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Monday, April 29, 2013

NW Kettlebell Spring Invitational + Big Iron Balls Challenge! Yeah!

April 27, 2013
Rainier CrossFit Gym, Sumner, WA.

Here it is, the moment I've been training for. My third Master of Sport attempt with 20kg LongCycle. And what a joy that it's at an event hosted by KB Nic and the NWKB crew!
Nic congratulating the CrossFit Women and Men's Champions!
Nic came to my attention in 2011 at my first NW competition. He defines Indomitable Spirit, that one! One of the few people I know who could MC an event in an echo chamber without a megaphone, his enthusiasm is up lifting and his coaching is spot-on. Last Saturday his team was able to run simultaneous KBSport and CrossFit events with Nic alone as the announcer!

So what else happened? We had a fairly small but committed turn-out of KBSport lifters and a determined gang of 5 Men and 5 Women on the CrossFit challenge. One first-timer, Bethany and her coach flew from New Jersey! Slava and myself, representing IKSFA, traveled from Colorado, and my KettleTeam mate Tricia traveled from Canada just to help run the event! Many of the 19 KBSport lifters came from the NWKB and OKC teams, located in Washington and California.

IKFF team member turns out to judge with Tom and Misha.
Because I was so focussed on my goal I beg total obliviousness toward the other competitors. I missed most of the Jerk and Snatch sets, and all of the 5-Minute Chair press. But did see an impressive final half of a 20-Minute OneArm LongCycle set from a last-minute entry on Team NWKB!

I saw lifters from the entire 2 + years of my KBSport world setting up for personal records as well as first-time lifters watching in awe. What a great meet to start with! Every one of the lifters turned in great sets, everyone learned and had a moment to grow at this competition.
The chalk-pit/warm-up area.
Of special significance to any KBSport athlete are the organizers and judges. We must have rules first and foremost, and we've got to have a standard for our achievements. At this point in the US not every weight class/weight load and lift has a field of competition at regional meets, so we use ranking systems to qualify our massive efforts. Nic chose the IKSFA standard: IKSFA Unified International Ranking Table At National/International events first, second and third place awards are given for each category listed on the table being used.

The judging rules have been refined into a fairly consistent standard in the US, so at the Rules Review (before the first heat) many of us heard and saw the same information we've been hearing and seeing about No Count, Warning calls, and what it takes for a judge to terminate a set. Those of us headed for higher numbers were held to strict standard, and I did hear Tom Corrigan calling one of my heat-mates on No Counts. Happily, I didn't get those calls from Misha Marshak, who judged my set....
Several people, including Coach John Wild Buckly, Coach Jason Dolby and Tricia Dong all put in time in the judges seat and supported their team throughout the event. Misha did the noble act of judging and then competing!

I feel so blessed to be in this picture! The kettlebells being all the same color seemed to make us equal as competitors.

I want to express my gratitude for the choice to play the National Anthem before we started the competition. This doesn't always happen at KBSport events in the US, and was a welcomed addition.
My last word is in reference to a comment made at the Rules Review. Tom gave the obligatory rule that good sporting conduct is expected, quickly followed with a statement that it is never a problem. Luckily, my team mate and best friend Slava was raised speaking Russian, and later translated this quote next to our Coach Sergei Merkulin:

"In Girevoy Sport - there are no bad people;
all the junk sweats out under the weight of kettlebells, especially on the 10th minute."

(This must be why so many people attend the OKC Annual One-Hour OneArm Long Cycle event!)

Thanks again to KB Nic, KB Nic's Mom (Jan - yeah! 12kg!) and the many unsung heroes of the NW Kettlebell Spring Invitational! You gave us a stage to play our sport, to connect with ourselves and each other more deeply. Many happy returns!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Athletic Mind as a Horse

A friend once used this analogy to illustrate how our bodies respond when learning new skills. With the help of a knowledgable horse woman,* I've tweaked it to represent general temperaments of our minds as athletes. As a disclaimer, I know that generalizations are never the entire picture, but I'm particularly fond of this "Athletic Mind as a Horse" concept. I see my own mind in each horse type as I've moved through a few years of Girevoy Sport training.

One last thought about the Mind as a Horse: This equation is symbolic of mental maturity and evolution. It acknowledges the potential power of the well-trained mind, and the potential chaos it creates when the mind is left wild. In my perception this addresses Girevoy Sport athletes. None of us are exempt from physical discipline and hard work, and any one competition can illustrate the mental game involved. See if you can relate with some of the descriptions below.

