The title of this post will be a test of your character. If you recognized it as a line from the show “Always Sunny In Philadelphia” then we would be fast friends! It’s brilliance is in the simplicity of it. Any potential stalkers out there may recall posts where I mention one of my dearest friends – Bryanna, and about our pact to do one thing daily that scares the crap out of us. I can get really comfortable in routine and the idea of changing things up can make me anxious. I’ve found the best cure to be to completely mix it up and throw myself into a new situation and confront my fears head on. Look, I was going to write a blog post recapping my year in kettle. When I began this sport just over 2 years ago I only had the intentions of attending 2, maybe 3 competitions a year. In October it will be my 5th competition, and in all likelihood I will be in Texas in December which will make it my 6th. It had been suggested to me that a year in review would make for an interesting post. Yet, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I didn’t want to go back. I made some excellent progress this year, but I am more excited about using those experiences to reshape my future, then to look back and reflect. The timing of this discovery was followed by a friend of mine posting this meme….or maybe the meme made me have the thought in the first place? Whatever. Let’s just move past it.
I would rather tell you about my most recent experience that I feel has made me (and will continue to make me) a better kettlebell lifter. This summer I went to camp. That’s right. Full on day camp for adults…obviously perfect for teachers but mostly filled with other fitness professionals. Master’s of Movement is a very unique fitness experience and I have to say, I needed this. I needed to throw myself outside my comfort zone to find out which skills/energy systems of my kettlebell training would transfer over to activities that were completely new to me, or that I had not done for several years, and which skills/energy systems I still needed to develop. There was absolutely no question that Sara-Clare Lajeunesse and Shawn Mozen of Agatsu were the ones to do this with. A couple of years ago I had hired Sara for some private sessions to help me work on some body weight skills and knew she’s a brilliant teacher with a smile that makes you happy for days. I had the opportunity to get to know Shawn better when I took the Agatsu Upper Body Level 1 Mobility Certification.
These two really are masters of moving pain free and I honestly attribute much of my transformation to better health because of the prehab work I put into my warmups and cooldowns to work both mobility and flexibility. I’ve spent a lot of time crafting my routine from ideas I have gotten from my coach Jason Dolby, Steve Maxwell and Erwan LeCorre mostly. Agatsu is another place I love to go for professional development in this area. Basically, I chose their summer movement week so I could spend more time with them AND because they had booked the Mayhem Bros to have Hip Hop dance as one of the activities we would be exposed to throughout the week. I had worked with Mayhem Bros before – you may remember they helped choreograph a dance routine that I used with my grade 4 class (where Awesometown was born). I had been dying to have an opportunity to learn from them for ME. I knew with those 2 elements I would have a great time so I didn’t even pay attention to the rest of the line up (true story). Here’s just a small snippet of what I took away with me this week:
1. Opposites are Good.
For 5 days I had the great opportunity to learn olympic weight lifting from the great Alexander Varbanov. If you do not know who he is….shame on you and go do some basic internet research and come back. I had actually known this would be a part of my week and I was also excited about this opportunity. I totally assumed being a kettlebell sport lifter that I would have the most in common with this activity compared to the rest, and therefore assumed I would enjoy it the most. Although I did enjoy it – it challenged/frustrated me way more than I was expecting. By the end, it had tapped into my competitive spirit in a way that is different from kettlebell sport, but I had to reign it in and avoid lifting beyond the capabilities of my right shoulder that was still sore after NorCal Open. For me, oly lifting was the most challenging of everything we did this week (with the exception of juggling and some of the club work). Lifting under tension has become a bit of a foreign concept to me…but it was exciting to reawaken and have the opportunity to practice. Spending time under tension made me more aware of the relaxation I am able to create in my kettlebell lifting and how that translates into increased endurance and reps over time. I also love exploring ranges of motion beyond what I need for kettlebell sport. It feels so awesome to squat deep and I know it has helped relieve the repetitive tension and limited range of motion I accumulate from continuous quarter squats jerking.
2. We are all full of shit.
All of our days were spent being engaged both mentally and physically. There were a couple brief moments of down time where we could sit and absorb new ideas… but still mentally were very much challenged. One of these moments was with Dhani Oks, co-founder of the Academy of Lions which was also the host location. Dhani provided a series on Coaching and Cueing really centered around many different ideas so I can’t even begin to sum up his talk here. But I will highlight one idea that made me feel something. He introduced me to the idea of the Pyramid of Shit. To oversimplify his model for the purposes of time – basically the higher the pyramid, the more emotional baggage you have in terms of how you deal with adversity. So at the top we would see those people with a negative world view (the world is shit), or a negative self view (I am shit) in response to something that didn’t go their way (e.g. a poor performance on the platform at a lifting competition). If you have ever been a coach you know that it takes a lot of creativity and emotional energy to pull these people into reality and further down the shit pyramid. These folks are the most difficult to coach.
Lower down on the pyramid you have those that can separate their shit and see it for what is. After lifting poorly in a competition they would not say “I am shit”, but rather “my lifting was shit, or I stepped in shit.” It is much easier to progress with a student who has this level of awareness because you can get right to the root of what needs working on, where the true focus needs to be. I realized that I have a Jekyll/Hyde with this pyramid. As a teacher/coach I am very low on the pyramid. I spend my days motivating my students and helping them escape the loneliness of the top of the pyramid. When I have a student caught in that shit funk I look for new and creative ways to pull them out of it while being sensitive to what they’re going through, but not taking it personally or attaching their shit to me. I get it, I’ve been there. It’s cold at that altitude, but I love to help.
