First, the question: Why train? Or even: Why workout? To stay healthy. To lose weight. To build self-confidence. To compete. To get stronger, run longer, look better etc. There are a lot of answers to that question and I'm not going say that any are wrong. Any reason to get somebody moving, to motivate them to care about their health and well-being is valuable. I know there are a couple of reasons on that short list that I train for. However, I'd like to propose that, above all, there is one reason we need to be training/working out - To live as full a life as possible for as long as possible.
Think about it. All the other reasons we may have for making fitness a priority really should come secondary to this one goal. Almost all other (healthy) reasons for wanting to be fit will follow this goal. If you train appropriately, so that you can live the long and full life you deserve, you'll find that you're more athletic, leaner, and you will feel better! If you make this one goal number one everything else will eventually fall into place.
Now, notice the use of the word eventually in there. This is important. Patience is key when you make a life of health and fitness your number one priority. If you're too busy focusing on immediate goals, you'll miss out on the chance to create long term, sustainable progress that you can carry with you for the rest of your life. Focus on living as full a life as possible for as long as possible and all the other goals you have will follow.
Again, I really want to emphasize that, for the most part, almost any reason that gets a person moving toward a healthier lifestyle is a reason worth having. But I also believe that placing this particular goal in front of all the rest will yield the greatest result for the rest of your life.
As far as 'Why Train?' I think it's the best reason you can focus on. That being said living as full a life as possible for as long as possible is not a goal that is only restricted to training/working out. In fact, this idea of a life of health and well-being can (and should) help inform you on the path of your daily life. This is where "The Spectrum of Movement" is going to come into play.
I like to imagine the things I do for fun, work, and training on a huge spectrum. Work is smack in the middle, it's the physical things I have to do. It might be running up and down the stairs at Wild Oats or demonstrating moves here at the studio. Regardless, it's movement and I need to be able to do it well. Now, on the training end of the spectrum I've got this - 2-3 KB Training/Week - Hill Sprints Twice/Week - Jogging 3-5 Miles/Week. So, here's where it gets a little tricky. To live the fullest life for the longest time, I need to train. Strength, Conditioning, and Auxiliary work are all important. However, to really live a full life, I also need to have fun. I'm not saying training can't be fun, but on the spectrum of movement it's at one end and fun physicality is at another. I train so that I can do what's fun, the things I love. I believe, that in order to really live a full life, the end of the spectrum we need to focus on are the things we do just to have fun.
I think there is a trap people are starting to fall into. Our lives are becoming more and more sedentary. So, a natural response to this problem is to get moving! However, it seems these days that 'Get Moving!' is trending more and more towards 'Get Training!' or 'Get Working-Out!' This is not necessarily a bad thing, but I think something huge is getting lost here...and that's movement for the pure joy of it. Humans were meant to move; we move to survive, but we also move to have fun. I think the spectrum of movement is shrinking and as it happens we are losing a huge chunk of what is vital to a truly full life. I love to train, but I do not want to spend hours in a gym. I want to be riding my bike, trail running, backpacking, slack-lining, swimming, mountain biking, playing frisbee (of both the ultimate and golf varieties). I love doing these things! I don't do them because I think I need to, I do them because I want to. This is a huge element to a full life and to having a wide and healthy 'Spectrum of Movement' that is getting lost for many people. If your only chance to be physical, outside of work, comes in the form of training or only happens at a gym you're missing a huge opportunity to add another element of fullness to your life.
Train to stay healthy, but stay healthy so you can do the things you love. All of those fun activities I mentioned above (and more!) I have designs on doing for the rest of my life. I've only gotten more enthusiastic about them, only found them more essential, as I've gotten further along on my own fitness journey. I'm not saying those need to be the same things everyone does to find the joy of movement in their lives, I'm just suggesting that we all need to find ways to move that bring us a different kind of happiness than what we find in the gym.
Train smart, play often, and you'll discover there is more joy in movement than just a good sweat session.
