My version of a famous Indian parable.
Three blind men, who had been blind for life and who had never experienced an elephant, were brought into an area where an elephant was standing. They were placed within arm reach of the animal and were allowed to explore the elephant by just touching what was within their reach. They were not allowed to step closer or move side to side.
One subject was placed at the tail, the second along the side and the third subject at the front. From what they were able to touch, their task was to describe what kind of an animal they were experiencing.
The parable has been used to show with humor how humans are quite willing to reach conclusions based on very limited information and this is where my version takes a fitness twist.
The subject at the rear of the elephant reached out into the space in front of him. His arms moved cautiously like someone entering a dark room, groping for a light switch. Then it happened, the back of his hand bumped into what seemed to be a heavy flesh covered rope. He was able to grab this rope and realized it was hanging down from somewhere above his head. His head snapped back and he quickly jerked his hands away as if he had just touched a hot stove.
Excitedly, he blurted out, “This is a big snake! I just touched the tail! He must be resting on a tree limb. Big snake! Big snake!” His nostrils flared as a very strong order raced into his head. OMG, something just pooped and he hoped that he wasn’t responsible.
The subject along the elephant’s side reached forward as directed and found a massive flesh wall and from where he stood, it seemed endless. And when he pushed against it with all of his might, it didn’t move.
He pulled his hands away and with a confused look on his face he pronounced, “I don’t know what this is. All I know is that it is big and from where I stand I don’t know how big. Without knowing the height and length and the structure of the head and tail, I would be just guessing. I’m sorry, I can’t help you.”
The last subject standing at the front of the elephant had a similar experience. His searching hands found a large tube that was too big to be a tail. What could it be? As his hand moved sideways from his new find and he hit a very hard object that had a soft point and seemed to recede backward toward the animal. He cocked his head like a dog searching for meaning in his master’s words as he reached out again to touch the tube and then the soft pointed hard bone.
He dropped his head in deep thought. After several seconds he calmly stated, “I have no idea. The large tube and pointy bone are certainly very interesting but I need a lot more information before I can even guess.” He, too, apologized for not being of more help.
What’s the point?
The subjects at the front and side of the elephant would have made good scientists. They clearly understood that from their very limited data, there was no basis for them to predict the totality of the animal before them and any attempt to do so would be irresponsible.
However, the subject at the tail of the elephant represents bad science and those willing use bad science to promote their own agenda. With more investigation, the large snake’s tail hanging from a tree limb becomes something quite different, an elephant.
Much of the fitness and nutrition world that think we know today is a result of bad science. Ideas are promoted as truth with the intent to profit from a motivated and yet ill-informed public.
So question the diet or workout program you’re about to embark upon. Is it a real elephant or just imaginary snake? Hint: until proven otherwise, it is closer to snake than elephant.
It is appropriate that the subject/scientist at the rear of the elephant is standing in elephant poop. What they are promoting is worth just that. By you doing a little more research regarding the workout or diet you’re considering, asking probing questions and reading opposing views, you can avoid missing the elephant and finding yourself holding just an imaginary snake tail while standing in the smelly outcome of following back science.
No one wants to waste time, set themselves up for injury or follow a diet that has detrimental to their health but in the fitness world it happens all the time albeit with good intentions. Scientific research is slowly chipping away at the knowledge of what we are and how we function. We have come a long way in the last 50 years and we’ll certainly discover more of the elephant as time goes by.
So I advised my clients that the value of any fitness/nutrition idea depends on who they are, the nature of your goals and the strength of the research behind the ideas that are attracting them. I also want them to be open-minded to and aware of opposing views so that their fitness/health knowledge continues to grow. Why? Because in the end, they are truly responsible for their own health and fitness and quality information will determine the outcome.
What elephant? Its what you are seeking.
In my best midwest news announcer voice:
“From the world of fitness, controversial fitness program, Crossfit, was found dead today. In recent years, it had been living in a box, downtown near the homeless shelter. The cause of death has not been determined but it was found lying in a puddle of its own puke. It appears that it was attempting to write farewell note to someone by the name of Fran but the note was not completed because the muscles had locked up, possibly from some form of self-congratulatory exertion…
…Now for something really sad. From the world of entertainment, singer and former teen idol, Justin Bieber is still alive and trying to make music. “Oh Baby, Baby”, that is truly sad…”
Yep. Crossfit is dead. The only problem is I can’t tell you the exact date but I can assure you that it will happen.
The term death, in this case, means gone and no longer relevant. Demise can be death or decrease. I used death to get your attention but both terms can apply in this situation. I’ll explain later.
“The way it is, is the way it is.” Stuart Wilde
This, however, is about life and the cycles of living on this physical plain that effect everything and everyone, including Crossfit. Before any of you Crossfitters out there run to the barn to get your torches and pitchforks to march on my little castle, this is not about the usual criticisms that have ongoing for years. We all know them. Fitness, however, is a big world with a lot of ideas about training so you can do whatever you feel is best for you. Nothing I would say, or anyone else for that matter, is going to change your minds anyway.
