Sunday, November 29, 2009

Barefoot Running & Tarahumara Runners

Photo by Marcos Escobar

My ultrarunning friend and CNN reporter Ashley Fantz in Atlanta did a nice piece with Chris McDougall the author of “Born to Run” on the problems that shoes create for our feet. Unlike many of the running stories about barefoot running and Vibram Five Fingers, this piece actually had some images of the Tarahumara tribal ultrarunners in Mexico and their custom made sandals (basically bare budget VFFs) along with their absolutely beautiful and vibrant clothing…and functional I might add.

The Tarahumara run hundreds of miles per week in the rugged canyons of central Mexico’s Copper Canyon—with NO running shoes and none of the common injuries seen in Western countries that use fancy “high tech” running shoes. The Tarahumara run faster, more efficiently, and much safer than we do in this country. The Tarahumara are definitely worth studying when looking at injury prevention!

Oh…and one of the key findings on why they can run so much without injury? They enJOY running. :o)

Enjoy—more foot fitness and less running pain! (CNN Story) (Coppyer Canyon Ultra Marathon Info & Links to Tarahumara)
Once Foot Fitness, Coach RJ!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Kodachrome-The Last Roll

I took this shot @ Drive Invasion 2008 in Atlanta after The Legendary Shack Shakers left the stage amidst a literal storm of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer and other flying objects. I was back stage on state left shooting towards the crowd. I like this shot because even though it's "digital" it reminds me of the warm glow of Kodachrome 64. I rarely use artificial strobe lights when shooting concerts.
This was taken with available light at ISO 1600, 1/60 second, F/5, on full manual setting.

I just watched a news special about Kodachrome film. There is only ONE lab in the world that still processes this kind of film...yes I said FILM! Not a digital chip but FILM!

I grew up with Kodachrome as my father Ron Sr. recorded our lives through the lens of his old Argus C3 35mm rangefinder camera. Film of choice? Kodachrome 64. Our family has thousands of slides. When I went out on my own, I continued to shoot Kodachrome for family events. I too have thousands of slides.

In December of 2010, the last lab on the planet will stop developing Kodachrome film. The end of an era Comrades. Until the invention of Kodachrome in the 1930s, the only way you could have a "color" image of yourself was to have a painting created. With Kodachrome, the common man could have a color image.

Even though my full-time gig is Corporate Wellness, I'm also a member of the Professional Photographers of America and still do quite a bit of photography especially in the music business....allow me to flashback for a moment...
The good thing about learning to shoot with film is that I still shoot like I'm shooting film. What does this mean? I have a lot sharper eye for composition, subject, light, and subject energy than many of the new photographers. With digital, you can shoot thousands of images in one setting. With film, you had to be a lot more selective, patient, and basically much more skilled at your craft. Film capacity? 36 exposures per roll. At a rock concert back in the day, I'd shoot around 4-6 rolls of film. Today with my digital Nikon, I'll shoot around 250 or so. Slightly more, but I'm still conservative and selective. I think this makes me a better photographer. It's not quantity even though if you shoot enough eventually you'll probably get some great photographs--it's more about QUALITY. It's also easier to go through a few hundred photos than a few thousand when thinking of editing and print selection.

Anyway...just some random thoughts from an old school photographer that grew up with Kodachrome 64. -RJ

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Using Root Cause Analysis (RCA) for Health & Foot Pain

If you appreciate corporate processes like RCA, Six Sigma, and LEAN, you might enjoy this post by corporate speaker and process trainer Mike Micklewright. Mike had foot problems and decided to use RCA to start asking his doctor the “Whys.” After about three whys, his doctor refused to participate—so he found another doctor that would keep answering the whys until he finally got to the root cause of his foot pain…and once again…it was a lack of foot fitness! All the conventional treatments were not getting to his root cause failure.

His introduction, explores why we don’t use RCA for health issues at home. Since RCA works so well to optimize performance at work, why don’t we use it more at home? Good point Mike!

For full post, see link below.

*By the way, I too have ripped out my own orthotics and fixed MY OWN foot pain by increasing the fitness of my foot which then enhanced the mobility of my ankle. All the podiatrists, orthotics, and cortisone shots never fixed the root cause failure of my foot which was weakness. Want less foot, ankle, knee, and back pain? Improve foot fitness which includes having optimal “mobility” and functional “stability”! --Coach RJ

Mike Micklewright is president of
QualityQuest Inc., a Chicago-based consulting, training, and facilitation company specializing in lean, ISO 9001, ISO/TS 16949, Six Sigma, and their integration. Micklewright is an ASQ-certified Six Sigma Black Belt, quality auditor, quality engineer, and quality manager. He holds a degree in general engineering from the University of Illinois and has worked in design, manufacturing, and quality engineering for the Saturn Corp. of General Motors and SeaquistPerfect Dispensing. Micklewright is a sought-after speaker and has had many articles published.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Learning to Play...Again!

"You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation." --Plato

One of my most difficult tasks sometimes in corporate wellness working with adults is to teach them how to play again...and to allow myself to play too. How do I play? I like Frisbees, hiking, riding my mountain bike, concerts, and music.

Fitness doesn't always have to be hard. Light to moderate hiking is a lot of fun. Playing Frisbee is fun. The Hula Hoop thing is coming back! Indo Boards are taking off in schools and way beyond. Biking, surfing, etc. Lots of ways to be fit and have fun at the same time. Beyond just fitness is the larger issue of general health. LOTS of things can help you be healthier from music to reading and beyond...and even playing!

Play keeps us young. This is a GREAT example of how a little innovation in Stockholm can create a lot of play, youth, and healthier behaviors. Enjoy! Thanks to my friend and fellow RKC Marla Diener for sending it my way...--Coach RJ

Need more fun? Go to:

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Shoe Trends-More on Foot Fitness!

