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.

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.

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.

Treat hot with hotter

There’s an old Korean saying, “treat hot with hot”. The application is such: when you’re hot, as on a hot day, eat hot soup. Taking in something hotter causes you to cool down.

Doesn’t make sense? Try it.

This past Saturday, the temperature hit 105F in Los Gatos. Temperatures were rising in the days leading up to the weekend. It just so happened to be the week I started working on another backyard garden project.

I started trimming the outer leaves of drought tolerant plants and laying them as mulch over some dry dirt beds to prepare soil for vegetable growing. Fruit trees needed to be harvested, late summer seed to be sown, and spring plants cut and laid as ground cover. I’m using some ideas from Masanobu Fukuoka’s One Straw Revolution to rewild the garden.

Most days I was out working in the middle of the day, through to the evening. I was in full sun, with short sleeves or shirtless. From Monday through Thursday, I wore jeans. On Friday through the weekend, I resorted to shorts. I wore a hat that shaded my face and neck when it got too bright.

Each day started with a big drink of water, kettlebell swings and getups, and then another big drink of water. I usually planned out the general tasks, mostly doing the heavy cutting and hauling work in the beginning, and ending with fruit picking and planting toward the end. I sweated a lot. At times I felt a bit faint while working, but a moment of rest with some slow breaths helped me recover. Occasionally I went inside and cooled off, drinking water and looking up various gardening blogs.

I tanned, but didn’t burn. This may have been because I spread a little coconut oil on my skin. I also think that working under the sun in mostly standing and squatting positions will not lead to skin damage the way that laying out to “tan” will.

Because I was outside every day in the heat and the sunlight, I adjusted to it. When I was indoors, I didn’t need air conditioning. Previously intolerable heat became quite tolerable, if not comfortable. As a matter of fact, when we drove into town on Saturday, I realized that the AC in the car was actually causing my internal temperature to go out of whack. It felt hotter and hotter as the AC blasted against my skin. Turning it off and opening the windows to the hundred degree air actually helped my homeostasis normalize. I felt more comfortable.

Just like every other plant and animal on this earth, humans can adjust to changes in temperature pretty well. Just look at all the different climates humans have inhabited. The thing is now, so many people are in air conditioned rooms all day, every day, that they are not letting themselves acclimate to the natural changes in temperature.

There’s something about going with the seasons and melding in with the rise and fall of the heat. Just being able to work through a very hot day dispelled a lot of misunderstanding about a human’s capabilities. Sure, it’s vital to drink enough water when doing this. But even in hundred degree weather, a few gulps before, and then a few gulps a couple of hours later, was sufficient to keep me sustained and strong. Remember, too, that this was all preceded by thirty minutes of kettlebell training.

This is just an example. No need to deliberately put yourself through unreasonable conditions. Know that you have a body that can handle a lot. And let yourself feel the limits here and there. Try not to automatically reach for the AC when you feel a bit warm. Breathe, sweat, acclimate.

Yes, sweat. That thing that we all try to avoid doing. Its your internal climate control doing its natural work. It also helps you release stress. And it cleans your skin from the inside out. Find the time and the place where you can just let go and literally be yourself.

And yea, try some hot soup on a hot day.

Live powerfully,

Steve

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

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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