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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