As an athlete/student I realize that when I am trying to overcome the adversity of learning a new skill, or pushing through a barrier I can be very hard on myself and at the top of that pyramid. It sucks and I admit I can have a hard time pulling myself out of it. I’m very fortunate I have people around me that are experts at helping me and each new seemingly impossible challenge becomes easier and easier to face. My big take home was first and foremost having empathy for my coach – it ain’t easy… that’s when it hit home that I think it is important for coaches (who can especially have a tendency to be hard on themselves) to have good coaches in terms of their ability to communicate and deal with their shit. That relationship will be more solid if the person you have entrusted that role to is someone who can remain at the bottom of the pyramid and help pull you down off the frozen peak of shit when you need it.
3. Adaptive Bodywork is AMAZING!
The Agatsu mobility cert introduced me to the idea of muscle distraction and it’s use with mobility to help warm up joints. I started adding variations to my warm up. It definitely made me aware of “sensory rich areas” that were quite painful. Some I knew I had been avoiding and some areas I’m often surprised because I didn’t even realize they were sore. I have learned that the more I confront the sensory rich areas and work on releasing tension at the root cause, the better I feel, and the faster I heal. During my week of day camp we were able to experience a session of adaptive bodywork with John Sutherland. This was just a small taste of what is actually possible and my mind was blown at how much more effective it was than my current routine. I honestly believe that this will be one of the keys to keeping my joint integrity as I age and help me move the way I am now for a long time. I am definitely going to be pursuing certification in this at some point and will try to see John whenever he comes to Toronto!!!
4. Find love where you least expect it.
I love surprises! Possibly because I am terrible at giving them…so when they do happen, I remember how awesome they are and I should work harder at being better at them! Just another reason taking risks is awesome. You discover cool new things you had no idea you could do! Last year I had really wanted to attend Masters of Movement pretty much solely because Deflying Fitness was one of the presenters delivering a handstand series. Being able to go in and out of a controlled handstand is one of my top 3 goals. Anyway, my true love kettlebell sport was calling during that week last year and I was at a competition. I pretty much zoned out of everything else Deflying Fitness had to offer. I’m such an idiot. I had no idea what I was in for. A whole pile of awesome was what I fell into!!! For me it was such an interesting and challenging use of body weight strength. Some movements I was surprised were easy – but because I have put them into my regular practice (e.g. bear grylls). Other movements I felt as though I had the strength and mobility to execute but my brain just couldn’t send the right signals to the right places!
I have no problem being upside down, but I haven’t spent nearly enough time performing movements upside down. It felt amazing to scratch the surface at trying to create that new kind of awareness and has made practicing kind of addictive. I had no idea I was about to find an entirely new and fun way to work on my shoulder mobility. The entire workshop paid for itself the first session we used our wrist strap that came in our goodie bag. We did some awesome exercises that opened up my shoulder, deltoid and bicep like nothing else I had tried. It also gives me awesome feedback on how prepared I am for ring and bar work. Similar to gymnastics many of the movements and positions require a strong hollow body and ribs closed position. This is a challenge for me but I am finally able to distinguish the two positions and create more awareness of what each offers. Although break dancing was super fun and badass….the Deflying Fitness sessions were by far my favourite. Andralyn and Duane are pretty much the best people ever. I will definitely be doing handstands and flexibility with them…hopefully soon in Oakville…
5. Always Attempt the Impossible
This week I felt the difference my kettlebell sport platform battles have given me in physical preparedness and mental confidence. My body was much better conditioned to participate fully in all of the activities. Olympic lifting was the only activity I was cautious with as I didn’t want to risk an injury. That being said I still worked on my technique and was able to perform numerous repetitions. Anyway…. my point was that if I had tried this week of movement back was I was 35+ lbs heavier it would have sucked. I would have gotten through…but it would have sucked…and just barely in that “sucks so good” kind of way….mostly in the “if you’re lucky you’re just broken down, if you’re unlucky you’re injured”. It reminded me of the 5 day MovNat retreat where I was that heavy and by the last group workout my knee was the size of a grapefruit. I did not miss a beat at the Master’s of Movement week, and I have to say the order of programming was exceptional. The sequencing I’m sure also contributed to how much better I feel compared to what I was expecting. At the end of the week I was more mentally and emotionally tired than physically tired. Despite 5 days of constant activity I was more than ready to get back to training on Monday. Nothing gives me greater satisfaction than doing things I previously thought I couldn’t do. In 5 days I took some risks, tried some new stuff, got uncomfortable, got too comfortable, collected new tools for my training tool box, met awesome people, drank great coffee, and felt super appreciative of my training and hard work….oh yeah, and smiled and laughed lots!!!!
NOW LET’S LIFT!
…and go back to school…summer is almost over :(
Kettle life post- Cali Open has been interesting. I knew I was going to be competing at the end of April in the Agatsu Canadian Championships, but I did not feel ready to do long cycle on the platform only 5 weeks after the Cali Open. Jason and I agreed it would be a good idea for me to switch to jerk only for this short amount of time. The training would benefit my long cycle, and mentally for me I felt less pressure since I had never competed in 20kg jerk only event before. Even though this cycle was only 5 weeks in length, I think I learned the most about myself so far as a lifter. It was also the most strained my relationship with my coach had ever been – all completely coming from me, and so I have to say I learned the most this cycle about communication. Jason had pushed the pace hard for 5 weeks having me train at 15rpm mostly with the 18kg, followed by heavy days (22k – 24k) of short long cycle sets at a slower pace. I found this challenging but for the most part do-able, but when I started to do short jerk only sets with the 20kg it was insanely challenging and I knew there would be no way I could complete a 10 minute set at 15rpm. I did not cope well with this and started to put an incredible amount of pressure on myself to try to hit Master of Sport numbers. The closer it got the competition, the more I realized I would not be ready for that game plan. The more I realized I could not sustain 15rpm, the bitchier I became and the more I questioned my program because I did not understand its design. This actually marked a significant turning point for me from being a “part to whole” learner to a “whole to part.” Allow me to explain -
Part to Whole
I know the end goal is to make my 10minute set with my competition weight bell and to maintain a pace pre-determined by my coach which would be something we had trained to prepare me for. In the beginning of my training I didn’t really need to understand the different stages of competition preparation, because I was more focused on technique and improving my efficiency. I trusted my coach completely and was able to do workouts in isolation without requiring to know how they were preparing me or why they were ordered the way they were. I could focus on the individual parts and just trying my best to hit my numbers taking it one workout at a time. At the end when I got on that platform and made my time and hit my goal number of reps I was then able to realize how those parts had worked together to create the whole performance.
