Plant the feet on swings

Today’s swings felt pretty good. I was rushed this morning, having taken a bit long to do some virtual errands over coffee. By the time I was outside on the sandstone tile with my hands powdered, the iron bell positioned on my doormat-turned-kettlebell-landing-zone in front of me, I had negative ten minutes left. I pushed ahead anyway.

What the hell, I’d run my dog instead of walk him later. Poor beast, his life runs on my schedule. But I needed to get this session in today. I was feeling warm and excited to get it done.

Squats for warmup were smooth. I clean the bell up to my chest and rotate it up and behind my head, resting it on my clenched traps where a low back squatting barbell would be. I’m tightly gripping the horns of the bell, elbows high. I can actually still keep my shoulder blades back and down in this position, enough to keep my spine neutral and my chest broad.

I assess my tissue health during these squats. If I’m tight, I have trouble keeping my elbows up and shoulders packed. I feel it in my hips as I squat. My feet want to turn out as I descend into and rise out of the hole because my calves and ankles don’t want to move.

Today I was feeling smooth. I attribute that to better food and sleep this week, after some pretty harsh stretches of junk food while on the road the past few weekends. Wheat, sugar, and vegetable oil: The monumental ingredients of American agricultural corporations. I had my fair share and was really feeling it. Constipation, grogginess, acne, aching joints, tight tissues. Glad to be feeling better today.

On the swings, I paid close attention to my feet. The most important thing is to keep the heels planted, according to Pavel Tsatsouline. But it’s easy to forget about the front of the feet and let them pull up off the ground. This tends to happen on the upswing, either right at the pop or just after it. When the tension from the kettlebell disappears at the top, it’s almost natural for the torso to pull back a little more with that slack. This then causes a bit of imbalance, causing the toes to come up as the shins flex.

I don’t like that because it’s not stable, and I’m pulling too far back with my torso, endangering my low back. So I keep my feet planted, heel to toe. To do that, I have to keep my body balanced, keeping the hinge centered over midfeet, and bracing at the top to straighten the body, rather than pull back.

I banged out ten sets, a bit out of breath on the fourth one, and humming along by the seventh. Ten getups later I was running down the sidewalk with my dog to his usual dumping grounds. We got back in time for me to shower and head for the train station.

I am currently working on the one handed swing for the 32kg. When I remember, I get in one set for each side, usually on the second or third set. One is enough for now, as my form is still stiff and rigid as a scarecrow in the effort to keep things stable.

I’ll be working toward doing all sets one handed in these upcoming months. I’m glad the weather is cooling down too, because sweaty hands can lead to ripped callouses. Look out for updates.

Live powerfully,

Steve

Big decisions and keeping up kettlebell training

In making big life decisions, there’s the weighing of pros and cons, the cost analysis, predicting the emotional impact, and measuring the effect on your loved ones. In the end, though, there is the decision. Sometimes you make that decision based on the sum of all the math, however inaccurate, you did. But I think it comes down to something deeper. There’s a feeling, an inner arrow, or a surrounding vibe that you sense as you let go of your grip on the details.

Let yourself feel the pull of your daemon, and you may come up to find that you’re facing the other direction, or that you’re a lot further down the path to a decision than you thought.

I’m working through some major life decisions now and am coming close to the end of the process. Not sure where I’ll end up yet, but wherever that is, I’ll be sure to place myself there with full commitment.

Currently, my kettlebell regimen has been suffering, but I’m still going with it. With a long commute, I haven’t been getting a lot of sleep and I’m eating dinner pretty late. This is catching up to me. I am very grateful that I can have dinner with my wife, our dog nearby, and that the sleep I get is in a quiet and dark place. I have also been traveling quite a lot, almost every weekend for the past month. Training every day with the 32kg kettlebell was hard, too hard, with my small recovery time.

I took a break for almost a week at the end of July. During the weekends that I traveled I took days off from kettlebell training as well. All in all, I trained an average of four days a week in July, and three days a week in August.

This is rough on my psyche, because I take pride in my training. I feel accomplished, energized, and ready to rock for the entire day after a morning kettlebell session. I’m happy that I gained strength over time with such a simple tool as the iron bell. Not being able to train for so many days of the week is not easy to deal with.