George Carlin created a character named the Hippy-Dippy Weatherman back in the 60’s. His typical weather forecast was, “Light followed by increasing darkness followed by increasing light.”
What he was describing was the Taoist Yin-Yang symbol where white grows from just a sliver to a large bulb, its peak. White curves to fit inside a circle. At white’s peak size, a sliver of black appears next to white and black grows and curves to its own peak. Once again, the sliver of white appears next to black and this rolls on and on. At both the peaks of white and black, the seed of the opposite color appears inside that it. This is the Taoist Circle of Life: birth, growth, maturity, decline and death. It effects everything and everyone, including Crossfit.
Standing in the middle of current events, it is hard to believe that Crossfit is heading toward death/demise. During a recent ESPN Outside The Lines report, Crossfit revealed that they had over 10,000 affiliates worldwide, over 7,000 of those in the US. They claimed that they were conducting 15 certifications every weekend. They have a business agreement with Reebox. And several businesses have come into existence to supply the Crossfit HQ, Crossfit Boxes and Crossfitters with equipment and apparel. Crossfit also created their own sport to justify their training protocols and that sport is now broadcast on the ESPN.
Yep. Looks like death to me.
How can I be so sure?
Because I’ve seen it happen several times before in my lifetime and I’ve been around a long time.
Consider the following:
Nautilus, Super Slow, BowFlex, Total Gym, Jogging/Running, Aerobic Dance, Step Aerobics, P90X, Insanity, Beach Body, Boot Camps, Bosu, Stability Ball, Expensive Home Equipment (Treadmills, Ellipicals, Bikes & Weight Gyms) and anything else I might have overlooked.
“Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups.” George Carlin
All of these have had, at one time, their peak in the fitness industry and have either disappeared completely (death) or are now hanging around as a mere shadow of their former self and of their expressed expectations (demise). At their peaks, they each felt that they were the greatest thing to ever happen to the fitness world and that they would last forever. In both cases, they were wrong.
The closest to Crossfit from our recent past would be Nautilus. From Arthur Jones’ first articles that appeared in the original Ironman Magazine in 1968 to its death by public Nautilus fatigue in the late ’80’s, it took about 25 years for the Nautilus experience to complete its fitness life cycle. At its peak, Nautilus dominated the fitness world. There was no close second. There were at least 8 Nautilus Spas in the Indianapolis area alone. If you weren’t training with Nautilus machines using Nautilus training principles, you were just wasting your time.
Super Slow would be second. It started in 1985 as a research project done for Arthur Jones to improve the use of Nautilus equipment and traffic to the Nautilus Spas by finding training strategies that would reach the untapped markets of women and older clients. He turned down the Super Slow idea because he thought it was dumb. Super Slow, however, survived until 2003 when the last major research study proved that their claims didn’t work. The national Super Slow Guild closed, leaving a few diehard true believers scattered around the country of which a few are still opened today.
Each movement had a forceful personality at its center who developed the concepts, who also had the skills to weave compelling arguments to convince others as to its validity. The closest followers reached almost cult status in their unwavering commitment to the leader and his ideas. This blind faith bled down into the fitness community to other followers as well. In order to be part of these movements, the followers were quite willing to give up objective and independent thinking. It is a price to pay for being a group member. Their training was easy because someone else told them what to do and they were willing to accept this arrangement for as long as the movement was still popular and opposing thoughts were still just at the white noise level.
“To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize.” Voltaire
Anyone in the inner circles who questioned the leader’s beliefs were driven out. There was no place for non-believers at any level, especially in leadership. If these individuals were well known and respected by the others, their excommunications would start to erode the strength of the commitments to the cause. Doubt would start to seep into the organizational structure and that would effect how outsiders perceived it as well. Enter the word: decline.
Doubt and the passing of time turned out to be their greatest enemies. Fitness theories can hold the public’s attention for only so long and as the weight of criticisms accumulated to the point where they were starting to be actually heard, confidence, both inside and outside of the movement, would weaken and large numbers would drift away.
Crossfit will “die” for a variety of reasons just as the fitness theories before it. The speed and quality of change to its life cycle will be effected greatly by social media which is a new element to this process.
Crossfit’s rapid growth and the numbers that are now involved are likely a result of social media and the internet, especially with younger participants. So now, the question is how will social media effect the decline. Will it speed up the loss of momentum and increase the rate of shrinkage? Will it speed the change in the direction of the fashion trend or will it provide a platform for a sense of community under attack causing it to hang on longer? We don’t know but it will certainly be interesting to watch.
In the long run, the best Crossfit can hope for is the pendulum effect where it reaches a peak in popularity and then seriously retreats like a swinging pendulum back to almost non-existence. This is a critical point. With adjustments designed to respond to the demands within the marketplace, which had been previously ignored, it could then possibly settle back into a more logical position on the fitness landscape. Which, in this case, might very well be with the same diehard crazies it started with years ago. This would be demise. Without adaptations, it could fade into just a fitness memory. Such disappearance would be death.
