Archive for July, 2010

Kettlebells OKC Style: Workshop Review: Part I

I had the outstanding opportunity to participate in two Orange Kettlebell Club (OKC) workshops this past month.  Once again John “Wild” Buckley opened his doors and his training mind and I was eager to learn.  The first workshop was the OKC basics consisting primarily of swings and presses.  The second weekend was the intermediate level, focusing on proper breathing, cleans, jerks and snatches.

The Man: John "Wild" Buckley

I don’t like leaving my readers in the dark and disappointed for not being able to participate along with me so, once again I am taking the opportunity to pass along some of the training gems that I received.  I have divided this article into two parts for easy comprehension and digestion.  I have supplied the article with pictures, doing my best, to show the difference between two different styles (RKC and OKC).  I have not even come close to being well versed in the OKC style of kettlebell lifting so the technique pictures will not be perfect but should be enough to distinguish between the two styles.

Let’s start with the beginner level workshop review; so without further delay let’s get into the good stuff.


John is full of wisdom and simple analogies that reflect his philosophies of kettlebell training.  His best analogy for understanding and properly progressing with kettlebell training is his Honda vs. Ferrari analogy.  Simply stated by John that when you are learning to drive you start with a Honda not a Ferrari, when you are learning kettlebells or a new movement within kettlebell training you go with a light bell, master the movement and then begin to progress whether it be with weight, repetition, or volume increases in training.

I could not agree with him more and this concept eludes most of us during our training times.  Moving a heavier weight with subpar technique because we can is not the right mindset for successful training and may lead to many injuries down the road.  When switching to a heavier kettlebell or adding reps or time within a set, the technique used should transition seamlessly.  I know for my current training I set the kettlebells down if my technique deteriorates and I am not able to correct it with the next rep.


The deadlift is a primary movement that transitions into the swing.  One of the best tips John gave for the deadlift is through another analogy of visualizing that your body is opening up like an umbrella; you start from the bottom (ground). At this point the umbrella is tightly closed. You then extend through your hips (as if you were expanding an umbrella to open wide) until they are underneath you and supporting your body at the top.

When the technique is successful and consistent he likes to transition into the two-arm swing by manually pushing the kettlebell into the backswing at the appropriate time.


According to John, the swing is all about patience and appropriate timing.  Kettlebell movements are all about appropriate lines and angles, when to use force and when to relax; and my personal favorite: when to be a palm tree vs. an oak tree.  During different phases of the swing you want to be able to move freely with the movement of the kettlebell like a palm tree in the wind and when you need to lock out at a particular phase of the movement you need to stabilize your body and make it unmovable, like an oak tree.

The swing is the foundation for all of the other dynamic kettlebell movements so it is important to not only perfect this technique but to refer back to practicing the movement frequently.  A proper swing allows for a more effortless movement and manipulation of the kettlebell which transfers well into more dynamic movements like the clean and snatch.

A proper swing begins with a proper grip.  John teaches more of a sport-style of kettlebell lifting where they often perform many repetitions for a single set.  For a stronger grip which decreases stress of the elbow joint and minimizes ripping of the calluses, many sport kettlebell lifters grip the bell with their fingertips.  John does note that the fingertip grip may be difficult to utilize when using very heavy kettlebells.

Palm Grip (left) and Fingertip Grip (right)

After the grip is set it’s time to learn the swing with the goal being to generate the right amount of force at the appropriate time to get the kettlebell to move upward.   To do this it is wise to become one with the kettlebell, especially on the backswing.

During the backswing John advises to be patient and when you feel the kettlebell start to go downward, allow your body to go with it and into the backswing.  It is during the backswing that you avoid allowing the kettlebell to go below the level of the knees which is bad technique and a possible back breaker.

John provided two great tips to avoid the kettlebell traveling below the knees on the backswing:

  1. Wait until the kettlebell is very close to the body before beginning your backswing and
  2. Allow your arms to physically connect with your thighs during the backswing.  This connection also adds more power when accelerating the kettlebell back up, acting like a coiled spring when you launch your arm off of your hip.

Allow Your Arm to Connect to Your Hip on the Backswing

Proper timing of the hip drive is key to generate the power to move the kettlebell upward.  Much like the deadlift, the hips extend moving the kettlebell upward and at the top the hips are forward and the legs are straight.  While performing the swing it is crucial to maintain your equilibrium and proper body alignment.  Failing to get the hips forward and underneath you puts your body out of proper alignment and when repeated over and over again you are on the road to injuryville.

One nuance with the swing that distinguishes the hard style (RKC) and the sport style (GS) is the way the styles differ in decelerating the kettlebell at the top of the swing.  The RKC style has a putting on the brakes effect where the lats lock the bell down and keep it from going any further.  In the GS style, John uses his body to lean back slightly to decelerate the upward motion.  He does this in order to not fatigue his muscles so a high number of repetitions can be achieved.  Either way you choose to decelerate at the top, the most important point is getting the hips underneath at the top to achieve proper alignment.

