Friday, September 18, 2009

Kettlebell Form Clinic: Squatting Swings

One of the most common errors that appears with kettlebellers of ALL levels is the squatting Swing. Instead of the kneecaps staying relatively fixed in space and the shins exhibiting minimal motion, some folks perform Swings with their shins swaying back & forth and their knees jutting forward over their toes. This happens when people "squat" into their Swings.

The Swing operates essentially on the same biomechanical platform as the Deadlift from the armpits down to the soles of your feet. That said, we need to revisit the 3 Prys and the Hard Style Lock again.

There are 2 main problems that need to be addressed with squatting Swings: lumbar strength & pelvic rhythm.

Lumbar strength
The lumbar spine needs the strength to maintain extension (a slight arch). Under load, the joints of the lumbar spine are in a biomechanically advantageous position if you keep them in extension. As soon as you fall into flexion, a couple of things happen.
1. The lower back is more vulnerable to injury because of the lesser degree of protection from the lumbar extensors.
2. The kettlebell drops out of the "upper triangle"* (formed by the knees and the groin), which tends to cause the lumbar spine to flex even further, the shoulders to elevate & protract, and the neck to "shorten". The arc/trajectory of the kettlebell becomes less of a Swing and more of a "scoop". If it sounds ugly or dangerous to you, that's because it is.

Pelvic Rhythm
How your pelvis rocks back & forth is absolutely crucial when it comes to the ballistic lifts - Swing, Clean, & Snatch. The apex of each of those lifts should result in a solid Hard Style Lock. At the apex of the Hard Style Lock, the pelvis is posteriorly rotated slightly, thanks to the maximal contraction of the glutes.
--- BUT, the bottom of those lifts should look identical to the bottom of a good Deadlift, a la the 3 Prys. Thus, relative to the femurs, the pelvis is anteriorly rotated at the bottom. So the pelvis has to be MOBILE and COORDINATED enough to move with the direction of the load dependent on where it is.

The timing of the pelvic rhythm is actually pretty simple. If you maintain the Hard Style Lock as long as humanly possible while the bell is on the downswing such that the KB Swing trajectory stays well within the "upper triangle", you'll find that the hips "hinge" or "pry" backwards instead of squatting downwards.

Get back to your training, and train with intelligence and humility. The top dogs in the RKC organization aren't those who are clamoring to show off, but rather those who are jockeying to receive corrections from those who have taken their lifts and their understanding of those lifts to new heights!

As an RKC who came through to the recent workshop Kenneth Jay & I taught at Kettlebells Orange County said to her colleagues, "Things you know the Swing?.... THINK AGAIN!"

*More on the "upper triangle" another time.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

This Sunday's events - KBLA morning class and the Doc & KJ workshop

Doc & KJ at the 2008 UCLA RKC

For those of you who were dying to come to the Yin & Yang of Kettlebells workshop that the Dane of Pain & the Doc are teaching at Kettlebells Orange County but slacked on registering and are now wishing that you'd registered sooner, fear not.

The Kettlebells Los Angeles (KBLA) Sunday morning Line-Up* will be in full effect tomorrow morning. What're we covering?

Well, since it's gonna be a warm one tomorrow, it'll certainly have to do with the TGU and the 4 Knots mobility stuff that I've been hammering home for a while now.

Bring your beach towels if you have them, and bring your friends. I keep hearing from folks how they think kettlebell training is potentially the most dangerous fad in fitness these days... and I HAVE TO AGREE.

If you look at half of the bovine feces that's on Youtube these days and how many people take that trash as credible reference material, you too will think that kettlebell training could seriously damage someone.

That's where WE fit in.

KBLA's on a mission to spread the most solidly taught movement science training around. So regardless of whether you're an athlete preparing in the off-season, a child learning the basics of fundamental movement & strength training, a mom who's getting back into exercising after your second kid, or an executive that wants to get back in shape after ACL surgery, we've got the method to help you meet your goals and do so SAFELY!

* moniker courtesy of Coach Ron Jones, RKC

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Mobility FIRST - Strength training and optimal joint function

A question I often get asked is whether or not someone can exercise around a restriction or limitation in range of motion/movement. Clients/patients and their coaches/trainers often want to simply train around a restricted joint or pattern. Their rationale is that if there's enough muscle around a limited or painful joint, then the muscle will protect the joint from further injury and hopefully take away the pain altogether.

The problem with that logic is that strength training perpetuates and reinforces existing patterns. So if there's a problem with the way a joint moves, strengthening the muscles around the joint might often do more harm than good.

While there are certainly times when a limitation is unavoidable - due to serious musculo-skeletal irregularities like bony outgrowths, implanted hardware, or completely severed tendons - more often than not, such limitations CAN be dealt with successfully.


- When in doubt, refer back to one of the FMS system's mantras - MOBILITY FIRST!

What sort of mobility are we talking about improving here? Active or passive?

