Sunday morning Qigong

Although Sunday is my official sleep in day, the late Summer sun has me awake and firing on all cylinders by 7am. I decided to head on down to the river that flows near my house and to do my Qigong on the riverbank.

There was barely a soul in sight as I rode down along the bike path, looking for a good location. I eventually found a quiet spot where I could practice in relative peace, only noticeable to the joggers running down the far side of the river.
This time of year its green, green and the air filled with dragonflies and various insects busy with their business. The river flows straight down off the mountain side, with lots of idyllic little spots for picnics or nature walks.
I do my stretches and then immerse myself in the local sounds; running water, a little breeze and the orchestration of birds and insects. Since I normally train indoors ( thanks to the near vicinity of a mosquito full forest next to my house), this was a pleasant change and I found myself much more engrossed in the practice than usual. If there is such a thing as being ” at one with the universe”, then Qigong and meditative practices are definitely the pathway to that goal.
Any tension both mental and physical just slipped away as the environment embraced me. It felt great to be able to stretch out my time frame and let the practice meander, rather than the regimented, set time sessions I do before an average work day.
Finishing off with some yoga breathing, I felt pretty charged.
Any of you looking for a way to deal with stress, recharge or just a way to connect with yourself, you wont go wrong having a look at Qigong.
An amazing path of self discovery.

Whats in a typical kettlebell training session?

 Had a busy weekend teaching several one on one personal training sessions back to  back on Saturday and Sunday, and it was great for me to be around people who all  took their own personal training goals very seriously. It also meant I slept very  soundly Sunday night!

Since some of my blog readers may not have had any kettlebell experience before, I  thought I would take the time to explain what a typical class with me consists of.

The first thing I tend to address in my kb  and conditioning classes are the existing  state of health of the client, any pre-existing injuries, general lifestyle and overall  body mobility.Whether the client is a professional athlete or your average 9-5’er, it  is critical with kettlebells that these points are addressed before working out and  designing a course. You have to know the raw materials you are working with, or it  can potentially lead to disappointment in the student when they cant achieve their  goals or get frustrated by existing physical limitations.

Here in Japan, most of my clients don’t stretch enough, partly due to extremely busy lifestyles and long work hours here in Japan. I generally try to give them a simple routine that they can do daily, at times fitting small exercise/stretching sets into the existing day job when breaks occur and there is time to remind oneself about posture and tension. Men and women that end up sitting at a desk 8-10 hours plus a day are going to have tight hips and stiff lower backs, so oiling the system regularly with some easy stretches makes a big difference in their overall physical experience, especially as they get older.

Starting a serious/ steady exercise routine will ultimately expose any injuries and /or medical history that the client brings with them. I can thank Steve Cotter and his IKFF methodology for a comprehensive and holistic approach to client care, since we tailor each class to the student existing abilities, and work from there. Some clients may end up getting a steady diet of stretching and band work as an integral component of their training, and bring in the kettlebell work gradually. Those with pre-existing injuries will definitely be pointed at band work initially and then body weight exercises to rehabilitate the muscle and encourage once again the body’s true natural function, and gradually start on the path to rehabilitation. Once a level of stability is achieved, weight is added gradually with the kb’s ( I like to call this phase yoga with weights) until we get to the client’s working weight. By that point, the client has been given all the basic and necessary tools to sustain and maintain themselves on their training journey.

All students this week were really serious about their own personal goals and could define quite clearly what they wanted to achieve and the amount of time they were willing to commit regularly to getting there.

Once the arm up and confirmation that the body is ready to go is done, then its time to hit the bells, where we do a lot of work and transition between exercises without putting the bell down. This saves us time for one, and helps keep the conditioning aspect of working with kb to the fore.

I will video a student performing exercises to give them a before and after sense of their lesson, and mix the intensity of the workout with regular stretching throughout to relieve any muscles that are tense of tired. This makes the training session much more enjoyable for the client, who generally push themselves harder than they expected initially.

The end of the class usually involves a revue of work done, and suggestions for home workouts and things to watch out for as they progress.

The general recommended frequency of kettlebell routines normally starts at two or three times a week, and develops from there. Rest is important, as well as diet and what other exercise/activity the person does to support their training goals. Depending on the level of the student, we can go fairly quickly into competitive type lifts, or focus on single arm kettlebell work and conditioning and mobility. Its really up to the client.

I must say that from each student, as I teach I learn a little bit about myself at the same time. Instilling a sense of confidence in a person that they can achieve their own goals is vital, and that some kind of moral support and encouragement is there from me when they need it.

The relationship between trainer and student is symbiotic; often the student gets as much out of it as I put into it.

Enough said 😉

Double kettlebell clean conditioning tip

Great video from the Orange Kettlebell Club and fellow kb’ers Jason Dolby and John Wild Buckley showing an excellent training aid for learning the double kettlebell clean.