The Light Horse: Most commonly known as Thoroughbreds, these include Arabian or other riding breeds. These horses, known to be "spirited," twitchy, and distractible, have been painstakingly domesticated from their wild, lightening-fast ancestors. Historically these horses were a main force on  battle fields. Horse and rider developed a symbiotic relationship as they faced victory or death together. Through time Light Horses were bred specifically to maintain the "hot blood" qualities that make them excellent racing and riding horses. Now they are seen in equestrian events such as jumping, hunting and show riding competitions, sports requiring subtle cues from the saddle thus a well-trained rider. These light-weight horse are not suited to haul a heavy load, but will pull a light carriage or work in teams. They are likely to throw an inexperienced rider rather than endure that person's learning curve.

This athlete's raw skill shines in individual sports. As a mental perspective, this is when I want to perform according to what I already know. As a learner my Light Horse Mind has difficulty learning from someone who is not attuned to my subtlety (horse-people joke about this quality in Arabians). I expect to be the star even if I'm on a team. When I am in Light Horse Mind, I do not like excessive prompting. I would rather be appreciated for the hours of training I've already done. I want helpful reminders of my training like "slow down" or "active breathing," not overplayed encouragement like "Okay, that's 2 minutes! Only 8 more! Good job, Christian!" And I do not want to be recruited to count someone else's reps.
Poor attitude and resistance is to be expected when I am this type of athlete. You can see how this is a problem...

Just because the mental space of this athlete is light-weight does not mean he/she is physically delicate. For instance a Light Horse Mind athlete might be able to compete with 32kg LongCycle, but refuses to do cardio conditioning between seasons - it's outside the comfort zone. Or perhaps it's a light-weight lifter who refuses assistant strength training for fear of going up in weight class. In essence, the Light Horse Mind puts up resistance to skills that could change his/her relationship to that specialty move. In the world of horses it's a matter of matching the task with the animal; in Girevoy Sport reality this Mind-set will only last so long (unless the lifter only plans to do exhibition meets). If this is you, or one of your athletes, I advise a Reality Check. Check out your competition. What is your closest "rival" doing to win? Also, how long do you plan to be in this sport? As we know in GS versatility supports longevity. Maybe this is your Year of Snatch, but next year, Biathlon-a-thon!

The Warmblood Horse: This includes several breeds of stock horse, including the Quarter Horse, that are carefully crossed between sure-footed Light Horse breeds and sturdy Work Horse breeds. In riding stables, "warm bloods" are known as the "nannies;" naturally agile and patient, they are safe for beginner riders due to the willing, even temperament of these animals. In history, these mid-weight horses were loved for their versatility, having capacity for long distance running and cattle drives. Now they are used to race, carry riders, pull in teams, herd cattle and in equestrian shows. This type of animal has a bond with its rider, and needs surprising little prompting to do new tasks. Because they are willing and intelligent, these horses can be pushed to injury, which could be their only weakness. If a rider is confused, the Warmblood Horse will go the way it sees fit.

This athlete's natural physical awareness seems to grant innate skills. This is when my mind is "grounded in my body" and I am interested in refining technical skills that will improve my lifting. In my Warmblood Mind I will persist, incorporate new movement skills and enjoy the fruits of intense concentration. As with my animal counterpart, I can take corrections constructively and integrate new physical awareness with familiar techniques. I want to use training sessions interactively, alternating between physical practice and cognitive processing. In the Warmblood Horse Mind-set I am inspired to train outside my comfort zone, share training sessions and support my team at competitions. This is the phase that has me preparing two different events for three different competitions.

The athlete with Warmblood Mind has mental patience and agility, but might not immediately excel at all physical skills. In Girevoy Sport this could be an athlete who wins the Absolute Lifter award (for total volume) but does not win all three events. The Warmblood Mind is coordinated, so a trainer might attempt to pack too much into one lesson. This will frustrate the athlete, being unused to repeated failures. He/she will eventually  change coaches rather than follow erroneous guidance. My advice to this athlete/coaching team is to examine challenging techniques as a composite of various awarnesses: body positioning; breathing; and visual/mental focus. Using physical compartments the athlete will improve skills in solo-practice and look for fine-tuning in coached sessions.

The Work Horse: Well-loved for strength and patience, in history the draft and pony breeds were used for pulling heavy carts and plowing fields. Also called "cold bloods" these heavy-weight horses can pull immense loads alone or on a team, and carry riders. Historically these animals hauled loads and carried the cannon-wagons on the stage of battle. They were, and are, a staple of agricultural cultures. Strong musculature and power are the most notable attributes of this horse type. These calm, docile animals perform best with a handler who interacts with them as they work, thus avoiding the tendency to plod along into complacency. This quality is seen in the Pony Ride at a circus, where the horses are harnessed to a central hub and prompted by the ride boss. Out of laziness rather than a dull mind a Work Horse will come to a stop with lack of guidance.