Top of Swing RKC Style (left) and GS Style (left)


After numerous swings we worked on pressing and there were some greak take home points.  When you grip the kettlebell during the press, the handle will slide away from the finger tips and rest across the palm in a 45 degree angle.  Before the press the kettlebell will rack against the chest for support.  When beginning the press, drive your fingertips into the handle and begin your press.

Again understanding proper body alignment during a press is essential.  When pressing the kettlebell make sure that the kettlebell is kept directly over the hip at all times; failing to do this will lead to “instant death” as John comically puts it.  At the top of the press, much like the swing, the legs are locked, hips are forward and under the kettlebell.  John’s style has his chest slightly more forward than his hips.  He calls this the “hood ornament” position.  This position was new for me since I have been training more of the RKC style press lockout which has the chest back and the arm aligned with the hip.

Top of Press RKC Style (left) and GS Style (right)


Breathing was briefly discussed and would be put into practice more during the intermediate workshop.  He stated that there are basically two types of breathing and breathing is crucial in dictating the pace of your movement.  Here are the different breathing styles for kettlebell lifting:

Paradox Breathing – Exhaling on exertion.  This method is good for maximal efforts and body stability when you don’t need a lot of air.

Anatomical Breathing – Inhaling on exertion.  GS lifting requires a lot of oxygen and this method allows for a greater amount of air to be taken in which will slow the buildup of lactic acid in the muscles allowing your muscles to last longer and potentially produce more work.

I had a blast during the beginner kettlebell workshop and learned a ton from John “Wild” Buckley.  Next month I will bring you Part II of this article covering what I remember from the intermediate workshop.

In the meantime check out John’s site here:

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Sunday, July 25th, 2010 Kettlebell Training 2 Comments

Climbing the Strength Ladder

Guest Post by Aj Lee

If you’re anything like me, always trying to find new ways to simulate growth and avoid the boredom of traditional rep schemes, I may have something for you to add to your strength toolbox.  Several years ago when training for the RKC the topic of “Ladders” was presented as a means of training hard without burning out.  Here’s how it works:

Ladders are multiple sets of an exercise performed with minimal rest with progressively more reps (e.g., 1-2-3-4-5 for compound movements, 10-15-20 for heavy double swings).  The ladder starts off very easy but gets progressively harder, builds up to an all out performance, backs off, and starts all over.  There is no hard fast rule as to the number of reps or rungs, as I like to call them, it depends on the exercise and if your goal is strength or conditioning.  Generally if I am training for strength I use one or two big movement lifts, with lower repetitions and longer rest.  If I want to train my conditioning I may choose to go add more exercise, rungs and shorten the rest time between them.

Military Press is Great for Ladders

Here is one strength ladder I use:

Deadlifts – 1-2-3-4 reps (usually done with a weight that is 75 to 85% of my 1-rep max) I will try to get 2 or 3 ladders in totaling 20 to 30 reps.

Military Press – 2-4-6-8-10 reps (usually done with a weight between 60 to 70% of my 1-rep max)

The next one is a great full body workout and can be done with short rest to enhance your conditioning:

Pull-ups – 1-2-3-4 reps

Military Press – 1-2-3-4 reps

Double Kettlebell Snatches – 1-2-3-4 reps

Double Kettlebell Front Squats – 1-2-3-4 reps

In this program do one ladder of each exercise and move to the next. Repeat the circuit one to three times, dropping the reps if needed.

Do Some Deadlift Ladders and Watch Yourself Grow

As you can see with ladders the only limits are set by your creativity.  One important point to remember is the recovery aspect, do not wait until full recovery before you climb the next rung, a great tip is to use a timer and see how long it takes to finish a ladder and use that as a guide for the next sets, your goal will be to either meet or beat your time. Ladders are an effective and fun tool to add to your next training session. Have Fun!

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Sunday, July 25th, 2010 Sports Performance Training No Comments

Five Fat Sources for Optimal Health

I find it interesting that where healthy diets are concerned there has been a huge push away from trans fats and more of a trend towards natural and organic food.  While this is a step in the right direction, I also find it interesting that there is still a stigma that fat in your diet is bad for you.  In reality, many fats found in food are naturally occurring and even vital for optimal health.  Still people want non-fat milk, Fat Free butter substitutes, and even minimal amounts of body fat percentage on their bodies.

The use of the word fat should not be an umbrella term collecting and labeling all of the various sources as the same.  Like everything in life there is the good, the bad and the ugly.  In this article my goal is to give you simple reasons why you should consume fat in your healthy diet and I will list five fat sources that you should consider adding into your diet for optimal health.