It’s alright though. For now I’ll keep doing my best. The hardest part is getting up in the morning and starting my routine. If I lay down to nap for a bit, or if I take too long making my coffee, I won’t have time for training. The trickiest part is going to bed earlier. There’s not much time from walking in the front door to greeting my wife and dog to eating dinner and going to bed. I want to draw my time with my wife out longer, but I withdraw from my morning when I do.

Yeaterday, I did my first full training session in five days. It felt great. Still doing Simple and Sinister, 100 swings and 10 getups. Swings are two handed right now. I ventured into one handed swings a couple of weeks ago, doing one set for each side.

Boy is that 32kg heavy. I’m able to get the bell up to the top of my abdomen, but not quite fully up to chest level. And my movement is restricted with the strain. Yesterday was all two handed swings. Got in a small set of pullups before lunch. I love days like that.

Today was a day off, because I had to write out some plans in the morning. That’s fine. I’ll get back into it tomorrow morning.

Live powerfully,

Steve

Getups on wood

A very uncomfortable lesson

Swings and getups continue to teach me strength day to day. After moving into a house and inheriting a dog, I’ve had more breaks in training than I would like. Still, what training I can do is enough to get stronger. Kettlebell training can be done almost anywhere, and new settings introduce challenges and carve out unique aspects of strength. Recently, I discovered the unpleasant and extremely instructive training setting of a wood floor for Turkish getups.

Doing getups on a wood floor is like getting a massage from Pinocchio. Every joint and every pointy, protruding edge of bone gets a nice, hard rub from the floor. The elbows, wrists, shoulders, pelvis, knees, ankles, and feet all get a good, Italian-wooden-puppet rub down. The most painful part for me is the knees. The rising sweep ends with the back knee on the ground, and it’s the first contact between the knee and the floor. This part isn’t so rough, as my free hand is still planted on the ground and taking much of the weight. The weight is held straight up by my working arm, in line with the arm supporting me from below.

Next, however, comes the movement of the getup that brings agony. From the hand on the ground, I shift my weight back to the legs. The weight distribution moves to my knee and front foot, and once I’m stable enough to take my hand off the ground, I bring my torso upright and then face forward. Throughout this transition, my bony knee is pressing into the floor and rubbing around in different directions. I am inwardly dying.

The part after that was also barely survivable at first. To fully face forward while on one knee and bring my hips forward, I pivot my back lower leg straight back to line up with my front leg. The pivot requires me to spin on the knee that is on the floor, grinding and smashing into it. I hear various bones, ligaments and tendons rubbing and popping and groaning during the pivot. For the first week of this I could barely bring my torso upright because of the pain and discomfort.

I tried wearing sweats over my usual thin polyester exercise pants, but it barely made the pivot any less painful. At first, I thought it would be impossible to carry on past one or two sets. But I found that I could adjust my movement and my positions to reduce the abrasiveness of the floor. For example, if I flexed my knee during the hip shift from the windmill position, it tightened things up and kept my joint compact. This reduced the amount of loose knee tissue that could rub around on the ground.

At some point, though, I still need to open that knee up as I bring my torso upright. Naturally, as I push my hips forward and open them up, my knee is going to open a bit too. I’m learning to bring more of my weight onto the forward leg which has my foot on the ground. There’s still a good amount of knee grinding against the floor as I rise, but it’s less painful with my weight loaded onto the forward foot and the connected leg and glute.

Lastly, there’s the pivot of my lower leg back to line up with my forward leg. Here my knee is full on the ground, pressed down from the weight overhead, and I’m spinning on it to turn my lower leg back. Again, I find that keeping my weight forward on my front leg and foot helps lessen the grinding. The first and second reps are usually most painful, and the third rep is easier. The pain isn’t an injury pain, it’s more of a massage pain – the kind that comes from jammed up tissues being loosened and undone.

After doing this for a couple of weeks, I noticed that if I focus on the kettlebell in my hand more, and less on my grounded knee, I find that the pain is much less. This makes me believe most of it is in my head. It’s also probably because when I focus on that weight above, and getting up, I’m also hitting that position in a concise movement. I’m spending less time in the transitions where my knee is grinding the floor. And I think it just feels more painful when I’m in the awkward positions of the transitions, with my torso at an angle, my head moving and my gaze unfixed. At the stable positions of windmill, and then being on one knee, I’m not moving and my knee isn’t grinding. To get there, I have to focus through the discomfort.

