Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Valerie Hedlund - Reflecting on the Iron Maiden Challenge - interview part II

In part I of this interview, Iron Maiden champion Val Hedlund talked about her path towards becoming a trainer and running her own business. Here in Part II, Val talks about her preparation for the Iron Maiden, and reflects on where coaching fit in to her training.

The interview, by the way, was done in the last week of September, 2011. We agreed it would not come out until Valerie's own article came out in the Power by Pavel Newsletter on the last six weeks of her training (discussed below). That article "Demystifying the Iron Maiden" came out November 6, 2011.

Prepping for the Iron Maiden

So, now for the main questions: let's talk about training for the Iron Maiden - what was your approach?
i actually read your blog and took some of Asha training advice when the IM was just a glimmer in my eye. So thank you for interviewing and posting Asha's stuff for all of us to see [Asha Wagner also succeeded with the Iron Maiden Challenge - b2d interview here -mc]
For me, for about 6 months, I did my 'regular' training regimen which consisted of 2 days/week running, 3-4 days/week kbs (usually 1 heavy day, 1 ballistic day, 1 'stretchy' day, and then 4th would be whatever I felt I needed), and one Ashtanga Yoga day.  During my kb workouts, I would do at least 1 of the 3 IM lifts with whatever weight was appropriate for the workout. Similar to Asha, I used the greasing the groove method and really focused on form. Franz Snideman, Senior RKC , helped me with my pistol and pullup form, and I would video myself and watch the videos so I could coach myself when there wasn't another coach around [see b2d interview with franz on the Beautiful swing -mc].
Way to go doing self-video. That really helps, doesn't it?
I think it was the youtube videos of people singing in the mirror or talking to themselves that turned me off to videoing myself.  I'm glad I turned the corner on it though, because you really are able to see more when you're not working at the same time.
Learn a lot eh?
That felt weird (video-taping myself doing exercises alone in my basement... creepy!), but once I got over the creep-factor, I realized how important it was.  I was able to see things in my movements I couldn't necessarily feel while I was doing the moves.  I tried to use a mirror, but I felt like it threw off my movement- I was better off feeling the movement and then watching after.
The Hedlund IM Challenge Press

I love to press and the press was the easiest for me.  The pistol I got after I continuously worked on form.
So could you unpack this a bit? Do you mean bodyweight or with load or just focusing on the foot or??
So everybody is different, but form for me was:
  1. Performing close squats (knees and big toes together) with weight (at least 12kg), kicking one leg out, holding, switching legs, and then standing up, really rooting with both feet.
  2. Stretching the hip flexor/quad of the non-working leg A TON before attempting the pistol. That was more of an issue for me than the working leg being strong enough to pistol. I have been practicing pistols on boxes for a long time (2+years) and my non-working leg would hang below the box. When attempting to pistol from the ground, the non-working leg's quad would cramp when I got to the bottom position (and then I would tip over) b/c of too tight hip flexors and quads and I presume fairly weak hip flexors.  My Ashtanga yoga practice helped with hip flexor strength, but I found in my kettlebell practice, a good minute or two of stretching the hip flexor and quad of the non-working leg right before attempting the pistol was all I needed to turn those tight muscles off and perform the pistol without the cramp.
  3. Rooting with the working leg.  Major focus on every single part of my foot connected with the floor, especially my toes.  When pushing up from the bottom position, the focus was on DRIVING that entire foot down into the floor with all of my strength.  That mental picture was all I needed to get the pistol.  In my training, if I lose focus or think about something else when pistoling, I fall over every time.  For me, pistols are all about internal focus and the visualization of driving the foot into the ground, contracting the abs at the bottom and pushing down through the foot to get up.
Hedlund's 24k Pistol
 The pullup was the toughest.  I got the pullup to my chin after about 4 months greasing the groove with bodyweight and emphasis on form and then 2 months of greasing the groove with increasing weights. 
So you starred with what ? An 8 and then what? Before going to a 12? How many reps in your groove would yu do?
So I started at body weight, 8-10 reps each time.  And yes, I moved from bw to the 8kg to the 12kg to the 16kg and so on.  I would do as many reps as I could without REALLY struggling. If I overshot and didn't get a full rep on my last attempt, I would jump up & hold the top position (like a flexed arm hang) and then perform a negative as slowly as I could on the way down. 

At that time (About 6 weeks before the San Diego RKC), Andrew Read, RKC Team Leader gave me a program [given in full in Val's Power by Pavel Nov. newsletter -mc] that focused most on increasing my pullup strength and maintaining the other 2.  I cut out running, my ballistic kb day, and my 'stretchy' kb day (which usually consisted of lunges, rows, plank, windmill, TGU, pushups, deep side lunges, single-leg deadlifts, lighter deep squats, etc). 
That sounds harsh but I guess for six weeks...
Yes, and Andrew and I talked about this.  I didn't cut out running the first week (because I'm stubborn and not used to having a coach) and I paid for it big time.  I was not recovering and just felt like garbage.  Thankfully, I stopped being a brat and started listening to my coach and it really paid off. =)

I kept the Ashtanga once a week (for sanity and mobility) and the rest was Andrew's program. I had 4 days/week focused on the 3 IM lifts and one day focused on TGU, snatch test, and double swings, cleans, presses, & squats- just to be sure I didn't lose my level 1 skills in the process. 
Understood. Personally, the snatch test needs that weekly jolt or I start to suck wind.
Yes, especially after cutting out my 'regular' routine of weekly ballistics. I needed at least once a week of snatches.

The 4 IM days were split into 2 pullup/press days and 2 pistol/hanging str8 leg raises or pullovers (my pullups lacked ab/lat involvement). One of the 2 days of each was focused on high volume (and they took hours! because of the rest needed) and the other focused on high weight and low reps. 
Do you think the L sits made a difference? Or it was more just the rest and focus?
Hard to tell.  Both probably helped.

Taking out the running and ballistic training was tough for me psychologically. I have been a runner since I was 12y/o and runs are my time to get away and just breathe. I love the way I feel after a run.  Same goes with ballistics.  I love the feeling of finishing a killer 20-30min butt-kicking swing/snatch dominant workout. 
I hear ya.
The strength-based routine is a different feeling and I had never really focused on that.  The first couple of weeks I felt like something was missing in my routine, but my extra rest days (2/week instead of 2/month) were an absolute necessity. I felt sore in ways I had never felt sore before.  Just total body exhaustion. Week 3 of Andrew's program, I did 18 sets of 5 reps of weighted pullups (from 8kg to 20kg) and 5 reps of presses on each arm (either 16kg or 20kg). 
Would you also say a bit about what made you decide to go for this?
Well, I've had the press for a long time.  The pistol I had been working on just for myself- unilateral strength is so "functional" (if you like buzz words) and really shows true strength and balance.  I think good pistols should be a goal for any strength professional.  So when I got the pistol with the 24kg, I had 2 out of 3 and I thought "what the heck?" and started training weighted pullups.  I had never wanted to do weighted pullups before learning about the Iron Maiden. 
The amazing Hedlund 24k Pull
[Updated pull up section - Dec 30 -mc) Let's pause here for a moment: the weighted pull up seems to be the bĂȘte noir of many of us. Let's talk a little bit about how you progressed your pullup: when, prior to the challenge, did you start working on the pull up?
I've always been able to do a pullup. I have an older brother who is an athlete (track and football) and I was a tomboy so I wanted to do everything he was doing. I was able to do them as a kid and then I kept up with it as I became an athlete.  I think in college I was on the Wake Forest weight room record board with 22 pullups and that was my max.
You talk about 6m before really trying one of the IM moves each workout, and greasing the groove. Can we unpack this one a bit:  how did you progress the weight from bodyweight to load? (eg how many reps bodyweight before adding load)
I could do 13-15 pullups with my old "body-builder" form.  Once Franz helped and switched to the "tactical" form, I could only do about 3.  I worked myself up to 8 before I added weight. 

