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.

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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.

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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.

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