Change of plans, training regimens

Brilliant friends,

After a week of testing out live filming of my training sessions, I decided to change things up a bit. One problem I have is that my training now takes place just before dawn, and nothing’s visible for the first half of it. No point in filming it. The other problem is that my phone battery dies fast in the cold. Very interesting.

So, I’m moving this Saturday’s live session to 8 a.m. pacific. Rather than train during the live session, I’ll devote 100% to either answering questions or explaining my approach to developing a long term training regimen.

My philosophy on training is that it develops strength and should be used as a daily practice of movement, form, meditation, and discipline. Strength training in the morning galvanizes the spirit, and calms the mind. When you feel physically ready, your mind can relax and act in confidence.

You also can do much less on a daily basis to build strength than you would need to do on a three times a week, twelve weeks per year kind of workout program. There’s no need to exhaust yourself, because you’re going to be back tomorrow.

Let’s talk more on Saturday morning. 8 a.m. pacific. I look forward to seeing you there.

Live powerfully,

Steve

Train with me next week

Training sessions are the core of my days. They give me a physical, mental, and emotional recharge.

I’m going to start live training sessions next week using Instagram live. This is for anyone looking for inspiration on setting a regular strength training regimen. If you’re training regularly already, good. We can compare notes. If you are not practicing a regimen of strength, it’s time to start. Come see what I do.

The first real Q&A will be on Thursday, October 29 at 7 a.m. PST. The second one will be on Saturday, October 31 at 7 a.m. PST. I’ll start training as soon as I get out to my patio, and will hit “live” on Instagram at 7. I’ll finish up my session and see what questions and comments I get. I’m open to some hard criticism too, so lay it on me.

On Thursday, you’ll see squats and deadlifts. On Saturday, swings and getups following Simple & Sinister schooling.

Hope to have all of you there on Instagram. The handle is @thebrilliantbeastblog. I may start testing out the IG live feature earlier in the week to get in the groove, so look out for me on Monday morning.

Live powerfully,

Steve

Back to Squats

It’s the weekend again. Time is flying by. The world is wasting itself trying to wait out the virus. No one knows what that means or looks like. So everyone dumbly waits.

This week has been a solid one for training. I decided to add squats to my PTTP routine of deadlifts and presses. Rather than do two sets of five on squats, I am doing the good 5×5. My reason is that I haven’t squatted for a very long time, and I am in no shape to start with heavy weight. The 2×5 was designed by Pavel Tsatsouline to train beginners with light weight. It’s a four times a week regimen, so there are enough repetitions of movement to get a new strength student accustomed to the lifts without fatiguing him.

However, I’m not new to strength training. Since I’ve squatted 370 lbs. at 168 body weight, I have experience. But I’m currently not at this level of absolute strength. So I found myself in an interesting situation which isn’t much addressed by training programs geared toward the new and the experienced – I’m experienced and rusty.

I’ve been training with kettlebells for the past three years, aside from a few months of barbell training to learn the StrongFirst Lifter instructor ways. This training built a different kind of strength. I’m faster and better wired, in a neurological sense. My shoulders and back are healthier than ever, since sports injuries during high school. But in terms of absolute strength, I needed to start from scratch.

Interestingly, because I’ve built up my swings to the 32kg kettlebell on the Simple & Sinister regimen, I retained some absolute strength on the deadlift. I also boosted strength on the deadlift by training in the Easy Strength method of 10 reps total per session, multiple times a week. So for deadlifts and presses, I went with the 2×5 scheme on PTTP for the past couple of months.

My squat, on the other hand, had very little practice. Aside from get ups, through which I did single leg lunges, I never squatted with very much weight. I needed to start from the beginning, just the greasy bar with naked sleeves.

It took a few sessions to warm up and get my joints accustomed to the load. I’ve been going easy, stopping the set when I felt a little twinge of pain, or that locking sensation in the thighs and calves. Funny how the body tells you when it’s a bad idea to continue.

So here I am, squatting the same loads I started with way back in 2014 on StrongLifts 5×5. I even dusted off Medhi Hadim’s website to refresh my mental catalogue of queues and technique. It feels good to build from the ground up, in a literal and figurative sense.

