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

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

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.

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.

I’ll make my body

This was the response Teddy Roosevelt had for his dad as a young kid crippled with asthma. After a childhood of miserable breathing attacks, young Roosevelt took up his father’s offer to train his body to strength and overcome his weakness. The Obstacle is the Way, written by Ryan Holiday, says that “We craft our spiritual strength through physical exercise, and our physical hardiness through mental practice” (136).

It turns out that physical training also strengthened Roosevelt’s spirit. He developed the inner grit to face the obstacles of family deaths and wars. And he exercised every day through it all.

I’ve always known that exercise and physical training shaped the spirit. I just never really had the guts to say it. Hard physical training, running, doing drills, and lifting weights to the limits of the body, fatigues and builds the body. However, go deep enough, let the level of difficulty get hard enough, and you find that your spirit is tested. There’s no measure of this. It’s simply a matter of whether you will stand the pain and hardship, the burning muscles, the aching lungs, the heat, the cold, the impacts, whatever the pain may be, and whether you will continue to push ahead. It’s a matter of whether you will return for another day of training after that. This tests your spirit.

I don’t mean spirit as a separate ghostly entity contained within our minds or bodies or hovering around somewhere in another dimension. I mean spirit as the strength of the will, the determination to do, the absolute resolve we have to move forward through fear and pain. And I do think that physical training can show you your spirit, and it can bring it to life, and maybe even make it stronger.

I say “maybe” because there is also the factor of the mind. The second part of this phrase in Holiday’s book says we build “our physical hardiness through mental practice.” No matter how much weight I can lift, no matter how fast I can run, if I don’t want to do something tough, I won’t and thus I can’t do it.

Training every day with the kettlebell keeps my body lean and strong. This is only possible to do with the mindset that I will train every day. The physical training itself does not build my resolve to train every day. Actually, it makes me not want to train. It’s hard, it makes me sweat, it makes me use up a lot of energy, and I have to be out in the cold in the dark. Only the mindset that this is good for me allows me to cherish all of these “painful” things. Because I have set my will do exercise like this every morning, I have done it. And because I’ve been doing it, I see the strength of body and spirit I am developing. This is rewarding, and then of course the rest of it becomes fun. I savor the sweet, cold air in my nostrils and lungs. It cools me down after each set of swings. My feet have come to be fond of the biting cold ground. It’s a wonderful texture to work against to keep balance and exert maximal force.

I don’t feel sorry for myself when it’s raining outside. I love it. When I step out of my office into the night, I am comfortable with the dark and the cold. I can walk or run for block after block for the train station, and I’m not bothered that my lungs burn or I sweat or that I am panting. I love it, because it’s a great capability I have to be able to move fast and hard.

This chapter in the book is called “Build your inner citadel”. What a great lesson in life, that physical training is connected to spiritual strength and that mind training enables physical strength.

Live powerfully.

The quirks of daily kettlebell training

Having a kettlebell at home is one of life’s great blessings. It’s convenient and is a great start to each day. There are certainly some challenges that come up as I train day to day, though. I see these as variables to training and additions to my development of strength.

First of all, I live on the second floor of an old apartment building. The floors are not very thick, and I assume based on what I can hear of my neighbors below that any noise or banging against the ground would be quite audible. I used to do my kettlebell sessions indoors, and the whole building shook during swings. It’s not surprising, given the force against the ground with which I have to accelerate the bell. Now that I’m training at six in the morning, I take it outside.

Outside means downstairs, because the landing in front of my door is quite small. I imagine a kettlebell that slips loose mid-swing from the second floor would travel quite far and dig quite deep into the pavement below. I’m not prepared for that risk, so I lug the heavy thing down a flight of steps. This is the first part of the fun of kettlebell training for me. Going down stairs with a kettlebell in one hand creates a nice exercise in balance and stepping. Because I don’t want to wake or startle my neighbors, I step lightly. It’s easier barefooted, of course. Without shoes that restrict the movement of my feet, I can lightly descend and feel the stairs enough to move smoothly and maintain balance. So why is my kettlebell in one hand? Well, because I have my doormat in the other hand. That brings me to the next fun thing.