Today I wanted to write a little bit about the incredibly confusing and complicated subject of eating. There are many great resources about diet, food choices, and the food production system and I'll list a few of my favorites at the end. Unfortunately, there seems to be far more information about 'healthy eating' that ranges from the silly and absurd to the just plain dangerous. Often, when people try to change their eating habits for the better, the choices become overwhelming. What to eat and what not to eat explodes into a rabbit hole of information that you will never again emerge from. So, this blog post will be dedicated to simple changes people can make in their everyday eating habits that will improve their overall health and well being.
Now, I am not a doctor, nutritionist, or dietitian. The advice that follows is simply my opinion and is based on information I have encountered and applied to my life over the past ten years. Let me start out by saying that ten years ago my diet was abysmal. I hate to even admit it, but I survived mostly on fast food, takeout pizza, and microwavable food-like substances. I didn't care about my eating habits, I didn't exercise, and if anyone had talked to me about living a healthy lifestyle I would have laughed and said something like "I'd rather be happy than healthy." I probably thought that eating healthy was a miserable experience that people forced upon themselves so that they could feel superior to everyone else. Part of this attitude came from living in a culture that doesn't even try to promote true healthy lifestyles. You either get fast food commercials or magazine covers of impossibly ripped men and women with the latest '30 days to a six pack' article. The other side of the coin here is that, when trying to contemplate what it meant to "just eat healthier" it seemed there was such an overwhelming amount of information it was easier to just stick to my 'happy versus healthy' mentality and avoid the struggle all together. However, over the years my eating habits did change for the better and it almost happened without me even knowing it. And really, that's first bit of advice for changing your diet - It needs to happen slowly.
People in our culture are conditioned to want instant gratification. I could go into a lengthy discussion on the origin/reality of this incredibly disturbing problem, for the purpose of this post I think it suffices to say that many people are hard wired to only accept change if it happens quickly and easily. This isn't anyone’s fault; it's simply what we are exposed to. I find myself constantly bombarded by online articles promising that I can lose 15 pounds in 4 weeks, or get totally ripped in just 60 days. But when it comes to diet (and exercise), it's much better if the change you attempt happens slowly. Why? Well, it's simple really. In order to change a habit you need to be able to focus on a realistic goal. If you want to be able to set a goal that's achievable, that you'll get results from, and that will continue to motivate you, it's important to keep it realistic. If the goal you've set for yourself is one that you can actually accomplish, then focus on that and don't worry about the million other changes you've got bouncing around in your head.
How about some examples? For a healthier lifestyle choose goals that you know you can reach. Instead of stepping on scale and thinking "I just have to lose 20 pounds!!" try picking something from your eating habits you know needs improvement and focusing on that. Cut out all Soda for one month and see how you feel. Have a salad for lunch every day for a few weeks. If you're pressed for time, instead of swinging into Burger King for lunch try packing a meal the night before. What's most important is that you set yourself up with an objective that you can achieve. The first change might be a small one, but the effect of achieving a small goal will help motivate you to set bigger goals. With the momentum you build from all the victories all of a sudden you’ll discover that you've made the BIG change you've always wanted.
I didn't change my diet and fitness habits overnight. It happened like this - I wanted a road bike and because of some budding environmentalist attitudes (and other various circumstances) I was going to become a bike commuter. My first ride was a harsh wake up call to how much I had let myself go, but riding the bike was something I could still do. I didn't have to lose weight or start going to the gym. I just had to keep riding. This goal basically set itself, the motivation was the first ride and the objective was to just get better. I also became a vegetarian around the same time. This was the result of watching several disturbing documentaries regarding how animals are treated within our modern food system. Now, I don't have any moral issue with eating meat. An animal eating other animals is just the way the world works. Having said that, what I saw in those films (and subsequently learned through more research) was that our food system was, and still is, severely broken. One of its major malfunctions is the incredibly disturbing way in which animals are treated. So, this presented me with another goal. Remove meat from my diet (this one maybe considered a bigger goal, but at the time it seemed like a very necessary one). After making that change I started to become aware of other elements of my diet I wanted to change. These didn't all happen at once, it was more of a cascade of small decisions that years later developed in regular and enjoyable eating habits. I decided to cut out fast food, then I started adding more fruits and veggies, I would pay more attention to how much water I drank, I tried to focus on not over-eating during my meals (did I really need a third serving?). Little goals and small victories lead to big change.