So the getups on a hard wood floor teach me to focus on the movements, on weight distribution, and on being concise. While I will not do this regularly, as I’m not that excited about grinding my knees, I think it is a good training setting every once in a while to remember these things.

Live powerfully,

Steve

Today’s training: 100 two-handed swings with 32kg. No getups.

Walking the Tired Line

It’s a little over three weeks now from my first kettlebell sessions with the 32kg iron. To recap, I’ve been training every day with the 24kg kettlebell for about a year up until the middle of last month. I began the transition to 32kg in getups because I was able to do five on each side in well under ten minutes every day. This was Pavel Tsatsouline’s requirement set forth in Simple and Sinister.

On the weekend that I first took up the 32kg bell, I knew I would be more tired and need more food and rest. I projected this would last for the duration of my transition, which I estimated to be about a month. It has certainly been more tiring. I’m regularly more tired in the mornings, and it’s been difficult to jump out of bed into the dawn. I eat a late lunch regularly, almost every day around 2 or 3pm. Still, without enough sleep during the weekdays I am slow to recover. I slept much later into the mornings on the last few weekends, to try to recover.

Being in the middle of this transition, I detach and take a bugger perspective to make the tiredness easier to handle. But today I experienced one of the great dangers of not recovering enough from training – injury. My latissimus seems to have gotten strained near the attachment to my shoulder. It’s nothing major, but it highlighted the involvement of this muscle area in the getup, and more generally it’s contribution to shoulder stability. The getup teaches me about my shoulders in this way. Not having rested enough during increased weight training, my lats strangely take the hit. This reminds me of how important they are as the foundation of my shoulders.

I’m currently doing four getup sets of the 32kg, and one set of the 24kg for each side. My swings are still with the 24kg. Remember I’m doing these outside, at the bottom of the staircase leading up to my home. As long as I live in an upstairs apartment, I’m going to use just one kettlebell for the swings. Perhaps when I’ve got the getups settled at 32kg, I’ll think about taking two of the irons with me down and upstairs.

Live powerfully,

Steve

Fat for man

Most of us just don’t know how to eat fat anymore because we don’t practice it. Eating fat is a basic human act that makes a human healthy. It is satiating and nourishing. It gives energy to act. It replenishes building blocks of the body’s cells. It encourages the body to use fat as energy. This includes the brain.

When you eat fat, there is a feeling of satisfaction, pleasure, and rightness that is different from eating carbohydrates or dry protein. Protein is dry when there isn’t much fat on it. Fat triggers something different in the body, a feeling of abundance and satiety that puts a man at ease. And then, unlike the effect of swallowing a large amount of simpler carbohydrates, the general good feeling is sustained. Energy remains high. The mind is still clear.

Eating fat, though, can be difficult to figure out if you have been avoiding it according to conventional (last fifty or so years) dietary guidelines. This is most notably the food pyramid endorsed by our U.S. government. Fat is the very tip top of that pyramid, a hilariously small corner shared with sugar. When I followed that pyramid, I ate the equivalent of half a loaf of whole wheat bread, two skinless chicken breasts, two salads, and a bowl of whole wheat pasta per day. Because I would still be hungry at night, I usually also had two or three bowls of ice cream, pie, or other dessert after dinner.

I loved to cook, so don’t get me wrong, I would fix up some gourmet meals with these basic “macros” (I cringe at this word). What is the hunger though that persists after all this food? It’s probably a deficit in nutrition. What could I be missing? Well, what did I lunge for but sweet, fatty foods like ice cream? I was craving fat, and when you buy fatty desserts at a store, they’re usually saturated with sugar.

Fat has more calories by mass than other foods. So you’ll see that adding some butter to your rice or stew or veggies will make you fuller. Eating good quality meat with all of the fat will bring you more satiety than will chopping off and discarding the fat. So the amount of food, the actual bulk, that you eat may be reduced eventually. Don’t worry that you aren’t getting enough food to fuel the demands of your exercise, work, and other duties. Go by feel. Don’t waste food. Start small, adding fat like coconut oil, avocados, grass fed butter, and beef, pork, and fish fat to your usual meals. Or go big and learn the hard way like I did, that I no longer needed as much food when more of it was fat.

