The Importance of Practice

Compliments are hard to receive and they are often misunderstood. For example, when folks look us in the eyes and tell us we’re stubborn, stiff, dull and single-minded airheads, we’re caught slightly off guard — we blink, we fidget and stammer. What they’re really saying is that we’re persevering, disciplined, patient, goal-seeking positive thinkers. Thank them profusely, adding how much you appreciate their tender encouragement. Friendships are gifts from above. 
~Dave Draper 

Some days we go into the gym all fueled up on our own mixture of adrenaline & ambition. We’re ready for blast off. No one here is talking about a warm-up, we might be lucky to get some lighter reps under our belts before going big, tweaking a muscle, then limping home. I don’t mean to paint this scenario in a negative light, but it happens more frequently than it should, more often than we’re prepared to handle.

Practice. We think about it with skilled movements, but forget that ALL movements are skilled movements. Sure, we might “practice” jumping rope to get Double Unders, but we probably already have a rep range & set scheme in mind before we launch. Don’t do that. Skills take practice, lots of it, if we want to be good at these skills . . . And who doesn’t want to be good at moving our bodies as we wish & desire?

StrongFirst calls this concept Greasing the Groove. No matter what you decide you want to call it, it works, and we should all do more of it. It works for all lifts & movements in the Kettlebell, Barbell, Dumbbell & Bodyweight arsenal.

Musicians get this concept. So do writers, painters, artists of any & all varieties. We’re artists, too. You don’t have to designate yourself as a Bodybuilder, you don’t have to qualify as an athlete for the CrossFit Regionals . . . it’s these things we do daily that contribute to our personal art portfolio.

Be an artist. Be artistic. Move well, move often, move with the undeniable confidence of Strength and be artful.

Don’t Cancel Out Your Own Success

Songs are just really interesting things to be doing with the air.
~Tom Waits

In the audio world there’s a weird phenomenon where two signals are generated, travel their path, but then nothing is heard at the other end. It’s called phase cancellation, and it’s pretty unfortunate.

Think about it: the work was done, the signals generated & sent on their merry way, then nada, nothing, zilch. Maybe it’s just a few frequencies, or maybe it’s the entire signal. Either way, a good audio engineer will catch it, fix it, and move the music along, as intended.

It isn’t just an audio issue. We all do it. Sometimes we sabotage our efforts with a lack of sleep, by eating food with no nutritional value, letting stress pile up, or celebrating our workouts with a drink or few. A friend of mine recently posted this:

You gotta admit, it’s a pretty tough pill to swallow. You do all this work, you live your life, and you have little to show for any of it. Some even go so far as to say that it isn’t the hour you spend working out, training, or in the gym, it’s the 23 hours you spend outside of this World of Might & Muscle that really determines failure or success.

Others might say that you can’t out-train a bad diet, or bad habits. Those people are wrong . . . you absolutely CAN out-train a bad diet & bad habits! The trick is that you have to train those sabotaging components out of your system. It might seem obvious when we say it like that, but for too many people, it isn’t obvious . . . it isn’t even clear.

Success in any endeavor comes through consistency, particularly if your endeavor is to lose weight, put on muscle, get faster, become more athletic, or anything fitness related. One workout won’t make you or break you, one doughnut isn’t going to derail every ounce of iron you’ve ever lifted. It’s what we do habitually that defines us & creates our results.

The important takeaway from all of this is that we can’t only think about the gym, we can’t only think about the iron, or even the effort. We have to think about how everything else we’re doing impacts us, our livelihood, our goals, dreams & our results. Once we’re aware, we have to act accordingly.

Start here, start now, start where you are, and start with what you want. If you want to join a gym, go ahead & get started. If you need the personal attention of a Trainer, start now. If you want to change your eating or drinking or sleeping habits, don’t waste time. Once you start anything, you’ll more easily see how you can fit the other necessary components for your success into your life. It doesn’t matter which you start first, just that you start, and that you work consistently at your goals . . . in training & out of training.

Your life & your success is worth every amount of effort you’re willing to contribute. Be relentless with your contributions.

Kennesaw Rose (3/3 ToU)

Strength is probably my favorite topic of conversation or thought. Even if you don’t feel Strong right now, you can always get Strength, and despite what any gym tries to tell you, it can be done for free, or very nearly to it. That said, a Coach or Trainer might help you much more efficiently & in the long run, but in very basic terms, getting Stronger costs in effort, not money.

This morning I couldn’t get out of bed fast enough. I got lots of sleep last night, and I was ready to hit the ground with a rumble to rival thunder. Then it hit me: What am I gonna do? 

I spend a lot of time programming for other people, but my own training seems to err on the side of willy-nilly. After pouring some coffee down my throat while looking over some tried-&-true workout schematics, it hit me . . . What am I training for/towards?  

