Sunday, January 24, 2010

Why Use Kettlebells? (Part 1)

Two years ago, I had no idea what a Kettlebell was. Actually, I knew what one looked like, but they were always in some corner of the gym gathering dust, and I never gave them a second thought when working out. Fast forward to today and I've become a true convert. So what made me change? Well, first a little background. I'm a retired Marine and fitness has always played an important role in my life, so much so that I decided to become a personal trainer, a job I find extremely rewarding. Later I became certified as a CrossFit Level 1 coach and it was through CrossFit that I became interested in Kettlebells.

My first foray into the Kettlebell world was when I attended a workshop back in October 2008 hosted by my friend Mike Krivka RKC. Mike is an incredibly gifted instructor and it was through him that I discovered a passion for Kettlebells. Since that time, I have attended two more of Mike's Kettlebell workshops and I also became a CrossFit certified Kettlebell instructor. Okay, so what's so great about Kettlebells? Why not use dumbbells or barbells? All great questions.

Dumbbells or Barbells are excellent ways to gain strength and build lean muscle mass. However; Kettlebells offer much more in the way of versatility and variety. Mike explains it this way:

"The more I train with Russian Kettlebells (KB’s) the more I am convinced that they are truly the most efficient path to strength, power and super-human conditioning. I’ve spent the better part of my adult life either in the gym or in the dojo and I can tell you from hard-won experience that to excel in any sport you need to have superior strength, superior speed and superior conditioning to prevail. You can do all the biceps curls and calf raises you want and you’re still going to have one-tenth the strength that Kettlebells can provide."

A bold claim? Not hardly when you consider the fact many elite athletes are using Kettlebells in their strength and conditioning programs. The U.S. Secret Service incorporates Kettlebells into their fitness programs for both canditates and active officers. In fact, such luminaries as Lance Armstrong and even Rocky Balboa aka Sylvester Stallone use them.

Okay Tony but why Kettlebells? The answer to that lies in the shape of the bell. If your goal is to lift maximum weight, the heaviest kettlebell weighs around 48g (106lb). Even heavier kettlebells could be made, but it risks becoming too unwieldy, except for those athletes with massive frames. So for pure weight, a barbell lends itself to much heavier weight. Kettlebells on the other hand are ideally suited for repetitive ballistic movements, which promote both muscular strength and endurance. Steve Cotter, who heads the International Kettlebell and Fitness Federation, and a world-renowned kettlebell authority makes the following observation:

"..On the other hand, if the goal is to lift a sub-maximal weight many times, for the purpose of training muscular and systemic endurance, a kettlebell offers unique qualities that will facilitate this goal. The shape and length of the handle and its placement behind the mass of the bell favors high repetition lifting, because the hand can move within the handle and allow a relaxed grip (in a way that dumbbells and cans of soup do not)."

It's the dynamic shape of the kettlebell, which make it such an efficient tool. In fact, many CrossFit Benchmark workouts involving Olympic lifts can be substituted with kettlebells. Here are a few:

  • Clean 135 lbs or (2 - 53lb kettlebells)
  • Ring Dips
  • 21-15-9 reps, for time
  • Thrusters 95 lbs or (2 - 36lb kettlebells)
  • Pull-ups
  • 21-15-9 reps, for time
  • Snatch 135 lbs or (one arm Snatch  - 72lb kettlebell)
  • 30 reps each arm
Hopefully, you have a better understanding of why kettlebells can be a great complement to improving muscular strength, endurance, and conditioning. In future posts, I will provide programming and workout tips on how to integrate kettlebell work into an effective and efficient training regimen.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Deadlifts and Pull-ups WOD - 1/23/10

Sunday's Workout of the Day (WOD) is going to tax you tremendously:

For time:

225 pound Deadlift, 15 reps

50 Pull-ups

225 pound Deadift, 12 reps

40 Pull-ups

225 pound Deadlift, 9 reps

30 Pull-ups

225 pound Deadlift, 6 reps

20 Pull-ups

225 pound Deadlift, 3 reps

10 Pull-ups

Remember, this WOD is the prescribed or 'rx' version. It is designed for those who have been Crossfitting for awhile and can handle this load. If you cannot perform multiple reps of 225lb DL's or cannot perform multiple rep pull-ups, be smart and scale the load as appropriate. There is no shame in scaling the weight and/or doing jumping pull-ups (and variations thereof) so long as you maintain the intenisty. If you are looking at increasing your deadlift numbers, here is a good deadlift strength workout:

  1. Find your 5 rep max (5RM) and perform 5 sets of 5 RM.
  2. Rest 2 -3 minutes between sets. Alternatively, engage in active recovery between sets, such as a 400 meter run at an easy pace
  3. Perform this routine 2 x per week. Here is a sample workout
Let's say your 5rm is 225lb. The first two weeks you will perform 2 workouts per week using the 5 x 5 protocol. During week 3, attempt to achieve a new 5rm. If unable to do so, continue with the same weight for another week. By the end of week 4, you should be able to attempt a new 5rm, again using the same 5 x 5 protocol. Once you achieve a new 5rm, the next step is to work towards a 3rm. Once you know your 3rm, work at your 3rm for sets of 6, again resting or doing active recovery. Perform this workout 2 x per week for 2 weeks, then go for your 1 rm. Your 1rm is exactly that, how much weight you can DL for ONE rep. This is a workout you should perform only once you know what your 5rm and 3rm are. There is no rule stating when to attempt a 1rm, but I would recommend perhaps every 60 days. That gives you plenty of time to gain strength using the 5 and 3rm protocols, and it conditions your body for working with heavy weight. Remember, during this entire time, you will probably be engaging in multiple rep DL lifts for time during wods, as well as many other core to extremity type work.

A great complement to DL's are Kettlebell (dumbbells are acceptable) swings, especially using heavier KB's. Kettlebell swings require powerful gluteal and hip activation, just as they are needed when doing DL's. When you perform KB swings with a heavier kettlebell, you must use your entire kinetic chain to move the KB, and you must forcefully snap and extend your hips while keeping your glutes as tight as possible. This is exactly what happens when doing a DL. Of course, by doing these movements, you are also setting yourself up for improving your Cleans and Powercleans. Bottom line, do deadlifts as often as you can. The above workout has worked very well for many of my clients and their overall strength has improved tremendously. Complement your DL's with KB or DB Swings and you will develop a powerful core as well.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Why I CrossFit

Been to a Big Box gym lately? You know, the Gold's, LA Fitness, etc., types. How many of you belong to a big box gym? I do, it’s not ideal, but at least I can do a decent CrossFit work out. I’m Personal Trainer (I hate that description – I’m a Coach) there, and I'm also a CrossFit Level 1 coach. The good thing is that I can do many CF WOD’s at my gym, and the gym staff is supportive, so in that sense I’m lucky.

Unfortunately, my situation is atypical. Most big box gyms are simply not designed for the CrossFit athlete and many frown on the CrossFit method. The main difference between a typical big box gym and a CrossFit affiliate aside from physical location, equipment, etc., is something much more intangible. Anyone who has been to a CrossFit box can attest to the camaraderie that is clearly evident.

Last year, I went to the CrossFit South Brooklyn affiliate to celebrate the 70th Birthday of Jacinto Bonilla, a CrossFit instructor who trains and coaches at CFNYC aka “The Black Box.” I knew virtually no one there, but within minutes of arriving, it was like I was meeting old friends. The workout which ensued was brutal but it was one of the most motivating and satisfying workouts I’ve ever done. Everyone was cheering and encouraging everyone else, the music was blasting, it felt like I was at a party. Even Jacinto at 70 years young got in the groove. Amazing!

The point is that this experience is replicated every day at every CrossFit affiliate across the country. Go to any CrossFit box and say you are from out of town and a CrossFitter and you will have instantly made friends. It’s that sense of belonging and fraternity that I find so appealing. No pretense, no fancy equipment, or mirrors. In fact, depending on where you go, there may not even be a shower. What you will find are people who are fully and totally dedicated to becoming as truly fit as possible. At many locations, you will find world-class level coaches who actually care about you, and who will demand and accept nothing but your best. You will be taught the correct way to move your body, how to eat so that you understand that fueling your body with proper nutrients is as important as the workouts.