I had to look at my training log to see, but it was in February of 2011 that I started to add weight to pullups.  I generally would hook the weight on my foot and do as many as I could. When I could do 2 or more with a weight, I would move up to the next weight.  I also did a lot of weight pyramid workouts- one set with bodyweight, one set with 8kg, one with 12kg, and so on and then back down, doing as many reps as I could each set with each weight.
- could you say a bit about what your schedule was - prior to the six week plan - sets and reps when you focused on it, vs greasing the groove periods.
I assisted an RKC in April and I would have liked to IM then, but I was asked about 3 weeks before that RKC to assist and I didn't have enough time to put it all together. I wasn't really focused on the IM. At that time, I had a pretty regular schedule of 1 day of IM lifts, 1 Ashtanga Yoga day, 1 day of heavy DL, heavy swings, & weighted pullups, 1 circuit day (whatever I felt I needed that day), and 1-2 days running.  One week before the April RKC, I could press & pistol the 24kg and I got the pullup with the 24kg to my forehead.  It wasn't enough. 

I went to Kauai for a week after the RKC (delayed honeymoon) and then didn't really think about the pullup again until June. I started working on it again, thinking that I may be able to assist in San Diego. 

I wanted to see how close I could get before I started begging people to allow me to do this, so that's when I read your post with Asha and then re-read Pavel's grease the groove stuff and thought I'd give that a shot.  My training business is in my basement and my husband built me a pullup bar (which I immediately painted purple, so I could feel like a girl while training for this thing...).  Once a week in June and half of July, I would set a timer for an hour and when the buzzer went off, I would stop what I was doing and go down to my pullup bar & do as many reps as I could (usually with an 8, 12 or 16kg on my foot). That's when Andrew encouraged me to ask the powers that be if I could assist, wrote the 6-week plan, and that really helped me focus on the IM.
Did you work with a belt or off your feet?
Started with the bells on my feet.  I got the pullup with a 12kg on each foot 6 weeks before but then when I tried it with the 24kg around my waist, I could barely pull myself up.
Gosh, that's good to know.  Not with the 24 but other bells i've done the foot thing at work and gone well that's no biggie and then tied a climbing belt center hang and gone, um, am i just that much weaker today??
I had an "oh, crap" moment because it was after I had already asked to assist, was approved, and was then expected to perform the IM. 
Ha (sorry - i'm not laughing at you, but at understanding the panic feeling).
That's when the video-taping came in handy and I was able to really see what I was doing.  I think with the bells on my feet, I was able to engage my hip flexors and abs more naturally- I had to just to keep the bells from falling off my feet.  With the bell hooked to a belt, I naturally went into my old "body-builder" form and I couldn't pull myself up.  So, I had to practice technique but in the end, I was able to get it with the belt on.
Very cool insight, Val. Now, how long were you at "two inches away" ? did you experience that as a plateau?
I wasn't there too long. I had been doing gtg with the 12kg and 16kg and then one day just tried it with one 12kg on each foot and got it. But then the next day, I tried to replicate it and couldn't.
Again, thanks for sharing that - i've had this with the press and was delighted when asking other folks if once they hit a lift they'd had it come and go for awhile. Yes has happily been the reply. 
It was sporadic and I didn't want there to be any shadow of a doubt that I'd be able to get it that day in August. That's when Andrew sent me the 6-week plan.
What do you think made the difference?
I think having a plan, having someone reign me in and helping me focus on those three lifts really made the difference.

I've never focused on strength like this, so I really needed someone to tell me what to do.  I was just looking over old emails and Andrew's advice of "Please resist the temptation to do other stuff. This is one of the reasons so few people can do this - they get bored. It's such a short period of time - just a few weeks. Yoga is fine but please don't run, and add stuff in. The short workouts are there for a reason - to allow recovery of the CNS. If you go and add work in you're not going to recover."

I really took that to heart and after feeling so crappy after running and not taking the time to recover, it started to make sense to me. I'm a runner at heart and runners are a little nutty.  My body was telling me not to run, but there was something else telling me I needed at least one run every week.  That's when I really started listening to my coach and also listening to my body.  I cut out running and I shuffled Andrews workouts around based on how my body felt.
And so why the challenge?
I have not been a real vocal member of the RKC and I needed a way to get noticed.  I thought the IM would help with that.  I still need to do more blogging, youtubing, and that sort of thing- all of that is very uncomfortable for me, but life is all about getting out of your comfort zone, so I am attempting to do that more. 
Good for you!
Like I said, a very different feeling- scary and foreign, but I decided to listen to my coach and trust him (after the first week) and trust that the training would pay off.

The training paid off big time though.  Once i started tapering (about 10-days out), I felt invincible. 
Way to go. Exactly where you want to be. Right on.
It felt pretty good.

I was training at my friend's studio, North Beach Kettlebell, in San Clemente, 5 days before the IM and had access to kbs heavier than the 24kg. The workout was 4-6 sets of IM with the 24kg. On the 5th set, I tried the 28kg out of curiosity and got all 3 lifts with it.
Gosh that's nice! Way to go
 I actually checked the kb multiple times to make sure I didn't pick up the wrong bell- that it was actually the 28kg, because it was so surprising to me.  I went into the IM competition really confident in my training.
Is that where you wanted to be? I wonder if gals are just different.  That we know ahead of time we can nail it and wouldn't do it unless we knew that??
Hmmm... that's a really good question....  I've been thinking about that a lot recently.  Why haven't more women tried it? I think we're really hard on ourselves, especially in a strength-based community.  I know I didn't want to get up there and fail.  I thought it would reflect poorly on me and my ability to train if I didn't get it.  I went to Andrew for the plan because I wanted to be certain, without a shadow of a doubt that on the day the RKC came, I would be able to perform every lift with confidence.  I told him I wanted to make it look easy.  I wanted to crush it. That was my goal. Like you said, the training was "harsh", but I wanted to be confident I could do it.  Maybe that's why we women haven't had more attempts- we're too hard on ourselves. 
I really enjoyed training heavy.  I wanted to eat better and 'cleaner' because my body really needed it.  My workouts were better when I focused on getting my protein and good fat and kept breads to a minimum.  I didn't gain any weight training heavy, if anything I may have lost a pound or two.  I don't own a scale nor do I weigh myself unless at the doctor, so I can only guess.  I felt better and leaner than when I started the 6-week program.  I did weigh myself out of curiosity at the RKC the weekend I did the Iron Maiden and I was 131.2-lbs (and I'm 5'3").
It's interesting that you think we're maybe being too hard on ourselves about the challenge. I hadn't seen it that way: it's like why would we do it if we have no sense of whether or not we can make it? I've been so surprised when guys get up and try to just wing it.

But my guess is that with trail blazers like yourself and Asha, i'm certainly hearing on the forums about more gals who want to do the IM.

I'm glad!  Looking forward to seeing more women do this!
Practice Post the IM Success

Now what, in terms of your training practice?
Training-wise, I'm looking for a new focus. Thought about trying to do all 3 with the 32kg.  That's still on my radar.  I did a DL competition a couple years back and really liked training for that.  I may do one of those.

Have you put your running back in?

