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Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Hand care tips for Kettlebell Sport lifters

Thanks to the new lifters for inspiration to write about this subject.

Though it is not the most vital part of Kettlebell Sport, timely hand care can prevent blisters from Snatch and heavy Long Cycle sets. The following are my experiences with hand care from managing calluses to training with a skin tear.

Chalk is the most useful tool to reduce moisture and friction for Swing, Clean and Snatch sets. Adequate chalk on hands and the handle will allow the necessary calluses to form but dries out the skin. Even with a well-chalked handle and hands, rough calluses may snag and tear off deeper layers of skin. Avoid this by keeping calluses manicured.

To groom calluses I use a coarse emery board. (I bought the one sturdy one pictured below at a beauty product store. This thing stays in my gym bag for use before Snatch and Clean sets.) A pedicure file will help manage thick calluses, and take off old, broken skin. This is a miniature cheese grater and can clean calluses off very fast. I suggest using this on dry skin, as it could take off too much wet skin. Manicure/cuticle trimmers work well for removing dried skin tabs without causing damage. Some lifters use a callus shaver to slice them off. I recommend caution with this method, as it is easy to cut too far into fresh skin. Other lifters have suggested using fresh, sharp blades for best results with a callus shaver. (For manicure/pedicure supplies, check a well-stocked grocery store or beauty product store.)

For friction burned skin or minor blisters I apply therapeutic grade essential oils of cedar wood and lavender directly to the damaged skin. (My preferred brand is Young Living therapeutic grade essential oils. You will need to sign up and create an account to purchase by phone or online. Please use sponsor/enroller number: 705744.) 
I then apply Egyptian Magic, a beeswax-based moisturizer, to seal in the skin-healing oils and keep skin strong. (This all-purpose skin blend is perfect for a custom pre-mix of essential oils. My personal favorite includes myrrh, sandalwood, cedar wood, lavender and frankincense.) 
Joshua Tree Gymnasts Salve is a quality, ready mixed salve designed for athletes who need to develop tough skin on their hands. Check out the product line while you're at it!
If you prefer to blend your own, consider using beeswax blended with olive oil, jojoba oil, coconut oil, and/or shea butter. Natural products are more effective than lotion for keeping calluses supple and strong. Lotion is designed to soften the skin, thus increasing chances of tearing.

Blisters will develop in learning phases and during intense Snatch training. The essential oils help speed up healing and a beeswax-based moisturizer will keep them from cracking.
Blood-blisters indicate friction at a deeper level and take longer to heal than more superficial blisters. If blisters are uncomfortably full, one solution for both types is to break them open and drain the fluid. A bandage and tape may be applied to protect the raw skin during training with easy to moderate weights.

Wet green tea bag applied directly to a broken blister is known to speed up the healing after skin has been friction burned. I have tried it once on an open wound for approximately 10 seconds. It is one of the most painful things I can imagine doing voluntarily. People who have used this method with beneficial results advise to hold the tea bag in place until it stops hurting, or while watching a video that has you distracted. I have not tried it on a non-broken blister, but I think it could be effective in helping drain the fluid.

Liquid Bandage (Nu-Skin or generic brand found in drug stores or first-aid section of grocery store) is helpful to protect raw skin after a blister or callus has torn off.  This stuff is a flexible form of nail polish, so when applied to a fresh wound it hurts almost like pouring salt water on for about 5 minutes. Whenever possible I delay the application of liquid bandage until a thin layer of skin has formed on top of the wound. This is much less painful and provides protection from dust/debris, and makes it possible to submerge the hands while skin is healing.

Tape (Ace or Coach brands, 1.5 inches wide) can be applied in the direction the Kettlebell travels to protect broken skin.  For best results clean off chalk from the hand to be taped, measure out enough tape to cover the distance of the palm from the wrist to the base of whichever finger is closest to the broken skin. At that point cut a hole in the tape for the finger to thread through and continue the tape down the back of the hand to the other side of the wrist. So it's one long piece of tape with a finger hole in the middle. (Alternately fold or cut the tape so it fits between fingers.) Press the tape flush to the skin on both sides of the hand. If I want an extra layer of tape over my wound I repeat this process with the next finger over, then wrap a loose strip of tape around the wrist to anchor all the long strips. Getting the tape flush against the palm and back of hand are key to making this work, if the tape is too taught it will interfere with hand movement during the exercise, if it is too slack it will bunch up at the base of the fingers.

Experimentation will help new lifters find the perfect combo, but I strongly suggest finding a good beeswax-based skin cream at the least. Badger Balm and Bert's Bees are inexpensive and easy to find in natural food stores. For best results apply after training, not before, later in the day and on days between training.

