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

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.

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.

Movement and the mind, walking in San Francisco

I recently heard a podcast between Daniel Vitalis and Ido Portal. Vitalis is a “rewilding” leader who teaches ways to live in tune to original human ways. Portal is a natural movement practitioner.

Portal said that the human brain developed to the size we possess today in order to power greater complexity of physical movement. We have so much ability in our bodies to move in such intricate ways because of the size of our brains. I haven’t had a chance to verify the research behind this statement, but I have had an interesting experience last week that correlated with it.

Recently I was offered employment, which required an initial two-day training in San Francisco. I didn’t want to make the two-hour drive back and forth for two days, so I stayed with a friend near the training site. I took the train up to the closest station, walked the hilly streets the rest of the way, and then used buses and ferries to get to and from my various destinations through the week.

Because the City was mostly clouded and chilly, I had no qualms about hard fast walking. On my last day I walked over 12,000 steps and scaled 33 floors, according to my phone. I’m pretty sure that a few of the hills I climbed were at least four stories high. Add the stairs at building entrances, transportation terminals, and walking bridges, and 33 doesn’t seem like that much.

I noticed that I was much more upbeat than usual. From the moment I woke to the moment I went to bed, I had a very positive mindset about things. I felt like I could do anything.

My mood was lighter and I was also more willing to take on challenges. Part of my motivation was probably from the necessity of catching transportation before it was too late. I was on a schedule, and I had to make it on time to places. The other thing is that I was always very early for everything. I wanted to decrease the risk of being late as much as possible. I was up at five for a ten o’clock training. It’s such a great feeling that comes with being ahead of schedule.

Above all else, though, was the constant moving. I was walking, walking, walking. I loved it. My ankles became uber mobile. Up to three days after I got back, I was able to sit in a squat with feet much closer than usual. My normal tightness from sitting was absent, although I certainly sat a lot during training. At times I was sweating, at others I was huffing and puffing, and mostly I was warm and mobile.

My conversations with people were positive, productive, and often powerful. I spoke with some people I might not normally have spoken to. I was quicker to respond, more creative, and more alert. And I slept better.

Yes, there are many factors involved. Different environment, new job, temporary situation. However, I deeply felt the connection between lots of moving and mind stimulation. I don’t know if I would have been the same way had I driven my car everywhere, sitting for hours in traffic. I don’t think so.

Those four days in San Francisco will never leave my memory. Aside from the amazing training experience, my awesome friends who showed such kindness, and the humming life of the City, I will always remember the vigor I felt from significant movement every day.

Live powerfully,

Steve

The triangle pose and making the bed

There’s a lot of things out there that can get you healthy and fit. Choose a few and do them.

If you didn’t look much further than this page, then here’s one: the triangle pose. It’s a pretty simple yoga pose. I learned it once from a nice, quiet evening class in Alhambra a few years ago.

  1. Stand tall with your feet together and hands together at chest level.
  2. Take a deep breath into your belly.
  3. Open your arms straight out to the sides, parallel to the floor, with palms facing the ground.
  4. Keeping your feet pointed forward, slowly scoot them apart to the sides. Stop when your feet are at about the same distance as your hands, or when comfortable.
  5. Carefully pivot your feet to face the left. Left toes to the left, pointed as straight to the side as is comfortable. Right heel to the right, foot can be at an angle.
  6. Keeping your knees as straight as you can, anchor your hips back to the right and tilt your torso slowly over your left leg. Keep your arms straight to the sides like a “T”.
  7. Tilt down and stop before your torso bends. Let your left arm come down to your leg and rest your hand where it naturally falls.
  8. Position your right arm vertical and keep your head neutral.
  9. Balance by two mechanisms. Keep your left leg taut and “pull” against your hamstring. At the same time, push your hips forward and “lock” yourself into place.
  10. Take easy breaths, and try to breathe deeply through your nose.
  11. After a few breaths, once you’ve found equilibrium, pull back up. Keep your torso straight, push your hips back to center, and regain the upright posture with arms to the sides.
  12. Slowly scoot your feet back to center.
  13. Bring your hands together at the chest and bring yourself to full height.
  14. Have a gentle breath in, and let it out slowly as you relax your arms down.
  15. Repeat to the other side.

This might not be the best yoga pose, but it’s the one I do.

The thing I love about this pose is that it sort of stretches me out, especially in the midsection, and it just calms me down. It’s probably because I use it as a small meditation time. I feel so good after doing it, especially when I’m outside, but even when I’m indoors it’s great.

The triangle pose is one of those things I’ve just been very grateful to have picked up and use almost every day. I can take it with me anywhere, and it helps to anchor me. It’s like making the bed every morning. Another simple practice that brings continuing benefit.

We’re always going to see the newest diet or exercise or gadget that’s supposed to make all the difference. If you’ve taken some practices into the fold before, and stopped doing them because of different reasons, try bringing some of those little things back. Some of the best long term practices don’t always make a big impact the first few times, but over the months and years you get a lot out of them.

What simple practices do you have?

Live powerfully,

Steve

Get the full articles by email.
Copyright © 2017 Steve Ko, All rights reserved.

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

Amazon Affiliate Links

I link to tools I have found to be useful and meaningful.

Note: I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

Subscribe to thebrilliantbeastblog

Copyright © 2017 Steve Ko, All rights reserved.

Build Your Squat Episode 4

Brilliant Friends,

You can use ballistic movements for progressing in strength training if you don’t have a gym. This is useful when normal body weight exercises are no longer difficult enough to further your strength.

