Monday, August 10, 2009

Charm City Kettlebell Blog Has Moved

As of now I have moved all of my writing and also my training site to Please join us there and if you are an RKC with a blog please email me so I can get your blog listed. If you have an interesting blog and aren't an RKC please still email me and I will review for listing.No longer will there be any posts here.

Send email to

Sandy Sommer, RKC

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Charm City Kettlebells Week In Review

Charm City Kettlebells had a great week. Some great private sessions with clients and I continue my own quest to develop my strength and conditioning. We also had a Charm City Kettlebell Meet Up yesterday at Towson High School. Please email me at if you'd like to join us for the next one sometime in August. We had tons of fun and I had a chance to introduce the kettlebell to a few newbies and give some insight to some veterans.

As you probably are aware, kettlebells are my preferred mode of strength and conditioning. Recently I finished the Viking Warrior Conditioning Conditioning Cycle and am deeply immersed in a new raw strength cycle that Marty Gallagher put together for me. Marty is one of the most respected minds in the world of strength training and Pavel Tsatsouline has mentioned Marty as one of his mentors.

My current training is a blissful marriage of my take on Enter The Kettlebell, Power To The People and Marty Gallagher. The union lasts until October 2, 2009 and at that point I will take a week off and then attack the Viking Warrior Program again.

Here's what my training looked like for the week.

Monday I weighed in at 194 pounds on the dot. Since I commenced my current program 6 weeks ago I have added 10.8 pounds of body weight. I'm as lean as I was when this started on June 1, 2009. Around May 15, 2009 I weighed 181.1 and was 11 % body fat. I will test again in mid August but I think I am around the same body tissue ratio.

Each day this week I started my workout with Turksih Get Ups. I find this is really one of the best compound movements to do in order to get the juices flowing and the joints properly lubed up.

Monday Wednesday and Saturday I did ETK. Lots of ladders and low reps for the clean and press. I am looking to build raw power. I should mention that with the added weight I haven't gotten much bigger. Just a lot denser and that is my goal. Density and not size. In addition, I rolled the dice and did the presribed one hand swings. My hip power is growing and growing.

Tuesday I did narrow stance conventional deadlifting. Mark Chaillet and Marty Gallagher tweaked my form slightly a few weeks ago but I was pretty solid having learned a lot from Doc Cheng in June and it is paying dividends as my pulls are improving mightily. I also did staright bar front squats and pull ups along with pistols.

Thursday I started with heavy loaded cleans with the next bigger bell above my pressing and did heavy snatches too. Then back to dead lifting.

Friday all I did my Pull ups.

I'm seeing steady improvement in all my lifts. Even the Pull ups though I've added mass. Very excited about this and will keep you posted.

Please email me any questions and be sure to leave your thougths and comments as well.

Sandy Sommer, RKC

Labels: , , , , , ,

Thursday, July 9, 2009

If It Sucks, It Probably Instructs: How And Why To Keep Promises To Yourself

Here is another great piece from a fellow RKC. I'm excited to include Josh as a guest at Charm City Kettlebells blog. He a wonderful wordsmith with great information. I hope to feature him regularly.

If It Sucks, It Probably Instructs: How And Why To Keep Promises To Yourself

By Josh Hanagarne, World’s Strongest Librarian

When my grandfather was 13 years old, his father drove him to a large field in the middle of Utah, let him out, and said: “Build us a barn. I’ll see you at the end of the summer.” It was the first week in June. That gangly teenager built the barn, slept on the ground, and had enough time left over to shoot enough deer to feed his seven brothers and sisters that winter.

The plight of the modern day human

How often does your job require you to reach over your head, get down on the floor, breathe heavily, or expend enough energy to burn the calories from your lunch? If you’re at all like me, not often. I manage a library and spend about six hours a day on a computer. My whole world, if I didn’t make it otherwise, has shrunken to a three-foot box about the size of a baseball strike zone.

Inside that box is where I reach for my keyboard. It’s where my hands go when they need to answer the phone. My shoulders try to slump forward and my spine tries to curve in ways that it was never intended to.

But I’ve shattered that box and nothing feels better. My tiny office is full of sledgehammers, kettlebells, grippers, decks of cards, and a pull-up bar I rigged up. I had to throw my chair away to fit all the stuff in. Best decision I ever made. Modern man allows terms and spaces to be dictated to him.

Reject this and evolve. It just takes a decision. Not wishful thinking, a decision. When the pain of not being strong and fit gets so great that you can’t bear it, you will change it or you will pay the price.

