Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Dave Whitley's Lessons from the Old-Time Strongmen DVD

In case you might have had any doubt if Dave is the right person to talk about old-time strongman training, they'll be dispersed right away as the Iron Tamer starts with a real old time strongman performance with amazing feats like bending nails, straightening a horse shoe, rolling up a frying pan, tearing a deck of cards behind the back, just to mention a few. He makes it all look so easy, he is talking to you casually the whole time, he even makes jokes, like in a circus show, but be aware, he is dropping gems of wisdom right from the start. Just watch out for his definition of "luck" and what it takes to "bend your luck" :)

He'll also take you back in time and talk about performing strongmen's everyday life, organized mainly by their appearances, eventually several times a day (that's how they made their living), and how they managed to maintain and even increase their strength without negative impacts on their performance (many of them accomplished feats that put the best athletes of today to shame - daily!) - and that into high age, which is not the typical sports career today!

I absolutely love the R. W. Emerson quote about methods and principles he uses as a starting point and keeps returning to from time to time: "As to methods there may be a million and then some, but principles are few. The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble."
When introducing him at the beginning, Rif mentions Pavel's answer to the question, how one becomes a Master Instructor: 'that's not really something you can apply for, it's something we recognize.' It might be a stupid analogy but this is what came to my mind when I heard the above quote: it's the same thing with methods and principles, there's a lot of schools that teach you methods, but there are very few that, like the RKC, also try to teach you the principles behind them, most of the time you just have to try and be smart enough to recognize them.

He'll help you to find your way in a Babel of trends and fads by directing your attention to the only handful of really relevant things, e.g.:

- The RKC definition of strength and a differentiation between technique as a specific set of skills and generating muscle tension as a broader aspect

- The principles of getting stronger are the same regardless of what method one uses, be it a barbell, a kettlebell, odd objects or even bodyweight exercises. If we look back in history and see what the most successful strongmen had in common in their training, the principles shine through, while differences appear on the level of the methods or equipments they used.

- There are really only two basic principles of getting stronger - or if there are more, they tend to fall into one of those two categories. To apply them in practice requires a strong focus but the rules to follow are, as the stories about Arthur Saxon, George Hackenschmidt, Slim the Hammer Man, Dennis Rogers or Joe Rollino and his 'Mr. Trevis' will also reveal, simple.

- A quick check on the lineage, the roots reveals a lot about what you should expect behind promising names like "functional", "core" or even "old-school" training - everybody can create a fad around a specific method but if it doesn't line up with those two principles, it'll go down just as quickly, unable to produce results in the long run.

He'll also tell you why, even if you find an authentic source, you can't just "copy-paste" whatever old time strongmen did: their "context" was way different back then. Modern lifestyle has brought about changes that create some underlying problems. Our ability to move well has deteriorated significantly in the past 100-150 years and we are trying to work our way around it, coming up with ways to successfully add fitness to dysfunction, inviting injury. There are some mentality issues going on as well, partly resulting from the above: today's training became something to "get over with" or to "endure", when measuring progress, focus has shifted from actual results to the amount of pain and soreness (no pain, no gain, uh?), and in general, the principles are outpowered by numbers, routines and getting a "workout".

He'll give you simple guidelines how to avoid those pitfalls and start "from zero" by re-gaining mobility first and adding stability next and how to implement the two basic principles in practice so you can proceed towards "hero" by building useful strength on a solid base. You'll get useful tips on exercise and method selection, programming and tracking progress, and some more crazy feats to wrap it all up: he does a get up with a kettlebell and a sledge hammer and he drives a nail through a board to pop a balloon with bare hands. Impressive, but inspiring as well - he walks his talk, and if you use his stepping stones, invest the time and put in the work, you can walk just as far.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Dave Whitley's Kettlebell Fundamentals: Deepening Your Getup Skills DVD

Yet another DVD on the Get-Up, you might think. What's the upheaval about this get-up thing anyway, why does it suddenly get so much attention after having been almost forgotten for decades?

