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Sunday, July 20, 2014

One Event at a Time

You mean "one GOAL at a time," right?
My first 12kg Snatch set at a comp, 2011.

No. One event.

A long-term goal keeps us in practice, gives us inspiration and drive. But if there is one common sense rule in Girevoy Sport (aka Kettlebell Sport) it's work on that goal incrementally, one competition, one training cycle at a time.
Click this link for my previous post explaining GS.

Here are two vital aspects of GS training that help measure improvement through short-term successes. First, growth happens over time, and second, technique improves with effort.

Growth over time

More than one World-Class athlete/coach has pointed out the time required for goals such as Candidate for Master of Sport (CMS), Master of Sport International Class (MSIC) ranks, or breaking world records. Some of us have the goal of completing the 10-minute set with zero No Counts.

In any case, preparation for a single competitive event requires a training cycle of two to four months. Most athletes are able to train effectively three to four days per week with control sets every two or four weeks.
After four months of training with a focus on increasing total time, speed or weight load the nervous system, tendeno-muscular structure and emotional body require an "all stop" for recovery. Well planned periodization will prepare an athlete for a peak performance just before overtraining occurs.

My third 20kg Snatch set at comp, 2014.
If a training cycle is planned for longer than four months a peak performance day, which may coincide with a competition, is placed somewhere in the middle to allow the athlete's body to go through a recovery phase before continuing with a higher goal.

Note on increasing the competition load

It has been mentioned that ramping up a lifter's competition weight load requires a minimum adaptation phase of one month per 2kg increment. This means that an athlete wishing to increase the Snatch Only load from 20kg to 24kg will need two months of a training cycle to physically adapt to the increased resistance. After a lifter has gained strength to use the heavier load he/she may begin a productive training cycle with short sets (2 minutes, for example) at the goal pacing.

For lifters training with double kettlebell loads, one step up adds 4kg to the total load. An adaptation period of four months or longer is realistic for an increase from 2x20kg to 2x24kg. Meaning this is when a lifter may be capable of short training sets at the goal pacing. This implies that it will take more than one training cycle for a lifter to increase the competition load and complete an entire 10-minute set when increasing the load with doubles.

This does not take into account the inevitable technique adaptations, nor increased cardiovascular demand of double loads, which may require extended rest periods in the training cycle. A 5-minute event with the higher load is one way to allow completion of a micro cycle and get a control set before the athlete needs a rest phase.

Post-competition rest from GS training could be as short as 3 days and as long as 4 months depending on the physical, psychological and emotional demands of the training cycle. Most coaches require 1 week of rest before an athlete resumes GS lifting.

These rules are flexible, yet in my experience attempting to step over them yields less-than-favorable results. Each time I have attempted to train outside these guidelines I am reminded of a constantly repeated statement: Girevoy Sport builds humility, patience and mental discipline.

Constantly improve technique

As a sport that is gaining popularity outside Russia, many coaches are hard-pressed to find correct and efficient ways to introduce GS lifting to the American audience. The workshop environment is the most effective method I've experienced so far for both teaching basic form and improving technique. Even though I've been current with at least one certification since beginning this sport, I take the opportunity whenever possible to attend training events.

Coaches themselves are constantly evolving. For example, at my first IKSFA Level 1 training (Nov. 2011) the main teaching was quite different from the most recent IKSFA Level 1 where I assistant instructed (Dec. 2013). The way each lift was presented, particular points of each lift, physical dynamics and specific assist work was emphasized differently. At both events I gained volumes.

Ivan Denisov's impeccable shoulder mobility.
I have attended several training workshops run by similarly prolific instruction organizations. They all cover the same aspects of each lift. However there are unique tools and specific methodology used by each certification group. For example, IKFF directors have martial arts backgrounds, so incorporate unweighted flexibility drills as core warm-up elements. At OKC they emphasize Functional Movement Training-style elements and swinging Indian Clubs to support correct joint preparation. But do not expect all the tricks to come out at any one training. Each individual event will be different based on who shows up. When I attended OKC certification in 2013 we were instructed by none other than Denis Vasilev! Denis is known for his specific form refinements and post-work stretching. Clearly there is no one way to teach Girevoy Sport. The way it is learned is entirely based on the athlete.