A brief background to my training

For over 20 years I’ve battled the stupid and occasionally very entertaining disorder called Tourette’s Syndrome. If you’d like to learn more about this you can check out my series How To Have Tourette’s. TS can manifest in different ways, but here’s what it’s like for me: it forces me to make noises and movements involuntarily. This can range from rapid eye blinking to screaming so hard without warning that I once got a hernia from it. It was a big fat wrench in all of my goals and plans. I was smart, capable, able-bodied (for a while), but I had a hellish time even going out in public.

When I was in my early twenties, my dad suggested I started hitting the weights. “You need some small victories,” he said. I was willing to try anything, so we bought some weights and got after it. How can I describe the change? I’m very good with words—I have the irrelevant English degree and smart-guy glasses to prove it. But I can’t describe how much I loved to whip myself with that iron.

For so long my body had done whatever it wanted. Now, for a brief time each day, my body belonged to me. I could look at myself in the mirror and glare and say “All right you, for the next hour you’re going to do exactly what I tell you. Now shut up and get after it.” And when I was done with that hour, my tics flooded back in like clockwork. But I no longer cared as much. I was strong. After enough voluntary, productive, hurts-so-good-beg-for-mercy pain and sweat, nothing else during that day scared me. Not for a second. To hell with the dislocated thumbs, the hernia, the weird looks from strangers, or the fact that I was still trapped in my house.
I even gave up my voice for three years so doctor’s could experiment with a treatment they hoped would help: botox injections in my vocal cords. I gave up talking, but I didn’t give up working out my rage, pain, and the frustrations that are the cost of living.

When my symptoms grew more manageable, I needed the weights for different reasons. I needed them to be my mirror. To teach me.

Give yourself a gift

Perhaps you want to look good or your focus is on brute strength. The good news is that you don’t have to choose one or the other. Fitness is just a word. Strength is an idea that will creep into every part of your life. And the type of strength that lets you move bigger and bigger weights, that makes you collapse on the floor with exhaustion and exhilaration—it’s going to make you look better. Better yet, it’s going to teach you things about yourself.

As Jack Reape said, intensity is not a grimace. It’s a number. It’s work.
Training Hard changes you. I’m not talking about obsessive training or marathon sessions of curls and kickbacks. Zealotry doesn’t ever lead to anything healthy. I’m talking about hard, voluntary, work. Work that your grandfather and the generation from The Depression could respect. You choose to test yourself. You choose to take the trip, the road less traveled. You elect to suffer a bit so that you can be a better human being. The pain gives you perspective. The results give you confidence. Confidence opens doors that you’ll never even see if you’re hiding in your comfort zone—like my office.
Brutally hard work isn’t that fun while you’re doing it. In fact, sometimes it just sucks. But if it sucks, it probably instructs. You can’t know too much about yourself, and there are things you’ll never learn about yourself until you’ve walked this road for a while.

Personally, I’m into kettlebells, deadlifting, and feats of strength. I recently got certified as an RKC (Russian kettlebell instructor), but I’m equally at home tearing a deck of cards in half or pulling heavy deads. The point is not to say Wheeee! I’m strong! Everyone look at me! The point is that I fear nothing more than boredom, stagnation, and the lack of progress. I’m learning character and commitment every day.
Anyone can, but it’s easier not to.

Keeping promises

One of the hardest things about being human is that it is so easy to let ourselves off the hook. You probably made some New Year’s resolutions a few months ago. How’s that going? If you’re on track, bravo! Most of us have deviated a bit. Why? Because even the most honest person in the world finds it too easy to break promises to themselves. How can this be true? Aren’t we worth more than that? We are, but nobody holds us accountable for the lies we tell ourselves—only we know. Or worse, maybe we don’t even view broken promises to ourselves as lies. We must fix this. Only when we can say, “I am better than this,” can we start heading towards our potential.

Make a decision. Draw a map. Grind your teeth and take a step and never look back. Whatever your tools, whatever your goals, whoever you are and wherever you’re reading this from: you are so much more than you think and you owe it to yourself to love yourself enough to be honest. Your own mind is a classroom you can’t escape from. Fill it with good things and progress reports. (Or lack of progress reports).
My grandfather could work me into the ground in an hour. But he respects my commitment to improvement and progress. If you no longer have a goal, you’re no longer making a journey—you’re on a treadmill, and I don’t care what anyone tells you…that’s not hard, cleansing work that’s going to show you what you’re made of.

