Train with me next week

Training sessions are the core of my days. They give me a physical, mental, and emotional recharge.

I’m going to start live training sessions next week using Instagram live. This is for anyone looking for inspiration on setting a regular strength training regimen. If you’re training regularly already, good. We can compare notes. If you are not practicing a regimen of strength, it’s time to start. Come see what I do.

The first real Q&A will be on Thursday, October 29 at 7 a.m. PST. The second one will be on Saturday, October 31 at 7 a.m. PST. I’ll start training as soon as I get out to my patio, and will hit “live” on Instagram at 7. I’ll finish up my session and see what questions and comments I get. I’m open to some hard criticism too, so lay it on me.

On Thursday, you’ll see squats and deadlifts. On Saturday, swings and getups following Simple & Sinister schooling.

Hope to have all of you there on Instagram. The handle is @thebrilliantbeastblog. I may start testing out the IG live feature earlier in the week to get in the groove, so look out for me on Monday morning.

Live powerfully,

Steve

Back to Squats

It’s the weekend again. Time is flying by. The world is wasting itself trying to wait out the virus. No one knows what that means or looks like. So everyone dumbly waits.

This week has been a solid one for training. I decided to add squats to my PTTP routine of deadlifts and presses. Rather than do two sets of five on squats, I am doing the good 5×5. My reason is that I haven’t squatted for a very long time, and I am in no shape to start with heavy weight. The 2×5 was designed by Pavel Tsatsouline to train beginners with light weight. It’s a four times a week regimen, so there are enough repetitions of movement to get a new strength student accustomed to the lifts without fatiguing him.

However, I’m not new to strength training. Since I’ve squatted 370 lbs. at 168 body weight, I have experience. But I’m currently not at this level of absolute strength. So I found myself in an interesting situation which isn’t much addressed by training programs geared toward the new and the experienced – I’m experienced and rusty.

I’ve been training with kettlebells for the past three years, aside from a few months of barbell training to learn the StrongFirst Lifter instructor ways. This training built a different kind of strength. I’m faster and better wired, in a neurological sense. My shoulders and back are healthier than ever, since sports injuries during high school. But in terms of absolute strength, I needed to start from scratch.

Interestingly, because I’ve built up my swings to the 32kg kettlebell on the Simple & Sinister regimen, I retained some absolute strength on the deadlift. I also boosted strength on the deadlift by training in the Easy Strength method of 10 reps total per session, multiple times a week. So for deadlifts and presses, I went with the 2×5 scheme on PTTP for the past couple of months.

My squat, on the other hand, had very little practice. Aside from get ups, through which I did single leg lunges, I never squatted with very much weight. I needed to start from the beginning, just the greasy bar with naked sleeves.

It took a few sessions to warm up and get my joints accustomed to the load. I’ve been going easy, stopping the set when I felt a little twinge of pain, or that locking sensation in the thighs and calves. Funny how the body tells you when it’s a bad idea to continue.

So here I am, squatting the same loads I started with way back in 2014 on StrongLifts 5×5. I even dusted off Medhi Hadim’s website to refresh my mental catalogue of queues and technique. It feels good to build from the ground up, in a literal and figurative sense.

I’m alternating deads and presses, doing either movement with squats, four days a week. On the rest days I continue with the S&S regimen, although I decided not to use the 40kg on any getups anymore. I found that with so few days of kettlebell training, my neck and shoulders are not keeping the strength I had built up to a couple of months ago. So I’m simply maintaining a level of strength with the 32kg until I can return my focus to the kettlebell.

Live powerfully,

Steve

Current Training Regimen and How This Applies to You

Brilliant friends,

I hope this post finds you well. Most of you in the U.S. are dealing with some level of reduced access to gyms or pull-up bars. Don’t let this hold you back from maintaining your practice of strength. As a matter of fact, you have the opportunity to dive deeper into strength training at home. If you have not considered the kettlebell, let me explain.

My current regimen is Simple & Sinister. It is a kettlebell training regimen consisting of swings and get-ups. Ten sets of ten swings, and ten get-ups divided into five left and five right. I have been using this training regimen for the past three and half years, starting in the summer of 2016 with a 16kg kettlebell. Today my training weight is 32kg or 2 pood, and it has been for over a year.

I recently progressed from two-handed to one-handed swings with this load, which took about two months of active effort. By active, I mean that it was not very easy, and I made very small progressions to lessen the load day-to-day. I had to eat more food than normal, and I had to sleep more on the weekends. I experienced significant hypertrophy at first, then gradually returned to a more normal size as the weeks went by. This advancement took place at the end of last year, and in the four months since then I have continued to develop strength in subtle ways with the same kettlebell.

Get-ups with the 32kg are becoming “easier” every week. I am progressing to one set for each side with the 40kg and learning an immeasurable number of lessons from this.

That is the beauty of daily kettlebell training. It never ends. Learning never stops, if you pay attention. Growth never ceases, if you are disciplined. You come to know more of the infinite irregularities of your single piece of training equipment, cast of iron and forged to last for generations of your family. And more than that, you come to know your strength and your weakness. You will find yourself facing obstacles in every nook and cranny of your physical existence, and even obstacles within your mind and heart.

The kettlebell is just a tool. Buy one if you want to explore the movements in the convenience of your home. But even if you do not have a kettlebell and do not buy one, you can still train your strength every day. Have no excuses for yourself. Set a time and a regimen to follow, one that is not too difficult but that tests your strength and ability. You can do pushups and burpees and pull-ups if you have a bar, squats, jump rope, hill sprints, and all manner of other movements. Again, find a regimen that you can do every day. Do not do something that is too difficult, or you will not do it the next day.

