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.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Primal Pancakes: Breakfast for Dinner

Today I gave a little something a try that I stumbled on while surfing "teh interwebz." Making the transition to the Primal lifestyle is all well and good, but for many of us we have an emotional attachment to certain foods and don't want to give them up entirely. While I believe its perfectly fine to indulge yourself in a "cheat" meal every now and then, that isn't an option available to me during my 30-Day Challenge, and there is also something to be said for a non-Cheat alternative that satisfies the craving.

Enter the Primal Pancake!

  • 2 Organic free-range eggs
  • 1/2 Cup Unsweetened Organic Apple Sauce
  • 1/2 Cup Organic Nut Butter (anything other than Peanut...I used Sunflower)
  • 1/4 tsp Cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp Vanilla Extract
I heated up some coconut oil in a pan over medium-low heat and after mixing and beating together the above mixture, went about making a pancake the way everyone else does. One thing though...the consistancy is not quite the same, I found that they fell apart during flipping if I made the pancake too large, so stick to smaller pancakes. Also, they burn quickly! Don't wait too long before flipping. I made quite a few more pancakes than what ended up making it to my plate, whole and unburnt...however, I'm a bachelor living alone and my cooking skills are not what you would call exemplary.

Alongside the pan with the cakes, I was cooking up some nitrate-free bacon in a second pan with some butter. Once everything was ready, I scattered some blackberries and a SMALL amount of 100% pure maple syrup on the pancakes and had at them.

  • Tasty, but you can really taste the sunflower butter
  • The consistancy was not quite as firm as regular pancakes. It was a bit mushy
  • I regret throwing out the burnt ones, because the more burnt ones were delightfully crispy and didn't taste bad
  • I'm not 100% sure how well these would pass the "Kid Test." I have no children yet besides my dog, but I'm almost certain he'd gobble the whole plate down given half a chance.
  • I"m not really sure I'll be rushing off to make this again in the near future. The total cost was fairly steep when you consider the sheer volume of nut butter! But it was tasty, fun, and its always good to have options.
Now, of course, my kitchen is a COMPLETE disaster. Maybe bachelors shouldn't be allowed to cook unsupervised.

For more on this recipe and for many others, check out the excellent site:

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Good News! You DON"T have to spend HOURS in The Gym!

The story of David and Goliath is the ultimate "Less is More" lesson, and there are many areas in our lives where we'd do well to apply this maxim. Michelangelo's depiction of David in deep contemplation before doing battle with Goliath also serves to illustrate an important concept in my training...imagine how much more worried he would look if he had just spent 2 hours working out before finding out he has to fight a giant?

Many of us put ourselves in this exact predicament several times a week, spending ourselves completely in the gym and then heading out into our regular lives to "recover" in time for the next gym session. If you are spending crazy amounts of time in the gym each week, can you satisfactorily answer the question, "why are you doing it?" I'd hazard a guess that for many it becomes circular...we work out so we can get better at working out and the time in between gym sessions is just recovery.

I was like that once. I knew I wanted to take my fitness and health to the next level, and I thought the answer was spending ever increasing hours at the local Globo Gym. I entered a contest held by a muscle mag in which I followed a cookie-cutter "mass building" program/diet for 3 months, submitting before and after photos holding the relevant month's issue of the magazine to verify the timeline. I can't speak for everyone's goals, and I don't mean to demean bodybuiding if that's your thing, but this approach was not for me! Volume-wise, I was doing an insane number of reps, sets, and exercises, and leaving the gym absolutely blasted. It was a four day a week split, and each gym session required a devotion of roughly 2 hours of my day. That isn't including the time spent sprawled out on my couch moaning about what a "great" workout that just was, haha.

I stuck with it for two months, and was seeing some results...but nothing to write home about. My results were far out of keeping with the amount of effort I was expending, and I realized I was really unhappy. My life had devolved into a cycle of working, rushing to the gym, sleeping, and repeating the cycle. And my workouts were leaving me feeling drained and worn out! What was the point? The goal of exercise and diet is to enhance your life and make it a more fulfilling experience isn't it? We workout so that we have energy, are free from frailty, and like what we see in the mirror. Some of us add goals of strength or athletic performance to these, but what point is all our effort if it doesn't allow us time to enjoy the benefits?

Since adopting a more Primal diet and lifestyle and using kettlebells to keep my workouts short, intense, and mentally engaging, I've spent much less time actually exercising and more time enjoying the results of those workouts. And the results have been better. A relatively minor, stress free adjustment to my eating habits, and a few relatively short intense kettlebell sessions has yielded me more strength, fitness, athleticism, and leanness than all those hours spent pumping iron and running on the treadmill. And after I finish a workout, I feel like roaring and beating my chest, not collapsing in a groaning heap.

I guess the point of this blog post is to keep the goal in mind in all things you do, and to scrutinize the steps you take towards that goal. If you joined the gym in order to get a great beach body...don't forget to go to the beach because you're too busy in the gym. Make sure whatever you are doing is enhancing your life and not dominating it.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

So You Want To Be a Soviet Super Soldier? Part II

Two more weeks have passed and I have closed out week 7 in the AOS ETK workbook. I feel great, my strength has been improving steadily and surprisingly enough, I've continued to be able to pull myself up with the additional 30 lbs attached.

Clean and Press

Its amazing to me that I blow past 3 ladders of 3 rungs with no problem en route to finishing 5 ladders. When I first started the program just 3 weeks ago I was struggling on the third ladder, and now it seems extremely easy. Cleaning the bell on my right side continues to be more problematic due to my reduced range of motion in that wrist, but I'm managing. I'm looking forward to Week 8, in which I will begin to add rungs to the ladders, adding an entirely new facet to the pain.


I've continued to do these with a 30 lbs kettlebell attached to a dip belt. I had assumed that at a certain volume I would need to drop the bell and use bodyweight only, but that has proven not to be the case. The final rung of 3 reps is fairly tough each ladder, so it will be interesting to see how I fair on a fourth rung. This portion of the training might be my favorite...there's something very pleasing and downright primal about hauling yourself up with the added weight from the weightbelt. It makes me want to beat my chest like a gorilla...and in the interest of full disclosure, I have from time to time.


These are tough for me, and not so much because of the weight. I'm using a 20kg kettlebell for Snatches and for Swings, and I feel the weight is challenging, but the calluses on my palms just plain hurt after doing Clean and Press. The pain alone forces me to do 5 reps each side twice through before resting, instead of the 10 reps left, 10 reps right as prescribed. I believe this week in lieu of the Heavy Day I will give the SSST a try with the 20kg bell without Cleaning and Pressing beforehand. For those that don't know, the Secret Service Snatch Test is 200 Snatches in 10 minutes with a 24kg (53 lbs) kettlebell. I'm a little smaller than your average girevik at 5'5 and 135 lbs, so I will complete it with the 20kg, and then I WILL complete it with the 24kg excuses. My route there may just be a little longer than others.


What an amazing movement. This program has given me an all new appreciation for the efficiency of this one movement and its immense value. These swing sessions have my heart pounding, my breathing heavy, and my entire posterior chain smoked! Even my grip gets pushed to the limit, and my trapezius muscles feel like they are worked, possibly as stabilizers during the upper portion of the kettlebells arc.

I like to give these sessions my absolute max effort so that I feel like collapsing at the end of the workouts. I can definitely attest to a sharp increase in my ability to handle these long kettlebell swing intervals. They are still tough, but much easier than they once were.

Other notes

Day 10 on my strict no cheat meals Primal Challenge is in the books and it hasn't been as difficult as I imagined. I feel great, and it may be my imagination but I feel as though I'm already leaner than I had been. I will reserve judgement until Day 30 though.

Stay tuned...

Friday, July 10, 2009

Caveman Core Training!

I'm often asked what I do for my "six pack." I find this funny because I personally think I have a Four-and-a-half pack, haha. I also never sought out the six pack holy grail that is so en vogue in pop culture. Any definition in my midsection has come as a consequence of clean eating and hard training, not so much a direct goal. What follows are some ideas for cheap, at home training for the core that will be challenging and will result in strength gains for your core and a good looking midsection granted that your diet is also very clean.

The last statement is VERY important. Abs are made as much in the kitchen as in the gym. Having strong abs, obliques, etc is fantastic, but you won't SEE any difference if they're covered by a layer of fat. Seeing the muscle may not be all that important for everyone, however EVERYONE needs a strong and powerful core. The core (abs, obliques, back) support every other activity you'll do both in the gym, on the field, and out in the world.

The Basics
  • A good workout program should include attention given to the abs, obliques, and lower back
  • Your obliques allow you to bend your trunk to either side as well as twist from side to side
  • Multi-joint, compound exercises exercise your core without being the focus. Strict pushups, heavy deadlifts, barbell squats, etc.
  • I'm not convinced a crunch offers a great enough range of motion to provide gains in the abs
  • I'm not convinced its possible to isolate the "upper" or "lower" abs. It's all one muscle!
The Exercises

Here are a few exercises that can be done with a minimum of equipment in the comfort of your home. Many of these exercises may be new to you, but then again everyone knows the common exercises. Note: backdrop this time around courtesy of my parents house :)

  • L-Sit
Find yourself two stable chairs and hold yourself up with your legs stretched out in front of you, forming an "L" with your body. This is a isometric static'll want to hold the position for time. A good starting point is breaking it up into as many sets as necessary to reach 60 seconds.

  • L-Pullup
When you feel strong enough in the L-Sit, you can up the complexity of the exercise by combining it with the pullup. Hang from a pullup bar as normal, raise your legs up into the L position, and then simply pull yourself up and lower yourself as usual while maintaining the L position. Tougher than it sounds! Do this for 3 quality sets, or 2 reps short of failure.

  • Band Punches
This is a fun one for the obliques, and about as sport specific as you can get. Grab a sturdy workout band (I got mine from and throw a technically sound straight punch with an emphasis on trunk rotation. Other punches can be thrown as long as they involve sufficient trunk rotation (probably not jabs for instance).

  • Superman/Shaolin Pushup
This one goes by various names, but in any event its a good test of core strength. Lay flat on your belly with the balls of your feet touching the ground and your arms outstretched in front of you and your palms flat on the floor. Other than the balls of your feet, this should resemble what Superman looks like while flying...and if you are good at this movement you can share in his bulletproof body. From the lying down position press yourself up so that the only things touching the ground are your palms and your feet. You will feel your core activating to help you maintain this position.

If this movement is too hard for you, bring your arms in closer to your body so that you rest on your forearms in the bottom position of the movement. Do not bring your arms directly below your shoulders, because thats a normal pushup. The movement has more of a tricep extension type of action in the arms than the push in a pushup or benchpress.

Note in this picture how the position requires full body tension. Every muscle in the body must be tense to maintain strength. Read Pavel Tsatsouline's Naked Warrior and Power to the People for more info on total body tension.

Program Ideas

For a quick, effective program, you could do the following in circuit fashion. Do one exercise after the other with no rest, and repeat the entire sequence 3-5x with 1 min rest between rounds

Routine 1
L-Sit 30 seconds
Band Punches 10-15 reps
V-Ups (consult Youtube for this one) 10 reps

Routine 2
Superman Pushups 10 reps
L-Pullups for a Quality Set (your pulling strength will limit you here)
Band Punches 10-15 reps

I recommend checking out Pavel's book "Bullet-Proof Abs" for info on the Janda Situp. Pavel goes into detail on this fantastic movement that deactivates the hip flexors and allows you to concentrate solely on your core. I won't go into it here because the book is a real treat.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Caveman Experiment: A 30-Day Challenge

Today marks the first day of a 30-day experiment in Primal/Paleo eating and lifestyle. I already maintain a very strict diet and exercise regimen, but I will be the first to admit I cut loose a bit on weekends. I roughly stick to the 80/20 principal and strive for 80% compliance. For me that 20% translates to 3-5 cheat meals in which I pay NO attention whatsoever to what I'm eating.

I feel zero shame in these cheat meals because I feel it's good for my mental health to kick back with friends and to eat whatever I want. My lifestyle allows me to cheat to a certain extent because these meals average out with my usual diet resulting in no real difference in body composition, health, etc...I THINK. Hence the experiment. How much of a difference is that 20% making? My supposition is that the law of diminishing returns takes effect, and as you get closer and closer to 100% diet compliance your perceptible improvements become smaller and smaller.
However, there is a chance that my cheat meals have a more deleterious effect than I believe right now. What if my cheat meals are throwing off my bodies ability to cleanly switch to a preference for fat-burning for fuel versus carb-burning? We'll see 30 days from today.

The Rules
  1. Meals will consist of mainly meat, fruit, vegetables, and nuts
  2. I will allow myself dairy products in moderation, all from full-fat sources
  3. I will implement Intermittent Fasting in a randomized/unplanned manner or in order to avoid a cheat meal when no alternative is available
  4. The aim will be organic, all natural sources, however as a concession to modern day life this will not be an absolute rule. No non-Paleo food types, though.
  5. Exercise-wise, I will continue working on the Enter The Kettlebell Rite of Passage
  6. I will make sure to take at least 30 to 45 minutes to walk at a steady pace each day
  7. I will make sure to get at least 7 hours of sleep each night.
Current Stats
Weight: 138 lbs
Height: 5'5 (yeah this isn't changing...but there's always hope!)
Before Pic: I've littered this blog with shirtless pics of myself, no need for even one more, haha. I will post an "After" pic in 30.

The inspiration for the 30 Day Challenge, and most of the info on the diet was sourced from Mark Sisson's work. Please visit his fantastic site at for more info!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Variety Day Revisited

Prior to today, I've been using a scattershot approach to Variety Day. Basically whatever struck my fancy was what I would do! While this keeps things very interesting and indulges my curiosity and short attention span, the lack of consistency doesn't lend itself very well to measurable progress.

I thought about what ETK provides me, and I thought about what might be good to add. My approach is not to clutter things with too many extra exercises, but to take advantage of variety days to work on movements that I am not very strong in. I settled on including the two exercises featured in Pavel's excellent book: The Naked Warrior.

I have always struggled with the One Arm Pushup and the Pistol. Coincidentally, ETK does not include any motions that directly target the Pectoral or Quadricep muscles, so it fits in nicely. In the FAQ section of Pavel's Enter The Kettlebell book, Pavel suggests Greasing The Groove (more on this in The Naked Warrior by Pavel Tsatsouline) with Pistols but to SKIP One Arm Pushups. I am assuming this is because the overall volume of GTG would overstress the upper body what with all the pressing one does in ETK. Instead of GTG, I decided to do straight sets with both exercises. I also added in Janda Situps and will perform Turkish Getups in their stead during my NEXT variety day.

I feel as if ETK and Naked Warrior go together very well. The name of the game is STRENGTH.

Results from first try:

  • Currently performing pistols down to a position where my thighs are parallel with the ground. My hamstring flexibility doesn't allow me to lower. Next time I may perform them on a low step in order to reach a greater range of motion while my flexibility catches up.
  • One Arm Pushups are tough but doable. Once I reach a certain comfort level and volume, I will switch to one of the MANY challenging variations Pavel provides.

The numbers:
  1. 3 x 5 reps Pistol (partial ROM)
  2. 3 x 5 reps OAP (Nose touches floor on each rep)
  3. 5 x 5 Janda Situp with hands in Boxer position
I plan to increase sets over time until I am doing 5 sets or more of the Pistols/OAP. Next session w/ the Jandas I will extend my arms overhead to increase the difficulty.

Below I have included the now ubiquitous shirtless bathroom self-pic. Readers of this blog please believe me, I DO own shirts. Problem is, at 5'5 and 135 lbs, when I wear shirts I just look scrawny...and then why would anyone care how I'm working out, Haha.

Monday, June 29, 2009

So You Want To Be a Soviet Super Soldier? (ETK Week 1 Debrief)

Today I completed my first week on ETK with my 50 lbs kettlebell. I'm still working out what I'm going to do during my variety days, but needless to say, I have plenty to keep me busy!

The program itself is super straightforward with Clean and Press paired with Pullups, and a secondary exercise of either Snatches or series of Swings.

Although the Program is set up to use one heavy kettlebell, I find that my pressing strength is greater than the rest of my body can keep up with. Perhaps its a mistake to keep plugging away at the Clean and Press, but I'm currently using my 50 lbs Kettlebell for Clean and Press, and my 44 lbs (20 KG) Kettlebell for Swings and Snatches. I am also using a dip belt to hang my 30 lbs kettlebell off of me during Pullups.


- I am able to handle the Pullup Ladders + 30 lbs pretty easily. It will be interesting to see how this holds up as the ladders/rungs increase.

- My limited range of motion in my right arm doesn't allow me to properly execute a clean on that side, but the improvements in my form with the left side have made Clean and Press much easier! Improving my technique has made the motion more efficient, thereby reducing the amount it taxes my system.

- Even after dropping the weight to the 20 kilo bell, doing so many swings in a row is tough! Its interesting because my anaerobic conditioning is pretty solid, but these swings seem to kill me regardless.

- I think working with the Captains of Crush Gripper has made kettlebell work much grip doesn't get tired between Clean and Press, Weighted Pullups, and Swings.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Workout for Iran

Anyone who has access to television, radio, or printed news media knows that a struggle is now occurring in Iran, in protest of an injustice against democracy and the will of the Iranian people. There is a lot of ugliness in the news right now, so I hoped to use this blog post to highlight a positive aspect of Iranian/Persian culture to balance the pervasive negativity.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a bit of a fitness and exercise nerd. I like researching the more off-the-beaten-path forms of fitness. That attitude lead me to implements like the kettlebell, which currently makes up 90% of my training. One day while in research mode, I began to take an interest in the Pahlavani tradition of Iran. The Pahlavan figures prominently in traditional folklore, and the sport/martial art of Varzesh-e Pahlavani translates to "Sport of The Heroes." The traditional Iranian gymnasium within which these warrior arts were undertaken is known as a Zurkhaneh, or "house of strength" and that just SOUNDS cool, doesn't it?

Here is a good video illustrating some of the exercises and movements of the Pahlavani tradition:

I decided to create a workout based loosely on the movements I've seen done and perform it today in honor of the struggle going on in Iran right now. I wanted it to be arduous and tough, and you are welcome to follow along and give it a try too (at your own risk).

The only equipment you will need is a pair of heavy clubs. The Pahlavani swing heavy clubs known as meel, but modern interpretations such as the Clubbells manufactured by Torque Athletic would work. I created my own out of plumbing material, as shown in this video:

I filled mine with sand in the handle, and then steel BBs in the heavier part. I estimate it weighs approximately 10 lbs and thats heavy enough for the rep-range I'm using them on.

The exercises I chose were the Iranian Twisting Pushup, the Hindu Squat, the Club Shield Cast, and lastly, the V-Up. All of these are visible in the video attached above, except the V-Up. I wanted to simplify the workout as much as possible so I deleted the shield-pressing motion you'll see in the video. However, you'll notice that the legs are held up above the ground and twisted from side to side, recruiting the core to stableize. So I added the V-Up to involve the core, and considered it a suitable substitution. You'll note there is no posterior chain or pulling movements, but I wanted to stay true to what I've seen on the videos I've dug up, so I left those out.

The workout was organized like so:

  • 10 Rounds of the following circuit, with 1 minute of rest between rounds and no rest between exercises.
  1. 10 Iranian Pushups
  2. 20 Hindu Squats
  3. 30 Alternating Shield Casts (15 per arm)
  4. 10 V-Ups
This workout ends up adding up to 100 Iranian Pushups, 200 Hindu Squats, 300 Shield Casts, and 100 V-Ups. When strength and conditioning was required in order to defend your family and homeland, this degree of fitness would be barely adequate. How much we've given up!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Gene Hacking: Unlocking the Inner Caveman

There are innumerable breeds of dogs in existence today. From giant Great Danes to tiny chihuahuas. Each breed looks distinct from the others, and have distinct habits and mannerisms...and yet they all descended from the same wild beast: the wolf!

Bare with me, this is all going somewhere relative to humankind...

So how did we go from this:

To this:

The common theory is that early man came upon a litter of wolf puppies, perhaps accidentally, and selected a puppy to keep based on friendliness and tameness and discarded the rest. An UNnatural selection, if you will. When that pup had pups, we again selected for tameness, until over the course of generations we ended up with the domesticated dog. In the Soviet Union, an experiment was held on the Silver Fox that attempted to reproduce those same results. Wild Silver Foxes were captured, bred, and then only the most inherently tame pups were bred. In a very short time (relatively speaking) a tame breed of Silver Fox emerged with behavior similar to modern domesticated dogs (i.e. wagging tails, barking, etc.). Even MORE interesting were the differences in morphology/physiology: the dogs began to have mottled, colored fur, etc.

This entire experiment was undertaken by scientists who "were interested in the topic of domestication, and the process by which wolves became tame domesticated dogs. They saw some retention of juvenile traits by adult dogs, both morphological ones such as skulls that were unusually broad for their length, and behavioral ones such as whining, barking, and submissiveness" (wiki, hehe). Much of the behavior we associate with adult dogs, are actually not done by adult wild wolves...these are traits of immature puppies.

So isn't it likely that the same process was undertaken by humankind as we began to organize into large, settled, agrarian societies? As the savage day-to-day struggle to survive became a thing of the past, how likely do you think those most adept at surviving that savage struggle would fit in to the relatively staid life of a farmer? I would contend that those savage men and women most physically and mentally suited to the savage life were ostrasized from society, in effect selecting for those traits of docility and...tameness? Could it be over the course of generations we've become the "puppies" of what humankind once was? And what does that mean for our morphology/physiology? What did that savage human look like?

Don't misunderstand me, society finds certain behaviors unacceptable for a reason, and that is how it should be. Throwbacks in terms of behavior currently exist, and our prison system is full of them. However, just like the wild wolf is smarter and generally stronger and faster than its domesticated bretheren, is there a chance we've also let go of some of these traits along the way? I believe in exercising and eating the way our ancient pre-Agriculture ancestors did, and I think this leads to very pleasant results as our genetics remember a stronger, faster, leaner existance.

"Civilize the mind, but make savage the body." - Chairman Mao

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Punch Kettlebell Gym - St. Petersburg

This morning I woke up early and headed into St. Pete to work out with Justin Halek at his Kettlebell gym. He was extremely nice and knew his stuff, and it was great to chat kettlebells and fitness with someone. I also loved the chance to check out (and lift) so many different brands and sizes of kettlebells as well as thick handled globe-style barbells and dumbbells

It was great to get the feel of some real quality KBs. The Dragon Door variety felt awesome, and I appreciated the thick grip. The models I REALLY fell in love with though were the Girevoy Sport competition models from AKC. They just FELT right. I'm also quite proud of succesfully Pressing the 70 lbs KB...hey, I'm 135 lbs, haha.

Justin explained todays workout quickly and we got to work. It was simple...brutally so. 2 minutes at each of 6 stations, with roughly 1 minute break in-between each station. The goal is just to do as many reps as you can at each one. The break out was as follows:

1. Sledgehammer Swings into truck tire
2. Kettlebell Squat Thrusts into Clean and Jerk w/ 16 kg
3. Kettlebell Turkish Getup (to elbow only) w/ 16 kg
4. Jumps into and then out of a truck tire
5. Strongman Log Clean and Press
6. Kettlebell Swings w/ Release and Catch at the top of the arc w/ 24 kg

Justin called out when we had 30 seconds, and then 10 was rough but my goal was to never let the end of the round catch me resting. An ancient Spartan saying that wives told their husbands before they marched off to war was, "Return with your shield, or on it." and I kept that in my head as I pushed through those last few reps. After the last round of Swings I stumbled away, and then, to my horror, realized we were about to do the entire circuit one more time!

The second time around was actually easier than the first, because I fell into that wonderful Zen state where you just endure, and nothing else matters. I was extra careful to keep my form perfect, and to not try to muscle any of the movements where it isn't appropriate. All in all, I had a great time and I'm looking forward to coming back in the near future!

Here are some pics from the workout:

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye

So...that guy on the left was me, believe it or not. This was a couple years ago, but that was what I looked like fresh out of college, during what is supposed to be your healthiest, most fit years. Sadly, although I was working out constantly, I was also eating the wrong things at the wrong time. Not everything you read in the muscle mags is appropriate for everyone, and at the very least you need to adjust the proportions according to your personal size/stature.

I'm 5'5, so I'm not nearly as large as your average bodybuilder, but nonetheless, after every workout session I would buy a giant smoothie loaded with protein, peanut butter, and yes...SUGAR. I'd then drive home and promptly fall asleep. The diet didn't get much better during the day, what with fast food, snacks, and candy. And living with my parents at the time meant more rice and beans than is wise. So there's me in my Luchador mask, but looking more like a Lucha-don't.

Cleaning up my diet and shifting the focus of my exercise has done wonders for my body composition. I've gone from primarily a bodybuilders form of training to experimenting with a more functional form of fitness through resources such as CrossFit,, and most lately, Kettlebells. To each his or her own, but my body appears to have responded most positively to this sort of training, and I feel as though my strength, speed, and stamina allow me to more fully enjoy my life. On the diet front, I've gone from the philosophy that I workout, therefore I can afford to eat whatever I want, to a diet in which I eliminated all simple carbs in favor of whole grain sources. Just this change resulted in rapid fatloss, but I didn't fully fine tune my system until I made the Primal/Paleo plunge. I gave up grains and sugars of all sorts and limited my diet to meat, fruit, vegetables, and nuts. Of course, on the weekends I loosen up a bit and allow myself a cheat meal or two.

All this has resulted in the weightloss you see today. Here is a pic of me today, wearing a pair of dress pants that used to fit snug on me. One problem is having to buy all new clothing...

Today's Workout: 2 x Tabata Sprints w/ 1 min rest in between
Check out a description of Dr. Izumi Tabata's work at one of my fav sites:

Today's Last Meal: My favorite shake recipe
I make this shake every once in a while...the soy milk and protein powder make it not STRICTLY Paleo, but there are no simple carbs involved.

10 oz Organic Soy Milk
1 Scoop Protein Powder
1 Whole Banana
2 Tbsp Almond Butter

Blend it all up until its smooth and enjoy! You have a nice mix of healthy fats, protein, and some carbs.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Kettlebell

For a while now, I've worked out almost exclusively using Russian Kettlebells. The Kettlebell, or Girya, is basically a cannonball with a handle. Its a convenient homegym and I feel that the creativity and variety that goes along with KB training makes it a tool I will never get sick of.

I do not advocate using ONE single tool. I've used barbells, dumbbells, bodyweight, and other exercise modalities to great effect, I am simply stating that for the past several months I've used kettlebells almost to the exclusion of all else. This doesn't mean I won't mix in some bodyweight exercises or Indian Club exercises (more on this later).

If you are interested in giving KBs a shot (and I think everyone should) I will direct you to and Pavel Tsatsouline's book "Enter the Kettlebell." Buying a kettlebell is expensive...they aren't cheap and shipping always gets you. However, they're beginning to crop up in Sports Authority or other locations. Please realize the quality of these store bought KBs will usually never approach what is available through Ader, Dragon Door, Lifeline, or other sources. Probably the cheapest source are the Grey Series from

You may note that authentic KBs are in funky sizes and weights. KBs were originally manufactured based on the Russian Pood. 1 Pood = 35 lbs. The weight increments have remained even though that unit of measure has been abandoned.

As a rough guide for what size to get:

Average Lady = 18 lbs/8 kgs
Strong Lady = 26 lbs/12 kgs
Average Man = 35 lbs/16 kgs
Stronger than Average Man = 44 lbs/20 kgs
VERY Strong Man = 53 lbs/24 kgs

Start out with ONE KB at first, and Pavel's book. A good companion is the ETK Workbook from The AOS book takes the guess work out of Program Design from Pavels work and is intended to be a companion not a standalone volume.

Hope this helps!

Monday, June 15, 2009

What Do One Of My Meals Look Like?

Lately I've been receiving a lot of interest in my diet. I follow the Paleo or Primal diet, with a few differences from Canon.

While 90% of my food consists of strict meat, vegetables, fruits, and nuts, I do allow myself to eat peanuts and soy products, and while I avoid milk, I have no problem with cheese.

I'm lucky in the sense that my palate accepts a wide variety of foods and I find things that others would consider gross pretty delicious.

Today's dinner was a tin of sardines, some spinach cooked in olive oil, an assortment of olives, and some beets. I think this type of thing is delicious! I have my protein, my healthy fats, and the carbohydrates from vegetable sources. You can clearly see that the proportions are much different from a regular Western diet. Instead of heavy on the carbs, I'm heavy on healthy fats and protein.

I cook with olive and canola oil mostly, and I try to eat a variety of vegetables and meats throughout the day. I usually snack on nuts and beef jerky, and I do eat fruit but try not to eat too much of it.