Thursday, April 20, 2017

Some Kettlebell History

Note: This is a repost of a piece I did in 2007 to provide evidence of a "third way" for how to train with kettlebells. At the time, controversy was raging in the USA "kettlebell community" (all 50 of us, lol) over the "correct way" to use what was then a still esoteric (and for recreational trainers, a vaguely dangerous looking) implement. Hard Style on the one side, GS/kettlebell sport style on the other side, and a few of us straddling the fence (very uncomfortably) arguing for a contingency approach: kettlebells as one more tool in the strength and conditioning arsenal to address particular strength and conditioning goals. (As if one of the most revered Russian weightlifters and sports scientists ever, A.S. Medvedev, didn't know what he was doing.) 

My perspective now is pretty much the same as it was then. (I think.) Kettlebells, like barbells and dumbbells are tools. For athletes who are using kettlebells for supplemental resistance training, they only need to learn and follow the basic biomechanical rules and techniques for safely lifting heavy things that apply to all implements.There is no "one true way" to solve the few idiosyncratic hurdles kettlebells present. However, once lifting weights veers into sports whether Powerlifting, Olympic Weightlifting, Kettlebell Sport then to succeed one has to learn, and master techniques and apply training strategies specific to that sport. 

Mike and I are in the early stages of producing a Barbell Strategy Kettlebell course: "Kettlebell Strategy", perhaps? Stay tuned.

In his book, the Russian Kettlebell Challenge, Pavel Tsatsouline discussed several populations that have used kettlebells as a part of their training. Among those discussed were Russian Olympic Weightlifters. Since Olympic Weightlifting is a serious hobby of mine I was very interested in which kettlebell lifts and set and rep schemes the Russians might have used.

Pavel didn't go into great detail in RKC about what exercises the Russians used, but he did mention the great Russian weightlifting coach and sports scientist Medvedev recommended 24 shoulder and arm exercises and 29 leg and torso exercises. Although I plan a more thorough treatment (one in which I hope to combine Medvedev's, Rodionov's, Verkoshanksy and Vorobyev's kettlebell recommendations with current American Weightlifting training methods) here is brief summary from A.S. Medvedev's chapter from the 1986 textbook Weightlifting and It's Teaching Methodology. Part 2 will cover additional exercises.

Shoulders and Arms

  1. Double KB Clean, 10-12 reps, medium tempo
  2. Double KB Clean + press, 6-8 reps, medium tempo
  3. Double KB Press, 8-10 reps, medium tempo
  4. Double KB Curls, 5-7 reps, slow tempo
  5. Double KB High Pulls, 5-7 reps, medium tempo
  6. Double KB Upright Row, 4-6 reps, slow tempo
  7. One arm press from shoulder, 3-5 reps, medium tempo
  8. One hand x 2KB press (overlap handles) 3-5 reps, medium tempo
  9. See Saw Press, 3-5 reps each side, comfortable tempo
  10. Bent over row, two hands x 1 KB, 6-8 reps, comfortable tempo, relax/stretch at bottom
  11. Double KB Bent over row, 4-6 reps, comfortable tempo, relax/stretch at bottom
  12. Double KB Alternating Bent over row, 4-6 reps each arm , comfortable tempo, relax/stretch at bottom
  13. Double KB Shrug, arms to side, 8-10 reps, slow tempo, relax/stretch at bottom position
  14. Shrug, One Arm, 8-10 reps then switch sides, slow tempo, relax/stretch at bottom position
  15. Shrug, 2 Hands x One KB, bell in front, 9-11 reps, slow tempo
  16. Double KB Circular Shrugs, arms to sides, 5-7 reps forward, the 5-7 reverse, slow tempo
  17. Floor Press, 1KB, legs spread apart, 6-8 reps, medium tempo
  18. Double KB Floor Presses, legs spread apart, elbows tight to body, 6-8 reps, medium tempo
  19. Alternating Floor press, 2KB, legs spread apart, elbows tight to body, 5-7 reps each side, medium tempo
  20. Pullovers, reclining, 1 KB 2 hands, legs spread apart, 5-7 reps, easy tempo
  21. Reclining Shoulder Girdle "Twists", 1 KB 2 hands, legs spread apart, set kettlebell on each side 5-7 reps, easy tempo
  22. Pullovers + Reclining Shoulder Girdle "Twists", 1 KB 2 hands, legs spread apart, 5-7 reps each side (pullover set KB to one side, then pullover set KB to the other side) easy tempo
  23. High Bench Rows, (lying on stomach) 2 KBS, 6-8 reps easy tempo
  24. High Bench Alternating Rows, (lying on stomach) 2 KBS, 6-8 reps easy tempo

