Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Return of the Kettlebell check in: relax, look and breath

In the clean and jerk sessions of Return of the Kettlebell (prelim overview here) there is a still point, it seems, that comes from double kettlebell sessions and this particular move that opens up a kind of Next Level of performance - or perhaps it's just me, so let me try to explain what i mean.

When i recently wrote about starting into RTK, i said it focuses the mind. I mean it. And i *really* like that. Nothing like moving two kb's at speed, and under control, and a lot, to get that this is a kind of serious business and staying fresh not squirrelly is critical.

But there's also more than that. Again, this could just be me, but because i'm now moving two bells in synchrony, my attention on what i'm doing is different from single bell work. Qualitatively. For instance, with a one arm press, i'm checking everything in single terms: feet, glutes, gut, lats etc and on into the press itself. Perfect rep; perfect form.

But with two bells - perhaps more so in the dynamic moves like the snatch and the clean & jerk, it seems, when moving the bells, the focus can't be equally on the two arms doing the press, nor does attention split to being a bit on this side and a bit on that side. For lack of a better term the effort becomes more about the movement systemically rather than the parts.

Somthing i'm finding is that there is more focus on executing the move well and diagnosis happens post rep rather than within rep. It's as if in the ladders there are opportunities for very fast diagnostics or post mortems after doing even early rungs, that can then be applied to the next rung. Again, at least for me, i find that diagnostic happening more post move than pre move with the C&J than i do with the single arm press.

The Spot on the Door.
Here's an example. Yesterday doing medium day C&J, i was noticing a real difference in feel between the second and third rungs. The last time i'd done this block i'd also found i was getting perhaps overly intrigued about my breathing - except that i knew it didn't feel right. I also generally find myself closing my eyes when i get into a groove, and usually that's fine, but it wasn't helping as it usually does.

Then something kinda bizarre happened yesterday mid set at this tranistion point between totally sweet rungs and less perfect feeling rung. I looked at a spot on the door in front of me (i practice in a hallway). All of a sudden i noticed the move came together. For one thing, i felt like i was able to slow the pace down a bit and get more power into the clean part of each rep. There was then a sort of "ah ha" about the breathing, and then the jerk just went all zen. Not that i didn't feel the work, but it was different. Neurological harmony.

Take aways from this double kb practice for me (your mileage may very) were generally:

Slow down to feel the force in the clean, luke. I don't mean that to sound like it's a physical speed thing. I don't think the bells moved slower; i was slower inside. And i think that slowness was also where the "relaxedness" of the title comes from - i'm still focusing on hip flexor drive, tight abs etc, but it's more wound up than tossed out. More focused, less effortful in the effort. Oh grr. hard to describe.

The spaces in between. Free the Joints. The other thing on the jerk part for me was finding that spot in the door. I don't know if that spot helped anchor better arthrokinetic responses - freeing up my shoulders & neck just that bit more out of neurological threat that the jerk felt both less effortful and less fatiguing - but the difference is stunning to me. That shift in gears between the 2'nd and 3'rd ladders really quieted right down.

So what these simple moments did for me is show that, while breathing is so key to getting that coordinated effort - there are other systems in me that need to sync with that breathing. And boy does head position and the use of the eyes seem to be a powerful part of that coordination. Now i thought i knew at least about head position, but the double kb's taught it in a whole new way.

I feel like i've learned something new that i don't think i would have found this quite so clearly, or had its benefits so inscribed without the double kb challenge, and this particular big kb move.

kettlebell as instrument?
This is gonna sound flakey but one of the things i like about picking up guitars at different folks' places is that i find every single instrument from the meanest to the most extravagant has a voice - something to say. It's probably so obvious to say so does this kind of gear. I think i may be starting to get why Pavel in his conversation with Geoff Neupert a month back in the kettlebell secrets calls said barbell or kettlebell - they're great but pick one and really get it. Only advanced folks like Adam T. Glass or Brett Jones would mix them up. For a moment the other day, i think i kinda got a bit of the rationale and benefit of that. It's not just about learning new moves; it's for lack of a better term, this neurological harmony. It feels great when it all locks in (better than 'the pump').

