Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Summary of Perfect Rep Quest so far - article listing

Over the past couple months i've been exploring the concept of the Perfect Rep that can be developed from both high and low volume cycles, as presented by Kenneth Jay's beast protocol, when combined with Time and 5rep of 10RM sets, as presented by Charles Staley in EDT.

The quest is not over, but there are enough posts getting potentially lost in blog world that i thought it might be useful to have one post that just references them all to date. Likewise, i've posted the links as a sidebar on the blog, too, just for the time being.

2008-11-21 Exploring the Perfect Rep: the Kettlebell Front Squat Revisisted.
This article takes a look at small adjustments in movement that have big effects - like head position in the front squat and the effect of the arthrokinetic reflex on strength.

2008-12-01 The Perfect Rep and the Role of Volume with Form
Why i got interested in Kenneth Jay's Beast Pressing protocol for improving pressing strength: what is high volume (lower weight) supposed to do for improving strength? How does the quantity of reps contribute to learning patterns? and how does this connect to strength?

2008-12-05 Perfect Rep Quest: Volume + Integrated Cardio
A quick reflection on using high cardio reps between these high volume sets to help support strength - based on research around "integrated cardio"

2008-12-14 Strength and the Perfect Rep: Volume Works
Six fold increase in heavy presses between two sessions of heavy volume work.

2008-12-15 mc's Version of KJ's Beast Pressing Protocol
Some folks wanted to know more clearly the aspects of my adaptation of Kenneth's beast pressing protocol. Basically, it's adding some EDT elements. Works for me, but i make no claims yet (a sample of one person being rather small) that this is an optimal approach. It works for me though.

2008-12-21 Perfect Rep & Insane Improvement from Breathing?
500% improvement on the heavy day from the last session? from breathing?

2008-12-31 The Perfect Rep, the Kettlebell Clean and 10 thousand Hours
This one is a longer piece about how all the above sessions came together to help fix my weaker side's clean to get the press. The problem: i could do many singles but zip series on that side. It seems the foundation laid in just over a month of high volume/low volume provided sufficient basis to unpack the clean issue and get it working to enable sequential C&P'ing. Practice really does make a difference. That seems so obvious, as i suppose the best solutions do, but the reasons why practice works seem more nuanced than anticipated.

That's the series so far. What's compelling to me is not just the strength gains but what a difference a wee month of focused attention on one move can bring. This is working this move only twice a week, but with progress i would not have thought possible even with focussed practice.

Thank you to those folks who have written to say they've found this series useful, and hope those coming to it for the first time may find something of use for your own program.

Let me know.

2009-02-10 I just C&P'd the 20
This is a celebration of sorts that yes, this stuff all really does work. This post has been regularly updated with experience with the 20. That's a touch more than a 1/3 my bodyweight, so i'm happy. 24 is in my sights.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Recommended Sites for Wellness and Workouts

Adam Glass is a Strong Guy. I'd like to put that in perspective: he's a *practically* strong guy. That doesn't mean he's practically as in almost strong, but practically as in "fit for purpose," functional, expressive of same. Now, he does lots of cool strength demos, from ripping card decks to bending nails, closing grippers and pressing very heavy things up into the air from the ground, but fundamentally he is a grounded strength and fitness practitioner - all these prac terms practical, practitioner - all speak to expertise derived from lots of practice of skills.

I'd like to recommend his blog, Walk the Road Less Travelled, to you because he takes the time to shoot videos of him doing what he does, and he discusses it too. He has a rich section of article from strength training to practical tips on card tearing. Most particularly, i like the videos. They're kinda freaky and inspiring all at the same time. I also like the fact that Adam's gym looks pretty basic - in other words, proving once again we don't need tons of "stuff" to get strong, but it does take practice practice practice. it's just that practice of the right technique works. As Adam Glass demonstrates. Thanks Adam.

The next blog i'd like to bring to your attention is Georgie Fear's Nutrition Solutions. Ms. Fear is a registered dietician, trainer and phd candidate. Her site is full of nutritional goodness about the kinds of questions around food most of us have all the time - how much sugar ok; why peas might be worth a second look; isn't diet soda ok? how do you get vitamin d into your diet and why should you care?