Medvedev's instructions for beginners is to begin with the 16kg bells and afer 4-6 weeks move up to the 24kg bells. "Later" move up to the 32kg bells. No more than 3 "lessons" a week for beginners and no more than 30 minutes per lesson. Lessons should be at the same time each day. Beginners should also start with a conservative set and rep scheme: 3 sets x 3 reps per exercise. As strength improves over the 4-6 weeks, beginners should have worked up to 5-6 sets of 3-4 reps. The recommended rep ranges for the above exercises are for more advanced athletes.

Legs and Torso

Medvedev recommends using 5-6 exercises performed in circuit fashion with no rest between exercises, but beginners may take up to one minute if necessary. As fitness levels improve, more exercises can be added. To assure improvement and development of leg muscles always include some squats. Either with one KB on one shoulder, or squats with a KB on each shoulder, or perform suitcase squats "hindu squat" style.

  1. Good Morning (note: what we call RDL these days), One KB held in front, shoulder width stance, straight legs, slow lowering, quick raising, 8-10 reps. Repeat with 2 KBs, one each hand, 8-10 reps
  2. Squat, 1KB held by handle behind head w/ both hands, 8-10 reps, easy tempo
  3. Snatch High Pull, 1 KB, two hands, from ground to overhead, 8-10 reps, easy tempo
  4. Pistol Grip KB Clean to Shoulder (Bottoms up clean) from ground, 5-7 reps each side, medium tempo
  5. Snatch, from ground, 5-7 reps
  6. Double KB Clean to shoulder, from ground, 4-6 reps, easy tempo
  7. Double KB Snatch, from ground, 4-6 reps
  8. Squat + Press From Shoulder (clean 1 kb to shoulder, squat recover to standing position and press) 4- 6 reps, slow tempo, repeat opposite side
  9. Side Bends, KB each hand hanging to side, feet together, bend side to side, 8-10 reps slow tempo
  10. Alternating Side Bend + Row, KB each hand hanging to side, feet together, bend to one side while opposite arm rows upwards; KB tracks alongside body, 8-10 reps each side, slow tempo
  11. Trunk Rotation w/ KB held behind head, 3-5, reverse direction & repeat, slow tempo
  12. Squat + Jump (no weight) 3-5 fast tempo
  13. Twisting KB Pickup, KB outside left leg, bend and twist to pick up with right arm, replace, repeat for 5-7 reps and then switch sides, slow tempo
  14. Kettlebell Swings, 2 hands 1 KB, swing above head height, 8-10 reps fast
  15. KB Hip Abduction, affix kb to foot, bend knee, abduct leg, 8-10 reps, switch sides, slow tempo
  16. One legged Squat, 1 KB held behind head, 4-6 reps each leg, medium tempo
  17. Side Lunges, 1 KB behind head, 5-7 reps, slow
  18. Lunges, 1 KB behind head, 6-8 reps per side, medium tempo
  19. Toe raise, 1 KB behind head, 8-10 reps, high as possible, medium tempo
  20. Toe raise on blocks, 1 KB behind head, 8-10 reps, high as possible, slow tempo
  21. Single Leg Knee Extensions, Affix KB to foot, Sit on High Bench, 3-5 reps each side, slow
  22. Double Leg Knee Extensions, Affix KB to each foot, Sit on High Bench, 3-5 reps, slow
  23. Elevated Single Leg Knee Extensions, Affix KB to foot, Sit on High Bench, elevate thigh off bench and extend knee, 4-6 reps each side, slow
  24. Elevated Double Leg Knee Extensions, Affix KB to each foot, Sit on High Bench, elevate thighs off bench and extend knee, 4-6 reps each side, slow3-5 reps, slow
  25. Seated Good Morning, 1 KB behind head, straddle bench, fold forward, 6-8 reps, slow
  26. Seated Side Bends, 1 KB behind head, straddle bench, 8-10 reps, slow
  27. Seated Torso Twists  (face front, turn to side, return to face front all reps to one side first, then switch) 10-12 reps each side, medium tempo
  28. Seated Full Twists, complete twist right to left then left to right, 7-9 reps each side
  29. Roman Chair Situps, 1 KB held on chest, 6-8 reps slow

Bonus Material:
Verkoshansky has a chapter in this same text book with an extensive list of mostly dumbbell exercises for the general weight training of athletes and "developing strength endurance and power for athletes of different classifications."
Here is an interesting KB drill paraphrased as closely as we could get it:
Most athletes need to get from point A to point B as explosively as possible. Here is an exercise for improving explosiveness. Hold 2 kettlebells of equal weight (16, 24, or 32kg) one in each hand. Position two benches of equal height on either side. Benches should be between 60-75cm (24 - 30 inches) in height. Stand between the benches and jump up, landing one foot on each bench. Step down and repeat.