Please feel free to comment on your personal experiences with hand care. Let me know if there's something I missed!

Best wishes for efficient, powerful lifting,

Friday, November 6, 2015

One Hour Long Cycle exemplifies the best of Kettlebell Sport

October 17th was the official date of this 6th annual fundraiser, started by the Orange Kettlebell Club and centered in Costa Mesa, CA. This year the charity being supported was Kettlebells 4 Autism, which allocated all funds raised in the US to the Global Autism Project.

Group photo before lift off. Mostly normal looking folks, right?*
Jen Yao, Kettlebell Sport lifter and Active Release Technique specialist from Colorado Springs, organized the Denver satellite event at the Colorado Kettlebell Club in Denver.
The significance of our lift being at the home base of BOLT was not lost on me. One of the things I really admired was the opening instructions: "like BOLT" we can switch hands as many times as we wanted, but "not like BOLT" we can not put the weight down for the whole hour. Jen came with two CrossFit Decimate team members who traded out their 16kg and 8kg weights with her for the hour.

Denise Eccles, personal trainer at CKC, encouraged us to lift "cupcakes" (or the lightest thing we could work with) for the hour. She then proceeded to work a pair of 8kg cream puffs for the whole time!

Certified Kettlebell Trainer Jeff Bott  journeyed forth from Windsor, CO, to side out a 16kg bell with one teammate.

I was very proud of my team from Longmont for staying with their respective cupcakes for all 60 minutes.
Jeff Bott, his team mate and Longmont KB Club members.*
Back to the original statement, the reason I say the One Hour Long Cycle exemplifies the best of Kettlebell Sport because it is an opportunity for lifters to explore the lift however they want and at whatever stage of learning they are in. Some people form a relay team so they can pass a more formidable weight among themselves in 5-minute intervals. Many prefer a solo effort with one or two weights. Both of these options make it possible to split the total time into segments for specific focus (pacing, technique nuances, breathing, etc.). For beginners with a coach willing to trade off the weight it is a great training/coaching opportunity. The beginner can practice in short sets and then watch during rest phases.

This year I lifted double 10kg bell to make use of the "practice makes permanent" principle, and to explore variations of the lift. The following are some of the object lessons I gleaned.
  • Lifting doubles leaves me with nowhere to hide.  Technique problems can and will hunt me down. Life will suck.
    Slava Barsuk, me, Denise Eccles and Jen Yao.*
  • Rotating thumbs back in the clean with doubles does not work as well as with a single kettlebell. The tendency to bang the weights together between my sawed-off legs is high. This causes extra work to re-gain control during hand insertion.
  • Stepping out for the clean and back in for the jerk (the Rudnev Shuffle - video below) increases efficiency in a few ways. One, it puts more momentum behind the acceleration pull, making it faster. Two, it allows me to get my feet closer together for the jerk, which I find to be easier than keeping a wide stance. Three, I can get a wide enough stance to rotate my thumbs back without smacking the bells, but have to steer the extra power generated in the hand insertion.
  • The Shuffle does have the draw back that it requires a bit of mental agility. I have not practiced it with a competition load because I am still ingraining the movement to lean away from the weights on the drop down. For the One Hour Long Cycle I practiced it for two 10-minute sets.

The ultimate take away for me is this: people who play Kettlebell Sport are a special kind of weird.  I knew this about myself already, but there are hundreds of KB Sport lifters out there disguised as "normals." The fact that this lift was a fundraiser was completely secondary for everyone who attended the OHLC event in Denver. It was about putting the weight overhead.

When I mentioned it to other folks from my gym, intending to gain support for the Global Autism Project, I said it was similar to the Jump Rope for Heart fundraiser from elementary school days. They looked at me like I was speaking Russian. (Didn't people do that outside of Wyoming?) 
"So, Goldberg, when is your One Hour of Hell?"

Best wishes for safe and powerful lifting,


*Thanks to Bob Shafer for these photos!

Monday, September 14, 2015

KB Sport rank equal to black belt?

It's been said that Candidate for Master of Sport (CMS) in Kettlebell Sport is equivalent to a black belt in martial arts. I find this to be a curious idea. Having achieved black belts in Ki-Aikido and Master of Sport (MS) ranks in Kettlebell Sport I see similarities between the two physical practices.