I’m alternating deads and presses, doing either movement with squats, four days a week. On the rest days I continue with the S&S regimen, although I decided not to use the 40kg on any getups anymore. I found that with so few days of kettlebell training, my neck and shoulders are not keeping the strength I had built up to a couple of months ago. So I’m simply maintaining a level of strength with the 32kg until I can return my focus to the kettlebell.

Live powerfully,

Steve

Current Training Regimen and How This Applies to You

Brilliant friends,

I hope this post finds you well. Most of you in the U.S. are dealing with some level of reduced access to gyms or pull-up bars. Don’t let this hold you back from maintaining your practice of strength. As a matter of fact, you have the opportunity to dive deeper into strength training at home. If you have not considered the kettlebell, let me explain.

My current regimen is Simple & Sinister. It is a kettlebell training regimen consisting of swings and get-ups. Ten sets of ten swings, and ten get-ups divided into five left and five right. I have been using this training regimen for the past three and half years, starting in the summer of 2016 with a 16kg kettlebell. Today my training weight is 32kg or 2 pood, and it has been for over a year.

I recently progressed from two-handed to one-handed swings with this load, which took about two months of active effort. By active, I mean that it was not very easy, and I made very small progressions to lessen the load day-to-day. I had to eat more food than normal, and I had to sleep more on the weekends. I experienced significant hypertrophy at first, then gradually returned to a more normal size as the weeks went by. This advancement took place at the end of last year, and in the four months since then I have continued to develop strength in subtle ways with the same kettlebell.

Get-ups with the 32kg are becoming “easier” every week. I am progressing to one set for each side with the 40kg and learning an immeasurable number of lessons from this.

That is the beauty of daily kettlebell training. It never ends. Learning never stops, if you pay attention. Growth never ceases, if you are disciplined. You come to know more of the infinite irregularities of your single piece of training equipment, cast of iron and forged to last for generations of your family. And more than that, you come to know your strength and your weakness. You will find yourself facing obstacles in every nook and cranny of your physical existence, and even obstacles within your mind and heart.

The kettlebell is just a tool. Buy one if you want to explore the movements in the convenience of your home. But even if you do not have a kettlebell and do not buy one, you can still train your strength every day. Have no excuses for yourself. Set a time and a regimen to follow, one that is not too difficult but that tests your strength and ability. You can do pushups and burpees and pull-ups if you have a bar, squats, jump rope, hill sprints, and all manner of other movements. Again, find a regimen that you can do every day. Do not do something that is too difficult, or you will not do it the next day.

As you decide whether or not to train with kettlebells, consider that you should be training barefoot on solid ground. If you have a flat patch of grass nearby that is ideal. You will need to be able to grip the ground firmly during swings and will need to have a clear space in front of you, in case you lose grip of the kettlebell. For get-ups, you will start and end lying supine, and you will be bearing weight on your elbows and knees. Overly hard or bumpy surfaces will hurt, so find ground on which you can practice comfortably every day.

Read Simple & Sinister by Pavel Tsatsouline before you buy a kettlebell, and before you begin using a kettlebell. Kettlebell training is not for everyone. Understand the principles and assess your physical and mental capabilities for such training. If you do decide to train with a kettlebell, commit fully. You can find gear and FAQ’s on this blog to get started. If you decide not to train with a kettlebell, good for you as well. Find another method of training and commit to that fully.

If you are working from home, you now have all of your commuting time for training. If you lost your job and are searching for work, you have even more time to develop strength, practice movement, and maintain good health through your job search. Build a strong foundation that cannot be rocked.

Live powerfully,

Steve

Change of seasons

Once again the mornings are warmer, and the ground does not freeze my feet. My breath no longer shows white in the dark. The sun climbs out from over the horizon quicker than it did a week ago, and every new day its aura soaks into the black sky a little bit earlier.

It wasn’t as cold as the previous year, though. The spring may prove to be a warm one, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the summer were to be hotter than those of recent memory.

It is raining again, and the rain will continue through the next few weeks before the earth grows hot. Two days ago, the rain sprinkled down lightly enough that I could swing the kettlebell without taking shelter between sets. The handle became a bit too wet to safely grip, though. I found a dry towel in a bag among the things outside that I haven’t yet stored away. I used the towel to wipe the handle down before each set, but eventually I left the towel on the handle and threw it aside just before the set. Some of the chalk on my hands washed away from droplets on the handle, but I was able to keep a firm enough grip on the bell.

