Monday, March 29, 2010

Hanging Leg Raise: With Technique Anything is Possible?

Have you ever suddenly done something that seemed impossible, even just moments before, and then, seemingly, it just happened? You wonder if you really actually did it? This morning i did something that yesterday felt a million miles away and fettle or another incarnation. I speak of the Hanging Leg Raise.

In this move, one hangs (tho that's deceptive) from a pull up bar (or door jam in my case), and then raises one's outstretched legs all the way straight out and arc'ing up until they touch the bar with their toes.

The Hanging Leg Raise Proper: One hangs in an inverted U - the image of Will Williams (of the Master Class on Breathing in the  Front Squat) on the right is going above and beyond that toes-to-bar edge as he pushes his legs further up past his hands. Pavel Tsatsouline has a number of innovations on this theme as well, modelled in his freebie Hanging Leg Raise book (comes with a subscription to the power to the people mailing list - nice bonus (you can sign up here)). But while these gents get on with the business of Going Beyond, let's just chat for a moment about the humble to Boldly Go in the First Place.

Here's the deal: for me, i was introduced to this move/challenge about a month ago at the RKC II - we spent time going over drills to prep for doing an HLR and that focused on what one might only term "getting short" by compressing in the middle, sucking in the gut, sucking in the shoulders.

Let me say right now, that these instructions while percolating in my head did not connect the bits with me on the day. I am not generally a fast learner. On the other hand, when i get it, i get it. This was not going to be a Get It day.

Here's what i felt: struggle struggle struggle struggle - just to get my outstretched legs to parallel - barely. Struggle struggle struggle struggle. Puff puff puff puff.

I would try to do the HLR each day since my return that i've had access to a place from which i can hang. Struggle struggle struggle.

Rannoch of Simple Strength  suggested that i try doing the knee tuck (shown left, modelled by Pavel- knees to chest first, and then straighten legs. I have to say that that one just about made me cry: knees to chest, ok, but straighten the legs from there? oh ya. not happening. Thank you though, Rannoch, for trying to help.

And then a funny thing happened yesterday.

Floor Work. One of the challenges i'd been trying has been with lying on the floor pulling against jump stretch bands while doing the leg raise part (we learned this at the cert). Yesterday, this went from my previous experience of "i am ripping my arms out of my sockets and getting nowhere" to "my legs are going over awfully easily; i must be doing something wrong." I did try the HLR after that and got to a cleaner parallel, but not up all the way. So again i thought, hmm. must have done something wrong.

THis morning, without really thinking about it, i thought i'll give it a go, and kinda started doing a pull up, and found my legs going up. I did this a few times. Singles. I posted to the RKC forum to check with colleagues if this was indeed an HLR or if the starting pull up was not right. I didn't think it was; it's not: arms must be straight.

The gang there - Al (who's been featured on b2d), Jordan Vezina, Jon Engum and Max Shank, all gave me some terrific tips, to try. but the main point was arms have to be straight. So i tried everything again i'd done this morning except the elbows bent (arms straight did not work this morning), and it worked. repeatedly. Now why arms straight worked this afternoon and not this morning, i don't know. But it did. And here's the thing: it was pretty easy. The hard part is hanging on.

Technique Rules. We talk about technique all the time being so important. And i've definitely had technique tweaks improve something i've done, but i've never before had it help me go from barley there to prepped, cooked and served.  But if anything is an example of a proof of the "strength is a skill" concept that Pavel Tsatsouline has engendered in the RKC, i can't think of a better personal demonstration.

Much and all as i would like to believe i am suddenly that much stronger today than i was yesterday, the evidence is  everywhere before me that i am not (though i did just go try to press the 24 just in case). So the only difference is technique - getting the compression of the gut, the shoulder inhalation, the lat activation, et voila.

How to *get* the technique? Right now i don't know how to translate what i've learned about HLR technique into how to accelerate teaching "getting" the technique for someone in a similar position, but here are a few thoughts.
  • i thought i needed to work on ab strength to do this move - develop more strength rather than skill. How can i spot the difference in someone else to see that it's not about more muscle fiber firing but about technique?
  • I have been consciously thinking about applying the technique lessons - and trying to practice these - rather than thinking so much about brute strength - so maybe that's what sifted through and finally connected?
  • and maybe that's the best way to coach someone: help them focus on the technique, chew on the technique, and feel the technique applied - this was for me why the floor work with the bands was such a biggie - i think - it's where at the cert i could feel like different parts were connecting.

The above is still rather fuzzy. Perhaps folks who coach (including myself) are just saying "duh" because of course one teaches technique and focuses on that before adding load or at least concurrent to loaded work (as per the volume of the perfect rep quest). So why was this move different? I'm not entirely sure. But there are lessons to be learned from this about connecting with technique, patience with the technique, finding methods that make the technique accessible and achievable in another context if the actual context (like hanging from a bar) is a step too far. Whoever developed the floor work drills for teaching the feel of the leg raise - genius.

Related Story. All this must sound so basic as opposed to any new insight, so before i dig a further hole in trying to convey this, let me close with a related "ah ha".

A bit ago Asha Wagner, in an interview here about pistoling the 24 for the women's beast challenge, said that she had only used the 12 regularly, never a 24 before that on-the-day test. She'd done lots of volume, greasing the groove with the 12, but the most she'd ever pistoled prior to that test was the 16.

I own i was pretty amazed that technique/form work with a 12 would deliver such a result with the 24, but after today's experience, i'm more a believer in technique-as-strength, strength-as-a-skill than yesterday.

So, best takeaway perhaps? find whatever assisted variant will enable an athlete to experience the complete movement - and focus on the use of TECHNIQUE rather than strength to achieve that movement first and foremost - where there's just enough strength challenge to feel the technque - and then strength will come.

Again, that's plainly not a unique insight - but the clarity of just how critical that focus is has really come shining through - one might say finally.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Windmill/Press 100's - volume that works ya.

Ever have what you think will be a wee workout take you by surprise? That's what happened to me with a humble combo of see saw presses and windmills. 10 walking see saw presses with my light kb's, followed by 10 windmills each side, without letting go of the bells, or pausing but to swap sides on the windmills. To be clear:
  • 1 set of ten, walking see-saw presses
  • 1 set of ten, windmills with both bells one side
  • 1 set of ten, windmills, with both bells, other side
  • put the bells down
  • shake it off
  • breath
  • repeat 10 times
Just to clarify what windmills, with both bells means: one bell is up and pressed, the other is down with hand reaching for the ground to be really explicit:
  • from the see-saw, both bells, back to the rack
  • one arm avec one bell is extended down
  • the other presses up
  • align feet for windmill in opposite direction of up arm as per usual
  • kick out hip in the up arm direction
  • descend until bottom of bell of lowered arm makes contact with ground
  • c'mon back up to standing
  • go on back down.
  • for me ten times was my happy place.
  • after ten, bring bells to the rack,
  • swap sides for windmilling to the opposite side
  • do the ten for that side
  • after ten come back to the rack
  • from rack, park the bells
  • shake it out, recovery, rinse, repeat
the photo on the right is for illustration purposes only:
get that hip back, mike, lock out that pressing elbow

Windmill Fever. I have not done this many consecutive windmills before, and i don't think i've done this many sea-saws before (i'm not sure there were this many in the 2008 grad workout). And i felt this - a sense of having really worked my shoulders, moved my hips and adductors, and, why is this a surprise but it is, my obliques.

And i feel a wee bit cooked. Neural motor adaptations is a wonderful thing.

You may wonder why this particular combination?

One of the cool things about going to various events in one's space is meeting folks. At the RKC II i was surprised to see Dan John whom i'd not met before. We got talking about my quest to press the beast, and his advice was to press. A lot. Indeed, his view is that gals need to press more to press big. One of his suggestions was mixing up windmills with sea-saws for one of the press days. I'm not sure if the above is what he had in mind, but it feels pretty good.

