Mind of a Beast

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What is it that allows a person to complete an unimaginable feat, such as lifting a car to free someone trapped underneath, lift 1000lbs or to fight off an attacker twice your size? It all comes down to one things, mindset. Of course there are physiological processes and hormones that physically power these actions. But what lies behind these processes, what is their driving force? Desire, this is the great power that propels human action and allows us to cross into the incredible. You must want something so badly that you will give your all, muster every fiber of your being into action and use every ounce of your will to accomplish the desired task. Your thought process when facing with a conflict, when heading into a meeting with your boss, before a competition and every time you step up to the bar or swing a kettlebell – will decide whether you are successful or not. Mindset is what is going to make the difference for me this weekend during the Agatsu Level 2 Kettlebell Certification.

When I coach people in the physical realm, I am constantly trying to push people to discover their potential and further their limits. I always encourage people to try new movements, to use heavier weights and to test themselves both physically and mentally. When prompted to pick up a heavier bell, whether someone is going to be successful or not is reflected within the first few seconds of my suggestion. Often it is written all over their face and through their body language. It is very easy to psych yourself out before even attempting something. You need to have faith in your abilities and actually believe you can accomplish something to get the job done. Now this doesn’t mean that because I ‘believe’ that I can deadlift a car that I will automatically do it, but you get the idea here. How we approach a task will greatly impact the end result. If we don’t believe we can accomplish something, even a little bit, we don’t have a chance in hell. As Sara-Clare reminded me yesterday, no one ever went to war thinking there were going to lose.

Mindset has been a subject of much thought for me as I approach this weekend. I have played with meditation and visualization a little bit in the past and have seen the effects these can have. I have seen the benefits of building a positive mindset in athletes that I have helped prepare for important try-outs or events. I have reflected on my own state of mind heading into the few kettlebell sport competitions I have participated in recently;, and found that something was not quite right in terms of how I was approaching these events. This certification has been the focus of my training for the past six months and even before that point for a couple of months prior to the New Year I had shifted my focus to general strength training. Despite being focused on the level 2, I competed in December, April and May not being fully prepared (or feeling that way at the time). It was a strange experience to go to a Kettlebell competition not feeling prepared, see many familiar faces and talk to all of the athletes about their training and how they felt. The performances I put in were far from my personal bests, but were good nonetheless. Despite knowing the reality of my circumstances, I was never satisfied though.  I found myself telling people stories about what I was focused on in my training at the moment and making excuses, knowing that had I been fully dedicated to sport training I would have done better.  I know that am perfectionist and expect the best of myself, and it is hard to put forth an effort knowing you could have done better.

The real ‘mindset’ alarm went off for me in the last competition two weeks ago in Ottawa on May 27th. I felt a little flat on the platform and ended up putting the kettlebell down with 131 reps in about 7:30 of the 10:00. I was more prepared for this one then the other two competitions I had previously done, but when it was time to snatch the bell, the desire to push myself to the brink wasn’t there. I probably could have lasted the full time had I really pushed myself and cranked out some emergency reps on each arm. I didn’t like the feeling that way on the platform. I realized I needed to change my mindset and get fierce about what I was doing. If I came into the level 2 with the same feeling it would be over before it began. This was a positive moment and I have thought of that feeling often in the past couple of weeks, knowing I must increase my desire, start sharpening my mental tools and preparing myself to go into battle.

I said this during my first post, but there have been entire certification courses where no one passed. I know many people that have taken the level 2. Some have passed, many have not. Of those that have not passed, few that I know personally have gone back and completed it (yet!). If you fail to hit 75% overall during the certification, you are given 1 year to complete the skills needed to hit the passing mark. Knowing this, it could be easy to go into the weekend thinking that the outcome does not matter, because if you screw up or fail, you have a year to keep pushing and hit the mark. While this may be a consolation, this is a defeatist mindset. If you walk in thinking this way, once again the test is over before it began. It is also easy to do the math. 7 skills, 75% needed overall. Each is worth 14.3% total. I know where my strengths lie and which skills are going to be tough for me. I have done this math many times in the past couple of weeks. Running the numbers and starting to negotiate with yourself is not the best road to take though. It is only going to lead you to a place where you have already accepted failure as an outcome. The mindset needs to be strong and you need to believe that you are going to do this. You are going to give it your all and you are going to pass.