I've been getting more and more inquiries about feet lately. It seems like everywhere I turn, there is something going on with feet these days. My continuing education deals more and more with the fitness of the foot...more they never taught me in school I had to learn on the job in the real world!
As the interest in foot fitness grows, so do product options. Let me summarize my "stance" with feet and shoes based on what I "currently" know (and I'm learning more and more by the day).
  • I tend to believe "less is more." I want to think about how the foot moves without any modern technology. Just the old-school foot doing what it is designed to do in its most natural state. How does a bare foot move without shoes? Without a shoe, the foot reacts very differently. It will grip, stabilize, and attempt to claw the ground to stabilize the rest of the body. The foot will get strong doing all this because it's a lot of work! With shoes, the foot has artificial support, and the muscles and tendons tend to get weaker. With running shoes, the more developed the shoe, the less work the foot has to do which means the body works too hard above the foot in ways it does not want to work. Put huge air bags under the foot? The foot is not happy because it really wants "stability" and not soft squishy instability. It's hard to "claw air" or root yourself into the ground if you have soft shoes. Many of our movement problems today can be traced back to our feet--the first things to hit the ground with forward locomotion--our bases of support from which everything else is stacked.
  • A few years ago, Nike and other shoes companies started picking up on the trend to go back to barefoot running. The research is out. With more technology in running shoes, injuries got WORSE--not better...and yes, these shoes cost more too! Enter the Nike Free and some other options. Enter the Vibram Five Fingers (VFFs) I've been talking about lately. Also enter other shoes with very different designs claiming to work more muscles like the MBT, etc.
  • MBT and Toning Shoes: These shoes are gaining in popularity. They claim to make a person work harder in the calves, hamstrings, glutes, etc. I'm sure they do because the shoe is curved in many of them--or somehow less stable due to design which requires one to work much harder to stand upright and move forward; however, the MBT shoe is curved in the opposite direction of the "natural curve" found in the arch of the foot. I go back to less is more and what the foot looks like naked. Less shoe--more foot fitness. Less shoe--more natural biomechanics. Some of the new toning shoes have very thick soles that radically alter how you walk if barefoot. More emphasis is put upon the "heel-to-toe" stride which is the opposite of how you would walk while barefoot. The trend I've been following with "Chi Running," barefoot walking/running, and shoes like the Nike Free or Vibram Five Fingers is more of the mid-foot strike--not the heal-to-toe strike. The support system (arch) is in the middle of the foot--this is where we should be striking--not exclusively on the heel itself. As shoes got better, we put more load on the heel because we had more padding, but this changed our gait and biomechanics away from a "natural" stride and foot strike; hence, more "running" injuries and more foot/ankle problems.
  • I guess we have to go to root cause of movement/gait problems which seems to be pointed more and more at the actual feet. We have lots of problems today with fundamental biomechanics starting with foot/ankle then up to knee, hip, and back. Many of these problems can be traced back to the feet being too weak which then can make the ankles get too stiff as a compensation for lack of foot stability--and the compensations can travel all the way up into the neck and shoulders. Some of the new toning shoes talk a lot about fitness gains "above" the foot, but I have not heard as much about the actual fitness in the foot itself. Go back to root cause. Think FOOT fitness first--then worry about the calves, hamstrings, and glutes later. The feet--they hit the ground first and stabilize everything up the chain of movement. When your feet work well, the rest of your movements up the chain will also be better. If your feet have problems, so will the upper body.

For now, this is my direction with foot fitness and shoes. Using "less" shoe or at least shoes with harder soles seem to be making my feet stronger and happier. If the new toning shoes work for you--great! I had a few people tell me personally that the MBTs helped both diabetic feet and plantar fasciitis foot conditions--I have no reason to doubt them. I'm glad they got relief. Keep thinking about the naked foot though and what can be done WITHOUT any shoes or any technology to make you move better.

Here are a couple of related links if interested in above:

Keep it simple. Keep it cost effective...and keep your feet happy and fit.
In Foot Fitness!
Coach RJ

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Finding VFFs

A lot of people are wanting the Vibram Five Fingers (VFFs) but having problems finding them--especially retail at a physical location. I asked my friends and clients where they were finding them. I've compiled a list with a few links for everyone. These are places that came with personal recommendations from my clients or fitness friends. I'm sure there are more, but I don't know of them personally.
Models: I use the "KSO" (Keeps Stuff Out) model because they cover more of my feet so debris does not get inside when I'm out on the grass. Other models are more open top. One is designed for winter--more like a wetsuit so they are warmer. Different colors are offered too. You'll have to explore and see what you like.
Break In Period: I'd recommend wearing them a little bit at a time so your feet can get used to the extra demands. Throwing a pair of VFFs on for the day when you are not ready for them is like going into the gym for a 1-2 powerlifting and plyometrics session when you are completely out of shape...NOT GOOD! Your feet are weak if you have not been going barefoot and wearing shoes all the time. It's about "foot fitness." Feet need time to get in shape with sensible progressions just like other areas of the body. VFFs come with some recommendations, but basically listen to your feet. They'll let you know.


Retail (Cental Coast/SoCal):

Don't understand the whole VFF thing? Check out my detailed post on VFFs and Foot Fitness then Rock Your Feet!!!

In Foot Fitness! -Coach RJ

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

My 1000th Day of Exercise in a Row!

I hit 1,000 days in a row last Sunday of straight exercise. 1,000 days. At least 30 minutes per day. NO excuses.

While my workout Sunday was pretty vicious--1,000 kettlebell swings with a 24kg (30X30 format: 50 minutes=1000 reps @ 20 per minute), many of my previous 999 workouts were not very hard...some were even very slow and easy.