Some.  I have been taking my dog to a park where I can take her off leash and we run sprints together.  She's really fast though =).  I like sprinting.  I usually do about 1/2-1mile jog warmup w/some mobility drills and then we sprint. If I feel ok, we'll jog back but sometimes I just walk.
What have you kept from those last six weeks?
Kind of went back to my old varied routine but with a little tweak- not as much running and more strength. 
Staying with the diet?
Sticking with it for the most part.  The day after the IM, I went to my favorite breakfast place in San Clemente, The Bagel Shack, and got a big, bad everything bagel with cream cheese, avocado, tomato, and lemon pepper.  Mmmm...  Then felt sleepy the rest of the morning.  Got back on track after that- when you eat food that helps you feel good, you end up making better choices. I've gotten back to better choices. =)
The 6 week Plan, Stan, Redux

Anything else on the experience?
I do have an article in the next Power by Pavel Newsletter which will include the actual training plan I used for the last 6 weeks.
 Would you mind sharing that again here once the article comes out?
No prob. 
[Following this request i received a copy of Val's wonderfully detailed 6 week log annotations agains the plan. We started discussing this before i sat down to really look at it. Back to Val... -mc]
Table 1. Week 1 plan in black; week 1 actual in red
in black is what was planned, in red was what I did
You can see that the first week (Table 1, above), I was not a good student.  I also made some adjustments to  the workouts (example, Table 2, below).  I hated the batwings and so I replaced them with the hanging straight leg raises- that is a weak spot for me and I thought I needed those more.  Actually back in April Dustin Miller, Beast Tamer suggested I do those to work on engaging my abs and lats more in my pullup.  I think those really helped a lot.
Table 2. Sample from Week 2 of Val's last 6 week training template

How did yo hook up with Andrew on this? Thats great that that worked.
Andrew Read, Jon Engum, Valerie Hedlund
I met Andrew in April when we both assisted Team John Engum at the RKC in St Paul.  Just sheer luck that we were on the same team. We quickly became friends and have kept in touch since. I was intrigued with the way he's worked himself up in the RKC community so quickly- he truly has a passion for this stuff.  Plus, he has great business sense and I have been tapping his brain for information on the business side of things. 
When I got close with the 24kg pullup, I asked if he could/would help with my training and he was more than happy to do that.  I think he saw the business opportunity in it, which is awesome.  He is a great coach and was able to put together a killer program for me.  I hope that his new book coming out will help others get past their individual hurdles.

Would you change anything?

I would have been clever enough to come up with the program on my own and I'd be writing my own book =).  No, I wouldn't change anything. It was great to have a couple coaches and a plan to stick to.  I would have been second-guessing myself constantly if I had written my own plan.  Sometimes it's nice to turn your brain off and just do the work.
[After this exchange, i took some time to really look at the training plan and the log of what Val had done. I was fascinated both by the actual plan, her revisions, which seemed to be near daily rather than just the first week, and her presentation of herself as following this plan. It seemed her approach was far more loose with the plan than what she seemed to perceive of her practice, so i wanted to dig a little more into her sense of what seemed to be her own style in her training - that her body at least had trusted her own style of training more than her conscious thoughts were owning ] 

Val, can we come back to your approach to the IM for a minute again? Just to be clear, you say you had the press for a long time and the pistol for awhile. 

How long before the challenge did you have the press? do you remember when you got it?
My RKC- April 2009 during the press lecture
How long before the challenge did you have the pistol?
Nov 2010 so about 9 months
The pull up?
6 weeks before to the chin (2 inches away)
3 weeks before all the way
So the whole 6 week program you shared with me was really to get those last two inches - a program you varried it seems quite a bit by feel?
Yes, that's right
I'm intrigued about what motivated you to seek outside help at that point: was it that it was getting close to the competition that you felt you just wanted that outside perspective to help with the last little way?
I probably didn't need the help to get the last couple inches- I could have done that on my own.  But my goal wasn't to get the last couple inches.  I wanted to make it look easy.  I guess the program got me to the 28kg on all 3 and that helped me make the 24kg an easy day.
I know what you mean about sometimes trying to figure stuff out for yourself when under pressure too - it's nice to give it to someone else.
Yes, that was part of it.
also - could you let me know if the shape of your article for DD will be mainly about the last 6 weeks? i don't want to step over what you write about...
Thanks.  My article was about "Demystifying the Iron Maiden".  How basically I got really close on all three b/c I try to train with good form every day, use kbs as a practice, and I understand that strength is a skill.  My philosophy is to seek help when I need it and then work hard to get the results I want. 
I felt like after the IM, people just see me as some "freak" who is just genetically able to lift heavy things.  I think genetically I am built for this type of thing, but I also had to work hard and I sought advice from people who know more than I do or have been doing it longer.  I tried to make it feel "doable" for other women b/c I really think it is!
Ok, so especially with what you just said, you know I'm wondering, you really had this whole thing before you had this, you know? Maybe just like gals being conservative about (not) just winging an iron maiden, you're being a wee bit conservative about your own training genius.
(Table 3. Click on image
to see full detail)

See, I just really went over your last six weeks plan (Table 3, left). 
Have you had a chance to look at what you did compared with the specified program? You were jazz improv to a score. You riffed all over that template.

So what I see is you got good support from your pal as your coach, and sounds like you felt that support was really important for your success. Am I reading that wrong? 

But looking at the data, i guess I'm trying to ask have you considered that you may be selling yourself short in terms of what you did to get yourself forward? Seems like great coaching tips on form for the pistol from Franz, and some ideas for moving on to the 28 with the 6 week plan, but how can i put it? Why not propose your own book?
Thanks so much for your kind words. 
No worries. Not at all.
I probably do sell myself short a bit.  I have a habit of doing that.
It's that gal thing. Really - certifiably.
I guess it's easier to tell people that someone else helped me than to take all of the credit myself.  It seems arrogant to say "my training genius got me here". 
Well you're not doing that - just so you know.
You're not a sports psychologist, are you? LOL. 
Er, well hmm. Long history in ed. psych, and coaching grad students -- ahletes and the rest of us seem to be remarkably similar. A lot of the same stuff dealing with getting better at our path. But back to you:
I did feel like I needed someone to write a program but I guess I should say it was a template.  I needed someone to tell me to stop running =) and focus on strength and I wanted to check in with someone.  i suppose I need to get better taking credit for what I did- thanks for the reminder.
Indeed- we all need a coach - at some times for some things.  But sometimes that's guidance/feedback. And you rocked the house. Take a bow!

Would you care to speak a little bit more about how you figured out when and how to rif on the plan? A lot of folks talk about "instinctual training" but to me this feels more like the experience of a lot of reps - and i think folks at various levels of experience will be interested in this.
I suppose you're right.  I think it's a lot of reps.  As I said, I've never trained for this type of strength program, but I have been strength training since I was 12y/o, so I know my body pretty well. 

I did stick to the intent of the template pretty well, I think. 
Indeed. That's what Jazz is: we recognise the original tune - which is rather how we also recognise the artistry around that - without the base we wouldn't get the rif. So you did some riffing.
I shuffled a couple of the days around (some due to travel and vacation) but tried to stick to the template.  I figured out what [Andrew] was trying to get me to do and I allowed myself some creative freedom, without compromising the goal.  I think halfway around the world might be the only way I can have a coach =) because I really liked having the freedom to do that, even if that wasn't the intent when he wrote it.  For example, the Aug 4 workout where the plan was 20 sets of 5 pullups with weight... I didn't think it would help to do all of them with the 12kg, which is what I think I could have done every set with. I thought it would be better to pyramid it a bit and do what I could with the weight I had that set. So, I started with bodyweight, and then moved to 8kg, on up to 20kg. I was pretty tired at the end and decided to do my last couple sets with the 12kg just to get some good reps in with focus on form to end the day.

I pretty much substituted hanging straight leg raises for batwings because I felt like they would help my form problems better.  I also added them in to a couple workouts because I knew I would need them. 

A couple of the changes were due to (1) attending a family reunion and only bringing one 16kg kb (July 29 & 30) and (2) being in CA with my friends and family and not wanting to go to the gym.  I have a 20kg at my apartment in CA and so I modified a couple workouts (Aug 12 & 13) based on what I had available to take to the pullup bars at the beach and still accomplish the goal.

I think it's a combo of having a good template, and being confident/comfortable enough to change the template when I needed/wanted to without compromising the intent of the plan.  
Yup. Cool to have the template, the structure to let you be free to rif and work rather than spend ALL cycles figuring out what to do. Nice.  Reminds me of Wulf's work on motor learning (pdf): extrinsic focus (focus on effect) is better for learning than internal focus (focus on movement) - maybe similarly here, focus within a template - reducing the set of options of what to do while still facilitating choice - rather than focusing entirely each time on what to do without that plan - limitless options - is a similar thing: the frame as constraint frees the mind to move it move it. Hmm. Thanks for that.

But biggie here: way to go on your accomplishment. It's a big deal - and thank you for engaging in these reflections: they're great food for thought.

Thank you for spending the time.
Thank you. This has been really fun.

Thanks again to Val for spending the time talking, thinking and walking through this training practice and stepping up to the platform.  Here's a few video's of her success.  Thanks to Val for making these vids available.