The cool thing i sense from this expertise practice - and again marial arts folks may say nice catching up there, sport - is that really getting it with this tool means transferable skills rather than just specific skills, too - i know what this locked in in my body feels like now when challenged with double weight. I can look to find that in other moves now as well, whether kicking a ball or doing a pull up. Perhaps. Yes no?

Anyway, i was surprised. And while i enjoy Enter the Kettlebell very much (here's why) and return to it often, RTK's demands and focus sharpening are very appealing right now. And the other day, i just had what feels like an unexpected bonus outcome, too, about integration and smooth power. Tomorrow's challenge will be how to carry this practice into Heavy Day C&J.

Time to Double KB?
Just to note, if you're curious about exploring double KB work, Georff Neupert, RKC maestro of strength, is doing a series on his blog of how to think about when and how best to ramp into double kettlebell work. His Blog's a great resource in general. Thoughtful.

Look forward to hearing about your experiences.

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Richard Chignell said...

Hi MC,

I am not following the RTK but have always felt that the LCCJ is the 'real deal' Kettlebell move. It gives me the feeling that it's what KB's were made for. As you know my minimalist training plan has the swing and LCCJ as the components. As a result i can relate well to your personal feedback.

On the breathing. The LCCJ has a real need for synchronised breath. I love that. I have tried to force certain breathing patterns before. Normally that didn't work out. I find that at a certain point i settle into an optimal breathing pattern for me. As you say it then gets all a bit zen!

During last weeks LCCJ days i also had a similar revelation on the clean. My interpretation wasn't so much to slow down, like you, but rather to shorten. Perhaps the same thing just felt through different bodies! For me its a need to focus on shortening the swing and the catch in the clean to the minimum whilst still having as hard a hip thrust as possible. Your 'more focussed, less effortful in the effort' may have given you a grrr in your write up but it clicked with me. That's like the 'refined minimalist and yet fully powered snap' point i have reached an understanding of at the moment.

Golfers have swing thoughts. I have always used these as focusses in my KB training (obviously kettlbell ones not golf ones - that would just be silly!). I can have several going on at the same time with single bell work but as you note with doubles its a different game. I also see the diagnosis as post rep and have to minimise my thinking right down during the work. For example recently i have during the work focussed on 3 abdominal tightening points - that's all i can handle as a focus whilst letting the breathing happen as it happens.

I hope that made some sense and added a little,


dr. m.c. said...

absolutely fascinating Richard.

Thank you. Sounds like you're having a great deal of success on many levels with your zen program.

I guess what surprises me is ever actually finding myself in such a place - i didn't go to double kb's either because i wanted to get to a new place in this or expected to learn something new. I thought it would be heavier/harder - that's all. not so different.

I'm really interested in what you're saying about the clean. I'm still not sure what that it doing physiologically since we come to such a dead stop before the next part. Preload? but it's crucial, eh?

Thanks for taking the time to write your translation of your experience.

It just feels odd to be talking such mystical sounding stuff about a frickin' old system grain weight :)

take care,

Adam said...


I like where you ending up here. Essentially (IMO) every person should strive to move from a thought process and control during the movement to no thought process. The samurai called this No-Mind. It is not the same thing as not paying attention. You know what i mean.

I think the jerk clicked for you because you distracted yourself. You already own the pieces to the puzzle, and sometimes its easier to simply move from point A to B and see what the body does to get there.

Now that are breaking down this barrier, i will be interested to hear how ETK goes once you rotate back to single limb work. I predict PRs in your future.

Some times our dumb brain can really get in the way of our smart bodies :)

dr. m.c. said...

Thanks for dropping by, Adam. Always an honor for your company. Appreciate the encouragement and insight.



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