Monday, January 18, 2010


Simplicity is hard.

yesterday at the local Unitarian Universalist Church, where one of my housemates does snackfood for the children (and where I take my kiddos on Sundays) there was a bit of a bobble in the food showing up.

There's a lot of trouble with the snacks for the kids as, even though the church as a whole is focused loudly on eating a 'low carbon diet' with a focus on natural, sustainable, local foods- the children's snacks have traditionally been donuts, "go-gurt", "froot by the foot" and other such ....delicacies.

My housemate has been very instrumental in helping that change- to the point where you can almost guarantee the presence of whole fruit in the snacks.

Well, Simplicity is the problem. The kids are happy eating apple slices, or grapes, or carrot sticks. Parents who volunteer to supply food cannot handle this, though. There's a constant creeping need to add things- cheese slices, hummus dip, 7 kinds of fruit in quantities too small to share out well to the classes. Dips. Always something has to be added because just eating fruit can't be done!

This weekend when the parent who volunteered to go get food asked, it was a 5 minute circular conversation where everytime my housemate said "apples are in season, a 5 pound bag of apples is fine"- the response was "with what?" "can I get cheese?" "how about peanut butter?"


As a knifemaker, I try and focus on simplicity in design and ergonomics. It's surprisingly hard. I practice, and regularly simplify a design I'm working on through 2 or 3 iterations.

In exercise- simplicity.

One of the things I like best about the Convict Conditioning program is that it is dead simple. You have 6 moves, each with 10 progressive steps. You just do them. it's helpful to have a pullup bar around, but it's very simple on equipment. Just do the reps. Slowly.

Kettlebells are currently going through a major period of complexification. There's really not but a few core movements- swings, snatches, getups, presses. Maybe deadlifts and hot potatoes, too.

You can do nothing but swings and getups forever and be in fantastic shape.

But lately it's like there's a new program variation, exercise, or 'system' every couple of hours.

I like the simple approaches:

100 morning swings.
lots of snatches twice a week.
20 minutes of 'messing around' twice a week.

or the brutal minimalist workout (TGUs, swings, and hindu squats)

The program minimum, of course.

One of the most attractive things about a kettlebell is simplicity. It's a gym in a cannonball. Why complexify it?

Friday, January 8, 2010

Strength Training

Lately, on one of the forums I frequent, there's been a lot of talk in a thread about getting in shape.

Apparently, and this is a shock to me, because I can't always see it in the mirror- I'm a bit of an inspiration to some guys. I love it because it means I
have to keep going! It bugs me a bit because I'm...just a guy, yknow? Nothing special here at all.

There's been a bit of debate recently. One of the participants is nearing completion of a degree in exercise science (I'm not recalling the exact name, but it's a general exercise and not a physical therapy specific degree). He's come down pretty hard on the kettlebell, thinking it's a horribly dangerous thing.

Now, all my reading suggests that the rate of injury among gireviks is
far lower than in many lifting programs. If you ave the basics of good form and focus on that, it's safe and has done wonders for my joints. I couldn't point you to a study that supports swings as a cure for carpal, but mine is gone.

All the old issues with my heels and knees in the mornings are similarly gone, but that could be following Pavel's advice and wearing combat boot as much as anything I get directly out of swings.

Swings- this is the big thing that is causing the whole misunderstanding. The guy is thinking of a swing as... a swing. It's not. It's a "dynamic ballistic deadlift." A nice phrase I made up. Oh, there's definitely a rotational force, but it's not like a chain and ball toss at the scottish games.

All my swing force is generated from my center. Aside from grip tension (yes, there's some shoulder in this, Anastasia (my kettlebell) is floating like a 35 pound butterfly until I bring it home at the top. and that's not a shoulder joint motion- it's my upper back and shoulder muscles popping everything to completion before I pull her down again.

One thing you see often is people flipping kettlebells at the top of the swing. If you had 200 odd pounds of rotational force pulling on a tangent
out at that point, you couldn't DO a flip of the KB, right?

And I've found precisely seven reports of injuries involving Turkish getups with a kettlebell.
Every one of them involves dropping a KB on your chest, and they all resulted in bruising. I won't stop doing TGUs because of that, though I might take care not to try and do a getup with a KB I can't do 15 or 20 presses with!