Sometimes a new athlete achieves Rank 1 at their first KB Sport competition. It is more rare that a lifter reaches CMS on his/her first KB Sport event. It is an extremely exceptional athlete who has achieved MS at his/her first ever competition. Likewise, a student new to a martial may be able to advance two beginner ranks at once by virtue of previous martial arts training, but will not be promoted directly to black belt at his/her first test. Discipline is the well-known quality of a black belt, and it is truly required to step up to the test.

The following are my thoughts and opinions on the similarities of martial arts and Kettlebell Sport in the United States.

Lineage Affiliation/Educational organization: head teacher

In martial arts and Kettlebell Sport there exist various associations that focus on teaching the same art. In both cases, these associations have a code of peaceful co-existence with each other. The associations themselves are educational organizations featuring master level teachers that may not have an actual location for on-going training, events or tests.

Dojos and KB Sport clubs usually have affiliation with one of the major associations. Advanced level teachers who represent the association will periodically offer immersion training (weekend or longer) for large groups. This is a good way to keep everyone current with changes in technique and indoctrinate new students.

World-Class Kettlebell Sport teachers tour the U.S. individually and in groups to give certification workshops and training camps. Anyone serious about the sport will take advantage of these moments regardless of association because they don't come around the same way twice. 

Dojo/Gym: training space

This is where the proverbial rubber meets the road. In martial arts these are "dojos" or "training halls." In Kettlebell Sport they are "gyms." The training space is created for the purpose of practicing the physical art. It isn't always ideal. I've practiced martial arts in a church basement, on a basketball court and in public parks. Hundreds of Kettlebell Sport lifters work out in garage gyms, their living rooms or even outdoors on hand-built platforms. Most commonly we create our space in the corner of a gym whose management is not concerned with chalk dust.

High priority is put on "open mat" in dojos or KB clubs whose members are serious about the practice. This is auxiliary, unguided practice time for students to work at their own pace. As athletes begin preparation for a goal extra practice time becomes their training time. Other people in the group  join if they are also working toward a goal.

A note to KB Sport athletes: we do not have the same intrinsic code of etiquette as in the martial arts, but it is important that respect and cleanliness is part of the sporting attitude. If equipment is shared in someone else's gym, clean off the handles before putting the weights away. Not everyone likes chalk on the bells or tracked across the floor. Know where the broom and mop are kept and use them.

In most martial arts the black belt rank does not indicate mastery. The first black belt indicates that a student is proficient in the basics.

Beginner ranks/Training progression: practice and refining skills

The beginner rank is commonly referred to as "white belt." White belts are the majority of students, and represent the type of person who is attracted to that martial art. These students are new to the etiquette, physical demands and coordination requirements of the art and are not expected to get it right all the time. They have logged about one or two hundred hours on the mat by the first test.

The "brown belt" (in some arts a "red belt") is a landmark achievement indicating that the student knows the etiquette, can be expected to demonstrate most of the basics, and can guide beginner-level exercises such as the warm-up. Brown belts are assistant instructors and often behind-the-scenes support crew when guest instructors visit a dojo. These students have logged several hundred hours and about three years on the mat before the first brown belt test, are in physical condition to practice for an entire class, and are less pre-occupied with basic technique details than white belts. Most styles of martial art do not expect students to engage with full-speed sparing practice until the brown belt level.

In Kettlebell Sport there are also lower ranks starting with 3 and progressing to 1. The rep counts to achieve these ranks are slightly different among ranking tables, but in all cases the lifter is challenged to perform these repetitions in a competitive setting. The lifter must have a clear idea of what he/she is capable of before arriving at the competition. This may sound obvious, but it does happen that lifters go to a competition with an ambiguous goal. The hard truth is that in a hyper-adrenalized setting almost never will a person's body say, "7 reps per minute is just too easy. Let's do 10." If a lifter is lucky enough to be part of a large club the lower ranks will be achieved at local, low-pressure events or informally at BOLT competitions.

Physically and mentally conditioning for success will eliminate random distractions but technique cannot be learned on the spot. An athlete's performance will reflect whether enough time (read: several hundred gym hours) was given to building maximally efficient technique. One thing is certain: the lifter will become acutely aware of exactly what he/she prepared for while on the platform. Any illusions or false structures of the ego will collapse under the load. The result will be exactly what the lifter trained to do on that day.

I've heard it said that a person can have three technical mistakes still achieve CMS. I'm not trying to diminish the difficulty and commitment needed to achieve CMS by any means, it does not happen without intense effort and resource, but I see the Candidate for Master of Sport rank very similar to the brown belt level.

To achieve MS there can only be one technical mistake, and even one is too many.