Val's goal was to make 24k look easy. Success, no?

Next time, a few thoughts on pulling together some threads from  IM discussion to date.

Related Posts


Monday, December 26, 2011

Valerie Hedlund, Path to Iron Maiden Challenge Success, Pt I

As the end of the year draws nigh, and desire for inspiration in the new one will be fast upon us, now may be a sweet moment, in the post christmas ennui and pre new years festivities to reflect on some successes of the past year. Or at least one more in particular. Let's take Valerie Hedlund's summer success with the Iron Maiden Challenge.

Valerie Hedlund (the one doing the pull up with the 24k bell, left) is the latest woman to pass the Iron Maiden Challenge (pressing, pistoling and pull-upping a 24kg kettlebell). That in itself is still a unique encough challenge to warrant attention. But Val is also pretty extraordinary on a number of other levels.  To articulate just a selective few, she runs her own fitness business, went through physio training and had the gumption to change track to become a fitness trainer instead, and, as stated, she walks the talk. This past summer, at 5'3" and 131 at the time, she passed the Iron Maiden challenge.

Despite the business acumen and considerable personal and physical accomplishments (of which the iron maiden is but one), she can also be, as you'll see, self-deprecating to the point of being reluctant to take credit for the work she's done to achieve her goals - in this case, her strength goal with the Iron Maiden. 

Like Asha Wagner (b2d interview here), Valerie's success with the challenge is an inspiration for gals in the RKC community in particular who wish to emulate her success. What's intriguing - and satisfying - are the distinct paths and practices each has taken to achieve this goal. There's more than one way to press a 24 it seems. Or pull it. Or pistol it. And there's more than one way to think about not only the task at hand, but one's self while doing it.

In order to offer some insight into this athlete's pursuit of the challenge, it seems it might be nice to understand a bit more of the story of the athlete, no? To that end, in part II, we'll look at Val's path to the Iron Maiden Challenge itself, and reflections post hoc. Here in part 1, though, Val talks about her business, her path towards becoming a trainer and where KB's fit in.

What's life like now, post focussing on the Iron Maiden (IM) Challenge?
I've been focusing on building my business here in Denver so I do what time allows.  I moved from California about 9 months ago, sold my business there, and have been starting over.  It's been challenging but rewarding at the same time.  I have been learning new things about myself and getting better at the business side of things. 
 Tell us a bit more about your training background and  business.
I have been a trainer since I graduated college in 2002.  This was something I was going to do "until I got a real job or went back to school".  About 3 years into it and about 8 Physical Therapy internships later, I realized that Personal Training IS my real job.  It's what I'm passionate about and what I love to do.  There aren't many people who can say they absolutely love what they do.  I am fortunate enough to be one of those people who truly loves working.  I suppose my business is special because I focus on the individual.  I'm not in it only to make money and I didn't start working in gyms because I love looking at myself in the mirror (we've all worked with those trainers, right?).  I love learning about the human body and teaching my clients what I learn to help make their everyday lives better.  That's why I do what I do.
I started doing kbs in 2008 and got certified in April of 2009.
Why Kettlebells? 
 It's a simple tool, doesn't take up too much space, and the workouts are efficient. They help combine strength, mobility, and cv endurance all in one workout.  My clients really love them (well, love/hate) and they see results using them.  You can't argue with that.
I hate to sound like a commercial for dragon door, but there's no better tool out there! Plus, the instructors were always so impressive to me- the depth of their knowledge and the humility even at the highest level.  I just felt like I "found my people" when I went to my first RKC/Pavel event.
Training Philosophy? 
My business is called Simple Strength & Fitness and our motto is "Train Smart. Be Strong. Live Balanced."

It's not just a motto, it's how I run my business and my own training.  I like being strong and training for strength, but I also like having more balance in my training and in my life. I think doing a couple strength cycles during the year would be a good goal- have a couple months of a specific strength focus and then a couple months to "play".
Also - who would you say are the folks you train the most - is it classes or one on one or??
I like to do both.  I started training one-on-one initially (in 2002) and never really liked classes (always thought "step" or "cardio-kickbox" when I thought of classes).  But when I found kettlebells, I found that they're really best taught in a group.  I opened a studio and offered classes and I really started to enjoy the group dynamic.  I keep the classes small though- no more than 12 in a class because I don't like people getting lost in the crowd.  I like to punish each person equally and when the class is too big, it makes it more difficult to do that.
That's cool about leaving physio for personal training?
I think so.  I grew up thinking I needed more and more schooling to get a better job.  Plus, I went into personal training thinking it was a temporary thing. Add that to living in California where personal trainers are a dime a dozen and a lot of them got into it because they "like working out", it didn't really seem like something I could call a "profession". I thought about Physical Therapy because I am interested in how the body works. Who knows, I may still go back to school for it, but a couple years back after doing multiple internships in various clinics, I realized I really enjoyed what I was doing. 
As a trainer, I'm able to take people after their insurance stops paying for physical therapy and help them get to where they really want to be.  I'm able to look at the body as a whole instead of individual parts and help the person move better.  It's such a treat to hear my clients tell me that after many years of daily discomfort, they no longer have pain after working with me. That's when I get the reassurance that I'm different from the trainer who just "likes working out".
Within this process, what was the pull towards the RKC then?
I think it goes back to wanting and craving more good information.  I decided not to go back to school for Physical Therapy, but I don't want to get stale.  I actually found kbs though the NSCA at a seminar.  I want to learn from the best and I think the RKC is very particular about who they promote to instructors and they really seek out the best in the industry.  It feels good to be a part of this group of people.


With Val's background and training philosophy in place, next time, in Part II, we'll focus on the prep for the Iron Maiden Challenge, the success, and some of the psychological challenges around that practice.

Related Links

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Easy Strength III: 33 days to Radiant Happiness

The hypothesis was that a bottoms up 16kg would correlate with a 20kg press; the next hypothesis was that by working easy versions of one arm push ups and headstand push ups, i could get a 16kg BU and a 20kg press - without pressing kettlbells for the 40 days of the easy strength program. That's a lot of hope and spit. In part 1 i gave the reasons for this set of hypotheses; in part II i talked about dialing in the right level of "easy" and showed how progress was measured on the road. Where we left off, i'd just successfully, actually hit target one: a bottoms up with the 16. The next test of course would be the 20.

The 16kg BUP continued
After having bottoms up'd the 16 at the office, when i got home that evening, i decided to give it
this is my quest: to follow this 24k bell
no matter how hopeless no
matter how far...heh now
wait a minute...
another go. It worked. Again. My goodness! what a day.I then tried the twenty. It didn’t go all the way, and it ended up feeling more like a side press, but that was a HUGE jump in progress.

More than that - yes - is possibly *feeling* this notion of groove that Dan John was talking about - at least i thought i might be. It seemed that to get the 16kg BU i had to change the shape of where the press happened and if felt like more of the back of the shoulder was getting into the act from this new position.

What i describe may be obvious to everyone else alive but it has not been to me.

The 20k single
The next day, Saturday Nov 5, 33 days in, i retried the 20. It was back to glued on the shoulder; recovered; bottoms upped the 16. Recovered, and retried the 20 with that groove in my body. oh wow - it got off the shoulder, and then it started to move. At glacier speed. It probably looked like it was stopped or stuck but i KNEW - i just KNEW it was still moving and still going up. What IS that??? it felt like i just KNEW those fibbers were going to recruit and get that sucker up.

I must confess i was pretty happy. I expressed a bit of a whoop.

I will also confess that while i have pressed the bottoms up 16 since then - once even for a double on the right (the left still needs coordination work), i have not repressed the 20. But i’m ok with that (more or less). The last time i got the 20 - by a very different path - i also had days initially where nothing.That it had gone up was seeming but a dream. So not surprised, though  i confess further that i may have tried a little to hard over the course of the next day to re-get that 20 and my shoulder is not thanking me for it. Dam dam dam

BUT i feel like my hypothesis of correlation has at least provisionally been found credible: there is a correlation between the 16k bu and the 20k press.

