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.