“Everything works in theory, even communism works in theory.” Homer J. Simpson
Nautilus was just a theory, Super Slow was just a theory and Crossfit is just a theory. The cycle will continue and something new is now gathering on the horizon. So…“Light to increasing darkness to increasing light.”
There will be a cycle of change and the details will fill in as we go. We know the Nautilus cycle took approximately 25 years and that Crossfit began as Cross-Fit in 1996 and as a company Crossfit in 2000. If Crossfit is your passion, enjoy your experience. I hope you obtain your goals and you are safe in your training. However, the clock is ticking.
From a future news broadcast:
“And now from the world of fitness, a new exciting trend is attracting a lot of attention…”
“Methods are many.
Principles are few.
Methods constantly change.
Principles never do.”
Alwyn Cosgrove, who borrowed it from someone else
“Everything works in theory, even communism works in theory!”
Homer J. Simpson, great American philosopher
Most of what we think we know about fitness and nutrition are simply someone’s theory. They are often presented by a forceful personality who is skilled at developing compelling arguments, over stating claims with confidence and, of course, twisting logic and statistics to suite their needs.
At the 2009 NSCA National Conference, Jose Antonio, PhD in nutrition, in his presentation regarding the supplement industry, revealed that they are true masters in getting you to purchase their products. Their are able to circumvent your logical brain and get to your wallet through your ego by promising to make you either: “bigger, faster, stronger or prettier.” I added to that list: “quicker and easier.”
All they need is for you to want just one bullet point (two or more would be even better) and your hand moves toward your charge card. I know some normally very smart people who have purchased some really dumb fitness products and supplements because their ego wanted the product to be real and the results they wanted were not only possible but guaranteed.
Besides for selling nutritional supplements and diet programs, this marketing strategy is commonly used for selling fitness programs for: courses, books, DVDs, equipment, certifications, elite group memberships and online training. Some products and services may actually work and have value but most fall under the heading of worthless. The difficulty for the consumer is discerning what is valuable and what is worthless.
The above quotes are very strong filters to sort through the constant and confusing noise of fitness claims and promises. Consider the following points:
1. Because there are so few proven fitness and nutritional principles, assume whatever you’re hearing or reading is just a theory. This will calm down the ego’s impulse to jump for the results without considering the content and process of what is being promoted.
2. Pseudo science and too good to be true testimonies are just that, too good to be true. They are placed in the presentation at a point in the decision making process where doubt and second thoughts start to creep in. They serve as “Doubt Busters” to keep you on the purchase path. Recognize them for what they are and why they are there. Use the filter quotes as if they form a cross to hold up to drive off a blood sucking vampire. (Whoa…that’s an interesting analogy).
3. It is very rare to have an original new idea in the fitness world. Most of what is sold or promoted have been tried in the past. Things that actually work have a long history of producing results. They are not glamorous or excitingly new but they do work and work very well but they do require commitment, effort and patience.
4. Speaking of commitment, it is nearly impossible to judge the effectiveness of any fitness program in a time frame less than 12 weeks. Running to the mirror or scale after a workout with the expectation of visual results is normal for the ego but this boiling pot watching destroys the process and undermines results. This leads to program jumping and “random acts of variety” that means the ego is momentarily entertained but the body is cheated from reaching the intended goal. As Dan John said, “The Goal is to keep The Goal, The Goal”.
5. Recognize that you may be very good at what you do, in fact, you may even be an expert but unless you have an extensive background in exercise science and fitness coaching/training experience, you are a fitness civilian and you are the prime prey for fitness marketing. They know who you are, how you think and what you think you need. In addition to the filters, it might be helpful to have a fitness mentor you trust who can assist you in sorting through the fitness noise to understand what would valuable for you, while on your path to your goal, at this time.
6. Take pride that you are on the path to improvement and that you have stepped out of the herd. Whatever your age and current condition, just trust that positive change will happen given commitment, patience and a thoughtfully constructed exercise and nutritional program. However, it is easy to drown while trying to drink from the firehose of fitness information coming daily through the media and well meaning friends. Be careful what you allow in.
7. In order to bring about fitness change, the body requires the proper level of exercise intensity, for the proper length of time with proper nutritional support and proper recovery/rest to allow for construction changes at the cellular level. (Note the number of “propers” in that sentence). Exercise program design is dosing, as if it were a drug. Individual needs are different and great care is needed to get it right. Distant training (ex. online, DVDs, books, etc.) have no idea who you are and should be for entertainment purposes only. In fact, they have disclaimers that state something effect that in case of lawsuits.
This was intended as a wakeup call as to how the fitness marketing system works and to help you avoid being their prey. Just remember that until proven otherwise, it is all just someone’s theory, to search beyond media marketing and what is considered currently hot to find what is truly valuable. Masses joining a particular training idea is not an indicator of true value. More likely, it shows the power of marketing and human herding.