Why should you trust Georgie's blog? For me, besides listening to her explain stuff in conversation (reflected in this post - just look for her name) on the blog and at the Precision Nutrition forum, she's a Registered Dietician. I only learned this past year that that qualification is a Really Big Deal - lots of university level education, practicums, exams. Where anyone and their dog can call themselves a Nutritionist, the RD really has been trained and is then grilled about knowing their stuff before they get certified by the Commission for Accreditation for Dietetics Education. That she's also now doing a PhD in nutrition suggests a serious interest and commitment to the topic. The style of the blog is well grokable. My guess is you'll be pleased you took a peek and have it as a reference.

Thanks Adam and Georgie for putting out the knowledge on strength and nutrition practice.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Running the Bells - Intense Kettlebell Cardio "Hill" Workouts

When road biking, once a week, hill workouts were the mission. Strength to climb and endure the climb, when the angle is causing the heart to work harder is a great general workout too. Of course one of the great parts is coming down the other side for recovery.

Runners also use hill workouts to help develop speed (short fast steep climbs with lots of recovery) and longer hill climbs like cyclists for endurance/stamina.

It's possible to simulate the cardio aspects of hill workouts with kettlebells both for conditioning, endurance, and, of course, body composition/fat loss. Not sure if it will translate to the speed benefits, but i'd hypothesize there may be some carryover. But let's leave that question aside for the moment and focus on the endurance strength and cardio.

So, here's one way i've found to get a great endurance workout in, similar to my cycling hill workouts, and that may be more enjoyable or engaging than simply swinging for sets.

Running the Bells Set Up
Here's how running the bells works, and it's pretty simple. First, set the timer on 15 mins. Then, line up a set of bells, for me that's 8, 12, 16, 20, 24. I do 10 swings per bell going up, then come back down 10 each. The point is to keep swinging. That's different than most swing sets for time: it's not X swings then break, or swing for 2 mins then break. It's no break. The recovery is in the coming down the hill - the progressively lighter bells coming back down.

The no. of swings per bell can be varried too if you want to make the hills steeper or the flats longer. You could even line up bells this way if you wanted in a tour de france of varying sizes, eg 8, 12, 12, 16,12,20, 24, sudden drop to 12, 20, 12, 8, 8. Another alternative is to change the counts for the bells, do the number of swings of that size bell. etc.

It's (usually) about Time
What you may want to consider, though, is planning your route before you start. So set up either the bells or the rep scheme (or both) before starting so you have a strategy in mind, and progress you can monitor, and then adjust for the next time. And then keep going for time. You may want to give a run a test drive to see how it feels for you.

You may decide you don't want to work for time - that you say "i just want to run the course 3 times and just see how long that takes me"

For me, going for time may be a hang over from running/cycling, where time is about endurance, and you're looking at the distance covered in that time improving.

But also, when you're thinking about body comp goals, getting longer sets in is a good thing, so if you can do your hills non-stop for 15 mins (that 8 can come in really handy to be able to keep swinging non stop when forearms are no longer able to help hang onto the 24). When you're feeling really good, you can go for more sets. A typical hill workout on the bike was an hour. I'll tell ya, i have not done these hill workouts for that long with KB's. A couple 15 min sets has been it.

Variety, Endurance, Body Comp - and Grip
Running the bells is a way to bring some variety into my kettlebell practice, and let me focus on a different part of my conditioning - stamina/endurance - while burning a whole lot of calories, giving me a hybrid resistance/cardio workout, and hitting the backside and grip all at the same time.

Really - the grip work is not to be underestimated as part of an endurance workout. That just doesn't happen on a bike, and only partially on a rower. This grip work is just one of the many not so hidden benefits of kettlebells.

Let me know if you give Running the Bells a shot and how you find 'em.


Sunday, January 18, 2009

Thank you to b2d readers: what would you like to read?

Over the past few months, some of you have been dropping by begin to dig (b2d) regularly, sometimes commenting; sometimes not. I'd like to say thank you for your visits, and glad you've occasionally found something worth your time here. I'd like to thank the folks in particular who have let their blogger id's show up on the page publicly as folks who grok b2d. Honored by your links. And to folks in general who subscribe to reader feeds, again, thanks for making b2d a part of your reading time. I was looking at the list of countries where folks have pinged from - that's super, and much obliged. Hope the weather's ok where you are.

