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.
Awesome. 

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.

video

video video

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.

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2 comments:

Roland Fisher said...

What a wonderful story, read, and seemingly, person.

mc said...

thanks roland for stopping by
mc

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