Rain is good. It teaches you to not take dryness for granted. Stand in the rain as you train and you’ll learn that your grip on the bell isn’t as solid as you thought. A little slip is okay, but you need to play with the pull of the iron to keep your grip. Keep the handle in your fingers, or else your palm will blister and tear.

Rain will also teach you about your grip on the ground, with your feet. In the rain you’ll need to pay extra attention to keeping your big toes planted and pointed forward, still spreading the floor and not letting your feet swivel out. This has a lot to do with how you distribute your weight through the swing, and your hinging at the hips. You’ll learn to concentrate on driving the force down into the ground as you stand tall.

I think of the garden that my mom let me tend two years ago. Most of the vegetables I planted by seed are gone, brown caked rectangles of dirt where they once sprouted green and fresh. The collards alone survive the negligence of the past years, new stems ever pushing through the earth, mindless of heat or cold or rain or none. Unkept, the stalks will thicken to the size of a child’s wrist, scaly and strong, leaves massive.

Together with the earth, mankind turns in seasons, as man is one with the earth and not separate from her nature. As with a vegetable stalk that becomes tough, the mind becomes calloused and set in its ways, until there is little use left. It is time to cut the plant at its base, leaving the roots in the soil, and allowing the overgrown stalk and leaves to dissolve back into the earth, to become fodder for new growth. Nothing is lost, and everything dead is put to use again by the universe.

Do this with your thinking, with physical training, with social relations. Let the dead shell drop about you so that you can change. There is a point where the things that served you well, the skills and strengths and patterns you employed, may restrict movement. Do not be afraid to cut back into the armor to develop a stronger, more flexible, more resilient, more reasonable suit.

When men in our society train to increase strength, particularly with use of the barbell for absolute strength, they tend to go too far. It is human nature to become excited about one’s initial gain in physical power. A man often finds trouble once the regular increases in his training weight are not so easy to lift. He feels fear that he is not as good as he was in the beginning, when he could surpass himself and beat his own weakness. Most men quit, afraid of hurting themselves. Everyone else continues, stupidly. Rather than determine the level of strength that is necessary for survival and the degree of fitness sufficient for his duties in this life, the stubborn man continues to try to lift more weight. He pushes on, ignoring the pain in his joints, the diminishing abilities to move freely, and the unnecessary burden of nutrition and sleep to sustain the exercise.

Few take the time to slow down and think about the plateau they have reached before pushing themselves too far. This kind of man, whether it be long after many trials of stupidity, or a brilliant first encounter, realizes that his strength does improve in a linear progression. He also does not measure, nor does he care too much about, the numerical value of the weight he can lift. What’s important is how he moves the load.

Women generally know the futility of stubborn training. When a strong woman trains her strength according to her own sense, she tends not to push beyond a reasonable level of difficulty. She rarely injures herself or trains to a degree that inhibits normal movement. And yet she often becomes stronger than many men. Men should learn from strong women how to train strength.

What a great time it is to explore our strength. It takes strength to maintain calm, and how vital it is to remain calm when it is easier to let your fear take hold of you. Wake up, brilliant men and women! Continue to develop your strength, improve your diet, and clear your mind of unwanted thoughts, a little every day. If you find your season changing, shed your old skin and let yourself grow anew. Do it aggresively.

Do not let anyone else control your body, or your movements, or your mind, or your heart. Breathe freely, and act according to your principles. If you are young and strong, encourage those around you who are old or weak. Smile even if you are afraid. Do not let their fear seep into your mind, and gently assure them that all is well and promote good health and courageous living. Who else will do this, if not you?

Remember that each of us can choose how to behave. Be calm. Be brave. Treat your fellow man with dignity and respect. Create peace and solidarity within your family and let that be shared with the rest of your community. Do not give furtive looks at others as you pass them in the street. Don’t listen to too much news. Respect authority but don’t lose your mind in whatever you do.

Live powerfully,

Steve

Squat heavy and face fear

Squat heavy and you know the deep level of psychological transformation you undergo to dip into the hole and come back. Hard training is different from hard life situations. In training, you control the level of difficulty and commit to it. In life, you can’t control the level of difficulty or the timing.

