No Rain

I was much more confident this morning as I grabbed the kettlebell and headed out the door to train. Yesterday was a big win in completing an entire S&S session before leaving for work. It was all the more salient because it was raining and windy, and it was the first time exercising on a schedule since I started working in San Francisco.

Well today I got down to the first floor, set my kettlebell down on my doormat which I carried too, and felt something different. I was a bit more nervous than yesterday. What was it?

The moment I started warming up, I realized that without the pattering rain and howling wind, it was too quiet. The sound of the kettlebell scraping the mat as I pulled it off the ground, my breathing, and the thud as I set the weight down made a much larger impact than they did yesterday. Of course, I must have made the same amount of noise during both sessions, but today it was just a bit unnerving. I was pretty sure that the sounds I was making carried pretty far.

I proceeded anyway. After the first set I didn’t care so much. After four sets I was breathing so hard I’m pretty sure I woke at least a few people. Funny that now I’d prefer the rain and wind to blanket all of the noise I can make while training. Just yesterday I cringed at the sight and sound of it.

After my seventh set, I heard the punctuated footsteps of a woman in heels approaching from around the corner.

Great. Without my glasses, I can’t yet make out faces. My vision is another thing I’m training. More on this another time. I can detect intention, though, as in whether this lady would go straight past, or turn and walked toward me. I didn’t want to frighten her. I know that the sight of a man standing in the middle of a corridor in the dark of dawn can be quite alarming. So I rubbed my hands together loudly, spreading some of the chalk over my palms and trying to act like I was a normal resident catching my breath in between sets of kettlebell swings. I don’t know if I was able to convey it in the moment.

Sure enough she turned toward me, very deliberately and bravely, to go through to the parking lot behind. I hastily picked up the bell which was sitting in the middle of the path, gave a disarming chuckle, and said good morning. The lady returned my greeting, excused herself and walked past quickly. Over my doormat. Welcome to the parking lot, I guess. Encounters with neighbors can be awkward.

The thing I love about this is that it’s random. Ideally I would have my own lot of space to train, be shirtless, enjoy the dawn.

I don’t. I have the common grounds and corridors and walkways. People are going to pass by, look at me, and perhaps not appreciate a person swinging a large heavy load around. It’s not something that raises property value nor attracts uppity residents. Yet I must train, and I want to do it where I live, when I want to. Whatever comes my way is just another element of the universe, and if it doesn’t harm me then I am better from it and proven resilient.

When I had access to a gym, I was able to progress rapidly through heavy weight. It was a stable environment, equipment the same, a roof overhead, and usually the same people around also training. It was easy to focus on increasing my strength in the five powerlifts. The only real challenge was to pay attention to form and movement, and to overcome fear of being crushed.

To get big, and to get strong in five lifts, the gym is great. These lifts made me stronger in many different arenas of life. However, they were complex in terms of equipment involved, logistics to get there and back home, cost for membership, and the usual gym politics bullshit.

Kettlebell training is simple. I have a kettlebell, and I use it when I want to. It’s not easy, though. The movements themselves are much less stable than powerlifts. Swings involve twisting and acceleration and virtual force. The environment is more open too, both intentionally and unintentionally. I’m exposed to people and animals moving around, different types of ground, and weather. There’s also the possibility of destroying something if I let go of the bell mid-swing.

As soon as I begin to get comfortable with one aspect of this mode of training, I find another challenge. Like rain, and then no rain, and training at dawn in close proximity to a bunch of slumbering neighbors. It never ends and it’s all part of the fun.

Rain

It started last night and gathered strength through the early morning. A little howling wind joined in and the two of them flew through the tall corridors of my apartment building. The scent of the town, the wooded mountains, and the ocean beyond lingered as the wind and rain swept past.

Oh boy, I thought as I looked out through the blinds. It was still dark at 5:30 am but the light in the parking lot showed very clearly the drops falling past to the ground. Just yesterday I made a very detailed schedule for the mornings, afternoons, and evenings, to train myself to get things done.Well, the morning part involves about five alarms on my phone, one signaling the start of my outdoor kettlebell training session. I swallowed hard, knowing I didn’t have a great light waterproof jacket on hand. What I did have was the carport roof, but my car was taking up most of the space. No matter where I trained, it looked like I was going to get wet.

