Monday, December 17, 2012

How to become a T-1000 (Flexible Steel)

I remember when I was just getting started with kettlebell training, I did what any American would do: lifted indiscriminately with as many exercises as I could fit into a session and with no real plan in mind.  It never would have occurred to me to do the same thing the same way for weeks and months at a time and work toward lifting a heavier weight, because 1) that would be boring, and 2) my muscles will get used to it and I will stop gettin' ripped and lookin’ fly for the honies!  Then, after I read Enter the Kettlebell a little more carefully, I realized 1) if you’re bored, read a book, and 2) the honies weren’t really looking at me anyway (not covered in the book, but still an observation).  Oh, and that Pavel was pretty smart and I didn’t know what I was doing anyway, so I should at least listen to his plan.  Well, sure enough I went through the Rite of Passage, put more weight over my head than any of my bodybuilder friends (at about 150 lbs of manly fury!) and saw some results.  Note to self: always listen to Pavel.

Shut up and listen.

Because I trusted Pavel and am basically just used to obeying any authority I trust, I bought “Super Joints” and “Relax Into Stretch” and started making joint mobility and flexibility a part of my daily routine from age 21 ‘til now.  The good news was it was going great for me, because by now I had a pretty solid handle on the need to take care of my joints and soft tissues and put it into my own routine.  The bad news was I have a big, fat mouth, talk a lot about the things I love from dawn to dusk, and then get asked a lot of questions from my friends that I can’t answer, such as “Well, how do I do this?” or “Can you show me a routine that will work for me?”  This usually just led to lots of over-explaining and philosophizing on my part with lots of good mobility and flexibility exercises strewn between thoughts.  After I was done with my scene-chewing monologue, I was met with head nods and the polite “well, I should probably be going.”  It was pretty much official: I just confused them and they know no more than they did previously.  Dammit.

"How may I misdirect your call?"

Fast forward to 2011.  My coach and mentor Scott Stevens was hosting an HKC workshop followed by what was then known as “Extreme Flexibility Workshop”.  The teacher was Jon Engum.  I was blown away by his teaching at the HKC, particularly watching people go from next to zero to borderline hero within 8 hours of kettlebell practice.  This guy was the real deal, but that should go without saying since he was one of Pavel’s top instructors, and again, Pavel knows what he’s doing.  I wasn’t sure what to expect from his ExtremeFlexibility workshop, particularly since, well, I was already pretty mobile and flexible and I (arrogantly) didn’t think I would learn much more than a new trick or two to use on myself or my clients.  Turns out, I had to invest in a whole new toolbox.  Many of the tools were the same, but shinier and they came with play-by-play instructions to work on specifics, such as working on particular flexibility issues by following a certain order of stretches infused with the three principles of stretching.  I saw people’s shoulder flexibility go from Nazi salute to full on victory pose by stretching their ankles (I’m not kidding).  I saw people whose flexibility may as well have made their toes a distant star on the horizon become instantly toe-touch limber in minutes by using strength and a 2x4 (not to hit them), undoing years of neglect.  I even saw my own flexibility improve – I hit a side split for the first time ever!  (wailing and gnashing of teeth not withstanding).

 The grass always seems greener when you have a face full of it.
(Yes, that is me.)

 I then realized then what I was doing: a scattershot approach to flexibility and mobility in the hopes that it would fix a range of things (kinda like what I did with kettlebells until I discovered the Rite of Passage).  Jon, on the other hand, was a sniper against stiffness with his approach: calculated and able to hit what people needed.  Plus, he could hit all the areas I hit with scatter shot, only with precision, a plan, and much, much less time. 

I kicked myself for not taking notes at that workshop!!!

Fast forward again, this time to September.  Jon asked me to assist him at the FlexibleSteel workshop in Minneapolis.  Saying “I learned even more” is akin to saying “the ocean is damp.”  It’s an understatement at best.  By now Jon had refined and added not just exercises, but even more PROGRAMS to fix specific issues.  Some of my favorite programs are the Frog Series for opening up locked-down hips (particularly in my desk-bound clients), the Escape Your Fighting Stance for improved posture (which works, by the way, whether your fight is as a martial artist or as a desk jockey shuffling papers all day), Stem Your Way To The Splits, and Front Splits for Back Health. 

The good news?  It’s all in Jon’s book Flexible Steel!

The great news?  It’s Pavel’s favorite stretching book.

Flexible Steel is my favorite stretching book.”
-          Pavel Tsatsouline

I mean, c’mon, do you REALLY need to hear anything more from The Man himself?  Get serious.  But if you do, he did also offer this: “Jon Engum reached his forties before he reached his first split. Follow his remarkable journey and achieve the flexibility you never thought possible.”  No small praise coming from the man who’s revolutionized strength and conditioning, flexibility training, AND still found time to show the world the Russian Kettlebell as well as how to unlock its power. 