Well, there are many ways to do a get-up. And there's the RKC way. What the RKC does is "reverse engineering of what the strongest and most coordinated people do naturally". So you can't go wrong learning it from Master RKC and CK-FMS David Whitley.
Dave walks the talk. Not only is he a big and incredibly strong guy, but he is also very flexible AND moves well, and that's a rare combo indeed. But he is also a passionate and motivating teacher on the quest of making everybody ready to listen move better and get stronger.

So listen.

You'll see the get-up in a totally different light. Depending on how you apply it, it can be a lift, an exercise or a movement screen. It can develop strength, flexibility, coordination or even conditioning.
The RKC Program Minimum starts out beginners on "merely" two exercises: the swing and the get-up, and that has good reasons. And there are different but just as good reasons for why advanced Hardstyle practitioners go full circle and return to refine their swing and get-up... As Dave puts it, "if the swing is the center of the universe, [...] then the get-up is orbiting right around".

He will explain

- how the get-up takes you through all the ways the body can move, how it integrates pushing, pulling, hip dominant, quad dominant and trunk rotational movements, how it improves mobility and stability in all different planes;

- why all progressions, especially overhead work, should (and do) start with the getup and how actually every kettlebell exercise contains and builds on one or more aspects of the swing and the get-up;

- the fascial connection between the lats and the glutes (the two biggest muscles in the body), how their interaction makes back extension a very strong and stable position, as opposed to the flexion-dominance of modern lifestyle.

He'll talk you through the 7 steps one by one, adjusting every position and every transition so you can easily follow along and re-create the sense of precision either at home or when working with your clients. His verbal cues will shift your focus to concentrate on movement quality instead of moving the weight, which - paradoxically, maybe - will also make you stronger instantly.

You'll hear in detail about

- the difference between sitting up and rolling up to the elbow, why you should avoid trunk torsion and how an unusual bridging drill can make sure you combine hip flexion and torso rotation instead;

- the windshield wiper technique to similarly load your hip and unload your spine in the kneeling windmill position;

- how a specific pelvic tilt in sitting facilitates glute-lat-interaction and prevents spine flexion;

- why the high bridge is so much more than just an unnecessary speed bump;

- how your heel coming up or your hand position changing can point towards a hip mobility problem and how a variation of leg swing-through can help opening them;

- how a neurologically built-in protective mechanism makes a bent wrist weak and how to counter that by crush-gripping the handle and goosenecking the wrist;

- how your body angles during the lunge determine whether you're improving your strength or your compensations.

You'll also learn a couple more drills that can be seen as "derivatives" from the get-up leading towards other exercises:

- the classic RKC arm bar and the crooked arm bar, for complex stretching and strengthening at the same time,

- the tall kneeling press, to emphasize hip extension as part of proper alignment for overhead work (glute activation facilitates lat activation, remember?),

- and a crooked arm bar from the kneeling windmill position, an "aha"-drill for the bent press. As a bonus, he'll reveal how a simple household item can drastically shorten the learning curve of this seemingly complicated lift - that alone is worth the price! :)

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

MRKC Mark Reifkind: Lats, the Super Muscles DVD

Rif has almost 40 years of experience in training and competing himself, in gymnastics, triathlon, ultramarathon, Ironman, bodybuilding, powerlifting and Hard Style kettlebell training, and more than 30 years in training and coaching other people, from average folks to world class athletes (click here for references). If he, a Master RKC with such a background thinks the lats are important, important enough to do a whole workshop session just on them and publish it on a DVD, then I readily believe they are.

