“Stay in the suck cause who gives a fuck”. Sara-Clare once said this during a certification course and it has stuck with me ever since. In a way it has become a motto of sorts for my training these days. This is mostly because I am working on a lot of things that I suck at, like flexibility, ring work, and abdominal compression. So let’s get into the suck! This week I will talk about the current training program that I am following. As I discussed last week, this whole process started with and is based on an assessment of my current assets and liabilities in terms of strength, flexibility and endurance all relating to the skills needed to pass the level 2 kettlebell certification. In early November we took a snapshot of all the core skills before an initial six week training cycle following the Agatsu online training and checked everything after the holidays to see where I was at. The good news was that I had improved in all areas though I still have a ways to go to get there.
Based on what she saw in my assessments Sara-Clare put together an initial program that focused on muscular endurance and flexibility. As she explained to me, my lack of flexibility was actually hampering my efforts on the strength side and my ability to enter into a lot of positions, like the toes to bar, the pistols, external ring push-ups and the bridge. The shocker was that I wasn’t going to be doing much kettlebell sport training in this cycle (GASP!). Your nervous system can also only handle so much at a one time and busting through on the flexibility side of things will take a toll on my body. I was warned the flexibility days would be intense and truth be told I am often sorer after the flex days than I am the strength days. This was especially the case of the training cycle and even more so when Sara helped me train. More about that later. I have also spent enough time training kettlebell sport in recent years that my technique is fairly good and Sara is confident that I will be able to put in the work in the coming months and easily get the numbers I need for the level 2 cert. The rest of the skills would however need a bit more work to get there.
My program is divided into three days, a push strength day, pull strength day and a flexibility day. I am working 3 days on, 1 off, with the flex day sandwiched between the two strength days. For conditioning after the strength workouts I am to follow the conditioning portions from the online training. Happily I often get to play with some kettlebells here. I do miss working the longer sport sets, but it is also great as a trainer to keep a variety in your training and mix it up. I would never give a client or student an exercise that I have never performed before and now every week I get to work in a few different exercises into the my conditioning, which is helping me keep my skills fresh. On days that I am pressed for time and need something quick for conditioning, I will work with some tools that I love such as the mace, Bulgarian bag and atlas stones. You get a big bang for your buck with those toys and it is nice to reward yourself with some candy once in a while, especially when you are constantly grinding and pushing yourself in things you are not so great at.
As discussed last week, knowing the proper regressions and progressions for the exercises for the level 2 is key to advancing on these skills. The fitness world is sadly very ego rich and this can be a major obstacle to advancement. This is especially the case in the online world that we live in. People are quick to judge your worth as a trainer or coach based on the depth of your Instagram feed or the number of abs you are rocking, but this means nothing in the real world. If you want to grow as a person and learn new skills you need to stay humble and be honest with where you are at. Own your current level and be honest with others about your journey. The lay person may not always be able to tell the difference between a strict muscle up and a swingy ugly shoulder tearing muscle up. I will always be the first to tell a person what I suck at. I will also be the first to share with a person what I am currently working on and trying to improve. Honesty, openness and dedication will always trump showy bullshit. Don’t be afraid to work those regressions and take a step back when you need to!
On both of the strength days I am working some kind of regression for the pistol squat, such as superman squats, soleus extensions and this devilish pallof split squat that Sara pulled out of her bags of tricks. Picture a pallof band hold in a lunge position, and then drive your weight forward onto your front foot forward and pushing up off the ball of your foot. When we first did these I couldn’t do more than five without taking a short break as they are very neurologically demanding. My body was confused; every muscle in my body seemed to be firing at once to get the job done! A lot of this had to do with the fact that I am really concentrating on posture in everything I am doing. Spine is straight, abs are on, glutes engaged, ribs are down and hips are always level. I have a bad tendency to often dump into my lower back when I am looking for extra mobility in my hips and lower body (a lot of people do this, that’s right you know who you are). Take a quick scan of Instagram these days and you will see a lot of dirty looking pistols, bridges and other random movements that are demanding on hip, knee or ankle flexion, and the person is working with a rounded or overextended back. Beyond simply cheating your way into a position that you don’t own, if you keep repeating this pattern eventually something is going to give (most probably the lower back and spine that is constantly working overtime) and you will get injured. This will especially be the case once you start to load things and move beyond the weight of your body.
On the pull strength days I am working a lot with bands to help get my lats really firing and actually be able to bring my chest to the bar and hold it there. Pull movements have forever been a weakness of mine and I love working on this stuff. If I learned anything from watching the movie cliffhanger as a kid, it’s that one day the ability to hold myself up will compensate for a faulty harness. You need to be prepared for when this shit happens in life! Stallone’s supercharged veins aside, there is something very liberating about being able to do chin ups or pull ups and I was always very envious of people that could crank them out with ease.
