Sunday, January 6, 2013

The 90-year plan

Maybe I should be grateful.  In fact, I am, really.  There is obviously a lot of crap out on the market today for fitness information (though there always has been), but I see through it.  Really, just about all of it.  It’s not an inherent talent or some sign of superior intelligence on my part; it’s about a difference in philosophy.  No one holds a philosophy that they think is likely to be wrong, but as I look around at some of the fitness products that people buy into, I can’t help but wonder if the makers of it have a philosophy at all. 

Think about it:

Turn on your TV late at night and flip the channels.  You’ll see 30-60-90 day programs promising to get you in shape and look great naked and make all your friends/family/neighbors hate themselves and you by extension because of how out-of-control hot you’ve become in the past 30-60-90 days, followed by tons upon tons of sweaty, greased up sexy dudes and chicks gushing over how people crawl over throngs of their newfound fans just to catch a fleeting glimpse at their six-pack abs and single-digit bodyfat, and how they have to fend off invading hordes of the opposite sex (or the same sex, for that matter) with a pointy stick.

For the record, I’m not knocking that (I mean c’mon, who secretly DOESN’T want that?), and I’m not even knocking any of these programs, most of which are perfectly good in the right context.  I have better things to do with my time than make veiled attacks at successful info-products on late-night TV. 

I don't care how stuffed you are, there's always room for tapeworms!

What I want to get at is, What do you do on day 31?  Or 61?  Or 91? 

Strength, fitness, and health are not things you just attain at some level and then just HAVE for the rest of your life like a college degree or a picture with a celebrity.  Your body isn’t going to maintain something just because – it’s going to take some outside influence on your part, namely focusing on a goal and then working toward it.

So in light of this philosophy – which I’d like to think everyone deep down inside them understands – I’m coming up with my own training plan.  It’s called the 90 Year Plan.  Why 90 years?  Because odds are you’re going to live for a very long time, particularly if you’re reading this in the Westernized world, thanks to advances in medicine.  You can either live it in agony and poor health, your entire existence scaffolded by medicine and outside assistance just to get by, or you can punch life in its uncaring face by consistently staving off the ravages of age and disease by being pro-active and taking care of yourself for more than 90 days at a time.  Thought of another way: 90 days (three months) is 1/360th of 90 years.  Ask yourself: if your only goal was to exercise one day per year and be relatively sedentary (as most of us are) apart from that, would that one day matter?  Don’t bother offering up some esoteric answer about how it would somehow add up in the long run.  The answer is no.  A 90-day program will only matter in the long run if it is built on a philosophy of consistently maintaining and improving your health, strength, and fitness. 

I’m gonna give you the base categories, you can fill in the details as you go along.  Take your time.  You’ve got 90 years to perfect this, so enjoy it along the way.

For the next 90 years, you’re going to eat, exercise, and show some gratitude.

What will you eat?  Something from the following categories.

Various herbs/spices

Again, the above gives you lots of options and opportunities for variety.  Be creative.  Drinking water, btw, is non-negotiable.  That should be your main beverage.

How will you exercise?  This is a two-part answer.  First, you should choose any activity that you enjoy doing (playing a sport, practicing a martial art, etc.) plus do the following:
Kettlebell exercises:
Turkish Get Up
Goblet Squat

Calisthenics exercises:


Other fun stuff to add icing to your exercise cake:
Carry heavy things

You don’t have to devote the same amount of time to them all at the same time, but you have to do all of them throughout a given year.

And show some gratitude.  Get a notebook, and every day write down at least 5 things you’re thankful for. Ruminate over them in your in-between time each day.  Within about a week, you’ll start looking at your world differently.  Imagine how much differently you’ll see the world in 90 years. 

That’s it.  There are millions of things you can come up with in any of those categories, so if you have exercise ADD, you’re in luck: you’re not likely to run through a million combos in your lifetime, let alone more than that.  Even with something like swings, get ups, and squats, you’ll find boatloads of combos.  So let your ADD shine and have fun.

If you wanna get better at something, ANYTHING, in the above categories, define “better” for your circumstance (lift heavier weight is always a good choice), have someone help you plan that out, and go for it.  Repeat.  You’ll have time, trust me.

I’m not bold enough to say I have all the answers, but I am pretty confident that, as Master SFG Mark Reifkind has pointed out time and time again, consistency trumps intensity.  Any intense 30-60-90 day program can help your fitness in the long run as long as it is held up and made strong by a vision beyond 1/360th of your life.

Get out there, enjoy moving, and have fun!  And naturally, if you think someone might benefit from reading this blog, please feel free to share it.  Let me know if you do and I’ll high-five you the next time I see you/when we meet.

StrongFirst.  Strong Always!

Aleks Salkin

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.

Check Chris Davis out on Facebook here!