A further boost of mental support came Monday from my coach Sara-Clare. I had already been trying to get my mind right and Sara has been in my ear all week with additional support and encouragement. On Monday she delivered a very powerful piece of mental ammunition. She talked to me about how much stronger love is than fear. It is love that allows a mother to lift a car and free her trapped child, it is love that supercharges our desire and allows us to be the best people that we can be. She told me to go home that night and think of ten people who, if falling off the side of a building or cliff and I reached out my hand and grabbed them, I would not let them go. It is the power that comes with the love for those that matters most that I must channel into effort this weekend. This is my plan. It is time to go to war. I must perform at a level I have never performed at, be stronger than I ever have been in my life. I must be fierce. There can be no doubt left in my mind, no exits. This is what life is all about and I am thankful for the opportunity to test myself and ultimately grow through this experience. I am going to do this.

I would like to take a moment to thank Sara-Clare for all of her amazing coaching, her generosity with her time and her continual support. I would not have improved as much as I did over the past six months without her assistance. I would also like to that Shawn and all of the other members of the Agatsu Family that have provided support, encouragement and advice along the way. I would also like to that all those that read these posts and provided me feedback and encouragement. I did not post as often as I had originally intended nor did I provide as much specific exercise advice as I promised. I hope these have been worth the read. I will be back next week with some thoughts and reflections after the cert and for those thinking of this next year I will write a post for each skill with exercises I found most helpful along the way.  Until next time, be fierce, kick some ass and have fun.

 

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Battling the Sweet Tooth

Working in the fitness industry, you worth or quality as a trainer is often judged by your appearance, namely the size of your biceps or how defined your abs are. Unfortunately for those looking for a coach, appearance can be a very poor indicator of knowledge and the ability to help someone reach their goal. Knowing that I am being judged has never been a motivator for me to change who I am or how I look. Abs are made in the kitchen after all and not in the weight room, which has always been my challenge. I like to eat! Now how does this apply to the level 2 cert? It is fairly easy to comprehend that pull-ups would easier if you had less weight to pull. In theory, if one has a certification coming up where they needed to do a lot of pull ups and other bodyweight movements it would be helpful to shed any unwanted weight. If we adopt the common calories in-calories out approach, there are two paths to take – 1) workout more 2) eat less (or better, you get the idea). The quality of my trainer has never been in question; diet is where my obstacles lie. The challenge is one of consistency, for consistently eating a healthy diet is quite challenging for me. It is not for a lack of knowledge. I have been a lacto-ovo vegetarian since 2007 and have read countless books, articles and the like about nutrition and what is considered ‘healthy’ eating. I have taken courses in exercise physiology, anatomy and nutrition and know the importance of eating healthy, especially for athletes and those that exercise often. As in most things though, knowledge counts for little unless it is put into action.

My biggest foe in this battle is my sweet tooth, and I have a massive one! I was fortunate to grow up with a wonderful mother who wrote cook books and was constantly testing delicious comfort food recipes. I would come home to three cakes sitting out on the counter and would have to determine which was best (this didn’t happen that often to be honest, but we were always very well fed). For the most part we ate fairly healthy Canadian fare, but when the weekend came it was the time when we were allowed to indulge and have some chips and pop or maybe order a pizza on a Friday night. It was a reward for the whole family of us after a long week in school or at work. Even as a child, my sweet tooth knew no limits. I remember my parents looking at me with a puzzled stare after discovering I had eaten 3 popsicles in a row or drank three cans of pop on a Saturday afternoon. One night I even ate an entire bottle of Flintstone vitamins when they weren’t looking (luckily it was a non-toxic dose – these were basically like candy anyways).