You can eat at more convenient times of the day, too, with more fat in your diet. After a time of eating breakfasts with more fat and less carbohydrates, you might find that you have better focus and more energy. The morning is a great time to have fat blended in coffee or tea, as fat does not trigger a large insulin response like carbs and protein do. The insulin response is what causes fuzziness. Eating fat in the morning is a great way to have food without breaking energy.

Eventually, you might feel fine without a solid breakfast, or any food for that matter. Just as mornings are quiet in nature, your belly and digestive system can also be quiet. Just hold off on eating for a few hours, maybe until lunch, and you’ll see that avoiding the sugar, carbs, low quality protein, and the vegetable oils in most “break-fast” items will open up a wellspring of energy in the morning. Work hard if you do find the focus, and eat when you need to eat. This is the true breaking of the fast.

Recognize the body’s need for fat. There’s a reason it tastes so good, feels so awesome, and makes you healthier. We came into existence as a species with fat as a food. Our giant brains are made mostly of fat. When you’re hungry, tired, achy, dry, grouchy, moody, and in a slump, stop from eating candy, snacks, and desserts. Hit up that grass fed butter. Eat real food and let good fat be a substantial portion of it. If you finish dinner and are still looking for snacks, think about how much fat was in that dinner. Find more.

Live powerfully.

Thirty two at thirty two

It’s been about twelve months since I started regularly training with the 24kg kettlebell. At about an average of six days of training a week, I’ve used this kettlebell for swings and getups for around 288 days. That’s 28,800 swings and 2,880 getups. It’s time to start using the 32kg kettlebell, which I bought and began training with last weekend.

I’ve done powerlifting training to take my squat from 315lbs to 370lbs in a year – at 168lbs body weight – and I know that the length of time and the number of reps you do of an exercise doesn’t mean much on its own. I have seen people with “years of experience” in the gym who are not strong. So I’m not talking about my brief kettlebell history here to say I’m an expert on it.

I give these numbers for context. I’m a novice, and have been honing the skills and strength that are required by, and developed by, swings and getups. Swings have strengthened my lower, mid, and upper back. I no longer get the small pangs I used to feel from sitting too long, or from doing a bunch of work in the yard. Sure I get tired and sore here and there, but rarely do I get a random back ache. Sprinting up hills or stairs is much easier. I find a reserve of energy and tension in my body that is quicker and more responsive than what I felt after a year of powerlifting. I also have better balance, better posture, and less fatique from walking, running, and sprinting during my daily commute.

Getups transformed my shoulders and upper back. There’s not much difference in appearance. I haven’t grown in size, and actually may have gotten a bit skinnier over the past year. But my shoulders are now stronger when my arms are extended, more comfortable, and less problematic on a day to day basis. I can grab things better when they’re far away or behind me, and I’m much more confident in my ability to move things around further away from me.

The getup has also sewn together my whole body with thicker and tighter threads, so to speak. I am more coordinated from head to toe, and feel stronger and more responsive as a whole. Powerlifting brought good brute strength to my entire body, undeniably. I can shoulder bigger loads than ever before in my life, after barbell squats, deadlifts, bench and overhead presses, and Pendlay rows. Kettlebell getups helped me to make this strength more cohesive. Pressing a heavy load up overhead and then bringing it back down to your chest builds your pressing ability. Holding weight straight up from a supine position on the ground all the way up to standing and back down builds much more meaning into that kind of strength.

There are many good uses for the strength gained from heavy barbell exercises. Kettlebell training multiplies the usefulness of that strength. Using the 24kg kettlebell still isn’t quite easy. But compared to the early stages of my training, it’s not nearly as hard. Taking up the 32kg kettlebell recently has brought me back to the mindset of a beginner. I struggle to execute the most elementary movements. I sweat more. I breathe hard, unintentionally. And a little soreness in my muscles and joints has returned. I’ve been adding sets with the new bell slowly, just replacing one more 24kg set here and there. It is an incremental progression.