I trust Pavel.  I trust Jon Engum.  And you will love this book. 

Trust me. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Thinking Outside the Bell (with a belt)

*Editor's note: This is yet another iron-clad (see what I did there?) nugget of wisdom from one of the strongest and smartest strength practitioners I know.  I'm not exaggerating, either.  If you haven't read his previous guest post on my blog, click here to read it once you're done with this one.  This dude knows his stuff.  On more than one occasion he's inspired me to rethink how I view and approach strength training.  When he talks, I listen.  Why?

Because I watched him do a pullup and a pistol with a 48 kilo kettlebell at a bodyweight of 160 lbs.  Since then, I've watched as he's packed on bulk the old fashioned way - through sweat, hard work, and prodigious amounts of delicious food.  He's never afraid to try something new as long as it works toward his one burning goal: get freakishly strong.  If you're man/woman enough to hold that as your one burning goal as well, snuggle up close with your computer and take notes.

Thinking Outside the Bell (with a belt)

By Chris Davis, RKC, CSCS

                I love kettlebells. I honestly do. I’m very proud to be an RKC and I center my assistance work and conditioning work on kettlebells. The one problem I notice with kettlebells that everyone complains about is that they aren’t heavy enough. Now, I’m the first to admit that I’m not doing a two hands anyhow with two Beasts, but I only have one Beast and it got very light in terms of swinging very fast. When I went to the RKC II I was partnered with Eric Sommers; if you don’t know Eric I suggest you look him up as he is very smart and very strong. I was lucky to be teamed with him. Eric told me about belt swings and then gave a demo when I got home. These have become a staple in my swing routines.  These things will really get your hips moving fast. That will translate greatly into your squats, snatches (barbell and kettlebell), cleans, jerks, and deadlifts.

                For these I use a loading pin and 45 pound plates to get my swings in. The harshest criticism I ALWAYS receive is that I’m not using a kettlebell. The kettlebell is merely a tool, I’m using the same exact principles in the kettlebell swing as I am in the belt swing; this just allows me to place all the stress on my hips. Your arms are just “straps” for the bell anyway. I want to really work my posterior chain. If I have fast hips with 225+ pounds, how high can I get a 40 kilo bell when I go to snatch it? The answer is very high, trust me. Kettlebell snatches have gotten easier since starting this and what RKC doesn’t want a better 5 minute test time? 

                You’ll need a sturdy dip/pull up belt. I just happened to have fabric, but Eric recommended leather. I had to change out the D-rings on the original belt for left over carabiners I had from the Marines. Run a length of chain from end to end and you’re ready to go. If you use a loading pin you’ll only need about 5’ of chain. If you run the chain through the kettlebell handles you’ll need more than that. Straddle the weight, deadlift it up and start swinging.

                This is much more taxing on your lower back than your normal swings so program them smartly. Also be mindful that the weight will take you where it wants to go. It’s a very heavy pendulum and it may take some time to learn how to balance the weight while swinging. Make sure that you have plenty of room around you as I fall often, usually when setting the weight down.

                In Paul Anderson’s autobiography “A Greater Strength” he wrote about digging a hole in his yard, putting 3,000 pounds of weight (I believe he said it was a safe) in the hole, attaching a belt to the load, and standing up with it. He attributed that to his amazing pulling power. My dogs have done a good job of digging holes in my backyard, but my wife would have a fit if I dug one that big and I don’t have that much weight or anything strong enough to attach it to, or even a fraction of that load. But I still want to train that lift, which looks awfully similar to the deadlift we teach at the RKC, except we’re not using our hands for this method.

                You already have a belt with a chain attached to it, just shorten the chain length some and now you’re ready to go. Treat this exactly like what is taught at the RKC keeping an eye on your balance. Now you’re just deadlifting a weight in between your legs.  Louie Simmons uses the belt squat machine for this, which is probably 10 times better but I work for $10/hour.

                As far as learn to pull hard and push through the ground goes: When I was in boot camp our Primary Marksmanship Instructor was teaching stock weld to us. He then asked “What is a weld?” After a few wrong guesses someone said “A bond”. What he was trying to do was get us to create a bond between our cheek and the stock of the M-16A2. This will create “footweld”, if you will, between your foot and the deck and FORCE you to push hard through the ground. I read something from SRKC Franz Snideman once that many kettlebell cleans are missed by not jumping, or pushing, through the ground hard enough. With 350 pounds between your legs you HAVE to push.

                My PR deadlift is 500, when I first started working up to 300 pounds with this belt squat I had such a hard time getting the pin to move, start out small and increase weight as you get stronger. I wouldn’t recommend more than 6 reps, especially at heavier weights.  There you have it.  A way to train Hardstyle techniques with heavier weights that will only make moving the kettlebells that much easier.

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