A quick note about that Groove Thing

It’s taken to get that BU with a sufficiently heavy weight to really feel what the movement is to manage the whole press with that grip.

BUT, by getting the groove difference with the heavy weight i started to take that back to a lighter weight where i can get more reps grooving in that pattern. That i think is important. I couldn’t FEEL that shift along the back of the shoulder with a lighter bell; i can’t rep it with a heavier. Now i can apply the heavy bell feel with the lighter rep-able load.  At least that is the plan.

What does this new groove feel like? well, at a sticky point actually past breaking parallel, where it feels hard, moving back a bit recruits it seems a bit more from the back into the shoulder and that extra fiber helps put that puppy up. At least for me.

In playing with the 12 which is my light weight in Return of the Kettlebell, i've experimented now with arm position - how in front of the shoulder the press is vs how"open" or more barbelly it is - just to feel what has a wee bit more effort or less. It's subtle but getting it right a weight that feels easy, can feel easier/smoother yet by playing with that position.

It’s a Feeling (rather than % max)

What is that right level of easy effort for easy strength to work?

I really have no way of knowing what percentage of a 1 rep max i was doing in any of the moves i did
trying to be zen
about progress
as i can’t do a 1 full rep headstand push up or a one arm push up. And pistols well, on good days there are reps; on other days i hold a door and on excellent days a KB.  So i just went by feel. How far from the wall for two good reps - today - easy to adjust the bod for each rep to nail that. The one arm push up i pushed a little harder. Perfect form on the plank but initially didn’t go nose to the carpet. So less range of motion. I kept thinking hard enough to require an adaptation; not so hard i can’t do this every day. Not so hard it becomes a mental challenge to get through.

Implementation of Easy Strength: Different but Same?
My easy strength series has been a little different from what i undrestand to be the norm.

I had a goal to get my BU 16k, and from that, the 20. My understanding of easy strength is that one practices the same moves one wants to improve: to push a deadlift, for instance, do the easy strength deadlifts. Or use a thick bar for the deadlift - same but different.

I didn’t do that. I couldn’t as i didn't have those tools available.
But i did use the tools i had. Me. I am a great tool, apparently (one of the infinite tools).

It seems (though i cannot absolutely claim correlation, what else the heck is there going on), 33 days of easy strength BUT not touching a kettle bell, just doing bodyweight work in Easy Strength ways (a) got me a Bottoms Up PR and (b) got me my 20 back. Only a single, but that’s all it takes, isn’t it, to rekindle faith that yes, my shoulder IS recovering. Bodyweight to improve kb’s. That’s different but same (as opposed to same but different). Really? seems maybe so.

That 24 - the main prize -  maybe just got a little closer?

And i still have 7 days left.

Update: perhaps no surprise after a month on the road and hitting a PR, an absolutely fever level cold hit me full throttle on Monday Nov - with fever, even -  and according to my sense of self, and my heart rate variability, i’m in no shape to train. Indeed today (friday: 11/11/11) was the first day back to doing my easy strength in yet another hotel room. So i can either declare success at 33 days in or keep going with it for a week to get in the full 40 while i figure out next steps.

My sense? Even if i bag this round of easy strength now and step into some more regular workouts or another variant of easy strength, that’s fine too. Dan says his best gains have come around the 21 day mark and that’s a fine place to change up and over. For me, it’s been 33. Cool.

And on top of this plateau breaking, i’m also gaining some new skills. Like this bodyweight work - that’s a definite keeper for my practice. doing some handstands and one arm pushups aren’t getting in the way of anything else. And i need the reps.

Where Next?
At the easy strength workshop (and i’ll have to check through the 14 DVD’s if this made the cut) - i think i asked Dan or someone did about why ever go off easy strength to do something else after 40 days if this works so well? I do believe he turned aside and stage whispered - you don’t have to  - with the high implication that you won’t believe me telling you that so we’re going to talk about other approaches that work too.

I think, though,  for me, where i'm at in my practice, i have to learn to love the nudge at the bottom end. It's something i can repeat daily and find progress around.

I recall that in getting her beast challenge, Asha Wagner repped and repped with only the 16 and the 12. Dan John also saw the sense in this for several of the iron maiden moves. I personally sense the sanity and hope of that path - again - just speaking for myself. And i have my own evidence now that (a) getting the right level of "easy" effort (b) leads to transferable gains.

With my focus still on rehabbing towards an iron maiden challenge SOME day, from steady progress, i've just started playing with changing up the pistols to box pistols with the 8's for 2*5's, and will see how that progresses up in load. I know i felt that in my run last night: oh that's where the gastroc origin is. Happy to learn that.

For my hinge work i'm doing 2*20s of kb dl's - the rest is staying the same. But while i'm around kb's again i'm also practicing the bottoms up work more deliberately - but keeping it in a grease the groove fashion.

It's an exploration.

Take Aways:
I have no recommendations about where to put Easy Strength in your practice.  I just know this approach

  • a) did bust a strength stall out (my 20 regained even if just the once right now)
  • b) did help my shoulder feel bolder - it likes this stuff
  • c) is with the bodyweight stuff teaching me new skills that i wish i’d had the sauce and insight to work on sooner.
  • d) shows me that showing up and punching the clock - with the right effort - in order to “nudge the bottom” as Dan John and Pavel talk about in Easy Strength highlighting work from a pantheon of progenitor easy strengthens, seems to Work.
  • e) i don’t have to worry about being away from the KB’s to make gains in the moves i want to improve - at least not at the moment perhaps.
And the biggest right now - the mental shot - is that i *have* to believe i’m recovering - finally - from the shoulder stuff. Now i admit i likely won’t really believe that till i press the 20 again for reps. And then i won't likely really believe it till i press something heavier than a 20, but it’s getting closer. So stay the course.

And on the other hand: that i *can* do any of this is, my shoulder issues have made me realize, a gift. So daily practice like easy strength isn't a burden or just a punch the clock thing. Really, it's a little miracle. So ya, finding a way to move every day? i'm there.

IF you haven’t read Easy Strength yet, it’s good stuff. Especially if strength work is your sport supplement, not your sport. Will be writing more about that in the near term. but for now, 33 is a magic number. Yes it is. 33.

Related Posts

the title is a ref to a line in a joni mitchel tune from the album Hejira
"Refuge of the Roads" - given the context and motivation of this experiment, it seemed apt:

There was spring along the ditches
There were good times in the cities
Oh, radiant happiness
It was all so light and easy
Till I started analyzing
And I brought on my old ways
A thunderhead of judgment was
Gathering in my gaze
And it made most people nervous
They just didn't want to know
What I was seeing in the refuge of the roads

See ya next time new interviews and strong gals.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

And this was just right Easiness - Progressing Easy Strength

How keep progressing the weight of a kb press when on the road without weights? Last post presented a set up for a 40 day easy strength program to take on the road when i’d be away from the KB’s for over a month, and still wanted to keep progressing my press especially. The approach i decided to try used headstand push ups, pistols and one arm push ups as ‘easy strength’ variants.

ten days in:one hand work: so
much easier facing the wall
for this on 
Today, i’ll go over what progress was like in what i think of a Road Blocks - the chunks of time at various sites on the road that
broke up the practice.

The First Go at Easy Strength: Too easy?
The first time i had dabbled with easy strength, i had heard that one should use only 40-50% of one’s max on a lift. So i used 8kg on doing press work, and felt like it was making zero difference. Probably it was helping rebuild my shoulders but perhaps too impatient i didn’t feel like anything was happening - and i could measure no difference. After just under three weeks i thought i’m just not getting this. I posted my experience on the RKC forum - that i had not had success - is this a gal thing - and was told that, no, women had had success with it, but a couple of folks said that they had had to nudge up the weight a bit from what they’d initially thought the 40-50% was - for it to kick in. More like around 60-70%.

The First Ten Days
: getting the Load the Right Kind of Easy
That thinking of making the protocol a little more effortful - not much but a little bit - kinda pinged with me. It was a deep “hmm” moment. So this time, i thought, ok, this time, i shall adjust the level up just a touch. As it turns out, in the book Easy Strength there are two versions of the protocol where Even Easier Strength is the 40-50% version with somewhat higher reps; easy strength is indeed closer to the 70%+ zone. Alright.

