Saturday, January 28, 2012

ETK Heavy: The Press and Pullup Checklist

Today was Heavy Day on the ETK Rite of Passage. Below is my mental checklist.

If you aren't paying a similar level of attention to a similarly lengthy list, don't complain to me about why your presses and pullups aren't good.

2 x (1-2-3-4)
3 x (1-2-3)

NB: I video taped the final set of 3 pullups - click here to see it.


Stand tall and long in the spine.

- t-spine tends to round after sitting at a desk

- lumbar spine tends to arch forwards


- focusing on the hip hinge yields more tension at the backswing, an easier clean, and better preparation for the press.


- it's important to bring the kettlebell gently to rest and not let it whack you - getting beat up racking the bell is losing tension as it dissapates absorbing the shock. We want the opposite, to make enough tension and cushion the blow.

- keep the shoulder down. MRKC Geoff Neupert puts this well - get ready to press
from the hip


- feet solidly gripping the ground, knees locked, thighs zipped up, pelvis made neutral by shortening the abs in the front, bell pulled in and down.


- a stronger grip makes for a stronger press


- the shape of the kettlebell rewards a feeling of opening your elbow away from your body as you press

- be sure the bell is always moving upwards, don't just open the elbow without actually raising the bell

- feel the press in your feet, making sure there is no leakage through the body's midsection. The bell goes up because you push down with your feet.


- it's tempting to turn the kettlebell press, like the now nearly-extinct Olympic press, into movement to the front rather than overhead. Resist this temptation, which is strongest at your weakest point in the press, at all costs - the weight must go up while you stand straight.


- it's important to let the t-spine do its thing as your press nears completion. If, like me, you have a t-spine that tends to be hunched over and immobile in all directions, it's important for the health of your shoulders to be sure you've extended your t-spine at the top of your press. Compacting the abs in the front can lead to rounding the t-spine as well - it does for me sometimes. Note that we are not, not, not trying to extend the lumbar spine at the top of the press, a sure formula for a back ache for me.


- it's good to lean forward from your shoulder at the top of the press while simultaneously sinking the shoulder. It provides a nice stretch to the chest and shoulder muscles, it teaches good overhead supporting posture, and it makes sure your press is 100% legal - you paused, you didn't just pay lip service only to locking your elbow. Your supporting strength should exceed your moving strength - get used to having a weight overhead with your elbow locked and your shoulder sunk.


- Don't just let the bell fall or yield to its weight as you lower, pull the bell down for better lat activation, better shoulder health, and better posture in your return to the rack position.



- the ideal weight is one with which you can pretty easily touch your Adam's Apple above the bar for a single. The resistance level should be about the same as for your press in terms of level of difficulty.


- if your ankles need stretching, do a little calf/ankle stretch of some kind before you stick your foot through the handle of the kettlebell


- find your good grip on the bar. I vary between preferring a false grip and regular one, but I always go thumbless.


- make sure your elbows are straight. I like to flex my lats and externally rotate my shoulders while my toes are on the ground and I'm gripping the bar. You should be comfortable doing this.


- Put your chosen foot through the kettlebell handle, flex that ankle, and get the bell off the ground.


- inhale

- assume the hollow position, keeping the elbows straight

- begin by pulling the shoulders into their sockets. You may choose to hang without your shoulders fully packed if it doesn't bother you, but you must always be sure sucking your shoulders in is step #1 before you do anything else like bend your elbows.

- as you stay hollow, pull your elbows to your sides.

- manage your breathing - I like to hiss out some air as I raise.

- imagine that, at the midway point, your forearms are completely vertical and you have bent at the elbow and effectively moved your body back, _away_ from the bar. If your body is completely under the bar, you are sunk as far as a tactical pullup goes.


- aim to put your Adam's Apple above the bar

- reach forward with your neck at the very end as needed to touch the bar to your throat.


- do more than pay lip service to the top of your pullup. If you're repping out, I can understand touch 'n' go, but at least some of the time, pause with your throat against the bar for a solid one second or longer.


- you can build strength and muscle by lowering under complete control and, if you've got a kettlebell on your foot, lowering quickly is a sure way to lose it before your next rep.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Variety - 1-Arm Hangs, Light Windmills and Snatches

Yesterday, nothing - my first medium day featuring ladders to 3 left me tired and I've been very busy.

Today, a few Cossacks to warm up and that's all.

