Sunday, June 28, 2009

I know... I know...

Yes, I'm well-aware that the blog posts require some updating. There's just been so much going on since I've been back east, and of course since I've arrived back home.

Just been spending the last few days unwinding, enjoying Squealietime, and attempting to catch up on the sea of e-mail that's been accruing since I had such limited Wi-Fi access back east.

Rest assured... The blog and the full debrief on all 3 stops of the East Coast Tour will be updated sometime this week. Thanks for your patience, thanks for your viewership, and thanks for your support.

I have to say once again that I was totally blown away by the depth of interest in what I had to teach, as well as the quality of the people I met and had the honor of working with.

For this week (and hopefully for this entire Summer)... Lots of TGU & pressing, lots of mobility, and lots of high quality martial arts training!

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

Thursday, June 11, 2009

A little martial nostalgia

Today's hangtime with Shotokan karate legend Sensei Tom Muzila, and the subsequent review of some of the Black Belt Magazine instructional videos that were shot over a decade ago, brought back more than a few memories from the days I think of as my first set of "golden" training days - college.

Tom was working as fight coordinator on a movie called The Hunted, with Highlander star Christopher Lambert and The Last Emperor star John Lone. They had some re-shooting to do for some scenes at the end of the movie, and Tom brought me on board to double John Lone as we were roughly the same height, and Tom was familiar with my martial background of Chinese martial arts and some training with our mutual teacher - Master Tsutomu Ohshima.

Close Range Combat Academy Wing Chun headmaster Sifu Randy Williams was staying with me at the time as he was in town shooting his own instructional video series with Unique Publications, then owner of Inside Kung-Fu Magazine. So Sifu Williams & I went to the set, a feudal Japanese castle rebuilt inside a Santa Monica Airport hangar.

Tom had me come in to watch some of the non-fighting reshoots and to get a feel for the project, so I got to the set and sat quietly in the back with Sifu Williams. Not wanting to let Tom down, I was focused on taking in the whole process of filmmaking and the flow of the set when suddenly this tall guy stands RIGHT in front of me, obstructing my field of view. Mind you, back then, I had way more fight in me than diplomacy, so I took a bokken (wooden training sword) in hand and gently nudged the man to the left, out of my field of view. Not even looking up to take my eyes off the scene being filmed.

As soon as the director yelled "CUT!", Sifu Williams and Tom looked at each other in total shock, and I looked up to see the man who immortalized Connor MacLeod standing right in front of me.

I, of course, didn't remember pushing anyone out of the way, as I was so focused on studying the scene, but Sifu Williams and Tom didn't let me live that one down, saying, "You pushed Christopher Lambert out of the way on his own set!!!"

Lambert graciously dismissed my profuse apologies saying, "No. You were doing what you should have been doing, and I was in the way. I'm the one who's sorry to you." And I was completely dumbfounded by the classiness with which he handled my faux pas. During the re-shoot, which took something like a week, Lambert was always kind to me, always unpretentious, and never too busy to mingle. Shooting the fight scenes with him at the end of the movie was a great honor, and I'll look back on that memory with fondness.

OK... flashback & nostalgia time over.... BACK TO WORK!

But in case you're done with work already and too curious to let this one lie...

Monday, June 8, 2009

Reactive Neuromuscular Training: Reverse Psychology for your body

One of the problems that is often identified in sports training, athletic performance, or rehabilitative medicine is when a muscle or muscle group isn't firing to its potential or is firing asymmetrically compared to the opposite side.

When muscle recruitment is less than optimal, that can be a sign of anything from injury to compensation to poor motor learning. Neuromuscular patterns are akin to thought processes or computer programs. Over time and without proper education/training/debugging, corrupt bits of "code" sometimes pop up in the program, making the execution of the program, thought process, or movement dysfunctional.

To deal with this from a neuromuscular standpoint, therapists, trainers, and clinicians sometimes employ a strategy known as Reactive Neuromuscular Training (RNT). RNT operates on the premise that the body will do what it needs to maintain balance - homeostasis.

However, with faulty movement patterns, the body doesn't recognize that the pattern it's maintaining is sub-optimal. Left unchecked for a long time, these simple proprioceptive errors (such as being unaware of the knee position) can lead to a plethora of other compensative mechanisms and injuries (meniscal tears, TFL & IT band pathologies, etc., etc.).