Light Bells Rejuvenated. So if anyone thinks their light bells have run out of gas, i'd suggest giving a highish volume workout like this a go. Especially the windmills in volume - who'd have thought?

And as part of that beast challenge quest, i've been mixing in pistols and pull ups - lots of each, even if high volume means box pistols (barely touch down) and band assisted pull ups to get my 50-100 in.

Reminder, too, RKC Master Trainer Andrea du Cane (shown left with model form) of the Kettlebell Goddess workout & ruler of the Windmill, will be in Southampton, UK June 6 to lead the first UK HKC kettlebell certification (more info here)
Hope to see ya there.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Sleep: (should be) the new fitness craze

Sleep - the final frontier
If we have our workout program dialed in, and our eating dialed in, what's left? Sleep? We log our workouts; we watch our eating. Do we think much about our sleep?

For athletes we know how important sleep is for recovery. Body builders know how critical it is for muscle building. But most of us barely have sleep in our field of view, other than to say we're too busy to get enough. And way way too many world leaders and health professionals work sleep deprived

How did you sleep, a partner might ask? Ya, ok. Or not. And that's it. If the question comes up.

Sleep Work Outs? So, just like we might say we need to get in shape and develop a program to achieve that goal, or likewise get a plan to eat better, how many of us get a strategy to sleep better?

Later this week i'll be chatting with Stephan Fabregas of myZeo about sleep and what sleep is, and some wild thoughts around how sleeping is an evolutionary strategy.

In the meantime, what's your experience with sleep? Do you sleep well? If not have you thought about formally getting a better sleeping strategy?

Keep it Dark: Here's one thing i've been finding- my room is not dark all night: there's light leak through the windows. As an experiment i've been using an eye mask that folks use to sleep in the daylight. And guess what? sleeping more through the night.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Spring Wellbeing Haikus at b2d on fb - please share yours

Spring Wellbeing Haiku Quest: Is spring putting a bit more zing in your step? Are new thoughts and plans and actions budding forth?

If so, please drop by the begin2dig Spring Revitalization Discussion page on facebook and share a Haiku of yours.

The form of a Haiku is 3 lines, 5/7/5 syllables a line. A few examples are already there.

Why a haiku? well in some psych literature, we see that apparently self-reflection is a great thing, and i'm thinking too that having some kind of structure to reflect around with a topic might just be spring like and unearth new thoughts.

Why not give it a go.
See ya over there?


Sunday, March 21, 2010

Sleep and the Carrot Cake Correlation: have you experienced this?

Can carrot cake help sleep? Or is it just the icing? A couple weeks ago, i was coming to the end of a several month low cal low starchy carb lifestyle as part of the final training push for an event. One night, about a week after said event, but still having been quite diet-rigerous (by then it was habit) a group of us were out for dinner, and the waiter brought out the desert tray. On this cart was the largest slice of carrot cake i had ever seen. "It's usually bigger on the plate when they serve it"

I asked if anyone wanted to share a piece. Of those interested in the carrot cake, two other studly guys were quite happy to have their own. Ok then. I was still hungry. I was ready to go for it. Not only that i was quite sure i'd be done first. Not rushing; just i was still hungry.

The deserts arrive. The coffee arrives. The deserts are indeed huge. They are also lavished with some kind of white icing and perhaps some cream cheese kind of middle. The cake part was very good. The icing's sugar hit was intense. Wow what a rush. And yes, i did finish the cake first, but only the lads were able to polish off all the icing and middle substance.

Interestingly there were predictions of an immanent and horrible sugar crash, but perhaps i got to sleep soon enough after this (within about 90mins), but no such crash occurred. What did happen is that for the first time since i could remember, i slept through the night. I woke up feeling terrific. I have not had quite such a deep sleep since.

Is there a carrot cake correlation?
A while ago, i wrote about work that showed that mega hi GI carbs taken four hours before planned sleep resulted in getting to sleep and staying there. In looking at the GI of carrot cake (in the 50's) and the Jasmin rice used in the study (100+) that doesn't seem quite to fit. Maybe the icing put it over the top - even though i think, seem to recall, leaving quite a bit?

Dunno. I just dunno.

But if you've had any kind of similar carrot cake experience related to high quatlity sleep and high wellbeing the next day, please let me know.

Keen to learn.

Oh, and coming up on B2D: discussions with Stephan Fabregas, Sleep reearcher at

We'll get at this thing that knits up the ravelled sleeve of care yet.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Michael Castrogiovanni Interview: The Innovative Fine Art & Sport of Kettlebell Partner Tossing

For many folks, playing catch is a fun activity - get a little exercise, exercise a little skill to catch a ball while moving or to adapt to a crappy pitch or to pitch well for a great catch. Usually the implements of such game play are at most a few ounces (a few hundred grams). Now imagine taking this game up a notch and playing catch tossing 12kg (26lb) to 32kg (70lbs) or more via an iron ball that has a handle on it.

This particular form of catch is an evolution in Micahel Castrogiovanni's kettlebell practice, developed with his colleages RKC TL Jeremy Layport and RKC Blair Ferguson. It's called Kettlebell Partner Tossing, previewed half a dozen posts ago here at begin2dig. The video above is from Michael's forthcoming DVD on progressions to develop the skills for these out-of-the-sagital-plane movements few of us working out with kb's have ever tried.

I got to see this tossing live (way more incredible and very "beautiful strength"y than even the video conveys) and found it so compelling, i asked Michael if he'd do an interview about his own background in athletics, how he came to kettlebells, how the heck KB Partner Tossing came about and fits into his practice. Michael kindly agreed, and beyond those points, we also discuss some thoughts on who else might consider adding Tossing kb's to their athletic regimen.

Historical Note - it may well be that strongmen (and maybe stronggals) of yore partner kb tossed. You know, it's bound to happen: have a kettlebell; a couple strong people. Eventually, it has to come up "heh let's throw that at each other " (thanks ltd for that '30's link).
The ever vigilant Randy Hauer sent me a link to a demo of Ukraniane KB partner tossing hence me calling Michael an Innovator, rather than an Inventor. What i saw with Michael and Jeremy was not as formalized as the ukranine precision tossing, used heavy kb's, and seems to have the potential to evolve into a sport (my assessment; Michael makes no such claims). It seems to me that by doing a How To DVD on this practice, Michael is making an effort to enable others to gain access to this practice. All good. Here's to you experiencing delight and joy in this practice, too.

Background: In what's known as the hard style kettlebell community Michael is a quiet but potent presence. For context, he is the co-author with Brett Jones of the well regarded Kettlebbell Basics for Strength Coaches and Personal Trainers. We'll come back to this one.

Michael also has a Bachelors degree in Kinesiology with an emphasis in Fitness Nutrition and Health, his certifications include NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist; he is an RKC team leader. Michael's training has seen him working with business executives, the Orange County fire authority, high school football teams, and Hermits at a monastery to name just a few. More bio details are available at Michael's Facebook page.