The next piece of advice would be this - Focus on creating habits that will last a life time. People love to diet. They hear about a miracle 28 day diet that can help you lose weight fast, detoxify your body, and all you have to do is follow an incredibly specific set of guidelines that are totally unrealistic (or even worse, take some supplements that have who-knows-what in them). But hey, 28 days later the diet is finished and you can jump right back into the negative eating habits. This method, though wildly popular in most fitness magazines, is total s$#@. Shocking the body with extreme diet changes may produce superficial results, but it is not good for your body. Just because you lose weight does not mean that a diet is healthy for you. You can lose weight by starving yourself for 30 days too, but I wouldn't recommend that either. These crash diets, fad diets, and fitness magazine cleanses can put a tremendous amount of stress on your body and though you may see 'results' there is no way of telling what damage might be taking place on the inside. Instead of focusing on 30 days, look toward the next 30 years. If you make a single positive change today that you stick with for the rest of your life you'll be far better off than trying to follow an unsustainable diet.
This brings me to another important point. Diet changes should first be about feeling better rather than looking better. As you make small changes to your diet don't focus on the scale or the mirror. Instead, focus on how your body feels as the changes start taking place. Weight loss and muscle gain take time if they are going to be sustainable. But positive changes to your everyday energy levels, emotional state, and various physical issues you may be experiencing will happen much sooner. Cleaning up your diet with long-term positive habits will most likely result in you having more energy on a day to day basis, sleeping better at night, feeling less stressed throughout your day, dealing with less heartburn and indigestion, and just overall 'feeling better.' These are the important benchmarks to be aware of when improving your eating habits. Who cares how you look if you feel like crap every day? Make those small changes, start to feel better every day and the rest will follow.
So, let's pick out some goals that are attainable and can help keep up the motivation momentum.
Remember, this list is not something to be tackled all at once. Pick one or two out (or even come up with a couple on your own) and try them out. If you start to feel better, it's working. These aren't all food related, but all are directly related to a healthy body.
Cut out soda (including diet)
Cut down on sugar intake
Eat more vegetables
Make time to cook a meal a few times a week
Pack lunches to avoid fast/junk food
Go for a 30-60 minute walk a 2-3 times a week
Drink more water
Meditate for 10 minutes a day
Eat less processed food
Get 7-8 hours of sleep a night
Stop eating fast food
Work on portion control
Purchase humanely treated meat products
So there's a place to start. Some are easier than others, but all will be beneficial. Just don't get overwhelmed but the BIG changes that you think need to be made. Chip away at it bit by bit and before you know it you'll have created lifelong healthy eating habits.
One last thought on how to change your eating habits for the better - Join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). If you're not familiar with a CSA it's a type of farm share where you pay an upfront amount of money for a share of the farm’s product throughout the season. It may seem expensive at first, but the price for what you'll end up receiving is better then what you'll find at any store. CSA's are a great way to get more vegetables (as well as cheeses/meats/breads and more depending on what the farm offers) in your diet. And even better, you'll be supporting your local farmers for a healthy community as well. We've got a lot of farms in the area that have CSA offerings so check them out.
Now a few resources worth checking out:
In Defense of Food – Michael Pollan
An Omnivores Dilemma – Michael Pollan
Fast Food Nation – Eric Schlosser
Food Fight – Daniel Imhoff
At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen – Amy Chaplin
True Food – Andrew Weil (Non Vegetarian)
Salad Samurai – Terry Hope Romero
Thug Kitchen – Anonymous (This cookbook is filled with amazingly simple recipes. Also, it’s hilarious…but beware, lot’s of curse words)
Forks over Knives
Welcome to the second installment of the BKB blog. It's been a while since the last post and over the past few weeks I've had the privilege of working with some really great people in the classes. Everybody has been coming in ready to work and to learn and it really is an honor to feel the trust I've been given as instructor. That trust, in the form of the money paid and the work being done, is something I don't take lightly. In fact, that responsibility is one of the main reasons for this particular blog. I wanted to share some thoughts and ideas on living a healthy lifestyle that I think are important, not just for people in the classes, but for everyone in general. Good instruction doesn't end at the door, it's something you can take with you and continue to learn from. So, with that thought in mind, let's begin.