When I’m on by back, getting ready for the next getup, I wonder how I will ever do this with a 48kg kettlebell. One thing at a time I guess. For now, I thoroughly enjoy the new challenge during training each morning. At thirty two years I make use of my body and the strength I’ve built, which I will continue to build until the day I die.

Live powerfully.

What is love

Love is deep. It is real. Love keeps you going, day to day, it keeps you whole, year to year. Love for one another, love for yourself, love for the world, love for the universe and the way of things – it’s acceptance of what is, what a person is, what the weather is, what life brings. Love is acknowledgment, isn’t it? It is the force of accepting everything as it is and the power to act while holding that acceptance in heart and mind. Then it is the power to embrace the good and empower it and let it grow. It is the power to feel the bad and acknowledge it, and to know when to keep working on it and coaxing it to good, and love is also the power that tells you when to destroy the bad.

Gardening in the summer heat teaches a man to love things. It taught me a little bit about how to love the bees that drank nectar and collected pollen all around me, as I did my work next to them. I fear the bees and their sting, since I’ve felt the digging pain of a bee sting. I didn’t want to get too close at first, because I thought that the bees would attack me if I threatened their activity. But I realized through my work there that I too had things to do, as a man I had a place there among the bees and very close to them. I learned to move and stand and crouch respectfully, to dig and cut and pull and throw all around the bees and their paths of flight without offending them. And I saw that they understood me to some extent too, that they smelled me and felt me near and knew I wasn’t there to harm them.

This is one way to love. To be with someone, to be brave enough to learn how to be close and engage, and to respect enough to keep distance and move without hampering and threatening. To acknowledge everything, to accept as is, and to work from your own principles on the goals that you must achieve, in harmony with all else. To be in this world, as yourself, and to acknowledge yourself and accept yourself as you are. And then to get the power to act as a good person. Love is the power to know that you are not perfect, and that you have many flaws, and also to know that you are awesome in equally many ways, that you have many excellent qualities, and skills, and essences.

Love can’t be perfected, although it is a sort of skill that can be practiced more and more to be made more powerful in a person. Look at the universe, which is not perfect in any way except that it is exactly as it is. Being that as a man is the same thing, and learning that is loving yourself and the world. The more I see who I am without the asterisk, without the resistance and denial of certain aspects or past actions or unfavorable traits, the better I can act and live. And this is how I can come to love myself. Not because it’s a thing to be accomplished, to get some kind of trophy for the ideal self-loving man on a pedestal, but because it’s the only way. Love.

Live powerfully.

Health, medicine, and will

There’s a difference between health and medicine. Don’t be fooled by big hospital advertisements like, “Thrive” that continue the meshing of medical treatment with living in a healthy way. It’s great that people high up in their ranks are making an effort to encourage healthy living, albeit in an effort to bring more people to their hospitals. But their food recommendations come from the Food Pyramid, their exercise recommendations from supposed experts, and their diagnoses are influenced by the medications that they are comfortable prescribing. It’s hard to reasonably accept “health” advice from a business that Thrives on surgery, pharmaceutical treatment, and office visits paid for by insurance companies.

To be fair, most of us pay insurance companies for all of these “benefits”. We’ve bought ourselves into the system. We believe that doctors exist to keep us healthy. When they tell us to take a pill or use an ointment or get surgery, we go ahead and do it. We know that it’s expensive to see a doctor and to get those additional treatments. So we get insurance. The problem is that we believe that this is our way to stay healthy.

Medical treatment exists for wounds, injuries, diseases, and conditions that individuals can’t properly self-treat. But you can see that the list of things we believe must be treated at a hospital or doctor’s office or from a pharmacy increases exponentially over time: a sore throat, headaches, an aching shoulder, weight gain, cavities, bone loss, high cholesterol, lack of focus. And because we’re already paying insurance companies, we might as well make use of that copaid office visit to get it treated.

Health is different. Being healthy involves the food you eat. It involves the way you move every day. It involves what you do with your thoughts and how you act. It originates from your decisions and most basically from your will. Sure, it’s very important to read and learn about food from people who have experience and who have learned from people before them and they before them. It’s important to know how to move, and to learn from someone who knows how to move and how to keep the body functioning well. It’s important to know how to cultivate your mind and to learn this from people who have done so and who have good minds and strong spirits. But most importantly it comes from your will to be a healthy creature.