For athletes who have previous experience with gymnastics, wrestling or possibly yoga, the shoulder and hip flexibility demands are minor. For anyone endeavoring to master the sport, if you cannot already do a full bodyweight rotation around your shoulders, you may run into some lockout and fixation issues. Apparently any Russian playground is equipped with monkey bars as primary apparatus, thus many Russian athletes are already mobile in this joint from a young age.

Actively learn the lift while preparing for an event

Every time I've really succeeded with an event I continually shaved off inefficiency from my technique and put extra effort into lift-specific mobility. I put time into studying the performances of high-level athletes and visualized my own lifts with more efficient patterns. I did the tedious work of taking video of warm-up sets to confirm that I had included technique nuances, and watched my training videos as if I were my own judge.

The first week of a new training cycle is the most opportune time to evaluate previous performances for necessary corrections. Especially if the new cycle involves a lift that has not been practiced for some time (ie. the lifter is switching from Long Cycle to Biathlon), this first week is ideal for making tweaks before the training gets intense.

These rules are not flexible. As it has been said many times by many experienced teachers, you will perform the way you have practiced. Technique improvement is the real art in Girevoy Sport. We need our coaches and fellow-lifters to help us see where improvements are necessary, but in the end anyone who really wants the results will forge his or her own lift.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Girevoy Sport training on "Princess/Prince" days

**Edited version: with the encouragement of more than one smart person I know, I re-submit this article with information about specific remedies and alternative medicines. Thanks to Wikipedia for the excellent info-links!!**

You know what I'm talking about, mainly the ladies who lift hollow steel, but also you men. It's the "weak as a kitten," emotionally sensitive and unable-to-ignore-discomfort days of the month.

Women's hormonal flow is quite well studied. Medical scientists refer to it as the "high hormone" stage, in Sex-Ed they called it PMS. In both cases culminating is the release of the uterus lining, aka. menses, aka. beginning of a new cycle, aka. "I'm a Princess today."

Men's hormonal flow, by contrast, is utterly mysterious. Publicly available studies focus on declining levels of testosterone associated with aging, offering little information for younger men. So I've been making field observations. Guys in the gym seldom admit to having emotionally sensitive days, but even the most aggressive athletes have them.

Symptoms of high estrogen phases in men may include, but are not limited to, distractibility or complete air-headedness, bloating, outbreak of pimples, intolerance to any type of discomfort (including loud noises and heavy kettlebell loads), irritability, and the desire to cry at inappropriate moments. Some guys just skip the workout on these days, some become disproportionately angry with failed lifts, some get picky about the music, you've seen this, right?

Men (and ladies past menses), if you don't know for sure when this unexpected weak moment women happen again, do what women have been doing since pre-recorded time: check the moon phase. 

We all have hormones. Why not support one another in getting through the Princess/Prince Phase (my term, you can use it)? Here are the most effective methods I've found to stay on track while training through Code: P, including the most reliably effective natural product support I have found.

Found in health-food stores.
1) Don't go it alone. Be it a profound limbic response or a placebo effect, the natural pharmacy is an abundant resource to help restore hormonal balance through pain relief

Homeopathic remedies are either very effective or completely harmless. For mild muscle cramps during training, I use the homeopathic arnica blend, Sportenine. This can be taken (chew a tablet) between sets and usually works within a few minutes.

Essential oils are highly effective limbic brain balancers, as part of the treatment includes inhaling the aroma. My essential oil blend of choice is Dragon Time, containing lavender, clary sage and blue yarrow, time-tested essential oils for "lady time." The blend recommended for men and women past the change is Mister, featuring sage and myrtle essential oils (supports natural estrogen-progesteron balance).  These essential oils are available only through Young Living, and I'm telling you now, if you become a distributor you will save 24%. Both of these oils blends are intended for topical application, which I do before arriving at the gym. I apply a few drops to my abdomen and/or back and inhale the fragrance that remains on my hands. If pain persists after 5 minutes I repeat this process. It has never taken more than two applications for cramps to subside.

