Archive for the ‘exercise’ Category

CSC_0256Friday 4Oct13 I began the journey to 10,000 Kettlebell Swings based on Dan John’s T-Nation Article that offered an interesting program/challenge.

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.

20 workouts
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

The Workout:
Set 1: 10 swings
Set 2: 15 swings
Set 3: 25 swings
Set 4: 50 swings

Strength Movements Options:
Goblet Squat
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.

A few weeks ago 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. 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, Kettlebells 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, heavy weight can be handled but the length of the set (reps) 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 breath but other technique details of each lift change accordingly when the purpose of the lift goes from strength and power to strength-endurance and 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 learn 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 play. 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 now 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 Shop 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 creat a better life. Its 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 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.

In the last blog, I discussed that the 40 plus age group had different training needs because of the effects of aging: loss of strength fibers (sarcopenia), weakening of connective tissue with the resulting aches and pains and injuries, joint issues (arthritis and loss of range of motion), hormonal changes, weight gain (especially visceral fat), heart disease and diabetes. For many in this age group, other medical conditions seem to appear from out of nowhere. Theories for why range from genetics to reduction of stem cells but the fact remains, unexpected conditions and diseases show up uninvited and certainly unwanted from about 45 and beyond.

It is the responsibility of a trainer to know the issues of the Aging Active Adults just as they would with any other special population group and design training programs accordingly. If someone is training themselves, they also need to know a lot more about their body, especially their age related limitations.

Reminder for those training themselves: the ego is a great motivator for getting you ass off the couch but an absolute terrible coach. The ego will beat the crap out of you to feel good about itself without regard for what the body can recover from, short and long term. It actually believes in such silliness as “no pain, no gain” and other macho slogans and the ego is the reason for most training injuries and setbacks. Don’t me wrong, I believe in training hard (which is a relative term) but I just don’t believe in training stupid.

“A true professional knows what to do and when to stop doing it.”

With that said, lets discuss the need for strength.

Story time.

One of the leadership of the National Strength and Conditioning Association was recorded lecturing his graduating class in exercise science. He asked if they would teach a 65 year old woman, who had never weight trained to do a barbell squat. The question was loaded: female, age, no experience and an athletic lift. As their professor, he was asking for a yes or no answer and because they had been in his class all year, they knew if they answered it question incorrectly, he would nail them. So everyone set in silence.

Finally, after what seemed an eternity, he said. “Since you’re not going to answer the question, I will do it for you. She has to stand up from a chair. Its the same movement pattern. We are going to work with her on a life skill and make her stronger in that pattern at the same time.”

Oh, that’s not what they excepted. They were thinking leg press, leg extensions and leg curls would be safer for a female of that age with no weight training experience than doing the squat. But he played the functional strength card and trumped their unstated answer.

But the he added, “I don’t think you really get it and I want to make sure you do. Imagine its 15 years later and she is now 80 years old in a nursing home and she can’t get up from the toilet without assistance. She has lost her life independence. Did you do her any favor by not teaching her to do the squat?”

I didn’t believe it possible but a client of mine beat his add-on when she told me that her mother-in-law died in a nursing 6 months prior to our conversation. She had gotten up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. She had hit the assist bottom but no one saw it. The next morning, they found her dead on the bathroom floor. She had fallen off the toilet during the night and had broken her neck.

No one wants to be that 80 woman. No one wants their remaining years on this planet unable to move as a functioning independent adult but if no effort is made to maintain strength fibers and joint range of motion, we’ll certainly slide down to the lower levels movement quality until we’re stuck on the toilet of life.

I don’t like motivating through negative imagery but sometimes you have to hit people in the head with a following chair to get their attention. I’d rather discuss the joy of connecting with your body, finding out what an amazing vessel it is to experience and travel through life and to feel the power that resides beneath the outer shell.

Our bodies were designed to move and to work, actually to work hard and for long periods of time. If not, we would have been eaten by big cats thousands of years ago. It was just within the last 100 years that we have made life so physically easy that we are now dying from lack of movement, especially from intense movement that signals the cells that we are important to our family, the tribe and the village, important enough for the cells to make a concerted effort to keep us around.

