Archive for February, 2010

A Little Tension Goes a Long Way: Part I

My gym has somewhat of an “open-door policy;” I encourage trainees to bring people to train with us for a day. Some call this policy cruel because they usually leave feeling muscles they didn’t know existed. I get excited when people come in to try our training methods because I get to do the two things I enjoy most; learn and teach. Inflicting pain is just a pleasurable bonus to the experience.

No matter who strolls in through the door, I initially see it as an opportunity to learn. Who is this person? How do they train? How is their technique? What are their goals? What do they share with other trainees I have seen? How are their training methods different? After I have done my brief survey through casual conversations and some light training observations; I begin to think, “Is there anything I can do to help this person get more out of their training and achieve their goals in a more efficient way?”

I recently had an opportunity to do this with Stephen, a great guy with a passion for training. He came down for one of our Friday sessions which is generally a free-for-all structure consisting of circuits, strongman type training and odd object lifting.
I talked to him about his current training routine, reasons for training and his goals. Like many males I have talked to over the years, he was lifting to increase his strength and to create a desirable physique. His current plan consisted of doing a mix of free weights and machines while following guidelines others have told him and what he had read in popular magazines. I concluded that his overall strength training execution could use a little work in order for him to reach his goals.
Before I started to chime in about what I think he should do, I wanted to do two things;

  • Watch how he lifted
  • See if he even wanted my help

I had my assumptions that his current leg work would most likely render his hips useless and unable to produce power for full body movements, and my assumption was correct. He was able to flip the tire but had trouble getting it started which showed signs of not being able to fire the hip muscles properly. In technical terms, Stephen’s technique produced a low rate of force development. The inability to get the 70lb keg overhead showed me his lack of muscular coordination as well as the absences of some technical lifting skills.

This is Stephen performing tire flips

We know that there are several factors for strength, some of which include:

  • Muscle Size – Stephen has plenty
  • Muscle Activation – He has some but not enough
  • Muscle Coordination – Again, he has some but not enough

Both of his problems, most likely, stem from frequent use of machine exercises because they don’t allow him to stimulate the nervous system sufficiently for proper muscle activation and rate of force development. The machine’s fixed movement patterns and isolating nature do not allow maximal coordination the muscles need to complete full body lifts.

I could tell he was frustrated and eager to solve the problem so instead of overwhelming him with a ton of information and program design I decided to teach him only one principle to apply to two specific exercises.

The principle is simple; you have to create Tension. By simply activating, squeezing, tensing, firing (whatever you want to call it) every muscle, you can help your performance during any lift. I then showed him how to apply the tension principle towards two exercises I wanted him to add into his routine; the deadlift and military press. He learned how to tighten up his back and arms and drive with his hips.  Stephen’s deadlift became much stronger, especially at the beginning of the movement after using these techniques.  By tensing his abdominals, lats and glutes he was able to press weight overhead much easier.

I had the chance to catch up with Stephen and get answers to a few questions to see if his new way of training has helped him progress in his strength training; here is what he had to say:

Rise Above: How were you lifting before?

Stephen: I was too concerned about gaining mass by isolating the muscle I was working on and not using any others with the use of machines.

RA: Why were you doing it that way? (i.e. a friend told you, own instinct, an article…)

St: I just picked the machines that worked the muscles I wanted and I watched others at the gym and tried to copy the ones I thought would be beneficial. I noticed I wasn’t progressing as rapidly as I had before which made me think about my technique and wondered if I was doing it correctly.

RA: How did the training session we had change your mind?

St: I realized for the first time that I should use my legs and engage my entire body when doing any exercise. By knowing this I could probably press the keg but couldn’t because I didn’t have enough leg strength to help me get it over my head; it was an real eye opener. Plus, not being able to flip the tire [effectively] etc…

RA: When you tried this new tension technique did you feel different, did it take time to learn, did you notice immediate results?

St: I noticed immediate results. I’ve applied this technique to all my exercises and I definitely have more power. I never realized how much power comes from your legs. I’m now more focused on form and keeping my body tight and my legs grounded and engaged. I have applied this technique to other exercises as well and especially noticed big improvements in my ability to bench, overhead press and deadlift.