Okay, apart from "the Party is always right!" talk, there are quite a couple of cogent arguments as to why the lats should be considered super-muscles. First, as you'll hear Rif explain and show you, the lats are the second largest muscles in the body, second only to the glutes. They're fan-shaped muscles with very extended origins, on multiple points from the T-spine and the tip of the scapula down to the thoraco-lumbar fascia and the iliac crest, sweeping up and inserting on your upper arm. Consider this for a moment... It is probably not so just for the fun of it, there's good reason to assume they have an accordingly wide range of functions, way more than people in today's inactive civilized life and in a fitness world of disintegration and isolation actually utilize. As Rif puts it, the lats are the "most misunderstood, most under-utilized and hardest to activate" muscles, in spite of the fact that they should be involved everywhere, even in sports movements you wouldn't think they'd play a role. Moving the arm, that's obvious, but did you think of their interplay with the glutes, abdominal muscles (the whole trunk musculature, actually), hip flexors etc. during something as simple as gait, running, swimming? Or their role in back extension and shoulder stabilisation? Overall posture? Even breathing?

After listening to Rif explaining how the lats build a bridge between arm and shoulder, arm and spine, shoulder and hips, arm and lower body, you'll have no doubts that everything you do is a "whole-body, interconnected and interlinked, movement" and the lats have "lots of potential to be used in several different modalities and the ability to use it is critical". And you'll also agree it's not about the kettlebell at all. "There's no kettlebell", as Pavel would say, and there's no barbell, ball, bat or racket either, it's all about how you move.

You will be eager to learn

- how to find your lats and activate them - in both directions (oh yes, it's not just the arm movement!);

- how to fine tune your deadlift set-up by establishing connection between arm and hip and why muscle activation in both directions not only improves your strength instantly but is also hugely protective for the shoulder;

- how lat activation automatically ensures pelvic tilt for safety and better performance with the pendulum swing;

- why a pre-stretched muscle is a stronger muscle and how lat activation increases loading your hips: learn or refine the kettlebell swing hike pass and overspeed eccentric technique;

- how to fine tune lat engagement to increase force generation and to optimalize force transmission from the engine of your swings, the hips, all the way through your core and arms to the hands and the kettlebell;

- from what aspects swinging to parallel and thus projecting force forward is more beneficial than swinging overhead;

- how lat activation before and during overhead presses creates optimal scapular and shoulder position to prevent injury and makes all the difference between an isolated shoulder exercise and an integrated full body move;

- how a couple of slight shifts in focus during your press can instantly set your groove right;

- how slight changes in handle and wrist position can enhance or ruin performance;

- how to use a "pulling" muscle to initiate a strong press and how, in turn, you can use a press to strengthen your lats - or your teres major, depending on your posture;

- why the lats are really hard to stretch out, why it's all the more important to do it and a couple of ways of how to do it effectively.

Expect in-depth and yet easy to understand anatomical and biomechanical explanations on the theory-side and a basketful of brilliant little drills and visual aids to put it all into practice - real gems for your own training and even more so if you work with clients, not just in kettlebell training but practically any sports (stronger bench or pushups, anyone?)!

Well, "it's all easy 'til its heavy" - but "strong fixes almost everything" :)

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Tracy Reifkind: Programming the Kettlebell Swing 2-DVD-set

My first exposure to "Tracy-style" training dates back to the beginning of 2008 when I signed up and started preparing for my RKC. I got a tremendous amount of help right from the beginning from the members of the Dragon Door forum and the blogging part of the RKC community. I was following MRKC Brett Jones' RKC Prep Program for form practice and for conditioning Rif's advice: swings are the best method ever to build up work capacity quickly, safely and effectively. So I studied the Swing Queen's blog, adjusted her workout schemes to my own level of ability and in a matter of just a few months I could do like 1600 swings in an hour or 900 swings in half an hour - thank to Tracy's principle of distraction, combining swing types, different time and rep ladders and using weights from 12 to 24kg. (It also stripped the last rests of stubborn fat off me and I was ripped and muscular like never before - and that wasn't even my goal, just a side effect!).

Work capacity - in a deck of cards it would definitely be one of the aces. No matter what goal you're striving for, from improving body composition to honing athletic skills, you'll have to put in the work necessary, there's no way around it. The better your work capacity, the more work you can put in, the faster you get there. But it also requires a lot of mental strength and self discipline to keep "showing up and doing the work".