No need to worry about it. It is what it is, I told myself. I went about the other morning routine tasks and when the time came, I took up my iron and walked out the door. Shit it was wet. I had to be careful going down the concrete stairs, which were much smoother than I remembered. Even barefoot, it was pretty slippery. I got to the bottom okay and looked around. I realized that the corridor was open and dry, but it was right against my neighbors’ walls on both sides. Their patios were also right there, and I worried that they might hear my breathing. Kettlebell swing breathing can get obnoxiously loud. But it was kind of nice there, and I couldn’t resist the opportunity to stay dry. So I found a good flat area and set the weight down.

I snuck back upstairs and grabbed my welcome mat, so that I would’t be clanging the bell against the concrete floor at the end of every set. A fifty pound ball creates a bigger thud than you’d think, even when set down as gently as possible. I can only imagine how annoying and terrifying it could be to wake up to the strange sound of sharp, punctuating puffs of air interrupted by the dull clang of iron on concrete. Sex? Strange beast? Military occupation??

Yes, these thoughts bounce between my ears, and can discourage getting out into the cold and wetness to exercise in the dark. But I found that grabbing the weight and feeling its pull and stepping out takes care of the doubts. I had my set up ready. Did the warmups, some squats, hip openers, and halos, took one very short moment to consider the consequences of a dropped kettlebell at six in the morning, and proceeded with the first set of swings.

It was great. I felt strong. Yesterday I didn’t make enough time to do all of the exercise I wanted, and it was great to fire it up today. I was able to recover pretty quickly between sets doing the usual shaking out of limbs and deep out breaths. The pebble-studded concrete provided good grip for my feet. And best of all, the mat stayed in place and completely absorbed all sound at impact with the bell.

The hardest part was trying not to breathe too loudly. Man. I do think this is good training in some sense. I wonder if special ops or any military groups need to train to be absolutely silent under intense physical stress. It makes sense, if they’re on stealth missions. Anyway, this was hard. I got a bit light headed when I wasn’t breathing out enough, so I had to adjust every few reps by pushing out more air at the top of the swing. I finished the ten sets in good time, about ten minutes. Hauled it back up and did ten getups inside. The details and instruction for this regimen can be found in Kettlebell Simple & Sinister by Pavel Tsatsouline.

So it wasn’t the heroic session I thought it would have been at first. I have trained in the pouring rain, and while it is a great lesson it is also quite exhausting. I’m glad I didn’t have to do it today. Perhaps a day will come when the neighbors fill the corridor with discarded cabinets or laundry machines, or a horde of raccoons prowl menacingly there, forcing me out into the weather. That is accepted. Today I got lucky.

Most important to me is that I set a goal and achieved it. I’m trying to develop stronger discipline to reduce my susceptibility to random things that prevent me from exercising in the morning. A few days off are fine, but too many gets annoying. I found today that setting silent alarms for key stages of the morning helped me to stay on track. It’s too tempting for me to sit a little longer with my coffee, read a little more, stay on the toilet a little longer. 

You might think this is spartan and too harsh, and if so this is not for you. I envy the person who gently maintains their high level of discipline. But if you believe that being a little strict on yourself can lead to happiness, you might actually find that going to the extreme is even better.

Sweet is sweet, taking off armor, and a Turkish getup improvement

Brilliant friends,

Just some thoughts of the week. I’ve included something about food, something about mind cultivation, and a bit on strength training.

Sweet is sweet

Some desserts might seem healthy, but I have to look at the big picture. I got interested in the fruit preservation craze that’s rocking the paleo, homesteading, rewilding, and gluten-free communities.

I got some amazing strawberries from the farmer’s market, and delicious figs from my mom’s backyard, and made some compote and fruit leather over the last couple of days. I also made oat bars with flour and oats from a health food store. It was fun, but it certainly wasn’t beneficial to my body.

Whether it’s cooked-down fruits or processed sugars, it all affects me the same way. I get the crash, I feel crummy, and I wake up the next morning feeling hungover. I’ve noticed that gluten-free labels, all-natural or organic labels, and fad-diet-friendly ingredients are so good at disguising the same old problems. At the end of the day, you are still eating a bunch of refined stuff.

The only thing that’s been a consistently rewarding dessert for me is whole fruit or a sweet potato. I mean rewarding in that it’s satisfying, it doesn’t make me crash, it doesn’t give me acne, and it doesn’t make me feel hungover the next morning. Whole foods just seem to be the way for me. Looking back, I could have enjoyed the fruit as it was, fresh and whole, and walked away feeling much better.

