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.

2. Skills

Another thing that caught my attention was the level of basic skills. Anton was sharp enough to notice the way we men handled our cleans, and patient enough to put hands on each of us to make improvements. There are always differences in how this coach counterbalances his swings or that one grips with a finger lock, but we all got a little smoother into the rack.

In retrospect, I know how smooth I am with sixteens and how rough I feel with twenty-fours. That should not be, not at all, and this is what Anton was addressing. Not "can you clean 24kg", but "can you clean". Anton twirled the bells silently around his hands in a way I couldn't mimic or even see clearly at first. I wore out my hands, struggling to be smooth, but I did learn some things.

Ed. note: As an aside for the women, if you don't clean and rack two heavy bells, you just can't appreciate how much harder it is. The way one can twist the backswing and put a hip out to rack a single bell is just not available with double bells. I'd direct your attention HERE and HERE for comparison. (BTW, Surya's AWESOME!) The all-female ICKBG team in the WCC Jerk Relay was 5rpm higher than Ivan Denisov's "5-minute jerk world record" and numerous 2-minute training videos he has online. Racking two bells is heavy, technical work. Anasenko had the all-male group, and this was a basic skill he focused on immediately.

3. Time

The larger points I took from the clinic were a) Russian GS athletes are expected to spend a lot more time and put in a lot more volume than we would, and b) Russian GS athletes spend more undocumented time on skills and GPP. We often read how they train just KBs and running, but that is not accurate. Anton said KBs and running are scheduled nearly an hour a day, but the KB day workouts take about two hours in total.

That second hour is what the rest of us do on a non-KB day to stay strong and flexible. This clip is just a warmup, and Anton mentioned "other work for biceps, triceps, shoulders, back, abdomen..." without specifying implements or schedule. That second hour is my sticking point. I am healthier overall with a broader training base, but it subtracts from my KB sport time. If I train exclusively KBs and running, I lose strength and recovery ability. The total of time spent being healthy plus time spent mastering a sport is more time than I can usually afford.

I got stronger over the winter and probably survived WCC on strength alone. But, I'm stiff and slow, and my conditioning is in the tank. Neither my KB numbers nor my PL numbers progress when I mix the two. By comparison, progressive calisthenics in the style of numerous Dragondoor books have kept me mobile and agile and addressed most of my strength needs. Several Masters of Sport have backgrounds in wrestling or gymnastics, things with off-the-feet work and 3-D movement. I have to seriously evaluate whether I love Squat Days more than Christmas but not more than competing year-round.


  1. It should also be noted that while the Russian athletes may train more, many of them are allowed that luxury due to not having the time constraints of working 40-60 hrs a week at a job that has nothing to do with lifting. For some, lifting is the job.

    For the average person, I still maintain that getting in 3-4 bell sessions a week with a couple of 20 min runs is gonna pay more dividends in sport numbers. Fit in the GPP training as needed and as it can fit, addressing specific limiters as they come. As you noted, calisthenics is a nice inclusion for GPP year round. Hell, I found that something as simple as including 2 sets of pushups/dips or chins/rows after my KB stuff 2x-3x a week helped round me out considerably. Off season you can, of course, add in some squats or what not IF that is your limiter or if you just feel like playing around with it.

    The key is to understand that while the Russians are tops in this sport, their training situation and background is completely different than us middle aged Americans just starting this while juggling family, strenuous work schedules, and a life not spent doing this stuff.

  2. Good words from John and Josh. I found myself nodding in agreement as I read. My best balance is a timed set of long cycle, a 20 minute run, and some dips and chins, 3-4 times a week. Indian clubs "sometimes". Anything more than that, and I feel beat up and my rep count drops. I agree about time as well. I've read that the Russians go longer than 10 minutes frequently, whereas Americans tend to see 10m as a limit set, and train shorter sets. It's been tough for me to transition from seeing this as a strength sport, to an endurance sport, but it's made all the difference in my lifting.

    Thanks for sharing notes. Seems like it was a great experience for you!