Saturday, November 28, 2009

How to Add 10-20 repetitions to your 5 minute snatch test....

For those that train with Russian kettlebells, the five minute snatch test is a common measure of physical prowess and kettlebell mastery. This is especially true in the following contexts:
* The Russian Kettlebell Challenge (RKC) certification. Potential instructors are required to be able to do 100 snatches with a 24kg.
* The Tactical Strength Challenge (TSC), a worldwide, multi-location competition that includes deadlifts, pullups, and the five minute snatch test.

While the objective of this test is simple, improving your performance is not always well understood. The approach that a lot of people take is to just take the test many times. This will work at first, especially if your conditioning is not very good, but after a while your progress will level off. The reasons for this are simple:
* This approach dos not address your weaknesses
* This approach often leads to practicing snatches with bad technique
* The demanding nature of this test can lead to overtraining.

In terms of how we go about improving performance, we need to address the following areas:
* Overall systemic work capacity
* Snatch technique and efficiency
* Planning and execution on the day of the actual test

Anybody who has ever taken the snatch test knows that it is very hard work. Even though it is only five minutes, your heart will beat out of your chest, your lungs will be on fire, and your muscles will be filled with lactic acid. When we talk about "work capacity," we are talking about it in the context of the snatch test. You can be able to run a marathon, but still be too gassed to do well in the snatch test.

The SAID principle (Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands) says simply, you get better at what you do. This does not mean that you have to take the five minutes snatch test over and over again in order to get better at it. What it does mean is that you have to choose exercises that will get the best carryover to the snatch test. Because there are many athletic qualities and technical nuances in the snatch, my feeling (and this has been buoyed by experience) is that it is best to not only attack the snatch as a whole, but use different exercise that focus on the different parts of the snatch.

The kettlebell snatch can be though of as a three stage rocket:
* The POP - at the bottom of the kettlebell snatch, the is the powerful hip thrust that projects the kettlebell forward

* The PULL - this is pulling back with the upper back, posterior shoulder, and upper arm that changes the direction of the kettlebell from going forward to up and back

* The PUNCH - this is the active moving up the hand upward to get move the kettlebell handle around the bell in order to facilitate a soft landing (i.e., soft catch) of the bell on your forearm.

In terms of conjugate exercise for the kettlebell snatch, in addition to the full snatch, I like to use exercises that focus on different parts of the snatch and/or improve overall work capacity.

* Heavy Kettlebell Swings or Double Kettlebell Swings:
- These focus on a powerful hip POP at the bottom.
- Because you cannot rest at the top, they replicate the lactic acid accumulation much faster than what you get from non-stop snatches. Ironically, I find double swings with 24kg bells much more taxing than double snatches with the same weight for that reason.
- I typically do these for 5-10 sets of 10-15 reps, and really try to compress the rest periods to tax work capacity.

* Dead Snatches:
- Dead snatch are done from a dead stop on the ground.
The dead snatches focus on the initial pop of the snatch.
- This also teaches the feeling of weightlessness that you should feel in the "pull" phase of the snatch, helping you keep the bell close to the body.
- This helps you learn to push the chest forward at the top of the snatch, increasing the speed at the top of the snatch.
- Choose a weight that you can do for 3 sets of 10-12 reps with each hand.

* Hang Snatches:
- Hang snatches are done with the bell hanging in front of you.
- Hang snatches teach you how to focus on a nice, tight arc.
- They also teach you how to use the hips to absorb the downward motion of the snatch (i.e., the “butt punch”). This lets you utilize stretch reflex in your hips to gain speed at the bottom part of the snatch.
- Choose a weight that you can do for 2-3 sets of 10-20 reps with each hand.

* Snatch Sprints:
- These are taking a given protocol of reps and doing them as fast as you can (the protocol depends on the ability of the client).
- They provide insight on when you should optimally perform hand switches during your actual test.
- I typically have my clients do this for their first 2 or 4 snatch sets (e.g., 25L/25R or 20L/20R/15L/15R) during a test week.

* Max VO2 Snatches:
- This is a snatch protocol used to improve you Max VO2, or the amount of oxygen your body uses (typically at 80-85% of your maximum heart rate).
- I prefer using the :15 on/:15 off protocol (rather than :36/:36) because the snatch pace is faster and the protocol is easier to implement with a standard wall clock.
- I like this protocol because it teaches you to practice "fast" snatching and remove inefficiencies in your snatch.
- Because there is a frequent amount of rest, you can get a lot of quality reps in a single session (sometimes over 700 reps).
- Note: if you want to get the best out of this protocol, get Kenneth Jay's book, Viking Warrior Conditioning. To ensure that you are working at the correct intensity (regarding both bell size and repetitions/set, do the cadence test as specified in the book.

