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 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.

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