Category Archives: kettlebells

Expanding The Natural Method to Equipment

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A conversation, or rather a question I frequently have seen in various groups I belong to, when it comes to natural movement patterns and not limiting the association to Hébert’s Natural Method, is: what makes a movement natural?

How is lifting a rock overhead any more natural than a barbell, for instance? Because a rock can be found out in nature, and a barbell is a man-made object, therefore it’s not natural?

Is squatting with a sandbag better than doing a double-kettlebell front squat?

The Natural Method is not about the tool, nor is it about the execution of a movement with a tool-specific technique or form. Additionally, this statement is also not about form-bashing or questioning one organization’s technique or approach. Quite the contrary, it’s surface level rather than digging deep, if I may say so.

Yes, essentials of good form require solid foundations in technique and form to ensure a safe execution, which leads to long term progress. There comes a point where you individualize, personalize and find your way. You can find your way by finding what you truly want and need, with trial and error, experience, education and observation. The guidelines set for any given tool serve as your launchpad to proper execution.

Martial Arts are a great example of this. At first, you teach a person how to adopt a good fighting stance that allows both offense and defense. You throw that jab or cross without dropping the non-punching hand cover that side’s cheek and ribs as the punch hits its intended target (air, mitt, bag or face). If there is an opponent on the receiving end of that punch that is faster than you and counters quicker than you punch, having that ‘guard’ minimizes damage to your person, depending on how well protected you are.

But, eventually, from that structured minimal effective dose, you develop your own style, stance and you may even drop your hands, keep them free to “operate” and deflect, trap, block more efficiently than she you started. When you start from nothing, with no skills, you need a starting point.

The upcoming Natural Method Training book will be rich in photos and succinct with words by contrast. The reason behind it being I don’t need to reinvent instruction on how to properly clean, rack and press a kettlebell or two. It’s already out there, from a variety of sources and chances are, if you are reading this, you already know at least one way to do it, and may even teach it.

My Ninjutsu teacher, the late Shihan Steven Petrus always told us “don’t focus on the exact technique, focus on the motion“. A punch or a kick comes, you can avoid it by triangulating out of the way, deflect it, block it, take it or trap it, and counter with a kick,a punch, a throw. Yes, we’d start by working off of a choreographed sequence, and over time would build variations, only to eventually reflexively respond to the strike and adopt whatever motion is necessary. Haven’t most of us heard or read Bruce Lee’s quote about having no way as a way? When it comes to equipment and The Natural Method, all movement is natural. We follow the pathways our body allow us to operate in. The knee only bends one way, or the elbow, and if you go against it, bending it “unnaturally”, your experience will not be a fond one.

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Don’t look for barbell squats, bench presses or deadlifts in the book, and please do not complain that they are lacking because they are important for X, Y and Z. The Natural Method is about all-around development in many elements of fitness and not all of us have hours to devote daily to only one facet of fitness. And not all of us have hours daily to devote to several aspects of fitness to become supremely well-rounded.

Do not misinterpret this also as an under-achieving stance. Not everyone is going to become as well-rounded as Captain America. Let’s start where you are, and go from there. Learn the lifts, the jumps, the throws, the basic educational exercises that will keep your body efficiently balanced, muscularly, esthetically and functionally, and then as time allows and conditioning improves, move on to the cooler, flashier skills.

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Until then, use the equipment to fulfill that purpose, and equipment evolved as much as we did, only faster. Just because you are not in the woods jumping over boulders, throwing stones or climbing rocks, trees or vines doesn’t make your session any less natural. Going out is awesome, yes! But doing stuff in a gym two blocks away from you because you live in a city and have no car is more important. Don’t delay your fitness.

How a complete “Natural Method” session looks like

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Home of the Natural Method

Not too long ago, I posted a blog about how Georges Hébert set up a complete session. If you go back and revisit that post with its vintage pictures, you will see that equipment was a bit different a century ago (like the mold below where you can pour concrete to make a construction brick). All goals are met, by the way, from developing strength, endurance, muscle mass, cardio, flexibility, agility (you know my FAST pillars by now), which incidentally leads to weight loss without it being the focus (all around athleticism leads to greater fitness, health and that leads to weight loss too!).

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One of the reasons I wanted to give people an updated version of his training program is simply because equipment has evolved. Now, we’re not going to go show you all the selectorized equipment options or machines which isolate muscle groups which have been developed since. Instead, the focus will remain on variety of free weights, whether it’s a barbell, dumbbell, kettlebell, sandbag, sand bell, medicine ball etc…

One additional key is the use of technique. Again, using machines requires a much lesser level of attention to proper form, as it’s almost “done for you”, and if you are going to use free weights, form is essential.

