Russian Style General Strength Training

If you are looking for serious long term strength training that you can do every day, with minimal equipment, in less than thirty minutes, take a look at Kettlebell Simple & Sinister.

Simple & Sinister is a strength endurance program of 100 kettlebell swings and 10 getups every day. It is meant to condition a person to always be ready for life, and to “store energy in the body rather than exhaust it” (Kettlebell Simple & Sinister). By training day after day, you adapt to a higher level of strength and endurance. You start with a small weight, develop solid form, and progress to the next weight. Rest days are fewer because the weight is relatively small.

Unlike powerlifting, kettlebell training does not aim for the highest possible weight lifted. Rather, it focuses on total body acceleration, and stable coordination of all parts of your body. It won’t directly add tons of weight to your barbell max. There is, however, ample evidence that there is unexpected improvement in bigger lifts.

The grass is always greener on the other side. If you don’t believe it, go to a park and find the greenest patch of grass and sit. Then look around and see if there’s greener. I assure you there is.

My powerlifting background taught me that training every day was not healthy. When I was squatting twice my body weight for sets of five, I needed at least a day of rest, if not three, for any benefit. So naturally I doubted the S&S protocol of daily training.

However, swings and getups were filling gaps in powerlifting training. For example, I’m building all-around shoulder stability in connection with the rest of my body. I’m also balancing the strength between the two sides of my body. These can easily be overlooked in basic powerlifting exercises. Back to the issue of daily training.

At first I was constantly sore, and it was certainly difficult to train every day. I would wake up to find my whole body tight and achy. Rather than decide not to train at that moment, I would put off the judgment call. Instead, I went through my morning routine. I drank butter coffee and journaled, basically enjoying life as I woke up. When training time came, I felt better and went for it.

It’s been about two and half months as of this writing, and my recovery time is shortening. I’ve managed to take just one day off in the last eight weeks. I’m doing all sets now with the 24kg, and my swings and getups are getting stronger. My callouses are smooth and my mind feels sharp. I look forward to training most days. Just like Tsatsouline says in Kettlebell Simple & Sinister, the exercise has become a “recharge” instead of a “workout”.

After the initial struggle, I started to look forward to the training. S&S is remarkably effortless compared to other strength programs.

First, the only equipment needed is the kettlebell. No gym, no shoes, no machines, no bars nor weights. S&S prescribes 8kg for average strength women and 16kg for average strength men.

Second, the exercise leaves me with plenty of energy for the rest of my day. I gradually adapted to the training, and became more efficient in the movements.

Finally, it’s convenient and accessible. Because it’s a small weight, I can keep it at home. This saves time and eliminates the ill effects of sitting in a car on the way to a gym. It also leaves little excuse for not training.

NL161 two kettlebells the brilliant beast blog

As I transitioned from 16kg to the 24kg kettlebell, I felt much more tired at night and needed more food. But I stuck with it, ate a little more, and managed to train every day. The jumps in weight by proportion are much greater than with progression barbell training. I imagine the next transition to 32kg will be even harder. I look forward to that too.

Do some digging in the StrongFirst website to see if this is for you. If you decide to take on the kettlebell, I strongly recommend that you read the book first. Mind before matter.

Live powerfully.

Steve

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Posture, Knots, and Slow Twitch Muscles

“I stand here on the summit of the mountain. I lift my head and I spread my arms. This, my body and spirit, this is the end of the quest.”

Posture is not just how you hold your shoulders and head. It’s a total body position. We just think of the shoulders and head because we sit all the time. When sitting, all you can see of a person is the top of his body. So we forget the rest of it.

When you move forward, backward, sideways, your body is constantly balancing its long self. It’s technically a couple of thin sticks with a really heavy bowling ball on top. Takes a lot of finesse to move that sort of thing through the world. The finesse is curated by an accumulation of nerves, bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. All of your body works to enable you to move through your environment with care.

Sitting in a chair, your body from the butt down is taken out of the equation. You leave it up to your torso, shoulders, and neck to balance your bowling ball. Because it’s been attached to your neck for so long, it’s hard to realize how hard it is to balance something of the weight of your head.