Let’s go.



I don’t care if you take the lead or you need to follow me. I’m going either way because I know I’m better today than I was yesterday. I can’t wait to see who I’ll be tomorrow.

But once you make the promise, whatever it is, pretend that everyone in the world will know about it and broadcast it on the jumbotron during the Super Bowl.

That would suck, but it would teach you something.

Josh Hanagarne is the World's Strongest Librarian and a big fan of Charm City Kettlebells. If you're looking for more information on kettlebells, coping with Tourette's, buying pants when you're 6'8", you need a shoulder to cry on, or you're wondering how to write a successful but unfocused blog, he's your man.

Please subscribe to Josh's Stronger, Smarter, Better newsletter and RSS updates to stay in touch.

Sandy Sommer, RKC

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Dead Lifting in Pennsylvania

After the Delaware Kettlebell Workshop, I added dead lifting to my work routine. Dr. Mark Cheng, RKC TL spent so much time on this primal movement at our seminar and I felt that I benefited so much from that investment that I went back and scoured Power To The People for every tidbit I could about "Hard Style" training in general and dead lifting in particular.

I felt very strongly that I needed to add these pulls to my program so I decided to consult with Marty Gallagher, author of The Purposeful Primitive, and my strength coach. Please keep in mind that the last time I did dead lifts would have been about 1986. Quite awhile ago and even though I trust what I learned with Doc Cheng I wanted to have a power lifting guy look at it too.

I talked to Marty about it and he said why don't you come up so I can take a look? I was a bit concerned when he casually mentioned that Mark Chaillet may be around to take a peek as well. I knew Chaillet's reputation as a dead lifter extraordinaire but until I went back and looked at Purposeful Primitive I had forgotten just how amazing his performance. Mark is the only person to conventionally dead lift over 800 pounds post-age 40. Uh oh I thought. (Actually I said this out loud) This is gonna suck to pull in front of these two. Marty assured me that all Chaillet would be looking at was my form. As a technician, Marty said, "Mark won't notice what's on the bar. Good I said because there won't be much to see:)

So I warm up a bit with some joint work and am feeling pretty self conscious. The analogy would be Tiger Woods helping me with golf. That's the quality of this pair. Marty puts a plate on each side and says "OK let's see." Right away there are corrections. Minor ones so I feel pretty good. A lot of it was being nervous. I made some quick adjustments and then added more poundage. Feeling better and they are liking my dead lifts. A few more adjustment. Ultimately they send me on my way with a narrower stance, slower hips, a more upright back and that was about it. These three corrections made a world of difference and will help me make Marty's secret predication come true about my ultimate dead lift max.

Sandy Sommer, RKC, Towson MD

Labels: , , , , ,

Sunday, July 5, 2009

10 Reasons You Should Make the Kettlebell Your Workout By Guest Jeff Hopeck

First, a kettlebell is a weighted ball with a handle. The kettlebell itself doesn't bring you the results, it's the way you use it. Kettlebell training is hands down the most effective way to train, provided you know what you are doing. The purpose of writing this article is to demonstrate how effective this training can be if you take the right steps to learning it properly.

Personally, I was exposed to the concept in 2003 during my time with the Secret Service- when kettlebells were not popular by any means, but were certainly starting to make a name for themselves. The actual concept exploded in 2008- when movie stars, professional sports teams, high-profile athletes, house-moms, and every single martial artist in the book claimed fame to using the kettlebell.

Let's take a look at 10 reasons why kettlebell training is so fun, effective, and easy to perform:

1. One kettlebell replaces a treadmill, barbell and dumbbell COMBINED!

2. You can workout at home, saving you countless hours of wasted commute time to a gym.

3. A kettlebell takes up very little room at your home.

4. All you need to do is get educated from an expert, or someone who knows how to use a kettlebell; and you can construct your own type of workout routines for years to come, due to the versatility of the kettlebell itself.

5. Kettlebells are inexpensive. NOT relatively inexpensive, but inexpensive. Sure, you pay a lot to ship them, but let's be honest: one bell replaces hundreds of dollars of gym equipment you would otherwise have to purchase.

6. Kettlebell workouts strengthen your core - not just your abs, but your entire core.

7. You can hold the kettlebell by the handle, by the ball, upside down by the bottom, sideways by the handle - making for a different workout and muscle group every time you use them!

8. You can easily travel with a kettlebell because of the way it is constructed. You simply pick it up as if it were a teapot and off you go!