Why the $*#! can't I do this?
So it's been a few weeks into classes, and I've been able to observe people as they're learning the foundational moves of using a kettlebell. For most people in the classes this is the first time they've ever picked one up. Now, I'm not picking on anyone in particular, because the problem I’m about to go over is one I'm intimately familiar with myself. So, what is this problem? It's the "Why the #*&! can't I do this" frustration some people feel when first learning a new skill, like how to use a kettlebell. To further reinforce the idea that I'm not picking on anyone (because, really, everyone in the classes is doing a great job) I'll tell you a story of one of the many times I've experienced this problem.
Has anyone ever heard of a slackline? It's a sort of tightrope you set-up between two trees and then adjust the tension on. A couple years ago I was introduced to them by a friend who had purchased one. We set that sucker up, watched a couple videos on how to use it, and said to ourselves "well, that doesn't look so hard". I stepped up, wobbled for just a moment, and was then promptly tossed right onto my a** . So I got up, tried again, and guess what? I was tossed right on my a** once more. Then again, and again, and again, and...well you see where this is going. Forget complicated kettebell moves, this was seriously just walking in a straight line. How hard can it really be just to walk in a straight line? But it was impossible, or maybe I should say impassable. At one point or another, I threw my arms up in the air and shouted "Why the @#&! can't I do this!?"
Why couldn't I do it? Because it takes time to learn a new skill. Who could possibly believe that walking a tightrope would be as easy was walking a straight line? I did. This was partly due to a bit of over-confidence I think many people experience as a result of watching online videos of people making something look easy. The reality is that learning something takes time...maybe even a lot of time. It was over a few months of practice before I was able to cross the slackline, but when I did I really felt like I had accomplished something. You have to earn a new skill, you don't just get it by watching someone else do it. You've got to put the reps in. That's the first take away from this post and one I've really been trying to drill into everyone in the classes. Learning something takes time. You need to teach your body how to do it, imbed the movement pattern into your neurological pathways, and practice, practice, practice before it becomes natural. This can be frustrating to many people. It certainly used to be for me. We live in a culture of 'get it now' and if something takes too long many people won't bother doing it. This is not the way the kettlebell, or any new skill, will work. It takes time, reps, and commitment, but when you get it you will have earned it. Remember, you've got to put the reps in.
I workout all the time so why am I not seeing results/hitting a wall?
Onto the next topic: rest. Another thing I've noticed with many of the people in the class is that they love to workout. This is awesome! I love to workout too. Exercise is empowering, it makes me feel like I've accomplished something, helps clear my mind, and makes me feel better than I've ever felt before. However, there can be too much of a good thing and people can easily fall into this trap with exercise.
My partner, Erin, used to suffer from this problem. Working out is something she loves and it made her feel good to do it as much as possible. Even though most people believe that always working out more must be better than working out less, that’s just not the reality of how our bodies work. Gains are not made during the workout, but during the recovery. When you workout, you're putting stress on your body. The body's adaptation to this stress results in the changes people want to see in their bodies. When we get stronger, leaner, and faster it's the adaptation to stress that gives us those results. Exercise is like a catalyst for those changes, but it's the rest days where we recover and adapt to those stress demands we put on our body. This is so vitally important I'm going to just bold the heck out of it - We need REST days to make gains - whatever they may be. If you go hard one day, take the next one off. If you're following a specific program, don't add anything extra to it. When your body is telling you to take it slow, listen to it. If you push yourself too far you're not going to end up healthy and resilient, but tired and frustrated. Let yourself rest, relaxation is really one of life's great pleasures (especially when you earn it).