Just know when you find something of real value, it will likely to seem simple, almost too simple at first glance. But there will be a quiet confidence that is backed by a long history of producing results and it will be surround by high quality fitness thinkers, perhaps somewhat Old School who are understated but you just know that they know. Until then, use the “filters” to calm the ego and create time for thoughtful investigation for whatever you’re considering and please stop drinking from the fitness information firehose it just adds to the confusion.
You’ll find what really works for you but more likely, it will find you.
He stated (I paraphrase) that without challenges the human body will soften. Challenges cause us to push our boundaries and reach goals which results in performing better, looking better and feeling alive. That there is no maintenance phase in life and moderation is for sissies. To improve, we must seek out new challenges, struggle and win. The 10,000 Swing Kettlebell Workout was just such a challenge to rapidly transform the body.”
He met 18 other coaches and athletes whose lives literally depend on their physical abilities several days a week to refine this program. They experienced the following:
Dropping in waist size in 20 workouts.
Visual muscular improvements and additional lean body mass.
Increased grip strength, work capacity and athletic conditioning.
Improvement in core lifts. “Full body strength and power shot through the roof.
Abs were more visible. Glute strength tremendously improved and abs and glutes “discovered” how to work again.
500 swings per workout
Low-volume strength exercise performed between sets of swings
Each trip up the ladder equals 100 swings times 5 rounds equals 500 swings
4 to 5 days per week
Recommended 24Kg for men, 16Kg for women
Set 1: 10 swings
Set 2: 15 swings
Set 3: 25 swings
Set 4: 50 swings
Strength Movements Options:
Others strength options: front squat, pistol squat, handstand push-up, loaded pull-up and muscle-up.
Ladder scheme. after set 1 – 1 rep, after set 2 – 2 reps, after set 3 – 3 reps, after set 4 – rest 30 to 60 seconds between sets 1, 2 and 3, after set 4 the rest can extend 3 minutes or more.
That’s the basic program. I, however, made some changes based on my age (66), injuries (shoulder) and training goals.
The Swing. I believe the swing is the bottom half of the KB snatch so I do 1 arm swings based on my GS background. I changed the set reps to allow for even numbers when switching hands during the set, so my reps looked liked this:
* Set 1 – 5/5 (10)
* Set 2 – 10/10 (20)
* Set 3 – 15/15 (30)
* Set 4 – 20/20 (40)
The above equals 1 round. The workout is 5 rounds including the strength component.
The Weight. I wasn’t sure about my shoulder and the volume so I went a little lighter to start the program, 16Kg. I later increased the weight as the conditioning kicked in and the shoulders adjusted to the volume.
Days Per Week. Dan went 4 to 5 but because of my work schedule, slower recovery (age) and other workouts mixed in, I went 3 and a few times 4 days per week.
Strength Movements: Dan suggested switching movements from workout to workout. I focused on the pull-up. He also recommended dropping a strength component every so often when working 4 to 5 days per week. I chose not to.
I did drop some body fat. My pants are now looser around the waist. Yep, that worked.
My time to complete the workout dropped 8:00 from the first workout to the last. So conditioning and work capacity really improved.
I increased KB weight several times in the last two weeks. I got stronger in the movement pattern.
My working heart rate was a lot lower as the workouts went by and my morning resting HR was lower as well.
Just for grins, I did a 500 1 arm snatch workout last week and I did pretty well. The improved swing technique and conditioning made that possible.
When you focus on a movement like the swing, high reps bring on a type of fatigue that allows for discovery of technique. Your body essentially tells your brain to shut-up and it will show you technique details you can’t find any other way. Consider it an “A-ah” moment.
I gained further respect for the lifting techniques I was taught by Valery Fedorenko, in particular, the double dip swing movement. It allowed for better breathing by matching inhalation to the expanding rib cage during the lifting and exhalation to the collapsing rib cage during the back swing.
The double dip swing also brought the quads into the lift without diminishing the power of the glutes/hamstrings through the hip hinge. It also aligns the lumbar spine more vertically before spinal loading and the weight is brought in closer to the body for a better transition to the snatch and also less stress on the shoulders.
Legs, legs, legs! The power of the swing is found in the legs. When you get tired, there is a tendency to contract movement range of motion, this includes the backswing. When this happens, you loose leg power and the upper body then has to take the load. This means more strain on the shoulders, T-spine and the neck. Ouch!
It is important to finish what you start. The value of a program like this does not show up until at least the half way point and the value continues to increase as you proceed to the finish line.
I’m glad I did the Dan John 10,000 Swing Program. I really improved my swing technique even though I’ve been lifting Kettlebells for 12 years and have been an instructor for 11years (reaching the level of Master Trainer). If you pay attention to what you’re doing, you will always learn something each time you lift, including a lift that is considered simple like the swing.
I recommend the program but if you take the challenge, finish it.