Will yourself to good health. Don’t count on the “medical community” or the government and their food pyramid to bring you to good health. They will not. You will. Figure out what is causing your pain, your suffering, and discomfort, and see if you can’t get rid of it on your own. Since when did a person have to get permission from a doctor to do something good for their own health? Never. You give yourself the permission to observe and test and try and explore the old knowledge and experience that humans have had and will need to rebuild to be healthy. Your health is yours to build. And when you need medical treatment, you go to a doctor you trust and hear them out and get treatment according to your rational judgment.

But before that, go to your grandparents or someone old and trusted and ask them what their parents and their grandparents ate. Look up what our ancestors ate and how they lived. Scientific thinking involves evaluation of the one million years of human existence, not just the effects of a pill on a symptom.

Free yourself from the system. The system is there to do something efficiently. If you don’t need that something done, you don’t need the system to do it efficiently for you. Freeing yourself to act for the good of your health is not as hard as you think. It’s just different. Remember the moment when Neo was freed. It wasn’t after being chased by agents, taking the pill, or getting dunked and reborn and unplugged. No, it was the moment he decided to follow the white rabbit. It’s the decision.

Live powerfully.

When to push and when to rest

Sometimes it gets easier to train the more you do it. It’s like toughening yourself up to handle more physical stress. You might have felt pretty pooped from the first time trying something. But then the next day you realize you have the energy to do it again.

Sometimes it’s just time to rest. You’re tired not because you’re weak, but because you’ve done a lot.

It’s important to figure out when to push and when to train. I find that if I default to train, I benefit from waiting until the moment I have to get out and train to see whether I’m really ready or not. And if I do start training, I get to feel how much energy I really have. Rather than trying to mull over it in my head beforehand, I simply know I will come to the moment of truth.

With this come the element of design. Figure out what level of training, and the frequency, that you can reasonably do. You can only really find out by trying. Yes, you may overdo it at first. Then pull back. If it’s easy, though, have no qualms about pushing a little more next time.

Live powerfully.

Accept and move forward

I just had some thoughts about where I am in life today. Most people will view the Quit-your-job-and-travel idea as a romantic adventure that puts life in perspective and adjusts life goals into better focus. It is.

Few people understand that it’s hard to do. The friends we talked to as we thought through our sabbatical, as we planned it, and as we turned in our resignation letters and started packing, recognized the magnitude of our decision and goal. There was major excitement, wonder, and fear from everyone, including my wife and I. Of course, looking back, I would say we didn’t know what we were getting into. Looking forward, we worried about what we would do when we got back. We thought about the obstacles to traveling with minimal luggage across borders. And we dreamed about the exotic places, the people, the food, the natural features of other parts of the world.

When we did go, we did see amazing things. We did meet people that we loved, and we did savor wonderful foods. There was time enough to sit and to let thoughts come and go, to let anxiety dissipate, and to understand a different time realm from the “nine-to-five” machine. Sure we had to use our money to buy ourselves out of the box. But that didn’t change the things we saw outside of it.

When we did get back, it was hard. We lived with my mom for a few months. That got rough, naturally, so we lived with her parents for a few months. We looked for work and income for a while, and eventually we decided that it would be better to get an apartment. This really motivated us to find work. And we did. The grind was tough at first. Every day back from our travels, every day further from that openness of time and space, felt dark. But within that darkness we had warmth. We had each other and stuck to our dream. Our dream of living life outside of the box.

Even as I work every day, even as she works every day, we do it differently. There’s no more crushing anxiety. No more narrow-minded misery. Sure there are tough moments every day. Yes we struggle and stress as we solve problems. But we appreciate every bit of work we can do individually. We appreciate the time we have to make a meal and eat and talk with each other at night. We appreciate every minute of sleep we can get. The sun goes down, and it comes back up, and we hold on to our goals, our passions, our desires, and our discipline.

On the surface not much looks different. We’re not perfect by any means. And we understand we’re vulnerable. But the picture is bigger now. The goal is longer. The determination is harder and the fire burns cooler but longer. Every day is a bite into the gift of life, a step forward, and a pull upward. When something happens to get in our way, we’ll be ready to accept, adjust, and keep moving.

Live powerfully.