That nudging the load up a bit from 50 to 70 turned out to be very easy to do and control with all bodyweight work. In the handstand press, in order to get two good reps, it became obvious immediately how far out from the wall i needed to be to get a little challenge to each rep, but not so much that getting in 5 pairs felt overwhelming.  
first time with face the wall headstand presses

Likewise in the pistol. Initially i started by attaching some stretch bands to a hotel door handle and pulled on them as needed to get up. That was cool in terms of finding something new for me about the explosiveness out of the bottom of the pistol. Not that it will look fast but i felt i was getting a kind of a “snap” at the bottom with that little bit of assist. Especially on the stronger side. And i’d focus on finding that on the weaker side. Technique attention when building strength. Makes a gal feel like she’s at least doing something.

The terra incognito here was the one arm push up. I  started from my knees, and i have to say that each of those two was not exactly what i’d call easy - using all the instructions from Naked Warrior about hand position, corkscrewing into the lat, hand by chest etc. My intent was to do only what i could with perfect form. My happiness has been that i could get these reps in, from my knees, without having to find another elevation from which to practice: this meant i really could do this workout anywhere.

Face the wall presses getting closer to the wall for two, ten days in

Bonus: weighted Pull Ups. Also, where i was working these first two weeks, i did have access to a pull up bar and 12kg loads. With some climbing slings and a couple caribiners i was also able once a day to do a couple singles with a 12. I really really appreciated this access as i knew that i was not going to have it for the last part of my trip. Every day then greasing the groove with pull ups, a couple loaded singles, and the easy strength program.

The first ten days  of this approach was really a learning process for me. I had no real way to sense progress. To borrow another expression from Dan John about workouts, these were mainly “punch the clock” workouts: get up in the AM, do my easy strength; get to the office, pull up when going through the doorway; find a time to gear up and do the singles with load.

Unexpected Benefits:The one thing i did notice during this time is that my shoulder seemed to be feeling better - the more regular awareness i would have that some ranges of motion still felt a little hinky seemed to be diminishing. That’s a surprise.

Getting some balance with a headstand and getting a little deeper on the wall handstand

The Next Seven Days
I’m breaking up the time sequence by weird intervals, just because of the shape of my travel, and the seeming correspondence to noticing changes.

So around day 15, in my third state and as many time zones of the trip, there were some seemingly noticeable effects: the reps i was doing started to feel a wee bit easier. I seemed to be getting closer to the wall in the headstand work; the pistols i was using both hands on a band for getting up and down became single handed. Indeed, a single hand on a wall was becoming sufficient for reps.

I took some time to start playing with headstands as well - the real type where one hinges at the hips and the legs lever up. I am SO not there yet. But i saw a cool vid on technique really emphasising arm and hand position that helped.

Pit Stop
At about 15 − 16 days in, i was back home for 2 days. I checked two things: the 16kg bottoms up; the 20kg press. No on both. THe 20 did seem to leave the shoulder to a slightly greater distance. But still - i used to be able to do this for reps - so not what i’d call happy. Onwards and upwards with the 40 days.

Back on the Road: The Next, Next 7 days.

This trip took in two countries and four cities. This was the first time i found myself able to put into practice some of the ideas from  Easy Strength the book. Dan John rifs on the importance of playing around with reps. 2*5, 3*3, 5,3,2

Imagine my surprise at finding myself able to do 5 reps of headstand presses. And five knee level one arm press ups.

As DJ puts it, there’s a feel: 5,3,2 is not what i’d want to do every day with this, but it ya, made sense in my body. Towards the end of this road trip - 3*3’s were explored a few times. Why? well sometimes i had to get to a meeting and i could get in three sets more readily than five. If the difference is between getting a workout in or not, it’s nice to have an option to get the three sets in. With the 5,3,2 the happiness there is just feeling in the zone enough to pull off the five and still feel submax. Mind you, not a whole lot sub max, but sub max.

I will say that doing OAPU’s from knees on bare wood floors is a kind of challenge one might not prefer. Carpet is better. A folded towel where not possible.

Oh, the other thing about OAPU’s from the knees?  It regularly cracks my lower back - especially from the right side. A fringe benefit? Not sure if folks who do these full on from the feet have this effect?

Friday nov 4, 32 days in: the next pit stop: semi-retest

The 16kg Bottoms Up:
I was back in the office, between meetings at work, and thought, hmm. And went to bottoms up a 16 (yes the office floor is i won’t say “randomly littered” because that would be unsafe but “coherently decorated” with KB’s). And i think i had an out of body experience: the dam thing slowly - i mean SLOOOWWWLLLLYYY - went up. Like there it was: in my fist; upside down, and my arm extended. I think i was a little stunned. Pulled off a record number of pull ups on leaving that day too. And that’s after zero PU bar access for around ten days. Gosh.

Something seemed to have been happening with this road work. Next episode, we’ll check in on the Pretty Big Idea that occurred Nov 5, day 33, and from there wrap up the 40 day experiment, reconsider the hypotheses and hopes and whither voyager.

Hope you’ll check back.

Related Posts

Sunday, November 13, 2011

40 Days of Nudging Easy Strength - part I: making lemonade?

Do the same moves, five days a week, no more than 10 reps total, and at the end of 40 days you will be surprised with your strength changes. The Big Change may even happen at the 21’ish day point; it may happen at 40. The big challenge: have faith in the program - despite how “easy” it feels to do.

This summarises pretty much Dan John’s synthesis of Pavel Tsatsouline’s “easy strength” program. And after initial skepticism from trying it for a few weeks this past summer, i had the opportunity to dial it in and really go for a full whirl this past - well - near 40 days. You judge.

Why Did I Try the 40 days?
I have been re-training my kettlebell double military presses - some of you may recall that my shoulders have been variously put out of commission, and pressing just about anything overhead had seemed a distant hope for some time. Indeed, a year ago at the Easy Strength seminar (now captured in living colour on 17 (!) DVDs), i could not complete either the snatch test or clean and jerk test for early reverting my RKCII because my shoulders were not happy. I still recall Geoff Neupert’s wincing face at my jerk saying “just put it down; you don’t have to do this” I also recall steve freid’s at my pull ups but that’s for another day.

It's a year later. Gosh time flies.  Over the summer, i started to come back to pressing and went from barely putting double 8’s overhead (May) to getting to 5 ladders of 5 reps with double 16s (60reps total) (mid September). I was doing the Return of the Kettlebell cycle again (here's the first time's overview), and actually just finished the second time doing the 5 ladders * 5 sets with the 16s (third week in Sept) so that first time wasn’t a fluke; it was a personal record, though. The last time i’d gotten close to that, my logs showed, i’d only been able to do three sets of 5 ladders then had to drop the reps. Happiness

And then came the road trip
I was not going to have access to kettlebells for near about 40 days. It seemed to be a sign. Why not give the program a real go? But what to do?

One thing i have wanted to re-achieve in this process was to (re)press the 20kg - something i'd been doing for reps prior to shoulder hell and would be a Sign i was maybe not out of the op to get the 24 if i could get that back - on the road to pressing that elusive 24. Despite the happiness with the double 16’s i could not get that 20 so much as out of the rack. The force of gravity holding that thing to me seemed impenetrable.

Targets and Tests for 40 days
In going over what seemed rather an immersion in Dan John’s oeuvre of late (as per the recent dj articles/interviews), i recalled somewhere - probably numerous places - that he said working the bottoms up press really helped get the press grove right. QUick note: a bottoms up press with a KB is doing a press but cleaning and pressing by hanging onto the handle through the whole move so the bottom of the kb is pointed straight up, not laying against the arm.

 I was happily bottoming up pressing the 14’s that James Breese had sent me from Kettlebell Fever - love those things: i swear they’re why i got my double 16s so strongly - and many thanks to Ken Froese (the triple, double beast man) for saying to move in 2kg increments in RTK rather than the 4kg jumps.

kj double bottoms up: to your health
To the point, I have to admit, the whole groove thing was escaping me: i did not see from that 14 how the Bottoms Up version would make a form difference. I didn’t feel it. Felt kinda like a regular press with more grip.