From Current Sports Medicine Reports, Volume 12*Number 4*July/August 2013 – Glutamine Supplementation: Overstaying Its Welcome.
“Internet sites tout glutamine as “essential for serious athletes” to “increase growth hormone” and “enhance muscle metabolism”.”
What they found:
Glutamine does not spur growth hormone release.
There is no evidence that extra glutamine is anabolic.
There is no good evidence that glutamine supplements improve athletic performance.
“The bottom line: No reason exist for athletes to buy or use glutamine supplements. Dr. George Phillips, writing in this journal 6 years ago (15), was right to conclude that the glutamine fad is another sad example of how marketing can trump science.”
I’ve written before about the fitness industry knowing how to circumvent logic and reason by appealing directly to the ego by claiming to make you “bigger, faster, stronger, prettier and doing quicker and easier.” We all have been caught in the vortex of fitness marketing because our ego wants to believe the claims are true. Unfortunately, information like the above is hidden away in research journals: researchers speaking to other researchers while marketers keep jerking the public around.
To defend your wallet and even your health, question all fitness industry claims, demand proof as you turn their “compelling stories” and “twisted logic” into white noise. As Homer Simpson said, “Everything works in theory, even communism works in theory.” Its all just theory anyway.
A few weeks ago (August 2012) I presented the history and evolution of the Russian Kettlebell to Mike Robertson’s and Bill Hartman’s Midwest Performance Enhancement Seminar. The presentation was entitled, “A Kettlebell Chautauqua: Low Tech/High Concept and the Search for Alpha”.
As you can tell from the title, it was a multi-layered presentation that included history, sociology, psychology, economics, exercise physiology, a touch of South Park and of course the damn Kettlebell. It wove an interesting tapestry that one former PhD candidate said reminded him of classes he enjoyed and actually looked forward to attending. (Thanks, Dan Brown!)
In other words, you had to be there to get the full impact of the presentation. But for today, I want focus on part of that presentation, the two very distinct styles of Kettlebell lifting, each with very different techniques to achieve their distinct goals.
Historically, Pavel Tsatsouline and John DuCane (Dragon Door Publishing and the RKC) re-introduced the Kettlebell back into the American fitness culture during the summer of 2001 after an eighty year absence when bodybuilding dominated anything to do with resistance training. When someone stated that life was an athletic event in the mid-90‘s and questioned why were we not training everyone as athletes to live on this planet instead of like bodybuilders for posing in front of a mirror, the door opened for a more functional approach to training and for the Kettlebell to return to its rightful place in the trainer’s toolbox.
Pavel’s focus from his very first writings after coming to the United States was on educating the American fitness community about the Russian approach and secrets regarding strength and power and he presented the Kettlebell accordingly. Since he was first in the marketplace, we assumed that was Kettlebell lifting. A few years later, we found out that there was something very different going on in the Russian Motherland, Kettlebell training for endurance-strength.
Looking back through Pavel’s first Kettlebell book, The Russian Kettlebell Challenge, he referred to this style of Kettlebell lifting as “Official Kettlebell Lifting” and praise the role it played in the development of mutant like work capacity for the military, sport and the general population.
However, over the last eleven years, Pavel and the RKC have continued to evolve the “Hard Style” Kettlebell techniques to support strength and power. Those who left the RKC fold over the years and others who were influenced by Pavel’s approach have continued to promote that same path. So most of what we know about Kettlebells in America is connected to Pavel’s use of the Kettlebell for strength and power and America’s fascination with strength and power made it easy relate to that style.
In his Russian Kettlebell Challenge, Pavel uses the term “Stunts” to describe these strength and power Kettlebell lifts, as in the stunts (lifts) that strongmen did when performing and also training. He points out the rich tradition of Kettlebell use with the famous Russian and German strongmen and professional wrestlers of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s who traveled throughout Europe and American during that period. But Pavel also points out that these strongman “stunt lifts” did not survive in Russia to become the Official Kettlebell Lifts. The surviving Official Kettlebell Lifts focus on the benefits endurance-strength or work capacity. The Russians understood the first athlete or warrior to fatigue would likely be the loser of the contest or of their life. The Russian research during the Cold War proved the tremendous value of the Kettlebell for creating warriors, athletes and workers for the Russian Motherland with mutant stamina.
Thus enter into this saga, Valery Fedorenko, ten time Kettlebell Lifting Champion and Honored Master of Sport, who came to the United States in 1999 in spread the use of Kettlebells around the world for fitness and sport. His training and Kettlebell experiences came from Official Kettlebell Lifting school of thought. Without the power of Dragon Door’s marketing reach, Valery’s growth was slow but steady as more Kettlebell enthusiasts began to explore the other dimension of Kettlebell lifting. Because of Valery’s success, other Russian coaches and Kettlebell athletes are now coming to the US to teach Official Kettlebell Lifting which further supports the validity of Valery’s approach to Kettlebell training. Also, if you’re something doing right, competitors will show up to take advantage of someone else’s hard work and success. Valery is still the best source for knowledge about technique and training.