Think of it like a person driving a car who doesn't realize that the passenger side wheels are drifting into the next lane because he's using his driver's seat perspective to keep HIMSELF in the middle of the lane instead of the vehicle. Now on a countryside dirt road and at a low rate of speed, there's not much that could go wrong aside from scraping up the side paneling a little. On a Los Angeles freeway, where speeds can hit well over 80mph during non-rush hour times, such a mistake in proprioception can be fatal.

So to assist the "driver" in recognizing the error in proprioception, the therapist, trainer, or clinician simply "feeds the mistake" with barely enough force to get the movement pattern to correct itself.

In other words, if the knees tend to drift medially from the midlines of the feet during a squat, then pushing the knees inward while instructing the patient/client to resist the push will cause him/her to activate the muscles that externally rotate the femur (thigh) in the hip more intensely. Instead of telling the body "not" to do something, you give the body something to push against, forcing it to react neurologically and muscularly to implement a better, safer, stronger muscular recruitment pattern.

In this way, the movement pattern in question is used to clean itself up, rather than reverse engineering the movement down to isolating a single muscle in a fixed axis machine. As Gray Cook often says, "Does turning on your glute give you a better squat, or is giving you a better squat a better way of teaching you to fire your glute?"

RNT is a quick means of training the brain & the nervous system to recognize and implement new movement patterns quickly and efficiently, helping them become habituated faster when the body must perform a given fundamental movement.

These cues rely on tactile stimuli for maximum learning. So if you're performing a hip bridge and can't quite get the glute to fire the same way on the right as it does on the left, then...

1. Bridge up,
2. Tighten your abs and make sure you're not arching your lower back to cheat a little more hip height,
3. Relax your neck (so that you focus all that much more neurological energy down into your hips & legs), and
4. Have someone gently press down on your hip at the anterior superior iliac spine (ASIS) as if they were dribbling a basketball.

That irregular pressure will give your body something to react to, giving you the tactile cues needed to activate the glutes and create the hip extension against the bouncing push.

Need a more self-sufficient way of experiencing RNT? No problem. Gray Cook has designed elastic bands that allow you to rig up tactile feedback cues for yourself or with a therapist. Click on the pics below to find out more about them!

His exercise tubing program DVD helps take all the guesswork out of it for you, so if you want to fast track your progress, grab this as well...

Hope that helps, folks! We'll be covering RNT, as well as the ins and outs of Hard Style Russian kettlebell training in the workshops that I'll be teaching on my East Coast kettlebell workshop tour from June 20 - 24!

Please check the sidebar on the right for more info on these workshops!

Monday, June 1, 2009

East Coast kettlebell workshops - New England & Mid-Atlantic

Back from assisting at the CK-FMS weekend with my mentors Gray Cook & MRKC Brett Jones, as well as my Redneck brother, SrRKC Jeff O'Connor. To say it was a first class learning experience would be gross understatement.

The new 4 day format for the CK-FMS made for a much less stressful learning experience. The FMS system is a new concept for most people to begin with. To try to learn the importance of it, the execution of it, the analysis of it, and the application of it in 3 days was something akin to cerebral suicide. With the added learning hours an extra day afforded, plus a smoother, more logical teaching format that Brett & Gray came up with, the entire experience was not only less stressful, but far more effective.

And perhaps this time more than last time, the emphasis of sticking to the outline of the screening system and enjoying its effectiveness were hammered home.

Some points to recap...

- Stick to the screen & let the screen mentor you
- Bottom 4 fix top 3
- Movement (or rather "mobility") FIRST, FIRST, FIRST
- Find the asymmetry
- Be disciplined on the front end with sticking to the screen, and be creative on the back end with your correctives.

And finally, for those of you at the CK-FMS workshop from the East Coast, I hope to see you at either New England's 6/20/09 Connecticut workshop (which, in spite of its name, is NOT just for martial artists, fighters, & tactical personnel) where I'll be reviewing FMS movement patterning in addition to in-depth review of Hard Style RKC kettlebell training, or the 6/21/09 Delaware Kettlebell Workshop for the mid-Atlantic region.

If you attended the CK-FMS workshop this past weekend, just e-mail the organizers and let them know. Bring along someone you've wanted to introduce to kettlebell training or Functional Movement patterning, get them registered at the regular price, and we'll bring you in for 1/2 off! We'll make sure to get you in, as it's crucial for you to get the chance to reinforce what you've been taught, and how to see it correctly with your students, clients, and patients!

Needless to say, don't hesitate to drop me a line with any questions you might have.

Looking forward to seeing you back east!