A really cool article came out today on DragonDoor.com from Master RKC Chris Holder. Chris has a long history as a strength and conditioning coach for collegiate athletics. He’s observed some very interesting human behavior to say the least. In his article, two short quotes immediately jogged my brain and reminded me of several odd observations from my own experience as both a kettlebell user and as an instructor. Not that any “snowflakes” read this blog, but just in case any are right now, brace yourselves, Chris pulls no punches. LOL.
“What I can tell you is that 99.999% of the population have no idea what high tension is. They think they do, but they have no relationship with intensity.”
“Do you think a thirty-something desk jockey has the slightest understanding of what it means to push? Does that guy have a handle on what it means to cramp your glutes? Has he ever needed to brace his midsection to armor for a punch or kick? Has he ever pushed himself so hard that he’s familiar with the feeling of almost blacking out?”
Many years ago, I had no idea either. And I’m not going to judge. It took training with a TOUGH RKC Instructor back in Florida to realize where “the line” was, and frankly that was really part of the “secret sauce”. Framing it another way, most people don’t understand the power and potential power they have at their disposal. Most people have NO IDEA how much more they can improve their strength, conditioning, power, and endurance.
One of the things I hate the most about mainstream women’s fitness are the low expectations set up by the media. Having a female body is not a disadvantage. We don’t need to water things down for adult human beings. All human bodies are capable of attaining amazing performance with the right training over time. We might have to use different strategies with different body configurations, but most everyone can eventually go far beyond the Photoshopped “ideals” with baby-sized weights thrown in our faces by mainstream women’s fitness—and increasingly even for the guys, too!
So, many years ago, with a kettlebell and the tough love coaching from an old school RKC instructor I learned exactly what I was capable of—and that I could do more. And yeah, I did almost pass out one time, and another time I did barf (that was partially on me for making a questionable shake combo before our session) but I learned from it. I learned how hard I could go, and for how long. This is a gift. A life-changing gift. Now, I know I can do so much more, I also know when I might want to back off. But at least I can make a much more informed decision, and can safely adjust the intensity of my training for maximum results.
Enough about me though, this translates to training others in interesting ways. Most people who come to us to learn about kettlebells are not prepared to go all out—and should not be going all out for a while. A lot of times, showing up ready to work out is going to be near their max. And that’s ok. Hey they showed up, good, we can do this! To be realistic, unless someone is a professional athlete, or an insanely dedicated recreational amateur, it’s not really all that necessary for them to go all out very often. I like to do it about once a month or at the most once every two weeks to “remind myself what I can do”. If anything it’s a personal, motivational thing and a way to benchmark my training to see if I’m still on track.
A quick note: I have had clients who were college athletes and haven’t lost their drive—the problem is their bodies have gotten a little deconditioned and can’t handle “all out” just yet. I find that sometimes I need to hold these folks back a teeny bit (timed rests added to their circuits are unobtrusive) so that they don’t overdo it. Establish a no-rhabdo zone and keep an eye on type-a personalities!
No Really, I Mean It, GRIP THE GROUND! HARD!
On the flip side, the “desk jockeys” Chris mentions in his article may actually have a hard time really understanding the cues used in kettlebell training at first. This is because we actually MEAN what we say. Someone coming from a super passive-aggressive cubicle jungle may do an interpretation of your instructions without understanding that you’re being 100% literal. The first time I saw this happen (about six years ago) was while I was teaching a friend how to do a kettlebell swing. He kept “softening” what he was doing in response to my cues. “Well I figured you just meant ________”.
“No really, I’m saying what I actually mean, I actually mean for you to grip the ground HARD with your toes, maybe so hard that the toe-knuckles go white. Just try it.”
He tried it and you could almost see the light bulb manifest over his head. This was a liberating moment—to DO what you need to do without “sanding off the corners” without apology. GRIP the ground with your toes, really put down some tree roots from your feet. Contract the glutes HARD at the top of the swing, etc. etc. Not just kinda meh, I mean really go for it. Adults who spend 40+ hours a week in a strange passive-aggressive, hyper-PC work environment will sometimes need some extra cues. When they “get it” this can really help their attendance to your program, finally they can take “the brakes” off and go for it. Some people are so beaten down in their social or work lives that you may need to “give them permission.”
But, Aren’t All Trainers Just “Dumb Jock” Morons?
Another trainee was still in the same mental mode that he had been at work… and was still thinking he was the only person there who had any sense. Trust me, I can tell, I’m accustomed to being underestimated. “So, quick question… do you feel like there’s a lot of stupid stuff happening at work? Just yes or no, I don’t need the details…” After hearing him answer “yes” I told him the great news, that he was now in a moron-free environment and could stop trying to debate my instruction and correct others in the small group. He didn’t know—and frankly it wasn’t his business—that the person he had been bothering with his unwelcome “advice” was already working on the issue and had made an amazing amount of progress.