The habits I developed as a youth have carried into adulthood and have persisted as I began to work as a trainer and help people to lead healthier lives. My sweet tooth and battle with diet has always been my dirty little secret though. Knowing I am trainer, people expect me to only eat broccoli and protein shakes; people also seem to automatically feel judged if they eat sweets or indulgent food around me. Oh little do they know I have my own guilty pleasures! My brother in law actually revels in the fact that while I may eat extra servings of vegetables during Sunday dinner, if someone brought a cake or dessert he knows my eyes will light up and seconds will be had. He gets to see me be normal too. I don’t pretend that I am perfect and have to remind people that I am a human being living in our sugar frosted society too. I don’t really care either that I am being constantly judged by my appearance. If a client will only work with me solely based on how I look, this person is not going to be a good fit to work with me anyways. I do however wish to dedicate myself and my life’s work to the service of others, assisting and inspiring others on their journey to become actualized and live the healthiest and happiest life possible. In this regard I try to serve as an example for others and know that my often unhealthy eating habits (and what lies behind them) is not in line with what I wish to represent as an example to follow.

What lies behind the sweet tooth is my perfect storm of dietary habits – emotionally driven eating in the form of reward eating and stress eating. If I am tired or stressed out at night, I will look for comfort from chocolate, ice cream or whatever else is around and mindlessly have at it. After a long week working hard to train myself and others, it is easy to feel like you have ‘earned’ a Saturday night watching movies, take the night off from cooking and order a pizza, stuff your face with some popcorn and follow it up with a pint of ben and jerry’s. Try to find a time in your life when you are either not stressed out or happy and feel like a ‘treat’. You see my problem now? If things are going well in life – reward eating! Times are tough – comfort eating! Even when I am disciplined and make it through the week resisting temptation, by the end of week I am tired, my defenses are down and the flood gates open.

As the date of the level 2 certification continues to get closer and closer, it is easy to look back at how my weight has changed over the past six months. In October 2016, at the Kettlebell competition in Toronto I weighed in just over 188 lbs. This morning I am tipping the scales at 203. Some of this additional 15 lbs is muscle from all the training I have been doing, but the reality is that while I am getting bigger, I have not gotten much leaner. Now some of you may be surprised by a weight gain like this, however my dietary patterns and metabolism have always made it easy for me to gain and lose weight. The X factor is always how consistent I am in terms of eating a diet void of sugar and indulgences. If I consistent, I can easily lose fat and lean up within the span of a month or two. In 2013, I lost 16 lbs in 9 weeks working at a sports camp in the Swiss Alps. I was training every day and also eating everything in sight. The key is that I was consistent in my habits, we ate all out meals at the camp (including dessert after lunch and dinner most days) but I didn’t eat after dinner and it was hearty whole foods being served daily, not processed crap. Training for my first kettlebell competition a year later I also lost close to 15 lbs and had to go out and buy a new wardrobe as everything was too big. Now I have a closet full of pants I can’t fit into. Heavy squats, kettlebell training and barbell hip thrusters are partly to blame. While it might sound nice to be able to lose weight easily, the reality is that yo-yoing on the scale and binging on pro-inflammatory foods can wreak havoc on your system and does not set you up for success in terms of performance or recovery. If you want to get better, stronger, faster, recovery should be a priority.