Taking off armor

This is the practice of shedding the protective layers you built throughout your life: the reactions, the thinking, the precautions you accumulate to keep yourself from harm. The point is to uncover your heart and let wisdom and love shine. This is a concept from The Wisdom of No Escape by Pema Chodron.

Chodron says that whenever you come to a situation that is uncomfortable, you find an opportunity to grow. The growth happens when you figure out that you’re somehow shielding yourself from the discomfort, and you intentionally pull off that protective shield so that you can expose yourself. Through the process, you learn more about yourself and grow stronger in that domain.

This applies to so many levels of life. In physical training there’s always a weak spot or a point of discomfort that can be improved. It’s the movement portion over which you have some sort of mind block, whether it be a knee injury on the squat, or a shoulder tweak on the overhead press. Everyone has weak spots that can be exposed and developed.

This brings me to a tiny part of the Turkish getup, a strength training movement I’ve been practicing over the last year and a half.

A Turkish getup improvement

I found a sticking point in my half-kneel positions, both on the way up and on the way down. There’s a moment where I have the kettlebell held straight overhead, and I’m in a lunge position with one knee down and the forward leg planted.

I never realized this, but my hip flexor of the leg with knee down is still slightly flexed in the position. Another way to say it is that I’m slightly bent at the hips. I shouldn’t be – the optimal position is straight from the knee to the hips to the shoulders to the weight. On reviewing video I found it’s true for both sides. This flex causes my torso to be tilted forward. This in turn causes the weight to be in front of my center of balance.

The forward shifted weight causes what I have been perceiving to be a slightly uncomfortable moment. Both as I rise up and as I descend to the ground, I find that the moment my knee touches down there’s a bit of awkward tightness. I always felt a bit rushed or uncomfortable at this point, and now I pinpointed it.

I tried getting on one knee without any weight, with the other leg forward and foot planted, to open up my hip. I can lean forward very far if I let my front knee bend. However, when I kept my torso upright and focused on pushing back with the front leg, there was a lot of tension in the quad of the rear leg. I never noticed because I never thought to look.

I plan to work on mobilizing my hip flexors, which are the upper parts of the quadriceps that connect the femur to the pelvis. The fun part will be seeing how this affects that specific part of my getups.

The connection

So I learn another element of my movement on yet another day of practice. Run into an uncomfortable situation, identify the things that impede exposure, and remove to learn.

We do a lot of things on a regular basis and notice that sometimes we run into uncomfortable situations. The easiest thing to do is to hid from it, ignore it, or put up the defense for it. The more difficult way is to look at what is bothering us.

It could be a food that doesn’t make you feel great but is habitual. It could be the remark someone makes that offends you. It could be the nagging pain you feel when you walk.

We all have ways of skirting these sticking points in life. Ignore the symptoms, pretend you didn’t hear it, walk differently to avoid the pain. I find that there’s so much to address that I can’t hit on them all. But there’s always at least one thing that I can nail. One piece of armor I can let go.

Live powerfully,

Steve

Playing

Moving through playing is more varied and inspired than routine exercise. A training routine develops you to become stronger in focused ways, but playing is an outlet for movement based on feel and natural sequences.

You might run a certain number of miles every day, but unless you run around with your dog on a field or play a sport or do some sort of randomized mode of running, you won’t really step and move and slow and accelerate in ways other than the straightforward path of the usual jog or sprint.

One way to do “sprints” without making it an uber-structured session is to just kick off the shoes on a field of grass, jog and shake things off for a bit, and get bouncy. As you make your way around the field, find little moments to make quick bursts of running, and then come back to a light jog or bounce. Go with your feeling, and make sure to stay on your toes more and keep the integrity of your entire body. Don’t make dramatic flails or lunges. Keep it all close and within your range. Stop running if you feel any twinges of pain or joint misalignment.

I bring up the topic of playing because I realize that people who don’t have an established background of sports or training most likely have played as kids.

I remember playing tag with my sister and the neighborhood kids. One person is “it”, and has to chase down and tap someone else to not be “it”. Then that new “it” person has to do the same to someone else. It was a hilarious game of running, dodging, laughing, and sometimes crying. Lots of moment to moment movement tactics too.

Don’t hesitate to play when you get the chance. Bust out the football or frisbee at the park, race your dog or your kids, or just goof off by yourself if you aren’t embarrassed. If you do feel a bit shy, just start off with some jogging steps, squats, jumping jacks, bounces, however you feel like moving.