I've learned a lot about myself the last 1,000 days of exercising. I didn't think I could do it at times...the rain, jet lag, late night sessions, heat during summer, STRESS, work, family, my own head games and whining, etc., but I pulled it off despite the challenges along the way.

There are a few take home points worth mentioning. I'll probably be the only person you'll know that exercised 1,000 days in a row, so I hope it's worth noting and that it helps, because as a Wellcoach, I truly want everyone to play. :o)

  • Most of the days I did NOT want to exercise. ALL 1,000 days I was glad I did after it was over. This is a powerful statement regarding the chemical response of exercise and movement. Ever wonder why so many Americans are depressed and unhappy today? Maybe it's at least in part related to the fact we don't move enough! NOT ONE DAY did I say, "#@!# I wish I had not done that exercise for 30 minutes!" The power of the mind-body connection ceases to amaze me sometimes. I've talked to other people about this, and they say the same thing. They never regret the exercise once it's over--they are always glad they did it even though they didn't want to do it before they started! The mojo of movement!
  • I focused on "doing something" each day--not how hard, how long, or making it complicated. I never kept an exercise journal or used an organized "program" that I had to follow specifically--I just did something each day as dedicated exercise. Nearly 40% of my 1,000 workouts were probably just walking--SLOW! Sure--I did a lot of kettlebell work the last 1.5 years getting ready for my certification, but what got me in the place where I could even take a shot at the KB certification was my daily 30 minutes of exercise the previous months...walking, riding my bike, some yoga, gym workouts, hiking, running, and whatever else I felt like doing at the time.
  • 30 minutes per day of exercise is not unreasonable. 40+ years ago, all this might have been a mute point. We didn't need to "put activity back into our lifestyles" because daily activity was already there. Times have changed. Now most of us sit--most if not all day. The best thing you can do for your body and joints is to MOVE...daily. It's that simple. We simply have to start moving again if we are to have a chance at getting healthy again as a nation and controlling healthcare costs.

    What I hope people will realize is that 5-6 days of exercise per week for the rest of your life is pretty good deal--I can't really think of any significant negative side effects...pretty amazing when you compare that to medications, surgeries, and diseases. It's been an interesting journey the last 1,000 days. The stress relief alone was worth doing it--additionally I maintained my weight and stayed pretty fit in the process. At age 49, I can still run around and play with my children and do what I want to do. I'm still in the game not on the sidelines!

    If you don't exercise--start. If you exercise--don't quit! It's worth the effort to stay active and be an ACTIVE participant in your own healthcare.

So how did I get it all started? The Lean Berets 30X30 Challenge! Check it and report for duty yourself!

In health-ALWAYS!
Coach RJ

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Exercise Safety & Low-Light Conditions

Fall is here along with shorter days and less light. Just a reminder to be SEEN if exercising in low light conditions. I nearly hit two different people in my car the last two weeks--one was walking and one was riding a bike. Both had no lights and both were not properly in the lane.
The favorite color for exercise clothes with most people is probably black, but this is the hardest color to see in low light. Even when "walking" on the bike path like I was doing earlier this week with my family, there are safety issues after dark concerning collisions. Many people ride the bike path after dark on their bikes--most of them with NO headlamps, reflectors, or flashing lights. Walkers wear dark clothing and rarely have reflectors or lights. There are a number of street lamps that would reflect if a reflector was worn or clothing had built-in reflectorized materials (many shoes, shorts, and running tops now have this built into them).
A quick and simple item to consider is a reflective ankle band.

I've been using Jogalite Slimband ankle reflectors for years because they are small, light, and extremely reflective. I use this product during 24-Hour ultraendurance cycling events, and use them for routine bike rides, walks, and runs on public streets or along the bike path in low-light conditions. These lightweight bands are incredible! They even reflect during daylight hours. Simply Velcro the strap lightly around your ankle for added safety. You can purchase a pair for only $5.95 through Team Estrogen.

I've ordered hundreds of these reflectors for programs and corporate clients over the years. Local bike and sporting good stores will also have lightweight reflectors very similar to the Slimbands. They also make lightweight headlamps that strap on the head or even clip onto a visor--most are not very expensive--cheaper than a collision for sure! I went to a clip-on light for my running visor after colliding myself with another runner last year after dark on the bike path. :o( There are also predator issues after dark, so a little light can be very helpful for safety in many different areas.

Check out the Jogalite Slimbands here:

"See you" in a workout this fall,
Coach RJ

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Biggest Loser & Exercise Safety

We've probably all been inspired by the transformations of people on The Biggest Loser TV show--myself included. However, the last couple of years the show has had some very questionable methods for fitness training. Once again the other week, one of the trainers demonstrated some very reckless kettlebell training that ignited a firestorm of criticism in the kettlebell world--this was not the first such incident. Beyond kettlebells, many of the biggest names in fitness are saying they now watch the show specifically to see what they will have to correct the following week after their clients see the reckless training methods and want to try them.

I feel obligated to comment on exercise safety and this show's methods. Some (not all) of their fitness training has become reckless and even at times outright dangerous. If you see something that looks really cool that you want to also try in your own workouts, please don't hesitate to ask a qualified fitness professional about any safety concerns you might have. I'll say this for sure--DO NOT duplicate any of the moves they are doing with a Russian Kettlebell!!! I've been really disappointed in a lot of their other exercises as well. They push people beyond what they can control in terms of joint strength and biomechanics. Kettlebells are the single most corrective tool in fitness today--but they have safety issues and require special training to properly engage with them. Once you know the safety of KBs, they will rock you and move you well. You won't get proper instruction on them watching shows like The Biggest Loser or looking at most of the stuff on YouTube. If you want to learn about KBs, find a certified RKC instructor near you.