To try and get myself on track, a few months ago I was referred to to Tune In Nutrition, led my senior Agatsu Instructor Paluna Santamaria. The premise is relatively simple – track everything that you eat in myfitnesspal, and on Fridays send a check in email with some metrics and answer a few questions and log your progress over the course of the week. Every week Paluna and her Tune In partner Lovedeep provide guidance and changes to focus on for the week to come. I am currently in my 12th week of working with the program. Originally I viewed it simply as a mechanism to increase my accountability and have someone to answer to. Many lessons have been learned thus far though. Junk food issues aside, I have always felt that I know what I should putting into my body to remain healthy and fuel my training, but it is always good to have a coach or expert look at our habits and provide insight. The early changes were to start to increase the amount of protein I was eating (being a vegetarian, this is a bit more challenging without making a purposeful effort), for on non-training days I wasn’t always eating enough food or enough protein to sustain my efforts. The trainer life always has me on the go and it is easy to sometimes eat a Spartan lunch of fruit and nuts, but this does not always provide us what we need. We next looked to increase my vegetable and greens intake to ensure I was getting enough minerals. We have also adjusted the macro’s at each meal to try and balance my blood sugar and ensure I am fueled for both workouts and efficient recovery. Food prep has also been a big focus, to ensure the quality food is there when I need it.

Overall the process has been very positive, although not always easy. There was a time when I was doing very long workouts and started to feel drained halfway through and even had to stop a few times. After developing a consistent meal plan, I feel much better overall in terms of energy levels and knowing what to eat at the correct times. This has certainly helped to support my training as I move towards the cert and testing in less than 3 weeks. Beyond simply relaying my story in this post, I also wanted to highlight the importance of nutrition in supporting both your workouts and recovery. Despite all of the progress I have made on the nutrition front over the course of working with Tune-In, I have been far from perfect when it comes to avoiding sugary foods. While I had originally hoped to lean up for the cert, I have not gotten there yet, but I know I will. Paluna and Lovedeep have helped me to confront my issues surrounding emotional eating and develop strategies to overcome them. The battle is not over, but will be won. By finally developing a consistent eating pattern I have also been able to more clearly see the relationship between what I put in my body, my performance and my recovery. If I indulge on a Saturday night and go to train the next day, I feel lethargic, slow, and lack energy and strength. It has amazed me a few times at how much of an effect can be felt. This in turn provides additional motivation to fuel positive change and engrain healthy eating habits that support my goals, lifestyle and embody the example I strive to demonstrate for others. Diet and nutrition are certainly areas where it is not about achieving perfecting, but rather striving to improve and make the best choices possible. I continue to try and do this daily.

This post is a few weeks in the making and I hope that it has provides some motivation for others that may share a similar struggle with food. It is not easier to discuss these issues, especially as a trainer. Even if your diet game is strong, I hope it serves as a reminder of how diet and training are intimately related and at its heart a physical practice is little without the habits that surround it. It is almost two weeks to the level 2 cert. I have not posted as much as I would have liked over the past six months but will try and get another couple of posts in before the cert to share some final thoughts for those preparing this year or in years to come. Hang in there, keep training, keep grinding good people!

Time to Move

agastu-print-0078-1I am writing this today seated on a jet plane ready to blast off to Los Angeles for the Agatsu Masters of Movement FLOW event. I couldn’t be happier and it is a perfect time reflect and share some insights over past few weeks of training. Every journey will be filled with many peaks and valleys and my journey to the level 2 hasn’t been any different. My last post was a valley of sorts, albeit a rather minor hiccup along the road. My first big training cycle ended with a whimper instead of a bang. It took a couple of weeks of getting out of my routine, playing around and having fun in the gym to get back into the swings of things. Sara-Clare, my coach and leader this my quest had been travelling a lot during this time and kept teasing me about the next phase of my programming, promising that I would both love it and that it would kick my butt. She had billed it as strongman for Kettlebell sport. I was picturing atlas stone lifts and log presses and other beastly feats of strengths. I think I may have let my imagination run away from me just a little bit.

Despite dreaming of training to fight the mountain (hopefully some of you get this reference…) what I got in terms of programming was less strongman and more directed towards the skills in level 2 with a big focus on concentric movements. My first program was very focused on flexibility and muscular endurance, trying to solidify my base and open up some positions and sticky areas. Being able to access a position is one thing, but at a certain point you still need to be able to turn it on and crank out those reps. I also got to start to play with kettlebells again and work on sport movements. As fun as all of this new and diverse training is, the clock is ticking and June and the level 2 are coming soon! There are about 3 months to go and time is flying and I need to be serious about putting in the work.