The routinized training for strength and other physical building is great for getting you from point A to point B. It’s important, though, that you keep the integrity of your own movement patterns. With any exercise you utilize for strength building, you must use your own ideal positions and technique. But fitting yourself into specified exercises might lead you away from your natural rhythms, ranges, and strengths.

Play can bring back this instinctual ability to move freely and spontaneously. Since you’re focused on the game or the mood, and not the movement, you are more likely to move the way you are best able.

The connection between all of this is that play teaches us to move, training builds strength in those movements, and better movement allows for better play.

Live powerfully,

Steve


Check out these examples of great movers:

movnat.com

http://www.tacfitacademy.com/

Ido Portal

Lots of inspiration from:

Daniel Vitalis

When pain, no train

I came upon the stage of my weekly cycle where sleep deprivation and physical training fight for priority. I was tired on Wednesday morning but went ahead and trained, feeling some energy.

During my warmups I was out of breath. I chugged ahead anyway, deciding to do two handed swings as a deload from one handed swings. This went fine at first, although I was definitely much lower in swing output than usual.

Then, about three quarters of the way through the swing sets, I felt a pang in my outer knee. It was like tendonitis. Sort of aching and a little sharp. I tried to stiffen up at the knees to avoid too much movement. It went away when I stopped the set, and then came back with each set. It was definitely not just tightness.

I tested a getup and my knee felt fine, so I went ahead and finished my training session. At the end, I was pooped. It was strange to remember what it felt like after hard squat sessions back when I was powerlifting. Instead of the “recharge” sensation I had become accustomed to, this was definitely a “workout” – fine for one time trial, but not what I was going for in training sessions.

Looking back, I realize I was fit enough to do ten swings every thirty seconds, but I certainly was not fit to do that and then train for the following two days. My body was still recovering. Compounded with lack of sleep, I was in the red zone.

It’s not always possible to train on a full night of sleep. I do train hard on low sleep, knowing that I need to pay extra attention to rest and food afterward. However, I misjudged the impact of the full exertion of the time trial.

Moving forward, I’m going to need to take a day off if I’m sleep deprived following full physical output. The combination of these two conditions is dangerous. Sure, you may find yourself physically exhausted and sleep deprived in an emergency requiring full physical exertion. In lifelong training though, to avoid injury and to build strength steadily, this is not a healthy internal setting.

Needless to say, I will be taking a break from hard training for the next day or two. Getting as much sleep as possible, as much sunlight and vitamin C as possible, and mobilizing joints will be my priorities. Gentle activity like walking, squats, pushups, and planks will occur as usual.

Live powerfully,

Steve

Kettlebell swing cues reinforced by the pressure of a timed trial

Timing myself on Monday and going through the pressure led to some good insights on swings. Swings train the hip hinge under acceleration. It’s like deadlifting with quick changes in the speed of the bar. I’m learning to get into good positions and make precise movements quickly.

Doing 100 swings in 5 minutes means doing one set of ten swings every thirty seconds. Because there’s so little time to rest, I was going into most of the sets just short of panting. It was everything I could do to clear some head space and focus on form. This squeeze on leisure caused me to realize the few things that make swings effective.

I controlled the movement of the kettlebell almost entirely with my hips. My feet had to be firmly planted, my knees pulling out, and my glutes squeezing as hard and fast as possible.

To minimize loss of power from the ground to the weight, I had to keep my abdomen and torso absolutely rigid. This allowed more force from my hip hinge to transfer from the ground to the weight in my hand.

The weight bearing shoulder had to be packed and tight to hold the arm straight and minimize the arch of the bell. If my shoulder pulled forward, I would lose precious tension and feel myself slow down. Every fraction of a second counted, because the quicker I could do the swings, the more rest time I could get.

I also found that the harder and quicker I snapped with my hips, the more the bell would float. I always knew this when practicing, but it mattered so much when I could barely get enough air out of my lungs at the top. So I put more in to get more out.

Lastly, I saw how important it was to minimize. I tried to keep my free arm close and stiff. I keep my head firmly aligned with my back. I resisted excessive bending of the knees. Even my hip hinge was a bit smaller. Any looseness, any unnecessary flinging or flopping, would slow me down both in speed and in energy. Everything had to go toward the movement of the kettlebell.

Focusing on throwing the kettlebell forward but keeping a hold of it, as a mental cue, served me greatly. It was simple and it worked.

