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: , , ,

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

What is Hard Style Strength And How Does It Work?

According to the RKC Instructor Manual, "Hardstyle Strength is exemplified by power lifting and Okinawan karate. The common denominator is COMPRESSION."

We compress the muscles as force is produced through tensing.

We compress the breath as extraordinary intra-abdomincal pressure increases your strength. Think of a can.

We compress the ground to create amazing stability and take full advantage of the reactive force of the deck. Th goal is to take root.

And finally we compress our focus. Think of the difference between a laser and a light bulb. Try a static dead lift until you feel your feet burn.

Many folks have asked me to define "Hard Style" and the above is surely better than anything I can come up with.

So how does it work? Well for me it's worked like this. I am leaner, stronger, more mobile, more flexible and have great cardio conditioning. Remember, I'm 47 but am at least as fit as when I played NCAA football. And I feel a ton better.

I use three tools. An Olympic bar, a pull up bar and kettlebells. Pretty basic. I do squats, dead lifts, tactical pull ups, side press,clean and press, snatches, swings and Turkish Get ups. Each is a compound exercise.

I use maximal speed both up and down in the quick lifts like snatches, cleans and swings. We go all out for two reasons. First, your hips store tons of power on the way down on a swing and when you explode back up it is like letting a pulled rubber band go. Second, you get good training effect without a huge volume. Anyone who tells you that they are swinging a 32 KG kettlebell for 300 reps non stop is not employing Hard Style technique.

Doing grinds like the squat, dead lift presses etc I go slow and create as much muscular tension as I can. Tension is strength but it is slow. You must practice creating tension on the grinds even using lighter weights or even when doing bodyweight work. If you don't you won't have a chance when dealing with real weight.

If you use kettlebells for strength and conditioning you really want to make the lifts as difficult as you can. The goal is to make your chosen sport (life or otherwise) as easy as possible.

Hard Style in it's essense is about kinetic linking. Kinetic linkage required that you work multiple joints all at once and is the opposite of one joint exercise. Nothing we do treats the body as collected body parts. The body is a machine and that is how we work it.

Again to quote the RKC manual. "RKC teaches how to focus the scattered energies of the body into a directed all-out effort while minimizing the odds of injuries."

I'd love to have you share your thoughts here as well or ask any questions.

Sandy Sommer, RKC

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Delaware Hard Style By Way Of LA

If you were one of the dedicated ones who made it to Middletown DE on June 21, 2009, then you came away with some amazing new tools for your toolbox. I always have a lot of trouble describing events in detail. Sorry about this inability but I will give it a shot anyway.

If you are an RKC and you attended, then you were surely blown away by all that Doctor Mark Cheng, RKC Team Leader, shared with us. If you had never been exposed to "Hard Style" training then you may not fully appreciate yet what you learned. You will. Trust me. Here's a look at the thoughts of one such uninitiated.

Doc Cheng contacted me 3 or 4 months ago to see if I'd be interested in helping him put on his "Hard Style, High Density" workshop at his Alma mater, St. Andrews School. I saw it as a unique opportunity to help spread the work about the RKC on the East Coast, work with Doc Cheng and help out the school since we donated 50% of proceeds back to them. Pretty much a "win-win-win" situation. But it just gets better.

First off, St. Andrews School is first rate and reminded me so much of my beloved St. James. I graduated in 1980 and there are many similarities between the institutions. I was happy we could be of financial assistance and we look forward to this being an annual event. I would guess that many of the folks who attended this year will be back.

Secondly, Dr. Cheng is really tuned in to proper movements and patterning movement. I truly believe Pavel Tsatsouline himself would have learned something. I learned far more than I bargained for and was humbled a bit by the experience. The RKC system of strength is fairly easy to implement safely but mastery is another entire matter. Mastery may always prove elusive and that is now a wonderful feeling. I hated that thought at first but am fully at peace with it now. I will never, ever stop learning.

The focus of this workshop was the RKC Program Minimum. Dead lifts, Swings, Turkish Get Ups. We also did some work with cleans, Tactical Pull Ups and snatches. The focus was all on the foundation that the RKC is built on. Tension equalling strength. Breathing being a huge component of that. If all we had worked on was breathing and creating tension it would have been a worthwhile day.

Luckily we also worked a lot on mobility in general. Specifically the t-spine work we did was amazing and has already helped me with my Turkish get ups (which I thought were decent pre workshop) and also has allowed me to really improve my tactical pull ups. Put another way, fairly fatigued a came within an inch of a completed tactical pull up with the 24 KG Kettlebell hanging off my right foot.

How about thinking of your body as a can? Without the top and bottom to keep the contents in the container and under pressure it is useless. If you can't create the bottom of the can in your pelvis and the top from the lats down you will have difficulty. But if you can, then imagine the power capability.

Everyone who participated learned something. My 69 year old mom learned a ton that will help her move better than she does and she moves fairly well.My fellow RKCs and I learned a ton. I will be stronger, move better, teach better and feel better from what I learned and how far I have to grow. Do you know how hard light dead lifting can be? Ask Jen Morey!

Sandy Sommer, RKC

Labels: , , ,

Monday, June 29, 2009

What I Learned in My Week Off From Training

I took a week off from training and started back today. I did play some tennis and also one round of golf while I was in Rehoboth Beach. We had amazing weather and the surf was perfect. Great water temperature and enough of a curl that body surfing was equally good.

The last day I trained was at the Delaware Kettlebell Workshop we had at Saint Andrew's School on June 21st. I hadn't taken anytime off since I was in New Orleans at the beginning of last June. Here's what I learned:

Taking time off for me isn't that worthwhile. I know for many people this isn't the case but I didn't get weaker and I didn't get stronger. My absolute strength work out today was the exact replica of the one I did two weeks ago. Same rep count, same resistance and then the "back down" sets until form denigrates to the point of a repetition that lacks "hardstyle" quality.

I was hoping to somehow get stronger while off the kettlebells and other resistance training for a week. It seemed that the extra time off would give me a chance to have extra recovery. Here's what I found for me with "Hardstyle" Training we do enough "Same but different" work as Pavel puts it, that I don't seem to get stale and I seem to increase my strength too. I am rarely if ever sore. Soreness really doesn't indicate the level of work you've done. In most cases it means you are working muscles that you haven't worked in awhile. Since "hard style" work is essentially full body work then soreness isn't an issue.

So what is "same but different" mean exactly? Well for the snatch it may mean that after a MVO2 cycle you do a Secret Service Snatch Test Cycle. The operative phrase is "Complete a cycle."

Or instead of doing heavy swings you could do a cycle of overspeed eccentric swings. Same but different doesn't mean you jump from one exercise to the next. A lot of this is covered if "Power To The People." This book is an absolute "must" if you desire to understand and implement the RKC system of strength.

Please share what you have learned when you take time off from training. I'd love to know what you have found out!

Sandy Sommer, RKC

P.S. Be sure to read my take on the Delaware Kettlebell Workshop. I will post that tomorrow.

Labels: , , ,