Much thanks to Vladimir Garbovsky for his patient help translating the text with and to Pavel for taking time out of his busy schedule to provide photocopied pages of his original Russian text. Vladimir is of Ukrainian descent and speaks Russian fluently. Even though he is no stranger to the weight room (he plays defensive end for West Chester University football team) much of the translation was nonetheless difficult to put into English weight room idiom. There were no pictures, and the exercises were rarely named, just descriptions so we had to use "translators license" quite a bit and no small amount of pantomime which raised some eyebrows from the students in the Library trying to get some studying done. Any errors are surely mine, but I think we got it pretty close.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Strength Training Alternative Facts

I'm not going to engage in serious political discourse here, but I, like many other folks around the world, found Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway's phrase, "Alternative Facts" a bit Orwellian, a bit outrageous and if you can be amused by creeping fascism, actually pretty funny. 

As Daniel Patrick Moynihan (look it up) famously observed, "You are entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts." "Alternative Fact" is just political double speak for an outright prevarication or at best, a disprovable perception or myth. 

So I thought it would be fun to present a list of alternative facts as they pertain to my particular area of expertise. 

31 Alternative Facts in Weightlifting and Strength Training

1) Muscle turns into fat if you stop lifting weights
2) Weightlifting is dangerous.
3) Weightlifting will stunt children's growth and damage growth plates.
4) Squats damage the knees
5) Weightlifting makes you slow
6) Weightlifting exercises should imitate sports specific movements
7) Weightlifting will make you big and bulky
8) Weightlifting takes unecessary time away from sports practice
9) Runners shouldn't lift weights because they only need endurance, not muscular strength
10) The Sots Press is done from behind the neck with a snatch grip
11) Genetics don't matter: with enough hard work anyone can go pro 
12) Online "canned" lifting programs are sound if the online coach is online famous
13) The best weightlifting teams have the best online marketing
14) Weightlifting makes you less flexible
15) More is better
16) Supplements are absolutely necessary
17) Deadlifts damage your back
18) Weightlifting increases risk of injury
19) Cardio is more effective than weightlifting for general health
20) Machines are safer and more effective than free weights
21) Strength training causes high blood pressure
22) You should never lock out the joints while weight training
23) Weightlifting exercises should be done slow and to failure
24) Powerlifting is more effective than Olympic Weightlifting for sports training
25) Olympic Weightlifting is more effective than Powerlifting for sports training
26) Instability training with weights is more effective than weight training on a stable surface
27) Weightlifting will make you too sore to perform your sport
28) Weightlifting strength does not carryover to endurance sports
29) Holding your breath during squats (Valsalva maneuver) causes strokes
30) Weightlifting is boring and no fun
31) Online coaches know more than your real life coach (because they are online, duh)

Mac Crawford, a former lifter of ours demonstrates the flexibility required to do a proper Sots Press.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Meet Wrap Up: Front Range CrossFit FallWeightlifting Meet

Mandi gets to power position, finishes and celebrates her PR !

We took eight lifters, 4 men and 4 women. Individual performances were very good averaging 75% successful attempts. In the Team competition, our women finished in 4th place and the men took 3rd place. 

Barbell Strategy Weightlifting continues to build so we had several new lifters this meet. Carter and Cleo, both CU students, joined us earlier in the summer and lifted as novice (first meet) junior age (20 and under) athletes and both did very well. Cleo got the gold in the 75kg juniors and Carter in the 85kg juniors took silver. 

Diana and Ross moved here from Washington, DC and are mostly acclimated to the altitude now, but still getting their training back in the groove. They both had solid performances while testing the water; Ross with a 4 for 6 effort taking Gold in the 69kg class and Diana in the 69s with a 5 for 6 performance. Both enjoyed a sprinkling of PRs in the process.

Our established members did very well too. Master lifters Tim and Elizabeth O'Connor both took Bronze Medals in their respective sessions with PRs along the way. Jim Jones, coming back from a nagging shoulder injury and surgical repair, posted a solid, conservative 6 for 6 performance to secure silver in the Masters +105 division. We will see some big numbers from Jim again. 

