Tuesday, August 12, 2008

From NC to NYC Certified!

Fun, Games & Timed Sets in the Big Smoke!

This past weekend was spent in New York where I attended the IKFF Certified Kettlebell Trainer Course with Steve Cotter & Ken Blackburn.

Firstly, I would like to extend my gratitude to Steve and Ken for creating such a wonderful learning experience, those guys are just a class act! I feel privileged to have been given the opportunity to take part in this wonderful event. 

Initially just meeting Steve was a surreal moment for me, he has been a source of inspiration ever since I popped in his encyclopedia 1 DVD and hit play.  And that was just the beginning.... next came the opportunity to learn his teaching's first hand and perform timed sets with the kettlebell legend, it was just awesome!

After everyone settled in and introductions were made it was down to business. Steve and Ken provided a fast moving, effective hands on learning experience. During the weekend they continually switched roles on different aspects of the course with one taking the lead and the other roaming through the crowd of participants offering personal attention, invaluable guidance and advice, it was genius! 

Following a thorough section on dynamic warm up and some joint mobility (which were workouts in their own right) it was time to chalk up get amongst it. On each lift we were instructed in great detail on all technical elements of each movement and no question or query was left unanswered. Once all the talking was done and we had all satisfied Steve and Ken with our techniques during a number of practice periods, it was time to go to work! The Fun part, at least for us crazies, who enjoy the mental torture and unparalleled physical burn and fatigue that can only be brought on by a timed kettlebell set!.... Man you just can't beat it, it's AWESOME!!

The thrill of the timed sets was heightened even more so at this event because it wasn't just you alone trying to push and make that 5 or 8 or 10 minutes. It was all of us, in it together! No one for a second contemplating putting their bell down until all the time in the set had elapsed. And this was quite an accomplishment for all of us considering the intensity of some of the sets performed, I mean an 18 minute set of cleans is no walk in the park, the 8 minute set of heavy military's-no picnic I can tell you especially being followed by a 12 minute jerk set (have to give Steve big props on this one as I egged him on to use the 32, which of course he did and he owned it!), and finally the 3 consecutive sets of OH squats finishing with a total of 12 minutes was pretty hellashious for us all, except Steve of course who decide to throw some duck walking into the sets just for fun, the man's just a haas mongrel!! 

It was a grueling, grinding, crushing two days of hard work, but everyone was feeding off one another's energy and having fun, which created the most relaxed, yet pumped atmosphere. I for one stepped out of DD Fitness on Sunday feeling exhilarated, energized and Im loving life right now!

I have to give a shout out to all who attended the certification, I feel privileged to have been amongst such a passionate and gifted group of people, thanks to each and everyone of you for being so welcoming, hitting every set hard, and making this such a wonderfully memorable chapter of my life.

IKFF Certification, NYC class of 2008
Check out Me, Brian & Ken giving it large with the B-Boy Style!

Special Thanks to...

Steve, for your commitment to excellence and for being so down to earth and approachable to us mere mortals even though you're a superstar!

Ken, for taking Brian and I under your wing and feeding us with your vast knowledge of kettlebell sport and training so that we may continue to strive to be the best we can be. Also, for being just an all round cool guy!

John, for your great attitude and demeanor and for taking the time to talk at length with me and answer so many questions I had regarding this business and how you made your way to the point you are now. I appreciate it big guy and I wont forget it.

Terri, Dean & Jennifer, our gracious hosts. You have a beautiful facility and it served perfectly as a venue for this most wonderful event. 

Brian, my training partner, biggest rival and friend. Thanks, for your support and drive, for challenging me, keeping me honest and making this experience fun times!

My good friend Dean, for giving Brian & I a place to stay and showing us how to survive and move around in the big apple. Wouldn't have been there if it wasn't for you bro, your a true friend. Also, for dragging us around NYC for sightseeing when we were completely exhausted!

Finally, to my wife Sarah and my son Brayden, who couldn't make the trip, but played a huge part in getting me there, you guys are the light of my life.

Monday, August 4, 2008

IKFF/NAKF National Kettlebell Meet, Michigan (part 2)

Personal Performance, Reflection & Analysis

I intended to post this blog a while ago, but didn't get the opportunity to finish it until now. So here it is, the last word on the IKFF/NAKF Kettlebell Meet, for now a least.....

I thought it may be useful to write a blog on how I (competing in my first ever kettlebell meet) felt from a performance standpoint the day of the event. 

Personally I feel this may help me reflect on my mindset and performance and serve as a good source of feedback to take forward and hopefully help me improve my standard of performance in upcoming meets. Also, this may prove useful for those looking to enter a competition in future and prove a useful form of reference, highlighting things to expect, things to avoid and perhaps certain elements that may help the day run more smoothly. This is obviously based on my view and opinion so take from it what you will. 