My thoughts began flowing . . . I need to work on Pull-ups, I have a 5k coming up, Squats have been inadequate as of late, and I need to fatten up my Press for the eventual kill . . . In writerly terms, that isn’t even a rough draft, but it is a good napkin sketch to draw from. Beast Tamer, TSC, familiar themes in the Tropic of Unicorn. Add a 5k in the mix, and I have plenty to keep myself busy.

The workout Template (as pictured above) pretty much wrote itself once my groggy brain unclogged. I’ll blame it on the coffee, but it really could have been any number of factors.

  • 10/15/25 Goblet Squats/Push-ups 
  • Run to the Playground (mine has a nice Monkey Bar set for Pull-up work) 
  • 3 Sets of (2) 10 Second Bar Hangs/ (3) Hammer Grip Pullups
  • Run Home
  • 25 Push-ups
  • 25 Goblet Squats
  • 3 Sets of (2) Bottoms-up Press/ (5) Kettlebell Press

I wish I could say that my numbers were huge, or that my run times were without humiliation, but that wasn’t the case. What’s cool about a questionable Baseline is that you’re almost always guaranteed to improve on one part or another.

Whatever you’re training towards, have lots of stick-with-it-ness. Strength is one of the best attributes we can have or develop, and probably one of the most satisfying journeys available to us in human form.

Cock it, rock it & lock it out
~Lee

2/27 Tropic of Unicorn

My sleep habits are insulting . . . stay up much later than useful, then try to wake up early enough to get in a solid workout before work. Over the years I’ve gotten better at getting up & out of bed early enough, but those early a.m. sessions certainly suffer. Maybe I’ll get moving enough & sling enough iron to feel better at work, but not much more than that. Bad sleep habits can derail even the best intended plans.

The better news is that I keep a small variety of Kettlebells at work. One advantage is that nearly everyone who stops by to see me at least picks one up, and usually even wants to talk about them to some degree. The other advantage is personal stress relief. Carry them to the back & return for some solid Carries, work out some kinks in Pressing technique, hit some Swings at lunchtime . . . the short answer is that I do a little something every single day.

As for Beast Training, a whole lot of Presses throughout the day, GtG (Greasing the Groove), with light ‘bells all the way up to medium-light ‘bells. Tonight, my Son & I went to the park and ran around, throwing the football, and chasing our cardio across wide expanses of soft grass. I also worked on Pistols by standing next to a pole and walking my hands down as I lowered myself on one leg, then the other. Getting there . . . slowly, but once I get there, I’m sure I won’t care how long it took.

Also, lots of bar hangs for Pull-up work. A few pull-ups, but mostly hangs spread out over a minute or so.

Sometimes the workouts aren’t structured, but the work within is still meaningful. Show up even when you’re not inspired, and you’ll learn how to create your own motivation when inspiration is half a world away.

2/24 ToU

There was a season for hard training and a season for harder training. ~Dave Draper

Kettlebell Swings to high-pulls, cradle the bell to your chest & roll back onto your back, spring forward & stand up in one fluid movement. After some around-the-worlds, figure 8s & halos, this makes for a pretty good warm up.

Next, I prove once again that I’m a pretty big fan of Brett Jones’ SFG Prep Day 1 workout. There are other ways to get this kind of work done, but all the basic movements are packaged together pretty nicely, so I use it as a step beyond a warm-up for a single set.

1 Circuit @ 24kg:

  • Swing x 15 two arm
  • Clean and press x 5+5
  • Swing x 5+5 one arm
  • Clean and front squat x 5+5
  • Swing x 20 alternating or 10+10 one arm
  • Get-up x 1+1 (adjust weight or reduce steps of the get-up as needed)
  • Swing x 15 two arm
  • Snatch x 5+5
  • Swing x 5+5 one arm

Then to the Press. The day before was Snatch practice, but my goals include getting better at pressing. If you don’t press a 24kg or 32kg well, the 48kg Beast is gonna rock your world in a bad way, and I know this very well.

I set out to do a 10 minute EMOM of Presses, every odd minute with the 24kg, and every even minute with the 32kg, but yesterday wasn’t my day. I ended up doing 6 total sets @ 24kg, and the remaining 4 @ 32kg. The first two sets at 32kg were the full 5/5, but the last two were 4/4 and 3/3, for a total of 94 reps for the whole work set.

Still, that was 2,628kg of iron moved in 10 minutes, which I’m happy with . . . for yesterday. The difference between iron moved at 24kg and 32kg was 352kg, which equates to 11 more reps at 32kg for the next time I work this drill.

It gets a little nerdy with al those numbers, but I think that nerdiness helps with assessment, and I think ongoing & relentless assessment in training is 100% essential for working smartly towards our goals.

