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!!!!