Friday, November 6, 2009

Getting the Rhythm of the RTK Long Cycle Dips (i think): Return of the Kettlebell Update 7

This past Medium Day of Return of the Kettlebell was the Middle Weight Long Cycle day. Having been away from this for the past few weeks, i was curious to see if i could get back in the groove and what it would feel like. It felt GOOD. Why? i think i've got the rhythm of this sucker figured out - at least for myself. Why? i understand the double dip function better - i think - thanks to getting to spend some time with an champ Olympic lifter (and GS lifter) and z-health movement specialist Chris Hoffman a week ago, learning the clean of the clean and jerk, oly style. A revelation. It's amazing what the bar in front of one's face does to drive home how the dips in these moves are working. There's pretty much no move for move comparison between the C&J with KB's and one with an oly bar. But the rationale for the dips is pretty much the same, and that can be instructive.

So Phase 1 of smoothing out the Hard Style C&J - again - for me; your mileage may differ. Smooth swing up to the rack. Pavel talks about the importance of the clean all the time. Sara Cheatham has recently written about her experience of same. Last year i looked at how the clean had made all the difference for my work in the press.

The part of the clean i'd like to talk about though, is really the swing. It's feeling the double bells and arms and chest and hips move like a fluid unit when picking up the bells and getting the swing first back then up going. It's all connected, and, i might add, feels rather effortless. It was a joy and revelation to feel the smoothness of the down stroke go to the hike pass (described in Enter the Kettlebell if that's not familiar) and come up to the momentary rack/dip combo sweet spot. Once i became aware of that groove i started using it deliberately. I know i know it sounds obvious but there it was.

Phase 2 of effortless: connecting the up to the rack with the first dip.
From the cleaned bells comes the first dip. The dip down is getting the rocket fuel primed for the shoot up (to use a rough version of Pavel's RTK analogy). This loading by dipping down is taking some advantage of the elastic energy component of muscle. This is a pre-load. To be effective, that loading has to be turned around pretty fast, or the energy dissipates. So it's down then UP to get the bells moving up to the sky, taking off. And as they hit apogee, getting ready to go down again for the "jerk dip." Bone rhythmn can come to play here too where the hip and knee, and knee and ankle are working together to get the butt down, timed and coordinated with the load to make the most of the boost up.

Phase 3 of effortless: second dip - remembering "getting under the bar"
Pardon a digression that may not sound sensible if you haven't tried this with an oly bar. The clean is really different than the KB clean and it's a lot of fun. I encourage everyone to get with a trainer to give it a go. IT's a beautiful move. The main part of comparison - to me - is going from the clean rack to the second dip for the jerk. Again this is going to sound so basic to people who know this stuff, so forgive me for stating the well known like a revelation.

It's my understanding, in the oly clean & Jerk that the second dip is to get under the racked bar, so that (and here comes the "duh!" ) rather than pushing the weight overhead with our poor arms from the rack, a la a military press, we get down (way down) to get under the bar suspended in the air, to get an arm lock out under it, and then, voila, drive up with the legs. While the legs are going down the arms are straightening out and pushing the bar (nice bone rhythm). So dip one to power load and initiate the first stage of the rocket; dip two, as the bells are going up, to get an extra stage advantage getting under the bell. And this happens FAST because we're trying to beat gravity: we go down faster than the bell to maximize force coming back up under it to get it locked out standing up.

Time In the Rack and Depth of Dip
Two differences i've noticed with the KB/Oly C&J is time in the rack and the depth of the drop.
In the Oly C&J you can really pause in the rack before going for that second dip. In the KB version, we don't pause as long in the rack it seems. We move from a stable clean to the power drive first dip.

Another difference with the Oly C&J and KB C&J is that the second dip seems to be not nearly so low - which makes sense given the load differences and also again, we're not pausing under the load once our arms are straightening. We're getting down to get under but we don't stop under. We're generating more momentum, more stretched elastic component energy in this semi-dip to drive the bell up to full lock out. Still, the principles are the same with coordinating the dip down with the arms going up and then the next step the straightening up for the final hold.

As said, some of you may be saying what are you making a fuss out of? Yes you've just described what you're supposed to be doing in a C&J: getting under the weight so you can push more up than you can press. Yup, but sometimes seeing how similar but different things work help explain the model.

I'm currently C&J'ing the same weights i press. I don't really need to jerk these weights up. SO getting a sense mechanically of what their rationale is in a context where one CANNOT press the same weight one jerks for a 1RM is instructive. At least it has been for me.

I can now better take advantage of the physics where it IS necessary to understand what it's doing in what becomes more of an endurance / hyertrophy session (C&J'ing for reps as designed in RTK) than for strength/power of Oly lifting. This is likely pretty basic for folks well versed in both arts, but as said, for me: revelation. I like it.

And one may note the Hard Style C&J is thus z subtly different beast from the GS Long cycle where one does indeed rest and recover in the rack before dips. There's a difference therefore in the curvature of the thoracics, it seems, to hold the load and refresh, but not a huge difference.

Phase 4, power up: get up stand up, stand up
This actually seemed in some ways the hardest part of the move: once i had the bells up over my head, and locked out, i had to remind myself the fist few times to remember to finish the move by standing up all the way; it felt more comfortable to keep a bit of a bend in my knees when rep'ping, but no no, must get up and finish each rep. ta da.

Aside 1: grip
I was quite surprised by how much smoother this iteration through the cycle felt than the last time i did it. Even for the high rep rungs of the ladder. Definitely felt like i was getting to a more efficient movement (within hardstyle constraints).

And then i noticed it: my grip was different than it had been. Formally i had studiously practiced the clean up to the rack then fold the fingers into the bell against the handle. This time, i simply used a near fingerless grip for the press up rather than folding my fingers inside and against the handle. For me that seems to take less energy and just feels smoother.

After the sets were over i did some tests comparing the open grip to the folded fingers grip, and found that the open fingers (including loose thumb) worked the same muscularly, but again, less effort/energy on playing with finger positioning, and also felt like i was able to control the decent of the bell more readily.

I've been looking at the hand grips of various male and female GS master of sport holders, and it seems to be a personal thing: some do the fold; some do the loose grip. IF you note the grip of Scott Helsley in the vid above, you'll see something of what i'm describing with the open grip. I'm ok with that. Unless i learn of a specific reason to spend time reforging the grip to do the fold, i think i might just stay with this. We'll see.

Getting to the Bottom of the RTK HS C&J
So, in review, what happened in this session - it's the first time (3rd go through of the whole thing) where i've felt like i was starting to practice skills instead of learn new ones. Obviously each rep brings refinements, and i'm in no way saying i have all the skills for these moves. NOOOO. But what i am saying is that it feels like i'm moving past just the learning stage and into the practice stage. Things are starting to make sense. And the cool thing is when they make sense they feel far more powerful, smooth and effective. Which it to be preferred. Heavy Day next and i get to test if all this sweet talk about effortless form translates to the heavy bells for the long cycle.

Smiles everyone. Smiles.

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