Returning to kettlebell sport training is not fairly necessary but also reassuring as I want to compete in Toronto in April at the Agatsu nationals. I performed some test sets for the jerks and hit 13 measly reps and 70 for the snatch. The Jerk set was a matter of pacing and I was banging them out but endurance and conditioning definitely need some work. I have made great advancements in terms of my strength over the past few months but conditioning has not been a big priority. After two hours of mobilizing and strength training during my first program having the juice to give my all conditioning wasn’t a reality. I was doig maybe 5-10 minutes of circuits but I wasn’t pushing myself enough and it was always easy to cut this short if I was running short on time as I always felt I had already put my work in for the day with the strength work. Once again it goes to show that with the level 2 you really do need everything: strength, skill, flexibility and conditioning! Getting back under the bells I am seeing conditioning is an area that needs some focus again. The Kb sport sets in addition to 20-30 minutes of conditioning circuits at the end is exactly what the coach has ordered.

The focus on concentric movements also means that my strength portions are much shorter. The sets don’t take long to go through and I doing a lot of powerful movements. On of my favourites is alternating single leg toes to bar, using the non working leg to push off the stall bars and help kick up and try and touch that bar. I am working sets of 20 rep barbell hip thrusts to get that glute power moving. For the external rotation I working gymnastic push ups on the parallettes in external rotation and mountain climbers in external rotation on the rings. For the pistols I am doing some isometric holds on a box in the bottom position as my tissues still need opening and additional strength in the position. I also working some concentric reps on the box trying to keep the front leg extended out. For my pull days we have also broken the pull ups into sets for going chest to bar to 90 degrees and from the bottom to 90. I am working on banging out those reps! These are still one of the most challenging things for me. The numbers haven’t gone up much yet, but I do feel I will get a big plateau breakthrough at one point and the numbers will just start climbing. Some of this may also be due to the fact that I have put on about 15-17 pounds in the past 6 months. Some of this is insulation for the cold Quebec winter but a lot of also muscle which is good. Whether it’s muscle or not, the weight has not been helping! None of my jeans fit anymore (thank you squats and barbell hip thrusters!) but luckily I wear track pants to work. We are also varying the grip on the pull exercises, hitting those fibres from different angles which should help as well.

The extra conditioning work and the return to the Kettlebell sport sets should help to cut the weight down and lean me out. On the conditioning front, we are changing the conditioning and Kb sets on a weekly basis. My first week of Kb sport sets had me doing slow sets of snatch with 26kg at 10 reps/min followed by a 20kg at 12/min. I also have worked for some slow Jerk sets at 5 reps/min. Both of these were tough as hell for me as I like to fly and move fast with the bells, very much in line with my fast twitch body. I always love a good challenge though and working my body in different ways. Since I have done very little Kb sport training in the last six months the slower sets have been helpful to work endurance in resting positions and my overall strength and stability. I have also been working on my rack holds with heavy weights (28kg’s). Despite my initial Jerk numbers being low I have full confidence that I will get there, just need to work on my general endurance and ability to sustain the rack position. For conditioning I am doing a lot of different body weight movements that help support the Kb sport work. This includes high box jumps, squat jumps, sprawls and candlesticks (looks these up, deadly!) the explosive leg work simulates the explosion in the first dip in the jerks, while the sprawls and candlesticks get those lungs burning while moving the spine through flexion and extension. This is very important for Kettlebell lifters that spend a lot of time in the rack position with a rounded back. Overall I am loving the new program and the focus on concentric, explosive movements. Embrace change folks, it is good for you!