Interview Proper
Have you always been an athletic guy? If yes, what's the path been? if not, what's the path been?
I have always been involved in athletics and it has taken me many years of practice and dedicated training to develop my athletic abilities. I view athleticism as a lifelong pursuit and it is something I am continually working towards improving. I played soccer, basketball and football as a youngster. When I turned 14 I asked Mark Reifkind (the owner of the World Gym at the time and current Master RKC) if I could work out at his facilities. Unfortunately the age requirement was 16. After begging and pleading he told me I needed a note from my mom and dad with their permission to work out. My parents felt it was a good idea so I started at the World Gym shortly thereafter. In high school I played football, tennis and wrestled. I continued wrestling on club teams in college and I furthered my pursuit of athleticism in the weight room and in the class room. After college I spent as much time as possible with leaders in the industry honing my skills, learning as much as I could from as many people as possible.
it sounds like you may have moved progressively away from sports to more strength based training. Is that the case or is something else happening here?
I have been doing strength based training with weights since I was 14 to supplement my sports performance. As I am getting older I am participating less in competitive sports and have moved more towards the strength training, yes. I also do quite a bit of work for my hand eye coordination, overall coordination and agility as well in order to keep things well rounded and balanced. My intention is to increase athleticism and my ability to move optimally and restriction free in all ways, anything that will improve these abilities gets incorporated into my training.
Your early DVD on KB coaching with Brett Jones- it took me ages to connect
the guy with the beard is you! you taught me how to push press a kettlebell, dude! that's a great video. Would you care to discuss a bit more about how that dvd came about since it's become such a reference set?
Sure. The KB basics DVD came from my 2004 presentation on kettlebells at the NSCA national conference. I had made contact with the NSCA and they invited me to do a presentation on kettlebells in Minnesota of all places. I contacted John Du Cane of Dragondoor publications and told him of the business opportunity and he got on board.

Shortly after I spoke with John, Brett Jones senior RKC and a fellow CSCS sent me an e-mail asking to be a part of the presentation, and that he would help in any capacity that he could. So I decided that it would be a good idea for him to demonstrate the Kettlebell movements. The presentation was a huge success and we received positive feedback for our performance and our chemistry. Pavel, who was also at the conference, remarked at how well we worked together and told us that we should do a DVD. We agreed and worked for the next several months building the outline. We shot the DVD in early 2005 had it edited and on the market by late June of 2005 and the rest is history.
at the point of doing this video, what was your main training? how did it come about?
At the point of filming I had just left the monastery where I had been living for the previous six months. While I was there my training consisted of all things kettlebells, squats, deadlifts, pull-ups and yoga. When I wasn’t working out I was splitting wood, climbing trees, lifting rocks, mountain biking and hiking.

The way that it came about is actually quite cool. I brought my bells up to the monastery and they had some very basic weights in their gym. I worked ninety percent with kettlebells and ten percent or sometimes less with more conventional types of training. My style of training was dictated by what I had available to me and how creative I could be. It is one of the fondest memories I have of training even thought the equipment was minimal.
SO before we get to that one, how did you come to KB's?
Interestingly enough the same man who opened his gym doors to me when I was 14 would introduce Kettlebells to me 9 years later. Mark Reifkind had been telling me about this strength and conditioning tool called a "kettlebell" for several months. Finally one afternoon in his garage he showed me the swing, clean and snatch. After the initial lesson, he ran me through a quick circuit with the kettlebells that left me mindboggled and out of breath! From that moment I knew my training would be changing for the better.

That's cool. What was your practice at this time? still sports focused? strength focused? or did you just trying to get a sense of what you mean your training would get better?
There was still sport focus but it was beginning to taper quite a bit. I had sustained a wrestling injury so my competitive days had come to a standstill. I was predominately focused on rehabilitating myself and getting as strong and healthy as I could. When the kettlebell was introduced to me I realized that my training was going to get better in the sense of more interesting, more creative and in a way a totally different paradigm of training. I moved away from many of the lifts I was doing with the intention of immersing myself in the kettlebell.
How did strength become important to you?

The first response that comes to mind is that I wanted to be as strong as possible so that when I wrestled I could man handle my opponents. If I look deeper, a more honest answer is that strength became important to me because of my desire to not feel weakness or vulnerability and the insecurity that accompanies the two. I guess you could say fear of being week or vulnerable was where it all started-compensation based if you will. I used my apparent strength to feel better about the areas where I was not strong. Later in my strength training career I learned that the very thing I was aiming to avoid, vulnerability, was the key to finding real strength. To be willing to be vulnerable and face weakness is where authentic strength is spawned. The willingness to make mistakes, to fail and to not be perfect is true strength training. This is my ongoing practice and by no means I am a master yet. However, now I know that vulnerability is not something to fear. Rather, it is an ally to be embraced, accepted and learned from.
Sounds like you've had at least one experience - perhaps that was not in the strength space - that led you to this discovery about the vulnerability/strength tao. if you care to share a bit more about that, that could be cool.

The experience that comes to mind is a wrestling injury. I was in tip top shape wrestling five to six days a week going to school full time, teaching grade school P.E. part time and studying some martial arts. My plate was full, my speed was full throttle, and my definition of who I was came from all the physical demands that I placed on myself. I felt invincible, powerful, fully alive and completely identified with my body. At wrestling practice the week before league finals I made a poor choice to wrestle with a novice. I took a sloppy shot, he dove at me, my face met the crown of his head and he knocked me out. I awoke on my back with blood in my throat and no feeling in my legs. I freaked out and began to pray.

Slowly I felt sensation come back to my body. Dazed, I sat up; stabilizing my neck with my hands I went to the bathroom and packed my nose with toilet paper. I had a friend drive me to the gas station to buy a big bag of ice for my neck. She wanted me to go to the emergency room and I insisted I would be fine. I had a test the next morning and couldn’t afford to wait in the ER. She took me back to my house and I passed out for the night. The next morning I knew that I was in bad shape, I bombed my test and headed over to Student health services with a swollen neck and pounding headache. The doctor immediately put me in a neck brace, diagnosed me with a concussion and sent me off for a CT scan.

Fortunately nothing was broken. Since I was feeling numbness and tingling in my left arm the doctor sent me to a neurologist who ordered an MRI. We discovered a herniated disc and was ordered to stop physical activity. Everything that I identified with had been taken away from me in a moment and I was left questioning who I was. I didn’t realize how much self worth I put in my identities, as a wrestler, as a coach, as a teacher, as a strong man, etc until I was unable to be those things. I felt that there was more to me than my physicality and I also saw that many of the superficial aspects of my life were what I believed myself to be. The journey back to physical, mental and emotional health was where my true strength journey began. Vulnerability and weakness became the norm and my lessons became more about acceptance and letting go than making personal records and building my body. I began to experience a different type of strength from a whole, new perspective .
It will sound trivial to say that is a compelling and powerful story, Michael. It's the sort of thing one wants to ponder. How then now do you measure your satisfaction with your own pursuit of strength?
I feel most satisfied in my strength pursuit when what I am doing to build strength carries over into other aspects of my life. The measurement for that is quite intrinsic but I know when there is carry over and that is what is most important to me.
Moving then from this intrinsic aspect to the extrinsic and the particulars of your new practice, at the RKC II 2010 cert in San Jose you spoke of a kind of dissatisfaction with kb's always in the same movement plane - effectively, going between one's legs and over one's head. What inspired you to move outside that plane/box?
Ideas came to me and I wanted to try and see if they could actually work. By allowing myself permission to explore the possibilities, the conceptual moves soon became reality that in turn lead to more possibilities. The kettlebell is a creative outlet for me.
Was that a surprise to you?
I see myself as a very creative person so it was not a surprise to me.
Good for you. That's cool. Dare i ask what are the properties of the kettlebell that appeal to you such that it made sense for this kind of exploration?
This is a deep conversation that I think we ought to have over a cup of tea after we have tossed some bells together. I can show you better than I can tell you.
Delighted. How long have you been developing/playing with less static movement in kb's.
The more dynamic movements started in 2004 when I was living in Big Sur at a monastery. Yes, at a monastery.
Well i can think of few better places for one than on the Big Sur road. Pray continue.
I felt confined in the traditional ranges and I wanted to incorporate more movement to promote greater growth in general and in athleticism. So I started to explore as many possibilities as I could imagine.
Can we do something very basic here and ask about movement? Folks used to pressing weights in the gym might already see kettlebell swinging as dynamic and a wee bit dangerous. So to say you wanted more movement may be intriguing for folks watching regular kb vids, or those who are already practicing with them.
Even though the kettlebell moves are much more dynamic than most people are used to, the movements are all done with stationary feet. As an athlete and strength and conditioning coach, I recognize the importance of footwork and agile feet. So when I talk about wanting more dynamic movements, I am referring to moving the body through time and space as well as the kettlebells.
What motivated the partner kb tossing? how did you encourage others
to participate with you?
The motivation for partner passing came from my desire to progress further outside the box. Once I tried passing I immediately knew that it was something that I wanted to pursue. Unfortunately it is not that easy to convince other people to let you throw cannonballs at them. Luckily, I met Blair Ferguson of and he was totally into the idea!