This is why training is so important. Physical training can prepare you for the hardships of life. The preparation comes from your mental capacity to deal with higher levels of sustained stress. Whether it is a physical load or a mental burden of fear, the same workings within the mind and body take place in response. Training teaches you to continue to function with precision under pressure.

When you train under heavy load, you will learn to stay calm while under pressure. It is physical pressure in training, but your mind must also deal with that force. You may want to escape, you might fear that the load will crush you, or you might panic in the belief that you won’t be able to make the lift. When you reach the level of skill where you can train with loads over twice your body weight, the principles will be magnified.

The squat simulates these pressures well because the load is above you and there is no external resting point for the weight. Once you unrack the weight, you are directly between the load and the ground. Contrast this with the deadlift, in which the weight could be dropped to the floor.

Without an immediate escape, the way to properly deal with the load is to accept it. Become comfortable with the weight. Grip the bar ever tighter, pull it down into the groove between your shoulders and back, let the bar become part of you. Find balance vertically and horizontally in your new, unwieldy shape. Keep in your peripheral vision the plates at the ends of the barbell. Gently hold them in awareness.

Balance the bar like a tightrope walker. Stay between your feet, as if you were on an island in the middle of a massive blue ocean. Grip the floor with your feet. Root yourself down like a thousand year old oak.

Keep your back tight and your ribs locked down. Your body is a concrete pillar. Allow only the movement of your hips and knees, opening and closing naturally as you descend and then ascend.

The only other movement comes from the belly as you pull in air to the bottom of your lungs. Press against the belt if you wear one, or build up an airtight balloon with your abdomen in lieu of a belt.

When you’re squatting double your mass or more, you will begin to feel the pressure. It’s a different force from the one on your back. It’s the pressure of fear and intimidation. The familiar feeling, if you’ve been bullied, of a bigger or stronger enemy staring down at you, threatening to crush you. The pressure is in your mind now, it’s crept in from the weight on the bar and is now knocking on the door of your soul.

The first stages of this level of difficulty in training will be easier to navigate. By this point you’ve built enough strength to be able to suck in a deep breath and blow past the fear.

Later, when the weight becomes nearly unbearable, you’ll learn to face it. Rather than stomping through the thin curtain, you see that it’s now a wall. The fear can’t be shaken from your head. Now, you’ve got to stay with it in there. Don’t waste your time or energy trying to run from it. Rather, root your feet harder into the ground, grip the bar tighter against your back, and solidify your belly right against that fear. Face it, and accept it.

You’ll see that this new pressure, the fear and intimidation, are merely different forms of load. All you need to do is recognize this, and make this pressure as much a part of you as the bar and the plates on your back. The fear that soaks your heart, the intimidation that fills your mind, they are fine.

Tighten yourself up and lock them in as you descend, and rise.

Apply this to life. You don’t have to squat heavy to use this principle. The next time you face someone or something that scares you, don’t run. Stay and face it, grip it, make it a part of you, and rise.

Live powerfully,

Steve

Getting Sleep with a Newborn

Brilliant friends!

About a year ago, I wrote about how I was trying to figure out how to sleep better. I set a routine around a two-hour train commute, getting up at 4 a.m. and sleeping around 10 p.m. Having dinner on the ride home gave me time to digest before going to bed. This improved sleep quality, although I was still tired on many mornings. I wanted to relax at home and talk with my wife, and I often stayed up past my prescribed bedtime. So there was a stretch where I was squeezing it all in, the train rides and work, evenings and sleep, and strength training.

Well, that was twelve months ago and much has changed since. During my wife’s late stages of pregnancy, I started to drive to work in case I needed to come for her on a moment’s notice. This shortened the commute by about half an hour, but I couldn’t eat while driving. I traded the benefit of eating early with the joy of eating at home with my wife. Although I ate later and didn’t sleep as soundly, I did have a little more time to sleep in the morning.

Then, my wife gave birth to a beautiful baby, and I went on parental leave. Just before my leave, though, I took on a management role at my job. At the same time, I accomplished the StrongFirst Lifter barbell coaching certification. Within a week, my life became quite different.