So, here is an updated equivalent post, which also serves as another sneak preview of the upcoming book with the program design of Georges Hébert’s Practical Guide to Physical Education through his Natural Method.

WARM UP WITH FUNDAMENTAL EXERCISES

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DEVELOP ALL-AROUND ATHLETICISM WITH FUNCTIONAL EXERCISESC OMBATIVES: FOR SELF-DEFENSE, DEXTERITY, AGILITY, COORDINATION.

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WEIGHT LIFTING: FOR STRENGTH AND MUSCULAR DEVELOPMENT

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THROWING: FOR DEXTERITY, POWER, HAND-EYE COORDINATION, AGILITY, MOBILITY

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CLIMBING: FOR ALL-AROUND STRENGTH, MUSCULAR DEVELOPMENT, FLEXIBILITY, MOBILITY, OBSTACLE CLEARANCE, RESCUE

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JUMPING: FOR POWER, STRENGTH, DISPLACEMENT AND OBSTACLE CLEARANCE, AGILITY

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And of course, running (sprinting, jogging, racing) for speed, endurance, power, cardiovascular health, hygienic cleansing and waste elimination benefits through sweating etc…

Latest peek at photos from the upcoming book

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Because pictures tell a better story.

Many thanks (chronologically based on photography sessions) to Nick Bustos, Patrick Hartsell, Melody Schoenfeld, James Neidlinger, Ron Jones and Jennifer Winkelman for making yourselves available amidst all of your activities and busy lives to be part of this fitness project, shot by Antje Anders.

I also want to thank Throwdown and XFit Brands David Vautrin and Ted Joiner for lending us their facility and equipment!

Here is a sampler of jumping, lifting, throwing, climbing, fighting as well as some fundamental/basic educational exercises from the upcoming book based on Georges Hébert’s training program design.

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Live the Natural Method

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ACE (American Council on Exercise) released its forecast of the top 10 fitness trends for 2016.

I didn’t really see what I have been exploring since 2008 when I realized what I knew from NASM was too reductionist, and had Wildfitness open my eyes to new ways, which were anything but.

Judging by Connor McGregor’s recent win, but more so the phenomenal boost “movement” received and the likes of Ido Portal and Erwan LeCorre latching on the the opportunity to grow their approach, I do believe that a return to the source is truly at the forefront of fitness. And judging by the warm reception my translation of Georges Hébert’s Practical Guide to Physical Education and his Natural Method approach to fitness, I feel I’m on the right path. Check out this post by Daring Standards.

I am extremely thankful for this, as it gives me a new purpose and a new drive to bring more of Hébert’s work forward. It is important to give him credit, rather than try to steal for oneself for marketing purposes. Ultimately, Hébert himself credits his predecessors, just like Pavel Tsatsouline did with his kettlebell training system, and related strength training Russian influences. Pavel improved and systemized, like Hébert did. Not everyone does like them, and instead covers up an existing system or style with a new name, or unnecessary complications, not actual updates.

Movement is essential, it’s simple, it’s life. This is why I put together this little slideshow that includes family pictures, where my kids get to run, jump climb, throw and my wife and I get to partake, carry them, throw them, fight with them etc. Towards the end of the slideshow, you’ll see my friends Nick Bustos, Melody Schoenfeld, Patrick Hartsell, Ron Jones and James Neidlinger in action, some photos not released yet, modeling the programming of Hébert’s method, with simple  updates, upgrades, modern twist and access to gear that always existed but was made more user friendly (I am not against progress…)

Enjoy!

Is personalization worthy of a system?

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Bruce Lee created Jeet Kune Do, because, as the story is told, to earn the right to teach non-Chinese, he had to defeat some dude whose name I don’t know, and he did it using Wing Chun. Then, because he thought it took him too long to do so, without efficient enough movements, he went on to create Jeet Kune Do, “the way of the intercepting fist”, a shortcut to efficiency and victory in battle. He took an ancient art and used some modern techniques taken from other forms of fighting, and created his own style, his own system. Legit.

Georges Hébert was, at the time, considered a visionary for putting together a system stemming from his observations as well as education, combined with circumstances and inciting incidents that led to the creation of The Natural Method. He inspired himself both from his surroundings, the needs of the era, and the work of his predecessors, as well as travels. Legit.