The techniques associated with Official Kettlebell Lifting have evolved to reduce tension as much as possible during the movements and applying tension only when necessary. The goal is to be able to last longer for greater conditioning but also by reducing tension, train safer. The breath follows the natural expansion and reduction of the rib cage during movements to maximize the amount of oxygen coming in and waste gases leaving the body. The Hard-Style breathing creates inter-abdominal pressure for bracing and for the transfer of force through the body by breathing in during rib cage restriction and slightly releasing air at the peak of the movement.
Lets explore breathing as an example of technique differences during the Kettlebell Swing.
During the Hard-Style Swing, air is brought into lungs while swinging the Kettlebell between the legs for the backswing to create inter-abdominal pressure for bracing of lumbar spine and the transfer of force coming back up from the ground and traveling through the core to be expressed through the torso and arms as the Kettlebell is launched upward by the powerful extension of the hips and knees. Air is sharply released as the Kettlebell completes its upward arc at chest level as a noticeable hiss as in a martial arts punch. Air is brought back into the lungs as the torso bends forward and the hips hinge backward. But note this is working against the natural reduction of lung space as the body folds forward. The amount of air coming is limited but the concern is developing maximal force (strength & power).
Because Hard-Style Swings focuses on power and strength, heavy weight can be handled but the length of the set (rep count) will be limited by the lesser amount of fuel delivered to the working muscles.
Official Kettlebell Lifting, however, changes the breathing pattern to air coming in as the Kettlebell rises to match the natural expansion of the rib cage and of course, air is forcefully expelled as the body folds downward during the backswing. More oxygen in, more waste products out, the longer the lifter can last. The goal is greater work capacity by achieving greater volume of work.
This brief discussion was about technique and breath but other technique details of each lift change accordingly when the purpose of the lift goes from strength-power to strength-endurance and those differences must be understood to train effectively and safely. The decision of the coach, trainer and fitness enthusiast is to select the proper technique to match the intended goal.
As trainers have learned more about Kettlebells and work capacity training, we are seeing more of this type of training in MMA and boxing where “look like Tarzan and play like Jane” just doesn’t win. If you can’t last, you can’t truly compete. Also, the MMA training model has inspired training programs used for other sports and the general fitness population. With that in mind, I feel it is important for coaches and trainers to have a better understanding of the use of Kettlebells for developing work capacity and the knowledge of the proper techniques and training protocols to accomplish that important goal.
“You can’t do a C-section with a backhoe!”
Recently, a new kettlebell instructor appeared in my area with a good looking website and an aggressive marketing campaign. When something like that happens, I usually check out their background to see who taught them and even who taught that person to see how credible they are. Too many kettlebell wannabes have tried to jump on the kettlebell bandwagon over the years. The only difference between them and their potential clients is that they read the kettlebell book and watch the kettlebell DVD first. They are usually a personal trainer with some form of a certification and because they are a trainer, they assume that they are immune from needing to be trained themselves and that somehow their certification grants them the magical powers to be an instant expert in anything exercise/fitness related, the wicked combination of ignorance and arrogance.
Their clients tend to be trusting and quite willing to accept them at face value and therefore believe that they are in safe hands, which can be best described as “the blind leading the blind”. They are really fortunate to learn anything of value and more fortunate to do so without injury. In this case, I found nothing that would lead me to believe this individual had any high quality and verifiable instruction in their background. Nothing.
In general, I really have a problem with unqualified trainers and the damage they do in the fitness world. Given my kettlebell background, this is especially true in the kettlebell world. So when someone attempts to create a false image to attract clients, I feel the need to call them out.
Will this “calling out” actually do any good? Most likely not. As Pavel said, “You have to allow people to be as stupid as they want to be.” This would apply for both the trainer and their clients. It is, after all, a free society. My responsibility is to be the best trainer/instructor that I can be and hopefully enough people recognize the difference. The energy spent on playing “whack-a-mole” on this guy could be better spent on self-improvement but damn it’s tempting to grab a hammer and pound him back under the rock he crawled out from under.
However, what I can do is educate people on how to evaluate the credibility of a potential kettlebell instructor and in many ways this would apply to fitness trainers in general.
So pull up a chair, grab a pen and paper and make some notes.
Like the martial arts model, kettlebells can only be taught one-on-one. The best instructors have had great teachers themselves. In fact, a potential kettlebell instructor should be happy to provide the name of his teacher or even his teacher’s teacher if required and the history of his organization and/or lineage. If not, where did this person come from? How can you verify the quality of their teachings if you cannot determine the source?
There is a kettlebell family tree and the lineage is knowable. Kettlebells have been back in the US for eleven years and can be traced back to two individuals from the former Soviet Union, Pavel Tsatsouline and Valery Fedorenko. Pavel, RKC, represents one trunk of the family tree where the kettlebell is used for strength, power and conditioning and now refers to themselves as the RKC School of Strength. Valery, World Kettlebell Club (WKC), is the other trunk which is called Official Kettlebell Lifting in Russia and focuses on work capacity and strength-endurance for fitness and sport. By the way, Pavel in his past qualified for the Master of Sport rank in kettlebell lifting and Valery is a ten time World Champion and Honored Master Sport in Kettlebell Lifting which is the highest award given to a Russian athlete.