Before I got certified I used to teach business communication psychology a lot, and this background made me appreciate Tracy's principle of distracton even more. It's a brilliant way to sell yourself the idea of doing tons of reps of a single same exercise! Because, let's face it, even if one recognizes the exceptional value of "the center of the RKC universe", even if one really strives to stay internally focused on perfecting every single rep, the mere idea of doing hundreds of them can be discouraging and they can very well get boring. The more you have to concentrate on the scheme the less energy you have to think about how much work you have done and/or how much is still left. But there's more to it. It's human nature to group and organize things into patterns - AND to keep those patterns whole, the more complicated the pattern, the more so. You may, for example, plan 10 sets of 10 and stop by set 7 because you're tired, but you are probably less likely to abandon a 100 rep workout if it calls for a pyramid from 1 up to 10 and back down to 1, because it would leave you with a stronger feeling of 'unfinished business'...

Simply put, you can trick yourself - or your clients! - into doing workloads you never thought possible if you follow Tracy's methods. Iwas sold on them in the moment I saw a sample workout on her blog and so will you a few minutes into her DVD Programming the Kettlebell Swing. It comes with a pdf of the progressions and a Disc 2 with a panel Q&A discussion.

But let's see what you can expect.

First, one thing you should be clear about: the information on this DVD is not about how to learn or practice the swing, but how to train it once you have the basics of at least the two hand swing technique down. Apart from that, Tracy's progressions can be started at any, even a very low, level of conditioning. She lays a heavy emphasis on how to increase load incrementally, easing into high volume training: "you can start with 10 reps at a time... or even less". If you're at an advanced level, just grab a heavier bell and/or watch out for the special tips coming throughout the DVD.

You will learn, by following along if you want:

- how high volume kettlebell swing training, especially longer sets, combines aerobic and slightly anaerobic work, burns A LOT of calories AND builds muscle, increases muscle tone in the shortest amount of time;

- how you can create practically infinite ways to maximize the workload by manipulating single or multiple factors of intensity like weight, sets, reps, speed, swing types and their combinations, work to rest ratios, etc.;

- why pacing is important, how you can establish a comfortable pace that lets you go the distance, and how to do "speed swings", a less obvious alternative to heavier weights to increase intensity and boost your metabolism;

- about the importance of equal work to equal rest and how "on-the-minute training"makes it possible, even in groups, to individualize workload for everyone, how it makes tracking progress easy and how it takes beginners safely and effectively to 1:1 work:rest ratio;

- how to go beyond that and build up aerobic capacity to be able to do long sets, by "working into rest", "overloading short sets", "stealing" progressively from the rest period, while being distracted by the laddering concept, going uphill, downhill or both (all have different effect);

- a seemingly minor tweak on the one hand swing that proves to be an effective way to make sure your posture stays correct and your mechanics natural and also shortens the learning curve of the hand switch - while increasing your power output at the same time;

- why the two hand swing is easier and harder than the one arm swing at the same time, how the difficulty of transfers and one arm swings compares from different aspects, and what difference all this makes when teaching/learning vs. training the one arm swing and the hand switch;

- how you can use combinations of these different swing types either to ease into high volume training mentally, or into swinging heavier bells one handed by learning the TracyRif Roundabout, which is not only the absolutely most grip sparing swing rep scheme ever, but also has a built-in mechanism of preventing you from being thrown off-center for long by the heavy weight;

and at the end you get a sample workout combining different concepts. You can do it as it is, as a complete workout, or you can also freely choose any part or sequence and repeat it X times, but it also provides a glimpse into the endless variety of possible combinations of the presented methods - even if you just stay with the same weight (as for me, I'm a big fan of adding different bell sizes into the mix as well, an option mentioned but not demonstrated in this workshop), you could train your swings every day for years without having to repeat a single session!