Since I’m doing the swings outside, I’m pulling up and setting down the iron ball on concrete ground. This creates a nice scrape on the way up, and a dull but resounding thud on the way down. As I want to maintain my privilege of exercising right outside my door for the near future, I needed a way to minimize this noise. So the answer was to bring along my sturdy doormat. The rubber bottom and soft felty top act together as an efficient muffler. To save a trip up and down the staircase, I hold the mat in one hand and the bell in the other. Thus, I naturally go through the strongman drill known as the “suitcase carry”. Carrying a heavy load on one side trains you to balance out that load and develop better stability side-to-side while moving forward. Do it on a staircase and I guess it adds another level of complexity.

It doesn’t end there, of course. Part of kettlebell training involves precision of movement. When swinging the weight, it’s important to keep your feet planted, to stand tall at the end of the hip drive, and to pull it back down with the lats between your legs. If for any reason your heels come off the ground, you must release the bell. Holding on to it can cause injury to your back as you overreach to pull yourself back into the correct stance. Naturally, I wouldn’t want to fling a fifty pound iron ball into the dark dawn. I imagine the effect would be similar to a wrecking ball meeting the side of a high rise. The best case scenario would be a good clunk. A bad scenario could include a shattering crack, a bounce, another crack, a rumbling roll, and thunk thunk thunk down the front steps of the parking area. This is quite the incentive for me to pay full attention to my movements, to execute each part of the swing with precision, and to exercise greater strength in keeping the bell under control. My primary concern is to move in the best way possible. My secondary concern is exerting force. Both of these build strength, but I didn’t pay as much attention to the movement when I was training midday with no concern for how much noise I made.

There are many other unexpected factors that play into kettlebell training early in the morning in an apartment dwelling, but I’ll end with going gentle on the getups. For all the same reasons I want to finesse my swings, I have to be sensitive to the way I come back down on the ground during the different touch points of the movement. I do the getups inside, after I finish the swings and carry the bell back upstairs. To begin there is simply the act of laying down. I can’t just collapse onto the floor. I’ve learned to get down gently, but quickly because I don’t have too much time. Do this for the first time and you appreciate the control it takes.

With the weight in hand, pushing up on the elbow, the foot, and then coming to a stand on the rise, I go soft on the ground too. Counterintuitively, this takes more effort than slamming down on the ground, because the stability is coming from my midsection when I brace myself to make minimal touches on the ground. When I get to exercise on a grassy field, I can slam down against the ground with my foot as I come up to elbow with acceleration. In my apartment when people are sleeping below me, I don’t have that option.

Whatever your situation, if you take up the kettlebell or if you’ve already been training with it, try to appreciate the quirks that come with it. Everyone has a different situation, a different home environment, different time for training, and many other factors that make the training scene unique. See every thing that life brings in your path as part of your strength training. Let it make you stronger.

Live powerfully,

Steve

Ringing in a beautiful day with my kettlebell

Two weeks into Simple & Sinister training, doing daily sessions of one hundred swings and ten getups, I saw that I was getting strong in a new way. I did not learn to control a swinging mass through powerlifting. Nor did I lay on the ground and lift a weight up to standing, guiding my shoulders through all these different frontiers.

When I was two months into it, the daily training got me stronger still in new ways. I formed and tore callouses. I recovered faster from training. My work capacity increased. I became more disciplined.

When I was four months in, I started to feel like I was really getting a handle on the bell. Swings felt easier, more natural. Getups became less of a workout and more of a practice.

Six months in, I realized I was getting even stronger. I was beginning to develop skill and could see between the frames. I saw the inner parts of the movements I thought were seamless and found weakness and hesitation. I didn’t always pull back with my lats on every swing. I sometimes tensed too much and became weak at the top of the float. I found more effective cues and more efficient methods of executing the movement. And on every stage of the getup I felt tiny instabilities, slight immobilities, and ounces of doubt that had built up over time. I began to work on these in-between gaps.

Nine months in now, I wake up and see that there is a stronger familiarity with the kettlebell. What once was just a sphere that I swung and lifted has turned into a more granular entity, with endless bumps and nooks and crannies and irregularities. Every bit of the molded iron has some say in how it will move and challenge me. And I am learning enough of the language now to respond in an elementary way.

I’m finding that it’s better to relax and treat the swing like a game of throwing the bell forward. Better to take on the spirit of a playful dog than that of a charging bull.

I’m also seeing that getups must be done with full intention. There is nothing outside of the goal of pushing that mass up and focusing on it until it’s back on the ground. Everything revolves and builds up to that.

I take up the same kettlebell every morning and find a new lesson prepared in that cold iron each day.

Live powerfully.