In the next part of this post I will go into greater explanation of tension and how to apply it successfully towards other strength training exercises.

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Saturday, February 20th, 2010 Sports Performance Training 2 Comments

Should You Supplement? Get your Diet in Check First

A major part of my job as a trainer is to freely discuss healthy lifestyle choices with my clients. Naturally people are curious and want to pick your brain about what you do and what you think they should do. I feel a personal responsibility to provide my clients with objective and factual information so they can then make their own informed decisions. I have noticed that there are a few recurring questions that always come up. Besides the old, “How do I get rid of this,” it seems like the second most popular question goes something like this; “What supplements should I be taking to help me with _____?”

Honestly I can’t say I blame them; supplements are a multi-billion (yes billion) dollar annual industry and companies are hard at work advertising and marketing to make sure it stays that way. It’s inevitable that people are curious about different supplements and I would be hard pressed to find people who have not taken some.

If you train with kettlebells and look like this, you may need supplements

But before I make any recommendations I always ask, “What’s your diet like?” I usually get the “I’m eating pretty good, you know, Healthy.” Then I ask “what is healthy?” Long story short most do not eat as healthy as they think, many lack some serious vegetable consumption for starters.

Before even considering supplements I always start people with getting their diet in check, and by diet I mean you DON’T follow a new fad of the week that got some Hollywood star ripped in 4-weeks drinking some special berry drink. I am talking about a healthy, long-term diet that you will create, accept, maintain, tweak slightly, and live by for the rest of your life.

Most people already know what healthy food choices are but they just don’t consume them often enough or they think they are limited with healthy food choice options; they could not be more wrong. If you are serious about your life and health, get: The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth: The Surprising, Unbiased Truth About What You Should Eat and Why by Jonny Bowden Ph.D. C.N.S.

This is the best book I have seen on the topic of healthy eating because it is NOT a diet book. It is simply the best foods to eat broken up into their food group categories. No calorie counting and marco-nutrient ratios to confuse you. The book simply identifies what to eat and why you need to eat it. You will also gain a better understanding of where your food comes from and how that affects your body as well. You can pick up a copy on Amazon here.

But the question still remains, “Do people really need supplements”? The answer can be a simple No and/or Maybe. If your diet sucks no supplement in the world can make up for it. Remember, Supplementation is not Substitution. In a perfect world your diet is balanced, optimal for you and all the required nutrients are obtained; then supplementation would not be necessary. However not all of us eat correctly every day. We can’t always get wild, free range or organic fruits and vegetables which provide the highest quality nutrient content. This is when supplementation can be used to support all the vital vitamins and minerals you need on a daily bases.

In the next few posts I will talk about the products I use and you can decide if they are right for you. I will try to keep the information basic and easy to digest (pun intended). Nothing I write about will be unnatural or have harmful side effects. All of the products I refer to are endorsed by me though research and experiments I have done on my own; I do not get paid to endorse any of these products.  Now go get your diet in check and in the next edition I will talk about my favorite supplement and how it may benefit you.

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Saturday, February 20th, 2010 Nutrition No Comments

Orange Kettlebell Club For Haiti

The following is a guest blog post from Debra

Following the catastrophic earthquake that struck Haiti on January 12, 2010, many relief efforts and organizations started reaching out to provide emergency funding, medical supplies, food and shelter. A reported three million people have been affected by this earthquake; innumerable homes and major structures destroyed. This incident hit particularly close to home because I was only 13 years old when the 6.9 Loma Prieta Earthquake hit the Bay Area in 1989. I still remember the incredible damage it did to our homes, bridges and highways. I can only image the devastating effect an earthquake of that magnitude could have on a third-world country like Haiti. There was no doubt in my mind that I wanted to help, but with so many organizations to choose from it became a little overwhelming. So when Doug asked me if I wanted to “Workout with Kettlebells for Haiti,” I thought to myself, “Absolutely!” I probably should have asked a ton of questions, but instead I decided to “trust my trainer.” As always, this is a good and bad idea. GOOD idea because Doug always knows what is best, but BAD because I walked into OKC (Orange Kettlebell Club) with no idea about what I was getting myself into. All I knew was that Doug was excited to learn a NEW Kettlebell style (AKC/IKFF) and all the proceeds went to UNICEF for Haitian Relief.