Strange MathThe fact was,  i could bottoms up the 14s but could not bottoms up  the 16. i could clean it into a bottom up position, but not move it much at all beyond that. I was not getting what was going on with the grove thing - but i did believe: if i could bottoms up a 16, i bet i could press a 20. Now why would i believe that? But yes, in my mind that seemed a reasonable correlation. A hypothesis to test.

So here’s what i thought: i shall do the 40 days while i’m away and when i get back i will test what i achieve against the bottoms up of a 16 and the press of a 20 -So that’s a target, but remember, i’m on the road sans bells. All i was asking was to bust a plateau. I’d gone from a 16 to a 20 before. I want that back PLUS this new move. From doing “something” for 40. That’s a kind of outrageous proposal: why would forty days of an undetermined “whatever” yield this breakthrough?

All i knew in terms of the whatever is my uber focus:  to (see if i could) rebuild my strength to make the requirements for an iron maiden challenge: pistol, press, pull up a 24kg bell? So the easy strength things i’d work on, i’d like to relate to that. But without kettlebells. Or likely any weights. At all.

Here’s what i came up with: handstand push ups; one arm push ups; pistols

HANDSTAND PUSH UP One thing Ken Froese had told me is that the inimitable Max Shank had told him that doing just these kinds of handstand pushups helped him get his double beast press. Ok. Checking the great Beast Skills site’s tutorial on the handstand itself, there is on idea  to face the wall to focus on back straightness rather than flipping up to the wall  - great i thought: i can make this “easy strength”able  by controlling the distance out from the wall. There’s one thing i could work on for sure. I could also test my progress from time to time with the trad handstand push up.

PISTOLS daily pistol work, 2*5’s,  seemed doable anywhere. And my pistols also needed to be rebuilt from scratch. I mean i had previously worked up to pistoling a 12 and that was just gone. So good idea. Let’s be humble and suck it up and begin again.I’m going to need to do that work anyway, so now’s good.

OAPU As for the third move, with my main focus on busting out my military press - well again, Ken Froese had been asking me about whether i was doing any push ups. Hmm. Not diligently. They were more of a test move. Awhile ago i’d thought about pursuing the one arm push up a la Naked Warrior, but had let that drop when my shoulder wonked out. How could i revise the OAPU for easy strength, since it ain’t easy? Knees maybe? Indeed.

And so, i had my three main moves: handstand push up, pistol, one arm push up. Dan also suggests an ab exercise (roll outs, say) and something dynamic - like swings. Initially i added in elephant walks for abs and hindu squats for the dynamic bit.

Part II, i'll go over how the approach worked and how progress got measured. In the final part, III, we'll look at overall program success - and how that got measured.

Also coming up: interviews with strong gals Fawn Friday and Val Hedlund. 

See ya then.

Related Posts

Sunday, October 30, 2011

We need to move - better! UK workshop, Nov 19.

How are you feeling? Interested in feeling better? improving the performance in your sport or chosen activity - right now - which may mean reducing pain to move better?

As i've written about many many times, an important part of improving performance/reducing pain, is dialing in great movement - which may also mean,
  • improving balance, 
  • engaging vision, and
  • enhancing movement function.
We'll look at learning skills and self-assessments for each of these you can test on the spot, and then take home for practice with yourself and any of the folks you train.

Workshop: Own Our Movement
- One Joint at a Time Nov 19

If you're interested in learning more, please check the info on this UK only, places limited workshop, to own our movement, and perform better. It's at November 19, at Bodyology in Bracknel (outside London, not too far from the queen's windsor palace).

Again, places are limited; all the info overviewing the workshop and how to sign up is here. Look forward to meeting you on the 19th.

UPDATE: Discounts
  • early registration discount of 15% by saturday, Nov 5 noon UK time
  • a 10% discount by Nov 12, noon
  • and a special 20% discount till Nov 12, noon for first responders, front line care workers and full time students.

Related Links

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Strength Matters II: a wee chat with Dan John about women's strength in general and the iron maiden in particular

In Part 1 of this discussion with Dan John, we talked about patterns in building up strength. We focused on Dan's upcoming book Intervention (overview of differences with companion DVDs here). The motivation for the initial discussion was to get better insight into Dan's approach for thinking strength training program picking for women in particular.  In Part II we get into two applications of the DJ approach to XX training: what's a measure of a strong gal, training a deadlift via kettlebells and preparing for the Iron Maiden Challenge. We close out with a few Dan spotting notes.

 the Special Greetings of This Strength People

Intervention Interview Part the Second

Dan, before we get into the main topic of this part of the interview, let's set a bit of context. Last year - about just a year ago now in fact - you and Pavel did an RKC workshop together called Easy Strength (14 DVDs of it just came out, too with the book to follow).

The RKC is the Source for what's become known as the Hardstyle approach to kettlebells. It's interesting to see a senior coach get involved with and start writing so much about the value of this single implement and approach. What's the attraction?
Pavel, Brett, Dan, RKC2, Feb2010
First, of course, it was Pavel. I have known about him for a long time. I’m thinking out loud here: Jason Keen went to a twenty dollar workshop in Minnesota and wrote about it online. This is probably 1998. The guy, Pavel, interested me. We finally met in about 2003 when Charles Staley needed to fill a hole in his summit and asked me to come down. I was just “some guy.”
Easy Strength: 3 days, 14dvds. Easy
I think Pavel and I hit it off immediately. We both appreciate simplicity but are willing to dive into the depths to get there! Once I could fit an RKC into my schedule, I was lucky to have Brett Jones [b2d interview with Brett here -mc] as my Team Leader. He was put in a tough position in hindsight. I had no idea, and this is not some false modesty, that my name carried any weight or fame. So, Brett had concerns about his abilities. By God, he was amazing! So, it gave me a clue that this community was filled with people who knew lots and lots, yet were always humbled to learn more. Moreover, there is a mad thirst for “More!”
That’s why. And, the 10,000 other reasons…
Women's Strength is? 
Thanks for filling that in. So it is of kettlebells i wish to speak in this part of our discussion, and in particular women's strength development with kettlebells. Last time we closed with you saying
Maybe someday I will take the time to chart out age, gender, background, injuries and goals, but the idea of mastery is simply this: get the movement right without pain. Load and reps will be decided but what you need to do from there and, yes, I know that isn’t what people want as an answer!
Thank you for raising gender. You are the one coach I know who describes himself as carrying more feminine hygiene products than his female athletes (see previous interview with Dan), so let's see if we can get a bit more particular about programs and women's strength.

Initially i wanted to ask you about any rules of thumb you may have for gals re-interpreting any of your t-nation posts for various programs - esp thinking about appropriate loads which is where i usually get stymied. It's not obvious how to translate a 315lb deadlift given as a warm up into what's reasonable for a gal, you know?
For women, we still are gathering information on things. It seems to me that women who meet their fitness, sport and physique goals “have strength.” Beyond that…and this is going to include height, weight, bodyfat and all the rest…I need more information! A 200 pound woman and a 150 pound woman seem to do “better” in sport after they deadlift 275 (125k). With guys, we would slap up a bunch of charts and tell the 200 pounder that they are “weaker.” But, hmmmm? Maybe we let the men get too good, too strong. I had great information about throwers from the 1950s and early 1960s and their numbers would be weak for a high school kid. Yet, their throws would still be world class. When “lifting is the answer” became, well, the answer, did we get ourselves so strong that other “qualities” got lost.
fawn friday, rkc: easy peasy 315 dl. we all do this - over coffee and gnosh
With women, we may be in those early glory days where ANY improvement in strength improves performance (and fitness and physique). The next generation of girls might have tremendous weightroom numbers, but, and I hope not really, lousy bodyfat and performance numbers.