By isolating the arms, it brings your shifting centre of balance and hip movement  much more into focus. Suggest you try this yourself!


Ten minutes to Eternity

You may have been wondering where I have disappeared to over the last few weeks, but I have been subjecting myself to eight weeks of online training with IKFF key member and all round great guy, Ken Blackburn. After having had quite few months off due to surgery, and resigning myself to building my strength back up from not far off scratch, lets just say that the regimen has been a boot camp for me as I start the long journey back to form, and beyond, towards a level of fitness that will allow me to compete in the Girevoy Sport.

The way I have started to accomplish this goal is by online training.

So what is online training all about? It is a combination of intense weekly schedule exercise routine, video recording and fitness level observation and adjustment which aims at taking your current fitness status to the next level and beyond. In all honesty, for me, that has been a combination of physical re-boot and ongoing foundation preparation for competition within the next year or so.

Sitting now at week seven, with about one week left to go, I can say that it has been a long and arduous journey, confirming my view that the older you get, the more that the balance of all the elements in your life come critically into play. Since I am not a professional athlete and I have to fit my training schedule around a busy daily schedule here in Japan, this makes that balance all the more important.

The big three

I am concentrating on the three standard competition lifts: the kettlebell jerk, the snatch, and the Long Cycle/Kettlebell Clean and Jerk. In all honesty, the biggest improvement has been the snatch, and the exercise is akin to a delicate dance with yourself; to be able to generate enough power to bring the bell overhead repeatedly for up to ten minutes at a time, and be able to walk away without having half the skin of your hand ripped off from over gripping.

What I have learned the hard way
Its not just about strength; its more about overall flexibility, your level of conditioning, and your all round ongoing physical maintenance that makes this form of sport so compelling. For many looking in from the outside, they can say, well what’s the point? The fact that serious practitioners of the sport can continue to compete well into their 50’S, 60’s and even 70’s is proof positive of the overall benefits to health and wellbeing that the Girevoy sport has to offer.

Stretching

I believe I am not alone in saying that many kettlebell practitioners do not stretch enough., especially me For the Russian gireviks and other international athletes of the sport, stretching is integral to their training sessions, before working out, between sets and afterwards in cool down. It is through this constant maintenance and confirmation of basic postural mobility that strength is truly built. Without it, we are walking down a path towards injury and interruption to our overall goals as athletes.

I haven’t been stretching enough. Some of the long cycle work that I started to do with Ken was initially excruciating in the sense that I became all too aware of the lack of flexibility in my spine, and the effects that caused me when working out intensely, with ‘bells extended above my head or just trying to stand in rack position.

I sit at a desk eight hours a day, and if I don’t do some kind of maintenance and stretching it will eventually relegate me to permanent poor postural alignment and poor athletic performance regardless of what activity I choose.

Stretching, band work, yoga, and regular checking in with your body area the keys.
Its all about doing it- regularly.

Blow by blow

The program started off gradually enough, and I managed to get through the first week without any hand damage at all, despite the long sets and higher workload. Ken had promised not to kill me straight out of the gate, and rolled on the workload gradually till by the end of the second week I was operating pretty much at maximum capacity. As the workload increase I started to notice that some muscles were just tiring out much faster than other parts of my body, and that tension and energy leaks were showing up everywhere.

Tension tension tension- I was a bundle of nerves and tightness, panting and sweating trying to deal with a body that hadn’t been challenged in quite  a while. Then the wear an tear started to show as the amount of reps I was doing and length of the sets started to increase. End of week two I ripped a chunk of skin off my right hand.
And we wont even discuss into the GPP work which came at the end of the session twice a week…

Ken had me video my performance of the exercises, and the first few views were humbling to say the least. It made me realize that video and feedback are excellent tools for any student of the kettlebell sport and that added to personal coaching, nothing could make you improve faster.

Grip strength and forearms

Doing serious sets of snatches for up to ten minutes at a time will beat your hands up, period. I found that my forearms were just pumping up so much that the heart rate monitor was cutting into my wrist by the end of the set, even when I had set it fairly loose at the get go. Surprisingly, the hand that has shown the most tendency to get beat up is my right hand, on the stronger side of my body, indicating clearly to me that although stronger than the left side, I was more prone to tension on the right side of my body.

By the beginning of week three there was a feeling of obvious trepidation every time Ken sent me an update for that week’s workout. The interesting thing was- he wasn’t killing me, and my desire to overcome my own physical limitations kept me fueled up enough to make my training preparations a daily occurrence- stretching, getting enough sleep, keeping my food intake balanced enough to support the workload.

I found it harder to train by myself than when my buddy Jan Kaszuba came by to train with me. His sense of humor, encouragement and shared experience of training hard kept me focused. I kept hitting right up against my own physical limitations week after week, but Ken’s encouragement and affirmation of what I was doing right kept me from dwelling too much on what I was doing wrong. Which believe me, felt like a lot.

A Girevik isn’t built in a day.

To be continued…..