Your head weighs just around 11 pounds. Take a virtual, eleven pound bowling ball and stick it on top of a broomstick. Let’s say you’ve got really strong glue to hold it there. Now hold that broomstick just a few inches down from the ball, where your neck might be. Using the stick, virtually move the bowling ball forward, then backward, keeping it upright. Imagine the effort you need to keep it balanced.

Now tilt the bowling ball forward a few degrees. Hold it steady. You don’t need the real thing in your hands to know that this is quite a task. Now virtually hold it in that tilted position for the next two hours. Or four hours. Or however long it is that you sit at your desk at a time, you crazy human you.

Are your virtual hand muscles cramping yet? Sweating? Achy? How about your virtual forearms? Fatigued eh? You get the point. Your neck, shoulders, and torso work all day in this ridiculous balancing act as you sit slouched. What should normally be done in conjunction with your hips, legs, and feet, at least for a larger part of the day, you are doing with just your upper tippity top body.

No wonder there’s strain on the neck and back.

Your postural muscles, namely the neck, are mostly made of slow twitch fiber. Slow twitch muscle fiber gives small but steady output over sustained periods of time. This type of muscle is much more resistant to fatigue than fast twitch fiber, which gives big output for a short period of time.

Slow twitch fiber is ideal for sustained duties like maintaining posture. They take longer to get tired and only need a small amount of energy at a time. But fatigue is still possible. If slow twitch fiber is strained too long, it will fail. And when it fails, it fails hard.

Slow twitch fiber is known to crumple up into knots when it fatigues. Ever wonder why you keep getting those tight spots on your upper back? Do you sit at a desk for hours every day? Do you have a slouched posture? Do you drive for long distances or time? Think slow twitch fibers fatiguing. You’re hanging your bowling ball at an angle, and the strong glue that is your neck and upper back muscles are pulling back on it all day. At the same time, your chest, front shoulders, and biceps are getting a break. Except that they are resting in a shortened position, because your body is slumped forward.

Long term result: overstretched, fatigued neck and back; shortened, inflexible chest and shoulders. We could put a name to this specimen – the modern human.

Short term fix:

  • mobilize your chest, abdomen, biceps, and front shoulders
  • lay on a tennis or lacrosse ball on the floor and roll out knots
  • drink water and salt
  • breathe deep, relax your muscles

Long term fix:

  • adopt awareness of your posture – there is always something doing work
  • sit with your head balanced – may need to raise your screen and have your keyboard close (laptops are non-ideal)
  • time limit your sitting – does not work without an alarm
  • change your environment – sit on the floor, drive less, stand or squat when talking with someone

Live powerfully and live upright,

Steve


Rand, Ayn. (1999) Anthem. First published 1938.

MACKENZIE, B. (1999) Muscle Types [WWW] Available from: https://www.brianmac.co.uk/muscle.htm [Accessed 27/9/2016]

Long Term Knee Protection

I’m excited about tapping into my strength training again. I’m getting back into the gym this week. My priority is the squat.

It’s been over four months since I’ve trained at full capacity with the weighted squat. So I’m curious as to how I’m going to feel at this next session.

First thing I’m going to establish is whether or not I still have the mobility in my hips, knees, and ankles for proper squat position. This is my first step when returning to training after a long pause.

Feet forward, knees pulling out, and hips open enough for all of this is critical to healthy squatting. It protects the knee tendons and ligaments from opening into an exposed position and tearing.

I’m going to sit in a full squat and check out the angle of my feet. If they’re pointed too far out to the sides, I’m going to try a couple of different things to see where the tightness is. I should be able to sit in a squat with feet forward.

It could be the ankles, which can be fixed by ankle mobility. Or the hips, which can be remedied with hip mobility. After each mobility exercise, I’ll retest my squat and figure out how I’m going to get down in the squat with proper alignment.

With proper mechanics I’m going to be able to make a smoother transition into building strength. Recovery is going to be better without unnecessary twists and pulls from bad form. And the movement patterns that are established with good technique are going to carry through to higher levels of training in the near future.

Watch me go through squat testing and mobility on snapchat: brilliant_beast

Live powerfully,

Steve

Squat Test

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