* High Octane Cardio (or HOC):
- With this protocol, I alternate a kettlebell exercise with a short jog (100-150 yards) for between 30-75 min.
- This type of interval exercise helps improve overall work capacity.
- It is also a great opportunity to incorporate different types of snatches into your practice.
- If you are doing ETK, this is a great way variety day workout, especially if fat loss in your goal.

* Tabata Swings:
- The Tabata protocol is a very short, intense protocol that call for 8 sets of: 20 work/:10 rest.
- This familiarizes you with the lactic acid resistance that you incur during the test.
- It is also a short workout (4 minutes) that you can easily fit into your workouts.
- The speed and the continuous nature of the swing make it much better alternative for this protocol.

From a programming perspective, I prefer to work heavy/tabata swings and snatches in a 1:1 ratio. As far as snatches go, I like to use 1:1 ratio between using standard snatches and "leverage" snatches. When incorporating them into your program, you are going to have to take into account the other physical activities and other performance requirements.

Also, I almost away do the swings and snatches at the end of a workout rather than the beginning. The reason is that I prefer to keep heavy lifting and grinds early in workouts where maximal tension and focus are paramount.

As far a planning for the day of the snatch test, there really isn't too much to do, but even with that you don't want to leave any reps on the table. Here are some strategies to consider:

1) Planning hand switches: There is a trade off between taking too long between hand switches (you start snatching to slow) and too often (you lose too many snatches while you are switching). Snatch sprints will help you determine what this number should be.

2) If you have a dominant hand, you want to snatch more with your better hand. In practice, I do the same number of reps with both hand so as not to create any further imbalances in the shoulder girdle or the hips.

3) Ideally, you want to end your snatches with your dominant hand. This will help you in keeping you snatching quickly longer into the set. When determining your snatch strategy, plan out your reps to make this happen.

In planning my reps, I want to work backwards from my goal. For example, when I was planning for 140 reps, I came up with the following scheme:
* 30L/30R/20L/20R/18L/22R, according to my time estimates each set would have taken me:
* 30L (0:57)
* 30R (1:03/2:00)
* 20L (0:45/2:45)
* 23R (0:50/3:35)
* 17L (0:40/4:15)
* 20R (0:45/5:00)

Previously, I have done 30L/30R in under 1:50 and 30L/30R/20L/20R in training in 3:16, so I though this was realistic "stretch". It planned for an unequal number of reps and for snatching with my better hand (right) at the end. During the test, I got my first 60 in at about 1:55. I stayed with the pace to end with the plan plus two additional reps on the right side. Another comment regarding your plan - once you start snatching, if you are slowing down or losing your grip, switch. The exception being in the last 10 second, just gut it out. I helped someone break the 130 barrier in the most recent TSC, "The Men from the Boys" barrier, by simply having him do longer sets to eliminate hand switches. One really strong guy got into the 140s by simply tightening up his arc after showing him the hang and dead snatch.

As far as exercise programming goes, the possibilities are endless. However you incorporate these ideas into your program, make sure that you do the following:
1) Make sure you address your weaknesses
2) Make sure you prioritize your training based on what is important for you

Hopefully after reading this article you will be able to add 10-20 repetitions in your snatch test by simply making some modifications in your training plan, tweaking your snatch technique, and by planning effectively on the day of your test. If you have any questions about this article or anything related to kettlebells, feel free to contact me at

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Taste of Honey....

The two women in this video display the best combination of looks, singing ability, and guitar playing I have ever seen. Just for yourself and let me know what you think.

Short workouts....

I have been doing "two a days" for few weeks now. I typically do a "body builder" split type of workout in the morning, and a KB workout in the evening/late afternoon.

This week, I have been really busy with clients and other obligations in the evening, and sometimes I only had a half hour to work out. Here were some of my workouts:

* 12 minutes of TGU (7:00 with the 24kg and 5 with the 32kg) and Tabata swings (32kg x 8 x :20 work/:10 rest)
* Double KB Long Cycle Clean and Jerks: 24kg x 5 x 10
* KB snatches: 24kg x 30L/30R/20L/20R in 3:16

If you have KBs, you have no excuse for not getting a workout in.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Shameful New Mexico University Soccer Player Elizabeth Lambert

As a former referee, here is how I would have called the infractions as shown on the video, I am assuming the fouls are in chronological order:

1) 0:04 Trip on a breakaway: Red Card, Serious Foul Play for Denying an Obvious Goal Scoring Opportunity. On a foul like this I can tell the referees are not confident.