It's the morning of July 26th. The phone rings, it's my wake up call. It takes me just a little while to realize where I am. It takes a few seconds but then my mind clears and it hits me, I'm in Flint Michigan and its the day i've been waiting for, the day i've been training my guts out for the past 8 weeks. Here's how the day unfolded.

The Weigh In
Being new to the sport and not really knowing what to expect on competition day, I was keen to try and scope out the competition, to pin-point the biggest rivals, this was a mistake and a waste of time! The unique thing about kettlebell lifters is we come in all shapes and sizes, which makes it nearly impossible to distinguish between who may be a stronger or weaker competitor. So the lesson here is focus on yourself, your own preparations and performance, ultimately that's all that matters. 

Following the weigh in's and the explanation of rules and regulations for the meet, which included a demonstration of all lifts by Valery Fedorenko himself, the flights were announced. For this meet there were 8 lifting platforms, which meant up to 8 competitors would lift at once, which makes up a one flight. There were I believe about 16 flights in all, maybe more. Each flight obviously consisted of 10 minutes and there was a 5 minute break between flights, which kept the meet rolling at a perfect pace and meant that competitors lifting in the next flight had approximately 5 minutes to get to their platform, get their bell, chalk up and prepare their mind for the work ahead. Order of competitors within flights and flights themselves were determined by weight of kettlebell rather than weight of participants. So as I mentioned earlier, it was irrelevant whether you knew who your competition was with regard to weight class because chance was they weren't in the same flight as you anyway. The flights were arranged in ascending order (weight), so those lifting with the 12kg bells were first, then the 16's, the 24's and finally the 32's. Order of lifts was Traditional first (jerk then snatch), Long Cycle, then Chair Press and the meet was rapped up with the challenge lifts.

My First Lift (Jerk)
So here I was, my first competition, first lift, first time lifting in front of a crowd, which included numerous world class lifters and the legend Valery Fedorenko himself! To say I was nervous would be the understatement of the century, I was scared sh*tless! My mental preparation for this lift was terrible, I got caught up in the moment instead of settling myself down and focusing on what I needed to do during my set. This led to a poor performance for me with respect to both my technique and my numbers. 

Funny part of the story was the "chalk issue" I experienced prior to my lift. I had been using a fairly hard chalk during training that I would break up and have to grind in my hands to make it fine. Little did I know the chalk provided here was very light and fine, completely opposite to what i've been used to. So, I kneel down ready to chalk up, trying to look professional and dive my hands into this bowl of fine powder which created an enormous mushroom cloud that enveloped me! The result, not only was I nervous, but now you could also add embarrassed to the mix as I stepped to my platform looking like Casper The Friendly Ghost!
Check it out. I hit 44 reps (6:17), I burnt out my shoulder early due to a lack of leg drive, which is unusual for me, but thats what happens when you go in with the wrong mindset, I lacked focus and can't really remember the set at all. I placed 2nd in the jerk, and left myself a lot of work to do in the snatch to win the traditional. On a positive note following my initial disappointment of the jerk, I feel it actually helped calm me for the rest of my lifts.

Between Lifts
The time frame between lifts at this meet was just about perfect, I think I had between 45 minutes to an hour to cool down,recover, rehydrate, eat, warm up and be ready for my next lift. My only advice here would be make sure to know when your next lift is, have food and drinks readily available and allow time for a warm up prior to each lift.

My Second Lift (Snatch)
The snatch was so much better for me than the jerk, simply knowing what to expect helped a lot and knowing I had nothing to loose at this point allowed me to find a rhythm that felt good and just go with it. 

I took some positives and some negatives away with me regarding this lift. Negatives first, I have suffered hand tears in the past during this lift, so I knew If I pushed that was probably going to be a factor. I made my hand switch at 49 reps because of this, I felt my grip failing and knowing I still had the long cycle (my strongest lift) to go, I changed hands-too early! My right is my dominant arm and I ended up with more reps on my left (51), the last 4 of which being the most excruciatingly painful I have experienced with the added bonus of a hand tear. Based on my previous statement you may ask, why I pushed so far with my left, with the LC up next. Well, my biggest rival and training partner (Brian Del Greco) had smoked me on the jerk and I knew he hit 100 snatches, so I wasn't about to put the bell down until I hit at least three figures. I squeezed out the 100th rep and let the bell swing for a few moments, my heart racing, my hand bleeding and thought to myself "one more...just one more." It wasn't to be, the KB slowly slipped out of my hand, its amazing I got to 100, but couldn't get even one more. It's the most humbling and exhilarating feeling there is, knowing you pushed yourself to your absolute limit. AWESOME! Positives-technique felt smooth, I hit a new PR by 40reps, went 7 minutes and tied first place for snatches in my weight class. 