Think of exercise like a prescription drug. It is a concentrated dose of intense activity used to communicate the message that we are, in fact, really important for something all the way down to the cell level.

Contrary to the common belief about the role of cardio, strength is the fitness component that sets the foundation for all of the other forms of fitness activities. If your muscles are not strong enough to support basic movement patterns, there is no way you can do cardio exercise for very long before something breaks down and then you have to stop while joints, connective tissue and/or muscles have time to heal.

In this article, I wanted to make it clear why you need to incorporate some form of strength training in your fitness program design. In future articles, I’ll discuss actual strength training strategies and the rationale behind them. Don’t be surprised if Kettlebells come up frequently and I promise to continue my relentless attack on training stupidity.

There comes a day when you wake up one morning and realize you’re not 25 any longer. Usually, this happens when you’re 50 or in other words, after 25 years of denial and of being totally oblivious to to nature’s less than subtle warnings: hair loss and color change, skin texture and wrinkles, where did that body fat come from and when did that thing (?) become so heavy to lift and those stairs weren’t that high last year. The mind feels young but the body fades in and out of pretend youth. The body is also willing until it gets tired or pain rises above the level of annoyance. But there is hope, you can be cool without being young but cool doesn’t make you stronger, quicker, more flexible, thinner and the owner of painless joints.

When you were younger, the goal of exercise was to look better naked. It seems reasonable because younger people look better naked than old farts and besides, older people have more pressing issues like serious joint pain, heart disease, diabetes, age related weight gain, hormonal changes and perhaps even the chilling shadow of cancer has visited them. No doubt that looking better and feeling better about yourself is really an important motivator to exercise but they pale in comparison to these life altering issues. Therefore, the motives for training of an aging active adult are more complex than a 25 year old and must be recognized and honored when designing training programs.

If you are a trainer working with individuals 50 plus or you happen to be a fitness enthusiast over 50, these are things you need to be aware of:

Sarcopenia: interesting word to say, not so good to have. Heavy chain muscle fibers start dying out around age 30. Most professional athletes retire in their 30’s because they have lost a step (power & strength) and can no longer compete with younger athletes. Since most adults do not push their athletic genetic limits, they become aware of this loss of step in their 40’s or certainly by their 50’s. This fiber loss is called sarcopenia. Unless there is some attempt to retain strength through formal strength training, this strength loss will continue at a ever increasing and very noticeable rate. Common movement patterns: sit to stand, picking things up, pushing away and pulling back, pushing up and pulling down, will become increasing more difficult as life quality decreases. Many people just give in to the process and call it “getting older”. It doesn’t have to be that way. Strength training can certainly slow it down.
Joint Issues: connective tissue seems to injure more easily and take longer to heal. Tendonitis becomes an all too common answer to the question, “How are you feeling?”. Dynamic joint mobility training help regain joint range of motion and lubricate joint surfaces with synovial fluid for cartilage health. Time has to be allowed in the program design for something the young take for granted.
Slow Recovery: it takes longer for the body to repair and to make new tissue. This seems to be related to changes at the DNA & RNA levels as we age and of course, changes in hormonal levels further compound the problem. Knowing this, nutrition and rest are key for proper recovery. The aging active adult has very little margin for error. Without proper nutrition and rest, progress will stall and the likelihood for injury will increase.
Balanced Training: cardio exercise is still important for overall health but must be managed in such a way as to not interfere with the recovery for strength and not to add to the training volume to the point over-training and adversely effecting the immune system. The body also does not respond well to being forced to adapt to opposing stimulus (cardio vs strength). It gets confused as to what it is exactlybeing asked to do. How much cardio is very individual but it is easy to error on the side of too much. Interval training may be an answer to those concerns by reducing the training time factor while still challenging the alactate, anaerobic and aerobic substrates for improved conditioning.
Shared Epiphany: there is a common experience at this age that there is a price to be paid for all of the fitness and health related issues you chose to ignore when you were younger. Pain, discomfort, illness and excess body fat are the reasons for your body’s Come to Jesus Meeting. Corrections are demanded and your currency for payment is time and effort to be spent bringing the body back into balance. The Aging Active Adult has been humbled enough by aging to be open to addressing these issues if the guidance they receive makes sense.