Pavel Tsatsouline put his stamp on kettlebell training, calling it “hardstyle: reverse-engineering what the best athletes do naturally” and earned both legions of adopters and a platoon of haters, some of whom dismissed his work by saying it’s not true to form. Yet, Pavel never claimed to be a “GS” (Girevoy Sports), guy, and created a system, that constantly evolves through revisions, practice, user feedback and more. He broke down kettlebell training in steps instructors can follow for continuity amongst themselves. Legit.

Erwan LeCorre started MovNat, and wants to be known almost as the guy in today’s trending of natural movement. He studied and researched all the European physical education teachers, and especially Hébert’s surviving teachers of Hébertisme. He made a strong point of the fact that he spoke to the survivors, and why they are “survivors”: because in over 100 years, there has been no evolution of that system, as he told me. So, he’s putting his stamp on it, adding new things. Legit, right? I’ll be honest: I have no formal MovNat experience. I have been exposed to primitive, or natural movement patterns, back in 2008, by people who’ve worked with Erwan so I can’t formulate a real opinion, but only mention him because we both swim in the “movement ocean”. Last week at the IDEA FIT conference was my first live introduction and conversation with Erwan and that’s what our conversation entailed. “Back then you had Hébert (…), now you have LeCorre“, he said. He also boldly said that he wouldn’t let himself be stopped by the naysayers and that he’d take over. And he may be right: he’s got the moves, the confidence, the charisma and certainly has the following and endorsements.

And in the end, that may be what it takes. Anyone that has spent a significant period of time working on something, specializing in it (even generalization can become a specialization, like a family doctor vs a specialist in dermatology, anesthesiology etc.) can call themselves an expert. An expert is defined as “someone who has comprehensive and authoritative knowledge of or skill in a particular area“. If you further dig into the definition of that term, comprehensive relates to “wide-ranging” and authoritative to “commanding and self-confident“. Of course, other definitions of the same terms could provide a slightly different meaning to the terms used to define the expert, like “considered to be the best of its kind and unlikely to be improved upon“.

If something cannot be improved upon, in my interpretation it would mean that it’s perfect. Also, it means that there would be no potential evolution or need to modify, revise, adapt or update. Therefore, are there any experts, really? I haven’t found anything that has reached perfection, yet. Or do we only need to select one possible definition of terms to provide the most accurate spin? Better yet, do we need to only focus on not “first to file”, not “first to market”, but only “first to mind”? If you look around, I believe the latter is the winner, and marketing has everything to do with it. Just like actors: there are many better actors than the ones you see on TV, struggling to make ends meet, whom you will never see or hear of.

The same goes for trainers, inventors, visionaries, high school varsity coaches who come up with their own additions to methods or systems. But if someone is using an old system, adding their twist to it, should it turn into another system, or should we just celebrate the teacher/performer of the method, like an actor doing their own rendition of a classical Shakespearian monologue?

 

Natural Method Kid Parkour

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A little while ago, I posted some clips of my (now) 5 year old son who was jumping from a height that makes most parents cringe, as if I was a bad dad risking my child’s health.

Some are natural athletes, others are made to be athletes. Some are genetically gifted, some still won’t look as good as the fitness models and movie stars despite smart, dedicated and disciplined training. Looks aside, we can all develop running, jumping, climbing and other skills. For when our daily environment doesn’t provide the stimulation or equipment to achieve a high skill level, a method is there for us, a system, and that’s what Georges Hébert created, and others since applied, by “reverse engineering what the best athletes do naturally”, to quote Pavel Tsatsouline.

Without further reading, watch this 3 1/2 min video of my son who developed his skills over the years. You’ll see that the jumps I posted a few weeks ago now will look less impressive, because they’re almost “expected”, after you see the training in his early walking stages that brought him to where he is today. Fast forward to the future in your mind. Maybe I’m not the bad parent, maybe I’m the one who prepares him…

You can get all three books by clicking this link, by the way:

Buy all three books on Amazon by click here

Lifting Terminology

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In the process of my translating Georges Hébert’s work, as well as the upcoming release of the 3rd installment of his Practical Guide to Physical Education, the chapter on lifting refreshed me with something something cool: lifting terminology in French!

Revisiting those terms I hadn’t heard since childhood P.E. classes was interesting, to see how some names almost cue the exercises to perform. I wonder also if they give any particular exercise some “freedom” to do the move (as opposed to rigid standards), the way Crossfit terminology adapted terms to avoid being chastised for incorrect form or deviation from standards in other lifting sports.