Mandi gets the "comeback lifter" award for her 5 for 6 performance with PRs in the snatch, clean and jerk and total. She had a couple of rough meets earlier this year but really put it all together Saturday. 

Thanks to Jordan for coaching Saturday and EJ for loading and coaching Sunday. And thanks again to Jordan and EJ and Ross and Diana for schlepping me back and forth to the meet venue! 

The next local meet is November 19 at Roots CrossFit in Boulder

And the next big meet for Colorado is the Colorado State and Open, February 11-12 

Let me know if you intend to compete at either of the above meets and we will make sure to have you covered!

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Practice Your Weightlifting Like a Chess Master

The great Cheryl Haworth 3 time Olympian and 2000 Sydney Bronze Medalist. A master class in bar path dynamics.

Chess masters don't become chess masters playing chess all the time. Simply playing chess games will not improve your own chess game past a certain point. Chess Masters got to be chess masters by studying and analyzing the games of Grand Master players, learning their logic and tactics while acquiring a repertoire of moves and counter moves to apply in their own games. Learning to immediatley recognize patterns on the board, the classic attacks and counters, anticipate future moves and how to respond appropriately takes years of practice. By the time one achieves Grand Master status, a large part of the execution of game is informed by having "seen it all." Novelty and innovation arises as a choice, not an accident.

Similarly, one does not get proficient at the snatch and the clean and jerk by only practicing the full lifts all the time. Breaking down the full movements into their constituent parts and progressions gives the athlete an opportunity for motor pattern "deep practice." Weightlifting coaches have devised hundreds of variations designed to contribute to the development of the two competition lifts. Like any other exercise, progress in the weightlifting movements depends on a variety of stimuli, otherwise the body simple stops adapting and in many cases will regress. Monotony in practice is the enemy of progress while a little sensorimotor chaos reasonably prescribed is an ally. 

Assistance exercises and supplemental exercises are tools the coach and athlete have available to address weaknesses that negatively impact the competition movements and that the competition movements themselves are inadequate to address. For example, if your first pull is consistently off balance and loose, practicing "lift offs" and "halting pulls" will be more productive than hammering away at the full lift. 

As a coach, it is important to have and convey to your athlete an accurate mental template of the fundamentals of good lifting. Athletes should study video and try what they see, that's part of learning movements. But they should also be able to discern quality movement and be able to detect technical errors. 

By the time an athlete is competing regularly, the full movements should be automatic sets of "well rehearsed movement" and (ideally) impervious to venue, nerves and the increasing weight on the bar. That depth of virtuosity and consistency comes from years of deep practice and high level motor skill acquisition which requires regularly taking the lifts apart and putting them back together again.

And squats. Lots and lots of squats.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Strength, Stiffness and Elasticity: Improving Running Efficiency via Strength Training


Performance in distance running is between 80-99% dependent on aerobic metabolism. There are three ways to improve endurance: either improve lactate threshold, increase VO2 max or improve Running Efficiency (RE) or some combination of all three. This post will focus on strength training as a means to improve RE and lower metabolic costs.

There have been many studies over the years that have shown improved RE from low rep, relatively heavy weight training. Typically, runners weight training on their own or getting innappropriate coaching advice will go too light and perform too many repetitions per set in an attempt to recreate additional endurance work and/or avoid unwanted weight gain. This approach is misguided: the goal of improved RE requires the athlete to get stronger to generate higehr forces more rapidly, thus strength training with lower reps and heavier weights that tap into Type IIa fibers are appropriate. Doing so will compliment the slow twitch/sports specific skill training. Additionally, because the volume is low and the intensity is high, strength adaptations are mainly neuromuscular and do not involve muscle growth (hypertrophy) or associated weight gain. 

It may be that the primary factor between world champion marathoners and middle of the pack athletes is the ability to sustain efficient running technique for the duration of the race. Efficient running technique is highly dependent on strength, "In endurance running the stance leg absorbs three to four times the runner's bodyweight on each landing. To keep that up for a long time, endurance runners must be able to recruit relatively large motor units with submaximal effort - in other words, long distance runners have to be strong." (Bosch, pg125, Strength Training and Coordination) The stronger the runner, the less energy is required to run. 