Why are people still avoiding fat?  Fat, also known as lipids, are everywhere in our bodies.  The cells that make up our body are structurally constructed with phospholipid layers for protection.  Our nerves are covered by myelin sheets (made from lipids) for insulation.  Even our brains are made up of about 60% lipids.

Cell Membrane with phosholipid bilayer and Axon with Myelin Sheath

If fats make up a good portion of our cell structure then certainly not all fats are bad and we need fats to build these structurally sound cells.  Besides cell building and nerve insulation, fats also attribute to:

  • Absorption of fat soluble vitamins and omega 3 fatty acids
  • Improved blood cholesterol and blood glucose levels
  • Improved brain, heart, liver and lung function
  • Reduced inflammation, cancer and heart disease risk
  • Production and regulation of hormones in the body


I know what you may be thinking, “Isn’t this the exact opposite of what I have been told?”  The answer really depends on the fat sources you consume.  Go for those unnatural, manufactured fat choices like trans-fats, and hydrogenated oils and you will watch your health slowly deteriorate.

In my attempt to avoid a boring scientifically saturated article on the different types of fats explaining which fats are good and which fats are bad; I want to make this simple for everyone.  Like I mentioned in my first installment of Should you Supplement; Think natural and you can’t go wrong.  Below are five natural fat sources that you can add to your diet that will allow you to receive the many health benefits that the right fats have to offer.  I have purposely left fish oil off the list because I covered its benefits in great detail in my second Should you Supplement article.






I am very fortunate to live in California where this super fruit (yes it is technically a fruit) is abundant and extremely tasty.  Avocados are loaded with the healthy oleic acid, a monounsaturated fat, which helps lower LDL cholesterol (bad) and raise HDL cholesterol (good) and reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Like avocados, extra virgin olive oil is mostly composed (70%) of oleic acid so the positive cholesterol benefits and reduced risk of heart disease are still part of the benefits.  Extra virgin olive oil has also shown to reduce the risk of colon cancer.  Like many things in life, you must get good quality olive oil, so yes, buying the “extra virgin” variety is important.  The title simply means that the oil has been minimally processed so many of the healthy vitamins and fatty acids remain intact.


Most nuts in their natural state are full of good fats and provide many health benefits; however, one may stand above all of the others, the walnut.  Walnuts contain the highest amount of Omega 3 fatty acids over all of the other nuts.  I discussed the necessity of having a diet high in omega 3s in my fish oil article and their healthy benefits are numerous. They play a role in lowering triglyceride levels in the blood, maintain high levels of HDL cholesterol, reduce plaque formations and the list goes on and on.  We talked earlier about the brain being composed of 60% fat and walnuts have been shown to help with the brain’s growth, reproduction of cells, and its proper function.  When you get walnuts, make sure you get them in their purest state, raw.  Avoid “roasted, flavored, and glazed” varieties because they have been processed and all of their previous health benefits are null and void.

Coconut oil

Coconut oil had gotten a bad rap over the years which is why it is overlooked as healthy food resource.  The early studies  from the 1980s show the negative effects of coconut oil consumption used a manipulated form of the oil (hydrogenated); we know when things are changed from their natural state they are no longer good.  Organic extra virgin coconut oil has so many health benefits you should go out to the store now to pick some up.  Coconut oil has been shown to reduce inflammation and fight many diseases because of a special fatty acid medium chain triglyceride known as lauric acid.  Lauric acid has antimicrobial, antibacterial and antiviral qualities which prevent and combat a ton of pathogens and diseases.


Oh no, I said the “B” word.  I cringe when I hear people say things like “I ate the bread with no butter” or “At least I didn’t use butter” or my personal favorite “I used this fat-free butter substitute spread for my potatoes.”  Again, butter is good for you when you get it from the right source, and when you do get the right source it should be used as part of a healthy diet.  Real butter comes from cows that eat their real diet of grass.  This grass feeding gives the nice, rich yellow color that indicates a dense nutrient concentration.  This butter contains omega 3 fatty acids and conjugated linolenic acid (CLA) which are both absent in grain fed cow butter.  CLA has numerous health benefits which include: anti cancer properties and even aids in fat loss, especially around the abdomen.  If these benefits aren’t enough to get everyone to add a little bit of high quality butter into their diets I’m not sure what else will convince you.

Hopefully this eased some of your fears of fats and now you are more knowledgeable when choosing between the right and wrong kinds to consume.  If you consume the right kinds of fat within your healthy diet your health and well-being will shine like never before.


  • Bowden, Jonny, The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth, Fair Winds Publishing, 2007.
  • Enig, Mary, Know Your Fats, Bethesda Press, 2000.

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Sunday, July 25th, 2010 Nutrition No Comments


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