These days Erin is much better about resting and in her own words, "Rest is restorative. I feel better now than I did two years ago and I'm really seeing more progress in my training." Also, a rest days doesn’t have to be (and shouldn't be) a sit on your butt day. Active recovery is a great way to spend a rest day. Try a long walk or a nice hike, go to a yoga class or take a ride on the bike trail. It's important to stay active, but everyday doesn't need to be a 'go hard or go home' day. If you push too hard for too long you'll just burnout and that's the opposite of what living a healthy lifestyle is about...which brings us to the final topic of this post.
Living the life - Fitness as a lifestyle
What does it mean to live a fitness lifestyle? Up until the age of about 21 I was perfectly content to watch television all day, play video games all night, and have my only exercise consist of walking downtown for late night pizza. Clearly, this is not living a fitness lifestyle. When I finally decided to reclaim my health (which will be a topic for a later post) it wasn't easy. I wanted results right away. I bought a bike and some kettlebells. I rode my bike from Williamstown to North Adams and it kicked my butt. I used my bells without a good foundational understanding of how train with them and ended up frustrated and sore. I jumped on an elliptical machine for thirty minutes once or twice a week and was puzzled when I didn't start losing some weight right away. It would have been very easy to say “forget this” and slip right back into my natural state of perpetual laziness. But I didn't. Now, about six years later, I've done a century ride on my bike, I'm an RKC kettlebell instructor, and I finally understand how someone can run for fun.
Although I was motivated by wanting results, I was also motivated by the notion of living a healthy life for the rest of my life. Yes, I wanted to drop a few pounds, get stronger, and be able to ride my bike around town without having to walk it up hills. And yes, I wanted all of that right away (that 'get it now' culture). But despite my initial frustration, I realized that if this was going to be how I wanted to live then I had to stick with it. I didn't just imagine what I could look like in six months, but rather what I could be doing in ten years. Did I care more about dropping a few pounds right away (and then most likely gaining them right back) or did I want to feel better at the age of 30 than I ever did at 20?
There is no such thing as get it now. If someone is trying to sell you that, they might as well be offering complimentary snake oil. You can't make huge gains right away and you shouldn't try to, you'll just end up undoing any positive change you initially see. It is also important not to get too frustrated about missing a workout sometimes. This is a common issue people have. A person plans for a specific workout program, they miss a day here or there, and all of a sudden they’re completely derailed. It’s OK to miss a day or two. What matters is forming a lifetime habit of health. Make your program focus on the long term so you don’t get frustrated by the short term.
Fitness as a lifestyle means dedicating yourself to your health, not the way you look or how much you weigh. It means being committed to putting in the reps, allowing yourself to rest, and living everyday with your highest priority being a lifetime of health and well being. We allow ourselves to relax, don't punish ourselves with our workouts, or for missing a workout, and stay active and interactive with the world around us. Fitness as a lifestyle is a sustainable path toward a healthy and resilient body for the rest of your life. You can start any day...how about right now?
Welcome to the BKB blog and to the very first post. Thanks for checking us out! For this first post I wanted to keep it pretty simple and focus on what I consider to be one of most important aspects of kettlebell training. Ready for it? Here it is: Kettlebells are dangerous. I hope I didn't scare anybody off right there but that's the honest truth. Kettlebell traning is weightlifting and weightlifting when done without proper technique is dangerous. Most people know what a push-up is and someone with terrible push-up form is probably not going to be able to cause too much damage to themselves. But, if you try a get-up with a heavy weight and you're not executing every step with proper form the results could be catastrophic. However, do that same move with proper technique and the results become amazing! So, maybe saying kettlebells are dangerous isn't the whole truth. Let's try again: Kettlebells can be dangerous. But, what is really dangerous? A (fitness) fad.