If i may, i'd like to ask you all about tuning b2d.

Mainly the articles come from what's driving me in my own practice, and efforts to explore and unpack them, and present what i find back to anyone else who may have some of the same questions/interests.

If, however, there are related topics you'd like to see covered in b2d -- working out with kettlebells, functional movement, the science of same, and the such like -- that i haven't touched on, please let me know. I was writing recently about expertise and the 10 thousand hours required to get to that expert level, and one of the places i have that 10k it seems is doing research. So, i may not have The Answers, but i may know how to get a wedge into some of them.

Otherwise, i'd be keen to hear if there's something b2d brings that you particularly enjoy, and just want to see kept or enhanced?

Will look forward to hearing from you.

All the best


Friday, January 9, 2009

EMS (electromagnetic stimulation/ electrotherapy) for rehab and active recovery

I recently have had the dubious pleasure of working with an electro magnetic stimulation (EMS) and TENS (transcutaneous electrical neural stimulation) unit, along with z mobility work, to rehab a shoulder strain. Gotta tell ya, the results in terms of (a) speed of rehab and (b) maintenance of muscle performance seem impressive.

For those who have strained a shoulder muscle, you know that, depending on the intensity of the injury, you can forget about normal training with that muscle for weeks. SLOOOOW build back of performance. It seems EMS and z can help accelerate the recovery process. This isn't new information. In looking at various web sites on the usual rehabing of shoulders, several techniques kept recurring depending on strain severity: ice it initially (check), and use ultrasound and/or electrical stimulation, and from there, get one into a program to build back strength.

My understanding of the role of ultrasound is to help move waste products away from the affected tissue. This is what normal range of motion movement generally does. If you can't move, stuff can accumulate. EMS also has this effect.

The recommendation for EMS is listed as something a sports medical professional provides. This can mean seeing a doctor to get to a physio who has EMS gear, and getting in for appointments frequently enough to have a benefit. Seemingly not as simple as ice. Unless you have access to a portable unit yourself. We'll come back to that.

It may help to describe a bit about EMS/TENS first.
Most of us have seem electro-magnetic stimulation devices if we've ever seen infomercials about building up abs without exercise - or seen the Dragon movie with Bruce Lee sitting hooked up to a machine that's causing his muscles to twitch rapidly.

It's electrical impulses in our body that cause our muscles to contract, and that's where the money is in muscle growth: the work of contraction. Thus, EMS devices pass varying (low) levels of current through the muscle in varying cycles and intensities to stimulate muscular contraction. Taken to extremes, the same principle applies to the use of electricity in torture: the current causes extreme and painful involuntary contraction of the muscles. At appropriate levels, this approach to muscle rehab, as a quick look though pubmed research shows, has been used for treating a range of conditions including renal failure, arthritis, and stroke rehabilitation especially.

TENS is more often used as an analgesic, to stimulate endorphin responses. It's been used for pain management in a range of conditions and researched over decades.

Here's an entire chapter in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation on the use of EMS. Pretty well accepted techno for rehab/muscle building/performance protocols.

Rehabbing Tweaked Muscles
For sport rehab, which is where this story comes in, EMS has a long history of helping to build up muscle when voluntary contractions have not been as possible. In my case, pressing or snatching was not gonna happen, and i was loath to part with 2-3 weeks of training. So ok, i was fortunate enough to have access to a Compex Mi-Sport unit so thought i'd give it a go.

For the past week, each evening, i've been hooking up my arms to a rehab program of EMS - which feels like pulsing the muscles into forced fast contractions - bang bang bang - but not painful. For the past two days of this week, i've followed up rehab with strength building. The strength building is interesting: there's a sensor on the thing that detects muscle contractions. That is, you make muscle contractions while it's pulsing away - it stops if it senses you're not doing your contractions. Once your contractions kick in again, off it goes. There's timing built into this too according to research studies so, some programs have contractions for a set period and intensity, followed by an "active recovery" break. There's a pain program here too called "endorphic" - and it is. oh ya.

The results: accelerated recovery; maintenance of strength.
Within one week, the ROM without pain of my delt has improved dramatically. It's not 100%, but 85-90% yes. More than that, the other day i thought i'd see if i could press my 16 with the sore side. I could - nothing really pushing it - but yup, C&P'ing away - just for a test - wasn't really focusing on going for it; just if i could begin to work it again with weight.