The herbs are "big medicine" especially in formulas that produce results. If abdominal cramps are just happening for me, out come these "big guns." I take Curica, which contains white willow bark (the original aspirin) and a clinical dose of turmeric, with breakfast. Curica is best taken with food and needs about 45 minutes to start working. The effect on me is equal to 500mg of ibuprofen. 

2) Acknowledge your condition. Playing stoic is best reserved for times when you genuinely can be. Pretending the starving child in Africa commercial did not bring you to tears this morning is a loosing tactic. Let your friends know you are approaching the training with an emotional handicap. This is intense training and it will push your edge. Share with your friends, they get it.

I personally carry Rescue Remedy Pastilles for these exact moments. Also known as Five Flower remedy, this Bach flower essence blend contains remedies for shock, trauma, panic, and mental breakdown (all occur on a major or minor scale every time I get a new week of training from my coach). Because the Bach flower remedies are infused into grain alcohol, a typical dose is 4 drops in a cup of water, I prefer the kid-friendly pastilles. For me there is something wrong with ingesting grain alcohol in the gym, so I chew on one gummy candy during my warm-up. As with homeopathic remedies, the flower essences take effect within a few minutes.

3) Be realistic about training loads. If the feeling of dread or physical cramping is persistent, and the Rescue Pastilles are like spitting on a bonfire to put it out, work with your coach to drop a heavy load to what you know is achievable. Building confidence is just as important as building strength in this sport. If you go ahead with a hard test anyway, see point #4. 

Due to higher hormone levels, ladies are likely to overheat sooner. Increase rest periods between GS sets, use lighter loads with assist work, or cut down the cardio set to counter-balance your elevated internal temperature.

Found online at
4) Channel the emotional energy. If you go this route, prep yourself mentally with a motivational video, listen to your Power Play List, or crack some jokes to get a dopamine/endorphin response from your limbic system.

Keep in mind the words of Denis Vasilev:
"I may die, but I'm going to try this training session."
And be ready to go completely limp after the adrenaline rush subsides.

5) Keep accurate training logs. I use the C: P notation to keep track of weeks up to a competition. I also note when "Super Woman" wrist protection comes into play, if it took three doses of everything to stay calm, or if I spaced-out, left my platform shoes at home and did the Jerk sets in my sneakers (it has happened). It's in my log... you know, just to look back on those moments fondly.

Ancient wisdom.
6) Cry, damn it! If it needs to come out, it's going to make things better to let it out. My personal cry sanctuary is during the run. Yes, the neighbors see a big-legged, chalk-handed weightlifter weeping her way around the cardio set, but this small emotional indulgence helps me get my head right.

Men, emotional sensitivity turns out to be a natural human experience. Be alone if you need. This will help you identify the same symptoms in your friends. Learning to show weakness in front of others is a powerful psychological exercise that strengthens us very deeply. Besides, you've already let them in on your moment, right?

7) Sleep, the natural hormone balancer. Rather than medicating a high hormone training failure with cake and ice cream, try a cup of herbal tea to help wind down that night. 
Decocting herbs in water to produce tea is an ancient medical technique that elicits the most gentle response to any medicinal plant. The most commonly known ingredients for relaxation are chamomile, peppermint, and valerian. Browse the tea isle for anything that appeals to you. Add milk and honey to taste, if you like.

I pull out my kava tincture and take a dropper full with a swig of water just before bed. Kava is a traditional herb of Pacific Island tribes and, though found to be effective for promoting deep relaxation, is much debated as a long-term frequent-use cure for sleeplessness. I find it effective when used once/month or less. 

Essential oils are another standard for me, specifically applying lavender oil to the bottom of my feet. As with all aromatherapy, inhaling the fragrance makes the treatment work. 

I do hope this based-on-science list of solutions enhances your own experience with GS training in "kitten time." It is a stand-out moment in the month, so I recommend reserving these special treatments for use on these days. Keep it in your gym bag, your lifting partner needs it, too.

As with all other aspects of this sport, whatever you do in training will serve or sabotage you in competitions. Why not consciously focus on perfecting your response to those inevitable high hormone days?

For information on how to acquire YoungLiving essential oils, or to consult with me on your GS training, including online training, contact

Best wishes for healthy, effective training,