Why is a fad so dangerous? Well, on the one hand it's great that something that's currently trending can be introduced to a lot more people. On the other hand, and weighing in much heavier, is the fact that fads inspire and reinforce a lack of experience. People see the fad, they want to be part of the fad, and they google a few videos and purchase the latest, coolest, piece of equipment and then they become the new "experts." Kettlebells have been around for a very, very long time. They, themselves, are not a fad. But here, recently in the United States, they have certainly become one. To a degree that's great. Kettlebells really do live up to the hype, they are amazing tools for training your body. However, what we also get is an explosion of new "experts" who think they are qualified to teach and that's when the fad becomes dangerous. I'll be honest with you, I am not an expert. But I made damn sure to learn from the experts. When I look back now on the videos I remember watching years ago when I got my first set of bells I cringe. How could I have ever believed these people knew what they were doing? I was swept up in a fad tidal wave.
These days I know better. Before I signed up to take my RKC certification I went to see an RKC and Master Trainer to ensure that I actually knew what I was doing. Thankfully years of paring away the "experts" advice and seeking out qualified instructors and their information had put me in a pretty good place. My instructor told me that I had what it took to pass and after a few more sessions to 'fine tune' I signed up for my RKC certification class. And that brings us to the RKC, what it is, and why I signed up for it (which is going to bring us right back to safety).
The RKC, also known as the Russian Kettlebell Ceritfication, or Russian Kettlebell Challenge, was the first instructor certification given in the United States. It was run by Pavel Tsatsouline, the very same man who brought the kettlebell to the United States. Let me tell you what's different about this certification versus so many others (not only specific to kettlebells). In addition to being an RKC instructor, I'm also a NESTA certified personal instructor. The difference between these two certs is roughly that between the Earth and the Moon. There really is no comparison. Although I feel like I learned a lot of useful information through the NESTA program, I don't really feel like I earned anything. It was an online course, I studied, I took a written test at a testing center and I passed. That was it. No instructors, no real accountability.
The RKC was effectively the opposite of that. You do not just show up, spend three days with an instructor, and get your certificate. You earn it. And it is hard earned through sweat, pain, and blood. (If that sounds dramatic I assure you it is in fact completely accurate.) But you also can't just go there bleed and sweat all over the place and get your certficate. You still have to earn it. They test you three times. First, a technique test where you must flawlessly demonstrate the Swing, Squat, Clean, Press, Get-Up, and Snatch. Miss one, you're not getting that certificate. Then there's a snatch test, 100 snatches in under 5 minutes with an appropriately sized bell (24kg for yours truly). This test is to ensure you really have put in the time to train and prepare physically for this certification. If you can't complete it, you don't pass. Last, is a teaching test to observe your ability to teach the kettlebell basics. As my coach, Phill Ross said, "If I wouldn't let you teach in my gym, then you won't pass." My RKC was one of the smallest groups ever taught by Phil, only five people. Two of them did not pass. That's the difference, you earn the RKC by demonstrating that you know what you're doing, how to teach it, and that you've worked for it. If you can't do any one of those three things you will not be an RKC instructor. I should point out here that there are a few other true teaching certifications like the StrongFirst organization (Pavel's new company) and the International Kettlebell and Fitness Federation (IKFF). Just like the RKC, these groups have strict requirements to pass and earn your certificate.
I'm not throwing out all this information about RKC to sounds like a bada**. I'm doing it because I think it's important to understand that RKC's, SFG's, IKFF's and other instructors have not only earned those certificates, but have also been assessed by serious professionals that have ensured they know how to safely and effectively teach kettlebell training. Safety is the most important aspect of kettlebell training and it is the central tenet of these organizations.
This post, the first of what I hope to be many, was meant to really drive home one point. One which I've probably overdone, but a point that couldn't hurt from some over emphasis. Kettlebell training needs to be done safely for there to be any positive results from it. When you dial in your technique and you are confident in your skill, your ability and strength will amaze you. When I first started using bells a 16kg get-up executed with improper technique ended up damaging my shoulder. Now years later, using proper form, I can confidently do a 32kg get-up and know my shoulder is safe. Don't get caught up in the fad. Before you think about practicing kettlebells (or really any new exercise program) make sure to practice safety first.