More important, you will gain a sense of achievement through shared challenges and pain. When you do a CrossFit Workout of the Day or WOD, you are competing against the clock and against yourself. Your times are posted for all to see and you are held accountable. You quickly learn to leave your ego and other fitness preconceptions at the door. At first, you dread to find out what the WOD is for that day, but as you get the hang of things, you become motivated because you know everyone else is going through the same thing. You will be encouraged, pushed, challenged, and you will feel a tremendous sense of satisfaction that only comes through hard work, sweat and some pain. And that, my friends, is why I CrossFit.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

My Training Philosophy

Welcome to my blog. As a coach/trainer and former Marine, I try to incorporate the best possible training strategies for my clients. I will adopt and use whatever works to provide safe and effective training. I am not wedded to a specific program or modality. I believe in training for functionality so you will never see my athletes working on a machine doing curls, etc. Instead, I concentrate on having my athletes perform compound multi-joint movements in a variety of ways.

So what is the best method for training? Well, there is no one best way to train. Much depends on your goals. Obviously, an professional athlete in a given sport will train In my own experience and those of my atletes, the best methods are specific, measurable, repeatable and performance-based. For that reason, I believe in the CrossFit model. CrossFit incorporates best practices for use in their training methodology. If a given modality is demonstrated to help clients be better, faster and stronger, CrossFit will use it, and so will I.

During my service in the Marines, fitness was not an option. We had to be fit as part of our job description, just as a law enforcement or fire fighting professional. In my current life, I strive to be fit so that I can remain functional as I get older. I also learned the value of discipline, dedication, and commitment. These attributes have served me well both professionally and personally. Given this background, you could say that my coaching style is military oriented, but in reality, I train clients as athletes. It is an important distinction. All too often, many personal trainers fail to challenge or expect excellence from clients. I believe anyone can train as an athlete - programs don't change, only load and intensity.

My training and coaching philosophy incorporates weightlifting movements because they are the cornerstone of any effective strength and conditioning program. These movements include, but are not limited to, the Deadlift, Squat, Press, Cleans and Snatch. Another focal point in my program includes bodyweight exercises, such as push-ups, pull-ups, and other exercises. I am also an avid believer in the use of Kettlebells . The Kettlebell is one of the oldest training tools; the Kettlebell comes from Russia, and was a common tool for conditioning athletes before the body building movement destroyed functional training in the late 1960’s. I use Kettlebells for conditioning, strength training, rehabilitative work, and endurance. When you put it all together, my program will combine these exercises in a variety of ways and maintain a high level of intensity. For example, a typical workout may include as many rounds as possible in 20 minutes of pull-ups, push-ups, and bodyweight squats. Another may require 2 sets of 5 repetition max weight deadlifts (squats, bench presses, etc). You may row 500 meters and then run 400 meters for time. As you can see, the possibilties are endless, but the common thread is intensity.

Training as an athlete also yields esoteric benefits which are impossible to accurately quantify. Confidence, feeling good, being more mobile and agile are the intangible benefits this type of training provides.
It does not matter where your current fitness level is now. What matters it your commitment to YOUR personal excellence. I can scale the training to allow just about anyone to train with me. What matters is that you are doing YOUR best and progressing at the best rate YOU can.

I measure output as a benchmark of performance. I time, score and measure work done because I believe that speed, agility and strength are the outward, visible results of the CrossFit methodology. Fitness can, and should, be measured because the hard work required for this training should bear such results. The goal is to strive for personal perfection in action and movement.

Training intensely- yet safely - truly gives clients a sense of accomplishment, and is the cornerstone of my coaching philosophy. Unfortunately, we live in a world where all too often, lower standards and mediocrity are somehow rewarded. You will not find that with me.

In our quest for excellence, we will work as often as necessary to master movements. I will re-teach the skills needed to succeed in mastering every movement. I'll modify the movements and scale a workout as necessary based on a client’s fitness level and physical limitation. Each training session is not only an opportunity to workout; it's also an opportunity to perfect your skills and movements. Learning to move better is a pillar of success in my view.

So now you have a basic idea of how I roll. No shortcuts, no excuses, no whining. I want to work with clients who are ready to learn and who are willing to totally commit to excellence. You will work hard, probably harder than you ever thought possible. You will sweat and sometimes curse. You will endure sore muscles and ask yourself why. If you can hack it, you will get strong, you will gain confidence, and you will become the best you can be.