Intermediate and higher ranks/CMS and MS: hammer out the impurities

A young martial arts student (18 – 25 years old) can achieve a black belt in three years if he/she meets the following conditions: achieves brown belt, develops him/herself mentally, emotionally and physically, attends several (3 – 6) classes per week, does solo practice between group classes, can afford the dues and testing fees, participate in test preparation with all fellow students, attends all possible seminars at home and away, and voluntarily accepts the role of assistant teacher. Commitment on the part of the student is essential, but support of the dojo is indispensable. A candidate for the first black belt has thousands of mat hours under his/her belt.

This is similar to what is required to achieve the Master of Sport rank in three years. With Kettlebell Sport the athlete will need to be comfortable with competitions and have a feel for the commitment involved in achieving CMS. A programming coach becomes the main training partner, and all the foundational flexibility plus strength and conditioning training become the "early years." It's a good idea to attend advanced training seminars or get private lessons with a high level teacher to skim away all unnecessary movement in the lifts. Delegate all free time toward training and recovery, compete as often as possible and adhere to the Spartan-like lifestyle that I imagine in-season Olympic athletes live. Someone committed to achieving Master of Sport is a person living Kettlebell Sport.

A KB Sport athlete who is already a seasoned trainer/gym owner is more akin to the senior student/teacher at a dojo. This type of athlete has the additional challenge of guiding students in on-going training. Frequent visits from master-teachers are required to keep technique, the training goals, and the team in balance. A team may host regional Open Championships to spread the sport, but will certainly travel for training and competitions. One way or another, achieving Master of Sport is a team effort.

Ranking Tables, a KB Sport thing: unique to each major organization

To my knowledge there are currently two Kettlebell Sport ranking tables developed by non-IUKL (International Union of Kettlebell Lifting) affiliated organizations in the U.S.: KETAcademy and IKFF. These tables reflect what lifters want to lift at competitions.

For example, KETAcademy, whose premier club is OKC and affiliates, includes rank for 60- and 30-minute events, 7- and 3-minute Relays, 10- and 5-minute events, Women's single kettlebell ranks up to 28kg, Jerk Only, Snatch Only and CMS rank for amateur loads. Always at the leading edge, OKC announced in 2015 that moving forward Women's 10-minute events will be doubles (LC and Jerk). Women who want to lift single LC or Jerk compete in 5-minute events. The ranking table for this change has yet to come, but I expect it will live up to the Men's version in difficulty.

IKFF is the first organization to develop a ranking table for Women's 10- and 5-minute double events. On this table you find ranks for Jerk Only, Snatch Only, the 5-minute Chair Press, and a new title for 5-minute specialists (Elite Sprinter for standard lifts and Elite Presser for Chair Press). Men can achieve CMS for amateur loads and above, Women must lift 20kg to achieve CMS for Long Cycle with a single kettlebell, but in all other one arm events CMS is possible with 16kg.

AKA is the one organization in the United States that selects athletes to compete at the IUKL World Competition. The ranking table used by AKA is shared with IKSFA, ICKB and other affiliated organizations. This updated table, effective in 2014, includes the standard 10-minute lifts for both genders (Long Cycle, Biathlon and Snatch Only). Men lift double and women lift a single kettlebell. This table includes 28kg for Women's Long Cycle and 28kg for all Men's events. AKA also recognizes Junior Ranks.

Not to be overlooked is the BOLT network and affiliate gyms. In my opinion the most powerful things about BOLT are that both genders have always lifted double and single kettlebell loads, and kids are highly encouraged for their participation. This organization has its own list of events: Double Half-Snatch, Double Long Cycle, Double Jerk, Single Snatch, Single Long Cycle and Single Jerk. One thing to notice about BOLT is that the affiliate gyms play however they want. Some competitions are specific for ranking, while another feature 5-minute sprints. They also have an "Iron Man" focus, meaning lifters compete in all 6 lifts for a total volume score. Scoring is volume based, as the competitors are not organized in weight classes but rather age categories. For more details about BOLT scoring see the official rules.

If someone really wants to do something there is no obstacle that will stop that person from doing it.

Test/Competition: the results of training

All previous tests are the basis for the mental preparation on the day of a big test or competition. Some strategy for handling nerves must be in effect. Even the weigh-in for Kettlebell Sport has a parallel with black belt testing, in that all test candidates will meet with the examiners ahead of time to confirm their intention.

To maintain the integrity of a rank, a dojo's supervising teacher does not conduct tests for his/her own students. The appropriate testing panel is comprised of that teacher's peers and master-teachers. It is likely that a student must travel to a workshop for the test, or help host a seminar for teachers qualified to grant rank.

