity by the hosting organization.

Note: As an amateur American GS lifter, I want to emphasize that this is by no means a personal criticism of individuals sampled, but of this notion of champions and stunt performances. When I see a banner and a scoreboard, I should be able to use this performance for educational purposes.

Champions are role models, like it or not. When a champion lifts well outside his rank for entertainment purposes, it should simply be called an exhibition. At many WKC events, Ivan Denisov has performed exhibitions of 5min sets with 32kg or 40kg bells, not competing directly with the local amateurs. And, I applaud him for it. In this clip from the 2014 California Open, Sergei Merkulin snatches 32kg, and Aleksander Khvostov snatches 40kg, both well out of range of lifters like myself. It's inspiring to watch and valuable to study.

By contrast, this is a set by Denis Vasiliev at the OKC 2014 California Open, at a pace of about 15rpm with 24kg bells. I have issues with the form on display here. Vasiliev is capable of beautiful, textbook technique with 32kg and 40kg, but this does not match his usual quality.

I have the utmost respect for Vasiliev, but this is not a competition set. None of these reps came to any controlled pause at the top. Some barely achieved legal joint extension, but he did them and the judge counted them. This was applauded at the event and in social media, but it was completely not legal in most organizations. Contrast this 24kg set with the precision shown in Denisov's absolute world record set, performed in open competition, and tell me which event payed greater respect to the sport.

There's value in sprinting through the motions for conditioning, but not on the platform. There are two separate arguments to be made here, one about physically consistent standards, and my point about socially consistent standards. There shouldn't be no-counts for amateurs and applause for professionals for the same work.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Learning from Masters

The Ice Chamber's Sunday clinic with Coach Sergei Kirilov and Anton Anasenko was a great experience. I regret I was too busy for pictures and video. I'd recommend it, I loved it, I got the certificate that reads "I studied GS once with Russians". But, it was just a taste of what it could have been. That's not a criticism; it's a self-evaluation.

What struck me after the considerable buzz wore off was the philosophical distance between master and student, in which the student learns how to use tools but the master imagines a new plan and designs new tools to bring it to life. In the excitement of the moment, even the coaches among us were students again. There was more to learn than we were ready to absorb at the time. I barely managed not to fixate on numbers and grip and details, but to get something out of the whole picture. I'd love to sit under those coaches in that format one more time to pick up where we left off.

1. Programming

Anton was several minutes into drawing out a training program that he uses with himself and his students before I recognized it as linear periodization with 2-week mesocycles. If you've read much about weightlifting or powerlifting, that phrase made sense to you. If not, then you probably spent 15 minutes copying down a blackboard of numbers that would not directly apply to you or last longer than 2 weeks.

The questions that followed tended to be more arithmetic than algebra. Advanced discussions don't use numbers so much as units like minutes and comparatives like heavy / medium / light. I've seen notes from other instructors that looked just like this, so maybe it's the math teacher in me that wants to see this laid out as "Hvy bell, add 15sec; Med bell, add 30sec" instead of 32kg 18r, 28kg 42r, and so on. That may have been just me. Had we all understood this at a more symbolic level, we would have seen a 3-mo plan on the board instead of 2 wks. I believe that's a significant next step for anyone who's not under the explicit management of a knowledgeable coach.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Looking Back On The 2014 West Coast Classic

The West Coast Classic a week ago was a huge success. There were just over 100 competitors registered and checked in, ranging from juniors and rookies to Masters of Sport and an 11-time World Champion. I, personally, scored a small PR over the full 10 minutes, neither of which I really expected with my current state of training. Kudos to the Ice Chamber for putting on a great weekend.

I read a quote online recently (not properly attributed at the time to Walter Payton). "When you're good at something, you'll tell everyone. When you're great at something, they'll tell you." That distinction was on display all weekend. When Paul White appeared out of the mist to claim MS in biathlon and long cycle. When the ICKBG team won the jerk relay by nearly double the second-place score. I felt just a taste of it when 8 or 10 people I knew and a couple strangers complimented the quality of my lifting, after spending the Autumn injured. Ironically, it played out in a different way during the Sunday clinic, as I struggled to simply clean a pair of lightweight bells quietly and neatly. I'm grateful for that time, and I have much work to do, but that will be another discussion.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

1 wk out

I would love to say I'm ready to thrill and amaze, but I'm not. Truth be told, I took a few steps back this Autumn to retool and restart. I've only lifted bells 11 sessions now, compared to so many of my peers who've lifted 40 or 50 times since our last competition. My conditioning's a little off, but here's where I do stand.