All went well with my wife’s labor and delivery. When the baby was first born, we slept little. We woke the baby every couple of hours to feed her, day and night. We learned  she was having tummy issues with some of the food we ate. Until we figured out which foods to avoid to ease the pain of gas in her belly, our ears were tested by her unceasing crying. We discovered that whatever foods gave me gas, gave the baby gas, even if it didn’t affect my wife!

My wife and I were so short on sleep we had hallucinations. When I got up to walk the little human after her nursing, I was often in a daze of half-consciousness. I carried her around in the dark until my arms were numb with aching, my ears turned raw, and still I carried her more, holding her close. When she fell asleep in my arms, I would sometimes sit down and fall asleep too. I was amazed that my arms still held her when I woke an hour later, even when I ended up lying on my back with her on my chest.

My wife, still recovering from birthing our baby, stayed up to nurse her. Because she was also using the breast pump, the cycle of nursing gave her about an hour and a half of sleep at a time. She could barely wake when the alarm sounded, and often moved about with glazed eyes. She also endured the pain of sitting on a recovering bottom while nursing the baby for up to an hour at a time. Her parents and I prepared food and drink for her to have in bed. She needed all the nourishment she could get to make milk, and heal.

I saw a new kind of strength forming in us, the strength of parents. I had always thought of my wife as a warrior of sorts. Seeing her persevere as a mother in the most desperate hours of the night proved me right. It might not seem difficult to hold a tiny baby to let it suckle. But a nursing woman gives the essence of her being to her baby through her milk. All of her nutritional resources are tapped to make this food. She tirelessly wakes, positions herself and the baby so it can comfortably feed, and holds that position for fear of the baby unlatching. Every moment in the beginning is crucial for the baby to receive enough nourishment.

For the new mother, this must be done with her entire body in a state of trauma, just having been stretched to the point of bursting and just having gone through the event of birthing unparalleled by any physical sport endeavor. And, with that, only sips of sleep allowed by the universe despite her desperate thirst for it.

A newborn baby knows to drink from its mother, but the baby must learn to adapt to her mother’s body. She needs to get used to her mother’s breasts and belly and how to position herself in order to receive her nourishment. The baby will writhe and cry and even scream in agony in between good latches on her source of milk. And the mother must endure this initial adaptation for several days, if not weeks.

Seeing my wife go through this struggle gave me the false sense that I too was having the same struggle. But I learned that as the father, it was not my body feeding the baby. It was not me that needed to hold and nurse and stay awake and learn with the baby to nurse. I did everything I could to help position the baby, provide food and water for my wife, and set up a comfortable nursing place. But my role was different and I had to take that on without feeling guilt.

I heard from the maternity classes and books that the father must get sleep in order to be of use when the baby was born. I knew it must be true but didn’t realize the truth until the baby was born. It was hard to let my head rest when my wife was struggling. But it was necessary for me to sleep so that I could help her in my fullest capacity.

Ironically, it was so easy to fall asleep that I was able to nap almost on command. Since I didn’t work, I could actually drop down and sleep the moment I wanted to. The tricky part was to convince myself that I needed to sleep. There was always something to do! Between cooking, laundry, cleaning, and setting up breast pump materials, it was easy to get fired up about doing more. At times, I denied the dull ache of tiredness. But I learned to routinize sleep after a few terrible episodes of prolonged baby crying on no sleep.

A couple of days after returning from the hospital with our baby, I started a regular training rhythm with my kettlebells. Strength practice was one of the anchors in the storm of newborn care. It allowed me to create and release tension. Because I was able to create more tension in training than I had already built up from carrying and soothing the baby, I was able to release the whole of it.

Kettlebell training also rebalanced my body. I often carried the baby on one shoulder or arm longer than the other. After waking from a nap, I would be unable to extend the one arm fully, and one side of my back would be tighter.  Kettlebell clean and presses, swings, and Turkish get ups reset my nervous system and relaxed the tight areas. And of course, it made it easier to fall into deep naps.

I realized, from all the books and articles and pamphlets on baby care we read, that most experts don’t remember the first days after birth. They might remember the general difficulty and the long nights. They know the timing of certain baby development landmarks. However, I doubt that more than a handful actually remember the intense pain, the relentless crying, carrying the baby beyond the limits of sleep, patience, strength, and consciousness. I doubt more than a few remember the intense anger and sorrow and confusion and utter helplessness. Most don’t remember the moments when they wanted to quit, to throw the baby, to slam a fist through a wall, to weep, to tear oneself apart, to murder doctors and nurses, and to scream at family and friends. And even if they did, there would be no way to remember how it actually felt.