But, I Read This Article That Said Kettlebells Are Dangerous!
I’ve found that many folks out there will on some level WANT to make a change and get active, but are still resistant to doing the actual work. They just might not be far enough along in the decision process to show up and do the work. They’d rather discredit the trainer or instructor. And with the lovely double-edged sword of the internet, it’s possible to find very scientific seeming articles, or to misread scientific studies in such a way to suit whatever beliefs someone already holds. Enter: Confirmation Bias. (Oh I see… a questionable “observational study” referenced by the UK tabloid, The Daily Mail is why you can’t workout today.)
People also like to latch on to the idea that everyone in the fitness industry is a “dumb jock”. Even though they may be overwhelmingly unhealthy this means that they still somehow “know better” than the trainer. I’d argue that this is a convenient stereotype for someone to use when they’re just not yet ready to make some changes. And there certainly are some less-than-Mensa material people out in the fitness industry teaching some questionable stuff—especially on the internet where the worst ideas seem to get the most clicks. But, for the most part it’s easy enough to find a trainer/instructor/coach you can connect with and learn from.
It is interesting (and often disheartening the first time a new trainer/instructor/coach encounters it—regardless their IQ) when the client would rather default to thinking you’re a moron than actually show up, do work, or even think about cutting back on excessive booze and cheeseburgers made with donuts for buns. The last time this happened to me, I leaned on my old standby, “dude… I’ve got a bachelors in computer science…” Amusingly, in the most recent major occurrence of this (about three years ago), after realizing that I couldn’t be shoehorned into “dumb jock” territory, this person went on to try and discredit my social media approach, without realizing that he was not the target audience. He was just desperately looking for ANY way to try and take me down a peg—because that would be easier than actually doing the work. So, some people are not yet ready to make changes, and they will go to spectacularly creative lengths to justify that to themselves—especially if their doctors are telling them to make LIFE SAVING CHANGES RIGHT NOW.
If you can stomach it, and/or your ego hasn’t already taken too much of a hit (and I get it, I really do) if you still wish to work with a client who has this kind of mental block, start slow, and approach small changes at first. Simple stuff like drinking more water, some non-frustrating mobility work, and going for walks. If appropriate, teach them some of the basics like kettlebell deadlifts, loaded carries, the first steps of the Big Six in Convict Conditioning, the first forays into kettlebell swings—Dan John’s new book has some ideal drills for all levels. You may need to be extra mindful at first, since very deconditioned folks are often not comfortable getting up and down from the ground. As mentioned a sentence ago, Dan John’s book includes details about the Vertical Bird Dog exercise which is a powerful alternative to the floor-based variety.
The big hope is that they will FEEL an improvement over time that’s significant enough for them to make greater changes from there. Go for the low hanging fruit and low barrier changes with these guys at first. They have NO IDEA that it is possible for them to get healthy enough to not feel like absolute garbage every day. They can’t imagine not having constant pain, discomfort, etc. in their own skin, just as we can’t imagine having that kind of discomfort. It’s a matter of perspective and empathy and unfortunately sometimes the urge to remain the same is so great that these folks can be super offensive about it! It can also be helpful to find out what they love in their lives, and pull that into a motivating context. “Wouldn’t it be great to be able to get down on the ground and play with your kids?” “Imagine your daughter’s face when you easily walk her down the aisle on her wedding day without being short of breath.” “Wouldn’t it be great to ride those awesome roller coasters again?”
There’s a common idea out there that we’re a combo of the five people we’re around the most. Sometimes this can literally be true. Now, before we go passing judgment, there’s a reason for this mirroring, it’s part of how we relate to each other as human beings. Have you ever returned from a long vacation with an accent? As a kid I used to come home from summer camp every year with a little bit of a southern drawl. It’s just something we do as people. Most of the time this is good, but it can also hurt us if we end up mirroring poor posture and mobility.
While you should absolutely spend time with your older relatives, you don’t need to pick up their movement patterns. I’ve seen this happen a few times with clients returning from family gatherings, and have personally experienced it when I was spending a lot of time with a less-than-healthy friend. If you find yourself making extra grunting or grumbling noises after a family gathering, then guess what! You’ve been mirroring! Remember you’re you, do some mobility work, stand up straight, and most of all, be grateful for your good health. While it is wonderful to connect with the people in your life, guard against taking on their less than ideal movement patterns. It’s easy to avoid once you’re aware. So, if you feel “off” after the holidays, it might not just be the extra slices of pie, make sure you’re walking around as you.