With the number of Aging Active Adults increasing, both trainers and the older clients should understand the training needs and limitations of this age group in order to develop the best program designs that will effectively produce results and at the same time do no harm. So far, the fitness industry and fitness media have chosen to ignore the 800 pound gorilla by focusing on the 25 to 40 year olds but it is the Aging Active Adults have both the need and the money and they understand the youth genie is not going back in the bottle but that life quality can be a whole lot better through proper training and nutrition.

Someone on Facebook said she wanted to train her back harder than her grip would allow and asked which would be better, lifting straps or Versa Gripps. The answers bounced back and forth between the two options (usually bodybuilders doing the commenting) but I just had to offer a third option: neither.

“Old school – develop your grip strength so it’s not the weak link.”

Some of the clueless responses from a few bodybuilders about grip work interfering with arm and back day and how you couldn’t develop your back if you had to wait for your grip were sadly amusing.

If she did use the straps or Versa Gripps to allow for heavier loading of the back for the shake of back development (aesthetics), the grip would continue to be weaker than the muscles up the movement chain and will therefore be a rate limiter in the upper body’s functional strength. This imbalance could be source of future injuries, as well. And of course, this begs the question, why is there an imbalance in the first place?

When the focus of fitness is to look better naked in front of a mirror, concepts like correcting movement deficiencies, addressing strength weaknesses and the effects of rate limiters on functional strength have as much interest as broccoli to a 3 year old.

It is easy to pick on bodybuilding because to those on the outside, bodybuilding seems to be the extreme example of narcissistic frivolousness but alas, all exercise and fitness pursuits have a huge egocentric component, whether its picking up more weight, running faster/further or killing Fran or Fight Gone Bad.

(BTW, never underestimate the power of looking better naked in front of a mirror regardless of ones fitness passion. This is the major driving force in the fitness economy with performance improvements coming in a distant second.)

The point is that we are all results driven regardless in our fitness interests. We want improvements to arrive quicker and the process to be easier even if the shortcuts we take for short term gains have a high price at the back end. Seemingly innocent lifting straps are at one end of the shortcut continuum and PEDs at the other but they all are attempts to circumvent the body’s natural processes. All the things you chose to ignore, neglect and ill advised shortcuts taken will eventually show up during your Fitness Come to Jesus Meeting sometime in your 40’s & 50’s. And just know that the companying injuries that come during that meeting are served in a broccoli casserole, heavily season with I Told You So.

Take shortcuts and ignore weakness at your own peril.

There, I just told you so. Go eat your broccoli

Kettlebell lifting: technique, technique, technique. Oh, did I mention technique?

Success in Kettlebell lifting begins with proper technique and that is best taught by direct one-on one coaching. Pavel set up the RKC instructor network shortly after introducing the Kettlebell in the American market in 2001 in order to get this type of training down to the grass roots level. He knew that without it, the Kettlebell would not succeed in the long run.

Well, I assume since you are reading an article titled, “Kettlebell Instruction: My Approach”, that you are considering Kettlebell training and that you are possibly seeking Kettlebell instruction. The Kettlebell has proven itself to be a great training tool with a long, fascinating history (Russia) and yes, you do need proper instruction in order to lift effectively, efficiently and of course, safely. In ten years of providing kettlebell instruction, I have yet to meet anybody who has “gotten it right” on their own. Books and DVDs are only good up to a certain point and the quality and accuracy of that information from those sources varies greatly. I’ve trained hundreds of people who thought they had it “right” through self-instruction but found after going through the Kettlebell Basics Session that they were not even close.

In the world of sports, we have seen the importance of proper coaching. Even Tiger Woods has a swing coach. It is pretty common for guys to buy golf clubs and try to teach themselves the golf swing. They then go out on the course and expect to play well. Does that work out? My guess is not well. Movement in exercise in general and Kettlebell technique in particular are no different. Proper movement must be taught. If you are serious about lifting correctly, you will need to plan on seeking out quality instruction.