Humans are capable of great strength. Motherhood and fatherhood are among the greatest builders of this strength. With each step beyond my own limits, I knew I was growing stronger. Tests of our strength are necessary to push deep into the soul, to knead the spirit and shape it into a more resilient form.

The physical involves the emotional and the mental. Our conventional academic view of life separates the physical happenings from the mental and emotional. It is imperative to deliberately push oneself physically in preparation for the great emotional and mental trials that arise throughout life.

With all that being said, I guess I will sleep easily when I need to. As much as I try to shape my days to optimize sleep, it is also important to keep pushing myself harder. I find it more satisfying to really go for it than to stay comfortable all day long. Why walk when I can run? Why stay silent when I can mobilize to action? Why let happen when I can make happen.

Optimize sleep time while optimizing the waking hours.

Live powerfully,

Steve

Eating more fat and skipping breakfast

Brilliant friends,

What do I do when I get hungry after drinking butter coffee? I eat.

The more I ate good fats from grass fed animals, the more I was able to use fat as an energy source and building block. At first, I noticed that a little bit of butter tasted delicious and made me feel great. When I ate more the next time, I found that I became very full. The next time I ate even more, I wasn’t able to use all of it efficiently. It was obvious that some of the fat had been excreted. I dialed back a bit, and over time I found that I could eat more fat and use it efficiently.

There are many factors within the body that allow you to digest and metabolize fat, like stomach acid strength and gall bladder function. Different fats are used differently by the body as well. Some saturated fats are used to build cell membranes, others are used for energy by way of the liver, and very small chain fats, like C-8 fatty acid, are easily converted into ketones and used by the brain as fuel.

If you normally do not eat much fat, you’ll find that eating just a little bit can bring a deeply satisfying feeling. The fullness, or satiety, from good fat is stronger and lasts longer than the fullness from sugar and other carbohydrates. It is possible to be full without feeling cravings, when you eat enough fat. Once you clearly distinguished the two phenomena, you’re likely to never miss the strangeness of still wanting to eat after having eaten a large meal that did not have enough good fat.

Butter coffee in the morning has been a wonderful way for me to eat enough good fat each day. Every day, I blend grass fed butter, MCT (C-8) oil, and cacao powder with my freshly brewed coffee. Six years ago, my first real cup of butter coffee had two tablespoons of butter, as prescribed by the “bulletproof” Dave Asprey. Today, I have about four tablespoons in the morning, in about three cups of coffee. This has been the same for about three years.

If you are making butter coffee as a part of your daily routine, you can Increase the amount of butter if you feel hungrier than usual that morning. This will be affected by the previous day’s activities and your own body adapting to fat digestion. The more butter, the creamier your coffee will be. Don’t hesitate to try a little more to see how you feel.

This is also a way to delay a first meal and still have a lot of nutrition in the morning. When I first started drinking butter coffee, I was still eating a full breakfast along with it. Over time I added more butter to my coffee, and ate less breakfast. Eventually, I let go of breakfast. I now usually eat lunch a little past 12 p.m. These were natural progressions, nothing force or scheduled. Figure out your needs and adjust to them, until you find a groove where you are energized, satiated, and feeling positive.

This will be different for everyone. You’re probably not going to have the same experience as I did with eating more fats, and the next person you talk to who is doing the same will have a different way altogether. Look for signs of change in how you feel, look, and think. Use the feedback to make small changes.

Live powerfully,

Steve

Swing Barefoot

I do kettlebell swings outside, on the grass if I have the luxury, on concrete otherwise, and never on asphalt or synthetic material. The point is to feel the earth, to be under the sky, to breathe fresh air, and to join the weather, whatever it may be. I swing barefoot.

I find a clear shooting range for swings. The kettlebell is a solid chunk of iron and anything in its path, should I ever let it fly, will be either destroyed or damaged. If a fist can break a wall, a 70-pound kettlebell can crack a support beam. One of the commandments of gun safety is to know your target and what lies beyond your target. The same applies for kettlebell safety.