Anyway, here’s a fun translation of the terms used in English and what they are in French (translated already, so no French words in this blog). Grammatically, they’re conjugated, past-tense vs English nouns.

  • The standing Military Press/Shoulder Press: the “Developed”.
  • The Jerk: the “Thrown”.
  • The Clean: the “Shouldered”.
  • The Snatch: the “Torn Off” or “Ripped At The Roots”.
  • The Swing: the “Volley”, only one here that’s a noun. (Now, this is a one-arm exercise only, an overhead straight-arm swing, a move I have not seen, other than criticized versions thereof, which in this case is performed with a “Forward Slit”).
  • The Bent Press: the “Unscrewed” (a one-armed drill where the body leans down during the overhead pressing part, leaning side being the opposite of the pressing side, and done so to avoid jerking and keep it “grinding”. I’m going to play with that with my kettlebell heavy press!)

Exact descriptions will be presented in book 3, chapter VI.

A bench press, by the way, would be a “lying developed”, while the clean & jerk is “shouldered & thrown”, which sounds more appropriate IMHO.

RKC San Diego 2010

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Last weekend, I had the honor, pleasure and privilege to be invited as an instructor assistant for the RKC weekend workshop in San Diego, CA.

After unloading several thousand pounds worth of kettlebells ranging from 10lb to 106lb (in boxes first, much harder to lift than by the handle, before unpacking them), the instructors were tested on their form in all the drills, including the infamous snatch test, which is 100 reps under 5 minutes with 24kg/53lb for males under 50, 20kg/44lb males over 50 -aka Master Class- and 16kg/35lb for ladies weighing over 123.5lb, 12kg/26lb for ladies under 123.5lb.

We were blessed with weather that was fair compared to last year’s triple digit. People flew from Italy, Singapore, Australia and even North of the border to attend the event. Slightly different format from when I took mine: fewer workouts to punctuate the instruction, but practice was performed with heavier weights. No chickens, no sissifying of the workout or the system. Only grade A1 muscle! We are a school of strength first and foremost. Pavel Tsatsouline, Doug Nepodal (toughest guy in a kilt I ever met), Doc Cheng, Jeff O’Connor, Josh Henkin and Paul Daniels commandeered the instruction with their distinct personalities and abilities.

The demographics spanned the gamut in age, profession and abilities, though everyone showed up, or almost everyone, ready for the event. You HAVE to prepare AT LEAST 6 months prior to attending in building your conditioning. In my group alone, heralded by Mark “Doc” Cheng to whom we owe the high bridge in the Turkish get-Up among many other contributions (and he’s a pretty humble guy, but great to see in action), we had a few 50+ y.o. guys (doctor, wrestling coach, successful entrepreneur), a mother of an RKC instructor, a lawyer who looked like she flew in from Pandora, an Aussie Sheila with athleticism that would rival most men I know, a female EMT who was recertifying and whose skill surpassed most people I know, you get the picture.

Why should you train for the RKC? Whether you want to instruct or push your own limits, you get adopted into a community of skill, knowledge, support and strength that makes every other protocol pale in comparison. While the kettlebells offer many advantages, we can also recognize its limitations, but the protocols taught will allow you to surpass those limitations and carry-over into other modalities with such ease, you may surpass others who’ve trained there for years. Jeff O’Connor, one of the team leaders, even said that if there’s something great and new we don’t have in our system, rest assured it’ll make its way there.

On that note, I read through the new instructor manual and discovered more articles backing up what I am telling you about. Improved cueing, better organization for instruction so that you assimilate the drills faster than before, tools I wish I had myself a couple of years back. And that’s the beauty of the RKC system: like a computer’s operating system, we upgrade, fix the bugs to make the “machine” faster, stronger, more streamlined and efficient. Pavel’s constant research and outside contributions grow the system. Here’s another example: I’ve been working with the TRX for years before even touching a kettlebell. Now, Pavel has a new book and DVD about TRX training which I can’t wait to play with because I KNOW the stuff in it is going to be good!

I’ve helped frail clients get big in record time. I’ve shortened my workouts yet made myself stronger and faster. I got rid of excess information and superfluous moves, going back to what Jeff O’Connor calls “Advanced Basics”. Really, think about it with another quote I once mentioned stating that the difference between a white belt and a black belt is the execution of the basics. A swing is a swing is a swing. How you do it is what matters (meaning: well!)

