Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Coach Al Wood on The Delaware Kettlebell Workshop - Debrief #1

This has been such an amazing trip. In so many ways, this has exceeded my expectations, and I've got so much to write about and recap for you. But it's a little late and I have to get up early tomorrow to catch a train to Jersey.

Here's a little glimpse into my Hardstyle Homecoming at my alma mater - St. Andrew's School - as written by the Strength & Conditioning Coach & Associate Athletic Director, Coach Al Wood.

With his permission, his e-mail to me has been reprinted below, and I look forward to the day when he can add the letters RKC to his name.


Dr. Cheng,

First, I would just like to thank you for the outstanding workshop on Sunday! It was a great experience. I also want to thank you on behalf of St. Andrew's for your gracious donation to the school.

Second, I'd like to share with you a few things I took away from the workshop that I'm very excited about:

Before the Delaware workshop, I had seen the youtube video ad for one of your workshops where there was a lot of kettlebell swings being performed. I had tried a mutated version of the kettlebell swing with a dumbbell and considered it a hybrid of a smooth clean and a front raise. When doing my version of the exercise, I felt the primary amount of fatigue in my shoulders, upper traps, t-spine, and unfortunately, lumbar spine. At the time, I thought it might serve a useful application as an introduction to my athletes who had trouble learning an olympic hang clean. You know, power shrug, up on the toes, triple extension but don't lock the knees. I think a lot of RKC's would have vomited had they seen what I was teaching as a kettlebell swing.

Then, after 4 hours of re-educating my body on how to contract certain muscles, on how to relax other muscles, and on how to breath, I picked up a kettlebell and performed 10 reps of proper swings. I immediately noticed how hard my glutes were contracting. There was no effort in my lower back or neck. The fatigue was in a completely different place than I had predicted. While I found this interesting, my "Ah ha" moment didn't happen until the next day.

The morning after the workshop, I awoke with soreness in my glutes. That's not really something new for me. I've had some pretty killer traditional leg workouts. At a bodyweight of 181lbs I've squatted 605lbs x 1 and 405lbs x 22. I use a low bar, powerlifter style squat and go deep. Trust me, I couldn't get those numbers without knowing how to activate my glutes hard and I've had leg workouts that have left me almost crippled for days with soreness. It wasn't that I was sore in my glutes that surprised me, it was where I was sore in my glutes that surprised me.
The upper, outer glute medius was sore and still fatigued (no doubt from prying my knees out all day) and the upper, middle glutes were sore (a place that I've never had sore before.) But before you close this email thinking, "Who is this crazy guy and why is he telling me what parts of his butt are sore?", just bear with me. My "Ah ha" moment came when trying to recreate that sore, flexed feeling in my upper, middle glutes.

It only came when I locked my knees out very, very hard. We discussed during the workshop that there was this long-standing wisdom in weight training of "never lock your knees out". Not only that , but in the exercises that I rely on most to activate my glutes like squats, split squats, glute-ham raises, and RDL's, there really isn't a hard emphasis on the knee lockout. When I squat or split squat heavy, the last 6 inches or so at the top I am decelerating to a stop. I've accidentally locked out too hard at the top of a heay squat and it can make a bar with 405lbs. resemble a bodyblade in the way the plates start to flap up and down.
It's not that I hadn't been taught to lock my knees out during squats, it's just that it felt very unstable and unbalance when I did. To activate my glutes with squats, split squats, and RDL's I'm relying primarily on the deep eccentric stretch at the bottom of the movement and a hard concentric contraction to return from the bottom. 95 percent of the contraction is occuring with my knee in front of my body. The top part of those movement are to "come in for a landing" and rest or
sometimes to give a voluntary squeeze of all the muscles in the legs as an afterthought. Even if you consider the clean to be a great glute activator at the moment of triple extension, the activation is extremely short lived and softened by dropping into the catch of the movement.

This may seem like a long-winded explanation of how I contract my glutes, but it occured to me that in my current program (and the programs that many of my athletes follow) I am leaving a lot of unrecruited gluteal fibers on the table. And not just any fibers, but the ones that are responsible for explosively contracting the glutes while both the hip and knee are in full, hard extension like the left leg of Michael Johnson below:
It's not that I've been performing or teaching leg movement exercises incorrectly all of these years, it's that those exercises are simply incapable of producing the same pattern of gluteal contraction as a kettlebell swing. No other exercise powerfully locks the knees and contracts the glutes safely. This is truly amazing to me.

I wanted to write you this email not only to share with you what I took away from your workshop, but to also share with you that I fully believe that the integration of kettlebell training, in particular the kettlebell swing and clean along with the other resistance training and speed development tools that I already use will result in faster, more explosive, and less injured St. Andrew's athletes. That is priceless and I thank you for the donation of your time, experience, and wisdom.

Director of Sports Medicine
Athletic Trainer
Strength and Conditioning Coach
Associate Athletic Director
St. Andrew's School


Stylecoach said...

What a cool coaching blog. I hope that your success will continue, keep up the good work guys.

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