Doing swings barefoot builds balance. The toes spread and the arches stiffen in response to the swinging iron. As I hinge and the bell pulls me back, my feet keep my weight forward. The downward force presses through my arches into the ground just before the weight stops behind me. I pull the kettlebell back up and again the force drives down through my feet into the ground. This time it’s heavier on the heels. When my hips snap forward, and I straighten into a standing plank, the iron pulls straight ahead, wanting to fly. My feet spread against the ground to keep me still.

The kettlebell swing is a front-to-back movement, but it isn’t perfectly straight. There is some variation in pull from the left versus the right arm, and there is a slight twist of the torso. These variations project the kettlebell more to one side or the other, and this calls for resistance. When the iron strays a fraction of a degree to the side, your feet will instantly respond to keep you grounded. Keep your feet rooted in the ground and feel them push and twist and spread in response to the force of the swinging bell. You must be barefoot to fully benefit from the subtle changes in direction. This is how the swing develops your side-to-side balance.

Although the swing is a dynamic movement, with no resting position and no full stop between repetitions, the powerlifting principles of torque still apply. First, the feet are planted on the ground throughout each set. I line my feet almost parallel with only a slight outward angle, as I do in squats and deadlifts. The more I swing and squat and move with my feet pointing forward, the more flexible my ankles become. The ankles must have twist to translate force from the ground to the feet to the legs to the hips. If the feet are angled too wide, there will be no twist in the ankles. No twist, no torque.

In addition to keeping the feet planted and parallel, you must pull out on the knees to create torque. This will bring the force between your feet and the ground into your hips, giving you the power to snap them forward. It is similar to the torque during the squat and the same as the torque in the deadlift. Your feet can only grip the ground and generate this torque properly when they are bare.

Regular training on bare feet will build their musculature and arch. If you have never trained barefoot, and if you wear shoes that have even slightly elevated heels and cushion, you will feel a significant heel stretch at first. Most shoes drop in elevation from the heel to the toe and keep your ankle slightly flexed. This makes your heel and achilles stiff. The cushion in shoes disturbs foot mechanics and disrupts force transfer from ground by absorbing it. Even minimalist shoes like Vibrams will not replicate bare feet. The shape and curvature of the fabric and sole won’t allow all of your feet to contact the ground naturally. The grip of the rubber soles is too strong and interferes with the subtle mechanics your body would use when barefoot. Let your feet feel the ground and begin their development.

The skin of your feet will thicken and you will develop callouses. This builds readiness for rough surfaces. Find grass if you can, and train on concrete if you cannot find grass. Concrete is a semi-conductor of electricity because it holds water within its molecular structure. Concrete struck by lightning or activated by a strong enough electrical current will explode. This property is good for training. You will be earthing, or absorbing the electrical surface charge of the earth when your feet touch the ground. This also builds strength.

Do not be afraid of ground that is wet, hot, cold, or bumpy. Just remember that the kettlebell is iron and will rust if not dried after use. You can train in the rain, focusing more on grip and ensuring nothing is in the path of the kettlebell. Imperfect surfaces are also good, as you will learn to build stability on uneven ground. Try to have a reasonably level surface, so that you do not build imbalances within your body. Limit yourself to reasonable temperatures, as well. Progressively hotter or colder surfaces build toughness. Extreme heat or cold will damage your feet and knock you out of training.

Swing barefoot. You will build stability, healthy feet, strong posture, and toughness.

Live powerfully,

Steve

Building the Skill of Sleep

Having a small window of time in which to sleep has kept me busy experimenting with different ways to maximize that sleep time. There are about nine hours from the time I get home from work to the time I need to wake up the next morning. Obviously eight full hours of sleep is not going to happen during the weekdays. I’ve been playing with my daily schedule and metabolism and meal timing, finding different ways to give myself more time to sleep and to have better sleep.

I haven’t gotten into taking pills for sleep, not even melatonin, despite claims that it’s natural. Something about ingesting potent sleep inducers doesn’t seem good to me. I’d rather bring about sleep through good practices that allow me to come to that state. With that being said, I do take supplements that help with sleep in indirect ways. The most obvious is magnesium. It’s an electrolyte involved in nerve function and bone formation, and is a natural muscle relaxant. This relaxing effect allows for bowel movement, as well as a generalized feeling of calm, when tired. Taking this at night, about half an hour before bedtime, helps me relax.