This is the same with Kettlebell Sport. It is far more legitimate when someone from a different team or organization judges a high-ranking set. Ideally that judge is a higher-level lifter and has a good grasp on the rules being applied at the competition.

One comment for lifters striving for the CMS or MS rank: pick your competition wisely. 
AKA only grants CMS for above Amateur weight loads (28kg for Men and 20kg for Women) while KETAcademy gives CMS rank for Amateur loads at rep counts that will take the entire 10 minutes to achieve. IKFF awards CMS for all Amateur loads except Women's LC.

Women's double events go up to Rank 1 on the IKFF table. KETAcademy is still gathering data from this group. They currently awards 1st, 2nd and 3rd place based on co-efficient to Women lifting the same kettlebell load in open weight class (total volume divided by lifter's body weight).

A further factor in choosing a competition for a high rank attempt is that AKA does not award CMS or MS at local events, only at Regional competitions where there is an accredited judge at your platform (your video is submitted for review), and the National competition.

Teaching/Adjustment of Goals: follow-up

In all martial arts the attitude of respect and humility is a universal black belt expectation. This is so because there is great responsibility in the knowledge entrusted to these people.  Depending on the art, black belts are potentially capable of ending a life. Most of the time I see black belts taking on the role of teacher in a life-long effort to pay back the generosity given by their teachers in the early years. Many become so identified with a martial art that they open a dojo or acquire on-going classes to keep the practice flourishing in their lives. And let's not overlook the reality that some martial arts have black belt levels up to 10th Dan, so there is no end of learning for a martial artist.

I see this as a similar path for Master of Sport Kettlebell lifters. It's not the highest rank. And even if it is achieved once all lifters are aware that there are three lifts, each with their own learning curves. Because the sport has no end of challenges, many MS lifters attend events with amateur or transition loads and take Rank 1 or CMS rather than attempt an MS weight load. I see this as evidence that these lifters are refining their practice and achieving personal records. Like martial artists, high level lifters influence people with their presence and etiquette at an event, and place focus on technique over the rank that may be achieved at any one competition.

Best wishes for all your lifting goals,

Monday, July 6, 2015

Kettlebells for a cause - WISEPlace Women's shelter & Mater Dei High School

Those of us who've been around Kettlebell Sport for a while have encountered the tremendous heart and generosity of its participants. Volumes of free information is made available every month through blogs, YouTubes and Facebook, not to mention nonprofit fundraising events (such as OneHour OneArm Long Cycle) and organizations with kettlebell lifting as their main format (Kettlebells 4 Autism is one).

It's like all those kids who did Jump-Rope-for-Heart grew up and became Kettlebell Sport people! Incidentally they all seem to have set up shop on the left coast of America (KB4A is Canada-based)....

The next event in charitable lifting I'd like to focus on is the BOLT for Charity event on July 25th in Santa Ana, California, raising money for the local nonprofit corporation WISEPlace Women's community and the host location Mater Dei High School. To donate, go to the Bolt for Charity page and sponsor one or more of the 6 athletes contributing their efforts to this fundraiser.

"So what the heck is BOLT?" you may be asking. It is a type of competitive kettlebell sport that focuses on giving lifters an opportunity to work at their own capacity for the competition time (10 minutes). Folks who would never hazard to enter a Kettlbell Sport competition, with its strict rules and fewer possible lifting events, feel more comfortable with the generous guidelines and wide spectrum of lifts at BOLT competitions. Thus it's a great place for new lifters to learn the classic lifts and engage in the competitive environment, and for athletes who don't want to commit to the intensity of KBSport training to stand out among their peers. Check out the home page for more info.

Due to the nice benefit-to-risk ratio for participants, BOLT is an up-and-coming kettlebell event that has affiliate organizations worldwide. The event on July 25th is the US National Championship.
Yep, Nationals! That means people will fly in from all over the country to compete! It's a big event!

The 6 athletes competing in the "Main Event" are the fundraising competitors. I encourage you to check out the page and get a load of these guys' credentials. They are not your average gym rat. These guys are gym owners, coaches and educators committed to making fitness possible to anyone willing to try. And they're donating their day to the cause.

So if you've gone to the Bolt for Charity page and totally fallen in love with a few of them (most of them are taken, so you know), you've got to decide who to sponsor. Here's where I say "follow your heart."
All of us in Kettlebell Sport know of the super star lifters, but there is one lifter out there we really identify with. Maybe it's a similar physique, seems to have the same favorite lift, wears cool shoes, whatever. That one person always has a special blip on our personal KBSport radar. I advise anyone who really wants to donate but doesn't know any of the lifters to pick out that guy who somehow resembles you and sponsor him.

