Category Archives: RKC

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!

Natural Method Beta-Testing Workshop

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Interesting fact about yesterday’s workshop. Wasn’t meant to be a huge event, rather a beta test group put together sort of last minute (logistically only, content was slightly accelerated because of the close attention to 6 participants). An element of mea culpa needs to be considered in the sense that this information is not only intrinsic to my being, it’s engrained incidentally since childhood P.E. and semi consciously letting my kids develop and allow the promotion of all that is taught (and I can expand later how kids are actually at the highest level of performance on some things, as Hébert essentially says “forget technique at some point, just do it, all right, you have been primed!”).
What I’m getting at is there is the performance of the moves, their simplicity and no need for an over explanation or an attempt to make it all “scientific”. Then, there’s the martial aspect (as one of the three objects of training: martial, pedagogical, corrective).
Martial meets pedagogical in the following sense: a punch is a punch is a punch. Be it jab, cross, hook or uppercut. The punch is the martial element. The pedagogical is the teaching of the punch. And amongst the martial artists reading this, can we agree that as simple as a punch is, it can take a long time to get someone to get how to do it right. A black belt is a person whose execution of the basics differs from a white belt (oversimplification maybe, I’m doing away with nuances as it would be a different topic of conversation).

Some attendees, fitness enthusiasts (clients, end users, not necessarily educators) got plenty out of the workshop, truly enjoyed it, made sense of the book better by getting the live instruction in person. But in the educators or “applicators” (physical therapy student), the “frying” of their CNS, their brain was such that it made me understand that the proper teaching of the content, for educators, needs to take the course of a few days. And those may need the prerequisite of frequent practice up until the point of a multiple-day event. One trainer actually felt like throwing up (because he came in with the educator mindset, while the others came with the “just do it and get a good workout while seeing what I should do more of” mindset).

I would except the martial arts crowd, as we are used to a different approach than the standard trainer approach.

But it makes sense to me with my 28-yr martial arts background, and the fact that Hébert was Navy, that the teaching of the Natural Method may be more akin to learning a martial art than teaching a barbell deadlift, kettlebell swing or snatch, or other lift.

It’s hard to just do a little 4-hr, even 8-hr preview. To truly get the most out of Hébert’s work, it does require a solid retreat, immersion process. I am looking to hear what participants feel like a few days after. My own Indian clubs certification was alike, where my brain was fried, but soon after, things “made sense”.

What story are you telling? (part 1)

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This may sound presumptuous, but in many cases, one good look at someone’s physique, static & in easy, everyday motion (gait) and I can tell a lot about what’s going on.

No, I don’t have X-ray vision, or sub-dermal myovision, nor am I a psychic predicting your FMS score before running the assessments.

But I do believe in being able to read how our bodies tell the story of how we got to where we are today, beyond generalization of the known lifestyle of our modern sit-down, neck-craning, tiny-screen gazing, thumb-typing society (although that accounts for a lot of it).

And truthfully, most trainers with more than a few year’s experience ought to be able to feel assertive enough to make such a claim. Put humility aside for a second, and be confident in the skills you acquired. I would take it a step further: if you don’t think you know your shit, then don’t advertise knowledge any three-letter acronym months or years after you acquired said acronym(s). If you’re RKC or SFG and can’t swing properly, CPT and have shit form, FMS and can’t run a basic shoulder mobility, active straight leg raise or deep squat at the very least, then either ask for your money back for not having learned anything, or refund your clients.

(I remember when my smarter peers and mentors were already established a few years ago, and at the time had less experience in the field than I do today. Unless I am really dense or slow, it’s not a huge speculation to accept that what I gleaned has value. And if one is not confident in one’s abilities, too modest, would that inspire confidence in clients?)

Of course, that’s assuming that you are a good trainer in one of the most unregulated industries, where confusion and fear mongering are rapidly growing to feel inadequate as a trainer, or a client, if you don’t possess XYZ under your belt. After a while, it is no longer the measure of your own performance, but the results of your clientèle that ought to be #1. While we still expect you to perform, life, aging, kids, needs, time can get in the way and we get that. If I were in a wheelchair or lost a limb, surely I’d have new limitations, but unless I suffered brain damage, that knowledge is still there (with plenty of room for more).

Can you take a look at your body and have it tell its story in motion, not words? Can you tell a bodybuilder from a powerlifter, a soccer player from a  football player (using the US terminology here), a boxer from a wrestler?

I don’t mind a little disagreeing here, as this can be very specific, and I invite that conversation. It’s not about telling a lawyer from an accountant, a baggage handler from a grocery store employee stacking shelves (respectively sedentary and physically activities), it’s about looking at the muscular development, ability to perform basic tasks like squatting. We should be able to move like healthy 5-year olds (before we are subjected to sitting down at chairs and desks not custom fit). And the accountant can be a powerlifter, the lawyer a recreational baseball player. You can still tell those sub-plots, which is where the (qualified) personal trainer can never replace the cookie-cutter template from a fitness magazine.