How awesome, that these tiny little details, every single one of them, were in the book I read to learn how to swing. And even though I practiced them, every day, sometimes these more than those, and other times those more than these, every single one of them just rose to the surface when it really really counted.

Hope this helps emphasize the importance of form and technique as you train in your daily practice.

Live powerfully,

Steve

Avoiding muscle fatigue and knots

There is a training method to avoid getting muscle knots.

Pavel Tsatsouline talks about the phenomena of avoiding knots by limiting strength training to maximal outputs. You’ve probably heard about slow twitch fibers and fast twitch fibers. Slow twitch muscle fibers are small, weak, and activate slowly, but can work for very long periods. Fast twitch IIX are large and activate fast, generating high power for flashes of time. Fast twitch IIA is in between these two.

Basically, we all have muscles that shoulder handle a variety of tasks at a range of loads. You can push a two thousand pound car down the road for a short distance, and you can also text with your thumbs unendingly.

Strength training with kettlebell swings involves a small load with maximal force. It does not require a person to lift the largest possible weight they can lift. It also isn’t so light that the exercise can be done without end. There’s a balance. The muscle fiber most active during this sort of exercise is the fast twitch IIA.

“When your reps slow down, it is the best indicator your IIA fast fibers have had it, and slow type I fibers are doing most of the work” (Kettlebell Simple and Sinister).

The problem is that slow twitch fibers, when strained with too much load, can spasm. These fibers are located closer to the bone and deeper inside muscle fiber groups. The conclusion in S&S is that exercising beyond the point of maximal output puts these slow twitch muscles into exhausted spasms. Thus, deep knots.

I am currently putting this statement to the test over the past week with kettlebell swings. I have had a knot in my shoulder blade for a while. It comes and goes, particularly when I eat wheat. However, I found that some days it would come back even though my diet was clean. I thought it had something to do with my shoulder mechanics, but I couldn’t figure out how to address it.

Revisiting this concept of muscle fibers, I tried to modify my behavior during swing sets. It was a little tricky, because at first glance it seemed that I needed to give full effort all the way through to the last repetition. However, this meant that I was still doing ten repetitions per set. And on some sets, I would get tired on the last swings.

Then I tried to limit my swing sets to only the best swings. This was difficult at first, because I had to really tune in to the difference between maximal output and maximal effort. It was easy to fool myself into thinking I was generating full force just because I was giving full effort. But over time, I started to see the difference. If I noticed any slow down or reduction in force, I stopped.

Guess what? It’s working. My shoulder is feeling much more relaxed in the past few days, despite the fact that I’ve been doing swings, getups, and other exercises on a daily basis. The difference is that I’m stopping my sets short when my output decreases. This means that I’m doing fewer reps on many of the swing sets.

So I guess I was pushing a little too hard before. It’s going to take some time to get back to 100 swings, but I think it will lead to much better results.

Live powerfully,

Steve

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The deload revisited in kettlebell training

I remember during my powerlifting phase in 2013-2014 how tough it was to keep pushing the envelope with squat and deadlift weight. The thing about progression training is that every exercise moves up in weight with every session. Although it was an incremental increase, as my strength advanced it became more difficult. Going from 180lb to 185lb, happy days. From 320lb to 325lb, not so happy. The thought of adding more weight after barely managing to do the current day’s squat sets was psychologically almost unbearable.

As I started to max out near the end of the 5×5 stage, before switching to 3×5, there were days when I had to drag myself to the gym. I would pack up my gym bag, put on my shoes, and just stand there in front of my door, hand on the knob, not wanting to go outside. It was just so rough. Then I would make it to the gym, do my warmups, and before I knew it I was grinding out more squats. It was absolutely thrilling to see myself get stronger than I thought possible, and it was harrowing on the days between training sessions.