2) 0:06 Punch in the Back: Both players would have gotten yellows from me, even though by the book she would have gotten a red. Both players were equally culpable. After this incident, I would bring both captains together and explain that if you even look at a player wrong you are going to get called for a foul. Also, I would really clamp down (i.e., cards) for any unsporting activity like off- the-ball contact,

3) 0:10 Hair Pull: Straight Red for Violent Conduct. If this wasn't seen, then it is bad mechanics by the crew.

4) 0:20 I would not have called a foul, as she backed away from the kick, until she held/obstructed after the ball got away. I did not see the who build up, but depending how the the player in white got to the ball, she could have been called for dangerous play. But given the previous incidents, I would have probably stopped the play and called something to start to get control of the game display authority.

5) 0:22 Slide Tackle from Behind: This would have been a straight red for violent conduct. This was a very deliberate attempt not only to injury, but to end someone's career. The PCL is very subceptible to injury in a tackle like this, and she had absolutely no shot at the ball. If I was the coach of her team, she would have been off the field a long time ago, but after a tackle like this she would never play for me again that year. If I was a league administrator, I would take the following sanctions:
* Player does not play again for the rest of the year
* The program is somehow punished
* The referees do not referee until a period deemed appropriate. They really blew a lot of calls and failed to make sure the game resembled soccer, was fair, and protect the players.

6) 0:25 Tripping: On its own this would have been a Yellow card for Persistant Infringmentment. In the context of the rest of the game, however, this type of egregious foul would be a red card.

7) 0:29 Clubbing After the Ball is Clear: Red for violent Conduct. This is a case where you are taking liberties with a player in a defenseless position.

Four of these incidents were worthy of a red card on their own, and three of these were simply violent actions against a defenseless opponent. The player should not play again.

I think what has not been discussed enough was that the referees did not do their job at all. There are three referees on the field. This was simply a case where the referees did not do their job. If you don't have the confidence to stand behind a red card in these situations, you are not qualified to refereeing and U8 game, much less DI college.

I would love to see a game report.

Dance Dance Revolution, Hottest Party 3 review

I was just thinking that I could really use a new version of Dance Dance Revolution for my Wii, as I was getting "A"s on most of the songs on Expert and was looking for a new challenge. Thanks to fooWidget on the Dragon Door forum, I was alerted to the newest version, Hottest Party 3. I got it the first day that it came out (October 28th).

Here is my review of the game, as it compares with Hottest Party 2.

Music Choices:
* The songs in Hottest Party 3 pull from a lot of different eras (70s, 80s, 90s, 2000s, rock, disco, punk, etc.) just like Hottest Party 2. Also, the original tracks (i.e., produced for Dance Dance Revolution) are also entertaining just like in Hottest Party 2. some of my favorite songs to DDR to (as opposed to "dance" to) are:
1) "Daftpunk Is Playing at My House"
2) "Pork And Beans"
3) "Shine"
5) "Taking It To The Sky"
6) "I'm Coming Out"/Diana Ross
7) "Hottest Party 2" and "Hottest Party" medley, which are mixes of songs in the previous Hottest Party versions.

Verdict: Push

* The development team at Konami has really made a big improvement in the graphics of this game. The visuals are a lot more three dimensional and lifelike. Also, the way the arrows move light up when you hit them really add to the excitement of the game. The movement of the dancers is also more realistic, and there is more customization of the dancers.

Verdict: Big Edge Hottest Party 3

* When I refer to choreography, I am referring to how well the games arrows match up with the song to produce a game that is fun to DDR to.

* On Expert Level, many of the songs simply don't have the density of arrows (i.e., foot rate) that Hottest Party 2 had. Also, for some of the songs too long to build up. Since I use this primarily for exercise, this means I have to be careful which songs I choose so I can keep the heart rate in the zone.

* It seemed to me that there was more emphasis on precise rather than just fast foot movement. It seemed that there was more instances where it mattered which foot you used for a given arrow, especially for freeze arrows. Also, HP3 did a better job of changing up the timing between arrows, making it a harder game in that regard.

* I do believe that Hottest Party 3 had a better matching up of the arrows to the song, meaning that it felt more like you were dancing to the song than just moving your feet. It also forced you to listen to the song.

Verdict: Slight Edge to Hottest Party 3

* When you first start playing DDR/Hottest Party 3, all of the songs are missing their gimmicks, or things that make the song more difficult than just moving arrows until you went through "Tournament Mode". Things like Double and Triple Stomps, sudden arrows, reducers/exploders, freezes make the game more interesting, and this was a big downfall of Hottest Party 3.
* Many of the songs were simply too easy and the foot rate was too slow.

* The DDR School was pretty cool way to get you used to all of the gimmicks.

* I don't really use hypermode, but they have added to it in HP3. HP3 also used the Wii Balance Board, which I don't have, but I think could be kind of cool and add another "functional movement" to the game.