Your potential KB instructor should be able to establish linkage back to one or both of those trunks. There may be a few degrees of separation (hopefully, Kevin Bacon is not one of those links) but not serious distance If the linkeage cannot be shown proceed very cautiously and ask a lot more questions.
Looks can be deceiving. Looking impressive while lifting a kettlebell does not always translate into being able to instruct well and what may look impressive to someone who has never lifted a kettlebell, may, in fact, look like crap to a skilled lifter.
A quality certification is critical. If you ask for his certifications and he cannot or will not provide them or he attempts to dismiss them as unimportant, run for the door. Of course, there are crappy certifications, but at least you can back-check the organization with the litmus test of the distance from the kettlebell family tree trunks and check for reviews.
Testimonials may be helpful but they can also be misleading. The best testimonials are from longer term clients, 6 months or longer, who have had time to use what was taught and to experience results from their training. The body shows quick adaptation to new and different stimulus such as just starting a kettlebell program for the first time. After a few weeks, the body’s reaction slows down and the real actually work begins. The effectiveness and safety of the techniques taught and of the program designs are better judged after this initial period of adaptation.
The first responsibility of any trainer is to do no harm. In other words, they need to know what the hell they’re doing because there are several elements to training that can cause immediate and/or delayed harm. Shoulder and lower back problems are common results of using poor kettlebell technique and/or bad coaching decisions.
The second responsibility is actually be able to produce results safely. That requires the knowledge and experience to match the best tools, techniques, exercise selection and program designs to the needs of the individual or athlete.
Beware of the carpenter whose only one tool. If all he has is a hammer, everything to him looks like a nail. Kettlebells are extremely versatile but a particular exercise, technique or program may not be appropriate for a given individual. So if your potential trainer lacks the ability or willingness to adapt to your needs, it may be a lack education and/or talent or even worse, it could be just laziness.
If you have read any of my past articles you know I have a serious prejudice against stupidity in the fitness industry. Whether its ripoff, poorly designed and/or badly manufactured products, worthless supplements, time-wasting/injury producing exercises and of course, idiot inspired workout programs. They are all extremely offensive. But the worse offenders in the fitness industry are the unethical and clueless trainers who really don’t know what they are doing but go ahead and misrepresent themselves anyway just to make a buck. They put their clients at risk and steal from trainers who have worked hard at their professional and who have earned their right to claim knowledge and experience through their education and quality certifications.
I want the kettlebell to grow in popularity and to be used effectively and safely. It doesn’t do the kettlebell or its community of users any good when poor technique, questionable exercises and/or program designs are used. The foundation for the individual’s future kettlebell success is built of technical skills and training guidance. The key is the knowledge and skills of your trainer and it is your responsibilty to find the best one. This begins with two simple questions: who trained you and who are they?
I’ve given you the hammer, now go whack-a-mole.
I shut down output about 4 months ago. All writing projects stopped while other life issues took over but I continued to watch the fitness world with a detached, objective interest. This included watching important issues and trends. So here are thoughts to consider.
1). From the great philosopher, Homer J Simpson, “Everything works in theory, even communism works in theory”.
Good god, the market place is cluttered with “fitness authorities” all claiming the ultimate fitness truth, your last stop on your quest for the Fitness Holy Grail. They want you to believe that they are right, which also makes everyone else wrong. With a thousand (at least) paths to travel for health and fitness and with each path having enthusiastic followers happy with their results, it hard to reconcile right vs.wrong.
This plethora fitness possibilities has turned the fitness world into its own version of The Golden Corral Buffet, too many voices in your head about what is best to do, which leads to too much sampling, a form of fitness gluttony. You really have to give a program at least 3 months to understand how it works and to see results.
Sometimes its best to tune out all of the noise and concentrate on what you’re doing now. You can always change directions later.
2). We have been moving away from bodybuilding as the go-to template for resistance training since the late 90’s. A more functional approach to training had been evolving since that time.
The first model focused on basic human movement patterns: deadlift (glute), squat (squat), horizontal push/pull, vertical push/pull and core with cardio added usually as interval training.
Then the idea of combining strength and conditioning in a Special Ops model appeared, most notably CrossFit and its variations.
Now strength training for all age groups is gaining serious momentum. Alwyn Cosgrove & Lou Schuler recently release The New Rules of Lifting for Life which focuses on strength training for the 50+ market. The RKC, long associated with Kettlebells, has rebranded as RKC, School of Strength, focusing on everything strength and power.