1-Arm Bar Hangs

- :30 each way with a standard grip, :25 each way with a thumbless grip.

Then two lifts with a 16 kg:

Windmill - 3 each side

Snatch - 25L+25R in 2:00

Interesting to snatch with a fried grip, but good grip training and a character builder, too. :)

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Rant: Obesity

On a cooking newsgroup earlier today, someone cited this

LA Times article

and quoted this:

"Obesity numbers may have flattened out for the first time in 30 years"

I am reposting my reply here for anyone interested:

If the numbers have flattened out, which means they've stopped _increasing_, but the obesity numbers are still obscenely _high_, we need to note: that's not progress. It just means we've reached the saturation point of how many of us can shove too much bad food into our faces while sitting on our arses all day.

IMHO, we've all spent too much time with financial types and others who look at trends in numbers. Our obesity numbers are ridiculously high, whatever direction they're headed in. The fact that so many people become overweight enough to bring on diabetes - diabetes, for crying out loud - means something is very, very wrong.

And we're not even talking about how many people who are _not_ obese but still _are_ significantly overweight - diabetes is not the only consequence here, although it's arguably the worst one.

Eat better, eat less, move better, move more.


ETK Medium - Press From Split, Video

Three video clips from today, links below


- rolling supersetted with light and bw-only getups

- Press From Split, for video, click here, only a 16 kg but haven't done these in a while.

ETK Medium

Five Ladders of 1-2-3, two videos, links below

2 Presses + 2 Pullups @ bw + 24 kg - note that my shoulder comes up too much at the lockout. I watched this video and attempted to fix this problem during a later ladder although there are things I like better about the earlier sets - the presses look more solid to me. Here is the second press video:

3 Presses + 3 Pullups @ bw + 24 kg

Later: 2 x 16 kg pistol, 1 x 24 kg 1-leg DL - lats cramped on 1-leg DL's.

Notes on Strength and Hypertrophy

- It took me over an hour to do this. For pure strength and minimal gains in muscle size, I take my time, usually not resting between the rungs of one and two reps, but resting before the rung of three, and resting 5-10 minutes between ladders.

- I try not to rest between the presses and the pullups while still at this low volume, but on Heavy Day, I will likely rest between those things at rungs of three and of four.

- As we age, we don't need to worry as much about gaining muscle size for the simple reason that it's harder to do. Today's workout took less time than I would have chosen to use 10 years ago.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Rite of Passage - Light Day

24 kg bell for presses, 24 kg bell on alternating feet by the rung/set for pullups

(1-2) x 5 ladders - no break between rungs, ~3:00 between ladders


- Presses, not C&P, this ETK ROP cycle. I don't know why, just feels right, probably because of the relatively light weight.

- The short rest periods aren't because I'm looking for hypertrophy, they're because the weight is light.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Simple, Brutal

Variety Day

warmup 18 kg: 3 x (1-arm back rolls, 1 side roll, 1 getup to hand). Total 2 each side

Lift #1: One-Arm Bar Hangs - :45 Right, :45 Left

45 minute rest

Lift #2: 18 kg snatches at a brisk (~30/min) pace - 35L+35R

Note the integration of mobility and light getups. Note also the low volume of all three movements: getup, bar hang, snatch.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Today's ETK Heavy Day, and Training Damaged Goods

First, an abbreviated ETK ROP Heavy Day - life intervened and I ran out of time.

Then a soliloquy on training damaged goods. For those of you who don't know me, I had a severe back injury in 1997. That's what I mean by "damaged goods."

ETK: Heavy Day
24 kg Mil Press supersetted w/ 24 kg on alternating feet

The Plan: (1-2-3-4) x 1, (1-2-3) x 4

Actual: (1-2-3-4) x 1, (1-2-3-4-5) x 1

Last week's Heavy Day: 30 presses each side and 30 pu in 5 ladders.

This week's Heavy Day: 25 presses/pu each but in only 2 ladders

On Training Damaged Goods

After playing three shows on the piano yesterday, I came home happy but exhausted at about 9 PM and promptly fell asleep in an armchair. My reward was being awakened by leg cramps in the middle of the night. My leg cramps aren't your usual, not enough minerals and/or overexercise leg cramps; mine are caused by joint distortion in my lumbar spine. McKenzie talks about this - you don't hurt your back playing football at the family reunion, you hurt it slouching on the sofa afterwards. My nap in the chair, combined with a fatigued lumbar spine from sitting at a piano keyboard, was a bad combination.