Going hard core is fine. I enjoy it myself, but I would recommend that you only do what you can control. If not, more than likely your joints will pay the price in pain and injury...not good. Adding fitness on top of dysfunction is not efficient. You might get away with it for a while, but eventually your joints will take the hit. Prioritize joint mobility and safety FIRST then you'll move well with minimal risk for injury. Moving well and efficiently will enable you to also lose weight faster because you won't have as much or any downtime and you'll be able to burn more calories per minute because you can put the force where it belongs instead of leaking it out and breaking your joints. Exercise and safety really should go together.

Enjoy the show but with some reserve before trying everything you see. I've been inspired by the transformations. It's really great when people decide to take control of their own health and get their lives back. Power to them!
In Fitness,
Coach RJ

Thursday, September 10, 2009

1000 Days-1000 Reps

RJ & Tim Spencer @ RKC San Diego.09

1000 days straight of exercise? Quite a concept. Sounds intimidating. Only reserved for crazies or someone like Jack LaLanne. Think again! It's just exercise and moving around for fitness 30 minutes per day--nothing more. Our bodies are designed TO MOVE...DAILY!!!

Sunday, September 27th 2009 will mark my 1000th straight day of exercise. During this time, I exercised at least 30 minutes per day EVERY DAY-NO EXCUSES. Many days just a slow walk...others were moderate to hard...but always something.I will mark my 1000th day with 1000 kettlebell reps.1000 24kg swings in 50 minutes @ 20 per minute. Join me & other Lean Berets on the 27th in Ventura, CA for the Throw Down!

It all started with The Lean Berets 30X30 Challenge!

Want to get fit and stay that way year after year? Report for 30X30 Challenge Duty with The Lean Berets-Avengers of Health!
Leave the BS excuses behind. Become part of the real solution for health care...getting HEALTHY with DAILY exercise! In Sweat, Coach RJ!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Exercise & Weight LOSS?

Exercise and weight loss has been in the news a lot lately. There was a study cited a few weeks ago the media picked up which basically said that exercise does not have a significant effect on weight loss. This created a lot of controversy within the exercise community, and once again, a lot of confusion with the general public. Exercise DOES have "some" benefits for weight loss but more for weight "maintenance." Allow me to summarize.
  • Over the years, I have worked with many of you on weight loss. I have always emphasized "eating behaviors" over exercise in terms of weight loss. If you have read my Top 10 list for permanent weight loss, you know that exercise is way down on the list. Why? Because if you are not eating properly, your workouts will never be enough to lose significant weight. For the record, dietary experts say that THE most important thing we can do to lose weight as a nation is to just EAT LESS. They don't even emphasize what we are eating as much as that we are just eating too much of it. Start here if you need to lose weight--eat less of whatever it is you're currently eating. Sure--eating better and exercising will help, but the MOST important step is to eat less.
  • Can exercise help you lose weight? Yes. But only if you use the right programming, intensity, etc. However, please note the above on how your eating relates. Studies show that an adult working "hard" for 60 minutes of exercise will burn around 600 calories per hour. But guess what? Most adults in America are not in good enough shape to exercise hard for 60 minutes straight! Many cannot even exercise easy for 60 minutes in a row--some not even five! In reality, the amount of metabolic work many adults can produce per hour will be far under 600 calories of burn. Have you looked at the calorie content of a couple of cookies, fancy cup of coffee, bag of chips, or sodas lately? What about a restaurant meal that can be in excess of 5,000 calories? If you're only burning 250 calories (an hour of slow walking) and eating too much or poor choices like the junk food like above, you're still going to gain weight! Again, eat LESS as a primary strategy, then better, then have "quality" exercise on a daily basis.
  • On exercise quality vs. weight loss, there has been a trend developing for a couple of years downplaying the role of cardio exercise and cardio equipment. I've been watching it and evaluating, and now I am also coaching people away from endless cardio that is not very productive. Most of the people I have known over the past decade that use cardio machines day in and day out don't change from year to year. They don't lose weight, and they don't increase much fitness--nor do they fix injuries or joint dysfunctions hacking away on cardio machines. Think about the "quality" of your cardio. Will it have enough metabolic effect to enable you to actually LOSE weight if this is your goal? Will the cardio activity enhance your health and safety in terms of joint function and whole-body balance? Probably not. Here are a couple of related points. If you do cardio machines, pick a protocol that will actually produce weight loss and metabolic enhancement. If you have joint issues or need to balance your body better, get off the cardio equipment for a while and into something that can correct these imbalances so that when you go back to your cardio, you will have great quality with improved safety--which basically means you'll be able to lose more weight faster. If you just want to do cardio at a slow to moderate pace, this is fine, but be realistic--it's not going to help you lose weight or even get you that much more fit.
  • Cardio Weight Loss Protocols? There are many different plans or protocols out there. The only one that I have seen actually work with dozens of my own clients are the Sprint-8 Intervals (by Phil Campbell-Ready, Set, GO!). I also use other intervals, but the Sprint-8s are the easiest to adapt to multiple populations and body types. We have a few tricks to using the Sprint-8. We have used speed to accelerate the heart rate and preferred the elliptical trainer with NO resistance because we can transition quickly in and out of the intervals. Stair steppers, treadmills, and some other cardio equipment types will not allow the quick transitions required for this workout. My suggestion is that if you move well enough to move FAST with an interval, that you look at the Sprint-8. Some of my colleagues make fun of the elliptical trainers, but I have seen them help more people than hurt, so I'll stick with them when used properly.
  • If you don't move well enough to move fast, then fix what is broken or dysfunctional. My optimal tools for doing this are merely using body weight or the Russian Kettlebell. If you can't move your body well, you don't have any business using equipment to further load a bad movement pattern or joint that is not working properly. Kettlebells are very corrective when used with the RKC "Hard Style" protocols--they truly fix people better than any other fitness tool I have ever seen (but don't use them unless you know what you are doing). There are other methods of course--sometimes clinical help is required with surgery, physical therapy, or at times medications; however, most of the problems I see with people and their movements can be fixed on site with no or minimal equipment. Tip of the day by physical therapist and sport rehab expert Gray Cook, "Don't layer fitness on top of dysfunction!" What does Cook mean? You can get more fit if you go hard enough, but it won't necessarily make you move better. Eventually, you'll just get fit enough to hurt yourself--not good!
  • Summary! If you need to lose weight--first and foremost EAT LESS. If you want exercise to help you lose weight--do something metabolically efficient. If you do not move well enough to do the "faster" movements required with intervals or ballistic kettlebell exercises, etc., then emphasize correcting your imbalances and improving your joint function so that you can do the metabolically efficient workouts that will torch the most amount of fat off your frame in the least amount of time.