There is no recap of important points this week so hopefully you have been paying attention. Please send me any feedback or questions you may have. I would love hear your thoughts or any topics you want me to discuss. In my next post I will talk a about the challenge of diet and how that fits into my perpetration and the level 2.

The Challenge of Consistency

cropped-agastu-print-0051.jpgConsistency of effort is the path to success. I believe in these words. The tortoise did win the race after all, didn’t he? The tortoise is the poster boy for why consistency trumps intensity. He kept plugging away, never stopped and he won! I talk a lot about consistency with my students and the people I train. Remaining consistent over time is not an easy task though. This is probably the biggest issue that most people have in terms of not achieving their goals. Effort is often applied unevenly in spurts, and not long enough at one time to see a result of form a habit. This can apply to diet, exercise, dental flossing, or whatever unicorn you may be chasing. Over the past two weeks consistency has been my struggle.

At the end of my last blog I talked about ‘next week’ posting videos  of some of my favourite exercises from my current training cycle. That was three weeks ago! So what the hell happened to derail me from this plan? I was fortunate to be able to sit in on the 5 Day Agatsu movement and mobility certification, which was amazing. If you ever get a chance to take this course, do the intensive, it’s an amazing experience and you won’t ever want it to end. I knew that maintaining my training would be challenging during this five day period as on top of trying to attend as much of the course as I could, I was still training clients and teaching classes at the start and end of the days. In terms of getting my training in, I wasn’t that worried as I knew that I would be moving my body for five days straight, working both my flexibility and strength. Although I wouldn’t be following my training program, there would be a good degree of carry over into what I am working on. I forgot though the degree of neurological fatigue that I would experience coming out of the course. Five days of moving, listening, learning and sharing left me wiped. I talked it over with Sara and we decided to make it the deload week and that we would come back the next week with a bang. The course ran Friday to Tuesday able to get in a decent workout in the Thursday after the course finished. Not much but it was something.

My overall consistency had been great since the start of the New Year and I didn’t see this coming.Another second obstacle that I allowed to derail me was getting tattooed. I have been working on a back piece every two weeks on Fridays. The third sitting had been the Friday of my deload week. I was able to remain very consistent after the other sittings, having worked very hard in the days leading up to it then taking a couple of days off after the tattoo. I figured the third time around wouldn’t be any different, miss a couple of days and I am back with a vengeance. What I thought would have been the easiest part of the tattoo turned into the hardest thus far and my usual extra day or two or rest turned into 6!!! 6 days no exercise!!!! Makes me want to pull my hair out writing this. Crazy was also how I was feeling after not moving my body for 6 days. Truthfully moving with quite painful and the pain lasted longer then expected. I was not able to stretch and move my body much again after the needling. After years of working in this field and exercising regularly you get used to the amazing effects of exercise. If I don’t exercise and use my body, I just don’t feel right.

Luckily the 6 day losing streak was ended with a bang with a day spent at Vic Park with some other trainers doing high intensity intervals on the versa climber, assault bike and sled. Nothing like a good kick in the pants to get you back on track. I was able to get a decent workout in last Friday but my motivation was still lagging behind and it has taken me a extra days to get the beast mode back. I would go to push and it it just wasn’t there when I wanted it to me. Once again, a very weird feeling to have when you are used to crushing it and giving your all. Motivation and drive, like a muscle, need to be trained and used though. In the end my deload week got stretched into two weeks and my consistency needed to get back on track. This is a feeling that we can all relate to. This is why new years resolutions are an industry! We all lose out way from time to time. You need to get the momentum started again with one good push, which is often the hardest. I like to equate it to getting your car stuck in the mud. Think back to the famous scene in My Cousin Vinny. You try to spin your wheels but you aren’t getting anywhere. Getting stuck in the snow may be more relatable for us Canadians but the same thing applies, slowly push they pedal down and ease out of it. If you don’t remember the scene below where Joe Pesci goes flying it worth a watch (after you train of course…)

