Thursday, December 31, 2009

Return of the Kettlebell Year End Up Date Speed as Strength? Technique as Progress (update 10)

Return of the Kettlebell (RTK) is Pavel Tsatsouline's double kettlebell program follow up to Enter the Kettlebell. The approach of RTK is aimed at muscular hypertophy strength. I started Return of the Kettlebell in September and have been going at it since then with the goal of putting on some arm mass - and of course getting stronger. Over the past few months, i've posted various updates on getting used to the new protocols in RTK, like double KB pressing and, especially, the hardstyle verion of the kettlebell longcycle.

The following post is more of a progress update since starting RTK in terms of its parameters for progress.

There are several ways in RTK to measure improvements:
  • putting on muscle, for the promised hypertrophy.
  • increasing rungs in the program's ladders
  • increasing the number of ladders
  • increasing the speed of completing the ladders (decreasing the time of recovery between rungs).
  • Moving up weight for workouts
Now of the above, my focus has been on all but the last of these - i'm still working on adding rungs and decreasing time, and it's that time thing in particular this update is about.

Arms, Lean Mass & Fat. But first, a quick review of other points. A part of this quest was to let myself explore gaining weight to gain muscle. Have i gained muscle? Let's look at the numbers.

First, bave i gained muscle mass on my arms as intended. Yes. a quarter inch. Not exactly fabulous, is it? but perhaps pretty good. I'm not sure. I don't see it - without a measuring tape i wouldn't either. And what if that gain is fat around the arm?

A nice thing - at least for me - is that both arms are now closer to the same size than previously. My left arm still lags a bit in strength (or maybe co-ordination), but less so in size, and perhaps not so much in strength.

Second, the other measures. I didn't start measuring right when i started in sept, but about a month in, in oct, i did. So i have measures across 83 days, from Oct 9 to Dec 31:

  • bodyweight goes up by 2.7 pounds
of that
  • lean mass goes up by 2.09 pounds
  • body fat% goes up by .163%

Now lean mass is everything that is not fat. So that's tissue like bone and muscle and also water and sugar. So that means that part of that 2.09 pound gain is not just muscle fiber. We'll come back to this.

Other Measures: Hips & Waist And along with my arms putting on .25 of an inch (sounds good), my waist is .5 bigger (not so good) and my hips, where i carry my fat, are .75 bigger (bummer). Somehow i just don't believe those last two gains are muscle (so why would the first one be muscle?). So it's not all perfect. And while gaining fat is something one is warned about when deliberately going for improving muscle mass, somehow on a small 5'6" frame that seems like a lot on the waist/butt for 83 days. Maybe not, maybe so. It's just how it feels.

Muscle Gain Calculations. So yes i have the measures to say that lean mass has gonne up. a bit. I also have the measures to say that fat has as well. So far so normal. Sort of. According to Chris Thibaudeau, talking about guys and muscle mass (but is it *that* different for gals), if a guy is really focussing on muscle gain, he can put on .25-.5 lbs of dry muscle a week. But along with that dry muscle is 40% glycogen/water. so for 100g of muscle, one has to add 40g of other (glycogen/water). So that 948g of "lean mass" i've developed? 379g is glycogen/water. Grand total: 569g of dry muscle or 1.25lbs dry. Now when the low end of Tib's estimate is .25 a week, that would be 5 weeks of effort. I did this in 11.85 weeks. That's 2.37 times longer than predicted IF, according to Tib, one is both eating and training optimally.

Does that mean that my effort was less than optimal or that my eating was actually so below optimal or that the program is not as hypertrophic as advertized?

According to Thibaudeau, someone with 120 lean mass needs 2455 cals to build that .25 muscle.
so today at 117.9, i should be ingesting 2412 for optimal muscle mass development. Am i? Well, no. I'm not. Why not? Seeing the size of my butt go up without the consequent muscle development doesn't inspire confidence to take in even more calories. Yes i'm in caloric surplus (wouldn't be putting on gut/butt inches without that) but not *quite* that high. IF my butt and waist had increased nigh on an inch each BUT i had developed that additional .25 of dry muscle a week i'd be thinking about it. But as the two are not exactly going hand in hand, i am dubious to push this without better information for women. Bottom line: mass IS going up (along with some fat) and many folks have shown that one doesn't need to "bulk" to gain mass reasonably.

