Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Two Man March:Impromptu Absolute Strength

The Two Man March
Impromptu Absolute Strength Seminar

This is from Dragon Door

I've always appreciated the phrasing and musings of jazz critic Stanley Crouch; to wit, "Charlie 'Bird' Parker's appetites dragged him all up and down the street until eventually those appetites killed him." Crouch once wrote a book titled, "The One Man March." That particular phrase was (for me) the very essence of iconoclastic sparseness and for some odd reason passed through my mind as RKC instructor Sandy Sommer and I worked on pistols and presses in my hay-strewn garage gym, littered with stored tools and assorted junk: two men working together to improve specific aspects of sport performance in sparse surroundings on a perfect spring afternoon. Ours was a two man march.

Sandy was seeking my council on the acquisition of additional absolute strength: he already possessed sustained strength in ample abundance; his locomotive-like endurance was a direct result of his complete immersion in all things kettlebell related. Sandy had sculpted a long, lean, lithe physique; one that was (self-admittedly) better now than when he was a college athlete. Thirty years down the road and he can say with complete confidence that he is in better physical shape and condition (at age 47) than he was at age 17. Further, when this guy was 17 he was not some out-of-shape kid, rather he was an elite high school athlete that went on to play football at the college level.

Kettlebell protocols adhered to religiously apparently allow hardcore adherents to hold back the hands of time. If you want to grasp K-Bell fountain-of-youth inducing qualities, simply use your eyes and take a hard look at the top national-level RKC coaches and teachers: they all look as if the had been stored in some mysterious, hyperbolic age-retarding time capsule.
Sommer stands 6 foot 2 and weighs a rock-hard whippet-like 180 pounds. He is tight and taut and lean with a sculpted face and a decidedly Eastern European look. Eventually it emerged that Sandy was indeed Sandor and of Hungarian stock. Genetically gifted, his father had played professional football in the NFL as a running back for several teams. Sandy was a walking, talking testament to the benefits of applied kettlebell training; particularly for men and women on the wrong side of 40.
The sustained strength K-bell protocol has calorie oxidizing, fat-burning benefits that are just now being bought to the forefront - I feel partly responsible for highlighting the lard-melting attributes of sustained strength kettlebell training. By hooking RKC adherents up to heart rate monitors we are discovering just how dramatically and just how quickly body fat is oxidized when adherents subject themselves to prolonged periods of intense iron ball slinging. 700-1000 + caloric burn rates are being routinely posted by hardcore kettlebell slingers in routine, nothing-out-of-the ordinary training sessions. My trainees are routinely registering 15 + calorie per minute burn rates for extended periods of time.

While Sandy had abundant amounts of sustained strength he felt he lacked absolute strength: absolute strength is defined as the ability to push or pull lots of resistance for very low reps. He was open to suggestions and "wanted to get away from continually playing to my strengths." He journeyed up to my home in rural Pennsylvania and we went over ways in which he might improve his brute power. Sandy and I headed to my garage gym and began working on presses and squats. I observed him as he ran through some one-armed presses: I mentioned that he was using the same velocity (speed) whether he was pressing thirty pounds or sixty pounds. I asked this Zen rhetorical question: "Why aren't you pressing 30 pounds twice as fast as you push 60 pounds?"

"Well I don't really know - I never really thought about it."

I told him a tale about how once I worked with a female powerlifter that subconsciously used one speed to squat. She squatted her 135 pounds warm-ups not one iota faster than she squatted her maximum 200 pounds. She had allowed her body to dictate the velocity at which she moved a barbell. When I asked her to "move 135 pounds significantly faster than she moved 200 pounds." she was unable - she literally couldn't no matter how hard she tried. Why was this? Why was she unable to push a 67.5% payload the slightest bit faster than a 100% payload? Her body was dictating to her rather than her dictating to her body.

She needed to seize back conscious control of something she had unconsciously allowed her subconscious to control.

Basically her nervous system was saying to her, "Look - when it comes to lifting poundage, any poundage, be it light or heavy, we have a single speed." Her body would push or pull at one specific speed and that was that. It took us six weeks to 'unlearn and de-condition' her 'one-speed-fits-all" push and pull speed. Once she recaptured control of her central nervous system, she able to increase her velocity on the lighter weights and this translated to her being able to increase her velocity on the heavier weights. Eight weeks after she seized back control of her central nervous system she squatted 250 pounds in competition; no squat suit, no knee wraps and no lifting belt: a staggering 25% increase in eight weeks time, a golden payoff.

Sandy had a similar problem. His condition was not nearly as ingrained and within an hour we had him accelerating light weights fast and heavier weights faster. Basically, as soon as I brought it to his attention, he was able to correct the situation. In between press sets (single reps only as pushing or pulling once is a learned skill that needs practice) we would squat. His squat goal was to perform a one-legged squat while holding the 106 pound 'Beast' kettlebell. In my opinion he needed a lot more pure leg strength. We hatched a plan that would have him do ultra-deep, pause-rep front squats with a barbell. The barbell front squat is a great adjunct to regular pistol training. The brutish barbell front squat can infuse raw leg power for use in that most subtle of all leg exercises: the pistol.