Thanks for reading. I know there isn't much about technique or inner process in this post, but there is all kinds of heart. We kettlebell lifters are just individuals picking up heavy stuff over and over again, but it makes us better people and inspires others. So whenever possible we offer our efforts to those who need help. Here's another good opportunity to pay it forward.

Wishing you the best,

Saturday, June 13, 2015

How I moved from CMS to MS in Kettlebell Sport

Though I was able to achieve CMS with a coach who was not current with Kettlebell/Girevoy Sport programming, he did have personal experience lifting GS in his earlier years. To go beyond CMS I started working with Coach Sergey Rudnev who has prepared a few dozen athletes for MS (I was number 46). My first Master of Sport lift was almost a year after he started training me (20kg One Arm Long Cycle - before the ranking tables were upgraded). Coach Rudnev prepared me for Master of Sport rank in 20kg Biathlon and 20kg Snatch Only the following year.

A note on the upgraded ranking tables: at 4-year intervals the officiating body analyzes the number of athletes who have achieved Master of Sport with the current ranking table. If that number is higher than 300 worldwide the standard is raised. The most recent wave of re-writes happened in 2-year intervals, a reflection of the sport's growth globally. In my observation this growth is due to several components. In the last 5 years we have seen an increase in high-level athletic commitment, more clubs willing to host annual and biannual competitions, and an increased number of teachers/coaches capable of transmitting correct technique to their beginner students.

Grainy picture of a Men's Biathlon Jerk flight at a World Cup stage in 2014.
Another growth contributing factor not to be overlooked are the Grand Prix and World Cup series competitions. These are events featuring professional athletes and teams from places like Russia, Kazakhstan and Ukraine. These world-class lifters travel around the world to compete among themselves at big fitness conventions or well-attended regional events. Awareness of the sport is raised, and vivid demonstrations of the difference between professional level vs. rank and file amateurs add impact at these events.

But I digress. The point of this blog is to illustrate one variation of the differences between Candidate for Master of Sport and Master of Sport training.
It is possible to achieve CMS with a few mistakes in technique, but the margin for error is much smaller for MS numbers. I made three main corrections for each lift: 1) stop all excess effort to perform a single lift, 2) use breathing for maximal effectiveness, and 3) adjust diet and nutrition to maximize recovery. (If I had not already developed sport-specific flexibility and aerobic conditioning this would have been at the top of my list.)

Failed attempt at MS, too much effort! Photo by Nazo
1) Excessive effort could happen anywhere in any of the lifts. Many of us have noticed that the weakest physical link is the grip (i.e. muscles of the forearm and the hand).
The Long Cycle hand cramp phenomenon was my gauge for effective technique changes. First I took the correction from my coach to drop out of the rack faster with my upper arm still connected to my torso.  This reinforced my forearm stamina and reduced the impact of the weight during the re-grip.
Then I added a self-check habit in the last 10 to 15 seconds of each minute. I figured out that the hand cramp happens because of excessive muscular effort in the backswing and acceleration pull. I added this short rest to check the state of my finger flexor muscles. If my pinkie and ring finger were glued together I would focus on relaxing my hand before the Jerk, then wiggle my fingers overhead. This habit along with Coach's technique correction helped me head off the hand paralysis that had previously stopped me short of MS.

In the Jerk event the main place I found excessive effort was in my upper arm. First I took a correction from my coach to narrow my stance to maximize vertical force. Then I noticed there was tension in my hand in the middle of a set that would creep up to my triceps and deltoid by the end. The result was that my arms (mainly right arm) would fail to straighten in the under squat by the end of heavy or fast sets. It took time, but I learned to let the weight of the kettlebell soften my finger extensor muscles in the overhead position.

Hand trauma was (and is) my main indication of excessive effort in the Snatch. I had an opportunity to learn from Denis Vesilev a few years ago. When I told him I didn't like Snatch because it blistered my little hands he looked at me somewhat stunned. His response was something like "blisters are part of the process," and then pointed out the small hands of Mr. Dzonie (Johnny) Benitze.
Party pooper.

"Nothing says commitment to Snatch like blood blisters."
When I really got serious about achieving Master of Sport with Snatch, first I took a few corrections from my coach concerning correct mechanics of the drop-down, straightening my legs in the back swing and the acceleration pull (…okay, so the entire lift). Then I began the ongoing learning experience of how to use every other muscle fiber to take pressure off my hand during the Snatch. And I started using as much chalk as will go on the handle to minimize the effect of friction, because it was still happening. I know this is not much help. The Snatch remains the most challenging lift for me. I have an ever-expanding album of hand blister photos to prove it.

