Saturday, December 5, 2009

We Have Moved!

Thank you for your interest in the IronDisciple.

Please check me out at my new home:

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Chasing Perfection: The Vitruvian Man Complex

I've noticed a burgeoning trend in the fitness industry of material aimed at helping men "reclaim" their failing masculinity, become "alpha males," or reach some idealized ratio of proportions to become a modern day Adonis. I believe anything that gets men or women into the gym and leading a healthier lifestyle is good, but I'm not sure the approach of some of these programs is necessarily spot on.

My very first post on this blog detailed my belief that exercise and physical culture should be a relentless journey towards self-perfection, so any quest towards your concept of an idealized state is in my mind a good one. But I don't care for books or programs that are supposed to yield an aesthetically "perfect" body that is supposed to attract the opposite sex on some deep subconscious level. This kind of thing smacks of snake-oil and to a certain extent, desperation. Womankind is not a homogeneous group, and to assume they can ALL be attracted to a particular body type is borderline insulting to them. Women are diverse and have differing tastes. One woman's Adonis is another woman's "no thanks." Furthermore, I don't believe an exercise program predicated on external approval is healthy or effective.

Physical culture, and even athletics, is really about being in competition with yourself. The weights you are lifting, or the opponents you are competing against are really only there to force you to confront your weakness. The struggle is always against your essentially flawed state and has less to do with your opponent or the weight itself. If your goals revolve around aesthetics more than physical performance, the measure should still be about what you like to see in the mirror. Trying to change how you look in order to please others is a self-defeating approach and a much less rewarding one. If you are happy with you, you'll be self-confident, centered, and comfortable in your own skin. If you base your self-image over what others think you will always wonder, because we can only guess what others think of us, but we always know what we think of ourselves.

If you're a man who's interested in attracting ladies, maximizing testosterone levels, and achieving perfection in form/performance and you're willing to work hard for it, I applaud you. But the goal/standard you work towards should be what you personally believe is your own personal version of perfection. Short term goals should be specific and measurable, your long term goal of "the greatest version of yourself" should be slightly out of reach. You have to reach for the stars, and if in the end we never quite reach perfection, remember that the journey is as important as the destination, if not more so.

Latest Training Info
Having worked on Long Cycle GS-style Clean and Jerk for a while, I wanted to shift gears to concentrate on strength and explosiveness to keep my training fresh and avoid plateaus. For the next month or two I'll be alternating two-week cycles of max strength exercises with heavy weight and low reps, and explosive strength routines. Here is an example of a quick workout I did recently in the explosive phase when I was limited to the equipment in my apartment.

  • 4 x 5 reps KB Split Snatch
  • 4 x 5 reps Single KB Jerk L/R
  • 4 x 8-10 reps Jumping Deck Squats
  • 4 x 3 reps Weighted Pullups with 20kg KB (should have been muscle ups but I was limited by what I can do in my apartment)
  • 4 x 10 reps Clapping Pushups
  • 4 x 8-10 reps Double KB Swings
  • Core Circuit (various core calisthenic exercises)

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Girevoy Sport!

Its been quite a gap since my last post. I've been experimenting with quite a few things and trying to find a focus to my training since finishing with Enter The Kettlebell. I've looked into Scott Sonnon's CST training, reading his "Big Book of Clubbell Training." I found the text fascinating, and full of the type of in depth exercise science that I love to read. I plan to incorporate several of the exercise modalities and routines outlined in his book into my own training regimen. However, diving full tilt into CST training has been put on hold due to a sudden interest in pursuing the Girevoy Sport seriously. I briefly explained some of what GS is in a previous posting, but will now expand on the subject briefly, and will then explain some of what my own training has entailed.

The Sport
Girevoy Sport is a kettlebell lifting sport revolving around two events that can be entered into. You may enter one of the events, not both.

The Biathalon
  • Consists of the double kettlebell jerk and the single kettlebell snatch
  • The two lifts are separated by at least 30 minutes rest time
  • Only one hand switch is allowed in the snatch
  • One can only rest in the rack position for jerk and in the locked out overhead position for snatch
The Long Cycle
  • Consists of a single lift, the double kettlebell clean and jerk
  • One can only rest in the rack position
  • Every jerk must be preceded by a clean
Competition Format
  • Regardless of event entered, each lift has the same format.
  • The goal is your max repetitions of the lift in good form within 10 minutes
  • The bell cannot touch the ground and one can only rest in the approved positions
Rankings can be found HERE

My Training
I experimented with Russian Escalating Density Training (REDT) wherein the total work remains the same but over time you decrease rest and how many "sets" you perform the work in.

For example, your reps per minute (RPM) would remain the same throughout this cycle, but your set scheme would look like this over the course of several weeks:

  1. 6 rounds of 1 minute each
  2. 5 rounds of 2 minute each
  3. 4 rounds of 2.5 minutes each
  4. 3 rounds of 3 minutes each
  5. 2 rounds of 5 minutes each
  6. 1 round of 6 minutes
  7. 1 round of 7 minutes, etc.
You can do a few more rounds of smaller increments after the sixth step to increase the volume, and once you reach 1 round of 10 minutes straight, you'd start at the beginning with an increased RPM or a heavier KB.

This allows you to get better at the sport by DOING the sport, but I found that it took a LOT out of me, and it was tough to do any sort of supplementary work.

I stumbled upon the book "Kettlebells for Sport, Strength and Fitness" written by an AKC and GS guy named Scott Shetler. Stay tuned for a full review, but the book had some pretty interesting info on the sport in general and had some great routines in the back of the book both for GS enthusiasts and for Powerlifters/athletes looking to incorporate GS style training into their current routine. His program for GS athletes involved shorter, less taxing KB workouts with assistance exercises done several (up to six) times per week. I like the idea of working the exercises as if it were strength practice, not a workout, so I liked the approach and decided to give it a shot. I'll be posting my results in future posts.

More than likely, the wise sensible thing to do would be to shoot for Rank IV or III in the Sport since I'm just a beginner, but not only am I foolhardy, I'm also limited by my budget and lack of kettlebells. The only truly matching set of KBs I own are my 20 kg ones, so those are the ones I"m currently using. If I can reach 35 reps in the Long Cycle Clean and Jerk with my 20 kgs that means I can qualify for Rank II, and since that's all I have to work with, that's what I'm going for.

Let me know what you think! There's a meet in GA in December that I plan to go compete in!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Circular Strength Training: A New Experiment

Well I've completed my time following the Enter The Kettlebell protocol with my 50 lbs kettlebell. In that time my strength has increased dramatically. I recently succeeded in pressing the 80 lbs "Bulldog" Kettlebell with either arm, at a bodyweight of 135 lbs. I also am capable of achieving explosive clap pullups. Neither of these feats were even remotely possible for me before starting the program. I've also gotten leaner and even put on some lean mass. However, I know my progress has begun to stall noticeably, and it is now time to try something completely new to keep my body guessing.

I've long been intrigued by the Circular Strength Training philosophy and have wanted to incorporate some of that into my program. CST has a very novel approach to fitness. Whereas most fitness modalities have you lifting some sort of weight off the ground, CST has you moving through six-degrees of motion: Heave, Surge, Sway, Pitch, Yaw, and Roll. I find this complex view of training very interesting.

CST is founded on three "Wings" or core programs called Intu-Flow, Prasara Yoga, and Clubbell Exercise. Combining all three of these modalities should result in a "Flow State" as illustrated in the diagram from the RMax website.
According to their website you can jump in on any wing that catches your eye.

I'm starting by ordering the Big Book of Clubbell Training, which is on its way, and I downloaded the free ebook on CST bodyweight training from If I like it, and I think I will, I'll go ahead and purchase the full book from that same website.

I won't go too much into it because I don't like speaking about things that I haven't done my due diligence to study, but I will report back when I get to read some of the materials I've ordered. I do know for certain that clubbell training has been around for ages, in various cultures and even in American culture. The illustration on the right shows a diagram of some of the exercises done with old style Indian Clubs.

Stay tuned for info on my experiences...

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

30 Day Primal Challenge - Its DONE!

Well, today marks Day 31 of my 30 day challenge! I'm here to report that I stuck to it, and emerged at the other end with zero cheat meals. As many of you readers already know, Mark Sisson is hosting an official 30 Day Challenge that started just a couple of days ago, and hopefully some of my info and observations will prove useful to those just starting out on this same journey.

As you'll recall from my previous posts, I was already a fairly strict Primal eater, but subscribed whole heartedly to the 80/20 rule. When I cheated, I REALLY cheated, and it was roughly 4-5 meals a week. The experiment was to see what would happen to a fairly Primal eater if he or she cut out ALL cheat meals. Is there a point of diminishing returns where I would see little to no net results? Or would I go, as Mark put it on his website, from a "healthy Grok to toned, alpha Grok." I liked the sound of being an Alpha Grok, so thats what I was hoping for, and I'd argue that it occured.

The First Few Weeks
This was TOUGH. It took the first week at least to wrap my mind around the idea of not having the freedom to allow myself even ONE non-Primal cheat meal. It was tough to restructure my life so that I wouldn't end up cheating, and in this beginning portion my resolve was sorely tested indeed! With so little invested, it would have been very easy to rationalize that I would re-start the challenge NEXT week, after succumbing to some treat. Luckily I was able to stay strong and get through this.

The Midpoint
At this point it started to click. I had made some changes to my shopping and notified enough friends and family about the challenge that I could respectfully decline any offered grains or sweets without causing offense. People who didn't know me well often thought this entire thing was strange. "What, you're going on some kind of diet? You're already skinny!"

Rather than calling it a Health Challenge, which sounds melodramatic when its self-imposed, or calling it a diet, which has negative connotations, I took to calling it a 30 Day "Cleanse," a word that has taken root in popular culture and earned my smiles and nods from people instead of confused and worried looks. Beyond that, I had trouble calling what I was doing a "diet" since in our culture the word seems to imply something temporary, and this is how I've been eating and will continue to eat for the rest of my life, only with infrequent concessions once the 30 days are completed.

Another observation: anyone who is interested in nutrition and fitness has those moments of worry where you feel guilty for a spectacularly intense cheat meal, or moments where you worry that perhaps you've cheated too often and are on that slippery slope towards "letting yourself go." Granted, for the most part these concerns are unwarranted but its there now and then. It was kind of nice to realize that I had NOTHING at all to feel guilty about. There had been ZERO cheat meals, and every single bite of food I had taken was moving me closer to my fitness goals, not away.

The Final Stretch
At this point it all had clicked and come together. I was no longer craving those things I had given up, I was eating plenty of food, truly enjoying my meals, and I noticed looking leaner and feeling better and happier. It was no longer a challenge, but rather a lifestyle, and not a difficult one to stick with.

One thing I'd like to emphasize is that this Primal lifestyle is enjoyable. This is not a stoic monk's existance of self-abnegation and punishment. I eat until I'm satisfied, and I enjoy truly delicious foods. I engage in activities that make me smile, and my diet helps provide me a body that allows me to continue smiling.

The Results
Cold hard numbers-wise, there hasn't been much change. I weighed in today at 135 lbs, and sadly I've remained 5'5 (haha). However, I am stronger than I've ever been right now thanks in great part to my Enter The Kettlebell training program (thanks Pavel!), and visually I believe that I've gotten leaner. Can the increased leanness and static bodyweight mean I actually gained lean muscle mass during this challenge? Check out the pics below and judge for yourself:

Side-on View

Please disregard the profusion of towels behind me. :)

Back View

I believe whatever new back development I've experienced has been due to the vicious kettlebell swings swings and snatches done in the Enter the Kettlebell program.

Front View

Here is where you can most see the fat loss. It isn't ridiculously dramatic, but then again I didn't expect it to be. However I think you can see increased definition in my abs and obliques. It MAY, however, just be my imagination and seeing what I want to see.

Note that this is the same bathroom with the same diffused lighting as in many of my other posted photos, so a side by side comparison is possible

My Tool of Choice

I use the kettlebell for 99.9% of my training. It may not be for everyone, necessarily, but for me nothing beats it in terms of results and convenience.

And Finally...the side by side...what do you think?

<----- Before After ----->

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Oldtime Strength: It Wasn't Broke, Why Did We "Fix" It?

People are, in general, creatures of habit. We become attached to that which we habitually do, get comfortable, and dislike/fear the unknown and lack of familiarity that accompanies new things. For the most part, innovation is good. It staves off stagnation, and keeps us constantly improving in the various areas of our lives. Being willing to take that leap into the unknown allows us to discover a new type of food that we didn't know we would LOVE, driving a new brand of car that turns out to be an excellent investment, or even taking a chance on a lady/gentleman who turns out to be your soul mate. The trend for innovation is usually smaller, tighter, faster, more efficient. My iPod is a technical marvel beyond the wildest dreams of consumers in the 1950s. The Fitness industry has also followed this trend. Physical fitness has evolved towards making the workout experience more pleasant, and more accessible to the general public. Our workout experience has become standardized, cookie cutter, and people pleasing. Gyms across the country play the same music, have the same equipment, and are staffed with "personal trainers" prescribing the same workout routines for the same clientelle who sweat and toil on shiny well oiled exercise machinery. The grand majority of gym goers buy a "turn-key" solution for fitness, but don't really OWN the process. There's no real intimacy with the exercise process, they just think if they do X-work, they will receive Y-results.

Sometimes the old ways are better. Take a look at oldtime Physical Culture. Oldtime strongmen were motivated by strength primarily, and their physiques were amazing as a consequence. And that emphasis on functional strength was carried forward into the gym equipment used for the everyday joe. You wouldn't see a strongman performing endless Smith Machine exercises, they needed functional strength that could stand up to real world demands. I know "functional" is an overused buzzword nowadays, but if you can't carry your strength gains from the gym to the outside world, your training isn't "functional."

During a recent vacation to Asheville, North Carolina, I had the pleasure of touring the Biltmore Estate. This amazing mansion displayed immense wealth, even by todays standards, and boasted a gym that was considered "state of the art" at the time. Modern gym-goers would scoff at the small space and archaic equipment, but I guarantee I can get a better workout in that gym if given a chance to use it than most can have in the most well stocked modern gym.

Take a look at the full rack of Indian Clubs of various sizes and weights. Those unfamiliar with Indian Clubs would do well to research Circular Strength Training popularized by Scott Sonnon. This type of training has fallen out of favor since the time this gym was in use, but is fantastic for shoulder mobility, endurance, strength, and general fitness. Also, note the simple rowing machine. This is a fantastic metabolic conditioning tool. Just these two pieces can provide an excellent full body workout.

This shot includes a set of parallel bars with a crash pad to either side for safety. This piece of equipment allows you to work on a variety of movements, including the L-Sit, the Planche, Dips, and depending on athleticism, even handstands! There is also a climbing ladder, which can provide a good workout if one doesn't use their feet. The two showers in the back serve an obvious purpose and thankfully at least showering hasn't fallen out of favor in modern fitness.

In this shot is a rack with a series of globe-style dumbbells and on the floor, a globe-style barbell. Note that in this example it appears that both the dumbbells and barbell are wooden replicas, but the real ones were generally shot-filled and adjustable. Modern plate loaded barbells and dumbbells are more easily adjustable and probably a bit more efficient, but the old globe-style sometimes sported very thick handles, offering a fantastic grip workout that isn't present using modern bars.

If you are interested in this kind of training, here is a series of links that I enjoy:

  • - Scott Sonnons site on his new modern Indian Club strength training system
  • - Great site with old strength training books, equipment, and memorabilia on sale. Their blog has excellent information on it that is always thought provoking and inspiring.
  • BodyTribe Fitness - Awesome gym with an oldtime strongman philosophy. My kind of gym, and their site is action-packed with content.
  • Steve Maxwell's Blog - Steve Maxwell is, in my opinion, the quintessential modern physical culturist. I enjoy his blog and his approach to fitness immensely.
What do you all think?

Friday, July 24, 2009

Punch Kettlebell Gym - St. Petersburg, Pt. II

Today I took a trip to the Punch Kettlebell Gym in St. Petersburg, Florida for the second time. I had a blast yet again and was very pleased with the training I received from gym owner Justin Keen.

I've been working hard on the Enter the Kettlebell program, and today was considered a variety day, so when I arrived I asked that we avoid any pullups or doing tons of pressing. I was looking for a metabolic conditioning workout and also to work on some technique as an introduction to the Girevoy Sport. I will post more info on the Girevoy Sport (GS) in a future posting, but for now a quick and dirty definition is that its a competitive kettlebell lifting competition centered around the kettlebell snatch, double kettlebell jerk, and the double kettlebell clean and jerk (long cycle). The accepted format is performing as many reps as possible within 10 minutes, and the bell cannot leave your hand for the duration. I was under the impression that the clean and jerk, and the jerk were performed with 24KG bells, and the Snatch is done with one 32KG bell, but Justin says he believes all three lifts are done with 32 kilo bells, which is scary indeed.

Before getting into the GS training, Justin worked with me on my swing form, put me through a couple sets of figure-eights to hold with an integrated clean and press, and a couple sets of Art of Strength's Ropes Gone Wild. These really take it out of you, but its the good kind of pain, haha. For the Girevoy Sport intro, Justin had me work with a pair of Pro-style 16kg bells and working on timed sets of cleans to get used to the sensation of being under weight for that much time. We were using sets of 1 minute, and it was a lot harder than I thought it would be to maintain a steady rhythm and not succumb to panic breathing.

We moved from double cleans to working on straight Jerks with the 20kg Pro-style bell. We only used one bell at first, and I was able to improve to where I was doing an actual Jerk as opposed to a Push Press. With a few of the modifications that Justin helped me with the movement was 10x easier, and the bell simply flew up as if weightless. We did the same exercise with Jerks for time with the two 16kg, and the difficulty was extreme. Part of it is the panic breathing in my head, and part of it is the conditioning necessary to handle the weight for a full 10 minutes. We were still doing sets of 1 minute, but it was extremely tough. I have a long way to go before I'm ready to tackle the 24kg bells but I'm excited for the journey.

To close out the session I wanted to do two sets of heavy deadlifts, Power to the People style, and I wanted to press the 70 lbs/32kg kettlebell a couple times, since one of the goals of ETK is pressing the bell closest to half your bodyweight, and the 70 lbs bell is 52% of my bodyweight, I just wanted to get that one on the books and behind me. I completed the clean and press (strict press, not jerk) with relative ease, and did it for a few singles. In a bit, I'd like to attempt cleaning and pressing the Bulldog. Thats a nice 88 lbs ;). Here's some photographic proof of the lift...the photos are posted in order moving from left to right, top to bottom.