Well, the built in mechanism that makes a good progression training bearable and realistic is the deload. The deload is an intentional drop in weight after a few unsuccessful attempts to hit all the reps and sets at the current load. If you tried three sessions in a row to squat 300lb, and managed to do 5, 4, 4, 3, 2, for example, on the third training session, you would deload the next session by 20% or 240lb. The whole attempt could look something like this on paper:

  • Day 1 290lb: 5, 5, 5, 5, 5
  • Day 2 300lb: 4, 3, 3, 2, 2 – first attempt
  • Day 3 300lb: 5, 4, 4, 4, 3 – second attempt
  • Day 4 300lb: 5, 5, 5, 3, 3 – third attempt failed, time to deload
  • Day 5 240lb: 5, 5, 5, 5, 5
  • Day 6 245lb: 5, 5, 5, 5, 5

This lifter is maxed out and not able to hit 5 sets of 5 reps at 300lb. Typically, it’s standard to try three attempts before deloading 20%. The lifter can then take a sort of break, having easier sessions at lighter weight for a while. What usually happens is that the lifter will once again build up to 300lb. A 20% deload gives about two weeks if every session is completely successfully. Eight sessions, three per week, comes to about two weeks and a few days.

This time around, the lifter finds 300lb. to be much easier. Sometimes it takes just one session to nail 5×5. Sometimes it takes two or three.

I’m finding in kettlebell training that, although I’m using exactly the same weight day after day, it can get more difficult to do swings sometimes. Factors like sleep, stress, and food can affect my training.

My first approach to dealing with decreases in strength was to power through it. I would do all the swings anyway, assuming that if I was giving it my all, and the kettlebell was coming up to chest height, I must be putting out maximum force. I started to develop some knots and fatigued muscles from doing this.

“The least productive, most exhausting and injury-producing form of resistance training is a high-rep semi-grind… Cuban coach Alfonso Duran used to tell young weightlifter Geoff Neupert to stop his sets before his reps slowed down.” (Kettlebell Simple and Sinister).

I decided to try stopping my sets before my swings slowed down. I also did two handed swings when I felt tired. Yesterday I still felt a bit tired from the week of sleep irregularity. So I did a mix of two handed and one handed swings, and stopped a few sets before I reached ten swings.

This seemed to help save my shoulders from overwork. I didn’t have to rest as long, and the best part is that every swing I did came out strong. I think I will continue this policy of stopping sets before slow down, as a form of deloading. So here are some of the deload options for kettlebell training:

  • Use a lighter weight
  • Use two hands instead of one (if you are already doing one-handed swings regularly)
  • Stop sets before swing slows down

My plan is to use these deload options when I don’t have full strength, until I do feel that I can do one handed swings with full force for all 100 reps.

Better to do just the best possible movements than to do extra inferior movements. This can probably be applied to any area of life.

Live powerfully,

Steve


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The beauty of oxtail, an easy training session, and why goals matter

The other day I made some simple stew out of grass fed oxtail from Alderspring Ranch. Oxtail is just the cow’s tail. If you haven’t tried it, you must. The beautiful thing about oxtail is that it is simultaneously fatty, tendonous, and meaty. It’s perfect.

It can be made with minimal ingredients – salt and pepper are enough, salt alone makes it delicious. I wish I took a photo of the dish, but I didn’t, and thus it’s not on Instagram. The hard part about making oxtail is the time. It takes about two hours to cook it down to the proper tenderness. Put the tail in a heavy lidded pot with water covering about three quarters of it, add seasonings, bring to a boil, then reduce to a low boil or simmer. Wait one and half to two hours, until it’s falling off the bone. Simple.

The broth alone is to die for. If you’re eating grass fed oxtail, you have the most essential food in front of you. Good fats, collagen, and meat packed with micronutrients. Try it with white rice and a veggie dish, like broccoli or collard greens.

I had to temper my training load today. Woke up earlier than I wanted, and didn’t feel great. I think I’m getting over a little bug that’s going around. I took about 12-15 grams of vitamin C the day before and shook off the cough, but woke in the morning feeling a bit tired still.

So I did the usual warmup, five sets of goblet squats, hip bridges, and halos, and then started with two handed swings. I used the same weight, 24kg, as I wanted to see if I could handle it before moving down to 16kg. The first few reps were a bit of a shock, as my mind was really not engaged. I focused on making powerful contractions of my glutes and belly, and things got better. I proceeded to do a couple of two hand sets, then finished with one hand swings. I was working on maximal hip thrust, actively pulling with my lats on the down swings, and keeping the shoulders squared on the one hand swings.

Getups felt fine with the 24kg. I’m consistently doing ten sets under ten minutes, meaning I am ready to move up to the 32kg kettlebell. I’m waiting to establish a stable income before purchasing one, though. They are usually over $100. The time will come, so for now I am mastering the 24kg.

Goals matter because goals drive us. If you ask me, no physical training should take place without first thinking about the goal. It’s really easy to start something and then find that it’s not worth it. That’s because the effort to go to the gym, eat differently, and the feeling of being tired is hard to justify when you’re not getting closer to or hitting a target.