If you are still curious about kettlebells, email me so I can set up a session for you, to introduce you, or maybe get a group going for an intro workshop. Your training will never be the same afterwards. Your physique and your life will improve.

As Pavel always says or ends his emails with: “Power to you!”

Navigating the seas of strength.

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It is by knowledge and experience that I navigate the oft tumultuous seas of fitness.

Defeating physical pain, conquering mental anguish and surmounting performance plateaus, I pilot the only vessel I’ll ever carry from the pre-dawn of my life till the lights go out at dusk.
I seek uncharted biological territories, but heed the warnings of captains before me. I’ve sailed the planet through peaks, valleys and oceans, successfully challenged monsters and battled with wits and brawn at my side. Some beasts I haven’t tamed, others are emblazoned on my crest.
“Be water, my friend”. Sometimes, I resist its currents and fight its tempestuous nature, other times I let it guide me through its channels to where I ought to be.
With the realization that it is sometimes beyond me, survival comes from accepting its beauty. You can depart from any port, circumnavigate the globe and find yourself in the very place you left physically, but have you embraced the journey?
You can Powerlift, Oly lift, body lift.
You can machine press, dumbbell press, barbell press, kettlebell press.
Upright row, seated row, bent-0ver row, renegade row.
Pull-up or pull-down.
Bench press or push press.
Relax to the point of tension.
Slow grind or fast & loose.
Clash with Titans or defeat Goliath, for sometimes, a well aimed little metaphoric pebble can take you down for the count. Even the greatest warrior Achilles had a weakness.
Search your golden fleece, find your golden goose. Your journey awaits you, but you must prepare for it.
Embark with me, join the ranks.
Soon, the Actionaut will leave these banks!

I need to be Zen…

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It happened again today. It’s not like I shouldn’t expect it, and you’d think I’d learn after all this time. I even thought that after a few hours, I’d cool down a bit and let bygones be bygones. But, seeing as Mondays are usually learning days for me (Tuesdays, I write), while I am listening to a teleseminar hosted by Geoff Neuport, Senior RKC (site: http://kettlebellsecrets.com/specialer.html), interviewing Dan John (http://danjohn.net/) I thought I’d beat the iron while it’s hot.

I am taking advantage of a slight change of environment for my training for a couple of weeks, by going to a very “chichi”, expensive gym, because they were giving away a free trial membership. My own gym is literally a few blocks away, but I figured what the hell? Some pros switch gyms all the time for variety and fun. This one prides itself at having the “best trainers”, all NASM certified (which I am, among other certs). I also like that they have kettlebells there (and I find myself to be the only one using them. I even heard a staff trainer tell his client how bad it is for your joints to train with kettlebells. I let it go. The guy didn’t look like he could punch his way out of greasy paper bag, though he probably knows more about hair conditioners than an Aveda rep).
But here I was today, in my “cage” where I was going from bench press, to deadlifts, to shoulder presses and split squats. Simple, 5 ladders of 3 rungs per drill, moderate weight, good grinds. Today, I was not drawing attention by doing Turkish Get-Ups, Windmills or KB snatches. I was blending in.
What stood out, though, was watching trainers demonstrate crappy training progressions (by jumping around from one exercise to the next without rhyme or reason or purpose, letting clients move with form that resembled a house of cards trying to withstand gusty winds.)
Countless times, I saw idle trainers walk by a person working out on their own like an epileptic without even the conscious attempt to correct them! I mean, come on! You don’t have to collect money every single time from a person for a simple form correction!
As I was doing a joint mobility drill, I had a person come to me and ask for advice on how to do the same thing. Same thing when I was deadlifting, a gentleman near me was doing bent-over rows with poor form, so I corrected him, and he welcomed that. I felt great. Apparently, I demonstrated skills that these folks recognized.
It’s interesting to “secret shop” and see what others are doing. A colleague of mine sees a “sh#t show” (her words)all day at her gym in Vancouver, BC, with so-called “trainers”. Pavel Tsatsouline, Mr KB himself, has learned to not get bothered by it. I feel it is necessary to try to educate members in proper exercise techniques, but how do you do it if there is no quality control anywhere in gyms? It’s like a surgeon passing the medical boards, but botching every surgery afterwards with no consequences! Each bad move I saw was making ME hurt, so I can only imagine how the poor sap protruding his knees and going into spinal flexion during some plyo-box jump squats is going to feel later!
I propose that all trainers start a “secret shopping training guild”, go to gyms and offer our services and report anything that ultimately represents a liability to the gym by having their staff ignore proper technique. Who’s in?