Whole to Part
Here’s where I am today. My technique is pretty efficient. I am able to feel and see instability and inefficiency and self-correct, or respond to the cues and feedback from my coach and apply his corrections and suggestions. My goals now are to raise my lifting to the level of Master of Sport. We know the numbers I need to hit in order to do that. What I need to stay motivated and focused on that task is to be included and involved in the understanding of the plan of attack. I need my coach to share his vision with me… or to even give me a theme that can give my training more intention and purpose. Then as I am working on the individual parts and sets I can carry that intention with me into each workout and envision how they are helping me climb that ladder to my goal. I’m excited that this is something Jason and I are going to be experimenting with for future competitions. I trust him completely and part of the reason I chose him for a coach was because of his creativity and innovation. I will follow where ever he leads, I just don’t want to be lead blindly. I’m excited to be more involved in the vision process and to be able to put my energy and intention into carrying it out.
A friend of mine coaches a high level competitive lacrosse team. He asked one of his players to come up with a theme for the season this year. I admire him having the trust to give that responsibility to one of his players to help them take ownership of their team. His athlete came back with the theme “burn the boats” which essentially comes from a historic conquest where the Spanish conquistador was going into war and before he went into battle he commanded his men to “burn the boats” so that there was no turning back and they had to win in order to survive. There was no option to lose. His athlete thought it was a good theme for their lacrosse team because they needed to turn a new page this season and improve on the previous year. If they were going to go all the way this year there had to be 100% commitment and buy-in. It wasn’t good enough to just show up. He wanted his teammates to know that they all needed to show up and work together to succeed, because if they didn’t, there would be no tomorrow for them, no playoffs. Losing wasn’t an option. I positively love this. It reminds me of the documentary “The Heart of the Game”, the 2005 sports documentary film about the Roosevelt Roughriders girls basketball team. The movie is centered around their star player Darnellia Russell and the Roughriders new coach Bill Resler who is quite the eccentric character. Each year he came up with a different theme that represented the mindset he wanted the team to have when they attacked every practice and game. One year he decided his team was going to focus on defense and press the entire game, every game. Their theme was a pack of wolves…they had to think like a pack of hungry wolves and work together on the hunt and kill of their prey. I totally dig that kind of shit. :) I’m still trying to think of a theme that speaks to me for this journey to Master of Sport.
Alas, I kinda got off topic. Back to the Agatsu Canadian Championships. Only 5 weeks of training and a lot of unnecessary pressure I placed on myself to rank and meet what I thought were my coach’s expectations (but actually weren’t) plus added confusion in not understanding my training plan for this cycle….basically turned me into a complete bitch and nervous wreck. Eventually Jason and I came head to head (like we do each cycle) and he reassured (and reminded) me that this break from long cycle was to create fun and less pressure. This competition wasn’t really apart of our schedule for my road to Master of Sport. I was also first-time coaching 5 women to compete at this event and that was really more where my priorities were focused for this competition. Ofcourse I’m a competitive freak and the closer it came, the more anxious I became. To make things worse this cycle I had been training with bare arms hoping that I could compete that way for this event. I could also tell I wasn’t ready for that. The final seed of insecurity came when my period was due the day of the competition. This had never happened for me in 2 years of competing. I’d love to do a scientific research study on the effect of weight lifting/weight bearing sports and hormone activity. I have always found with my training that the week before my period was due I would get a significant amount of pain and weakness in my forearms. But once my period arrives, it is gone. To have this feeling a week before competition sucks. I was genuinely scared. I wasn’t even sure if down grading to 18kg was going to be enough. It raised more doubt in my mind about my preparation. Luckily for me my period was 2 days early and the pain in my forearms had subsided and I was feeling better about being able to lift 20kg. I also had underestimated the amount coaching was physically and mentally draining and I know I took that stress out on my coach too.
Thank goodness for women lifters! I turned to some of my women lifter friends who I am close with to ask their advice on what I should do for the competition. They all said the same thing and gave me awesome advice that immediately reduced my stress. Add to that Jason reminding me to have fun and enjoy myself also really resonated with me. And then something amazing happened. A few kettlebell lifters that I know only from meeting on Facebook wrote to me to send me positive wishes for the competition. One of my new friends reminded me to stay positive which I combined with Jason’s reminders to have fun and I spent the week before the competition really focusing on the positive feelings lifting gives me – that feeling when you crush a set and hit your numbers, that sense of pride when you know your technique is on and your reps are clean, the energy at every competition where lifters support one another and want to see you hit the best number you can hit…any time I caught myself trying to have a negative thought I overcrowded it with positive ones. So simple and yet so effective! It was also profound to me that these people took the time to write to me to share their positive sentiments. Completely restores my faith in humanity and was also overwhelming and felt undeserved. But I decided to use this profound kindness for the good that was intended. I wanted to make my new friends proud. I asked Sara-Clare Lajeunesse to stand in for Jason and coach me through my set. Something else I’ve decided I need for competition. That one person I can lock on to and tune out everything else. It’s just us, the clock and the judge. She was amazing. Before my set she told me to pick someone I would like to dedicate it to. Someone who I would NEVER let down in a million years. That way when things got rough, I could really draw on that strength to help me through.