As you decide whether or not to train with kettlebells, consider that you should be training barefoot on solid ground. If you have a flat patch of grass nearby that is ideal. You will need to be able to grip the ground firmly during swings and will need to have a clear space in front of you, in case you lose grip of the kettlebell. For get-ups, you will start and end lying supine, and you will be bearing weight on your elbows and knees. Overly hard or bumpy surfaces will hurt, so find ground on which you can practice comfortably every day.

Read Simple & Sinister by Pavel Tsatsouline before you buy a kettlebell, and before you begin using a kettlebell. Kettlebell training is not for everyone. Understand the principles and assess your physical and mental capabilities for such training. If you do decide to train with a kettlebell, commit fully. You can find gear and FAQ’s on this blog to get started. If you decide not to train with a kettlebell, good for you as well. Find another method of training and commit to that fully.

If you are working from home, you now have all of your commuting time for training. If you lost your job and are searching for work, you have even more time to develop strength, practice movement, and maintain good health through your job search. Build a strong foundation that cannot be rocked.

Live powerfully,

Steve

Change of seasons

Once again the mornings are warmer, and the ground does not freeze my feet. My breath no longer shows white in the dark. The sun climbs out from over the horizon quicker than it did a week ago, and every new day its aura soaks into the black sky a little bit earlier.

It wasn’t as cold as the previous year, though. The spring may prove to be a warm one, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the summer were to be hotter than those of recent memory.

It is raining again, and the rain will continue through the next few weeks before the earth grows hot. Two days ago, the rain sprinkled down lightly enough that I could swing the kettlebell without taking shelter between sets. The handle became a bit too wet to safely grip, though. I found a dry towel in a bag among the things outside that I haven’t yet stored away. I used the towel to wipe the handle down before each set, but eventually I left the towel on the handle and threw it aside just before the set. Some of the chalk on my hands washed away from droplets on the handle, but I was able to keep a firm enough grip on the bell.

Rain is good. It teaches you to not take dryness for granted. Stand in the rain as you train and you’ll learn that your grip on the bell isn’t as solid as you thought. A little slip is okay, but you need to play with the pull of the iron to keep your grip. Keep the handle in your fingers, or else your palm will blister and tear.

Rain will also teach you about your grip on the ground, with your feet. In the rain you’ll need to pay extra attention to keeping your big toes planted and pointed forward, still spreading the floor and not letting your feet swivel out. This has a lot to do with how you distribute your weight through the swing, and your hinging at the hips. You’ll learn to concentrate on driving the force down into the ground as you stand tall.

I think of the garden that my mom let me tend two years ago. Most of the vegetables I planted by seed are gone, brown caked rectangles of dirt where they once sprouted green and fresh. The collards alone survive the negligence of the past years, new stems ever pushing through the earth, mindless of heat or cold or rain or none. Unkept, the stalks will thicken to the size of a child’s wrist, scaly and strong, leaves massive.

Together with the earth, mankind turns in seasons, as man is one with the earth and not separate from her nature. As with a vegetable stalk that becomes tough, the mind becomes calloused and set in its ways, until there is little use left. It is time to cut the plant at its base, leaving the roots in the soil, and allowing the overgrown stalk and leaves to dissolve back into the earth, to become fodder for new growth. Nothing is lost, and everything dead is put to use again by the universe.

Do this with your thinking, with physical training, with social relations. Let the dead shell drop about you so that you can change. There is a point where the things that served you well, the skills and strengths and patterns you employed, may restrict movement. Do not be afraid to cut back into the armor to develop a stronger, more flexible, more resilient, more reasonable suit.

When men in our society train to increase strength, particularly with use of the barbell for absolute strength, they tend to go too far. It is human nature to become excited about one’s initial gain in physical power. A man often finds trouble once the regular increases in his training weight are not so easy to lift. He feels fear that he is not as good as he was in the beginning, when he could surpass himself and beat his own weakness. Most men quit, afraid of hurting themselves. Everyone else continues, stupidly. Rather than determine the level of strength that is necessary for survival and the degree of fitness sufficient for his duties in this life, the stubborn man continues to try to lift more weight. He pushes on, ignoring the pain in his joints, the diminishing abilities to move freely, and the unnecessary burden of nutrition and sleep to sustain the exercise.

Few take the time to slow down and think about the plateau they have reached before pushing themselves too far. This kind of man, whether it be long after many trials of stupidity, or a brilliant first encounter, realizes that his strength does improve in a linear progression. He also does not measure, nor does he care too much about, the numerical value of the weight he can lift. What’s important is how he moves the load.

Women generally know the futility of stubborn training. When a strong woman trains her strength according to her own sense, she tends not to push beyond a reasonable level of difficulty. She rarely injures herself or trains to a degree that inhibits normal movement. And yet she often becomes stronger than many men. Men should learn from strong women how to train strength.

What a great time it is to explore our strength. It takes strength to maintain calm, and how vital it is to remain calm when it is easier to let your fear take hold of you. Wake up, brilliant men and women! Continue to develop your strength, improve your diet, and clear your mind of unwanted thoughts, a little every day. If you find your season changing, shed your old skin and let yourself grow anew. Do it aggresively.

Do not let anyone else control your body, or your movements, or your mind, or your heart. Breathe freely, and act according to your principles. If you are young and strong, encourage those around you who are old or weak. Smile even if you are afraid. Do not let their fear seep into your mind, and gently assure them that all is well and promote good health and courageous living. Who else will do this, if not you?

Remember that each of us can choose how to behave. Be calm. Be brave. Treat your fellow man with dignity and respect. Create peace and solidarity within your family and let that be shared with the rest of your community. Do not give furtive looks at others as you pass them in the street. Don’t listen to too much news. Respect authority but don’t lose your mind in whatever you do.

Live powerfully,

Steve

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

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

Rain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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