9. Workouts last 20 minutes. If you are performing the exercises correctly, you can have an amazing workout in just 20 minutes every day. I actually witnessed a 488 calorie workout take place with double 30lb kettlebells! The workout was tracked on a brand name, high-end calorie/heart rate monitor.

10. Research says it all. Just surf the internet and see for yourself the millions of people resorting to the kettlebell and the amazing results they are achieving.

Again- these are just some of the many reasons you should train with kettlebells. Be sure to continue doing research online to find many other benefits!

3 Year U.S. Secret Service Veteran, Author and Speaker Jeff Hopeck has dedicated his life to helping people eat healthier- without cutting out the fun! Access thousands of FREE recipes, snacking tips, and exercises at

Jeff is the creator of the jeffHopeck kettlebell- a high end kettlebell that is designed for quality-seekers... not bargain hunters!

Article Source:

Thursday, July 2, 2009

How to go from Zero to Hero in the Secret Service Snatch Test in Two Easy Steps

I promised to get a blog post out to you all regarding the Secret Service Snatch today and I feel I've really outdown myself! Well I haven't exactly outdone myself since I didn't write this piecebut next week I will offer an alternative for you all to compare to. There are oh so many ways to "Skin a cat" and Sean flat out nails this. Thanks to my good friend Sean Schniederjan, RKC for contributing this set. Sean is also hosting the Pavel Ventura workshop in the Fall! Sean is a very well regarded fellow RKC and wrote How to go from Zero to Hero in the Secret Service Snatch Test in Two Easy Steps:

Step One: Read and do Enter The Kettlebell. There is no doubt that this is the best kettlebell program for raw beginners and those who have a decent base level of strength but no direction in their training. Keep in mind that this isn’t a “workout” book, it is a program that is essentially a road map for hitting difficult yet obtainable goals: Pressing the kettlebell closest to one half your bodyweight and the simple, sinister, and brutal Secret Service Snatch Test (SSST), which will humble even the most elite athletes. The real beauty of ETK is that if you follow it, you will be able to do the SSST, while the most elite athlete with little or no kettlebell experience would be tossing his or her cookies on the pavement. The level of conditioning it takes to perform the SSST is truly out of this world, yet attainable with a little focus and discipline in your training.

What is the SSST?

Pavel goes into a detailed description of the origins of the SSST in ETK, but essentially it is performing 200 snatches (24kg for men, 16kg for women) in 10 minutes. The bell may be set down and you may take as many hand switches as you please. All you have to do is get to 200 and I guarantee you will not come close on your first try. I don’t believe I’ve heard of anyone faring well on their first try. You probably guessed that the United States Secret Service uses this to test the mental and physical abilities of their agents under high levels of stress. There is a point every victim of the test reaches during the test where the true nature of the stress of what you are doing becomes evident to the body and mind. The mind and body experience an intense “shock” that can only be overcome with good form and sharp mental stamina. You really must experience this for yourself.

My Experience with the ETK

I’m your average male. I’m not a mutant by any means and don’t have a lot of sports and working out in my background besides the occasional push up and curl binges in high school and college. However, following ETK and my own tweaked up version of the Program Minimum allowed me to hit a 240 in the SSST, which some might consider mutant territory in this particular endeavor. That was a few years ago and to this day is my proudest physical achievement.

I had been doing KBs for around two years prior with little direction. I randomly did swings, snatches, Turkish get-ups, floor presses, military presses, etc, pretty much towed the party line. Soon after the release of ETK, the dragondoor forum was buzzing with talk of the SSST. I hadn’t bought or read ETK yet, but I thought since all these people were attacking the SSST, I might as well do it too since I knew how to snatch a KB and could fairly easily bang out sets of 10-20 snatches with a 24kg. So I grabbed my watch, my kettlebell, and ventured out to the backyard to do 200 reps in 10 minutes. I thought I was a pretty good snatcher and with a tough attitude, I honestly thought I was going to go out there and do this. As Troy MacClure, the washed out actor voiced by Phil Hartmann in the early years of the Simpsons would say: “Nothing could be further from the truth!” It was around the 8 or 9 minute mark and I was positively done at a little over 120 total snatches. I could not do one more snatch, even if some were there yelling at me or offering me something of high value.

The truth set in and it hurt. Humility is knowledge of the truth, and I had just experienced the truth: I was a looooong way from 200 snatches in 10 minutes.