I decided to dedicate my set to Awesometown and my coach Jason Dolby. Jason wasn’t the only one I was taking out my shitty stress on, but I had been giving my students tough love all week and at times lecturing them about their poor decision making. I take my role modelling seriously and when I encourage my students to do things even if they are scared, I HAVE to show them I will do it too. With Jason, not only was I feeling bad for taking my stress and anxiety out on him, but I felt like I had really let him down at the Cali Open and my result was not reflective of the effort he had put into training me. I really wanted to make up for that this time. Although they were at the forefront of my brain during my set, I couldn’t help but also be moved to perform well in my home city, in front of my students and my friends. Due to the stress and pain in my arms I had decided to make my performance goals to last the full 10 minutes, and to try to get as close to 100 reps as possible, and hope that if I was feeling good, I could try to go for more. I was not going to go out at 15rpm. I decided to gamble and try 12rpm and slow down if I couldn’t maintain it.
So…the end result- 20kg Jerk only, 59kg weight class (I weighed in at 57.2), 119 reps and CMS! So far this would definitely go down as my best performance to date. My technique felt the most solid for the entire set than it has ever felt with 20kg. I could tell in the first 3 minutes I was going to be able to sustain 12rpm. I tried a couple of times to bump up to 13rpm but I could feel that was too risky, not time for that yet. However, I can really feel the investment in the Cali Open Sport Camp paying off. All of that time with the Russians and my coach was amazing. I can feel myself starting assimilate and apply what I learned. This result gives me a lot more confidence going back to long cycle. Jason also reminded me that in my last 3 consecutive platform appearances I have hit the CMS rank. I feel as though I am just on the cusp of hitting that next level. Everything is moving in the right direction, boxes are getting checked and I just need to continue my patience and stay the course. Now I have feelings of relief and excitement as I get back to long cycle and training. I owe Sara-Clare the hugest thanks. She really helped keep me calm and focused. She was with me every second and I locked on to her every word. She did a brilliant job of helping me out on the last minute of my set. Eminem’s song “Lose Yourself” came on during the final minute and I immediately started to pick up the pace on the first 2 reps and Sara calmed me down and got me to settle back into my pace. “Save it for the last 30 seconds”, she said. My arm crapped out before the end of the set, and part of that was because of how fast I went out that last minute, but I know if Sara hadn’t gotten me to respond as quickly as she did, I would not have hit CMS because my arm would have been done much sooner.
Here is the video of my set:
So many lessons learned – that the week before my menstrual cycle makes my arms hurt and turns me into a complete insecure bitch (and even though circumstances with the timing weren’t ideal I was still able to overcome the pms and make weight and lift the 20kg showing that it is not an excuse!), that I need to balance coaching stress and my own performance stress better – one way I can do this is by being more positive, and that I need to communicate more clearly with my coach before we begin a new training cycle. I need to know the general training strategy we are going to try so that I can put that intention into my workouts. The fact that I pulled out a great result in addition to these learning moments is a bonus….but also speaks to Jason’s great programming. Even though my highly structured brain needs the security of having that compass – sense of direction for my training….I also need to relax and not get so uptight when I don’t have that information. I’m in great hands and my results and technique speak for themselves. And ofcourse I can’t forget about the kindness of acquaintances. I love the kettlebell community and they motivate and inspire me to keep up the pursuit of being my best – as an athlete and a person. THANK YOU!!!!! ESPECIALLY THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU if you read this entire article! :)
Time for the post I have been most dreading to write. I even considered avoiding altogether, but decided the public shaming and accountability will be the slap in the face I need to move on. During the sport camp Mishin told us that after he won a championship he did not spend any time gloating or strutting around, but instead went home, hung up his medal and it was Day 1 all over again. Just another day and another guy trying to see if he can win – the same as everybody else. Since he had next to no experience losing, and probably never had bad set in his life I can only assume he would apply this idea to underachieving as well. Why waste unnecessary energy dwelling on something you cannot change? I’m embarrassed that I do not remember if it was my coach or one of my beautiful teammates who said “Cynthia, you are the ONLY person still thinking about that set. Stop it.” Whoever it was, I love them. Unfortunately, I’m a Master of Sport in Dwelling on Negative Shit and even now over a week later I’m finding it hard to type this.
I know that my training didn’t let me down. My coach Jason Dolby had programmed this perfectly (in my opinion). Despite having a shortened training cycle because of my stupid kidney shit I was still showing signs of being on pace to hit 100 reps. My 8 minute shark was practically perfect and left me feeling super confident I was good for a number in the 90’s at the least. Just to make myself feel better I am posting it again -
Then there’s the accountability piece. Choking under pressure. Listening to negative thoughts. Starting from having to take 8 weeks off training after Bay Area last year. Then 2 weeks before competition it starts creeping into my head – can I maintain 10rpm? If I’d had 8 more weeks of training 10rpm would feel so much easier. The cost of that stupidity? Probably 5 reps. Then there was the thoughts of being my coach’s first MS student, being one of what I can only assume to be a rare few (if any?) black women with an MS ranking, performing well for my grade 4 class who I was taking time away from their learning to pursue, performing well for my 5 new kettlebell sport students to continue to be an inspiring role model for….the list goes on. Usually this is a source of inspiration and fuels my workouts….however 2 weeks before competition I broke one of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s commandments – I was afraid to fail. It’s amazing how energy expensive that is – I’d say 5 reps worth. Then there was the irrational crazy shit that sometimes gets in my head about 1 week out from competition – an intense panic and fear of dropping the bell. I will even obsessively practice hand to hand swings at light weight at random moments throughout the day…costs about 2 reps, and finally a shortened backswing which was probably the physical manifestation of all that negative shit – 6 reps. Then add the live feed, all of my teammates watching, having my coach watching in person and Sergey Rachinskiy judging my set…and choked pretty much sums it up. Definitely good for at least another 6 reps. Total – 22 reps short of my desired goal.