The only thing I can do when these strike - this happened at 2 AM - is roll onto my stomach (not easy to do because moving isn't easy to do while one of your muscles is locked up) and perform the basic McKenzie exercise (similar to a yoga Cobra). After a while, it works, and I can - very carefully - roll over, try to go back to sleep, and hope it doesn't reoccur. I got lucky last night - only one episode.

What lessons did I learn? First, lay on the floor on my stomach and do that Cobra exercise after lengthy sessions at the piano keyboard, and don't fall asleep anywhere except bed;

Second, to be mindful of what I do with my back in my exercise and the rest of my life. I have, over the years since my back injury, tended to favor extension because a little extension (inward/forward arch in the lower back) is the antidote to overstretched tendons and ligaments. It's only lately that I've been focusing on shortening my abs in the front when pressing, which serves to make my spine less arched/extended. There is, as they say, no such thing as a free lunch, and getting used to having a better, more neutral spine will take a bit of learning on my part. My back hurts less because of the way I've started pressing lately, but I have also noticed that I don't yet really have what it takes to get closer to a neutral lumbar spine and still stay out of trouble. Rest assured, I won't give up - it's the right way for me to go, and I will learn how to handle a neutral lumbar, but bumps in the road like this, painful as they might be at times, are going to occur.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Second Consecutive Variety Day

My usual lifting schedule on the ETK ROP (Rite of Passage routine from Enter The Kettlebell by Pavel) is

Monday = Light

Wednesday = Medium

Saturday = Heavy

That means I get Thursday and Friday as two consecutive off/easy/variety days in a row. Today is Friday.

9 AM:

#1: Rolling heels over head as suggested in Super Joints, done on mats in front of my power rack, with a piece of PVC pipe bungied across the bottom.

If you haven't tried this, I highly recommend it - great for your abs if done properly.

If you want a good evaluation of side-to-side differences in functionality and strength, try holding onto the overhead bar with only one hand, straight up from your shoulder, instead of two.

Click here for a video.

#2: Passive hamstring stretches - lay on back, grab one ankle, try to relax both hamstring being stretched _and_ the leg on the ground. I always thought I didn't need to do these since I could do splits and otherwise demonstrate good flexibility - but I was wrong, and these help.

#3: Cossacks - the Cossack sequence shown in Super Joints - the third part is an excellent hip flexor stretch

#4: Four Plane Neck Rotations

NB: Today, I'm busy - two performances of a show at my wife's school in the morning, home to teach five private lessons, then another performance this evening.

2 PM:

#5 Crane Frolic Qigong interspersed with hip circles, and using my own Crane Pistol in which a bodyweight pistol is inserted into one of the movements.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Variety Day

Rolling heels over head

FMS upper body only rolls w/ 18 kg partial getups, 3 each side.

24: windmill, 3 each side

18: snatch, 30L+30R in about 3:00

My First Blog Post

From "Enter The Kettlebell" by Pavel Tsatsouline, Page 82:

"I was walking in the officers’ quarters with a Marine friend who had just returned from a tour in Fallujah. We had just worked out and had our shorts on. A passing-by jarhead buddy of his joked, “Are those your legs, or are you riding a chicken?!” Fighting men ride chickens (they don’t eat them). Got a problem with that?"

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am not a fighting man but I choose to ride chickens, to be strong and thin. A few months shy of my 57th birthday, I also want to be healthy in every way possible. Having received my first kettlebell and a copy of "The Russian Kettlebell Challenge" book and VHS video in 2001, I have been an RKC since 2003 and an RKC Team Leader since 2010. Along the way I've earned several gold medals and world records at AAU powerlifting meets in the 45-49 and 50-54 year old, 67.5 kg (148 lb.), raw class. I still weigh within 10 lbs. of what I weighed in high school and I intend to keep it that way.

A few weeks ago, I began another trip through the Rite of Passage in Pavel's "Enter The Kettlebell," a program that couldn't be simpler. Last weekend, I performed 5 ladders of 1-2-3 in the 24 kg kettlebell military press, supersetted with the same number of pullups with a 24 kg kettlebell hanging from my foot.

Going forward, I will attempt to post a summary of my training for anyone interested in following along. Today is Thursday, January 19, 2012, a "variety" day in my program. Another blog entry to follow about today's training.