Coincidentally, I was sent a video, by another trainer who needed help with his technique for one drill, and in a matter of a few reps, I was able to spot the subtle issues going on. The response to my observation off of those few reps was: “Damn. That is exactly how it feels. Good eye!”

Spartan Race & Warrior Diet

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On Sunday, December 12, 2010, I participated, along with 3 other tough guys, in an event called the Spartan Race.
Rather than do the thing on my own, I thought it’d be more fun to have a team (besides saving a few beer bucks on the registration fee and building team spirit).

I like to work towards a goal, and the mere training goals of strength building or hypertrophy didn’t tickle my adrenal glands enough to generate any kind of training fire inside me. While my personal routine didn’t change in preparation of the event, I wanted to prove that I can be ready any time, any day, and that the conditioning I put myself through would be enough. So, the only variable I changed in my training was my diet, which was great because I embarked on a journey I’ve been hearing about and wanted to experience myself after rave reviews. I’m talking about Ori Hofmekler’s Warrior Diet. My personal results have been fantastic and I am glad to endorse it!

Why The Warrior Diet: Switch on Your Biological Powerhouse For High Energy, Explosive Strength, and a Leaner, Harder Body?
Well, for starters, if my own coaches and RKC comrades have been raving about it, it was endorsement enough for me to give it a shot. Designed for efficiency and maximal energy, it seemed like a no-brainer since my journey as a new father has been tough on the eating and sleeping schedule, 2 vital components of any successful fitness program. I directly asked Pavel Tsatsouline, who’s been on it for years I believe, his take on it. While it wouldn’t necessarily pack mass on me, it would give me plenty of energy and time to both work and take care of the baby when my wife needed time for herself and her work, in between my own clients.
Since any balanced diet revolves around insulin management, I was skeptical because all I was ever taught was to eat frequent meals during the day, which prevents overeating and “survival” metabolic slow-down. See, the Warrior Diet has you go through periods of controlled under-eating during the day alternating with over-eating at night.

I can almost see your furrowed brow on one side, raised brow on the other side. Some of your “hmm…” can be heard through the web too!

WHAT’S THE DEAL?
Hofmekler has you eat only live and raw foods during the day. Coffee or tea is allowed. Drink as much water as you want of course. Squeeze some fresh veggies and fruits and guzzle it down, chew on some raw almonds, cashews or pistachios. Hunger is a sign of vitality. Of course, don’t mistake that for an anorexic program! You eat enough to sustain and actually stimulate insulin release and get you going, burning fat and preserving muscle. You can even ingest a protein shake. But don’t stuff yourself like the domestic nomadic Zoo animal our society turned us into. Think predator, hungry, strong and driven to survive and thrive! When a big cat like a lion or a tiger feasts, they eat till satisfied, unsure of when their next meal comes. That’s you at dinner time. Eat till you’re more thirsty than hungry. Follow the VERY HEALTHY order of salad first, then your veggies, then your protein and if you have room, your carbs. Mix and match textures, colors, tastes (crunchy, soft, sweet, sour, savory, green, red, cold, hot…) and eat away. Then, rest up and sleep. While asleep (night time, circadian rhythm), you only use enough calories to rebuild your muscles from your hunt (I mean, training), while stocking up energy for the day ahead.

Think warrior, Roman soldier: when do you have time during battle to take a break and eat. Your adrenaline’s pumping, you’re hungry for life, food but need to stay razor sharp. How do you think you’d do if you felt like after Thanksgiving dinner while trying to slash away at your enemies? Lethargic is my guess. Save that for sleep!

Hofmekler goes into better detail in his book, and I urge you to give it a shot. I wouldn’t if I didn’t try it myself.

COMPARE TO OTHER DIETS
I have always been a fan of the TNT diet, which taught me that we only burn carbs at high physical intensity training (weights, sprints, martial arts, surfing, tennis…) and burn fat when our heart rate is slow/resting (blogging, sleeping, surfing your desk, watching TV…). The Paleo diet adheres to the same principle, though I am no fan of eating liver, kidneys or any other filtration organs and I do mind eating the better cuts of meat. I am picky, I won’t eat certain parts, like the heart or the brain. Sorry, Paleo dieters, you’re better people than I am, and I see no real reason to do this, other than maybe to generate less waste from the animal that “donated” its life.
The Zone diet doesn’t work, because not everyone’s needs are the same. Athletes vs couch potatoes, pregnant vs non-pregnant women, marathon runners vs shot putters. You can’t say we all need 30% fat, 30% protein, 40% carbs. And ultimately, the body reach homeostasis, so why not try something new, that makes sense and is on par with your goals? It even works if you’re not a lifter, and just want a new program. Read it, read Ori’s points and analysis.

WHAT IT DID FOR ME
I started 10 days before my 5K obstacle course in the Malibu mountains, the infamous Spartan Race. By body fat percentage was at 12.5% on a Saturday. On Tuesday, I had dropped 3% body fat at my annual physical exam. My lifts, my energy and my mood have been better. On the day of the race, after completing uphill runs, scaling steep 10′ walls, mud crawls, cold water swim, cargo nets and gladiators with big foam sticks at the finish line, I felt exhilarated, elated and I never got sore nor did I feel more fatigued than after a “medium” intensity workout!