The other person that I was able to convince to throw bells at me, AND who has been instrumental in the development process is Jeremy Layport. Thanks to Blair and Jeremy I have been able to develop KB passing beyond what I ever imagined.
The difference between the video clip and the demonstration/performance with you and Jeremy in San Jose seemed to be the closeness of the space. There was something even more compelling i found both in the tighter space of the performance and also, sitting on the ground to watch it low. Have you seen video from that seated position of you guys passing the kb? if not, i hope you'll take a look.
I have not and I will take a look at that as it presents itself thank you for the insight.
Also, do you see your movement in partner passing as demonstration or performance or something else?
It is demonstration, performance and training all in one. All aspects are going on when an audience is present. The degree of perceived danger is increased with an audience in front of you-especially the first time demonstrating.
From an athletic wellbeing perspective, what do you see as the benefits from kb tossing?
The benefits are many. I find that the most important thing that it has facilitated in me is greater trust: trust in my body's ability to handle whatever is "Thrown at me", trust in my partner to do his or her best and trust in the process as it unfolds. Another benefit that comes from partner passing, is learning to read situations and make split second adjustments accordingly without compromising structural or personal integrity.
Some additional training effects of KB passing are increased awareness and sharpened focus. As the perceived degree of difficulty and/or danger of a given activity increases, we tend to invest more of our focused attention on the activity at hand. Some side benefits that I have seen are increased eye hand coordination, grip strength and endurance, the ability to manage load and force from many different angles and improvement in one's ability to improvise to name just a few.
i wonder how we could set up a functional mri of kb tossing - just to see how the brain lights up as the risk/attention and coordination go up. fascinating.
That is a great idea and I would love to be a part of that and see what the results would be.
Two quick questions: i'm betting that y'all would call kb partner tossing safe because you train with weights against which you know you can get position when they're thrown. Is that fair?
That is fair and there is still danger involved.
That said, what are your usual partner tossing weights? do you train with these or heavier/lighter weights?
I use as many different weights as possible. The amount of weight is one important variable of this type of training that allows for so many possibilities. As the weight changes, even though the patterns stay the same, the exercises become radically different. I do most of my experimentation with the 12kg, 16kg, or 20kg, with the goal of being able to eventually do the patterns with the 24kg, 32kg, and up. There was a session a few months back where Jeremy and I were tossing a pair of 48kgs for reps back and forth. I also toss the 8kg’s with some of my female clients, it really depends on who I am tossing with and what my intention is for our session.
How much time would you say you and your colleagues put into training tossing daily/weekly to get to the proficiency you have - and let's just get it out there now that you are all veteran kettlebell trainers and practitioners in the standard arts of swing, snatch,get up.
For the year prior to filming the video I was practicing with Blair Ferguson three times a week for one to two hours depending on what we were working on. I only had a few weekends to work with Jeremy several months before we filmed. Fortunately, Jeremy is such a stud and incredible athlete he was able to pick it up quickly and he also had [RKC Team Leader -mc] Chris Holder to practice with and that made a big difference.
Tossing is also a single person endeavor. On the days I was not practicing with Blair or Jeremy I would practice my single man juggling routine to get better at handling the bell and understanding its nature to prepare for partner passing.
You also say you trust your partner to give "his or her best" - have you worked with women in the tossing? if so, are any parts of the experience different from working with men/women in this practice?
Yes I have worked with a few women and there is very little difference other than the amount of weight used. Women tend to pick it up fast and enjoy the challenge just as much as the men I have worked with. I want to work with more women because one of the major benefits is the balancing, grounding and rooting aspects this type of training has to offer. I feel tossing has quite a lot of potential for women of all ages.
In your experience how is tossing different than kb juggling?
There is far less control in tossing vs. juggling
Nice. good point.
You never know what kind of a rep is going to be thrown at you and adaptation is paramount. There is also a component of communication that exists with the passing that is not there when you are juggling. Tossing kettlebells is an interaction between two humans and a way of relating with each other through the kettlebell, whereas juggling you are relating to the kettlbell. Kettlebell passing is in its essence a complete model for communication and I still have much to learn about communication from this type of training.
You sound pretty passionate about the importance of communication. could you speak a bit more about why this is critical for you?
The reason I am so passionate about Communication is because it is the platform for all interaction. To be effective and successful at life is to be an excellent communicator. Communication is both listening and speaking and to be a master of communication allows one the ability to exist in any environment with ease and grace. Listening is one of the most powerful aspects of kettlebell passing, it becomes more than an act of the ears, rather, an act of one’s entire body. Listening takes on a whole new meaning as all the senses are employed to read a given situation as it is unfolding in the present moment.
What would you advice folks to do who are new to kettlebells, see your video and say "wow that looks so cool; i want to do that?"
Wow that will be great for your sales.
This type of training was developed for advanced athletes and kettlebellers. Spend a few years learning the basics before you get any crazy ideas. Strength health and longevity are the goals of training and making poor choices will only keep you from the goals.
You know as soon as you put out your dvd though, that folks who haven't worked much with KB's are going to get excited about this as "extreme kettlebelling"

So a few questions here: what kind of prep would you say is crucial - how does someone know they're and advanced kettlebeller - you mention time - what else?
You might be an intermediate kettlebeller if you have been practicing for a year or more and teaching for about as long, and you have an RKC, AKC, or IKFF cert under your belt.

Kettlebell Workshop at

You might be an advanced kettlebeller if you have three to five years under your belt and you are a Team Leader, a Senior RKC, a Master RKC, or if you are a competitive kettlebell lifter with several meets under your belt and you are a higher level instructor for one of the other reputable kettlebell certifying bodies out there..

Seven or more years of continuous practice and you are more than likely to be in the advanced category provided you have had a credible instructor teach you the techniques of the trade. Learning from magazines books and DVD’s does not count!