I love fitness and exercise! Daily exercise is awesome with dozens of great health benefits--just not the "best method" to take off significant weight when compared to how much you are eating.
References: (RJ's 'Top Ten' Weight Loss Tips) (Intervals & Sprint-8 Protocol) (Kettlebells) (American College of Sports Medicine response to exercise and weight loss myths)

In health,
Coach RJ

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

RKC Success!

Pavel & Ron Jones @ RKC in San Diego

I passed my RKC in San Diego Comrades! Whew...15 months of busting my ass paid off finally! It was a great experience. VERY hard. Even more rewarding. I'll write in more detail later about what worked well and what I still needed but wanted to at least tell everyone that has been wondering.
My friend and training partner Tyler Saso passed too. We prepared HARD style--and succeeded with HARD style. Special thanks to Delaine Ross, David Whitley, Dr. Mark Cheng, John Spezzano, Anton Summers and everyone at KBLA! YOU Rock!
Peaceful strength tonight from a SMOKED SoCal, Coach RJ.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

PacifiCare BASTARDS!

PacifiCare just denied my whole family health insurance! BASTARDS! Each one of us individually was not not worth insuring according to them. I'm OUTRAGED! What the hell is going on with what's left of our country? I have one of the healthiest families in America, yet we got denied health insurance! I'm sending PacifiCare to The Lean Berets-Avengers of Health "Firing Squad" NOW!!!
This is NOT the last of it! I've been given this situation to bring LIGHT to the darkness of the screwed up and corrupt "sick" care system of America. Enjoy the pain PacifiCare because that's what you are going to get from me. What complete BS!
Mad as hell, Coach RJ!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Keeping Edge...

"My lifestyle determines my deathstyle."
So I'm doing my best to maintain my peak or "edge" before the RKC. This is the hardest part for me--NOT training hard and NOT throwing down. I love the throw downs Comrades! I've been feeling lethargic and soft the last week from scaling down my training intensity. I was getting dejected about it and thinking about calling Guro John RKC today for moral support then decided to hit the park for some heavy metal in small but VIOLENT and CONTROLLED doses...violence in this case is just related to my explosive's actually a good thing if you are not familiar with kettlebell training.
I've been challenged this summer like no other time before. Easy compared to our soldiers in the Middle East, but challenging for state side and me. My life has been a series of knockdowns and getting up off the mat. This summer no exception. On the positive flip side, I was provided the most loyal Comrades I could ever hope to meet through the RKC. Second to none. Loyal. They have honor. In the end, the universe provides!
Tonight! Short but tight. Discipline needed to be maintained to save my hands and body. Started with some dynamic warm ups then proceeded to a gut check of 3:00 straight with the 24kg two-arm swings...HARD style. I shredded them like no other time before. I got to 3:00 and was ready to go to 5:00 but stopped anyway. Amazing because it was not that long ago that 1:00-2:00 nearly dropped me in vomit. Did some quick sets of 24kg snatches. Sets of 10-20. Totalling about 60 in all. Felt okay, but decided to go back to basics with swings. Tried one set of 20 but felt soft. Scaled back to sets of 10 at the top of each minute for 15:00. Lots of hip drive and crispness.
On the last sets, I could feel a switch turning on in my body and spirit. By the last set of 10 tears swelled my eyes, and I flashed back through my life this summer with all its challenges both good and bad...I released the absolute most violent and controlled set of ballistic swings in my last 15 months of kettlebells. Tearing the heads off people that have tried and failed to take me down and proving to myself that I'm still here and still ALIVE. Something happened that has never happened before...the swings were so hard and so violent that my lungs emitted a sort of "barking" sound like I was exorcising "unhealthy" demons...the people at the park probably thought it was true...maybe it was true wouldn't be the first time I purged myself of demons through high intensity fitness and sweat.
Once again I line up against people half my age. My base is the High-Performance Health of Wellness, strong work ethic, and passion for what I believe in. Another challenge sure. I love the throw downs. I'm a heavy metal guy. Like Metallica's view above, I'll live by heavy metal and die by heavy be it. I'd rather die fighting than fading away weak and broken. Weakness is not my style.
In spirit from a HOT SoCal, Coach RJ!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

How I Trained for the RKC

I've been getting some questions from guys around the country about how I got ready for the RKC in such a short amount of time. If I was 25, it would not be as big of deal, but at age 49, it is a big deal. In 15 months, I had to go from ground zero with kettlebells to being able to keep up with the 20 year olds using the same weight and same reps. The questions have been good ones and sincere, so I thought it should warrant a public post. Hopefully, it will help someone that is preparing for their own RKC coming up or maybe just someone wanting to learn kettlebells for personal reasons that have nothing to do with getting certified as an instructor.

