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!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

When in doubt...THROW DOWN

I had to apply The Lean Berets Credo tonight, "When in doubt--throw down in the SWEAT of the moment!" I was tired and stressed. Too bad. Time to train as part of my RKC Prep. Off to the park with KBs in tow.
Tonight's workout:
After mobility work and a few dead lifts and 20 swings, 300 snatches with the 24kg.
Method: Minutes sets of 10 per minute (5L+5R) at the top of each minute. At the end of 30 minutes, I threw in 1:00 minute of non-stop two-arm swings for the hell of it. I was exhausted. To my own work ethic credit the last 14 months, even when I'm little burned out from the fast lane of life, I can handle a lot of metabolic work. Tonight was not a "great" night for me in terms of chi, but I did it anyway. Enjoying the pain from a warm SoCal, Coach RJ

Saturday, August 1, 2009

RKC Prep-Family Affair

STILL Smiling after 600 KB Swings!
Candas Jones-HARD Stylin'!!!

Not many wives would go along with their husband as he prepares for the RKC--but mine will. Candas was in tow today as we launched into 30 minutes of HARD-style kettlebell 2-arm swings for 30 straight minutes. We started the actual workout at high noon in Santa Clarita-SoCal. 90 degree weather. Open sun-NO shade. Sweating our asses off after just 10 minutes. Spent about 10 minutes on joint mobility and a few deadlifts to work the groove then threw down. She did 600 swings with the 16kg--no gloves--no whining. I did my 600 with the 24kg then added another minute straight to round off at 635 with my 24kg. Enjoying the pain together as husband and wife knowing that the time for bullshit is OVER and the time for strength is NOW Comrades!

Throwing down HARD style from SoCal, Coach RJ!