My Kettlebell Rebel Yell

Talk about the watershed moment – my third (and final) son being born one day after my 40th birthday. Quinton came into the Spring of my life..and so did the kettlebell. The kettlebell, sitting in a dusty corner of Berkeley Ironworks gym, didn’t even have to announce himself. I knew right away that it was a rebellious object..because no one was using it. I was going through life with open eyes that day..ready for the opportunity. Ready to be a kettlebell rebel.

Specialize in doing this opposite. Be a contrarian. Sprint through Life..don’t jog. Don’t follow the pack (or Bears or Lions for that matter!). Move to California. Be the first in your family to go to graduate school. Live in a “dangerous” city like Oakland..aka “The Town,”that just happens to have the most perfect weather climate for kettlebelling 365 days/year. We live with open eyes & hearts in one of the most diverse cities in this country, opting not to sell out to suburbia. Oakland speaks to our souls in a deep way. It’s kind of funny seeing how both my wife and I came from VERY small, homogenous towns in the Midwest. All the moves that have been made were of our choosing. Now, I choose to remain physically active to ensure that I get to participate fully in the lives of my kids. Some have called me “weird,” in my pursuits and that my kettlebell community is “cultish.” These jibes of misunderstanding that come my way are greeted and then sent along into the dustbin of life. Wax-on, wax off….

Sticks and Stones

The goal now is to stay on top of my craft and improve. As a StrongFirst Instructor, I’m forever learning, forever practicing, forever a “Permanent Beginner!” Practicing movements that will allow me to excel at the things I love to do: frisbee, ping pong, tennis, sprinting, playing catch with a football, & shutting down a 20-something on the basketball court. Oh yeah, & there is the pseudo-Greco-Roman wrestling matches with the boys. It’s to help others not only learn the beauty of kettlebells, but to help people move better, in the safest of manners.

As for my boys, they are my PRIME motivators

Future 510 Kettlebellers & Human turkish get-up practice tools :)

and will learn when they are ready. The tools are always there for them, but I will not shove the proverbial kettlebell spoon down their throat. It needs to come from them. In the meantime, I will use them as a tool in my training, to help them get the gist of a life of strength.

Yes, I’ll Eat My Eggs..and get YOKED!

Love handles. The Wheat Belly Roll. Always thinking I could outsmart my other “brain,” by lifting heavy and often. It’s not so simple. “It” has been with me for a long time, like a nagging reminder that there is work to be done. Only this time, in a smarter fashion.

Circle the clock back 28 years to my first semester at Wisconsin-Madison. I checked in at a scrappy 5’10” – 152. That would change, quickly. Newfound freedoms also brought on newfound responsibilities, including the choice of being able to eat whatever I wanted. Those first four months in Madtown got the best of me. Endless beer drinking, usually followed by binge eating at some of the finer fast food establishments like Pizza Pit pizza, Famous Franks cheddar dogs and cheddar fries, “Belcher” burritos, Zorba’s gyros..and more fries. The list goes on. Throw in some poor food choices at University cafeteria and a late evening bowl of Babcock Hall’s finest ice cream. Top that off with endless supplies of free Lowenbrau shorties (7oz), courtesy my dorm-mate, and I had formed the blueprint for reeking havoc on my body. “Freshman 15,” became my reality – I weighed 167lbs once Christmas arrived that year and the weight never came off.

In an attempt to rectify the situation, I spent endless hours in the gym. Benching, squatting, using those silly “leg extension” and hamstring curl machines (please forgive me). Let’s not forget the concentration curls in front of the mirror! Vanity at its finest. Months turned to years, and the weight gradually went up. Working in an office/cubicle didn’t help. I’d wake up to sit in a car, to go sit at my desk at work, only to sit on the bus back home, so that I could “relax,” at home..by sitting down. Don’t get me wrong, I stayed active at 24hr Fitness. This went on for 24 more years until a little after my third..and FINAL, son was born. Time was now an even greater and precious commodity. “Q” was born one day after my 40th birthday. I quickly did the math..when I was 80, he would be 40. I wanted to give myself the best chance at making that happen, to enjoy as many days on this planet with my little men. More importantly, I wanted to be able to “compete” with them for as long as I could..and I’m hoping that will be for many years to come.

The perfect tool (for me) appeared before me eyes – the kettlebell. It lends itself very well to a busy family life. The ability to take it anywhere is one of its magical qualities. Some of my fondest memories are swinging amoungst the redwoods, on the sandy beaches of Monterey Bay, in my backyard with hummingbirds darting about, and at 9K elevation in Tuolumne Meadows (Yosemite) for a fabulous pressing session. This would be the ticket for longevity.

Double kettlebells have now become the preference. Twice the weight, twice the results, in half the time. Probably not a very scientific explanation, but that is how if feels to me right now. This is also somewhat of a recent development. While I was tasked with double 24’s for my tests at RKC-Chicago, I never attempted a program implementing two bells. My first stab at it was Patrick Flynn’s – Prometheus Protocol. The more I read about Patrick’s own transformation, the more I liked him and it gave me hope that I could make a similar transformation. Not only that, but I had access to a great group of people at SOL Performance. People to share my passion with and finally a routine that started to chisel away at the excess.