My Third Lift (Long Cycle)
Following the snatch my left hand was torn pretty badly, luckily my wife Sarah was on hand to patch me up and send me on to the LC. I knew I was strong going into this lift, the hand was a concern, but I felt confident. I felt relaxed during the set even though I was tired from the previous lifts and my hands felt raw. My plan was to try and hit 30reps and a new PR, but it wasn't to be. I felt good up to about 24, but then I was really aware of my hands, the right was beginning to tear now too. I held on and pushed out for more reps, but had to call it a day at 28reps (6:17). I was disappointed not to get the 30, but knew I left it all out there on the platform. Thankfully 28 was good enough for 1st place in my weight class, so all in all I was happy with my day's performance as a whole. 

In Conclusion
First kettlebell meet in the bag. It was a physically and emotionally draining and yet a completely exhilarating experience, I loved it. I can't wait to compete again. The sport of kettlebell lifting is growing and has a bright future. If anyone reading this blog has aspirations to try their hand at competing I would say go for it. Don't be intimidated, meets like this one in Michigan are a perfect place to get your feet wet, there are competitors of all levels, the atmosphere is great and its a lot of fun, get involved!

Friday, August 1, 2008

IKFF/NAKF National Kettlebell Meet, Michigan

Getting My Feet Wet In Michigan

So as previously mentioned I began GS training or kettlebell sport training 8 weeks ago. Myself, and my training partner Brian Del Greco (who also turned out to be my stiffest competition in the 80kg weight class) decided to just sign up for the meet, train like maniacs and just see what we could do. 

Time was limited so we basically hit it hard six days a week, always striving to improve our numbers. We only had the 24kg international grade bell's at the time so we were basically maxing out almost every session as far as reps and time goes, which is risky, but we just wanted to test the waters and see how far and fast we could progress. It actually worked pretty well for us and knowing we were going to be competing in the same weight class made each training day like a mini competition in itself, which made for some intense sessions!

So July 24th arrived and we made the long 13 hour drive to Michigan, it was me, Brian and my lovely wife Sarah making the trip. Sarah wasn't initially going to come with us, but decided she couldn't miss the meet in the end, which was huge not only because the 24th was her birthday and she spent it in a car for 13 hours with two wisecracking kettlebell lifters.  Also because without her planning, organizing, filming, photography and nursing skills (patching up our torn hands between lifts) I don't think we'd have made it through the day. Thanks Sweetheart. 

I'm getting sidetracked here, supposed to be talking about the meet. I have to start by saying that even though this was my first competition, it was just unbelievable! Ken, and his team just put on a wonderful event. 

The venue was great, having it in the hotel we were staying made things so much easier, we just woke up strolled across the hall and we were there. 

The competition couldn't have run more smoothly, it worked perfectly with 7 or 8 competitors lifting at a time and 5 minutes between flights, which gave competitors approximately an hour to recover and prepare between lifts, it was perfect. 

Being rookies we really didn't know what to expect, but we were just overwhelmed by how welcoming people were to us. Everyone made time to socialize and pose for photo's with us and even offered support during our lifts. I've competed at a high level of competition before, but this environment was like nothing I have ever experienced. The competition was fierce and yet you'd see people who'd just finished their 10 minute set cheering for someone competing in their weight class in the next flight, which just created and unreal atmosphere!

The icing on top of this deliciously constructed cake came with the presence of some of the top athletes in america and the world turning out to support the event and some even taking part. You had Ken Blackburn, Catherine Imes, Marty Farrell, Andrew Durniat, Scott Helsley, and VALERY FEDORENKO, I mean are you kidding me! When Brian an I saw Fedorenko walk in, we just burst out laughing, we were just speechless, couldn't believe we were seeing the legend up close. These are the people i've been watching and studying to this point and now I was mingling with them watching them lift and had the honor of performing my long cycle in the same flight as Scott, Andrew, and Marty. It was just mind blowing!

Based on this event, the future looks bright for the sport of kettlebell lifting. As a competitor I couldn't ask for more. It was just littered with inspirational performances like Scott Helsley's 50rep long cycle...so close, Marty coming back from surgery, Ken and Catherines top notch chair press demo, Andrew Durniat's unbelievable display of grip strength, our friend Amanda Beard (the bad ass), Eric from Toronto, the ice chamber girls and their impeccable technique, Liberty Gray hitting 10mins with the 24 on the long cycle was just awesome, Sean and Prentice from Chicago, those guys rocked it. The list goes on and on. Sorry if I missed anyone, it would be just as easy to say that all who attended should be proud of how they carried themselves and performed.

Thanks to the IKFF/NAKF and all the organizers of this meet for putting on such a phenomenal event and to everyone who showed up and gave it their all for making this just a wonderful experience.