The type of goals I look for are long term. Losing ten or twenty pounds is a great goal. For how long? If this is something you would like to do for the rest of your life, we can start talking about how to do that. Then everything else makes sense. The struggle becomes meaningful, and more likely than not, the struggle lessens when the goal is long term.

I’m currently working on accomplishing the Simple goal of Kettlebell Simpler and Sinister. I know, I keep talking about this kettlebell stuff. The thing is, it’s what works for me now. Going to a gym is not feasible for me. Driving there and back, monthly fees, too many people, and not being able to train barefoot just aren’t worth it at the moment. Sure, there will be a day when I get back to deadlifts and squats.

With my goal in mind, I have a thing to train toward. If I get better at swings and getups with the 24kg, I know I can eventually take up the 32kg. I know what I need to eat, and how much, and what not to eat, to be able to recover and feel good enough to train again the next day.

This is a long term goal. I’m not going to get there in a few weeks, or even months. I’ve been going at it for almost five months now, and I probably have about the same amount of time before I get close. I’m not sure though. I do know that I will get there.

Whatever your goals are, they are good. They are right, they’re what you want, they’re worthy of achieving. Think deeply on them, believe in them, and commit yourself to achieving those goals.

Daily routines get you there. Pick things that are doable. Exercises that don’t exhaust you. Meals you can cook without a bunch of trouble. Things that don’t add more stress. But do this with your goal in mind. And just keep doing them.

Live powerfully,

Steve

Doing better instead of doing more

Atul Gawande, the famous physician author, writes in his book Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance about the consistent miniscule actions that make elite doctors successful. He talks about the mindset of absolute commitment to excellence. Very few physicians uphold the highest standards in their work, and the few who do live by that level of commitment.

This came to mind as I thought about doing swings and getups every day. It can get a bit mind numbing after months of doing the same exercise, over and over. The principles of technique, form, and strength before volume start to slip here and there. I start to get accustomed to doing all the reps, all the sets. Every so othen the most important aspect of strength training escapes me: to do each swing with maximal force and each getup with maximal attention to form, and to stop when that can no longer be fulfilled.

It’s a matter of integrity, too, I know. You have to be honest with yourself and admit when you don’t have the strength to finish a set. But I think before any of that, it’s this absolute commitment to excellence. Just like with diets, I think that strength programs are easy to start, hard to keep going. To keep going the right way, that is.

Pavel Tsatsouline insists in Kettlebell Simple & Sinister that each swing must be done with full force. At first this seems like a no brainer. Sure, I’ll do my best every time, why not? Then as the weeks and months pass by, I find myself trying to finish sets with some not-so-hot swings toward the end. What gives?

Pavel talks about this natural preference within us to sacrifice strength for volume. When we get tired, it’s our instinct to try to get it all done, even if it means suboptimal output to reach that end. I’d rather hit the ten reps with a few weaker swings at the end, then stop at six when I feel my strength going down. It’s a strong urge to accomplish or finish a task, that’s socialized or built into me.

The thing to train for is maximal strength. It doesn’t matter exactly how many repetitions and sets get done. Yes, there are basic numbers to follow, and this helps us understand the general volume that is needed to increase strength. But the real cores of training strength are learning to do the movements and then doing the movements with maximal force.

Most school systems teach us to finish all the problems, write a prescribed number of pages, read a set number of books, achieve a certain GPA. This is ingrained in most of us from around age five to around age 21. How do you get away from that in a world that actually rewards the quality of the output?

Maybe I’m getting too deep here, talking about the education system and sociology. But that’s my mode of thinking, that’s where I come from in terms of schooling. So to me it’s about thinking but also doing outside the box.

Physical training is one of the most basic places to start with conditioning yourself in any aspect of life. It’s physical, so it’s right there. To do it, you are involved not just with your body but with your mind. You structure your learning, you commit to repetitions in order to improve, and it’s all inclusive. I even think the soul gets something out of it.

So in summary, I’m trying to say that we can think about physical training as the practice of giving the best in order to make that best even better. Rather than sticking to our grade school habit of making the teacher happy and hitting all the numbers, we can play to nature’s true system of improvement through excellence.

We can take care to only give maximal effort, and to withhold from doing anything that is not so. This is hard. Very hard.

Live powerfully,

Steve


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