The Beast Marches On!
~Lee

2/22 Tropic of Unicorn

Today’s training happened in 81 degree weather. Oh, and sunny, very sunny. It’s February, which should be a kicker, but who am I to argue? I’m just a guy with lots of lofty Kettlebell goals, and a relentless work ethic.

My own training usually involves piecing together a few ideas from various places, but with a common theme towards a particular goal. Today’s training focused more on the TSC, but I think the carry-over to the Beast Tamer will evolve & make itself felt & known over time.

My current bodyweight is 254.6, and I’m none too pleased about it, but I need to have the motivation to get it where I want, which is 225. I can run more often, or Snatch more frequently. One jives with my goals, the other is potentially distracting. Some days I’ll run, but not today. Today I went straight for the Snatch.

Focusing on the TSC, I went for a well-known template that has produced many encouraging results: 12-Week TNT TSC Training Program. The guy who wrote it has won the Elite Division more than anyone else, and has produced some impressive results with other athletes. Again, I really shouldn’t argue.

But, as a warm-up, I went back to one of my favorites I used to train for my RKC: StrongFirst SFG Kettlebell Certification Prep Guide. Some people might claim it blasphemous to use a SFG template to train for the RKC, but 1) they all started as the same organization, 2) it WORKS, 3) I don’t listen to anyone who points out problems but doesn’t offer usable & meaningful solutions.

1 Circuit of:

  • Swing x 15 two arm
  • Clean and press x 5+5
  • Swing x 5+5 one arm
  • Clean and front squat x 5+5
  • Swing x 20 alternating or 10+10 one arm
  • Get-up x 1+1 (adjust weight or reduce steps of the get-up as needed)
  • Swing x 15 two arm
  • Snatch x 5+5
  • Swing x 5+5 one arm

Oh, and the TNT Snatch work looked like:

  • 10 minute EMOM- 5R/5L = 100 Snatches
  • 12 minute EMOM- 5R/5L = 120 Snatches

I didn’t go with a competition weight, as suggested, choosing instead my 16kg. Maybe I wanted to get comfortable with the volume, maybe I wasn’t feeling froggy enough to belt out my 24kg today. Maybe it was something else. Regardless, the work got done, and 220 Snatches is nothing to sneeze at . . . even if pollen is rampant in Georgia unusually early this year. 2018 itself offers to be remarkably unusual, so ride the wave & ride it high.

Honing Your Chops

I first heard the phrase honing your chops when I first got into playing music. It means to practice your technique, or work on the fundamentals. In music, it might refer to scales or moving form one chord shape to another, but in fitness, what does it mean to you?

Most anyone who spends a lot of time lifting weights is probably guilty of always going for the bigger weights. If you can strict press “the Beast” (106lb KB), why bother with 12kg or 16kg presses?

In Martial Arts they say that a Black Belt is just someone who has mastered the basics, and is finally ready to really start learning. The same goes for professionals in any endeavor . . . the pros practice the basics; endlessly, tirelessly & ruthlessly.

As for the athletic specimens who walk in and snatch 48kg on their first try . . . they are fewer & farther in between than anyone of us might imagine. Even if they do exist, they likely honed their chops elsewhere, in some pursuit that has phenomenal carry-over.

Since we’ve mentioned the Strict Press, let’s roll with that one. Why would you work with a 12, 16, or even 24kg Kettlebell if you can press the Beast for reps? Are Strict Presses the only thing you can do to improve your, um, Strict Presses? 

Let’s back off the Beast for a minute . . . maybe you’re trying to make the jump from the 16 to the 20 or 24kg, or from the 12kg upwards . . . a high volume of strict presses will likely pay off, but there’s more going on than just the exercise under scrutiny.

A strong Press is a good indicator of healthy shoulders, but there’s a lot of work that goes into keeping your shoulders healthy. We might as well fast forward & acknowledge that a strong Press needs good stability, and good stability begins with your feet on the ground & works up through all the muscles, joints & ligaments in your body.

Your body is a chain, a band, if you liked the musician metaphor at the beginning of this post. No matter how good the singer is, she can’t do her job without a solid band behind & alongside her. Imagine if the bass player can’t do his runs, or the guitarist forgets his chords, or the drummer loses her rhythm . . . no one would think this was a very good band.

But we do think it is a very good band because you practice your speedwork, you practice Bottoms Up Presses, Overhead Squats, our handstands & pull-ups . . . you do whatever work it takes so that when the time comes, when you really want to Press & Press heavy, every necessary & contributing part of your body is ready & knows what to do.

Always practice the skills you want to improve. If you want to improve your Strict Press, practice it. Also practice the supplemental moves that lead to a stronger press. You’ll never meet someone who can press heavy, but has weak legs, a weak core, and a weak grip. If their Strict Press is strong, all of them is strong.

Practice doesn’t make perfect, but it does develop habits, and Strength is a habit . . . practice it to keep it sharp.