So without further ado – here’s my set. You can see the nerves right from the beginning which is why I didn’t bother deleting it. I’m wasting energy bouncing around the platform talking to people when I should be calming myself and focusing on my set and my game plan. Within the first minute my mind was racing as the bell I had chosen felt slippery and I started questioning using it. I even had a moment of looking at another purple bell beside me on the platform wishing I could switch and use it. I spent the 2nd minute trying to figure out where to look. I have never lifted at a meet of this size and was unprepared for what it felt like to have so many of my teammates staring at me while I lifted. The only space I could not see people was a small piece of wall near the ceiling. It was not an ideal place to look and strained my neck. Finally I tried finding my centre by looking at my coach. As my grip exhausted within the first 3 minutes of the set I felt like I could read the disappointment on his face. UGH!!! The worst part was that the negative crap inside my head actually manifested into physical gestures – for the first time ever I shook my head at several different points during the set. Technically speaking my backswing is way too shallow and I’m using too much of my forearm to pull the bell up towards me in the clean instead of feeling the bell and allowing gravity to help me. That’s really what killed my grip. I was also tense in fixation, my triceps should have been much more relaxed, and had more trust in my legs. End result was 78 reps, very short of my MS goal and worse than my result at Bay Area last year, although I will say I think my technique and fixation looks better now. I still managed to make CMS plus an extra 2 reps. Around the 70 rep mark I knew my chance was gone and became angry. Every part of my being wanted to quit at several points throughout that set. Finally I was pissed off. There was no way I was getting off that platform without those 6 reps. CMS again.
So it’s done. It’s over. I’m back at home. Back to training in our tiny little office space while the winter snow is still around. Today was my first day back at work. It was great to be back in Awesometown. I could tell my students had missed me while I was gone. I wore my medal to school today to show my students and told them about my trip. After work today I came home, took off my medal and hung it up just in the same style as Mishin. It is over. Now it is time to go back to work training to become a champion. Why not me? Why the heck not?
My last private training session of the week was with the magnificent Sergey Rachinskiy. I have nick named him the “Chuck Norris of Kettle.” This guy is incredible. There is nothing he can’t do. He has an insane number of world records in kettle and barbell. He is referred to as “The Ultimate Girevik” and spending time with him in person he did not disappoint. He has a great sense of humour and like Merkulin is very attentive to his athletes. I had a lot of fun during our session. What was super impressive is that despite knowing very little English we were actually able to work together most of the session without using a translator – he is a great communicator. Like Merkulin he made me feel amazing as he was very complimentary of my technique. He even referred to records my coach had set and knew exact numbers. He told me that Jason was the master of relaxation, and that this was a great lesson I should learn from him. I was definitely more relaxed and feeling the weight of the bell more easily but something Rachinskiy noticed was that my 2nd dip was slow. So although my jerk is explosive I then am sometimes slow and soft on my landing. I need to work to quicken my movement and my breath at that point. Since Sergey didn’t want to change any part of my technique we pretty much immediately got into the workout. What I found most interesting about the long cycle sets he had me do was the weights he had chosen.
8kg, 12kg, 16kg, 20kg, 24kg OALC – All at 10 reps each arm except the 24kg was 5 reps each arm with 1 minute rest between each weight.
Similar to Merkulin I did a ladder starting at the lightest weight moving up to the heaviest weight and then back down. On the last set with the 8kg kettlebell my challenge was to lift it and have it look EXACTLY the same as the 24kg. These sets actually felt pretty awesome but I realized that I could save even more energy on my cleans if I kept my feet flat on the floor and didn’t lift my toes as I rock into the backswing. I didn’t realize how much I could add to my backswing which makes it much easier for gravity to do it’s job and spare my arm. The work on the 2nd dip/speed of the undersquat still needs work.
After our kettle sets we did some fun GPP. This is my favourite part! He had me do 100 jumping squats with an empty 45# bar. I was able to make the reps and he pointed out 2 very important things – 1. If I was able to do 100 jumping squats at the weight of my competition bell, then technically I have the power within my legs to do 100 repetitions of long cycle and 2. If I think of how fatigued my legs are and reduce it by 30-40% he told me that’s how involved/engaged my legs should feel in long cycle. The fact that my legs don’t feel like that tells me that I am relying too much on my upper body strength when I could be using my larger leg muscles more, which means my grip would last longer, which would make it easier to keep my desired pace from the energy I would save. This will definitely be a goal for the future. Sergey also told me since I was able to do 100 reps with the empty bar, next time I could use 40kg and do 2X50reps and try building to a single set of 100 reps. He told me that I don’t have to go beyond 60kg. I will definitely be having Jason incorporate some of these into my programming because I have found that they actually help with the speed and explosiveness I need getting into my undersquat.
Here is some awesome video I have of my time with Sergey. I love how his coaching is very attentive and hands on.
Next up on the GPP scene – jump squats with a 12kg kettlebell. He had me do these differently from Kseniya where I held the kettlebell behind my neck instead of just having my arms hang in front of me. We did 2 X20 reps – but he told me if I was doing these at home as part of my programming I should make it 2 sets of 50 reps.