A few weeks later ETK arrived. This was the first laid out training program I had ever done. Weeks started going by and I was surprised at how easy it was to stay on the program. There is something natural about the way the program is set up. Easy, Medium, and Heavy days with the lifts used (swings and snatches, along with presses for the shoulder/arm work) just agreed with me and I had no trouble fulfilling my three day per week obligation. I hardly ever used the optional “variety days,” which was a testament to how satisfying and quality my workouts were for the minimal three days. My variety day was resting my body. Progress came quickly. After a few weeks of the swings, I noticed I could (big surprise) do more swings…in less time!

The light days on ETK use snatches instead of swings, with more of an emphasis on pure form than killing yourself as you would on a heavy day. About a month or two into the program I remember having to 8 minutes of snatching on the easy day. I decided to test myself and go harder than the requirements of that day and I ended up with 160 snatches in 8 minutes. That shocked me, but what shocked me even more was that I was relatively close to not being smoked (I always get smoked from snatches, but this was real progress)!

So I kept at it and at last test day came. Long story short, I made a calculation error in my set breakdown and did only 197 in 10 minutes when I thought I had done 207. It was a colossal bummer, but I knew I was right at the doorstep of 200. More swings later, I tested again and hit 210. I remember thinking that something magical would happen the moment I crossed 200. I was expecting my shirt to get ripped off my body and my soul torn from my body and thrown into heaven by a jealous god (or something you might read on the comments section of the howling wolves t-shirts on amazon).

Follow ETK by the spirit and the letter and you will pass the Secret Service Snatch Test. If I can, then you can. Every girivik should own a dog-eared copy of Enter the Kettlebell! If you don’t have it, get it. There are good resources for beginners out there, but nothing will deliver the quickness of results in less time in a rational, comprehensive, yet simple manner as ETK. This book belongs in the library of anyone remotely interested in physical culture.

Once you have crossed 200, here is another simple strategy I discovered for getting closer to 250 in the SSST:

Do one arm swings (always do one arm swings when training for the SSST) with a heavier bell. For men, mix it up with a 32kg and a 40kg. For shoulder stability and more core and conditioning work, do Turkish getups with a 32kg and a 40kg. If you can do 200 in the SSST but want more, try this simple 3 day program:

You’ll be doing two medium days (there are no easy days because you are a stud now), and one balls out heavy day. Depending on how you feel, use either the 32kg or the 40kg for swings and get-ups. Depending on how you feel, do 5-10 minutes of TGUs, alternating sides with each rep, rest for a minute or two, then do 5-10 minutes of one arm swings. On a heavy day, shoot for 300 one arm swings in 10 minutes with the 32kg or 200 with the 40kg. It won’t happen most likely, but those are the numbers you should measure yourself against. On the heavy days for TGU, aim at not taking breaks between reps, which shouldn’t be hard at all for the first 5 minutes or so with a 32kg. When you get closer to 10 minutes, it gets difficult to not take a brief breather. So 10 minutes of continuous get-ups with a 32kg should be your measure on the heavy day. Don’t use the 40kg for get-ups or swings on the heavy day. The 40kg is used on the medium days to make the 32kg feel lighter on heavy days. So do your best with the bulldog on a medium day, but don’t do anything stupid. That thing is heavy. As a general rule, anything over 100 one arm swings in 5 minutes with a 40kg is pretty good. 5 minutes of more or less continuous TGU reps with the 40kg is pretty good. But again, the 40kg is used to make the 32kg easier to handle on heavy days, so don’t get bogged down with your 40kg numbers as much.

Do this for a month or two and then pick up the 24kg for an SSST. That thing will be feeling nice and light. If you are in the 260-300 range with one arm swings with a 32kg and you can do 8-10 minutes of continuous TGUs with a 32kg, then you have the conditioning and shoulder stability requisites to truly kill the SSST.

ETK KB/Book/DVD Starter Kit Found Here for men:

Starter Kit For Ladies:

KBs Only:

Book Only:

Labels: , ,

Snatches Followed By Power To The People

I did 100 snatches to get the juices flowing and felt quite good doing them. Easy pace and I'm happy that snatching hasn't pulled a callous in almost a year. Nice:)

Second session of PTTP cycle. If you want to really understand what "Hard Style" training is then read this book. It is a masterpiece. Clear and concise it flat out rocks.

So I followed the book and did dead lifts today as well as Barbell Side Presses. I feel like I could blast through a brick wall.

Sandy Sommer, RKC

Labels: , , ,