So, I think the answer with women is great: lift weights! Now, I know the next question: how much? The answer would be, and this is scientific: more.
More? OK. more. Was ever thus, eh? Women = 2x work of men etc. Could we drill down on say the deadlift idea. Are there ways around this for gals who have kettlebells. That’s it. Bells. How would you get to 125?
Well, if “just” kettlebells, the barbell becomes an interesting test. As you know, many people use the Vertical Jump or whatever to test a program. What an interesting idea it would be to have a less than optimally trained person do a heavy deadlift, then learn, master and advance with kettlebells. Then, retest. Now, obviously this can NOT be Max max max deadlifts…a heavy training lift at best. But, for my purposes, I have found that when a “sorta max” goes up (one’s daily or weekly heaviest lift without peaking or any kind of firing up) increases, performance zooms up in all other areas.

So, in a sense: here are your damn tools! Quit complaining about what you don’t have and focus on what you do have! It sounds cruel, but all too often, people will find everything they lack to hold them back. What holds one back is the lack of imagination to overcome any obstacle
I’m Canadian, Dan. We don't complain; just apologize. We simply ask how to do the best we can with what we’ve got, especially relative to our more affluent cousins to the south.  It’s an attitude that helps us get by, by say, oh I dunno, winning gold in men’s and womens’ hockey at the last winter Olympics against our more affluent cousins to the North. Sorry. See? all apologies...Anyway:
Many people ignore the clarity of what Pavel said about higher rep DLs in "Return of the KB" and other sources. I found it to be absolutely true...and a major reason why the book "Easy Strength" has so much dedicated to my journey in coaching heavy DLs without doing heavy DLs. Three sets of double KB DLs for twenty will awaken the deadlift beast within you. And, I don't know why it works, but it does. And, that is the only thing I focus on. I know this: if you think you can explain something about the human body, more than likely, you are wrong. You have to trust experience more than explanations. It is the lesson of coaching that life has pounded into my head. That's why Barry Ross is a better sprint coach than me: he had the courage to throw out everything save what works. Then, the research backed him up!
It's like how I coach the discus without a discus. I'm always told I am wrong, but my athletes always win.

So, get those reps in.
I sense a theme. Picky detail: what load for those three by twenties?
20-40% seems to be the right amount...with the high twenties being most sustainable.
One other point in your discussion of what you credit as “the other 51% of the population” (really it's quite amazing and lovely to have a coach - especially on t-nation - mention women and women's strength) – you do attach some values to women hitting strength-ness. We have the 125k deadlift. You also quote Josh Hillis about a gal who can do 3 pull ups and three dips and triples a 125 DL also will (a) not only be strong but (b) has her bodyweight locked down if I have that aright? 
It goes back to this odd thing about women: ANY strength training seems to get them to their goals. So, Josh has his set of standards and I have been seeking my own, but the answer is going to be something along the line that women who lift weights seem to get their body composition goals. Not a great answer, no, but it is right. That is the million dollar answer, by the way, that is where the money is…
Iron Maiden Example
Could we do a worked example of this one as well? Given the unknowns, then, of gals strength progressions, and some of us wanting to do the Iron Maiden (an RKC strength challenge for women to pistol, pull up and press a 24kg bell), how would you tune your five moves/four steps or anything else for that matter to support that goal?
To nail the Iron Maiden, the woman seems to need a big deadlift.
The four Steps would be grand as a big general conditioning aspect, but the three challenges (Pistol, Pull Up, Press) really seem to be strength moves with a technical aspect. In my language, that’s QIII or QIV [i.e. quadrant four: increasing specialization and “rare air” – more in easy strength and in intervention dvd –mc] . The issue for those quadrants is this: do you have the courage to do what you say you will do? Can a woman focus on the single goal of the Maiden for six plus months? That’s the challenge for anyone…any gender.
Asha Wagner, IM tamer,
Pressing Out.
Um. Yes.  I’ve made this point before: Asha Wagner did the Iron Maiden by working only with 12s and 16s. Talk about making use of what you have. That’s a lot of volume work with, as Asha has said, tension, focus on form, greasing the groove…
Women who want to prepare for the Iron Maiden seem to come in strong. Now, obviously, right? Andrew Read believes that the deadlift is really the best prep for the Pistol and I would go on to add here that women who seems to get that deadlift "around" 300 while maintaining some reasonable (for them!) bodyweight don't struggle with Pull Ups. Absolute Strength is and remains the single most important quality for building upon any goal.

What? When it doubt: Get stronger.

IM Pistol Many women in the community can do Pistols literally by tapping into
Valerie Hedlund,
pistoling the 24
no probs -
b2d interview coming up
their background. Our martial artists, gymnasts and former cheerleaders seem to understand the tension issues needed to do the movement. Of course, it helps if you are not completely jacked up with blown hips or knees. The one thing that I would offer, and this is just an observation, is that ankle stability for some women is an issue, yes. Bad ACLs and too much of this and that give the ankle a few issues. But, that leads us to the Pistol issue, lack of ankle mobility. So, we have that FMS test for the ankle and that should be something that every Iron Maiden challenger should iron out early in the prep period. From my observations and what I hear from others, the movement of the Pistol trumps the load, so a 12 or 16 k kettlebell for lots and lots of singles...like a corrective, not a lift...might be better prep than going heavy.

So i'm imagining
pulling a 24...
For the Pull Up, women thrive on Greasing the Groove. Again, nailing hundreds of reps (over time) with the 12 is probably a good idea as I think any failures with the 24 are going to catch up to you. One thing: in my heart, I am a thrower, so always remember my focus is going to be optimal performance. Nailing all the moves in the gym means nothing if you can't replicate on the field at the RKC.

IM Press. Women can't do enough Waiter Presses and Bottoms Up Presses. Much of the "I can't press" issue for women is the groove. Master it! I gave you advice earlier that women should press at least five days a week, not heavy, but the movement. It remains great advice.
And lives not only in my heart but my shoulders. Fellow readers, that two part discussion and program guide begins here
IM Org. From simple observation, the Iron Maiden Challenge is held at an odd time. If you are an Assistant Team Leader doing the challenge, you need to have TL who "gets it." I would release you from everything save paperwork on the day of the challenge. Get out of the sun, fill out forms, hand out some water, and don't get drained. I have seen challengeres literally say "now?" when the time came to do it. That's not optimal!
Thank you. Definitely more food for thought.

Just before we say goodbye, what’s the plan for the book’s release?
The idea behind the book is to come out as a Kindle. Then, I will add to it as time goes on. But, if you buy it when it first comes out, all the new material will be free, you just update. The price will go up each time after updates. The initial price will be low, by the way. This isn’t a money maker, the idea is to get “something,” of course, but I just want it to cover the hassle of typing it up.
And for folks who like to track all things Dan, what is your main gig these days? When's your next competition?
I’m a writer recovering from total hip replacement. I was off pain killers the second day and my Physical Therapist said he has never seen this kind of recovery. My next competition, God Willing, will be something that the mere moment of hearing my name to enter the ring or field will bring me to tears.
 You've moved through a variety of sports: from your throwing work to the highland games to lifting heavy stuff.  Each of these seems to require a skill set and focus. Have any of these practices with competitions overlapped, or have you focused on competing for one at a time?
Overlapping is actually a secret of mine. I think that we pick up a great toolkit in every sport. That’s my knock against early specialization: you miss those gems that come from other sports. I played American Football late into my forties and could still dominate because I was using a toolkit (like superior strength and speed, not a bad thing) that my competition didn’t have.
Where will Dan be in the near future?
I need to keep updating my website “events.” I need to keep my information in one place! But, Ireland, Hungary and all over the USA.
Thank you again, Dan. Way cool. Have a great time in the UK and Ireland - hope you see the sun.

Intervention the DVDs are out and available now; Intervention the book on kindle, is expected in November. Kindle readers are available for PC's and mobile devices - and kindles, too.  Easy Strength the Book is anticipated to be out and available before the december holidays.

Coming UP: Stong Women talking about Strength featuring:  a chat with Fawn Friday (who does triples with the 24 in pistols), and Fawn's thoughts on training for the IM. Also, an in depth interview Valerie Hedlund most recent RKC to succeed with the Iron Maiden Challenge.

 Related Posts


Related Posts with Thumbnails