Image result for my cousin vinny mud

As I got my car back onto the road this week I realized that my break in consistency was probably also a result of mental and neurological fatigue from the training and working my training program too long. After the deload week I was not looking forward to working the same program again. We had planned an initial 6 week cycle but I am figuring out that I function better on 3-4 week cycles. This is the first major cycle so it is still a learning process between coach and disciple and figuring or what works best for my body. What works for me may not also work for you so some experimentation may be needed here to find what it right for you. I discussed it with Sara-Clare and she gave me the OK to just play around and have some fun in the gym this past week to give my nervous system a chance to reset. This gave my body a break and working some different exercises greatly boosted my efforts and motivation! Together with Sara-Clare we tested everything again yesterday and happily I didn’t regress at all due to my two week deload lapse and to the contrary I have made some good gains and in flexibility and strength! I was a bit worried that my lapse would have erased my hard work but I am still on track for June.

I start my next cycle next week and will keep you all updated and I get both my training and the blog posts back on track. I am told it will be strongman training for Kettlebell sport with a lot of emphasis on concentrics! My veins are popping just  thinking about it.I hope that your training is going strong and that consistency has not been a struggle in your life! If it has, I hope this post was of some help and that you are back on course!

Some thoughts to recap the week
– Be the tortoise, value consistent effort above intensity.
– Consistency is tough to maintain. Do your best and be understanding with yourself if you have a lapse. Guilt is not a motivator.
– Identify what set you off course and take steps to correct/prevent it in the future.
– Talk to your trainer, coach, partner or even a friend about the challenges you are facing. Use your support network. Find a solution.
– There is nothing like a swift kick in the pants to get you back on course. Sometimes you just need jump in the deep end and get at it once again to get that momentum rolling.

Stay in the Suck

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“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.

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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!

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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!

Know Where You Stand

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“If you don’t know where you are going you are going to end up someplace else”. Can you believe this was lead in for my high school year book quote?! I have no clue what I was thinking. Yogi Berra, who this quote is attributed to, should have added ‘but figure out where you are first’. I know the numbers that I need to achieve to pass the level 2 but the first real step on this journey was figuring out where I was on all the different tasks. A couple of weeks after the Agatsu Kettlebell competition in Toronto in late October, Sara-Clare and I assessed where I was at on all the different skills. What did I learn? I was nowhere near being able to hit the mark on any of the tests! On the positive side, I at least knew where I was starting. Since kettlebell sport and kung fu had formed the basis of my training for the past year or so (both fairly specialized skills), Sara-Clare suggested I follow the Agatsu foundations of movement online training for a full six week training cycle to balance out any deficiencies in my training and in my body.

My experience with the online training was extremely positive and I loved the change of pace. I have seen numerous online training programs and was extremely impressed with the quality and diversity of the online training. The back end videos are great and provide a great deal of detail and variations on each exercise. I deadlifted for the first time in 15 years and felt like a beast! I was learning new exercises, exploring different progressions and more importantly I was getting stronger in every area. Every week 5 new workouts are released (3 strength, 2 flexibility) and the progression over the training cycle allowed me to make improvements. The workouts were not easy though. Like many things in life, you get out what you put in and training is no different. Often times when left to our own devices we choose exercises that we enjoy or find easy when what we really need is to work on those things that we find difficult or can’t do very well. This was certainly the case; many of my weaknesses were being exposed and I was constantly being pushed into the uncomfortable. After years of training in a striking martial art, my push muscles are very strong compared to my pull muscles. My pull up numbers sucked…but I was working my weaknesses from every angle which is what counts. The online training provides progressions and regressions for every exercise and it was motivating to see that even if I wasn’t able to execute a full movement (such as a top of the bar hold) there was a way to scale it for where I was at and thus able to improve over the course of the training cycle. Consistent effort will translate into progress and I trust this process to get me to where I need to be for the level 2. You just need to be smart with your training and the exercise and progressions you select to work on!