If you can easily complete the single man [sic] kettlebell juggling routine from my KB partner passing DVD with good form and in a safe manner, it is most likely o.k. to proceed. Provided you have had instruction from credible instructors.
Also, i mention "extreme kettlebelling" - it doesn't sound however like it has that "extreme" mantra to you - that you're not driven by how far you can toss or how heavy. What is the key focus for you?
I do enjoy tossing bells as far as possible and passing heavy bells back and forth and you are right the drive is not the extreme aspect of the training. The key of the kettlebell partner passing for me is the highly focused state of Zen like meditation that is achieved from practicing. It is a movement meditation and a form of self cultivation like no other that I have experienced. It is a cross between Tai Chi, wrestling, and weightlifting.
Have to say that my recollection of watching the tossing at the RKC the youtub clip just doesn't do it justice. WHen you kept saying to the group to move back and give you a bit more room, i don't think most of us had any idea what was coming - for what would you need that much room with a kettlebell?
I think it is far more impressive to see KB passing in person then in video format. It was an amazing experience to have the space I did and the audience to demo for. I was so into what we were doing that time and spaces were of little concern.
Kettlebell tossing is an act to be seen by others as well as practiced for dynamic strength, is it not? Where does performance in front of others come into your practice? What's its role?
I hope others see this style of training and realize that it takes good sound judgment to determine if it is appropriate for their personal practice. To see is one thing and to do is a whole different ball of wax. I recommend extreme caution when others consider this kind of training. It is Dangerous! The element of danger adds to the benefit of the training and the reward must be weighed against the risk.
Does it feel much different when there's folks watching?
The performance aspect creates more pressure, when I start tossing the only thing I have on my mind is what's being tossed at me and what I am tossing back.
When you're not tossing kettlebells with the willing, what do you do, Michael?
One of my favorite things to do is train at in Ventura, California with Blair Ferguson. Our collaboration is one of the main reasons that the KB passing has advanced and evolved to this level. I love being active, hiking, biking, yoga, surfing, grappling, kayaking and just about anything else that involves nature. I also enjoy learning, communicating, reading and I am learning to enjoy writing more. Spending time with friends and family is very important to me and I always enjoy developing and growing my relationships.
Yoga? any particular form? and how long has that been in the Michael mix?
I began yoga in 2000 just before I was introduced to kettlebells. The tyle of yoga was predominately vinyasa flow, I have also practiced restorative yoga, tantra, and power yoga. Four years ago, I transitioned to a more aggressive and challenging form of power yoga called Blanchard yoga and have been practicing it since.
Is that activity what sets your hair on fire or is there something else that also moves you?
I tell ya, watching you do pull-ups at the RKC 2 moved me!! The natural world and the mysteries' of life along with the depth and beauty of the human body sets my hair on fire.

What would you say if it hasn't been covered is important for folks to be sure to incorporate into their own strength practice that you think may be missing or underplayed?
Squats, Deadlifts, overhead press and pull-ups.
OK, let's go: why each one, and with which implements?
All implements are good to use and should be used in moderation.

They are all full body exercises and require significant amounts of tension to perform and they all systemically fortify the body.

Pull-ups because it is important to be able to pull your weight.

because they teach you to stand up

Overhead press because this is one of our weakest positions and it is always good to have the strength to put your own luggage in the overhead bin.

Deadlifts because it is important to be able to pick up heavy stuff you never know when you will need this.
As we've been discussing, you do have a video on kb parner tossing coming out. What will it be called, when can we expect it, and where will we be able to order it?
"Michael Castrogiovanni's Kettlebell Partner Passing" (as of right now) is in the final stages of production and is expected to be released this quarter. It will be available through multiple outlets including my website
Fabulous; looking forward to it. I'm sure the three of you could get onto tv shows demonstrating this - that strength can be fluid and beautiful in different ways.
Yes I want to juggle for Oprah
That would be fantastic. How do we make that happen? In the meantime, is there anything else you'd care to share that i haven't touched on here related to wellbeing, fitness, what's important to you in this space?
Yes. I feel that there is one key ingredient to wellness and fitness that is overlooked and often thrown by the wayside in favor of increasing numbers, winning and achieving new personal records.

That crucial ingredient is fun.

We have been conditioned at such an early age to win that the idea of fun gets glossed over. The win at any cost attitude is a fast track to burning out. If a lifelong pursuit of health, fitness and wellness are the goals, I highly recommend doing more of things that you enjoy, that make you laugh and smile, with people you love.
Thank you for taking the time, Michael, to talk about your practice and your new sport. Much obliged.
Thank you for the opportunity to share my experience with you and your readers. Peace and blessings to all.
Michael is one more incredible athlete whom i've spoken with from the RKC II who's independently said the premium should be on fun, being in the moment, rather than numbers. There's a theme from the best practitioners developing here.

Will post an update as soon as Michael's video is out. In the meantime if you'd like to hook up with Michael for training, he can be reached via

In the meantime, let's see that again...

Related Posts
Related Resources:

Monday, March 15, 2010

Sports Training on the other side of the weight room with Sensory-Motor Perception

Does Make me Stronger Make Me a Better Athlete? When athletes talk about getting stronger for their sport, what's the goal behind that quest? Is that because we think that strength is the missing ingredient that will actually make us *better* athletes in a game situation? If so, why? We want to hit the ball harder, throw faster, kick further and we think strength's it? Is that the key part of our game that's weak? And if that's it, is raw strength the real issue?

If we're swinging a bat, and our hips and pelvis move as a unit rather than serially into the swing (bacause they can't move separately), that's a power leak that where more strength mayn't make much of a performance difference without correcting that hip/pelvis issue. If we're going to grab the bar for a deadlift but our wrist mobility is shonky, are we going to be able to control our grip with the strength it takes to make the pull? More leg strength isn't the issue. If we want to kick a football really far but our balance is off so our coordination is a bit askew, more power may continue to be directed away from optimal contact.

likewise, there's a lot of decision processing going on whether on the court or on the field, right? Our brains are making tons of decisions so quickly from where to put a ball on the opponent's side of the tennis court, to where the best path is to run a ball down the field, to who's open for a shot. If we're not really seeing the field, we can't make optimal decsisions about it.

So maybe we need to consider the sensory-motor connections of visural, vestibular and proprioceptive perception and associated skills to enhance our sports performance training. Each of these systems can be trained deliberately to behave more reflexively to these very normal sports situations.

In the following sections, we'll look at these areas of the sensory-motor processing within our sensory systems AND there'll be some quick self-checks you can run to check parts of these perceptual systems' performance. We'll also consider the time a person would have to put into this program to see real performance change, and i've peppered in links for resources either to doing each bit at a time, or training to put each part together at once.

The goal is that with this overview you can begin to ask the questions - and have some answers - about how to assess yourself in terms of performance, not just strength. You may find that your strength simply improves as a consequence of better work here, too.

Tuning Sensory-Motor Performance.

By way of a quick overview the proprioceptive system, as i've written about at b2d rather a bit, is the monitoring system in our bods that lets us know what's happening to us from a range of awarenesses: pressure, temperature, chemical shifts, elecro-magnetical sensing, and particular for athletic movement, positional and noxious (aka pain in many cases) awareness.

For positional awareness, we're wired up with propriocpetive mechanorecptors ( a special class of mechnoreceptors), with a good many of them being around the joints, the bendy bits of the body (makes sense - good to know where the mobile parts of a limb can be) and in the musles that detect stretch, motion, pressure. This being the case - that these receptors convey alot about the state of our limbs moving in space - the corollary of this is the better a joint can move, or the better the range of motion and the control of that range of motion around a joint, the better the information that joint is putting out.

Eric Cobb talks about this enriched sensory action as "map clarity" - the more data points the more detailed the map; the more mechanoreceptors available to give positional information the more options the body has about where and how it can go somewhere. If there's restrictions in the ankle or knees so that range of motion is not available there's in effect a sensory deprivation and a performance decrement: the body doesn't tend to go down blind alleys; it makes the best decisions it can based on the available map. Which can mean - you body don't have the resources to step quickly over that stump, you're going down suddenly. Ugh! shock! sprain!

Similarly if an athlete's restricted in their hips for instance (the hip and pelvis behave like a fused unit rather than separate joints) how the heck are they going to perform optimally? What will pay for this lack of mobility? the Low back maybe?

Preliminary Assessment
So one key part of athletic training can be a good movement assessment before any training takes place. An assessment helps discover where an athlete may need to do some work to reduce restrictions in mobility in order to open up better movement options - and thus the athlete has a better set of options for responding to situations without getting hurt when in play: yes the body has a very clear sense of where it is and (b) with lots of range of motion available, has more options for moving the ankle rather than going over on it.

At an even more basic level, mobility work is simply the practice of the joint movements to make sure an athlete can they move the joints well on demand and effortlessly.