Finally we ended with walking lunges with a single kettlebell overhead using a 12kg kettlebell. 30-40 steps on one arm and then repeating on the other. I had seen in other sessions Sergey had done during the week he had guys finish with a max set of dips on a pair of parallel bars. I really wanted to try this so I asked if we could do it. He didn’t join me and go head to head like I was hoping (I’m so competitive) but instead he counted for me and asked me to do 10 reps. I probably could have done more…. but what was awesome was he told me I struggled less than many men he has seen try :) When I saw Denis the next day he told me that Rachinskiy had still been talking about how easily I had done my dips. I felt pretty awesome. Rachinskiy told me I have all of the individual requirements to be a successful lifter – excellent technique, strength, flexibility….I just need more practice to learn proper relaxation of both my mind and body. It is crazy how you can reach a certain level and really fail to improve unless you are able to make subtle changes. My analogy has been like a bicycle tire with a few tiny pin holes. You might be able to continue riding for a fair distance but you are taking a risk that you will run out of air before you complete your journey. Same thing with kettle. But if you are able to self correct and patch the energy leaks you will increase the length of time you can survive the set as well as the number of reps you are able to complete. Sergey told me he hopes I will return to the Cali Open next year and I told him I would be back and get over 100 reps with the 20kg. His response? “Or 100 reps with the 24kg kettlebell.” BOOM! Even though it is the end of the week and I should be well over my shitty performance on the platform, it was still nibbling away at me. Rachinskiy’s positivity and encouragement really made me happy and motivated to get back to work and plan for my next competition.
After my session with Sergey, Mishin was giving a talk on the process of judging in the sport. I will have to admit that I arrived late to this session because I was walking on clouds after my Rachinskiy session. Still, Mishin is so articulate and really breaks things down. It was great to hear how judging works in Russia and his past experiences, as well as proper sport etiquette. In the end I had to hold back the tears as we wrapped up our final session. During this session for the first time we sat in one big circle so everyone could see everyone. It was a time to share what we had learned and ask the coaches any questions of the coaches we wanted to ask. The focus was around running team practices and prepping athletes. Afterwards both John and Jason gave the most heart felt speeches where they really described the heart and philosophy of the Orange Kettlebell Club. This made me very teary as I thought about everything that had been sacrified and the adversity they had to face to put on this event. What they said had also really reminded me of things Mishin had touched on early in the week and made me feel sappy and sentimental that even though we are from different countries/cultures we are all able to come together to share our love and passion for this sport. I really appreciate the opportunity that was given to us this week and their perseverance to put on the kettle event of the year that will undoubtedly change the sport. I know I am not the same lifter today as I was a week ago because of this experience.
THANK YOU ORANGE KETTLEBELL CLUB for staying true to who you are and positively promoting and sharing this sport that I move so much. I’m really looking forward to more events in 2014 and beyond!!! CHU-HI!!!
If I hadn’t been so tired last night I would have written that it was my favourite day of the week so far…however today some pretty awesome things happened, but they are going to get their own post. Day 4 I had a morning training session with Sergei Merkulin. This man is incredible. Not only is he one of the most decorated Russian kettlebell sport champions, but he is also the most kind, attentive and gentle human being ever!
I started my session with Sergei by demonstrating some long cycle repetitions at light weight. Right off the bat I turned into putty as he said my technique was very good, in fact good enough to move the 24kg kettlebell. I felt this was the hugest compliment to both me and my coach Jason Dolby. From the first moment we started working together he has always insisted on executing movements as efficiently as possible, and has not allowed me to increase the weight of the bell until I had achieved a required standard at a lighter weight. This gradual progression has allowed my technique to blossom and become better and better. I had never attempted long cycle, and cleans with the 24kg and I have to say I’ve barely done any swings with it either. The fact that Merkulin would be so positive and supportive and encourage me to try the 24kg made me feel AMAZING. I almost wish the camp had taken place before the competition because I learned so much that I wish I could go back in time and change my set. However, instantly after he told me this my heart raced a little as I wondered if he would ask me to do some lifting with the 24kg. We continued to do some light weight work and there was very little he wanted to change in my technique. One thing he did have me work on was the drop of the kettlebell into the swing on the reclean. He had me using more of a pendulum motion so that it would create a larger amplitude for my back swing which would make it easier to put my back and legs into the movement, thus sparing my arms. He also had me play around with some light weight two arm long cycle (TALC) which felt awkward on the clean and the drop. Otherwise, super fun to jerk.
After playing around with both one and two arm long cycle technique practice it was time to do some working sets. We focused back on one arm long cycle. I had heard some of my teammates describe doing “the Merkulin ladder” in their training sessions and I was hoping to do one as well. He did not disappoint.
Worked from light to heavy and then heavy to light (repeated the 24kg on the way back down the ladder) taking only 30sec rest between each weight. I was able to complete 5 reps each arm with the 24kg bell no problem. I tried my hardest to be relaxed but likely held a little too much tension in my legs in fixation.
Afterwards it was GPP time! This was awesome because Sergei worked in with me and we alternated sets. There is something badass about getting to train along side your coach. I love when I have those rare opportunities to train with my coach Jason in The Cave. I love counting his sets and exchanging reps.
Sergei had me do 3sets of 20 reps of barbell jump squats at 45lbs, 75lbs and 95lbs respectively
We followed this up with 3×20 good mornings @ 95#. Last but not least we finished off with 50 V-situps, and 50 bicycle crunches and stretching.
I was so geeked up after my private session with Merkulin I couldn’t come down. I knew for sure that switching disciplines at this point would be positively stupid….sometimes it takes me a while to have these sensible epiphanies. By the end of the session I knew I needed to stick with long cycle and finish the journey my coach and I have started. More and more I am realizing that I have all of the individual requirements of a successful lifter, but I am lacking focus and relaxation to go to the next level and achieve the reps I need for higher rankings. It is within me to hit these numbers, but there is still a lot of tweaking and fine tuning to do.