This applies to experienced KB lifters as well. Because of the importance of technique and skill development, I still seek out quality instruction by attending certifications, re-certifications and various workshops. I am currently working with Valery Fedorenko (WKC) to help me prepare for age class KB competition and he has reviewed videos of my lifts and has made technique corrections as well as designing weekly workouts based on progress.

The Kettlebell Basics Session I offer takes about 3 hours to cover the material I believe necessary for someone to successfully begin kettlebell lifting. For comparison, my personal training rate for private clients is $100 per hour but I charge only $100 for the 3 hour Kettlebell Basics Session, one third my normal rate. I don’t want money to deter someone from getting proper instruction but I do need some compensation for my knowledge, experience and skills as a coach and instructor. This rate has been in place and unchanged since I began kettlebell instruction in 2002. Follow-up sessions are still less than my normal training rate as well: $50 to $70 depending on the length of the session.

Some KB instructors offer free introduction classes to create interest in KB lifting. I do not. I did my share of KB promotion work in the very early days of the kettlebell by offering free classes and workshops when the kettlebell was totally unknown to our fitness culture. I was one of the of the early RKC vanguard who were out trying to create any interest we could in a crude, primitive cannonball with a handle. Now, with 10 years in our fitness culture, I believe the kettlebell does not need free exposure but it certainly does need quality instruction more than ever.

When instructing KB technique, I work mostly one-on-one and occasionally with two people at the same time (if a couple or friends would like to learn together). This allows me to focus on the needs of the individual(s). Larger classes may be fine for group exercise but I do not find them conducive for high quality technical instruction.

I start each session by taking the client through a Functional Movement Screen to determine if there are any movement deficiencies: imbalances, asymmetries, stability or mobility issues. This information is critical for how to proceed through the Basics Session and for future training program designs. This experience is also very educational for the client to learn more about their body in general and for specifically dealing with weaknesses and injuries currently affecting their training and other areas of their daily life. The FMS is worth the cost of the session just by its self.

After reviewing the results of the FMS, we begin the Kettlebell instruction with the basic Kettlebell movement pattern – the hip hinge. This movement is the foundation of the swing, clean and snatch. If the hip hinge is not solid from the very beginning, nothing works well after that. Teaching this basic movement pattern has proven to be more challenging than most would expect from its simple outward appearance but it is worth all of the time and effort to get it right.

The hip-hinge skill then becomes the swing, the most important of all Kettlebell exercises. In fact, if it is the only Kettlebell exercise a client does, they would get more than their investment of time, money and sweat back in results.

Based on the needs of the client, the KB press, clean, goblet squat, get-up, along with Stuart McGill, Ph.D., inspired core stabilization and other basic strength work (bodyweight & barbell) and conditioning are woven together. This “on the fly” customization of the session has proven to be very valuable teaching method for learning and retention.The personalized content and how it is presented is what separates my Kettlebell instruction from many others.

Time is also allowed at the end of the Kettlebell Basics Session to discuss, develop and explain exercise program design ideas so that the newly acquired KB techniques can be applied to actual workouts that are created to help the individual reach their goals.

Regarding my time in the fitness industry, here is a little more about who I am. I have been involved in and a student of fitness and exercise for a very long time, almost 40 years. I am a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) through the National Strength & Conditioning Association and a Certified Personal Trainer (NSCA-CPT) through the same organization. As mentioned earlier, I was one of the early RKC Instructors (2002) and have continued with the RKC ever since. For the record, I was the very first RKC to qualify for the CK-FMS (Certified Kettlebell-Functional Movement Screen) in 2008. I am also a Certified Fitness Instructor, Coach and Strength & Conditioning Coach with the World Kettlebell Club which is the competition style of Kettlebell lifting. Addition to that, I have a sub-speciality in low back disorder and exercise, greatly influenced by Stuart McGill, Ph.D. and others.

If you are interested in exploring Kettlebell instruction further, please contact me by email: or calling 317 372 3532.

I will also be offering Kettlebell Training classes in the very near future. Send me an email and I’ll update you when the place and times are set.

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