This athlete's work capacity produces impressive results. When my mind is a Work Horse I need to be guided with technical accuracy. Once in gear I will run to exhaustion, and once out of gear I will rest until directed to move. As with my four-legged counterpart, the most effective training style for me in this Mind-set focusses on efficiency. This is when my trainer and I need to agree on the goal. In my Work Horse cycles there are only two words in my vocabulary: "Okay" and "Coach." I train with staunch determination, devoid of emotions, to master my one lift. Eh, one lift....

It is inaccurate to say an athlete with Work Horse Mind is big and slow. This person might be amazingly adept with one skill-set but stumbles over less complex tasks. For example, a lifter who can LongCycle (Clean+Jerk) but lacks capacity for Jerk Only may be a natural Work Horse, or in a Work Horse Mind stage. This lifter will power his/her way to the Co-Efficient (Relative Strength) award in one event with the right coaching. And the coach is key. Work Horse Mind will do whatever the coach wants. It is important for an athlete's longevity in GS to not burn-out with one lift, so if this athlete/coach team hopes to make use of our sport's extremely long athletic career potential I suggest changing events every few seasons. This may translate into less-than-perfect results for a few competitions, but it will round out the athlete's physical repertoire. A time-tested training method that is well suited for the Work Horse Mind is "chunking:" a complex movement sequence is segmented into smaller parts and trained as separate movement skills. Over time, the segments come together with technical precision.

So what are you saying, Christian?.....  Although I did advise a GS athlete to only stay briefly in the Light Horse Mind, I am not saying it is "bad." My real purpose for this article is to suggest that athletes consider their natural mental tendency. Once you can honestly recognize yourself, then you can endeavor to look outside and refine your Mental Skill-set. Ultimately, we will all do our best work if we allow a variety of perspectives to enrich our original natures. This does require some self-examination and the ability to be uncomfortable with new ideas while their value becomes apparent. In the long run, looking at the Mind as a Horse helps to make it a little less personal and vital for our true being. And this, in my opinion, is an important step in living up to our potential as athletes.

*Thanks to Rachel Jarvis, who knows more about animals than anyone I know, and her friend Christina for helping direct my comments on horse training. To contact Rachel for riding lessons in the Sugarloaf Mountain area, or advise on your horse, dog, cat, snake, or whatever creature you love, email :

As always, your comments and opinions are welcome. Please see my website for more information about my services :

Monday, April 1, 2013

Put it where it counts

What with so many big GS competitions going on this season I've noticed plenty of footage and comments circulating about great lifting feats. As a perpetual student, I've learned to consult my teacher before considering the actual excellence claimed from any one lifter's peer group.

My first Kettlebell Sport coach Ken Blackburn recently reminded me of the good old efficiency-in-action principle: Say you have 10 units of energy to complete a lift. How do you distribute those units through all the parts of that lift? And is there any energy being saved for consecutive lifts, or are all 10 units being thrown into each lift?

So this has become one consideration of my own training, that is, how much effort does it take to get the kettlebell into a lockout with fixation (AKA. a rep that counts)?

The second teaching that has impressed me is my programming coach Sergey Rudnev's assist exercises.
Specifically LongCycle drill: 1swing + 1clean + 1jerk + 5second fixation hold = 1repetition.
(At first I videoed these sets because it takes some practice to keep track of the count!)

I really enjoy the ingenuity of this exercise because 1) it is tailored to over-eager lifters like myself who get too excited at the beginning to maintain a pace, and 2) it provides a full-body teaching of the most important places in the lift.
The first swing helps me find the dead point on the upswing (important point #1). There is a delineation between how little effort it take and how typical it is to pull early. Most kettlebell lifters were trained this way, but in Girevoy Sport the early acceleration pull throws the weight beyond the dead point. This causes me to then de-accelerate the downswing and work too hard to control the weight for the next clean.
The 5-second fixation hold (important point #2) reminds me to emphasis the main event of the lift, that is, where it gets counted. It also emphasizes the overhead position as a rest position.

To add one element of urgency to the above drill complete 6 repetitions per minute. Either by calculating the seconds or doing it yourself, you quickly figure out there is one place not to linger in this exercise: the Rack.

Thus inspired with the teachings of my coaches, I've enjoyed looking in on my fellow-lifters. And the World Champions are still my ultimate role-models in the seamless execution of 10 or more minutes of one Classic Lift.

Wishing all my fellow-lifters excellent results!

Please contact me for more insight or training with kettlebells!