  1. WORK HARD. If you are not prepared to work harder than you have ever worked before, leave. Kettlebells are not for everyone--nor should they be. If you are willing to work very hard for months and months, welcome to Russian Kettlebells. If you just want to work a little, you can still improve at a personal level, but forget about becoming a RKC. They have a 30% failure rate. Why? Some people don't like working that hard. Oh well...

  2. Keep an open mind. Be prepared to check your ego at the door along with what you "thought" you knew about strength and power conditioning. This was humbling for me but probably the best thing that happened to my career. I became a student again. The world of the RKC is mind blowing--in a good way. You'll end up coming back into your current knowledge base a bit down the road, but at first, just listen with an open mind and realize you don't know everything. Mandatory! Buy Pavel's "Enter the Kettlebell" book and DVD. Go over and over them. Your discipline to these details will be rewarded with performance, but remember, this is only scratching the surface because ideally you'll have a real instructor to help you personally. Again, it was a humbling experience for me at first then I finally got used to being "schooled" on a consistent basis. No regrets. I'm glad to get the help...and needed it!

  3. Get help. You can't really learn how to properly use a kettlebell just by watching a DVD or looking at books or the endless BS on YouTube. Seek out a RKC instructor. If there is not one in your area, find one close enough to drive to. If it's too far to drive, save some money and go by plane, but get there! Ideally, find a RKC that has a special "Introduction Workshop" just for beginners. This is how I first learned. Everyone there was new like me. The group was small--about 6-8 people. We were all newbies and learning together. It was a lot less intimidating this way and easier to grasp...if you can call KBs "easy"...probably quite a stretch with that tag Comrades! Even if you just got one session this could be really helpful. :o)

  4. Stick with the RKC system. There are lots of people doing KBs, but the RKC rules in terms of safety and effectiveness. No matter how many stupid pet tricks you see on YouTube, stick with the RKC system. You'll improve without needless injury this way.

  5. Stick to the basics. I get a lot of people asking me which exercises I did and what they should do. I stuck with the basics: deadlift, swing, clean, press, Turkish Get Up, high pull, and snatch. My main exercises are the swing and snatch. I also did a whole lot of TGUs, CP, and enough deadlifts to grease the groove. I did some high pulls at the beginning to condition my shoulders for the explosiveness of the snatches, but after I got my shoulders tuned up, I stopped doing the high pulls for the most part. I've done thousands of swings! I can't emphasise the swings enough. If you get your swings as close to perfect as possible, then everything else will come with more efficiency. When I see someone not snatching correctly or jacking up the safety, I can trace it directly back to poor swing mechanics. Something is not right with the spine, hips, knees, or foot/ankle which ends up jacking up the snatch. Yes you have to prepare for your snatch test at the RKC, but you can nail the snatch test if you have a rock solid swing as your base.
  6. Take care of your HANDS! I didn't listen to those that knew better when I started. That was stupid. I learned the hard way to take care of my hands. I really got into the whole hand thing with KBs. I think I have the best hand care section on the web for kettlebells. Interested? Check out my Kettlebell Hand Care Tools & Tips Section.

Here are a few specifics on kettlebell exercises that really helped me improve VERY fast. Enjoy!

  • Minute Sets of Two-Arm Swings: I love this protocol. I'll rip 20 two-arm swings at the top of each minute, rest, then repeat. It takes me about 27 seconds to get 20 reps with the 24kg. I started this with just ten minutes and now can go over 40 minutes straight. Lots of volume with short rest to keep your safety and form crisp--like a punch!

  • Minute Sets of Snatches: Like the above but only 5+5 then rest, repeat. I do these now with the 24kg. Lots of volume with good rest. This format saves your hands and helps to manage fatigue. This will get you fit fast. I can go for 30 minutes now--that's 300 snatches. Not a bad day.

  • SSST: This is a good reality check once in a while. It becomes a good motivator for your day-to-day training. I got really pumped about seeing myself go from basically one horrible 24kg snatch in May 2008 to 130 in 7:54 by New Years Day 2009. Amazing. I'll also use the 16kg and go the full ten minutes sometimes getting 200 reps. I haven't made it past 7:54 with the 24kg yet, but I will. My fitness is there now, just need to get the hands more and more prepared I think.

  • 3:00 straight of 24kg Swings: This was one of Dr. Mark Cheng's recommendations to me. The first time I went past one minute without stopping, I thought I would barf. Then 2:00! OMG! Then next thing I knew I was at 3:00 and feeling strong as hell. These made a huge difference. They are like the SSST--a real gut check. There is NO WHERE to hide with 3:00 straight of swings or a SSST. You have it or you don't. Get over it. Then hit it again. Power to you!

  • MV02 Protocol: The "V02 Max Protocol" is to me the ultimate "workout" with the kettlebell. I use the 15:15 protocol. Here are the basics--get 7-9 snatches in 15 seconds with the same arm, rest 15 seconds, then do it again with the other arm. Go a bit lighter because this workout is about SPEED. I can snatch the 24kg but use the 16kg so I can go faster. Start with 5:00 or so then work up. I can go 40:00 now. Lots of volume, super cardio workout, lots of mental toughness and discipline, but if you've got what it takes to work your butt off, the MV02 will provide!

  • Clean, Press, TGU: I've done plenty of cleans, presses, and Turkish Get Ups too, but my "fitness" with the kettlebell came from the above. I've tried different approaches to the CP, but this is still my weak area. I don't really like them. I'm pretty clean with the TGUs too, but they are not my favorite even though all the RKCs rave about how great they are for you. I don't doubt that, but I like the swings and snatches more. Must be the speed for to throw down man! Spend some time in the trenches with the TGUs though...consider them a "whole body" tune up of sorts.