Upon arrival we were greeted by John Wild Buckly, who I now lovingly refer to as Thor. Thor is no mere mortal; he stands about 6’5″ and is built like a Ford Truck. As he graciously ushered us into the Juno gym there were a little over two-dozen multi-colored Kettlebells staring at me. I have to admit I was a little intimidated because all of the Kettlebells were the same size—HUGE. I’m used to seeing a range of sizes based on weight so I know which ones NOT to use. As more people arrived, everyone started asking each other the same questions. “What is your experience with Kettlebells? Who do you train with? Have you ever done a Kettlebell workshop before?” While there was a range of answers, there were also quite a few serious people training for competition. Competition?!?! I thought because I knew how to do a pretty decent “bottoms-up” press and a “windmill” I was going to be slightly ahead of the game. NOPE!!!

Luckily, John is a great teacher. He started by talking about his training and the different methodologies and styles. He also explained and demonstrated things in such a way that everything just “made sense.” I was completely satisfied after the first five minutes when he taught me how to address the kettlebell to protect my hands and prevent callusing and further tearing. He then went through the basics: swings, cleans and presses. Fundamentally, I started to understand how each move was building upon itself. For instance, in order to “press” the kettlebell you have to “clean it”, in order to “clean it,” you have to “swing” it. By the end of the seminar I was able to perform moves like the “jerk” and the infamous “snatch.” John also taught modifications based on training preferences. Essentially, if you are training for endurance then you have to shorten your technique in order to save time and conserve energy. If you want to get stronger you can modify your moves to help you lift heavier weight safely. But what I found really inspiring about John was that he mastered all of these different techniques and then evolved and developed his own style for competition. That, and the fact that he used “the beast,” which is a 48kg/106lb kettlebell, for most of his demonstrations.

The highlight however was all the feats of strength in the gym that day. For instance, I was in awe of this slender, young, 26-year-old woman who “jerked” a 24kg/53lb kettlebell over her head. Then these two other women “cleaned and pressed” a 12kg/26lb kettlebell for four minutes on each arm. But leave it to Doug to “RISE ABOVE” when he swung the second largest competition kettlebell in the world 70kg/155lb like a CHAMP. I have to admit you know you’re training with the right guy when another incredible trainer complements him on his PURE BADASSNESS! But I couldn’t let Doug have all the fun. So at the end of class I “dead-lifted” the 70kg, which out-weighed me by 43 pounds and is the heaviest weight I have ever lifted.

And just when I thought things couldn’t get any better, John “snatched’ me in the air like a human kettlebell. It was freaking AWESOME!!!!

With a giant smile on my face, I left feeling like I had done something good for the people of Haiti and myself. However, I thought by the end of the seminar I would be able to answer the most controversial Kettlebell question “RKC (Russian Kettlebell Certification) vs. AKC (American Kettlebell Certification)?” It’s like the 1980 Olympics all over again. The Stars and Stripes against the Iron Curtain! Doug “the Body” RKC vs. John “Thor” AKC/IKFF! Unfortunately I don’t know enough about either to provide any sort of educated insight. I only know what feels right for me. I love the RKC basics. It just looks and feels crisp, clean and strong. However, I naturally twist my wrist when I “snatch” which is in line with the AKC “corkscrew snatch.” So how can I deny my body of a movement it was born to do? “I shouldn’t!” As long as I’m training safely, why not follow in John’s foot steps and create a style all my own!

Doug, thanks for recommending this seminar and for being such a great trainer and leader. John, thanks for all your help and for hosting this incredible workshop for those in need.

*Please support and check out a few of John’s sites:

Orange Kettlebell Club

Orange Kettlebell Club Blog

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Saturday, February 20th, 2010 Business, Kettlebell Training No Comments


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