Aside: such assessments can also check visual and vestibular performance too.

Movement Quick Check: Here's a simple check you can do with yourself or your athletes to explore joint freedom for greater movement options. Stick a leg out in front of you, and then put the leg out and straight so that it crosses the body where the foot of the outstretched leg goes past the foot of the stance leg. Check in a mirror: is the pelvis torquing around to let the leg reach this far? Now make little circles there with the knee locked out and the leg crossed over: is the pelvis torqued over? still? going up and down? If the pelvis is still and not torqued forward as if moving towards the other leg, in that position at that speed, super. Try going slower and faster. Still good? super duper. If not, that may be a sign that the pelvis and hip don't know how to work independent of each other - and so the mechanoreceptive information is less clear/accurate, and the functional options for movement less optimal. Mobility work can often address this and recover that more discrete hip/pelvis function.

Time to train: every joint in the body takes 10 mins a day, once a day. Can work different speeds/drills on different days.

So mobility work has two main functions: (1) ensuring optimal signal for optimal options of movement in live situations (Example programs for self-development).; (2) practicing movements in a variety of positions with the joints so that getting into weird (eg accident) type positions are not shocking, but relatively adaptable (program for self-dev)

Vestibular Acuity.

The middle of the neural hierarchy is the inner ear: it is predominantly the balance system of the body. BUT it also relates to motion detection, proprioception and even muscle tone. Everything is interconnected. That's really critical to understand that these systems in the neural hierarchy are not independent of each other: an issue in one has consequences in the other, and multiple systems contribute to different degrees in different contexts to the same thing. Here, for short hand, we're focusing on the balance role of the vestibular system.

The balance system is mainly located in the inner ears. We have two inner ears - one for each ear. That sounds obvious, but just like each eye may be slightly different in strenghts/weaknesses, likewise the inner ears may have different dominances. How well are they behaving in general to support sports movement? And how well are they behaving in concert?

Assessments of the vestibular system may show a discrepency on either side specifically, or generally that there may be some weaknesses. The cool thing is, the balance system can be trained. Intriguingly this doesn't mean stepping onto unstable surfaces. IT may mean skills development on very stable surfaces (see middle of this post) .

Quick Test: Here's an example. Stand on one foot for more than fifteen seconds. Now stand on the other. Is one side more wobbly than the other? Why is that? How common is it for someone on a sports field to have one leg off the ground at a time? So might it be valuable to ensure that one can be as stable as possible in that circumstance?

Time to train: 3x's a week, 10 mins/session, 8 weeks. Then maintenance.

Visual Accuity
At the top of the neural hierarchy is visual acuity - not eye sight, but they get sports vision evaluations to see how they're doing, and they practice visual acuity (here's one example) so that they can respond quickly to what's happening on the field - so their ability to perceive the situation under pressure improves.

When we work on visual accuity, we not only look at the function of the two eyes and how well they're working together, but we also work on improving the time, complexity and distractions that can be processed concurrently for quicker visually lead responses to action in the environment.

Quick Test - check out the near/far drill modelled in the link above.

Time to train: basic drills, 2 mins a day, can be combined with mobility work.
Practice sessions for cognitive load, 15 mins a day, 3times a week, 8 weeks, then maintenance.
Great program for self-development: great visual drills and speed work, too.

Putting This Sensory-Motor Work into Practice: Speed/Quickness:
As said in vision, we work with athletes to improve visual acuity of eye performance like speed of changing focus, but also work on processing dynamically changing visual information more quickly. When we have discrete loaded mobility, balance and visual acuity firing, we can also consider putting these together at "sports speed."

But speed is also a skill, too. Strength and conditioning has for awhile now been looking at sprining mechanics and technique and training - like plyometrics - to improve quickness. All sorts of things like towing a partner or being towed can get into faster turn over.

There are other techniques, too, though, that have to do with putting all the mobility and visual and vestibular accuity to work to move quickly and more efficiently at quickness. So sometimes speed is speed, but sometimes it's being faster in response to something than the opponent.

Speed in Context.
This one seems so obvious - to move fast is a good thing. And that's where our example athlete came in at the beginning: someone who wanted to move faster (i think that's what the fast twitch is about) but the skills described here would be not about making the person faster once they're up and running (how far do they have to go on a field?) but
  • how to get off the ground from a fall or tackle quickly,
  • foot work on how to follow,
  • turn and
  • cut,
  • techniques for how to accelerate for a critical 10 yards to get past their opponent.
Better techniques just to get going 180 degrees in a different direction can be invaluable.

I've bet guys much younger than i am that i can beat them getting turned around or i can get a faster start off the line from a standing start than they. What's the difference? Technique and practice of technique for moments of change where the technique is efficient and it respect the brilliance that is the athletic ready position.

Strength: what kind of strength. Finally, after all the above neural stuff happens, we might want to come back to the question: so do you really need to be stronger in your current deadlift to be a better socer player?

I generally find that most guys who have been playing for awhile are plenty strong on the teams but their endurance in the last part of the game can flag. So if anything gets added to the program, kettlebells can be great and very efficient for brute strength and stamina: two simple moves - swings and turkish get ups.

Quick Test If ya don't believe me, try this for ten minutes:
- (assuming you know how to swing a kb safely) you swing a heavy kb while your partner TGU's left and right with a medium bell, then swap and keep going non-stop for ten minutes. These two moves have the advantage of also developing hip and lat strength, pretty key for that athletic ready position.

Time to train - 20-40 mins every other day except in season. In season, coach's discretion.

Ask any coach if the strongest athlete in the dressing room is their best athlete on the field.

Taking the Pieces Further: getting more drills and skills and program plans.
If the above kinda program sounds interesting to you, beyond the links to various bits above, there's a three day workshop that gives a great intro to self-assessment and practice on this performance pyramid of vision, vestibular, proprioception calledessentials of elite performance (overview).

Some of us also coach this stuff (look for S-phase (review) in the training certifications). If you can't find someone in your neighborhood, i also coach via email/skype. Contact me with the email link at the bottom of this post if you're interested in neural hierarchy for sports training.

Take Away: Better is not necessarily Stronger.
Assuming the goal is to be a better field player, not just stronger, there may be more and other ways to look at performance than just raw strength. And that OTHER which we may often think of as rather fixed - vision, balance, movement - is highly plastic and trainable. When we start with the nervous system, too, the biomechanics seem to come online, stronger, faster, better.

Update: related new resource (may 2010)
DVD Mini Course - 6.5 hours of the essentials of elite performance workshop on three divds. If you can't make the workshop, or just want to get going on this stuff NOW, this new dvd mini course is a great way to get going. I'll have a full review soon, but in the meantime, there's way more self-tests and practices than covered above. Please check the link for the full nine yards on the details.

Get it, love it, sign up for the essentials workshop or R-phase cert (overview) within 30 days of purchase and get $100 off tuition of either course.

Great way to get a richer sensory-motor training tool box and tune up.

Friday, March 12, 2010

asha wagner: 24kg weighted pistol, pull up, press success with Greasing the Groove emphasis on Technique

What do you say of a gal who can one arm strict military press a 24kg kettlebell, do a single leg squat (pistol) with that 24, and do a pull up with said 24kg (53lbs) tied to her waist? Anything she wants? Usual introductions, however, would be to Asha Wagner, and this post is an interview with this super athlete. Indeed, I thought this interview was mainly going to be about Asha's Beast work and her tips for other aspiring tamers, but it turns out that there's so much more to Asha's sports-person-ship and outlook on both life and athletic practice that i'm just frickin' inspired by her attitude and approach to sport. I hope you will be too.

For context, then, a bit about the deal with the three particular lifts of the Beast Challenge that initiated connecting with Asha about this piece, and how for some of us, they've become a sinecure of strength.