So far, I have had only small gains in sleep quality and duration from the other tweaks I’ve been making. Small gains, but effective. The one I’ve been sticking to the longest has been exercise in the morning. Getting my kettlebell training session completed in the morning almost always leads to a better night’s rest. I think it lets me use up more energy, and gets my metabolism way high in the morning, setting up for a gradual decrease until bedtime. It also stimulates me, gets the fire burning, first thing in the morning, and I have found myself in an overall calmer and more confident state throughout the day. After syncing my movements, balance, and sense of space with the kettlebell or other training method, I am more in tune with my reasoning capacity and emotional control. Making better decisions from this state of mind keeps me away from manic spikes in mood resulting from bad decisions or bad reactions to things that happen. And that definitely helps me sleep better at night.

The next most consistent practice has been getting out in the sunlight during my lunch and break times at work, and full on sun bathing on weekend mornings at home. Having a solid 20 to 30 minutes of sun soaking fills me with energy, good vibes, and nutrients. It also tells my body that it is day time, and that I’m supposed to be awake and alert. This is sort of like having a circadian rhythm, a well-defined up and awake time versus a down and resting time of day. I really do think this rhythm is good for us, and it’s been helpful to use it as a guide for where I should be at what times of the day. Do I want to eat lunch inside under halogen lights, or do I want to expose myself to the incredibly bright sun? Do I want all the lights on at night when I want to be resting, or do I want to hang out in a darker environment, maybe with some candles lit? Turning the alertness on full blast in the morning and slowly shutting down at night has helped me redevelop a more reasonable sleep and wake schedule.

A third practice has been to eat dinner earlier. My wife and I were eating dinner after 8pm for almost a year in order to spend that meal time together. This was causing problems, though, for both of us. She was burdened with having to prepare meals late in the evening, and was eating more than she needed on most days because she would eat earlier too. I was eating way too close to my bedtime, often going to bed with a full stomach. I would wake in the mornings and sit up in bed, and sometimes hear and feel the food inside me still making its way down my belly. There was no way that was getting digested well. I’ve also read in Chinese medicine that having a full stomach during sleep actually takes energy away from resting and causes fatigue on the organs. I believe it, based on how I felt in the mornings upon waking. So, although it means eating on the train for me, and separately for both of us, we’ve decided to have our dinners earlier. I can’t believe how much of a difference it makes. I feel more energy at night, comfortable at bedtime, and more alert in the morning. My digestion has improved. Before, I relied on coffee and MCT oil for elimination in the morning, but now I’m golden after a swig of water.

One last thing I’ve been playing with is coffee, or less of it. I heard from a neurogenesis researcher on a podcast that caffeine, in the tiniest amount, stops brain cell generation. I’ve been wanting to see what it would be like to not have coffee more often, after having dabbled with it on travels. On the weekends, for the past few weeks, we’ve been holding off on the butter coffee in the morning. Instead, I’ve been making a tomato soup with marzano tomatoes, basil, salt and pepper, and equal amounts of butter and MCT oil that would have gone in the coffee. The result? I felt the same warm reviving energy and brain clarity as with butter coffee, without the caffeine buzz. What does that mean? I’m not even sure, but coffee stimulates to a higher level, and the fats alone still gave the same energy without that hyper wiredness.

And the best part of it all? I yawned so much the first Saturday I tried this, something I haven’t done for so long. I napped and napped, probably about four hours total, and still slept a full night. When I didn’t have coffee, I could tell when I needed to nap or rest. I would yawn or just get a bit drowsy, something I rarely felt when I had coffee. My guess is that I’m not any less tired on the days I don’t yawn. I think caffeine simply holds that sensation at bay. Useful sometimes, but not all the time. This is leading me to think more about how to reduce coffee intake further, while keeping up the fats in my diet. I’ll have to get creative with soups, and maybe get a new thermos for that!

I’m still loving the benefits that fats bring me, and fasting for most of the day, training early, and not having to worry about carbs, protein, fat. As long as I keep my food mostly clean, eat starches later in the day, and exercise, I’m able to maintain good health. The missing piece for me has always been solid sleep. Little by little I’m getting better at it.

Live powerfully.