- YES. If there's at least passive mobility, then you know that a joint or a series of joints has the ability to move through a range of motion unimpeded. When a joint is restricted, the body tries to create movement somewhere else in the chain. And that's the essence of compensation. When you have neuro-muscular compensations that cause stabilizers to exert their force to create movement and prime movers that become hypertonic (tense or tight) to add stability, the body starts moving in a manner that it wasn't designed for. This, in turn, leads down the road of self-destruction. Exercise starts exerting greater-than-normal shear forces on joints, and that is NOT a good place to be.

What if stretching, foam roller work, and massage therapy don't work?

- Then maybe you need something a little more hands-on to regain range of motion in the locked-up joint spaces.

Sometimes, what a joint needs most, especially a joint with deep intrinsics that are guarding a pathological positioning or movement pattern, is a passive mobilization that a skilled chiropractor, PT, osteopath, or Tui-Na specialist can provide.

After the mobilization, re-check the movement patterns and see if they improve. If the movement patterns improve overall, you've got your answer as far as the efficacy of the approach!

More later... sprinting off to another hectic day!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Training this weekend

I'm praying for rain. In fact, I'm praying for it to rain like hell for a couple of days.

Now if you know me, you know how unusual that is since I grew up on the Eastern seaboard where there was rarely a paucity of rain.

However, with air quality so bad from the MASSIVE wildfires that even the spiderwebs in parts of West LA & seaside Santa Monica look like they've been spraypainted white & sprinkled with ash, there's no way that I could teach outside in good conscience.

To that end, I'm cancelling my Saturday morning Tai-Chi class, as well as the Sunday morning KBLA Line-Up, in the interest of keeping your lungs just that much healthier.

Later this weekend, I'll be posting a special workout for you guys, assuming the Flip camera I just got works properly. :)

But in the meantime..... PRAY FOR RAIN!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Training, Health, Performance, and Body Image: Look the Part

OK... I live on the Westside of Los Angeles. We're known for good looking people, many of whom are... "enhanced", "sculpted", "augmented", or whatever else you care to call it.

Now while the only blades that have so far made contact with my skin are those that have malicious or combative intent behind them, cosmetic surgery is not a big deal to me. I can understand that sometimes our bodies need a little jump start to get to where we'd like them to be.

However, that's a totally different issue than
a) a lack of discipline or unwillingness to consistently modify one's lifestyle & behaviors to achieve fitness and overcome weakness, obesity, etc., and/or
b) a surgically sculpted physique that has only cosmetic appeal yet no functionality of athletic movement behind it.

Following the 2009 Camp Pendleton RKC, Team Leader Mark Toomey & I had a discussion that centered around one of the comments received from the Marines who took the course. The Marine commented something to the effect that it was somewhat surprising to have a couple of PT instructors on the field who looked like they'd be totally useless after trying to jog a mile, do a snatch test, or bang out a few pullups.

The comment was not without merit.

The RKC is not only a school of strength, but also a lifestyle of true physical fitness. Now that the RKC is essentially married to Gray Cook's FMS system, there's even less excuse for anything less than optimal human performance and health. Plenty of people use all sorts of excuses to weasel their way around getting in shape. They argue for everything from injuries, to strong vs. skinny, to metabolic disorders, to all kinds of $h!#.

It's rubbish. It's cowardly. It's over.

As adherents of the Hard Style RKC School of Strength and students of Functional Movement Systems, the KBLA-RKC crew has a missive. We, as RKCs, represent the elite among the elite within the fitness and human performance world. If all we have are unique looking training tools and 3 extra letters behind our names, but still look and move like sauntering livestock, that's wholly unacceptable. We have to LOOK THE PART! Our bodies not only have to perform like athletes, but also look like athletes as well.

Our job is to INSPIRE others with every facet of our being - from how we act, to how we perform, to how we look. We CANNOT be part of the institutionalized hypocracy that plagues the fitness world and allow ourselves to be just another fat trainer with an embroidered polo shirt, telling others to do what we don't or can't.

Some folks are reading this and thinking, "Oh, my God... I've gotta get to the gym and hop on the treadmill and do a hundred crunches a day."

More rubbish.

Just stop shovelling the ice cream into your mouth and bang out a couple of 2-3 minute swing sessions, do some pull-ups, and start your day off with some Janda situps!

Yes... it IS that simple.

The people who clamor up & down that it's not that simple to get in shape are the ones who usually lie to themselves (and thus to others) about what they eat, what they drink, and how little they train. While there are certainly those RARE few who have endocrine disorders and the like, more often than not, there are those who use such labels as excuses to let themselves look like Jack Black.

If you think injuries are an excuse, then you obviously haven't seen Master RKC Mark Reifkind. The man is no spring chicken, has sustained more serious orthopedic injuries than many professional athletes, and still looks good with his shirt off.

Tyson Penrod, a newly minted RKC from the San Diego certification weekend, completed not only his snatch test, but the entire weekend of training with a fractured wrist.. discovered after he returned to Reno & had an X-ray.

Excuses are endless for poor performance or failures. However, successes, especially multi-faceted successes, are the result of sacrifice, of diligence, of focus, of integrity of purpose, and of inspiration.

Choose your side, choose your weapon, and jump in the fray!