At every kettlebell RKC certification, Dragon Door pulls out the Beast Challenge opportunity, named after the nickname for the 48kg kettlebell the guys must use. For guys, therefore, the challenge is a pistol (one legged squat), pull up and press with a 48kg kettlebell. For women, the load is 24kg (the women's challenge has recently been renamed the Iron Maiden. No comment). There are under a dozen men who have completed the BC. And so far, it seems, two women.

Statuesque, serene and really nice fire fighter Asha Wagner is one of them. Asha won the challenge in 2008. Not content to sit on her laurels, as it were, just for fun, she casually pistoled both a 32kg and 36kg kettlebell at the cert.

Asha kindly agreed to have a chat about her beast challenge experience, training, where kettlebells (those cannonballs with handles) and athletics fit into her life, and what an RKC certified kb (kettlebell) trainer does for fun.

Asha, would you say you've always been involved in some kind of sport or athletics?
I've been involved in some type of athletics since I was 8 years old - Peewee league baseball 1 year, softball 3 years, basketball 1 year, rode the bench the entire season so I switched over to volleyball after that and stuck with through college. I was first introduced to volleyball when I was 12, but didn't start playing on a team until I was 14. Now I mainly coach volleyball for a club team here called Starlings Oakland, rock climb, and just started playing rugby.
Cool. why rugby?
I've always been interested in rugby. It always looked like orchestrated chaos to me. While very physically and mentally challenging, climbing to me is more meditative than sport for me. Now, I'm joining mainly for the comraderie, to be a part of a team, and workout, suffer and celebrate as a group.

How has this passion translated into a day job or has it?
I currently work as a firefighter. Firefighting is basically an athletic event.
While biathletes have people skiing behind them with guns, i'm not aware of olympic events that include running through burning buildings. You are being modest. Have you or will you however take part in any of the firefighter challenges (the dragging the hose, going up the stairs, dragging the dummy, etc)?
Yes, the Firefighter Combat Challenge is one of the things I'm training for currently. Along the same lines, I'll be participating in a stair climb at the end of this month, 52 stories, full firefighting gear, breathing air from an SCBA bottle. Should be fun.
To come back to the role of sports in firefighting...
My involvement in sports has been invaluable in helping to prepare me for firefighting. Beyond working out and becoming physically strong, sports helped me to develop, teamwork and communication skills, discipline, determination and work ethic.
How do the above these approaches in particular to fire fighting?
In firefighting we all have specific jobs that need to be accomplished. We have to work as a part of a team. We have to able to effectively communicate our findings, actions and needs to others on the fire ground, especially when conditions change. There will usually be something unexpected that happens, and good communication and problem solving skills go a long way towards mitigating that.

As a direct result of the workouts I've been through, I'm used to being physically uncomfortable and gutting my way through it. When you're clawing your way with a 100 lbs on your back up a hill so steep you have to grab on to shrubs to keep from falling over backwards, it helps to focus on the moment, forget about the top of the hill, and just be determined to take one more step. That's something I learned from athletics

I also enjoy mountain and road biking, swimming, skateboarding, snowboarding, unicycling, and pretty much anything where I get to get out and move and play.
When not being Sport Asha, what sets your hair on fire to do?
I love the arts, music reading, hanging out with friends and family, traveling, camping, puzzles and games, again pretty much anything where I get to play and have fun.
Great that there's the emphasis on fun. How do you bring that to the volleyball team you coach?
With the kids it's a balancing act. I have the older group of girls in the club, the 18 and unders. I usually throw in a good amount of variety in the drills to keep them engaged. I try to make sure that I compliment as much or more than I criticize. They seem to respond well when they see the other coach and I hop on the court and let our love of the game come through.

The other side of the coin is that we push them very hard. We have high standards and expectations for them, every point, every play. Ten or 15 years from now, they probably won't remember the scores to any of these games, but the life skills and lessons mentioned above will stay with them their whole lives. There will be practices where they are absolutely miserable, but oddly enough when they go away to college and come back to visit, those are always the ones they thank us for.
From what we talked about when we were at the Cert, you've been a volley ball player and are getting into Rugby: where do kettlebells come into this?
I didn't find out about kettlebells until a few years after I was done playing competitively.
So what year would this be?
I played for Cal Poly San Luis Obispo '94-99

When I was playing in college, I didn't really know what I was doing as far as weight training and conditioning, but I did a whole lot of it. If I had've known about kettlebells then, I would've been down right frightening on the court. The two handed kettlebell swing almost exactly replicates the bottom part of a volleyball approach jump. It teaches to load the hips and maintain balance and core stability through a dynamic movement. It also teaches linking the whole body together to generate power. For me, I always think of my volleyball swing originating at my toes and traveling up my body out through my arm. A more connected and flowing volleyball approach results in a more powerful arm swing. This is very similar to the kettlebell swing.
Nice observation - i can imagine vball coaches taking notes.
Although i just started playing rugby, so far kettlebells have helped my speed, agility, jumping in the lineouts, leg drive and core stabilization in the scrum, and most definitely stamina. I've been using Kenneth Jay's Viking Warrior Program for around six months or so and have noticed huge improvements in my recovery rate and muscular endurance. I'm very excited to add in the Viking Push Press [demo's in Return of the Kettlebell -mc] we learned about in RKC II.
Have you been able to share these kettlebell protocols with your teammates? what's been their response to kb's?
I've only been practicing with the team for about two weeks now. My role for the time being, is to be a sponge, find out their ways of doing things, and learn as much as I can. I will start bringing a bell out to the pitch to warm up with a few swings before hand. If others are interested in learning, I'll be more than happy to share what I know.
You've done both RKC certs now - why? Whay RKC 1? and then why 2?
I love to learn. I was hooked on kettlebells after a week of working out with them on my own, learning from videos and books. One meeting with Joe Sarti, an RKC in San Jose, improved my technique and ability to better utilize my strength.

Kettlebell Workshop at

Cool. when was this?
I believe this was 2007 when Joe and I first met up. I wanted to learn more, so I signed up for the RKC I course.
So this is June 2008?
February 2008

There was an incredible wealth of information contained in the course. All of the instructors were incredibly knowledgeable and very effective teachers as well.

I wanted to learn more, so I signed up for the level II cert. Level II dissected the exercises in level I and gave me a whole new understanding of the movements and their benefits, and introduced a few new exercises that naturally built upon the movements from the one before it. Now, as I'm sure you've guessed, I want to learn more, so I signed up for the CK-FMS course in October.


Now to the heart of the matter: you're one of only a couple of women to have done the 24k version of the beast challenge. When/where did you pass that challenge?
I passed the challenge in 2008 at my level I cert in San Jose.
Way to show up, Asha. What inspired you to go for it?
I like a challenge, and it seemed like a good measure of overall strength
Do you still think that it is?
Yes, very much so. While each of the exercises may seem at first glance to be upper or lower body exercises, they are all full body exercises. For instance, I start my military presses with my toes, gripping the ground, and then tense all my muscles in sequence from there on up to minimize strength leakage as much as possible.
Lots of questions here: How long did you train for the Challenge? What was your training regimen for each event? Did you come to the challenge knowing that you could carry out each event? - had you tested each event in the challenge at test weight before competing?
My training for the challenge was by no means the most direct and efficient way to accomplish this goal. I guess you you could say i started training for the challenge before I even knew there was a challenge. i had been rock climbing for a few years and wanted to increase my pull up strength for that. i started doing unweighted gtg* pull-ups sets of 5-10 after every call that I went on at work. Gradually I began to add weight up until the point where i was doing sets of 5 pull-ups with a 60 lb pack on my back. this was around 3 years before the challenge.Ii started to develop a little tendonitis in my elbow, most likely from hyperextending on the bottom of the pull up, and not properly engaging my lats, and had to taper off. i still kept rock climbing with some regularity, off and on been working towards a muscle up, as well as really focusing on pulling the kb back down during military presses. That seemed to have reasonably maintained my pull up strength.