In summary, these are my training tips for y'all. Again, I can emphasize enough finding a qualified RKC to mentor under. My main RKC mentors have been Delaine Ross, David Whitley, Mark Cheng, John Spezzano, and Anton Summers plus the clan at KBLA-Kettlebells Los Angeles. Despite my work ethic and passion for training, without them, I would not be ready at the same level I am today one week out from my RKC certification course.

After two decades of fitness and racing, I can say that the kettlebells rule as the ultimate training tool for strength and power. They have changed my body and given me back youth few teenagers have today, but more importantly, they have changed my spirit and brought back passion I thought was fading as I approached 50 years of age. I feel like a kid Dr. Cheng told me last August while eating sushi, "You're just getting started! It will only get better!" Thanks Doc because you were correct!

Need more details? Check out my Kettlebells Section for all my handouts and important links that I found help along my journey.

Power to you Comrades! Train HARD as in HAAAARD Style, and of course...Enjoy the Pain! --Coach RJ

Friday, August 21, 2009

RKC Prep Updates & Training Partners

RJ & Tyler Saso-RKC Prep!

I've officially "peaked out" my RKC prep training at this point. I've been taking it easy with my workouts this week just doing my best to keep my edge and stay crisp without stagnating. My issue is usually over training...I can get carried away with the throwing down part. Tonight I'm going to snap out a quick SSST using my 16kg. I'll rip off 200+ reps in 10:00 to get my forearms to pump a little and stay in condition for loading and fatigue management.

I'd have to say my personal "Crossroads" workout was the other week with RKC candidate and training partner Tyler Saso. We'll be roommates next week. The above photo was taken after this grueling workout. I did 840 "HARD" style two-arm swings with my 24kg in 41:00. We did 20 reps at the top of each minute, rested about 32 seconds, repeated for 40:00 then the last minute did a blitz of 40 swings straight just for the hell of it. We did it in open sun in about 98 degrees to help us condition for the exposure we'll be getting at the San Diego RKC next week. Fellow KB friend Tim Johnson showed up too. I started thinking about my true "training partners" over the years...there have only been a few that I could count on to go as hard core as I needed to go. Most of the people that have trained with me at a competitive level over the years did not enjoy the experience. Like I said...I love the throw down part. Hard. Fast. Vicious. I'm happy.

What does it take to make this group? Ability to go hard without complaining...and I mean really hard. The attitude. NO BS. Intelligence. Passion. DISCIPLINE!!! Not a lot of athletes around like this today.
Who are these guys? Norm Hoffman would have to be "the" training partner of my life. He was a multi-national champion and multi-world record holder in masters cycling. He was my mentor, coach, training partner, and the closest friend I've ever had or will have in my life. He was killed while training on his bike for the nationals in March of 2001.

Tyler Saso is another. I met Tyler while training his collegiate football team in 2004. I used to play football with Tyler'' father Danny back in the day during high school. Tyler went on to get a degree in exercise science, intern under me, and is now a business partner and fellow Lean Beret-Avenger of Health! He's one of the FEW people that I can count on to go hard without complaining.

Others include Jim Marchesini (KBs, rock climber, mountaineering), Joe Gutcher (wrestling, MTB), Ryan Rickard (wrestling, MTB, road racing), Lucas Paugh (football). These are my training peeps. They kick ass. Straight up. NO BS. Year after year with me or anyone else throwing down. I love these guys man. Honorable to exchange sweat with such warriors throughout this fitness journey.

From a beautiful Paso Robles, CA today...Coach RJ!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

ROCK Your Feet! Vibram Five Fingers & Foot Fitness

Coach RJ's new VFFs-they ROCK!!!

Let's talk foot fitness! But first, where my recent interest in foot fitness all began...I was working at the US Olympic Training Center for USA Track & Field Elite Development the summer of 2004. One of the Olympic exercise physiologist came in for a presentation and start talking about how our shoes today are made so "well" that they are making our feet weak. They discovered with our Olympic athletes that their feet weakness was allowing "force leaks." Force leaks are lateral leaks that decrease the amount of force you are attempting to channel in a straight line--basically it means that you'll slow down and not move as efficiently--maybe even get hurt. He said that after the track workouts, our athletes were taking their high-dollar shoes completely OFF and running...gasp...BAREFOOT running drills on the grass! The barefoot drills were increasing their foot fitness and improving their run times. Fascinating!
Foot Biomechanics 101: The foot is supposed to stabilize. It claws and grips the ground as you walk barefoot. When you wear shoes, the foot does not do as much work; therefore, it gets weaker. Many people NEVER go barefoot! They end up having really detrained and weak feet. Let's look at the kinetic chain from the ground up to the waist. We'll assign only ONE primary function to each major joint area. We have the foot, ankle, knee, and hip. Here are the assignments if everything works correctly:
  • Foot=Stability
  • Ankle=Mobility
  • Knee=Stability
  • Hip=Mobility

If the foot is too weak, it is not stable but too mobile. The excessive mobility in the foot causes a compensation in the ankle. The ankle then gets "stiff" but in an unhealthy way. The ankle being too stiff then requires the knee to shift towards more mobility. The knee does NOT like mobility! The knee is a hinge joint and likes to move in one line. In its optimal line, the knee is very happy. Push it out of alignment, and your ACL, meniscus, etc. will start barking at you or even fail. There seems to be an increasing amount of ACL injuries going around. I'm seeing these concerns in my research journals and other health/fitness postings. Why? Our shoes are at least part of the reason! There is a new book a lot of people in my business are reading and talking about called "Born to Run." The book examines many aspects of ultrarunning but the most amazing one is a tribe in Mexico that has been running hundreds of miles WELL for generations with NO SHOES and without all the "Western" injuries we see in cultures that wear shoes! There is a theory now that conditions like plantar fasciitis, ACL injuries, meniscus injuries, etc. many times are being caused by our shoes that weaken the biomechanical structure of our feet! Let's think about this SIMPLY...if you're running with a fancy air-sole running shoe, you're probably doing a heel-toe strike (unless you're a Chi Runner). If you tried to run heel strike first barefoot, you'd break your foot! So essentially, our "modern" shoes have completely changed the way we've been running for generations. When people run barefoot, they strike on the mid foot for the most part. Your mid foot is where the suspension system is--your "arch." The arch of your foot is spring loaded--it can absorb the foot strike shock. The heel's ability to absorb shock? NOT! You've got a little skin and very thin fat pad then your calcaneous bone underneath. Hit the heel first and you'll get way more shock up your leg into your back. Strike on the mid foot and you'll be absorbing the shock the way the foot is supposed to absorb it. Pretty cool isn't it?!!!