Top of the bar holds, hinge ring rows and explosive pull ups are all staples at the moment. Once again body position is king and I am constantly working to keep those ribs down and maintain that straight spine while driving my elbows to my hips as I try and cranking out pull ups (emphasis on try…). Not easy, but every workout I am getting a little bit stronger and the positions are a bit tighter. Seeing the little improvements week after week is incredibly motivating. Despite constantly living in the suck, I am never lacking motivation or doubt that I will be get there by June. If doubt ever does start to rear its ugly head, I just pump up the Journey and I am good to go again.
For push strength days it is all about working in external rotation. Previously I could knock out ring push-ups for days; this is something I have worked with in the past as they were always a great stability challenge. Have me start in external rotation with my palms facing forward though and I was simply confused. Nothing was happened, there was no going down. Even worse, I couldn’t figure out why the hell I couldn’t do these. After some time and regressing the movement I figured out that it is just a matter of exploring and building strength in that position. Nothing I had ever done in martial arts or fitness had challenged me to go there and work from this angle. To build strength here I am working different movements that incorporate external rotation and scapular stability. The movement I have loved the most is the ring support hold in external rotation. Turning to google I was happy to a picture of Agatsu head honcho Shawn Mozen pulling it off! When I first started the movement I had to de-load and have the top of my toes down and I am happy to say that after a few weeks I am holding it without added help. Regress to progress my friends! I still need to work on the proper posture and being a little straighter but it is getting there!
Lastly I come to those flex days! Oh those flexibility days. Even on my strength days I am working some aspect of my flexibility, constantly rolling my feet and calves and trying to open up my feet. I do a lot of work on my dorsiflexion, the key to getting that pistol. Apparently having stout Dutch farmers’ legs is not as asset here?! Flexibility gains are not always as immediate as gains on the strength side and small improvements are slowly coming. Sometimes it is a battle of inches, other times millimeters, but I will take what I can get. All of my sessions, whether they be strength or flexibility, last about 2-2.5 hours, just to put into perspective how much mobility and prep work is being done to try and open up this tightness I call a body. Flexibility days involve some deep stretching for the hamstrings and hips, preparing for the toes to bar and bridge. There is also a big focus on opening my thoracic spine to try and ensure that when I bridge it is not all my low back. I have a good degree of abdominal strength in terms of rotational power (thank you kung fu) and stability from years of planks and the like, but I don’t have that gymnastic compressive abdominal strength as much yet. This is another focus of the flexibility days as I work to get those toes up towards the bar!
I mentioned earlier that often I have been sorer after the flexibility days than the strength days. Some of this has to do with the fact that Sara-Clare has often been around to help me out with the flex days. It isn’t always planned (which is too bad as it doesn’t give me the chance to mentally prepare myself for the fun that lies ahead), sometimes we all just show up to train at the Agatsu gym at the same time. Of course it is always more fun to train with others and when I do see Shawn and Sara I also get to see Porkchop, who helps distract me. When we all show up though at the same time and Sara says that she is going to help me train my flex, I know I am in trouble that day. No amount of Porkchop licking me can make it better. Some of the stretching I do involves PNF work. Having someone do the PNF always makes it that much more intense than what you would subject yourself to. I have learned this well! Jokes aside if you want to really improve, find a friend that would be happy to torture you and stretch you out. Some of the more ‘sensory rich’ stuff we have done together involves partner fascial release to try and open up sticky tissues. Sara has driven her heel into my calves and other random places a few times. Sensory rich! I think Shawn Mozen has it worse than anyone though as he needs to endure my screams, joker laughs, swearing and all my other random sounds as he tries to work his handstands. Luckily he seems to have a monk like focus in the gym so no injuries have come as a result of my fascial complaints. Once again, having a partner to help push your boundaries can take both your stretching and fascial work that extra mile. Not something to do every day but well worth it.
So that is all for this week my friends. Thank you for reading and I hope that you find these chronicles motivational and help you in own physical practice in some regard. I would love to get your feedback so please leave me comments on social media or contact me my email, on facebook or on instagram. Next week I am entering into the last week of this training phase and will post a final recap as well as some videos of my favourite exercises that I have implemented over the training cycle. As always the path to success if paved with consistent effort so keep working hard and I hope to see you at the level 2 kettlebell certification in June!
To recap my key points for this week:
- I say it before and I will say it again – assess first and assess often!
- Have a roadmap of where you are going. Random training = random results.
- Master your progressions! You need to regress a movement to progress and move forward. No ego’s on the road to glory!
- Own your damn positions. I am tired of watching shitty pistol squat and backbend videos on Instagram. Straight spine fools!
- Friends are fun to stretch with. They can also help to unlock stuck tissues. Make sure you know what you are doing first though.
- Stay in the suck – cause who gives a fuck!