Optimum RE can be thought of as repeatedly executing high forces while performing the least amount of work possible. Think of  it this way: isometric actions (no changes in length of the muscle) produce the highest forces but do no actual mechanical work and thus have lower metabolic costs. (Fenn Effect, Fenn 1924) Muscle fibers that do change length whether eccentric or concentric produce less force and do more work at higher metabolic expense. Therefore, runners whose technique produces mainly force (isometric actions that make use of the elastic properties of the muscle/tendon unit) will be mechanically and metabolically more efficient than a runner whose technique requires more mechanical muscular work and expends more energy. Perhaps "hitting the wall" towards the end of a race is as much a function of  insufficient strength contributing to technical inefficiency as it is lack of adequate fueling. 

Another way to think of it is strength training performed correctly teaches the athlete how to "take the slack out of the system" so the body can make as much use as possible of elastic properties: "free force"  The stronger the muscle, the better the athlete can reduce slack, the less effort is required to produce the stiffness and springiness which are hallmarks of efficient running technique.

Distance runners who engage in appropriate strength training while continuing to train their events should expect to see improved performance, enhanced technical endurance with no weight gain. Hitting the weights consistently could mean faster times with less perceived effort and greater fuel efficiency. 

Thursday, June 9, 2016

New Study: The Relationship Between Practice and Long Term Athletic Development

A couple of posts back I talked about the importance of challenging oneself when practicing as a strategy for enhancing motor learning. I also mentioned briefly the ongoing work of Anders Ericcson in the area of expertise and peak performance. At the risk of being a flip flopper on the imporance of practice remember I did say Cognitive Dissonance goes with the territory as we tease out the actual mechanisms of performance from study to study.

Yesterday there was a report on a study by Psychologist Brooke McNamara et al of Case Western Reserve University. The study, a meta analysis of the available scientific literature on practice and high performance, calls into question the high value we have come to place on practice as the sole means to develop expertise. Practice is important, the study concludes, but "Human performance is incredibly complex," says McNamara. "Multiple factors need to be considered, only one of which is practice." 

The concept of the 10,000 Hour Rule of Deliberate Practice was put forth by Florida State University Psychologist Anders Ericcson in the 90s and popularized by such books as "Outliers" by Malcolm Gladwell and "The Talent Code" by Daniel Coyle. The popular notion of the 10,000 hour rule has played a role in causing otherwise well meaning parents and coaches to create our current epidemic of early sports specialization that according to McNamara has lead, " physical or mental burnout before it's clear that a child even has a penchant for that sport."  

The study also suggests that most elite athletes actually don't start specializing in their chosen sport any younger than non-elites. If anything, general, diverse physical motor skill development was the rule for thoseyoung athletes that went on to become high performers. Delaying sport specialization is supported by sports science athlete development expert Istvan Balyi and sports orthopedic surgeon James Andrews, whose book "Any Given Monday: Sports Injuries and How to Prevent Them for Athletes, Parents and Coaches" should be required reading for every parent and coach of young athletes. 

To echo McNamara, practice is important. Skill acquisition absolutely requires putting in the reps. And Ericcson's notion of Deliberate Practice is a valuable one especially for us duffers. But practice itself won't replace other factors such as genetics. Roughly 82% of the differences bewteen athletic performances are due to factors other than practice. "The Sports Gene" by David Epstein is a reality check challenging the idea that with early specialization and with enough hard work anybody can become elite: it's just not the case. "...the American ideal of hard work and dedication leading naturally to excellence," is something of a myth.

As for those athletes who chose their parents well and are competing at the elite level, McNamara's study shows that practice accounts for only about 1% of performance differences. That doesn't seem like much of a margin, but at the highest levels of performance that 1% can be THE difference. Maggie Callahan, one of our Hudson Elite athletes told me that this quote (attributed to High School basketball coach Tim Notke and popularized by pro player Kevin Durant) is on the wall in the University of Arizona varsity weight room, "Hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard."  

I think that is a relatively healthy motto to guide practice at any level. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

For Optimum Skill Acquisition, Get Your ZZZZZs

Tatum and John Cena know the best way to consolidate skill training is to sleep on it.
Mike frequently admonishes all our trainees to get enough sleep. Sleep is where recovery happens. Sleep is also where a good deal of sensorimotor learning happens. If you want to get better at high skill movements like snatch and clean and jerk, you need to put in your practice, but Science! shows for maximum learning results you need to get your sleep in too. 

The good news is, even if you have real world constraints on consistently geting in your 6-8 hours of night time sleep, a daytime nap can be very powerful. For example, if you train early in the day with Jordan or mid-day with me a half hour afternoon nap could be just the ticket. 

To maximize your gainz, both fitness and skills, figure out a way to get a good night's sleep and maybe a nap too.