2) Using the breath for maximal effectiveness needs to be part of basic Kettlebell Sport lessons. The correct use of breath makes sets longer than 5 minutes possible, but I needed to look deeper to jump that MS wall. For 20kg Long Cycle I decided to break in a lifting belt. As many know, it's an ordeal in patience and persistence to get a belt softened and stuck in a position to do more good than damage.

My great breathing revelation occurred while figuring out how to wear the belt. I started using an old martial arts method after struggling with it flopping out of place during sets. Beyond the purposes of holding the tunic closed, the belt in martial arts also provides a mental and physical point of focus for breathing. This supports gradual and continual energy cultivation in the lower body, widely considered the seat of power. Thus breathing deep into my low back was a well-practiced adjustment for me. As it happens this did more than stabilize my gear. The shift of breath focus to my low back also helped me maintain my tempo and control my heart rate, allowing just a little more space in my mind to keep my forearms relaxed.

The change in breathing awareness was so effective in Long Cycle that I automatically transferred it to the faster paced Jerk. Because my coach excels at squeezing the best results out of his athletes, having a plan for recovering my heart rate was immediately useful in the first two weeks of Biathlon training. I learned to use "belt breathing" in the overhead position, which helped maintain a calm awareness during fixation. By the time of competition I was pacing 15 reps per minute: one inhalation in the rack position and two breaths overhead (the second specifically for fixation).

The Snatch has a different rhythm than either LC or Jerk, and my pattern had been to train for speed (17 – 19 reps per minute with 16kg). My coach quickly corrected this after watching me flail through my first 20kg Snatch videos. He added a breath in both the swing and the overhead sections and slowing me down to 14 or 15 reps per minute. This improved my performance and amped up my cardiovascular work load immediately. Once I adapted to the aerobic work my goal was in reach.

3) The diet and nutrition factor were entirely my own discoveries. It only took a few incidents of eating too close to a Long Cycle training session to figure out how defeating that can be. Next I learned exactly what foods to eat before training. This continues to be true for me today.
If training is early in the day I keep meals focused on dried fruits, oatmeal and protein in the form of Greek yoghurt. If training happens after 1pm, I plan a light lunch with rice, cooked vegetables, soft cheese, and either eggs or a small amount of light meat such as chicken. If I can't get lunch together I pick up a gluten free cookie and maybe more dried fruit. If training is at 4pm or later I be sure to have lunch before 2pm and include a bit more meat.

I somehow stumbled onto a book about sports nutrition between my second and third attempts at Master of Sport. There is plenty of information out there, so I will not attempt a book report here. The main take-away for me was to look at Kettlebell Sport as endurance training (this is especially true for Biathlon) and make use of powdered drink mixes to recover electrolytes during and micronutrients after the workout. This was a major improvement in many ways. I found my appetite directly after the workout less ravenous, slept better and felt more alive on days in between training. I also started supplementing with antioxidants and cycles of Eleuthero Ginseng and Echinacea for immune system support.

Making weight is a concern that we love to ignore, but some athletes just can't. Before I had my special sports nutrition in place I modified my diet thusly: for the week or two before a competition eat celery as a snack and with every meal, cut out desserts and candy, switch grain carbohydrates for vegetables when possible and eat more meat. After discovering the special sport nutrition (and giving up chocolate - it was a bad habit) I easily made weight with the same modifications mentioned above plus taking a serving of the recovery drink on rest days.

So that's my story on making the jump from CMS to MS in all 20kg events. As of 2015 I've been working my way through 24kg events, which has required even more technique, breathing and diet/recovery changes, but that is a blog for another day. Just for the record, as much as I love Coach Rudnev and his creative genius in getting me through many growth stages, his programming has yet to get easier for me. Also, please take the above statements as my personal opinions and experiences. I hope some part of it is useful to you, but not by any means meant as a basis for comparison with your own progress.

I now offer online mentoring for Kettlebell Sport athletes! Contact me via Facebook private message if you would like me to help you.
Best wishes for your lifting goals,
Christian Goldberg

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Judging reflects the Lifter's training

This is THE most awkward part of Kettlebell Sport competitions in the US today, especially for events at which the organizers sprang for the Live Feed option. Thousands of people the world over are watching Americans host "high level" Championships that may consist of 200 or fewer lifters.

And the judging is being judged.

Since 2012 I've been asked to be a platform judge, and most recently Head Judge, at competitions. I can tell you it is more emotionally stressful to serve as a judge for even one flight than to compete in a Biathlon.