I’m not sure how we stumbled upon Geoff Neupert’s Kettlebell Muscle. I think a big part was a brief meeting I had with Oakland’s own Iron Maiden, Asha Wagner. She was three weeks into Kettlebell Muscle and was raving about it.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Her NS6 logo struck a chord with me. I loved all the reasons why she created this logo, right down to the California star. I was born on the 6th, so that number is forever mine. Learning, growth, and improvement will forever be the philosophy moving forward. This is RKC Karma at it’s finest. So Kettlebell Muscle it is..for the next 12 weeks. I now weigh in at 178lbs – down 17 lbs from my all-time high. To be continued….

Green Light = PUSH!

Green Light

Spring is here. Earth Day has come and passed. Growth is in the cards in nature, and in yourself. So, let’s take a look back, to January 1, 2012. Did you burn the resolution candle at both ends? How long did it last? Four weeks, six weeks, 12 weeks, and if so, now what? What’s your plan? Did you think you could rip it up everyday and make it through 365 days?!

I’ve had the honor of training with and being a student of Dan John, Master RKC. He talks about a goal-setting system which factors in important variables like, “What is going on in your life,” and “Can your lifestyle support your intended goal?” These are his Red, Yellow & Green light definitions when it comes to training. The yellow is where you are going to be most of the year, but there will be a couple times in the year (in four to six week increments) where you will lay the proverbial pedal to the kettlebell metal. After completing my 40 Day Easy Strength plan a few weeks back, I was looking for that ‘green light’ experience. I stumbled upon Comrade Pat Flynn’s website, Chronicles of Strength, and honed in on a program called the Prometheus Protocol. It’s very simple and straight-forward, but not easy. The format consists of 10 sets of 5 repetitions of cleaning and pressing double kettlebells. I started with two 20kgs. You then proceed with 10 sets of 5 front squats. The clean and front squat are classic armor building movements, and two movements that I have fallen in love with. The press calls upon the entire body to execute, so no muscle was left unturned in this routine. The density variable was executed in a “I go, You go,” format, which leaves little time to catch your breath. Cardio, check. LOL!

Enter the Kettle(Belles) – That’s right, SOL-Sisters Ada and Jasmine, my secret weapons. If ever there was a force of positive energy, it’s these two warriors. They are the “You go” component that keep me on my toes. We have faithfully met at 5:45am on MWF for the past three weeks. We work on the Prometheus Protocol MonFri and then another devious routine like the “Deep Six,” on Wednesdays.

Our mantra and motivating chant is “PUSH!” When the going gets tough, this word powers us forward. I will text this word to them 15-20min before we meet to make sure we are all on the same page. No-shows are NOT an option when training under the green light. We challenge each other to make gains on our previous best & the results have been very satisfying. We plan on cycling through with this program through next week, at which time, we will move back to ‘yellow light’ mode. Just yesterday, I completed the entire circuit with double 24kgs. So the gains have been fast and furious!

Pace yourselves people. Know when to lay it on the line. Blowing out your engines each and every time will only lead to burn-out and injury. Take time to practice your skills in a mindful manner. Then take the opportunity a couple times a year to go for the throat. Find kindred strength spirits during these ‘green light’ windows. They will empower you to discover a new stronger self.

My 40 Day Affair with BUP Love

My wife knows of my love for the BUP. She shakes her head. Sighs. Shakes her head again and in so many words has accepted my love for the BUP…it wasn’t always like this. I didn’t even meet BUP until a sunny day on the hallowed grounds of the Coyote Point Kettlebell Club . There we were, lined up for a conga-line kettlebell swing dance, with beautiful round spheres of iron. The dancing went well..and then, she appeared — BUP. As a newly minted RKC, I felt intimidated by her lovely movement. She weakened me..and that was not good. Not good at all seeing how I just graduated from the “School of Strength.”

Did he really say that? "Suck it!"

This is BUP on the picture to the left.

No, not Coach Stevo, but the lovely cannonball with a handle in his hand, thrust to the skies..turned upside down. Her formal name..the Bottoms-up Press. It is a challenging movement that demands your total attention, lest ye want a kettlebell in your grill. Grip strength is crucial and I didn’t have enough of it. I struggled with the 16kg on that day. This lit the internal Foley Irish fire to make a change.

Greasing the Groove at work with the 16kg

In many ways it was the perfect movement as to what was occuring in my work life. I could sense my days in the world of corporate cubicles was coming to an end. I would bring my 16kg bell to work. My colleagues could see the bell rising and lowering at random times throughout the day. I was “greasing the groove,” as Pavel expounds upon in his classic Naked Warrior – “”Your grandmother used to tell you: to get good at something, you must do it often, do it a lot, and do it to the exclusion of other things. Specificity + frequent practice = success. It is so obvious, most people don’t get it. I had a radical thought: if you want to get good at chin-ups, why not try to do… a lot of chin-ups?” Brilliant!