Ballistic means that the movement is done with full force, accelerating your body or the weight. Rather than pushing at a steady rate, the method is explosive force. This engages more muscle and trains you to become stronger. The jump squat, the clap pushup, and the explosive pullup all have this quality.

Ballistic movements are effective when you have a limited amount of weight to lift. Rather than do twenty body weight squats, I can do three or four strong jump squats. This concept has been used by academies like StrongFirst to train fighters and soldiers. You can use it to gently build your own strength for the long term.

Choose ballistic movements that you can do with good form. You do not want to exert accelerating force on a poor movement. If any of the exercises I show you here are not doable, replace them with ones that are. Here are some possibilities:

  • Explosive pushups as high as you can go with good form
  • Clap pushups off an elevated platform or a wall
  • Rows on a horizontal bar

Grease the groove. Use two or three exercises per training session. Figure out how many strong repetitions you can do. Then do half of that. Take long breaks before coming back to the same movement. You can wait hours or half a day before the next set if you want. I sometimes call it a day at one set. It doesn’t matter. Do strong, perfect reps every time.

Last note. There’s no correct time of day to train. You’ll see me training at different times of the day. I love the morning, I love the evening, and I love the midday. Every part of the day is perfect to train. There’s a challenge with each part of the day. Warming up for a morning session, the heat of midday, hunger in the evening.

Thanks a ton for watching. I love knowing that this helps someone.

Live powerfully,

Steve

Subscribe to The Brilliant Beast Blog

Build Your Squat Episode 3

Brilliant Friends,

This episode of Build Your Squat is actually not about the squat. I’m taking you down a side street instead to show you a session of my training.

It’s body weight movements, no gym, where I use greasing the groove (GTG) and relaxation to build strength. GTG is a simple method to make your exercise sessions short, effective, and save you sweat. All you need is some space outdoors or at home where you can be barefoot and move freely.

You know I don’t train with shoes. That’s hard to get away with in a typical gym. There are other benefits that come with training at home or outdoors.

First, there’s no driving to and from the gym. This alone cuts long sitting times in the car, and the stress of traffic. Why cramp myself up in my vehicle right before and right after an amazing training session of my mind and body? To go along with this, I don’t have to worry about finding and paying for a gym if I don’t have the time and money to do so.

Second, I can exercise barefoot! I’ve had flat feet my whole life, made worse by cushy sneakers with insoles. Since I was always running around, jumping, biking, and so forth, my little arches got crushed! I had plantar fasciitis before doc’s even had a name for it. Seriously, as a grade-schooler I had these episodes of intense pain on the bottom of my feet after a hard day of play. So I take my barefoot time seriously.

Walking, running, and training strength and mobility barefoot has helped me, over three years, to rebuild the arches in my feet. Getting rid of restrictive shoes has also helped my toes to splay out more. I used to think it was slick to wear pointy toed dress shoes. Now I think it’s sick. Doing heavy squats and deadlifts barefoot accelerated my foot development.

Third reason I love training outside of a gym – I can go by my own schedule. I don’t mean that a gym would tell me when to train or not train. What I mean is that there is a natural ebb and flow to things that determine when I do end up going to the gym. For example, if I must drive, I won’t choose traffic hours to and from the gym. So that limits my schedule. Also, everyone else that goes to the gym follows a certain schedule. We know that most people go before work, during lunch, or after work. This crowds gyms at specific times of the day. If I go to the gym planning to do squats on a Monday, Wednesday, or Friday, it’s going to be hectic. And I always squat when I go to a gym.

So unless I want to train at dawn, right before closing, or at 11 a.m., the gym is not going to be ideal. I’m all about hard work, but I also make things as uncomplicated as possible. This make me more effective.

Don’t get me wrong. I love training at gyms. There’s nothing like using heavier weight, squat racks, and barbells. But there are seasons to life, and right now I’m out of gym season. Body weight training and greasing the groove have been wonderful methods this past year in maintaining strength, muscle, and mobility without a gym.

So if this you – no gym, no problem. Get outside, hit the ground with skin, and get training.

Live powerfully!

Steve

Subscribe to The Brilliant Beast Blog

Build Your Squat Episode 2

Brilliant People.

In this episode, I talk about how to ease into the squat, and what to do with your feet, your knees, and your butt. If this is your first time ever, it’s a good quick intro to squatting. Even if you’ve just been out of practice for a while, or if you’re a hardcore weight lifter, take a second to look at your squat technique.

It takes just a few things for you to maximize your output, strengthen your knees, and use your back correctly with the squat. My priority is to help you do this ultimate human movement the right way. Train with these few simple mental cues and build your squat to enhance your life.

Be gentle, take it slow, and build with care.

Live powerfully!

Steve

Build Your Squat: Episode 1

Hey guys,

I’m really excited to be putting out my first video on how to squat. I believe the squat is the ultimate human movement, and I want to show you how. I’m going to just go with my gut and bring you different aspects of the squat through each progressive episode. With that being said, please leave me a comment and let me know what you think. I would love to hear from you.

This episode of Build Your Squat is an intro to squatting. We look at the squat basics and cover concepts that can help a beginner as well as an intermediate powerlifter. I know there’s a lot in this one. If you have never done a squat before, I encourage you to just chew on the information in this video and visualize yourself doing a squat. Don’t worry about using weights, don’t worry about getting it perfect. It’s more important that you are thinking about the squat and that we’re starting this conversation.

Thank you so much for checking it out. Please share your insights with people who come to mind!

Live powerfully,

Steve

The Brilliant Beast Blog by email