Why is this so?
The first thing I can point to is funding. To my knowledge, I have yet to attend a competition where the judges were paid.***! Which means they are volunteers and/or lifters and coaches.
A volunteer judge has very little reason to know all the rules unless he/she is explicitly told/shown the rules. It seems an imposition to test volunteers' accuracy, so usually the organizers do not know the level of preparation the platform judges actually have.
When lifters or coaches are recruited to judge they make an unspoken agreement to accept less-than-excellent results at that competition. A lifter will not get the mental or emotional preparation needed and a coach will not be available to support his/her team.
*** Update to the original post, IKSFA sanctioned events hosted at the Kettlebell HotSpot and CrossFit L.I.C. have paid a small compensation for judging in recognition that the judges should be paid for their time. *** Second update, IKFF events hosted in Seattle have paid and provide meals for judges who are mostly non-competitors.
! Third update to this post, Valery Fedorenko corrected me in a comment line that WKC has paid judges in the past and has this to offer :

Next problem is lack of pre-competition review. Anyone who reads two different sets of rules will see that at the top of the section on Lifter's Responsibilities it is clearly stated that every lifter must know all the rules. The lifters are responsible for attending rules meetings. The team captains/lifter's representative may attend these meetings in their place. Thus the team captain is as responsible for each individual knowing the rules as the individual lifter.
Over the course of the past few years I've noticed a general decline in the pre-competition rules review. Not to point at any specific organization, but I see that the event hosts are generally over-taxed by the task of getting the event together without being required to convene everyone for a rules review. To their credit, organizers who want to put on a "high level" competition will conspicuously post the rules of that competition well ahead of the event.
This leaves both judges and lifters up to their honor to have learned all the rules so the decisions made in the heat of a set will be easy to call and accept.

Last point is faulty training. It's not the judges fault when a lifter falls short by a few reps or even gets stopped on the platform. This is a reflection of the lifter's training pure and simple. But the platform judge takes all the heat when it's proving time.
If the amount of overhead time needed to establish fixation is grey area in a lifter or coaches mind, it is obvious to me that not enough overhead holding has been done in preparation. And some lifters will intimidate the platform judge during a set! This should get the lifter kicked out of a competition for poor sportsmanship, but as it stands there is very little protection for a judge who follows the rules to the letter. Eventually that person will be circulating in the same venue with all the lifters he/she judged. It saddens me that some lifters win through a veiled form of cheating, while their competitors may show exceptionally good lifting but loose due to a slower pace.

I'm telling you, it takes an exceptional amount of confidence to judge two flights with the exact same standard, much less five or ten.

Try something just for fun. For anyone who has never judged at a competition but has attended several:
YouTube up a World Championship flight where at least 3 platforms are in frame. Watch the lifter farthest to the left only. Count each repetition aloud. Only give a count when you can see clear fixation of the legs and arms. Continue for the entire duration of that lifter's attempt.
Next, replay the video, this time counting for the lifter second from the left. Use the same method of giving a count only when you see clear fixation of the legs and arms. Continue for the entire duration of that lifter's attempt.
Repeat this exercise for every lifter in the frame.
Once you've "judged" for every lifter, assume they are all competing against each other. Who won?

My Pet Peeves as a judge. Since I'm on a rant, here are some common lifter strategies that make judging tedious and stressful.

  • Spartan Meditation = 15-second rack hold/.01-second overhead hold. Try keeping your eyes on an analogue clock for 15 seconds. Be lucid enough to spit out a number in sequence between seconds 15 and 16. Do this for 10 minutes.
  • Machine Gunner = 6 to 10 repetitions with questionable fixation followed by 20 second overhead or rack rest. Not disrespecting anyone, but this belongs in a CrossFit gym.
  • Lockout Negotiator = the arms straighten somewhere between the under squat and overhead fixation. The look of expectation for the count resembles an overdue pregnant woman waiting for labor to start.
  • "I'm a Champion without even training" = lifter approaches the flight with all the ego of a champion prize fighter and proceeds to break all the rules in the first three lifts. If this lifter lasts more than 7-minutes it is shear agony to watch.
  • Uninformed Coach = coach is behind the platform judge yelling the absolute wrong encouragement to the lifter including things like "just ignore the count!" "that was good!" "do your own lift!" "BAM!" etc.
In closing I hope to shed some light on the most common criticism of KettlebellSport in the US today. The finger is pointed at the judging, but the problem exists with the lifting. If you are a coach or lifter who also wants to see this sport make it to the Olympic games, please take a close look at what you are training. And remember the athlete's mantra "you will perform the way you practice."

Best wishes for your results,