My overhead is strong and more symmetrical, more of a hammer-grip alignment overhead. My first dip is deeper and quicker than before, a significant improvement given my legs. I'm breathing more through my nose, more relaxed, even when I'm running.

I'm still struggling in the rack. I think the new posture in my arms has my hands dorsiflexed differently and feeling sore under 20kg. This doesn't limit me with 16kg, so I have to get it resolved before I can lift 24kg. The discomfort is affecting my breathing and my state of mind. To quote an American MS, Catherine Imes, it's one part optimizing my technique and one part "getting comfortable with discomfort".

Really looking forward to the West Coast Classic. I wish I could say I was better prepared for it, but I do believe I'm better prepared for the rest of the season. See you on the platform, and again at the Punch KB Sport Championship in April.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Compulsive coin-flipping

I knew what I was doing. I spent 2 months getting stronger but not working conditioning, kettlebell calluses, or kettlebell technique. I knew my conditioning would be off, but I hit the top of my weight class and pressed 2x24kg twice and squatted 185lb for tens. It was worth it. I also suffered a minor injury that took me out of jerk and running entirely. So, I've had to make a tough choice between the lesser of two disappointments here.

I'll be lifting 20s instead of 24s this February. I'm healing from a calf tear, and I've banged a knee up this weekend. I'm making solid reps with 24kg, but I'm nowhere near 10 minutes or rank. It seems more meaningful to earn that "2" pin than to get 5 minutes and a small PR this time. I wouldn't have made that call a few months ago, and I will try my hardest to lift 24kg at Punch in April.

2014 IUKL/AKA West Coast Classic Kettlebell Championship

I am really excited to see Team Kettleguard in their home gym in a couple weeks. The West Coast Classic was a great show last year and promises nothing less this year. I only wish I was better prepared, but February is never my peak season for kettlebells.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Winter weather and purple bells

Sunday, I felt itchy for a run. Didn't need to run, not even in my program right now. Just felt like a run. So I did run/walk intervals for 2 miles in the 40F weather. Calves are tight, but my once-torn calf is functional and safe again. Also doing leg-injury rehab on both barbell days. It leaves my legs pretty fried, but they are recovering stronger and quicker each week.

Monday, I completed 26/5:00 with double 20kg bells, plus a couple minutes of a second set. My hands were sore, so I cut the second set short in favor of some maintenance work. It's something in my rack, relieved when I hold the handles more parallel than usual. May require a technique change, but it's not my legs and not my overhead, which is a big deal.

Tuesday was Bench Day, 8F and windy. Never liked bench, but the combination of work I'm doing around it is keeping me strong. During season, I always quit training bench. Then my shoulders get sore, and my press gets weak. I have resolved to maintain my 2x24kg press throughout this season.

I'm approaching a training regimen that actually keeps me healthy, even if it's not traditional Russian champion training. I'm maintaining some muscle and at the top of my weight class now. I've crossed a couple of long-time goals off my list. Even if I have to compete 20kg bells in February, I'm on a path to get over the hump with 24kg this year in a way that could last.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Slowly we turned, step by step

I began training Long Cycle again 2 weeks ago with a guideline in mind: reach rank (50reps/10:00) with the lighter bells before moving up. I knew that I had no cardio and thin calluses. I also saw that AKA/IUKL are now competing 20kg bells, so I can do that in February if I have to. So far, it's progressed like this.

2x16kg: 2x5:00 sets, 6:00 + 4:00, then 50/9:00 without a clock to watch. Move on.

2x20kg: 25/5:00, followed by 2x16kg:30/5:00. There was a small loose spot on my palm, so I need to be careful. Test 20kg in a couple more sessions.

Swinging 24kg for sets of 25. Training upper body for long sets and squats for strength. Squatted 185lb today for sets of 5 outside the rack, just free on the platform like some rogue Oly lifter. Felt good, felt right.

I'm working a mix of therapy and body building and correctives that feels like it's been missing for a long time. I have observed in the past that I have about 3 weeks of training without any correctives or therapy before I start to hurt. That style of peaking cycle and recovery cycle won't work with the new AKA US schedule. I have 3 meets in the Spring and probably 3 in the Fall. Let's try staying healthy.