In other measures: practice & strength.
So if the muscle gain has not been as hoped, what about other measures, eg
  • increasing rungs in the program's ladders
  • increasing the number of ladders
  • increasing the speed of completing the ladders (decreasing the time of recovery between rungs).
  • Moving up weight for workouts
Well, let's see. When i got started with the X*Y, where X is the number of ladders and Y is the number of rungs in a ladder, i was able to do 5*5's on all but the heavy days, and on the heavy days, i'm doing 5*3's of the ladders. 5*5 is the optimal. The goal before increasing rungs or increasing weights is to decrease time to do the sets. So i'm at decreasing time right now, with a goal of increasing rungs, then weight on the heavy days.

Any Real Change at All?
A reasonable person looking at my progress, since rungs haven't gone up and weight hasn't gone up, is what strength changes have really occured?

Progress? Technique. I'd characterize progress in a few ways, one of which i haven't seen in the RTK text explicitly, and that's just getting used to the new moves with load.

For example, light and medium days are dandy to grease the groove. Don't get me wrong: medium days are no walk in the park; they're work, but heavy days are where, i'm finding anyway, that my control of the move is really being tested. First time i double snatched 16's for double presses was not a little freaky. Likewise it's taken till just about now for me to feel like i have anything approximating a groove on the long cycle with real weight, and i'll be very keen to have this checked at the RKC II cert to see if i've really understood the HS form here. It would almost be fair to say, ok, measuring could start now, since i feel i have the moves more in hand. So this technique grooving is definitely a place to measure progress. That's a whole lot of motor learning going on.

The way i'm noticing technique improvements is going from what has been total confusion or form devolution to starting to get into a groove.

Progress as Time/Speed. So the other main place i've been noticing progress is in terms of time taken for rungs, and this on a couple levels: especially on medium days of either block (explosive or grinding), the pauses between the first three rungs (the warm up rungs) are becoming vanishingly small. That's good. Likewise, the work sets (rungs 4 and 5) feel, well, groovier, stronger, like there's more left in the tank. This means that medium days are finishing at 30 mins +/-, rather than 40+ mins.

As for heavy days, as per the protocol, before thinking of adding in another rung, the goal is to get the time down as much as possible. Right now, heavy days for me are still heavy. Smoother, but still heavy. So i'm taking pretty good recovery between rungs, but focusing on technique, getting the moves smoother, that's happening.

What i've also noticed on variety days is that my single consecutive 16k presses on the left have increased, as has the ease of doing them - so better form. Likewise the smoothness of my 20k press on the right is better.

Resting HR
One other note of improvement - without thinking about trying for this, my resting heart rate has dropped pretty noticeably - at least to me - to pretty much the lowest it's ever been, ever, doing anything. Now that's something.

Take Away to Date
So, what's the assessment over the past 4 months of RTK?

The main progress seems to be in terms of technique on the long cycle (i hope), and perhaps coordination with double snatching and pressing. Definitely there's endurance strength gains from the cutting my recovery down between rungs, but hypertrophic strength?

There has been some mass gain, but it seems pretty slim to me - but i could be wrong. It's difficult to find good sources of information on this kind of measure. So in my experience, giving it my all to follow the protocol, i would not call this - so far - a particularly hypertrophic program.

Next Steps
Rungs and Ladders: My goal is to get to 5*5 on both the grinds and the explosive blocks for heavy days with the current loads, with good times, so that would mean getting to be ready to switch up to the next weight. After that, i'd like to get back to focusing on the beast challenge. The RKCII comes up at the end of Feb where the Long Cycle is part of the curriculum That's 7ish weeks away. It will be interesting to see how far i can progress towards that path in the coming two months. When thinking about doing five perfect C&J's with double 16's for the RKC II test for gals after three days of form and technique training, i've been biting my lip a bit, i admit. Those double 16's are a challenge.

Hypertrophy and Diet If i can stand it (it's rather tedious), i'll be keeping a closer eye on my calories and specific macro nutrient break down to see how that maps to lean mass and measurements, just to see what kind of tuning might be possible.

