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

Getups in the sun, and when to drink water

Training yesterday was great. There’s no better place to exercise with a kettlebell than on an open field under the big blue sky. If you haven’t tried it, I recommend it.

I love the sun, and I make sure to get some soak time every day. However, training under the direct sunlight is a different beast. It is draining, especially when you’re doing weight training. There’s just so much more going on, with the sweating, the heat, and the radiation all working on you. Not a bad thing, but definitely a situation to navigate carefully.

It was in the low 80’s by the time my wife and I got our gear to the park. Kettlebell getups require the practitioner to look directly at the weight during the first phase. Since the kettlebell is held straight up in the air, it may be very close to the sun around noon. I had to make sure to stay relaxed, breathe, and face as much away from the sun as possible.

Still, both us were getting a little wobbly here and there. It’s easy to get distracted at a park, when there’s people walking past, the sun in your face, and lots of trees and nice nature stuff to look at. With the kettlebell held up overhead, it’s critical to stay focused with the eyes and with the mind. Keeping your eyes focused on the weight, and on the horizon as you lunge to stand, makes all the difference in balance, form, and strength.

It helps to pick a spot near some shade. That way you can hop out of the sunlight during rest periods to stay cool. My wife does most of her swings in the shade, and getups in the sun where it’s drier.

Another thing to consider is when to drink water. I don’t drink any water during my training, because it distracts me. So I drink a good amount beforehand, and as much as I want afterwards. If you’re training outdoors, bring a full bottle of water in case of emergency. As long as you are relatively healthy, and drink plenty of water before and after, training without water breaks shouldn’t be a problem. There is evidence that early humans tracked prey all day, through the middle of the day, drinking water before and after the hunt (Lieberman, Daniel. The Story of the Human Body: evolution, health, and disease. 2013).

This session was a timed trial with the 24kg kettlebell. Here are my results:

  • 100 Swings: 9:19
  • Rest: 1:00
  • 10 Getups: 8:26

Goals:

  • 100 Swings: 5:00
  • Rest: 1:00
  • 10 Getups: 10:00

So I’ve got some work to do on swings. My main issue today was the sun. Going back and forth to the shade to rest took too long, but I needed a hat nearby to rest in the sunlight. Maybe I’ll do timed swings in the shade.

Live powerfully.

Steve

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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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