* The foot recognition seems to be better in the new version. It seemed like it doesn't miss as many steps as the old one (i.e., there are less instances where I hit an arrow, but DDR does not recognize it).

Verdict: Slight Edge to Hottest Party 2

Overall I think that the game is very well done. The new songs are fun to dance too, and the choreography has been much improved. Also, the graphics and sound mastering are much better. Hottest Party 3 would have been a home run had the difficulty been increase on many of the songs, which will be disheartening to some of the Dance Dance Revolutionaries out there. The game is very fairly priced, at around $60, which also included and extra dance pad.

My weight loss over the last year....

I have just been doing some measurements and stuff and I have found the that over the last nine months, my:
* Weight is down 28 lbs. (from 207 to 179lbs)
* BF% is down significantly from (28% to 10.75%)

Even though I was already killing people in the gym in the gym work capacity-wise, I am really doing some great work capacity stuff since losing weight.

I do no steady state cardio, here are the things that I do for weight loss:

* Heavy weightlifting/strength training with barbells/dumbbells/machines/kettlebells

==> I think that sacrificing strength for body composition is not necessary and long term could actually hinder your long-term progress. I see people who lose weight by primarily doing cardio and light weightlifting for weight loss and even though their body comp is lower, they look flabbier. Also, when there life has more meaning than spending two hours in the gym on a hamster wheel, they blow up like the Michelin man. I don't care what a number on a BF% monitor says, I want to look and be strong. Also, keep in mind that you need energy to do heavy work too. The oxygen replacement of a set of 10 squats is about the same as that of a 100 yd dash.

* Kettlebell ballistics, including snatches, swings, jerks, and cleans
==> There are a number of reasons that I prefer this type of "cardio" to machines.
1) Emphasis on the posterior chain. Using of treadmills and exercise bikes became really popular in the 70s and 80s. Almost all of these exercises really take the hamstrings and glutes out of the exercise. On the treadmill, the motorized tread pushes the foot back instead of the body having to pull the back. The causes an imbalance in the muscles that extend and bend the knee. This causes of a lot of people in their 50s, 60s, and 70s to have knee problems. Also, the lack of glute involvement and overuse of the quads causes of a lot of people to be pitched forward in their torsos, which in turn causes a lot of back problems. There are a lot of back problems in older people for exactly this reason. I do a lot of work with older people to fix the problem in their back and knees mostly teaching them proper movement. Kettlebells does this automatically.

2) The use of resistance makes it easier to get your heart rate up into the cardio conditioning zone (80-85%) without the localized fatigue in the calves or thighs. The reason is that kettlebell swings use a lot more muscles than running does. This means more work can be done by the body, without being limited by any particular muscle group. This means that we are dealing more with systemic fatigue rather than specific fatigue, thus making it easier to perform in the "fat burning" zone. Gotta love that. I have recently started doing long cycle clean and jerks with two 32kg kettlebells. I can't think of a body part that is not used during this exercise.

3) The movements of kettlebell ballistics just look a heck of a lot more athletic that moving on a treadmill or exercise bike. The snatch looks a lot more like jumping or the standard "ready position" in most sports. When I train my clients, I keep in mind functionality first. This not only helps them perform better, but more importantly it keeps them from getting injured.

4) Because you don't need to exercise for as long, you can keep your T-levels high and cortisol levels low. If you are a 19 year old on a cycle of D-bol, this may not be an issue. I am almost 40, and kettlebell training has almost been like a fountain of youth, even before dropping the pounds.

* Dance Dance Revolution, about 5 hours/week
==> I know a lot of people may poo poo this, but here is why I think if we had Dance Dance Revolution in every school, day-care center, and boys-and-girls club we would literally eliminate childhood obesity:
1) It burns calories. I know for me it burns more than a spin class, but it uses a lot more muscles.
2) It forces you to move in all directions, which means that it won't cause imbalanced muscles. You have to move, rotate, and jump left, right, back, forth, clockwise and counter clockwise. If you have stiff hips, which is in my opinion the leading causes of strong people being crappy at sports, DDR will let you know and also help you fix the problem.
3) If is the kind of exercise that forces a response to visual stimuli, thus increasing the carryover to sports, especially those that require "read-and-react" abilities.
4) It is extensible to the abilities of the user. What I mean by this is that as you get better at DDR, you can adjust the level to your abilities.
5) It forces quick, precise movement in the feet, which in my opinion is more important for athleticism than other standard tests like the 40 yd dash.
6) It is fun. Can you imaging a 12 year old on a treadmill?
7) Watch someone who excels at DDR and watch someone who goes to town on a treadmill. The guy on DDR looks like an athlete, the guy on the treadmill will look like an ape.