The TGU is one of those exercises where I fail to see how you can get an injury. You can overtrain anything, but I simply
cannot do a getup with a weight that's too heavy for my joints. Remember that a TGU is a static press, and doing a getup with 16 or 24 kilograms just can't be considered extreme. Very few people would tell you that a 35 pound dumbell is inherently unsafe to lift.

Now, on to strength training. A lot of my fellow travellers are in a heavy fat burning phase. I'm stepping back into one for a couple weeks to burn through part of this next 5%.

One of the common cautions, based on nothing I can find that's factual, is that if you try to lose weight fast you are going to drop muscle mass. Well, thanks to rusty over at fitnessblackbook, I've got the answer.

Resistance (or strength) training. This is where bodyweight is probably king of kings. Drop those calories and do a full bodyweight resistance program and you are golden. And hey, those bodyweight exercises are going to get a lot easier with each kilo you drop!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Greasing the Groove

Monday is Progression Testing day for my system, I do one or two light sets early and then spend the day spacing out progression test cycles.

Today I've done:

09:00 light warmup

10:30 I progress tested the frog leg lifts. 3 sets of 30. Didn't have any difficulty making the standard, did surprise myself a bit as the first set I'd done last Monday evening was a little rough. Purely subjective, but I'm feeling like the GTG approach is working.

11:15 I progress tested on the straight bridges- Didn't make the progression standard, but did 3 sets of 30 (standard is 3 sets of 40). This is good, as I have an area to track progress in for a longer period.

13:00 I progress tested the half pushups. Hard, but doable. 2 sets of 25. Remember, the slow pace is a big part of this- I can pop out that many sloppy military fitness test pushups in a minute. the sets of 25 were closer to two minutes of work each.

I could hang back and work this level a bit more, but I'm going to go ahead and move to full pushups and milk that phase for a while. My arms are a bit stubby and the half pushups I'm doing, using a smaller ball, are closer to the full pushups prescribed in the next phase.

I'm going to update later, I need to get several hours of recovery time in before I do the jacknife pull ups. I'll go ahead and do squats at some point after, though I'm not expecting much difficulty with them, and am not worried about being a bit blown when I do the standard.

On a purely subjective basis - I have noticed a definite increase over the past 3 weeks in my 'comfort strength'- to the point where I'm having to be significantly more cautious than previously in some tasks. This isn't a "get off the couch" program for me, I've been working out since July, so I'm a bit surprised by the dramatic level of the general, overall strength increase.

I've been at this GTG style adaptation for over 3 weeks now, and I'm told that it's going to be too much to maintain, but thus far I'm not feeling like that is the case. I may be going slower at developing pull up strength than I otherwise would if I had a dedicated Naked Warrior style program for pull ups exclusively. It is simply my weakest area and I can't really tell if that's the case.

There's a built in balance, I think, in the CC program. In Naked Warrior, the focus is designed to be purely on max strength, though there will be some endurance gain from the frequency of the workouts. With Convict Conditioning it appears that beginning a new step in any one of the big 6 will promote a phase of rapid strength gain, with a following cycle of endurance gains. (Not that it's a 100% shift, there will obviously be a ratio that changes, never hitting 0 in either area.)

Truth is that in many of the areas I'm not putting much stress on the body or muscles just yet- and as that grows the reps go down, so I'm going to continue with this program for now and if I need to back off to 1 set done 3 times a day versus 2 sets done three times a day at some point, I will.

Friday, January 1, 2010

A new decade!

I started my new year/new decade shift in physical culture training a bit early, sure.

But it's the first day of the decade, the year, and the first official day of my 2010 goals.

Breaking down the simplest ones fast:

max set of 12 pullups
12 minute 1.5 run time
handstand pushups
one arm pushups
hanging leg raises

I'm on my way!

Today was an good example of a rought training day- not ebcause I trained extra hard but because I logged about 1/3 of what I did and did maybe 75% of what I do on a Friday. Maybe being in a hot tub at 03:00 had something to do with it!

But the lesson is there- record SOMETHING, do SOMETHING, even if you know that for one reason or another you just aren't physically going to manage a full day.