I showed him the front squat basics and we paid particular attention to not allowing the tailbone to rise up first at the 'turn-around' - when descent became ascent; when it was time to arise from the bottommost squat position.

He had a terrific, upright, uber-relaxed bottom position in the squat. My idea was to dramatically increase his two-legged front squat poundage. The strategy was to double his current front squat poundage handling ability. If he could push his front squat poundage from low 100's upward into the low 200-pound range, he would double his leg power. This would "convert" into more single leg power. He was able to perform a technically perfect double rep front squat with 115 pounds.

Theoretically if Sandy increased his front squat leg strength by 100% (115 x 2 to say 230 x 2) would that provide him with sufficient muscular horsepower to squat the Beast? Add 100% to 62 pounds and you create the hypothetical horsepower to squats 124 pounds. Since Sandy Sommer was a long range thinker, ("I want to squat the Beast by age 50") he had plenty of time to build that critical front squat.

Back and forth we went, alternating explosive one-arm presses ("Instill tremendous tension in the entire body at the launch; think 'speed,' keep tension in the 'off hand,' Press faster!") with paused front squats. ("The tailbone is rising! Keep the shoulders back as you push upward; explode the poundage upward, no bouncing - pause - now push FAST!")

He was a quick study and absorbed it all and absorbed it fast. After the workout I fed him beef ribs and raw milk on the deck and answered his questions that were both direct and pointed. He quizzed me about how best to set up an absolute strength program within the larger context of Kenneth Jay's VO2 max program: he was walking a kettlebell tightrope; weaving three distinct approaches into his base "Pavel template." We decided to lump all the absolute strength exercises and the absolute strength assistance exercises together on a single day: train them sequentially, i.e., start with legs, shift to presses before finishing with back - which roughly conformed to the classical power strategy of sequence: squat, bench press then deadlift. I gave him some Parrillo supplements to assist him in adding some pure muscle.

Afterwards we had a glass of wine and talked music: he was intimately familiar with a music club scene I had experienced up close and personal for many, many years. All in all it was a good meeting of the minds and I felt as if he might have gleaned a few ideas and strategies that would enable him to move a step or two closer to his kettlebell goals.

Sandy Sommer writes....

I've always had better than average sustained strength and durability. As crazy as it may sound, I was usually at my best in sweltering August heat, in full football pads. My ability to focus in that sort of environment, while others wilted, was and remains a source of pride. To this day, I prefer sweating my butt off in a workout, in as much heat as I can stand, to the alternative.

I wasn't sure if I'd be able to stand Marty Gallagher's heat. I've read his Dragon Door blog every few weeks and have read and then read again "The Purposeful Primitive." To say he is knowledgeable about strength and conditioning, nutrition, human psyche and the puzzle that each of those pieces fits into would be an understatement. So when I emailed him with a few questions I wasn't even sure if I'd hear back from him. But I did and his response was quick and valuable. I wrote back and we ended up talking on the phone a time or two before he invited me to come train in the hills of Pennsylvania. Before the invitation was even fully offered, I'd accepted and couldn't wait.

Uh oh, I thought. This guy is a plethora of strength information and while I'm in good condition, I'm not the world's strongest man. Far from it. What if he feels like he's wasting his time etc? Why would he accept me as a client? All these questions were going around in my brain.

My fears it turned out were unfounded. I had very specific goals that I shared with Marty early in our conversations. I explained the specific outcome I will achieve and the time frame within which I will get it. When I showed up he didn't laugh or chuckle replaying our chats in his head so I felt a bit better. Marty was extremely hospitable and we sat down to talk and make sure we were on the same page. After that we went to work.

Marty evaluated my performance in two movements. First, he examined my front squat and then he looked at my Press. Marty doesn't mince words. He tells you what he thinks and is very clear. Liked the squat although my tailbone was a bit jumpy and thought there was a lot of room for improvement in the press. It seems that my press was pretty much the same velocity at one weight then that weight time two.

We worked these two movements over and over with adequate rest. Marty is a great coach. He urged and cajoled me to focus on what he was teaching. I'm a fairly quick study and a decent athlete so what he shared I was able to digest and utilize. I learned a ton that I applied to my first MG Absolute Strength Session today. I felt power and I felt resolve.

After that session, I have no doubt I will get the results I am looking for. It's a fairly simple plan (not easy) but we figured out how to get me to my goals... We determined where I am currently and then mapped it all out. I am fully determined and will give no quarter in my quest. I thank you Marty.

In need of a little 'absolute strength?' contact Gallagher about becoming a 'phone train' client at...


At June 6, 2009 at 1:17 AM , Blogger Jennifer said...

What a flattering piece about your from Marty! And well deserved, I might add. I look forward to hearing about your improvements and your advancements as an RKC--AND to getting to go through RKC I with you next year :).

At June 8, 2009 at 11:37 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Awesome article, Sandy!
Never realized there is so much to learn about kettlebells, proper form, speed on using lighter weights vs. heavy, etc. Had to re-read the much info.

Needless to say, I'm extremely excited about having the opportunity to train with you!


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