To me, that was validation enough in my eating with the Warrior Diet, as well as my training with kettlebells, powerlifts and natural movement patterns, staples of my (and your) physical fitness development!
(I did run wearing my Vibram Five-Fingers and was glad I did. The grip and agility it gave me, especially after crawling through wet, muddy areas, was a nice welcome compared to wearing soggy sneakers!)

F.A.S.T. Pillar #1: Flexibility

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My FAST Philosophy revolves around 4 pillars and a 4-way approach to fitness. The pillars are Fast, Agile, Strong and Toned and the 4 steps are about 4 elements (nutrition, training, hormones, environment), 3 steps (skill development, practice, application), 2 modalities (Ballistics and Grinds, as in the RKC school of strength training) and 1 body (yours).

FLEXIBLE ASSOCIATIONS
When you mention “flexibility”, most people think of yogis, dancers, Pilates instructors and generally very lean body types. Other words associated with flexibility, among others, are “stretching” and for the folks who are not flexible, “pain” and “discomfort” also comes to mind. However, few people think of strength when the word “flexibility” is brought up.

STRENGTH STRETCHING:
Have you ever seen an Olympic lifter lift well over their bodyweight in an overhead lockout and deep squat? The shoulders or fully brachiated, elbows locked, chest open, back flat and straight and buttocks inches from the ground, heels firmly planted. I challenge you to go pick up a broomstick and perform the same movement. Go do it now (insert intermission music here while you try). You back yet? Not so easy, huh?

The overhead squat is a great way to assess a person’s mobility, flexibility and imbalances. Notice that flexibility is only one of the aspects I am focusing on. First of all, flexibility comes from mobility, a.k.a. your ability to move well. Most people confuse stability with stiffness, whereas if I can troubleshoot your movement and teach you how to move better, you will gain better flexibility and overall stability (e.g. the overhead squat requires tremendous flexibility under load while keeping that load -you and the weight- stable). Using the example of the lifter performing an overhead squat, his back is strong, shoulders are very mobile, calves and quadriceps very flexible to allow for proper dorsiflexion while the hamstrings come in contact with the calves at the bottom of the squat without lifting the heels off the ground.

I am not saying a yogi cannot perform such a feat, rather am merely pointing the fact that the ability to move a fridge and do a backbend are not mutually exclusive. As a matter of fact, incorporating heavy lifts into your program will not only build your muscles and allow you to burn more fat, build strength and slow down the aging process, it will help your body become more functional because you are not focused on just one modality.

PROPER STRETCHING INJURY-PROOFS YOUR BODY
Stretching is an activity that, if you’re not good at it, is often overlooked or done improperly, especially if your range of motion is poor. Plus, your mind has trained your body into thinking you can’t go past a certain point. First, assess what your individual needs are. Second, your muscles are like an animal under attack, guarded and braced. Relax the muscles as you would appease the animal and you’re likely to be able to increase your range of motion, as you can pet the fearful animal. One way to relax your muscles is by actually engaging and contracting them. Say you cannot touch your toes. Stand with your knees touching, squeeze your glutes, contract your quads and lats and forcefully push your fists downwards, toward the floor. Repeat the action at every forceful exhale as you inch along towards the ground. It’s OK to bend your knees. Just make sure your butt is dropped below your shoulders before you come back upright.
Now, take a deep breath, exhale and relax into the toe touch. You’ve just gained a few millimeters, or inches, based on your natural level of fitness. By contracting the muscles, you’ve removed the fear of pain and focused on their strength. Upon release, the relieved muscle now is like the calmed animal and goes further into the stretch.

Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation, or PNF, revolves around the concept of contracting the opposite muscles to relax the primary muscle and ease it into further range of motion. Relaxing your muscles into it is a great way to protect your muscles, especially under load when most injuries occur. Loosening up the body by loosening up the joints is a great warm-up prior to any kind of physical activity. Many people stretch before working out not realizing that stretching itself is a workout. Do a round of strength stretching and you might find the need to drop your working weight because of the onset of fatigue. And remember, when fatigued, your muscles are relaxed and if they’re too relaxed, your ability to lift heavy is compromised and you may hurt yourself.

BOTTOM LINE:
Don’t stretch when you warm-up, rather loosen up the joints.
Use tension (strength) when going into a stretch, then relax and instantly increase your range of motion (temporarily at first, gets better with practice).
Stretch after training to restore proper length-tension relationship in the muscles and connective tissue.
Flexibility under load is crucial for injury proofing the body. If you perform heavy lifts without the flexibility and mobility to maintain proper form, you WILL get injured.
If your flexibility is only the result of stretching workouts like Pilates, keep in mind that it is not enough to develop strength or the ability to load your body with heavier weights, as you will not have developed proper leverage skills for your heavy lifts.

To read about pillars 2, 3 & 4, click on the links below:
Pillar 2: Agility.
Pillar 3: Strength.
Pillar 4: Tone.

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!”