It is fascinating to watch this grand exercise experiment. As we try new approaches, what works gets built upon and what doesn’t work gets disowned like a sports talking-head forgets a wrong prediction. I can be as wrong as anybody so I’ll adventure a prediction: watch for a decreasing interest in CrossFit type workouts (including bootcamps) and an increasing interest in strength training for all age groups. However, CrossFit will not likely to disappear totally but will have to morph (as well as bootcamps) to account for changes in the marketplace.
3). By the way, on the cover of a recent Vitamin Shoppe magazine, the headline stated that CrossFit is now mainstream. Ouch! That must really hurt for an organization that has prided itself as being elite renegades.
You have to be careful what you wish for. When something becomes popular, there is a price. The original theory gets twisted, copied and then ripped off by the marketplace. Also with popularity, the first people into the movement get restless and start migrating away in search of a new shiny object to claim as the next fitness savior.
4). Speaking of popularity, interest in the Kettlebell continues to grow which means it has taken its rightful place in the serious fitness equipment toolbox along with the barbell, dumbbell and bodyweight but this popularity has been at a price. Much of the equipment is poorly designed and manufactured. And as a Kettlebell Purist, I am really offended by the what is being passed off as qualified instruction especially the home-grown wannabes who have had little to no formal instruction themselves from a true Kettlebell authority.
Interestingly, the reaction of the two men most responsible for bringing the kettlebell to the US and for what we know about Kettlebell lifting today, Pavel Tsatsouline and Valery Fedorenko, is not what most would expect. They understand that this part of living in a free society that same society that gave them the opportunity to create a better life. It’s not that they approve of bad product and questionable instruction, that definitely is not the case. It is simply not worth getting upset. They just focus on what they do best, continue to improve and expect the seekers of quality to find them. I’d say that is a lesson we can learn from our new citizens.
Peace & Power
Monday, March 19, 2012, I will begin instructing a Kettlebell Strength & Conditioning class at the IFAST Gym, 9402 Uptown Drive, Indianapolis, IN 46256 (near I69 & 96th St, just north of Home Depot). The classes will be held Monday and Wednesday evenings, beginning at 7:30pm and should last about an hour. The cost is $20 per class.
The class format will be: dynamic joint mobility/range of motion warm-up, Kettlebell technique instruction, strength & conditioning workout and cool-down/technique review.
Any age, current fitness & skill level is welcome to join in. Some have stated that they can make only one of the two nights offered and that’s fine. Life doesn’t always allow for both nights. You will benefit by whatever you can do.
If you have your own Kettlebell, bring it along. It might be helpful to learn on the KB you’ll use at home. If you don’t own one yet, there will be KBs to use until you do.
If you are interested in learning proper Kettlebell technique and getting into better condition at the same time, now is your opportunity. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and 317.372.3532.
As promised, the focus will now turn to strength training and we’ll start with your ass.
The glute complex (your hips) has the greatest potential for strength and power in the human body, is the foundation for all ground based movement and if used properly, lifts things up (like the grandkids) and spares the low back. Let’s call this the “lifting things up” or the deadlift pattern.
Because of the enormous amount of sitting done in our modern life style, many adults can’t find their glutes (through muscle activation) with a map, hand mirror and a flashlight. When you place them on their backs on the floor with their knees up and feet planted on the ground, then have them try to raise their hips off the floor by contracting just their glutes. Many will fire their hamstrings while their glutes remain totally quiet. This situation has been referred to as glute amnesia, a disconnect between brain and muscle. The body will find a way to accomplish the desired task by resorting to Plan B, in this case, the hamstrings, if the primary movers,the glutes, are off line. The hips will move off the ground but at a cost: inefficient movement, lower performance potential and higher risk of injury to the Plan B muscles and also to surrounding tissue and joints.
Learning to properly hinge the hips and to activate the glutes are critical for skilled and graceful movement as you age. This is life quality for now and into your future. So lets try the foundation movement, the hip hinge:
1. Stand with your feet about hip width apart and hands resting on the front of your thighs. You can also hold a light barbell or a pair of light dumbbells to provide a little resistance.
2. With your lower legs perpendicular to the ground, push your hips backward while bending forward at the hips. Your upper body will fold over with your back in a straight line from tail bone to the back of your head.
3. Do not squat and do not bend forward at the waist (lumbar spine).
Once your hands reach your knees, pause, focus on your glutes, tighten them as you try to push the ground away with your feet. Return to standing with a straight line from heels to the back of your head.
4. Rinse and repeat until the movement feels natural.
5. If in doubt, keep your hips higher while you bend forward and sense your upper body closing the distance with ground.
6. If you have health issues, balance problems or serious muscle weakness, seek proper medical assistance.
Your body is programmed to avoid falling on your face by trying to stay more upright and bending your knees more into a squat pattern if it doesn’t sense proper muscle activation. If you learn to position you skeleton into the correct architecture for the movement your attempting and recruit the target muscles for that movement, this case the glutes and core, you will not face dive. If you do splat, see 6# above and please post the video on YouTube.
Next, we will discuss actual deadlift exercises and program design ideas.