If you are thinking about training for the level 2 certification and don’t know where to start, the online training is a solid bet. Some of you may be thinking that this week’s post is some underhanded sales pitch and that I am bias. In a sense I am, I run Agatsu classes and have taken all the lvl 1 certs, but there is a reason for this – I believe in the Agatsu training methods and have seen the results in myself and my clients. I will be clear though, Shawn and Sara did not ask me to write any of this or to sing the praises of the online training. I loved using the online training, and it kicked my ass. I was still preparing for a Kettlebell and mace comp at the end December when going through the training cycle. I would do the full strength days and then instead of the conditioning portion of the online training I would do my Kettlebell sport work. I am talking about the full Kettlebell sport workouts that I used to do prior to starting the online training. This made for some long and tough workouts. Some training days involved a combination of deadlifts and chin ups prior to snatch sets. These were interesting days for the forearms! I was at all full force though and was committed. If the online training said 3-5 sets, I did five. I scraped the bottom of the jar and tried to get as much out of every workout as I could. I trust the process but I also don’t want to come up short six months from now realizing I didn’t push myself or work hard enough.

My results from this six week cycle were great. My overall strength increased, I had packed on some muscle, my weaknesses were improving and most importantly due to the progressions and regressions offered I was making inroads on the skills needed for the level 2. The strength days are very balanced in terms of emphasis on stability, strength, and endurance. Each week is also balanced in terms of push and pull and upper and lower body. Everything is touched on. For me and for most people going for the level 2, the focus on flexibility is more important than the strength work. I have taken the mace, kettlebell and mobility certs with Agatsu and can honestly say that I put more effort into implementing what I learned in the more active club, mace and kettlebell certs. Yes my warm up game is super strong, I am a champion bear walker and I move my joints through full range of motion daily, but I wasn’t training my flexibility as intensely as I needed to. In the online training, every strength day involves some targeted mobility during the warm up. If I the workout for the day involved squatting and overhead pressing, the warm up will include exercises to work your ankle and hip mobility as well as open up the overhead position. The flexibility days are where my eyes really opened. Sure I was stretching and rolling out almost daily, but I wasn’t really training my flexibility.

The online training provides two flexibility days that provide excellent progressions and different exercises focusing on the front splits, middle splits and bridge work amongst other areas. The flex days were often harder for me then the strength days! I have been a very flexy-bendy guy. If I was to compare myself to a lord of the rings character I would be the dwarf. I wasn’t gifted with long lean muscles and have always been a pretty tight guy. I saw that in order to really make improvements in my flexibility and mobility I needed to train these areas as intensely and as consistently as I did strength. Once again I took the scrape the bottom of the jar approach hitting every suggested rep and set; the flex days would often last between two and three hours. The small amounts of rolling out and stretching I was doing before was only helping to manage the tension from my workouts or the stressors in my life. I wasn’t actually improving my flexibility or range of motion. Dedicating two training days a week to this side of my training I slowly started to see improvements. I still have a very long way to go but if I am going to get that 3 minute bridge or the toes to bar numbers I will need keep the effort up on the mobility front. Mobility ain’t always sexy or as fun as lifting heavy, but you gotta put in the work to get where I want to go!

To sum up my message for today’s post:

  • Have someone give you a physical assessment, measuring where you are on all the skills for the level 2.
  • Build a solid training program that focuses on balanced, full body strength.
  • Train your weaknesses more than your strengths.
  • Have at least 2 days/week dedicated to training flexibility.
  • Take your flexibility and mobility as seriously as your strength and endurance.
  • If you don’t know where to start or how to get there, check out the Agatsu Foundations of Movement Online Training.

Next week I will begin discussing my current individualized programming that Sara-Clare put together for me. I will talk about what I am working on a weekly basis as the quest continues on the road to the level 2! Thanks for reading and please do not hesitate to reach out to me via email or on social media if you have any questions or comments. Flex hard friends!