Variety Days. These have been either rowing or cycling or VO2max'ing. More recently i've been cycling in the AM (to give my arms a break) and rkc snatch test prepping in the evening (60 snatches a side in various set configurations from Randy Hauer with a tip of the hat to Ken Forsse).

This latter practice i've been thinking of as Astronaut Training. The snatch test for me is a bit of a bogey. By practicing these level of reps regularly (taking about 13 minutes rather than say 6 at test speed), my hope is that i will be well conditioned and prepped for the event. What does this have to do with astronaut training? My understanding of the early days of astronaut work is that the 'nauts practiced the same drills over and over in various conditions so that when the actual event ocured it was, well, well within tolerance and expectation.

Year End Thoughts on RTK
As said, right now the biggest take away seems to be about getting a base for technique - long cycle in particular. Once i get to heavy day 5*5's i'll do another assessment. In the meantime, something this very literally measured reflection is doing for me is raising the question what are my priorities for my practice? Where am i trying to go overall, and what is the optimal way to get there?

Inspiration to some Deep Thoughts

You go ahead and try the above, described here as "Fun" and see if you aren't humbled.

I've been looking at Fawn Friday's awesome ease in doing 24kg pistols which she's put down not to training the pistol, but heavy squatting (she's also nailed the 24kg press). Fawn has some pretty clear powerlifting goals from what i can tell from her blog, and that focuses her practice, and from my perspective seems to be getting fabulous results. She's particularly inspiring to me as she's a wee bit smaller than i am and significantly stronger. That's motivation/inspiration.

So i'm asking myself, where am i going?

My motivation for doing RTK has largely been to prep for the RKCII - to be as best prepped as i can so that i can take best advantage of the coaching that will be on offer. Beyond this, i've had the women's beast challenge in my sites (24k press, 24k pistol, 24k pullup). But as the RKC II approaches, and i'm feeling in the right place prior to that, i'm starting to pull back or up to the forty thousand foot level to ask, what the heck am i doing? Am i hearing the siren call of GS or the iron call of going back to bar bells? and if either WHAT FOR? What is the Big Picture? Does there need to be one? etc. Not questions i'd anticipated asking, but it seems they are both surprising and interesting questions to explore - especially as i find myself without a complete sense of an answer. A worthwhile journey, perhaps apt, heading into a new year.

All the best of the New Years to you all. May your health and wellness visions for the new year and decade all be bright.


L. Wu said...

Nice mc,

ps link should be fixed? At least for FF.

I met Fawn at Z R-phase in MN--one strong chica!


Roland Fisher said...

Good work in the vid mc!

I`ve always seen the best size gains with strength gains with people, but in the context of a density style workout. Meaning if a 1RM goes up it only makes a real difference in size if one then uses that strength in a density routine. I guarantee you if you can do 5x10 with say 60 rest, with a certain load, and you increase your load by 50% (assuming you are already good with groove) then you`ll be bigger. Yep double your strength with the 5-12 rep range for 4-6 set range, and lowish rest and you`ll be very much so bigger.

dr. m.c. said...

Thanks for dropping by Leslie.

Roland, thanks.
Just to be clear that's the aswesome fawn friday in the vid.

your diagnosis makes sense and sounds so simple: double my strength.

i can certainly see that if i were pressing 32's rather than 16's size could come into play.

i am working to press the 24 (it's very slow progress)
but perhaps that's the thing: it's a SLOWish process?

Glad you stopped by; was hoping you would for sure on this.

Hope you're having a great new year.


Roland Fisher said...

I think Fawn is just fantastic to watch.

I'm having a great new year, thanks for asking. over at PN I've been promoted to Lean Eating Coach. Now I just need a group, lol.

Hmmm, I wish it was a simple to do as it was to say, double your strength within the context of density and you'll be way bigger.

Slow coming for sure, but I do point to your arm increases as an example of you're using a more "bodybuilding"-esque approach that worked.

I've always liked articles from Ferruggia and DeFranco. They are almost a broken record, get stronger through a rep range and use that strength with volume. Of course you know I love Staley's simplification of do more work in the same amount of time.

What ever the ticket for you, I know you'll find it. I love your posts, if you cannot find it, no one can... no matter what that what is.


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