Just when I thought the day could not possibly get any better – the most wonderful thing happened. I was introduced to the amazing and undisputed Ultimate Girevik – Sergey Mishin.
Mishin is such an honest and humble man. I’m not going to lie but I was moved to tears within the first couple of minutes of his talk. Sergei Marasanov did a fantastic job translating and delivering Mishin’s thoughts and ideas to us. Back 13 years ago I took a workshop on Teaching Anti-Racism. That sounds strange I know – what does that have to do with the great Mishin? Well, one of the most powerful things I obtained from that workshop was the idea of connecting with people through your own life experience. Mishin had me almost crying (definite lump in my throat and sweat emotions welling up in my eyes) within his first few minutes of speaking. He told of us of his childhood in which taking on challenges particularly physical ones was discouraged to avoid anything potentially uncomfortable. As a result he became an overweight child with low self-esteem. Naturally as you might expect he quickly became a target for bullies and often found himself a target of the cruelty of kids. I immediately connected with him as I recalled my unhappy childhood experiences in which I was victim of cruelty from bullying and racism. Luckily for me my parent’s encouraged discomfort and in hindsight I think did so intentionally to strengthen us from the difficult life they knew we were in for. Sports was my outlet where I could truly be free and keep my mind off of anything trying to bring me down. From a young age I always enjoyed feeling fit and strong because it was the one thing I could control and no one could take away from me. Mishin didn’t have this. When he cultivated his path to fitness and wellness he had to do it on his own. He was able to bring others together through sport and created his own support group from the kettlebell lifting community. When he discovered kettlebell training he immediately fell in love with the sport the way so many of us have. He trained with an intense focus on becoming a champion. And guess what? He did it. And he did it well – he was undefeated from 1983 – 2007!!
- 21 time Champion of Russia
- 7 time Champion of the USSR
- Winner of the 10th Spartakiada of the USSR in 1991
- Winner of the Championship of the Commonwealth of Independent States in 1992
- 11 time World Champion
- 11 time European Champion.
In Long Cycle:
- 6 time winner of Cup of Russia and World Cup
Mishin spoke to us about only giving out positive energy and feelings. I can’t even begin to explain how dope this is and how much it matches the philosophy of the Orange Kettlebell Club. Definitely the reason I chose to be apart of this group and I’m so grateful everyday that they welcomed me into their community. Here you have one of the most decorated lifters in the history of kettlebell sport and you could not find a greater sportsman. He is truly only interested in being competitive with himself. He does not wish any ill will towards his competitors, but merely wants the best result he can for himself – which for him is the best result possible of anyone who lifts against him on a given day. He is the epitome of integrity and respect. He simply loves kettlebell sport. Never was there a more honorable role model for a sport. He exemplifies following your goals and dreams no matter what others tell you. Never was there a more tenacious athlete who took on a sport that is not only intensely physically demanding, but is also very intellectual. Kettlebell sport is a sport where you always need to think. You need to be able to relax your body while executing technical movements and the only way that can happen is through the mind. Mishin thought about being a champion and said “why not me?” He demonstrates how there is no one right way or one mould to become a champion. I know this is such a cliche but he really shows us that if you believe in yourself, anything is possible.
I took this selfie with Mishin on the very first day of the camp, but I saved it to post here. I love this photo because he is not known to be very expressive and did not smile very much during the weekend so it was a little difficult to tell what he was thinking. I love that he was not only willing to have his picture taken with me but he gave me the most handsome smile. Neither of us really knew what an incredible kettle experience we were about to have, but we put out all of the positive energy we had…that’s just how we roll.
Halfway through sport camp today and the learning continues to be intense and FUN! My morning started off with an early private training session with Kseniya Dedukhina. She is an incredible lifter with an amazing resume of accomplishments in the sport. I was very nervous to show her just how terrible I am at the snatch, but decided to be brave because I would very much like to improve. She is very kind and positive and has an excellent coaching eye. I learned a lot from our session today and I look forward to practicing and improving! My time with her definitely solidified my decision to take a break from long cycle for 6 months to focus on biathlon. In my only 2 competitions using the 20kg kettlebell for long cycle the first thing to crap out on me has been my grip.
Ofcourse in my freshman lifter eyes I assumed this meant I had a weak grip, so initially my decision for working on snatch was to strengthen my grip. Now (thanks to the coaching I have received this week) I now realize my grip strength is actually not as weak as I thought it was. That being said, if you rely solely on your arms and grip in kettlebellsport it is asking for disaster. The reason my grip is fatiguing so quickly is because I am inefficiently relying too much on the strength of my upper body and not using larger muscle groups like my legs that would actually save me energy and increase both the length of my set and the number of reps I can complete. That being said, I still feel working on my snatch is the smartest way for me to improve because only through that practice will I fully develop the understanding of how to move my body around the bell and use gravity to my advantage so that I can get maximum relaxtion in my arms when they don’t actually need to be working. I feel this connection to the bell is more pronounced in snatch than long cycle…but that is just my opinion.
I really like and respect Kseniya’s coaching eye because after watching many repetitions of my snatch she was quickly and easily able to pinpoint the areas in which I am weak/inefficient and she had me do assistance exercises to help improve those areas. To help engage my legs more we did lots of two handed and one handed swings. She also had me do some jump squats holding the kettlebell.
To improve my grip she showed me (and had me practice a bunch of sets) an exercise she likes to do with a barbell.
Finally she likes to end each training session doing back extensions and ab work. We did a bunch of v-situps (legs straight or slightly bent), bicycle situps and I’m not sure what to call the last one so I had Amanda take video….
