Thursday, February 26, 2009

What is Tension?

The ability to create tension and create it quickly could have more impact on your training success than almost anything you could learn. This talent is one of the main differentiations between "Hard Style" kettlebell training and most anything else you may practice.

If you're working with an RKC Kettlebell instructor you may hear "pinch the coin" in reference to creating tension in your glutes. Pavel can be hear loudly demanding "Stay tight" at any RKC event. The skill to create this tension is what allows us to do that last repetition without fear of the lost training time associated with injury.

Getting stronger requires us to learn how to generate increased tension. At the same time, if you want to be able to move effectively you must have the ability to relax fast as well. Movement after all is tension, relaxation, tension, relaxation. One without the other is not movement.

So the question arises...How do you maintain the ability to generate a powerful force and move well at the same time? Try a push up using maximal tension....Squeeze your glutes....Completely engage your core. Cork screw your arms....You just can't do that many reps. That's because full body tension leads to fatigue.

So if you are looking to train purely for strength you may want to do sets under full tension of just a few reps. Get fully relaxed between work sets and then go back to work. This essentially is how you "grease the groove."

When you practice ballistic movements with kettlebells such as the snatch, clean or swing you need to create tension but also be able to relax otherwise you will not move the bell. On presses or Turkish get ups you may use tension for a longer duration. And this results in fewer reps in a set. So you must learn how much tension to generate for the work required at the time.

Managing tension and relaxation is the key to athletic success. If you can imagine my golf swing (actually spare yourself the horror) compared to Tiger Woods you will know what I mean. Tiger looks makes it look easy. On the other hand I "hit" the golf ball and it gets hurt! Tiger has an amazing ability to match the necessary tension with the required relaxation. Better than anyone I've seen. I'd love to see him swing a kettlebell!

So how do we manage tension and relaxation so we are as strong as possible and move too?

First, you must have an incredibly tight “groove” for your movements. As you practice the movement over and over again with correct form, you will eliminate excess effort automatically, and “grease the groove” Second, you must develop a strong, rhythmic motion while performing the ballistic lifts. As an example, I always have the same cadence on my kettlebell swings per minute and I can assure you I haven't always had that ability. Third, control your breathing. Stopping and constricting your breathing creates tension, while exhaling and releasing your breath dissipates tension. Try to match your breathing with the ballistic movements as closely as possible by finding the moments of tension and relaxation and syncing up your breathing with them. This is called “matching the breath to the force”. Last, use less tension at the beginning of your set, then, as you fatigue, use more and more tension, until your last rep uses an almost 1RM level of tension. But you must stay in form.

As I beat my dead horse again. Proper form is the key to injury avoidance and is also vital to learn how to build the tension required for the work at hand.

Sandy Sommer, RKC

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

3 Movements To Evaluate

Today’s focus is the foundation of RKC “Hard Style” Kettlebell Training. Just these three movements uncover your areas of concern as well as the areas of strength. Remember….A Chain is as strong as it’s weakest link.

Turkish Getup Alternate 1 rep per side for 6:00 (I labored over this time….Remember this is done for perfection and not speed. Stay slow and under tension)

Rest 2:00

swing 1:00 (gut this out. Gluteus muscles extra tight…..Your arms should be attached to your torso by engaged lats. Don’t go over 90 degrees!)

Rest 1 Minute

Prisoner Lunges 1:30 (Hands interlaced and back behind your head. Reverse lunges alternating. Tap your knee to the deck and lengthen stride)

2 Rounds

Nice effort ! See you tomorrow!

Sandy Sommer, RKC

Charm City Kettlebells

410-812-0816 cell

PS Email me if you have any questions or concerns.

PPS I will be holding a One Hour Session on just the Turkish Get Up soon in Baltimore area soon. Let me know if you are interested!

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Squatting With Will Williams

Monday, February 23, 2009

Here's A Workout to Try

Modify as needed. Strive for perfect form. Rest if your form disintegrates. Overtime, your perfect reps will increase as you get fitter. For those that question this, you are welcome to your opinion. The key to success is doing something well. Not just doing it.

Pushup or variation as many as possible in 5:00

Rest 1:00

Swing- as many as possible in 5:00

Rest 1:00

Goblet Squat as many as you can in 5:00


Pullup (or rows if you don't have PU bar)- as many as possible in 5:00

Rest 1:00

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Focus On Quality With These Three

I have nothing against Cross Fit per se or other kettlebell methodologies either. Here's what leaves me scratching my head. Why count reps that aren't in good form? At best, poor form isn't your intent and at worst, it leads to injury and the related down time. The late, great John Wooden once said, "If you don't have time to do it right, when will you?"

I try to always target prescribed form so that I get the most out of each movement with the least risk of injury. That seems reasonable to me.

Today, I worked on three different calisthenics. The Turkish Get Up. The tactical pull up and the bodyweight one-legged pistol. Down correctly, each exercise is safe and extremely effective. I used all of my body and did three things. Simple is nice.

The Turkish Get Up may be my favorite kettlebell exercise. The essence of the movement is that you get the kettlebell from the ground to over head. It requires 7 specific coordinated movements under muscular tension to perfect it and get the full benefit. Any asymmetries or weakness will be exposed.

The one-legged pistol is an amazing movement that requires strength, balance and flexibility. I love doing them because they once were inconceivable to me. I couldn't do them as my flexibility was terrible, my strength was mediocre and my balance was just OK. Here is a nice tutorial on one-legged body weight squats, better known as the pistol.

Finally, I did tactical pull ups or thumbless, overhand pull ups. These require that you start and finish with a dead hang with a pause. No using hips to help! A found an article a few weeks ago that should really help the men. Here's one for ladies. Yes you can train yourself to do them!

I did 10 rounds today. Each round was 2 Turkish get ups on each side followed by 2 pistols each side and then finally 3 pull ups. Total was 110 reps and my time was 43 minutes and I burned 594 calories. These were real reps. Strict and safe form.

Try it out!

Sandy Sommer, RKC

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