Then i got a little cheeky and tried snatching - something that twinged considerably with an 8 the day after the strain happened and made me say "well that's it for swings, snatches and presses for awhile." Much to my surprise, it was ok. In fact, i was going back and forth non-stop for 10's a side with more ease than ever before. No pausing to put down the bell between tens. I wished i'd had a timer for my snatch test numbers.

Now, i'm not claiming that the EMS work made me stronger. Not at all. But having suffered through shoulder pulls in the past, i am impressed that within a week of easy therapy, not only am i able to get back to my training, but, it seems the EMS has kept the muscles from losing too much progress. The research wasn't kidding.

You may say that a week off is not going to kill anyone's progress - and may even be good for it. Ah! but i'd already had my back off week - this was an enforced second in a row. And maybe that's ok, too (though that's not really been my experience), but i do know i've not had such fast recovery from shoulder issues in the past. Based on the research, it also seems that this kind of repair is not unusual.

Indeed, the cool thing about the research is that it shows that combining weight training (or any training) with EMS is great for strength and power improvements as both approaches work the muscles somewhat differently. In some cases, EMS was able to improve torque over voluntary contraction (VC) alone, too, and likewise to improve muscle perfusion over VC alone, and help the CNS "to optimize the control to neuromuscular properties" when followed by sport-specific training. Chris Thibaudeau at T-Nation, in response to a question from John Berardi, goes into more detail about each of these benefits (citing older research than what i note above, showing this stuff has been around for awhile).

Active Recovery
While the unit has settings for various training programs, based on this past week's experience, i'm most interested in exploring it to support not only rehab, but active recovery. A quick glance at YouTube shows athletes using just such protocols - and claiming to get improved performance results. While one might be tempted to think that they're just saying this because the person has invested in a device, again, the research suggests that these things, in combination with regular training for enhancement, active recovery or rehab, have a strong benefit.

There's also some pretty weird looking applications being explored that the company has yet to put in their brochures - these are called Functional EMS - in other words, rather than sitting in a chair and being zapped, or simply flexing your muscles while being zapped, you do your activity in sync with the zapping. Back in 1998 this was done with the vertical jump; rehab protocols as well use this work *with* the stimulation.

There's a youTube vid of a swimmer claiming great improved results from active recovery with these (he has two on him. who's his sponsor??) And, since you'll find it anyway, perhaps the best "cult" video for EMS is this one, where the cyclist/reporter looks like he's in pain using it - and yes, you can ratchet the machine up to painful levels, but how clever is that? (i wrote the fellow in the vid about this protocol to get a copy of it. He said it's "experiemental" and has yet to be released to the public. uh huh). To quote zhealth, never move into pain.

Therapist in a Box
What is unusual is access to such a tool outside a clinical setting. Though that is changing. In the US, as Thibaudeau recommends, there's a product by compex, called the Sport.

In the EU, for some reason, there are a plethora of models. None of these is cheap gear. The Sale price in the US on the Sport is around 699 (from 899); in the uk, units range from just under £200 to over £600. And you thought a Beast kettlebell was expensive.

Is it worth the price? Well i guess that depends on what the "it" is and where that "it" fits into one's training sense. What i can say is that if i had had to pay 35 quid to go see a therapist for a session for 7 days of treatments, that's £245 right there - and usually a PT session is only 20 mins; the compex are 30-60. And would i have been able to schedule 7 appointments in a row? So, a week of treatments and one of the entry level units is more than paid for. That's almost scary - on demand rehab, recovery, strength support for the price of the therapy i would have needed this week, but wouldn't have gone to get, and i'm back training two weeks sooner than anticipated? and i'd still have the device?

This is a tool with some proven research chops for rehab, recovery and even strength/power enhancement. I'm very impressed with its rehab effect, pleased to see that that is backed up by research and not some fluke or me imagining an effect. While i have the opportunity, i will be checking out its active recovery effects further - and maybe the massage settings, too.

Anyway, this could be a device worth considering adding to your workout repertoire (by the way, full disclosure, i have no connexion with compex or any other ems manufacturer).


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