In between we did some running and stretching. It was awesome. There is nothing like training with a champion, the way a champion trains. Thank you Kseniya! I think my highlight from this session was when she told me that I was a very good student :)
Next up were my two favourite lifters – Yevgeniy Goncharov and Denis Vasilev teaching the finer points of long cycle. Thank goodness we were working on my strongest lift because I was pretty tired after my session with Kseniya. Still it was super important listening to these two champions as they shared with us some of their training secrets for warmup, cooldown, fitting a lifting belt and what to look for in a belt for kettlebell sport and much more.
We spent a good chunk of the afternoon with Sergey Merkulin. I love this man because he has been training and competing in kettlebell sport for 27 years with NO major injuries! He is a highly decorated champion and we are close to the same age. It just shows how amazing this sport is for health and fitness. Merkulin spoke with us about how he incorporates barbell work into his programming. I LOVE his system and the movements he uses. I am definitely going to try a training cycle using his system since it most definitely seems to be effective! ;) Tomorrow I have a private training session with Merkulin and I can’t wait. Something tells me we will be doing some barbell work after our kettle sets….
On an unrelated note I received some awesome news today! I had written an article over the Christmas break for My Mad Methods on the no hands (double kettlebell) Turkish Get Up (TGU). It was published and released today! I’m so thrilled! I love this magazine and have been wanting to get something published in it for a couple of years now.
The second day of sport camp was all about this amazing lifter – Aleksander Khvostov. This weekend at the Cali Open he competed 100 snatches with a 40kg kettlebell and every single rep was the most beautifully executed. For the 73kg weight class that is just an amazing feat of strength and endurance. We started our morning learning and practicing snatch technique. We also had Ivan Denisov and Ksenia Dedukhina assisting and providing feedback to lifters as well. Not going to lie – but getting some myofascial release on my forearm from Denisov was definitely a highlight. However, today I made some amazing progress with understanding the snatch. I love how Khvostov broke the movement down. I am starting to have a better understanding of how to connect with the bell and allow gravity to support me where it can so that I can relax my arms and conserve energy. I’m not always able to execute that understanding…but it is coming along and I have a much better idea of what correct form feels like. I am especially pleased with my insertion and increased accuracy in finding a stable position.
Today during the lunch hour I took a private training session with one of my favourite champions – Yevgeniy Goncharov. My friend and teammate John Harshman showed me a video of Yevgeniy lifting months ago. He immediately became one of my favourite lifters, because of his awesome technique, sweet and hilarious sense of humour and ofcourse especially since we both share a love of long cycle. Today he showed me what I already suspected and knew – and that is what an incredible human being he is. He had me demonstrate my technique for him using 12kg kettlebell. Then he had me play around with two arm long cycle. Not sure if my reps were horrible but we didn’t do very much before moving back to one arm long cycle. LOL! He didn’t have too many suggestions for my technique but helped me use my legs but also focus on keeping them more relaxed in fixation. He then gave me some 1minute sets with 12kg, 14kg, 16kg and 20kg kettlebells followed by some long cycle with extra swing with the 20kg.
Next was the part that was the best part of the entire session. We had a long discussion about “psychology”. He asked me why I had done 81 repetitions in Bay Area last August and only 78 repetitions on Sunday. What blew me away was that he knew these results and I had not told him. I shared with him some of my post competition reflections about the number of distractions I had allowed to commit my time and energy too – size of the competition, live streaming, MS expectations, fear of letting my coach and teammates down…the list goes on. He then proceeded to do 2 very cool things – 1. He told me a story about when he had first started competing in kettlebell sport and advice that his Uncle had given to him to give him confidence and think like a champion and 2. He offered to look at my programming and preparation for this meet and give me feedback and assistance work suggestions. We talked some more about how my training had gone over the month before the competition. I immediately came out of my sulky funk over my set. He had told me he believed I was capable of the 100 reps and needed to work on my mindset to believe in myself. BOOM! Thank you so much Yevgeniy Goncharov!! It was such an honour to train with you today! CHU HI!
Then wouldn’t you know the Facebook forces of the universe must have heard I needed support. This showed up in my newsfeed (because of the awesome people I know) and really solidified my uplifted spirits. I realized how I have always been consistently over critical of myself to my own detriment throughout my athletic career. This was the slap in the face I needed to stop. I have worked super hard in the last 5 months to prepare for this competition. I overcame my first 12minute set of long cycle with and 18kg kettlebell, I rocked my 8min set at competition pace with the 20kg kettlebell. The numbers will come. I will get there. I definitely feel stronger and fitter than I did in August.
Speaking of which – the day would not have been complete without one of Aleksander’s GPP circuits. That man is so fit and he loves physical challenges. He is the only person I know to have completed 1000 consecutive burpees. Luckily he was much easier than that on us. We only had to work for 10 minutes. These kinds of workouts are a piece of cake for me so I really enjoyed ending the day this way…although my arms are sooo sore. I forgot to mention that this competition is taking place at the most amazing facility I have ever seen – Innovative Results. The owner of this facility is an INCREDIBLE athlete and kettlebell sport lifter, Aaron Guyett. He is also an incredible trainer with so many creative ideas on moving in fun and challenging ways. So far each day he has given me an interesting challenge which I have loved (but also felt pissed off because my arms are so sore from the competition so they are more challenging then they should be). On Day 1 in introduced me to the peg board. This thing is HUGE. So many interesting variations can be done on it. I am definitely going to make Carl build me one some how. This morning it was a rope climb to some rock climbing hand grips that I wanted to play with, but the only way to reach them was to climb the rope. Ofcourse you had to use no legs to climb the rope (according to his challenging and twisted rules). I managed to climb the rope and was then too exhausted to play on the hand grips. It makes me want to make a special trip back to Cali when I am fresh just so I can play there. This was the finisher Aleks had for us today: