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.

What Motivates You?

Whenever a person decides to dedicate his or herself to improving their fitness, or really anything at all in life, its important to set goals. If you don't have a certain set of goals, both long term and short term, its difficult to accurately measure your progress, and without measurable progress it's all too easy to give up!

My short term goals vary frequently, and are not the main focus of today's discourse. These are things like, "perform a certain number of pullups," or, "perform a tuck planche for a solid minute." What I want to discuss is my long term goals and what that means for you.

The Greek philosopher Aristotle spoke of a concept called "Entelechy." The definition, via, reads: "In the philosophy of Aristotle, the condition of a thing whose essence is fully realized; actuality." I'm referring to the capstone of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, Self-Actualization. Many people will define this concept somewhat narrowly, however I believe we have not reached the limit of humanities potential, and most of us do not even scratch the surface.

Usain Bolt proved capable of running the 200 meters in 19:30 seconds. Moving away from physical accomplishments, human science has allowed us to achieve so much that was once believed impossible. We've split the atom, we fly like birds, we've even walked on the moon. Consider all the amazing achievements that time has proven is within the capabilities of the human machine, and then consider how much of that potential the average man or woman actually realizes in their lives? How much of our potential will forever remain untapped for want of the determination to push the limits? Before there was a Roger Bannister, no one believed we could run 1-mile in less than 4-minutes.

God has granted all of us a wonderful vessel to house our spirits. By carefully feeding an nurturing our bodies AND our minds, we are capable of accomplishing things beyond our wildest dreams. In this sense, every healthy meal, every book I read, and every exercise I take is a form of prayer offered to He who has given me the capability to be so much more than I currently am. I will never stop pushing the limits of what I'm capable of, and I hope you won't either.

Sunday, June 14, 2009


Welcome! In the coming weeks this blog will contain my personal experiences in fitness, nutrition, and exercise. I'm a serious proponent of Kettlebells and Paleo nutrition and am committed to maintaining a healthy and active lifestyle.

In the future I hope to become certified through the RKC so that I can help spread the use of kettlebells and help others lead healthy, active lives with workouts that are fun and creative.

I hope any who are reading this blog find it useful and informative!