An then, as it always happens when you start to get stronger, strength karma laid down another golden nugget. Easy Strength, by Dan John and Pavel, was delivered to my doorstep. Weren’t these guys already mentioned once in this story? Yeah, they are THAT good. There was a program contained within the book that talked about getting stronger working five different exercises per day for 10 reps and 40 days total. What could be easier? It was the perfect program for allowing me to make slow and steady gains with the BUP. This is how it started on Christmas Day 2011 at the Marina Green in San Francisco.

Christmas 2011 - Marina Green SF - Double 16kg BUP

As I plowed ahead with the program, this is what happened:

Day 6 – 5, 3 and 2 reps with the 20kg
Day 10 – 24kg goes up, right hand
Day 13 – 2×5 with 20kg (both hands)
Day 28 – “Tonic session” 1×10 with 20kg (both hands)
Day 40 – 3×3 with 24kg (both hands)

Easy Strength workshop – two days after finishing 40 day Plan – PR! 28kg went up with right hand!

My working world has also been turned upside down in the process, in a very powerful way. I’m now leading the kettlebell charge at SOL Performance in Oakland CA. Olympians, professional athletes and everyday people train here. Cubicle-land is a distant memory! The moral of the story…get up off your butt and bottoms-up!

I Got a Basketball Jones

Mosswood Park Basketball Courts

The  8:30am call came through from longtime friend Yung Chang. Throughout the past 15+ years we have intermittently gone head-to-head on the courts of Mosswood Park. Legend has it that the likes of Jason Kidd and The Glove (Gary Payton) honed their skills on the same courts. We typically keep it simple; 1 on 1, 2 on 2, 3 on 3…half court, make-it, take-it rules in effect. We talked about Linsanity. It turns out I’m playing against another guy, originally from Palo Alto, who has connections to Mr. Lin. “No mercy” rules quickly went into effect.

My passion, aka Basketball Jones, for basketball started in the driveway of our home in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Dad installed a wooden beam into the ground, poured the concrete and up went the hoop. We always gravitated to the ABA-style red, white and blue ball. Something magical about the spinning ball with colors appealed to me. My team back then was the Seattle Supersonics – Gus Williams, Dennis Johnson, Jack Sikma, (Milwaukee’s own) Downtown Freddy Brown & Paul Silas. My brother was a Washington Bullets fan (Hayes & Unseld). We staged a couple epic battles in which we would play to 100. So while I was lighting him up with DJ and Downtown shots, he was punishing me down in the low-post, Hayes-style. Bragging rights between brothers was always a huge motivation.

Brother J ripping the net

We were fortunate enough to have a custom mini-basketball court in our backyard in Burlington, Wisconsin. My brother’s fade-away jumper, with one foot on grass and the ball ripping through the net was one for the ages. As you can see, I was in “no-mans” land waiting for a rebound that would never come. This court was used in all seasons. Shooting hoops with snow surrounding your court and Evergreen trees backing you up was my basketball zen 365 days a year.  My team became the Chicago Bulls. Something about the Big City 75 miles to the south that appealed to me. Reggie Theus,  Artis Gilmore, Quentin Daley..that’s right, were talking pre-Jordan Bulls. All I had to do to get the Bulls game in on WGN was to turn the remote-controlled antenna south. The picture was never clear, but it didn’t have to be.

Then there was the Marquette Warriors basketball camp in 7th grade at Carroll College in Waukesha, WI. Al McGuire, his assistant Rick Majerus (R.I.P.) Saint Louis Billikens) and then Senior guard from Proviso East, Glenn ” Doc” Rivers, taught us the finer points of the game. Majerus’ mantra of “change of pace, change of direction,” when running our offensive drills, would stay with me forever.  The other indelible image was that of Doc Rivers jamming over Jerome Whitehead in a one-on-one battle. Doc’s vertical jump was amazing!

Star/Slap Vision drill

The biggest improvement I’ve seen in my basketball game is my ability to jump. These results are due to my commitment to the 40 Day Plan. My deadlifts have given me a strength that I didn’t have before and it has positively impacted other aspects of my training.  In addition, I surprisingly found a huge improvement in my vertical leap after using the star/slap drill from Z-Health’s S-Phase. The object is to slap your left thigh if the star appears to the left of the line, slap both thighs if the star appears on the line, and lastly, slap your right thigh when the star appears to the right of the line.  The goal is to complete as many as possible in a 60sec period. After going through this assessment twice, my vertical leap increased 6 inches. Billy Hoyle would be proud.

Basketball will test your visual skills. Your peripheral vision will be challenged & constantly tested. Your body will move through contortions not to be duplicated in a corporate cubicle setting. Anticipating passes, both on offense & defense, and working to find “open-space” to create scoring opportunities, requires fluid eye & body movement. Stopping on dimes, bracing for contact, dribbling with the right, then left, then behind the back, through the legs..rising up, stroking the ball towards the rim….swoosh….exhale. Repeat. Remember? It’s make-it, take-it, cause I gotta Basketbell Jones!