[*Note, GTG - short for Grease the Groove, a concept presented by Pavel Tsatsouline in the Naked Warrior, for frequent reps over the course of the day to develop strength in a move -mc]

The second part of it was the press. when i first started with the kettlebells in 2004, the description said that the average woman will start with a 12 kg and the average man will start with a16 kg. Me, being me, ordered the 16 kg. It sat in my basement untouched for 6 months. I could barely press the thing overhead. Then somehow I got a wild hair to pick it up again, watched the Russian Kettlebell Challenge video and used the tips in there to increase my press strength and get an introduction to the swing. The fast tens program in the winter 2005 issue of hard style greatly increased my pressing strength. Then a few years later I did the Enter the Kettlebell program and soon felt it was time for the 24 kg. While waiting for it to come I began doing push presses and cheat assisted presses holding both the 12 kg and 16 kg in one hand. When the 24 arrived, it was heavier than I thought it would be. I began doing long cycle push presses Grease the Groove until i eventually worked up to 1-2 presses every hour and after every call. This is where I met up with Joe Sarti who gave me a lot of good advice on breathing and maintaining body tension during the exercises.
Sounds cool. Do you remember when you first pressed the 24? What would you say clicked that it went up that day?
I don't remember the exact day so well, but I do remember maintaining about as much body tension as I could muster.

For the pistol, I used pretty much the same regimen as the other lifts, GTG and adding weight over time. A couple of minor knee injuries kept me from going heavy with the pistols. In fact the most weight i had ever used for a pistol prior to the rkc was my 16 kg. I initially hadn't planned on doing the challenge that day and didn't raise my hand when they asked who was going to do the challenge. When everyone left for lunch I stayed behind, grabbed a 24 kg bell, and found I could pistol it fairly easily.
So let me get this straight: you had not EVER pistoled more than the 24, but you HAD been gtg'ing with the 12 and the 16? or mainly the 12?
yuppers, before that day, I had not ever pistoled more than the 16 and before RKC II no more than the 24.
And when you say GTG, how many reps, how many times a day would you say? and was that it? just gtg'ing? For how long would you reckon?
I'd been mainly doing 1-3 reps per leg around 6-10 times per day, 3-5 times per week. I had a partial achilles tear last year at work, so I've mainly been focusing on form and technique with the lighter weights while recovering
Also, if you started with bodyweight pistols, how long would you say it took to get you from your first BW pistol to your 24 at the cert?
I'm not exactly sure on the timeline on this one. I think I started learning the pistol around 2 years prior to the cert. When I first learned the pistol, I wasn't even thinking of the challenge. I had read the description for Pavel's Naked Warrior book and liked the idea of being able to get a full body strength workout with two bodyweight exercises. The challenge just happened to include one of those exercises.

Even though I had not done weighted pull ups for a while, I still felt pretty strong from rock climbing. I figured I'd give it a shot and see what happened. The pull up did prove to be tougher than I had expected. After taking the RKC II course I now realize it was much easier to maintain the hollow position with the 60 lb hose pack for pull ups vs having the kettlebell hanging around my waist. This was also long before I realized how much the hollow position and tucking my shoulders into their sockets would've helped my pull ups.
Ok that's inspiring. Do you have a favorite event in the challenge? Which is your most challenging and/or least favorite?
I really like all the events. Once I worked up to a full pistol, my strength increased in that one the quickest.
Good to know
The press was the toughest one for me to accomplish.
At the RKC II, you pistoled a 32 and a 36, i believe? and you'd like to see the women's event go up to 32kg. Could you expand on that a little bit: why isn't the 24 sufficient?
The 24 isn't sufficient for me simply because, i've accomplished it, i know that I am capable of more, and I like a challenge. I also know that having strength to accomplish this will directly translate into my work and play. When I pistoled the 32 and 36, that was more out of curiosity than anything else. I hadn't been specifically training to lift that weight. For the past two months or so before the cert, I hadn't pistoled anything heavier than 12. I had been using GTG at work, focusing on breathing, body tension and really drawing myself into the bottom of the pistol. When I pistoled the 36, I didn't want to convert it into pounds in my head before hand. I just wanted to go for it and see how it felt. With the tension and balance I had at the bottom, I instantly knew I'd be able to cleanly pistol the weight.
Awesome to hear again how much form/technique plays a role in these kind of strength events. That's really cool. It's funny how sometimes when you grab a weight you just know it's going to click and move up - or not. Was it like that for you with the press when you got that?
The press was a bit more of a struggle. For me, getting my elbow higher than my shoulder is the sticking point. If I can get higher than that, then I know I have the press.

This directly translates into firefighting in that we are often called upon to lift in extremely awkward and unstable positions. Most of the things that we lift, don't have weights stamped on them. My goal is to have the balance, core stability, and generate the body tension, that will allow me to perform these awkward lifts, when need, in a safe manner.
What are your training tips for gals keen to do the newly named "iron maiden"
My tips for training would be focus less on the weight and more on form, body tension, and breathing. Pavel's Naked Warrior book and DVD were instrumental for me for learning the pistol. GTG is a very simple yet highly effective routine for all three of the lifts.
Just out of curiosity how was your hanging pull up at the cert?
The most I weight I used at the cert was hooking a 16 kg with a toe. I'll have to put a lot more work into the hollow position before I really test this one.
Ah forgive me - i should have said hanging leg raise - could you speak to that one?
My hanging leg raise was less than stellar, which was extremely eye opening for me. Climbing had always done a great job of keeping my core in shape, without me really having to think about specifically working those muscles. As I took a bit of time off from climbing to let some minor elbow tendonitis heal, I neglected to continue specifically training my obliques. It wasn't until the cert that I realized how that weakness, along with my tight hammies, was limiting my strength.
Don't you love those self-revelatory moments? So let me ask more generally, what are your current athletic goals?
Play, have fun, be healthy.
Not make the rugby olympic team for 2012 or 16?
When I started playing volleyball in college, my coach used to have a row of pictures on his wall of all the volleyball players that had made the school's all time top ten rankings. My goal was to get into the top ten and get my picture on the wall. After a while I soon realized that due to a lot of factors that were beyond my control, I wasn't going to get the playing time to rack up enough stats to be in the top 10. I abandoned that goal and instead focused on making the most out of the time that I was given, squeezing out every play for all it was worth. After my Junior year in college the athletic staff informed me I had the third highest single season hitting percentage in the school's all time history. I finished my college career ranked in the top 10 for single season hitting percentage, career hitting percentage, as well as three categories in the Big West Conference for that season.

So, after all that, now I just tend to focus more on making the most of the time that I'm given.
Focus on the technique not the weight; focus on the moment, not the stat. That's really potent stuff, Asha. Likely less stressful, too. And so within that frame, where do kb's fit into your regular training practice and why?
I tend to change up my main routines every few weeks or so. I like to mix things up. My body seems to respond best to variety in training. I've traditionally used kettlebells for the bulk of those routine. Right now I am primarily using bodyweight strength and conditioning routines. GTG and Viking Warrior are the two constants that are added on top of anything else I'm doing. While I tend to either plateau or get bored with other routines fairly quickly, these two routines have maintained fairly consistent benefits, and I keep them short enough where they still hold my interest.
Super. thanks for taking the time Asha. All the best with your practice.
Hope this helps out. If you have any more questions, please let me know. Thanks for all your time and effort.
Mein Bitte

Cool, no? Strength is a skill. How do ya win the iron maiden? practice practice practice.
Take away: there is no spoon; just technique, practice and enjoying the moment.

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