Basically--our shoes are made too well and make our feet weak and lazy. Everything up the kinetic chain from our weakened bases of support (feet) are then compromised. Again, I'm fascinated with all this talk on foot fitness!

Fellow RKC Kettlebell Instructor and author of "The Four Hour Work Week" Tim Ferriss put up a GREAT post and video on the Vibram Five Fingers. It's an absolute must if you're interested in what I explained above. Here's the link:

Fast forward a couple of years and I heard yet more about foot fitness related to our feet being too weak and less than biomechanically efficient. Nike created a new called the "Free" which is supposed to mimic "bare foot" running then a book came out called "Chi Running" which talks about completely running with a different foot strike--basically more like barefoot runners where you lean forward from the ankles and make a mid-foot strike instead of the heal-toe strike that most of us use when running.
Fast forward again to May 2008. I took my very first Russian Kettlebell class from RKC Delaine Ross in Atlanta. When I walked in she was wearing these weird reptilian looking shoe things that had toe fingers in them. I was fascinated! They were Vibram Five Fingers. She said they made her feet stronger...hmmm...there is that foot fitness thing again. As I got heavily into the kettlebell scene with the RKC, I began doing my KB workouts barefoot or with really hard soled shoes. The first week of kettlebell training one area of my body was the MOST sore. Guess which area? A likely guess would be my butt--but it was my FEET! I could barely walk for a week! And yes, my ass was on fire for a few days too, but mainly the soreness was in my feet! Why? They were weak from wearing shoes too often!
When I started running collegiate X-country, my feet hurt like hell. I had to get orthotics made. The joint pain in my feet went away. When I started training more for function, my feet got stronger from all the balance and proprioceptive challenging drills I was doing along with the speed, agility, quickness drills--but I was still wearing my shoes with orthotics. When I shifted to barefoot kettlebell training, my feet got stronger yet again.
So here we are today. My kettlebell mentor Dr. Mark Cheng of Kettlebells Los Angeles showed up one morning a few weeks ago wearing his new VFFs and was talking about his daily runs in them. Okay! I had enough at that point! Time to do the barefoot throw down! After 14 months of hearing about the Vibram Five Fingers (VFFs), I finally purchased a pair. My feet loved them the first day! Now I'm wearing them all over the place. I just got my second pair in black. I prefer the KSO model because they have more covering over the tops of my feet. Most of my kettlebell workouts are on the grass at the park, so they Keep Stuff Out--hence the name "KSO."
On a side note, I've had horrible issues with plantar fasciitis the last three years from all my excessive driving. As a corporate Wellcoach, I have to cover a lot of ground on my site visits. I can be in my car for 3-4 hours per day. The static posture of my accelerator foot has messed up my foot's biomechanics. I've been through hell with my foot, and basically had to stop running for the most part. My biggest fear when I started the kettlebell training was my foot. I was scared that the "barefoot" training would aggravate my plantar fasciitis condition, but guess what? The barefoot workouts never bothered my foot. My foot actually seemed to get better as the foot got stronger...fascinating!
The last few weeks of wearing my VFFs has been pretty amazing. I have even done some barefoot running while on the grass. My plantar fasciitis got better the FIRST WEEK I wore my VFFs! For the first time in three years, I did a one-hour trail run without any foot problems last weekend. I did use my trail running shoes and orthotics for the actual trail run though as my feet are not quite ready for that much work, but you never know...I might end up running the whole way with them one day!
If you would have told me I'd be running barefoot with VFFs a couple of years ago when the pain in my foot was so bad it felt like someone was driving a nail through my heel, I might have attacked! I have been absolutely fascinated with the function and strength of my feet throughout the last 14 months of Russian Kettlebell training while barefoot or with hard soled shoes and now with my new Vibram Five Fingers. I'm hearing stories from people I know, respect, and trust about how they have not been able to run but now are running with the VFFs! People saying that their chronic back pain or knee pain is GONE now that they are wearing the VFFs and the feet are doing what they are supposed to be doing--stabilizing and clawing the ground. While the jury is still a little out, I think the VFFs are going to significantly help my feet and the entire biomechanics of my body. If you have foot, knee, hip, or back problems, you might want to consider the above comments and consider going bare foot once in a while...maybe even some VFFs for yourself!
Where to Buy VFFs?
In Los Angeles, you can buy them at the Adventure-16 outdoor store, but both times I went in there they did not have my size available. Your best bet is to just order them on-line right from Vibram. They'll come in about a week. The trick is sizing. They give some tips on-line for sizing, or you can find a retailer and get your foot measured. If they don't have them at the retail store that day, you've at least sized your foot properly. If you order off the Vibram Five Fingers website, click on any shoe product page to get their conversion chart for self sizing.
I hope this helps a few people. I've learned a lot about feet the last few years and how important they are to movement. Take care of your feet Comrades--take OFF your shoes!
In Foot Fitness, Coach RJ!